Basement Lights

Basement, Blog, Home / Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

When a project is too big, I have a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around it. The biggest issue is where to get started or what to do next. Sometimes you think, I’ll just take care of this first but then you look at what needs to be done and realize some other task is preventing you from starting. The basement has been this type of project all along. We can’t do this without first doing that. 

That has been a real hangup in recent months. We made our way though the insulation and the drywall, but from there it seemed like everything else depended on something else being done prior to moving forward. We wanted to get started on the bathroom, but we don’t know what to do about the plumbing. We wanted to drywall the ceiling, but we needed to figure out the electrical up there. That’s where this story picks up.

I’ve been on the record at least once before stating that electrical things are far from my forte. And I also have probably been on the record stating that spending a lot of money on someone to do the job I could probably do is not something I’m fond of. I prefer to learn how to do it myself, to save money but more importantly to acquire a new skill. Wiring up the basement lighting definitely fell into this realm.

Basement Lights Plan

What we wanted to do seemed fairly straightforward. The way the basement was wired when we bought the house would not work after the basement is finished. There were only three lights in the main room, one was on a circuit with a light at the top of the stairs and a switch at both the top and bottom of the stairs. This would stay as is. The other two lights were pull strings, less than ideal for a finished basement. Also, the light placement really only lit up half the room. We wanted to add in three more lights and put them on a switch controlled circuit with the two pull string lights, all dispersed nicely throughout the space.

When I took a look at what was really going on with the existing lighting, I was a bit surprised by what I found. All the wiring was protected by conduit, and that made tracing it’s path easy. One of the pull string lights was on a circuit with lights on the other half of the basement. This isn’t surprising because the previous owner arbitrarily built a wall that divided the space. The other pull string light was on a circuit with the master bedroom on the main floor. If I’ve learned anything from my dad over the years about electrical, it is that when you have a chance to fix things that don’t make sense, do it. Keep your circuits zoned to individual rooms so you know what power is being drawn on the line and you know you can shut off only one room at a time. Taking a look at how our breaker box is labeled, with “North Wall Outlets” and “NW Bed, SW Bed, N Bed” being circuits, whoever wired it didn’t share my dad’s philosophy. 

Given all the knowledge I gained while wiring a circuit for the dishwasher, I was sure I could wire up the lights no problem. Just kidding, I had a better idea from the experience, but I still needed my dad’s guidance. Instead of having him drive all the way to my house, I drew up a picture of the wiring and sent it to him to approve. He said, nope, that won’t work. Basically, I drew out the wiring in a series and I needed to wire them up in parallel. He sketched out a slightly different version for me to work off.

Basement Lights Conduit

Ellie and I went to the store and bought everything we needed (minus a couple things we figured out later). We got 250 feet of 14-2 romex, some junction boxes, light sockets, a switch, and a few other miscellaneous items. I should point out, a while ago Ellie and I bought a box set of LED can-style-lights for the basement. We have one above our sink. Basically, it screws into a bulb socket and has tabs that hold it flush to the ceiling so it looks like a can light but really, I could put these in a lamp if I wanted. The idea is the junction boxes will be recessed and have the bulb sockets on them. Everything will sit above the ceiling drywall. If memory serves, we spent less than $80 on the materials needed to wire these lights up.

When we got home from the store, I was so excited to get started and Ellie was all for that kind of energy, I just jumped down into the basement and started putting up the junction boxes. We made it so there were three evenly spaced lights on either side of the ductwork. After that, I needed to take the existing lights off their circuits so they could be added to the new circuit. To ensure things were safely disconnected, I put a wire nut on the ends of all wires and then used electrical tape to further secure the nuts in place. At some point in the near future, I’ll have to adjust how these junction boxes are placed because they’re hung on the bottom of the joists and since we’re installing a ceiling, we’ll want to move them up into the joists to get as high of ceilings as we can get in the basement. But for the sake of installing the circuit and testing everything worked, it’ll do.

Basement Lights Junction Box

I started running the romex from the switch to the first light. To do this, I secured it in the joists by drilling 3/4 in. holes with a spade bit through the joists and feeding the romex through. At the junction box, I pulled the romex through one of the sides and wired it into the light terminals. 

It was a process of wash, rinse and repeat for the next four lights. 

Basement Lights Wired

Since I’ll be replacing the two existing junction boxes, I think I’m also going to spend a couple extra bucks and replace the light sockets too. The new ones I bought had two screws for each terminal, making it easy to string the lights together and not struggling to get two thick copper wires wrapped around a screw and staying in place while you tighten them down.

Once the lights were wired, I needed to put in the wire from the breaker box to the switch. Fortunately for me, I had previously drilled through the joists to run romex to another part of the basement and the holes that I drilled had enough space to pull through the 14-2 I needed for the new circuit. It made quick work of nearly the whole distance. There were only the four final joists I needed to drill through. I think my favorite part of it was running the romex along the joist. Easy to cover a lot of ground that way.

Basement Lights Joist

At the switch, I wired the hot wires on either side of the switch and the neutral wires together. That’s the way my dad told me to do it and I think that’s roughly what I would have done anyway.

Basement Lights Switch

The final step was to install the new breaker and bring power to the circuit. This is the most nerve-racking part of the process because you’re inside the breaker box with the potential to touch the mains and really get electrocuted. But inside, the work you need to do is actually fairly simple. Kill the power and remove the cover. Attach the ground wire to the grounds bar. Attach the neutral wire to the neutral bar. Plug the breaker in. Attach the hot wire to the breaker. Reattach the cover. Turn the power back on. Flip the breaker on for the first time. Run to the switch and turn on the lights. Squeel when they work the first try. Consider it a job well done.

Basement Lights Breaker Panel

Having the five lights on a single switch has been a game changer in the basement. Every time I go down there, I have to turn them on and make sure the dimmer is still working. I’m down there a lot because that’s were we keep Stella’s dog food. It’s a beautiful thing knowing I did all of that myself.

We still have a bit of work to do with the basement lighting. I need to move the two junction boxes up into the ceiling so we can attach the drywall flush with the ceiling. I also want to do the same thing with the double switch that isn’t on the five light circuit. The little bit of effort to move these will save us a lot of effort and headache going forward. 

Basement Lights Finished

All said and done, we’re one step closer to having a finished basement.

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