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Electrical System Upgrades?

Posted by Yegg (My Page) on
Wed, Jul 24, 13 at 16:58

Contemplating the building of a new house. Looking to do a high quality build. I have tried to educate myself as much as possible about various subsystems so I know what questions to ask, and what features to contemplate. While it is fairly easy to get information about things like insulation, hvac, cabinets, and what options are available in each, two systems have remained incredibly elusive, Electrical and Plumbing. I assume some of that is because of life safety issues and the fact that these are, relatively speaking, highly specialized, and regulated trades.

What I am looking for is information on what upgrades from stock, minimum code requirements I should be looking at and talking to the architect/general/electrician about? What options are available to improve life safety, quality of life, and longevity of the system (ie, future-proofing)? I know most people seem to be more worried about things like countertops and paint colors, but I'm really interested in learning more about the critical systems of a home.

While I normally have pretty good Google search skills, this topic seems pretty tricky to research. I'm at a point where I don't even know what I don't know, if that makes any sense. Generators, UFER grounding systems (required by code here) and PV-array systems are about all I've come up with so far, and that just doesn't feel like much. I just have a hard time believing that "minimum code" equals "best practice" or "best available" in this field, when it doesn't seem to in any other.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

I would be more concerned with the convenience and future expansion aspect of things. If you own a home now, have you ever said " I wish I had a receptacle under the eave for holiday decorations, or extra receptacles in the office, or receptacles inside the built in bookshelves, accent lighting, master switch for exterior lighting, at least 6 spare breakers and acces to get wires into the panel after the drywall is installed, a spare conduit from the crawl/basement to the attic, pre wiring for speakers out back, etc, etc, etc................ I could go on for days like this.


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

Along with taking time to imagine where you might find extra lighting, receptacles and switches to be convenient, it's worth while to talk to entertainment and security system installers to see where that cabling, and which cable to use, might be best run for near-term and future use.
Also, I wouldn't permit minimum quality, often called 'contractor grade', devices to be installed. They don't have to be hospital grade, but better quality receptacles and switches last longer, especially with a lot of use.
JMHO


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

The two points made by Randy should be viewed as separate issues. Receptacles, switches, additional light fixtures and cabling are expensive to add in completed buildings. So doing them during the initial construction is the lower cost option - if they ever are to be done.
But changing existing switches, receptacles and light fixtures for better quality is easily done later, if it is necessary or desired. For tight build budgets, using the "cheap" receptacles, switches and light fixtures can produce some savings. If they later exhibit problems from wear, replacement of that one is quick and easy. In bedrooms, a table lamp and clock might be plugged in and that receptacle would experience no other plug insertions or removals for years.

This post was edited by bus_driver on Fri, Jul 26, 13 at 18:08


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

My suggestions are to confer with your electrician about locating the panel to provide room for a future transfer switch to be added if you want to add a generator down the road. In addition, ask about what might be needed if you add solar later. One more thing is to have a 20 amp 110 volt and 50 amp 220 volt outlet on the left wall of the garage (looking in) in case you get an electric car down the road (we have one).


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

If not yet required by your code, look into Tamper Resistant outlets. Cost is minimal, and payoff is much improved child safety.

Request additional circuits to improve organization of house electrical & ensure additional capacity if needed. For example a separate circuit for AV equipment, a separate circuit for a home office.

Ensure electrical panel installed has room / capacity for future circuits.

Consider a whole house surge protector, though I don't have the expertise to tell if real feature or snake oil

Consider specifying 12 Gage wire throughout house.

Consider closet lights that automatically come on when closed doors are opened.

Outlet / Switch placement is another area where minimal code may be short of your functional needs

Consider the following:

- Outlets under windows where holiday lights may go tied to a single switch
- Outlets in front of house for holiday lights also tied to switch
- Outlet in closet(s) for rechargeable vacuum
- Additional outlets where home office / AV electronics may live
- Appliance circuits in basement or garage where refrigerator / freezer may go
- Appliance circuit in basement for dehumidifier
- dual circuits to location of sump pump one on each phase, so if one phase goes out, your backup sump pump can run off the second phase


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

"Consider specifying 12 Gage wire throughout house. "

Even for lighting? Why???


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

Because he works for a wire manufacturer?


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

"Consider specifying 12 Gage wire throughout house. "

Even for lighting? Why???

As a homeowner, I prefer 12 Gage for the following reasons:

1) Number of lighting specific circuits is typically minimal
2) Cost to use 12 Gage vs. 14 Gage for these circuits is also minimal
3) Reduces complexity and I value simplicity of inspection when all wire is 12 Gage
4) Flexibility to tap "lighting" circuit for other needs in the future
5) Hopefully prevents lazy installer from substituting 14 Gage in difficult areas or in case of wire shortage when it is clear *all* circuits should be 12 Gage


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

1) Number of lighting specific circuits is typically minimal

Bogus. The difference is negligible in a home.


2) Cost to use 12 Gage vs. 14 Gage for these circuits is also minimal

SO?? IMO cost does not enter into it.


3) Reduces complexity and I value simplicity of inspection when all wire is 12 GageComplexity? In WHAT possible way?

"Simplicity of inspection"? I don't get that either. What does the gauge of the wire have to do with it??


4) Flexibility to tap "lighting" circuit for other needs in the future

I see your point here. I don't agree that it's a thing, but I see your point.


5) Hopefully prevents lazy installer from substituting 14 Gage in difficult areas or in case of wire shortage when it is clear *all* circuits should be 12 Gage

Nope, I don't get this either. Using this logic just make everything #10 or #8 just to CYA.

Sorry, I may be a bit troll-y with all this, but I have YET to hear a valid argument for the "all #12" philosophy.
Wire enough houses and you'll see it makes no sense.


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

If I was wiring multiple houses for other people, I would definitely go for the cheapest, lightest, easiest to work with wire i.e. minimum code. For my house, I would specify 12 Gauge for the reasons listed above.

"Simplicity of inspection"? I don't get that either. What does the gauge of the wire have to do with it??

Apologies for being unclear. As a homeowner, it is much easier for me to take a quick walk through the house and verify that all circuits are the same #12 wire and thus to spec than have to go on a treasure hunt for #14, determine what circuit / purpose, and review whether to spec and not a shortcut.

While I get that you disagree with the "all #12", I am not sure I understand why other than 14 Gauge is easier to install and costs less. Are there any reasons to prefer 14 gauge over 12 gauge?


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

Are there any reasons to prefer 14 gauge over 12 gauge?

You answered your own question.
14 Gauge is easier to install and costs less

It's fine if you prefer all 12, but there is really no (or very little) benefit, so there's really no point. The 'easier to install and costs less' reasons would trump your reasons in most peoples minds.


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

What Greg just said!

"If I was wiring multiple houses for other people, I would definitely go for the cheapest, lightest, easiest to work with wire i.e. minimum code."

Nope, don't try and use the old "it's cheaper" and "code minimum" as put downs. That is NOT a reason most quality electricians would do this.
It would only be code minimum if you used the code minimum number of circuits in a house, which would amaze people if they actually did the calculations.
A 2000 sq/ft home requires only FOUR 15A lighting and general receptacle circuits to meet code. I am not nearly suggesting that in the slightest. So you can forget "code minimum".


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

Just want to thank everyone for their input in this thread. I did have some followup questions. What constitutes better quality fixtures, switches and receptacles? Is there a significant difference between brands? Is it mostly cosmetic, or are there real differences between different products? Same question for panels while I'm asking I guess. I'm pretty sure I don't need "hospital grade" whatever that means, but on the other hand, I know what's in the current house isn't great.

Also, are there any "snake-oil" products/claims to be wary of?


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

oops, double post. sorry.

This post was edited by Yegg on Thu, Aug 8, 13 at 15:01


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

Yes, fixtures do vary greatly in quality based on manufacturer. Receptacles and switches of the "spec grade" variety will tend to be more robust than the run of the mill $.35 residential grade variety. Hospital grade is not necessary. Panels are a preference of the contractor most of the time. Quality of this brand over that brand is argued regularly. Make sure the brand is readily available locally for breaker replacements in the future.

As far as snake oil goes, stay away from power factor correction devices. They are a scam.


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RE: Electrical System Upgrades?

Can you provide us with a little more info. I think your age and geographic location play a huge part in your decisions. Are you a grandparent, live alone, young children, health problems, etc?
There's alot of gadgets & gizmos in today's market claiming to make things easier and when perfectly set-up they might, but often times set-up and lack of an easy user interface can be more stressful than helpful. A neighbor of mine bought a home security system with multiple cameras and an array of feature yet upon closer inspection I noticed he wasn't actually storing any of the footage and was oblivious to how the whole thing worked.
I live in the northeast and with the winter weather I would love an ice/snow melt system to keep the walks and driveways from freezing over. Not sure on your choice of heating but an electric radiant floor heat can warm up bathroom floors that can get cold especially with tile floors. If your gonna have ceiling fans-spend the money on good ones. They're designed to spin over and over and over and many times the cheap ones will wobble and put of alot of motor noise.
As for lights and switches, if you want life to be simpler avoid making things complex. Whole house lighting control systems are great if you do alot of entertaining or have interest that would really benefit from them if not be practical. Avoid 4,5,6,7 gang switch plates that need labels to remember what does what and plan a switch location wisely, if its a laundry room imagine you have a laundry basket in your hand when you enter the room, use a rocker switch you could hit with your elbow or a motion sensor switch that'll turn on when you enter. If you have outdoor lighting (not landscape lighting) I like to think of it as 2 systems. One is to help guests and the pizza find your house and approach the front door safely, install a conduit to the end of the driveway for a simple street lamp with a convenience plug on it and then a set of lights for the front door, you can have them share the same switch. The other outdoor lighting is the shock and awe type perimeter lighting, the no nonsense 4 corner 500 watt halogens that if you hear a noise outside or your trying to finish something outside and its getting dark then these will let you see a large area fast. They burn hot and are not energy efficient but when they need to serve their purpose they are generally pretty durable, place around exterior of house but still only one switch, I've heard some people say to put an additional switch in their bedroom for these lights as well but its a preference thing. Obviously LEDs lights are taking over the home, I know in NY you must have 50% low-energy lighting, I still like the color given off by incandescents all the way down to my Christmas tree, so I still used them in the places that mattered to me and loaded up my basement with cheap fluorescent shop lights to satisfy code.
Technology is a big part of today's home, keep it simple and install leviton home media hub in your basement or anywhere out of sight. Run all your cabling to one spot. It allows you to easily convert and route all your systems with ease. For instance if your fortunate enough to have fiber-optic internet service to your home, the leviton media hardware will accept the fiber and convert the signal to be used over your cat 6 cabling system. It's not state of the art and if your really serious about home theatre and high end audio you'll probably end up adding other components outside of the unit but its a nice user friendly setup without breaking the budget. Wifi is a must now a day; stay a cat 5e/6 to each floor for a wireless router that should cover any signal problems don't by a ridiculous high end router. Today's mid grade routers do such a l good job handling data speeds that its likely you won't be pushing more than they can handle over a wifi connection. Stick with same brand and for god sakes take the time learn the password. Consider a installing a few floor boxes in the living room if you have an open space. They can be discreet and put under the couch or end table to plug in lamps is gonns be better looking than stringing a cord across floor. Last but not least, USB charging outlets in the couple places your likely to charge your phone daily. Again leviton makes and they're not that expensive and are very practical. .
Finallh you'll find that even the smallest upgrades can add up quickly so be prepared to justify what your really need. If your prepared to spend money on quality upgrades like these then an electrical contractor even considering tinkering with 14 awg wire is a sign that you haven't found the right one yet. Good luck. I'm building now and its fun to plan your own place

Leviton USB outlet: http://www.leviton.com/OA_HTML/SectionDisplay.jsp?section=53874&minisite=10251

Leviton home media hub. : http://www.leviton.com/OA_HTML/SectionDisplay.jsp?section=55914&minisite=10251

Here is a link that might be useful: USB receptacle


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