If you are altering or disassembling equipment, wiring, switches, outlets, circuits, etc, where the wires make up in a specific manner, then mark and label those wires clearly and adequately. Draw pictures and diagrams and write notes as needed to record the data so that no serious confusion occurs at the time of reconnect.

Make certain that this information is preserved, especially if you may not be the person doing the reconnection. You’ll certainly hear about it if you have not followed these instructions.

Four improperly identified wires in a ceiling junction box in a residence cost 14 man-hours when the time came to reconnect. Someone assumed it would be easy to figure out later and so left it for someone else. The result was a totally unnecessary mess.

Allowing a few wire markers to fall off as a bundle of control wires was pulled through conduit at gear manufacturing plant cost 23 man-hours before the damage was repaired.

Failure to clearly record the data of how two relays were interconnected in a rather simple homemade machine cost 33 man-hours before the machine was restored and the damage was repaired. The whole control system had to be redesigned and rewired in order to get that machine running again. All that was wrong with this machine in the beginning was a bad connection requiring only a minor service call, if only those few wires removed by the serviceman had been clearly marked to indicate where they were went. One moment this was a machine with a minor problem, moments later it was junk!

All that was omitted in each of the above was proper and careful marking of the wires that were disconnected. Without adequate data, even a seemingly simple system can be quite challenging and complex to figure out or reconstruct.


“Rough Electrical” is that portion of the electrical work that is done while walls and/or ceilings, etc. are open and accessible.

“Finish Electrical” is that portion of the electrical work (the installation of receptacles, switches, fixtures, etc.) that is done after the walls and/or ceilings, etc. have been completed and painted or otherwise finished.

The data of what each wire is and how it is to be connected after the walls are finished must be preserved, so follow these instructions.

1. Pull all wires into the conduits and boxes and make up all connections or junctions as a part of the Rough Electrical Work.

2. Leave unterminated or disconnected, only those wires that are to be connect to devices, fixtures, outlets, etc. when the finish electrical is done.

3. Use tape, wire-ties, or any other effective method to clearly identify the “travelers” that connect to 3-way or 4-way switches.

4. At all accessible locations use tape, wire-ties, or any other effective method to clearly identify hot and neutral pairs (or groups when more than one hot shares a common neutral).

5. Handle possible sources of confusion by also identifying conductors and connections on the plan.

6. Use “Pigtails.” A Pigtail is a short piece of wire (usually 6 to 8 inches long) connected to a group of conductors all of which are to be connected to the same terminal of a device, etc. Thus only the pigtail would need to be connected when the device is later installed.

7. Neatly pack all wires into the wiring enclosures or boxes so that all will be easily accessible, well identified and ready for device installation when it is time to do the finish work. Pack all wires into their boxes so that fully unpacking and repacking the box at the time of final installation will not be necessary. Cap off all pigtails, etc. with small (usually orange) wirenuts so that the needed wires will be easy to spot and cannot possibly short or shock someone if the power were mistakenly turned on.

Failure to apply the above rules on a relatively small remodel job cost approximately 10 unnecessary man-hours to sort out the so-called completed rough work so that the finish work could then be completed.

I hope I have made it gruesomely clear just how costly it can be to all when the data of one’s work is not preserved and made understandable to the person who returns to finish the work. Delays do sometimes occur and the finish work might be done until months after the rough work has been completed.


If the thing you are working on or attempting repair or alter is confusing to you, it can be very helpful to just grab a pencil and paper. Start by writing down or sketching what you DO know or have discovered. Determine what data might yet be needed. Then obtain and clarify the needed, missing or confusing data.

It is possible to break a larger confusion down into smaller and more confrontable parts, each of which can then be cleared up individually and resolved. First resolve one part, then another and then another, one part at a time until you have obtained the understanding needed to resolve the entire confusion.

Don’t just continue on being confused. Look at it, draw it out, break it apart and view it. Find out what you do understand and what you don’t. Continue. Break it down further if needed and keep clearing it up, until the confusion is resolved.


1. Determine what it is that you want to achieve, what is to be the final product, and how the final product is supposed to function.

2. Determine how the system works now (run it, check plans, study it, take it apart, and ask questions). Beware of false reports and false data!

3. Alternate between steps 1 and 2 until you understand the existing system, the changes that are needed and wanted by the customer, and what must be done to accomplish the desired result. As a simple example, if it were necessary to install an emergency stop switch on a machine, you would need to find the exact control wire which if briefly interrupted and then reconnected would cause the machine to stop and stay stopped.

4. Verify by actual test that the proposed alteration does accomplish the desired result. In the above example one would momentarily interrupt the indicated control wire to determine if that caused the machine to stop and stay stopped as desired.

5. Verify by test that the proposed alteration does not disable or alter other functions or system controls in an unacceptable manner.

6. Locate the best, simplest, cleanest, easiest, most convenient and acceptable physical location(s) for each of the changes to be made, then make the changes. Avoid making multiple changes simultaneously. Errors are easier to correct if changes are made in stages, with each stage being separately completed and tested before proceeding to the next, rather than making all proposed changes at once and testing after.

7. Fully test the system and verify that the final product does work exactly and in all ways as it should!

The above applies to the simplest of systems as well as the most complex.


When the wiring is complete and everyone knows it is correct and totally without error, one question remains to be answered: “NOW THAT IT’S WIRED, DOES IT WORK?”

This is NOT the same as asking “Is it wired correctly?”

The question “Does it work?” is ONLY answered by actually testing the system, everything you have installed, wired, altered or repaired. Verify that every part of it works as it should:

1. Every light must be tested.
2. Every switch must be tested. Test 3-way and 4-way switches for all switch positions.
3. Every outlet must be tested. Test all three: hot, neutral and ground.
4. Every exit light and emergency light must be tested.

Motors should turn the correct direction and draw the correct amount of current.

If something is not right find out fast and fix it. Test your work before someone else does. Avoid complaints and upsets. If you don’t like looking foolish and working for free, then test your work before you call it done. Save everyone a lot of grief and answer this one simple question each time: “NOW THAT IT’S WIRED, DOES IT WORK?”

When a machine has been repaired or altered it must be tested. If that machine requires an experienced operator, find that operator and then test it. Don’t test your luck. Machinery can be damaged if operated incorrectly and a machine that requires an experienced operator must NOT be run or tested without that operator at the controls. Either find the operator, get trained to operate the machine, or return when a qualified operator will be available.

When power is not available to test a system that should be tested, notify the customer and make arrangements to return to do the test as soon as power is available.

If the job is to provide power to the main disconnect of a machine and nothing more then do not test of the machine. Do test to verify that power does arrive to the main disconnect of the machine as it should and that the supply switch or switches are properly labeled.

Never run or test equipment that is being installed by others without a go-ahead from the installer. The installer should test and correct his machine’s operation when he is ready. Do verify that the power you provided does arrive to the machine’s main disconnect as it should, that the fuses supplied are good and are of the correct size and type, and that the machine’s supply switch or switches and circuit breakers are properly labeled.

Never assume that the customer understands WHY some part or all of his system or machine might not have been tested. If it could not be tested make sure the customer knows it was not tested and WHY. Inform the customer and make whatever arrangements are necessary.

Anytime a customer is not informed about those things he may need or want to know a dangerous situation is created. Maintain good communication in with the customer. Demonstrate competence, professionalism, dependability, and predictability. This will generate customer trust, certainty and confidence.

Joe Duncanson

Copyright © 1979,1980,1981,1986,2009 by Joe Duncanson. All Rights Reserved.