Designing Your Basement Electrical Plan

Diagramming the electrical plan for your basement

In the following video I walk you through the electrical planning for my basement.  I used a program called Microsoft Visio.  You don't have to use Visio, I used it because I had previous experience with it through my job.  You can use just about any other software or even a piece of paper and some colored pencils.  The idea isn't to get the perfect plan but rather to have a good summation for how you're going to wire your finished basement.

Plan for wiring recessed lighting

wiring a basement-recessed lightTypical recessed lights are indicated with the letter "R" with a circle around it.  Connect all of the recessed lights with a line and then draw that line back to the light switch.  The type of light isn't important, just indicate that you plan to have a light.

Don't skimp on lighting, lean towards having to many.  This is a basement after all so it will naturally be dark and have very little natural light.  I actually thought I had planned to many lights but now I wish I had added a few more.

Plan for wiring light switches

It doesn't do any good to plan out the recessed lights but not have a switch to control them. Deciding where to put the switch is tricky at first.  Just walk through the rooms of your house and note where the switches are placed. Now walk through your basement and think about when someone will want to turn on a light.  Even if your basement is one big open space, like mine is, you still want to think about certain areas as "rooms" and group the lighting accordingly.

Plan for wiring outlets

Wiring a basement

As you saw in the video, you should have an outlet on every wall and every 6 feet. Check your local building codes for their exact rules but that is the typical code today.  So if a wall is 12 feet long you probably want 2 outlets spread evenly across.

Think ahead if you want to have a switched outlet and be sure to diagram that in your plan. In the video, I installed a "double gang" outlet (which just means 1 outlet with 2 plugs) in the ceiling of the family room.  One of the plugs only gets power if the switch is "on".  I intend to install some rope lighting in the ceiling and plugging it into the switched side of the outlet, this way I have an easy and seamless method for turning it on and off.

Consider a dedicated electronics circuit

I didn't touch on this in the video but I installed a single dedicated circuit for some plugs along the wall of the family room.  The TV and all of my stereo and gaming electronics will plug into these dedicated electrical outlets.  You don't have to do this but for 20 minutes of work I have peice of mind that no other electric devices will be on that circuit.  If someday one of my kids plugs an amplifier for a guitar into an outlet and it accidentally sends a power surge through the circuit, it won't fry all of the expensive electronics.

Other Special Electrical Items

wiring a basement-treadmillIf you plan on having a treadmill in your basement, you should put in a dedicated circuit.

Treadmills can take up to 1500 watts of power, that's almost an entire circuit.  Same thing for a sauna, washer / dryer, a dishwasher or an oven if you plan to put in a small kitchen.

You will likely need a sub-panel installed for your additional electrical circuits.  I plan to write a separate post on sub-panels but email me if you have a question and I'll be happy to answer it if I can.

These are the big things. We'll need some more space and time to cover 3 way switches, GFIs for your bathroom and the bathroom fan.

basement finishing jasonStart slow and add some each day, you may have to re-draw it 3 or 4 times, I know I did.  But once I had the plan set it was a huge help.

Cheers - Jason

More articles on wiring your basement.

  1. Need wired internet but don't have a jack? Check out my article on Powerline Adapters
  2. Here's a checklist of 21 tools you'll need to wire your basement.
  3. Not sure where to start? Read more on "How" to wire your basement.
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Questions and Comments

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    • says

      Rosemary - Glad the info is helpful for you. Please do let me know if you think of other questions. I really want this site to be a great resource for basement finishing. - Jason

  1. John Bouchard says

    Great info! my question which you touched on, refers to the circuit panel - what is the rule of thumb for having dedicated breakers in your circuit panel? I want to complete my electrical plan ensuring wiring is properly alocated to circuits. I will have two treadmills, home theater system, workshop in an open concept basement with painted ceilings.

    • says

      John - First, I am not an electrician, but I did watch one work once from afar. I would have a 20AMP circuit for each treadmill, those guys suck some power. Another one dedicated for the theater system. Now for the workshop, it depends on what you're putting in there. Probably one circuit will do it, but if you're running a planer or something at the same time as something else then there's an outside chance you might want 2. But probably just one.

      Good luck and have fun! - Jason

  2. David Spake says

    Waiting for the Sub-Panel discussion. I collect pinball machines and am in the process of planning out the basement. I know already that I'll need one to service this space -- air handling, media center/TV, arcade, small wet bar. Lots going on, and looking forward to this as it is a concern right now for me in my planning stages.

  3. Seemit says

    Jason. All in all good experience going through your experience. Coming from school age and I probably do what you do (Nerd work with lot visio planning at work), I should recommend one thing to you; emphasis on Serial vs Parallel wiring. I am not sure if you covered this in your video but going through different RELEVANT subsections (esp WIRING), I don't see how you wired from one plug in one wall to another plug in another wall; how was load distributed etc etc. And of course, I am not buying those affiliated books :) (School debt is enough).

    • says

      Hell Seemit - You're letting a little school debt get in the way of your finished basement dreams? I disapprove. Just kidding.... I know that can be rough. But, and I'm being totally unbiased here, my book and videos will save you money on your basement. I know that sounds salesy, but it's not. If you're going to finish your own basement, you should buy it. There, with that out of the way let's get to the question, which I'm not sure I fully understand. The plug to plug wiring is serial. Not sure what you mean by parallel wiring?

      As for the load distribution, I've got that article in draft and on my short list to post to the blog. It's an easy concept that's tricky to explain. If that makes sense. - Jason

  4. Jason says

    Hi. Thanks for all the info. I am in the process of finishing my basement myself. The only thing I hired out was the egress window and well.
    There is a lot of great helpful info on this site.

  5. David Pfeffer says

    Just a quick correction --

    The outlet you described is a "duplex" outlet. It is single gang. Gangs describe the number of ~2x4 (I just made up those numbers from my memory / mental picture, it could be different) box spaces. So if you put two outlets next to one another in the same box, you'd have a double gang outlet. If you put two outlets next to one another in the same box and both were of the 2-outlet variety, you'd have what's commonly referred to as "double duplex."

    • says

      Hey Danny - A good rule of thumb is not more than 10. Remember, it's not the receptacle count per say that is the issue. It's what you plan to plug into those. If you install just 1 receptacle but then plug a treadmill into it - boom - that's pretty much the entire 1500 watts that the 15 AMP breaker will handle. But you could install 10 receptacles and just plug in a few lamps and a couple TVs or stereos and you'll be good to go.

      Finally, for electrical circuits I highly recommend 20amp circuits if you have that option. Good luck! - Jason

  6. Dan says

    I'm planning on getting a self contained steam room that has a sauna type with it, what amp breaker and size wire should I use?

    Thanks for your help.

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