Household electrical wiring advice? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 01:45 AM Thread Starter
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Angry Household electrical wiring advice?

I'm a tenant in a house that's on the market. I live here for free in exchange for maintenance and stuff; it's a 25 acre property and a 100 year old house, so the labor adds up, but I'm definitely getting a great deal.

I decided to add a GFCI to the circuit my fish tank is attached to, and there begins my odyssey. Half the house is modern wiring and half is ancient. I have a proper circuit breaker and modern wiring in the kitchen, but the fish tank circuit is (*gasp*) ungrounded. The wiring is so old that it's not color coded, and it's insulated with this black stuff that must be natural rubber or tar or something and wrapped in fabric.

I don't know anything about the electrical code, though I try to be safe and I know a bit about physics. What are my options here? I guess I ought to get a new junction box and run a new line from the circuit breaker? I don't know how to do that safely, but I guess I should start reading up.

Humbug. Thanks for any advice.
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post #2 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 02:12 AM
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A whole bunch depends on the local laws actually. In some locations the entire building is under the rule of a Grandfather Clause (It was built back in the day, so only back in the day laws apply). However, in some places the clause only covers the physical building and not the wiring. If you call a local contractor or construction company and ask real nicely they may direct you to some one official or just tell you out right what the codes are.

As far as the wiring itself actually goes, I wouldn't honestly trust anything behind 100 year old walls. Not so much worried about craftsmanship as I would wonder what time has done to it.

Though I would definitely say that new wiring would be less of a concern in the long run.

Let us know how things go with your high-Charged-Enlightening project. And remember just because McGyver can fix anything with electrical tape doesn't mean it can keep a house from bursting into flames. ...well I haven't checked on the last part lately so I might be mistaken.
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post #3 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 02:21 AM Thread Starter
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...seriously... I could use some enlightenment in a major way. Fortunately, this outlet is on the first floor and there's a basement underneath. I could physically get new wiring to the hole in the baseboard with minimal trouble. I'm more concerned that I do the job properly and legally. I'm suspecting that the old wiring is grandfathered, assuming that the kitchen remodel was done legally, 'cause the house's wiring is a mix of ancient and '80s.

I have this theory that any project doesn't become a good project until it involves some blood. That theory does not extend to fires. Come to think of it, maybe I should check my smoke detectors...
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post #4 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 04:32 AM
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Try finding an electrician or handyman DIY type forum.
I had a link to a good one I've visited in the past but it seems to be gone now.

Just like our forum here, alot of them are full of good people that go out of their way to help if they can.
I think its somewhat easier for some contractors to give online advice to someone thats not in their area. (therefore not a possible job opportunity)


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post #5 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 04:47 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jinx© View Post
Try finding an electrician or handyman DIY type forum.
I had a link to a good one I've visited in the past but it seems to be gone now.

Just like our forum here, alot of them are full of good people that go out of their way to help if they can.
I think its somewhat easier for some contractors to give online advice to someone thats not in their area. (therefore not a possible job opportunity)
Agreed.

Codes vary from area to area, so if you want to do it legally--someone that is local and up-to-date is going to have to fill you in. That should be the county code office. They know what the codes are......


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post #6 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 10:58 AM Thread Starter
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Well, I have permission from the homeowner to do what he did with another outlet, and that's to run a separate grounding wire to the box. It seems ghetto, but he's an engineer, and he did a lot of the updated wiring himself which appears to be done properly.

If anyone has a link to a good home improvement forum with a high signal-to-noise ratio I'd be thankful.
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post #7 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 11:40 AM
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GFCI circuits are typically required to be a dedicated "home-run" to the box or panel. Like everyone has stated this CAN vary from town to town, however the state building code would govern for the most part.

I highly reccomend consulting an electrician. For the few bucks it would cost to have someone do it right, can save you the headache in the long run, especially considering that you don't know how many outlets are on the one circuit you are attempting to ground.

Good luck!


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post #8 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 01:02 PM
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www.doityourself.com

Good site. I've about re-wired this house. I won't tell you there's "nothing to it," but I will say it's not as hard as a lot of people would think. Anything I've done, or considered doing, the least bit unusual, I'd run it by the guys on there to vet.

Geh, a house that old, it's possible that some of that could be knob and tube, although it sounds more like very old romex. I've still got a couple circuits in this house to clean up. Yours may actually be color coded (black-hot/white-neutral) but I've found that over time apparently the white yellowed and the black faded to a sort of gray so that it can be somewhat hard to tell the diff.

Really though, if it's very accessible (sounds like it is) and for just one circuit, you would save a lot of stress by having an electrician do it. Prices vary around the country, they'll charge more for a circuit, but I should think under $200 anyway. Depending on the distance from the box and some other factors it could be as little as $75. If you have a GFCI breaker installed it'll be more (GFCI breakers typically run $35 or so as opposed to 3-4 bucks for a 15 or 20 amp breaker).

Another possibility if you just want to be safe is installing a GFCI outlet. Your equipment won't be grounded, but that one outlet (and anything downstream if there is anything) will be safe for you. Such outlets need to be marked "No Equipment Ground."

If you feel like wading through it (you kinda have to be used to the way it's written,) there's an online version of the National Electrical Code to be found HERE.

You can't print the thing but you can reference it.

Sláinte!
Cindy



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post #9 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 01:16 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone, I appreciate the advice. Cindy, I'll give that forum a look. You clearly know your stuff, so I'll give your recommendation high regard. It's so hard to find a good forum these days.
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post #10 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 06:13 PM
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FYI, I'm an electrical engineer.

It seems to be a common myth that GFCI repectacles require a ground wire to work. This is not true. While a ground connection may be needed in order for some of those little plug-in GFCI testers to work, the ground wire is not needed for the GFCI to function properly were a real ground-fault to occur. In fact, the electrical code recommends a GFCI on old ungrounded circuits. You can go ahead and replace the outlet with a GFCI; just be sure to label the cover plate "No Equipment Ground".

BTW, the code does not permit running a separate ground wire.

In other words, just do what Cindi said.
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post #11 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-28-2007, 07:12 PM
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Is the wire in flexible or EMT conduit? That is also a ground...well, if it's grounded...
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post #12 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-29-2007, 02:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PDX-PLT View Post
BTW, the code does not permit running a separate ground wire.
I'm also an EE. IMHO I do not see what is wrong with a separate wire for ground, so long as the circuit is safe.

What is meant by 'separate ground wire'? In 'normal' 3-wire cable there are 3 separate wires inside a common jacket. There can also be 3 completely separate wires inside a conduit.

There can also be situations where you do not want a ground wire run back to the power company ground, but require a separate ground wire to be able to control electrical noise and ground loops.

What section of the NEC did you read this in? I would like to look it up and see what it says.

Jim
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post #13 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-29-2007, 02:50 PM Thread Starter
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Well, I'm a stubborn ***, so I ran a separate ground wire to the box. It parallels the original two-conductor run, which is un-armored ancient romex style wire, and by the way, I was wrong, it is actually color coded, it's just that the years make white and black both look gray esp. when it's the fabric jacket that carries the color.

I know I didn't even need a ground for this outlet in the first place, but I'm much more comfortable pulling cable than I am with the idea of a three-prong outlet that isn't grounded and only has a little sticker indicating that. Ungrounded three-prong outlets just don't seem right.

I didn't start any fires, I didn't release any "magic smoke," and I didn't even cut myself. Cutting myself is my personal standard for when a project turns into a Project. It will still have taken me four trips to the hardware store.

Regarding the electrical code, the homeowner grounded another outlet by running a wire to a pipe, and while I haven't figured out whether my hack-job is to code or not, it's a technically better solution than something that's already installed in the house, so I feel like I'm doing OK.

To those who gave conservative advice, I read everything you wrote, and appreciate your input. I'm stubborn, I'm skeptical in most things, but I try not to be stupid.

Cindy, that DIY forum rocks. -->
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post #14 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-29-2007, 03:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by swylie View Post
Regarding the electrical code, the homeowner grounded another outlet by running a wire to a pipe, and while I haven't figured out whether my hack-job is to code or not, it's a technically better solution than something that's already installed in the house, so I feel like I'm doing OK.
Good for you swylie!

I did a quick check. The code requires that there be a wire run to 'earth' and that there be a low impedance connection (that is, a wire) connecting this to the power company 'ground' connection. Didn't see anything about 'separate wires' not being allowed.

BTW, it did say that under certain conditions this 'low impedance connection' could be removed if there was 'objectional current' in the ground wire.

I also once had a professional electrician tell me that it was OK to run a 'separate' ground wire.

Jim
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post #15 of 22 (permalink) Old 11-29-2007, 07:58 PM
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I didn't start any fires, I didn't release any "magic smoke," and I didn't even cut myself. Cutting myself is my personal standard for when a project turns into a Project. It will still have taken me four trips to the hardware store.

No project is complete without three things...
1. You have to ka-tink (*ka-tink = the sound made when you drop the smallest part of whatever you are working on and it bounces just out of reach)
2. You have to bleed over it with your own blood, or wave a dead chicken at it.
3. You have to make at least three trips to home depot.

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