Whether you have years of wiring experience under your belt, or you’re a novice, this collection of tips and techniques will help you wire faster and better. From straightening cable to labeling wires, our master electricians share their favorite tricks for making every wiring job the best it can be.
Pulling plastic-sheathed cable through holes in the framing is a lot easier if you
straighten it out first. If you simply pull the cable from the center of the coil, it'll
kink as you pull it through the studs. The trick is to lift a handful of coils from
the center of the roll and toss them across the floor as if you're throwing a
Next, walk along the length of cable, straightening it as you go. The electricians we talked to prefer this method because they can keep the cable contained in the plastic wrapper for easier handling and neater storage.
how to keep wires neat and compact: First, gather
all the bare ground wires along with a long pigtail
and connect them. Fold them into the back of the
box, leaving the pigtail extended. Next, do the same
for the neutral wires. If you’re connecting switches
as we show here, you don’t need a neutral pigtail.
Leave the hot wire extra long and fold it back and
forth across the bottom of the box. Put a wire connector
cap on the hot wire to identify it.
Underground feeder (UF) cable
has a tough plastic sheathing that’s difficult
to remove—unless you know
this trick. Start by separating the
black and white wires from the
bare copper by grabbing each with
pliers and twisting. They’re
easy to tear apart once you get
them started. Pull them apart until
you have about a foot of separated
Next, remove the sheathing
from the insulated wires by
grabbing the end of the wire with
one pliers and the sheathing with
another pliers and working them
apart. After you get the sheathing
separated from the insulated wire
at the top, just peel it off.
Repeat the process to remove the
sheathing from the black wire.
Finally, cut off the loose sheathing
with scissors or a knife.
To pull wire smoothly with fish tape,
start by stripping
an 8-in. length of cable.
Using a side cutters, cut off
all but one wire. Cut at a steep
angle to avoid a “shoulder” that
could catch on something. Then
bend the single wire around the
loop on the end of the fish tape
and wrap the whole works with
electrical tape to form a smooth
bundle. Now you can pull the
wire without worrying that it
might fall off, and the smooth
lump won’t get snagged by or
stuck on obstructions.
Save yourself a lot of headaches by identifying the wires as
you install them. It’s a lot harder to figure out which wires
go where when they’re covered with drywall. The electricians
we talked to use a “code” for marking wires, and so
can you. Here’s one example. Wrap three-way switch “travelers” loosely
and wrap the common wire tightly around them for easy identification
Another method is to use scraps of plastic sheathing to label the wires.
Here we labeled the wires that will be GFCI protected.
However, by the time you get back to connect
switches and outlets, you might find that drywallers,
tapers and painters have covered the label or knocked it
off. That’s why it’s best to use non-label coding whenever
possible. Develop a system and write it down. You’ll never
have to guess which are the “line” and “load” and which
wires are the travelers for your three-way switch.
Use a noncontact voltage detector
to check every wire in the box or area you’re
working. Always check the tester on a wire or
cord you know is live to make sure it’s working
before you rely on it. Noncontact voltage
detectors are available at home centers, hardware
stores and online and range in price from
$5 to $25. The Klein NCVT-1 tool shown here
($16 at amazon.com) has a green light that
indicates it’s turned on and working—a nice
feature that’s well worth the extra money.
Most complaints occur
when several outlets are protected
by one GFCI. To determine
whether the problem is with
the GFCI itself, or downstream,
turn off the power to the GFCI
and disconnect the wires from
the “load” terminals. Push the
reset button and plug a
GFCI tester into the GFCI outlet
before you turn the power back
on. If the GFCI trips after you
turn the power on, replace it.
If it holds, then the problem
is with one of the downstream
A box with three switches is crowded enough without adding
extra wire connectors and pigtails. Here’s a wiring method
that eliminates extra connections and creates a neater installation.
Instead of running a separate pigtail from the hot wire to
each switch, just leave the hot wire extra long. To connect the
switches, simply score the wire with your wire stripper and
push the insulation to expose about 3/4 in. of bare wire.
Wrap this bare section at least three-quarters of the way around
the screw terminal of the first switch. Repeat the process for
the remaining intermediate switches.
Connect the last
switch in the usual manner, looping the wire around the screw
in a clockwise direction.
It’s tempting to push your roughed-in
cable through the knockouts in the
box and worry about how to strip the
sheathing later. But that’s the hard
way. It’s much easier to remove the
sheathing before you push the wires
into the box. The only trick is to make
sure you have the cable in about the
right spot before marking it
and removing the sheathing.
Score the sheathing at the “thumb mark”
and slide it off. Then feed the wires into
the box. As long as you don’t have the cable
stretched tight, there will be enough
“play” to make final adjustments after
you’ve inserted the conductors into
the box. Remember, the electrical
code requires that at least 1/4 in. of
sheathing be visible inside the box.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.
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