Old house, big mess


Old 11-25-05, 07:22 PM
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Old house, big mess


Just found this site a few days ago and have been reading pretty much non-stop...great info!

My wife and I just bought a house built in 1900 for our first home. We were told during the process of buying it that there was an electrical inspection done recently, so in our infinite wisdom we decided that was good enough.

Apparently, the previous owners looked at the results of the inspection and said 'forget this'. While the service panel is a brand new 200A box, everything else (with a few exceptions) is archaic. Lots of old wiring, lots of older wiring (some of which is disconnected), and lots of electrical tape and home made 'emergency fixes' which were probably intended to last a few days but haven't been redone properly in 30 or more years (ex: household extension cord run under house, spliced into existing wiring feeding god-knows-what. Cable has enough slack that when they poured a new foundation earlier this year, the cable got stuck inside the newly poured cement). I'm sure many of the pros are nodding and smiling right now.

Aside from possibly setting a local record for code violations, there aren't any 'problems' in the day-to-day working sense (though the lights dim briefly when an appliance motor kicks on). However, I have a fairly strong desire to fix all this.

Long intro, sorry - my main question stems from the conclusion of my project for today - mapping out all the ciruits. I've done this, and holy cow what a mess. One short example:

One 20amp breaker: Kitchen counter plugs (non-GFI), garbage disposal, 19 duplex (ungrounded) receptacles in 4 different rooms, 3 lights in the carport

I'm sure while there are no set rules, there are probably some conventions to loading a circuit. Is it common to have all lights across one or two circuits, for example, or mixed with receptacles and split up by rooms?

Also, we have a 220v circuit for our dryer with several other items as well (4 normal wall receptacles and 2 light fixtures). Is it normal to have 110v items on a 220v circuit, or am I not wrapping my head around this correctly?

Thanks a bunch!

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Old 11-25-05, 07:26 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: CA
Posts: 2,041
It is a very bad idea to have 120 volt loads on a dryer circuit, especially if the dryer is on a 3 wire (no ground) plug. The 120 volt loads can cause the neutral to be unbalanced, and this could cause the cabinet of the dryer to be at an elevated potential.
Old 11-26-05, 08:06 AM
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Kitchen circuit should also not supply energy to outlets outside of the kitchen. I think you might have some recourse against prior owner as I believe items that do not meet code do not have to be fixed unless they are worked on. I would ask someone who knows law better than I, but I believe that since they upgraded panel to 200 amp service, the electrician should have been required to fix code violations.
Old 11-26-05, 08:17 AM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: Goodwood, Ontario
Posts: 140
I'll let the pros and knowledgeable amateurs comment on the technical aspects of your problem, but will offer an idea that might be worth pursuing.

I too recently bought a house that was built around 1900. While my electrical system was in much better shape than yours, it was still inadequate -- 60 amps -- and full of homemade headshakers.

I benefitted greatly from hiring two electricians who were experienced in working on old homes. BUT I failed to do something that, in hindsight, might have really paid off.

If you used the standard Agreement of Offer and Purchase form there is probably a clause in which the vendors warranted that all systems were in "good working order." If so, ask your lawyer if that means the electricial system was supposed to be reasonably up to code. (I don't know) If your lawyer says you have grounds to go after the vendors, hire a licensed electrician to document all of the flaws BEFORE fixing them. (This didn't occur to me)

Did you hire a home inspector to go through the house before finalizing the deal? If so, read the report's electrical section carefully and make a list of all flaws that were visible at the time of the inspection but not reported. Because there was a new 100-amp circuit panel, my inspector wrote that the house had 100 amp service. (An electrician later showed me how any semi-competent idiot could have distinguished between 60 and 100 amps) I had the service upgraded and sent a copy of the bill to the home inspector, giving him a choice between reimbursing me or getting sued in small claims court -- with a copy of any judgment going to the local newspapers and the local real estate board. He paid up -- in full.
Old 11-26-05, 10:01 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
There is no requirement in the US to bring electric up to code for a residence until and unless those parts of the house or electric are worked on. Simp[ly replacing the fuses with a panel doe snot require that the entire house be brought up to code.
Old 11-26-05, 12:16 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Location: Ontario Canada
Posts: 1,767
There are basic rules. Get an electrical wiring book from the home center for more.

The Basic rules are:
Kitchen counters on their own circuits, at least two, and 20A each (US), or multiwire 15A (Canada), one for the dining area, and one for lighting.
Disposal, Microwave, Refrig, Dishwasher,Launder each on their own circuit. High power loads such as the dryer, range, and A/C, should be on their own circuit.
Bathroom outlets on one 20A circuit, or one 20A circuit per bathroom.
Apart from those, one circuit per 500 sq ft or so.
Old 11-26-05, 02:20 PM
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Great info, thanks guys.

With all those dedicated circuits I could see myself filling or almost filling the service panel.

Currently our dishwasher and range are the only items you listed that are on dedicated circuits. Microwave/disposal share their circuit with several other items (that's the 20A circuit I listed in my first post), and the dryer shares its circuit with the washing machine and receptacles/lights for 2 rooms. Oy.

One other thing I forgot to ask initially: Our grounding rod is buried behind the room where our service panel is located (semi-attached workshop). While the rod is flush to the ground, the cable is very slack and could easily be tripped over or run over with the lawnmower. It is also in a relatively high-traffic area. One of my tasks was to tack up the slack cable and possibly cover the grounding rod with something - any problems with that?

I have some basic wiring books but they are mostly "connect wire X to wire Y to make this thing work" and not so much about house planning, which is what I really need. I'll pick up a book, talk to some experienced people, and see if this is something I feel I can tackle myself or get a pro for. I feel I can probably handle it myself but I'd rather be safe than sorry (not that our wiring now is really 'safe').


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