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Our current home (mid-50s ranch in the Midwest US -- my AHJ has adopted the 2011 NEC save for the AFCI requirements, btw) is in good shape, save for the electrical wiring, which is a major bodge job. Some of the previous owners (this house was an O/O that recently became a rental unit, we are the first tenants though) thought it was a good idea to replace all the outlets with grounded outlets without hooking up their grounds to anything, for starters. The original 1950s fuse box is still present (no pennies that I know of, but there may be some overfusing going on as there are 30A fuses on 120V circuits in the box, and there's also a decrepit Edison-base thermal breaker roaming around there), and worse yet, the A/C installer decided it was OK to stick a 40A double pole breaker in a standard square junction box without a cover plate -- heaven only knows how he tapped it out of the main panel!

Given that the ideal way to fix this situation likely involves rewiring (the house is wired with NM save for the garage and basement which have conduit, and the garbage disposal which is some type of AC or MC and also happens to be the one outlet that is properly earthed) the whole kit and kaboodle atop replacing the main panel (the location is too high up on the wall it's on to be Code compliant!), how can this job be staged so that we don't have to move out of the house while it's going on?

BTW: our W/H is gas and our furnace is gas with electric ignition, but the dryer and range are both electric. The NM is cloth-covered (appears to be original to the house), btw.

  • Are you doing the work (or at least most of the work) yourself, or hiring an electrician? Trying to stage it around keeping the house livable will increase the time needed to do the job, thus the cost. Depending on the size of the job, you may find it cheaper to stay in a hotel during the work. – Johnny Jan 7 '15 at 0:01
  • This is done, to one degree or another, fairly often. My MIL had it done with her house ca 1978. A competent electrician known how to keep critical circuits "live". You might have to do without the dryer and range for a few days, though. – Hot Licks Jan 7 '15 at 0:43
  • @Johnny -- we have the good fortune of a family friend who's a journeyman electrician (most of his experience is industrial though). We'd definitely want a few comparative bids for a job this big, though! – ThreePhaseEel Jan 7 '15 at 1:00
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    Good relationship or not. Keep business legal and limit your liability. Also keep business dealings at arms length from "friends". Bottom line for you is that it makes zero sense for you as a non-owner to be making any type of investment into a propery that you are only renting. And when I say "investment" it includes monetary, labor, living inconvenience and mental effort. – Michael Karas Jan 7 '15 at 3:06
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    @MichaelKaras gives good advice. If everything goes well, then you'll end up with a great relationship with your landlord and a nice place to live. If things don't go well and you helped pick the vendor (especially if he's your friend) and you gave significant advice on the job, you may find the landlord is not so friendly. Even if she's an old family friend, if she's facing $40,000 in fire damage that's not covered by insurance because the contractor was not properly licensed to do the work or didn't pull the necessary permits, she may come after you for damages. – Johnny Jan 7 '15 at 4:10
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Rewiring a house takes about a week, give or take, if the electricians have free reign. If they have to tiptoe around the occupants it could take a lot longer. The best way to find out is to have a few electricians do a walk-through and give you a quote.

The way I've seen upgrading a house's electrical service with minimal disruption is to add a new breaker panel next to the original fuse box and then attach the original fuse box as a sub panel. (E.g. if the original box is 60A, you would feed it from a 60A double-pole breaker in the new panel). The panel upgrade could probably be completed in a day (with the cooperation of your electric company, who will need to cut power to the house and maybe run new wires). Then any new circuits can be run off the new live panel. But I have no idea if that is up to code or would pass inspection. I suppose in theory you are supposed to get an inspection before any new or rewired circuit goes live, which might make moving the circuits one-by-one prohibitive.

You may decide it's easier to stay with friends/family/motel for a week instead of dragging the process out for a while. Also note that rewiring a house will put a lot of holes in the drywall, which is somewhat messy and will need to be patched / painted when it's all over.

P.S. - if you are renting, this is probably all speculative, right?

  • Semi-speculative -- we'd work with our landlady to develop the final plans for this. – ThreePhaseEel Jan 7 '15 at 1:02
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You want to rewire just because of a lack of ground?

Don't. It's too expensive. Just replace the outlets with GFCI's (AKA RCD), they come with a sticker that says "No Equipment Ground", put that on there. Make sure you trace the wires so you don't have two GFCI's in a chain.

You can replace the fuse box in one day with circuit breakers. I did it once overnight while the homeowners (relatives of mine) slept. I used a car battery for light. (Before the days of LED's.)

Or better yet, use GFCI breakers, then get a ton of stickers for all the outlets (GFCI stickers, and No Ground stickers).

  • I've considered that alternative approach -- but @Snowman's comment to diy.stackexchange.com/questions/51536/… dissuaded me from it somewhat. – ThreePhaseEel Jan 7 '15 at 3:04
  • In a perfect world he'd be right - it's simpler, and feels more "right" somehow. But you have to take into account expense, and rewiring just for ground is simply not worth it, there are just not enough advantages. As far as safety goes a GFCI is actually better. A ground only protects from certain types of faults. A GFCI protects from far more of them. The only time a ground is "better" than a GFCI is for static discharge (for example before working on a computer) and for a surge protector (they don't work without a real ground). – Ariel Jan 7 '15 at 5:10
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    @ThreePhaseEel You're taking advice from a software engineer with 240 rep (@Snowman's comment), over the advice of an electrical contractor with almost 5,000 rep (speedy petey's answer) who quoted information directly from National Electrical Code? – Tester101 Jan 7 '15 at 11:14
  • I'd be retrofitting with GFCI breakers anyway (and going to GFCI/CAFCI combos when they mature) -- although I'll be posting another question, given the age of the NM in the walls of this house (it looks like it could be what was put in when this house was originally built) – ThreePhaseEel Jan 8 '15 at 0:22
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Another option, I'd consider using GFCI dead faces at the head of each circuit near the existing fuse panel rather than using GFCI receptacles. This is probably a lot less trouble because you don't have to trace the first receptacle in each circuit. You may be able to lay everything out on the wall so that these junction boxes make the eventual service upgrade a little easier.

More importantly though, the old cable may be a bit brittle and the insulation may crumble when you're working with it. Cramming the GFCIs in the existing outlet boxes ... bad things could happen. They've already been disrupted once when the receptacles were upgraded to 3-prong.

At that point you can at least tolerate the situation until June when there's a lot more daylight and temperatures are comfortable, I'd much rather tackle this in June. Me, in a rental - I'd be done at that point, beyond that it would be the landlady's dime.

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If you are renting, then it is the landlord's responsibility.

Most municipalities have pretty strict rules on rental property. They usually require that it meets all applicable building codes.

If your house is not up to the code that is required you should first discuss this with your landlord and ask what their plan is to correct it.

If you do not get a satisfactory resolution with you landlord you can then file a complaint with your local rental authority.

All that being said let me say a couple things about older homes:

Many older homes are wired with old-style cloth covered NM cable. This wiring functions adequately and safely and is not required to be replaced just because it is old. The absence of a ground was standard in the 50's and is not required to be changed. All buildings are grandfathered and are not required to be "brought up to code" unless a major remodel is undertaken or unless the rental authority (or some other authority) requires it.

The requirements for the replacement of non-grounded receptacles is covered in Article 406.4(D)(2) of the 2011 code.

If you are worried about a lack of ground at your receptacles you can easily protect them by replacing the breaker with a GFCI breaker. See 406.4(D)(2)c. No rewiring of the home is necessary.

Happy Turkey Week!

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