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Residential Wiring Diagrams – Who Needs Them?

You will benefit from using residential wiring diagrams if you plan on completing electrical wiring projects in your home. An electrical wiring diagram can be as simple as a diagram showing how to install a new switch in your hallway, or as complex as the complete electrical blueprint for your new home.Although household electricity is nothing to play around with, in many ways, wiring is simpler than other repair and remodeling skills such as carpentry. Once you’ve learned some basic skills such as installing boxes, running cable, and splicing, you just need to determine which wire goes where. This is why a good wiring diagram is important for wiring your home safely. Keep your diagrams near-by. You’ll want to refer to them often as you work on your project.Wire Colors:Electrical wiring diagrams that are in color have an advantage over ones that are black and white only. The wires will be colored the same as the actual wires you will be using. Commonly, the green wire is ground, white or off-white is neutral, and black, red or other colors indicate the hot wire. In some instances, such as some switch legs, the function of the wires will be indicated by colored electrical tape.Symbols:When looking at any residential wiring diagram, start by familiarizing yourself with the symbols that are being used. The electrical symbols will not only show where something is to be installed, but what type of device is being installed. Make sure you understand the symbols on your diagram before beginning your project. There should be a chart on your diagram showing the different symbols being used, much like a legend on a map.For example, a surface ceiling light will be shown by one symbol, a recessed ceiling light will have a different symbol, and a surface fluorescent light will have another symbol. Each type of switch will have a different symbol and so will the various outlets. You’ll even find symbols showing the location of smoke detectors, your doorbell chime, and the thermostat.Switches:When it comes to household electricity, there’s a lot more to consider than simply turning a switch On and Off. Some of the most common questions electricians receive involve switches. Once you understand the different types of switches and follow a good wiring diagram, you should be able to install a new switch in your home.Here are some of the more common switching configurations:A Single-Pole Switch provides switching from one location only. “Single-Pole” may sound simple, but there are different ways to wire a Single-Pole Switch and a set of electrical wiring diagrams will explain each of them to you clearly.3-Way Switches are used to control one or more fixtures from two locations. This is a common configuration in hallways and staircases. There are many ways to wire a 3-Way Switch. The power can start at a fixture or either of the two switches. Without a wiring diagram it can be very easy to make a serious mistake.A wiring diagram will even take the mystery out of wiring a 3-Way Dimmer Switch. What a great way to enjoy softer light and a reduced energy bill!One of the most complicated wiring configurations is a 4-Way Switch. These switches enable you to control one or more fixtures from three or more locations. It would be almost impossible to write the instructions in a way that you could simply read them and complete your project. However, a good wiring diagram will make it possible for you to successfully and safely tackle wiring 4-Way Switches.As important as electrical wiring diagrams are to the successful completion of your wiring project, safety and respect for electricity are essential. Never work on live circuits. Before you begin your project, identify the circuit you’re working on and then turn off power to that circuit at the main panel. Then confirm that the power is off with a voltage tester. If at any time you feel unsure about what you’re doing, please call a licensed electrical contractor.

More information on residential wiring diagrams and diagrams for all of these switches can be found in the Residential Wiring Diagrams section of my website: Ask-The-Electrician.com.


Dave Rongey is a Licensed Electrical Contractor with over 35 years of experience. He is also an avid Do It Yourselfer. Through the years Dave has seen too many DIY projects that are serious fire and safety hazards. Visit Dave at Ask-The-Electrician.com for electrical project guides, complete with photographs, which will enable you to enhance the beauty and value of your home safely.

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