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Old 05-06-2009, 09:22 AM   #1
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


Hello,

First, thanks to all who take the time to read this, and thanks even more who take the time to reply.

I am a moderately-experienced DIYer needing some advice on the best way to complete a particular project.

My in-laws live in a 100-year-old farmhouse in Iowa. The house has an electrical panel with circuit breakers in the basement, although a lot of the wiring, especially downstairs an in the attic, is not Romex-style, but is separate conductors strung between what look like cyclindrical insulators (ceramic?). Some of the wiring looks like it's been here the whole 100 years and some is relatively new (Romex-style).

They/we have a problem in that the circuit breaker for the upstairs (this house has four total stories; basement, main floor, upstairs, attic) trips frequently when there are multiple appliances running (window a/c units, curling irons, etc.). We are wanting to add even more stuff (LCD TV, satellite box, computer, etc.), and I'm pretty sure that when all that gets added the problem will be even worse.

So, I want to add a dedicated circuit or two to the upstairs rooms. I have added circuits to panels before and am comfortable with that. My real question surrounds the way to get the power upstairs. This house seems to have been built when lumber was free or nearly free, because there's a ton of it in the walls such that you can't just drop some Romex behind the lathe and plaster down to the electrical panel. I think my only real option is to go through the wall, outside and up the side of the house, and then in through the wall again to a new outlet.

My questions revolve around the best way to do this in a weatherpoof fashion. I know I can buy some metal conduit to run up the house, but is there other, less-expensive conduit I can use and still be safe? I also, what is the best way to run the electrical cable through the exterior walls so that frost doesn't form when it gets cold. This is relatively important, because it gets cold here in the winter. I have some electrical cable rated for underground use, so I think that's good enough for the application.

This may just entail a trip to the Home Depot, but the staff at the one near this house is very hit-or-miss in terms of their expertise, so if anybody has any advice I would be grateful. Thank you.

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Old 05-06-2009, 01:35 PM   #2
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


Unfortunately I have some bad news for you...
Iowa recently changed the law so that Homeowners can not do their own electrical work (other than changing light bulbs or swapping out recepticals). A licensed electrician is required to perform the work.

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Old 05-06-2009, 02:00 PM   #3
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


Quote:
Originally Posted by daxinarian View Post
Unfortunately I have some bad news for you...
Iowa recently changed the law so that Homeowners can not do their own electrical work (other than changing light bulbs or swapping out recepticals). A licensed electrician is required to perform the work.
When has that really stopped anyone from doing their own work and just not having it inspected?

I think its total BS not allowing a homeowner to do their own electrical work.

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Originally Posted by rmorgan1016 View Post
....separate conductors strung between what look like cyclindrical insulators (ceramic?). Some of the wiring looks like it's been here the whole 100 years and some is relatively new (Romex-style).
What you have described here is called "Knob and Tube" wiring. These circuits are un-grounded and should not be added to or altered. Most times they will be perfectly ok as an ungrounded circuit; however a lot of insurance companies won't give you the better rates until the knob and tube wiring is disconnected.

Last edited by theatretch85; 05-06-2009 at 02:04 PM.
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Old 05-06-2009, 02:17 PM   #4
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


Gray PVC is probably the best conduit for you to use outside. Really you should be running separate strands of THWN wire in the conduit, but I don't think there's a problem using UF cable for the whole run. If you can foresee yourself running more wires through this at all, I would run a piece of twine into the conduit with the cable, and also go with a larger conduit like 1 inch.
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Old 05-06-2009, 03:03 PM   #5
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


Don't run this stuff on the outside! It will look like hammered doggy doo, and you will regret it. Try to find hidden spaces on the inside if you truly can't get the wiring in the walls (hard to imagine). Find closets that are stacked on top of one another, or old chimney chases. From the basement you may be able to use long d'versa bit drill bits to drill all the way to the attic through stacked walls.
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Old 05-06-2009, 04:24 PM   #6
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


Thanks for the advice. I really don't want to run it outdoors, but I've messed around in these walls before and many of the studs are, for lack of a better term, capped, with a horizontal piece of wood on top of the studs. There's a hole in the 'cap' for existing wiring, but I can't figure any way to get through it from a receptacle-box-sized hole in the wall.

White PVC wouldn't look too bad on the side of the house (it's white already), but my initial research seems to show that PVC rated for electrical use is gray or black.

I haven't used THWN wire before...would I use a j-box to splice it to the Romex that comes out of the electrical panel?
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Old 07-07-2009, 09:28 PM   #7
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


This project got shelved for a bit due to the death of my father-in-law, but I'm now back on it and need a bit more advice.

I was eventually able to find a path from the attic down to the basement that was almost straight through. I did have to go outside the house for eighteen inches or so. I used gray PVC and LB boxes (I've tried to insert some pictures, but I only seem to be able to attach them...is there to insert them from a hard drive?) for that part, which I think is fine. I ran two cables, both NM-type, one 14-2 and one 12-2.

I'm going to use the 12-2 for a 20A circuit to the receptacle in one of the bedrooms. The 14-2 goes to a junction box in the attic. I would like to run it to one or more of the other rooms to help alleviate the basic problem (one 15A circuit for the entire upstairs and attic), but I don't want to rip up tons of the attic floor to trace all the circuits (they all seem to drop down from the perimeter of the attic), and I don't know how else to figure out where to run the circuit short of disconnecting everything in the junction boxes and having my wife help me ohm everything out. My wife is also not in favor this. If anybody knows any tricks on this I'd love to hear them.

Where I need advice is on the electrical panel. I'm going to run the 20A circuit to the open slot on the lower left -- no problem. What puzzles me a little bit is the position of the 40A breaker on the right side of the panel. It's seems "off" by one slot to me. It works fine, but it just looks odd. I assume I can use either of the available slots above or below it for the 15A circuit if I ever finish it, but can I also move the 40A circuit up or down one slot to 'balance' it? Like I said, it works fine, but it just seems like the two-wide breakers should go in slots that are multiples of two (e.g., slot 1 and 2 or 7 and 8, not 12 and 13).

Thanks in advance for reading this, and for any advice you may have.
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Old 07-07-2009, 09:41 PM   #8
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


NM cable is not rated to be used outdoors - even for 18"
BUt since legally you are not allowed to do your own work in Iowa
I'm not familiar with that panel type
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Old 07-07-2009, 09:57 PM   #9
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


You can't move the 40. It will not hit both phases. Someone just tried this last week and posted about it.

You need a thin breaker above or below it.

FPE panel + knob and tube wiring =
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Old 07-07-2009, 09:57 PM   #10
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


I'm very surprised to hear I can't use NM outdoors in a conduit. I read somewhere (maybe even in this forum) that there is no prohibition on that as long as it's not not underground.

What would have been a better way to do it? If I used THHN/THWN I wouldn't be able to run it through the walls, right?

It's a Federal Pacific panel, which apparently aren't made any longer. Even a simple breaker costs more than $20.
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Old 07-07-2009, 10:00 PM   #11
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


Quote:
Originally Posted by InPhase277 View Post
It will look like hammered doggy doo, .
I like that


I think I would try and get rid of the knob and tube.
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Old 07-07-2009, 10:02 PM   #12
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


OK, thanks very much. It still looks odd to me, but I'll pull through.

Yes, the wiring in this house is very frustrating. Expensive breakers, no grounding anywhere, K&T (often with two black or two white wires), and all done over decades by different people. You wouldn't even believe what they've done out in the farm buildings.
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Old 07-07-2009, 10:07 PM   #13
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


Quote:
Originally Posted by rmorgan1016 View Post
I'm very surprised to hear I can't use NM outdoors in a conduit. I read somewhere (maybe even in this forum) that there is no prohibition on that as long as it's not not underground.

What would have been a better way to do it? If I used THHN/THWN I wouldn't be able to run it through the walls, right?

It's a Federal Pacific panel, which apparently aren't made any longer. Even a simple breaker costs more than $20.
It is exposed directly to the weather, so it is considered wet by the Code. However, this one is way, way down on the list of technical violations, and I wouldn't lose any sleep over it.

But that particular generation of FPE panels has a very good reason why it is no longer made. The lawsuits from the fires pretty much closed that operation down. If you can't afford to get rid of that panel, at least buy the new breakers that will actually trip when they need to.

As for the attic wiring problem, will conduit solve that as well? If you tuck it and the j-boxes out of the way?

Last edited by InPhase277; 07-07-2009 at 10:10 PM.
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Old 07-07-2009, 10:09 PM   #14
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Adding a Circuit -- Need To Route Outdoors


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Originally Posted by rmorgan1016 View Post
OK, thanks very much. It still looks odd to me, but I'll pull through.

Yes, the wiring in this house is very frustrating. Expensive breakers, no grounding anywhere, K&T (often with two black or two white wires), and all done over decades by different people. You wouldn't even believe what they've done out in the farm buildings.
I can imagine. Probally all grounding receptacles with no ground, too.
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Old 07-07-2009, 11:44 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by InPhase277 View Post

As for the attic wiring problem, will conduit solve that as well? If you tuck it and the j-boxes out of the way?

The problem in the attic isn't the location of the boxes; it's that it's about impossible to tell where they all go. I can easily get my new 15A circuit to any of them, but it would take me a long time with the power off (and an annoyed wife and mother-in-law) to use a multimeter to figure out where they go, if I even could. Basically, I just want to "spread the load" upstairs by moving a few outlets from the existing 15A circuit to the new one. The new 20A circuit goes to one outlet (which will have a lot of stuff plugged into it), but I'm afraid that might not be enough.

When you say replace the breakers, are you saying that the ones made today are better than the ones made by FPE? What an electrician told me was that the breakers worked OK (and the ones here WILL flip) unless there is a dead short. I was skeptical of that, but after hearing your comments I'm concerned. I could wire in a new panel myself (what brand do you recommend) if the electrician wired up the main supply lines -- I ain't going anywhere near those.

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