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How to Label and Staple Electrical Wires

How to label and staple wires as an electrician

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This article is from my roughing-in series for electricians.

In this article you will learn how to label and staple electrical wires in a residential setting.

The biggest takeaway is to LABEL ONLY ONCE! This saves you so much time, allows you to stay organized, and easily identify your wires!

How to Label and Staple Wires for Electricians

What We Cover in this Article:

  • How to Label Wires for Electricians
  • How to Staple Wires for Electricians
  • Leaving a Service Loop at Electrical Boxes
  • What are Protection Plates Used For?

How to Label Wires for Electricians

Labelling wires is SO IMPORTANT.. but it’s often rushed, forgotten, or done in a poor way!

In a commercial setting, wire labelling is one of the MOST IMPORTANT things you can do, as we often pull 15+ wires at a time! (Also, grouping wires according to their neutral).

In a residential setting, electricians often work based off of common knowledge, which is faster, but means a lot of shortcuts are used, and it’s harder for different electricians to come in and quickly figure things out. (They have to do some troubleshooting).

For example, residential electricians may put notches in wires when it comes to switch legs. This is FASTER, but when you cut the wires off for splicing, you REMOVE YOUR LABEL! (I think this is bad practice).

Notches made at end of wire to indicate what order the wire goes for the switches
Notches made at the end of wire to indicate what order the wire goes for switches (usually starting from the LEFT of the box.. 1 Notch is first switch, 2 Notches is second switch).

My highest recommendation is to label wires up higher so that you only have to label once. This allows the label to remain visible, even after cutting-in!

It truly is a pro-tip that will save you time, keep things FAST, and professional.

How to Label a Homerun Wire (Power Wire)

How to label a wire as a homerun to indicate power with a black line
How to label a wire as a homerun to indicate power with a black line

In a residential setting, we are often using NMD90 (loomex). This allows us to easily write on the wire jacket with a permanent market (view Sharpie vs. Inkzall).

The two types of wires we label are home runs and branch circuits.

A home run means POWER. It’s what is FEEDING the circuit. It comes from the electrical panel, and is run to the first device box, which is then spliced to continue on power.

Your home run should ALWAYS be run to an easy-to-access area..
(Think.. “What is easiest for maintenance later on?)

However, in a commercial setting, we often use single conductor wires, which are pre-rolled on individual spools for Red, Black, Blue, and Neutral (3 Phase) circuits, where we use white tape to label the wires.

So the wire labelling process in commercial vs. residential is quite different!

In residential, everything comes from the SAME PANEL in a typical home. (Custom high-end homes may have multiple panels).

In a commercial setting, there can be MULTIPLE PANELS which use different voltages, so we must label BOTH the panel, and the circuit number of that panel, for those wires!

“A23” could be for “A Panel”. However, you could also have “EM14” for an “Emergency Panel” (very important circuits in the building).

How to Label Branch Circuit Wires (Switch Legs, Plug Jumpers)

Label NMD90 Wire for Branch Circuits
Label NMD90 Wire for Branch Circuits

Branch circuits are what jump from one electrical device to the next.

For example, the first wire from the panel provides power to a plug (home run). If we then pull a wire to another plug to be powered off that same home run, that connecting wire is called branch circuitry.

In a residential setting, we often DO NOT LABEL branch circuitry if it’s REALLY OBVIOUS.

For example, if a wire is jumping from plug to plug, we know those wires have constant power, and are plugs.

However, for anything else, WE ALWAYS LABEL! We never want to troubleshoot, or make someone else figure out what’s going on.

For example, if you pull wires to a switch box, you should ALWAYS LABEL every wire so it’s easy to identify! Or.. if you pull a wire that is to be later connected, that should always be labelled, too. (It takes a second to do it!)

Again, label up high on your wires 12-18″ so you only have to label once!

How to Staple Wires for Electricians

Stapling wires with a hammer
Stapling wires with a hammer

Stapling wires is a huge part of the residential electrician life. (Not so much for commercial electricians, as they are often bending EMT, screwing in straps, or zip-tying).

The most important tip to about stapling wires is that you ALWAYS STAPLE BACK!

In other words, always pull your wire to its destination, double-check you haven’t screwed up (missed a stud, or it’s outside the wall), and then you staple your way BACK to the wire spool!

Generally, we staple every 5 feet when stapling wires. (The same is true when installing EMT Conduit Pipe.. but bigger pipes can have more spacing!)

How to Hammer in Wires Staples to Secure Electrical Wire
How to Hammer in Wires Staples to Secure Electrical Wire

However, if a wire needs an extra staple to look clean, usually it’s worth your time to put in that extra staple to make it look clean, AND prevent the wire from getting damaged.. (however, remember, it’s also about SPEED, so don’t spend too much time stapling!)

Lastly, stapling rules have kind of changed.. you are no longer allowed to put two wires under one staple, unless you buy the proper staple type.

This can either be staples for two wires, or special multi-cable staples.

Multi-Cable Wire Staple Clips (New Code)
Multi-Cable Wire Staple Clips (New Code)
View Staples on Amazon

Leaving a Service Loop at Electrical Boxes

Always leave a service loop for wire in case of maintenance
Always leave a service loop for wire in case of maintenance

As mentioned in the previous wire pulling tutorial of this roughing-in series, always leave a wire service loop.

You will see many tutorials showing you to directly put the wire into the box WITH NO SERVICE LOOP.. this is horrible advice!

Do you know how many times a drywaller has nicked the wire, and you need another 3-4 inches of wires? You can simply pull down, and SURPRISE! YOU HAVE MORE WIRE!

Don’t be silly, and be careful of the tutorials you’re watching online.

ALWAYS LEAVE A SERVICE LOOP AT YOUR BOXES!

Note, when it comes to the commercial world and using armored cable, leaving a service loop can sometimes be a little harder, but you should still always try to leave extra wire if you can, which can be pulled down if needed!

What are Protection Plates Used For?

A wire protection plate hammered into stud to protect wires
A wire protection plate hammered into stud to protect wires

If your wire hole is drilled too close to the front or back of a stud, it’s very wise to use a protection plate to prevent a drywaller or cabinet installer screwing into your wire!

The above image is showing a protection plate hammered into a stud.

If you are around metal studs, you can break off the tabs, and screw them to the stud with your wafer screws.

YOU SHOULD ALWAYS USE A PROTECTION PLATE ON THE MAIN FEEDER TO THE PANEL ON BOTH SIDES OF THE STUD.. IT’S NOT WORTH THE RISK!

Example of protection plate showing tabs which can be removed for metal studs.
Example of protection plate showing tabs which can be removed for metal studs.

Wrapping Up: Labelling and Stapling Wires for Electricians

So there you go!

That’s some basics on labelling and stapling wires (as well as protecting wires) in a residential setting.

You have learned how to label a home run wire, how to label a branch circuit wire (plugs, switch legs, etc.), how to staple the wires and secure them, AND how to protect them with protection plates if needed.

Again, you should always use a protection plate for the main feeder to your panel.

Don’t forget about the rest of the articles in my roughing-in series for electricians!

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