Tools & Techniques for Electrical & Plumbing
There are several phases to every plumbing and electrical installation. The first involves roughing in and includes the installation of wires and pipes through wall and floor frames, but no final connections yet. That happens later. Roughing in is easier than the other steps and risk-free because no water nor electricity is connected to the pipes and wires while they’re going in. You’re simply boring holes and pulling wires and piping where needed. An intermediate step in wiring involves making connections to an electrical panel, with final wiring and plumbing connections made as a final step after wall surfaces are finished and painted.
The main steps for installing plumbing pipes and electric wires for your basement are the same as above-ground situations. The details are numerous enough that both plumbing and wiring could involve an entire training course for each on their own. As you’re deciding how to tackle the plumbing and wiring challenge, consider one of these options.
Option#1: The DIY Option
Any intelligent person can learn to install wiring and plumbing so it’s safe. The question is, do you want to learn and save substantial money? The biggest sources of savings always involve doing work that would otherwise be handled by a skilled professional. Electricians and plumbers are two of the most highly paid building professionals, so if you can handle their work you can save big bucks. Here are the things you’ll need to do:
- Verify that you’re allowed to install your own plumbing and wiring. Most jurisdictions allow homeowners to do electrical and plumbing work on their own homes without a license, but not all. Check with local authorities on what’s permitted and learn what’s involved in getting your own permits.
- Learn the intricacies of wiring and plumbing. Depending on your capabilities, you might consider this easy or difficult. Household wiring and plumbing is not very complicated as life’s technical challenges go, and the knowledge for DIY installations is widespread and easy to find. The thing is, the stakes are high for both plumbing and electrical. You do need to get things right.
- One of the best sources for guidance is the DIY University. Go to www.diyunversity.com, then type “electrical” and “plumbing” into the search field. You’ll find multiple courses on both these topics.
- Need help deciding whether or not you should tackle plumbing and wiring yourself? Send me a message and I’ll help you figure out what makes sense for you, given your available time, your situation and the current state of your basement.
TECH TIP: Pipes, Wires, & Walls
If you’re thinking of using the foam-based insulation systems I recommend for perimeter walls, you might be wondering how to get wires and pipes in place. We’re all so used to stud frame walls that the immediate thought is that it’s impossible to install pipes and wires in foam sheets or panels. The fact is, it’s not as difficult as you might think. First of all, understand that minimizing pipes and wires in exterior perimeter walls happens all the time. The fewer switches an taps you want on exterior walls the easier the installation. The second thing to understand has to do with the ceiling space. The joists above your basement usually offer the easiest option for extending pipes and wires. Run these through the ceiling, then drop them down vertically in perimeter walls to where you want them.
For foam-on-foundation installations, cut a channel completely through the foam where you want wires and water supply pipes to drop down, install the pipes and wires, then fill the gap with spray foam before trimming the hardened foam flush (using a hacksaw blade out of the frame) and installing drywall or panelling. The SMARTWALL system has a space behind each panel and the perimeter walls, so pipes and wires can be run there. Also, these same panels have horizontal grooves cut in them for running wires that way if you want.
Option#2: The Expert-Assist Approach
Most of the tasks of installing wiring and plumbing are pretty simple. With a little teaching ahead of time you can do the grunt-work of the installation, drill the holes and pull the wires and pipes necessary for an electrician or plumber to take over to finish up. The expert-assist approach will save you some money, but you need to find tradespeople who are willing to work with you. Not all will because not all homeowners can be trusted to follow instructions and details closely. If you’ve made it this far in the course, you’re probably a trustworthy student, so take courage.
Whatever professional agrees to work with you will also need to give you some instructions. You’ll need to learn about how they like wires pulled and pipes laid, then they’ll come in an do the more difficult and risky connections for electric power and flowing water. None of this is complicated, but you will need to pay attention to details and follow instructions with diligence. Details you need to understand include:
- How many cables and of what size need to extend from the electrical panel to various switch and outlet locations around your basement. Part of this will be a function of what electrical and plumbing items you want in various places, but there are code requirements, too.
- How much excess wire and pipe does your electrician and plumber want for connections at electrical boxes?
- Drilling holes of the right size for cables and pipes. This is especially important with wiring. If your hole is too small, the outer layer of cable insulation can get damaged. This hazard is especially great if you’re pulling more than one cable through the same hole. If all the movement of pulling the second cable is concentrated on one or two spots of a cable that’s already pulled and in place, the second cable can easily wear right through the insulation on the first one. If you want to be particularly safe, only pull one cable through a given hole drilled through wood framing members.
I’ve wired and plumbed several houses from utility pole to completed outlets and fixtures, and I’m not a trained electrician or plumber. There’s no shortage of teaching materials out there to learn how to succeed. Electrical inspectors tell me that my work is neater and higher quality than they typically see from professional electricians. Your work can be like this too because time is not money for you.
TECH TIP: Understanding Wire Sizes
The more electric current a wire is expected to carry, the bigger that wire needs to be in order to do the job safely. Watch the video up next to learn how wire size is denoted, and what the different sizes mean.
VIDEO: Understanding Wire Types & Sizes
Option#3: The Expert Option
This is the simplest approach for you, but it’s the most expensive and still not completely automatic. You (or the basement finishing contractor you hire) will still need to call in the electrician and plumber at the right times during the finishing process. Work will also need to be inspected before the next phase is tackled. Generally speaking, the three phases of electrical and plumbing work include:
Phase#1: When walls are roughed in but not complete it’s time to pull pipes and wires through the structure so they’re ready for final connections later. Your installation will require a preliminary inspection by your local authorities at this stage.
Phase#2: When wall and floor coverings are installed, connections can be made at the electrical panel and main source of water.
Phase#3: This is the final step when your basement is finished and painted. Installing wall outlets, switches and fixtures is the final step in any basement finishing campaign. Your completed installation will require an inspection by your local power utility and building inspector at this stage.