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Design Mistakes: 7 Easy Electrical And Lighting Mistakes To Make And AVOID When Remodeling

We have finalized our electrical plan at the farm, and the ‘rough’ placement has been done. Once again I learned so much in the process including the fact that I would make a terrible electrician. And yet this time around I felt far more confident in not only our decisions but also avoiding mistakes. Of course, I had ARCIFORM’s expert help throughout the process. They did the first stab at the plan – and when I say ‘stab’ it’s really an extremely laborious and painstaking process – placing each outlet, each light switch, each sconce, and pendant, and deciding which switches should turn on which lights from which entrances. Should this do a switched outlet? Do you want to turn on the kitchen pendants by the kitchen door or closer to the living room or both? They tried to predict our needs/wants and did an excellent job.

They did the first round based on their expertise with a heavy dose of common sense, and then Brian and I weighed in where lifestyle was in question. How are we going to walk through the house? Do we want switches clustered together or more spread out? What outlets do we want USB ports and what overhead lights do we want dimmable? How high do we want our sconces to be? As we were doing this exercise I was reminded of all of the most common mistakes you can make and avoid, when doing your electrical for the first or third time. There are even MORE of these electrical mistakes in the book if you haven’t pre-ordered it yet (I won’t beg, but pre-orders mean a lot. So if you are going to order it eventually feel free to go for it :)). It’s all about empowering us with knowledge so we can make good choices and avoid expensive or embarrassing mistakes. So here are a few:

Know The Size Of Your Casing/Mouldings BEFORE You Place Light Switches And Outlets

You must know the size of your window and door casing (trim work/molding) AND baseboard before you can place your switches or outlets – or at least have an idea of how wide you want it to be. If you want a more prominent casing or baseboard then give yourself more space and size away from the window and further from the floor. I see this so frequently – a light switch cut into a door casing because they put it too close not knowing that the future casing would be 4-6″. Don’t let your GC or electrician do what is standard if you are going to do something bigger.

Choose Sconce Before Placing The Height

photo by tessa neustadt | from: emily’s kitchen and dining room reveal

Know your sconce choice/design before you place your J-boxes (or if you don’t, leave enough wire to adjust up and down, which is cheaper to move than right to left if a stud is in the way). The sconce placement comes down to where the actual lightbulb is on the fixture (Same height as J-box? Does it go up above it? Or hang down below?). Is it to light the room or light a piece of art? And if it is one that feels more old world (like Portland) it shouldn’t be higher than one could reach to theoretically turn it off and on. But the point is if you don’t know your height then leave room to adjust. They’ll need to know this before they close up the wall and adjusting it will take time and cost money, but way less than needing rethreading of wire.

Place Outlets To Fit Your Lifestyle (Not Just Code)

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house “reveal”: the dining room built-in dilemma (+ the 3 mistakes we made)

Place outlets with your lifestyle and function in mind (not just spaced apart for code). Consider where you are charging your laptop/phones, or how many countertop appliances you might want plugged in at the same time (coffee maker, coffee grinder, electric kettle, toaster, etc). Not crucial but you don’t want to be annoyed with yourself later when it’s such an easy thing to add during construction. Think about USB cords in outlets or where you want to plug in your electric toothbrush (in the medicine cabinet? vanity? or on the countertop?)

Think of outlets in the floor “flanking” the sofa (that’s where your lamp would likely go). You can only do this if you have a crawlspace underneath. Think about hiding outlets under your upper cabinets in your kitchen instead of on backsplash (I’ve never done this but my brother has it and it’s pretty awesome), or extra outlets in the island if multiple people will sit and work there (kids with homework?). I feel like a broken record with the outlets – just now that more people are WFH you might be using your space differently, so just walk through the motions. Adding outlets or making a 2 outlet into a 4 or adding USB to it is pretty easy early on.

Don’t Forget Dimmers In Bathroom

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: the final mountain house reveal (for now): all the details of my master bathroom

Don’t forget dimmer in bathrooms – crucial for middle-of-the-night trips without getting blasted with light (these can be just the vanity lights, doesn’t have to be all of them). We forgot to do this in our bath in LA and I would have to turn on the BRIGHT light in the middle of the night, which is a real bummer as it would wake me up more, as well as Brian. This is obviously an easy fix, but just think about doing it early on.

Not All Dimmers And Fixtures Work With All LED Bulbs – A Warning

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: reveal: arlyn’s bright & happy rental living room makeover

You may have noticed this – your lights flicker or glitch when you try to turn them on using a dimmer, assuming you are using LED bulbs. Now the technology is getting better, it is, but for a while, most LED bulbs simply weren’t compatible with a lot of dimmers or fixtures. They still worked, just glitchy and annoying. I thought that I was just choosing the wrong ones, but then I spoke to ARCIFORM and other designers who said the same thing. At the mountain house with our awesome Forbes and Lomax twist dimmers, the lights go fully on/off/on/off before staying on and being dimmable. We are used to it, but it’s a little annoying.

HOT TIP: Rejuvenation recommends specific dimmable LED lightbulbs from their site for each fixture – it’s awesome.

I’m sure the type of light switch can still make it glitchy, but I feel hopeful that it’s getting better. So I guess this is more of a warning than a mistake.

Predict Your ‘Surprise’ Electrical Needs (Like ‘Smart’ Anything)

design by max humphrey and beebe skidmore | photo by kaitlin green | from: my friend designed one of my best friends’ house and i’m jealous, so we shot it with my favorite towels to show it off

Make sure your GC and electrician know about anything ‘smart’ that will need to be hardwired, including security, Nest, wall-mounted TVs, bidets, shower panels, touch faucets, smart tubs, or gas fireplaces with electric ignition. Also if you are going smart, that’s great, but make sure that not all your faucets, showers, or toilets require electricity in case of a power outage. Even think about electrifying your vanities or medicine cabinets – this can be an easy fix, but it also can be impossible if you’ve already tiled.

Nightstand Sconce Switches

photo by  sara ligorria-tramp | from: mountain house reveal: our calm scandinavian master bedroom

By far the most annoying electrical mistake that was made at the mountain house was not having nightstand switches for the sconces flanking the bed in our bedroom. So we have to go all the way to the door. Poor babies, I know, but seriously think about it. You are ALMOST asleep and then one of you has to get out of bed, walk around it (if you are me) and turn off the light then find your way back in the dark. It’s such a stupid overlooked mistake.

So these are just the easy ones that I’ve made or almost made, but I’d love to hear ANY of your mistakes, suggestions, missed opportunities, or warnings in the comments 🙂

Opening Image Credit: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Mountain House “Reveal”: The Dining Room Built-in Dilemma (+ The 3 Mistakes We Made)


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75 thoughts on “Design Mistakes: 7 Easy Electrical And Lighting Mistakes To Make And AVOID When Remodeling

  1. SUCH good tips and advice, thank you! Definitely pinning for future reference. And…I pre-ordered the book just to have gems like this handy.

  2. Great tips! Re the Mountain House bedside light situation you might be able to get smart bulbs (like a regular led bulb but the smart bit is in the bulb not the fitting) – that way you can turn the light off with your phone

  3. So many good tips! For me, this inexpensive gadget has been amazing for our house, especially in winter months when you turn on lights pretty much as soon as you get home from work/school. It’s a “Remote Control Outlet Wireless Light Switch”. Basically it comes with a few plugs, and one remote. You plug your lamp’s cord into the plug, place the plug into the outlet, and turn on the lamp; from there you use the remote to turn the lamp on/off! I keep my remote by my coffee maker, and a Christmas, I literally had to stand in one place, and point/click five times to turn on/off three sets of white lights (strung around windows/etc), and two Christmas trees. Magic! I have a second set that turns on/off string cafe lights in our sunroom, and then some wall-mounted (plug-in) sconces too, all of which are up year-round. SUPER cool gadget that makes turning on/off plug-in lights so easy!

  4. super interesting! also wonder what the code is for how high off the counter outlets have to be in kitchen and bath. i need to look up ours as I’d like to lower the outlets before we tile. the mountain house bedroom might be the only time I’d ever advocate for a Clapper lol. surely there’s a Clapper app by now?

    1. Hi Sarah before you lower the outlets just check that everything will fit the new height. For example, my phone charger doesn’t fit the outlets in our kitchen because they’re too low. It’s a pain!

    2. We use our Alexa’s with smart lightbulbs in hardwired fixtures or outlets for plug in fixtures. and just talk to them. The Clapper, but better!

  5. The electrical mistake we made when renovating our kitchen was to have the outlets too low for our Apple phone charger. They’re not even really “low” outlets and every other appliance fits them, but I can’t charge my phone which is annoying. There’s only one outlet in the entire house that is high up enough off the bench/ground to fit the phone charger!

  6. I wish I’d put outlets in my closets–in the hall for robotic vacuums/cordless vacs, and in my walk-in closet for a charging station. And if you ever think you might want a bidet, remember that for warm water you’ll need an outlet behind your toilet.

    1. Seconding this!! I have an extension cord run from our cleaning closet for the vacuum. It’s tucked away and neat but if we ever redo the electrical I’ll be adding a plug! It’s an old house so the closet predates battery vacuums but still!

  7. For those who also don’t have dimmers in their bathrooms, I’d like to recommend SnapPower outlet covers – they replace your existing outlet covers but have a row of LED lights built into the bottom and draw the power for them from prongs that make contact with the sides of the outlets. One of the cheapest and coolest upgrades we’ve done in our house – we have them in the hallways, bathrooms, kitchen counter, etc. A practically invisible nightlight that makes roaming the house at night a thousand times easier and doesn’t take up an outlet spot! Renter friendly too – all you need to install is a screwdriver, and you can easily switch back to the original ones when you leave.

    1. 100%! The built -in light sensing outlet nightlight is life-changing! We did that in our bathroom when we did a remodel (saw it on YoungHouseLove), and then when we remodeled our Tahoe cabin made sure they were in hallways and bathrooms. I now get ready for bed in the bathroom with just that light at night because I hate bright light before bed. Definitely something Emily should put in her mountain house in the outlets. Amazon has a ton of different kinds.

  8. When we renovated our basement and added a bedroom down there, we had our contractor switch from a traditional swing door on the closet to a slider door to avoid infringing on the space (It was built out into the space). What we didn’t catch was where they had planned to put the light switch for that closet and it is located behind the slider door. So the door still functions and can slide over the light switch, but you can’t turn the light on without closing the door and opening it again.

  9. Don’t forget Ethernet!!! We didn’t do it b c our house is so small but now we have to have boosters and it still can’t take video/zoom in the back study.

    1. Get a mesh system. I live in a 4 level townhouse and my internet connection is in the concrete covered garage/basement level. We have the google system, but any highly rated mesh wireless systems would work.

  10. I just pre ordered your book for the sole fact that the first mistake you had listed was “know the size of your casings and trim.” Our first remodeled room in our historic renovation now has a cutout in the trim because of this very issue. Gah, it makes me so mad every time I look at it! Honestly, it’s one of those things that I could blame the GC for, except *I* am the GC and I made the colossal mistake of assuming the electricians would know trim would need to be accounted for (or at least ask me first).

    In any case, the sconce issue – we used Amazon Alexa smart bulbs instead of a light switch at the bed, so we just told Alexa to turn off our lights when we were ready for sleep. Just a workaround in case someone already has that issue.

    1. Yes. and not just trim, but the switch plate cover as well! We thought we had moved it low enough to avoid hitting the trim, but realized later it was just enough to miss the electrical box itself – always take out the cover and place it to see where the box needs to go!

    2. We just remodeled and some of the light switches were not far enough from the casing. My finisher just cut out the sheetrock more, added some wood pieces to extend it further out, then reattached it. He said it happens all the time. Then you can have trim and the outlet/switch. They’ll be close, but better than cut into the casing.

  11. This was so timely! Thanks for your insight. We have an electrician coming today, and I had forgotten to check on wiring for our future gas fireplace!

  12. I don’t know if there is a way to remedy this, but having recently re-done our kitchen including wiring, light fixtures, etc., I regret placing the switch to turn on the island pendants across the kitchen. Ideally it would be nice to have the switch in the island, but with wiring and all I don’t think that would be easy to do. So I would recommend at least placing the switch for the island lights as close to the island as possible so you don’t have to walk too far. Also, is there such a thing as a remote voice-activated switch you can install for things like pendant lights or bedside sconces, so that you can just say, “Alexa, turn on the pendant lights?” That would also be nice!

    1. I think you would just need to find the right sized smart bulbs. And even if you don’t have any amazon devices, we have a magnetic light switch that’s connected to our smart bulbs that we can put anywhere we want (I think it comes with adhesives if you wanted to put it somewhere non-metal somewhere). This is it:

    2. This is a thing! We have smart bulbs all over our house. “Office lights on!” “Living room lamp 50%.” “Bedside lamp off.”

      1. We have smart bulbs in our home, too. Very handy. When we want the outdoor lights on, we just tell Alexa. We are currently remodeling our basement and also installing smart switches to act as three way switches and to create different scenes, like movie lighting.

    3. Smart light switches do exist too, in case you’d rather go that route than replace lightbulbs with smart bulbs. Like, say, if you have 5 pendants over your island, but one switch controls them all, may be cheaper/easier to do a smart switch than 5 smart bulbs.

  13. You would think it would be obvious but make sure that your electrician puts every junction box in straight or level. We have so many crooked outlets and light switches in our 1973 house. After we moved in, I thought I just had to change the plates. Nope. So I asked my husband he told me it wasn’t possible to straighten them out. I figured that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Marriage😝. Awhile later we had an electrician in for something else I asked him to fix a few of the really annoying ones. He opened it all up and told me that the boxes were crooked on the stud, so short of ripping the wall open so he could properly fix them and then bring in a dry wall person we should just live with it and so we are, and six years later they still drive me crazy.

    1. I have two of these crooked boxes in my apartment and they drive me nuts too!! I actually had an electrician in here the other day to do a few things, including swapping in some dimmer switches for the existing switches. He called me over and pointed out how the junction box was crooked and unable to be fixed so that I didn’t think it was his fault and hold it against him, which I thought was sweet.

    2. As a veteran of two renovations so far, and as someone who has installed and moved multiple electrical boxes myself: I believe you technically could fix crooked electrical boxes, it would just be a massive pain and a little risky. You’d need to:

      • at the fuse box, turn off the power to this outlet / switch
      • use a screwdriver or a small pry bar to very carefully and slowly pry one corner of the electrical box away from the stud juuuust enough to make it straight (don’t pry it too far or too fast, because if it goes too far you’ll have no way to push it back)
      • insert shims between the electrical box and the stud to hold the box in its new spot
      • cut out any drywall you need to, and/or patch and paint any drywall gaps that are left (these gaps would likely be small enough that you could use a patching kit from Home Depot / Lowe’s)
      • turn the power back on

      So I believe it’s doable, you’d just need to weigh how much the pain in the butt and risk of moving it too far are worth to you, versus the annoyance of putting up with crooked electrical boxes. (I’m with you, crooked boxes would drive me crazy, so I’d probably try the fix. 🙂 )

    3. Same here, EVERY.SINGLE.OUTLET is crooked. I joke about the “drunk electrician” who installed on a regular basis.

  14. we just finished an addition and there are two good ideas from it I want to share. first, we installed an outlet in the garage that is the right voltage for charging an electric vehicle even though we don’t have one now so that we don’t have to add one later. second, our primary bedroom is upstairs and there are outdoor flood lights right outside our room. The electrician put a switch for those by the door to go outside (the obvious place) but also in our bedroom so that if we are in our room and realize they are still one we don’t have to go back downstairs.

  15. This is soooooo informative!!
    I would have issed many points and messed up.
    Like, it makes perfect sense, but who knew we had to consider ALL of this?!?
    Some power points are in very bespoke (plain weird) places in my Ol’ Girl and it dies my head in !🙄
    Yet again, Emily, my mind is opened by your post.
    Thsnk you🥰

  16. I would love your thoughts on sconce heights. I know there are at of factors, but this was a very challenging part of our electrical plan. Do you share your thoughts in your book?

    1. Years ago my then significant other and I hung sconces where we thought they were needed. Their mother came to visit later and harangued us that we had hung the sconces all wrong: wrong place, wrong height, wrong purpose, wrong number of sconces. It (she) was awful.

      I didn’t like sconces before that experience and have never had any where I’ve lived. I totally don’t get sconces and more tips on them would be good. Though I doubt I will ever warm up to the idea of sconces: why preemptively limit what can go on a wall and where? At least I’ll never want to put a bookcase on a ceiling. 🙂

  17. I did our own electrical plan and my husband did the electrical–and we changed quite a bit of it as we were going along. I had plans for a light in my kitchen and we had the switch and the box installed. I tested out my light there and hated it–but we could move it, so we did. In another area, I had a light switch on a wall and then decided to put a row of lockers in front of it, so we had to move the switch. We’ve been living in the house while redoing all the electrical, and it’s been really nice because I’ve been able to test things out and place in furniture and cabinets and everything and still had the ability to change things (without paying an electrician extra). I highly suggest that you are present for electrical as it is going in, with light fixtures in hand and furniture placement in mind, to make sure everything works together. Sometimes it’s impossible to visualize properly until you are in the space.

  18. This is a great article. I love how it reaches further than just being pretty. It’s very useful and something anything could benefit with any design style or lifestyle. It’s truly design advice for everyone!

  19. Thank you for excellent practical articles like this one — a bonus that they elicit such great comments too! So informative. Other design websites, however pretty, don’t get into the nitty gritty like you do.
    We just had a lovely little deck installed that flunked inspection because our city’s permitting requires a nearby outdoor outlet. We had no idea. Now we have to find an electrician and figure out placement…

  20. In our current home, we have outlets wired to switches in our main bedroom and living room, which I love because we can turn on lamps with the flip of a switch when we walk in the room.

  21. fun fix for nightstand sconces- place a smart bulb (we use Wyze) in the lamp and then you’re able to turn off the light with your phone- obviously very dependent if you sleep near your phone but I would guess a majority of people do

  22. An electrician lived in our house before us, and there are outlets everywhere, it is the best. I never have to find an extension cord or move any furniture, and there is always a place to plug something in!

  23. You could get smart switches for the bedside lamps, something like Lutron Caseta even have remote switches that you can mount.

  24. 1000% put an electrical outlet in a top or second vanity drawer for hair dryers or flat or curling irons. You never have to plug and unplug them again.

    Also put outlets inside your medicine or wall cabinet for the electric toothbrushes and think of any other things you keep plugged in in your bathroom (razor?) that can be stored out of sight.

  25. Oh to live in a country again where electrical sockets in a bathroom, let alone smart sockets, are a thing! Irish regulators still haven’t cottoned on to the fact that Irish people will *not* electrocute themselves if they have a plug in a bathroom 😂
    Looking forward to my pre-order arriving in April!

  26. Check every switch and plug thrice after electrician is done and before sheetrock goes up and verify your switches/zones on the breaker and label it. This way you will know immediately if something isn’t right and can make the change before it gets more expensive and your breaker box will be labeled correctly. We had an outdoor light wired on our new home which was supposed to turn on with another porch light but when we went through and checked all electrical we found that particular outdoor light had no switch other than the breaker and it’s right outside our bedroom window. The night light doesn’t bother me at all but not having the switch for it does. Also, take pictures and more pictures of everything in the walls before sheetrock goes up, this tip might help save you if you need to access electrical after the wall is sealed up, in our case the sheetrocker didn’t cut out our bedroom plugs and our pics saved us lots of ugly drywall patches trying to locate them.

  27. We’re a week into a major renovation (half the house is going down to the studs and is being completely reconfigured), and even though we have a fantastic designer and GC, I can’t thank you enough for the resource of this blog. I’ve been here more than you’d know, and posts like this give me so much more confidence as we move through this process. Honestly, I would be an anxiety-filled deer in the headlights right now if I didn’t have this blog and your experience helping talk me through all of this. Your willingness to share your lived experience is gold and I’m here for all of it! Thank you, Emily!!

  28. Tip: think about size of your beds when placing outlets in bedroom on side of beds. Plan electrical for built in shelves. Think about wall mounted TV wiring. Never assume contractors will do what you think is obvious. Add timer for extractor fans in bathrooms. Good luck

  29. Please, please, please don’t install USB outlets in your beautiful home. The cables we use to charge our devices always change over time (cables support both battery charging/power supply and data transfer, so new devices require updated cables to keep up with technology). Installing specific USB outlets is like installing phone jacks and Ethernet ports when most things around your house use wifi now.

    (Please note, I am not defending this. I HATE having 10 different kinds of cables for every powered device. I have a shopping bag of cables shoved in a closet because I can’t remember what goes to what and IT IS SO ANNOYING).

    1. I came over from my phone just to make this comment!! We are already seeing some USB C devices trickling in (our newest iPad’s charging cord can only work with the block it came with, not any of our other USB plugs). If you want USB functionality in some outlets for the time being, there are inexpensive outlet covers that add the USB slot and are pretty attractive. I got one at TJ Maxx for like $6 but the outlet underneath remains normal!

    2. I had this thought too, but I’m back on team usb outlets solely because they are super easy (and cheap) to swap back out for normal outlets when the time comes so it doesn’t have to be a permanent switch. And may I recommend getting a cable like this: It has different adapters attached so you can use it to charge nearly all your devices. It’s a game changer!

  30. We jokingly refer to the outlet in our island bench as ‘the most expensive outlet in the world’ – there was no outlet there when we bought the house and to install it our electrician had to lift up our vinyl flooring, drill into the concrete slab to create a wiring channel, replace the vinyl etc etc. But it was totally worth it (and we combined the project with a bunch of other small projects to avoid multiple call out fees). We use that outlet every single day and it adds a ton of function to our kitchen. But man I wish they’d built it into the original plans!

  31. I second the walk-in closet outlets. Just finished our house and what was I thinking? And I hate the outlets that besmirch my new kitchen backsplash! I should at least have placed them at extreme far ends of the counter so they would be hidden behind my Vitamix and knife block! They are smack dab in the middle of each backsplash bookmarking the range. 🤦‍♀️

    1. It might have been required by code. “In kitchens, electrical outlets should be placed no farther than 48 inches apart, so that no point on the countertop is more than 24 inches away from a receptacle. Any countertop 12 inches wide or more should have an outlet on the wall behind the countertop.

      Outlets should not be positioned higher than 20 inches above countertops, with certain exceptions for physically disabled persons and for islands or peninsulas where this height rule cannot be met.”

      1. it’s a safety issue to have cords running all across your countertops which may be wet or a long cord could easily get caught on something and your toaster could end up in the sink while plugged in so it’s to comply with code requirements. Small appliances cords must be short and plugs need to be spaced every 2-4ft max in kitchen and bath for counters. I say if it’s not something you can hide then try to make it pretty, lots of fancy faceplates available.

  32. Awesome practical advice – thank you. This is a great confidence booster for tackling big projects. Will purchase your book!

  33. Man I needed this a few months ago! We did a full re-wire of our 1910 house before moving in and it was such a struggle to do this without living in the space (or really having access to it when I was making the plan as the sellers had a lengthy rent back). My biggest regrets were forgetting about outdoor outlets, not putting outlets in closets where I store our cordless vacuums, not putting an outlet on either side of EVERY bed so you always have options, adding more outlets in the bathrooms, and some of the choices of which outlets would be controlled by a switch (we didn’t do overhead lighting in some rooms and code required me to choose one outlet per room to connect to a switch). It’s all fixable but with lathe and plaster walls every new visit from the electrician means a corresponding visit from the plaster guy so it adds up, fast!

  34. Motion sensors and hidden path lighting from the bedroom to the bathroom are a plus. This is low level path lighting that lights the floor and does not blind you. One tip from a 35+ year lighting designer. The lighting can be included in a handrail, or specified from many manufacturers.

  35. Very good advice from Emily, thank you.
    A much simpler approach for outlets: put two on every wall, one at each side, and another one in the middle if the walls are more than three meters apart.
    If you know that the couch is not by the wall, decide beforehand where it will go and put an outlet on the floor where the lamp or lamps are going to be, or just in case if not yet decided. You can always cover the outlet if it is not in the middle of the room.

  36. Best article and comments ever!!! Three added tips: 1. Install a whole house generator during the build process if you can afford and have frequent power outages; 2) even though my husband has an electrical background and we have had 14 homes, we still ended up with an outlet behind a large furniture piece so check your electrical plan against your furniture layout; and add dimmers to other areas: dining chandelier, kitchen island, primary bedroom.

  37. Others have mentioned outlets in closets for vacuums/dust busters, but also remember your roomba if you have one- make sure you have power in that out-of-the-way place you want the dock to live. And don’t neglect the work bench area in a garage or basement- you need a shelf for battery charging.

  38. Background: 
    My partner works in tech as an engineer, and I greatly benefit from their knowledge. I figured we might have a helpful perspective on what’s outdated or what’s still surprisingly useful, and what’s coming up, from a semi-professional and enthusiast perspective. We’re right in the middle of a pretty thorough renovation (drywall should start on monday!) on a 1-floor, 1400sqft, 2bed/1.5bath house in CA. 

    Ethernet & other low-voltage wiring
    My partner and I had cat6 ethernet run to 8 places in our 1400sqft house (2 exterior, 1 office, 1 bedroom, 2 kitchen, 1 living, 1 dining) – it’s less excessive than it sounds, I promise. We’re expecting to set up 2 or 3 access points inside, and hardwire some things like my partner’s work desk, the media center, and so on. We’re not sure if we’ll put cameras or access points on the exterior ones—we’ll see.

    In general, when it’s possible, multiple access points (like ubiquiti unifi or tp-link omada) for wifi is going to work better (more reliable, faster) than a mesh wifi system (like eero); a mesh system is what you do when it’s too late to run the ethernet for a multiple-access-point system. And frankly, most homes would really benefit from more than one access point, even small houses! 

    While cat6 officially must be able to carry 1gbit/second, in practice, for short distances (<150-200 feet), it’s good for 10gbit/second. Cat6a is officially rated for 10gbit/second and over short distances can do more than that. In practice, either is fine for a house and the price can be close; we ended up going with cat6 because we happened to have 500ft of it hanging around. I don’t think I would run cat5 at this point.

    We also ran speaker cable to a few places in the living room that we knew we were going to want wired speakers. I think both wired and wireless speaker options are pretty reasonable but I don’t think wired ones are going to be obsolete any time soon; they give a lot more control over your audio and there’s a lot of options that don’t lock you in to one type of system. 

    We considered running conduit “for futureproofing”, and were convinced not to, in lieu of just running all the cables we wanted now. I’m not 100% convinced that was the right call, but we do have pretty good access to our crawlspace and attic, so if it was a mistake, it’s not a very big one.

    Switches & outlets & smart home
    We didn’t want any USB outlets, to the surprise of our architect, contractor, and electrician. We have a mix of usb-a and usb-c chargers, so most USB outlets wouldn’t have solved that – for example, while my phone charges by usb-c, the wireless charging pads I’ve gotten for it all use usb-a. I guess we might think differently if we had a problem of losing or “borrowing” the usb bricks. It’s also something that’s pretty easy to add after the big renovation, so if we realize there’s a good place we overlooked, we’ll do it then.

    A helpful rule of thumb I’ve found with “smart” products is that they must only add functionality, not take it away – a smart switch should work just like a normal switch. We ended up going with Lutron Caseta switches; they work as normal, but allow us to remotely (or automatically) trigger them. With a smallish house, we only need 15-20 of them, so it’s not too much sticker shock, and we managed to get them during a pretty good sale.

    I’ve got a habit of getting great looking lamps with hard-to-access switches; we’ve replaced all our lamp bulbs with dimmable smart bulbs and it’s been significantly more convenient, though it breaks the aforementioned rule of thumb – I can’t turn the bulbs back on remotely if I turn them off by the switch, but they do still work as ordinary bulbs if a guest uses a switch.

    I wanted to bring it up, even though I can’t broadly recommend it, but we use and like Home Assistant for smart home things. We like it because it works with all sorts of different devices and platforms, and it’s all local – it keeps working even if the internet goes out. But you need to be pretty tech-savvy to set it up and keep it running, and it helps to have some familiarity with Python and yaml. I think I’ve heard that Hubitat is also all-local and much more beginner-friendly.

    I didn’t mean to write this much, but I hope it’s useful.

  39. We’re in the middle of a remodel and I pulled out our electrical plan as I was reading this to make sure we have switches at our bedside! Lots of great tips here.

  40. If I was wiring a whole house from scratch the things I’d make sure to do:

    • add outlets everywhere! more than you think you could ever possibly need. in every room, closet, work space, etc.
    • have lights or power sources in the closet to add fixtures or plug in lights because there’s nothing worse than not being able to see what’s in your closet
    • have a way to add overhead lights in the room (i.e. junction box). Even if you think you will never want overhead lights the future residents might want to install a chandellier or boob light (LOL) – resale value
    • make sure your circuits are rated for future power hungry uses if all those outlets ever get used
    • add a utility box to easily plug in solar or backup generators for use when natural disaster strikes the powergrid
    • run Cat 6 twisted pair wires to every room, and in some rooms (e.g. office, media room) to every outlet for future networking. Wifi is good, but Ethernet cabling is far better
    • if you can’t afford good cables, consider running conduit everywhere, so you can run the cabling when/where needed
    • make sure you retain copies of the electric plan for future reference
  41. Could you clarify about the Forbes and Lomax dimmers? I am about to order for my entire house and your comment made me a little nervous. Are you saying you have to turn them on and off two times before you can dim them? Lol, sounds quite strange…

  42. This was really helpful, sounds like I need to get on the sconces asap. I’m doing a solid slab backsplash in my kitchen, which has no uppers. Any thoughts on where to place the outlets (not in the cabinets) and those nifty pop ups are out.

  43. Nowadays the lack of a switch next to your bedside sconce would be less of a problem. Why? Because you could put in an app-controlled bulb (no special wiring required) and control it via your phone, assuming it is allowed in your bedroom at night.

  44. I am currently planning my new home and this article was really helpful. We are working with a general contractor, so most of it is already taken care of. Marwood Construction is a trusted and reliable home builder in Houston area. Look forward to more such informative articles! 

  45. Just in case this is helpful…
    it’s not so much that you need to choose the right LED bulbs, it’s that you need to use compatible dimmers. For LED bulbs and fixtures, you need to use an ELV (electronic low voltage dimmer). And also be aware that most dimmers at only rated to take your light down to 10% brightness. Any lower than that and you will get a flicker as well. Most people just don’t take the time to buy correct compatible dimmers. I learned this from working foe a lighting company for almost 10 years.

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