Upgrading, a little at a time


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Old 07-14-04, 12:09 AM
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Upgrading, a little at a time

This question is not specific to any jurisdiction. And the problems may or may not exist in any particular one.

What I am curious about is how you go about doing a gradual house wiring upgrade in situations where the local jurisdiction might require, when certain things are done, that other things also be done, but the time and/or money flow doesn't allow them both to be done at the same time.

Just to pick one example (while I'm making this up, I suspect it could be real). And this isn't the only possible thing. Suppose the old house you are upgrading (and living in at the same time, since it is a DIY project) has an old breaker panel that you can't find new breakers for anymore. So you want to get the panel changed out ASAP. But the local AHJ says if you change out the panel, then you have to also put in AFCI breakers for bedroom circuits (afterall, that's what the code says today). But the wiring is still such that several different circuits go to the bedrooms (and other rooms in a strange mix), which you plan to re-organize so that you have maybe just 2 or 3 bedroom circuits. And then you can't re-organize the bedroom circuits because then you have to get AFCI breakers, and they don't exist for your current panel, yet.

Basically, the idea is, you just can't do everything at once. But yet, due to things like having the utility disconnecting power, you have to get a permit and inspection anyway (which you might have to do just on the basis of the quantity of work). The project might be a couple year long project, and maybe the jurisdiction doesn't want to leave things uninspected for that long.

Of course the jurisdiction that allows for incremental improvement would be the better one to get things like this done. I'm concerned that the more pedantic jurisdictions end up doing things in ways that cause people to either not proceed at all (leaving things in less safe condition), or to proceed illegally (not pulling a permit) or even unsafely (swapping a breaker panel on live wires).

I might consider buying an old "fixer upper" house, move in, and make improvements. Do various jurisdictions frown on, or encourage, such activities (particularly the electrical parts).
 
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Old 07-14-04, 08:35 AM
J
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The problem is that rules cannot possibly cover all situations well. In some areas, bureaucrats follow the rules exactly. This is usually simpler for the people enforcing the rules, and saves them a lot of headaches. But it also prohibits things that would otherwise be perfectly logical and reasonable. For example, it is common that code prevents someone from improving a situation unless they improve it all the way to the code. So the people might leave a hazardous situation as is. This is of course unfortunate, but is the result of inflexible rules, and is a fact of life in many areas. The system isn't perfect, but it generally works in most cases. Unfortunately, yours may be one of the cases in which it doesn't work well.

So the best you can do is to put on your best political suit, and try the best you can to negotiate. You might win, and you might lose. If you lose, try to take it well and not let it ruin your life (or the life of the poor hamstrung bureaucrat you're dealing with).
 
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Old 07-14-04, 02:30 PM
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Perhaps the best thing to do is approach the AHJ from a political direction, that is, the rule making route (I've already done this successfully at the federal level in other issues), and try to convince them to include a clause in their rules that would allow for incremental improvements. For example, it might allow for a long term plan to be filed with a permit application, with a specification of the steps to be made. That would have it on record the intent to bring things up to the current code.

And this would also have to be done in a way that allows a licensed electrician to do that work legally.

I just hear about several times where people trying to make some improvement are, or may be, forced to do other work in areas that are not being made worse by what they are doing, but as a result of time and/or financial issues, can't do it all, and are forced to do nothing instead. That seems to be counter productive. And it's the big cities where I think that's more of a problem, both in the needs to have it done, and the rigidity of the bureaucracy that ends up preventing the improvements.

I'd be curious if anyone has any experiences working with local building and/or electrical code rules and procedures, particularly at the level of changing and/or modifying them, in various jurisdictions.
 
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Old 07-14-04, 06:00 PM
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A small work around to your problem could be the length of time the permit is good for. Does the local code directly say you must do everything the same time or within the time the permit is good. Just because you pull a permit today, does not mean you cant finish the job 2 weeks before it expires. If you can go this route, make sure you let enough time for inspection and fix any problems.
 
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Old 07-14-04, 10:06 PM
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Hellrazor:

OK, let's say you are doing this with a fixer upper you buy and live in. You pull a permit and it expires in a year or two and you figure you can do all the work by then (including enough spare cash to pay for material over that time frame).

Now, one of your early steps is to replace the main panel. Are you going to do this with live wires on an unprotected circuit? I don't think so. You'll have the power company disconnect the service drop or meter for a day or so, however long you expect this to take. But getting it connected back in many jurisdictions requires that the inspector approve the new installation. But that's normally done after you have all the work done. Can you get the inspector to just inspect the partial work and not require everything else in the permit plan to have already been done (and pass)?

FYI, I did watch an electrician once split a commercial service and install a new meter on live 480Y/277 volt three phase. Fortunately, no accidents. But if there had been, it could have been quite a mess. The building was fed by a 2500 kVA transformer, so the available fault current would be huge.
 
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Old 07-14-04, 10:40 PM
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i would suggest that you talk to your building inspectors. i am in the early stages of renovating a fixer-upper house and i am doing it in stages like you are talking about. mostly because i'm living in the house as i work on it and to save up money for the projects. but i've found it helpful to ask the inspectors questions and get them involved in the process early one which seems to help the inspections go well. also, i'm sure that they have been through projects like this before and can offer advice.
 
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Old 07-15-04, 08:17 AM
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Skapare:

Regarding your last example of a lengthy permit time but with the early step of replacing the panel:

Let's say you have a very strict AHJ and you insist on doing the job yourself and doing it over a length of time so as to not have to fork out so much dough at one time. Makes sense. You have a couple of options,
  1. Get the main panel replaced early on and possibly have to be totally without power until the job is completed (which would obviously not be feasible if you were living in the structure).
  2. Place your new main panel in a different location (either physically a different room or wall, or just next to your existing) but not power it, and over time run new wire but do NOT yet replace existing fixtures and/or receptacles. THEN get the meter pulled and wire & install new fixtures and/or recepts and wire the new panel.
The last option would be a bear--obviously--but if the AHJ was that strict...

I know there might be some unsafe conditions existing the entire time (from the original wiring) that you were hoping to correct early on, but they would be that way if you lived in it for the entire time without doing any work. That could end up being your only choice.

Of course I'm no professional, so y'all might see a(some) flaw(s) in that option.
 
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Old 07-15-04, 09:25 AM
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I have rewired a number of house I have owned while living in them without permit hassles. In Seattle permits are good for a year with a year's extension. The approach I took was to install a new panel close to the existing one; have it inspected, and called the PUD to disconenct the old drop and add a new one with meter. I then installed a 100 amp breaker in the new panel and used it to feed the old panel. I could then add new circuits and disconnect old ones on my own schedule (slow) and was only without power for a few hours at most. I would call the inspector in as needed to look at the new circuits before they were covered.

As others hav said, talk it over with your building department. I have found mine to always be cooperative and informative as long as I was honestly trying to accomplish a goal and build to code.

Good luck.

David
 
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Old 07-17-04, 10:33 PM
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Skapare,
I can sympathize with this. When I bought my house 5 yrs. ago, everyone said that the electrical inspector in our city was a "by the book" type of guy and that you didn't want to be on his bad side. At the time, when I looked into upgrading from 60 to 10 amp service, the quotes came in at $4000+ because my 50 yrs. house didn't have enough circuits or outlets, and had mostly 2 prong outlets.

Last fall, I had central A/C install and so I had to have my electrical service upgraded. Fortunately, enough local electricians had complained that now houses can get service upgrades w/o everything else in the house meeting current code.

To me, that old way of thinking makes no sense and could be dangerous. IMHO, it is analogous to owning a 1957 Chevy, but not being allowed to replace worn tires unless you also install anti-lock brakes, airbags and a middle brake light.
 
 

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