Hot Topics: Rewiring an Entire House
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A new homeowner believes the electrical in their house isn't grounded, and wants to replace outdated two-prong outlets. But do they need to rewire the whole house in the process? As always, our forum of industry pros and experienced DIYers has some opinions.
Original Post: Rewire Entire House?
Dixie2012 Forum Topic Moderator
We are closing on a home this Friday. It's a 1968 single story, 3 bed, 1 ½ bath, brick home on a slab in north Louisiana on 5 acres. Nothing has been updated in this home since its existence. It's still a 1968 home. Very outdated.
Other than a couple of outlets I noticed during the viewing, all the outlets are the old two-prong and not grounded. The 100 amp breaker panel is a mess and only has about eight or 10 breakers for the entire home.
I want to rewire the whole house with 12/3 Romex and replace all the outlets with three-prong outlets so everything will be grounded. The laundry room is my first concern, but also the places where electronics like TVs, computers, etc. are going to be.
I'll say that on first appearances, the old man that lived there since 1968 seems like he was a DIY guy, but not very good. Plumbing and electrical is a mess, not to mention that when he cut out to access the area, he just leaned the paneling back against the wall—sometimes just breaking it off by hand. Wires tied together in the attic are not in junction boxes. They're just cut and spliced and the wire nuts are laying there.
I think you see what a mess this is so, again, I would like to just rewire the whole house including the breaker panel, remove and/or replace the 12/2 Romex with 12/3, replace all the two-prong outlets with three-prong outlets, and replace all the light switches with paddle switches.
Based on the limited info I have before closing and thorough inspection, generally speaking, what would you do? I am not even close to 100% on electrical or terminology. I built a shop in 2001 and wired it with instructions from a friend and it has served me well and hasn't burned down. The energy guy who came out to turn on the electricity, etc. said it looked fine. I just know basic stuff, but got it done correctly. I plan to have a professional do the wiring and panel...IF that is what we decide to change/update per your advice on projects where a licensed contractor is required.
Tolyn Ironhand Group Moderator
First off, you will not be using 12-3, you will be using 12-2 with ground. 12-3 will only be used for special applications such as 3-ways/4-ways, smoke detectors, etc.
If I was doing the job, I would rather use 14-gauge cable. I find it easier to work with and easier for box fill. I tend to run more circuits so overloading is not an issue. That is just how I like to do houses.
Your place has obviously been updated if you have breakers instead of fuses and there is Romex run throughout the house. In my area, a 1968 house would have fuses and FMC for a wiring method.
Note: If you rewire the house, it will be a requirement to wire it to current code. It appears your location is on the 2011 code (2014 in process). 120 volt general circuits are required to have AFCI protection. Kitchens and bathrooms are exempt. Tamper resistant devices are also required.
What type of cable is used in the house? If it's wired with metal clad cable (BX cable) with bonding wire (a thin bare wire inside cable), then it may actually have a ground. In this case, you can simply replace outlets with three-prong and pigtail ground to the junction box or use self-grounding outlets. It's also possible that you actually have a NM cable with ground, but two-prong outlets were installed. I saw this in a condo I lived in for a year.
If it's wired BX cable without bonding wire, the metal clad still may be providing some ground, but may have too high of a resistance to be a good ground. If you have a cloth sheathing with just two wires, then you have absolutely no ground at all. The best solution in the last two cases will be rewiring them, but it won't be an easy task and for the age of the house, it may be plaster instead of drywall. Then, it will be even harder to cut and repair drywall.
Personally, if it is a drywalled house, I'd rewire the whole hose and if it's a plaster house, then I'd rewire only the places I absolutely need ground (audio systems, computer equipment, and maybe kitchen outlets). The rest I would just put on GFCI and change outlets with a three-prong.
Also, you don't need 12-3 or 12-2. Use them only on kitchen outlets or wherever you need 20A circuits. 14-2 is more then enough for most applications as long as you don't put too many outlets or lights on a circuit. No matter what you choose to do, you have to fix splices made without a junction box. They are a fire hazard.
Dixie2012 Forum Topic Moderator
As for ground, I had a home inspection done and he had one of those little tester things that he stuck in several outlets and the red light lit up on his tester which indicated there was no ground. He said the meter (I think) is grounded because there is a ground wire running into the ground outside. He also indicated that I could simply run a little piece of wire from the neutral to the green ground screw on each outlet and that would serve as a ground. Honestly, even if it's true, I'm not sure that's how I want to do it permanently.
Let me back up a second on the wiring. I am using the term "Romex" for the wiring in the house. I know Romex is a brand name but it's a general term for home wiring to me. The current wiring in the house has a white plastic cover with only two wires inside: a white wire and a black wire. There is no ground (bare copper). It looks like standard 12 gauge wire and there are only two wires, so that's what I am calling 12/2. Technically, it may not be but it's what my limited experience tells me. I used 12/3 Romex in my shop when I wired it. Again, white plastic covering with three wires inside...one black, one white and one bare copper ground. Again, for my limited experience, it's 12 gauge wire, with three wires...12/3.
Tolyn, I really don't think it's been updated. Down here, I haven't seen fuses in a panel in a long time. The house I grew up in was built in either '58 or '59 and it had breakers. Obviously, I can't be certain, but the breaker panel and the breakers in this panel appear to be original and aged.
As for walls—the best we can tell at this point is that the house has paneling (?) that was turned around and wallpaper put on. At this point, we can't tell if there is Sheetrock, but we don't believe there is any. That's another issue for another thread, but we're considering just adding Sheetrock over the existing reversed paneling and wallpaper.
As for 12 gauge wire, I thought that was just standard wiring for homes, etc. But you guys are saying 14 gauge wiring is appropriate. I do like ample outlets, so if rewiring becomes our final decision, we will be adding more outlets and, in some cases, double outlets in the office at minimum. So, if we do rewire, it's likely that we may need 12 gauge wire.
He said WHAT?!! Please tell me he did not say this to you or, hopefully, you just misunderstood him. This is called a "bootleg" ground and is so against code and is SO DANGEROUS to say the least!! Please do not do this or even consider it.
ibpooks Forum Topic Moderator
Fire that guy and don't pay him if you haven't already. Extremely hazardous advice. This guy clearly is not qualified to be doing home inspections. Take any of the rest of his report with a grain of salt.
If from '68, your house probably does have some grounding method. It may not be hooked up at the receptacles leading to the bug tester, showing no ground. I'd look into that once you get the house before committing to a full rewire project. I would try to reuse wiring in the general rooms like bedrooms and living rooms. I would probably do a full rewire of the kitchen and baths. I would add new circuits where there will be high current devices (for example, window AC units or space heaters). I would add hardwired smoke detectors and a CO detector.
Obviously, any hack work you find like flying splices should be repaired correctly, but overall that will be much less work and expense than a full rewire.
Dixie2012 Forum Topic Moderator
It obviously needs to be a grounded system. The only way I know to do that is to remove or replace all the two-wire system and replace it with a three-wire system and change out all the outlets. But, with my limited knowledge, I don't know what other options I have.
For most of the house, just refresh the receptacles with new two-prong. That will satisfy most of your use. For laundry/kitchen, a GFCI marked "no equipment ground" will work and be safe. Only at those places where you need a true ground (surge protectors) should you consider a rewire now. With an older house, you will be busy enough with other things to waste time upgrading what doesn't need upgraded.
Tolyn Ironhand Group Moderator
I wouldn't rewire the whole house unless you're going to tear off the paneling and open the walls. Then, it makes sense to rewire as it will be much easier. I would add circuits to the kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry. I would also put things like the dishwasher/garbage disposal, fixed microwave, and any other heavy loads on their own circuit. That will lighten the load on the other circuits. I would also take the time and repair any wiring that is wrong (missing junction boxes, incorrectly fused wires, etc.).
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