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Many "do-it-yourself" (DIY) projects are trial and error. You may still laugh at your first attempted faux finish or the shelves that crashed to the floor five minutes after you triumphantly tapped the last nail in.

Electrical projects do not fall in the trial-and-error category. However, all homeowners do need to perform some basic electrical repairs. Before attempting to fix electrical problems, follow the steps below to ensure a safe and successful repair.

Do I have your permission?

Depending on where you live, you may or may not need a permit from your local electrical authority to do electrical work on your own home. According to the Oregon Department of Business and Consumer Services (ODBCS), homeowners do not need a permit "to replace electrical devices or to perform the maintenance on an existing electrical installation." However, the ODBCS states that a permit is require to:

install or alter any permanent wiring or electrical device

run additional wiring, put in an electrical outlet or light fixture, install a receptacle for a garage-door opener, or convert from fuse box to circuit breakers

install or alter low-voltage systems such as security alarms or stereo or computer systems

The laws about permits vary from state to state, so be sure to check with your local office about whether you are required to have a permit or not.

Lights out.

Turn off electrical power at the source, through a circuit breaker. Even if you flip a wall switch, the related appliance or socket will still be live. Although many electrical distribution panels have a diagram on them detailing which circuit is hooked up to which breaker, do not trust them.

Check for yourself that the circuit is dead by using a voltage tester. For this part of the process a helper can be quite useful, to prevent you from scurrying to and from, from the circuit breaker or fuse box to test the circuit and back again. Tape the circuit breaker into the "off" position to ensure that no helpful person tries to restore power while you're working. Do not restore power until you have completed your work.

Although you can turn off a switch or breakers, the main wires entering an electrical distribution panel from the outside can not be turned off. Do not touch these wires, and do not go near them with anything metal. If you believe the problem lies with the service wires, contact the power company.

Getting shocked puts a damper on things.

Do not stand in water on a damp floor. This could result in a very dangerousâ€"even life-threateningâ€"shock. If water is on the floor, put down a rubber mat to stand on. Ensure you yourself are not wet by wearing dry clothes. As always, if you have any doubts about the safety of the situation, call a professional.

Metal or rubber?

Metal is bad. Rubber is good. Metal conducts electricity, which means that if you simultaneously touch metal and a live wire, your body conducts current from one to the other. Not pleasant or healthy.

Rubber, on the other hand, is a nonconductive material and, therefore, insulates you from electricity. Use tools with rubber- or plastic-coated handles and wear rubber-soled shoes or sneakers. Safety glasses and gloves are not a bad idea, either, when feasible.

Test it out.

Once you have finished your repair work, flip the fuse or circuit breaker to return power to the area. Use a voltage tester to check and see if the appropriate amount of electricity is flowing. Conventional lights, receptacles, and appliances use 120 volts of electricity. Larger appliances such as air conditioners and electric ovens require 240 volts. Certain appliancesâ€"such as doorbells and telephonesâ€"utilize transformers that convert standard power to a lower voltage (usually between six and 12 volts) for safety.

To improve your electrical skills, many DIY stores offer clinics and workshops. Learn from the pros and ask questions so you feel more prepared the next time electrical work is needed. If you have any doubt about your abilities or the safety of the situation, leave it to the experts. Go work on repairing your faux finish or build new shelves while you're waiting for your friendly local electrician to arrive. And when he or she does come to the rescue, watch and learn

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