How to Rough-In Wire your Tiny House

Before I even begin I want to be completely transparent in that I am NOT an electrician. I do not even claim to understand electricity all that well. I am so very thankful to Thomas Edison for literally enLIGHTening our lives. I am humbled everytime I press the button on our K-Cup machine and coffee comes dripping out. And I am almost reduced to tears when I can press just one button or adjust an up/down arrow and instantly turn the sweltering summer into a more serene tropical afternoon with air conditioning. So you can imagine my trepidation and fear when realizing it was time to rough wire our tiny house. But with impeccable timing (or so it seems) my brother – a master electrician – was in town this weekend and was more than happy to help me wire as well as to explain the process to the extent my brain could handle.

I didn’t feel a real How-To video was appropriate since I did a lot of watching and holding rather than really doing. I also didn’t want to posture us as an authority on something we are hardly novices of. It is a lot of responsibility to make How-To videos for the tiny house community and I simply did not feel good about doing one for this step. However, I found some pretty good ones here, here, and here. It didn’t stop me from taking some photos, taking a lot of notes, and taking credit for a beautiful finished result. (I kid, I kid. I was highly appreciative!)

I did think that after running the wiring and learning some new things it would be a good time to offer some tips and tricks though.

Perhaps the first thing is actually understanding the rough in stage. I kept saying we were going to install electricity. Seems that was not accurate and we needed to first rough-in the tiny house.

Understand the Rough-In Stage

Rough-in is essentially a term that refers to the initial installation of all the wiring (14/2 Romex in this case), electrical boxes and other elements (namely ceiling fan/light supports) needed to circulate power throughout your house.

During rough in you typically pull all the wires through the joists, studs, and outlet boxes into the switch boxes. You would also tie the electrical panel in and break up the circuits per load during the rough-in. We did not do this yet because we are going to write our tiny house for both grid adaptation and RV cord access. We did run all our home runs to where the box will go though.

What was interesting is that my brother asked repeatedly what code we needed to follow. I assured him that either international, national, or county code would be fine because tiny houses still unfortunately fall into a bit of a construction limbo. We are “under the radar” in regards to code and inspection. Sort of cool but sort of discouraging at the same time. It’s vital that professional electricians perform the rough-in because of the strict codes concerning electrical wiring and systems.

During this stage we worked primarily from my schematic which outlined where the floor outlets, the lower wall outlets, the countertop outlets, the light fixtures, and even the outside plugs and lights, would go.

Mark Your Needed Elements

I wish there were a fancier way to present this step but there really isn’t. This step involves taking a sharpie or similar marking device and basically writing “plug”, “switch”, or “light” on your stud or joist. I excelled at this step and my OCD was satiated.

Go on a Walkthrough

I think perhaps the next most important step is to “walk through” your tiny house. Go through the front door and flip on the lights. Walk around the kitchen and use your appliances. Plug in a phone charger or your laptop. Try turning the ceiling fan on. Make sure your electrical elements are in the correct location making sense to your user habits and in a safe position.

Some things to look for during an electrical walk-through include:

  • Whether the number and type of fixtures to be installed in a room are enough (there are never enough plugs in a kitchen!)
  • Light switch placement
  • If changes need to be made

Install fixtures

At this point it is a good idea (and one we followed) to place your electrical boxes so that you can prepare to run wire from your breaker box to the locations needed. The second part of the “install fixtures” step (but one we did not complete yet) is to actually place your breaker box. I am currently reviewing this page and all of its internal links to try and really gain an understanding of our panel box needs.

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

After drilling 1″ holes through the studs and joists as necessary (to accomodate wires) the electrical wires are “run” through the house. This involves pulling wires from the box through the stud/joist holes, going into the electrical box, and using staples to tack the Romex where necessary.

Note: It really is pretty essential to keep your wires organized and even labeled at times. This way should you have to re-route or re-wire a circuit at some point the process will go much more smoothly and with less a chance of error.

Pack It Up, Pack It In

Once you have your wires run and inserted into the tabs of your electrical boxes you want to keep about 6″ of extra wire free so as you come back to wire in lights or plugs or what have you, you won’t have to use tweezers to access your wire. During this last step you simply roll your Romex up and into your electrical box so it doesn’t get in the way of further interior construction!



  1. Michael_H007 says

     Bmg50cal might be thinking of Edison wanted everyone to use DC power and Tesla wanted people to use AC power.  If we had DC power as a standard, we would all have to live near the power plant if we wanted power. The transmission losses of dc over long distances is horrendous.  Luckily AC became the standard and we have a electric grid that (more or less) reaches just about everyone.

    • Andrew Odom says

      I was just kind of trying to be witty and make a play on words. Thank you for the the clarification though Michael. Awesome to know!

  2. says

     Sometimes I will
    make a list of all tasks than need to be accomplished in each room, and then
    make sure there are enough outlets and switches.  This is
    definitely a great time to plan accent lights and specific task lighting while
    you’re doing a few mental run-throughs.

    • Andrew Odom says

      Funny you mention that Kevin. The “meal” we prepared and the after supper “coffee” we had really helped us plan out outlet positioning and make sure we had convenience and location. Our lighting will be done with “hidden” directional tracks as we don’t have room for nice accent lights or even cans. 

  3. alice h says

    Don’t forget to add duplex receptacles wired to separate breakers for your kitchen area so you can run a toaster and a M/W or whatever at the same time without tripping the breaker.  Also need dedicated circuit for a fridge or other heavy draw items. 

  4. EPC says

    I’m also into your part… I’m also the one who always watch hot to then pretending to understand it… but the ending is it never did give me any knowledge on doing it… hahaha

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