Welcome to my guide on how to rough in for electrician’s.
I have broken down this page into two categories.
Roughing in for:
- Residential Electricians
- Commercial Electricians
My goal of this write-up is to fill you in on the whole process we as electricians go through during the electrical rough-in stage.
Surprisingly, the rough-in stage is our most crucial time, because if you miss anything, you will later have to cut in a box or fish wires, which can sometimes be a messy job 😉
Rough in Process Overview (Both Residential and Commercial)
When comparing residential to commercial in the rough-in stage, we typically follow the same methods:
- Install Boxes
- Pull Wire
- Splice Wire
There are some minor differences though, which is why I’ve broken this article into their separate categories.
After we are done rough-in though, other trades come and do their job before we electricians come back for finishing. (Where we install plugs, switches, lights etc. – Pretty much give the client the finished product.)
These other trades would be:
- Tapers (Drywall companies typically offer both drywall and taping)
The insulators are first in line after us electricians are done our rough in.
They install insulation in the exterior walls, and depending on if the home is wanting to have a quieter home, they would also insulate interior their walls.
On the exterior walls, they also install their plastic poly, which forms a vapor barrier around the home/building. (We either use vapor bags on our outside plugs, or use special plugs which seal the inside from the outside.)
You’ll see that they tape on to these vapor bags to make that seal.
One things to note, you’ll see they use a product called acoustic sealant. This is known as black death on the job site. If you touch it, watch out.. it’s going to get all over your clothes and tools! (Avoid at all costs lol!)
Next, the drywallers will come in after insulation and poly is done. (Also, I believe drywallers are not allowed to start drywalling until electricians have gotten their permit approved and been inspected by an inspector.)
We as electricians have to keep an eye drywaller’s work, as many times they miss boxes while cutting out their dry wall. This can sometimes make for a tense work atmosphere.. so it’s all about being a people person here!
Believe me, there’s been many times where you can even see a bulge in the drywall because they missed your box. If you ask nicely, you can get them to cut it out for you 🙂 If it’s something that’s happening regularly, you do have the right to get the general contractor involved as it’s the drywaller’s job to cut out your holes.
If you can believe it, taping is actually an art. (It’s a really hard process to perfect, which is why only some people are tapers.)
Tapers come and put tape on all the seams, and then put mud (drywall compound) on all the screw holes to fill them in.
They first start with a thick coat, wait for it to dry, then come back and sand it. They will repeat this process many times until they get that smooth even finished wall.
Unrelated to electrical.. But drywall art is super cool to check out, and is great conversation with other drywallers/tapers!
Painting is typically the last stage in the game. I say typically because I have been on job sites where as electricians, our contract says we are to be done by a certain date, and if paint isn’t on.. I’ve been told to install devices and cover places, and that the painters would have to take off the cover paints to do their job!
Painters will start with a base coat, which is typically white, before applying their color.
Once painters are done, we as electricians will now start our finishing stage.
Residential Electrician Rough in Stage:
Even though the rough-in process of a residential electrician is very similar to a commercial electrician, there are still quite a few differences.
It’s been said a commercial electrician can come and do a residential electrician’s job much easier then a residential electrician going to a commercial atmosphere. The commercial electrician may not have the same speed as a residential electrician in a home setting, but they’d be able to catch on much quicker.
In my opinion, I really like residential electrical because it relates more to real life. You’re actually able to help friends, family members, or even start charging for side jobs along the way. (Whereas if you only know commercial work, it’d be really hard to get side job commercial work, as typically only bigger companies get these jobs.)
In my opinion, you want to have both to be a well-rounded electrician.
Reading Prints and Planning
In your early years of electrical.. prints can be hit and miss. What I mean is that sometimes you get an awesome journeyman wanting to actually teach you, and sometimes you get someone who just assumes you know what you’re doing, leaving you to figure out things on your own. (Sometimes we need that, though!)
In residential, I have yet to see prints for a specific home. (If you have seen otherwise, please let me know. I have not done fancy homes yet in my career. Typically we just follow code in terms how many plugs need to be within a certain distance etc. as well as work hand-in-hand with the homeowner’s preferences.)
In regards to condos though (which is kind of like residential), there are different types of prints we use, and you must make sure you use the right ones, especially when you start laying out the kitchen!
All of the prints and planning articles are in the construction electrician section.
Reading Prints and Planning [Construction Electrician]
Boxing + LAyout
Installing your boxes is the foundation of everything electrical, for the most part..
If you’ve installed your box crooked, with poor support, in the wrong spot, or even put up the wrong box, these are things you’ll have to deal with later in the finishing stages!
Most people think boxing is boring.. and in my opinion, I think it kinda of is, too.
But I’ve boxed a lot in my day when first starting, and I know of it’s importance. Things such as making sure the boxes are at the right height, especially for kitchen counter plugs where the backtile’s grout lines can magnify heights that are not the same. (That’s why you measure to the screw hole on those boxes.)
It’s important to take your time, look over your prints, and make sure you haven’t missed anything along the way while boxing in your rough in stage.
- Different Types of Residential
- How to Mount and Install Electrical Boxes
Predrilling Wire Holes
After installing your boxes, you then start to plan how you’re going to run your wires.
Where you can, make sure to use the company’s drill bits and drills as you’ll be drilling a lot of hole and wearing out your own drill!
Typically it’s just a matter of drilling your holes, and pulling your wires through.. but sometimes you’ll have obstacles in your way which take a little bit of figuring out for the best route to take.
It’s important to note that we typically only put 2 wires in one hole, so that gives you an idea of how many holes you’ll have to drill.. especially once you get to your main panel!
- Plan Routes Before Drilling
- What You’re Allowed to Drill Through
- Always Check the Other Side of the Surface Your Drilling
- How Many Holes Should you Drill for Wires While Drilling
- Make Sure to Drill Fairly Level for Easier Wire Pulling (Rest on Upper Thigh)
Pulling Correct Wire Size, Strapping, and Proper Labeling
A very important part of the rough in stage is the size of wire we pull.
Once drywall goes up in residential, you’re stuck with your wire size! (Because in commercial, most of the time we run pipe, where you can add, remove, or upsize wire easily..) This is why you must do pre-planning.. Know the actual gear you are connecting to so you can pull the correct wire for the demand required.
We find an equipment’s required power information either by reading the nameplate of equipment, or we can find this on the equipment schedule in our prints to know exactly how many amps it’s drawing.
Also, if it’s a far length to pull the wire, you could have voltage drop.. so even though a #14 AWG wire can handle 15 Amps, you may need to upsize the wire because of the length of the run.
When taking school, wire sizing, as well as protection of that wire (circuit breakers and fuses), are a talked about a lot. A lot of time is spent on the subject in regards to wire size and breaker size – it pops up as test questions, to!
This is because you have different types of wires.. like their insulation and where they are allowed to be used (underground, in wet weather, inside conduit, etc.)
Strapping your wire in residential is different in compared to commercial too.. in a sense. I’ll show you the best practices I’ve been taught for strapping electrical wires along my way.
- Figuring out Box Fill Before Pulling (How Many Wires Are Allowed in a Box?)
- Setting Up Wire Spools for Easy Pulling
- Pulling the Proper Wire.. the First Time 😉 – And Labeling it!
- Securing Electrical Wires with Straps + Staples
- Identifying Circuits and Switch Legs in the Same Electrical Box
- Communicating with your Wires for the Worker that Comes After You
Strip Insulation Off Wires and Insert into Box
There’s actually a lot of different techniques an electrician can use to strip insulation from wire before entering the NMD wire into an electrical box.
I personally like using an exacto knife.. you must be very careful as it’s very sharp, but over the years, that’s what I’ve liked best. (I’ve had journeymen who didn’t like this, but also had journeymen who used an exacto knife them self!)
I’ve seen others use hook knives that they stick in between the wire, angling the hook toward the bond to prevent skinning the condutor’s insulation.
And the coolest tehcnique that I’ve been shown is using a pocket knive to skin the insulation off the wire!
If I’m constantly working in residential, I actually like the pocket knife technique most. If you can learn it well, I feel this is one of the fastest ways an electrician can strip wire in a home.
- Different Knives and Techniques to Strip Insulation from Wire
- How to Insert Wires into an Electrical Box and Different Methods (Push in and Connectors)
How to Splice a TIDY Electrical Box
To splice a tidy electrical box takes a bit of finesse..
Everything from leaving a nice service loop in case a drywaller nips your wire when cutting out your box in the drywall, to leaving a little bit of slack on the bond wire before screwing it down, to hitting the corners of a box to take the most advantage of the space given, to not allowing wires to cross so it looks visually appealing.
If wires don’t cross, it’s a lot easier to identify which wire is which, and makes it easy to remove a wire in case a quick change happens.
I also want to cover topics like how to splice more than 3 wires, how to splice bigger gauged wire, and even techniques for folding your marrettes (wire nuts) for a clean install, while again, making the most of your box space.
Over your years as an electrician, your hand and thumb muscles will strengthen, and it does get easier to splice, but a lot of it has to do with technique.. such as stripping your wires just a little bit longer for an easier splice, and set up your wires for a nice clean braid after your trim when you’re done your splice.
- Leaving the Proper Length on Electrical Wires
- Leaving Length on the Bond Wire Before Screw Down
- Don’t Allow Wires to Cross for Easy Identification and Wire Removal
- How to Splice Electrical Wires, Splice More than 3 Wires at a Time, and Tips for Easier Splicing
- How to Splice Stranded Wire in your Solid Wire Splices (Tug Test!)
- How to Tuck Wires into a Box and Fold Marrettes (Wire Nuts) Properly for a Neat Finish
- Leaving Pigtails on your Plugs and Preparing your Box for Finishing
Commercial Electrician Rough in Stage:
Here’s my thoughts on being a commercial electrician..
I personally find residential electrical work a lot cleaner and quieter.
If you want to be a commercial electrician, you like to challenge yourself, you like to learn, and you like building stuff.
There’s a lot more to being a commercial electrician, as you are starting to not only deal with electrical, but also building code, fire alarm systems, and if you get the priviledge of working on buildings such as hospitals, even other systems like nurse call, data racks, low voltage switching, and even security and door experts.
In addition, you get to work on big service equipment.. Think along the lines of 1200 Amp services, with lots of transformers, big 4″ conduit runs, and tying in big wires.
There’s a few things that you will eventually have to learn as a commercial electrician if you want to be a leader, foreman, or just someone who is respected in their trade.
- Bending Conduit (At a high calibre level)
- Understanding Fire Alarm Systems
As I’ve grown in the industry, analyzing other seasoned journeymen, some have these skills, and some don’t.
The one’s that have these skills are always called upon, which is awesome for job security, as well as educating yourself because you get to work with all these other trades one-on-one, and get to hear inside information that others miss out on.
The other one’s would just be happy where they are, whether that be just installing lights, plugs, or other basic electrical tasks.
Work hard, and get what you want!
Commercial Rough in Process:
- Reading Prints and Planning
- Boxing + Layout
- Calculate Pipe Fill (How Many Wires in Each Pipe)
- Prefabricate and Build Pipe Rack
- Install Conduit + Pull BX (Armoured Cable)
- Preparing to Pull Wire into Conduit
- Pulling Wire in Conduit
- Splicing Wires in Metal Boxes
- Install Mud Rings (Plaster Rings) According to Wall Thickness (Drywall Layers)
Reading Prints and Planning
In a commercial atmosphere, understanding how to read prints is extremely important.
We as electricians don’t just use electrical prints. We also cross reference other prints in regards to layout of equipment, and making sure we’re not in another trade’s way.
These other prints can also let us know what ceiling type a room has or a wall’s thickness. As electricians, both of these two things are very important.
The ceiling type tells us if we’re allowed to mount a box above the ceiling (t-bar ceiling), or if we have to move it else where (such as above a light.) This is because all electrical boxes must be accessible, and if we mounted it in a drywall ceiling, you wouldn’t be able to get to it! But if mounted in a t-bar ceiling, you can simply pop open a tile, and access your electrical box.
These prints can even go into finer detail such as specifying the exact ceiling height (very important to know if mounting pipe on a wall), if the ceiling has a special finish, or if the wall is using special drywall.
When I first started, I found it confusing as what task to do next by just simply looking at the prints. But this all falls into place as you go. You start to figure out what needs to be done, and what equipment gets powered by what panels etc.
And here’s the thing.. once you memorize one job’s prints, the next job is probably a bit different. This is because engineer’s icons and preferences are usually different. (Reading the specs is very important for this!)
And finally.. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to redo a task because of poor planning. Maybe some of my tips below will help you prevent redo of your own work!
Don’t be afriad to ask if you don’t know! It’s better to ask than make a mistake, right?
- Different Types of Prints We Use as Electricians
- How to Cross Reference Electrical Prints to Architectural Prints (Grid Lines, Scale Ratios, Architect’s Ruler)
- Understanding Electrical Prints for Devices and Circuits
- Why You Should Study the Print’s Specs
- Equipment Schedules (Tells Equipment Voltage and Wire Size)
- Making a List of What Equipment to Hit Up with Conduit Runs
- Planning Where to Run Pipe Racks (Making Note of Other Trades Paths to Avoid Redoing Work)
- Accomplish Other Various Tasks at the Same Time (Seismic Racks + Lights, Install Lighting Whips.. etc.)
Boxing and Layout
As mentioned in the residential section of box layout, boxing is your most crucial stage of electrical.
After any ground work has been performed, the foundation is poured, and the steel stud framers start putting up walls, our first step as electricians is to install boxes and panels.
An important point to make here is you have multiple times to check over your work to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
For example, at the boxing stage, this is your first time laying out and installing what boxes need to be where. Your next time to browse if you’ve missed anything is when you pull your wire. (As you are constantly looking off of the prints, you may realize, there’s no box here so we can’t pull our circuit!). And the third time to check for any boxes missed is when you actually go into splice these wires; that’s pretty much you’re last chance before drywall.
I personally find construction boxes to be a bit flimsier than residential plastic boxes. So somtimes there’s a need to support these boxes extra, because when someone goes to use a plug at a later date and the box is installed poorly, your only strength is the plug’s wings/ears resting against the drywall.
- The Process of Box Layout, and Crucial Parts of the Process
- Different Types of Commercial Electrical Boxes
- How to Support Electrical Boxes for Strength
Calculate Pipe Fill (How Many Wires are Allowed in a Pipe)
We’re only allowed to fit so many wires in a pipe, not because that’s how many wires we can just shove into the pipe, but because code tells us we’re only allowed a certain amount.
We typically work with 1/2″, 3/4″, 1″, 1 1/4″, 1 1/2″, 2″, 3″, and 4″ conduits. And in our code, there are tables telling how many wires we’re allowed to fit in each one..
But it gets kind of tricky, because if we work with the same size of wire, the calculations are easier. But if you start working with different sized wires in the same pipe, we have to start using calculations to figure out how full we can make the pipe.
And, depending on the insulation type, this also allows us to fit more or less wires, as some insulation on the wires is thicker or thinner!
Why we’re only allowed to fill up a certain percentage of the pipe is because your wires start to heat up with the more amps that run through them. And, you always have to leave room for error. What happens if you forgot to pull a couple circuits way later in the job where you don’t really have an option to run another pipe?
- How to Calculate Pipe Fill for the Amount of Wires you Can Fit into a Pipe
- Should you Run a Bigger Pipe, or Two Smaller Pipes ?
Prefabricate and Build Rack (Planning is Huge Here)
Anytime you have an opportunity to prefabricate a task up front, it will save you immense amounts of time.
Let’s say you have a hallway which you will be installing pipe rack down, and the hallway is about 100 feet long.
We typically install pipe rack at every 5 feet, so what you’d do is take 100 feet divided by 5 feet, to get 20.
We will need 20 pieces of unistrut, and 40 ready rod pieces. (Also depending on how you’re mounting your ready rod, you’ll also need that material, too! Such as 40 holes drilled with a hammer drill and concrete inserts, or 40 beam clamps if you’re hanging off of i-beams.
Now depending on the length of that strut, and the length of your ready rod, you want to try and choose measurements that’s not leaving you with waste on your material. (Sometimes you can’t avoid this..)
Prefabricating would be cutting all your pieces first, filing them, as well as installing any nuts/lock washers/washers wherever needed.
I am talking about prefabricating in regards to building pipe rack in this section, but prefabrication in any part of our trade will always save you time, make you look like a much faster worker, and allows another worker to jump in quickly if you’re given a helper for a little bit.
Also, the section prior, about calculating pipe fill is important to know before you start building rack. This is because it will give you an idea of how wide to make your rack, and even if you need to double it up so you can run pipes on the top and bottom of the rack!
- How to Plan Routes for Pipe Rack to Avoid Other Trades and Redoing Work
- How to Prepare and Fabricate Pipe Rack for EMT
- The Best Tools for Building Pipe Rack (Speeds Up Your Workflow Tremendously!)
Running Conduit and PUlling BX Wire (Armoured Cable)
This is what separates the boys from the men in commercial electrical work. Whether it be working with 3/4″ pipe, or 2″ pipe, knowing how to bend pipe is important.
At first it seems really tricky, but it’s all about being aware of your deductions and the types of bends we have available to us!
At a beginner level, just knowing how to do a basic off set, 90 degree bend, and a kick will typically get you going just fine. The more advanced bends are 3 point saddles, 4 point saddles, and doing a back to back 45 degree bend if you were to go from a wall to a roof for example.
Pipe bending is extremely intimidating to anyone doing electrical work, especially if you’ve been doing it for awhile and still haven’t grasped the concept fully.
But it’s okay – just be willing to learn and ask questions. Hopefully this pipe bending section shows you what’s possible with bending pipe, so all that will be required on your end is actually doing the work. You’ll already have the knowledge 😉
- How a Conduit Bender Works (And the Common Sizes of EMT Electricians Use)
- Why We Don’t Use Sharpie When Bending EMT (If You Do.. I’ll Show you a Secret to Erase It!)
- How to Do a Box Offset with EMT
- How to Do a Normal Offset with EMT (Clearing Objects, Rolling Offsets, and No Dog Legs!)
- How to Do a 90 Degree Bend (Also Known as a Stub.)
- How to Kick 90 Degree Bends (You have Two Options, and YES! – Which Way you Kick Does Matter!)
- The Best Way to Do a 3-Point Saddle (Removal of EMT from Bender is Not Required!)
- How to Do a 4-Point Saddle with EMT
- How to Get a Pipe to Fit in an Already Installed EMT Box
- The Best Tool for Cutting EMT
- Why Reaming your Pipe is Important, and the Tools you Can Use to Ream Conduit
- How to Quickly Knock Out Box Knockouts and Install Connectors
- What’s a Coupling, and How Does it Work?
- How to Strap EMT, and How Often Should you Be Strapping?
- What if a Box Doesn’t Have a Knockout? (Drill it Out, or Use a Knockout Kit)
Preparing to Pull Wire into Conduit
Before actually pulling wire into your pipe, there take a couple things you should always take into account.
I’m more specifically talking about your branch circuitry, which means wires for your plugs, lights, and other smaller gauged wire (think #8 and smaller).
When dealing with big service wires (think 250kcmil, or 500kcmil), these are things your foreman typically is very involved in because you’re dealing with such a large amount of money, you only want to do it once. There’s also many people involved in the pull, typically one person to a spool, as this is big boy wire haha!
So with smaller wire (branch circuits), if the run is short, you can just push the wires through the pipe to save time instead of pushing a fish tape through everytime and hooking on your wires. You just gotta make sure you put a nice head on your wires with a little bit of tape to prevent it from getting caught on couplings.
Most of the time in electrical, it’s about speed. The faster you can do something with quality, the more valuable you are to the company.
If you do decide to push a fish tape through, there’s a few ways you can hook on. Either by really securing it with lots of tape, or just hooking wires onto the fish tape head, and twist them back on themselves.
You also want to keep in mind, if the pipe you’re pulling through has potential to have additional circuits later in the job, pull a string with your wires! (You can easily hook onto the string instead of using one of your wires as a pull string and wasting money.)
We cover all this in the articles below.
Oh yes, when ever using tape.. be a gentleman to your fellow co-worker. LEAVE A TAPE HANDLE SO THEY CAN EASILY REMOVE TAPE! (If you start using loop, it makes it super hard to find where to unravel your tape. This many times leaves us to using a knife which increases chances of scoring wires etc.)
- Selecting the Correct Wire Size By Reading your Prints (How Many Circuits, and their Demand for Wire Size)
- Deciding the Best Way to Pull Wire into Pipe (Fish Tape, String + Vacuum, or Just Push Wires!)
- Preparing a Fish Tape Head that Doesn’t Get Stuck in Pipes
- How to Properly Label Wires and Spools to Not Mix Up Circuits
- Tying Wires onto a Fish Tape Head (Twist Back, Fold Over and Tape, or Heavy Duty Splice Technique)
Pulling Wire Into Conduit (Or Pulling Armoured Cable)
When pulling wire into a pipe, it’s typically a two person job, however I have had the misfortune of having to pull wire by myself. (Yay!)
Two people usually makes things better on a job. More work tends to get done, the work is easier to accomplish, and it really brightens your mood just to have someone to talk with!
When pulling wire, you want to make sure you’re spools are spinning the same way so that friction of a spool in the opposite direction doesn’t make it hard to pull wire.
Also the most important reason why two people pulling is best is that you protect the integrity of the wire. If you’re pulling by yourself, there’s very high chances of you skinning the wire as you pull it into the conduit. If you do pull by yourself, it’s best to have a throated connector, bushing, or setting up a ladder so the wires can go straight into the connector without scraping. (It’s all about having a clear path for the wires to be pulled in, rather than having rubbing tension on the side of the connector for example.)
- How to Push Wires Through a Pipe Without a Fish Tape or String
- How to Use a Fish Tape, and Properly Roll One Up
- Taping a Strong and Small Head for Easy Wire Pulls
- Deciding if you Should Use Lube for your Wire Pull
- Various Tools to Pull Wire With (Wire Racks, Dollies (Rack-A-Tiers), and EMT)
- How to Set Up Wire Spools for a Smooth Wire Pull
- How Much Length to Leave at a Box Before Cutting Wire
- Making it Easier to Unravel Tape After Pulling Wire (Leave a Tape Handle!)
Splicing Wires in Metal Boxes (4x4’s, octagons etc.)
Splicing inside a metal box compared to a plastic box requires a bit more focus..
Since a plastic box isn’t conductive, if you have a poor splice, and the hot wire touches your box, it will not trip your breaker (causing a short circuit).
But metal boxes are conductive! That’s why it’s important to have good clean splices.
Also, the space given in a metal box seems to feel smaller than the plastic boxes we are used to in residential, so it’s important to keep a maintainable length on your wires, as well as not crossing them to allow for an easy to work with box.
You always have to think about the next person coming to work on your work.
- How to Organize Wires to Splice in a Metal Box
- What Wire Length to Leave in a Metal Electrical Box
- Why Labeling at the Top of your Wires is Important
- How to Fold Wires in to a Metal Box for Easy Management
Install Mud Rings (Plaster Rings) for Devices – Preparing for Finishing
This is probably the biggest difference from residential to commercial.
It’s about reading your prints, and being aware of a wall’s thickness.
The reason for wall thickness can be for a couple reasons.. whether that be for a longer fire rating time, or simply just for extra acoustic treatment (making it quieter).
A mud ring goes onto a 4x4 metal box, and allows a device to be installed come finish time, like a plug or switch.
Because the wall thickness can change, that’s why they make different depths of mud rings. Some are made just for a single layer of 5/8″s drywall, or for double layered 5/8″s drywall!
If you were to screw up on your mud ring’s depth, it’s always best to be shallow, because a mudring that sticks out too far will be a nightmare to fix! (Cut open drywall, remove mudring, and install proper one. It will probably need to be dry wall mudded to fix your gaps.)
- What’s a Mud Ring (Plaster Ring), and How to Install the Proper Depth
- Different Types of Mud Rings (Single, Double)
- How to Install a Surface Mounted Plug (Taylor Plates)
So there you have it!
The typical process we as electricians go through in our rough in stage.
Remember, rough in is our most crucial time. At times it can feel like it’s never going to end, but push through!
It’s the only way to keep learning, because you will eventually advance to the next construction stage, and before you know it, you’ll be onto finishing! 😉
If I’ve missed anthing, leave a comment below! I update this guide regularly.