“Excuse me, are you an electrician?”
Just this morning while I was at my local electrical supply house, a homeowner asked me that question. It’s a question I get pretty frequently and I will typically make an effort to help answer their subsequent questions. Today the fellow asked me “how to wire a three way switch in combination with two outlets?” He had just exited the supply house which has a strict policy of not answering electrical questions from the general public. This keeps them free of liability in case the homeowner does something wrong. So when this homeowner saw me coming, he thought he’d try again.
I started explaining what he needed to do when he offered up some additional information. “Well I have 12 wire but I ran 14 wire between switches because it is easier to work with.” At that point I had to stop and explain to him a very important fact; you cannot just pick a wire size because it is convenient, you like the color better, or it’s more malleable. He then shared that he researched the process online but because it was confusing, he thought he would just come down and ask someone how to do it. He followed with “Why does it have to be so confusing? Shouldn’t it just be run some wires and find a way to make it work?” At this point I simply had to tell him, “Sir, you are going to have to call a licensed electrician. It is obvious you are in way over your head, and you can seriously hurt someone. I cannot help you out with this matter.”
In reality, I could have drawn out for him on a piece of paper what he needed to do, and maybe he would have done it correctly. Then again maybe he wouldn’t have, resulting in significant damage to his house or even worse, someone being seriously injured. Once I gave him information on how to do this, the liability would have been on me.
So a word of caution to anyone who searches the internet for “how to’s.” Sometimes the information is worthy, you can save yourself money, and you can take pride in learning something new. But sometimes hiring a licensed professional to do the work correctly is the smarter, safer, and more economical choice.