Building a house involves lots of decisions. An electrical checklist will save you money by helping you identify where you want outlets and wall switches placed during construction. That's because it's much cheaper to move electrical boxes and wiring when the walls are open. Once the walls are covered with drywall, the cost to make changes goes up significantly.
Maybe you're feeling overwhelmed with all the decisions a home buyer has to make when building a house. You can't assume the builder knows what you want or need for the lifestyle you want. Remember builders are running a business and their focus is on profitability. They'll include the electrical outlets, switches and breakers in your electrical panel that building codes require.
Builders and their supervisors who monitor sub-contractors aren't electricians. My builder, Richmond American Homes, also didn't have enough staff. This resulted in my house failing it's final inspection because the breaker for the HVAC system was undersized (violation notice below). This could have been carelessness. My guess is the electrician didn't have any more of the correct breakers on their truck, so they threw in the next best thing hoping no one would catch the mistake.
This electrical checklist will save you time figuring out what electrical changes you want in the house you're building. The list will keep growing as friends and readers give me “wish we'd done this” stories. Even I failed to consider where my home office and mud room built-ins would go, so we had to move outlets after the fact. Some new outlets were a surprise as I never realized closets have no outlets, yet we're buying more rechargeable appliances?
Electrical Checklist When Building a House
Before you start reviewing this checklist, it will be helpful if you've considered where you're going to position your furniture, your electronics and even your Christmas tree. This is especially important when it comes to an open floor plan that combines two, three or even four rooms into one. Lighting can help define individual rooms which is why a dining room chandelier was important to me in my new house.
So let's get started walking through your electrical checklist for the different rooms/areas in your new house.
Electrical Checklist for the Kitchen
Electrical building codes have varying requirements for appliances, any of them requiring dedicated 120 volt circuits. There are minimum requirements for outlets installed along countertops for plug in appliances. But what do you really want?
- Appliance placement – Be prepared to give your electrician a plan for your kitchen cabinets and appliances. Make sure to note every appliance, including things like a garbage disposal or separate ice maker, that require their own outlets.
- Hidden cabinet outlets cabinets – You can hide kitchen wall outlets under the upper cabinets. This will leave you with clean walls for any type of backsplash you want. These plugmold wire outlet strips can be found at Amazon and HomeDepot.com.
- Under cabinet lighting – If you spend lots of time in the kitchen chopping, mixing and more, you might benefit from extra lighting under the cabinet.
- Kitchen island outlets – For years I've been hiding outlets under the island overhang (read: Kitchen Cabinets & Outlets Need Creativity). Now there are lots of popup electrical outlets that deliver power to a kitchen island and disappear when they're not needed.
- Pantry outlets – With more cordless devices, you'll want to add one or two outlets in your pantry for recharging a dust buster, cordless vacuum and other gadgets. I only installed double outlet and now realize I need 4 or more.
Electrical Checklist for Bathrooms
- Lighting over vanities – Vanity light fixtures should never be placed overhead (ceiling) as you won't like the shadows it will produce on your face. Bathroom vanity lights belong above the mirrors or sconces on the wall next to the mirrors.
- Drawer outlet – Put an outlet in the top bathroom drawer for an electric shaver, hair dryer or any other electrical gadgets you use in the bathroom.
- Wall shelf over outlet – If you want the bathroom countertop free of clutter, place a small shelf over the outlet for an electric toothbrush.
- USB ports – If you like charging your phone in the bathroom when you forgot to plug it in overnight, switch to a combination outlet that includes USB ports.
- Jack and Jill bathrooms – When a bathroom has multiple entrances, you will need light switches at each door.
- Heated towel racks – Maybe you're used to a heat lamp in your bathroom but how about a nice, warm towel? Popular in Europe for many years, they're now gaining interest in the US.
- Radiant floors – If you like sleeping in a cool house but hate stepping out of the shower into a cold room, radiant heated floors might be just the solution for you.
Electrical Checklist for Bedrooms & Closets
- Ceiling lights – Do you want all bedrooms to have ceiling lights which aren't standard in most houses?
- Ceiling fans – Do you want the option to use ceiling fans which need a sturdier box for the added weight and fan vibration?
- Bedside switch – If you're not using a smart lighting system, you might want a bedside light switch to control all lights.
- More outlets (regular and USB) – Do you want more than two outlets near the bed? There are lots of new outlets with 4, 6 or more outlets. You can also find a variety of outlets that include USB ports.
- Sconces – Do you want bedside lighting with sconces to free up nightstand space that lamps would use?
- Outlet locations – Do you want standard outlets easy to reach versus hiding behind your beds and dressers? When this isn't possible, I now use power strips that are easy to reach versus needing to move furniture to plug fixtures into the wall.
- Number of outlets – If you're worried about having enough outlets, put 1 or 2 extra outlets in bedrooms. This will come in especially handy if you re-purpose a bedroom as a home office or craft room.
- Closet outlets – Where do you iron/steam your clothes? You might do this in your closet if you had an outlet there.
Electrical Checklist for Other Living Spaces (Family Room, Dining Room, Home Office, etc)
- Home offices – Maybe it's a room or space in your great room, home offices need lots more outlets than other rooms. Plugmold strips are one solution. I've placed mine across the top of the counter top. Computer, extra monitor and on the right hand side of my home office (above) are a printer and shredder. On the other side are chargers for my cameras, video equipment, blue tooth and more.
- Outlets for your entertainment center – Not only will you need outlets for your television, you need to plan for other boxes like cable, gaming and more.
- Dining room chandelier – Placing the box for your dining room chandelier can be tricky. You want this light over the table, which might not be the center of the room. This demonstrates why creating a furniture plan early is worth the time it will take.
Electrical Checklist for Hallways & Utility Rooms (Laundry Room, Mudroom, etc)
- Hallway light switches – Make sure you have light switches at both ends of a hallway.
- Entry door light switches – Each door that leads into a closet, pantry, attic/basement or garage should allow you to turn the lights on before you enter this space. As I wasn't happy with my garage light switch, I did some more research here. In my new house, you have to step down, turn left and feel along the wall to reach the switch … in the dark.
- Extra laundry room outlets – If you're not sure how you'll organize your laundry room, consider putting in at least two outlets. One up higher and one closer to the ground.
- Home automation panel – Most homes today depend on technology so make sure you identify a place to keep all your electronics organized.
- Lights for stairs – Interior stairways with 6 or more steps (also called risers) need a light switch at both the top and bottom of the stairs.
- Security system – If you're planning to add a security system, decide where you want to place the hardware. Most need both power and a phone, so mine's in the master bedroom closet with all the other electronics.
- Solar panels – If solar is a possibility in your future, see if there's preparation you can do for this now while walls and the electrical panel are being worked on.
Electrical Checklist for Exterior Doors & Outdoors
There are so many decisions affecting your new home's interior, that outdoor lighting is often ignored until after closing/move in. Any electrical wiring you'll need for outside your house, will be much cheaper if done before construction and landscaping is completed. Before solar took off, it was necessary to run wiring underground to reach all outdoor lighting. Now solar powered lights make it much easier and less expensive to install lighting along your walkways and more.
- Lights for exterior stairs – Outdoor stairways need a light switch that can be controlled from inside the house. If these are automatically activated by a motion sensor, the switch is not required.
- Light switches at exterior doors – Each exterior door should have switches to control both an interior light and exterior lighting. The door from your house into the garage should be treated as an exterior door.
- Front door lights – You have lots of choices for how you light up your front door. You can use a ceiling light or a hanging light if you have the height. You can also add one or two complimentary sconces on either side of the door but step back and make sure there isn't too much light.
- Patio lighting – Like your front door, you can add ceiling lights or a fan to a covered patio plus wall sconces depending on the size of your patio.
- Outdoor kitchen and other features – By planning ahead, you can have your house wired for an outdoor kitchen, outdoor TV/audio, hot tub or water feature. This will save you time and money when you add these features. A swimming pool requires so much equipment that you probably can't plan ahead for this one.
- Flood lights – For safety and to make it easy to use your backyard, flood lights are really helpful. My house has two, one on each outer corner of the patio.
- Garage lighting for safety – One common practice to place a motion sensor based light over your garage door(s). This will alert you to both foot traffic and a stranger pulling into your driveway.
- Garage coach lights for curb appeal – These lights require electrical wiring best done while a house is under construction. For my new house, the builder cost was $359 for three lights controlled by a single switch inside the front door.
- Walkway lighting – Lighting along walkways provides ambiance for visitors, along with safety for anyone entering/leaving your home at night.
- Landscape lighting – You can have lots of fun with landscape lighting. It can be used to showcase your favorite home features, trees and shrubs.
- Outlets for landscaping tools – My friend and avid gardener Nance, said make sure you've got enough outlets at ground level to plug in tools like lawn edgers, shears for pruning bushes and a chain saw. Two outlets is standard but they put their back outlet up on a deck s they have to drag extension cords through the garage or basement.
- Outdoor holiday lighting – Less of a problem with LED lights (require less power), easy to reach outlets and even a switch (or timer) make holiday lights more enjoyable.
Preparing for the Inevitable … I Wish We Had.
Even with a checklist like this one, you're bound to discover something else you want over the years. In fact it's almost certain given the speed at which new electronic devices and incredible lighting products are coming on the market. To prepare for those projects, here are a few ideas:
- Photograph open walls – Before the drywall goes up, take photos of the wiring and electrical boxes in each wall, in each room. Make sure to quickly label all of them or you'll go crazy matching rooms and photos later.
- Conduits (plastic pipes) for future wiring – Run conduits along the driveway and patio for future outdoor wiring needs. You'll also be glad if you've got a conduit inside, running from the basement to the attic. In one house we could have used this to run Internet Cat5.
When did I build my custom house?
It's easy to remember as I was pregnant with my younger son. We wondered for months, which would come first – the baby or the house. Ryan arrived two weeks early and the house was two months late. Ryan was born in 1984 so yes, many years ago.