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

Lovely Lighting in Hyde Park

Old wiring Hyde Pak Chicago South sideOld wiring Hyde Pak Chicago South sideOld wiring Hyde Pak Chicago South sideOld wiring Hyde Pak Chicago South sideOld wiring Hyde Pak Chicago South sideI have great clients with great taste in design, decorating and light fixture choices. I make some very basic recommendations, like "This room would be very nicely lit by two rows of recessed lights, and we could use the 5" ones because they are a little more stylish than the 6" ones. Then, one or two hanging pendents over the island, or coffee table, would look so cool."  

Sometimes I can tell when there is a good chance we will find long abandoned sconce light boxes buried in the walls. I let folks know that and if I'm right, they often get another touch of classic elegance to their living room or dining room.

But in all cases, it's really my clients' great taste in picking out the fixtures that ends up making the look awesome!

I'm just glad to be a help.

Lovely Kitchen lighting

Rewiring Chicago Hyde ParkRewiring Chicago Hyde ParkWe were very honored to be trusted with updating the lighting at Steve and Gretchen's Condominium in Hyde Park last week. They are such great people; I wish all my clients were like them. A couple years ago, we did the track lighting in the main hallway. It came out very nicely. This year they turned their attentions to the kitchen.

Beforehand, they had two Home Depot economy fixtures surface mounted on the ceiling. They were left over from the old center light locations, and afforded neither sufficient illumination nor a hint of style. Gretchen and I put our heads together and came up with this design. There are six recessed  fixtures in two rows, providing ample illumination for cooking and preparing food. Gretchen chose these really cool looking pendent fixtures that we centered over the island. They have just a hint of green shading to the clear glass, and when the retro type light bulbs come on, they look awesome. Finally, we replaced the haphazard under cabinet lights that had been lovingly installed by a relative who was long on good intentions but short on electrical knowledge. 

All in all, the result was very lovely. Thanks Gretchen and Steve. Enjoy!

ALWAYS LOOK BELOW THE SURFACE!!! (Or above the ceiling)

Old wiring Chicago South side
.I want to dedicate these pictures to all the handymen and "ELECTRICIANS" WHO SAY THAT "THE OLD CLOTH-COVERED WIRE IS OK AS LONG AS YOU DON'T TOUCH IT."

These are all real-life examples of deteriorated cloth-covered wire that were still in use, carrying 120v current, waiting to burn the house down. It always BREAKS my HEART when I come into a house where the walls and ceilings are freshly painted, there is nice new tile on the kitchen wall and stainless steel appliances gleaming, and the defective, dangerous wiring has been just ignored (or sometimes hidden) by unscrupulous rehabbers who know "out of site is out of mind."  

Old wiring Chicago South sideQuality electrical work is not inexpensive, and its not nearly as fun or sexy as a cool new IKEA light fixture. But Please, please, please be sure you get a bona-fide electrician to evaluate the actual wiring if you are purchasing an older (1950 or earlier) home, or condo in a building that age. It can save your life and your purse or wallet!

Beautiful Lighting in Hyde Park

Old wiring chicago Hyde ParkOld wiring chicago Hyde ParkOld wiring chicago Hyde ParkOld wiring chicago Hyde ParkWe installed these beautiful fixtures earlier in the week on Dorchester Ave.

They are gorgeous.

Not much I can add to that!

LED Undercabinet lights in Hyde Park

These under-cabinet LED lights came out nicely. We were able to give them power through transformers plugged into a switched outlet in the upper cabinet, so it turned out to be a very clean, nice look.

Intercoms should not be plugged in randomly!

Electrician Hyde Park Chicago Rewiring
Electrician Hyde Park Chicago Rewiring
Electrician Hyde Park Chicago Rewiring
Recently I got a call from a Condo Association I have worked for off and on over the years. They said the doorbuzzer/intercom system was repeatedly going out. This was a slightly more complicated than average system because it utilizes the phone lines.  They had had it installed last summer. It worked fine all summer and fall but now was going out.

It turns out the new system has several transformers. The folks who installed it were not very good craftsmen, in my opinion. There was one outlet in the basement by the panels, and they plugged two cord strips into it and rigged the transformers with extension cords. That was pretty sloppy. But the kicker was, the outlet they plugged into was a GFCI outlet that had been installed to provide GFCI protection to the circuit that went outside and up the back porch to power the de-icing cable in the gutter. So when there was flooding and extreme moisture permeating those gutters, the GFCI protector tripped, as it should. You don't want 120v power "live" laying in soaking-wet metal gutters! Normally, after the severe moisture passed, one would simply re-set the GFCI protected outlet. It was never intended to be used for other loads, especially not an intercom system that controls the building entryway. Since there was an on/off switch right next to the GFCI outlet, so that the de-icing cables can be turned off during the summer months, I would have thought the idea of plugging an intercom system into it would be off the table. Just by the co-incidence that no one at that condo association was paying attention to these things, and the de-icing cable power was not turned off for the summer, that the system worked in the first place.

I installed an array of receptacles so that each transformer would be plugged in separately, and all of them are now powered by a new, dedicated circuit. Big improvement.

If you live in a condominium or multi-residence building, it is a good idea to be sure all of your critical systems, such as furnace or boiler, hot water heaters, and door buzzer/intercom systems are on separate dedicated circuits so that if something unrelated goes down, you are not left out in the cold!

TOP: How I found it. (The plug-strips had been plugged into the GFCI outlet next to the switch.

MIDDLE: Transformers and plug-strips temporarily hung during work.

BOTTOM: Finished Product.

Cloth-covered 1920s wire; A FIRE waiting to happen!!!

Electrical contractor Hyde Park Chicago  RewiringElectrical contractor Hyde Park Chicago  RewiringElectrical contractor Hyde Park Chicago  RewiringElectrical contractor Hyde Park Chicago  RewiringI started to rewire a 1920s condominium on Dorchester Ave. in Hyde Park this week. This vintage unit really needed rewiring. The cloth-covered wiring was in very bad shape; it was quite a fire hazard in my opinion. I am glad the owner decided to do the rewire. It was really a matter of electrical safety. 

In the top picture, a wire nut that had been burning in the wall is shown. Wire nuts are used to connect copper wires to each other. The copper wires are twisted together to make a splice, so the electricity can flow from one to the next. The splice has to be made up tight and solid. The spliced wires must be wrapped tightly against each other so the electrons can flow from the surface of the first wire to the second wire easily and without resistance. If the splice is poorly made or loose, such that there are air gaps between the wires, the electricity "jumps" through the air from one wire to the other. That is called arcing. When wires arc they overheat and can start a fire, especially with the little "hairs" and frayed-end fibers being in immediate contact, as is found where cloth-covered wire has be deteriorating for generations.

This is very clear in the second picture, as well as the third and forth. In the third picture, two pieces of BX cable with cloth-covered wire can be seen, with the actual wire insulation at the  connection point being very frayed and combustible.
The bottom picture shows two more of these BX cables, with the outlet box having been removed.

In the second picture, you can see that the insulation itelf has completely fallen off the hot wire. The bare metal portion is visible just above the red wire nut. This exposed, hot wire could have caused a short-circuit easily. It is not a good idea to overload any old cloth covered wire. Depending on the circuit breaker to disconnect the current flow before a fire can begin is a fallacy. It won't, unless it is an AFCI. Arc-fault circuit breakers have been designed specifically for disconnecting the circuit when they detect even a small arc, which is where many electrical fires begin. Unfortunately, you can not install an AFCI circuit breaker without rewiring first. You could not just connect it to pre-existing wiring unless it has been specially designed to accept it.

I will post again later as this job progresses.

Gorgeous Lighting in Andersonville

Hyde Park Electrician Chicago
Hyde Park Electrician Chicago
Hyde Park Electrician Chicago
Hyde Park Electrician Chicago
Hyde Park Electrician Chicago
Last weekend I had the chance to meet a lovely lady in Andersonville who had purchased these beautiful fixtures. She found me on the internet by searching for old wiring experts, since her building is from the 1920s. She had been concerned
that the old wiring may not have been dealt with when the condo conversion was done. She was right, there were still some cloth-covered wires in use above the old fixtures. Fortunately, in this case they were not nearly as deteriorated or compromised as they usually are, and we were able to work with them. She was lucky; that is hardly ever the case. But by installing white extension boxes, which added an inch and a half of wiring space, we were able to keep the old wires in use by creating a cavity for them that would not force them to be crammed and jammed into tight quarters, which would both do damage to the insulation and restrict air space for ambient temperature cooling, which is vital in ceiling fixtures. These extension boxes were clean and white, and are hardly noticeable.


She was very pleased, and I was both glad to have a great new client and a tad envious of her beautiful lighting. She has excellent taste.


Thanks Mandie!

Humboldt Park Service all Finished!

Electrician Chicago Service upgrade Electrical service Hyde ParkElectrician Chicago Service upgrade Electrical service Hyde ParkElectrician Chicago Service upgrade Electrical service Hyde ParkElectrician Chicago Service upgrade Electrical service Hyde ParkElectrician Chicago Service upgrade Electrical service Hyde ParkWell we finished this new 200 Amp service in Humboldt Park last week.
I am very proud of my crew. They removed the old decrepit 100 Amp Service and installed this brand new 200 Amp Service in very cold and challenging conditions. The two circuit breaker panels are furnished with brand-new GE circuit breakers. We re-routed all of the wiring that had been leading to the apartments from the old panels to the new ones and traced each circuit to identify the loads.  We grounded the equipment properly as Chicago Electrical Code mandates. WE also converted the basement light switches so that the lighting could be turned on and off from multiple locations, one being at the back door. Very handy for coming into the dark basement at night! We also added  GFCI receptacle for plugging in misc items as necessary.  The electrical safety quotient at this building went up 110% after this job! The still have some cloth-covered wire in the walls, I am sure. But rewiring can not begin until you have enough spece in your circuit breaker panel to add new circuits. So they are well on the way!

Pics:

Top:
Two brand new GE circuit breaker panels.

Second:
New meter socket with ground rod and leveled and plum 2" rigid conduit riser emanating from the far side.

Third:
Work in Progress. The two new GE circuit breaker panels have been mounted, and the two old panels and meter housings waiting for the circuits to be transferred, disconnected and the equipment demolished.

Fourth:
Old riser pipe. Strapped in a very careless fashion with dry wall screws. Can you say garbage?

Fifth:
Old service head with cables coming out of it. Note the cracked and missing insulation on the main hot wires! This job was more overdue than the clients knew.

Peter McCarthy Electric Co., Inc.  Chicago, IL Electrician  Hyde Park

Another Electrical Fire Averted!

Hyde Park Chicago ElectricanHyde Park Chicago ElectricanHyde Park Chicago ElectricanAnother electrical fire averted.

It's really tough sometimes. So many people are downsized, laid off, or otherwise separated from the income that allowed them to devote funds to the upkeep and improvement of their homes. Electrical systems are subject to this more and more frequently as people have to make their scarce dollars go further and further. Customers put things off, or try to do it themselves. This particular client was only trying to save the cost of a professional electrician. He has kids in school from elementary up to college, and like all of us he's trying to keep it together. Over the past 2 weeks of intense cold, a space heater plugged into an outlet in his child's bedroom finally brought this simmering issue to a head. Honest to goodness, who can't empathize with a guy trying to keep his kids warm in -17 degree weather?

Unfortunately, he had created a very dangerous situation in his attempt to "fix" a problem. An overload kept tripping one of his circuit breakers, disrupting the power and lighting in the bedrooms.

Hyde Park Chicago ElectricanWhen I first started in this business, it seemed like there were a million different kinds of circuit breakers in common usage.  Federal Pacific, Wadsworth, ITE, GE, Square D, Bulldog, Crouse and Hinz, Zinzco, ect. In the days before Home Depot, an average person would not even know HOW to shop for a circuit breaker, let alone where. Electricians and electrical contractors did that. That was good for electrical safety and NFPA standards being maintained. There is a lot to be said for the DIY movement, and the democratization of home improvement and trades work. On the other hand, there is a reason why it takes a license, years of study, experience and training under master craftsmen, where your most fatal mistakes can be observed and rectified before you fully implement them. This fellow would have been better off not trying to replace his own circuit breaker. He could have burnt his house down. Indeed, I showed him exactly that, and with all the lights off he was able to see the red-hot glowing and sparking where his "new circuit breaker" was making contact.

I'm out of space and time. Long story short; CIRCUIT BREAKERS ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE. Within a given manufacturer's product line, with all relevant factors taken into account, sure, you pop the old one out and pop the new one in.  But like most tasks that a professional performs and an amateur observes, it is easier said than done. More to the point, there are tons of considerations the pro has already taken into account and solved for that the homeowner does not even know exist. This GE breaker was not at all compatible with the 1950s Wadsworth panel, so much in fact that the power "receiving slots" in the back barely made contact with the bus bar. As such, there was no solid continuous path for current to flow. It arced, sparked, and "jumped" from one piece of metal to the next, all the while heating up, melting and burning away the base of the circuit breaker, as you can see. I would have thought it very obvious that this type of panel, and the existing breakers inside it, would have looked so different than the new GE he was putting in that it would have been self-evident that they are not compatible. But sometimes you just don't know exactly what you are looking at, or why it is one way and not the other. I'm glad I was able to get there and take care of things. He needs a lot of rewiring, and you can see some cloth-covered wiring in the panel still. But at least this most immediate disaster waiting to happen" never happened.
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