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Wiring... don't touch ANYTHING!:

One of the things the home inspector pointed out right away was an issue with the electrical wiring in the basement. Aside from a tiny subpanel for the electric oven and range, There was one small 100 Amp breaker box serving the whole house, and it was packed a bit beyond its capacity. One of the breakers had been replaced with a twin mini breaker to accomodate an extra wire, which is basically 2 miniature breakers that fit in a slot where a single breaker would go. Normally this is an OK practice (otherwise they wouldn't sell them), but they tend to be less reliable than a standard breaker, and this particular one was a bit flaky, losing connection with even a slight movement of the breaker. The other issue was that one of the standard breakers had been "double tapped" or had 2 different circuits attatched to it with 2 seperate wires. This can cause many problems, as the terminals for most breakers are designed to clamp down evenly on just a single wire. Having two wires in the terminal can lead to arcing and sparking and possibly a fire because the wires expand and contract during use as they can get warm when alot of current is being carried through them, and they can loosen up and make poor contact. If you don't believe me, go turn on an electric toaster and watch the red hot elements inside bow away from the sides of the toaster. Basically a toaster is a thin piece of wire plugged into an electrical outlet.

With the help of Ernie, The King Of All Things Electrical, I decided to do a major overhaul, and install a new subpanel to provide room for the extra circuits and future expansion. After much planning, measuring, and list writing, we picked up a new 100 Amp box and a rather large chunk of entrance cable so that we could install the new panel in a more central location in the house. There was lots of prep work to be done before the actual install could happen, so I went about those tasks here and there over the next week or two. When we were working on remodeling the inside of the house, we had already relaced all of the old switches and 2 prong outlets with new grounded ones, so that saved a lot of time. The first task was to figure out where everything went, and label all of the wires so that we could decide which box would be best to put them in, and we could size the new breaker appropriately. Let me tell you right now, how much I hate wire tracing! Although this project was not nearly as difficult as most of the network wiring at work, it still had it's challenges. One of the really odd things we found when we were replacing the recepticles and switched during the remodeling was that while all the ground wires were in the wiring boxes, and appeared to be attached to the circuit breaker panel properly, random outlets didn't seem to be grounded in certain spots in the house, sometimes right in the middle of a circuit... Well when I started tracing the wires to label them, I discovered why. One side of the basement is partially finished, and the previous owners had installed a drop ceiling and some good bright flourescent overhead lights. Well removal of some of the panels revealed the answer to the disappearing, reappearing ground mystery. There were 4 or 5 ceramic light fixtures hidden above the ceiling, much like this one, all missing bulbs, but most with screw-in plug adapters with very old, brittle, but thankfully unused extension cords plugged into them. Needless to say the labelling project came to a standstill while I removed all of these fires waiting to happen, reconnected the wires properly, and capped off the boxes. Finally I figured out where everything went, and rectified two or three other potential issues along the way, like the garage door opener being plugged into a 2 wire outlet 20 feet away using a thin piece of lamp cord, and the 2 live recepticles in the kitchen that were buried behind in the wall behind the cabinets, and the live wire that went out through the garage floor and underground to nowhere where I'm guessing a lamp post might ave been. With all of that taken care of, I was finally able to get to the actual project at hand. I cut new plywood backer boards for both panels so we could manage the wires better as they came out of the boxes. The old panel had just been screwed to a couple of 2x4's hung from the floor joists, so it needed something a bit more substantial than that. I got the backer board and new panel hung in it's new home on the north wall of the basement, and called on Ernie for some help with the rest of the project.

In the end it took 2 days a couple weeks apart, keeping in mind that we were in no hurry. The first day, we spent rerouting about half of the house wiring to the new box. In our initial inspection when planning this project, we discovered that the oven had been wired using a wire that was not big enough to handle the current from the breaker, so we also removed the old box that serviced the oven and stove, so that we could service those directly from the new panel as well. So that we could use those appliances until we could get the right size wire, we temporarily used the original piece of aluminium service wire from the stove subpanel to provide power to the stove and oven. It looked like something out of Frankenstien with these two chunks of heavy wire hanging out of our nice new subpanel and running haphazardly through the wall ending in five or six fanned out pigtails bolted together and wrapped in black tape hanging in front of the pump room door! By the end of the day, we had gotten pretty much everything hooked up and usable again. Ernie headed back home and I went back to Lowes and picked up the rest of the stuff we would need to finish up: wire, plugs, and recepticles for the stove, a fuse disconnect for our water pump, numerous bits of staples and connectors... etc. The second day we spent on the project was mostly tidying up the installation and installing the new wire for the stove and oven. We made quik work of mounting the new fuse disconnect that will now protect our well pump from a burnout, and spent a couple more hours stapling wires to make things neat and proper. All in all, the job wasn't too bad (or too expensive) and I feel much safer now that it is done. We have plenty of room for expansion now too, for all those built-in lights, and hottubs, and other toys that Mere wants.... (heheheh).

Copyright © 2006 Devon R. Jacobs. All Rights Reserved.