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Old 09-13-2010, 08:00 PM   #1
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Am I going to have to rewire my house?


Semi-long - please bear with me!

Background info: bought this house 10 years ago, was inspected, ranch style home built in 1980. No local building code then or now.

Have been a little bit of a DIY'er over the last 10 years putting in floors, woodworking, but very little electrical. While painting basement, one side project that came up was to replace dim 2 bulb fixture in basement stairwell (inside). Went into attic to make sure I could get enough slack in Romex type wire to run to new fluorescent light. Some one had cut the ground off wiring the 2 bulb light and I wanted to ground the fluorescent.

While I'm in the attic I notice something odd: a receptacle behind some insulation screwed to a diagonal roof brace. No cover on the receptacle, just bare with wires going into the "push" lock part of the back of the receptacle. What appeared to be an TV antennae booster was plugged into this! I unplugged the booster and later replaced this receptacle with an junction box and cover.

Today while reading another DIY book I read that 20amp circuit breakers can only be used with 12 gauge wire, or larger. It clicked in my mind that all the wiring I saw in the attic was 14/2, and all the non-major appliance breakers are 20amp. Why did they wire it this way?

And now, to my question: I know this is not safe, and I am something of a worry wort already! So, what am I facing - having to rewire? Can I replace the 20amp breakers with 15amp breakers? Ok, let's assume I can do that. What about the rest of the wiring!? Since the 14/2 was incorrect, how do I know the stove/dryer/heat pump etc. are not incorrect as well? Even if they are correct, how do I know the existing wiring is safe after seeing the receptacle in the attic? By the way, this was tied to the refrigerator circuit, which makes it even worse!

I'm ready to get an RV and park in the yard to feel safe that I won't burn up in my house, but my wife thinks I'm crazy. Do other people end up with crap like this or am I cursed with bad luck from trying to do the right thing sometimes!?

Cheers

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Old 09-13-2010, 08:35 PM   #2
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Am I going to have to rewire my house?


Basically, you have no way of knowing what other weird hacks might have been done in your house. At the very least, you should replace all the 20-amp breakers on 14 gauge wire with 15-amp. You may find that you get some breakers tripping occasionally once they are the correct size. Those circuits will probably be the ones you want to rewire first, with new 12-gauge wire on 20-amp breakers.

Do it a little at a time, don't get overwhelmed, and buy more smoke detectors if it'll help you sleep at night.

For the major appliances, if you let us know a) the wire size, b) the rating of the circuit breaker it's connected to, and c) the information from the appliance nameplates, we can help you figure out if the wire and breaker are sized right.

If you're not comfortable with electricity, you should probably get a licensed electrician in to inspect the wiring and start making repairs. If you think you're up to the task of fixing some of it yourself though, we're all happy to help you here.

Welcome aboard!

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Old 09-13-2010, 08:53 PM   #3
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Am I going to have to rewire my house?


Where you find the #14g wire
Plug something in, turn on the light etc
Then verify what breaker controls that light/outlet
Then verify if it is #12g or #14g leaving the electric panel
Only do this if you are comfortable w/taking the cover off !!
Live power insiode unless you have a main shut off somewhere else

Possibly they ran some 14g off a 12g circuit

Anywhere you find 14g on a 20a ....if you can't disconnect it (partial 14g) then install a 15a breaker
Better safe then sorry
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Old 09-13-2010, 09:07 PM   #4
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Am I going to have to rewire my house?


This Is great information, and it makes sense. Thanks.

I can get the information off the appliances, but how do I determine the wire thickness for these? I was able to read the 14/2 on the wire itself while in the attic, but I don't think I saw the appliiance wiring there. There is so much loose fill insulation it is next to impossible to find anything.

Cheers
Dukester
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Old 09-13-2010, 09:10 PM   #5
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Am I going to have to rewire my house?


Also, and what worries me the most: is the wire still safe to use after all this time on the wrong size breaker? I assume that wire, like everything else, degrades over time?
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Old 09-13-2010, 09:14 PM   #6
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Am I going to have to rewire my house?


There are people still using knob & tube wiring that was installed over 100 years ago

Wiring insulation will degrade when exposed to heat
Older insulation was rated 60c

The only way I determine wire size is by the writing on the jacket
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Old 09-13-2010, 10:08 PM   #7
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Am I going to have to rewire my house?


Here is what I would do first. If your are comfortable with removing the breaker panel, turn off the main breaker and remove it. The two big wires connected to the main breaker are Hot so stay clear of that area. Do this during the day or when you have a good flash light.
Find a piece of #14 wire and a piece of #12 wire for reference.
Start with mapping out just the 15 and 20 amp breakers. There should be only one wire connected to a breaker. Identify what size wire is connected to each breaker. Hopefully you can see enough of the copper end to determine this.
Let us know what you find.
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Old 09-14-2010, 07:31 AM   #8
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What does removing the main breaker do?
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Old 09-14-2010, 07:37 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dukes909 View Post
What does removing the main breaker do?
Turn off the main breaker and remove the front panel..
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Old 09-14-2010, 07:40 AM   #10
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Am I going to have to rewire my house?


Understood - not enough coffee this morning. I thought you meant remove the main breaker, which made no sense to me.
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Old 09-14-2010, 08:17 AM   #11
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Am I going to have to rewire my house?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Scuba_Dave View Post
Where you find the #14g wire
Plug something in, turn on the light etc
Then verify what breaker controls that light/outlet...
You can also use an AC powered radio or similar, turned up loud enough so that you can hear if from the location of the electrical panel - that way you won't have to keep running back to the outlet to verify if it's powered from a given breaker.
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Old 09-14-2010, 08:20 AM   #12
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Am I going to have to rewire my house?


In cases where there may be hinkey wiring in locations where it cannot be easily evaluated, and if your panel accepts them, you may wish to consider powering the suspect circuits with AFCI breakers (which will open if they detect a short).
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Last edited by Michael Thomas; 09-14-2010 at 05:05 PM.
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Old 09-14-2010, 08:35 AM   #13
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Am I going to have to rewire my house?


Ok, another good idea. I thought about buying one of those $40 circuit tracers, but is that a waste of money?

I guess they make Square D 15amp AFCI breakers?
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Old 09-14-2010, 08:37 AM   #14
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Am I going to have to rewire my house?


Also - will the AFCI protect if wires have degraded from overheating? Sorry for so many questions.
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Old 09-14-2010, 05:11 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dukes909 View Post
Also - will the AFCI protect if wires have degraded from overheating? Sorry for so many questions.
Yes, an AFCI should trip if deteriorating insulation is causing an arcing short.

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