A valuable lesson for safe electrical design

A charred screwdriver is a reminder that electrical systems must be properly designed and installed

By Danna Jensen, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Certus, Carrollton, Texas August 22, 2019

A colleague and good friend of mine once told me a story. He was renovating a bathroom in an old rental house back in his college days. After a long project, he was finally done and all electrical wiring had been reconnected and put back in to place. Time for the ah-ha moment: He turned everything back on and prepared to admire his work.  

Unfortunately, like most home renovation projects, it wasn’t that simple. There was one light fixture that simply would not work. He tried to figure it out with a volt meter, but was unsuccessful. So, being the invincible college student that he was, he decided to start wire nutting different combinations of wires together in an attempt to correct the issue. But the circuit breaker kept tripping.  

He called for assistance (from his fellow invincible roommate)  he sent the roommate the electrical panel in the basement and instructed to keep resetting the circuit breaker any time it tripped. He then took a screwdriver and started touching wires together to seek out the problem.  

Suddenly, sparks began to fly and the screwdriver shot straight out of his hand. He then had to rush to extinguish the flames that had erupted from the wall. After that, he decided to give up. That light fixture never worked. More than 20 years later, he still keeps that old charred screwdriver in his toolbox as a reminder of the dangers of electricity.  

Author Bio: Danna Jensen is one of the founding principals at Certus. She has extensive experience in the design of safe, reliable and efficient electrical systems for complex health care projects. Jensen is a member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board.