How To Wire A Basement

basement electrical wiring

After Framing the basement you are ready to add the basement wiring. Take your time to plan out the locations of your outlets, switches and lights to make your basement spaces more enjoyable to use. This article will walk you through the steps to install electrical wiring in the basement including telling you how and where to wire electric outlets, ceiling lights and switches and how to add a home run to the electric panel for a new basement electric circuit.

brief how to

In this article you will learn how to:

  1. Plan Your Basement Wiring Project

  2. Basic Electrical Codes Relating To Basement Wiring

  3. Locate And Install Electrical Outlets

  4. Locate And Install Electrical Switches

  5. Locate And Install Ceiling Lights

  6. Locate And Install Smoke Detectors

  7. Run The Wire Between The Boxes

  8. Run The Wiring Home Runs

  9. Wire The Basement Switches, Lights and Outlets

  10. Add A Circuit Breaker

tools and materials

  • Flat head screwdriver
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • 14/2 Non metallic cable for 15 amp circuit, 12/2 Non metalic cable for 20 amp circuit
  • Utility knife
  • Hammer
  • Handy Boxes for outlets, switches, lights, telephone, data and smoke alarms

step 1 Plan Your Basement Wiring Project

When planning your basement wiring project you should plan on meeting the basic wiring code requirements and then add any extras that you might like. Start by locating the required outlets and then add extras for things like a home theater, bed end tables or wet bar counter top.

Some of the images in this article are taken on the main floor of the house but the same wiring priciples apply to wiring a basement.

basement-wiring-plan

step 2 Basic Electrical Codes Relating to Basement Wiring

Some of the basic code requirements relating to electrical wiring of basements or any place else in the house are:

  • Any wall that is greater than 2' in a bedroom must have a receptacle.
  • You must always be within 6 feet horizontal of a receptacle. This generally means that receptacles can be no farther apart than 12 feet and a receptacle must be within 6 feet of a door. This is measured along the wall surface, you can't cut corners.
  • Switched receptacles must be half hot to be included in the "within 6 foot of a receptacle" rule.
  • Hallways longer than 10 feet must have a receptacle.
  • Any unfinished areas of the basement must have a GFCI protected receptacle.
  • Switched outlets are able to replace a light fixture on the ceiling except in kitchens or bathrooms.
  • Smoke alarms required in sleeping rooms and adjoining areas.
  • Smoke alarms must be wired in series so if one is activated then all alarms go off.
  • Smoke alarms must have power from the building and a battery back up.

electrical outlet code

electrical outlet code explained

For more detailed code information related to wiring a basement or other projects you should read the article Basic Electrical Codes.

step 3 Locate And Install The Electrical Outlet Boxes

Handy boxes are the plastic boxes that are used to wire and hold outlets, switches, lights, smoke detectors and low voltage wiring. Locating the handy boxes is the first step in installing basement outlets. The top of a electrical handy box used for outlets is typically at 14 inches above the floor to the top of the box. To make your installation look good you should mark the all the studs where you will install a handy box at 14 inches and then come back later and install the boxes. Many electricians use a piece of wood that is 14" tall and set the piece of wood on the floor in front of the wall stud that the new outlet will be on and draw a line on the stud at the top of the board.

How To Nail On A Handy Box: Handy boxes come with the nails pre installed so you only need to nail them on. They are installed by lining up the top of the box with the mark you made on the stud and making sure the face of the box sticks out in front of the stud 1/2 inch and then nail it on. Repeat this process with all the outlets switches and light boxes you need to install. If you are in a area that is too tight to swing a hammer you can use a drill screw driver and simply screw thru the side of the handy box into the wall stud, grabber screws work best.

electrical outlet handy box

step 4 Locate And Install The Electrical Switch Boxes

Locate the switch boxes by marking the wall at 48 inches above the floor. Nail the box with the top of the box on the mark. Make sure the box sticks out past the stud a 1/2 inch by butting the plastic bumps on the side of the box against the stud.

There are two important things to remember when placing switch boxes next to doors:

  1. If you are locating a switch box right next to a door you should make sure that the door will not swing to cover the switch or you will always need to close the door to get to the switch.
  2. If the switch is right next to the door opening you should add a few scrap pieces of 2x4 lumber so the side of the box is at least 4 1/2 inches, (3 boards), from the door opening. This will insure that the door trim will not hit the switch when you are installing trim on the door.

electrical switch handy box no wiring

step 5 Locate And Install Ceiling Light Boxes

The best way to locate a ceiling light fixture is to lay out the measurements and markings on the floor and then transfer that mark to the ceiling. Light fixture outlets are attached in the same way as other handy boxes. Ceiling electrical boxes are round.

electrical ceiling light box

step 6 Locate And Install Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors are arguably the most important part of your basement wiring project. They may save a life and that makes them very important. Building codes require that:

  • There be a smoke detector in every sleeping room and the adjoining area.
  • Smoke detectors must be connected so if one goes off then all of them go off.
  • A minimum of 1 smoke detector on each story, this includes basements even if they are unfinished. Smoke detectors are not required in crawl space or attics if they are not habitable areas.
  • The Smoke detector must have power from the building wiring and a battery backup. (Battery power only is ok if you are remodeling and are not removing finishes and there is no attic or crawl space to run wires in).

To put a smoke detector in a bedroom and adjoining area you use a round electric box that is used for a light fixture. They are usually attached to a ceiling joist halfway between the bedroom door and the bedroom light fixture. For more information on wiring smoke detectors read the article Installing Smoke Detectors.

step 7 Run The Wire Between The Boxes

Drill Holes: Before pulling wire you will need to drill holes in the wall studs. Use the 3/4 inch drill bit to drill a hole in the center of the stud. Drill about the same height as the outlets so the wire runs fairly straight across the wall, this saves the amount of wire you will need to use. If you need to drill close to the edge you can use a nailing plate to protect the wire.

drill holes electrical wiring studs nail plate

Work On One Circuit At A Time: When wiring a basement, or any other area of a house, you should start at the end of the run and work your way back to the first box in the circuit. From the first box in the circuit you will create a "home run" which will be described in the next step

Pull Wire Into Electric Handy Boxes: When you pull wire into the handy boxes leave about 10 inches of wire hanging out of the boxes so you will have plenty to work with when it is time to tie up the switches and outlets. Attach the wires to the stud within 8 inches of the box using a cable staple.

electric outlets wired

This image shows an electric outlet box in the middle of its run. The box on the far right is the end of the run. The wire travels left to the box in the center of the image. It then leaves this box and goes to a third box or a home run to the power panel. The box on the left side of the double studs is a Data and Television cable box. Data and Television cable boxes should be placed on the opposite side of the stud from the outlet box to reduce electrical interference.

electrical wiring outlet

This image shows a cable tv box opposite a electrical outlet. They are seperated so the electrical wires do not create interference with the cable tv. Notice the staple within 8 inches of the box.

step 8 Run The Wiring Home Runs

After you have run the wires between the boxes you are ready to make the "home runs" to the electric panel. A Home run is the wire that goes from the first box in the cirucit to the electric panel. To pull a home run simply run a wire from the first box in your circuit to the electric panel. Leave about 10" hanging out at the handy box and 2' of extra wire after the wire enters the electric panel.

(this is not a basement wiring image but the home run wiring principal is the same. The wire going into the floor is the home run, it goes to the electric panel. In a basement you will most likely go up to the ceiling or along the walls to make the home run). Nailing plates are only required when the hole for the wire is closer than 1 1/4" of wood protecting the wire.

basement electrical wiring outlet home run

step 9 Wire The Basement Switches, Lights and Outlets

Please read our articles on how to wire switches, outlets and lights on our Electrical Page or see the links at the bottom of the page.

Step 10 Installing A Circuit Breaker

When the new wire goes into the electric panel it will need a new circuit breaker. You should never add a new wire to a circuit breaker that already has a wire on it. Read the article How To Install A Circuit Breaker to learn how to install a circuit breaker. If There is not room in your electric panel for a new circuit then you will need to install a sub panel. A sub panel will allow you to add more circuits. Read How To Install a Sub Panel to learn how to do this.

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