House rewire?


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Old 09-14-08, 08:18 AM
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House rewire?

Ever since becoming a member here on this board, I have learned a lot about residential electricity. Prior to me becoming a homeowner and prior to me knowing about how electric panels and wiring all went together, I just sort of assumed that once a house was 'wired', it was wired for life and that if no major modifications were done, everything should be OK.
However, after crawling around in my house looking at things, I am starting to wonder about all that old wiring. Dont get me wrong, it is functional now but it is just old. The original cabling has a green color to it and the outer sheath is braided. Most of the bathroom circuits are hooked together in MWBC's. I know code requires bathrooms to be on seperate 20A circuits and the outlets GFCI protected. Our 2 bathrooms are connected by a 15 MWBC and when an electric heater is being run in the winter along with a hairdryer, the breaker trips.
I understand my limits as a DIY'er but should the wiring in this older house (built in 57) be gutted and redone? I hear things like loose or lifted neutral and who knows what I may find in the attic if I poked around anymore. Should I just leave well enough along or should I entertain the idea of letting an electrician upgrade my wiring and break the circuits up properly according to the new NEC 2008 code?
Thanks
Ben
 
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Old 09-14-08, 12:00 PM
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I'm not so sure I'd worry about it. That's going to cost you an arm and a leg if you hire an electrician. Everyone hates old work and their prices reflect that. The wire your talking about fit's the era of your house. Cloth sheathing. Probably lightly coated with tar. 16-18 guage grounds, metal outlet boxes... iridescent green 14/3's. Silver 14/2's...

The MWBC's don't suprise me either. I hate working on houses such as your's because typically it's a freakin rat's nest of wire. I'm not implying that anything is possibly unsafe with your wiring. I just really hate the wiring methods used in the 50's and 60's... It's a nightmare to trouble shoot.

Nothing wrong with that cable except for the skimpy grounds but even those are ok I guess. Certainly no reason to replace wire IMO. There's really no such thing as "old wiring" unless your talking about K&T. If you strip back some of your wiring, you'll find that it's shinny new copper, just like what you'll see in today's romex. Also still has plastic sheathing around the neutral and hot.

I'm a little fuzzy on where it becomes necessary to pull a permit for doing work. I'm usually not privy to such things. If you start gutting rooms, as in tearing off the plaster, then your more than likely going to have to pull a permit (which the home owner is allowed to do).

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but you could completely rewire your entire house yourself. The only thing you can't touch is from your mast head to the hot lugs on your main panel. Anything panel load and on you can do.

You seem to be fairly adept right now. If your interested in doing some work yourself, I'd get 'wiring simplified' and maybe even 'Electrical Wiring - Residential'. TBH, I've never read wiring simplified but I have the later book (based on 2008 code) and it's really nice. That book along with the 2008 NEC is a great combo to have.

So, after reading some more and feeling really comfortable with doing things yourself, I'd just spot replace certain things. Old work it so you don't have to screw with drywall repair/replacement (or permits for that matter). You probably even have a ranch style house if it was built in the 50's... Even if half of your house is on a slab, you probably have attic the entire length of your house. That means you can just about rewire anything. It's nice to wait until the fall tho unless you like sweating buckets.

Like with your bathroom problem... You could leave all your old wiring but run a new 12/2 home run with a dedicated GFCI. Either in it's own single gang old work box or do some restructuring in your existing box to make room for a new 12/2 in there.... Those metal boxes suck because they fill up fast. Worst case scenario, you can bust out a saw's aw with a metal blade and cut it off the stud and replace it with a double gang plastic old work box. Just make sure your old wires will still make it into the new box with sheathing inside and that your extremely carefull with the saws aw. They usually liked to staple insanely close to the box.

Dunno. You seem naturally geared towards electrical work so why pay someone to do it when you could more than likely do it yourself. TBH, out of the many tens of electricians I've met to date, there are only a small hand full that I would trust to work in my house. Just because you 'hire an electrician' doesn't mean it's going to get done right.....

And ofcourse, you always have the forum to post on...
 
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Old 09-14-08, 03:43 PM
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It also depends how long you intend to stay in your house. If it is your castle and you see no foreseeable move then I might start to look at it. But break it down into smaller projects. You certainly don't need to be ripping off walls. Most problems are in connections and outlets which should all be accessible. For one thing I would replace all devices - switches, outlets, especially if they are back stabbed. You can get an idea of wire quality as you do that. Some things are easy to rewire llike the laundry, basement stuff, maybe even kitchen if it is directly over a basement.

I certainly would not ddig into stuff if you are not going to stay there. The payoff is not there. Buyers or home inspections don't check the wiring just that there are no code violations for the time it was constructed.
 
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Old 09-14-08, 03:53 PM
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I would more or less agree with Penguin. If it is not broke, than don't try to fix it. You can just work on the things that are not working for you. Like the bathrooms not handling the load. You said you have breakers and that shows your service has been upgraded so that is good. As long and none of your wires/cables are over fused there is little safety issues. Just remember your home was up to code when it was wired originally. Also ANY electrical work that is performed requires a permit in most locations.
 
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Old 09-15-08, 08:30 AM
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Thanks for the encouraging words of advice. You guys are great!
Penguin, you sure you havent been at my house before?? Heck, nailing the style of my house (rancher) and telling me that I have a full length attic (which I do)!
You are absolutely right though, it gets HOT as a $%^& up there and I cannot stand working more than 30 mins at a time. I always come down from the attic looking like I just got out of a pool!
Yes, it looks to be like a rats nest of wires. You nailed the wire correctly too cloth with this black asphalt sticky stuff that is a pain getting off of your hands. Also, you are correct about the boxes. When I installed a bathroom fan and wired it so it would come on with the light switch, I ran all 12/3 wire and attached it to the existing 14/2. I think that you can do this. The reason that I did this was just peace of mind with the heavier wire. Yes, I marked the corresponding breaker to say that it is a 15 wire with SOME 12 AWG on the circuit. When I went to add that wire into the box, I was really crimped for space. Taking that box out is a job because its naile and secured like you couldn't believe!
Nah, I dont think that I will be selling anytime soon because I am partial to the older style houses; I just think that they are built better (MHO)
Case in point, the walls here are not sheetrock; they are this rock lath junk with 1/4 topcoat of plaster. Id say the rocklath is about 1 inch thick not counting the plaster, so breaking the walls out is a job in and of itself.
Lastly, the reason I even entertained the idea of a rewire, is because when they fastened these wires to the joists, they used old style inverted u-type metal fasteners. On some sections, they hit em in pretty hard and I was worried that the metal may pierce the cable and start an arc flash...and you know the rest. Those spikes are everywhere and I dont even want to think how much time it would take to inspect, remove or even replace every single one of them....that is why I put arc faults on some of the circuits but on the BIG MWBC's they dont work. I bought 2 two pole arc faults (very expensive) to install on the bathroom and bedroom MWBC's but when I installed them, they immed. tripped. I installed them correctly too: red to one pole, black to the other pole and white to the third pole and the white FROM the AFCI to the neutral bar. No matter what, it tripped, so I took it out and put the standard breaker back in because I was frustrated. So, I even thought about that route to prevent arc flashes but as it turns out, that didnt work....hence my thought on house rewire
Sorry about the VERY long post.......
 
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Old 09-16-08, 09:16 AM
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Originally Posted by italian_guy View Post
should the wiring in this older house (built in 57) be gutted and redone?
In a word, no. I would not replace any existing wiring unless you're either having electrical problems or are doing other major remodeling work like tearing out walls. My house is about that age with all cloth/tar covered #14 romex, and I haven't replaced anywhere except in the kitchen in bath which have been fully remodeled.
 
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Old 09-16-08, 05:22 PM
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I too, have a mid 50's home

complete with the tar wiring and the insulation that's very firmly bonded to the copper. You didn't mention the load center, or maybe I missed it, but that's one area you might want to update. Put in some ACFI's, surge suppressor, put in some local GFCI's, add a kitchen 20 amp run, etc. I never considered a wholesale replacement of the wiring, however.

I also like the plastered walls, solid 3 x 6 T&G roofing, solid terazzo; something to be said for that era. Generally, the base "stucture" was made to be exposed, more so than today's veneer construction. At least true for my roof/ceilings, walls, and flooring, anyway.

ps; check for mixed neutrals on the AFCI issue. I had that same issue.
 
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Old 09-16-08, 05:39 PM
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Thanks for all the gr8 replies. Telecom guy..you just taught me another term: mixed neutrals. I assume that this is different than shared neutrals? Ok, so if there are mixed neutrals on the circuit, how and what would I look for? Do I have to go crawling around in the attic?
BTW: the load center was upgraded from a zinsco panel 15 years ago. It is now 200 amp service. However, thanks to a wise member on this board, my GE panel is out of production or discontinued
 
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Old 09-17-08, 06:24 AM
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Originally Posted by italian_guy View Post
Telecom guy..you just taught me another term: mixed neutrals. I assume that this is different than shared neutrals? Ok, so if there are mixed neutrals on the circuit, how and what would I look for?
In my case, the 3-way switched kitchen lights picked up the neutral from a bedroom circuit. The easiest way to troubleshoot this is from the panel itself. Start with the circuits where you found the AFCI will not stay untripped. Will they trip out when all other circuits are breakered OFF? One by one, turn the other circuits on until the AFCI tripps out. That would be the circuit "borrowing" the neutral. You may have to load the other circuits as well.
You do have the other possibility of an actual ground fault in the AFCI circuit.
You mentioned "big MWBC". What does that mean? I'm under the impression that multi-wire circuits were not common in homes wired in the '50's. Not sure, though...
 
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Old 09-18-08, 12:13 PM
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They were all too common actually. I worked in one house that had nothing but 14/3's coming out of the service panel. Annoyingly frustrating.

I'm also not sure about that statement of needing a permit to do ANY electrical work. I've been subing for a general contractor for 4 years now doing electrical work under no permit. Nor am I licensed, insured or certified. Small electrical upgrades or additions can be done by myself and liability and insurance falls to the general contractor.

It depends on whether new construction is being done or not. You can old work until your blue in the face without permits. Of course it's somewhat more complicated than that depending on the circumstances and work being done. Probably also varies from locality to locality.

And yea, the shared neutrals between circuits are a pain in the butt. That's why you don't run MWBC's. Especially now that 08' is in effect with all these AFCI requirements. MWBC's are nothing more than a money saving tactic that just screws you down the road.
 
 

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