Category Archives: electrical

2nd floor panel wiring

We pulled all the wires, but I was still left with a messy spaghetti bowl at the breaker panel. What looked like a bad hair day needed some serious combing.

Percy, our electrician, was an excellent mentor, so I got a shot at untangling the wires and connecting them to the breakers and bus bar.

Two elements made this task straightforward:

Have a plan

Before we started with the electrical installation, we had laid out the number of circuits we need across the apartment, which also helped us to plan the home runs from the breaker panel.

Good labeling

Having a good wire labeling strategy was more than half the battle. It eliminated the guesswork on what wire to connect to which breaker. It also allowed us to trace wires from the breaker panel back to the point of use.


If done correctly, wiring the breaker panel can substantially help with EMF (Electric and Magnetic Fields) management. The key is to run the hot and neutral wire of a circuit next to each other for as long as possible. I accomplished that by connecting the neutral wire to the bus port closest to the breaker. You can read more about this best practice and EMF in one of my previous posts.

Related posts:

Pulling wires and time planning

Regular readers may have noticed that there is a sequence in putting a building back together.

Before we closed up the walls and ceiling, we made sure to have all utilities in place. That includes plumbing, the on-demand hot water pump, ventilation ducts, low voltage conduits for network cables, and EMT conduit for electrical.

The EMT conduit alone won’t turn on our lights or power the fridge. We still needed to pull the electrical wires from the circuit breaker panel to all electrical boxes. Well, I was mostly just pulling while Percy, our electrician, was doing the pulling and the thinking.

There are options as to when to pull the wires. In this case (the 2nd floor), we opted to pull the wires after the drywall installation. On the 1st floor, we pulled the wires prior to closing up the walls.

Which timing makes more sense? That’s hard to answer as both options have their pros and cons.

The main advantage of pulling the wires before the drywall goes up is that you have visual access to the conduits and can easily figure out what is connected to what. There is no guesswork. The disadvantage comes in if you plan on using a rotozip to cut the openings into the drywall around the electrical boxes.


You have to carefully tug all wires away and to the side, otherwise they may get nicked by the rotozip bit.

That problem goes away when pulling the wires after the drywall installation. But, even if you are a mastermind, you probably won’t remember all the conduit runs and how they connect. And because there is no visual access to the conduits any longer, you’ll probably spend some time on pushing and pulling fish tape to see where it emerges.

There is, however, a workaround for that too. I took wall-to-ceiling-to-wall photo documentation of all the utilities in the walls before we started with the drywall. I kept those photos on hand on my laptop which reduced the guesswork and amount of fish tape exploration.

For more information on why we used EMT conduit, what electrical wires we used, and how many wire we can run through each conduit, visit the links below:

Related posts:

2nd floor EMT installation

An electrical layout with a load management plan allowed us to install the home runs. And similar to the 1st floor, we also had developed a detailed layout plan that determined the amount and location of outlets, switches, and light fixtures.

This plan is critical because the first step in an electrical installation, even before the home runs, is to place all the electrical boxes, whether they are for outlets, switches, lights, or junctions. Once all boxes are placed we could refer back to the load management plan and start to build a mental image of how everything gets connected with EMT tubing, including the home runs. And this is where Percy my electrician shines, because it takes quite a bit of experience and focus to organize and keep track of connecting everything.

For instance, a home run feeds into several circuits – typically three in our case. We have to structure the EMT tubing so that it feeds into each of the three separate circuits. In each circuit, we need to connect to outlets and link light switches to lights. Then there are three way switches with their traveller conductor that often require their own EMT run between the two switches. There are the kill switches to keep in mind while structuring the EMT layout. And then there are certain limitations we have to keep in mind, such as not to put more than nine conductors in any given EMT and the fact that code limits the number connections of EMT tubing to any electrical box to five. Do you see what I mean when I say this takes a bit of experience and focus?

As always, I had fun wielding the conduit bender. It is quite something to measure and complete a bend or offset and have it fit perfectly. Even more so when you have several bends and/or offsets on one single piece, and it still fits!

If you have read this blog for a while, you know that I am a big fan of “future proofing”. Even though using required EMT for the electrical installation takes a bit more time and resources, it allows me to go back at a later date and rewire things without opening up walls. And rather than just building to THE MINIMUM code, we placed outlets and switches with extra safety and user friendliness in mind.

But we went even further, and like on the 1st floor, we allowed for flexibility in the bedrooms. Rather than limiting reading lights, switches, and outlets to the primary bed-head-wall, we also included them on a secondary bed-head-wall, giving the end user the option to orient the bed one way or another.


Related posts:

Home runs!

Not the sports kind – the electrical kind.

I was finally at the point where we could begin with the electrical installation on the 2nd floor. And I say we, because I am working on this with my favorite electrician: Percy!

What are home runs?

Home runs are the EMT conduit-runs that lead from the circuit breaker panel and feed the various circuits in the building/apartment. Each home run can carry up to six circuits. The maximum number of circuits is limited by the nine wires that are allowed (by Chicago code) in the conduit. Six circuits per home run assumes that each pair of circuits (hot wires) share one neutral wire.

In order to determine the number of home runs needed, we have to develop an electrical layout that determines the amount of circuits across the apartment. This exercise is basically identical to what we did on the first floor, and you can read more about that effort here and here.

I ended up with 18 circuits distributed over seven home runs. Our goal was to allow for some redundancy. In other words, we never put the maximum amount of circuits into any home run in case I need to add another circuit at a later time.

We used ½ inch and ¾ inch EMT conduit for the home runs. The ¾ inch conduit was used for the longer home runs to make pulling the wires easier, whereas the ½ conduit was used for the shorter home runs.

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Power around pocket doors

Shortly after I published the last blog entry about the pocket door installation, Rob posted a question in the comment section:

“Until now we’ve ruled out installing pocket doors for our house because we thought light switches would get in the way. Have you had to deal with light switches here?”

This is great material for another blog post! And the answer to Rob’s question is:

Pocket-doors-15 Pocket-doors-14

… yes, we had to deal with light switches (and outlets), on both sides of the pocket doors. But neither the light switches nor the outlets were really in the way. And that may have to do with the depth of the pocket door wall.


I did not reinvent the wheel, nor did I really think about this. When I rebuilt the framing for the pocket doors, I kept the original wall depth, which was seven and a half inches from stud to stud (or eight and three quarter inches if you count the five eighths drywall on either side).


The seven and a half inches wasn’t enough space to accommodate the depth of the studs. I had to turn them sideways. But it was enough space to accommodate the one and a half inch deep electrical boxes. We also made sure to run the electrical conduit right behind the drywall so that it wouldn’t get in the way of the doors.


The only challenge emerged around the pocket door header, which also holds the rolling mechanism. We knew we couldn’t run the conduit inside the header, where it would interfere with the doors. To solve this problem, we did some planning ahead and offset the header three quarters of an inch into the wall. That gave us the room we needed to again run the conduit right behind the drywall and thus avoid any interference.


Once we were above the header, we kicked the conduit back to have enough room to make the 90 degree turn into the ceiling. Problem solved – and I hope questions answered.

Related posts:

Putting up pocket doors

Patching pocket doors

Pondering the pocket doors

Framing pocket doors

Stripping pocket doors

Picking pocket… doors

Rediscovering our living room – Part 1