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Adventures in Electricity

Posted by kframe19 (My Page) on
Wed, Jul 23, 08 at 11:46

Mom lives in an old (1903) house. It's been partially rewired through the years, but it's still not sufficient in most areas to support today's modern electrical demands.

Case in point, her office.

Running the computer and air conditioner at the same time was impossible. When the AC would kick on, it would draw enough power to make the computer think there was a power failure.

Plus, when I went to put the AC in the window earlier this year, I discovered that even though it's a small unit, it was drawing so much power that it partially melted the plug. Why there wasn't a fire, I don't know.

I knew the only solution would be to run a new, dedicated line from the box in the basement to Mom's office.

And I knew that it would be a pain in the rear to do so.

I came up Thursday night, and was able to get started on the project Friday afternoon after we ran the dogs to the vet and did some other things.

To say that Mom's office was hot is putting it mildly. EXPLOSIVE is more like it.


Mom's office is over the kitchen, which has a drop ceiling (important).

Three of the walls are exterior walls. No running romex down through the walls in the exterior walls because there's not nearly enough room between the exterior brick and the plaster and lath.

The fourth wall is interior, but it's covered in very large, very loaded, bookcases.

So, game plan.

1. Drill a hole in the floor of Mom's office where I want to pull the electric.

2. Drill a similar hole through the old ceiling in the kitchen and use the space between the drop ceiling and the plaster and lath ceiling to run the romex.

3. Drill another hole into the interior wall, which would take me down to the basement.

4. Drill a hole in the floor plate.

5. Snake the wire from the basement up to the hole in the kitchen ceiling.

That step alone took almost 4 hours. The wire kept getting stuck on the plaster keys in the wall pocket.

The fact that I was running 12/2 Romex didn't help. That stuff is incredibly stiff.

6. Finally get the wire out of the basement. Run it up through the holes into Mom's office.

7. Go to Mom's office, slip a piece of flexible protective conduit over it and down into the kitchen ceiling.

8. Attach the box to the condiut and attach both to the wall.

9. Wire in the new dedicated 20 amp, two gang socket.

10. Head down to the basement. Drill passage holes in 6 100-year-old, hard as frigging iron American chestnut joists.

11. Pull wire through holes and back to the electrical box sub panel.

The main panel is quite interesting. There are 5 pull blocks, each one with barrel fuses, that serve as disconnects. There are also IIRC 10 edison base fuses that control other individual circuits.

Over the years things have been rewired and reworked such that it's hard to tell what's what.

12. Try to figure out which pull block sends power to the sub panel, because not a damned thing is labeled correctly anymore.

13. Pull what appears to be the correct block.

14. Gingerly take the cover off the electrical panel and test the living hell out of everything to make sure that I don't have a sneak circuit anywhere that's still feeding power to the box.

15. Pull the wires into the box, make the connections, and insert the breaker.

16. Cross fingers and put main pull block back in.

17. Head upstairs to check the power in the new outlet. Reading perfect 115 volts on the meter, the outlet checker says that I have the hot, neutral, and grounds correctly configured.

18. Head back downstairs to put the cover back on the electrical panel.

19. Unpack the new air conditioner and install it in the window in Mom's office.

20. Bask in its loving coolness.

21. Take a handful of ibuprofen because every muscle in my body is screaming and crawl into a shower to get the dust, dirt, and sweat off me.

That whole process took me probably 12 hours to accomplish. I was going slowly, but I was able to get it done without 5 additional trips to the hardware store for stuff that I forgot.

This is the first electrical circuit I've ever run in an old house, and it went pretty much as I had it all planned out in my mind.

To say the least, I'm kind of shocked, but I am very, very happy, and have a serious case of smug going on right now.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Adventures in Electricity

"...have a serious case of smug going on right now."

A well-deserved one!

I wish you were our neighbor. Each of our three bedrooms upstairs has ONE double outlet. None of them are grounded, so of course none of them have openings for three-prong cords.
Only about half the outlets on the first floor are grounded. The attic has knob-and-tube, but isn't hot for some reason. We're postponing getting an electrician in to do the work until it absolutely has to be done.
A huge pain in the a$$, but it's worth it to live in a house with PLASTER AND LATHE walls.

RE: Adventures in Electricity

I would get a pro electrician in to be really sure things are properly done (no reflection on your hard work or obvious knowledge) because if even one tiny thing was missed, one wire mismatched to another. or anything else that you just might not be 100% familiar with, your mother's life could be at risk.

RE: Adventures in Electricity

"I would get a pro electrician in to be really sure things are properly done (no reflection on your hard work or obvious knowledge) because if even one tiny thing was missed, one wire mismatched to another. or anything else that you just might not be 100% familiar with, your mother's life could be at risk."

While it IS possible to create a hazard with wiring, it is not nearly as risky as you seem to think.
Most simple circuits are just that, simple.

The overwhelming majority of the time if you make a mistake the circuit either does not work (an open) or trips the breaker instantly (a short).

House wiring is very simple.

RE: Adventures in Electricity

If this were anything other than a straight run circuit, starting at the outlet and ending at the electrical panel, I would have gotten an electrician in to inspect my work.

This is the absolute simpliest circuit that can be run, a dedicated line with no branches.

My Dad was a civil engineer and my Grandfather a mechanical engineer. They rewired both the house Mom lives in now (Dad grew up there) and the house that I grew up in, and we did a lot of other wiring projects over the years. Plus a friend of mine is an electrician for Norfolk Southern. His advice to me was "Black to brass, white to silver, ground to green for the outlet, black to breaker, white to neutral, ground to ground in the electrical panel." Or, as he said, even you can do this one.

Dad and I had already laid out the fundamentals of pulling a sub panel into Mom's office before he died last year, so I had absolute no qualms about what I was doing.

I decided to do away with a sub panel and go with a simple dedicated line for this one.

Given that the AC that I put in the room only calls for a 15 amp circuit and draws 5 amps, I've got tons of spare capacity on the circuit that I ran, enough that I may tie into the circuit to put a ceiling light in.

RE: Adventures in Electricity

That would fail in my jurisdiction on at least two grounds: arc fault service interrupters are required in bedrooms; a conventional receptacle would not be allowed in the floor--debris falling into the receptacle can result in a short circuit.

Otherwise, ok.

When I used to do renos, I'd take a shortcut--run the wires outside and down the wall in a conduit and then back into the panel. But these were tightly packed together three-storey semis.

RE: Adventures in Electricity

Thank you for posting your adventures. I know every time I mention I want a light run or worse set up A/C in a bedroom, DH groans, LOL. Thankfully, our house had a new breaker box, but nothing was labeled. So, DH eventually got fed up and we labeled everything by walking around the house seeing what is turned on/off when we switch a breaker. Much fun!

RE: Adventures in Electricity

"That would fail in my jurisdiction on at least two grounds: arc fault service interrupters are required in bedrooms; a conventional receptacle would not be allowed in the floor--debris falling into the receptacle can result in a short circuit."

Read my post again.

It's not a bedroom, it's my Mother's office.

It's not a floor mounted receptacle, the box is surface mounted on the wall and the wire comes up through the floor, protected by a piece of heavy-duty Carlon conduit.

RE: Adventures in Electricity

Got it.

But here the building inspector decides what the room is. And if I dared tell him/her the room I'm in right now was an "office" I'd be violating zoning. Indeed, the electrician labelled it a "bedroom" on the panel when I built the house.

This is just to illustrate that electrical safety is not the only thing you have to contend with.

I sure hope your Mom appreciated all your hard work! I once offered to change all the switches and receptacles on my mother's then 50-year old home. She said, "no way, you're not a licenced electrician, only a licenced builder."

RE: Adventures in Electricity

Adding insulation would help with the heat problem. Nowadays there is insulation made from either recycled newspapers or blue jeans that is much better for the environment (and people) than the old pink stuff.

We finally had the whole 1910 house rewired last year. When we moved in 20 years ago we simply added new wiring but kept the old knob and tube. As the electricians were working they kept saying that they couldn't believe what they were seeing and we were lucky the house didn't burn down years ago. I sleep better now knowing how much safer it is.

RE: Adventures in Electricity

"Adding insulation would help with the heat problem."

There's no way to add insulation.

The house is structural 3-layer brick.

On the interior of the brick shell there's 3/4" furring strips, to which is nailed lathing, to which the plaster is applied. That's the interior walls.

That construction is exactly why I couldn't pull the wire through the exterior walls.

My Grandfather dealt with it by using a combination of Wiremold surface mount and low-voltage wiring and switches on exterior walls where he could.

The attic is insulated, but when the summer sun pounds on the bricks, the entire shell heats up like a brick oven.

The house I grew up in was even older than Mom's current house, but it was wood construction, so we could pull wires through exterior walls.

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