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Old 03-24-2011, 08:39 AM   #1
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New to DIY, HI, and Electrical


I just purchased a 3BR 2Bath home (about 1200 sq ft). It's all old fashioned knob & tube wiring and plaster walls (build around 1940) in San Jose, CA. I would like to replace the entire electrical wiring system for the house as the outlets are currently not grounded, and my computer/entertainment systems require grounding and clean power to run properly. I also plan to install phone lines, Co-Ax, and Cat-6/fiber at the same time.

The home has an ample crawl space and I have no problem with going under the house. I can purchase the romex needed, and I have a friend who is a professional installer and will help me make sure all the work will pass a code inspection.

I'm on a serious budget, so I cannot really afford to have a pro come in and do all the work. I have some experience doing this (mostly installing breaker panels and grounding outlets/replacing switches, not much more than that) and, with my friend's guiding advice, I hope to be able to take care of it on my own.

What am I in for here? I know it will be a LOT of work (like a week or more solid), but can anyone let me know what issues I may encounter? Any advice?

And no, I really don't have the cash to hire a pro. I'm being totally honest about that.



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Old 03-24-2011, 09:02 AM   #2
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While you can replace a receptacle or switch or light fixture all by yourself, but you almost always need to get a permit from the city to restring wiring.

YOu might first size up (by writing English paragraphs on) on how you would go about restringing wires and perhaps drill a hole or two in studs or subfloors to get an idea of the difficulty. At this juncture you may redecide you want to get a professional to do it all.

After you get a permit you can do it one room at a time. You don't have to finish it all in a couple of weeks or even within three months.

You can run a cable from the crawl space up into the wall to reach a receptacle location and bring another cable back down into the crawl space to continue to the next receptacle as opposed to go horizontally through the wall necessitating cutting the plaster here and there.

You can temporarily run a bare ground wire from an outlet out along the surface of the wall and vaguely follow the path of the original circuit over to the panel. Then change that receptacle from 2 prong to 3 prong.

After you have surely identified both ends (or all three ends of a tee) of a section of knob and tube wiring, you can cut the ends off as completely as you can. Prior to identifying all ends, the ends you have so far must be covered individually with wire nuts or tape and enclosed in outlet boxes with covers visible on the wall or floor or ceiling. (May be the same outlet boxes being re-used with new cable.)

As far as replacing the main panel, you may need a separate permit and it is possible your home may be blacked out for a day or two while you, possibly a hired electrician, and the power company get things scheduled. It is not unusual to install a new main panel next to the old one and the electric company disconnects your old panel and hooks up the new one. Then you run a jumper from the old panel to a pair of breakers in the new panel and at your leisure move circuits over to the new panel.

Nowadays (2011), when a power cable goes to a light fixture and the switch is beyond that, you must run a 3 conductor* cable between the light and switch where previously perhaps just a single wire in a knob and tube system ran.

* Raw hot, switched hot back to the light, and neutral for possible future extension beyond that switch.


The good conscientious technician or serviceperson will carry extra oils and lubricants in case the new pump did not come with oil or the oil was accidentally spilled, so the service call can be completed without an extra visit.

Last edited by AllanJ; 03-24-2011 at 09:20 AM.
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Old 03-24-2011, 09:08 AM   #3
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This is all good info.

One of the things I look forward to is learning more about the process and proper procedure for doing this work. Savety comes first, then efficiency and convenience.

I know it will not be easy - but a paid professional is really out of the question.
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Old 03-24-2011, 09:10 AM   #4
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Working in a crawl space is nasty work.

Get a floodlight to put under the house. Get one of those AAA "head" lights too. Make sure you plan out which wires you're going to pull where. If you have a helper, it makes the work go a lot faster. It's hard to pull wires from only one side of the floor.

I'd say do the phone and cat5 first (assuming you don't need permits or inspections). You'll get experience crawling around, working on your back with grit falling into your eyes, watching out for the things that might be living down there . You'll also see a lot of things regarding how the joists, beams, posts, plumbing and so forth are laid out, which will make planning the electric easier.

I'd say pull your wires for the outlets first. Since they can all be done from the bottom and they're low on the wall they're easier than lights.

There are two types of wire staples. Thick wire, and plastic with thin nails. The second kind costs more, but it's easier to install, especially into tough old lumber (when you're on your back, with grit falling into your eyes...)
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Old 03-24-2011, 09:24 AM   #5
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I have a headlamp and a floodlight.

I'm drawing the entire house in AutoCAD so that I can make changes and illustrate the schematic as necessary.

I fully expect to find all sorts of wildlife down there. We are pretty sure there are no rodents, but there will be plenty of outdoor roaches, bugs, and spiders (black windows - a lot of those!). I have worked around these all my life, I'm used to it.

I have crawled under many houses. It's very dirty work, but the rewards are huge. I really cannot wait to start!

Last edited by spdorsey; 03-24-2011 at 09:47 AM.
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Old 03-24-2011, 01:19 PM   #6
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Since you will be redoing an entire house, you may want to get a couple of books on wiring and read up on the code requirements.
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Old 03-24-2011, 03:02 PM   #7
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Good call - I'll do that.

I found the code document here:

NEC- National Electric code 2008

I'll be reading up on how it all works a lot!


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