The codes for newer houses require an electrical outlet on each wall of a room. This is for good reason. Having adequate outlets eliminates the use of extension cords or doubling up the output on a single outlet.
From the late 1800’s through the 1930’s the standard method for wiring was knob and tube wiring. This kind of wiring gets its name from the ceramic knobs and tubes that support the wire and protect it when passing through wall studs. The electric cable used was insulated with an outer cloth wrapping and carried a hot wire and a neutral wire. There was no ground wire. Most home inspectors recommend ripping the whole mess out. The estimate to rewire my house was around $12000. Since I don’t have that much money in my back pocket I needed to adapt the best I could.
One of my first thoughts was to slowly replace the original wires by attaching new wire to the old and pulling it through the wall from outlet to outlet. Seemed safe. After all, the connections would all be inside electrical boxes and I wouldn’t have to cut into the walls. After researching the experiences of those who tried this, it turned out that wire gets hung up in the tubes and you end up cutting into the walls anyway.
I thought about dropping new wire through the walls from the attic, completely circumventing the old wires. But I haven’t found the attic access yet. It is hidden somewhere above the suspended ceilings that have been installed in most of the rooms in the house.
My solution was to use surface channels to add outlets where I needed them. This first project added outlets to only one room. I plan on turning my little sunroom into an office. This room had an overhead light but no outlets at all. The good news was that the laundry room shared a wall with a closet in the sunroom. I pulled wire from the laundry room into the sunroom.
Like any project, begin by assembling your materials. A line from a book I read awhile back sticks with me: “We begin mise en place” (French cooking phrase meaning everything in its place)
In order to complete this project I needed 12 gauge household wire, two outlet boxes, box covers and two new outlets. I also needed screws, wire strippers, cable cutters, wire nuts and a roll of electric tape. I added a file to smooth the metal channel where it was cut. Include a drill to make holes for the wire to run through the wall. Be sure to have a circuit tester to make sure that you are not working with a live wire. A hammer and screwdriver seem to be necessary for every project. Just stick them in the box.
The surface channel system I chose required the metal channel (sold in 10ft lengths), four starter boxes and blank box covers, five inside angle channels, a surface right angle channel and an adapter to attach to the laundry room outlet. Since I was putting in a new circuit I was able to work backward, starting by wiring the outlets and then running the wire through channels and finally connecting the circuit to the outlet in the laundry room.
My first step was to drill a hole from the sunroom into the closet to determine where to cut into the wall to insert the electric box for each outlet. I pulled the wire through the hole and into the box. Next I put the box against the wall, traced the outline of the box and cut this section out of the wall. The electric box I used is called an “old work” box. It has little flaps that extend into the wall and pull the box against the inside of the wall as you tighten screws. The result is a firmly placed electric box that won’t wiggle as you use it. After the box was firmly attached to the wall I used wire strippers to remove some of the insulation from each of the wires and prepared to wire the outlet.
When you begin wiring you will see that the outlet has screws on both sides of the outlet. One side has a brass screw. This is the side where the power comes into the box. Attach the wire with the black insulation to this side by bending the wire into a loop and slipping it around the screw. Tighten the screw and make sure the wire is firmly attached. Next attach the wire with the white insulation to the silver colored screw on the other side of the outlet. This wire carries any current that you don’t use back into the rest of the circuit. You will notice that there are several of each kind of screw. These are used if you intend to continue the wiring to another outlet. For a single outlet, don’t worry about it. The final wire is an uninsulated wire. This is the ground wire. Attach it to the green screw on the outlet. The ground wire channels any stray current back to the breaker box and safely into the ground outside the house.
As an extra precaution, wrap electrical tape around the outlet to cover the screws and any exposed wire. Finally, push the outlet into the box and screw it into place using the screws that are attached to the outlet. Pull the excess wire through the hole in the wall and into a starter box on the other side of the wall. Now you are ready to pull the wire through the channels.
The starter box on the inside wall is how the wire enters the channel. There are knock out spaces on the box where the wire passes into the channel. This is also where the channel attaches to the box. Choose the space that will line up with the channel in your project and use pliers to remove the cover from the knock out space.
In short runs of wire channel the channel is held in place by pushing the ends of the channel into the open space of the starter box and corner pieces. Measure the distance from the starter box to the corner of the room and deduct the space inside the corner piece. Mark and cut the channel. I found through trial and error that a dremel with a cut-off wheel is the easiest way to cut the channel. It will shoot out a spray of sparks so it’s a good idea to wear safety glasses while cutting the channel. The type of channel that I used has a metal backing that can be moved. Slide this backing down about 3 inches on one end when making your cut. The backing holds the wire in place through the channel but gets in the way at the ends where the channel joins a corner or box. By cutting the backing shorter, you avoid the problem. Once the starter box and corner piece backings are screwed in place, run the wire through the channel, slide the channel into the starter box and over the end of the corner backing. The corner cover snaps in place. Conceal the wire inside the starter box by attaching a blank plate cover.
You might notice that there is wire channel entering the box from both sides. In this project I wired outlets on either side of the closet door and joined the wires inside the box. This is called a junction. It isn’t difficult but it looks a lot like wire spaghetti. I pulled wire from the laundry room into the starter box and twisted all the black wires together with a wire nut and sealed with electrical tape as an added precaution. Then I did the same thing with the white wires and the ground wires. Finally I pushed the wires into the box and covered them with a blank plate. Just a thought about electrical tape: They say “less is more”. That might be true for most things, but not electrical tape or bacon. You can never have too much bacon. Sorry- back to wiring. Electrical tape insulates and holds things in place. I trust the wire nuts to keep the wires connected and insulated but shorts cause fire. I don’t like fire. Wrapping connections with some electrical tape is an added precaution that might avoid a tragedy. It’s cheap. Use it.
At this point I was ready to run wire to the outlet in the laundry room. Again, I worked backward from the starter box connecting the wire to the sunroom through wire channels to the outlet I planned to tap into. I ran into trouble when I reached the outlet. Sigh. There are two kinds of outlets: end run outlets and middle run outlets. The two outlets that I wired in the sunroom were endrun outlets. That means that I just wired to them and did not plan to continue to another outlet. That’s why there were extra screws that I didn’t use. A middle run outlet runs power through the outlet but also is wired to carry power to another outlet somewhere. That is what I discovered when I opened the outlet box. Here is how that problem was solved.
First things first. I disconnected the power at the breaker box and double checked that the outlet was dead by using a circuit checker. In order to check for the presence of electricity you insert the probes of the checker into each of the outlet openings. If the checker lights up, the outlet is still hot. (In the photo to the right, the little orange light is on. This outlet is carrying power.)
Next I disconnected the wires leaving the outlet and created a “pigtail” for each of the wires. This means that I connected the wire that I disconnected from the outlet to a length of new wire and to the wire that was continuing on to the next outlet. That means in each pigtail there were three of the same kind of wire connected together. I screwed a wire nut over the end of each pigtail and doubled down with electrical tape. This left me with one end of wire for each of the three wires that I reconnected to the outlet. The pigtail connections were contained inside the adapter for the wire channel system. When closed up, the adapter forms a metal box that safely held the connections. Do you see the little slots on the adapter? They click onto the back of the adapter to seal the box.
You might be thinking that this solution is pretty ugly. It sure is in the photos above. Happily, all parts of the system are paintable and blend in as best they can. I haven’t finished painting the laundry room or the sunroom so things are still in their ugly stage. Don’t worry, the situation will improve! I’ll post a picture when the project finally gets completely finished. But this is the end of the wiring part of the sunroom/ laundry room project.
I hope my adventure into wiring convinces you that you too can do some simple wiring. There is a lot of detail here, but mostly it’s about twisting things together, attaching to walls and using electrical tape. You can do it!