Electrical Evaluation

In keeping with last weeks post about portable generators, this week will be about an electrical evaluation. With a few inexpensive electrical tools you can map out your circuits, isolate energy draws, and inspect outlets for proper wiring. This is the perfect Sustainable Saturday project and you can get others involved to learn about your electrical system.

First, I would map out your existing circuits so you have a baseline to work from. Once mapped out you will have a way to know what breaker (or fuse) controls which circuit which saves time when you need to perform service. I use a receptacle tester to help map circuits and to make sure they are wired correctly. Even if you have your circuit breaker labeled knowing which outlets and lights on on each circuit helps when servicing. With the exception of the furnace and other dedicated circuits, mapping requires you to turn off the breaker and then checking the outlets and switches to see which ones go off. I use a regular note pad with a rough sketch of the floor plan and write standard electrical symbols to locate the circuit on the map using the circuit number on the service panel.

Once you have the circuits mapped out, you can use a plug in meter to check for power leaks and usage. Most electronics have a constant draw and power adapters use power whether a device is connected or not. Each one does not use much but if you have many devices it can add up to a significant amount. This also helps you decide if you really need that extra refrigerator, freezer, or other device that rarely gets used.

When I evaluated my home and shop, I found out that lighting was my major expense while in my shop. Dust collection and air filtration was next. I rewired my shop for two tier lighting, one for general visibility and the next for work that lights up everything without shadows. In my house I also found some unnecessary electrical draws that I now use a switched outlet for.

Mapping the circuits was done in an afternoon but the circuit monitoring took a few weeks. I also got an energy bridge from my electric company so I have real time monitoring now (it uses power too, but the data is worth it to me). I have the tools for doing this in my neighborhood tool cooperative so others can use them when I am not helping a client.