Rewiring a home can seem like a daunting task, but with proper planning and safety precautions, it is possible for a homeowner to rewire their house without hiring an electrician. As someone who has rewired my entire home on my own, I can provide a comprehensive guide on how to tackle this project in a safe and effective manner.
Understanding Electrical Systems Basics
Before beginning any electrical project, it's important to understand some basic electrical principles and components of home wiring systems:
- Current - The flow of electrons through a conductor. Measured in amps.
- Voltage - The electrical potential difference. In homes, typically 120V or 240V.
- Conductors - Wires that current flows through. Usually copper or aluminum.
- Insulators - Protective coverings around conductors to prevent shocks. Rubber or plastic.
- Circuit Breakers - Automatically shut off power to a circuit if there is an overload. Located in the main breaker panel.
- Grounding - Safety system to direct stray electrical current into the earth.
Familiarizing yourself with these terms and components will help greatly when rewiring a home.
Planning the Rewiring Project
Careful planning is crucial before starting a rewiring project. Here are some key steps:
- Create a house plan - Map out each room and mark all outlet, switch, and lighting locations.
- Inspect the current wiring - Check for problems like knob-and-tube wiring, aluminum wiring, or insufficient grounding. These should be addressed.
- Consider additions - Decide if you want to add more circuits, switches, outlets, or lighting fixtures while the walls are open.
- Choose a wiring method - Romex or conduit. Romex is easier for DIYers.
- Calculate wire and breaker sizes - Ensure you have appropriately sized wires and circuit breakers for each circuit.
- Develop a safety plan - Have fire extinguishers handy, first aid kit, and emergency contacts. Turn off power at the breaker before starting work.
Thorough planning will make the rewiring go smoothly and safely.
Wiring Materials Needed
You'll need various wiring supplies, which can be purchased at any hardware or home improvement store:
- NM electrical wire - Also called Romex. Get stranded 14/2 and 12/2 gauge for 15 & 20 amp branch circuits.
- Conduit - Only needed if running wire through masonry walls or for exposed installations.
- Wire connectors - To splice wires together. Get assorted sizes.
- Junction boxes - For housing wire connectors when splicing.
- Receptacles and switches - GFCI outlets for kitchens, bathrooms and exterior. Three-way switches for multi-location control. Match colors to your decor.
- Circuit breakers - Check amperage ratings needed for each circuit. Must match wire gauge.
- Conduit fittings - If using conduit. Includes boxes, elbow fittings, clamps, etc.
- Wall plates - Match style and color of outlets and switches.
Shop around for the best prices on these supplies before purchasing.
Safety Gear Needed
Safety should be your top concern. Equip yourself with proper safety gear:
- Electrical gloves - Insulated rubber gloves rated for the voltages you'll be working with. Essential for shock protection.
- Safety goggles - For eye protection.
- Dust mask - For protection when cutting/drilling into walls.
- Voltage tester - To confirm wires are de-energized before working.
- GFCI Protection - Use a GFCI outlet or circuit breaker for power during the project.
- Ladder - Use a fiberglass ladder when working in the attic or on ceilings.
- First aid kit - Contains bandages, gauze, ointments for minor electrical burns.
Also make sure to turn off power at the main breaker panel before working and check wires with a voltage tester before touching.
Removing Old Wiring
Once you've planned the project and gathered supplies, you're ready to remove old wiring:
- Turn off power at the main breaker panel. Use a voltage tester to confirm it's off.
- Remove existing receptacles, switches and light fixtures from walls.
- If possible, pull wires out of boxes instead of cutting. This allows using old wires to pull new wires more easily.
- Vacuum dust and debris from boxes and conduit before pulling new wire.
- Cap any unused wires and secure along the sides of joist cavities.
- Label all wires indicating their location or circuit number to reduce confusion later.
Take pictures of existing wiring before removal to reference later. Remove wiring carefully and dispose of properly.
Running New Wiring
Now that old wires are removed, new wire can be installed:
- Plan your wiring routes between boxes and avoid making sharp bends.
- Ensure wires are stapled neatly every 2-3 feet if running horizontally in cavities.
- Drill holes in studs if wires need to pass vertically between floors. Use metal nail plates to protect wire.
- Use conduit fittings where wires are exposed. Secure at regular intervals.
- Make clean connections by stripping 3/4" insulation from wire ends. Use wire nuts sized for number of conductors.
- Wrap connections with electrical tape for additional strength and insulation.
- Position wires neatly in boxes, store excess length in wall cavity rather than boxes.
Take it slowly and methodically to produce clean, safe wiring throughout the home.
Installing New Receptacles, Switches and Lighting
The wiring needs to be terminated properly at each box:
- Choose appropriate receptacles for each location - GFCI near water sources, 20amp for appliances.
- Ensure receptacles and switches align and sit flush with finished wall surface after installation.
- Connect wires securely with corresponding terminal screws. Follow diagrams on device.
- Ground all devices properly with ground wires or grounding screws. Essential for safety.
- Use wire nuts and electrical tape for light fixtures without terminal screws. Follow diagrams.
- Label wires connected to two-way switches to simplify installation.
- Test operation of all installed devices before securing permanently.
Taking extra care during device installation will save time and avoid problems.
Wrapping Up the Project
Once all new wires are run, devices connected, and operation confirmed, there are final steps:
- Replace any insulation, vapor barriers, or wall coverings that were removed.
- Have an electrician inspect the full rewiring job before re-energizing the home if desired.
- Turn the main power back on once you've verified everything is safe and operational.
- Add new circuit labels and update your home's electrical panel diagram accordingly.
- Dispose of all old wiring and debris properly - do not just throw in trash.
- Make any final adjustments to devices or wall plates for a clean final appearance.
Follow all steps carefully and you will have a completely rewired home that is safe and upgraded to modern standards.
Is Rewiring Without an Electrician Right for You?
While rewiring a home yourself can certainly save money compared to hiring an electrician, consider whether you feel comfortable taking the proper precautions and performing all the steps safely. Being meticulous, patient, and fully focused on safety is a must. If you have any doubts, it may be best to hire a professional so the job is done properly. But with good planning, precautions, and attention to detail, rewiring your home is an achievable DIY project. Just take it slow and be extra careful when dealing with something as potentially dangerous as home electrical wiring. If you do decide to take it on yourself, follow the guidance above closely.