Black cables used in basement wiring

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  #1  
Old 02-27-13, 10:05 AM
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Question Black cables used in basement wiring

My wife and I are looking at purchasing a house. The house we are interested has a large, partially finished basement. Only 1 room in the basement is partially finished, and the rest of the basement is unfinished with exposed studs and floor joists from the main floor. The room that is finished has a dropped ceiling, so there is easy access to all the wiring in the basement. The main panel is also in the basement.

As we were walking through the basement, it appears that the previous owner did a lot of his own electric work down there. If my memory serves me correctly, there were a lot of runs made with a black sheathed cable. I've been researching home wiring over the past few weeks, and I don't know what kind of cables they could be.

Has anyone encountered this. Could it be low voltage cables or something? We are going to go back to the house for a 2nd visit in a few days an I can take a better look at them.

I'm assuming the worst and anticipating having to make new wiring runs down there. I would plan on doing the work myself. It should be pretty easy considering that most of the basement is unfinished, and the finished portion is only a dropped ceiling and some paneling on the walls.

Would I be required to pull permits to fix the existing wiring? This house is in central Illinois.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 10:10 AM
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Black is an old color for some brands of "plastic" sheathed NM. You could also have been looking at discolored cloth NM.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 10:33 AM
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Thanks for the info. It didnt look old enough to be cloth, but I guess it could be plastic sheathed nm. There were several of the blue, plastic, electrical boxes used. But I have no way of knowing when they were put in.

Also, a lot of the cables were hanging low off of the floor joists. Whoever did the work, didn't really drill many holes to run the wires. In the dropped ceiling, you can see the wires coming down and touching the frosted panels where the lights are. Also, none of the boxes have covers on them. That's what leads me to think it was homeowner DIY wiring or handyman wiring that wasn't fully up to snuff.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 10:41 AM
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I'd check with the permit office to see if anything was ever taken out for this.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 11:19 AM
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Your area may require conduit if it is close to the Chicagoland area. Your building officials can tell you about permits and acceptable wiring methods.

The cables should have some sort of labeling on them.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 11:33 AM
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We are looking at the house again on Saturday. The house is in Metamora, IL, which is roughly in the Peoria area. Not, in Peoria, or peoria county though. Woodford County to be specific. I will be sure to double check the labeling on the cables to see what it could be. I would expect it to be white or yellow if it was 14 awg or 12 awg NM wiring. It being black confuses me.

Good idea on checking with the permit office. Also, if we were to make an offer, we definatly are going to get a home inspection. I imagine an inspector would probably tell us pretty quickly if it wasn't up to code.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 11:36 AM
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From what I remember, the wiring appears to be smilar to the black sheathed wiring shown in the picture in thread number at at this link:

http://www.doityourself.com/forum/li...ml#post2072411
 
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Old 02-27-13, 11:39 AM
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Be sure to hire your own, independent home inspector, not one associated with any of the realtors involved.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 11:40 AM
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That's old Romex cable, from the 1960's and 1970's.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 01:08 PM
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The house was built in 1968. Did they not color code the sheathing the same as they do now?
 
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Old 02-27-13, 01:12 PM
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The color coding didn't start until the 2000's. I've seen older Romex from that time period in Black, White, Green, Pink, and Blue.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 01:39 PM
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That's comforting. I was fearing the worst. Did they still print the on the sheathing on the older Romex like they do now? I'm assuming the did.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 03:07 PM
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The old cable might be labeled with raised or embossed printing on the sheath.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 04:23 PM
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the wiring appears to be smilar to the black sheathed wiring shown in the picture in thread number at at this link:
If you read through that thread, you'll see that our best guess was that the cables shown in the pictures you linked to weren't designed or manufactured for 120/240V power, and that they would need to be replaced.

That said, the Type NM that is sheathed in black plastic would look a lot like that at a glance. If that's what you have it should be fine.

I will be sure to double check the labeling on the cables to see what it could be.
Look for the information embossed into the jacket.
I would expect it to be white or yellow if it was 14 awg or 12 awg NM wiring. It being black confuses me.
The yellow for #12 AWG and orange for #10 AWG Type NM jackets are recent innovations. Before that, everything was white and you couldn't tell anything about wire size unless you could read the jacket. The inspectors got that changed. Before that, Type NM was jacketed with black plastic and, before that, with woven fabric.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 05:56 PM
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The yellow for #12 AWG and orange for #10 AWG Type NM jackets are recent innovations. Before that, everything was white and you couldn't tell anything about wire size unless you could read the jacket
OR....any of the colors Justin mentioned.

Justin Smith

The color coding didn't start until the 2000's. I've seen older Romex from that time period in Black, White, Green, Pink, and Blue.
I've also seen brown/tan older generation NM cables.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 05:59 PM
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Also, a lot of the cables were hanging low off of the floor joists. Whoever did the work, didn't really drill many holes to run the wires. In the dropped ceiling, you can see the wires coming down and touching the frosted panels where the lights are. Also, none of the boxes have covers on them. That's what leads me to think it was homeowner DIY wiring or handyman wiring that wasn't fully up to snuff.
You have numerous code violations. Installing covers on boxes is easy, but pulling the old cables out and installing them through properly drilled holes in the joists isn't quite so easy. The cables above the dropped ceiling are also required to be run through holes drilled in the joists.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 06:17 PM
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I am going to say that many areas would allow the cables on the bottom of the framing as long as they are above a drop ceiling. You could also secure them to running boards instead of drilling the framing.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 06:29 PM
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I am going to say that many areas would allow the cables on the bottom of the framing as long as they are above a drop ceiling. You could also secure them to running boards instead of drilling the framing.
I'd have to agree. Like Nash frequently says, "all codes are local" and that sometimes has to do with the knowlege the local AHJ inspector has of the NEC.
 
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Old 02-27-13, 09:20 PM
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that sometimes has to do with the knowlege the local AHJ inspector has of the NEC.
Too true that. It hasn't happened often, IMX, but just imagine trying to argue an inspector into a different interpretation of a code provision!

No thanks.
 

Last edited by Nashkat1; 02-28-13 at 06:52 AM. Reason: typo
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Old 02-28-13, 05:38 AM
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Thanks for all the info. I feel comforted that there is a good chance the wiring is NM wiring pre-color standards. On the black seathed old NM jackets, did the typically print the wire info onto it like they do now? I would want to figure out what gauge wiring was used just to verify that it was indeed nm cable appropriate for the circuts that are run.

I'm hoping I can learn a lot through the home inspection before buying the house. From there I can set a plan of action on what I need to do. If it is as simple as securing wire & installing covers, then that would be a piece of cake. If they want more then that, I know I could handle it, it would just take more time.
 
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Old 02-28-13, 06:56 AM
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On the black seathed old NM jackets, did the typically print the wire info onto it like they do now? I would want to figure out what gauge wiring was used just to verify that it was indeed nm cable appropriate for the circuts that are run.
It should be there, but not necessarily as colored printing.
Originally Posted by Nashkat1
Look for the information embossed into the jacket.
 
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Old 02-28-13, 06:57 AM
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Black Cable

If what you are checking is like what I have in my basement, you will need a strong flashlight to see the lettering on the cable. Mine has the lettering on one side only, so be sure to check the other side if at first you do not see it.
 
  #23  
Old 03-02-13, 03:42 PM
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Went and looked at the house again today. Got a better idea on some things.

Pros:
-200A service
-whole home surge protection in the main panel
-The suspect wiring in the basement is in fact NM cable (I looked at the cable sheathing, at it said NM 14/2

Cons:
-Several connections made outside of electrical boxes.
-Several boxes without covers
-A handful of connections made without wire connectors (twised and electrical taped together). Some of these were outside of electrical boxes too.
-several cables were run on the underside of the floor joists (some cases, there were holes drilled in the floor joist to run the cable, they just never ran them through the holes.

Don't knows:
-Large gauge wires or cables run through the floor joists, not in conduit. They also had a sub panel in the garage, so it could have been a cable with the wire running to the sub panel. It was going in the right direction for that. It only saw one cable/wire like this. I would think if it was the main service wires, they would have come in as 3 wires. The sheating appeared to be abotut 3/4" - 7/8" in diameter.

We put an offer in on the house. I expect that I am going to need to do some work to bring the basement wiring up to code. Most of it looks like it would be DIY. Just a lot of cleenup needed.
 
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Old 03-02-13, 04:09 PM
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Doesn't sound too bad overall. I've not only seen worse, I've bought, lived in and rehabbed worse!

Don't knows:
-Large gauge wires or cables run through the floor joists, not in conduit. They also had a sub panel in the garage, so it could have been a cable with the wire running to the sub panel. It was going in the right direction for that. It only saw one cable/wire like this. I would think if it was the main service wires, they would have come in as 3 wires. The sheating appeared to be abotut 3/4" - 7/8" in diameter.
That does sound like the feed for the subpanel. One question, for clarification on this. Did you see any actual wires - individual conductors - run without conduit, or is there just one large cable with three or four wires in it?
 
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Old 03-02-13, 04:56 PM
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One caveat that you will need to pay attention to is the house is going to have 60 degree rated insulation on the wiring. Many new light fixtures require 90 degree rated insulation. The 90 degree cable is NM-B, not NM.
 
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Old 03-02-13, 05:54 PM
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I couldn't see any individual wires. It looked like it was a cable with wires inside.
 
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Old 03-02-13, 08:21 PM
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I couldn't see any individual wires. It looked like it was a cable with wires inside.
Okay, that sounds kosher. Just wanted to be clear.
 
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Old 03-03-13, 04:48 AM
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-A handful of connections made without wire connectors (twised and electrical taped together). Some of these were outside of electrical boxes too.
If you can see these, how many are there buried in the walls? I had one behind the man-door molding in the garage feeding an outlet. It caught fire when I plugged in a space heater. Thank heavens I was in the garage at the time and had an extinguisher nearby.
 
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Old 03-17-13, 07:32 PM
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Ok. So I wanted to give an update following the home inspection.

The main panel is grounded, but none of the circuts in the house are grounded. The original black NM cable that I was questioning in my earlier posts does not have a ground wire in it. It is ungrounded cable. At some point in time, a previous owner went through and installed 3 prong recepticals throughout the house, but never ran new cables to them. He said we can do a few things with them:
-Run new grounded cables from the panel to the recepticals
-Install GFCI recepticals for safety (but wouldn't protect computers, TV, etc)
-put 2 wire recepticals back in "when no one is looking" so that you can't plug a grounded plug into the ungrounded outlet.

He suggested, and we are planning on doing this for now, is to run new cables to the recepticals that our computers, TV, and other important appliances are plugged into, so they are protected, and then put GFCI's in (either on the panel, or in the walls) for the other outlets. Then we can work toward full grounded cable runs over time.

The bathrooms and kitchen are protected with GFCI breakers, & they tripped correctly when the inspector tripped them with his testor.

The only issue in the main panel is the main service wires were pressing up on the front case of the panel. Inspector said it looks like it was a weekend warrior install because no electrician would leave the service wires that way. I would want to call someone to fix that. Also, he noticed that when all the electronic things in the house were running, one service wire was a few degrees hotter then the other. It also had a higher current flowing through it then the other. He seems to think that maybe one of the connections of the service wire to the panel is a little loose, so I wold want to have that fixed as well.

Other then those issues, there are a lot of weekend warrior solutions. Inspector said that for the most part, everything looks like it is functioning properly, but the wire runs and connections were not done correctly. No covers on boxes. Some connections outside of boxes. Switches and recepticals without covers.

He did see one thing that made him start to laugh. Said he had never seen it before. A light fixture in the basement is powered from an extension cord with one end cut off. The cord is plugged into an outlet several feet away. The cord runs to the light fixture, which is mounted directly to the under side of the floor joist. Because of the way it was mounted, there was no way for them to get to the wires the normal way, so they ran the extension cord in through the ground hole on a outlet on the light fixture, and then connected the wires to it that way.


Overall, there isn't really anything that scared me away. I will just have a laundry list of projects to do when we move in. It does dissapoint me a bit that none of the recepticals are grounded, however, I can work on getting them converted over. I have good access to each room in the house from the basement and from the attic, so I can get new wiring in, it will just take some work. I should have some pictures when the formal inspection report gets sent to us.
 
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Old 03-17-13, 07:51 PM
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one service wire was a few degrees hotter then the other. It also had a higher current flowing through it then the other. He seems to think that maybe one of the connections of the service wire to the panel is a little loose
That's actually more involved than most home inspectors get. Did he actually have a thermal camera ? It would be a first.

As far as one wire having more current than the other...... it is perfectly normal. Very rarely are the legs evenly balanced.
 
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Old 03-17-13, 08:47 PM
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The main panel is grounded, but none of the circuts in the house are grounded. The original black NM cable that I was questioning in my earlier posts does not have a ground wire in it. It is ungrounded cable. At some point in time, a previous owner went through and installed 3 prong recepticals throughout the house, but never ran new cables to them. He said we can do a few things with them:
-Run new grounded cables from the panel to the recepticals
-Install GFCI recepticals for safety (but wouldn't protect computers, TV, etc)
-put 2 wire recepticals back in "when no one is looking" so that you can't plug a grounded plug into the ungrounded outlet.

He suggested, and we are planning on doing this for now, is to run new cables to the recepticals that our computers, TV, and other important appliances are plugged into, so they are protected, and then put GFCI's in (either on the panel, or in the walls) for the other outlets. Then we can work toward full grounded cable runs over time.
It will be difficult, and a lot of extra work, to run new cables from new breakers to just a few receptacles, especially if they are in the middle of existing runs. Plus you can't really mix grounded and ungrounded wiring.

The way GFCI protection works with ungrounded wiring, and I would do this a.s.a.p. as a first step, is to replace the first receptacle in a series with a GFCI receptacle. The panel feed is connected to the LINE terminals and the wire(s) feeding the rest of the run is(are) connected to the LOAD terminals. All of the rest of the receptacles in that series are then allowed to be 3-slot receptacles. Put the stickers on them that say "GFCI Protected" and "No Equipment Ground." Then you can start replacing the cabling with 12-2/G or 14-2/G, one circuit at a time.

The bathrooms and kitchen are protected with GFCI breakers, & they tripped correctly when the inspector tripped them with his testor.
Then those circuits must be wired with cable that includes a grounding conductor.

I would avoid adding GFCI in the panel for any circuits that don't require GFCI protection. You will want to add AFCI protection in the panel for almost all of those circuits. I would also start doing that right away, given all of the questionable splicing and other dangerous wiring methods you've seen.
 
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Old 03-18-13, 09:40 AM
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Good idea with the first receptical in the run.

My plan would be to replace an entire run. So, if we were going to have our TV in our living room, I would just work on replacing the living room circut runs. If I do it before paint, I don't have to feel guilty about cutting holes in the walls where needed.
 
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Old 03-18-13, 09:58 AM
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My plan would be to replace an entire run.
When you replace an entire circuit you won't need the GFCI protection. My suggestion is that you add that protection first so that all of your existing 3-slot receptacles are usable while you finish the new wiring. The GFCI receptacles used to temporarily protect the general purpose circuits may not wind up being useless when you're done. There may be places such as outside, in the garage, or in the attic or basement, where you'll need to install them before you're finished.
 
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Old 03-18-13, 10:09 AM
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If if the connections were properly done in the panel or anywhere else, if there is more current being used it will be hotter than one with less flowing.
 
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Old 03-18-13, 11:31 AM
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Yeah. I probably didn't explain myself well. For the rooms that I would not get to right away, I would probably go through and get the GFCI on the first receptical of the run so the other's get protection. However, for the circuts in the living room and den, I would plan on replacing the full circut right away, so I wouldn't get GFCI recepticals for those.

Also, my inspector did have a thermal camera and was able to take thermal images of my service wires. He said one wire was about 20 degrees hotter then the other.

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Old 03-18-13, 02:42 PM
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my inspector did have a thermal camera and was able to take thermal images of my service wires. He said one wire was about 20 degrees hotter then the other.
An unusually well-qualified inspector! Yes, get a pro to look at hat.
 
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Old 03-18-13, 03:47 PM
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he said one wire was pulling 14 amps and the other was 17 amps while this was happening.
 
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