It's more than a house. It's an adventure.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Yet another electrifying setback

Our electrician came out tonight to help out with the final wiring and hookup of the ceiling fan/light for the family room. The short version: we won't have things hooked up for at least a month.

Yeah, it's ugly. When I cut the old lamp down in February, the insulation on the wires was bad. It crumbled in my fingers. I figured it was no big deal, since we weren't going to use it, right? Wrong! The light switch was on a "switch leg" - basically, it only completed a very long circuit to trigger the light, and the "guts" of the system were up in the junction box.

You know, the junction box I hacked down without caring about preserving wires, since I wasn't going to need them? Yeah, that was brilliant.

Turns out that I more or less severed the nexus of the room's electrical system. After about 90 minutes of tracing/testing wires, head-scratching, and just trying to piece together exactly how it all worked, our fearless electron-tamer thought he could splice everything back together and make the new 14/3 Romex that I ran for the switch into a new switch leg, and everything would be great. He got out one of his tools and started in on the BX armored cable. The insulation crumbled inside the sheild. Things just went from worse.

He estimated the wire's age at 70-80 years. Seen plenty of it, but never had the insulation crumble. It doesn't crumble with age, he said. It's heat. Heat from running the circuit on a heavy load. This wire was a ticking time bomb.

So, what to do now? He gave us two options. Either way, things need to get fixed a lot more thoroughly than we expected. Option 1, we give him a week and he re-runs everything, fishes new lines, and gets the existing services working with new wire behind the scene. But he doesn't want to hand us a $1500-$2000 bill for that. Option The Second, we rip some drywall down, and fish some new 14/2 Romex down either side of the room (east/west), into the crawlspace, and back to the panel. We then run some more up to the ceiling and to the fan, and the 14/3 that I ran becomes a switch leg.

The room is set up thusly:

  • West side: 2 outlets, plus a junction box mating the old service to the outlets up near the ceiling.
  • East side: 1 outlet, one switch connected to the exterior light, 1 outlet on the exterior wall.
  • South end: 2 outlets in bad places. We have no use for them.

The plan: Abandon all the old wire. The south end outlets will be removed and drywall patched over the holes. On the west side, the outlet most directly tied to the old wiring (it's directly below the junction box) will now get its power source from new 14/2 run into the crawlspace. It will also send a branch up to the ceiling fan. On the east side, we rip the drywall down, replace the indoor socket and switch, and run service down the wall into the crawlspace. Then tie the 2 lines in the crawlspace together and run them to the panel. This also gives us the ability to split the room into two circuits, which I may do since it's all 14 gauge wire.

You do kind of have to know the room to understand this. This post was at least as much for my own benefit, to further solidify my understanding of the plan - learning by repetition. Romex (all copper) is getting expensive, so I'm going to buy a large amount , probably 250 feet, so that I have enough for the job and get a decent per-foot price out of it. We'll need more drywall, as what I have left won't be enough. And various other things I'm sure.

I just realized that the east wall is probably 3/8 inch drywall, like the west wall was. I have 1/2 inch. So do I do more of the wall than is needed, to minimize the transition areas on the seams between the two thicknesses? Maybe I should.

I shoulda gutted the whole room while I could still justify it. But dealing with the several hundred pounds of cellulose fiber insulation in the ceiling really would have sucked.

UPDATE: I just realized that the light in the pantry is also routed (somehow) through the family room. Once we have the family room rewired, the pantry will still be dark. Guess this is a good time to run that light off the pantry circuit instead of the family room.


  • OMG...
    What a mess!

    I have dealt with old wiring in the past and we just had the electrician run the new wiring. I know very little about it...I had one house that was 100 years old and the wiring was at least 50...that was scary.

    Our last house had ALUMINUM wiring...built back when copper was way too expensive and somewhat scarce. Getting that home sold was tricky. I had to have 2 seperate inspections to verify the outlets and connections were all up to code...takes special boxes for that I am told.

    Sounds like you have a lot more work that you had expected, so I will pray that all goes as well as it can.

    By Blogger El Gee, at 5/25/2006 9:34 AM  

  • Oh, ouch! That's gotta hurt - and be a little scary, too! I'll be interested to see the update.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/25/2006 11:12 AM  

  • Copper's getting really expensive again, according to our electrician. I'm going to over-buy the Romex for this job in hopes that I'll need it in the future and prices will still be high then.

    This was never found in our inspection, but then again that inspection is supposed to check the current state of the house, not its suitability for upgrades/modifications in the future.

    What we need to do isn't particularly difficult, it's just tedious, time-consuming, and destructive. But in the end, the house will be better for it.

    Note: both comments above were posted before I posted my update at the bottom of the post.

    By Blogger dakboy, at 5/25/2006 12:31 PM  

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