Temporary electricity

I have been standing in front of our three circuit breaker panels a number of times, somewhat intimidated and scratching my head.


I needed to get everything disconnected, which would allow me to safely remove all the existing electrical wiring in the house. The breakers were all switched off, but I still did not trust it. There is also the need for temporary electricity to run power tools and lights. I have a whole lot of respect for everything electrical – I need professional help with this.

It’s a sure thing that I would watch over Richard’s shoulder (the electrician) to see what and how he would go about these tasks. To my disbelief, he used regular old cutting pliers to cut the wires connected to each breaker. I was just waiting for him to get zapped. He, however, reminded me (without laughing out loud) that all breakers were switched off! I wonder if he rolled his eyes at me – at least a little bit.


He explained some of the basics to me – and almost gave me a heart attack when he touched one of the hot wires coming into the breaker panel. Why can birds sit on power lines and not get electrocuted? Because the electricity cannot flow through them. Same with Richard, who did not touch anything conductive other than that hot wire. Still, not something I would ever try myself.

After all that suspense, I had four outlets in the basement and four more on the first floor, all ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) types for my safety (also called Receptacle GFCI).


“…the GFCI constantly monitors electricity flowing in a circuit, to sense any loss of current. If the current flowing through the circuit differs by a small amount from that returning, the GFCI quickly switches off power to that circuit. The GFCI interrupts power faster than a blink of an eye to prevent a lethal dose of electricity.”

Source: Consumer Product Safety Commission, GFCIs Fact Sheet

National Electrical Code requires GFCI Receptacles in all crawl spaces and unfinished basements, which are pretty much the existing conditions of most spaces in the house. GFCIs are further recommended for the use of power tools while conducting repair work in and around the house. I had no idea about all this, but I now have great confidence when I plug the shop vacuum into the outlet.

About Marcus de la fleur

Marcus is a Registered Landscape Architect with a horticultural degree from the School of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Sheffield, UK. He developed a landscape based sustainable pilot project at 168 Elm Ave. in 2002, and has expanded his skill set to building science. Starting in 2009, Marcus applied the newly acquired expertise to the deep energy retrofit of his 100+ year old home in Chicago.

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