Buying a House - 30 amp fuse on 14 gauge wire

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  #1  
Old 07-06-11, 09:40 AM
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Buying a House - 30 amp fuse on 14 gauge wire

So we've made an offer on a house and the inspection returned all kinds of problems with the electrical system. We expected as much; it was built in 1962, so it's old.

However, the thing that bothers me most is they've had a 30 amp fuse on a 14 gauge wire for who knows how long. We plan to replace the fuse box anyways, but I worry that damage has already been done.

If we replace the fuse box with a good breaker box, could the wiring in the wall still be a fire hazard? Am I going to have to replace all the wiring in the walls, and what's the liklihood?

I'm having a lot of trouble hiring an electrical inspector in the time allotted - it probably isn't going to happen. Would you walk away from this place, or if we can get them to come down a few thousand dollars, could it still be worth it? The rest of the house (foundation, appliances, etc.) is very solid, and the price is pretty good.

Love to hear your thoughts

Locrian
 
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  #2  
Old 07-06-11, 09:57 AM
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I'm not a pro on the electrical, but my experience has always been, what you see that is wrong is just a small part of what was done wrong. The old tip of the ice berg analogy. When you say "the price is pretty good" I'm not impressed. If you said "the thing is dirt cheap", then maybe it would be worth taking a chance.

As for the wrong fuse, it may have been operated in an overloaded condition, or they just didn't have another 15 amp and stuck that one in. An electrician can put a load test on it and advise while there. Wave some cash or a case of beer in front of one.

Bud
 
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Old 07-06-11, 10:27 AM
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Do you know what load(s) are on that circuit? That might give you a clue as to the amount of current on it. If you really want to know if the wiring is a problem on the circuit, you can hire an electrician to do an insulation test on the circuit known as a megger test. You could always negotiate with the seller to have that circuit replaced.
 
  #4  
Old 07-06-11, 10:46 AM
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Thank you both for your replies, I really appreciate it.

First off, there won't be an electrician before decision time. Maybe that's reason enough to bail. I'm trying to get a feel for the risk and make the best judgement I can.

Bud, it definitely looks like this is the tip of an iceberg, but Iím not sure how big of one. There seems to be some sort of electrical problem in every room. Most of them are fairly minor.

The inspection turned up some positives, though. New furnace, new AC, new kitchen appliances, good foundation, etc. The price of the house is probably 10k cheaper than weíve seen for a similar size in that neighborhood (though in this market I guess anything could happen).

dzdave00, I donít know how much load is on that circuit, although this makes a point Ė if thereís damage, hopefully itís just on that particular circuit.

So take a shot at these questions if you have tmie:

1) If I replace the fuse box, is there still a fire hazard that is a result of having the wrong fuse in the box?
2) From what Iíve told you (which isnít much!), do you think the problems could be dealt with for less than $5k? $10k?

Btw itís a 3 bedroom, 2 bath split level house with an attic.

Thanks again. I know Iím asking specific questions without having specific details, but your responses mean a lot.
 
  #5  
Old 07-06-11, 11:17 AM
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I know this isn't your question, but buying a house isn't something you rush into, or allow yourself to be rushed into. If this is a repossession, absolutely walk away with that small of a discount.

Careful what you say about 1962, I'm older than that . My vanity aside, that's not really old. Plywood, sheetrock, concrete or block foundation, insulation and now some upgrades all standard for that age. The roof should have been replaced at least once, look for rounded corners on the shingles. Check the attic, be sure there is plenty of insulation and ventilation. Have you seen their utility bills? Do you know why they are selling. Have it tested for lead paint, checked for asbestos, termites, and well and septic tested or inspected.

The list of what you want to inspect and be sure of is longer than what I have posted and a lot longer than just the electric. New panel, new meter pan, required upgrades to arc fault and other improvements that the electricians can outline. Possible wiring upgrades for those new appliances and you are eating up a bunch of that 10K. I'm judging that since you are asking basic electrical questions that you are not going to be doing the electrical improvements, so there goes another chunk.

I'm just rambling, but don't rush. When they don't want to or can't answer questions, the answer is usually not good.

Bud
 
  #6  
Old 07-06-11, 11:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Locrian View Post
There seems to be some sort of electrical problem in every room. Most of them are fairly minor.
Very typical for the age. You would find that in any similar house.

1) If I replace the fuse box, is there still a fire hazard that is a result of having the wrong fuse in the box?
I don't think a significant one. The wire insulation could be degraded in spots, but you can easily make this circuit significantly safer by using an AFCI breaker when you put in the new breaker panel. Today's code most likely requires the AFCI breaker as part of the service panel upgrade anyway. Arc fault breakers can detect very small sparking that results from bad insulation or frayed wires and cut the power before a fire starts.

2) From what Iíve told you (which isnít much!), do you think the problems could be dealt with for less than $5k? $10k?
Significantly. The panel upgrade should be in the ballpark of $1,500, but I would consider that an expected expense for a house that age not necessarily a defect. You should be able to have the circuit evaluated by the electrician while he's there doing the panel for a little extra labor. If any major problem is found it's generally not too big of a job to replace a portion of the circuit.

While doing the panel you may want to consider having hardwired smoke detectors and GFCI protection installed where needed throughout the house also. If you have or plan to have small children around it would be a good time to have tamper resistant outlets installed too.

Thanks again. I know Iím asking specific questions without having specific details, but your responses mean a lot.
I wouldn't worry about it. In fact I live in a house that's the same age and had the same 30A fuse problem on the #14 wired circuits when I moved in. Quick fix and I sleep just fine.
 
  #7  
Old 07-06-11, 02:42 PM
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I'm going to go along with Bud and state that 1960s is not old. I would be very concerned if there was aluminum branch circuit wiring.

In the house I grew up in the wiring was almost all #14 knob & tube. My daddy put 30 a ampere fuse in the circuit to the garage to keep from blowing the fuse when he started his table saw. Several years later the wire and insulation was still fine when we upgraded to a new feeder and subpanel in the garage. The reason was because there was no continual overload on the wire, just the initial starting surge of the saw.

You need to find out exactly what the particular circuit serves and then open the "dead front" on the fuse panel. Houses in that era were mostly wired with wire that had thermoplastic insulation and under overloads the white insulation will definitely turn color. If the wire insulation is at all deteriorated then the circuit needs to be replaced, otherwise just protecting at the proper 15 ampere rating should be fine.
 
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Old 07-07-11, 02:11 PM
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I can't thank everyone enough for their replies. I appreciate your taking the time to help a stranger in need. It looks like we're going to ask for a couple of small concessions and if they go for it we'll be homeowners! (edit: And by homeowners, I mean slaves to the bank!)

Thanks again!
 
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