First Home Owner Diaries Volume Three: Electric Garage

This past weekend my father and I decided to tackle one of the more annoying things in our new home. This is my first time having a garage, and as a guy I was really excited to work on projects and cars inside for once.

The Plan

The plan was to hang new lights and add some outlets on dedicated circuits. Of course a plan is a good start, but we had no idea what hurdles this house would throw at us during the process. I purchased four 48-inch LED shop light fixtures from Amazon and had them shipped to out home prior to project day.

After about an hour of planning and strategizing the morning of, we went to my local home improvement store to get the rest of the supplies. This was hurdle number one because my local store had some odd product choices. I was unable to find the outlets I wanted so we decided to go with 15 amp outlets and breakers, and utilize some parts I already had at home. When it came time to get the breakers, they only had twin 15 amp versions in the brand I needed. This was going to have to be fine. Later, at checkout, the twin 15 amp breakers rung up about five times more expensive than a single breaker (which they didn’t carry). Now we were forced to go to our original plan of 20 amp outlets and breakers, while spending more money on materials. Because you can’t just go to a store like this and buy what you came for, we also left with a new leaf rake.

Previous State

Old pull-chain light fixture

The wiring in the garage was about 75% original to the house (60s) and the other 25% was installed around the turn of the century (2000). In addition to the lack of new wiring in the garage, the entire home is only on a handful of circuits. If you’re not sure what that means, basically a lot of outlets go back to a single breaker. Have you ever tried making toast and watching TV and a breaker trips? That’s because the circuit was overloaded. Adding more dedicated circuits means less tripping.

old_switch
Old workbench outlet/switch

I have a beer spare refrigerator in my garage that was previously plugged in to the only outlet in the entire garage, which was also located above my workbench. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it wasn’t for the light switch also located in the area. Whoever installed this wired it so that the outlets were only active when the light switch was on. To run the refrigerator I had to keep the only light in the garage burning at all times. That light was now located half above my workbench and half above the refrigerator rendering it mostly useless for working anywhere but the workbench.

Electrifying

My father, a retired electrician, decided it would be best to tackle the lights first as they posed the most unknowns. His foresight was very appreciated later in the day. The garage had some old pull-chain type light fixtures randomly placed in the ceiling in two places. We leveraged these as junction points for our new lights. Above the workbench we cut in a new box in the ceiling to power a new light in that area. The entire ceiling in the garage is plasterboard and insulation which makes it very hard to run new wires. Using a metal wire fish tape we ran a wire from one of the pull-chain locations to the newly cut opening, then ran another wire back to the other pull-chain location to link them all on a switch. The new LED fixtures were a breeze to install. They were flush mounted to the ceiling using plastic anchors and then we cut off the plug and wired them to the junction box. There was an existing switch by the garage entrance to the house which we wired to all four lights. By the time we did all of the wire fishing, wiring, hanging, and testing, it was dinner time.

New workbench power

After dinner it was dark enough to test the lights and wow were they bright. The locations we chose were perfect to balance the room and make future work a lot more convenient. Now we could use the new lights for phase two. Next it was time to run new circuits for new receptacles. We ran two wires from the electrical panel to the workbench, each on their own breaker. The first one was to power the refrigerator and existing radon remediation system. The other was a quad outlet for the workbench where I can plug in almost anything. While we were working, we decided to add another outlet directly below electrical panel, close to a garage door, for use outdoors. This was also on it’s own dedicated circuit. After more wire pulling, stapling, wire twisting, drilling, and testing, we had 4 new fully functioning 20 amp outlets in the garage.

Completed lights

Now that the work is complete it can only mean that I will do more work in the garage with the proper power and lighting. I went from one small florescent fixture and two incandescent bulbs to four very bright LED fixtures. I also upgraded our power outlets from one on a shared circuit to four spread over three circuits. All in a days work.

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