20a and 14awg...a story with a good ending.

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  #1  
Old 10-31-05, 09:35 PM
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20a and 14awg...a story with a good ending.

Just got done doing a kitchen remodel. Completely gutted the kitchen down to the studs, laid new subfloor, all new wiring, cabinets, etc.

Looks great. Tile goes in this weekend. Move on to the nxt project, right? well...

after reading these threads about load and wire gauge, I realized that I wired the entire kitchen with 14awg...on a 20A circuit. Dishwasher, microwave, gas stove..the works. You can imagine the disgust and suprise I felt when I realized that for the past few days my family has been using these appliances, and all the while risking burning down the house.

Talk about feeling guilty.

The good news is that I took a picture of the walls prior to sheetrocking, and I can get to all the wiring and replace it with 12awg. I also can move one of the receptacles which my wife is bugging me about, and add some undercabinet lighting. The house is old and everything in the kitchen is on one 20A circuit, so finding this mistake actually helps us in the direction of upgrading. And all the cutting into the drywall is in areas that are going to be tiled, so I can roam free...

What's the point of the rant? PLEASE READ THESE BOARDS BEFORE DOING ANY WORK !!! Also, CUTTING CORNERS IS NOT WORTH YOUR LIFE OR THE LIFE OF YOUR FAMILY.

I can't imagine what would have potentially happened if I wouldn't have caught this. I also have to move the refrigerator to 12awg from 14 and some recessed lights to a 15a circuit because they are wired with 14. I didn't know when I first started these projects; now I do and I'm so thankful I learned the easy way...before damage to my house, or more importantly my family, was caused.

Live and learn.

Thank you ALL from the bottom of my heart, and my family thanks you as well.
 
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  #2  
Old 11-01-05, 04:21 AM
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If everything in the kitchen is on one 20 amp circuit, then you have another issue. The NEC dictates at least two 20 amp circuits serving the counter top area, and they cannot serve lights or receptacles elsewhere (except the dining room). While you are replacing the 14 gage wire you should split your circuit into at least two circuits.
 
  #3  
Old 11-01-05, 04:27 AM
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In addition to what racraft said, if your refrigerator is on its own circuit, you can leave it as a 15 amp circuit wired with 14 AWG Cu. No need to change it to 12 AWG 20 Amp.

Dave
 
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Old 11-01-05, 06:06 AM
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Of course, if you would have done this project under a building permit you would have learned of your mistake before it was finished. I've done plenty of minor projects myself without a permit, but any whole room renovation its in your own best interest to bite the bullet and get the permit.
 
  #5  
Old 11-01-05, 06:41 AM
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There are very likely even more problems and code violations than what has been listed so far. The kitchen is a very electrically regulated place. It's not enough to read this forum, since the information here is not presented in a structured way and your chances of learning everything you need to know is hit and miss. You need to read some books. One of the best for presenting the kitchen codes in a compact form is Wiring Simplified, a $6 green paperback available in the electrical aisle of most Home Depot stores.
 
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Old 11-01-05, 06:57 AM
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thanks for the help and advice guys. We have old 60a fused service, which will be upgraded next month to at least 100a with breakers. The kitchen will then have 3 seperate 20a circuits, and the fridge will still be on the seperate 20a circuit.
 

Last edited by fuente; 11-01-05 at 08:40 AM.
  #7  
Old 11-10-05, 10:53 AM
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What about disposal and dishwasher?

Was reading last night that garbage disposal and dishwasher should be on separate circuits as well. I need to read in further but I think three may not be enough.
 
  #8  
Old 11-10-05, 11:24 AM
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You went a few days with it not wired to code. I'm currently in the process of rewiring my whole house with 12-2 Romex. The more I read about the code requirements, the more I wonder how my house is still standing. It was built in 1947 (I think by Jerry Rigg), and the deviations from current code are countless. It used to have a fuse box, but was upgraded to a breaker box probably about 25-30 years ago, but all the original wiring was used--14 gauge armored cable with no grounding shunt. Other than the circuit for the electric dryer, there were 6 circuits--4 of them were 20 amp breakers! The kitchen, bathroom, a bedroom, and part of the basement were on one 20 amp circuit with 14 gauge wires. The dryer circuit is 220 volt (2 x 40 amp) with I believe 6 gauge heavy duty wire??? (I have run 10-3 NM for this and have an electrician coming to hook up the right breaker & a 4 prong receptacle)

This is a duplex (rental), and on the side I've been working on, there have been numerous suspect splices with evidence of melted wire, etc... A light in a closet was extended from a light switch box using blue automotive wire. We found an abandoned wire in the concrete block in the basement that was still live and not even capped. It appeared that it used to service an auxillary heater. I have lived here 3 years, and all the tenants of the former owner were a bunch of losers. At one point when I was still renting, I gave them 2 smoke detectors and I found both of them broken. I consider myself lucky to be alive. I wouldn't sweat having brand new 14 gauge Romex possibly carrying more than 15 amps for a few minutes.

(Yes, I negotiated the price of the house based on this and other conditions)
 
  #9  
Old 11-10-05, 02:27 PM
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My wife's grandmother's entire house ran off of 2 circuits in an old fuse box. No 220 (probably thankfully) and all K&T. The kitchen ran from 3 power strips all plugged together. She often ran coffee maker, toaster, microwave, air conditioner, washer, gas dryer and a several lights at the same time and NEVER blew a fuse. I'm sure someone had invested a penny in the system, but I never had the guts (or the electrician's rubber gloves) to look. It ran this way for decades.

Also for decades, my aunt ran her entire living room - TV, stereo, lights, wood stove fan... from a series of dime store extension cords plugged one into another all the way around the room. When she had the couch opposite the window, she ran one extension cord across the middle of the room under an area rug (for safety - so people wouldn't trip ) because she didn't want to run it across the stairway to reach the side table.

Examples like these are the reason I believe in divine intervention, but I haven't lived as good a life as either lady. My advice to anyone who might be like me is: Don't push your luck.

Doug M.
 
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Old 11-10-05, 02:44 PM
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And on the 100 year old houses i wok on that have the 60 amp fuse boxes, i have seen 30 amp W fuses screwed into 14 gauge circuits..with no problem. I always get rid of them and screw in those 15 amp S fuse adapters. But I think wire size/ratings is given a generous leeway. They just don't want people to push the envelope. I all the time run into 20 amp fuses screwed into 14 gauge wire circuits.

Regarding the kitchen remodel, because of the disparity of being 1 gauge size off..I doubt anything would have happened. But, you could have always just put in a 15 amp breaker and told your family not to use the toaster, blender, coffee maker, and microwave all at the same time.
 

Last edited by mattison; 11-13-05 at 08:43 AM.
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Old 11-10-05, 02:47 PM
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Originally Posted by R_Edgar
Was reading last night that garbage disposal and dishwasher should be on separate circuits as well. I need to read in further but I think three may not be enough.
I believe *some* codes stipulate that each motorized appliance needs to be on it's own circuit. But I'm not sure if this means that you can't have anything else on with it, or, if it means you can't have 2 motorized appliances on the same circuit. I can't see what is wrong with putting some lights on a motorized circuit. But then, if you have to answer to code, and inspection is involved...you have to do what they want you to do.
 
  #12  
Old 11-10-05, 03:08 PM
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But I think wire size/ratings is given a generous leeway
I don't. I think they're given a little leeway. The rest is luck.

I hope no one interpreted my post as meaning it was in ANY way okay to have those situations. Grandma's house SHOULD have burned to the ground. I've seen many many others with much less wrong that did. Advice on this board should be no other way than by the book or above.

Doug M.
 
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Old 11-10-05, 03:50 PM
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Last edited by mattison; 11-13-05 at 08:45 AM. Reason: Stay on topic.
  #14  
Old 11-10-05, 04:58 PM
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well I switched all the wiring out. Not a big deal, a little sheetrock work and a lot of crawling around in the attic.

I currently have fused 60A service, and I couldn't put a 15A fuse in the 20A hole; it wouldn't work.

So I'll get the service updated and in the process they will make 3 circuits to the kitchen, and 1 more dedicated to the refrigerator.
 
  #15  
Old 11-11-05, 09:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Bonehead
I believe *some* codes stipulate that each motorized appliance needs to be on it's own circuit. But I'm not sure if this means that you can't have anything else on with it, or, if it means you can't have 2 motorized appliances on the same circuit. I can't see what is wrong with putting some lights on a motorized circuit. But then, if you have to answer to code, and inspection is involved...you have to do what they want you to do.

My Mullins text says that the D/w & disposal can't be on the same ckt as the small appliance (countertop) circuits, e.g. I'm disposing of garbage, with the dishwasher running, with my wife using the mixer, & toaster oven burning lunch. I could see how the ckts could be extended elsewhere, but given their location, it wouldn't make too much sense.

I'll have to call the MN state inspector on Monday and find out once and for all (Vets Day today).
 
  #16  
Old 11-11-05, 09:55 AM
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Actually, leeway and 'luck' _are_ a significant part of why improperly installed and loaded circuits work for so long, essentially without problem. Electrical wiring is _not_ bleeding edge unstable stuff. It is _very_ conservative.

14ga wire is permitted to be protected with a 15A breaker. If I connect it to a 20A breaker, and then load the wire as much as possible without the breaker tripping, then this wire will _not_ suddenly burst into flames and take the house down.

Instead this wire will run hotter than it should. Depending upon circumstances (buried in insulation versus free flowing air in an open stud space, cold Alaska basement versus hot Texas attic, etc.), it might or might not be hotter than the 'temperature rating' of the insulation. If the wire ends up cooler than its temperature rating, it will probably remain fine for a good long while.

If the wire runs hotter than the temperature rating of the insulation, then the insulation won't suddenly melt and start burning and drip off the wire; instead it will _probably_ keep right on working.

Run the wire hotter than its design temperature, and its life will be shorter. It will be less tolerant of various insults (surges, short circuits, etc.) As the insulation degrades, it is far more likely that something will push it over the edge. And there are lots of 'somethings' that attack the wire: a short circuiting appliance can cause a surge of current, actually physically moving the conductors because of magnetic forces. A lightning strike down the road could cause a transient overvoltage that makes the insulation break down, etc. Something pushes the degraded insulation over the edge, and you get an arc. _Now_ you have a serious critical problem.

Once you get that arc, or that loose connection, or the intermittent short circuit, only then do you have an immediate threat of an electrical fire.

A 90C wire running at 120C won't suddenly start burning...but the insulation will degrade much more rapidly, and be more prone to a failure like a high resistance short circuit. As you deviate from NEC requirements, you start piling lots of little additional risks on top of a system that starts with a very slight risk of failure. These additional risks add up, but can still remain pretty small.

It all comes down to statistical risk. Follow code, and the risk of an electrical failure is _very_ low, and the various safeguards mean that when a failure does occur, that it will remain contained. Don't follow the code, and the risks go up, way up. But say that the risk when following the NEC were 1 in 1,000,000 (I'm making this number up) that your house would burn over a 20 year period because of an electrical failure. Now say that the hack job (30A fuse on 14ga wire, etc) makes the risk 1 in 1000 over 20 years (again, a totally made up number). Not following code is 1000x more dangerous, but still very unlikely to actually jump up and bite you. I personally choose to tolerate this additional risk, not by installing anything that does not meet code, but by living in a house with a number of defects while I slowly upgrade the errors that I find.

If you are doing electrical, it is worth doing right, not skimping, learning the appropriate skills, and meeting (or exceeding) the NEC. But you shouldn't panic when you find work that isn't up to snuff. Just replace it as quickly as you reasonably can, and move on.

-Jon
 
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