Imagine starting the first-floor rough-in of a 4,000-square-foot house at 5:30 p.m., moving on to the second floor at midnight, and then turning it over to the drywallers at 2:30 in the morning. Think it can't be done? Any of the hundreds of electricians who've gone without sleep and put up with the bullhorn-wielding Ty Pennington to wire mini-mansions in less than a week on ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition will tell you it can.

Dan Wilson, the executive director of the Southern Colorado chapter of IEC, helped wire the aforementioned house in Payton, Colo., along with 146 other volunteer electricians. Normally, it would take 124 days to build a house this size, but they had to do it in four, and schedules had to be compressed accordingly. At that rate, a day-long task had to be finished in 45 minutes. “It was organized chaos,” he says. “When we went into the first floor to start roughing it in, they were still setting trusses on the roof.”

Establishing a system to deal with that chaos is critical. Gary Hopkins and 25 electricians from Jacksonville, Fla.-based American Electrical Contracting donated their time (and $15,000 worth of manhours) to a 7,000-square-foot project in March. They managed the insanity by splitting up the tasks, and Hopkins had a lead electrician on-site 24/7 after the rough-in to deal with issues that might come up. The challenge was finding his crew among the sea of trades. “Everyone had to wear a blue shirt and a white hat,” Hopkins says. “It's hard to tell where your people are when everyone is dressed the same.”

Of course, having all those hands helps, too. Five electricians from Paris, Ark.-based Six Mile Electric, including owner Dave Robberson, pitched in on a project earlier this summer and were among 2,000 volunteers on-site. “A couple of our guys brought stilts so they could work in the rooms with tall ceilings, and we could afford to have someone follow them around and hand them stuff,” Robberson says. “If everyone is motivated for the common cause, it's possible.”