12 Tips for Easier Home Electrical Wiring
Even if you have years of wiring experience, there are always a few tricks you may not know. We worked with two master electricians with decades of experience between them to glean their tips, tricks and techniques. From straightening cable to labeling wires, these tips will help you wire better, faster and neater.
Uncoil Cable Without Kinks
Pulling plastic-sheathed cable through holes in the framing is a lot easier if you straighten the cable 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 (four loops will reach about 12 ft.) from the center of the roll (left) and toss them across the floor as if you're throwing a coiled rope. Next, walk along the length of cable, straightening it as you go (right). 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.
Pack Electrical Boxes Neatly
Remove Sheathing from Underground Feeder (UF) Cable
Underground feeder (UF) cable has a tough plastic sheathing that allows you to bury it directly in the ground without running it through a conduit (of course, it has to be buried deep enough to satisfy the electrical code). But that tough sheathing is also 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 (top). They're easy to tear apart once you get them started. Pull them apart until you have about a foot of separated wires. 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 (bottom). Repeat the process to remove the sheathing from the black wire. Finally, cut off the loose sheathing with scissors or a knife.
No-Snag Fish Tape Connections
After going to all the trouble of working your fish tape to its destination, the last thing you want is to lose the cable or get your tape stuck on something inside the wall as you pull it back. Here's how to avoid both problems. 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.
Check the Whole Wall Cavity With a Stud Finder
Home Electrical Tools
Flex bits and glow rods are the go-to tools pros use for fishing wires. Flex bits are great for drilling holes in hard-to-reach spaces (see "Invest in a Bumper Ball," below). The two most common lengths are 5 ft. and 6 ft., but extensions are also available. A 3/4-in. x 54-in. flex bit costs about $50 at home centers. Buy a bit that has a hole on the end of it so you can use the bit itself to pull wires.
Once your hole is drilled, you can shove a glow rod through the hole to start fishing wire, attach your wire to the eyelet at the end and pull it back through. Glow rods can also be used to hook wires to pull them out as a wire snake tool. As their name suggests, glow rods glow in the dark. This makes them easier to spot when you're working in dark areas fishing wire (which is most of the time).
Glow rods come in various lengths and thicknesses, and you can combine as many sections as the job requires. Thinner rods flex more and work better when you have to make sharp turns when fishing wire. A thicker rod can span longer distances and is better for hooking wires that are more than a few feet away. A 9-ft. glow rod kit costs about $40 at home centers. Expect to pay about $60 for a 24-ft. kit.
Push Through More Than You Need
Identify Roughed-In Wires
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. The top photo shows one example. Another method is to use a label (bottom). But 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. What is a load wire? A load wire carries additional power to additional outlets on the same circuit.
Test Wires Before Touching
We asked our electrical pros what problems they run into with GFCIs and how to solve them. For starters, we found that most complaints occur when several outlets are protected by one GFCI. There are several possible causes, ranging from a light or appliance with a ground fault that's plugged into a downstream outlet, to a defective GFCI or even a circuit with too much cable. 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 (if it doesn't click, you'll have to reset it after the power is back on) 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 outlets. To avoid the timeconsuming process of troubleshooting the “load” outlets, the easiest and best solution is to replace each of them with a new, tamper-resistant GFCI.
Multiple Switches, One Hot Wire
Strip Cable Sheathing First
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 (left) and removing the sheathing (right). 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.