Homeownership

As a relatively newly-minted homeowner, I’ve been noticing a strange instinct waking up within me, namely the DIY instinct. I feel compelled to fix random things around the house, optimize, insulate, caulk, tuck-point. I suppose this makes sense since I’m an engineer: I derive great satisfaction from learning how things work, and making them work well.

But this also fits into a general philosophy I’ve always held, which is that you shouldn’t be allowed to use a technology without a basic understanding of how it works. If you drive a car, you should understand the fundamentals of internal combustion, and be able to change a tire, or even change the oil, brake pads, or spark plugs. Similarly, if you own a house, you should have a basic understanding of things like electricity (at the household 120-volt level), as well as plumbing (water and gas), sanitation, insulation, heating, cooling, security systems, cable hookups (TV, internet), etc.

It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t: these are pieces that fit into a single puzzle, and operate on very simple physical principles. Sure, you can hire a contractor for the simplest tasks around the house, but I personally wouldn’t feel like I’m “at home” if I wasn’t intimately familiar with every facet of how my house works. Besides, today it’s easier than ever to do DIY projects around the house, given the astounding amount of information on the web available for nearly every kind of task.

Prior to buying the house, we invited a home inspector who walked through the house and gave us a laundry list of minor and major items that need fixing or touching up. Slowly but surely, every week I commit to crossing at least one item off the list.

This week it was all about electrical outlets. Some of the outlets didn’t have ground (two prongs instead of three), some had reversed polarity (generally harmless, but potentially dangerous for certain appliances), and some need to provide a GFCI. After a few hours of work and a contractor-pack of new outlets, all of the receptacles now look pristine, and are completely up to code.

Grounding the outlets specifically turned out to be much simpler than I thought. The outlet boxes that hold the receptacles in the walls are made of metal, and the wires that lead to the outlets are also routed through metal tubes. The tube attaches to the outlet box on one end, and either a junction box or the circuit breaker on the other end. And conveniently enough, the mounting brackets of the outlet itself are metallic, and are connected to the ground pin of the outlet! Therefore, it suffices to just replace the two-prong outlet with a three-prong one, with no additional wiring.

I’m surprised by how many people I know who absolutely refuse to touch anything electrical around the house. Electricity is not something to fear; it’s something to understand, respect, and tame. Get to know your circuit breaker. Replace some old wiring. Put in a new dimmer switch. And most importantly, enjoy the knowledge that you made your own home even better.

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