Tracing wiring

gtrshopJanuary 26, 2014

Came across a rather odd issue in my house this weekend. I have 3 sets of baseboard heater wires (red sheath) that are disconnected at the fuse/breaker panel. how can I figure out where they run to?

None of the BBH's in my house are working - and as far as I can count there are 6 units in my house...3 upstairs and 3 down stairs. There are 3 control units on the walls downstairs, but only 1 upstairs....with an additional empty wall box with red sheathed wiring in it...which would run the master bedroom heater. Its as if the BBH were never hooked up.

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Sometimes when house were built with electric baseboard heat and no AC, the later installation of ductwork for the AC included some other heating method, such as a furnace or heat pump. Does any of this fit your situation?
In one case, the heating contractor doing the changeover cut off all the conductors flush with the walls and with the electric panel and for some perverse reason also discarded all the fuse pullouts that formerly served the electric heat.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 12:33PM
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These are 240V? You can tie together the two hot wires at the thermostat or baseboard one at a time and check for continuity at the service panel. Use a test light or a multimeter.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 2:04PM
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bus_driver: I dont think so, but can't be sure. I know that the house was heavily renovated, including a full basement in 2007. There is a wood stove in the basement, thus how I'm getting by without BBH. Even the real estate guy (I called him today) was shocked that the BBHs were not hooked up. I tried to hook a breaker up to the wires that were at the panel...just randomly grabbed a BBH feed, and when I set it it snapped to "blown immediately.

@ ionized: Thats kinda what I was thinking.Based on the wires in the panel, it looks as if they were never, ever hooked up.

3 of the 4 feeds I can see are red sheathed wire with a Red and Black conductor. The 4th one is red sheathed, but White and Black wire. Any difference here?

SO what I need to do I guess is to disconnect all feeds to BBH's and try to figure out when of the wires at the panel feeds which BBH.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 3:12PM
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It is only "odd" if you don't know the history.

In my house the HVAC was developed sorta like bus_driver indicated. When we moved in there were 5, 240V heating circuits. There was central, forced-air heat and cooling to all rooms. There is evidence of a floor furnace that had been removed. There were two gas wall heaters that I removed, one was still connected to the gas and both flues were open and apparently operational. There were two generations of cooling the first being a three-phase, water-cooled compressor and the second, a crazy staged system with two, 2-ton compressors piped to to a split evaporator and a single-speed air handler. One trunk in a fir-down in the central hallway handled the first system and was held-over with a new return for the second system. The second system had some more rigid duct added along with a new duct to the original trunk line.....

Right now there are still three, 240V heating circuits intact. I just have not needed to do anything with them yet. I have mini-split heat pumps, but I still have the gas furnace and most of the ducts in place.

Tomorrow, I might wish I had left the wall heaters in place. The weather prediction in the area is for ice falling from the sky. That is a very unusual event for New Orleans. It is likely to make trees break and fall down taking power lines with it, drat.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 3:44PM
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Then since I don't really know the history, this falls into the "odd" category!

I'm taking a look at some of the base board wiring in the house today. I am checking for voltage on the wires with a multimeter and using gloves, so I am working safely. I have a good deal of experience doing wiring, just not troubleshooting it when it's not working, although I think I can figure things out.

When I remove the thermostat from a circuit and check what I beleive are the feed wires from the panel I expected to get an "open" or "OL" on my meter when checking resistance. The feed TO the BBH gives me that reading, however the feed that I am guessing goes back to the panel starts "ranging" - OL and a wide range of numbers on a multitude of scales. This, I'm not sure what to make of. The implication I suppose (this is where my experience is sketchy) is that SOMETHING ELSE is on this line? So far, two separate thermostat locations have given me this same reading. They are on different floors.

I also surmised that each heater should have it's own circuit and I guess breaker, but clearly there are not enough breakers in the panel to hook them all up to, so I'm wondering if someone somewhere cheated and ran heaters in parallel. I can only make out 4 red sheathed feed to the panel box, yet I've counted 6 BBH's. I even located some "disconnected" wires in the ceiling of the closet down stairs and the under stair area.

This post was edited by gtrshop on Tue, Jan 28, 14 at 10:36

    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 9:23AM
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I think you really need to stop guessing, and connecting things.

This: I tried to hook a breaker up to the wires that were at the panel...just randomly grabbed a BBH feed, and when I set it it snapped to "blown immediately.

Seems like a great way to start an electrical fire, or kill yourself. The wires could have been disconnected because they were damaged somewhere along their length. Without being to examine the entire length for damage, or knowing why they were removed, to just reconnect the wires to power, especially 240V power, is unwise and dangerous. IMO.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 12:18PM
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@ bob_cville: You are 100% correct. This is a dangerous situation. If I didn't have experience doing home wiring and a genuine fear of finding the Pearly Gates, I would have ceased. People reading this should be concerned about not sitting down to dinner if they don't know what they are messing with. I'm always gloved, and one hand rule rule applied all the time. Nothing is "overkill" except oversight.

Having said that, I've seemed to have made some headway. After isolating all the BBH feeds and confirming SEVERAL TIMES that they were in face dead, I proceeded to dismantle thermostats and heaters. Two of the thermostats were wired in parallel with the heater...effectively creating a short. Although one was in a circuit I wasn't concerned with (and one I don't think is even hooked to the panel) the 2nd short-circuited thermostat was buried further and cause for great concern. In order to determine what was actually connected all BBH's had to be disconnected from wiring - since resistance was giving odd reading on the line. The thermostats also had to be pulled. Only then could I get a clear picture of what each line was doing. I was successful in isolating the line going to the 2 lower bedrooms, reconnecting one at a time each thermostat and BBH, and confirming that heaters are working. I have been monitoring this for about 1/2 an hour and all seems in good working order. As for the other BBH's and lines...well the lack of additional breakers (they were removed by previous owner - I wonder why) prevents me from working further. That's OK though, I don't need the other heaters - the wood stove takes care of the house quite nicely.

The big confusion and reason for my original post were the odd readings on my multimeter. Was the BBH units themselves...the resistance of the elements.

Dare I say that should have been..... elementary.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 12:42PM
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