Can Romex Be Left Exposed in Garages, Basements & More?

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We previously discussed how you can strip a Romex wire and run it through conduit. In the article we discuss several NEC regulations and how they all suggest what type of conduit to be used, how to run it, and more.

In the modern home, you will find wiring in almost every part of the house, be it the floor or the roof. Garages and basements are no exception. Whether you’re installing a new appliance or just diagnosing a faulty switch in the basement, a common question that arises is whether Romex can be left exposed.

Code and common sense both dictate that Romex shouldn’t be left exposed but must run through conduits. If you are running it through the basement or attic (or both), the wire must past through studs or be secured on top of joists or trusses. Here, we shall discuss the intricacies involved in running a Romex wire through your basement, garage, or more.

Understanding NEC Regulations with Regards to Romex

Using Romex Wire
A non-compliant installation due to all the exposed Romex wiring.

Romex is a brand name of non-metal sheathing wire. To give you an overview of what the National Electrical Code (NEC) regulations state, Romex wire shouldn’t be left exposed anywhere in the house, be it the basement, attic, or the home itself.

In other words, the installation above is not compliant with the relevant codes.

The wire should be secured safely or preferably be in a conduit. Electricians suggest that the wire must be secured after every 6 feet with the final fastener being no more than 12 inches away from the fixture. The NEC is rather strict about Romex wire and has several regulations specific to Romex conductors.

While allowed in houses, it is important to note that the NEC prohibits the use of Romex conductors in residences higher than 3 stories, while the wires are prohibited altogether in commercial buildings.

Another rather strict regulation suggests that the wires must be secured and clamped strictly to the walls, running directly to junction boxes. The wire must not ‘straggle’ between the box and fixture and shouldn’t sag throughout the way. NEC also dictates that support devices should be well maintained so as not to be rusty or damaged. A prime example of this is rusted hooks or overlapping staples.

Furthermore, when installing Romex conductors (wires), the installer must do so with the intention of using them as permanent wiring. Under no circumstances should the wire be used for extension cords or appliance wiring.

Can I Use Insulation with Romex?

Insulation in a Wall
Insulation in a Wall

Yes, insulation actually goes pretty well with Romex – and is, in fact, recommended. It is important to protect Romex from higher temperature or fluctuations. This is particularly the case for garage wiring. When running Romex through garages, it is important that it is insulated to ensure that the wire doesn’t get damaged.

As for the question of whether Romex can touch insulation or not, yes, it can. However, it is important to remember that the insulation shouldn’t come in contact with the copper inside. If the PVC sheathing is damaged, try to make a point of eliminating any point of contact. This is because the wires tend to run rather hot when passing current. If the wire comes in contact with insulation, you will most likely find the insulation melting away after a point – or even catching fire!

Exposed Romex Wire

Whenever you are using Romex, it is important that you remember to cover it up. NEC and electricians across the US make a point of making sure the wire is being used inside a wall, ceiling, floor, or running through a conduit. This way, the wire remains protected from any external factors; hence eliminating the possibility of punctures and cuts.

This is particularly true if you are running the wire in your garage since it gets exposed to the cold and hot weather outside. You might think that since your basement isn’t subjected to temperature fluctuations as much, you can expose the wire, but that is not the case. Basements and attics often find themselves flooded or frozen over during extreme temperatures.  

The same is true not just for Romex but for other NM (non-metallic) wires as well.

Running Romex Wire in Basement

A basement with various exposed wires and pipes
A basement with various exposed wires and pipes

So, how can you run Romex in the basement? What if you need to run wires from the attic all the way to your basement? You will have to drill a hole in the floor plate (attic) and roof or wall plate (basement) to run the wire. Make sure it is in the same wall cavity as the outlet you are trying to run the Romex to, since you can’t leave it exposed.

To run the wire through this hole, use a coat hanger. Straighten it out, attach the wire with it using some electrical tape and feed it into the hole until someone at the other end pulls it out.

When considering which wire to use, we recommend using the 12 Gauge Romex Wire. How much wire you need to use will depend not just on the size of your basement and proximity of the outlet, but also the studs. If you have a conduit, though, you can cut a few corners and still remain up to code.

A 12-gauge wire can carry more load (up to 2,500 watts) and is usually yellow in color.

If you expose the wire from anywhere or think that there is a very sharp turn in the system, it is essential that you repair and cover it up. NEC code actually requires you to install Romex through a conduit, but inspectors have been known to give people some leeway if the Romex is fastened properly.

The goal of a conduit is not just to protect you from the wires but also to protect the wires from you.  We recommend going with the PVC conduit since it is not just easy to cut and install but is also relatively more cost-effective; not to mention that it has a much longer life than metal conduits when exposed to the environment or used underground.

Running Romex Wire in Garages

When it comes to wiring your garage, you shouldn’t under any circumstances think of running the wire without insulation or conduit. We mentioned above how garages are much more prone to weather fluctuations, which essentially means that your wire is bound to get damaged.

If you don’t want to use a conduit, you can also run the wire behind a wall, which is actually much safer than a conduit in most cases.

Covering Up Electrical Panels & Wires in the Basement

If you are wiring your basement yourself, you might want to consider covering it up as well. We have seen many DIY-ers leaving their electrical panels exposed due to being too proud of their work. While we empathize with that feeling of accomplishment, we would like to point out that this isn’t safe for anyone – especially when exposed to humidity.

You can cover the service panel with house-hold equipment or even install a panel board; but it is important to remember that the panel needs to be accessible. You can hang a picture in front of it, build a cabinet around it, or even make a shelf on top for decoration pieces. Just be careful not to put anything combustible around the panel.

Cost of Running Romex in the Basement

Typically, the cost of running a Romex wire from the attic to basement and in a 1,200 sq ft. home is $1,500 to $4,500 (12-gauge). The labor cost will be around $1,500 and $2,500, depending on how accessible the basement is.

You can save these costs by completing the project yourself, however, we would only recommend that you undertake this project if you are sure about your capabilities.

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About Charlie D Paige

Charlie is a massive DIY fan, with dozens of DIY projects under his belt - ranging from tiling to electrics, and concrete pads to walls. Charlie loves tinkering, seeing how things works, the outdoors and playing with power tools... so is it any wonder that he's completed so many DIY jobs over the years?

Charlie loves spreading his hard-won DIY experience with the world via this blog.