Rewiring old boxes


Old 10-09-01, 07:00 AM
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This is one of those really odd questions: I have a 1930's home wired with 18 gauge wiring. I want to replace several outlets with 12 gauge wiring to feel safer about puting space heaters on those outlets.
The problem is the walls are plaster & lath. I want to drill out the bottom of !!!STEEL!!! outlet boxes, cut a hole through the bottom of the wall plate by going through the new hole cut in the bottom of the wall box, and fish the new wire up into the box.
I will splice the wires together on one of the boxes that is not an end-run box.
My question is: How in the world can I cut through the bottom of the box???!??!!! This steel would work good on M1A1 Abrams tanks. The angle I am having to cut at makes the drill bit slide!
I am to the point of getting my 30-06 and shooting a hole through each of them!
Hope someone has some bright ideas. I used to think I knew a lot about working on homes and remodeling but.....
Thanks, FH
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Old 10-09-01, 09:48 AM
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There has never been a wiring style approved to serve receptacles with 18 awg wire. You need to take a pair of strippers that have the wire gauges on the strippers with a hole the size of the gauge wire. Confirm what wire size you actually have. Can't believe it to be 18 awg wire serving receptacles.

Under no circumstance are you allowed to drill a hole into device boxes used for switches or receptacles. This would be a direct violation of the NEC minimum safety standards.

Give us more info what exactly your are trying to do with the receptacles and what type of construction your walls are built by. Do you have heavy beams in the crawl under the outside walls? How far up the wall are the receptacle boxes. Are they recessed in the plaster and lathe or in the baseboard?

What size wire do you actually have and what type wiring design? Are there two single wires entering the box or are the on Romex cable entering the box that contains the two or three wires?

Need more precise info

Old 10-10-01, 09:35 AM
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Old wiring

I am less frazzled today so I hopefully can give a more coherent idea as to what I am doing!
I checked and it is 16 awg old cable (probably installed around 1937) with cloth covered wiring. Three wires: hot, neutral and a 18 awg ground wire.
The box is an end run so only has one set of wires. It is recessed into the plaster and I cannot tell from looking inside the box how they have connected it to the stud. My stud finder can't even decide which side the stud is on! I have not chipped away the plaster too much since it tends to crack and split off more that I want.
What I am trying to do is take this box out of the circuit and add it to a new circuit wired with 12-2 awg so when I run a 1500 Watt oil-filled electric space heater on it I will not have to worry about overloading the old wiring. I am doing this in two adjoining bedrooms both on the same dedicated circuit.
I need to either cut a hole in the bottom of the box (which now I know I cannot do!) or replace the box entirely so I can get a hole cut through the bottom plate to fish the new wire up to the box. I did not want to cut a new hole because this would mean I would have 2 outlets side by side.
I have a finished basement underneath so once I get the wires to the basement I am fine. Also has a licensed electrian for a cousin and he checks all my work before I hook it up to main box.
I think that answers all of your questions.
Thanks, FH
Old 10-11-01, 02:04 PM
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I suspect that you will find that the cloth style romex you are talking of actually has 14 awg hot and grounded and a 16 ga. bare grounding conductor in that older cable. Your time line is about right but may have been installed more like the 40s and 50s era. When you guage your wire your conductor should slide through the guaging hole not be caught by it. If you wll regauge the conductors I suspect you will find that I am right.

Now as for installing a new circuit in that old circuits place I would do one of the following three options.

Crawl into the attic or basement and find the wire that you have as existing. It is possible that this cloth style romex was ran through the studs horizontally. You should be able to find the wire coming up into the attic or down into the basement or possible in the next adjascent receptacle or swtich being either in the same side of the wall or the oppisite side of the wall. Find where that wire is fed from. Make sure this is the wire going to that older receptacle. Then cut it off and end the wire in a junction box or in that next switch or receptacle. Once you know that you have de-energized that older romex then shove it back into the wall. Most likely you will not be able to pull the older romex out of the wall. The stapling back then did not allow the romex to slide through those staples.

Then go into the basement and drill a hole into that stud space and shove the new romex up to the old empty receptacle box. Use a flash light to watch for the wire. Once you see the new wire coming up then grab it with a fish tape or needle nose pliers. Hold it while the person in the basement shoves more wire into the stud space. The new romex should bend allowing you to fish the wire into the existing hole where the old wire was.

Second option is to again de-energize the old Romex and then stuff the box with a filler and plaster the box shut. Then install a wiremold box on the baseboard where it is easier to get that cable to the new box. This wire mold box is a surface mounted box that can be installed near the floor level on the baseboard. Removing the cove mold at the floor level of the baseboard and drill a small hole there bringing the new Romex into the new surface mounted wire mold box.

You can also do this new surface mounted receptacle box with a new circuit and leave the old receptacle as existing and still energized with no or little load on that circuit. You take the heavy loads off an old cloth style romex and you have done a partial rewire that is often done making the house more compatable to the new heavier loads and making the load on that old horse easier and safer for it to carry the lighter loads.

The last option which is often the best bet is to take a small hammer and beat the entire will corner to corner. When you beat the wall in between the studs the plaster will start falling off in big slabs. The bounce of the lathing will shake the plaster loose and it will fall. Try not to damage the lathing any more than necessary. Then once you have removed and shoveled out the plaster remove three lathes in the middle of the wall about waist high. Save those removed slats. Drill holes horizontally across the wall and install all new wiring and boxes making the wiring on that wall up to date. You can also repair plumbing,etc whild those slats are off opening that wall up. Once you are done installing what new you want installed then take bisquine and staple it to the wall from the baseboard to the bottom of where the slats were removed. Then blow insulation into the wall stud areas to the bottom of those removed slats. Now reinstall what slats you can filling in that area that was opened up. Doesn't matter if you have gaps no larger than 2' gaps, hopefully the holes will be smaller in that area. What you are doing is creating a backing for the wall covering that will be relying on those slats as strength. The new wall covering will span a 2' square gap without much problem. Once you have filled that area with slats again then staple the bisquine up the the bottom of the top two slats. Remove those slats and blow insulation into the stud spaces to fill the wall spaces to the top of those stud spaces. Then staple the bisquine to the top of the wall. Then install 3/8 drywall to the lathes making the surface smooth like a new finished wall and landing the surface sticking out the same distance as the plaster did allowing you to reinstall you window trims etc. While you have the window trim removed you can also change your window sizes if you like or repair the counter wieghts with jack chain where the ropes are rotted. Makes for a new looking job yet allowing the finished product to fit like the plaster did and the woodwork to be reinstalled as it originally was with new mechanicals inside that wall. You can strip a whole room with a small hammer some patience and a scoop shovel for removal in about a half day per room ready for reconstruction. Just an option that often found to be easier, faster, and more thorough over fishing a parial job and still have the older plaster. This also allows you to remove all the old wiring and mechanicals.

You now have three choices to chose from. Good Luck and let us know how you come out.

Just some ideas that may fit your needs.

Hope this helps

Old 10-12-01, 03:19 AM
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Option 3 is like killing a flea with a thermonuclear weapon!!! Don't scare me that bad!
What I think I will do is carefully cut a box hole several studs over from existing box (wire is unaccessable, either horizontal in wall or from second floor) and use a standard sheetrock existing construction box w/screw wings. Then I will cut a hole through floor plate to fish new wire up from basement. Sort of a modified #1 above.
Does this sound like a workable solution?
Thanks, FH
Old 10-12-01, 04:07 AM
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Is it that difficult to take out the old box? I rewired my 80 year old house (thats 1 house ago now) and had no problem getting the old boxes out. All of mine were simply screwed through the plaster to the wood lathe. Even if yours are attached to the studs, get a sabre saw (recipocating saw) with a metal blade, run it along either side of the box to cut off whatever is holding it on. Of course de-energize the circuit before hand!!! Then either use again if still useable or buy new "old work" boxes. Buy a 10 pack and save a little $$. Depending upon where you are at, work up from the basement or down from the attic. To easily locate where to drill through the floor (sole plate), from the room side drill a very small hole right in front of where you want it in the wall, just big enough to push through a small wire (coat hanger), go to the the basement or attic, move over to the middle of the wall cavity 2" or so from your just placed guide wire, and drill a large enough hole to fit your new wires through. With the hole in the wall from the box you will easily be able to see the new wire being pushed up, grab it, pulll an extra 12" through the wall for slack, (If you want to go to another box, feed a second wire through) feed the wires into the new box & secure the wire clamps, if apropriate, then mount back into the wall.

Special notes:
Be sure to replace all outlets on that circuit. Overall you would be best off to map out your entire house from an electrical circuit viewpoint ahead of time.
Be sure to cut & pull as much of the old (now dead) wire as possible. Reach your arm inside the wall & cut if possible and cut the runs in the basement. In fact use the same floor joist holes to run your new wire back to the box.
I assume your existing service panel has the capacity and space to handle the new loads or at least your cousin will help you in that area.
Buy your cable, boxes & outlets in bigger quantities, you will use more feet of wire than you can imagine.

If you want to rewire your entire house, winter time is the time to do it. Being in an attic in the summer is not only no fun, it can be hazardous due to the heat & dust.

Good luck


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