How to Install Wiring Without Cutting Drywall

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If cutting drywall is impractical for a wiring project, builders can run wires outside the wall's cavity using a method called surface wiring. Builders anchor a protective tube to walls and ceilings, called a conduit, for most exterior applications, or a sheathe, called a raceway, for interior applications. The conduit or raceway encases wires and cables, prevents damage to wires and cables, and protects the room's occupants from harm. Surface wiring projects nearly always require building permits, particularly if the project involves remodeling electrical cable.

Things You'll Need

  • Stud finder
  • Pencil
  • Electrical raceway and corresponding boxes
  • Level
  • Power drill
  • Driver bit
  • Screws
  • Straightedge
  • Hacksaw
  • Wire
  • Draw a stud finder across the drywall's surface to locate studs; most stud finders indicate a stud location with a flashing light or beeping sound. Mark the location of studs on the wall's surface with a pencil.

  • Position a raceway box over a stud, place a level on top of the box and use the level to adjust the box's horizontal and vertical position. Draw a pencil along the side and top of the box to mark the box's installation location. Position a second box over an adjacent stud. Use the level to align the second box's vertical position with the first box's vertical position. Mark the second box's location with a pencil.

  • Remove the cover plates from the raceway boxes. Align a raceway box base plate over the first layout lines and use the power drill to drive screws through the base plate and into the wall's studs. Align the second base plate over the second set of layout lines and use the drill to fasten the base plate to the stud.

  • Hold the level or a straightedge between the base plates and align the level or straightedge with the base plates' corresponding channel openings. Draw a pencil along the level or straightedge to lay out the position of the raceway channel.

  • Cut the channel to length with a hacksaw. Remove the channel's casing from the channel's base track. Position the base track on the wall and align the track with the channel's layout line. Drive screws through the track's screw holes and into a stud or studs to secure the track to the wall.

  • Run wire through the channel's casing and press the casing against the base track. Snap the casing onto the track's tabs to connect the casing to the track. Remove the face plates from the raceway cover plates. Run wire through one cover plate, press the cover plate against raceway box base plate and snap the base plate's tabs into the cover plate to connect the separate pieces. Run wire through the second cover plate and connect the second cover plate to the remaining base plate.

Tips & Warnings

  • Surface wiring product manufacturers offer 90-degree-angle fittings and junction boxes for complex installations.
  • If you can't find studs, use hollow anchors, such as toggle bolts or expansion anchors, to attach surface wiring hardware to drywall.
  • Consult local codes prior to installing surface wiring; many municipalities limit surface wiring to coaxial cable, low-voltage cable, and audio and video wires.

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