Whether you’re a DIYer shopping at the home improvement store or homeowner discussing a project with a contractor, you’re bound to come across terms commonly used in the electrical world. You’ve probably heard most of them before but are you sure what they mean? Getting them right can save troubles ranging from extra trips to costly mistakes.
Here are ones you’ll likely come across:
In simpler times, AC (alternating current) powered your home and DC (direct current) came from batteries to run things like your flashlight, car, and Walkman. It’s more complicated these days.
AC changes direction quickly, stated in cycles per second or hertz (Hz). 60 Hz is most common in the Western Hemisphere; 50 Hz is typical elsewhere. AC tends to be more efficient than DC, especially at high voltages.
DC flows in a single direction and works well in low-voltage applications. That’s why it’s used in most electronics.
Today, things like computers that get their power from AC circuits have rectifiers to convert high-voltage AC to low-volt DC and cars use inverters to change their engine-powered alternator energy to DC to charge the battery and run DC systems. Like we said, it’s complicated.
An arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) is a circuit breaker designed to detect an arcing condition (like in a frayed lamp cord) that may not be caught by a standard circuit or ground fault interrupter (GFCI) breaker. Like GFCIs and standard breakers, AFCIs can be installed in either the panel or on outlets and receptacles.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) now requires AFCI protection in all living areas, hallways, and closets while GFCIs are required in other areas where moisture is common.
ASTM (the American Society for Testing and Materials) sets safety and performance standards in over 12,000 applications from aircraft and nanotechnology to toys. Another organization, Underwriters Laboratory (UL), tests products to see if they meet those standards.
Electrical metallic tubing (EMT), sometimes called “thin wall,” is a lightweight, inexpensive protective tubing used to run wiring, usually across exposed surfaces. Other types of metal conduit include heavier intermediate metallic conduit (IMC) and galvanized rigid conduit (GRC). Each has specific applications, so know which is right for your project.
GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. It’s a type of breaker that shuts off when it detects that current is flowing improperly. It detects things like short circuits and protects against shocks in places where people are likely to be using tools and appliances such as kitchens and bathrooms. They’re required by code on those circuits as well as outdoors, in garages, basements, and crawl spaces, sump pumps, any area subject to moisture, and any outlet within 6 feet of a sink.
GFCI breakers can be installed in the service panel to protect entire circuits or on outlets in specific locations. Either place, they must be easily accessible to test or reset.
HVAC stands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, all of which have one sort of electrical connection or another, sometimes several. Proper electric service to these components is essential to proper operation, efficiency, and safety.
The Independent Electrical Contactors is a professional trade association that educates, trains, and informs electrical contractors. Its members must meet standards designed to ensure that contractors provide quality electrical work, conform to codes and regulations, and keep abreast of the latest developments in electrical technology.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) regulates residential and commercial electrical work will help guide safe installation of electrical wiring. Read this article on the Allstar Electrical Services website to learn the most common electrical code violations by DIYers.
Non-metallic cable (NM) is flexible electrical cable with a plastic covering. It’s inexpensive, easy to work with, and safe to use in places that don’t require stronger protection from metal or plastic conduit.
UF or underground feeder cable runs electric wires underground encased in plastic. UF is another type of NM cable.
UL stands for Underwriters Laboratories, an organization established in 1894 that tests, inspects, and certifies as safe products. It’s seal of approval is especially important on electrical products to protect against shoddy construction that can result in shock, injury, property damage, and death.
And finally, our favorite—
Keep it simple, stupid. It’s a concept that should be embraced by DIYers and contractors alike. Overthinking a project can make it needlessly complicated and stress you out. If you don’t see the right way to do something, don’t risk tackling a project that’s over your head and ending up with a mess, or worse.
Need Help? Call a Pro
Why risk trouble when help is only a call or click away? Remodeling, renovations, and additions need top-notch electrical work, and Allstar Electrical Services delivers the quality results you expect and deserve. We work hand-in-hand with you and your contractors to ensure your new project is done right, on budget and on schedule.
We’ve served the Front Range for over 20 years, are top-rated by the BBB and Angie’s List, and are proud to be a Home Advisor Preferred Contractor and member of the Independent Electrical Contractors.