When starting out as an electrician, reading electrical prints can be very intimidating.

I know for myself I was never actually shown by my bosses how to read prints.. it was just something over the years of working with multiple people where I picked up odds and ends.

Eventually, everything clicked, and I knew what I was doing! (For the most part..)

So if you’re going through the same situation.. hang on!  Everything will piece it’s way together, you just have to have patience.  The right boss (or even co-worker) will come along and everything will just click 😉

But you just gotta be willing to listen and ask questions when you don’t understand!

Let’s get into this!

What We Cover in This Article:

  • The Main Types of Prints We Use as Electricians
  • Electrical Prints – Basic Overview
  • Architectural Prints – Basic Overview

The Main Types of Prints we Use as Electricians

It may be confusing to you when I say electricians use more than just electrical prints.

We as electricians actually have to be aware of many things to achieve the best possible end-result finish.

If we did a poor job in our rough-in stage, it will only make our lives harder come finishing.

That’s why we must understand what our prints are telling us so we can properly install the right boxes, pull the right wire, and prepare for the next stage, which is finishing.

The two main types of prints we electricians use are Electrical Prints and Architectural Prints.

Electrical Prints

Electrical Prints tell us the type of equipment we are installing, and the circuit it requires.  It may even tell us the specific height to install it, too!

Our electrical prints can be filled with tons of different icons which are further described in a legend that explains what each icon is.

Sometimes special icons are shown – this means to look at the job’s equipment schedule which describes a piece of equipment’s voltage and ampacity.  (This is most often to do with motors!)

Architectural Prints

We use Architectural Prints for exact measurements and building features.

I repeat we do not use electrical prints for measuring, we use architectural prints!

This is most important when it comes to mounting pot lights or plugs in a kitchen for example.

This is because every trade uses these architecturals as their foundation for their measurements.

Electrical Prints – Basic Overview

Electrical prints are our foundation as electricians.

They tell us everything from what devices to mount, to what circuits to pull to a device, or if installing lights, the type of light that gets installed in a particular location.

Devices could be plugs and switches, or anything from exhaust fans to air conditioning units. There are even pages for fire alarm and security devices!

Electrical prints contain multiple pages where each page describes something different about the building. This could be the different levels (level 1, level 2, level 3, etc.) where each level shows where plugs, switches, lights, and other power devices are, or it could show us the panel schedule so we know the exact circuit breaker size, what feeder size the panel requires, and the general area of where to mount the panel.

In regards to what circuits to pull to what device, sometimes there could be two circuits in one receptacle!  So you have to pay attention to the circuits asked for, as well as the icon being used to represent the plug!

Job Specifications

A very important page to read is the job specifications page.  This describes how an engineer wants the job to be accomplished.

Each job site and engineer have different ways of doing things, and this page can get you into some really messy situations if you miss a simple point. This is a very crucial page to study, per job!

Cross Referencing

Once you start installing these devices and mounting lights, it’s very important to cross reference with the architectural prints for exact placement of that device, as well as determining what type of ceiling or wall is being installed there! (Remember, our electrical boxes must be accessible at all times, so it’s important to know if the ceiling is drywall or t-bar.)

Cross referencing will also prevent clashing with other trades equipment such as sprinkler heads or HVAC vents.

Now if a problem occurs, and your general contractor starts to get mad at you, just point to the prints and say, “This is what the prints have told me to do.”  This can protect you to an extent anyway, as long as you’ve done your due diligence and asked the proper questions 😉

Architectural Prints – Basic Overview

As electricians, Architectural Prints let us know many things.

  • Ceiling Height
  • Wall Thickness
  • Ceiling/Wall Type (And Finished Material)
  • Exact Location of Device/Equipment

By looking at the architectural prints we can see exactly where walls should be built, their drywall thickness, the height of a ceiling, and even what type of material is being used!

These are all very important things to know as they prevent us from redoing work!

By cross referencing and communicating with others on site, it prevents you from installing equipment improperly (or in the wrong place), and causing trade damage during the finishing stage to fix the problem.

A very important concept to understand is cross referencing prints.

As an electrician, you’d first start by looking at your electrical prints.  You see what equipment you can pick up in the general area, and you plan your circuits accordingly.  You would then look at the architectural prints for various reasons.

These reasons could be during boxing, so you set the proper depth of your box, or it could be when you’re installing lights and devices in the ceiling so you leave your junction boxes accessible at all times!

I just want to stress using architectural prints for exact location.

When it comes to installing lights and plugs in special areas, it’s crucial to use architectural prints for your exact location.

A special area for plugs would be in a kitchen.

Many times the prints given to us show just a general area of where to install plugs, and for the most part, you usually can mount them in that general area. But not for kitchens!

If you do not follow the architectural prints (or sometimes for kitchens you are given special prints showing the exact kitchen layout), you risk mounting a plug behind the stove or fridge!

Don’t learn the hard way! 😉

Conclusion

So there you have it!

There’s a quick overview of the main type of prints we use as electricians.

In a quick summary, we use electrical prints to see where our devices are to be installed, the circuits required, as well as the type of device.

Architectural prints let us know the wall thickness to mount the proper depth of our boxes, the exact ceiling height so we can make sure our pipes are above the ceiling, as well as the type of material used so we can keep all our junction boxes accessible to follow code!

Remember, you can get these prints and planning tips sent right to your email.