Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Doing It Right!

From the 'how not to properly re-wire an historic home' comes the following example:

On the left the landing light was installed with a flat pancake style round box, which has been screwed into the lath after the plaster was broken away to allow it to fit. These boxes are so small that you can't legally make a junction in them, meaning they always have to be at the end of a wire run. The two half inch #4 screws wouldn't support much fixture weight either. Avoid using these if at all possible.

On the right I have removed the pancake box, cut through the lath, and installed a standard ocagon box which is screwed into a 2 x 4 brace spanning the joists above. There is more space in this box, and it can support a lot more weight as it is now screwed into a structural support brace, rather than just the lath.

. . . . . The Wrong Way . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Right Way . . . . .

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do's And Dont's - Some Thoughts

Thinking about re-wiring your historic home? What follows are some of my thoughts on the things one should do, or not do, when undertaking such a project, whether it be done by the homeowner, or by hiring a professional electrician.

DO keep things consistent, in terms of location of outlets, switches, and other electrical boxes. Some may question why I installed all of the receptacle outlets horizontally in the baseboard. The houses original dozen or so outlets were installed this way, so I continued with the rest the same way.

DON'T just do the minimum that the code requires. If you are dropping hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on the project, you might as well do the job right. Put in sufficient (or more than sufficient) lights and outlets, and don't let anyone tell you "that's all you need to do". Once you close everything up, repair all the openings, and put your tools away, you don't want to come back to the job because you left something useful out.

DO make certain you have the skills and experience necessary to undertake the job yourself, or hire a licenced electrician with the same attributes. Many obstacles I encountered, and issues I resolved are things that simply took a bit of thought and imagination to deal with. Re-wiring these old houses is absolutely nothing like wiring a new framed house (trust me, I have done work on both).

DON'T exclude things because you think (or someone tells you) it can't be done. With time, patience, and yes money, anything reasonable can be accomplished. How much extra work was it really to wire in not just one, but three staircase lights in our front foyer? I now have a chandalier, landing light, and hall lights operated via three-way switches at both the bottom and top of the stairscase.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Great Fishing Tales

I imagine I could cut the time it takes to wire the house by stripping the plaster and lath down completely, or making large holes in locations I want to run wire, but since the plaster has stood up well for a hundred and twenty-five years, and the purist in me doesn't want studded and drywalled walls, or lots of repair work to do, so the only thing to do to run wires is the painstaking process known as fishing.

Fishing essentially means routing wire through existing walls generally from unfinished areas, to the boxes that are to be supplied by said wires, all while making the minimal number of openings as possible. Generally it is easy enough to fish a wire down from the attic to a duplex outlet at the bottom of the wall, however there are times that obstructions prevent succesful fishing, and  a small opening must be made to aid in routing the wire.

Determining the correct location is the art, as you have to carefully determine the distance from where you are fishing that the obstruction occurs. Usually measuring the length of the fished wire (accounting for flex), and also knocking on the wall listening for more 'solid' sounds than 'hollow' will get you close, as the following examples illustrate.

I fished down this exterior wall about 5 feet, knocking up and down revealed a solid area, which I opened up exposing the lath.

After cutting out the lath, the cause of the obstruction was evident. The small wooden key between the courses of brick had bridged to the plaster, blocking my wire.

After cleaning the plaster out, I fished the wire into the opening, then continued it down the wall to the outlet in the baseboard. A small wire hook, penlight, and piece of mirror are very useful tools when fishing.