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I just got a W/D combo unit that only needs a 120V outlet and my laundry room only has a 240V outlet. Rather than converting the 240V to a 120V, I want to be able to have both 120V and 220V outlets for flexibility and I noticed that my circuit breaker panel actually has a 20A circuit labeled "Washer" and a 30A labeled Dryer which controls the 240V outlet.

I also found a blank plate in the laundry room half way up a wall and I opened it and found wiring. I attached a picture of what I found and there are four pairs of wires in there.

It doesn't look like there is any ground wiring and so I will need to make sure the box is self-grounded, but if it is, does the condition of the wires cause anyone to think that installing an outlet there is more dangerous than normal (assuming I can find the wiring that comes from the 20 A "Washer" circuit)? Thanks in advance.

panel showing label for "washer" https://i.stack.imgur.com/4orFy.jpg

[Wiring behind a blank plate https://i.stack.imgur.com/j8AVe.jpg


Here is a picture with the wiring moved out of the way a little bit. I am assuming now that the shiny metal wires in the back are the ground wires, is there any reason there are two and they are twisted together?! Also, not sure what the two white insulated wires are doing connected inside the box too, just wiring for down the line? Picture of box with wires moved

So I just tested the wiring with my non-contact voltage tester. After switching the circuit switches in the breaker box off then on, only one black ever came live, and it was the one twisted connected with the white. The bad news is that the circuit switch that turned it on was the 15A circuit for the downstairs bathroom fixtures and outlets. I guess I am going to need to just convert my 220V to a 120V as the most cost-effective solution. Thanks for everyone and their responses.

  • A better picture of the wires unfolded in the unused j-box would help. Also I would advise against doing what you describe as "flexibility", it sounds like what electricians and fireman see as a fire hazard. A typical breaker can allow double the current for 2 minutes and be within UL spec. You tap off that 30A circuit with a 15A receptacle and plug something with a #18 cord that gets pinched it can draw 60A for 2 minutes. That could easily make that wire so hot that it can melt insulation and start a fire. – NoSparksPlease Dec 2 '19 at 6:31
  • I see a plastic box (ungrounded) and some bare wires (ground) in that photo. – Jasen Dec 2 '19 at 9:29
  • Do you have a non-contact voltage detector or multimeter you can use to test for voltage at that junction box you found? – ThreePhaseEel Dec 2 '19 at 12:40
  • how old is your main panel?? What's all that crud around the breakers? – JACK Dec 2 '19 at 13:56
  • Just to clarify off of @NoSparksPlease comment, I was not planning on tapping off a 30A circuit, my hope is that some of the wiring is coming from the 20A "Washer" circuit and I don't believe the circuit is used for anything at the moment (I have had the circuit off for a week and have not noticed anything not working) and installing an outlet using that 20A wire. Jaseon, which ones do you think are ground wires? I will try to spread out the wires better for a future photo. ThreePhaseEel, I am going to borrown my friend's multimeter. – 808DIY Dec 2 '19 at 17:55
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That junction box had a fire.

It melted the lower side of the box. Probably nearly burned down the house.

As for the cause of the fire, I see plain wirenuts and aluminum wires. Obviously this wire-nutting is contemporary to the fire, but the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, eh? This is probably the classic situation of faulty terminations on aluminum wires, but for all I know, the aluminum wires were innocent bystanders and this was an incompetent wire-nut job on copper wires. Aluminum wires need terminations rated for them. Not having those is what caused the problem in the 70's.

So replace that box with a metal one less likely to catch fire; I recommend a 4-11/16" square steel box with a 1-gang or 2-gang mud ring, as you need a lot of room for 4 cables, grounds+clamps, and a receptacle or two. (5 sq.in. Each). That box was surely overstuffed if it had a receptacle.

Evaluate wiring throughout the house

Particularly aluminum wiring. You want to see if wiring like this is typical in this house. If it is, we need to emplace some strategies ASAP to protect the house.

The first line of defense against shoddy wiring is AFCI breakers. These listen to the wires for arcing faults (like the one that started that fire). That classic GE panel is still fully supported (mostly; GE made some changes to bus stabs that might affect you; ask a new question about that).

AFCIs do not come in double-stuff breakers, so noting the use of a few double-stuffs, you might need to combine a few circuits in order to fit AFCIs. It's worth it.

That service panel

I do not like the rust pattern on it. It makes it look like the humidity source is on the inside, and I would expect if you took that cover off, you'd find a sea of rust. Not cool.

Also, if this is a "Rule of Six" (six main breakers) panel, that is a showstopper. Get rid of it.

I would stay with GE, nothing wrong with it. However, if space is a premium, use Eaton CH or Square D QO (Eaton has cheaper breakers, but QO supports generator interlocks better).

Also, plug the humidity source! Probably a conduit pipe that goes outside.

Grounding

There is no such thing as a self-grounding box. Boxes cannot reach through the mystical aether and obtain a ground. They can pick it up from ground wires, but here you have the problem that these are aluminum ground wires, and only a limited number of devices can splice to them.

It might be fairly naughty Codewise, but you could buy accessory ground bars for panels, cut them up, and then fasten them down in the back of a metal junction box. That may be cheaper than using an Alumiconn to pigtail to a metal box.

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  • Thanks to you and everyone for your answers. It seems like this is a job way beyond me so I guess I will have to have someone come in and look at it. I was hoping to just be able to do a simple outlet installation myself, and you are right, that is probably rust due to humidity. I live in Hawaii and it is in the laundry room and there is a coded shower stall there too. – 808DIY Dec 2 '19 at 17:43
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    @808DIY if I were you I would become an electrical fanatic, read every how-to book in the library, skill up, and then go to town fixing that house. I would shudder at the cost of hiring that work done. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 2 '19 at 17:50
  • It appears that this is a plastic box, and that there's ground wires buried in back. – ThreePhaseEel Dec 3 '19 at 0:54
  • "grounds must be run, as wires" - the ground can be run as metal conduit too, but yeah, it must be run as something metallic. (I know Harper knows this, but not all his readers may.) – Martin Bonner supports Monica Dec 5 '19 at 14:38
  • @MartinBonner lol because I somehow managed to set up a situation where I need to be reminded of that :) (99% of my work is in metal conduit) – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 5 '19 at 18:49
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There are two potential issues I see here.

One, it looks like that box was mangled and another cable pulled in and tapped to feed something else. The mangled box should be fixed in any event. It may be a code violation (depending on your locale) and may very well overload the circuit if you add the washer-dryer combo to whatever was added.

Two, that looks like it might be aluminum wiring, in which case you'll want to be very careful working with it at all, and may be best off calling an electrician rather than DIY.

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  • Yeah, don't know what kind of wiring it is, the house was built in the early 1970s, it is a townhouse. If the area had a fire, it was before we bought it 10+ years ago. No disclosure by the long-time owners who converted the laundry room to include a permitted half-bath and also nothing was said by the electrician who came in and added wiring for ceiling fixtures before we moved in, in that same wall, so hopefully it isn't too bad. Thanks for the comment, it is beginning to look more and more beyond my capabilities. – 808DIY Dec 2 '19 at 17:46
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Your panel looks to be in rough shape is it attached directly to a concrete wall? I see ground wires in the box one is copper and another may be aluminum but it might be tinned copper close to the insulation out of focus their may be copper showing where the tin was scratched so you need to make sure of the type of wires first. The box is not metal so it is not self grounding.

I would get a 15 amp outlet that is AL/CU rated with back and side terminals , not a cheap house grade, use that for the junctions instead of wire nuts especially if any of those wires are aluminum. If you still require additional wirenuts make sure to get alumacons there are several different types but most are purple in color.

DO NOT USE STANDARD WIRENUTS ON ALUMINUM WIRES!

If there is aluminum and copper mixed using a al/cu listed outlet is a safe way to make the connections, alumacons or the purple wirenuts can be used to make splices within there listing sizes and types but I never felt as secure with them after having some failures back in the 70’s.

If your old fiber box is not in good enough shape to hold the receptacle securely I would break it up and install an old work box to house the splices and receptacle.

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  • Just FYI, it isn't a concrete wall, just a dry wall. I am thinking of getting a 20A outlet because the circuit I want to tap into would be a 20A circuit that is otherwise unused. – 808DIY Dec 2 '19 at 17:53
  • That looks like a "Bakelite" box. I have those in my house. I found if I wiggle them hard enough times, the metal bracket that hold them on to the stud, will break from metal fatigue. Then you can pull it out and replace it with a modern old work box. – DaveM Dec 6 '19 at 4:44
  • @808diy , you can use a 15 amp outlet, unless you need a 20 amp , 15 amp outlets are listed for 20 amp feed thru, when is the last time you have seen a 20 amp device? They are very uncommon in residential and if you do get a 20 amp device with other things on that circuit you may end up tripping the breaker. A 20 amp receptacle won’t help or hurt if all you have is standard 15 amp things to plug in. – Ed Beal Dec 6 '19 at 17:25

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