Electrician Shock

July 28, 2007


Yesterday I wired half the Living Room. One wall now has four– yes, folks, four— outlet receptacles! That was the total number of receptacles in the entire room before we started.

I am doing all the wiring myself. And, unless a reliable electrician enters our lives within the next week, I will probably be tying the wiring into the circuit breaker myself (don’t worry, I’ll study hard, get advice, follow all the safety rules, and go slowly). Trying to find an available, reliable electrician has been a nightmare. I’ve called over 10 businesses. Half dismissed me because they only “do commercial” now. One guy spent a half hour looking over our electrical needs, and never called me back with his estimate. Another guy– a referral from a co-worker– said he’d be here on a certain day, but never showed up. I’ve called him back a dozen times and he refuses to call me back! The only real response I got was from a local company who would send out a small team for the stifling price of $1000.

So let’s just say I am not doing the wiring because I love electricity. I have to do the wiring. The guys at the codes department now know me by my telephone voice, since I call them nearly every day to pepper them with my endless questions:

  • Can I use metal staples to secure the cable between studs, or must I use those fancy plastic tie-downs in all those home improvement books? [answer: metal is fine]
  • Can I use 12-2 cable with 15-amp receptacles? [answer: yes but you must use 20-amp breakers in your circuit box]
  • I have to string cable through a support beam. Can I notch it instead of drilling a hole through it? [answer: yes, but nail a 1/16 metal plate over the notch]
  • I have 3/4-inch holes drilled in my studs. Can I run two courses of cable through them? [answer: yes]
  • How far back from the front of the stud must the holes be drilled? [answer: 1 and 1/4 inch]

And etc.

Wiring is not difficult at all. Configuring the wiring through a house that was built before the invention of electric wiring is nigh impossible. It is a good thing I am creative, but my creativity can never transgress the amorphous “codes.” Problem is, I have a hard time knowing all the minute details of this “code” I hear about. There is no “National Electric Code” available online (to my knowledge). One sole reference copy is at the local library– and you cannot check it out to take home and study. I suppose I could always buy my own copy– for $70. :-O The hardest part for me is knowing what is allowed and what is not allowed. Home improvement books are helpful, but they all cover new construction (as if all homes have shiny new 2×4 studs and light-filled basements and attics). I am hesitant to take any risks in the placement of wiring, because each inspection is $75. Therefore, a failed inspection can be extremely costly if the inspector needs to return.

At any rate, I am so happy to have half the room done. I think it is done correctly, too. There are a few chinks that I have to work out yet. For example: wiring coming up from the basement may be situated too close to where the finished Living Room wall is going. See, I had to drill from my basement into the foundation sill in order to get a hole between the studs (and not a hole in the floorboard). My drilling had to be at an angle, so I could run wiring from the between the studs down through the basement and back up again. This was very hard. Not only is my 12inch x 12inch solid hemlock sill petrified after 150 years, but I have to crawl up into the foundation a little to even get to the sill. (The stone foundation is about 18 inches thick, and the foundation sill sits at the outer rim of the stonework.) Even when I have finally drilled through the sill, I found that my holes are still not 1 and 1/4-inch away from where the finished wall with eventually be. So I think I have to install my own “sill plate” pieces between the studs on top of the floorboards, and attach metal nail plates to these “sill plate” pieces. This protects the wiring (which is so close to where the finished wall is going) from being nailed into by accident when the sheetrock goes up.

Here’s a photo of a hole that is drilled far back enough.

Good hole

Here is a hole drilled too close.

birds eye view

This predicament of mine and my intended solution is not in any books or codes manuals. It is “one of those things” that you encounter when wiring an old house, and you only hope that your fix passes inspection. So, I am a little bit nervous about it. The wiring comes up from the basement only four times, but two are very close to the edge. I doubt they will pass inspection if I left them. I sure hope the inspector loves my fix.

Here’s is a photo of one area of floor riddled with holes. (I didn’t make all of these, by the way!)

holes galore

None of these holes are really back far enough to please codes. Some of these holes go right out onto the floor– they were made when the plaster, lathe, and baseboard was still installed, because blindly fishing wire between walls is so hard. Therefore, wiring was exposed in the Living Room before I removed the receptacles. You can also see a very old damaged wire in the photo. This wiring (which makes up most of the wiring we have in the house) is the old knob-and-tube wiring that dates back to the 20’s and 30s.

So I’ll post pictures of my handiwork after inspection passes. It is a strange thing to walk into the living room and see the festive yellow wiring and bright blue receptacle boxes in a drab dark-brown wooden room with drab burnt-red bricks between the walls. I am keeping my eyes on the final product: a warm, efficient, clean, and pleasant room to enjoy. Oh, I am looking forward to this!

Other news: we have to build out one wall in the Living Room in order to properly wire it. This wall has studs that are turned sideways. I don’t know why the original builder did this… of course it was built before central heating and electric wiring… but the sideways studs make it impossible to do anything with the wall. Plus, these sideways studs are directly under the main support beam, which has cracked and shifted over the centuries. Obviously the studs have not done their job of supporting this beam. So, we are going to add new studs. This will enlarge the wall and enable us to add wiring and a cold-air return vent in the gap.

Also, I believe that the bricks between the studs (aka, “noggin”) are not true bricks. I had to punch some out in order to run wiring. When I hit the bricks with my hammer, most turned to powder. Some are hollow. The mortar is stronger than the “bricks.” I think these bricks are merely hardened clay squares. I do not think these clay squares were ever baked and hardened in a brick kiln. Perhaps the owner simply made mud bricks by collecting clay into square molds and setting them out in the sun to dry. These are not real bricks.

Closeup noggin

I have to leave most of them in though. They serve as firestops for the balloon-frame house, and it is too late in the game for more demolition (for the health of my psyche, anyway). They serve as a barrier… so in they stay. Perhaps when we do the exterior siding (should we get that far), I will have them removed then. They are only between the studs in the first floor.

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