Rewiring a home can seem like a daunting task, but with some basic knowledge of electrical systems and a few handy tricks, it's possible to get the job done safely. As a novice, I was amazed to uncover some little-known techniques my grandfather's generation used that made the process much more manageable. Here's what I learned about rewiring my house without catastrophe.
Understanding Electrical Basics Before Rewiring
Before tearing into walls and dismantling light fixtures, it's crucial to understand some electrical fundamentals to avoid hazards. Here are some key concepts I researched:
Voltage, Amperage, and Wattage
- Voltage is the electrical "pressure" that pushes current through wires. Common household voltage is 120V. Higher voltage can be extremely dangerous.
- Amperage (amps) is the amount of current flowing through a wire. More amps mean more power. 15-20 amp circuits are typical.
- Wattage is the rate of energy consumption. High wattage equals more power. Lightbulbs are labeled with wattages.
Series vs. Parallel Circuits
- In a series circuit, power flows through each component in a single path. Breaking the path breaks the whole circuit.
- In a parallel circuit, power flows through multiple paths. Each component is on a separate path, so one can fail while others keep working. Home wiring uses parallel circuits.
- Most modern wiring uses three-wire NM cable (nonmetallic-sheathed cable): a hot, neutral, and ground wire. The ground is for safety, giving electricity an alternate path to flow if there's a problem.
Warning Signs of Electrical Issues
- Flickering lights, buzzing sounds from switches or outlets, and feeling shocks can indicate wiring problems. Don't ignore these warning signs!
Gathering the Right Rewiring Supplies
With electrical basics down, it was time to stock up on rewiring supplies. Quality materials are essential for safety. Here's what I picked up:
NM cable - I used 12/2 gauge cable for 15 amp circuits and 14/2 gauge for lighter loads like lights and outlets. The thicker 12 gauge is a bit more expensive but handles more power.
Wire strippers - A quality pair of wire strippers makes quick work of stripping sheathing and preparing wires for connections.
Voltage tester - An indispensable tool that lets you safely check whether wires are live before working on them. I tested everything before touching it!
Junction boxes - Sturdy junction boxes neatly contain connections and are required by code. Plastic models are inexpensive and easy to install.
Cable staples - Used to securely attach cables to studs and joists. Much faster than drilling individual holes.
Wire nuts - Simple wire nuts securely join copper wires. Get the correct size for the gauge of your cables.
Safety First - Vital Precautions to Take
Working with electricity is inherently hazardous. Safety has to be the top concern. Here are some key precautions I used:
Turn Off Power and Verify
- The first step is always turning off power at the main breaker. Test wires with a voltage tester to make absolutely sure power is off before touching any wires.
Wear Insulated Gloves
- Thick rubber insulated gloves provide protection in case you do accidentally touch live wires. Never work on wiring without them!
Use a Face Shield or Safety Glasses
- Another essential safety item. Prevent eye injuries from sparks or bits of wire clipping by wearing a full face shield. Never wire without eye protection.
Keep Fire Extinguisher on Hand
- With the fire risks of electrical work, having an extinguisher nearby is a must. I left mine right beside my workspace in case of emergency.
Avoid Working Alone
- Having someone around in case an accident occurs can literally be lifesaving. I always notified my wife before starting work.
Once preparations were complete, I progressed methodically through the rewiring process. Taking it slowly and safely was crucial. Here are the key steps I followed:
Plan the New Circuits
- First draw up plans showing where you want new outlets and lights placed. Group rooms into logical circuits based on use, keeping to 15-20 amp maximum capacity. Leave space in junction boxes for expanding later.
Run New NM Cables
- Measure cable runs and cut cables with wire strippers, allowing plenty of extra length. Use cable staples to neatly attach to joists and studs. Have junction boxes placed and ready.
Join Wires Securely
- Use wire nuts to join circuit wires, pigtailing off to outlets and switches. Twist nuts tightly onto wires and ensure no copper is exposed. Tug firmly to verify solid connections.
Affix Outlet and Switch Plates
- With boxes mounted, wires connected, and ground wires attached, carefully affix each outlet and switch plate. Run cable neatly behind and avoid pinching wires.
Label Breakers Clearly
- Finally, label the new breakers clearly in the main panel to indicate which rooms they control. This avoids confusion down the road.
Safety Checks Before Turning Power Back On
- Before restoring power, do safety checks of all wiring. Tug on connections, verify grounding, and ensure no exposed copper. One missed mistake can have dire consequences once it's live!
Helpful Rewiring Tips My Grandfather Taught Me
While researching and planning my rewiring project, I remembered several ingenious wiring tricks my grandfather taught me when I helped him as a kid. Here are some of those old-timer secrets:
Fish Wires Using Old Rope
- To fish cables neatly through walls, first insert a length of thin rope through the same path. Use this pull-rope to drag new wires back through quickly and easily.
Use Lip Balm as Lubricant
- When worming wires through tight spaces, apply some lip balm to reduce friction. Just a bit lubricates the sheathing easily without getting messy like grease.
Splice Extensions for Short Cables
- If a cable run comes up just shy, you can splice on 6-inch jumper wires instead of pulling entirely new cable. Use adjoining junction boxes and splice carefully avoiding exposed copper.
Mount Outlets Upside-Down
- Often the hot and neutral outlets on receptacles get reversed. Mounting outlets upside-down makes it right visually. Just use a Sharpie to relabel correctly on the faceplate.
Color-Code Wires and Junction Boxes
- Use colored electrical tape to label hot wires red and neutral wires white for quick identification in junction boxes. Saves lots of confusion down the road!
Rewiring a home seemed intimidating when I started, but I found it very manageable by learning basic electrical concepts, using proper safety precautions, following steps methodically, and employing some of the tricks my grandfather taught me years ago. The results were well worth the effort for a safer, more modern, and more organized electrical system. Just take it slowly and carefully. With good planning and patience, you can rewire your home without catastrophe.