those of us who live in a modern house seldom realize how very dependent we are on the electrical wiring and equipment until such time as a fuse blows out or the service is interrupted. Flipping a switch and getting a prompt response has become a matter which we take for granted, and probably one homeowner out of ten ever thinks about checking up on this marvelous convenience. Practically all of the modern heating systems rely upon electrical controls of one kind or other; lights, toasters, washing machines and vacuum cleaners are inoperative without it. Therefore it becomes an important item of the household assembly and deserves to be kept in excellent repair.
The electrical system of the average home is very much like the plumbing or the heating systems, but instead of having pipes it has wires through which electric energy flows instead of water or steam. It is likewise a fact that the electrical system is a source of danger to a much greater degree than either of the other two systems. Water or steam trouble make themselves evident in quick order, but danger from short-circuits does not.
The first thing to be done about your electrical system is to be sure that it is a safe one. This is something that you cannot attend to yourself. For a very few dollars you can have a licensed electrician make a complete test of the system, and guarantee you that it is properly installed, properly fused, and safe. From there on you can attend to matters yourself, but always having in mind the most important fact that it is against the law for homeowners to install their own wiring or fixtures unless they are licensed electricians. It should also be remembered that by so doing you may void your fire-insurance, and should you have a fire which is traced down to some job of home-made electrical work, you will not get a cent from the fire insurance company. Of course we do not mean that you cannot install a new fuse when it is required, or splice a lamp-cord or shorten it; but you very definitely cannot install base-plugs or fixtures, or run wires through walls, or short-circuit fuses. It is so easy to buy insulated wire, plugs, switches and fixtures, and the work seems so simple, that probably fifty percent of the homes in the country have existing violations of the underwriters' laws present in them right at this moment. It is better to be safe than sorry, and we earnestly recommend that any electrical work that is not right out in the open be left to the professional who knows what he is doing.
Every homeowner should be thoroughly acquainted with his fuse box. When the service wire or cable is brought into your house, it is terminated in a steel fuse box. From this cable, the smaller wires to the various rooms of the house are distributed. It is very much like taking a large rope and unraveling it so that you have several small branches. The service wire will have a switch on it, so that when this is pulled all current is cut off from the house. Right here it might be said that no work should be done on the system unless this switch is pulled open. Each of the branch wires will have a fuse in it. These are actually safety-valves, because they cannot carry an overload of current, and they will blow out before the wires begin to heat up from an overload. Many people get tired of renewing fuses, and put a penny, or a heavy piece of wire called a "jumper" in place of the fuse. This is an exceedingly stupid performance for any intelligent person. The very fact that a fuse keeps blowing out, is a warning that there is something wrong on that circuit, and the intelligent thing to do is to find out about it quickly. It may be that a new piece of equipment has a stiff motor or a motor too large for the circuit, which causes the fuse to blow. Most certainly you don't want the wire to get hot trying to handle it.
The fuse box is the safety-valve of the house electrical system. Fuses usually blow out from an overload of the circuit. Continued trouble should be investigated.
The average fuse-box will have from six to ten fuses or thereabouts. You should know which fuses service which rooms. You can find this out by turning on every light in the house, and removing one fuse at a time, noting which room is affected. Then make a chart, which should be kept near the fuse box, explaining the control. You should always have five or six new fuses on hand, and these should be kept on top of or in the fuse box. The new fuses should be of the same amperage as the ones in use. As a safety measure against shocks, always pull the main switch before replacing a fuse.
After several years of constant inserting and pulling out of plugs, a receptacle in the wall may become loose. Promptly the plate should be removed so that you can see the box, and the screws holding the box to the wall frame should be tightened up. If you neglect the matter, you may need an electrician.
loose wall or floor-sockets should not be neglected. As soon as a plate or a socket is loose it should be attended to.
Most of the usual run of repair work comes from our habit of jerking plugs out of the sockets by a good tug on the cord. Sooner or later the wires will pull away from the small set-screws which hold them inside the plug, or they will break. The broken wires should be cut off even, turned in a hook under the set-screws, and fastened down. Care should be exercised that no small shred of one wire could contact the other.
Wire splicing should be done carefully and thoroughly. A bad splice may result in blown fuses or in a serious fire.
Splicing wires is a simple matter. The insulation should be removed for two inches and the wire scraped clean. The wires to be spliced together should be bent into a hook, engaged, and twisted tightly. Each should be taped separately to avoid contact, and then taped together into a single strand.
You must never work on a live wire. Be sure that the plug is out of the socket or the switch turned off. You must never be in contact with any electrical switch, socket, plug, wire or appliance, while you have a hand on a water or steam pipe. It has frequently been fatal.
There is not very much that can be said on the subject of electrical repairs because of the legal restrictions, but it remains a fact that the homeowner can keep the system in good repair by simply using common sense, and learning something each time he is in contact with it. If he does have a lamp bulb which starts to flicker, he should know enough to see whether it is loose in the socket or should be taken out and replaced with a new one. If the vacuum cleaner develops a strange noise, he should know enough to remove the plate covering the blades or fan, and remove the hairpin or other cause of the noise. If the mixer squeaks, he should give it a drop or two of oil, and not wait until the bearings have run themselves rough. Every time he has to rewire a plug, he should study the assembly of it; and when he has to tighten a switch he standing.
Repairs to the electrical system are largely confined to the replacement of bulbs or tubes in the average well-wired house. The well-lighted room shown here benefits by no less than three arrangements. General overhead light, portable floor-lamp and decorative panel lighting. All easy to maintain in good operation. (See Chapter VI.)