What Does the Term "Rough-In" Mean?

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In the home building and remodeling trades, the term "rough in" refers to the stage of construction after the basic framing is completed and the mechanical wiring, plumbing, and HVAC installations are completed, but before walls and ceilings are closed up with wallboard. This is the point at which work is reviewed by the building inspector. The absence of wall and floor coverings allows for easier modification if the rough in does not pass inspection or if the homeowner makes a change order to alter the project.

Types of Rough-In

For inspection purposes, each type of machine has its own definition of the rough-in:

  • Electrical: A rough-in here means that all electrical cables have been pulled through studs and other framing members and are inserted into wall and ceiling boxes. But the light switches, outlets, lights, and other devices are not be attached—inspection of that aspect of the work occurs during the final inspection. 
  • Plumbing: The rough-in here means that all water supply and drain pipes have been run through bored holes in the studs and other framing members, and that all pipe connections have been made. But no sinks, faucets, or other fixtures or end elements are yet installed at this phase. 

How the Rough-In Fits In the Permitting Process

Roughing in should be completed before the first visit from a building, electrical, or plumbing inspector. These inspections fit into the typical workflow like this: 

  1. Wall, floor, and ceiling systems are built and left open. No drywall is installed yet.
  2. Electrician comes in and runs an electrical wire from the service panel to various endpoints, such as outlet receptacles and light switches. Within each box, the wire is left bare-ended and unattached.
  3. Around the same time, the plumber comes in and runs supply and drain pipes through studs and under floors to kitchen and bathroom sinks, showers, bathtubs, laundry rooms, etc.  
  4. Inspectors make the first visit and approve or fail the work.
  5. Drywall installers come in and hang and finish the drywall.
  6. Electrician, plumber, and other tradespeople return and install the end-point devices, such as outlets, lights, and light switches (electrician) and sink, shower, bathtub (plumber).
  7. Inspectors make a second visit.
  8. The building permit is approved ("finaled") or not. If the permit is not approved based on problems with the installation, the work must be corrected. The inspectors will return until work is completed to their satisfaction.

    Expectations for the Rough-In 

    Building trade professionals all approach the rough-in with the expectation that the installation is final, not a work-in-progress. The same should be true for any homeowner performing his or her own remodeling work. The rough-in should be your best effort, work done exactly to specification. However, if an inspector should order a modification, or if a homeowner client demands a change,  the fact that the work remains accessible will make it easier for those changes to be made.