Wiring Your Basement

Electrical Wiring for Finishing Your Basement:

Let's start, for a change, by getting straight to the answer.  The answer is yes.  Yes you can do the electrical for your basement yourself. 

At least 95% of it can be done by yourself.  In fact 80% of the electrical work in your basement could be done without ever hooking the electrical wires up to the panel or sub-panel.

If you can drill holes and follow basic instructions then you are half way there.  Granted, the other half does have a slightly steep learning curve, but still, you are half way.

Now, was your question:  "Can I do the electrical work for my basement on my own?"   "Surely", you might have thought, "I need a degree in electrical engineering or a license of some sort to practice this wizardry". To finish a basement on your own you need to learn some basic wiring and electrical skills.

Guys and girls, this is one of the COOLEST life skills to learn!  It's right after scissors kicks but definitely before present wrapping. I've installed world class computer systems and managed multi-million dollar IT projects and my Mom barely bats an eye.  Last Thanksgiving I install a chandelier in her dining room and you would have thought that I walked on water.

Wiring a basement

Your Basement Finishing Budget will Thank You

Prior to finishing my basement and learning electrical wiring I paid a local contractor about $250 to install a ceiling fan.  TWO HUNDRED AND FITFY  %#$%# DOLLARS  !!!!!!  

A month ago I swapped the ceiling fans in my kids bedroom in under an hour for zero dollars!  (the babies room became the boys room and they didn't want pink and yellow flowers on their ceiling fan)

The ability to fix small electrical issues is something you can use for life!  But... it's not just a snap of your fingers and suddenly you're Ben Franklin, there is a learning curve.

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First:  Fail Miserably (twice)

Years before my basement finishing project I bought a dimmer switch for the light in the dining room of our townhouse.  My wife implored me to hire a contractor and not to even attempt the installation on my own.  I insisted that I could do it and set about post haste to tackle this seemingly simple task.

electrical basement wiring can be done2 hours later the power to the entire front side of our townhouse was out.  Pitch black.  I had failed, and failed miserably.    I had to sheepishly call my friend Erik to bail me out.  He couldn't come by until the next day.  So I sat, in the dark, in misery, as my wife shook her head with a combination of "I told you so" and "what sort of a man are you" look.

2 months later, after over-paying a chain smoking contractor to finish our half bathroom in the basement of the townhouse I was painting the walls and shocked myself on an exposed wire from the light switch.  Electricity fail again!

Then…. Try Again

basement wiringSo believe me when I tell you, I was perhaps the worst candidate for someone who was going to wire 1,800 square feet of basement, dimmers galore, complicated three way switches, switched plugs, GFI bathroom outlets, bathroom fans, a dedicated electronics circuit and rerouting the furnace wiring and security alarm system.

It's going to take 5 or 6 posts to cover this topic in more depth but I wanted to at least get this out there, you can do it and you should do it.  Once I truly sat down and dedicated some time to learning the basics of electricity and residential wiring it all clicked and made sense.

I won't judge you if you don't do it yourself.  It's not for everyone and it will extend the length of time it takes to finish your project.  You will likely need to hire an electrical contractor anyway to install a sub-panel so you could use them to do part or all of the work.  But I do encourage you to try it, you might be surprised at how well you pick it up.

Top 5 Benefits of Learning to Wire Your Basement

  1. Really strong hands - Wiring a basement will give you super strong hands. It takes a lot of muscle to twist copper wire.  Guess who's handshake just got a little more bad-ass!
  2. Learn something new - A skill you can use forever, and impress (help) your wife, mom, neighbors,  and friends.
  3. Save money - The electrical estimate for my basement was about 2,500 for labor alone.  Labor for you, $0.
  4. Design Flexibility - You can design your basement and install your electric as you go, giving you complete freedom to put in whatever cool lighting you want without having to know every last detail up front so the contractor can give you a bid.
  5. One more hole punch in the MAN card -  Now when you sit down at the dinner table children will shush and small animals will sit quietly at your feet.

Wiring a Basement - Next Steps:

Okay, so are you in? Still not sure? Why not try a test project.  Check out the next post about an easy electrical wiring test project.  It's just enough of a challenge to get you started and build some confidence.  (POST COMING SOON)

basement finishing jason 205Or, check out the post on designing and planning the electrical for your basement. Even if you decide to hire a contractor he or she is going to want to know what you want to do.

You'll need a plan.  I've even included a video of yours truly talking you through my personal basement electrical plan so you can get a idea of how to layout your design.

Cheers -   Jason

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Questions and Comments

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  1. says

    You make a really compelling case to give it a try! My husband and I can barely use a drill, but if we can save that kind of money, it's worth it. Even if we end up hiring someone, at least we'll know how to speak the language if we have given it a try. Thanks for the info!

  2. Ken says

    I have an half basement that I want to finish. There is one out let that is wired most rooms call for 4 one on each side correct? It looks as if it is already bathroom ready there are 3 pips out fitted but do I still need a pump? I think i did the square footage correctly I used a strait-line laser tape it gave me 12.4 & 20.8 = 254.35 then 12.2 & 13.1 = 159.74 if I I am getting hard wood that is 21.75 a sqft that would come to about 11 boxes of wood correct? What would the cost of this possible be to do all the work for this size of a home. the data I have come up with has been. dry wall $10-12 4x12 so about 15 pieces well. I have a flooring outlet with unfinished red oak for $20.30. Can I do this size of space for around $2k

    • says

      Hello Ken - Most codes I've heard of call for 1 outlet per 6 foot span. So your 20 foot wall should probably have 2. Sounds like your bathroom is roughed in! You won't need a pump, just water and gravity. I can't really advise on flooring costs, but I'd recommend engineering wood (not real hardwood, to much moisture, even in a "dry" basement). I like to use between 10 and 12 dollars a square foot for basement finishing estimations if you're doing it yourself. So figure (roughly 4k to 5k) If you have the tools and scrimped on bathroom finishes, you might squeak in at 2k. Good luck! - Jason

  3. Robert says

    Do you include videos (for free) when I buy the book? Do the videos come on DVD? What topics do the videos cover?


    • says

      Hey Robert - Yes, all of the videos are included when you buy the book. The videos are hosted online, they are not available on DVD. I'm constantly updating the videos and adding new ones, but right now they cover the core basics of planning, tools, framing and electrical. Once you purchase the book you basically have a lifetime membership - whatever updates to teh book or new videos I add, you get access to those at no additional cost.

      I do not have videos for HVAC or plumbing yet, although some of that is covered in the book. My main goal is to help you finish your basement, so whatever helps you get there, that's what I work on first.

      - Jason

  4. says

    Jason, just thought I'd say great job with the posts! I'm capable of doing most renovations, and have gutted our home front to back to the studs. I do most things, but always avoid electrical and plumbing. We hired a great electrician to wire our home. But now it's time to do the basement, and instead of hiring him back to do the job, my wife wants me to do it (up to the panel, anyways). Your posts have been invaluable!

    • says

      Thanks Matt! I think you'll find it very rewarding to work on electrical. Just be careful, safety first, and check with your local jurisdiction to see what you need before you start any work. Permits first!

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