Metal Conduit – Tips for a Successful Installation

Now that you’ve read part 1 and have all your equipment on standby, let’s move on to part 2 – Metal Conduit Installation.

PLEASE NOTE:Only certain areas of the US and Canada require metal conduit, such as the Chicagoland area in Illinois. Most of you can use a regular Romex install. Please check the code in your area.

As I mentioned in my opener, once you get the hang of it, installing conduit is pretty simple.

(For the simplicity of this article, I will be talking specifically about outlet runs but the same ideas apply when running your lights)

Step 1: Installing Metal Conduit Outlet Boxes:

Usually the “new work” blue boxes come with pre installed nails. I recommend the similarly designed “new work” metal boxes which have metal tabs you tack into place, followed by a couple of wood screws to fully secure the box.

They make a variety of these boxes though, so

pick out whatever feels right to you.

For more info on “where” to place you outlets and lights, read this article on planning your electrical.

Step 2: Installing Metal Conduit Junction Boxes:

This is the part of metal conduit installation that’s the most different from routing Romex. When running Romex, you typically would route from one outlet box, to the next by drilling holes in your studs and fishing the Romex through said holes from box to box.

Since metal conduit is not flexible like Romex though, you cannot fish the conduit through the studs. Therefore, you have to take your runs vertical to the ceiling. Once they are up in the ceiling, they still have to be all connected which is where junction boxes come in.

Planning the position of the junction boxes:

This is more art than science. You generally want boxes positioned so you have a clear path for your power coming in, your outlet runs going out, and assuming this isn’t the last junction in the run, another power run going out to the next junction.

Perhaps this one of those cases where a picture says a thousand words. BOOM ———–>Metal Conduit Routing

Here is where your ceiling choice comes into play.

If you are doing a drop ceiling, you can mount these junctions (and conduit) directly to the bottom of your floor joists which means less bends.

If you want a drywall ceiling you have to tuck these junctions up in between floor joists.

Alternatively, you could mount everything to the bottom and install spacer boards across your entire ceiling to mount your drywall.

To me, this seems like more trouble than its worth, but for those you anti-drop ceilingers out there, this could be a viable option.

For me, the contractor/previous owner already had the majority of the existing conduit nailed to the bottom of the floor joists. I wasn’t about to reroute all that, so the decision to install a drop ceiling was made for me! 

Step 3: Connect the conduits and junction boxes together

Remember our friendly conduit bender? Now’s the time to bust him out.

In this stage you will run the conduit from the outlet boxes to the junctions (or other outlets depending on your layout). Remember – Patience is a virtue!

Come to grips right now with the fact that you WILL screw up and waste several pieces of conduit making incorrect bends. Life will go on, and at worst you’ve wasted $1.75. If you get really frustrated, take a break and come back later.

5 BONUS Tips for Installing Metal Conduit

1. Use as few bends as possible – The more bends, the harder it will be fish wire later. Don’t quote me because I’m not an electrician, but I believe there may even be a code as to the max number of bends in a run for that reason. One reader mentioned 360 total degrees in a run.

2. Use as few connectors as possible – Same idea as less bends. Don’t connect 3 two-inch pieces of conduit together just because you don’t want to waste them. Cut 1 6-inch piece from the start. Again, it’s like $0.20 you are wasting.

3. After you cut pipe, ream the inside of the conduit. Ensure there are no sharp burrs that could damage the wire sheathing and cause shorts while pulling wire.

4. Cut conduit long! When measuring conduit lengths, err on the side of too long, you can always trim it shorter.

5. For certain areas where you can’t avoid running to the ceiling (half walls for example) you can run conduit similar to romex. However, instead of drilling a hole through the studs, you have to notch the edge of the stud deep enough for the conduit to be below the face.

notched stud for conduit routing

You can use a plunge cutter or circular saw for this, and cleanup with a chisel. Don’t forget to nail in protector plates when you are done!

Step 4: Running Wire

If you have done everything right, this should be the fun/easy part – running your wire.

Run your fish line from one box to another. Attach your wire to the fish line, and pull it back through.

Leave plenty of slack for making your connections. If you are performing this on your own, here’s a quick tip. Run a spare piece of conduit through your wire rolls and set it on top of a garbage can. This way the wire pulls off the roll nice and easy without making a mess of your roll.

Step 5: Wiring Your Outlets

Wiring your outlets is just like using Romex, so I again won’t go into great detail. See Jason’s electrical page for more details about this part.

DONE and DONE!

Congrats, you have successfully installed a metal conduit system, simple right?

Adam_Profile

It took me about a month off and on to get this finished. I was glad I did it, but if I could go back, I might have just hired an electrician to speed that up a bit.

Oh well, you live and you learn and now I have hopefully taught you readers a thing or 2 too! 

-Adam

ps. Here’s part 1 if you missed it. It’s all about the tools you’ll need to install metal conduit for your finished basement. 

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Comments

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  1. Any advice on soundproofing the basement? Particularly the ceiling?
    Thanks,
    Sean

  2. David Perea says:

    Ya, the code says max 360 degress worth of bends between pull points. This gets tricky when you need to for example, go from wall A to adjacent wall B or when you start running to your switches and don’t have a direct path to it.

    Pull point can be a junction box or any other type of metal box. It can also be an elbow or any other type of connector that makes special turns for you. Keep in mind though with the elbows, these must be left exposed, similar to junction boxes, so if you need to make a 90 degree bend around a wall, you can’t just use an 90 degree elbow and cover it with drywall.

    The biggest issue I had with installing conduit was finding pictures of completed conduit rough-ins to see how the “pros” did simple things like making the little offset bend to get to the switch box….things that people who never have done this would struggle to figure out on their own.

    From a design perspective, I would suggest putting your junction boxes in an unfinished part of the basement as much as possible. That will leave less holes in your finished ceiling and make for a better aesthetic. Also, when running horizontally, if you have room, run your conduit behind the studs. This eliminates the need to try and fish the conduit between the studs, which will require a bunch of little pieces of conduit. To connect my outlets, I used 3 pieces, 2 pieces with a 90 bend and then an offset to the box and then 1 piece run behind the studs to connect them.

    Thx for the articles, great to see someone looking out for us here in Chicago!

    -Dave

  3. Adam and David,
    How did you do the electrical yourself in Chicago and get it permitted? They only allow electrical to be done by licensed electricians, no exceptions – http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/bldgs/supp_info/electrical_inspections.html

    Thanks!

    • John – Simple – I don’t live in Chicago – I live in its western suburbs. To be clear, I used the term “Chicagoland area” as a general reference to the city of Chicago itself including about a 30 mile radius outside of the city limits. Chicago and possibly other major cities like New York (I am told) is strict to the highest degree as far as permitting and having licensed contractors work on homes. Many of the surrounding suburbs also adapt the metal conduit requirements, but do not necessarily require the work to be done by a licsense contractor, which of course I am not. I would however urge readers to look into stuff like this before starting a project, and of course review with your permitting township prior to starting your own work. Electric codes can vary just that easily. For example, the town over from me (a 5 min bike ride) doesn’t even require conduit – its quite strange. Chicago is quite unique in this regard and certainly the exception instead of the rule. Most places follow NEC, and allow romex installs as Jason’s articles cover extensively. Thanks for the comment though! Are you in Chicago area?

      • Adam,

        Are you in McHenry County? Thats where I am and we have to use all conduit as well.

        • I am not in McHenry, but from the research I have been doing nearly everything from Chicago to DeKalb, Rockford to Joliet requires conduit. There are patches within that don’t but in general the whole area does. I don’t think it varies by county either. It varies city to city within a county as evident by the fact that my buddy in a neighboring town has romex throughout…

  4. Hi Adam,
    I must have just bunched up Chicago with Chicagoland in my head! Was hoping you found some kind of workaround, or homeowners electrical test, etc.
    It does make sense though, very densely populated area, you would have a lot of people trying to tie wires together themselves before knowing what they are doing, not that that can’t happen anyway. It also might be a political thing since unions would certainly back that rule given Chicago’s political machine. Great Chicago fire, etc.
    Do you know if homeowners can do their own plumbing or interior walls in the city? Haven’t found specifics on that.
    Yep, located, and plan to eventually relocate also in the city.
    Nice site!

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