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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
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    Red face 1896 Victorian: What do I need to repair right away?

    So....I'm in escrow on an 1896 Eastlake Victorian that appears to have some electrical issues, but the seller agreed to my counter-counter-offer "as is." It's an estate sale, and apparently no one has lived there since at least 2006. The home inspector I used has a reputation of being thorough to the point of scaring buyers away, and the inspection had a lot of red "SC's" on it (for "safety concern"), mostly related to what looks like some DIY wiring (or unfinished work?). Here are his comments on the wiring below. Just how outdated is this? What do I need to fix right away? I am on a budget after putting 25% down...

    "125 amp panel with a 100 amp main breaker. Copper branch circuit wires appear serviceable. Aluminum (220 volt OK).
    -Panel has only (2) 20 amp 110 volt circuits and (1) 40 amp 220 volt circuit. It has room for more circuits, but as it is it is very minimal...considering the size of the house, the number of lights and fixtures, and the unusual subpanel upstairs.
    -Many open splices in the attic as well as under the raised floor area of unfinished north bedroom.
    -SUBPANEL NOTES: At the very least, bare equipment ground wires and white wires should not be on the same lugs. The second subpanel does not have any breakers on it. VERY UNUSUAL.
    -Open junction boxes in the crawlspace, as well as splices not contained in junction boxes throughout the house.
    -Several areas have hot wires with just wire nuts on the ends, including just above the shower.
    -Some of the 3-prong outlets do not have a ground.
    -West side utility room has the only GFCI outlet in the house, and it failed testing.
    -Knob & tube wiring viewed at back of attic. There may also be hidden knob & tube wiring in the walls, which should not have more than 15 amps on it."

    And here is what the seller had to say about the electrical systems in the disclosure I just received (she is the daughter-in-law of the deceased owner, and lives in a different state)...

    "Parker Electric replaced the electrical panel box and circuit breakers on the left side exterior of the house in 2011. They turned off power to the shed. They recommended further electrical upgrades in the house and shed."

    So...How bad does this sound? I'm getting a quote from an electrician this week, but I'm wondering which of the above sounds the worst, and what I can put off...? Thanks for any help!!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
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    Fayette County, Ohio
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    Default Re: 1896 Victorian: What do I need to repair right away?

    Sounds like you have a real hodge podge of wiring. I wonder why some wiring was redone in 2011 if no one lived in it since 2006.

    The open splices is a serious concern and will require at a minimum junction boxes and the splices redone. The open junction boxes will need lids installed, and easy DIY project. The fact that there is only one GFCI is not uncommon in older homes.

    One concern is that the house has been vacant for nearly 5 years, if the electric had been shut off it may be necessary to bring the house up to current code before the electric can be turned on. I wonder why some wiring was redone in 2011 if no one lived in it since 2006. I would suspect that a complete rewire may be needed.

    Jack
    Be sure you live your life, because you are a long time dead.-Scottish Proverb

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
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    Columbiana, Alabama
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    623

    Default Re: 1896 Victorian: What do I need to repair right away?

    Well the good news first. As Jack pointed out, missing covers and possibly box extensions are easy, cheap and well within a DIY. Homes that old usually are not very well insulated so new wiring is usually easy. Knob & tube wiring has been called some of the safest wiring, if not disturbed. Wires with just wire nuts should be disconnected in a box and discarded, unless the wire is in good shape. If so, put them in a box with a cover, for now.

    The the bad GFCI is easily replaced for $20, by a DIY. Be sure to use a tamper resistant (TR) so you won't have to replace it again later.

    If work was done in 2011 by an electrician was it done per 2011 Code, with AFCI breakers? How many square feet is the house and what are your plans for appliances and heat?

    I suspect because of the condition of the wiring you got the place well below the asking price but will have to sink a few thousand back into it. I've done many bed & breakfast like that but if that's in your plans it will have to be redone in MC cable or EMT. Otherwise, an inspector will make you tear out all the romex & K&T, even new stuff.

    Good Luck from Columbiana, Alabama
    Maurice Turgeon, http://thesemi-retiredelectrician.com

  4. #4
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    Apr 2011
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    Red face Re: 1896 Victorian: What do I need to repair right away?

    Thanks, guys! Definitely good to know I can replace the GFCI and the junction boxes myself. The house is only 1414 square feet, not one of the larger Victorians here, and just one small bathroom downstairs (though I need to add one upstairs eventually, above the downstairs one, so need to take that into consideration). There are w&d hookups in sunroom, so those will be an electrical drain I guess.

    The electricity has been turned on the whole time that the house has been vacant. There is a burglar alarm hard-wired that has been in use the whole time. The house has been listed for sale on and off since 2006, going down in price each time. And I suspect that someone must have been maintaining the inside of the house because, although a lot of the deceased owner's belongings are still there, there's no dust.

    The work done this January on the main panel must have been up to code. The company that did it is fully licensed.

    However when the home inspector saw the subpanel upstairs with no breakers on it, his first thought was "grow room." This house is in an area where many, many people grow weed/cannabis/ganja/you get the picture indoors, with high wattage grow lights, and the electrical work is often shoddy. However, there's none of the water damage associated with indoor grows. But there ARE ugly deadbolt locks on all the beautiful antique bedroom doors, and the door to the stairs. So it looks like they may have had a renter/caretaker at some point while the house was vacant, who maybe decided to take advantage of the space and start a grow operation? But it looks unfinished. I definitely can't see the former owner, who put a lot of meticulous work into restoring the house and picking out antique art nouveau hardware, cutting holes in the doors and putting plywood and big brass deadbolts on them.

    I'm also wondering about the splices that need to be in junction boxes. The elderly former owner (now deceased) was a "folk artist." He installed many decorative, fairy tale like touches over the years, including lots of ornate wall sconces that he built out of found items. There's one room with 6 of these sconces, all working, and it looks like some of the splices in other rooms were eventually meant to house more sconces, because of their height on the wall. I would hate to cover these with ugly junction boxes, in a house that someone put so much work into. So do I need to test them somehow before I install more wall sconces of my own?

    Similarly, there are wires with plastic nuts on the end where the bathroom light fixture used to be. I'm hoping I can just install another light fixture there using those wires...? However it's just 2 wires - do bathroom fixtures need to be grounded?

    And here's something else in the report that confuses me: "Aluminum (220 volt OK)." Isn't aluminum wire a bad thing?

    I'd like to DIY everything I possibly can (the stuff that I can find instructions for and can't completely screw up) and hire a licensed electrician to do the rest. Sorry for such a looooooooong post! Couldn't find a picture of any of the unique wall sconces on my camera, but here's the living room ceiling, to give an idea of how much work the owner put into the house. I want to complete and restore his work in other rooms. When he died it looks like he left projects in a few of the rooms unfinished.


  5. #5
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    Default Re: 1896 Victorian: What do I need to repair right away?

    Are the open splices already in a junction box? If so you should be able to install sconces. As far as it being 2 wire, a ground wire provides little if any safety you can however make them safe by installing GCFI or AFCI breakers.

    Jack
    Be sure you live your life, because you are a long time dead.-Scottish Proverb

  6. #6
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    Columbiana, Alabama
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    Default Re: 1896 Victorian: What do I need to repair right away?

    Mr. Total, the thing that scares me most is homemade light fixtures. Even some imported commercial fixtures with UL labels are actually unsafe and I wonder how in the world they got listed. Some sconce makers are 99% artists and 1% electricians.

    I've seen where the light sockets are not securely fastened and turn and twist the cloth covered insulation over sharp edges until a wire touches the metal arms and "energize" the fixture.

    If this happens to two sconces mounted side by side it's possible to receive a lethal shock by touching both sconces, if the fixture is not being supplied by a grounded circuit.

    Further, even an AFCI or GFCI (which offers better ground fault protection) may not help, since the shock would be line to neutral, not line to ground.

    I started to do a load calculation on your house and if you had a 1500 sq ft house instead of the 1440 you mentioned it would be the first example in the NEC Handbook Annex D.. D1(a):

    Your 100A panel is fine if you don't have heating/A/C loads (calculated load = 78A @ 240V) ; you could install (2) 20A light/receptacle circuits; (2) 20A kitchen countertop ckts; (1) 20A laundry circuit; (1) 20A bath circuit; (1) 8000W electric range circuit; (1) 5500W dryer circuit

    Good Luck from Columbiana, Alabama
    Maurice Turgeon, http://thesemi-retiredelectrician.com

  7. #7
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    Apr 2011
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    Default Re: 1896 Victorian: What do I need to repair right away?

    Thanks, Semi! It looks like maybe I can get away with 100 amps, since the central heat is a gas furnace, no need for A/C here on the NorCal coast, and the water heater is gas powered also. But I might want to use a little space heater at times instead of the central heat.

    When you say "you could install (2) 20A light/receptacle circuits; (2) 20A kitchen countertop ckts; (1) 20A laundry circuit; (1) 20A bath circuit; (1) 8000W electric range circuit; (1) 5500W dryer circuit," do you mean in addition to the existing (2) 20 amp 110 volt circuits and (1) 40 amp 220 volt circuit? Then will I need to upgrade the panel if I add a second bathroom? WIll I need a dedicated circuit for the second bath?

    Sounds like I should probably have someone check out all those sconces, too...

  8. #8
    Join Date
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    Default Re: 1896 Victorian: What do I need to repair right away?

    Total, what I listed was not in addition to what you now have, it's what you must have (per 2011 Code) if you were building a home your size today.

    The extra future bathroom receptacle could be on the same circuit as the existing 20A circuit, if you don't put fans or lights in the bathrooms on the receptacle circuit.

    Glad to see things are working out for you!

    Good Luck from Columbiana, Alabama
    Maurice Turgeon, http://thesemi-retiredelectrician.com

  9. #9
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    Default Re: 1896 Victorian: What do I need to repair right away?

    Well, actually you could put 500 20 amp lighting circuits in, the number of circuits doesn't mean anything, you just couldn't run them at full load. You may have a 20 amp lighting circuit with 10 ceiling lights each with a 60 watt lamp and the draw would only be 5 amps. Generally speaking, unless a home has a very large A/C unit or electric heat, a 100 amp service is more than adequate. If you run a 1500 watt space heater the draw would only be 12 amps.

    The scenario that Semi described is possible but unlikely. You would have to have one sconce with the hot shorted to the frame and the other with the neutral shorted to the frame and both close enough for you to grab them both at the same time.
    Jack
    Be sure you live your life, because you are a long time dead.-Scottish Proverb

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
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    Unhappy Re: 1896 Victorian: What do I need to repair right away?

    Thanks, guys. My electrical quote yesterday did not go well. The electrician recommended that I...RE-WIRE THE ENTIRE HOUSE! I was not expecting this at all, and had not budgeted for it. His quote was $15,000 to start, but he warned that costs can balloon from there if something goes wrong, and they have all the historical detail to remove from walls and ceilings, which they want to be able to preserve...making everything take longer despite the fact that most interior walls are hollow and there's a roomy crawlspace under the house.

    He said if they re-wire room by room, as I can afford it, it ends up being more expensive, because there are only 3 circuits powering the entire 9-room house -- so large areas of the house would lose power while they were working. It sounded like a sort of domino effect, like if they worked on one room, they'd have to work on every room connected to it? But I'm not sure I entirely understand.

    Also, I thought the knob & tube wiring was just some unconnected wires left in the attic when the modern wiring was put in, but there is one working light fixture in an unfinished room upstairs, that is still connected to knob & tube. So it's possible some other fixtures may be as well, I guess. Can't I disconnect each fixture in the house and inspect it myself to see if it's knob & tube, and just have those ones disconnected and re-wired? A lot of old houses around here have disconnected k&t left in them, but I guess I'm not sure what the process is for making sure none of it is connected?

    My problem with re-wiring entire house (aside from not having $15,000) is it looks like most of the wiring in the house is modern (although not many outlets are grounded), so re-wiring the whole house seems like a waste of materials. I'd been thinking I could just have an electrician add some more grounded outlets and GFCI's in the kitchen and bath...

    Oh, and obviously I need to get rid of the hard-wired radio that's mounted INSIDE THE SHOWER (what would you do about that? Can the wires be disconnected, capped off or something, and put back inside the wall and patched up?)...
    Last edited by TOTALN00B; 06-17-2011 at 01:32 PM.

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