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Electrical Basics

Of all of the systems that work together to make up the wonderful whole that you call "cottage", the electrical system is the one that will kill you dead in an instant if you let your guard down. In fact, your safest bet is to leave the electrical system to a qualified expert. Having said that, the costs, distances and inconveniences involved in getting an electrician to a remote cottage likely mean that you'll at least be giving it a shot yourself, but at least give yourself the benefit of the safest environment possible.

Here are some of the basic precautions that you should adhere to:

  • Be sure to shut off the electricity as far down the line as possible. Ideally, this will be at the main breaker coming into the cottage, cutting off all power past that point. Obviously, this could cause problems with some things, such as the refrigertor or freezer, and make it difficult to power tools or work lights, but consider it anyway (especially if you have no other option but to mess with a 240 volt circuit... *shudder*).

  • More likely, you will be shutting off a single breaker or fuse at the box. Make doubly sure that it powers what you think it does, and consider putting up a warning sign, just in case some unsuspecting soul wanders by wondering why the coffee maker isn't working.

  • Even after you've shut the power off at the fuse box, use a current detector to ensure that there is no power flowing through the circuits that you're working on. Be sure to check both receptacles in a power outlet individually. Although unlikely, it's not impossible that each socket was wired to a different circuit.

  • When making inital contact with an electrical circuit (and whenever possible after that), use only one hand, holding the other behind your back. This will help prevent your arms from forming a complete circuit, causing the power to travel across your chest and damaging, or even stopping, your heart.

  • Avoid using metal tools or ladders when working around electricity or power lines. Instead use only tools with insulated or wooden handles, and use only fibreglass ladders around power lines.

  • As an additonal precaution, consider wearing rubber gloves and/or boots if feasible, or even standing on a rubber mat of you have one available.

  • Regardless of what else you do, but sure to let others know that you'll be working with electricity and to keep an eye or an ear out for you. They should also be aware of the dangers of getting themselves electrocuted if they should try pull you away from a live circuit. Make sure that they know to push you away from the live wires with a non-conducting object, or kick you away without maintaining contact (sure, it'll hurt, but the alternative is much worse).

Basic electrical toolkit:

A circuit tester is useful not only for checking the that no electricity is flowing in an outlet before you work on it, but also to verify its integrity after you have completed your work. It can detect open or reversed circuits, and tell you when everything is flowing just right.

A voltage detector is a simple tool that allows you to determine if current is flowing simply by touching it to the circuit in question.

A quality wire stripper will allow you to strip the insulation off of a variety of wire gauges with little effort and no danger of damaging or severing the wire (assuming that you're using it correctly and have selected the proper gauge).

A multi-meter is an all-in-one electrical measurement device that allows you to determine the current, voltage or resistance between two points. They take some time to learn how to use properly, but are an extremely versatile addition to your toolbox.

Basic electrical tips:

  • The wire gauge number gets higher as the wire gets thinner. This is because the gauge refers to the number of times that a wire must be passed through machines designed to lengthen and thin them out. Learn more about the AWG (American Wire Gauge) standard here.

  • Current(amps) = Voltage(volts)/Resistance(ohms)

  • Power(watts) = Voltage(volts) x Current (amps)


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