This article is all about the non engineering side of electrical installations. Its purpose is to explain some of the techniques that are used to when installing electrical equipment and wiring in typical domestic situations.
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Cables can be run in a large number of places and ways. However some places are better than others, and certain rules need to be followed to comply with the wiring regulations in some cases. In addition to the practical issues of cable routing, one also needs to think about what materials you are placing the cable in/under etc. since these may have effects that you need to take into account in the electrical design. E.g. a cable buried in an insulating material will not be able to lose heat as quickly as normal, and this means that the maximum current it is allowed to carry is reduced.
Burying a cable in a wall is a traditional way to hide and protect the cable. Modern cables can be buried directly in plaster, or protected with capping before plastering. Before a cable can be buried however, a chase needs to be cut!
See the wall chaser article for more detail on the options for cutting cable chases in plaster and masonry.
Getting past coving and skirtings
It is all well and good chasing a wall with your trusty SDS drill or wall chaser, but what happens when you reach some architectural feature that you don't want to go hacking through, like a deep skirting board or ornate plaster cornice or moulding?
- Long drill bit: A very long drill bit (we are talking a minimum of 400mm here to get behind small items like picture or dado rails, or more realistically a stonking great 1m long bit bit for skirtings and coving!) can be a handy way to continue a chase behind the feature you are trying to avoid. Ideally one would need to drill straight up or down through the plaster to achieve this. This is usually impossible since you can't get the drill in the right place, or at the right angle since the wall is in the way. With small obstructions (dado etc) this may not matter, drilling down behind it at a slight angle will still be ok. For a longer vertical chase, the longer bit will be required. The trick here is to apply some sideways force to the bit as you drill. It should be possible to bend the drill such that its tip *is* parallel to the wall, while keeping the drill body and you hands at the slight angle required due to the obstruction of the wall.
- Cranked gouging chisel: specially made SDS gouges can also work well for getting behind smaller items.
- Using the other side of the wall: As simple as it sounds, in some cases the solution to avoiding difficult chases, might be to simply use the other side of the wall. This can be ideal for a cable chase on a tiled wall in a bathroom. It can also often save time where adjacent rooms have light switches "back to back" on the dividing wall - only one chase is required for the pair. Note One will need to take care that cable routes are within the prescribed zones expected - even if this means installing an extra accessory to mark the position.
- A long threaded bar and a lump hammer. A long SDS bit may still damage very deep coving as it is not always possible to get the drill into a vertical position. A slightly bent threaded bar can be knocked up behind deep coving and not damage it
Cables are also often taken under suspended floors or even sometimes placed into chases cut into concrete ones.
|Type of floor||Methods|
|Traditional floorboards||A traditional boarded floor is one of the easier ones to get under! The traditional approach simply uses a pry bar and or bolster chisels to leaver it up. Sometimes you also need to cut a board. There are a number of approaches to this:
|Tongue and groove floor boards||Similar to the above, except you will also have to rip cut through (or split off) the tongue on the board first, in order to be able to lift it.|
|Chipboard sheet||Generally far harder to work with since the boards are not only tongue and grooved at the edges, they are also large (typically 8' x 2'). In many modern houses, its also not uncommon for the partition walls to be built over the floor panels or at least the skirtings etc to be fixed over them. This can make removal of a whole board impossible. The best way to deal this this floor is to cut an access panel:
|Laminate||While not easy it is possible to remove a plank of laminate in a floor. For the click together type, it may be simplest to start un-clicking panels at the edge of the room, and work your way back to where you need your access point. For glued panels, you will need to cut out a board. The way to do this is with a circular saw (preferably a small one - cordless ones are ideal). Set the cut depth to laminate thickness, and cut through the board all round close to its perimeter. Once the main bit is removed, use a chisel to break away the remaining edges from the adjacent boards.
To replace the board you will need to cut away the underside section of the groove edges of the new plank, and then glue and lower the new board into place. Depending on how cleanly you were able to remove the tongue from the goove of the adjacent board, you may also need to cut this off the new board.
Entry via a ceiling
The lateral thinkers way to get under a "difficult" upstairs floor is via the ceiling of the room below. In many cases some new plasterboard and a bit of patching is a much quicker solution that lifting an engineered wood floor and underlay, or clearing a particularly cluttered room.
In some cases the same as under a floor! However this also includes over false ceilings (which if you have lots of wires to hide or lots of ceiling piercing lights to install, may be well worth building for the purpose). It also includes through loft spaces. Once caution to watch is to keep modern PVC cable away from polystyrene insulation (the plasticiser leaches out of the PVC into the polystyrene, leaving a gooey mess, and rather brittle cable insulation)
In hollow walls
It is also sometimes possible to drop a wire down a hollow stud wall (either plasterboard or lath and plaster). Note it is not recommended to place wires in the cavity of exterior walls, where they could cause dampness bridging, and be adversely affected by cavity wall insulation injected at a later stage.
Getting wires into a stud wall in the first place is easy to do when building it. However at a later date it is not as easy and you may meet a few obstacles:
|Catching a wire||Feeding a wire along the inside of a wall is one thing, but getting the free end out again without making a hand sized hole in the wall is another problem! Techniques to try include:
|Getting past studs and noggings||It is rather hard to drill a hole through the side of a lump of wood if all you can see is a board covering its front face! However there are ways:
Pull wires / cords / tapes
Push rods and sticks
Essential general tools
Much of the mechanical aspects of wiring have little to do with the things that one traditionally associates with the work of an electrician, and are really nothing more than general building and carpentry tasks.
|SDS Drill (3 function)||The ability to not only drill holes, but also quickly and neatly chisel out holes for socket boxes, and neat wall chases make the SDS drill a wonderful time saver.|
|Cordless drill / driver||In general cordless tools are very handy to have for electrical work since you will often be working in areas without power. Making holes, and fixing things in place probably come right near the top of list of tasks faced by anyone undertaking electrical work. A medium size (say 14.4V or better) combi drill is ideal for this sort of work. Having the hammer facility can make drilling holes into masonry for wall plugs far simpler.|
Essential electrical tools
|Insulated screwdrivers (VDE)||VDE tools are insulated and tested to to a high standard. This ensures that should the metal part of the tool make contact with live metalwork, no harm will come to the person holding the other end. These are absolutely essential when working on electrical installations. Not just for the rare occasions where live working is required, but the far more typical cases where one is working in close proximity to live circuits, or even on circuits that really ought to be dead, but are not!
All things said and done, you can make do some ordinary screwdrivers for jobs not involving work on electrical fittings etc, and you may choose to buy a limited set of VDE insulated drivers: a medium phillips (typical for MCB terminals) and a small and medium flat blade for other terminals.
|Side Cutters||VDE insulated side cutters are essential (one day, you *will* pick the wrong cable to cut). Side cutters are used for cutting cables and wire to length, and they are also often invaluable for stripping cables of their outer insulation. Some cutters also include specific facilities for wire stripping, [eg].|
|Wire Strippers||Good wire strippers make life very much simpler (while it is true that someone proficient with side cutters can often strip a wire quite satisfactorily with them as well, there is far more scope for bruised knuckles, damaged conductors, and tatty looking wire ends without them). The style of wire cutter is much a matter of personal preference. Side strippers are quick and easy to use - especially one smaller wires. The end action ones may be better for tough insulation found on the thicker and also special purpose wires. Some people also like to have an automatic wire stripper. These can make repeated stripping operations very much quicker.|
|Combination pliers||regular square nosed medium set are useful for holding, bending, and twisting wires, tightening locknuts etc. In fact anywhere you need extra gripping power.|
|Long nose pliers||A good pair of long nose pliers are the ideal tool for fishing wires out of awkward corners, and holding tricky wires in place as you tighten terminal screws. Note however that even with VDE insulated ones, care must be taken, since they have a large expanse of exposed metalwork that could easily short against live parts or earthed casework.|
Ratchet action cable crimper
|Essential for making sound wire joints which will later become inaccessible, or where space is too restrictive to allow terminal (aka "choccie blocks") to be used. See the Cable crimping article for full details of how to use these.
Essential test gear
Further test gear
For anything other than basic alterations and additions to existing circuits, some more sophisticated test equipment is really required. This items can be bought as separate units or as an integrated tester that combines all the functions.
|Insulation resistance tester ("megger")|
|Earth loop impedance tester|
|Capping||to protect cables from damage by plastering trowels, capping is ideal (plastic or metal). The advantage of capping over conduit is that it is easy to fit after a cable has been installed, and it won't affect the cables ability to lose heat.|
|Plastic Conduit||Plastic conduit can be used for added protection to surface run cables. Note it is not well suited to burial since it offers little protection from drills, nails and screws, while lowering the current carrying capacity of the cable.|
|Metal conduit||Metal conduit can be buried, and also (if installed correctly) can be used as the circuit protective conductor (i.e. "earth"). It also offers good protection against penetration. It can also be surface run and offers good protection in harsh service conditions. Metal conduit is not however easy to use, since it requires additional tooling to bend, cut and thread the sections.|
|Grommets||Rubber grommets should be used anywhere a cable passes through a hole in a metal enclosure or back box. These will stop the insulation being damaged by sharp edges. (not only from movement of the cable during installation, but also from movement caused by vibration or thermal expansion effects in use).|
|Strain relief sleeves||Sleeving can help protect flexes and cables at any point they will be subject to stress caused by carrying their own weight from a suspension point.|
|Glands||When attempting to make a cable entry or exit waterproof, or when working with cables that must be terminated with glands like SWA, glands must be used. These not only fix the cable in place but also offer the water protection required, strain relief and often a facility to connect the cable screen (where present) to earth.|
|Minimum bend radii||Care must be taken with cables, to not attempt to bend them too acutely, since this may cause damage.|
Once you have installed and tested all your new wiring, there is the rather more mundane task of filling all the wholes, and reinstating the fabric of the building before you lose too many household pets or children into floor voids or incur the wrath of the style police!