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Community and Q&A

Advice for DIY Electrical

Brandon S | Posted in General Questions on

I’m remodeling my home and looking for advice on doing the electrical myself.  I read through the Saving Sustainably article when the author did his own electrical on this site.  Lots of good info in the comments.  

Recommendations for load centers?  Additional advice?  The wago wire connectors look like a lifesaver.  


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  1. Expert Member
    Akos | | #1

    I found PS Knight's book Electrical Code Simplified a great help, it is for Canadian code though. Keep in mind that code changes and you might get caught by not being up to date (ie AFCIs and class II lighting).

    Wiring is easy to do wrong, I had fixed many DIY jobs over the years that were beyond sketchy, so not something to take on lightly.

    1. John Taylor | | #4

      Big Brother has been trying to get rid or PS Knight since 2013.

      The Latest version of the $$$ code published by CSA doesn't even have an index.

  2. Expert Member
    DCContrarian | | #2

    Residential wiring isn't complicated, but it is detail-oriented. A mistake of omission can often mean you have to do the whole job over again. What you see a lot in DIY jobs is something that works, but isn't safe or reliable. Part of safety is following the standards and conventions of the trade so that anyone who comes after you isn't going to get shocked because they don't understand what's going on.

    1. Andrew C | | #3

      +1 - "Part of safety is following the standards and conventions of the trade so that anyone who comes after you isn't going to get shocked because they don't understand what's going on."
      Under-rated comment. My dad upgraded properties to bring them up to code prior to renting them, and he found a lot a dangerous and/or unconventional DIY work that he had to undo. If it was that common in such a small sample size, it must be very common in older houses that have had several owners over the years.

      1. Expert Member
        DCContrarian | | #7

        I'm not an electrician, but just to give some for-instances of things I've run into that worked but weren't safe:

        I shut off the breaker, I wave my voltage detector around the hot plug of the outlet and don't hear anything, so I assume it's off. I pop the outlet cover off to discover that the white and black wires are reversed and the neutral plug of the outlet is the hot one. And it's hot.

        Switch on the neutral leg rather than the hot leg. It still works to turn the light on and off, but when it's off it's still hot.

  3. Thomas Teichmann | | #5

    My $.05:
    Connecting a new load center will require a licensed electrician since the power company has to shut down the service. Find one that is willing to work with your DIY part.
    Consider whether you want PV in the (distant) future.
    Breakers from manufacturer A only fit in panels from A. Only important if you want to reuse any old breakers (makes only sense for AFCIs).
    Make a plan, count the circuits, buy a bigger load center. "The future is electrical."
    Consider a sub-panel for garage or second floor.
    Don't use any wire that's smaller than 12, the savings are minimal, rather buy one big coil.
    Three-way light circuits are... (every time I look at the cables that run diagonally through my ceiling joists I could...) anyway you still need them. Consider using smart switches.
    With Lutron Caseta (if you can live with the look) you have one switch/dimmer and at the other locations you just have remotes with batteries that need no wiring. Plus, it's so smart that it can work without hub or internet. (If you need to switch on your light from the North pole you can do so with a hub.)
    Outlets: Buy the commercial version, not the residential: The guy in this video cuts them open:
    Connecting outlets, I prefer the back wired commercial ones, easy and safe.
    Wago connectors are great, but for the most part overkill.
    As long as you connect solid wires, push-in connectors are cheaper, readily available, convenient and if you think that you want to add another wire later, just use one with more ports than needed.
    Wire nuts are cool, what else allows to connect 2 AWG12 solid with 13 AWG24 stranded? (Don't do that). You will need them or the Wago, when you connect solid wirewith stranded (lights etc.).
    Mark your cables, nobody does that in residential, but it's so nice to open a box and see a cable belongs to circuit #256, which you can find on the plan that got lost immediately after the work was done.
    Buy good tools, especially a decent wire stripper, a good voltage tester and a receptacle tester.

    Understand what you are doing and do it thoroughly! There are no shortcuts in electrical work, that is, some are deadly! Don't worry it's unlikely that you die from an electric shock, you have a better chance that your house burns down due to an electric fire.
    Good luck,


  4. Mike Ferro | | #6

    As others have mentioned, the details matter when wiring a house. I'd recommend finding a good supply house near you and getting all of your material from them rather than Home Depot or Lowes. Typically former electricians work at supply houses and are more than happy to offer you advice on some of the nuances of wiring.

    Also, make sure you are also familiar with NFPA guidelines for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Placement and wiring requirements are very specific and could be life saving.

  5. Joe Norm | | #8

    If you're a details person and have friends that can check your work I'd say go for it. If those things are not true for you then I say hire a professional.

    Also the advice about using nothing smaller than #12 is bad. 14(white) for lighting, 12(yellow) for receptacles. 14 is much nicer to work with and fit into switch boxes.

    1. Thomas Teichmann | | #10

      You are right regarding 14 and lights, it's easier. The article that Brandon mentioned used 14 also for the receptacles in living room and bed rooms.

  6. Joe Braun | | #9

    One thing I think everyone here is missing is that you need to start with the NEC2020 codebook. Like everything, you need to learn what is required. This includes wire size, wire type, grounding, bonding, conduit fill, single/double pole, the 80% rule, wet areas, etc.

    Once you know that, you can start watching videos to understand what is being discussed in the code. There was a lot changed in the 2020 update. A few examples were that almost every circuit must be GFCI and Arc fault protected now, the outlet requirements for a kitchen island is based on sqft now, and the house must have a discount on the outside of the building so that the fire dept can shut the power off to the house. There is a lot to know.

    If you haven't ever installed a new circuit(s) to the panel, changed out a breaker before, or don't know what the 80% rule is, you probably shouldn't start with doing an entire house to learn.

  7. Mark Nagel | | #11

    Reminds me of fishing, opening up a can of worms :-)

    As mentioned, if you do not have any experience and you don't have a sense of detail then you shouldn't do this on your own. A big reason is that if, as I would expect in nearly all locations, you have to have things inspected you could end up with a really expensive learning lesson.

    Might consider hiring someone and then helping them (you do a bunch of leg work). I did that for/with my garage. It's a good learning experience in addition to helping save a few dollars.

    Not that you want to test it, but what happens with insurance claims should a problem occur? To-date I've only had professionals do wiring in my buildings that are insured: I am planning though, on wiring my self-build (hoping to run my electrical plans by my electrician).

    Also as noted, codes change. Need to be aware of what code revisions your local area goes by. I'm in WA state and we're using the latest, NEC 2020. A big change in 2020 is the requirement for an outside disconnect (more stuff to mount on the outer wall!): I'm still researching what is an allowable disconnect box- I have 100a service, that cannot be upgraded w/o a lot of expense (lines from service company would have to be upgraded- they're under the roadway), and I'd like to have equipment that's capable of 200a (bus loads) so that if I ever decided to shell out for the upgraded service I wouldn't have to change out boxes, just breakers.

    1. Expert Member
      DCContrarian | | #13

      >Might consider hiring someone and then helping them (you do a bunch of leg work).

      You have to find the right guy, but I've had this work. The deal is you pay them their regular hourly work, and you do all the unskilled parts. Which means you carry all of the heavy objects, crawl into all of the unpleasant spots, sweep up when you're done and do all of the repetitive tasks. If you have the right chemistry this can be fun.

      I remember doing this once with a plumber. He did the skilled part, which was cutting out a section of cast iron pipe and removing the bell coupling. I dutifully picked up the removed section of pipe, which probably weighed 120 pounds, to carry it out to the trash, so he could keep doing that high-skill work I was paying him for. However, he was in the middle of telling me a story, so he walked behind me as I carried the pipe down the stairs and out the door, finishing the story!

      1. Mark Nagel | | #20

        My electrician is self-employed, one-man show. He actually prefers help: and he charges accordingly. At the end of a day I'd just ask him how much I owed him: parts of course; no idea on what his hourly rates were; just know that all the costs seemed reasonable- passed inspection, and have had no issues for three years now .

  8. Expert Member
    Zephyr7 | | #12

    I like the Siemens/ITE load center (breaker boxes). They are reasonably priced and good quality. Be sure to get one with copper busbars and not aluminum, cost is nearly the same and copper is better. You have to use breakers rated for the panel, which typically means the brand of the panel and the brand of the breakers have to match. Get the little Ditek "whole home" TVSS (surge protector) device that is about $50 and install it on the panel too for a little extra protection.

    Ground usually means AT LEAST two 8 foot ground rods now, seperated by twice their length. One used to be OK, but the code now requires a maximum ground impedance, and it usually takes at least two rods to get under that maximum. If you have a metallic city water line or metallic well casing, that usually works as your ground.

    In regards to code, some areas (notably Chicago) disallow the use of the plastic-sheathed NM (romex) cable. There can be other local code issues you need to be aware of in your area, so be sure to check.

    Newer codes require a neutral run to every light switch. You can get cable that allows for old-school "power to the light then the switch" wiring while still carrying a neutral, it will be "14/2/2" or similar, meaning it has FOUR wires inside so that the hot AND NEUTRAL can loop through a remote switch. You can also just wire "power to the switch then the light" and not have to worry about this.

    I agree with the recommendation to run 12 gauge to all receptacles and use 14 only for hardwired lights. That's how I wired my own home. Note that some things REQUIRE 20 amp circuits (notable kitchens), and you have to run GFCIs to areas that might be wet (kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages, outdoor receptacles).

    If you are required to have an exterior disconnect, a standalone "main breaker in a box" will work for this. The tricky part is that code says your ground/neutral bond (connection) has to be at the first disconnect, and ONLY at the first disconnect, which means four wire cable between that breaker and your main panel. Your ground rods now need to connect to that outside disconnect box instead of the main panel, and you need to seperate the ground and neutral busbars in the main panel (this usually means removing a bonding screw or jumper in the panel, the instructions will tell you how to do it, but you might need to add a seperate ground busbar that might not be included with the panel). With an exterior disconnect, you can use a "main lug" breaker panel and save the cost of the main breaker there since the exterior breaker will serve that purpose.

    There are lots of other details. I personally would use spec grade receptacles throughout the house. These cost a little more, but they're a LOT better quality. They also have screw-driven wire clamps which make wiring easier.

    I'm not fan of the Wago connectors since I don't like push-in wire connectors. I would try to avoid their use as much as possible and stick with wire nuts instead. Be cautious of the requirements for cable support (distance from the box to the first staple, etc.). You need nail plates if you run the cable too close to the edge of a stud. I prefer the cable staples that are plastic with small nails on either side over the old school formed metal staples. The plastic staples are easier to install and you don't have to risk overdriving them and damaging the cable jacket.

    None of this stuff is difficult, but there are a lot of nitpicky little details you need to watch out for. See if you can get an electrician to help you out with you acting like his apprentice. This would mean you'd do most of the work, but the experienced electrician would oversee you and check in periodically, as well as be available to answer any questions you might have. This is similar to how many commerical projects are actually run, and would help you to get a proper installation at minimum cost. Many busy electricians will be OK with this since they'll make some money with little actual time commitment on their part, but they'll want to make sure they aren't on the hook for your mistakes too.


    1. AlexPoi | | #16

      Wago make some nice lever nuts. I think that's the connectors he was referring to.

      They are much better than wire nuts in my experience. Actually, I really dislike wire nuts. I don't know why we still use them in NA. With a lever nut, you can test the circuit without removing the nuts, you can see if you made a proper connection and they make it much easier to connect stranded wire to solid wire.

      1. Expert Member
        DCContrarian | | #17

        I think wire nuts are one of those things where if they didn't already exist they'd never be legal.

        1. Mark Nagel | | #22

          I read electricians' arguments on how one is supposed to twist on wire nuts, how to pre-set the wires: one side says start with wires parallel; other side says to pre-twist wires. Most fun I had with professionals arguing was when electricians and folks doing electrical code argued over the proper wiring for connecting up generators! (after pulling myself into the weeds I was able to come out with what I believe is a firm understanding of the right way, and it boggles my mind how people could argue the other side [and still be called professionals], but in their defense(?) I suspect it was more about trying to discourage DIYers from doing the wiring themselves).

          I have a stash of Wagos that I'd gotten in anticipation of having to wire my garage myself: my electrician didn't have an interest in them. Seeing as I'll be my own electrician for my build I might dust them off. NOTE: I once has a wire nut connection on a water heater "go" bad; not a good feeling; iffy connection to start with (MY fault), likely, and that's a concern as wire nuts don't provide absolute positive feedback (not like Wagos can).

          1. Expert Member
            Zephyr7 | | #23

            Wire nuts usually say right on the package that pre-twisting is "allowed, but not required". I keep the wires parallel with the ends aligned. I tell my guys to tighten them until their fingers hurt a little. I "inspect" by making sure the insulated portion of the wires show signs of twisting. Most all the problems I've ever seen with wire nuts failing is due to them not being installed tightly enough. I prefer Ideal's "Wing-Nut" wire nuts too, since the large wings make it MUCH easier to tighten them sufficiently.

            I've gotten into the generator issue before too. The issue that usually comes up is ground/neutral bonding. The short of it is that you technically violate one of two specific rules in the code (where the bond should be, or the rule about only having ONE bond point). The only real solution is an ATS with neutral throwover, but those are exceedingly rare in residential settings.

            In practice there isn't really a safety issue either way if everything else is done properly, so the argument isn't over something particularly serious. In commerical systems, where I do most of my design work, the big issue has to do with current sharing on ground conductors causing large (1,000+ amp) ground fault interrupters to trip at higher than their setpoint, but that issue doesn't come up in residential systems.


          2. Expert Member
            Malcolm Taylor | | #24

            I've got an electrician's screwdriver that holds wire nuts (called Marettes up here) in the base. Makes twisting easy.

          3. Expert Member
            DCContrarian | | #26

            Malcolm --
            I'd never seen that before, but it's brilliant! Not sure how it works with Bill's standard of "twist until your fingers hurt" though. Just ordered one on Amazon.

  9. Expert Member
    DCContrarian | | #14

    Read about the Dunning-Kruger Effect:

    One of the biggest amateur mistakes is simply to underestimate the amount of time a job will take, and overestimate your own ability. When the job starts taking a lot longer than you thought it would, it's easy to start cutting corners.

    1. Mark Nagel | | #15

      ^^^ Yup! It's one reason why I am planning on undertaking a build when I'm RETIRED. (I would have liked to build my garage, but as I still have a "day job" I decided against it.)

  10. Brandon S | | #18

    I am very grateful for the responses this is going to take some time to read through and look through the resources. A couple of notes:

    -I'm permitting the work. It's permissible in my jurisdiction of you are the owner and have not done so within the last 3 years. It will be inspected like it would be if I hired someone. My jurisdiction has adopted 2020 NEC.

    -I feel comfortable putting substantial time into the house. I've already done so to get it to the stage it's in now. It has also taken longer than I thought it would to get there. I accept that.

    -Respect to the electricians who originally wired this home in 1964. They did an incredible job. It's been such a pleasure to explore and renovate the house.


  11. Joel Cheely | | #19

    Are there new houses being built in your area that you can walk through? See if you can see one in rough in stage. Take a look at everything electrical, especially terminations. You'll notice that electrians leave plenty of wire at panels and boxes.

    I've done a lot of DIY electric work, but hired it out on my last build as I thought I might learn something from a pro. Didn't learn much other than he was a lot faster than me! There's a lot of thinking to be done in electrical work if you haven't done it a thousand times.

  12. Tim R | | #21

    Get a code check flip book.
    I found it helpful in my projects.

  13. Expert Member
    Deleted | | #25


  14. John Michelotti | | #27

    Please keep us up date on this project. I love to hear the details like if you hire a pro, how many did you talk to before you found one that would work with you, or what work did you pull out to redo.
    Totally agree on the DK effect. I wired a circuit for my minisplit. Had I done it even once before it would have taken far less time. I think you can both respect the pros, and do your own. Know when and what you need to do.

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