Tips for Easier Electrical Wiring
Whether you have years of wiring experience under your belt, or you’re a novice, this collection of tips and techniques will help you wire faster and better. From straightening cable to labeling wires, our master electricians share their favorite tricks for making every wiring job the best it can be.
Uncoil without kinks
Pack boxes neatly
Peel UF like a banana
No-snag fish tape connections
Identify roughed-in wires
Test before touching
Multiple switches, one hot wire
Strip sheathing first
Lift a few loops from the center of the roll
Pulling plastic-sheathed cable through holes in the framing is a lot easier if you straighten it 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 from the center of the roll and toss them across the floor as if you're throwing a coiled rope.
Fold the wires to save space
Here’s how to keep wires neat and compact: First, gather all the bare ground wires along with a long pigtail and connect them. Fold them into the back of the box, leaving the pigtail extended. Next, do the same for the neutral wires. If you’re connecting switches as we show here, you don’t need a neutral pigtail. Leave the hot wire extra long and fold it back and forth across the bottom of the box. Put a wire connector cap on the hot wire to identify it.
Twist the end with two pairs of pliers
Underground feeder (UF) cable has a tough plastic sheathing that’s 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. They’re easy to tear apart once you get them started. Pull them apart until you have about a foot of separated wires.
Wrap fish tape and cable with electrical tape
To pull wire smoothly with fish tape, 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.
Code your 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. Here’s one example. Wrap three-way switch “travelers” loosely and wrap the common wire tightly around them for easy identification later.
Use a noncontact voltage detector to check every wire in the box or area you’re working. Always check the tester on a wire or cord you know is live to make sure it’s working before you rely on it. Noncontact voltage detectors are available at home centers, hardware stores and online and range in price from $5 to $25. The Klein NCVT-1 tool shown here ($16 at amazon.com) has a green light that indicates it’s turned on and working—a nice feature that’s well worth the extra money.
roubleshoot with a GFCI tester
Most complaints occur when several outlets are protected by one GFCI. 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 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.
Save box space
A box with three switches is crowded enough without adding extra wire connectors and pigtails. Here’s a wiring method that eliminates extra connections and creates a neater installation. Instead of running a separate pigtail from the hot wire to each switch, just leave the hot wire extra long. To connect the switches, simply score the wire with your wire stripper and push the insulation to expose about 3/4 in. of bare wire.
Mark the spot with your thumb
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 and removing the sheathing.