Well, we’re getting very close to the finish line of our project, renovating our half bath. We’ve scraped wall paper, re-surfaced walls to get them ready for painting, painted, installed a toilet and now we’re ready to talk about some electrical issues.
Whenever Sweet Wife and I renovate a room – and we’ve done a lot of rooms throughout several houses – one of the things we always do is replace the plugs and switches in the room and replace their covers.
We do this for a couple of reasons. First, there’s a good chance the existing plugs are old, dirty and perhaps even speckled with paint from a recent paint job. Plugs and switches are also fairly inexpensive and easy to find. Together, these are two good reasons to spend an hour or so (for the average room) and replace your plugs and switches.
When you’re finished, you’ll find that this makes the perfect finishing touch to all of the other hard work you’ve done. Usually, new hardware and covers will provide a sharp, clean contrast to the new paint on your ceiling, walls and trim.
In our half bath, there were only three devices to replace: one GFI plug and two switches (one for the overhead light and one for the fan). You can see these below.
GFI is short for “ground fault circuit interrupter.” In layman’s terms, this device is a type of circuit breaker placed closer to areas with greater shock risks. To get even more layman, you’ll see these types of plugs in areas of your home, such as bathrooms, where there is an electrical outlet close to water. The idea is that if you drop your hair dryer, which is plugged into a GFI outlet, into a sink full of water, the GFI plug will trip and you’ll be spared death by electrocution.
So, since this plug is very near our pedestal sink, there is a GFI plug nearby. (In fact, in our home, this GFI circuit also includes the plugs from our master bath, which is close by.) This type plug isn’t quite as cheap as a normal one and will set you back $10 or so, but that’s cheaper than burial expenses.
These plugs aren’t hard to install, but I’m not going to tell you how to do it because I don’t want your estate to sue me after you electrocute yourself. Instead, here’s a handy how-to link.
The last part of the electrical work involves replacing two switches. Again, I’m not going to tell you how to do this. Instead, I’ll let this guy from The Home Depot tell you.
I do want to point out one thing, though. Take a look at the picture below and note the pink box.
What you see inside the pink box is a section of wire with the insulation cut off. This happened when the drywall (sheetrock) in our home was being installed way back in the early 1990s.
Typically, when a home is being built, the electrical boxes for switches and plugs will be installed when the walls are bare (i.e. the drywall hasn’t been hung). Then the electrical wires will be pulled through the house to the electrical outlets, switches, lights, etc. After the wire has been pulled, it will be rolled up and stuffed into the electrical boxes and then the drywall will be hung through out the house.
In the old days – like before the early 1990s I suppose, the drywall workers would actually take the time to cut the drywall to fit around these electrical boxes. However, some genius figured out this took too long and so the drywall folks just started slapping the drywall on the walls directly over the boxes. Afterwards, they would go through the house with a saw and cut openings in the drywall for the boxes. Unfortunately, though, when done this way, the electrical wires often get cut through.
Is this a fire hazard? Technically, yes. You never want exposed wires with electrical current running through them. That’s pretty obvious. Practically, though, I suppose in our case this wasn’t a huge risk because these wires have been exposed since 1991 and the house didn’t burn down.
So another benefit of replacing the plugs and switches is that I can put a few rounds of electrical tape around these bare spots and hopefully reduce any remaining risk. At least I hope so.