Danger :: More Fun With Electricity

by derek on September 18, 2007 · 28 comments


I should really know better than to mess with electricity.
You might recall awhile back when I was treated to the aroma of burning flesh when I had a mishap with my motorcycle battery. This weekend I was at it again, although it wasn’t quite as bad.
We recently had the interior of our house painted and something happened to our dining room light while they were painting as it was no longer working. After a visual inspection of the electrical connections on the light and testing that the light bulbs worked, I assumed that the problem was likely the dimmer switch.
After a trip to the hardware store for a new dimmer switch, I was ready to tackle another electrical project.
Now I know what you are thinking – but I did go down into the basement and flipped the circuit that is for the dining room.
With the power to the dining room off, I proceeded to remove the old dimmer switch and began to install the new dimmer switch. The new dimmer required me to hook the electrical wires around the two terminal screws and then tighten them down. As I was using a pair of needle-nose pliers to make a nice hook on the wire, I touched the tip of the other exposed wire.
Holy #@$%!
This might come as a surprise to you but I am not an electrician, however I thought that when you turned the power off that you would avoid this shocking experience. Thinking that maybe I needed to turn off the power to the kitchen since the dimmer is on a shared wall with the kitchen, I went back down to the basement and flipped that circuit off as well.
After confirming the appliances were all without power and the outlets in the dining room had no power, I had to test the two exposed wires again to see if I had the right circuit.
#@$%! The wires still had juice.
With tingling fingers, I proceeded back into the basement and turned off every circuit that runs the lower level of the house. Yes, I tested it again and I am typing this two days later because I just now can feel my finger tips again. 🙂
Since everything was off at this point, I assumed that I was just mistaken that actually turning the power off was supposed to help avoid this problem and I proceeded with the replacement of the dimmer switch.
As I carefully connected each wire, making sure not to touch both at the same time, I had it all wrapped up just a few minutes later. Once all the circuits were back on I gave it the final test…
We have light!
The new dimmer switch works like a charm. While at the hardware store, we also bought a replacement light fixture for the dining room. But I need to figure out this whole issue with the electricity before I remove the old light and shock myself again!
Are there any electricians in the crowd?
Photo by Mary R. Vogt

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick September 19, 2007 at 12:12 am

Well, I’m not an electrician, but due to my ham radio passion I do play with electricity quite a bit. Here’s an idea:
Now that you have power to that light, turn the light on and then go to the breaker box and start testing to see which one actually powers the light (you will know b/c the light will go off) and then label it so you know. Then, when you’re ready to replace that light fixture, you’ll know which one to flip so it’s not such a “shocking” experience.


derek September 19, 2007 at 5:21 pm

That is the way to do it for the light, thanks for pointing that out. I didn’t get a chance to swap out the light today but will do it over the weekend.
If there isn’t a post on Monday, you’ll know it didn’t go well. 🙂


Leo September 19, 2007 at 1:32 am

You’ll get no help from me. I was the kid that shoved screwdrivers into the wall outlets to watch the sparks.


Derrich September 19, 2007 at 8:50 am

That explains alot… 😛


Leo September 20, 2007 at 12:15 pm

I also like to poke dogs in the eyes, thus my facial scars.


Derrich September 22, 2007 at 11:01 pm



Derrich September 22, 2007 at 11:02 pm



Stephen September 19, 2007 at 2:12 am

I only have my hands inside running computers all day while drinking coffee. I’m also a bad choice 🙂


????? (Jason) September 19, 2007 at 2:34 am

My first career was in appliance repair and installation, so this type of thing was a daily possibility. Ever get hit with 240 volts when crouched under a kitchen counter while installing a crazy German dishwasher to Canadian power lines? It’s not fun.
However, one day I went and bought a voltage detector, then the problems went away.
Just remember … when someone says they shut the power off to X room, it doesn’t necessarily mean the wires you’re working with *belong* to that room 😛


Derrich September 19, 2007 at 8:53 am

Congrats on the successful install without the flesh burn. Gotta love those sneaky wiring tactics.


New York Gyms by Aaron September 21, 2007 at 6:40 pm

Ouch… I would never even think of doing something like this myself, for exactly this reason. I admire you for giving it a shot, and even more for eventually getting it right, but the learning process seems longer and more painful than it’s worth to me. Thanks for sharing this story, hope you’re feeling better


Chris Gray September 21, 2007 at 7:44 pm

I am in no way an electrician…but have found some weird things when I have done similar work on my 24 year old home. Previous owners extending a circuit, adding a light fixture where there was not one previously, etc. Most likely there is a logical reasoning for your current circuit setup…but you never know. Glad to hear that you came away without any real damage though!
Speaking of home improvement…how are those new windows holding up?


derek September 21, 2007 at 9:13 pm

@Stephen :: Sounds like a great mixture, lol. 🙂
@Jason :: That is very funny and I can picture it quite well. The thing with this switch is that I turned off all the rooms around it, unless the power is coming up directly from the basement – which is a possibility I guess.
@Derrich :: Given the builder of our home, nothing surprises me anymore.
@Aaron :: I’m willing to try just about anything, although some things I fear that I will screw up more and just hire someone else to do. Thanks for the comment!
@Chris :: Thanks, the windows are fantastic and we are really enjoying them. It’s amazing how nice it is to have windows that actually stay open when you open them. 🙂


Steve November 2, 2008 at 11:13 am

Good work! You know, I am not an electrician but I always do small electrical works myself most of the time for my house.


JiMpiSh November 15, 2008 at 10:06 pm

I am by no means an electrician, but I did just spend a couple days diagnosing a 240v circuit for my hottub and fiddling with some wires. I would strongly recommend getting a cheap multimeter that can do AC. Always test the wires you’re about to be working with as a precaution. As someone else pointed out, just because you flipped the breaker to one “room” does not mean that the power to whatever outlet or switch is off. All sorts of bizarre configurations can arise over years of repairs and modifications, and you never know what you’re going to end up with. A multimeter along with some basic knowledge of how to use it to check for current will go a long way in alleviating any apprehension you have about tackling a small repair like this. Then you can proceed to dive in hands first and come out looking like a real hero to the family! 🙂


derek November 15, 2008 at 11:07 pm

That is good advice and something that I really need to do. My most recent electrical work involved swapping out four hallway light fixtures with new fixtures. Fortunately, the entire job was completed without incident.
Whenever I complete a job like this, I strut around like I should have a show on HGTV, lol.


Matt@utah plumbing December 24, 2008 at 3:04 am

well done!! I always try to do some experiments with my electrial aplliances, but sorry to say I never got success yet. Everytime, I had to take help of a professional electrician. So sad 🙁


rgc@Electrician Training January 21, 2009 at 12:23 am

getting a voltage tester would be a good idea, so that you can tell when the voltage is off. usually the lighting is on a seperate circuit than the rest of the room. but with an older home who knows.
rgcs last blog post..Electrician Training Career Paths


All-Electric@Memphis Electricians February 24, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Well Done but I have to agree with comment above that you should at least use a voltage tester next time. That tool alone will make it easier and save you a ton of time.
All-Electrics last blog post..Why Not Be An Electrician?


Perth Carpet Cleaning January 18, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I would advise that don’t play with electricity, it’s quite harmful. If you are not a professional electrician, just try to ask a help from the professional one to avoid some possible problems.
.-= Perth Carpet Cleaning hopes you will read… IF You Prefer Cheaper than Cost-effective, Then Carpet Cleaning Perth is not for you! =-.


Tony May 9, 2010 at 4:19 am

It is true that a professional electrician should be sought because of the dangers of electricity. But don’t forget common sense! If you are going to use things like ‘neon’ testers to make sure that a circuit is dead – then check the neon on a live circuit first! It is a big problem if your testing device is actually broken – and this does apply to the most professional equipment – check it on a known source first!
Also, check the neutral side too! There is nothing worse than assuming that an electrical circuit has been wired correctly when in actual fact it has not.
But – once again – IF IN DOUBT THEN SEEK PROFESSIONAL ADVICE. Advice should cost nothing – and it might just help a person come to no harm


Toronto electricians November 8, 2010 at 9:44 pm

great info!
i agree with you, you should use tester soon so that your life would not be in danger 😀


Sam February 1, 2011 at 6:32 am

The safest way to do a tiniest electrical work is:
Turn off every single breaker one by one or remove every fuse
Turn off main breaker or remove main fuse, shut off the main disconnect, if there is one
Disconnect one wire at a time from the old light/plug/switch and reconnect it to the new one
Turn on every single breaker one by one or put back every fuse
Turn back on the main breaker or put back the main fuse, turn on the main disconnect
Now you can enjoy a beer or a piece of cake
If something goes wrong, call me…. LOL


Electrician Sydney August 7, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Now that is really being safe! I also recommend turning off circuit breakers especially the main one if your unsure of what your doing. Using a tester, and also knowing how to use it would also be a great way to check, because there are times, even when the circuit breakers are turned off, electric current is still flowing on the wire. This means that there must be a problem with the breaker, and of course it is wise to change it.


Elliot Ramsey March 22, 2011 at 7:34 am

Great step-by-step post of the fun trials of DIY electrical work.
In conversation with a general contractor last year, he considered himself handy enough to replace a dimmer. However, most electricians (whether they want the work, or worry for the homeowner) would recommend leaving that kind of seemingly simple task to a professional.


NYC Electrician April 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm

YOWWW! I know that feeling very well, I felt it a lot when I was first starting out…I hope you don’t go around messing with any wiring or fuses in the future, hire an electrician please!


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