Thoughts on surface mount vs flush mount electrical outlets in the shop

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Forum topic by Richard H posted 06-28-2021 04:57 PM 971 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Richard H

491 posts in 2893 days

06-28-2021 04:57 PM

I am planning for an upcoming move into a new shop in a two car attached garage. The ceilings and walls are finished and I was thinking if I should go though the trouble of tearing out enough of the walls and ceiling to run everything behind the walls or just surface mount everything in conduit. The advantage I see in conduit is it’s faster, less mess and can be more easily changed overtime. The downside I can think of is its more expensive maybe conduit vs wall repair, can get in the way, it’s ugly and might be more prone to collect dust though every commercial shop I have ever been in uses surface mount boxes so not sure that is much of a issue.

One thing I don’t know yet that might impact my decision is if the walls are insulated or not. If I am going to remove the walls anyway to install insulation I was thinking I might just go ahead and hide all the electrical behind the walls though the ceiling and one wall are insulated as the attach to the rest of the house.

Figured I would throw this out there and see what the community thinks or has experienced?


15 replies so far

View jamsomito's profile


685 posts in 1639 days

#1 posted 06-28-2021 05:19 PM

No way in heck I’m tearing out my walls to bury electrical. I have surface mount conduit and receps and it’s been great. Easy to relocate if needed, conduit is actually fairly cheap. Think of the time savings between the two before you go solely on cost too.

If you’re in there already for insulating then I suppose it would be up to you. I still like the benefit of flexibility conduit and surface mount boxes offers though personally.

I have a pretty small shop though, and I’m building it out slowly as I go. That can help with costs too if you just do a small bit to get you started and build out the rest later. Can’t really do that easily behind drywall.

Just some considerations.

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Fred Hargis

7185 posts in 3706 days

#2 posted 06-28-2021 05:22 PM

Seems like you have the pro/con stuff sorted out…and i think it’s kinda of a personal decision. But in my current shop (and the last 2) I have them in the wall. If you install plenty (including some 240V) there won’t be a need for change in the future, and surface mount gets in the way of hanging other stuff on the wall. I installed 2 gang boxes every 64” (every 4th stud) and put them 52” above the floor, except under the windows. In between those is a single gang box with a 240V outlet…most are 20 amp, but I have a handful of 30 amp as well. One other thing, consider outlets in the ceiling, but not just for tools. Put your light circuit up with duplex outlets and use the LED lamps that just plug in, it should be a separate circuit from the tools.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Robert's profile


4714 posts in 2693 days

#3 posted 06-28-2021 05:24 PM

If its not insulated I would get with an insulation company an see about blowing in insulation.

If it is insulated, I would go with surface mount.

In my shop, the original wiring the electrician used metal conduit. I have added several new circuits and I used the metal clad flex type cable. Even though conduit looks neater the time saving is huge.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View Knockonit's profile


940 posts in 1415 days

#4 posted 06-28-2021 05:31 PM

having had two commercial shops, and trying to get my own shop squared away. I ran most in walls, but did put strategic j boxes with the ability to add both 20amp 110 v and 230 volt circuits in event i added or moved equipment.
i ran all 12 ga wire to outlets and lighting, and put a smathering of 230 volt j boxes every where, just incase.
but with my history, they just never seem to be in a good spot for some units. Exposed would be in emt (metal conduit) or MC cable, .

am running primary feed conduit later this week for both power and the low voltage up to main house, hope to have AC going inside of two weeks
Rj in az

-- Living the dream

View sansoo22's profile


1748 posts in 867 days

#5 posted 06-28-2021 05:32 PM

My shop is a 2 car attached garage that is in desperate need of new electrical and I have flipped back and forth on if I want surface mount or conduit myself. My final design came down to surface mount mainly because its an attached garage and I think surface mount is a better option if I ever want to sell the house.

That being said when I tear out the paneling I will be doing OSB for at least the first 4 feet and then sheetrock the rest of the way up. Probably some sort of chair rail to hide the gap. All the outlets will be installed towards the top of the OSB so if I do need to make a change to electrical it should be a tad “easier” than dealing with sheetrock.

View controlfreak's profile


2730 posts in 814 days

#6 posted 06-28-2021 06:02 PM

If the walls need to come out to insulate I say go in wall. I would talk to the insulation contractor first to determine how he would spray it in. It may workout that you could cut a slot in the sheetrock to blow in insulation and also wire outlets via the same. Beware, there are probably purlins at about four feet but you will probably want the outlets higher than that anyway. If you go conduit paint each circuit a funky color and call it art.

View JackDuren's profile


1675 posts in 2172 days

#7 posted 06-28-2021 06:04 PM

I hate the conduit on my concrete walls. If it was 20 years ago when I started I would have built walls and buried the electrical..Too late now…

View tvrgeek's profile


2259 posts in 2862 days

#8 posted 06-28-2021 07:00 PM

As my pole barn was insulated and 1/2 inch ply on the walls, I did surface mount. I used armored cable. I used thin wall in my garage. Neither were hard. In hindsight, the armored was easier as I did not have to transition with a junction box to romex in the attic to the breaker box.

Sure, all in-wall is cleaner, but heck, it is a shop! In some respects, surface is better as you will likely make changes. For instance, after everything in place, I want to move my BS outlet over about 2 feet.

The third option is PVC conduit. I have no experience with it, but as thinwall was easy, not planning to find out.

A big advantage to armored cable is mice in the attic can’t chew on it. In a perfect world, if I built a house, cost no object, it would all be armored cable. I believe, or at least was told, NYC requires BC. Romex not allowed.

View tvrgeek's profile


2259 posts in 2862 days

#9 posted 06-28-2021 07:04 PM

Additional comments:
Remember, minimum code is MINIMUM. For a shop, I would run one gauge larger than spec everywhere.
Future cheat: If you need a 20A 220, it only requires 12 gauge. But if you get a bigger tool and now need 30A, and you ran 10 gauge, then you only need to change the breaker and outlet!
You can’t have enough light.
I use quad outlets everywhere.
Only commercial spec outlets and switches. Note, not all switches are rated for inductive loads. Lights no problem, but my compressor is on a wall switch.

View Barkley's profile


93 posts in 815 days

#10 posted 08-02-2021 11:33 AM

My shop has a combination of electrical within the wall installed when the building was built and conduit. The in da wall does look better but it’s a PIA to move or modify. I’ve added everything else in conduit as it is easier to move modify. Why would you need to modify your electrical you say? Needs and tools change or are added.

-- Thin the herd

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1798 posts in 2943 days

#11 posted 08-02-2021 01:30 PM

When I had my cabinet shop in the 80’sand 90’s, I ran all my electrical in 1” conduit from the breaker panel up to the ceiling and then down middle of the shop. Electrical boxes were suspended every 10 feet about 7 feet from the floor. Some were 4 gang boxes with both 110 and 220, but most were 2 gang 110 only. I did the same with my air supply. Not once did I every pull a tool off my benches because a cord wrapped around my foot causing it to fall off the bench as I moved. I hate hoses and cords on the floor.

If your shop is large enough to have dedicated immovable machines, then run power to them with exposed conduit so when you move, you take the stuff with you…......... Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View therealSteveN's profile


8640 posts in 1787 days

#12 posted 08-02-2021 02:06 PM

For me in the wall is for a ground up construction. In a situation like yours surface mount is the easiest, and likely most cost effective way to put in circuits. That said it will also always be something future designs for anything that might hang on the wall will have to be altered to allow for it, so probably a few times it will be a PIA.

I spent some time, and several years experience, and 3 shop builds before this current ones experience to make a plan, and after I was done I realized I’d forgotten 110 in a tower I’d built. Surface mount at that time allowed me to add those circuits, and fortunately I didn’t have to route it where it would be a consideration for future wall mounts.

-- Think safe, be safe

View splintergroup's profile


5732 posts in 2435 days

#13 posted 08-02-2021 03:30 PM

Flexibility is a nice feature, better to have it where you can.

Of course the Murphy Law specifies that if you design for flexibility, you’ll never use/need it. Design flexibility out and you’ll find half of your outlets are in the wrong spot.

View tingaling's profile


69 posts in 1533 days

#14 posted 08-03-2021 05:14 PM

Surface mount causing problems with hanging stuff on walls rules it out for me.

-- Nick, now in the heat of Sacramento

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Jim Finn

2898 posts in 4135 days

#15 posted 08-03-2021 08:04 PM

I have built three shops and have always installed surface mounted electrical. Not a problem hanging things on the wall because all conduit and outlets are only 5 feet , or less, from the floor. I always install fourplexes instead of duplex outlets.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Lubbock Texas

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