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A friend of mine rented a new apartment and asked me to help with some shelves. We will need to drill some holes for screwing the shelves.

One of the places has a electrical socket near by and the water for the washing machine.

I am really worried that we either hit the plumbing or the power cables. I was wondering if there is any (formal or informal) rule / good practice about plumbing and electrical cabling on the walls that sets the approximate height of each? Is there any other advice that we can follow to avoid a big mess?

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There is no set standard height, but this is generally a pretty safe operation.

You'll want to use a stud finder to locate the studs, and attach the shelf brackets to studs for strength.

You'll usually only hit a pipe or power in a stud if it runs through the stud horizontally. Modern building codes require a piece of heavy sheet metal be installed on the face of the studs where pipes and cables pass through. They also require the pipe or cable to be set back from the face of the stud a bit.

So if the building is fairly modern, and the plumbers / electricians followed the rules, you should be safe - if you try to screw into the stud where there's a pipe or cable, you'll hit the plate and the screw won't go in.

There is no guarantee that the plumber / electrician followed the rules, and nothing's perfectly safe, but this is generally a pretty safe project.

  • Good answer... if you're particularly worried about electricity, you could shut off the breaker(s) to the nearby appliances. Also, if you pre-drill, you'd be able to figure out if you've changed from wood to pipe/wire. (And I really shouldn't say this, but if you punch a screw hole in your ABS drain, you could probably survive by simply leaving the screw in place.) – Aloysius Defenestrate Oct 21 '15 at 2:15
  • Don't know how good they are but many modern stud finders also have a separate alarm for proximity to electrical cable. – Matt Oct 21 '15 at 3:08

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