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Old 06-19-2013, 08:23 PM   #1
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"Cross Wiring" a 2 Unit Building


Hi,

I think I've asked this before, but gotten a bunch of "why would you want to do that?" responses, no real answer. And I can't find the OP.

<---CUT HERE to avoid lengthy back story---------------------------------->

I own a two unit building. I live in the lower flat and rent out the upper flat. They are separately metered.

We share laundry facilities on the enclosed back porch behind the upper flat. Thus, my tenants are paying for the electricity I (and some other housemates of mine) use to run the electric dryer and washing machine.

The issue hasn't come up yet, but it will. According to the lease, they are to pay their fair share of the water bill. So far I haven't charged them. But the price of water is skyrocketing in the San Francisco Bay area, mostly due to a measure passed a few years ago designed to earthquake-proof the system.

The master tenant is a young lawyer and very litigious. When I ask him to pay for water, he'll likely ask who's paying for the washer/dryer.

So I'd like solve that "problem" before even breeching the subject.

Ultimately, I think I'll use a surplus KW/Hr meter, a little Arduino CPU, and some contactors to set up a card swipe system. There will be a "learn" button so that authorized users from one flat can "bless" other credit cards from members of the same flat. I'll propose he merely charge me for the electricity we use based on his electric rate.

Because he has gas heating and we have electric, we pay as much as 40 cents per KW/Hr for those last few hundred KW/Hrs in the Winter due to tier pricing based on usage. He probably pays $.11 KW/Hr. for all of his electricity. Note that technically, even the power company or public utilities commission might not like this arrangement, as in a sense we (downstairs) aren't paying our fair share of "sin tax" for the "excess" electricity we use.

If for whatever reason the aforementioned idea is rejected, what's really
wanted (and a plan I'm comfortable insisting on) would be as follows:

I would wire a circuit from our panel (basement level) up through our back porch, terminating at the upper flat with an outlet, near the existing outlet fed from their panel. I'd then rig up a card swipe black box that plugs into both outlets. Note that as an electronics hobbyist, I take it for granted that the AHJ's authority ends at the outlet: what I plug into it is between myself and my insurance company.

<-----END of lengthy backstory------------------------------------------------------->

Soooo....the question boils down to whether or not an outlet circuit run from my panel can (legally/per code) physically co-exist next to an outlet run from their panel.

Note I can't run an extension cord down to my own outlets, because it would have to go through floors and might constitute a "substitute for permanent wiring", both of which are prohibited by code.

Note also I already have a circuit that crosses from one unit to another. The stairwell and motion-activated light on their back porch light are all fed from my panel downstairs.

I do have the code book and read it as needed, but wouldn't know where to turn for an answer to this question.

Can anyone find code that would prohibit one or another of my proposed solutions?"

Thank you in advance!

-Jeff


Last edited by mysterylectric; 06-19-2013 at 08:28 PM. Reason: add cut/end around lengthy backstory
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Old 06-19-2013, 08:33 PM   #2
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"Cross Wiring" a 2 Unit Building


Quote:
Originally Posted by mysterylectric View Post
I own a two unit building.
They are separately metered.
I live in the lower flat and rent out the upper flat.
Is there a THIRD meter and set of circuits for the common area?

If not, then those utilities (gas, water, electric, CATV, etc) need to ALL be run through the owners panel with the expenses absorbed by him and presumably sorted out in the rent charged).

Quote:
According to the lease, they are to pay their fair share of the water bill.
This is not legal in most areas (as described above).
After market meters are also illegal to use as a basis to bill from.

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Old 06-19-2013, 10:16 PM   #3
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"Cross Wiring" a 2 Unit Building


Hi TT, thank you for your response!

I'm vaguely aware of the submetering issues, but I'll look into them further.

Although my meters may be "aftermarket", they are new old stock, modern smart meters just like the utility company uses. Does that make a difference? IE, is the concern that aftermarket meters might not meet accuracy requirements?

In my area, the way they up-sell equipment designed specifically for sub metering at several of the pro electrical supply stores, you'd be led to believe it was legal.

As tenant-centric as San Francisco is, landlords are allowed to charge for water as long as they certify there are no leaks, all the fixtures are water saving, and the formula used to calculate charges is disclosed. Here the "progressive" thinking is that (statistically) if people know they are paying for a resource, they will use less resources, and that's in the public interest.

-Jeff
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Old 06-20-2013, 12:31 AM   #4
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"Cross Wiring" a 2 Unit Building


Sounds like you should get coin operated appliances or get utilities seperated.or go to a laundromat.
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Old 06-20-2013, 08:00 AM   #5
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Although my meters may be "aftermarket"...
Does that make a difference?
Nope. It's a public service commission thing.
You can have them... you just can't use them as the basis to charge a tenant for power (or gas or water) usage where they don't have exclusive control over that usage.

Similarly... you can't run yard lights off the tenants panel. Even if they benefit from them they aren't in control of them.

Quote:
As tenant-centric as San Francisco is, landlords are allowed to charge for water as long as they certify there are no leaks...
The issue is in HOW you determine the amount to charge.

fwiw and having been there... go back over your prior water bills to track the gallons or cubic feet you've been getting billed for. Look for where the seasonal and other legitimate usage changes are. The rate charged per unit will change but the amount of water that X people consume in November or June should be about the same year over year.

Charge rent accordingly.
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Old 06-20-2013, 08:29 PM   #6
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"Cross Wiring" a 2 Unit Building


Run a circuit from each panel to a lockable transfer switch. Out from the switch to the dryer receptacle. Same for the washed circuit. Each tenant has a key to power ul the W/D ftom his panel.
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Old 06-21-2013, 12:45 AM   #7
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"Cross Wiring" a 2 Unit Building


Thanks Bob! But if I get coin op appliances, they'll argue for a "decrease in services" and who knows what kind of adjustment they'll get in rent. Don't want to go there. Going to the local laundromat is not a bad idea, though. Getting a second W/D set on the back porch of my flat might be the best idea, actually.

Thanks again TT, I knew it was complicated. That why I would feel comfy with "insisting" on the switchover design whereas not so with the submetering idea. And now I see why: with the submetering plan, not only am I escaping the "sin tax" but potentially kicking their usage up a tier. That could get complicated really quickly.

I think a simple division of the water bill by the number of residents of the building, multiplied by the number of residents in their unit, is acceptable here.

Generally I can't adjust the rent except annually for a cost of living increase and a handful of other reasons. Regardless as to what it says in the lease, the same proposition that raises the water rates to pay for the earthquake stuff allows a passthrough to tenants. I haven't touched that one because I think the formula is pretty complicated, and probably won't amount to much.

I'll also look into the cost of having a second water meter installed. My place is a good candidate for condo conversion (though I'm not leaning in that direction) and in any case should enhance the value of the property. My neighbor recently did it.

Thank you rjniles! I'm not aware of any transfer switches that have the functionality you mention, and it's a bit complicated especially if upstairs wants to use the dryer while downstairs uses the washer (happens all the time). I assume I'll have to build it myself,
and dare not run conduit straight to it because in that case I would expect my assembly would need to be "listed" and inspected. If I build it and plug it in, it's beyond the jurisdiction of the AHJ: though it's interesting to speculate what might happen if my device malfunctioned and back-fed one panel from the other. Lawsuit I suppose if anyone was hurt or equipment damaged. I've noticed the utility field people check for that possibility when they re-establish service should my tenants fail to pay their bill.

I should do some wading through PUC and my utility companies rules I suppose.

Last edited by mysterylectric; 06-21-2013 at 12:47 AM. Reason: add last minute thoughts
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Old 06-21-2013, 05:03 AM   #8
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"Cross Wiring" a 2 Unit Building


Fortunately, your not in PA.

If the utility company or state found out that the tenants electric is being used to power house common circuits(foreign load). You would be responsible for your tenants electric bill. Plus state law would stop you from collecting rent until the service was corrected and inspected by the power company. Often it takes 6 months for them to come out and inspect an approve the service.

Your state may have similar laws. And your tenant that is a lawyer probably knows if they do or not.
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Old 06-21-2013, 09:46 AM   #9
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"Cross Wiring" a 2 Unit Building


Mystery... Just a comment and reflection...

But I do find it amazing, you are well intentioned and trying to be honest/fair, and what a conundrum of rules/regs you're trying to satisfactorily resolve in an economically feasable manner (bldg dept, NEC, POCO, contract, SF Tenent laws, pragmatics ......)

Not necessarily bad...., just amazing... My hat off to ya
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Old 06-26-2013, 08:55 PM   #10
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Thanks, beenthere! I've had inspectors crawling all around back there on other issues: including the fact that the inspector felt the dryer wasn't getting very hot. I put up with it for a few moths before he really ticked me off and I said "Look: this isn't a gas model so the drum isn't going to get scorching hot. It's a European design with a microprocessor control designed to work smart, not hard. There's only one heating element in there, so if it's warm at all, it's working JUST FINE!" Luckily that ended that protracted discussion. But I do see the legal problems, and just because one inspector missed it doesn't mean another inspector, or the tenants, won't miss it.

Thank you Mtn Remodel! As often as not I'm ridiculed for my "cockamamie" ideas but they're always well rationalized. I've never been afraid of a "complicated" solution that solves a complicated problem.

My latest thought is to add aftermarket coin ops to the machines... but give the tenants control over the coinbox. That way, we'd be paying them for the services we use. May still face legal hurdles though.

I still think running an outlet from my box up there and plugging my "black box" with the card reader into both outlets is the best way to go.

I guess I'll have to run a hot water line from my flat up there as well and bring some valves into play, not hard to do.

Incidentally, I looked into the cost of a "metering conversion", which involves placing another water meter in the water meter box at the sidewalk, so the tenants get billed for their own water usage. I was quoted $10K for charges from the water company alone. Seems they "need" to rip up the line out to the street and replace it. That doesn't make much sense. My two units are perfectly well served by a single 5/8" meter, simply placing another 5/8" meter in parallel with it shouldn't increase overall demand from the street. But on the other hand, it could in theory increase peak flow through the pipe from the street, as the water would be passing through two parallel restrictions rather than one. That _could_ be a problem because copper pipe (in particular) has a problem called "erosion corrosion" when certain max flow rates are exceeded.

The water dept. rep recommended I sub-meter the water. So apparently that's legal.

-Jeff

Last edited by mysterylectric; 06-26-2013 at 08:56 PM. Reason: misepellings
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Old 06-27-2013, 12:54 AM   #11
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"Cross Wiring" a 2 Unit Building


I am not sure about the water dept, it is a muni in SF.

But that back porch is a common utility area, not part of the upstairs unit. It should be fed from your meter, not the tenants. Both the 120V and 240V.

I don't think you want to get into sub-metering. Weights and Measures would have to certify your meter periodically. You also have to do a lot of book keeping to charge at the right rate. You also have to rebate the fair share of any rebates you get from PG&E.

Your code card system would be considered a sub-meter if anyone found out about it. It still needs to be on your service.

Here is a link to the PG&E page on sub meters.
http://www.pge.com/myhome/myaccount/...ll/submetered/

You should read both links from that page on the landlord and tenant.
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Old 07-01-2013, 09:54 PM   #12
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Thank you for you input, Oso! I don't think the card swipe system as presented in it's second incarnation in my OP would count as sub metering. When the tenants were using the equipment, it would be hooked up to their meter. When I used it, it would be hooked up to mine. No third meter: no DWM certification needed.

I'll try to find the code re: common utility areas, but even if the common area was on it's own meter (billed separately) we'd still have essentially the same problem dividing the bill based on usage, which is ultimately unknown.
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Old 07-01-2013, 10:06 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mysterylectric View Post
Thank you for you input, Oso! I don't think the card swipe system as presented in it's second incarnation in my OP would count as sub metering. When the tenants were using the equipment, it would be hooked up to their meter. When I used it, it would be hooked up to mine. No third meter: no DWM certification needed.

I'll try to find the code re: common utility areas, but even if the common area was on it's own meter (billed separately) we'd still have essentially the same problem dividing the bill based on usage, which is ultimately unknown.
Common usage area, is the landlords bill only.

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