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We're doing work on a small home with 1 main floor and a basement below that, and during some work (maintenance on plumbing, HVAC ducts, and wiring) we've removed a bunch of the drop ceiling from part of our basement. As we consider removing all of the drop ceiling, I wonder if that changes the rules for all the wiring and whatnot hung up there. The basement is in three parts:

  • Utility room, which is unfinished and has a bare concrete floor and exposed joists and subflooring as a ceiling;
  • 'Basement', which is partially finished with painted concrete floor, painted drywall, and a suspension frame drop ceiling;
  • Garage, which is unfinished like the utility room and has a door to the backyard. In parts of the garage, plywood boards and 2x4s have been thrown up to the joists/subflooring in various places to serve as a drop ceiling.

We're considering complete removal of the suspension frame drop ceiling from the basement area, mainly for aesthetic purposes. We like a rustic, functional look, and at over 100yrs strong, it's nice to be able to easily see the joists and subflooring to admire its health or identify problems earlier. The drop ceiling does have other benefits (some insulation, perhaps?) so we're not sure we'll remove it yet .

I ask this question in considering what needs to be done to properly uninstall the drop ceiling. Right now just bits and pieces are removed for maintenance accessibility. I certainly need to clean out a lot of cob webs, but are there changes in how wiring, plumbing pipes, or HVAC ducts need to be routed with vs. without a drop ceiling?

Also, I suspect the wiring there is currently not up to code. Does removal of the drop-ceiling require that we fix all of that any more or less than if we left the drop ceiling as is? For example, there are many segments of disconnected NM, K&T, and coax cables running parallel and at angles across the joists, above the drop ceiling. There are some connected cables which run perpendicular to the joists, stapled or hanging on an angled nail at intersections with joists and dangling between the drop ceiling and the subflooring in between joists.

  • Are you pulling a permit for this remodel? If you work on parts of the existing system and are having it inspected, it likely needs to be up to current code. – freshop Jan 12 '18 at 17:36
  • I didn't even think of it as remodeling. We're doing maintenance on plumbing, and are running new NM wire to replace an old and overloaded knob and tube circuit. A licensed electrician is assisting in parts of the rewiring and inspecting/reporting on the rewiring to make sure it's all up to code. The drop ceiling pieces removed so far are just for access, but I suppose if we remove the drop ceiling entirely that could be considered a remodel. I'll check with my municipality to see if we'd need a permit for rewiring or drop ceiling removal. – cr0 Jan 12 '18 at 17:45
  • For now is, we weren't planning on getting any permits but we do want what we do to be up to current code. Stuff we don't do, for example leaving existing NM as it is on the basement ceiling if it doesn't need to be disturbed, is where the situation is less certain I guess - it may not be up to code now, but do we need it to be for safety or permit sake and if so, how if at all does code change with or without drop ceiling (which is the main question)? – cr0 Jan 12 '18 at 17:47
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    @cr0 - it doesn't matter what you think of it as, it matters what the city / county thinks of it as ;) – mmathis Jan 12 '18 at 18:23
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    @cr0 Call your city / county building or permitting office and ask if you need a permit and how much else you need to update when doing the work. Permits are very local, so impossible to answer here. – mmathis Jan 12 '18 at 20:28
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Let's start with reconstructing your question to: If I am remodeling a room or area, Do I need to bring it up to code?

Answer: Yes

In general most buildings are covered under a grandfather clause. This means that if your house was built in 1968. Then your house was covered by either the 1965 or 1968 NEC (depends on start of the house and acceptance of the code by AHJ). For many reasons most AHJ allow that home to be covered under that code for perpetuity until you make changes to the original wiring in the form of replacement or remodel. so you could have a residence that was remodel three times and that means you house would fall under 3 different code versions. In this state they also have a 50% clause, meaning if it is determined by the AHJ that the remodel is 50% or more then the entire residence must be brought up to code.

In conclusion you question isn't really about what you might do during remodel but the very fact that you are remodeling requires you to bring the area up to code. I also recommend that is if you have questions about what the updates need to be. You contact them and ask. Remember, you are a taxpayer and these guys work for you and I have always found them to be friendly and are concerned about protecting you not making your life miserable. So communicating with them before you perform any work will help you to install everything properly and save you quite a bit of time, money and anguish when you have to tear it out and redo it (always the expensive method).

Hope this helps

  • That is helpful - thanks! It implies that uninstall the drop ceiling is remodeling, whereas leaving it is not - good to know. I realize any circuits I rewire need to be brought up to code, but I didn't expect the act of rewiring some circuits to have ripple effects of other circuits needing to be rewired. Is it the case that if I rewire one circuit, I may need to bring other 'untouched' circuits up to code just because the conductors are running through the same area? – cr0 Jan 12 '18 at 18:24
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    I would call it redecorating, do you have to get a permit to replace sheetrock that was damaged when the wood paneling glued to it was removed? No. Usually changes to the electrical branch circuits do require permits but changing fixtures, switches and outlets are basic maintenance (or redecorating to modern styles). Remodeling usually refers to structural changes. – Ed Beal Jan 12 '18 at 19:43
  • @EdBeal I'm with you on that: removing a drop ceiling does not seem like remodeling to me. It's just that removing the drop ceiling exposes all the not-up-to-code past work that's been done (which is part of why we want to remove the ceiling anyway - shed light on all that darkness and help us figure out what we aught to update!) – cr0 Jan 18 '18 at 15:50
  • Please note I am ok with all of your comments, but as I stated in my answer the real interpretation of whether or not it's a remodel is with their AHJ. – Retired Master Electrician Jan 19 '18 at 16:45

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