Despite knowing that electricity can give you a potentially fatal shock many people feel capable of replacing switches and receptacles in their own home. After all, it’s just a case of pulling out a couple of wires and slotting them back into the new socket, isn’t it?
Unfortunately this is considered a job for a level 2 electrician; there is a good reason why this is the case. Doing this type of work yourself is more dangerous than it might appear, here’s why:
If you have a modern house then this might not be relevant, but it could be! Electrical standards are regularly reviewed and updated. This has meant that the standard wiring has changed, the type of cable is different and, more importantly, the interior colors are different. If you confuse them when replacing old for new you may inadvertently blow your electrics or give yourself or someone else a shock when they operate the switch.
Any electrical component in a switch or electrical circuit must be connected to the earth wire. Then, if a short occurs the current is carried harmlessly away to the earth and not through your body. This might not seem necessary in the modern plastic switches. However every switch has screws to hold it together and these are metal. If these are not earthed correctly then you could get a fatal shock from your plug, despite wiring it correctly.
You may think that you have turned off the power to your switch and even tested the cable to ensure you can work on it safely. However, what if the circuit has been installed incorrectly in the first place and a neutral is live or the other half of the circuit is not turned off?
Ideally you should test every wire, but if you make one assumption this could cause a serious issue, one that you are probably not trained to deal with.
Securing The Socket
Another issue which you must be aware of is that the switch or receptacle must be securely fastened into place. It is easy to tighten the screws and think it is secure without it actually being so. The problem might not be noticed until someone attempts to unplug something and finds that the switch pulls out.
The automatic response is to grasp the switch. Unfortunately electricity can arc and give you an electric shock when you do this.
If you put the wrong wires into the slots you might simply trip your fuse box. However, if you leave them too long they can spark behind the socket and start to overheat. The resulting heat and sparks can start a fire which can quickly spread through your home. While this might not be a common scenario it is very possible and will have potentially devastating results.
It is possible to safely replace any switch or receptacle yourself. But, you must be aware of the pitfalls in order to avoid them. If you have any doubts, contact a qualified electrician; it’s simply not worth the risk.