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The task of hard wiring

QuestionI realize hard wiring should be left to the electricians, but how difficult is the task of hard wiring? Which walls are easier for fixtures to be installed into? Interior walls, exterior walls, ceiling? Do ceiling walls with a second floor overhead need to be ripped down to install recessed lighting? How about interior walls—does sheetrock need to be ripped down in order to find an electrical source? Can you give me any info on cost? I would like to install more fixtures into my house but am unsure of the practicality and cost.

AnswerYou are asking so many questions at once that it's hard to decide where to start, but I'll give it a try. Hard wiring is not difficult; what's hard are the obstacles you'll face when trying to pull wires. That is, how accessible is the area you plan to work in? Exterior walls that have insulation, for instance, are difficult to work in. However, a single-story house with an attic can make adding fixtures quite easy—you might have to move insulation out of the work area. If you can find a wall that is accessible from the top (attic), from under the subfloor, or from the bottom in the basement or crawlspace—it would make life easier. A closet above a panel box gives a good opportunity to run wires. Closets confine tear-out to a minimum. Running conduit from the panel box to the exterior side of the home to the source can sometimes save on a lot of wall tear-out.

You have to be creative in your approach—can you get from point A (panel box for power) to point B (walls for switches) to point C (ceiling for light fixtures)? Knowing which way your joists run can help determine whether or not you have to open the ceiling. One trick I have used on many jobs when there is a second floor with carpeting, especially when I don't want to disturb the ceiling below, is to pull the carpet back and then cut into the floor to expose the joist and the backside of the wallboard or lath. This would be working from the top down, and it is the best way to handle recessed lights or supports for paddle fans. If you have hardwood floors or floor covering, then you need to work from the ceiling side.

As for finding hot wires, you could try to trace one from an existing fixture and/or switch. Alternatively, Zircon sells the TriScanner Pro for under $40, which has the capability to detect hot AC wires as well as wood and metal behind walls, floors, and ceilings. I don't recommend that you tap into wires outside a fixture or switch box (these are junction boxes). This can create a hazardous condition and could invalidate your fire insurance. Instead, pull a hot wire from the source, which could be the panel box, switch, or light fixture. If at all possible, try not to tear into the walls or ceiling unless you are remodeling and it's no big deal. Finally, do you have wallboard or lath and plaster? Wallboard is a lot easier to repair than lath and plaster. If you have lath and plaster, do not use any type of power saw, especially a reciprocating saw. The wall will vibrate from the tool—or the blade will grab the lath—both of which will crack the walls or ceiling, creating an even bigger mess to repair. In some cases, it can't be repaired and you have to remove it totally—ouch!

There is no way to pinpoint cost because it will depend on how much of the area is open or whether you have to open up walls, ceilings, or the flooring (subfloor and underlayment). It may pay to consult an electrician up front to see if what you want to do is feasible. An electrician could probably tell you in about an hour, and that would be a very good investment. Whether you do the work yourself or hire a contractor, be sure a permit has been issued so the work can be inspected for code compliance.

Copyright © 1999 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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