I want to add a light in the stairway to my basement:


Left side is a garage, right side is the basement with the other lights I'll need to tie into. However, I don't see how I could run a wire up the right wall since the bottom of that wall is a steel beam with a duct next to it running along the wall:


Since this is a basement, I don't care about the solution being somewhat ugly. Can I just run a wire from the ceiling, down the wall, through where the other wires are, above the beam? Is that against code to run wire outside of a wall like that? If I can't do that, what options do I have? The light switch is right there (under the fire extinguisher) but I don't want to have to rip open drywall to run to it.

Here's where I will be connecting it:


  • if it were me (a big if), i would run rope line along the treads, or cut a small hole in the back of a step to bounce a spotlight onto that nice white ceiling. LED strip in the channels of the middle picture (across stairs or in I beam cubby) would also work, and 12v DC remedies most code concerns.
    – dandavis
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 17:16

2 Answers 2


Sure. Because the wire will be exposed, you'll need to use armored cable. Just screw clamps to the wall to secure it. Since there's yellow Romex in your picture, use 12/2 wire. You can surface mount metal boxes. Try to buy metal boxes that have clamps included.

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  • I have plenty of exposed Romex in the unfinished area of my basement. My understanding is that above a certain height protection is not needed - and therefore running it along the ceiling - whether finished or unfinished - should not be an issue. I am pretty sure I have seen mention of that from the pros at various points on DIY but I don't know the specifics. Commented Dec 12, 2018 at 23:16

I think we're going to need a bigger box

  • Five Romex cables entering the box (presumably all 12/2) = 10 wires
  • one more Romex or armored cable you plan to add = 2 wires
  • the transformer = 2 wires
  • all grounds together are counted as 1 wire
  • all cable clamps together are counted as 1 wire

total 16 "wires". At 2.25 cubic inches per wire, you need 36 cubic inches. The 4" octagon box you have is 15.5 cubic inches. If you get a box extension, that'll be 31 cubes, still not enough even if it was all #14 wire!

You also have a cable entering over top of the cable clamp instead of properly. On the right side you have 2 cables under 1 clamp. And you need to add a 6th cable.

So I recommend you stop by a real electrical supply house and acquire a 4-11/16"(120mm) square box that's 2-1/8" deep. That's 42 cubic inches. Then get a box lid that provides the lamp flange (+~6 c.i., giving enough for 2 more cables). Get six cable clamps that go in knockout holes (unless they are rated for 2 cables per clamp) and an armored cable clamp for knockouts. Don't go to big-box, they overcharge for these boxes and lids.

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Before you take any of that apart, see the cluster of 3 black wires including the one to the bulb? Tape all 3 with red tape, as they are switched-hot coming from a) the switch loop, b) to this lamp and c) onward to another lamp.

Now look at the always-hot bundle, the one with 2-3 black wires and a white. That white wire needs to be marked with black tape; it goes to the switch loop. All the other whites (and one black transformer lead) are neutral. Adding one more neutral may be an adventure because there are already 6 under that one red wirenut. You need to split that to "3 and 4" with a pigtail between them.

That stairway light needs 2 switches (or no switches)

Code requires a light switch at the top and bottom of the stairway, so people aren't stumbling up/down the stairs to reach a switch. That necessitates 3-way switches, a fairly ambitious wiring job. The alternative is to hardwire the light "on" 24x7; at that point you need no switches at all. This now makes sense because of the crazy efficiency and long life of LED - a typical LED replacement bulb may be 5 watts, which will cost $5/year to burn.

You can also get bulbless LED fixtures, in fact new building efficiency codes require them in some places. (To be more precise, they require either a) any light sockets aren't Edison and won't fit incandescents or b) motion sensor... but motion sensors are problematic on stairs).

Wiremold surface conduit

One option for getting to difficult locations without making your house look like a Borg cube (looking at you, MC cable) is Legrand Wiremold surface conduit. This starts at any junction box and tacks neatly to the wall surface. You run single wires (THHN) in it, though you can cram in a cable if you really want to.

  • Instead of adding it to the box with a bunch of wires I can run it to another box that has a second light (the "onwards to another lamp" wire) and nothing else in it. \A longer run but not a big deal. The stairs already have 2 switches, 1 at the top and 1 at the bottom. Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 13:56
  • @ItsDarkDownHere you do understand that the "other lamp" box doesn't have "always-hot" power available, yes? It is only energized when this lamp is on. The 3-way switches that exist now, how are they powered? Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 16:38

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