Installing Surface Wiring
Now, more than ever, “comfort and convenience” are buzz words when speaking of the home. Comfort and convenience can be experienced in many ways. Ample space, abundant natural light and more than one bathroom are a few examples. Appliances such as a clothes washer and dryer, a central heating and air conditioning system and an automatic dishwasher are examples of some large appliances that can really add comfort and convenience to any home. Moreover, small appliances such as a mixer, automatic can opener and food processor are an almost must for today’s average habitat. Each of these require electricity. That could be a problem, especially for older homes, where there aren’t enough outlets or the electrical system simply won’t safely handle the additional load.
In our work as residential remodeling contractors over the past couple of decades, we have learned a few of the “hot spots” that consumers have when it comes to remodeling their homes. More and larger closets, lots of windows, spacious rooms and more electrical outlets always seem to top the “dream list”. While we believe that all of these are reasonable requests, it is our opinion that electrical should be the number one item. Aside from the convenience that a few extra lights, switches or outlets offer, the electrical system has a great deal to do with the safety of the home.
There are two primary elements of a homes electrical system that relate to safety; the size of the electrical service and the condition of the system (wiring, breakers, fuses, outlets, etc.) Most modern homes have an electrical main service which is rated for 100 amps. Many older homes have a main electrical service which is 60 amps. The smaller service simply is not large enough to handle the electrical demand of the modern home. Additionally, many of these older systems consist of knob and tube wiring, fuses and ungrounded wiring which, by today’s standards, cannot be considered safe.
We believe that upgrading an electrical main service and rewiring a substandard electrical system is one of the best and smartest investments that a homeowner can make. No amount of money can compensate for the loss of life or irreplaceable personal property that are the result of a house fire caused by a faulty electrical system.
We don’t consider upgrading a main service or rewiring a house an average do-it-yourself project. Therefore we recommend that a professional electrician be consulted.
Your main service and wiring may be in good shape and all you want to do is add an outlet or two, or a switch and fixture box for a light or ceiling fan. The good news is that this is a project that can be tackled by a do-it-yourselfer. The bad news is that the task can be a major undertaking, especially when the home is built on a concrete slab or has no attic. The addition of just one plug can mean cutting out wallboard, drilling holes in framing and “fishing” wires to new locations. If this isn’t your idea of fun on a Saturday afternoon, you may want to consider the alternative; surface wiring.
Surface wiring is a system in which the wires are simply run across the surface of a wall or ceiling but are concealed and protected by a decorative cover or channel. The advantage of surface wiring is that it can be done with little or no disruption to existing finishes. This can be a real plus especially when wallpaper or paneling is involved. The disadvantage (and the objection that most folks have to this system) is that it can be difficult to conceal and can “stick out like a sore thumb.” However, where walls are made of block, concrete or other material that make wire-fishing impossible, surface wiring might be the only practical choice. Note: this type of surface wiring system is not designed for exterior use. There are other surface wiring systems which are approved for exterior use.
Before surface wiring is attempted the electrical system should be in good shape as discussed earlier. Care should be taken not to overload an existing circuit by using too many appliances or devices simultaneously. However, adding a few new outlets to a circuit is seldom a problem. When in doubt, consult a professional electrician.
Surface wiring systems consist of metal or heavy plastic components and can be purchased at most home centers. They come with an assortment of fittings to make installation as simple as possible. The material can be cut with a hacksaw, therefore eliminating the need for any power tools. However, a cordless driver/drill can make the job a lot easier. The only other tool required is a combination wire cutter/stripper.
The installation process is simple. Begin by creating a diagram which outlines where the new outlet, switch or fixture is to be located in relation to existing electrical. Choose an existing outlet which will serve as the power source for the addition. Turn of the power to the outlet in question and remove the cover plate and the outlet to expose just the wiring. Attach a starter box to the existing outlet box and run the surface wiring system to the desired location. The new starter box has a dual purpose. It serves as both a junction box for the wire connections and also as an outlet. Turn the electrical back on after all connections have been made.
Remember to consult with local building officials to determine if a permit will be required and to ensure that the work complies with local codes.