I live in a century house that was converted into 3 apartments (basement, main floor, attic) in the 1960s or earlier in an area that has adopted NEC 2017. The basement was finished during that remodel, and got its own meter (that oddly also feeds some main floor receptacles).
It has become clear that the 100 amp electrical service shared between the main floor and attic apartment will need extensive upgrade work at some point in the future.
The main floor and attic tenants are willing (pushing!) to renegotiate to pay more on their leases in exchange for the comfort of modern electrical service such as:
- Having your own circuit breakers in your own apartment
- Dedicated circuits for their window unit ACs
- Modern receptacle spacing
- More than one SABC in the kitchens
- Creature comforts like future dishwashers
- Washer and electric dryer in attic apartment
This is a very-low-turnover property currently priced about 30% under market if you look at square footage alone, though it is on par with the local “terrifyingly ancient electrical system” market price.
Trouble is, I have had no luck getting a local electrician to actually quote for this work so that a budget can be established! *
Basically, the message has been that unless I can authorize nonspecific costs totaling perhaps many tens of thousands of dollars (which is not new information compared with googling “cost to rewire house”), the local electricians who have looked at the place flatly will not add or change anything in this house. Most recently this included declining to replace what the latest guy said was an ungrounded 3-prong receptacle with a no-equipment-ground GFCI on the attic kitchen countertop.
I have asked for a quote where I did the opening and closing of the walls, and the answer has been that it’s too variable to say without seeing all the wiring routes exposed. This seems backwards, as the whole point of opening the walls is to be able to reach what you’re working with. I would be taking on risk to do something that I’d either be doing or contracting out already, but the electrician would be looking at open wall.
My thought is that pre-running surface mount conduit in the main floor and attic apartments would essentially eliminate this X factor and allow this project to get definitive quotes that can then be cross compared with the revenue that being able to charge modern market rate will bring in, and if it checks out, get a loan to front the cost and join the 21st century.
Worst case if the electrical upgrade cost is out of reach in the current market, the conduit is there for the future (and could maybe even pivot into a whole home ethernet deployment).
Is pre-installing surface mount conduit generally the most cost-effective way a homeowner who is good with sheetrock and paster-and-lathe can minimize/stabilize cost of bringing pre-1960s electrical up to code in an occupied rental?
Addressing questions from comments:
- I’m thinking EMT or similar but don’t know much about conduit besides having lived around it. I do know that I’d like to be able to over-provision conduit if feasible to simplify future data runs and so that if some future tech invented after all this calls for an additional circuit or two, we can easily get that done.
- Excel Energy is the electric utility.
- Besides the basement furnace room which contains the basement panel the only unfinished space is a drop ceiling in one main floor bedroom directly above it, which is 3 rooms away from the main+attic panel, and the attic furnace closet on the opposite end of the house.
- There are 3 gas furnaces with separate ductwork for each. Basement and main floor furnaces are in the basement, attic furnace in the attic apartment. We’ve considered heat pumps but would not sink the cost to convert yet since all furnaces under 10 years old. However conversion to central heat and air at next furnace replacement would be ideal to gain windows.
- There are 2 gas water heaters under 10 years old. Basement has one, main floor and attic share one.
- Total of 4 8000BTU window unit ACs with a desire to grow to 7 (2 in attic, 1 in main, 1 in basement). Ideally we’d like leeway to add one more per unit as the earth heats up and another shade tree (already lost one) is on its last legs.
- Each unit either has a deep freeze, second fridge/freezer, or would like to add one (even before COVID—hunting is big here).
- Some closets are plaster lathe with what look like cloth wrap fed bare (now LED) bulbs, but the closet interior is plastered and the wires quickly disappear into the finished wall cavity. Other closets are sheetrock with no current lighting. Most attic kneewalls have unlighted closets built in.
- Both water heaters are gas (total of 2, 1 for basement 1 for main + attic, both in the basement furnace room).
- All 3 units have electric stove hookups but currently use gas (ability to heat during extended power outages is currently critical to all of us). However with the popularity of induction cooktops and potential tenant turnover over the life of the installation I can’t rule out a future move back to electric.
- Dishwashers may be added in future.
- Basement & main each use their washer and electric dryer hookups (basement in furnace room, main floor in kitchen directly under the main panel). Attic wants to add a washer and electric dryer in this process.**
- Yard lights are self contained solar.
- Would like to leave leeway to add yard receptacles and run conduit for the existing outdoor security cameras’ BNC cable (currently powered from the DVR in the attic unit) rather than replacing cabling regularly, but would wait if marginal cost to prep that part now vs later is negligible.
- There are 3 porches, 2 of which are shared. Main + basement shared & main + attic shared are both outdoor with just an indoor stair landing, third porch for the main floor only is enclosed and astroturfed). Each has an outdoor porch light & doorbell (of varying functionality...)
- Coming in from each shared porch there is an indoor access stair that opens onto one or more units & has its own interior light. The lights in the stairways are each controlled by a 3 way switch.
- Near as I can tell all 3 sets of porch lights and both stair lights currently power from the main + attic panel and seem to share a circuit with some indoor lights and receptacles.
- The main floor entry door coming in from the main + attic shared porch does not currently have a lightswitch anywhere near it.
- There is a shared closet in the main + attic stairway landing which is one of the cloth fed bare bulb setups.
- House as a whole is a little under 4000 square feet (county assessor site won’t load so I’m going from memory and I haven’t had to advertise in a while)
- Main floor unit is taxed at 1450 sq ft
- 3 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath (plus SO MANY SINKS), with an enclosed astroturfed porch where the deep freeze goes.
- Except where a clawfoot tub was clearly replaced and a sheetrock wall added to hide the plumbing and deliver a 1960s style tub/shower, main floor walls are either plaster and lathe or beloved wide wood paneling.
- Basement unit is taxed at 1200 finished sq ft
- 2 bedroom, 1 bath
- 1400 sq ft total if you count the combination furnace / laundry / second fridge room.
- Basement is smaller than main floor due to space lost to the stairs that come in along the long wall opposite the furnace room long wall with the stair entry at the end of the meter wall.
- Exterior basement walls are plaster directly over sandstone. These walls have some existing metal conduit with GFCI receptacles. The conduit comes down through the plaster ceiling and predates me. No idea why someone plastered the ceiling but did sheetrock interior non load-bearing walls. The load-bearing interior basement walls are original sandstone, plastered.
- Attic unit is somewhere between 1000 and 1200 very oddly shaped sq ft with walls and ceiling finished entirely of sheetrock or beloved wide wood paneling.
- The odd shape was achieved via the addition of dormers to make the bathroom, kitchen, living room, and bedrooms a pleasant size. 5 dormers total.
- Attic ceilings are exactly 7ft, at least 50% of which is flat roof dormer. Attic above the ceiling in the center portion is not accessible unless you’re as skinny as a beanpole thanks to some very... interesting closet access panel location. The roof is 11/12 from the kneewall closets to the 7ft ceiling then goes to 13/12 and beyond so there’s space up there, just very hard to reach without deliberate modifications.
- 2 bedroom, 1 bath, with the bedrooms at each end and a hallway shaped kitchen along the long dormer wall connecting the two.
- The attic kitchen and living room are separated by a wall that sits directly atop the main beam.
- Attic furnace closet is next to the fridge in the kitchen, opposite the stove and countertops, on the opposite side of the main beam from the meters, adjoining a bedroom.
- Attic bathroom is directly above the drop ceiling room which is directly above the basement furnace room. This bathroom is fully tiled. I have zero desire to demo this.
- Main floor + attic service is currently 100A
- Basement service is currently 100A
- Both meters are mounted next to each other in the middle of a short(er) exterior wall containing the entry to the basement/main entry shared porch and stair.
- Both meters are are mounted on a short(er) exterior wall, both fed through a single weatherhead mounted under the eaves.
- The main+attic panel mess sits on a wall that adjoins the meter wall perpendicularly ~15ft from the meters. The panels are on a wall that separates the main kitchen/laundry from a bathroom. They are ~4ft across the hall from a sink that will someday be replaced with a dishwasher in the main unit. (Someone really loved sinks)
- Sadly the meter wall is perpendicular to the long wall that has the furnace room. The furnace room begins ~40ft from the meter wall.
- I fail to see how the basement service routes into the furnace room but assume it must have gone down the short exterior wall and into the plaster basement ceiling before it was enclosed.
- Thankfully the meters are on the same side of the main beam as the basement furnace room.
- I’m not sure if this is standard, but in case it’s not, the county made very sure to state that
16.32.091 - Article 210.52(L) Added; Igniters for gas-fired appliances. Article 210.52(0 of the NEC', adopted at Section 16.32010, is added to read as follows: 210.52(L) Igniters for gas-fired appliances. The branch circuit supplying power to an outlet for a gas-fired appliance with an igniter shall not be GFCI protected.
- The garage is detached, not electrified, and currently used for storage. We have no plans to facilitate electric vehicle charging or arc welding capability at this time. The generator runs the welder just fine. If the generator could also run the furnaces, stoves, and at least one bedroom circuit per unit that would be wonderful but we get by ok in power outages and aren’t seeking a substantial cost increase to an already costly project.
- The zoning of the house would allow conversion into condos. With how things are going with the current tenants, property tax rates, and based on what local buyers have been moving towards if a need arose to sell, if possible it seems reasonable to take a tack that would minimize code compliance complication if a condo conversion occurred in future.