Upgrade questions

Old 01-07-03, 06:31 PM
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Question Upgrade questions

Here goes....

My wife and I bought our first house last summer. It's one of those houses that "doesn't need any work" <wink> <wink>. Since then, all we've done is work on it.

I've come to realize more and more that the previous owner was a TERRIBLE handyman. Beginning with the water heater, we've pretty much replaced everything H2O related in the house from the well tank on up due to leaks or bone-headed things like the Whole House water filter being installed on the cold water line to the kitchen sink - .

In any case, I'm now on the electric. There are numerous problems throughout the house - nothing earth-shattering but incorrect / annoying / unsafe nonetheless.

The previous owner worked for Ohio Power installing High-voltage transformers (which you'll see soon, is very scary).

For starters, the service (sometime in the not-too-distant past) was upgraded to 100 amp service, which is good. At the same time, all (most) of the wiring in the house was upgraded too, with the exception of 1 room. That room has three 3-prong outlets in it, wired with the old 2 wire wires - no ground at all.

Second - The PO obviously got a great deal at work on wiring and supplies. There are 15, count 'em, 15 heavy-duty, exterior, insulated outlet boxes, with dual outlets in each, in the basement........ All on the same circuit along with the bathroom and our office upstairs. That's a grand total of 18 (36) outlets, 4 hard-wired Flourescent lights, 4 hard-wired incandescent lights and a partridge-in-a-pear-tree on one 15 amp circuit. Our house is only 1536 square ft!

Third - there is a new addition on the back of the house. Built brand new in 1997. The whole room is wired with 12/3 wire. Some switches/outlets use the bare ground, some use the extra red wire for ground. I honestly can't figure out if anything in the room is truly grounded or not.

Fourth - of 16 wall outlets (above the basement), 8 of them have reversed polarity.

All of this from a HVT installer.

NOW.... for my questions.

1) WHAT IS 12/3 WIRE FOR??? The previous owner obviously thought very highly of it or got it at a premium because it's EVERYWHERE!!! It's driving me nuts because I don't know what the extra wire is for and obviously neither did he because of the way it's used (sometimes bare ground, sometimes red ground etc.).

2) We have 100A service now. We have huge problems with tripped breakers. I would like to re-run a bunch (most) of the wires in the basement to put them on separate circuits. There are 23 breakers in the box (it's full) and all of them are used, so it's going to be a real chore to figure out how to do it - there is a ceiling fan in the spare bedroom that has it's own 15A breaker! Our electric is modeled after capitalism - 10% of the wires supply 90% of the electricity. So.... How do you know when it's time, or more appropriately, when you need 200A service. My folks have 200A and my in-laws just had theirs upgraded last year to 200A but only because they built a new 3 car garage with some lights, outlets and door openers.

I am a software engineer so I have a ton of computer equipment in one room, and I also have a modest workshop set up in the basement (which are all on the same circuit by the way). I have some pretty hefty electrical demands but I'm not sure if it's worth the money to upgrade to 200A or just re-arrange what I've got.

Here's what I'm talking about.
  • computers - 400W power supply, 300W power supply running 24/7, plus 2 additional computers turned on occasionally
  • monitors - 150W each - 1 runs constantly
  • Saws
  • Electric hand tools
  • Shop lights
  • 6 HP Air compressor
All of this stuff could be running in addition to every day stuff in the house like the microwave, lights, dishwasher, washing machine, etc.

As I've mentioned, we have a lot of tripped breakers but, then again, they're not exactly wired very smart.

So, how do you know, when it's time to upgrade to 200A service?

One thing I didn't mention - Our Stove and Water heater are both Natural Gas but we have a 220V Clothes dryer.

I realize this is a lot to read, so thanks if you did.

Old 01-07-03, 06:51 PM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: United States
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(1) 12/3 can be used for a variety of reasons. Hard to say why you have it. Some examples:
  • Just happened to have it around and all out of 12/2.
  • Wiring for ceiling fans with light kits.
  • Wiring for half-switched outlets.
  • Multiwire (aka shared neutral) circuits.
  • 120/240 volt circuits.
  • Wiring for 3-way switches.
The red wire, however, should never be used for ground -- that's a code violation. But some otherwise good electrical books have inadvisedly recommended it.

(2) It's very unlikely that you need 200 amp service with a 1536 square foot house and gas cooking and hot water. None of that stuff you mention puts you into the power-hungry category. If you want to play with the big boys, you need to add a swimming pool, central A/C, start welding, and have your spouse take up pottery.

I think all you need, as you have already suggested, is to distribute the load among the circuits better. You may want to install tandem breakers, a subpanel, or a larger main panel just to get the breaker space to do it. But you also may be able to do it by rearranging what you have.

Read all the books in the library on home wiring. As you learn more, you'll be able to analyze better what you have, how it works, and where the problems are. We're here to help.

P.S. You may want to visit city hall and find out if the prior owner ever took out a building permit.

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