Romex is a popular choice for residential branch wiring. Often, you’ll have to run the cable through the ceiling to a light or air conditioning fixture.
In a single-story home or on the upper floor, this might mean that you have to run Romex through the attic. When doing this, does the cable need to be stapled?
Proper Romex installation through an attic or ceiling requires stapling – or otherwise securing – the cable to joists or rafters. This is necessary to avoid sagging, which could lead to accidental damage. Depending on your local code, you might also have to protect the non-metallic sheathed cable with a conduit or insulation to prevent rodents from damaging it.
Do Wires In Attic Need To Be Stapled?
When installing non-metallic sheathed cables through ceilings or attics, most people believe that the cables don’t have to be secured. However, loose cables are against the code in most jurisdictions.
How you have to secure Romex varies depending on the type of attic you have.
In accessible attics – AKA, attics that you can access at any moment via permanent stairs or a ladder – Romex has to be stapled every 4½ feet.
Moreover, the first fastener must be placed not more than 12 inches from the junction box, cabinet, or panel to which the cable is attached.
Alternatively, you can run cables through holes bored in lumber joists. In this case, you may be able to use fewer fasteners, but the first hole must be at least 1¼ to 2 inches from the nearest edge.
Non-metallic sheathed cables might also have to be protected by “substantial guard strips.” These strips are essentially two pieces of timber or plastic with a ridge in the middle.
This ridge is wide enough for the Romex (or the non-metallic sheathed cable you’re using) to fit perfectly, protecting it from accidental damage and rodents.
In accessible attics, you must install guard strips for all cables that run on top of the attic’s floor joists. If the cables run across studs or face rafters, only the first seven feet from the attic’s entrance must be protected.
In inaccessible attics, which are attics that can’t be accessed via a permanent ladder or stairs, strip guards are only required within six feet from the attic’s entrance or scuttle hole edge.
Why Are Loose Cables In The Attic Against The Code?
Running Romex through an attic could seem like a simple job, especially in an inaccessible attic. However, the code still says that you must secure them.
Leaving the cables loose is against the code because you could damage them when opening the access panel. The cable might also get caught in the pull-down folding ladder mechanism.
You or a contractor could also walk on the cables and damage them when entering or moving around the attic.
Stuff you normally store in the attic, such as Christmas decorations or old pieces of furniture, could also scrape over the non-metallic wire sheaths.
All these things could damage the cables’ sheathing and insulation, exposing the wires. Exposed wires could cause a short circuit or generate arcing, which could start a fire in your attic.
How To Run Romex Through The Attic
Running Romex – and other non-metallic sheathed cables – through an attic is similar to running them through ceiling joists. Here’s how to do it:
1. Locate The Attic Access
This part is easy if you have an accessible attic. However, if you don’t, you might have to locate the attic entrance or scuttle hole. This could be behind a drywall or dropped ceiling panel.
In the case of a concealed door, remove the drywall or dropped ceiling panels to access the entrance – most homes have removable panels that are easy to take off and reinstall as needed.
2. Inspect The Attic
Climb up on a ladder and open the attic entrance. Use a flashlight to examine the space and decide which is the best route for your cable.
At this stage, you should draw a diagram of the attic – including the position of the entrance and the joist layout – for future reference. Also, note the location of existing pipes, ducts, or other wires.
3. Prepare The Attic Floor
No matter where you want to run electricity to, chances are you’ll have to cut two holes all the way through the attic floor and ceiling under it.
Put on a dust mask and protective equipment, then use your diagram to bore holes in the right places.
Depending on the route, you can now also bore holes in any lumber joists the cable should pass through.
4. Install The Cable
Bring all the length of Romex you need to use into the attic. Take one end and run it to the fixture. From this point, run the cable along the planned route, stapling it in place every 4½ feet.
You may have to use more staples if the cable is sagging – keep in mind that it should run flush with the joist, studs, or rafters.
Install the last staple at no more than 12 inches from the junction box or panel to which you want to attach the cable to.
Note: When running the cable along the attic floor, you have to install guard strips before installing the cable. Screw them in place according to their instructions.
5. Connect The Cable
You can now turn off electricity from the main panel and connect the Romex end to the junction box, cabinet, or panel. Conceal any exposed lengths and place the drywall or dropped ceiling panel back in place to conceal the attic access.
If you don’t feel confident enough to connect the cable yourself, don’t hesitate to hire an electrician.
Running Romex through the attic is easy, but you can’t let the wires loose. Depending on the installation layout, you should staple the cable in place or run it through guard strips secured to the attic floor.
This procedure is crucial to ensure that workers or boxes pushed in the attic through the entrance can’t damage the sheath or break the wires. In this way, you reduce the chance of short circuits and fire hazards.