Electrical Wiring in the Home installing spot lights, new ceiling light, luminaire

Electrical Wiring in the Home installing spot lights, new ceiling light, luminaire

Electrical Wiring in the Home /installing spot lights


Expert: Bruce Grant — 9/16/2009


Hi, I would like to install spotlights in a room. The room does not have any light bulb in the ceiling, it needs a floor lamp to light the room. With your knowledge, I would like to know how much does it cost for an electrician to do this type of job? Will he need to put any wiring on the ceiling since there is not light bulb? I don’t want anyone to rip me off, so I want to be well informed before I hire someone.


Bad news first — this won’t be inexpensive unless you are *extremely* lucky, because it is actually VERY time-consuming. Here is why:

Most electricians will prefer to charge you for Time & Materials (T&M basis) with the hourly rate depending on your location (in the expensive San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, that’s $110-140 per hour). These days, there is usually also a trip charge. A fixed-price bid will be based on the electrician’s T&M estimate *after* seeing your home, plus a large extra percentage for unknown factors.

According to National Electrical Code, if there is no ceiling light, then one or more receptacles in the room must be controlled by at least one wall switch near the main entry to the room, so that is the most likely place from which the electrician will obtain power to the new fixture(s).

Assuming there is an attic, the electrician will usually have to go up there to run wire or cable from the ceiling fixture(s) for your new spotlights to the top of the wall where the switched receptacle is installed, or, if you are *really* lucky, only to the wiring from the switch to the receptacle going through the attic.

Typically, however, the electrician will have to drill a hole through the top plate of the wall above the switched receptacle, then run wire/cable down through the wall to the receptacle, probably cutting into the wall above the receptacle to get to both the new wire and the outside of the receptacle box. Splicing could be in the receptacle box IF it is large enough. If not, either a larger box will be installed or an additional box above the existing one could be installed, then covered with a blank cover plate. At least minor wall patching will usually be needed afterward unless the electrician is better skilled than most AND other factors in the construction or wiring don’t interfere.

Work in an attic, even when it has a simple plywood floor and plenty of room to move in, is more time-consuming and uncomfortable than work in a room. If the attic is typical, there will be no plywood, but just joists every 16 inches, with the space between filled with insulation, and there may be many obstacles (other wiring, heating and/or AC ducts, plumbing, roof bracing, etc.), so it ALWAYS extends the billable time. If the weather is very hot or very cold, the work is tougher. If the headroom is tight, the work may be slower or almost impossible, especially near the eaves. Often multiple trips up and down a ladder through an attic opening will be required if the electrician does not have a helper. Work in a basement or, worse, a crawlspace can often be just as difficult.

An alternative to the attic/basement work, particularly if the joists run perpendicular to the switched receptacle wall, is for the electrician to remove parts of both the ceiling and wall drywall, install the new fixture box, run the wiring, then patch the ceiling and wall. If it’s drywall («sheetrock») wall and ceiling, then this is relatively easy IF the electrician is good at drywall patching (which most are). Even then, 2 to 3 coats of drywall joint compound will be needed to do, proper, relatively unnoticeable patching. Patching compound has to dry 1-4 hours between coats, so usually the client should plan on hiring a handyman or painter to do all but the initial patching, since then the remaining patching and painting will cost less than the electrician’s hourly rate would cost.

I’ve described multiple scenarios and multiple impediments, but there are others, depending on your home, so don’t think these are the only alternatives. I have only mentioned what is most common in this region.

Expect to spend $150-450 on labor in this region, less in most of the US and Canada, depending on how many difficulties exist in your home to impact the work. Materials costs must also be added. Don’t forget that the electrician must cover his own costs of business (rent, insurance, taxes, licenses, vehicles, tools, etc.), so his hourly net is far less than you would imagine.

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