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Need some perspectives on wiring, service boxes, and fuseboxes

Need some perspectives on wiring, service boxes, and fuseboxes

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  #1  
Old 09-03-11, 04:02 PM
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Need some perspectives on wiring, service boxes, and fuseboxes

I just went through a house built in 1957. The house is really nice, but it has several issues pertaining to its electrical service:

-It has just a 60 amp fusebox. I also happened to notice while looking in the box that there was a 25v fuse (second one to the left, has a clear face) in one of the 4 fuse slots. It has "25v" embossed on its face.



This made me wonder if the fuse in that slot blew out at one time and they put this clear one in as a replacement (OR, if the other 3 blew out and the "25v" one is an original fuse). On a table under the box there was a spare 15 amp fuse inside some already opened blister card packaging, but it didn't look like it had blown out so it must really be a spare.

The possibility of a fuse having blown may explain why one outlet (which had a lamp timer box connected to it) doesn't work in the living room (something must've blew), and it may aslo explain why the current owners have not only painted the walls in the living room but the outlets the same color as the walls too (could be hiding burn damage?). Although, just the one outlet is dead in the living room, all of the other ones in the entire house are working fine.

-There are only two grounded outlets in the entire house: One in the kitchen where the fridge would go, and one black heavy duty one in the kitchen where the stove is already plugged into.

And of course, no grounded outlets in the basement where the washer and basement sink are:



-The outside electrical box is rusted badly. The wires are frayed and exposed, including the ones that run onto the siding of the house which of of course are connected to the poles.

Here are all the pictures I took:













Inside lines to fusebox, and the inside of the fusebox panel itself with the cover off:








What I need perspectives on, specifically:

1. I realize that I'd have to upgrade to a circuit breaker soon, but I'm wondering if putting in GFCI's would be a good preventative measure for the time being, since there are none in the entire house and only two grounded outlets in total (in the kitchen for the fridge and stove)?

2. What do you think of the cables shown in the pictures? Can this be a deferred cost item, or is it basically a day-one-fix-immediately-situation? If so, am I looking a big expense for that? I was told by National Grid that those lines are my responsibility.

3. Speaking of my what's my responsibility, National Grid also informed me that the rusted electrical service box outside is also my responsibility for replacement. What approach should I take to getting the outside box situation in order?

4. What do you think of the dead electrical outlet in the living room (both terminals in the outlet box are dead)? Do you think it may have something to do with the differing fuse in the fusebox (i.e. a fuse blew out and something was never corrected)?
 

Last edited by HomeHopeful; 09-03-11 at 04:18 PM.
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  #2  
Old 09-03-11, 04:32 PM
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The 25 amp fuse in the breaker box is a fire waiting to happen. The SE cable is not an item that should be deferred. How far is the distance from the meter socket to the fuse box? Looks like it may be further then it should be for an un-fused cable.

While probably grandfathered under modern code 100 amps is the smallest size panel allowed in most areas. You mention an electric stove but if it is a 60a panel and there is no other panel it really can't support an electric stove. Is the water heater electric? Do you plan on using an electric dryer.

The pros will be along to point other problems I'm sure. The dead receptacle is the least of your worries.

My non pro opinion ask for a $4000 reduction in the price of the house. If they agree use it to upgrade the electrical.
 
  #3  
Old 09-03-11, 04:49 PM
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At the onset, you realize you need a service upgrade from the pole as well as meter base upgrade and breaker panel. Others will chime in with other observations that I may miss, so here goes.
I'll take the pictures first. The fuse is probably a 20A fuse. I don't think you would have a 25 "volt" fuse. Look more carefully even with a light shining sideways to illuminate the ridges a little better.
Secondly someone has clipped the grounding lug off the plug you show. It may service the washing machine, but it is not grounded.
You'll take care of the rusted meter base when you upgrade, as well as all the entrance cable. where is your panel located? In a lower level? The service entrance from the meter base into the house must have a drip loop on it. You are introducing water into the lower level everytime it rains.
There is no visible support for the service entrance cable from the weather head (not pictured) to the meter base. You just can't have service entrance that close to a window or other opening. Not sure how that happened.
Your secondary wiring seems to be in pretty good shape, and could possibly be used in place with a new panel.
You can put a GFCI receptacle as the first in line on all circuits, labeling all downline receptacles with the enclosed "GFCI Protected" and "No equipment ground" stickers, and utilize three pronged receptacles.
Lines from the weatherhead to your house are your responsibility, as well as the weatherhead itself. I'm not sure of your location, but you may be better served with a combination meter base/disconnect/breaker panel. They are quite common like in Colorado and other places.
You may find that when you rewire the GFCI's and change the receptacles, you will correct the dead problem. Most likely you have a lifted neutral on the receptacle. Being circa 1957 anything goes.
With what you have, consider an upgrade in service, for sure.
 
  #4  
Old 09-03-11, 05:09 PM
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Originally Posted by ray2047 View Post
The 25 amp fuse in the breaker box is a fire waiting to happen. The SE cable is not an item that should be deferred. How far is the distance from the meter socket to the fuse box? Looks like it may be further then it should be for an un-fused cable.
12 feet or 16 feet tops I'd say.

Originally Posted by ray2047 View Post
While probably grandfathered under modern code 100 amps is the smallest size panel allowed in most areas. You mention an electric stove but if it is a 60a panel and there is no other panel it really can't support an electric stove. Is the water heater electric? Do you plan on using an electric dryer.
The water heater is electric I believe. The house heating in general is oil. There is no dryer and no dryer vent. This is a first and only owner home; they've lived there since it was built in 1957 and had been using clothing lines to dry things.

Originally Posted by ray2047 View Post
My non pro opinion ask for a $4000 reduction in the price of the house. If they agree use it to upgrade the electrical.
I agree with your thinking there completely. They refuse to come down anymore, however. I actually got their realtor to present a $2K come down already and I'm still waiting on their response just for that. I initially offered $7900 below what they asked which based on the issues I found (and there are more besides what I've shown) was certainly reasonable, but they balked at it. I think part of it is them having sentimental value to the home--which I respect--since they grew up there and their parents passed away and left it to them. But the other part is them not understanding the market and believing that what the assessor says a house is worth is a concrete thing, neverminding that those assessments were made decades ago when housing values were better, the economy was better, and people had the money to match it. Things have changed, especially where I live since the average salary here now is between $15K and $20K per year. They're also not factoring in that it has oil and oil--whether right or wrong--is typically considered very much less desireable to home buyers than houses with gas. But, I guess then it's no wonder that they've been to 3 different realty company's trying to sell the house for the past 2 years and no one will take it. They're just dead set on a price that they'll never get, even their own realtor told them that, lol.
 
  #5  
Old 09-03-11, 05:31 PM
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Originally Posted by chandler View Post
I'll take the pictures first. The fuse is probably a 20A fuse. I don't think you would have a 25 "volt" fuse. Look more carefully even with a light shining sideways to illuminate the ridges a little better.
Yes, I found the marking strange myself and did examine it very carefully to be sure. It definitely says 25V. When you enlarge the photo, you'll notice that the 'V' character is facing the same correctly upright position as the 25. If the 'V' character were upside down it might've made me think the manufacturer just didn't finish embossing the 'A', but it's definitely a 'V'.

Originally Posted by chandler View Post
You'll take care of the rusted meter base when you upgrade, as well as all the entrance cable. where is your panel located? In a lower level?
In the basement, like 12-16 feet below where the outside meter box is located.

Originally Posted by chandler View Post
The service entrance from the meter base into the house must have a drip loop on it. You are introducing water into the lower level everytime it rains.
Yeah, it doesn't look like it ever had one.

Originally Posted by chandler View Post
There is no visible support for the service entrance cable from the weather head (not pictured) to the meter base. You just can't have service entrance that close to a window or other opening. Not sure how that happened.
There are some strange little design choices all around the house, but maybe some of it had to do with 1950's thinking, like there being a hard-wired phone installed in the kitchen wall with no reachable phone jack unless you dismantle the whole steel unit, or a bathroom without a single outlet. Or, really, it may just be the product of a questionable designer instead of it being a matter of 50's thinking.
 
  #6  
Old 09-03-11, 05:43 PM
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At the very least, the house needs the service replaced badly. If it really is 16 or more feet from the meter socket to the panel, it will also need a disconnect at the meter. $4,000 is a good place to start on electrical work that is needed immediately. You mentioned two grounded outlets in the kitchen, but I saw no signs of any branch circuit ground wires in the fuse box so those outlets may not really be grounded (not properly anyway). From what you have told us, an offer $7900 below the asking price may still be a very fair and slightly high price for this house.

there being a hard-wired phone installed in the kitchen wall with no reachable phone jack unless you dismantle the whole steel unit
In the 1950s, all telephones were hardwired, there were no jacks at that time.
 
  #7  
Old 09-03-11, 05:48 PM
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Now, the interesting part is that there is another house that's open, it's smaller (it's a bungalow, the one in the pictures I showed is a Cape) but makes incredible use of space, it's $6K cheaper, the taxes are 5 and a half times lower, it has pristine service lines, a well-maintained 100amp circuit breaker in the basement, an outside meter in excellent shape (could be new) with the proper shielding on it to prevent water damage, and grounded outlets all over the house and in the basement (no GFCI's though, IIRC).

The house was built in 1924 so the wiring was obviously upgraded at some point. Only thing is, the neighborhood isn't as good as the house in the pictures I've shown here, it's not a terrible one but it's definitely a step down and the neighbors don't keep things up the way they should (uncut grass and weeds, highly visible maintenance jobs needing to be done, etc).
 
  #8  
Old 09-03-11, 05:55 PM
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Originally Posted by CasualJoe View Post
From what you have told us, an offer $7900 below the asking price may still be a very fair and slightly high price for this house.
That's what I was thinking at the time, too. I did put in a final offer of $2K below their counter-offer, but that means I'll be coming up $5K above my initial offer.

Originally Posted by CasualJoe View Post
In the 1950s, all telephones were hardwired, there were no jacks at that time.
I figured as much. From watching a lot of those old sitcoms it became apparent that it was common to have that one hard-installed phone (a lot of times in the kitchen) and that was it.
 
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Old 09-03-11, 05:59 PM
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it became apparent that it was common to have that one hard-installed phone (a lot of times in the kitchen) and that was it.
Yes, a single hard wired phone was pretty common. Sometimes you would find them in the kitchen or living room, but more common was a location in a centrally located hallway.
 
  #10  
Old 09-04-11, 08:19 AM
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Jumping back to your original questions, I'd certainly plan $1500-$2000 for the service entry/panel upgrade as soon as you move in. While it's not quite a fire waiting to happen, nothing in that setup looks like it will stand the test of time.

After that, you can address other upgrades as needed, either on your own or with the help of an electrician. If it were my house, I'd plan on pretty much rewiring it room by room to current standards and code so I don't have to worry about where to plug in the vacuum, grounded outlets for the TV, etc.... but again, not necessarily a day-one fix.

Good luck with your negotiations! As they say, with most sellers, it's not how much the home is worth - but how much they think it's worth!
 
  #11  
Old 09-04-11, 03:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Zorfdt View Post
Good luck with your negotiations! As they say, with most sellers, it's not how much the home is worth - but how much they think it's worth!
Thanks for the well wishes! What you say is very true. I definitely won't offer anything more above this last offer because I already feel like I'm stretching it considering the issues. I like fuseboxes but insurance companies tend not to agree and I know they won't feel too good about those service lines being in the shape they're in. I'm tempted to ask the buyer to put that spare 15 amp fuse in instead of leaving the odd "25V" fuse in there. I know when a fuse blows some people think it's a good idea to put a higher one in thinking it will give them more power or something, not realizing the potential for fireworks and my guess is that this fuse change didn't happen very long ago since the opened package was still sitting on a table near the fuse box and didn't have a speck of dust on it. I just have a hunch that the wall painting and painting the outlets (to possibly cover burn damage), the dead outlet, and the odd fuse change are all related somehow.
 
  #12  
Old 09-04-11, 03:54 PM
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If the fuse wrapper box is still there, I am curious as to the specifications written on it. There is no such thing as a 25v fuse in the configuration you have, firstly. Secondly it would last a nanosecond with power applied. I know you may not have access to it, but a pix of the box would sure quell some curiosities.
 
  #13  
Old 09-04-11, 04:54 PM
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Originally Posted by chandler View Post
I am curious as to the specifications written on it. There is no such thing as a 25v fuse in the configuration you have, firstly.
Yes, I know, that's why it's puzzling as to what 25V means.

Originally Posted by chandler View Post
Secondly it would last a nanosecond with power applied. I know you may not have access to it, but a pix of the box would sure quell some curiosities.
The blister card is actually for a 15 amp fuse and that fuse is still inside the open blister card, it's a 15 amp fuse just like the other 3 blue-faced ones in the fusebox. It would make things a lot easier if the owners just told me what happened, but of course they stay away from disclosing much of anything for fear of blowing the deal. Funny thing is, they fail to realize that often times by not disclosing they wind up blowing the deal.
 
  #14  
Old 09-04-11, 07:39 PM
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Originally Posted by HomeHopeful View Post
I just have a hunch that the wall painting and painting the outlets (to possibly cover burn damage)...
I've been to enough houses to realize that painters have a tendency to paint anything in the room that doesn't move. Receptacles, switches, picture hooks, the sleeping cat, etc.
 
  #15  
Old 09-05-11, 08:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Zorfdt View Post
I've been to enough houses to realize that painters have a tendency to paint anything in the room that doesn't move. Receptacles, switches, picture hooks, the sleeping cat, etc.
LOL. Yes, however I'd be less suspicious if it weren't the owners doing the painting. I could just be worrying about nothing, but I can't seem to shake this feeling that it connects somehow. On a related note, the realtor on the other house I touched on briefly just sent an amazing offer, so that's going to give me more power to walk away from this cape if they try to go any higher.
 
  #16  
Old 09-05-11, 08:47 AM
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Lots of homeowners paint right over receptacles and cover plates as routine. I think they may be afraid of removing the cover plates. If they painted recently to try to make the house cosmetically pleasing for a quick sale it is even more likely (in my opinion) that they simply slopped the paint on willy-nilly.

If I were you I'd simply make a "final and best offer" taking into consideration the necessary repairs along with the neighborhood and other positives. Either they will accept or reject and if their RE agent is any good at all he/she will tell them in no uncertain terms that their expectations are unrealistic. Give them a 24 hour response time and if they reject then walk away.
 
  #17  
Old 09-05-11, 03:37 PM
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Good advice, Furd. I'm actually in the real estate business as a manager and company investor, but I've never had to go through someone else to buy a property for myself so the whole offer situation as it's been is a bit different from what I'm used to (i.e. having no direct control right now). But, I'm giving them until tomorrow. After that I'll just take the other house since it will make a much better rental property and will be easier to sell in the future and it has none of the problems of the house I've been negotiating on, it's just not quite as nice-looking in terms of readiness, and it's not in as good a neighborhood (not a bad neighborhood just not as good) but the house has better bones than the other one. It has an enclosed porch, a solid garage with a good roof, a back patio with an awning, a security system, hardwood floors all over, a big bathroom, a dining room, central air, pristine electrical box properly covered with properly shielded lines in good condition so no water is getting, pristine service lines, a 100 amp circuit breaker. Grounded plugs throughout the house. Pipe works look great. It even has a spare coal furnace. The taxes are more than 5 and a half times less expensive per year. It's really amazing how much value was stuffed into the place and it'll be a steal at the price I just negotiated. I guess I really can't lose either way.
 
  #18  
Old 09-05-11, 04:37 PM
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Originally Posted by HomeHopeful View Post
It has an enclosed porch, a solid garage with a good roof, a back patio with an awning, a security system, hardwood floors all over, a big bathroom, a dining room, central air, pristine electrical box properly covered with properly shielded lines in good condition so no water is getting, pristine service lines, a 100 amp circuit breaker. Grounded plugs throughout the house. Pipe works look great. It even has a spare coal furnace.
Sounds like a boring house, don't buy it - we may never see you here again!
 
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Old 09-05-11, 07:46 PM
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@Zorfdt

LOL! Once the tenants get in there I bet I'll be around a lot ...
 
  #20  
Old 09-07-11, 11:55 AM
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Well, this just got more interesting! Just when I'm in the process of working out the contract for the alternative house, up pops the guys from the original house saying they'll accept my final offer. I went ahead and began signing with the alternative house because I'd waited out the 3 day period with the original and heard nothing, plus 2 more days.

This is a tough one, because the original house looks nicer, is in a nicer neighborhood, but the alternative is much cheaper has much lower taxes and has updated electrical it just needs a lot of interior cosmetic work and controlling of the basement mold/mildew issue which is very strong odor-wise... whereas the original house has the outdated electrical it was built with (1957) and an old fusebox and bad service lines, but has a perfect basement and move-in ready interior (and exterior for that matter).

My regular inspector called me just to talk and shoot the bull yesterday and I told him about the original house. He says the electrical issue is important of course, but it's something I can work out over time and shouldn't be a deal breaker as long as the roof and foundation are good which they are. I've heard varying opinions on this. What concerns me a lot is getting insurance with the current electrical as it is, and that if I am able to secure insurance the rate may be insane.

Tough situation.
 
  #21  
Old 09-07-11, 12:11 PM
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Excellent point on insurance. If you have an agent you might ask him.

Didn't you say this was to be a rental? IMHO because of liability I'd suggest fixing the service entrance electrical at the very least before renting. Also replacing any three prong receptacles that aren't grounded with two prong receptacles or GFCI receptacles marked "No Equipment Ground". Maybe add a grounded receptacle to the laundry area.
 
  #22  
Old 09-07-11, 12:51 PM
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I don't see the electrical as being that big of a deal. A new 100A service should cost you in the neighborhood of $1,500, maybe less, and your electrician will have it done in about half a day. A dryer circuit, GFCI receptacles, perhaps hardwired smokes for maybe about another $1,000 will put you in compliance with rental code for electric. The house appears to have an unfinished basement so adding a couple circuits here and there should be a cake job.

You could do more circuits, grounding, etc if you want; but there's no reason you have to right away.

When you get your insurance ask for a 30 day period after closing to have the electric service replaced -- tell them you have a plan to do the work ASAP and they will have no problem writing the policy. After it's done fax them a copy of the electrician bill or permit paperwork to prove you did it.
 
  #23  
Old 09-07-11, 02:46 PM
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Thanks for the info guys!

I pay in cash so I always scrutinize very heavily and check (obsess over) things as much as I can until I'm comfortable. So I just got back from the place (authorized lockbox access), I didn't have my camera but I wrote down the printed info on the door of the fusebox the way it was printed:

Cutler-Hammer
Fusible Main switch with range and four plug fuse circuits
March 1956
Catalog Number: 4335H204
120/240V A-c
100 Amperes
3 wire 2 Blades
Solid Neutral

I was able to look again at the mystery fuse. It says "25V" on the face, still not sure what that means, but I looked inside through it's uhhh, view window if you will, and saw that it says "15 amp". It's a GE brand fuse called Type-W standard. The spare fuse on the table is the exact same.

Maybe I'm missing something, but if the fusebox door says 100 Amperes, shouldn't each of the 4 fuses be 25 amps? And if so, I'm wondering why they'd be using fuses that only add up to 60 amps, and what the advantages and disadvantages would be with doing so?
 
  #24  
Old 09-07-11, 02:56 PM
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The fuses are sized to protect the small wires leading out of them. In this case the wire is #14 AWG so the maximum safe fuse size is 15A. If a too-big fuse is installed it allows too many amps through the wire which causes overheating and in extreme case fire.

The 100A marking on the box is the maximum rating of the box; it can be set up for less than that. Most fuse services of that era were installed for 40-60A max, which I suspect is also true of yours. The cable from the box up to the pole is probably about #6 AWG which also maxes out at 60A further supporting that this was probably designed as a 60A service.

When you have it replaced, you will most likely get a 100A service as that is the minimum allowed by code nowadays. Many people opt for a 150A or 200A for future expansion (workshop, spa, air cond., etc.), but it is not necessary if you do not have or intend to get large electric appliances.
 
  #25  
Old 09-07-11, 03:01 PM
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Maybe I'm missing something, but if the fusebox door says 100 Amperes, shouldn't each of the 4 fuses be 25 amps?
No. That is simply the maximum load on the fuse box. Note also it has a range circuit. The range circuit could be 60a. If it weren't for the SE cable's condition I'd say you could just swap the fuse box for a 100 amp breaker box assuming the SE cable is #1 or better.
 
  #26  
Old 09-07-11, 06:27 PM
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Ohhh, I see now guys. Thanks for clearing that up. I thought it might be different with fuseboxes.

I got a chance to run everything at once and nothing dimmed. One of the outlets did give a slight spark/small lightning-like bolt on one side of the TV plug when I tried to plug a TV in, and I didn't even plug it in all the way. I then put the plug in, and it did it again on the way in. But it wasn't as bad as the alternative house; in the alternative house one of the outlets blew out a little fireworks show when I tried to plug in a small device with a power adapter.
 
  #27  
Old 09-07-11, 06:35 PM
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One of the outlets did give a slight spark/small lightning-like bolt on one side of the TV plug when I tried to plug a TV in, and I didn't even plug it in all the way. I then put the plug in, and it did it again on the way in. But it wasn't as bad as the alternative house; in the alternative house one of the outlets blew out a little fireworks show when I tried to plug in a small device with a power adapter
That was just the capacitors charging.
 
  #28  
Old 09-08-11, 10:31 AM
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Oh okay. I'd never actually had a fireworks situation like that before, except one time my inspector and I accidently came into a live wire that hadn't been properly terminated and it exploded into sparks.
 
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