How to label electrical in basement?
March 4, 2010 10:07 AM   Subscribe

What is the best way to track/label wiring for a home basement project?

I have gutted my basement, and am in the process of running brand new electrical.

I want to easily track electrical wiring for future reference in my basement, but fear my networking background is over-complicating what could be easily done.

I was going to use a p-touch label maker to do do this so that when the fixture plate is removed, I can tell where a wire is coming from, and where it is going to.

What is the best way to label to achieve this? (or should I bother?)

I was thinking of having a labeling standard along the lines of "Breaker #: start-end"

for example, if a wire from breaker 18a goes to lighswitch 1, and from lightswitch 1 to Light 1, I would create 4 labels

On wire 1 from breaker to lightswitch: "18a: 18a-LS1" and slap that on both ends of the wire

On wire 2 from lightswitch to light fixture a label on both ends that that says "18a: LS1-LF1"

Small label on inside of switch plate that identifies "LS1" or outlet that indicate "OL1"

Am I making this too hard? Too anal?

What should I capture that I might need? (ie. 3way, 240v for baseboards (2 live wires)), etc?

With thanks!
posted by burhan to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
Am I making this too hard? Too anal?

I think so, yeah. Are you really going to have more than a couple circuits for the new rooms? If you really need to keep track of it, I would just draw up a schematic, laminate it and keep it by the electrical panel. Take a million digital photos once the rough wiring is done so you know what's behind the walls. Label the photos carefully ("Left side of north wall in TV room") because they'll all look the same on a photo. Burn the .jpgs onto CD and keep that by the panel too, for future generations.

If you're doing it all up to code you shouldn't ever have a need to add more outlets in the future.

Plus, if you're doing it all yourself you probably won't need labels. I've finished one basement and soon hope to start finishing another. By the time I was done I was so intimately familiar with everything that I can still tell you, eight years later, in a house that no longer exists, what outlets go to what breakers.
posted by bondcliff at 10:16 AM on March 4, 2010

i'd just track what circuit an outlet or a light is on. don't track it to the breaker number, though. use a description or some independent numbering/labeling system, as breakers can move or change.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:19 AM on March 4, 2010

If you label each switch or outlet by it's circuit number, followed by the position it is in the chain of wiring, you will always be able to trace everything back later. For example, put a label on a switch that says "17-4", meaning that it is circuit 17, and this is the third outlet or switch on that circuit. To retrace where the wire is going, just look for 17-3, 17-2, and finally 17-1. Put this label on the back of the cover plate and you never need to see it unless there is a problem.
posted by markblasco at 11:29 AM on March 4, 2010

hey bondcliff, I wish I could remember it in the future - there's no guarantee though. I don't think it's so much for adding stuff, but I'm just so used to documenting things like this at work, that I'm thinking that I should document it here as well.

I will do up a schematic (I have one, but it's rough, showing general paths) and laminate it (that part I hadn't thought about).

I do like markblasco's idea though as between that and the laminated plan, I would be covering off all my bases (no nead to develop a wiring standard/strategy just for my house!)

As an aside, for anyone in Calgary, I discovered from an inspector today that we are allowed to run electrical under water pipes, and any that are too close to heating ducts need a chunck of fiberglass insulation between them and the ductwork. Life has just gotten easier!

Thanks everyone!
posted by burhan at 12:08 PM on March 4, 2010

If you put the label on the back of the coverplate, won't you need to remove every cover plate to find the one you're looking for? Maybe it's just for confirmation against the lamitated schematic, but *my* networking background tells me that having all of the info exposed is the most efficient setup.
posted by rhizome at 12:11 PM on March 4, 2010

When my kids were little and asked me how high a unicorn could jump, I would ask. "What are you going to do with the information?" You are in the same position. If you do the wiring job right, how many times in your life do you really think you will need this information?

Here is my shortened version of what you are trying to do: Get electrician's tape in all of the colors it comes in. Take circuit No. 1. Apply a wrap of, say, red tape to the wire as it leaves the breaker. Wrap a little red tape around each wire in the circuit as it enters and leaves a switch or outlet box. If you want to get fancy, wrap two pieces around the wire that represents the second leg of the circuit, three around the third leg and so on. On the next circuit use yellow or green.

If you ever have to trace circuits, the info is right in the box(es). It may take five extra minutes at that time, but will take you hours less right now.
posted by Old Geezer at 12:22 PM on March 4, 2010

OldGeezer - I happen to have a p-touch labeler I bought years ago, which would be easier than the tape I think.

rhizome - you are correct about the info not being visible. Yes at work we put run labeling at visible points (on jack walls, nearest termination points, etc.) - but OldGeezer's kind of nailed it on the head - I don't really need that info often, I don't even know if I will need it. So to pull off a plate cover to find out what breaker it's on is not a biggie.

Bondcliff is right too - that I would remember this for the future for sure.. But in this circumstance, I know that when I did the demolition of the basement, it was important that I verified all the cables/runs as it wasn't me, but my ex that did all the wiring work, and I had next to no idea of what she was thinking when she did her runs.

However, in my tear down, only the internal walls were removed - the perimiter walls and drywall were not removed, so it turned into a game of turning breakers on/off before the demo to try to figure it which of the three or four wires went to wherever. which wires could snip because they led to outlets that would no longer exist, etc.

At the end of the day, my only real reason for this is that there is an opportunity to do it now that will be lost once the drywall is up. If in the future another room needs to be split, or something added/removed, I want to very quickly know which cct it is on.

My municipality's electrical code doesn't specify strict standards for which side of the box a wire's incoming hot should be on, etc, but I'm trying to set up general standards (hot into box from bottom, wires to fixtures out top; box mounted to left of stud always, etc.) just to make it easier. I actually find this rather enjoyable!

Again, as per Bondcliff, I will remember most of this, but given that errors with electricity could be fatal, I think it's worth doing this in case one day the next owner of my house, or my children when older and I am gone, need to do work on it.
posted by burhan at 9:25 AM on March 5, 2010

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