Frequently Asked Electrical Questions Part II

I have an article of frequently asked electrical questions already, however, because there are many common electrical questions I have decided to do a part II of the most frequently asked electrical questions. You can view part I here:


1. Why do I need to change my light box to a fan-rated box when installing a ceiling fan?

There is one main difference between a light box and a fan-rated box. That difference is the size of the screws that are used to mount the fixture. Ceiling fans move and vibrate while operating, so you must use a fan-rated box with larger screws. The boxes might look the same, but if you are going to install a ceiling fan in a room, the box must be labeled as rated to hold a ceiling fan. If you do not use the screws that are intended for use on a ceiling fan the fan could potentially fall on someone or something. It is also required by the National Electrical Code.

2. What does a GFCI plug and/or breaker do?

GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter.  An electrical circuit must have the same amount of power coming back as what goes out.  A GFCI detects when there is a very small variance in the amount of power coming back within 6 milliamps.  Once this difference is detected, it will shut down the circuit to protect you, the person, not the equipment.

3. How many GFCI plugs do I need to have in my house?

You must have GFCI protected plugs in the garage (with some exceptions), in the bathroom, on the kitchen countertop, within 6 feet of a sink and for any outdoor plugs.

4. What is an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) breaker and why do I need to have one? 

AFCI breakers look like GFCI breakers, however, they function differently. GFCI are designed to protect a person and AFCIs are built to protect the structure/building. An AFCI will trip due to arcing on an electrical circuit. Arcing can occur when something has pierced a wire or when there is a loose connection along a circuit. This is one of the main causes of electrical fires. AFCI breakers are designed to better protect homes against electrical fires. If arcing is detected, the breaker will trip and shut down the entire circuit. If the circuit has been shut down it is best to call a licensed electrician as the issue could be anywhere along the circuit and a professional would know how to begin looking for the issue as they have come across this issue before.

5. How do I know if the electrician I hire is knowledgeable about the work he is doing?

Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult to tell if the electrician giving you an estimate is truly knowledgeable about the work he is doing. You can read my post here about questions to ask an electrician before hiring as step 1 in finding the right electrician for you. The link to that article is here:

Be sure to pay attention to how the person answers your questions and the details the person may be giving you. If a person refuses to give you the license number, move on to someone else as that means they may not be licensed and that could cause issues for you later down the road. If someone unlicensed does work on your home, if could result in the work having to be removed and redone by someone licensed. That means you will have to possibly pay twice and no one wants to do that. A little research into the company you hire can definitely save you a lot of headaches!


6. Why do electricians have such a high hourly rate?

Electricians carry a large amount of responsibility with the service they provide and it comes at a higher expense to have someone working in your home who is properly trained and educated to complete electrical work in your home.  Someone who is not properly licensed as an electrician does not have the same training and education and there is a good chance they will do work in your home that does not meet local and national codes.  Also, you want to make sure that the person who does your electrical work pulls an electrical permit because you could have issues in the future when you want to sell your home if work has been done without the proper permits.  The bottom line is that despite the seemingly high price for a licensed electrician, you will be better off in the end by having the work done by a professional.

7. What is the difference between low voltage fixtures and standard fixtures?

Low voltage fixtures include a transformer that transforms the voltage from 120 volts to 12 volts.  A lot of lighting manufacturers are offering low voltage options because the fixtures (i.e., pendant lights and under cabinet lights) have smaller cords.  The main downside to installing low voltage fixtures is that the transformers typically get warm while in use, they wear out, and are expensive to replace.  Also, low voltage fixtures cost twice as much to purchase than a standard fixture.

The main misconception of standard versus low voltage fixtures is that a low voltage fixture is more energy efficient.  This is false.  Voltage and watts are different measurements and wattage is what is used to calculate your electrical bill.  Standard and low voltage fixtures use the same amount of watts and will not change your electrical bill.

8. What type of exhaust fan should I install in my bathroom?

Current code requires that the exhaust fan you install be no less than 80 CFM and you must install a timer switch rather than a standard switch.

9. To save on costs, should I buy the parts and hire an electrician to install them?

While it may be tempting to go to your local hardware or home improvement store and buy all the parts you need instead of having the electrician purchase them, you are going to be missing a key element.  The electrician will not warranty the parts you buy yourself.  This means that if you buy the parts and have the electrician install them, then something goes wrong with the part within the first year, it will be your responsibility to buy a new part and hire the electrician to install the new part.  If you let the electrician purchase the parts from the outset of your project, they will warranty the parts so if something goes wrong in the first year they will come out and replace the part free of charge.

10. How many carbon monoxide detectors do I need in my home?

You only need to install carbon monoxide detectors in your home if you use natural gas.  If you do, you need to have one on every floor and within 15 feet of the bedroom doors.

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