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Modesto, CA Electrical Tips and Lighting Design for Your Home

Modesto, CA Home Improvement Guide


Electrical and Lighting
Electric Contractors; Electric Equipment Service & Repair; Lighting Fixtures-Retail; Lighting Fixtures Installation, Maintenance & Repairing;

Electricity is literally woven into every room within a home. It powers lights, appliances, entertainment devices, alarm systems, computers, intercoms, doorbells, and charges cell phone devices. In some homes, it also operates the heating and cooling units and water heaters. Dependence upon electricity becomes painfully apparent anytime it is lost due to storms or power outages. Therefore, ensuring it is running optimally and properly is a major priority. However, tackling home electrical projects yourself can be intimidating as mistakes can cause physical damage to both you and your home. There are certain projects that are ideal for the skilled do-it-yourselfer and others that should be left to the experts. Review the information found in this guide to discover what projects are safe to take on and what should be left to professionals.

Lighting does more than just brighten a room. Today’s lighting options are also works of art, adding character and style to a space. Use the information found in this section to determine what type of lighting is ideal for specific areas and tasks. Lighting choices should reflect usage needs and style requirements for any room. Learn what to look for when selecting lighting for indoor needs as well as outdoor needs. A variety of outdoor lighting options are available to showcase the exterior of the home, offering style and elegance to the outdoors.


Do-It-Yourself Electrical
Electric Contractors; Electric Equipment Service & Repair

Prior to attempting any electrical do-it-yourself project, make sure you are confident in your abilities and have a basic knowledge of electrical wiring. Serious harm could result if you are unsure about what to do. If you have doubts or are uneasy about any electrical tasks, call an electrician. With electrical projects, it is always better to err on the side of safety.

Projects involving low-voltage wiring for cable television, speakers, and security systems are safe for the average do-it-yourselfer. With a bit more experience, standard-voltage electrical wiring powering lights, electrical outlets, and appliances can be tackled with caution and care. Before taking on any electrical task, research how the project should be handled and follow all detailed professional instructions.

Basic Wiring
Electrical current travels through metal conductors or wires located inside switches and receptacles (outlets). These currents travel in a circular loop or circuit from the service panel to each switch and receptacle. The service panel receives its power from a transmission via a meter provided by the power company. Inside the service panel, several circuit breakers or fuses are attached to two metal bars connected to the meter. The power distributed through the meter energizes the two metal bars which in turn provide power to circuit breakers or fuses. Each circuit breaker or fuse provides power to a number of switches and outlets.

Electricity then travels from the service panel through an insulated, energized wire (typically black, red or another color other than green or white). Once at the switch or receptacle, power returns to the panel via a neutral wire (typically white). A third wire (typically green or bare) provides a ground. The neutral and ground wires are both connected to a separate neutral metal bar located in the service panel. This neutral metal bar is connected to the neutral line from the main power line.

Circuit breakers or fuses serve as a safety device. When too much power is being drawn through a particular circuit, it automatically shuts off. This keeps the system from overheating. Once a circuit breaker is tripped, it can be reset, restoring power. If a fuse is blown, it cannot be reset and will need to be replaced.

Labeling Circuit Breakers
Prior to beginning any electrical projects, make sure your service panel is properly labeled. Each circuit breaker or fuse controls the electricity to a particular portion of the house. Verify that each circuit breaker is properly mapped and identified. Before handling any electrical wiring, ensure that all power to the wires has been shut off. Proper labeling of circuit breakers or fuses makes this task much easier.

Replacing Light Switches
After extensive use, it is not uncommon for the contact points inside a switch to become worn or corroded. Replacing a single-pole switch is a good do-it-yourself project. However, if you are looking to increase to a three-way switch that can be turned on from multiple locations, this job is better left to an electrician.

Make sure the problem is isolated to the switch by testing it with a hand held lamp you know is working. This ensures the problem is the switch itself and not the light bulb or fixture. Standard single-pole switches need to be replaced with other single-pole switches but the style does not need to remain the same. There are a variety of styles and colors that provide elegance to any room. Dimmers, hand-held remotes or switches that turn lights on automatically when someone enters the room can be installed as well. Switch features options include a toggle, pilot light, or timer.

Before opening up the switch, make sure the power is turned off at the circuit breaker. This is critical to avoiding electrical shock. Be sure to check the amp and voltage ratings on the back of the switch to be replaced. The new switch needs to have the same amp and voltage rating. Also check to see if the home has aluminum wiring, as this requires switches that are designated “CU-AL” to ensure compatibility. Follow instructions found on do-it-yourself websites or advice received from home improvement centers. If you feel nervous or unsure about the task, contact an electrician for assistance.

Replacing a Receptacle
Also known as outlets or wall plugs, receptacles are the electrical interface between lamps, computers, appliances, and other devices. After extensive use or due to age, connections between the receptacle and device prongs will become loose, requiring the receptacle to be replaced. For those with a good knowledge of receptacles or for a confident do-it-yourself, changing the receptacle is a good project.

The majority of receptacles in the home are a duplex type receptacle powered with either 15 or 20 amperage and 120-voltage, featuring two slots and a grounding hole. Each receptacle is marked on the face of the plate indicating the number of amps and volts powering that receptacle. This ensures that devices requiring a particular voltage can be verified prior to plugging it in. To avoid plugging the wrong appliance into the wrong receptacle, tool and appliance manufacturers have designed specialized prongs that require a specialized receptacle. Clothes dryers require a combination 120/240-volt receptacle while saw tools require a 240-volt receptacle. These higher voltage receptacles have specialized prong configurations ensuring only higher voltage devices are powered by the receptacles. Another type of receptacle commonly used in kitchens and bathrooms is a GFCI receptacle. Used in areas where the possibility of shock is more prevalent, these receptacles have a trip switch that shuts off automatically shut when too much power is generated.

Receptacles are also stamped to indicate the type of wiring it can accommodate. One stamped AL-CU accommodates both copper and aluminum wiring. If it is unmarked or has a slash through the AL, only copper wiring should be used. There are two methods to wiring an electric receptacle. The first is a screw terminal that uses the screw terminals on the side of the receptacle. The second is backwiring using the wire holes on the back side of the outlet. Again, the type of wiring plays a role in determining which method should be used. Backwiring is only suitable for copper wiring.

Before starting any electrical project, make sure power to the receptacle has been shut off. Do-it-yourself websites or home improvement experts provide step by step instruction on how to replace receptacles. Make sure you are comfortable with the task and feel confident with what is required. If you have any confusion about what is required, consult an electrician. When looking to change the type of wiring or raising the voltage servicing the receptacle, leave these projects to a professional electrician.

Replacing a Light Fixture
Changing a light fixture is one of the more simple do-it-yourself projects. Following manufacturer’s instructions located in the box is often all the instruction you need. Adding a new fixture to a room dramatically changes the appearance. Regardless of the age of the old fixture, it can be replaced with a newer fixture. Flush ceiling lights can be replaced with chandeliers, track lighting, or a ceiling fan. Specialty lights may require different mounting hardware that what currently exists but it can be replaced fairly easy. Take into account the size and weight of the new fixture to ensure the mounting hardware can support the weight. Heavier fixtures require mounting the hardware directly into the ceiling joists.

If your home improvement project requires installing a light fixture where there wasn’t one before, consult an electrician. Installing a fixture and ceiling mount requires running new cable through walls which is a difficult and extensive job. An experienced electrician will ensure all wiring is hidden and that electrical wiring is properly connected to the service panel.

Finding a Quality Electrician
All electrical needs beyond changing out switches, receptacles, and light fixtures should be left to professionals. Ensuring the job is done right is critical to your health and the safety of the home. Faulty wiring is a fire waiting to happen. Electrical projects require compliance with building code and permits need to be obtained prior to beginning any work. Electricians have an in-depth knowledge of wiring infrastructure and building code. Leaving the majority of electrical needs in their hands brings peace of mind knowing a skilled professional is completing the project.

Check Licenses: Begin the selection process by asking to see a state license. There are two types of electricians depending on their qualifications and experience. A master electrician has passed a standardized test and has a minimum of two years experience. He/she has knowledge of the National Electrical Code and any recent modifications that have been made specifically by your state. Master electricians are also qualified to maintain, plan, design, and install electrical systems. A journeyman electrician has yet to qualify for a master’s license and often works directly with one. He/she is licensed by the state but is only qualified to install wiring and equipment, he cannot design systems.

Create a Short List: Most electricians specialize in a certain type of work. Some focus on new construction, commercial work or making service calls to fix standard electrical needs. Others specialize in remodeling and additions and have an extensive knowledge of techniques blending new wiring into existing structures. They are familiar with capacity needs of existing circuits and when a project requires adding another service panel.

Start creating a list of possible electricians based on the specialized project you are looking to complete. Recommendations can be provided by your current general contractor, local home builders associations, and local electrical supply stores, or by visiting the Electric Contractors heading on MyYP.com.

Narrow the List: Contact each electrician on the short list and request a copy of their license and proof of insurance. It is critical that both of them are current. Insurance coverage should cover a liability minimum of $500,000. If everything is in order, ask for a list of references. Call the references and ask if you can view the final project. Seeing the electrician’s work first hand is an excellent indication of their skill level and dedication. Check service panels to ensure wiring is clean and orderly. Verify that receptacles are flush to the wall and plumb. Quality electricians take the time to ensure the job is done right and neatly.


Indoor Lighting
Lighting Designers & Consultants; Lighting Fixtures-Retail

Indoor lighting options are categorized into four main categories: ambient, wall, task, and accent. Each of these categories provides specific lighting options to any room through a wide variety of fixtures.

Ambient Lighting
Also known as overhead lighting, ambient lighting is general lighting designed to cast a low level or soft light throughout the room. This light supports activities such as playing games, entertaining, reading or watching television. With the exception of a dining room or entry hall, ambient lighting plays a softer role and is not the focus of the room. Used separately or as a combination, recessed and track lighting can be used as ambient lighting providing overall light for any room.

Wall Lighting
Sconces are the most popular form of wall lighting providing overall lighting when turned upright and directional light when turned downward.

Installation includes two methods depending on personal style and budget. Direct-wire sconces have a dedicated wall mount and electrical box that is hidden by the surface plate. All wiring is hidden in the wall and requires an electrician for installation. The light is operated by either a wall switch or one attached at the sconce. Using wall switches to turn on the sconce allows it to tie into a larger light scheme and represents a major light fixture. Independent switches directly on the sconce are ideal for bedrooms or reading areas to be used after the overhead light has been turned off.

The second installation method is a plug-in sconce. This light fixture hooks to the wall using brackets and plugs directly into an outlet. While these sconces are much easier to install, they leave the cord exposed which may not be ideal. Home improvement stores offer cord strips matching the metal in the sconce to encase the cord making it look less conspicuous. Plug-in sconces turn on at the lamp or can be plugged into an outlet connected to a switch.

Task Lighting
When ambient lighting is not sufficient to cover the entire room, supplementing with task lighting illuminates specific areas. Task lighting is used to make reading easier or to illuminate work spaces. Table and floor lamps, recessed lights or track lighting all provide light for specific tasks in a room. Track lighting located directly under kitchen cabinets provides additional light to work areas. Decorative vanity fixtures provide additional light when shaving or putting on make-up. When using lamps, make sure the bottom of the shade hangs at eye level. This will eliminate eye strain that can occur when the shade is too high or directing the light onto the table instead of the surrounding area when it is too low.

Accent Lighting
Primarily decorative and one-directional, accent lighting draws attention to a specific area of the room such as an architectural feature or artwork. Decorative walls or stone fireplaces can be spotlighted using recessed spotlights or track lighting. Any type of light fixture can be used as accent lighting as it is focused on highlighting a particular element in the room.

Dimmer Switches
Further enhance the lighting capabilities of any room by installing dimmer switches. Commonly used in dining rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, and entryways, brighter levels provide light during the day and a softer ambiance at night when turned down. Operating options include toggles, dials, slides, paddle switches or touch pads. Special wiring is not required for a dimmer but light bulbs need to be rated for dimming or lower level lighting.

Dimmers offer more than a just variety of mood level lighting, they also save money. When bulbs are dimmed, less electricity is used providing energy efficiency and protection to the pocketbook. Light bulbs also last 4 to 20 times longer depending on the level of dimming as lower light levels place less strain on the filament.

Choosing a Light Bulb
While it may seem insignificant, there are definite advantages to taking a few minutes to research the right light bulb. Different bulbs provide greater energy efficiency, longer life, and a softer glow. Consider the various options to learn what bulb is ideal for your needs.

Incandescent Bulbs:
This is the most common light bulb found in homes today. It is inexpensive and widely found in a variety of stores. Incandescent bulbs work when electricity heats a filament in the bulb causing it to glow. Standard wattages range from 15-150 watts producing a soft yellow-white glow. Bulbs are available in clear, frosted and colored styles and can be used with dimmers. The typical life of an incandescent bulb is 700-1,000 hours.

Halogen Bulbs: More commonly used in lamps, halogen bulbs light a halogen gas tube as electricity passes through a tungsten filament. The bulb creates a brighter white color with is ideal for task situations such as reading, writing, or working on a hobby. Halogen bulbs require more care as they burn hotter than other bulbs, sometimes reaching 600 degrees. Therefore, it is important to ensure they are placed out of the reach of hands and flammable materials. They must also be handled carefully prior to installation as oils left from fingerprints shorten the life of the bulb. The typical life of a halogen bulb is 2,000-4,000 hours.

Fluorescent: Used in a variety of situations, fluorescent bulbs light as a current passes through a tube filled with argon gas and mercury. There is no filament used in fluorescent bulbs. The typical life of a fluorescent bulb is much longer at 10,000-20,000 hours. This makes it very efficient and the bulb also runs much cooler than other bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs are ideal for providing ambient light in kitchens, bathrooms, basements and garages. The majority of fluorescent bulbs cannot be used with dimmers.

Compact Fluorescent: A smaller version of a fluorescent light, this bulb is the most energy efficient requiring 20-40% less energy. This energy efficiency allows them to use less wattage to create the same brightness. For example, a compact fluorescent bulb requires only 20 watts to equal the same brightness of a 75 watt incandescent bulb. Like standard fluorescent bulbs, they produce little heat and have a typical life of 10,000 hours. Compact fluorescent bulbs are best used for task lighting in kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms. They cannot be used in motion detectors or with a dimmer switch.


Outdoor Lighting
Lighting Designers & Consultants; Lighting Fixtures-Retail; Landscape & Outdoor Lighting

Creating a strategic outdoor lighting plan does more than just show off your landscape; it makes your home safer. Low voltage and Solar exterior lighting options include a variety of lights, lanterns, floodlights, and fixtures to creatively showcase your yard while lighting key walkways and steps, avoiding possible accidents. A well lit yard or one that uses motion sensors also deters burglars. Use the information found in this section to start your exterior lighting plan and take advantage of what outdoor lighting can offer.

Low Voltage Lighting
Most outdoor lighting plans use low voltage systems which operate at a very efficient and safe 12 volts. These systems typically include light fixtures, a transformer, and electrical cable. Lamps powering the fixtures range from 4-50 watts depending on the amount of light you want to generate. The low voltage cable is water-resistant available in 12, 14 and 16-gauge. The gauge required is determined by the amount of watts needed for your system. The higher the gauge, the more wattage the cable can carry. Wattage also determines the number of transformers required. Transformers support a certain wattage such as 100-watts which determines how many fixtures can be attached to the transformer. With a 100-watt transformer, 10 tier lights with 10-watt bulbs can be supported. Talk to the outdoor lighting expert at your local home improvement store to determine the lighting plan needed for your yard. Landscaping contractors can also help design an optimal plan and save you the trouble of installing it.

Solar Lighting
This energy conscious outdoor lighting system is inexpensive and easy to install. Solar fixtures do not require electrical wiring so installation is completed by simply placing a stake in the ground. Lights are powered via solar panels that absorb energy from the sunlight, converting it into electrical power which is stored in efficient rechargeable batteries until it is used. The brightness of the light itself is much lower than low voltage systems which may be a drawback. Manufacturers are now offering LED lights which provide a stronger, brighter light.

Solar lighting is ideal in areas where access to electricity is limited. Light fixtures are available in a variety of options including floodlights, wall lights, lampposts, and lighted bricks which are ideal around pool areas. As the system is easy to install, following manufacturer instructions is usually sufficient. Home improvement centers can provide additional advice or answer questions.

As solar lighting requires sunlight, make sure you place them in areas that receive sufficient sunlight daily. The brightness of the light is affected by the amount of sunlight available during the day. Expect the lights to be dimmer during winter months or cloudy days when the amount of sunlight is limited.

Lighting to Create Safety
Strategically place outdoor lighting around walkways, steps and entrances to light high traffic areas. With pathway lighting, ideally lights should be placed a minimum of 10 feet from each other. Place at minimum, one exterior light fixture on either side of exterior doors and garage doors. Ideally, one fixture on both sides of exterior doors and garage doors provides increased illumination for these key areas. Lampposts near driveways and walkways cast a broader overall ambient light to the yard. Create a lighting strategy that incorporates a variety of fixtures and lighting elements to illuminate the yard and make it safer for family and guests.

Add motion sensors to fixtures around the doorways and garage to help deter burglars. As potential intruders approach key area, lights illuminate letting you know someone is outside. Placing timers on lights increases safety and keeps energy bills lower by limiting the time they are on.

Spotlight Landscape Features
A variety of fixtures can be utilized to spotlight key landscaping features. Floodlights directed upward show off a palm tree, fence, statue or architectural feature. Tier light fixtures with their tops removed are ideal for highlighting shrubs and hedges. Taller fixtures are available in a variety of sizes and shapes that highlight particular flowers beds and rock gardens.

 
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