In The Shop: Electrifying Shop Ideas`

January 3, 2014 06:29 PM
Dan Anderson

Are you remodeling an existing farm shop or making plans to build a new one? Here are eight suggestions on how to get the best electrification results for the least money.

1. Plan ahead and plan big. "You have to predict what the maximum electrical use will be in that shop in the future," says Doug Luellen, a licensed electrician from Dallas Center, Iowa, with 45 years of experience.

"If only one guy will be tinkering with his car in a two-car garage, a 30-amp service is enough," he says. "If there’s a chance there might someday be three or four men in that shop welding, pressure washing and running air tools all at the same time, you’re looking at a 200-amp, maybe a 400-amp service."

2. Bury electrical lines—indoors and outdoors. Ice storms, windstorms and combines with tall grain tank exten­sions are just three reasons to bury exterior power lines during a build or remodel. Buried lines can cost a couple dollars more per foot than overhead lines, but burying heavy lines for 200- to 400-amp services might actually be cheaper due to the cost of supporting heavier overhead wiring.

Luellen prefers to bury electrical lines in the concrete floor inside a new shop because it takes less wire and conduit to run a straight line to the main box, instead of running wires around the perimeter walls to various outlets. Plus, the plastic conduit used to route wires through concrete floors is cheaper than metal conduit used on interior walls.

3. Forget Romex—use conduit. Yes, it’s easy to self-wire buildings by stapling Romex wiring to posts, poles and interior walls. Yes, it costs more to run conduit and pull the wires to individual outlets and fixtures. But in the long run, conduit is safer and more cost effective because:

  • Rats and mice can’t gnaw on wiring in conduit.
  • Sparks from welding or grinding can’t melt or damage wiring insulation inside conduit.
  • It’s also more difficult (though not impossible) to accidentally drive a nail or screw through conduit.
  • It’s easier to replace wiring if the conduit was initially installed.

4. Consider placement of outlet boxes. It’s personal preference. Some guys like to have four-plex electrical boxes on the wall just above their benchtops—easy to see, easy to reach. Other guys dislike messy benchtops draped with power cords, so they put their outlet boxes along the front edge of the workbenches, under the overhang. 

Ditto for wall outlets not associated with workbenches. Some folks like their electrical outlets at benchtop height so they can move benches as needed, plus it saves bending over to plug in cords. Others prefer to have outlets at ankle height, as in houses, so the cords aren’t dangling down walls before they snake across the floor.

5. Put in more electrical outlets than you think you need. One four-plex, 115-volt outlet every 10' along at least one wall of a shop is a minimum. A four-plex every 10' on all walls is pricey but a good idea in large shops with multiple repair and maintenance projects underway at one time.

6. For 220-volt circuits: hard-wired or extension cord? The price of a long power cord than can handle 220 volts is breathtaking, but welders and other high-amperage tools come with short power cords, making a long 220-volt power cord a valuable asset.

7. If the shop has more than one walk-in door, wire the light switches near the doors so you can turn the lights on when you walk in one door and turn them off when you exit via another door.

8. What is the best value when upgrad­ing the electrical system in a farm shop or building a new one? Rig overhead doors to raise or lower with hand-held remote controls. It saves a lot of steps when moving equipment in and out of shops.

Cool Tools

wire stripper

A pistol-grip-style wire stripper removes insulation from electrical wires with a squeeze of the hand. The design automatically adapts to the size of wire, unlike conventional wire-stripping pliers that require the user to match the wire size to the correct stripping hole in the pliers. Price: $20 to $60.

An experienced farm mechanic by day, Dan Anderson’s practical shop tips, tricks and fixes are tested and true. Contact Dan:





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