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Old 04-24-2009, 12:03 PM   #1
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Wiring Problems


Okay I'm in neck deep in a wiring project that is getting worse by the moment. It started when a breaker popped after my son plugged in a stereo in his bedroom. In fact it more than popped, it died. I went to the HW store, bought a new breaker, and then about screamed when I took off the panel to the breaker box. Several hours and breaker flipping later, I ran into the following:
  • The outlets for both back bedrooms were on one circuit, thus the pop.
  • All the outlets and lights in the basement are on one circuit (except the sump pump), and the wiring is bad. So bad in fact, at one place, someone had spliced the romex by cutting it, adding another line, twisting the conductors together and wrapping them with black tape (no wire nuts!), wrapping the splice in a piece of garden hose, and black tape onion the whole thing. This was right near a cold water pipe too. The splice ran to an outlet on a ceiling joist to which the furnace humidifier was plugged in.
  • Two microwaves and the fridge are on one circuit. I crunched the numbers: 12.5A for MW#1, 8A for MW#2, and 7A for fridge. Explain to me why the 20A breaker hasn't popped yet, particularly when (rarely) all three are on at once. None of the outlets are GFI. I've since moved one micro to a different circuit, but the other one is more problematic.
  • The stove light and exhaust fan have a dedicated circuit. Whoopee, at best they draw a couple amps.
  • The gas stove and two other outlets share a circuit. Only one of those three outlets is a GFI.
  • Two kitchen outlets plus the switched outlet for the sink disposal, plus the porch outlet share a circuit. All but the disposal are GFI.
  • There are four circuits to cover all the lights in the house (except the basement): the garage has its own, which probably includes the opener, but that's busted so I don't know. The living room, kitchen, and porch lights share a circuit. The hallway, 3rd BR, main bath, and laundry room lights share a circuit. The MBR, 2nd BR, and master bath lights share a circuit. Light bulbs in this house don't seem to last as long as I thought they should. I always thought it was quirky, but didn't really look into it until now.

I'm sure there's more to come, but that's what I've found so far. This house is only 13 years old; I bought it 8 years ago and all hell is breaking loose just now. This is one of those "I wish I had known then what I know now" situations. Anyway, now for the questions:
  • The breaker box was full, so I added an adjacent sub-box and moved some of the circuits into it. I've got #6 4-wire going from a double-50A breaker in the main box into the sub-box, and I'm a little confused about the grounding. Currently the ground and common are tied together in the sub-box, but now I read somewhere that the sub-box shouldn't be doing that. If that's the case, what do I do with the ground wire on the #6 feed? Not use it? I assume I still ground the sub-box circuits to the common bar like in the main box. Also I bonded the common in the sub-box to the box metal itself. Both boxes are placed on plywood on the wall, so they themselves wouldn't be grounded otherwise. Should I be doing that?
  • The furnace, while it does have its own dedicated circuit, has no on/off switch at the furnace itself. I believe that is against code, am I correct?
  • I thought the fridge was supposed to have a dedicated 15A circuit. Is this true? Its a plug-in, so I wasn't sure. (There's no hardwired appliances anywhere in the kitchen except possibly the dishwasher, and thankfully that is on its own circuit.)
  • I thought all kitchen outlets were supposed to be GFI. Should I be replacing those?
  • I noticed a number of the light switches throughout the house have ground screws on them, but aren't grounded. I also noticed a lot of them don't have ground screws on them at all. Should I be replacing and grounding them all? Should I be adding more light circuits?
  • I bought an outlet tester and I have confirmed that all the outlets in the house and garage are wired correctly (at least as far as the tester can tell). Should I be looking at anything else?
  • What is the statue of limitations and I should I be hiring a lawyer?

I'd love to be able to afford to have an electrician come in and do it all for me, but unfortunately I lost my job a year ago and the disability just ran out. I'm trying to bring the house up to code so I can sell it and move into someplace more affordable. I used to do industrial wiring many many years ago, so I'm not flying blind here.

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Old 04-24-2009, 12:17 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sunici View Post
Anyway, now for the questions:
  • The breaker box was full, so I added an adjacent sub-box and moved some of the circuits into it. I've got #6 4-wire going from a double-50A breaker in the main box into the sub-box, and I'm a little confused about the grounding. Currently the ground and common are tied together in the sub-box, but now I read somewhere that the sub-box shouldn't be doing that. If that's the case, what do I do with the ground wire on the #6 feed? Not use it? I assume I still ground the sub-box circuits to the common bar like in the main box. Also I bonded the common in the sub-box to the box metal itself. Both boxes are placed on plywood on the wall, so they themselves wouldn't be grounded otherwise. Should I be doing that?
No. You need to buy a ground bar for that subpanel and install it. Connect the ground from your feed to it, and move all the other grounds in the sub to it. Un-bond the neutral from the can.

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  • The furnace, while it does have its own dedicated circuit, has no on/off switch at the furnace itself. I believe that is against code, am I correct?
Depends. If it is within sight of the panel and within 50', it is legal.

Quote:
  • I thought the fridge was supposed to have a dedicated 15A circuit. Is this true? Its a plug-in, so I wasn't sure. (There's no hardwired appliances anywhere in the kitchen except possibly the dishwasher, and thankfully that is on its own circuit.)
It's always nice to have appliances on their own circuit, but the fridge isn't required to have one. It can share the kitchen receptacle circuits.

Quote:
  • I thought all kitchen outlets were supposed to be GFI. Should I be replacing those?
All kitchen countertop receptacles should be GFCI protected, yes. This can be 1 GFCI receptacle that feeds the rest downstream, or a GFCI breaker.

Quote:
  • I noticed a number of the light switches throughout the house have ground screws on them, but aren't grounded. I also noticed a lot of them don't have ground screws on them at all. Should I be replacing and grounding them all? Should I be adding more light circuits?
This may not be a huge deal, but if a ground is present, it should be attached to the switch.

Quote:
  • I bought an outlet tester and I have confirmed that all the outlets in the house and garage are wired correctly (at least as far as the tester can tell). Should I be looking at anything else?
Pull out a random sampling of switches and receptacles and post some pics here. We'll be happy to tell you what we see.

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  • What is the statue of limitations and I should I be hiring a lawyer?
I dunno...

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Old 04-24-2009, 04:20 PM   #3
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Okay, more bad news. I pulled a switch in the bedroom and found the body was cracked across, and ungrounded. I replaced the switch. My next random choice was a panel of three switches in the living room. Opened it up, pulled out three switches and all three were cracked, and ungrounded. I just replaced those. My back is telling me to quit for the day, but I figured I'd update.
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Old 04-24-2009, 05:13 PM   #4
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You might as well replace all the wiring in your house. I had a similar problem when I moved in, the person who owned it before me was a "do it yourselfer" with limited knowledge, but boundless enthusiasm. He had done similar things, like splice various sized wires together to make a circuit, bury splices in walls, splice wire with tape (no wire nuts) without a box, install a 20A fuse on a 14 gauge wire circuit. I could go on, but you get the picture. So I replaced everything, new panels, replaced fused panels with breaker panels, new grounds.

By the way, it sounds like you do not have independent equipment grounds for at least some of your circuits. Since you are going to be replacing all the wiring in your house, you should make sure that each circuit has an independent equipment ground. As for your panel, as previously noted in one of the posts, it is required by NEC that the neutral and independent equipment grounds (IEG) be connected together at the first disconnect from the street ONLY. In other words, you DO NOT connect the neutral and the IEG together at a subpanel, rather you connect the neutral in the subpanel to the neutral bar in the main disconnect using an appropriately sized wire, and the IEG to the neutral bar in the main disconnect using an appropriately sized wire.
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Old 04-25-2009, 10:39 PM   #5
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Update:
I installed a grounding bar on the second box, and I've rewired it as suggested. I should clarify, all circuits do have grounds. My comment above was that some of the light switches had ground screws, but the ground wire wasn't connected to them. Some of the other light switches don't have ground screws, but the ground wire is in the box with them.
I took a look at the outlet on the front porch since it didn't seem to be working and found out that the post light at the end of the driveway is wired directly into it. In other words, I have to turn on the post light switch in order for the porch outlet to have power. In addition, the wiring to the post light was tied in to the line side of the GFCI, not the load. Finally, the wiring to the post light is basic NM cable that goes directly into the ground (no conduit). I had long suspected that was the case for the shed power, so I had disconnected it years ago (the shed was added on by the previous owner). I had thought the post light was original with the house, but now its not looking that way.
I replaced five standard outlets in the kitchen with GFCI outlets. Other than the fact they should have been protected, the wiring looked fine. I went after two more switch plates and those weren't so fine. Two of four switches were cracked, one of which was so bad it literally fell apart in my hand into several pieces as I was pulling it out of the box.
The last plate I went after was a two-switch, one GFCI outlet next to the sink. One switch was for the light over the sink and the other for the in-sink disposal. That's a happy little mess in there. Check out the picture. You should notice the WTH cable is a four wire: it has the common from #2, the switched hot from #2 for the disposal, and the hot from #6, plus ground. Whatever the hot from #6 is doing there I don't know, but I can't imagine its legit. Also, the grounds for both circuits are all tied together; I've not encountered this in household wiring before, but I'm guessing its not good (ground loops are a no-no for shielded cable).
I see I'm pretty much going to have to go through every outlet and switch in the house and do this the hard way. This project appears to be going from "a simple fix" to "dismantle the house with a rusty spoon". I've never done drywall before, so the idea of rewiring the whole house is awful daunting.
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Old 04-25-2009, 11:09 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Daniel Holzman View Post
You might as well replace all the wiring in your house. I had a similar problem when I moved in, the person who owned it before me was a "do it yourselfer" with limited knowledge, but boundless enthusiasm. He had done similar things, like splice various sized wires together to make a circuit, bury splices in walls, splice wire with tape (no wire nuts) without a box, install a 20A fuse on a 14 gauge wire circuit. I could go on, but you get the picture. So I replaced everything, new panels, replaced fused panels with breaker panels, new grounds.

By the way, it sounds like you do not have independent equipment grounds for at least some of your circuits. Since you are going to be replacing all the wiring in your house, you should make sure that each circuit has an independent equipment ground.
You CANNOT be serious!
The house is 13 years old. He does NOT have to re-wire the whole place. There are circuit grounds present, right in the image above your post. There would HAVE to be to pass any kind of codes in place in 1996. This was not that long ago. The codes for circuit grounds have barely changed, if at all since then.

The requirement to ground switches is relatively new. My 1990 NEC has the old requirement that if the switch is mounted in an ungrounded box or a non-metallic box, and the switch is not grounded, then a non-conductive faceplate must be used.
This was changed in either 1993 or 1996.
1999 has the requirement that switches must be grounded regardless of the type of faceplate used.
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Old 04-25-2009, 11:12 PM   #7
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Okay, more bad news. I pulled a switch in the bedroom and found the body was cracked across, and ungrounded.
sunici, switches, and devices in general, from this time period were crap. Plain and simple.
I moves into my 1975 house in 1993. I replaced every device in the house. Since then I have done it again using spec-grade receptacles. That's all I use now anyway.

Replacing all of them is cheap insurance that the future buyer will have less to gripe about.
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Old 04-26-2009, 10:12 AM   #8
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Old 04-26-2009, 10:27 AM   #9
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Sunici, quit running around screaming your head off and talking about getting a lawyer. You have described nothing that is seriously wrong (except the splice outside of an enclosure) and that's nothing to get excited about, just put it in a box. All your ranting about 2 rooms sharing receptacles (allowed), whole basement on one circuit (allowed), gas stove not on a GFCI (allowed), 4 circuits for the lights in your house (allowed).

The biggest problem in your house is the subpanel that you installed and didn't separate the neutral and grounds.

You would be much better off if you stop right now, take a chill pill, leave well enough alone, never touch anything electrical by yourself again, stop posting your silly little ideas on the WWW and find another hobby that won't wind up burning your house down.
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Old 04-26-2009, 10:33 AM   #10
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Going by the pic of your switch box it doesnt look bad, it looks fine. Quick wire receptacles and switches with #12 wire broke many devices exactly like your pic shows. Pushing the device back into the box was a chore as the wire was stiff and people forced it in instead of easing it in.

Check your switches and replace as necessary, clean up the "dog turds"and make sure your current GFI's are protecting your kitchen recpetacles.
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Old 04-26-2009, 10:34 AM   #11
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I took a look at the outlet on the front porch since it didn't seem to be working and found out that the post light at the end of the driveway is wired directly into it. In other words, I have to turn on the post light switch in order for the porch outlet to have power. In addition, the wiring to the post light was tied in to the line side of the GFCI, not the load. Finally, the wiring to the post light is basic NM cable that goes directly into the ground (no conduit).
This is not a violation. Maybe they wanted the porch receptacle to come on with the switch for Christmas or other holiday lights. I have seen it done and done it myself for customers.
The wiring to the post light does NOT require GFI protection.
Are you sure the cable is not UF cable. UF is/was not always grey, especially from that time period.




Quote:
Originally Posted by sunici View Post
I replaced five standard outlets in the kitchen with GFCI outlets. Other than the fact they should have been protected, the wiring looked fine.
Why did you use all GFI's. You can protect downstream receptacle with a GFI at the beginning (or any part) of the circuit.
Also, how do you know they were not GFI protected? Just from the lack of GFI devices? You say there was a GFI near the sink. Again, a house from this period would definitely require GFI protection for some/all kitchen counter receptacle. The code requiring all counter service receptacle to be GFI protected was a change for the 1996 code cycle. So it is entirely possible that only receptacles within 6' of the sink were required to be protected and your house was perfectly complaint.




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The last plate I went after was a two-switch, one GFCI outlet next to the sink. One switch was for the light over the sink and the other for the in-sink disposal. That's a happy little mess in there. Check out the picture. You should notice the WTH cable is a four wire: it has the common from #2, the switched hot from #2 for the disposal, and the hot from #6, plus ground. Whatever the hot from #6 is doing there I don't know, but I can't imagine its legit.
Everything in that pic looks FINE. You say you did electrical work in the past yet you do not think the black wire is legit???
It is carrying a feed to something, possibly the DW.
The red is switched, the black is not.
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Old 04-26-2009, 10:36 AM   #12
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Sunici, quit running around screaming your head off and talking about getting a lawyer.
That was my first impression as well.
Who does he think he is going to sue...and for WHAT????
This is a sadly typical mindset.
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Old 04-26-2009, 11:20 AM   #13
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It's kinda hard to tell from the pics, but does it look to anyone else that the neutrals of the the #2 and #6 circuit and the neutral in the 3-wire are mixed up?
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Old 04-26-2009, 11:35 AM   #14
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Not to me. The feed out neutral for #6 is hidden at the cable but plainly visible at the splice along with the light SL neutral.

To me it looks like #2 feeds line side of the GFI and then out to another box.
I see #6 feeding the disp and light switches with a feed out to another box as well via that 12/3.
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Old 04-26-2009, 06:51 PM   #15
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First off, I was joking about the lawyer business. I'm not a sue-happy person; I've never sued anyone for anything. I'm sorry if I hit a nerve. Second, I'd prefer if you kept your comments civil. If I'm getting wound up over nothing, by all means let me know, but please don't belittle me while doing it. My industrial wiring experience was about a year's worth back in the mid-80s. The company had a lot of rules that went above and beyond code, and I'd have gotten my head chewed off over a lot of stuff I'm seeing in the wiring in my home. Forgive me if I'm overreacting.

As for the non-GFCI outlets in the kitchen, they were not protected. The one circuit (#10 breaker) had three outlets, none of which were GFCI. They are more than 6' from the sink, but the fridge is on one of those outlets and it has a water line for the ice maker. I replaced two, and the third one is downstream from the second so it is protected now. I suppose I could have saved a few dollars and only did one of them.

The second kitchen circuit (#14 breaker) had one GFCI plus two regular outlets. Tripping the GFCI outlet did not shut off the other two outlets, so I knew they weren't protected. I replaced one outlet and the second (the stove) is protected because its now on the load side of the one I replaced.

The third kitchen circuit (#1 breaker) consists of one outlet on the north wall plus one outlet in the hallway. I suppose that side of the kitchen could be declared the dining room, but I replaced it with a GFCI anyway. I've got a freezer plugged into it, so its kitchen to me.

The fourth circuit (#2 breaker) had two GFCIs plus the switched disposal outlet under the sink. The disposal outlet was not GFCI nor was it on the load side of the existing GFCI. This is the picture I included above. I'll clarify the WTH: the 4-wire cable goes to the outlet under the sink: red=switched #2, white=neutral #2, black=hot #6, bare=ground #2 & #6. The biggest objection I had with this setup was the #6 hot was paired with the #2 neutral. All four wires end up in the outlet box under the sink; red/white/bare connects to the outlet, and black/white/bare goes off into the wall to some location unknown. The other lights on #6 are upstream of this box. (The dishwasher is on breaker #4 all by itself.)

I did recheck the cable to the post light and it is UF. My old company would have put it in conduit; I thought all buried wire was supposed to be that way. Moles, shovels, and all that.

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