How to Do Simple House Wiring


Although many homeowners hire an electrician to do their electrical work, many wiring tasks are well within the purview of the home handyman. Wires and electrical fixtures are color-coded to prevent misconnections, and the wiring for most fixtures is readily accessible with a screwdriver. While it can be troublesome to design a new circuit and run the wires for it, the savings you are likely to realize by doing it yourself can be considerable.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Voltage tester
  • Utility knife
  • Wire strippers
  • Wire nuts
  • Wire snippers
  • Turn off the circuit breaker in the main electrical panel that controls any circuit on which you are working. Verify that the circuit is dead by turning on a light that is on the circuit, or plugging a lamp into an outlet. If you are working on an outlet, light or switch, and you aren't sure if the power is off, remove the cover plate, unscrew the device from the electrical box, and test the terminals with a voltage tester. Place the red lead on a brass terminal and the black lead on the green ground screw. The light should stay off or the meter should read 0.

  • Connect black and red wires to wires of the same color or to brass-color terminals on fixtures, white wires to silver terminals or to other white wires, and bare wires to green terminals or to other bare or green wires. If you connect a red or black wire to a white wire or a green or bare one, or you miswire an element by connecting wires to the wrong terminals, you will create a dangerous short circuit.

  • Start a new circuit at the main electrical panel. Turn off the main breaker in the panel, remove the cover plate and feed in the end of an electrical cable. Strip off the plastic sheathing with a utility knife and separate the wires. Then use a wire stripper to expose the ends of the insulated wires. Feed the white wire into available lug on the silver-color bus and the bare wire into one on the ground bus and tighten the lugs with a screwdriver. Connect the black wire to a circuit breaker and snap the breaker into an available slot on the front of the panel. Turn off the breaker, then turn the main breaker back on.

  • Drill a hole in the floor below the panel or the ceiling above it if it is located on the ground floor and run the cable through the basement or attic. Drill another hole in the top or bottom plate of the wall where you need the power and run it vertically to the fixture. Staple the cable to floor joists or ceiling rafters to keep it secure. You can also drill holes in the floor joists and pass the cable through them.

  • Wire an outlet by connecting the black wire to the top brass terminal and the white wire to the top silver one. You can often back-feed wires by pushing them into holes behind the terminal screws. If there are no holes, loosen the screws, wrap the wires clockwise around them and tighten the screws. Wrap the bare wire around the green ground screw and tighten it.

  • Daisy-chain a second outlet by running cable between the two outlets. Connect one end to the bottom set of terminals on the first outlet and the other end to the top set of terminals on the second. Be sure to connect the bare wire to both ground screws. You can daisy-chain as many outlets in this way as the circuit breaker will support. You can also add lights and switches to the circuit.

  • Wire a light switch by running a cable between the light and the switch. Pull the circuit cable and the cable going to the light through the back of the switch box and strip both cables. Connect the black wires to the brass terminals on the switch and the bare wires to the green ground screw. Twist the white wires together and screw on a wire nut. While there are other ways to wire a switch, this is the most basic.

  • Replace a defective electrical device, such as a switch or outlet, by turning off the breaker, unscrewing the cover plate and unscrewing the device from the electrical box. Verify that the wires are dead with a voltage tester. Unscrew the terminal screws and remove the wires, or clip them off the back with wire snippers if they are back-fed. Connect them to the same terminals on a new device, then screw the device to the electrical box and replace the cover plate.

Tips & Warnings

  • Running wires through tight spaces may require the use of fish tape, which is a length of metal wire to which you can attach the cable and pull it through.
  • When you design a new circuit, be sure the total current draw will not exceed the rating of the circuit breaker you plan to install and use cable with the correct gauge, or thickness, for the breaker.
  • While you aren't likely to create a hazard by replacing an old circuit element, you should have new circuits inspected by an electrician before you turn on the power. You should likewise contact a professional if any other doubts arise while you are doing home wiring, because improper wiring is a safety and fire hazard.
  • It is always hazardous to work inside the electrical panel. The hot bus, which is the brass bar in the back of the panel, is always live and is supplying power to the main breaker, even when the breaker is off. Don't touch the brass bus bar or any exposed black or red wires with your hands or your tools.

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  • Photo Credit electric outlet 2 image by Dawn Williams from
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