switch wiring methods – Electrician 101 (2023)

Electrician 101 and Residential Electricity, is mostly about new and remodeled houses and Homepage

how professionals install their electrical systems.

Electrical Rough In work can bring youto a hillside cabinin the woods…
…or to anexpensivemansionwith 24 footceilings.

The Residential Electrical “Rough In” Step by Step

The Rough In Stage has8 Steps;

1)Layout the Plan;Electrical locationsare marked on the studs and floors.

2)Acquire Material;Material is purchased or delivered.

3)Nail up Boxes; Boxes and can lights are mounted in exact positions.

4)Drill the Framing; Holes are drilled in studs between the boxes.

5)Pull Wire; Specific wire is installed from box to box, through the holes.

6)Make up Connections; Wires are striped, stuffed into the boxes and connect together.

7)Service Equipment; Mounting and making up the electrical panels, meter box, grounding, overhead or underground conduits and service wire.

8)Inspection; Check your work to see whatwas missed or messed up and then arrange for a government inspection.

Residential Electricity 101

It is best to complete each step, in the entire house, before moving on to the next step except on a large house where it might be better to follow these steps on one portion of the house at a time. For example you might start on the second floor to layout the plans and then nail up all the boxes, then drill the holes, pull all the wire, make up the connections and check your work before moving down to the main level to start the process all over again; layout the plans, nail up boxes … etc. Step 2,AcquiringMaterial, should be done afterthe Layout because the Layout of the electrical plans is where you learn all the materials that will be required to complete the job. Most electricians will show up at the job with a truck load of standard materials that they know they will be used, and then after the Layout they will order the remaining missing materials.

Step 7 , mounting the Service Equipment, can be started sooner while others are pulling wire.

Here is each step of the “Rough In” in more detail;

Rough In Step 1 Layout the Plan

The location of electrical outlets is marked by transferring the electrical plans from the blue prints to the wall studs and floor.


The first step of wiring a house is to layout the locations of all the electrical items.

A unique electrical shorthand orscript,is used to identify the placement of items.

Items like switches and lights, ovens and dishwashers. For example the letter “R” is written on a stud to identify where a receptacle will be located and the letter “S” is marked where a switch will go.Not all electricians use the same script, there is no standard.It is different from company to company, state to state and country to country. OneSparky(a common nickname for all electricians)writes “S3 Kit” for a kitchen 3 way switch,anotherSparky writes “K3” with the “K” representing kitchen and the “3” for a 3 way switch. Same meaning, different script. Electrical script is written right on the wall studs and unfinished floors with a permanent marker or a heavy duty construction crayon. The idea is to transfer the electrical plan from concept to concrete, from an abstract idea directly onto the physical concrete, from the blueprint plan to the structure. When the layout is complete it looks like technical graffiti written all around the house.Electrical script will contain words, numbers, abbreviations and symbols.

Here is some script that might be used;

HR = When you see this written on a stud it means a “home run” wire will be run from the panel to here.

S = This “S” written on a stud means a single pole switch will be located here.

S Van = This switch will be a single pole for the bathroom vanity light (the light above the mirror.)

S3 = A 3 way switch will be here.

PH = A phone plate will be here.

R = A single duplex receptacle will be here.

RR = A fourplex ( 2 x duplex receptacles) will be here.

© = This symbol written on the floor tells you a can light will go on the ceiling above here.

Sometimes the customers add there own script in an effort to inform you of something that they want to add. They might have an after hours meeting with the builder and decide to add a receptacle high on the bedroom wall for a TV so they will pencil in “TV and PLUG “on the wall.

It is good to notice customers script. Go ahead and nail up the boxes fortheir additionsbut waituntil you get verbal confirmationbefore you add any wiring. You need to make sure someone is going to pay for the additional wiring or the cost might come out of your paycheck.

Residential Electricians consider several sources when determining electrical locations;

Government Electrical Codes

An Architect’s blueprints.

Instructions of the customer.

Instructions of the builder.

Instructions of the Electrician’s boss or company policy.

The Electricians Experience.

Government Electrical Codes.The National Electric Codeand local government regulations will require specific locations on items in order to pass an electrical inspection. These codes might require an item like a smoke detector, to be placed in a specific location even if its not shown on the blue prints and the customer doesn’t want it.

An Architect’s Electrical blue prints.Adrawing, on paper, showing the locations of walls, doors, lights, switches and so on, as viewed from above, looking down. The services of an Architect are expensive and more likely to be used on commercial construction or a large, expensive mansion.

Work on a small house usually has no prints at all. Some builders will provide mail order drawings or a drawing they made themselves. Unfortunately, these “do-it-yourself” prints soon become worthless as changes and additions are made to the structure.An experienced electrician will quickly determine if the prints are to be taken seriously, marking the script exactly as indicated. Or if the prints are more of a general guideline or if they are totally useless.

Instructions of the customer.Sometimes the person buying the home will insist on placing an electrical item in a strange location that the builder would rather not do. If it is allowed by the code the customer will usually win since they will be the one paying the final bill.

Instructions of the builder.A residential builder or General Contractor who builds several houses with the same layout might want certain items in exact positions. They might want a kitchen sink can light centered over the sink even if this requires reframing the ceiling joists.

Instructions of the Electrician’s boss or company policy.It might be the standard policy of your company to have one switch for 2 attic lights even if the plans call for one pull chain light.

The Electricians Experience.Or instinct. You mark a switch box next to a door. The code approves it, its on the prints, the customer and the builder want it but a problem occurs. Special, extra wide wood trim is ordered and nailed around the door. The trim is so wide it covers half of your switch box. Experiencing this problem or learning about it from a source like this, will teach you to mark and mount the box on a stud more distant from the door or to note that a small piece of 2×4 needs to be added to space the box out away from the door.

Measure, Mark, Move on.

The Electrician in charge of the Layout will often times mark the script while walking through the house with the owners and/or builder. They will begin by finding a starting point in a room to mark their first item. Say, for example, the first item they come to is a bedroom switch. They will determine where the switches will be located based on which way the door will swing and the number of switches by looking at the blue prints or by instructions of the customer.Then, at the stud next to the bedroom door, they will take their tape measure and mark the height where the switch box will be nailed in place. A good height for switches is 44 inches to the bottom of the box. Next, they will write the letter S near the height mark. This S represents a switch for the bedroom lights. Now, any electrician who enters this room will know that there will be one switch next to the door for the bedroom lighting. After identifying the switch location, they will move along the wall and write the letter R on a 2×4 wall stud close to where the first receptacle will be. No height is marked for general receptacles. The height can be set by holding the box on top of a standing hammer. They will continue to work their way around the room identifying every spot where a wall receptacle, phone jack or cable TV box will be located. Next they will draw a © (6 inch circle with a C in the center) on the floor below where a recessed can light will be mounted. In this example the bedroom will have 4 recessed can lights, 1 near each corner of the room. The electrician will draw all 4 can symbols on the floor, 1 at each corner. The electrical layout of this bedroom is now complete. An electrician who enters this bedroom can read the wall and floor script and determine where everything goes. They can see where to nail up the boxes for the phone, TV receptacles and light switch and that there is 1 switch for 4 can lights. Because no switch or lightis marked at the shallow bedroom closet they will know that there is no plans for a closet light. This process of measuring, marking and drawing continues in other rooms and areas until the Layout for the whole house is complete.

Succeed with Speed.

Construction workers are expected to work quickly at all of their tasks.In the layout, it is faster to write the letter “R” on a wall stud, than it is to write“Nail up a single gang box for one receptacle here”It’s 5 times faster to write “R” than to write “Recep”Writing nothing at all is even faster but only if everything can be nailed up without missing anything. Time will be lost if a receptacle is forgotten and you have to add it after sheet rock is installed. Some houses have a small and simple electrical layout. On these jobs the electricians might mark only switch heights and appliance locations to save time. Especially if the layout of electrical plans is identical to the last 10 houses the crew worked on. Instead of marking each receptacle they will lay the receptacle box on the floor directly below where it is to be mounted as they distribute the boxes around the rooms. Recessed can lights, fixture boxes and other ceiling items are also placed on the floor below the spot where they are to be mounted. Marking the locations of each and every electrical item becomes more important on larger, more complicated houses.

The key to properly marking an electrical layout is to provide plenty of information with a few simple letters and symbols.

Marking the Layout requires experience.

Beginner Electricians are not expected to perform the electrical layout but they are expected to learn the script and find all the marks.Be observant, look around. Some items, like a kitchen microwave, are marked high on the wall. Others marks on the floor might be hidden under construction debris.

Marking switches on the wrong side of the door or forgetting to mark something like a garage freezer can be an expensive mistake to fix after sheet rock is installed. Because of this, marking the layout is usually done by the electrician most experienced in residential construction. This electrician is often assigned as the supervisor of the project.In a large complicated mansion, this project supervisor will mark the layout days before any other electricians arrive.Residential electricity uses different materials, methods and codes than commercial construction. Determining where to mark the locations of electrical items can be difficult for an experienced commercial electrician with little residential experience.It is common for a 6 year residential electrician to be a project supervisor over a 10 year commercial electrician when working on a house.

The job foreman or supervisor will have information about the house that you and the home owner might not know about. If the owner of the house comes up to you and tells you to add another light in a hallway, the two of you may not realize that a return air duct will be in that location.

Any changes to the location of items should be brought to the attention of your electrical supervisor.

The Rough In

Layout the Plan

>Acquire Material

Nail up Boxes

Drill the Framing

Pull Wire

Make up Connections

Service Equipment


Rough In Step 2 Acquire Material

Ordering, buying or unloading supplies.

Material arrives at the jobsite in several different ways depending on the policy of your company;

-All supplies are in the shop. You load them into your truck and head to the jobsite.

-Your company or you call in an order to an electrical supply store and have them deliver the

supplies toyourjobsite.

-Your company or you call in an order to an electrical supply store and have the order ready for

youwhen you arrive.

-You drive to an electrical supply store and purchase what you need on a company charge


To most Electricians this “Step 2 Acquire Material” means; Start the day by loading the truck with basic supplies that are stored at the shop and thenhead to the jobsite. They keep a list of missing items as they work and load those supplies at the beginning of the next day.

Toan electricianwho is new at wiring a house, it is best to complete the “Layout” Step first to geta goodidea of how much supplies to purchase and learn of any special items that may need to be ordered.Rarely are beginners allowed to purchase supplies.Some companies don’t even let the experienced electricians buy supplies but instead have an office worker do all the purchasing. Still, you should learn the location of all your company’s electrical suppliers and their phone numbers.

If you are allowed to make purchases, establish good relationships with the sales staff, they can provide good insight into the latest code compliance methods and products.

Learn the proper names and slang names of electrical supplies.There is a big difference between a 1 gang single receptacle plate and a 1 gang duplex receptacle plate. A “retrofit box”, an outlet box that is cut into the sheet rock instead of nailed to a stud, is also known as a “cut in” box or an “old work” box or a “remodel box”Some retrofit boxes require 2 box support straps also called; “F” straps or “Battleships” because they look like these. The more terms and slangs you know, the better you will be able to communicate or translate.

The Rough In

Layout the Plan

Acquire Material

>Nail up Boxes

Drill the Framing

Pull Wire

Make up Connections

Service Equipment


Rough In Step 3 Nail Up Boxes

Mount electrical boxes, housings and panels to the stud and joist framing before sheet rock is installed.

Using a hammer as a

measuring stick to set the

height of a single gang,

nail onbox for a receptacle.

After marking locations in thelayoutandacquiring your suppliesthe next step is to mount the electrical boxes and housings to the wall studs and ceiling joists. Mounting is done with nails, screws and staples. Nails come attached to most boxes and a few models of recessed can lights. Screws are enclosed with some items like ceiling fan boxes. Staples, that are used for wires, come in handy for mounting other items. Supplies are distributed around the house according to thescriptand then nailed in place.

Most of the ‘Nailing Up’ step is simple enough to be done by an inexperienced electrician. Nailing up recessed can lights in the 4 corners of a rectangular shaped bedroom isreal easy but nailing them up in odd shaped rooms orin ceilings with complex 45º joist framing can be more challenging.

First, Distribute the supplies.

Electricians begin the Nailing up step by distributing supplies around the house.Someone willgrab an armful of single gang nail on boxes and start laying them down on the floor, one at a time, under the marks that indicate where these single gangs will be nailed up. Someone else will distribute the 2 and 3 gang boxes.By reading the layout script, the electricians know which boxes go where.

If the stud is marked “S” for switch, it will need a single gang nail on box for a single switch.

If the mark reads SS it will need a 2 gang box for 2 switches.

SSS needs a 3 gang. So does S1S3S4 , where there will also be 3 switches; one single pole (S1), one three way (S3) and one four way switch (S4)

In cold northern climates, special boxes are used for insulated walls and ceilings.These boxes have an additional weather gasket attached to them. So an “R” on a wall between bedrooms would get a standard one gang nail on box but an “R” on a the bedroom wall that is shared with the outside will get a special one gang nail on box with the insulating gasket. A standard 4/0 light box is used when the space above the light is a second floor room but a special 4/0 box with a gasket when the space above is an insulated attic.

If the work area is somewhat clean then items for the ceiling can be set on the floor below their mounting location. If the area is cluttered and busy, set ceiling items by the wall switch that will control them. Single gang nail on boxes come in different depths. Your company might use 20 cubic inch boxes for all single gang needs. Other companies might use a deep 22 cubic inch single gang for GFI receptaclelocations. There is not much visible difference between a 20 and 22 cubic inch box. They should have the size labeled on or inside the box. You will be creating problems if you take this special deep box and nail it up in a place where it is not needed.

Recessed can lights are usually sold 6 to a case. These cases are distributed around the house to rooms where they will be needed. If a room needs 6 recessed can lights, then a case can be set by the switch box in that room. Can lights that are not in a case need to be set close to walls where workers won’t trip over them or have them tangle up in their extension cords. Some houses have only one style of can light housing. This makes it easy because everywhere the script locates a can it will be the same style. Other houses have a variety housing sizes and styles. You will have to know how the script identifies different styles of recessed can lights.

Distributing light boxes is more difficult than the rest. Light boxes require knowing where center will be before you can decide which style of box to use.

If the center is exactly on a ceiling joist then a pancake box is used.

If the center is 2 inches off the joist a 4/0 nail on box is used.

If the center is beyond 2 inches from the joist a bar hanger box is used.

Heavy lights in dining rooms and entryways require a heavy duty metal light box.

Ceiling fans require a special fan rated box.

The Nailing up begins after a good amount of boxes and can lights are distributed around the house.

The basics of nailing up any“nail on” box;

Know the height method and measurement. Know the depth of the finished wall or ceiling.

Nailthe boxlevel, flushand plumb. Boxes that are very close together need to be nailed up at more exact heights.

Know the height method and measurement.

Electricians use different height methods for mounting device (switch and receptacle) boxes. Be sure to use the same method as those you are working with. Some measure, mark and nail the box with the mark even with the bottom of the box, others set the markeven with the top of the box and yet others nail the box with the mark in the center. It is best to mount rectangular device boxes with the mark on the bottom of the box and round boxes with the mark at the center of thebox. Use 44″ to the bottom of switches, kitchen counter outlets and garages.But, follow your companies methods.

Know the depth of the finished wall or ceiling.

Youwant the box to be flush, not sticking out past the sheet rocked wall surface and you also don’t want the box sunk deep into a wall. 90 % of houses use 1/2 inch sheet rock which means your box can stick out according to the depth marks indicated on the side of your box. Fire walls, between a duplex or other apartments, might have a double layer of 1/2 or 5/8 inch sheet rock. Sometimes, 1″ thick brick is used on the inside walls. Check the prints or ask your supervisorfor the correct depth.

Nailthe boxlevel, flushand plumb.

A 4 gang switch box looks pretty bad when it is not level. Loosen or sink one of the 2 nails until the box islevel. Aproperly nailed box can stillstick out of the wall on one side if the stud is twisted. Try hitting the stud at the bottom until your box looksflush(it will notstick out when sheet rock is installed) A plastic switch box can twist and distort. The top and bottom can be level but,because of a twist in the middle, the top screw hole will be out of plumb with the bottom screw hole making it hard to mount the device. Loosen or sink one of the 2 nails until the box screw holesareplumb.

Close boxes have to be more exact.

Take a little more time to get the exact height when 2 separate boxes are on either side of the same stud at the same heights. Especially on a kitchen counter.

The basics of nailing up any recessed can light;

Find the center mark. Orient the j-box. Mount to one joistat a time.Lock into exact position.

Find the center mark.

Measure off the wall, that the ceiling joists are heading to, and mark your center on the ceiling joist with a marker. On complex ceiling framing,attach a string to the ceiling, parallel with the wall, to help you find your centers.

Orient the junction box

Recessed can lights come with an attached wiring compartment or junction box.Think about the best placement of the junction box before mounting a can light.If you know your wires are coming from the right then spin the can light around until thejunction box is facing the right.

Mount to one joistat a time

Place the can on the center mark and grab the can and the joist with one hand while nailing the 2 brackets with your other hand. Then slide the brackets over to the other joist and nail in place.

Lock into exact position

The canshould be able to slide on the brackets from one joist to the other. Measure off the other wall and mark your center on your brackets. Slide the can until it is centered on your mark and lock the can into position.Can lights are locked into position by tightening a bracket screw or by using your lineman pliers to fold a piece of metal that the bracket passes thru.

The Rough In

Layout the Plan

Acquire Material

Nail up Boxes

>Drill the Framing

Pull Wire

Make up Connections

Service Equipment


Rough In Step4 Drill the Framing

Creating a pathway, through the framing, for all the wiring throughout the house.

Milwaukee’s “D” Handled Drill

Milwaukee’s “Pistol Drill

Introduction to Drilling

You are ready to begin drilling when the electricalLayoutis complete and all the boxes and housings have beenNailed up according to your script markings on the walls and floor. Drilling too soon might cause you to waste time and energy drilling extra, unnecessary holes. With everything nailed in place you can see the box to box wiring path where your holes will need to be drilled

The basic idea of the Drilling step is toprovide a pathway for all the wiring that you will be running throughout the house. Electrical wires, low voltage door bell wires and, when required, phone and TV wires. For example you will drill a line of holes along thelength of a wall from receptacle box to receptacles box, and a hole above a switch box to run a cable up to a light. The goal is to drill as many holes as possible without drilling any unnecessary holes. When it is time to startpulling wireyou want to be able to pull the wire through the holes from box to box without having to stop to drill a missed hole.

The more holes (necessary holes) that are drilled before pulling wire, the less risk there is of accidentally drilling through a wire.There might be 3 electricians pulling wire and only 1 company drill. If only ½ the holes are drilled throughout the house then 2 of these 3 workers will be waiting for the drill. They will have to stop pulling wire every time they discover another hole not drilled. All of this will slow down productivity. To avoid this delay someone has to drill and keep drilling until all the holes needed are drilled out.

Some drilling requires more advanced knowledge of the jobsite’s circuit and wire pulling plan. If you know the circuit plan then you will know which way to drill; up, down, left or right. Other drilling pathways are more predictable.

Here is a list of good places for a rookie to begin drilling because they are so common;

>The path connecting receptacles and switches in a bedrooms.

>Above a switch box

>Above a vanity receptacle.

>Above a phone or cable TV box

>Above garage receptacles and garage door eyes.


The drill’s sidehandle can spin around and hit you in the head, try to hold the drill at a distance or rest the handle against a stud.Drilling without the secondary, detachable side handle can injure your wrists.Long hair, coat hood strings or necklaces can get caught in the spinning drill bit and cause injury.Wear safety glasses, drilling up and into an unseen nail can cause hot metal shavings to fall into your eyes.

The rough in drill bit

It is recommended that you use a ⅞ inch wide by17 inch long bit with a double cutting edge. The bit needs to be long enough to drill through 6 to 8framing studs that are nailed together.

General drilling techniques;

Drilling across a wall

Keep your holes in the center of the studso that a sheet rock screw can’t damage the wire running through it. The code requires a nail plate to be nail on the stud by your wire if the hole is too close to the nailing surface. Try to drill your holes level with each other, the same height off the floor. It doesn’t have to be exact, just somewhat level.Don’t drill so low that your holes will be at the height where the base trim will be nailed. Avoid the mounting screws of upper and lower kitchen cabinets by keeping your holes within the back splash area of the kitchen counter.

When you pull your wire around a bedroom, from receptacle to receptacle, the wire will goupthe stud from the box to your hole, thru your holes and backdownto the next box. If your holes are a foot higher than necessary, you will be wasting a foot of wireto get up to your hole and another foot wasted going back down. 2 feet of wasted wire between 2 boxes with 50 more boxes to wire; 2×50=100 feet of wire wasted.Keep your holes within 8 inches above or below a line of boxes to save wire and make you a more productive and valued employee.

Drill through the soft spots

Avoid drilling through knots and nails.Knots are created from the branch of a tree and are common in framing lumber. They are made of very hard wood making it difficult to drill through. If you start a hole and you realize you are going real slow because of a knot, stop and start a new hole 2 or 3 inches away from the knot.

Avoid nails that you see and areas where you know nails are, like where a stud is nailed to a bottom plate. When you hear or feel your bit hitting a nail, stop drilling and start a new hole or you can try to remove the nail and then continue drilling. Unfortunately there are times when you just have to go through no matter what happens.

Protect the drill bit tip

Avoid hitting concrete or bricks with the tip of the drill bit.Sometimes brick or concrete lies just beyond a stud that you are drilling, especially in basements. Try to ease off on the drill so you don’t bounce into these hard surfaces. Concrete will damage the threaded tip on the drill bit. The threaded tip helps to pull the drill bit into the wood. When it is damaged you will have to push really hard. It is easy to sharpen the cutting edge of a drill bit but fixing damaged threads on the pointed tip is very difficult.

Look before you drill

Look around to the back side of the wood before you drill through. You don’t want to damage a plumbing pipe or wires hiding on the other side of the stud or joist.If you damage a plumbing pipe, be sure to tell your boss or the plumber. Most repairs are easy and cheap to do before the sheet rock is installed. If you don’t tell someone, it might go unnoticed until the house is finished. Then when the water is turned on it will leak out and cause expensive damage.

Drilling up

Many wires are run up the wall, through the top plate and across the ceiling. For example a wall switch for a ceiling fan will have a wire run from the switch box up the wall and across the ceiling to the fan box. Holes need to be drilled through the top plate above switch box.Electrical panels will have many wires, called home runs, that will have to pass through several holes in the top plate. If your company will be pulling the phone wire and TV coax cable, a hole will be drilled above and/or below each phone and TV box.

When drilling up through the top plate the drill handle can spin around and hit you in the head, try to hold the drill at a distance or rest the handle against a stud.

> Start the bit very slowly into the wood to see how the handle will move as it spins clockwise.

> Allow the handle to slowly spin until it rests against a stud.

> Adjust your body and drill position to prepare for this spinning force and begin drilling.

Tall walls

An average worker will be able to reach and drill the top plate on an average wall using the standard 20 inch electricians drill bit. Walls exceeding 10 feet will require the use of a small ladder.

Insert a 17 inchdrill bit into this extensionto drill

out the tops of tall walls without a ladder.Insert a

shortbit to equal the more expensive17 inch bit

and save money when the bit has to be replaced.

The ladder will have to be carried around to all the locations that need a hole drilled up through the top plate.Using a 20 inch extension bit will allow a greater reach and make drilling faster by avoiding the need to haul a ladder around. The extension bit is inserted into the drill and the drill bit is inserted into the extension.

Drilling down

When drilling down, prepare to stop the moment you punch through so you don’t hit something like a pipe or vent. Some houses have floors heated with specialized plastic hot water pipes attached to the bottom of the floor. It is hard to avoid hitting floor pipes. Try to drill slower and with easy pressure the moment your bit is about to break through the wood. If you know that floor heating crew is about to begin, get all your floor holes drilled quickly.

When drilling down it is common to end up stuck in a floor joist. You drill and drill and never seem to get through to the lower level because you are drilling through a 12 inch floor joist. When this happens, stop, pull the bit out and drill a new hole down at a double 45º angle. Meaning 45º off a plumb line and 45º off a north-south wall line (north-east is 45º from a north south line) If the wall is running north-south and the floor joists are running east-west, aim your drill bit at a 45º angle pointing northwest (or northeast, southwest etc..)

Drilling out

There are several wires that will have to extend to the exterior of the house. Outside wall lights, outside receptacles and air conditioner units are the most common places that holes will need to be drilled out. Sometimes the hole has to be in an exact location. For example, the hole for air conditioner wiring should be 2 feet directly above the unit’s condensation lines. A disconnect box will be mounted where the wire sticks out. If the hole is drilled to the side instead of directly above the condensation lines, the disconnect box might end up behind the unit making it hard to access.

When the exterior is going to be bricked, your holes drilled out don’t have to be in exact locations. There will be a space between the wall surface and the brick that allows your wire to reroute from the hole to the exact box location.

Whenmost of the drilling is complete, you are ready to begin pulling wire.

The Rough In

Layout the Plan

Acquire Material

Nail up boxes

Drill the Framing

>Pull Wire

Make up Connections

Service Equipment


Rough In Step5 Pull Wire

Wiring together electrical items in separate groups or circuits and connecting them to the panel. Pulling phone, TV and low voltage wiring like garage door openers, doorbells and thermostats.

Introduction to Pulling Wire;

Let’s review what we havelearned so far;

>First we had to Layout The Plans.We marked the wall studs and floors to identify the locations of electrical items.

>Then we went shopping for material.Or, we arrived before the Layout with a truck load of material ready to get us started and we will acquire more material when our supplies run low

>Next we Nailed Up Boxes.We nailed up boxes, exhaust fan housings,stair light housings and recessed can lights in the locations identified in the Layout.

>Then we Drilled the Framing.We drilled holes for our wires in the wall studs, joists, top plates and bottom plates.

Now we are ready to install the wiring. To an experienced electrician, pulling wire is as simple as driving a car. To a beginner, both driving a car and pulling wire can be incredibly confusing. Wires spreading out in all different directions appear to be a complex, tangled up maze. Yet they are a well organized collection of individual circuits. Each circuit a miniature highway created for microscopic electrons to travel on. Bumper to bumper they move from the transformer at the street through meter, through the circuit breaker in the panel, through a switch, through a light bulb and back again to the transformer.

Someone once described pulling wire as “Connecting Dot to Dot” from point A to point B or from box to box to box to the panel. Any boxes not connected to the panel or to another box that is connected to the panel, will not have any power and will not work. This group of boxes connected together including one wire heading to the panel is called a circuit. The wire heading to the panel is called a “Home Run” Beginners should work on one circuit at a time pulling the Home Run first and then interconnecting all the boxes on that circuit. A wire is pulled from the first box, with theHome Run,to the 2nd box and stapled to the studby the 2nd box. The wire is cut and then stapled at the first box.Next, the wire is pulled from the2nd box to the 3rd box and so on. (The code requires the wire (NMB 14/2, 12/2 …) to be stapled less than 12inches away from boxes and every 4 feet 6 inches with no more than 2 wires under each staple and stay an inch and a quarter away from the nailing edge of the stud.) The wire is left outside the box, unstripped. Stripping off the sheathing and stuffing the wires into the box is done in the “Make Up Connections Step” after all the wire pulling is complete.

Residential Electricity 101 Wire Pulling guidelines;

>Eye hazard.Hold the end of the wire to prevent it from whipping back into your eye.

>Wires come in different sizesThe most used is size 14 and size 12. Make sure you are using the correct size wire for your circuit. Find the size by reading the label on the sheathing or use the wire gauge on your wire stripper.

>Wires come in different types14/2 and 14/3 are both size 14 wire but one has 2 conductors and the other has 3. Make sure you are using the correct type of wire. Find the type by reading the label on the sheathing or stripping off the sheathing and counting the number of conductors inside.

>Some wires have to be identified or labeled by youBefore an electrician can make up the wiring connections at a switch box they have to know which wiregoes up to the light because that is the only wire they want the switch to shut off. This wire (NMB cable with a black wire a white wire and a bare ground) is called a switch leg and one wayto find it is to get up on your ladder and use your hands to follow the wire from the light down to the switch box being sure not to confuse it with the other wires stapled along side of it. An easier way to find a switch leg is to label it when it is pulled from the light to the switch box. Switch legs are not the only wires that need to be identified.

The4 most common are;

1) The Switch Leg 2) The Home Run 3) Travelers 4) GFI’s Line and/or Load

There are different methods to labeling wires and not all electricians agree on which method is the best. The 3 most common ways to labelwires during residential wire pulling are; marking, folding or crimp scoring.

Marking;The best method for beginners and complex wiring.A permanent ink marker is used to write information directly on the sheathing near the end of the wire. Write “HR” to label a wire as a“Home Runs” (the wire that runs to the panel), “Cans” for a switch leg to the can lights, “Fan” for a switch leg to a fan, “Line” “Load” for GFI’s, “Trav” for travelers.

Folding;The best method for simple wiring.The end of the wire is folded in different ways for different meanings. 1 fold like a J means switch leg or at a GFI the switched off load side, a curl like curly fries means Home Run, 2 wire travelers are twisted like licorice, 3 wire travelers are wrapped around the switch leg.

Crimp Scoring;Worst method that should be banned.A lineman pliers or a wire cutter is used to slightly cut into the cable sheathing and wire insulation, leaving ascore mark on on both.Different score marks have different meaning. Usually 1 score means a switch leg or load, 2 scores a Home Run and an X score means travelers.

The problem with crimp scoring is when it cuts into the copper conductor creating a dangerous nick. Everything is fine if the nicked wire is thrown away butthere is a risk that thenicked conductor will be used in the box. Nicks reduce the size and ampacity of a wire and promote arching or sparking. Nicks become weaker when folded back and forth. If a nicked wire isused as a pigtail,it will become weaker when folded into the box and often times break the connection. If you have a choice, do not crimp score wires.

Wires have to be secured and supported according to specific rules.

The wire has to be stapled at specific intervals with limits on how many wires can be under one staple and within a close distance from the box or light.

There are limits to how many wires can be inside one box

The cubic inch volume is marked on the inside of a nail on box. The NECexplains how to calculate how many wires you can stuff into your box based on its volume and the size of your wires.

There are things wires should stay away from;

– The sharp edges of metal found on; air ducts, plumbing straps and metal truss framing couplers and framing brackets.

– Heat; Do not lay your cable on or near hot stuff like metal chimneys, hot water pipes or the top of a recessed can lights .

– The area where crawl space vents are cut in which is above the concrete foundation in the outer floor joist.

– Below bottom plates and on top of top plates where drill bits will venture.

There are spaces in the framing of a house where wires are not allowed.

An empty wall space during the Rough In Stage can be completely filled from stud to stud with a built in wall iron allowing no room for you wire to pass thru. Be careful not to pull wire thru areas designated for built in iron boards, skylights, attic fans, attic access holes, garage attic pull down stairs, pocket doors, return air vents or recessed medicine cabinets.

Avoid Rope burn

Rope burn, a fast moving wire rubbing againest a stationary wire,will take the insulation off of a wire. Avoid pulling wires in such a way that one fast movingwire rubs against another especially through holes in the framing.

Make a wire reel

A wire reel willhelp unroll your wire as you work. Use 3 wire reels to pull 3 home runs at the same time. A wire reel can be built from materials found on the job. See diagram below;

How to make a “Wire Reel” (“Wire Spinner”or “Wire Tree”) Nail together 3 2×2 ‘s or 2×4 ‘s about 30 inches long and stapleon 2 runs of 14/2 or 12/2 as shown. At the top is a nail thru a washer then thru both

runs of 14/2which are stapled as shown to hold the nail in place. Bend the nail so you can hang it

from a staple on aceiling joist.

A close up view of bent nailset through a washer and

2 runs of 12/2 wire. The head of the nail will spin on

the washer as the wire spins off the reel.For a closer

viewclick on the photo. Free free to copy and share.

Drive a staple into the side ofa ceiling joist.

Hang the wire reelby hooking the bent nail

through the staple.Now the wire will

spin off easily.

The wire pulling step consists of5 different tasks;

Creating thecircuit plan, pulling circuits, pulling low voltage wiring, pulling Home Runs and pulling TV coax cable and phone wire.

1) Creating theCircuit Plan.A very difficult task.

Only an architect or a licensed electrician willcreate the circuiting plan by following all the rules established in the National Electrical Code, state and local codes, builders requirements and your own companies policies.

2) Pulling circuits.A hard task to learn.

It involves connecting together all the boxes and electrical items that will be on one circuit breaker. It consists of many short lengths of wire run from box to box and might alsohave different types of wire (14/2, 14/3)

A roll of wire is set up on a wire reel. Take a visual preview of all the boxes that will be on the circuit and then begin pulling the wire thru the holes in the wall studs from the first receptacle box to the second recep box and cut the wire. Staple the wire by the boxes and repeat this process bypulling another wire from the second box to the third receptacle. Thehard part is knowing which light boxes will connect together and to which switches they will be controlled by.

3) Pulling low voltage wiring.Moderately easy.

It includes small wiring for thermostats, door chimes and such. A thermostat can be a simple as pulling an 18/5 wire from a hallway stat location to the furnace unit. A door chime uses 18/2 from the front door to the hallway chime with the chime’s transformer located in a 2 gang box behind the chime.

4) Pulling Home Runs.An easy task to learn.

A home run is a wire pulled from a circuit to the circuit breaker in the panel. Itis the longest length of wire on a circuit. A roll of wire is set up on a wire tree (see photo above) near the circuit like a bedroom. The name of the circuit is written on the end of the wire “Master Bed” The wire is then carried up into the attic (or by some other route) and then walked across the ceiling to the area above the panel where it is brought down. Then the home run wire is stapled to the studs and joists all the way back to the closest box on the master bedroom circuit. After a little practice pulling one Home Run at a time, try pulling 2 Home Runs at the same time. This will make you twice as productive. Eventually you should be able to pull 4 Home Runs at the same time. Pull all 4 Home Runs across the attic to the panel and then staple your way back.

5) Pulling TV coax cable and phone wire.Another easy task to learn.

A box of phone wire or coax cable is set up near the electrical meter or at a media distribution panel. The wire is thenpulled up into the attic (or by some other route) and then walked across the ceiling and brought downto a box where a phone or TV will be located. Then thewire is stapled to the studs and joists all the way back to thestarting point

Although the tasks of pulling home runs, TV coax and phone are the easiest to learn, they can be physically difficult. Like pulling a home run from the panel in the basement to the bedroom up on the second floor. No complex calculations just get the wire from ‘way down there’ to ‘way up there’.

Pulling a circuit requires more knowledge. As a beginner you will most likely be assigned the simple but more physical tasks until you are ready to learn the circuits.

Before the wire pulling begins, everyone gathers together to hear the game plan to determine;

Which task eachelectrician will be assigned

How the circuits will be arranged.

Notice is given to avoid areas of the house that are unfinished or changing.

Beginning with a game plan helps to avoid confusion. Eachelectrician is assigned different tasks and different areas of the house to work on. Productivity can be wasted if 2 electricians unknowingly work on the same task.A skylight might have to be cut into the ceiling framing. Knowing this before you begin will save you allot of rerouting.

A wire pulling example;

OK so lets begin to pull wire; the circuit plan has been established by your supervisor who has assigned you to pull a 15 amp “Bed + Bath” circuit with size 14 gauge wire. You are told this will include all the lights, receptacles and fans in the guest bedroom, the closetand the hall bath.

But not the vanity counter receptacles nor the hot tub.The holes for your wire have already been drilled out. Grab a roll of 14/2 wire and set it up on your wire reel.

Begin your circuit by pulling the home run to the panel. In order for your “Bed Bath” circuit to work, you have to “Feed” it power from the electrical panel.The wire that feeds powerfrom the panel to a circuit is commonly call the “Home RunLabel the circuit on the end of the home run wire with a marker write “Guest bed + hall bath” Throw the wire up thru the ceiling framing into the attic. Climb up your ladder into the attic andwalk the wire across the ceiling over to the panel location. Let the end of the home run hang down near the panel with enough length to eventually go thru the holes above the panel , down the wall past the panel and touch the floor. Now staple yourhome runabout every 10 feet all the way back to the guest bedroom.Be sure you have enough wire to reach the switch box and then cut the wire. Next, send the end of the wire thru the hole in the top plate straight down the wall stud to the switch box and staple in place. Now mark this end of the wire as the “home run” so that everyone knowswhere it is and that it has been pulled.By labeling the home run at both ends, you can be absent tomorrow and another electrician can finish your circuit knowing that you already pulled the all important home run.

Circuit Status; Home run pulled to circuit

Now that we have fed power to the circuit with the “Home Run” we have to “feed” the power around the walls to all the switches and receptacles (not lights or fans). Take a moment to look at all the switch and receptacle boxes on your circuit and determine the shortest path to run your wire. Make sure you run your wire to the boxes facing into your rooms not those boxes facing away from you into another room like the living room. Remember we are connecting together switches and receptacles but not the lights. We’ll get to the lights later.

OK now connect the dots. Start at the switch box where we left off with the home run. Run your 14/2 wire thru the wall studs to the nearest receptacle with enough length to reach the box and go another 12 inches. Staple your wire in the center off the stud and within 8 inches of the box. Now staple the wire again at the switch boxwhere you started.Before cutting the wire, make sure it will reach the box and have another 12 inches. When you have enough,cut the wire.

Circuit Status; Home run pulled to circuit at bed switch with feed pulled from switch box to first outlet.

Now you have a home run feeding the circuit from the panel to the switch box and a feeder wire from the switch box to the first receptacle box. Now just continue connecting box to box skipping over those boxes that belong to and are facing other rooms that are on your wall studs but not on your Guest Bed + Hall Bath circuit. Also ignore the 2 receptacles on your hall bath vanity counter and the hot tub.

Feed the next receptacle facing in your room. Run your 14/2 wire thru the wall studs from your first recep. to the next recep. Staple in the center of the stud where sheet rock screws can’t reach and, again,leave enough length at the box, at least 12 inches.“Better toomuch wirethan too short.”

Circuit Status; Home run pulled to bed switch with feed pulled from the switch box to the first outlet and another feed pulled from the first outlet to the second outlet.

Because of doors and other obstacles, not all the runs will be as simple as going thru a couple of wall studs.The next box to feed is the closet switch box but it is on the other side of the closet door. The wire will have to go up into the attic, over the door and back down the wall to the closet switch box. Grab your ladder and wire and run the wire down thru the hole above the recep box. While up on your ladder, staple the wire at the top of the stud and across the attic. Get down from your ladder to staple half way down the stud and again near the box. Move your ladder near the closet switch box. Pull enough wire to reach theswitch and cut the wire. Go up the ladder and run the wire down thru the hole above the switch and staple.

Status; Home run pulled to bed switch with feed pulled to first and second receptacles and to the closet switch.

Below the closet switch box is a receptacle box. Staple a wire at the bottom of the closet switch box and again at the recep box and cut the wire. Except for this last box, all the boxes that we have pulled wire to have only 2 wires at them. It is permitted to pull a3rd wire to a box and we need a 3rd wire at the closet switch box to control the closet light.This wire going from the switch to the light is called a “switch leg” The “switch leg” will only be hot when the switch is on allowing current to flow thru it. This is different from all the other “feed” or “hot” wires we pulled so far in this example. Feed wires are hot whenever the circuit breaker is turned on.(assuming that you connected them all together)Because the “switch leg” is different it has to be identified so you will know which wire to put on the switch. If the Switch Leg wire (black wire only) is not put on the switch you will not be able to turn the light off.As a beginner, always identify your switch legs with a markerby writing the name of what the switch leg is switching. In this example, write “Closet Light”on the sheathing near the end of the wire. Do this in addition to your companies policy of labeling by folding or labeling by crimp scoring.

The Rough In

Layout the Plan

Acquire Material

Nail up boxes

Drill the Framing

Pull Wire

>Make up Connections

Service Equipment


Rough In Step6 Make up Connections

When all the wire pulling is complete, it is time to begin making up the wiring connections.

The ends of the wires that are stapled outside of the box, are stripped from their sheathing and placed inside the box and thenabout a 1/2 inch of insulation is stripped off of each conductor. Specific wires are twisted together with a lineman pliers, capped by twisting on wire nuts and folded deep into the boxwhere the sheet rocker’s tools will not damage the conductors insulation.

Take notice of the key points andrecommended methods mentioned here;

1) All the wires are pulled and left outside the box until all wire pulling is complete.

2) The sheathing (not wires) is stripped outside the box and then inserted into the box.

3) The stripped ends of the wires are twisted together with a lineman and then capped.

These methods are not followed by all Residential Electricians. Some place the wires into the box as soon as they pull it to the box. This is not recommended. The wire pulling will go faster if you don’t stop to strip and stuff each wire. Also, waiting to strip wires when all the wire pulling is complete will make changes easier.Pull all wires to the box and leave them unstripped outside the box until it is time to make up the connections.

Others strip off the sheathing after the wire is in the box. This too is not recommended.Stripping the sheathing inside a box can cause a nick in the metal conductor that is difficult to noticed. A nick in a metal conductor reduces the size and ampacity of the wire and can promote sparking. When working on connections or installing switches, the wires get moved around alot. This motion can cause a nicked wire to break off.Strip the sheathing outside the box where you can inspect the insulation on each conductor before inserting the wire into the box.

Other Electricians will hold the ends of stripped wires together and twist on the wire nut without twisting the wirestogether with a lineman pliers first. This is not recommended because some of the wires might pull loose from the connection causing sparking or lost power.First twist the stripped ends of the wires together with a lineman and then twist on the wire nut.

Stripping off the sheathing

First we have to remove the correct amount ofsheathing. The sheathing has to extend into the box1 inch. Hold the cable next to the box and find the point on the cable that would extend 1 inch into the box. Score the sheathing at this point. The sheathing can be scored with a knife or with the teeth of your stripper. Pull the sheathing off the wires and insert the wires into the box.

Stripping UF sheathing

UF or “underground feeder” can be buried in the ground. It is different from standard wire. Instead of wrapping the conductors in a sheathing they are totally encased in solid plastic making they difficult to separate and strip. To separate the wires, grab the center, bare groundand peel itback out of theplastic. This will expose the black and white wires which can also be peeled out. Cut off the excess plastic.

Stripping off the insulation

Some use a lineman pliers to strip the insulation off a conductor. They pinch the wire with the cutting blade to score the insulation, thenpivot the pliers back and forth to score all around the wire and then slide the insulation off the end if the conductor. This method is OK if you can do it without nicking the metal conductor.

The best way to strip off the insulation is to use a wire stripper. The stripper has different sizedgrooves for different sized conductors. Some wire strippers are for solid wires, others are for stranded wires. If you are using size 14 wire, set the wire in the groove labeled 14 and close the stripper. This will cut the insulation without nicking the metal.With the stripper held closed,slide the insulation off the end of the wire.

Connecting the wires;When connecting wires it is best to twist the conductors together with a “lineman’s pliers” before screwing on the wire nut. Hold the conductors so that the ends of their insulation are even (rather than the ends of the copper) Grab the ends of the wire with your lineman and twist several times (about 360 degrees twice) Cut off the end of the finished twist of copper that exceeds 1/2 inch. Screw on your wire nut. If you can see the copper part of the wires sticking out of the wire nut then remove the nut and cut off more of the copper.

Combining solid wires with stranded;

When combining solid wire with stranded wire, always hold the stranded slightly longer than the solid, about 1/8 inch past the end of the solid, to ensure that the wire nut grabs the stranded as you screw it on.If you have multiple wires, twist the solid wires together first then twist the stranded wires together, then hold the stranded wires 1/8th inch past the solids and screw on the wire nut.

Different size wire nuts;Wire nuts come in different sizes and colors. Each size has alimited number of wires that it is designed to connect. The number of wires permitted is printed on the packaging the the nuts are shipped in.

Packing the wires into the box;Try to fold the wires into the box neatly, keeping the wire ends towards the front of the box where they can be easily pulled and attached to the devices.

Rough In Step7 Service Equipment

Mounting and making up the electrical panels, meter box, grounding, overhead or underground conduits and service wire.

Service equipment includes; panels,ground rods, meter box,main disconnects, service conductors and the over head or underground conduit.The construction of the service equipment is normally done by a more experienced electrician andnot by a beginner.

It is important for a beginner to know how many panels there are, where they are locatedwhich circuits belongin each panel and that your Home Run is long enough to reach the bottom breaker.A large mansion can have a 40 space panel in the basement, another one upstairs and a third in the garage. Before youpull yourhome runyou will need to know which panel you are heading to. The electrician in charge will divide the circuits between panels in a way that will balance the total electrical load evenly.

The Rough In

Layout the Plan

Acquire Material

Nail up boxes

Drill the Framing

Pull Wire

Make up Connections

Service Equipment


Rough In Step8 Inspection

Inspect your work for errors, missingor unfinished work. Call to arrange for a government inspection.

Experienced electricians are constantly observing the quality of their ownwork and the work oftheir company. Even as they walk to lunch theymight observe the jobsite wiring looking for something missing or out of place.

Beginner electricians are more concerned about what they are going to do after work.Beginners have trouble recognizing that they did not finish their assignment. Finished means 100% complete not 90%Beginners will say “I’m finished” yet when you check their work 5 to 10% of their task is incomplete, not because they didn’t know how to do it, butbecause they just didn’t do it and they didn’t check to see if they missed anything.

Check your own work;

1) Verify that the Home Run (wire to panel) is connected to your circuit.

2) Visually follow the wiring around your circuit to ensure that all boxes are connected

togetherandthat all wires are in the box.

3) Consider the mistakes you, or others, have made in the past and check to see if you

madethem again.

4) Check to see if any changes or additions were completed as instructed by the builder

or customer.

Check your teams work

Common mistakes

1 of 3 wires not inserted into the box

Closet light wire not inserted into box

Wire to fireplace inserts forgotten or not connected

Wrong depth on a bar hanger style light box

4 gang box not level or flush with sheet rock

Forgot to setboxes on the wires for outside receptacles in brick

Missed fire caulk or nail plate

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