New construction and remodeling both require a safe and secure flow of electrical power for tools, lighting and other uses while the work is underway. Quite often, that power comes in the form of temporary outlets that are installed and used only during the construction phase of the project, and then removed as soon as permanent power is connected.
TEMPORARY ELECTRICAL PANELS
For new homes or homes that are undergoing extensive remodeling or repair, your best bet is typically to install a temporary electrical panel. You can buy or assemble your own temporary panel, and some retailers of electrical supplies have them available for rent. If you are having an electrician wire your house, he or she will typically provide all the necessary equipment for the temporary panel installation as well.
Temporary electrical panels look similar to a standard residential electrical panel, except that they accommodate fewer circuits and have outlets built into them. The panel is weatherproof, and is mounted on a pressure-treated wood pole that is buried in a hole in the ground near the construction site. Inside the panel you will typically find two to four 120-volt circuits that supply power to a like number of outlets, as well as one or two 240-volt circuits and outlets. For added protection, the 120-volt outlets are protected by ground fault interrupter (GFI) circuits.
Installation of a temporary electrical service requires a special electrical permit, and the installation is usually limited to one year. After the pole is buried, a ground wire from the panel is connected to a ground rod driven into the earth adjacent to the panel, which grounds the panel and the attached outlets for safety. The installation must be inspected and approved, and then connection is made by power company technicians to the power company’s lines. If you are doing your own electrical work on the house, most jurisdictions will also allow you to install your own temporary electrical service.
For smaller remodels, additions or repairs where the existing electrical panel is to remain in place, a temporary electrical panel may be unnecessary. Many electricians will install one or two temporary outlets by wiring them directly into the electrical panel. This is done by running a grounded cable from one of the circuit breakers to a temporary electrical outlet that is mounted securely to an interior wall adjacent to the panel.
Temporary outlets must be grounded, and the box must be secure and have a cover plate over it. Again, the temporary outlet will be subject to inspection, and installations such as this will only be allowed by the building inspectors for a short time during construction. GFI protection is usually also be required, but this may vary among different jurisdictions. Even if it is not legally required, it’s a precaution you really need to take.
During the course of construction, be sure and clearly label any and all circuits that are being worked on. If, for example, you have shut a circuit in order to work on it or move it, put a piece of tape over the circuit breaker handle, along with a note warning others not to activate that circuit. Never leave a wire exposed, even if the power to it is off – it’s too easy to inadvertently turn the circuit back on, with potentially disastrous results. Instead, cap the ends of the wire with approved wire nuts, then secure the nuts in place with electrical tape until the repairs are complete.
As with any electrical wiring work, safety is the paramount issue. If you’re not comfortable doing the work yourself, be sure and use an experienced, licensed electrician.
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