How to drill holes into studs for electrical wire?

Buildings are strong and need to be kept that way for long-term structural stability, but there will come many times that you may need to drill into the studs that hold up your home or workplace. When that happens, you need to know how to properly drill into a stud without affecting the structural integrity.

Let’s review what are the different kinds of studs and holes or notches you may need to drill and when it’s appropriate to do so.

What are the different kinds of studs?

In the construction industry, there are two different kinds of walls: load bearing and non-load bearing. Before you start to drill into a stud, you need to know which kind of wall you’re dealing with and if the stud there is load bearing or not.

  • Load Bearing Wall: A load-bearing wall is one that was put in place to help support the structure of the building. By removing a load-bearing wall from a property or damaging the integrity of the studs, you can potentially bring down the whole building. They can be identified by looking at the joists and rafters in the basement/attic and if the wall runs perpendicular to them, it’s likely a load-bearing wall.
  • Non-Load Bearing Wall: A non-load bearing wall is one in which does not support the structural weight of the building. In most cases, these are simply room dividers and do not serve any other purpose. They can be identified by looking at the joists and rafters in the basement/attic. If they run parallel to the wall, they are most likely not load bearing walls.

It’s best to consult an expert if you are unsure what is a load bearing or non-load bearing wall in your building.

Why are holes needed in studs?

When you build with wood, it creates a nice strong structure, but wood is solid and once you place drywall over it, you need to have a secure seal so you don’t have wind drafts or invite unwanted pests in between the walls. Wires can’t be easily put between the wood and drywall, so you need another method to either drill a hole in the center of the stud or take a square notch out of the side of the stud.

How big can you drill holes into a stud?

There are different sizes of holes that you can drill into a stud, but you need to know the appropriate width and placement of them prior to drilling into them. Remember, the key to all of this is to keep the structure strong while still proving you with the ability to run wiring through it.

When you begin to drill, it’s important to check the building code regulations in your area, but below is a good idea of how big you can drill holes into your studs depending on the size of the stud:

  • Load bearing walls can have holes drilled into them not to exceed 40% of the width of the stud without compromising the integrity of the structure.
  • Non-load bearing walls can have holes drilled into them not to exceed 60% of the width of the stud.

It’s important to note that when making holes, they are at least 5/8 inch from the edge of the stud. If it’s less than that, you can cause integrity issues with that stud.

Additionally, many building codes require you to ensure that any hole drilled for wires be set back at least 1 ¼ inch away from the edge of the stud as most drywall nails and screws will go in at least ½ inch. Making your holes at least 1 ¼ inch away from the edge will ensure you don’t hit any building code violations and keep you safe as well.

How to drill holes in studs?

Once you know the size of the hole you’ll need (depending on how many wires you plan to put through the hole) you’ll select the auger bit size that’s fit for the job. It’s suggested that you drill holes at least ¼ inch bigger than the hole size needed to ensure you don’t have a difficult time pulling the wires through.

Begin by marking the center of the stud for where you will drill the hole. No matter if it’s a load bearing or non-load bearing, you should always drill into the exact center of the stud to keep it the strongest.

Once you’ve drilled through to the other end, you’re ready to pull the wires through. Make sure to leave about 12 inches excess cord coiled up in the wall just in case you cut it too short and need it later.

What kind of drill bits works best for drilling holes?

It’s important to understand the difference between hardwood and softwood when drilling into it. Had wood comes from trees that contain leaves whereas softwood typically comes from trees that bear cones/needles. There are some exceptions to that, but as a general rule of thumb, that’s right.

It’s important to note that there are 2 different kinds of drill bits when drilling into wood. You are a use an auger drill bit which has a screw tip that starts the hole and then uses that to pull the bit into the wood to make the hole. These are easy to use but can only drill small holes. 

A spade drill bit works best if you need to drill larger holes into wood. These typically have a larger diameter and work great for getting a bigger hole made if you’re running a lot of wires through the hole.

What kind of drill can I use for drilling holes into studs?

You can use most home cordless drills for drilling these, but make sure it’s a high enough quality since this takes quite a bit of torque to get through some of the harder woods.

An affordable home cordless drill that we suggest is the Dewalt DCD777C2 that you can buy on Amazon.com or the Milwaukee 2753 (here’s it on Amazon.com) both of which are strong drills that can get the job done for you.

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