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A shocking experience

Installing your own electrical wiring can seem like a daunting task, that should be left to a professional. But, with just a few common tools, some common safety sense and decent guide, it isn't all that difficult to do. The main things to remember are, use the right size wire, the correct circuit breakers, and shut off the power when you're working. If you can't remember that last one, you may not be around to finish the job, and it would be cheaper in the long run to hire the job out to a pro.

Basic tools for the job

Unless you're running through long runs of conduit, or wiring for super sensitive equipment, these are just about all the tools you'll need to wire a newly constructed house. Diagonal cutters, needle nose pliers, flat and phillips screw drivers, and maybe a fish line.

Install the boxes first

If you install the receptacle and light switch boxes first, it's easier to figure out how much wire, number of circuit breakers, receptacles and light switches you'll need later. We went around and marked on the bare studs what we wanted and where. Personally, I like to have at least two sets of receptacles per wall in every room, and at least one in any hallway. I also like to have a lot of three way switches so I can shut off lights on my way to the bedroom. Knock out a list of how many boxes you'll need to accommodate all the things you agree on, then buy about three or four extra of each. Keep your receipts and you can return any extras you wind up with, or you can do like me, and create your own hardware store in the barn. The boxes I used have two nails to drive into the stud, and two tabs on the box side that help locate the box at the correct depth.

The panel box

My rule is, "There's no such thing as too many circuits". People get confused when it comes to the panel box. If the box says "200 Amps" they think that they're limited to 200 amps worth of circuit breakers. That assumption is incorrect. You would have to have a battery of arc welders going all at once to overcome that main breaker. Most the circuits in the house will be relatively dormant at any given time, not running at capacity. I personally selected a 250 amp panel box, simply because there are more places to put circuit breakers, and thus have more individual circuits. I put every room on an individual 15 amp circuit breaker, then added additional circuits for the TV's and the computers. That way, if someone turns on a blender in the kitchen, it has no effect on the screens of the TV's or computers. The lighting in the house are on two circuits, so that if for some unlikely occurence the circuit breaker for one half of the house goes out, the other half stays on, so I can see where I'm going as I make my way to the panel box. They're also separate from the receptacles in the house, so that if someone overloads one of those circuits, I still have light. In the kitchen you have at least three circuits, I put in four. One for the refrigerator, one for the microwave oven and garbage disposal, one for the range, and one for the receptacles around the counter. One of the big advantages of doing your own wiring is just that, the other is you will mark up the little list in the panel box door of what the circuit breakers go to. This is the first place I've ever had that had that little bonus feature.

What the....

Here's a little surprise I wasn't prepared for while opening the panel box to add circuits. Those are scorpions that for some reason are attracted to deadly voltage. We found out that the pilgrim can shriek like a little girl when the right circumstance arises.

Feeding the wires to the cabin

Since the electric company installed the panel box on the outside wall of my attached garage, I had to feed the wires to the house for an additional 20'. I used a couple corrugations of the roof panel to hold the wires. At first, I had wished they had put the panel box on the wall between the cabin and garage, but after seeing those scorpions in the panel box, I decided they had done me a favor. After all the wires are in place, I covered them with the styrofoam insulation that keeps the metal roof from sweating.

Getting the wires through the wall

To get the wires into the house, I picked up a closed electric box, and some big wire clamps. I drilled a 2-1/2" hole through the back of the box, and into the wall, then silicone caulked aroud the hole before mounting the box. I hole sawed two more holes to fit the wire clamps on the side, and bottom. After feeding all the wires through (as I connected them from the panel box) I shot a good amount of Great Stuff foam sealer in the hole from inside the house, to prevent any critters from entering.

Stripping 10-3 wire

This is the best method I've found for stripping a 10-3 cable. Since they're flat, a regular cable stripper doesn't work very well, so I take a sharp knife and slowly rock it back and forth along the top of the wires inside the cable. If I happen to cut into the insulation of the wires, no problem, because I'll be stripping them at the ends anyway. Once I have a good cut going, I take the insulation on both sides and pull apart.

Power to the barn

Running power to the barn from the panel box in the garage looks a lot harder than it is. Since I want to have enough power in the barn to use an arc welder I'm going to use a 50 amp circuit. I had a fair amount of 6-3 cable left over from wiring the stove in the kitchen, but not enough to make it all the way to the barn. In a case where you have a significant amount of cable (about 50 ft in this case) it's cheaper to buy a junction box and the rest of the cable you need by the foot (another 20 ft here). That heavy cable is not cheap, around $2.50/ft. I drilled 1" holes through the 4x4 studs where they are out of the way, going over the garage doors, and pulled enough through the box to make connecting the two cables together easy, yet not so much that to make it difficult to cram that heavy wire into the box. I'll strip the wires about 3/4" back, and using huge wire nuts connect the wires by color. First, I drilled a 1" hole through the wall, one in the back and one in the side of the box, and another through a scrap piece of 2x10. Using a piece of 1" pipe through the wall to hold the board in place, I screwed the board to the siding from outside, then mounted the box. On the other side of the wall, I trenched across to the barn, then connected a pull thru box on the outside, using a short piece of 1" conduit and a coupler on the inside of the junction box to hold the assembly together through the wall. I dry fitted the rest of the conduit between the garage and barn, then pulled the cable through each piece before cementing them together. Once through the barn wall with another short piece of conduit, a coupler to hold it through the wall, and a piece of leftover OSB to strengthen the area where the the pull through is connected, I slipped a piece of steel cable shield over the wire, and connected to the 2 place panel box in the barn. The black and red wires are connected to the lugs at the top, inside the box, the white wire (common) is connected to the bus bar in the box, and the bare wire (ground)is either connected to a ground bus bar that you'll typically have to install yourself, or you can simply connect it to the screw in the back of the box and leave the end sticking out far enough to connect the successive wires to it with a large enough wire nut to handle the number of ground wires involved. This will transfer power to the box at 240 volts.

Outdoor conduit for the barn power

After connecting one piece of 12-3 cable to a 20 amp circuit breaker inside the barn panel box, I wire to outdoor boxes inside and outside the barn, leaving enough wire hanging out to ensure I'll have enough to work with. There are lots of ways to hold the wire securely. Here I used some pipe hanger tape and a couple short screws. These wires run through a 1/2" x 2-1/2" plumbing pipe nipple that's screwed into the outdoor box, then a coupler is threaded onto that on the inside of the barn, and a wire clamp threaded into that to keep the wires steady on the other side, inside the receptacle box. Cut and strip the cable insulation to expose the wires at a usable length. Since receptacles only use the black, white (common), and ground wires, I cut the red wire off where it won't get in the way. I could've used 12-2 wire, and not had the red wire to bother with, but when you buy all of your cable at once, the home improvement center will give you a good enough deal on it, to where you won't have to bother calculating all those different runs of different types. Using the guide on he back of the receptacle, strip the black and white wires to the proper length. Using needle nose pliers, bend hooks into the two ground wires and connect them to the receptacle first. The ground screw is on the bottom, and this is the only place you need to use a screw to hold wire, so it's easier go that way. Loosen the screws on the side, and insert the stripped black wires into the holes on the side that has the brass screws, and the white wires into the side that has the steel screws, then tighten the screws 'til the wires can't be pulled back out. For an outdoor application, get outdoor cover boxes that have a door to protect the receptacle from weather.


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