Wiring a Basement Successfully

As the weather turns cooler, our thoughts turn toward indoor living. Maybe it’s time to consider adding that media center, home office, man-cave, or guest suite you’ve been wanting. But where to put it? How about that basement that’s been collecting things that you seldom or no longer use?

Regardless of how you intend to use the space, adding more wiring will likely be part of the project. Light fixtures, outlets and switches are obvious needs, but how about other things like built-in speakers and data, phone or TV cable ports? All these additions can add up to a fair amount of new electrical work, so the first thing to do is make a list of what you want.

When you have the list, figure out how much additional load you will be adding to your home electrical service. Circuits are rated by the amperage they carry, and you can figure the load you’re adding with a simple calculation: amps = watts/volts. Using this formula, it’s easy to see that a 1200-watt microwave on a 120-volt circuit will pull 10 amps of power and a 500-watt coffeemaker will need a little over 4 amps. If they’re both operating on a typical 15-amp utility circuit, they will be near the circuit’s limit and anything else operating on that circuit will likely cause an overload and trip its breaker. That’s why electricians sit down and calculate a wiring plan before they even pick up a wire cutter.

An unfinished basement makes for an easier installation because the wall cavities and rafters are exposed, but that doesn’t mean that wires and cables can be strung willy-nilly. Did you know, for instance, that you should never run high- and low-voltage wires together? They need to be at least 6 inches apart to avoid interference that could cause problems with data, voice, or TV signals and should terminate in separate outlet boxes or ones with approved dividers.

While it may be tempting to stuff several wires through a hole in your studs or rafters, over-stuffing and pulling wires through holes can cause breaks or weakness in the insulation and lead to short circuits and fires. You should also pay attention to where and how many holes you put in studs and rafters so you don’t weaken them and cause them to sag or break.

Speaking of fires, wire insulation that is broken by nails or screws create a serious hazard. Codes require that holes for wiring must be at least 1¼ inches away from the face of the board or protected by nail plates to avoid damage to the wiring. And ceiling fixtures must be clear of any insulating batts or other material by 3 inches or more unless they’re rated for insulation contact.

These are just a few of the things that must be considered to successfully wire a basement (or any other room) and they are things that any licensed electrician will know. It doesn’t mean that a DIYer can’t do them, but we strongly recommend that you spend some time learning about the hazards and requirements of electrical wiring before tackling the job yourself or hiring someone whose specialty isn’t electrical work.

You can save yourself the hassle and potential danger of DIY wiring with a call to Allstar Electrical Services. The pros at Allstar Electrical are ready to discuss your needs and help you determine the best solution for your home project. Just give us a call at (303) 399-7420 or use our handy on-line forms to request an estimate or set up an appointment. Simply go to our Residential Services page or drop an email to us at estimating@allstarelectrical.com for complete details.