Peter McCarthy Electric Co., Inc. - Specializing in Older Buildings in Chicago
Adventures in Old House Wiring....

Total rewires

Hazards lurk behind the walls....

Hyde Park Chicago ElectricianHyde Park Chicago ElectricianHyde Park Chicago Electrician
We did a full blown rewire a few weeks ago on a vintage condo in Hyde Park. This unit had the double whammy of 1. Not having the wiring updated since the 1920s. (A lot of great innovations in electricity and fire safety since then!) and 2. It had been "flipped." Which means there had been some updates. And they were done wrong. Cheap. Stupid. Dangerous.

Case in point, middle picture. This switch and GFCI outlet in the bathroom had at least 3 issues. First, the white and the vanilla colors on the devices clash terribly. Second, as you can see above and behind the GFCI outlet, there is a BX cable brought into the box. That is the metallic tube shaped affair with the armadillo like coiled metal jacket. This BX is not allowed to be just pulled into the box and left hanging there like that. It is supposed to enter the junction box by way of an approved fitting, i.e. a BX connector. The connector attaches to the end of the cable, and fits tightly with a lock-nut into a knockout hole in the box. This allows for support of the cable AND more importantly provides a grounding connection to the BX, and thus to whatever box or device is at the other end of it. As it was, the light fixture this BX lead to was ungrounded. In a bathroom. Not too smart. The third defect was that they did not take the time to peel the combustible paper wrapping off the wires. What was it Ben Franklin said? " A penny saved is a house burned?"  Well, he flew kites in the rain so he is not my role model for electrical safety. The fourth problem, of course, is the cloth-covered wire that was left in the box. You can see with your own eyes it is falling apart.

The bottom picture shows something we discovered that is even worse. In the bathroom, at least they had the common courtesy to run BX. In the kitchen, they decided to add a light in a pass through area and they just ran some bare wires in the wall. No ground. No protection. NO BRAINS.

And as an added bonus, we discovered that two of the circuits powering the apartment we were rewiring were actually coming off of the neighbor's circuit breaker panel. If you look closely at the top picture, you see all the panels for this condo building. This installation is not original, it dates back to 1950s or early 60s. At that point, the smaller fuse panels were removed and these circuit breaker panels were installed. In so doing, all of the branch circuit conduits that you see coming down from the left and making 90 degree bends were routed into troughs (the metal "trays" with the grey covers that are below and above the circuit breaker boxes)  When they did that, they must have gotten confused, because they ran 2 of my client's circuits into her neighbors panel and vice versa. But with a little investigation and a little diplomacy, (when we had to tell the neighbors we wanted to shut off their power for a while and work on their breaker panel) we were able to get it all straightened out!

All's well that ends well.


Total Re-wire on Kimbark Avenue

Hyde Park Chicago ElectricianHyde Park Chicago ElectricianHyde Park Chicago ElectricianWe are in the process of rewiring this vintage condo on the corner of 57th and Kimbark in Chicago.

Hyde Park Chicago ElectricianIt has suffered from technical obsolescence in wiring, to say the least. Most of the branch circuits were cloth-covered wire, leftover from the original 1920s installation. This cloth wire has aged very poorly, as I have noted in other places in this blog, and my customer was very wise to have it replaced. We are doing a full rewire on this unit, which entails replacing all the cloth-covered wire with new copper THHN wire. We are adding the AFCI circuit for the bedrooms as mandated by the Chicago electrical code as well as adding a dedicated 20-Amp circuit for the washroom receptacle (also a code requirement), installing new outlets and an additional 20-Amp circuit for window air conditioners, and replacing the shallow ceiling "plate boxes" with fully approved 40lb rated ceiling fan boxes where the fans will go. (Second picture from top) In the long hallway we converted the overhead light from just being switched at one location in the middle of the hall (who decided to put it there?) to being switched at both ends of the hall. This three way switching allows you to turn on the light before you enter the hallway (novel idea, eh?) and then shut it off when you exit the hallway. Smarter than the average bear, I'd say. We did the same thing for the dining room overhead lite. We are adding lights to the closets, a hard-wired smoke detector (again code requirement when you re-do the electrical system) and converting some fixtures that had been on pull chains to being controlled by wall switches. We even discovered some long buried sconce lights on the living room wall.  (Third picture from top) This whole job will take about a week. Note the cuts we have to make to fish in the new wiring. (Bottom picture) We essentially "weave" the flexible conduit through the pockets of space between the 2x4s that frame the wall, passing over them at the locations where you see the cut-outs. The flexible conduit can pass over the front of the 2x4 because we have a gap of about 1 1/2" to work with. The lathe takes up about 3/8-1/2" of space and then the plaster takes up another probably 1/2' - 5/8" inch of space. So we can cut a notch in the plaster, cut out a small section of the lathe that passes over the stud, and viola! A place to run the wiring! We strap it securely to the face of the stud, and later it can be plastered over and you would never know we were there. Notice that the first thing we do when we start this type of job is to completely cover the entire surface of the floor with heavy protective paper, and we tape all the seams, as well as tape it to the baseboards. That is to capture absolutely as much of the falling dirt, dust and plaster as possible. The plaster, especially, is very abrasive. Small chunks that fall on a finished floor can easily gouge the floor surface. Nobody wants that!

Total Rewire of 100 year old Vitage Condo in Hyde Park

Very vintage wiring, Hyde Park Electrician Vintage cloth-covered wire replaced by Hyde Park Electrician!Total rewire, new outlets, circuit breakers, 220-volt circuits. Hyde park Electrician
Just getting a minute to catch our breath....The Summer sure is the busy season for us, (Thankfully!) We totally rewired this vintage condo in Hyde park in May. There was a lot of old, cloth-covered wire that was falling apart in the walls. Most of the outlets were not grounded, of course, and there were many light fixtures that had a simple pull string to turn them on. We upgraded the circuit breaker panel and added many circuits, including the AFCI circuits that code mandates for all bedroom outlets. We hit the budget exactly, and finished early. We even installed 220V. power on the roof for a space-pack AC system that they added in the last 2 days of the job. Great job, Guys!

Here's one for the Museum of electricity....Check ot this rotary on/off switch. Circa...hmm...1920? 1930?  I also discovered 4 generations of low voltage transformers in the building. I'll post those later.

And on a personal note, the clients were the easiest people in the world to work with. They were patient and kind. And best of all, my Daughter made a new friend!

Week 4: total re-wire on Kenwood Ave.

We are in the 4th week of a total rewire on the 5200 block of S. Kenwood. This has been a very tough job, due to a number of factors, the heat not the least of which. This is a very lovely Queen Anne from the 1890s, and the period detail is gorgeous. But like most wooden framed buildings of this vintage, there is nary a stick of pipe in the the walls. Everything is in BX, all of the wiring, except for the surface mounted conduits on the basement ceiling that were added in the 50s or 60s. But all of the original wiring, the old cloth-covered wire, is in BX. That means all of it has to be taken apart and removed. Which means a TON of cutting the walls and ceilings. On the first floor, the original lathe and plaster over the ceiling joists is augmented by a second layer of wire mesh plaster, requiring us to have to cut full channels in the ceiling rather than the smaller holes that we can usually do. It has been quite a demanding job. Plus the home is fully furnished, so we are working around furniture. We have had to tape heavy paper to the floors and cover as much as we can with plastic. This type of rewire is really like a whole house renovation, and thank heaven the owners were able to have other accommodations while we have been doing it. With each whole house rewire in an occupied home, I am being more blunt with the customers about just how dirty it really is, and how much more expensive it is to do it. If it is at all possible to do this type of job before they move in, I am highly encouraging it. I have been through it many times now, and almost uniformly the clients are taken aback by how dirty and dusty and invasive in every way the job is. I understand (At least I think I do) how stressful the major disruption in life can be on a family when their home is in this state. I strive to minimize it, (cover, clean, sweep, repeat. repeat.repeat.) and forewarn them as best I can, but I really  believe that it is much better to overemphasis it than downplay it.

If you are reading this, (silly question of the week?) and have any experience with this type of thing, please do post your reply/comments here or on our facebook page. I would estimate that the cleaning/covering/ preventive measures/working around items adds about 25-30% in labor cost for us on this type of job. If you have ever had any of this type of work done, and the contractor did not do a very good job of containing the dirt/dust or did not warn you sufficiently beforehand, how did it effect you? Were you able to "rough it out" and see it as part of the game, or did the stress truly make life miserable. Would you have been willing take a bid that was 25-30% higher in labor cost (15% total cost, approximately) in order to have that part of the job handled better? Please feel free to comment. It is very hard to get feedback on these things, I welcome your replys and comments.

I have recently lost a few quotes where it was a similar job, and in one case the client did tell me the other quotes were coming in at about half of what I quoted the work for. There are a few issues at play here, one of which is how many corners a contractor will cut. There are many rules regarding circuit design, number and layout that can be skirted, situations where the client will never be the wiser. I always encourage my clients to do the jobs with a permit, because that brings in an "extra" set of eyes and expert review by way of city inspectors. But even when they do not want one, I still do my jobs 100% up to the highest standard. Of course this requires more time, attention to detail, thoroughness. And that raises the cost. We have had pretty steady work this summer thus far, but I do worry and get a bit down, personally, when I hear we were twice the price of the other contractors. I never "buy the job" by quoting way low knowing there will be "unanticipated" expenses I can hit the client with later. I do believe the quality of our product speaks for itself. But it's hard to prove a negative, and its hard to explain or point out or forewarn people of all they may not get when they take that low price. They may tend to think I'm exaggerating, or just trying to "sell them."  If anyone reading this has any comments on this subject, I really would love to hear them.   

Back to work.  I'll post pictures later.

PS If your name is Katie O'Neill from the South loop, please call back! Your message on the machine cut off before any numbers were recorded. Or of course you can email us.

Thanks!
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