I want to start connecting electronics (micro controllers) to run/manage power outlets, but everyone always states to leave it alone unless you have experience. Well, how does one get started without becoming an electrician?

A few ideas came to mind, but I don't know if they are applicable:

  1. Start small. Wire a small bulb to 9V battery and a power switch.
  2. Medium. Wire a car battery to an RC car? I'm making it up to give the idea.

An electrician fixed a few light switches in the house and he was boasting that he's able to change power outlets and light switches without ever turning the power off to the house. He told me to follow these steps and I should be safe when replacing light switches while leaving the power on in the house:

  1. remove the plate
  2. find ground wire identified by a greenish/copper screw and unscrew it.
  3. connect that to the new light switch
  4. find neutral (white cable coming from a metal case that has other cables coming from it) and connect that to the new light switch
  5. finally, remove the Hot wire (could be black, but color may be anything - use a non-contact tester) and connect that to the new light switch.

Even thought he performed these steps in front of me, I've not attempted to do them myself. Any guidance, sample projects, books one safe ways to get experience would be appreciated.


  • 8
    If that was really said, IT IS VERY BAD ADVICE. Touching a hot wire can lead to serious injury and death, even for a pro. No do-it-yourselfer should handle a circuit with the power on. Period. [Please tell me this is an April 1 jest.]
    – bib
    Apr 1, 2014 at 16:52
  • 3
    Agreed, this is terrible advice. Do you know how often you'll find a white wire that's actually hot? Turn off the power!
    – Steven
    Apr 1, 2014 at 16:54
  • 1
    As others said, it's terrible advice - this only works until the one time it doesn't and you find that a hole in your gloves makes you the best path to ground and your muscles contract around the hot wire and you can't let go. If you want to control outlets with a microcontroller, purchase a ready made (and safe) off the shelf controllable outlet (Insteon, Zwave and X10 are common protocols), then use a gateway from your microcontroller to control the outlets - don't try to build your own software controllable outlet. And for goodness sake, turn off the power before you swap out an outlet!
    – Johnny
    Apr 1, 2014 at 17:59
  • 3
    I think it was downvoted because what you suggested is exceptionally hazardous, and some unsuspecting do-it-yourselfer could come across it and think that what you suggested makes sense without reading the comments/answers. A question like "Is it safe to unclog a toilet with high explosives" would be similarly downvoted even if some people may wonder if it's true.
    – Johnny
    Apr 1, 2014 at 21:01
  • 3
    Always turn the power off. That said, also never grab a wire. Always brush the back of your hand against it first. Just in case it is live, you don't want to be holding the wire as you may not be able to let go once the electricity starts flowing.
    – DA01
    Apr 1, 2014 at 21:16

4 Answers 4


There's these things known as Circuit Breakers, switch them off on the circuit you are working on.

Working on live circuits is only for linemen working on the grid and eventually dead DIY people.

All it takes is one little slipup and you've bought your halo.


You got terrible advice.

Head to a library, get a book on home repair. Head to a toy store, get an electronics kit for beginners. Experiment for a while. Happy April 1st, if you're celebrating.


If you really must do this - do it past the socket. Have something that you can switch off and unplug if it goes wrong.

Having said that - if you are not confident with mains power don't use it!

I am worried that you are taking on a relatively complex project without really understanding what you are doing with mains power.


The way to learn how to handle high-current circuits (e.g. mains!) is to become an electrician. The people who design and create the sort of home-automation devices you seem to want to build have training and certification in all the relevant areas.

That said, if you can find someone who is qualifies and does have experience, they can supervise you whilst you start learning. (That's how apprenticeships work.)

  • Well, becoming an electrician is one way to learn, but there are plenty of people that work on their home electrical system that are not electricians - though some localities and situations may require that you be an electrician (rental units, multi-unit dwellings, and commercial buildings come to mind, but some localities may prohibit homeowners from doing their own electrical work). But you're right that the best way to learn is to have someone qualified teach you -- but they should teach you what is "safe", not teach a dangerous shortcut that he has gotten away with.
    – Johnny
    Apr 2, 2014 at 0:18
  • Becoming a qualified electrician implicitly means learning the safe way to do things. And yes, I do forget that in some parts of the world it is not illegal to work on household wiring without certification.
    – staticsan
    Apr 2, 2014 at 0:56
  • Sure, there's no doubt that becoming an electrician is one way to learn how to do electrical work safely, but it's hard to argue that spending 7 years or so becoming a professional electrician is the best way to learn how to do some light home electrical work like changing an outlet.
    – Johnny
    Apr 2, 2014 at 2:01
  • Hmm. Regional differences again! Apprenticeships here in Australia to become an Electrician are only 2 or 3.
    – staticsan
    Apr 2, 2014 at 5:44

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