When You’re Dealing with Electricity, Do-It-Yourself May Not Pay Off

Businessman holding broken power cables with sparks and smoke, and the words, When you're dealing with electricity, do-it-yourself may not pay off.

You’re setting up a hot tub and are eager to start using it. The hookup looks simple: Why wait for an appointment and spend money for a licensed electrical contractor?

The fire that burned 76,000 acres and caused the deaths of four people near Clear Lake last year is why.

Investigators for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection recently released a report concluding the Clear Lake “Valley Fire” was started by sparks from a faulty electrical connection a homeowner had installed for his hot tub. The homeowner is disputing the finding, and it is still under review.

But it brings up an important topic: do-it-yourself wiring. Is it safe? If you’re not qualified, doing your own electrical work is always a gamble that risks fire, shocks, even death – and maybe legal fees.

The National Fire Prevention Association reports that in 2011, electrical failure or malfunction caused nearly 50,000 home fires that resulted in 418 deaths and $1.4 billion in property damage. The best protection against electrical fires is to make sure a licensed electrical contractor, certified by your state, does the work.

Connecting wires may look simple, but that’s not the only task a project like a hot tub demands. A licensed electrician is an expert on local, state and national codes and safety requirements.

For example, Lowe’s Pro Services website lists these considerations when connecting hot tubs that homeowners may not be aware of:

  • Don’t install a hot tub under power lines. It’s a violation of the National Electric Code.
  • Don’t use underground wiring with outdoor hot tubs.
  • Don’t install low-voltage lighting within 10 feet of a hot tub even if it’s GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protected.

The case of the hot tub implicated in the Clear Lake fire brings up another electrical issue: An appliance doesn’t have to be turned on to spark an electrical fire. The hot tub reportedly had not been used for several months and was off when the wiring allegedly overheated and ignited the surrounding dry grass.

Investigators said the wiring wasn’t up to code, and it’s possible the wire was still “live,” or carrying electricity. It’s not difficult for a homeowner to make a mistake that would leave the wire live, but it would be difficult for him to detect the live wire without a professional test.

If you’re still hesitant about calling an electrician, keep in mind that you’re getting years of training and expertise, just as you do when you visit the doctor. In fact, many Master Electricians train as long as doctors do. And, like doctors, they often develop expertise in a single field.

For all your electrical needs, an electrician ensures safety for your home and family. When dealing with electricity, there is just no room for error.

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