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How to Install Surface-Mounted Wiring and Conduit

With metal conduit, you can run power almost anywhere. We'll show you how to do it safely and easily.

electric conduitFamily Handyman
Learn about the tools, materials and techniques you need to cut, bend and install surface-mounted metal conduit. Add power to a basement or garage shop with easy, inexpensive EMT (electrical metallic tubing).

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Time
Weekend
Complexity
Moderate
Cost
Varies

Step 1: Plan your run

For safety, exposed electrical wiring (in the garage, basement and outdoors) must be protected by sturdy tubing. We chose 1/2-in. EMT metal conduit for this project because it’s easy to bend and assemble (and take apart if you make a mistake!). PVC conduit is another good option, but it differs in that you glue the joints.

The first step is to find your power source. We tapped in to a 15-amp garage outlet receptacle to power the “light-duty” workbench area. If you copy this project and operate power-hungry tools such as circular or table saws, you will need to tap in to or run a new 20-amp circuit (see “Power-Hungry Tools”). Check the circuit breaker in the main electrical panel to determine the circuit size. If you’re uncertain about circuit sizing, consult a licensed electrician.

Next, sketch the electric conduit route from your power source to the new electrical box locations and note the length of the run and all the boxes, connectors and wire you need. Our materials included 1/2-in. EMT conduit (10 ft. long), 4 x 4 x 1-1/2 in. metal boxes (which hold two receptacles; Photo 2), 4-in. square raised covers, one 1/2-in. offset setscrew connector for each conduit/box connection (Photo 2), plus 1/2-in. couplings (to join two pieces of conduit in longer runs), electric conduit straps, a 15-amp switch, receptacles and 14-gauge THHN wiring (the type of wire to run inside the conduit). If you get power from a 20-amp circuit, use only 12-gauge THHN wire. These items are at home centers and full-service hardware stores.

Check with your local building department to get a permit and an inspection for all work you do.

Figure A: Electric Conduit Layout

This is a simple surface-mounted wiring plan.

Step 2: Bending basics

A 1/2-in. electric conduit bender (Photo 5) is the only specialty tool you need to bend 10-ft. sections of 1/2-in. EMT conduit. You’ll also need a 3/4 x 24-in. water pipe, which serves as the handle and screws into the bender head (Photo 5). Along with that, you need basic hand tools, a hacksaw and a drill with a 1/4-in. masonry bit. And you may need a fish tape to pull wire if you have long electric conduit runs with multiple bends.

We’ll only show how to make 90-degree bends, since they’re the easiest and most often used. Another common bend is an offset, which is a difficult two-part bend that positions the electric conduit slightly off the wall to connect straight into electrical boxes. We chose to use offset setscrew connectors (Photo 2) to simplify this task.

Bending electric conduit isn’t difficult (Photo 7). But you may not get perfect bends on the first try, so buy an extra 10-ft. length just in case. If you don’t want to bend conduit, you can buy gradual “90-degree sweep bends” or “90-degree square corner elbow fittings.” However, your project won’t look as professional because of the numerous connectors, and the extra joints make it harder to push or pull wire.

Step 3: Start at the power source

Photo 1: Remove the old outlet

Turn off the power and remove the old receptacle. Pry the top and bottom box nails away from the stud to remove the box. Pull the wires through the wall opening.

Photo 2: Add connectors to the box

Remove 1/2-in. knockouts and insert a 3/8-in. cable clamp and an offset setscrew connector. Push the sheathed cable through the clamp and into the box.

Photo 3: Mount the box

Mount the box to the wall by driving two 1-5/8 in. drywall screws through the drywall and into the stud. Keep the box level.

Photo 4: Mark the conduit for cutting

Measure from the wall corner to a point 3/4 in. inside of the offset connector. Subtract 5 in. for the 90-degree bend, then mark that length on the electric conduit.

After you’ve chosen the electrical box to tie in to, turn off the circuit breaker or unscrew the fuse that protects the circuit. Some electrical boxes may contain wires from more than one circuit. Before doing any work, test all the wires with a non-contact voltage tester (sold at hardware stores and home centers) to make sure they’re “dead.”

Next, remove the existing receptacle and box from the stud (Photo 1). Now position (not attach) a 4 x 4 x 1-1/2 in. metal electrical box on the drywall surface, slightly above or below the existing opening so you can pull at least 1/4 in. of the cable sheathing through the back of the box (Photo 3). Cut the drywall and shift the box if necessary to get more sheathed cable inside the box. You have to patch the drywall anyway, before you screw the new box to the wall (Photo 3).

Step 4: Bending conduit

Photo 5: Start the bend

Place the electric conduit in the bender with the mark directly in line with the arrow (see next photo). Step on the conduit bender and push down on the handle until the conduit forms a 90-degree angle and is level.

Detail

Stop bending when the bubble reads level.

Photo 6: Mark the next cut

Measure the difference in height between Box 1 and Box 2 (above the bench; Figure A). Subtract 5 in. from the measurement, then add 3/4 in. to allow for the thickness of the electric conduit. Mark that distance on the electric conduit.

Photo 7: Change the direction of the bend

Repeat Step 5 to make the second 90-degree bend. Make sure you bend it 90 degrees in the correct direction.

Photo 8: Level and mark the electric conduit

Attach electric conduit loosely to Box 1. Level the horizontal sections, then position Box 2 and mark the location of the cut.

For 90-degree bends in 1/2-in. electric conduit, the rule is to subtract 5 in. from the connector-to-wall measurement. If the total distance is 33 in., mark the conduit at 28 in. Be sure to measure to the inside of the offset connector where the conduit actually seats (Photos 2 and 4).

Bend conduit by positioning it in the bender so your distance mark on the conduit lines up with the bender arrow (Photo 5 and inset). Apply pressure with your foot and hand to bend the end of the conduit straight up. Then check the angle with a magnetic torpedo level (or with the bubble level built into some bender heads) and adjust the bend until you get 90 degrees.

When measuring for the vertical rise, measure the height difference between the two boxes. Again, take that distance and subtract 5 in. Then add 3/4 in. to account for the thickness of the conduit in the first bend (Photo 6).

Power-hungry tools

If you plan to power any tools, be aware that a common 15-amp circuit may overload and trip if any of the following tools are run simultaneously (especially if your shop lights are on too):

Miter saw – 13 to 15 amps
Circular saw – 13 to 15 amps
Router – 9 to 11 amps
Belt sander – 6 to 12 amps

We recommend a maximum connected load (lights and other permanently plugged in devices) and operating load (tools and other temporarily running devices) of 1,440 watts (12 amps) for a 15-amp circuit and 1,920 watts (16 amps) for a 20-amp circuit.

Step 5: Attach boxes to masonry

Photo 9: Cut the electric conduit

Cut the electric conduit with a hacksaw. Scrape any sharp burrs from both the inside and the outside edges with pliers.

Photo 10: Drill the holes

Reposition the electric conduit and Box 2 and mark hole locations for plastic anchors. Drill the holes, then mount the box and conduit straps with panhead screws.

Photo 11: Tighten the locknuts

Position Box 3, measure the distance to Box 2 and cut the conduit to fit. Repeat steps 9 and 10 to mount them. Now tighten all offset connector locknuts with a hammer and screwdriver.

Photo 12: Fasten long runs with straps

Measure from the Box 3 offset connector to the ceiling, then repeat Steps 4 and 5. Plumb the conduit and attach a strap. Install Box 4.

After leveling the conduit and marking the location for Box 2 (Photo 8), be sure to smooth all cut edges with a pliers (Photo 9). Now drill the two holes for plastic anchors and a clearance hole for the ground screw. Attach the box to the concrete with plastic anchors and panhead screws (Photo 10).

Repeat this process to attach all other boxes, as well as the straps that hold the conduit to the masonry. When using 1/2-in. EMT conduit, position straps within 3 ft. of each box and within 10 ft. thereafter. Once you’ve installed the conduit and rotated the offsets so the conduit rests against the wall, tighten the offset connector locknuts with a sharp rap of a hammer on a screwdriver (Photo 11).

CAUTION!

If you have aluminum wiring, leave it alone. Call in a licensed pro who’s certified to work with it. This wiring is dull gray, not the dull orange that’s characteristic of copper.

Step 6: Running the wire

Photo 13: Push the wire through short runs

Tape together ends of one black and one white 14-gauge wire and push the taped ends through the conduit. Cut the wires, leaving 8 in. extra at each box. Repeat this step from Box 3 to Box 4.

Photo 14: Pull wires with fish tape

Push fish tape from Box 1 to Box 2. Bend both wires through the fish tape hook and tape them, leaving the middle open to flex around corners, then pull wires back from Box 2 to Box 1.

Detail

Push the fish tape to the second box.

Fish Tape Detail

Tape wire to fish tape.

Photo 15: Wire the GFCI outlet

Connect Box 1 by first breaking the ears off a GFCI receptacle, then connect the wires from the power source to the ‘line’ terminals, the wires to the new receptacles to the ‘load’ terminals, and the ground wire to the ground screw. Then connect the devices in Boxes 2, 3 and 4 (see Figures B, C and D).

Detail

GFCI ears.

When running wire short distances with few bends, such as between Boxes 2 and 3, and 3 and 4, you can simply tape the two wire ends together and push them through the conduit (Photo 13). For longer distances, or runs that have two or more bends, run a fish tape through the conduit and tape the wires to it (Photo 14 and DETAIL photo).

Garage receptacles must be GFCI protected. Before wiring the GFCI receptacle into Box 1, bend or break off the top and bottom ears. Repeat this step with all receptacles so they fit inside the metal box as well as screw to the 4-in. square cover (that is raised 1/2 in.). Now connect the GFCI receptacle as shown (Photo 15), followed by the other boxes (Figures B, C and D). Then screw all receptacles to the covers and attach the covers to the boxes.

Figures B – D: Wiring Connections

Wiring Connections in electrical boxes.

Additional Information

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Cordless drill
  • Hacksaw
  • Non-contact voltage tester
  • Wire stripper/cutter
1/2″ conduit bender, fish tape

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 1/2-in. couplings
  • 1/2-in. offset setscrew connectors
  • 1/2" EMT conduit
  • 12-gauge (for 20 AMP) or 14-gauge (for 15 AMP) THHN wiring
  • 15-amp switch
  • 3/4" x 24" threaded water pipe (handle for conduit bender)
  • 4 x 4 x 1-1/2 in. metal boxes
  • 4-in. square raised covers
  • Anchors and screws (for masonry walls)
  • Conduit straps
  • Receptacles