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

Humboldt Park Greystone 200A service Pt 2

electrical contractor chicago south side Hyde Park Rewiring Circuit Breakerselectrical contractor chicago south side Hyde Park Rewiring Circuit Breakerselectrical contractor chicago south side Hyde Park Rewiring Circuit Breakerselectrical contractor chicago south side Hyde Park Rewiring Circuit Breakerselectrical contractor chicago south side Hyde Park Rewiring Circuit BreakersWelcome to chilly Humboldt Park!

Today was not too bad as far as the weather goes. In the high teens, but sunny and not windy. That is fine enough weather for doing electrical work outside.

We did a lot of cutting and threading rigid pipe and assembling it today. In the top picture, Peter it toting a bag of concrete mortar, essential for patching up the holes and filling in around the conduits where they pass through the walls. In the second picture, you can see the 200 Amp Service meter housing roughed in. The 2" pipe exiting the right side goes out to the exterior wall, where we will run it vertically to a point about 15 feet above ground and then turn and run laterally to where it will end. The service head is put on, and the 3/0 THHN Copper cables are pulled through the pipe from up high down to the meter housing. At that point, the larger 3/0 Copper cables will terminate on the meter's internal bus detail, on the LINE side, giving power to each meter. From there, two sets of smaller Copper cables will be taken off the LOAD side of each meter socket, and they will run through the 1/1/4" rigid conduits that come out the back of the housing and go into the circuit breaker panels on the inside. These cables, then, are called the feeders for each 100 Amp circuit breaker panel.

We use the vice and hand threader to cut the threads on the end of the rigid conduits after we have cut them to the length we need each piece. Note the grey bucket below the threader. There is an oil can squirting gun that we use to continuously bathe the metal cutting dies as a lubricant while cutting. The cutting dies would bite and fight through the metal otherwise, and they may produce threads but you would destroy them very quickly.

We also have to cut many pieces of uni-strut, the metal channel you see in the bottom picture. We cut them to the desired length and then attach them to the brick wall with masonry fasteners. This, in turn, provides a uniform flat surface to clamp the pipe to.

It was a tiring, but good, day. You go home pooped on days like today!

Humboldt Park Greystone gets a service upgrade!

Electrician South Side Chicago   200 amp service  electrical  service  Outlets plugs rewiring  circuit breakers  Service Upgrade dimmer switch electrical repairsElectrician South Side Chicago   200 amp service  electrical  service  Outlets plugs rewiring  circuit breakers  Service Upgrade dimmer switch electrical repairs
Welcome readers! It's January28th, 2014 here in Chicago, and winter is really feeling like winter! Yesterday it hovered around 0 degrees F. Today, it was -11 at 7:30 AM and by 9:30 or 10 it had warmed up to -4.  When it is that cold, we just can't work outside.

After finishing the new service in Wrigleyville the week before last, now we can finally start installing this new 200 Amp service upgrade in Humboldt Park. We had to take almost a week off between finishing that new 400 Amp service upgrade and starting this one due to the cold. Tomorrow is supposed to be at least 20 degrees, so we can can start on the inside work today and work on the outside work tomorrow.

In this vintage Greystone 2-flat that dates to last century, there are presently two little fuse-boxes in place.  One serves the first floor and the other serves the second floor. As you can see in the panel on the left, there are only 4 plug fuses in place for the branch circuits. This is drastically undersized! Note that two of the plug fuses are green. That means they are 30 Amp fuses. This  is extremely dangerous, because they are "protecting" 15-amp circuits! Part of the reason circuit breakers were invented was to eliminate situations like you see here. Obviously, the circuit was drastically overloaded, such that a 15 amp plug fuse kept burning out. Someone "solved" that problem by replacing it with a 30 Amp plug fuse! This is a very dangerous practice, because as this Hyde Park electrician has said over and over, the fuse (or breaker) is sized BASED ON THE SIZE OF THE WIRE IT IS PROTECTING.  That imply means if your branch circuit wire leading to your outlets and lights is sized to only safely carry 15 Amps, and now you take the 15 Amp fuse out and put in a 30 Amp fuse, now you are allowing twice as much current to flow in your combustible lathe and plaster wooden walls and ceilings as the wire was safely rated for. Moreover, since this building is over 90 years old, you can bet at least some of the original cloth-covered wire in still in place. That wire, with its decades of heating and oxidizing, should not even be carrying 15 Amps in my opinion. Over-fusing by a factor of 100% is very dangerous. Ignoring  basic electrical safety practices and NFPA standards creates a fire hazard.

How do I know the old cloth-covered wire is still in place? I don't know, for sure. But I see a lot of evidence of it in the very old BXs that emanate up from junction boxes in the basement. No new wiring there.  That aside, it is just common sense. Very few people re-wire a house, take out all the old cloth-covered wire, and then leave a little 4 branch circuit panel in place. Sometimes it's what you don't see as much as what you do.

We will redo the ground to meet Chicago code standards as well as install two new GE 100 Amp 120/240v circuit breaker panels on the inside. We will move the meters outside, and pipe the new riser in 2" Rigid conduit with 3/0 copper THHN cables. Later in the year, hopefully, they will visit the branch circuit situation and rewire at least partially.  AFCI circuit breakers and GFCI receptacles should be installed, as well as dividing the load up and adding many new circuits and additional wiring. Increasing power availability by upgrading from a 100 Amp Service to a 200 Amp service is the first step, and proving larger panels with ample space for additional circuit breakers is imperative. But in and of itself, that does not eliminate any overload on an individual branch circuit. Distribution and overall capacity are two different issues. Just like in your car, working on your engine does not have any impact on your transmission, or vice versa. But this work is the first step.

400 Amp Service in Wrigleyville Pt 3

Chicago + Electrician+ Old WiringVintage wiring rewiring Chicago South Side Electrician Hyde ParkVintage wiring rewiring Chicago South Side Electrician Hyde ParkVintage wiring rewiring Chicago South Side Electrician Hyde ParkVintage wiring rewiring Chicago South Side Electrician Hyde ParkWe finished the new 400 Amp service we have been working on in Wrigleyville this week. This brand new service is a thing of beauty. I am very proud of the crew!

There is now 400 Amperes available to this 6 unit condominium building. Each unit has a new 100 Amp, 120/240v circuit breaker panel complete with new GE circuit breakers in 15 and 20 Amp sizes, as well as 30 Amp 240v breakers as necessary. Previous to this, they had very small 6-circuit panels that had no room for rewiring or future expansion. Owners could not add new circuits because the existing undersized circuit breaker panels were all full. There was no room for expansion. Also, new GE panels allow the code-mandated AFCI circuit breakers that must feed bedroom circuits to be added.  There are now AFCI circuit breakers available for these 60 year-old Wadsworth panels that we pulled out.

The conduits are all individually custom measured and bent to fit into the space. Large pull-boxes and troughs allow us to transfer the wiring from the old locations to the new ones.

This building will be all set for the next 50 years!

PICTURES:

Top- 2" parallel Rigid Conduit Risers Bring the main power into the building.

2nd: Main power conduits enter the Main service disconnect from the back. On the left side, the 400Amp circuit breaker in the cabinet serves as the main disconnect for The entire building. Modular metering to the right measures current use. (Old meters hung for ComEd to easily take when new meters arrive)

3rd:

All the brand new panels. The troughs (Long grey metal rectangular enclosures) above the panels carry the branch circuit wires that go up to the units. The troughs below the panels carry the main power cables feeding each individual panels.

4th:

The row of 7 vertical 1" conduits corresponds to the 7 100-Amp panels. Each 1" conduit carries the feeder cables for one of the panels. At the opposite side, these cables originate in the meter housing, where they bring the power from.

5th:

The clean wall where the original little panels had been previously installed.

This North Side Condominium association was a pleasure to work for. Most of our new services are on the South Side, either in Hyde Park or the surrounding communities. It was nice to work in Lakeview. And As I said, these clients could not have been nicer.





Service upgrade in Wrigleyville Pt. 2

400 Amp Service 600Amp Service  1200 Amp Service ChicagoWe are in the midst of a new service upgrade in Wrigleyville.

In the previous post, I showed the work we had completed on the inside. We had installed the 7 new GE circuit breaker panels, the new meter-banks, and the main disconnect comprised of the large cabinet and 400Amp 120/240v GE main circuit breaker. Most old vintage buildings in Chicago that have not been rewired in the last 50 years really need this job. The antique, cloth-covered wire in the branch circuits needs to be pulled out and replaced for safety and to meet the present codes. AFCI circuits are mandated by code for the bedrooms, and these vintage circuit breaker panels do not accommodate them. Due to the explosive use of consumer electronics, the grounding requirements have become much more stringent in the past 20 years. Practically no 3-flat or 6-flat in Chicago comes close to meeting those requirements if the 200A 1950s or 1960s service has not been upgraded in the past 10 years. This inadequate grounding can have disastrous consequences.

In this picture, the external piping is shown. I have to give high praise to my crew who did all of this work in the frigid Chicago cold. Notice how nicely the parallel rigid conduits follow the contours of the building, and route the feeders within the very limited space that the exterior walls, windows and porch framing allow. They did all of this last Saturday when it was about 20 degrees!  Believe me, working outside, standing on frozen earth and snow, holding metal parts in your hands all day long is no picnic. MY GUYS RULE!

We are waiting now to transfer the circuitry from the old panels to the new ones. To do this, we have to bring the whole building off line for about an hour to set up the temporary feed to the new equipment. We had planned to do this yesterday, but at -17 degrees it was determined that it was too risky to bring the boiler off line for even an hour. We hope to resume there later in the week.

New Service in Lakeview

400 Amp Service  Chicago Service upgrade Older Buildings400 Amp Service  Chicago Service upgrade Older BuildingsWe are in the second week of replacing and undersized service in Lakeview, or more specifically, Wrigleyville. (Hey Ernie, Let's play two today!)

This six flat had an undersized 200-Amp service and small 6-circuit panels. (Top picture) Moreover, they were 50 years old. An upgrade was definitely overdue! We are doubling the amount of current available to the building, from 200 to 400 Amps. At the same time, we are getting rid of the outdated little panels and installing brand new GE 20 circuit panels. (Bottom picture)  This will both give the owners plenty of breaker spaces for updating their wiring and replace the fatigued (and probably very compromised in response capability) mechanisms in the 50 year old existing breakers, thus insuring that when an overload or short does occur, the breaker will actually trip. You would be surprised how many don't once they are over 50 years old. The grounding equipment will be brought into the 21st century as well. The main service grounding conductor will be piped, pulled and terminated at the street side of the water meter, not at a very highly corroded (High resistance) plumber's water line, as it presently is. The supplemental ground, comprised of a grounding electrode of 8' copper driven ground rod will be installed to bond the service equipment and neutral feeder to ground by way of  a second, redundant path. 

Except for the cold, the job is proceeding along well. More pictures to follow soon.

Happy New Year!

P.S. Thank you so much for reading and for all the comments. I still have not figured out how to reply directly on here to your comments individually (again, a combination of being too old for anything IT-related to be intuitive and being too busy running the business to trace down the expert to help me figure it out!) But in the meantime, please rest assured I do read every comment, and am happy to have them. Feel free to ask questions if you wish and I'll do my best to answer in future entries.

An Elegant Kenwood Home needed a little help

Hyde Park Chicago Old wiring cloth-covered wire retrofit upgrade updatingHyde Park Chicago Old wiring cloth-covered wire retrofit upgrade updatingHyde Park Chicago Old wiring cloth-covered wire retrofit upgrade updatingWe are working in a magnificent Kenwood home at the moment. I don't know where the line between mansion and big house lies, but this classic old beauty is as elegant and fabulous as we have ever worked in. The woodwork is gorgeous, the marble foyer is worthy of it's own magazine layout, and the scale and dimensions of this lovely brick home are stately, yet comfortable. The family moving is will enjoy it and have many happy years there.

While this home was build to the state-of-the-art highest standards 100 years ago, the electrical system needed some help. In particular, there were dozens and dozens of outlets and receptacles that had been installed directly in the wooden baseboard, with no grounding connection to the metallic conduit-based grounding system and no metallic enclosures around the outlets to separate the live "hot" conductors from the wood. This was a very definite no-no. We have been working the past two weeks on re-doing these outlets. We are installing proper grounding conductors to bond them to the system ground, and we are widening the openings in the woodwork (Very carefully) in order to insert the proper metal protection for the receptacles.  This home will be much safer now.

UNREAL

Lord Have Mercy.

Again, this is a post where the two pics on top inexplicably show up horizontal when they are vertical on my desktop. I tried rotating them on my desktop and then uploading, but to no avail. So until Peter McCarthy Electric Has an IT person on-board, I hope you can bear with me.

I'm afraid the smallness of the pictures plus the dark shading and the improper orientation will take away from the impact of this post. If you are an electrician you will see it right away. If you are a laymen, perhaps not.

I had a service call over the weekend on the North side of Chicago. A power outage due to faulty wiring; nothing unusual. But when I was finished, the client told me "Let me show you the wires outside. The last electrician said there was something funny about them."   I went out to take a look. I have to admit, I am reaching that age where I think I have "seen it all." But from time to time, I see things that I have never ever seen, or imagined I would have seen.

My client has an electrical service like most in the city; where there are ComEd poles and transformers in the alley behind the house, and the "service drop" (the Edison wires that are suspended in the air over the back yard, which attach to the house on one side and the Edison line on the other) wires are strung overhead. There are junction points in the ComEd cables where it is most optimal for ComEd to splice the service drop wires to the feeder cables. These rarely line up exactly with the lot lines of your property. The utility company has a blanket easement that allows them to hang the service drop wires in the free air over your neighbor's yard if that gives them a more direct shot to their connection point. This is very common. In my client's case, her service drop had come off her house at about a 70 degree angle (90 degrees being perpendicular and running straight over her yard to the alley) such that it slanted over her neighbors back yard to reach the ComEd lines in the alley. Again, common standard practice.  But that was where the standard practice part ended. Her next door neighbor, or more likely, his contractor, had done something that I have never, ever seen, or even imagined someone could be so stupid as to do. Honestly.

In the trade, some things just go without saying. Like when you contract to have someone do a new roof, I don't think there is a line there that says it has to go on top of the house. Or when you get landscaping, its assumed they will put the sod over the dirt, not over the concrete driveway or on the roof of your garage. Similarly, when a service drop is originally installed by ComEd, it is subject to numerous rules and regulations. ComEd send out and engineer who looks over the situation and approves the point of attachment on the house, where the wires will join your premises Electrical wires, and the obstacles or clear path in the air leading overhead to the alley, where the service drop will hang freely without impinging on roofs, trees, ect.

It (should) go without saying that a main ComEd power cable in the air is a dangerous thing, and if you don't want an explosion, a fire or a human being electrocuted, you make sure it has plenty of space and clearance all around it. So when the installation procedures are followed properly by legitimate contractors, permits are taken from the city, insuring there will be a paper trail indicating what was done and inspectors will come out to see that things are done properly. ComEd requires that a permit from the city be pulled when a new electrical service is done, again, to keep track of things and be sure (safety) rules and regulations have been adhered to.  However, when jobs are done with no permit, with no supervision by the authorities, some astoundingly dangerous things can result.

Usually, the homeowner has no idea how the permit process works. Many times his or her contractor will either not tell them a permit is required or will convince them that they don't want to get one, because then "The city will be out poking around and writing up all kinds of violations, and you never know where it will end."  This line of reasoning can hold a strong appeal to a homeowner's sense of frugality, or can play on he fear of "a nightmare" of inspectors making him change everything in his house.  I totally get that. But the flip side is that they are entirely dependent on their contractor doing things right, or at least not ridiculously, or in this case hazardously wrong. In this case, the contractor who installed this new iron metal porch obviously did everything off the books and with no notice to anyone. I am truly  astounded that the homeowner accepted the product and paid him.

At one time, there was plenty of clearance between the old porch and the hanging service drop. But when they tore down the old porch, the new one obviously extended much further out, and it required the service drop to be changed or re-routed. Normal procedures would have dictated he contact ComEd and ask them if the service drop could be moved or modified in some way.  Of course that would requires licensing, permits, ect. This contractor apparently decided to just build the porch around the live ComEd main service drop cables. This is so far out of the range of safe or normal, beyond all boundaries of common sense, I was just flabbergasted.

If you look at the picture where the brick wall meets the siding, you can see the service drop cable disappear into the siding. When I saw that, I almost fell over. How stupid could someone be? Either they were entirely unaware of what they were doing and the risk they were creating, or they were one of those truly crooked contractors that you see on the news being busted (hopefully.) I looked further and saw the other side of the cable threaded through the metallic posts and platforms of the iron porch. Since I didn't have a zoom lense,  you will have to look really closely to see the cable. As it passed through, it seems to be rubbing up against the metal framework. It has some kind of tape or insulation or something that has been wrapped around it where it touches the grounded metal framework. This can be seen best in the second to the top picture, just behind the white chair. It is kind of a light-colored, sort of tootsie-roll shaped cartridge-type thing. As it looks from below, the electrical service cables pass right through or right next to the space where people sit or walk. I do not know if the people living there have any idea that they are at severe risk of fatal shock, or an explosion if the insulation on the main electrical service cable happens to become compromised to where it contacts the grounded metal frame of the porch, either from actually making direct contact, or water seeping into a nick or cut in the wire and then making a connection to ground. Like I said, I am astounded.

I think a call to Edison is in order this morning. 





Follow-up ltter to a phone inquiry

A lady telephoned a few weeks ago to ask "how soon I could come out." The first question many people ask. In this case, soon was not soon enough.I asked her what the issue was, and after about 20 minutes or so we had walked all the way though the steps she could take herself. It was a very simple operation, really.  If I recall, she wanted to change a dimmer. I asked her her comfort level with this kind of thing. Since she had said she had already changed one switch, she seemed like the type of person who could easily replace a dimmer, taking the proper precautions. She was able to change it herself, I was able to share a little knowledge and empower a young homeowner, and off course she saved on an electrician's service call.
Here is a copy of the follow-up email I sent her. It includes valuable info for all you DIYers out there!



Hi J;
It was a pleasure "meeting you" over the phone yesterday. I am so pleased you had success with this project. It is a really good "Hey I did that!" feeling, isn't it? Plus it keeps a few dollars in your pocket!

The main things to always remember are:
1. Neutral wires carry current, not voltage. They can be even more dangerous than hot wires. ALWAYS TURN EVERYTHING OFF.
2. Breakers are often not identified properly. You might think you are turning a specific circuit off when you are not. ALWAYS TURN EVERYTHING OFF.
3. When you put in outlets or switches, (when power is dead, of course) take the time to wrap the metal screws where the wire attaches with electrical tape. That insulates them from accidental human shock down the line, or shorting the circuit if a grounded or hot wire gets inadvertently pushed up against them and makes accidental contact, especially likely in very crowded switch boxes.
4. These are the basic color codes for wiring in Chicago:
white
-neutral wire
gray
- neutral wire
green
-ground
red, black
-hot wires. these will always be hot, or live, when the breaker is on. They supply the power to outlets, switches, ect.
blue, yellow, orange
- switch legs  (wires that attach to the switch so they become hot when the switch is turned on, and they lead to the light fixture or whatever the switch is controlling. when the switch is off, they should be dead, or off.
purple, brown
- depends on situation. Not that common. Assume they are"hot" until proven otherwise.

Those are the basic color codes that electricians are supposed to follow. But at times they don't.  A white could be "hot" and a black could be neutral. Electricians and handymen sometimes use the color wire they have, if they are missing the correct one. I always use colored tape to identify the wire in such a case. If I am all out of white wire, I can use red wire as long as I clearly identify it with white tape. But they often don't. SO ALWAYS TURN EVERYTHING OFF.  (starting to see a pattern here?)

One other situation you may encounter. Folks use BX cable where there is no pipe. That cable comes factory-manufactured with a white and black wire in it. Newer BX has a green wire also. It also comes with 3 wires, white, black, red. But it is really common for folks to use a 2-wire BX to add a switch to a light that was previously a pull chain. In that case they fish that 2-wire BX down the wall to a switch box, and add the switch. Since there is only white and black to work with, they usually use the black as the hot to feed the switch, and then the white is used as the switched wire back up to the fixture. (The code actually allows this but I don't agree with the practice.)  But you should be aware of it for safety. It happens more in older homes. Where you find just 2 wires in a switch box, one going to each side of a switch, and they are black and white, the white is NOT a neutral. It will be hot when the switch is turned on!

Well I hope that information keeps you safe and helps you out in the future. Even if you don't do anything more complicated than yesterday, knowledge is power, right? Just remember, ALWAYS turn EVERYTHING off. A little excess in the name of safety is well worth it. You can reset your clocks when you are done.

Best wishes and always feel free to call if you need advice or a second opinion.

Most sincerely;

Peter

Peter McCarthy, President
Peter McCarthy Electric Co., Inc.
Chicago, IL 60615
Office:   773/947-9145
Mobile:  773/842-3649
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Angie's List Super Service Award  2003, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012
Member, Electrical Section, National Fire Prevention Association
Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce

An old, dangerous and hodge-podge array of electrical equipment

Hyde Park Chicago Electrician Old wiringHere is an array of very old, dangerous and Hodge-lodge electrical work in a multi-unit building in Hyde Park.There is vintage 1920s original electrical work, with several subsequent generations of add-ons.  It needs to be replaced, for sure. It took me about an hour to unravel the whole thing, what is there and where it goes, what is missing, ect.

Hyde Park Chicago Electrician Old wiringHyde Park Chicago Electrician Old wiringI will be submitting the proposal today. We will see if I get the job. If we re-do it, the "after pictures will be posted in the future.

10/16/13

Well, here we are in "the future."  Quite an improvement, don't you think?

Loose outlets Stink!

Vintage wiring Hyde Park Electrician chicagoVintage wiring Hyde Park Electrician chicagoVintage wiring Hyde Park Electrician chicagoIt has been sooo busy this summer, I have hardly had a moment to write. But I really appreciate all the comments I have gotten from everybody, and I'm so glad this blog has been able to shed a little light on everything old and electrical for you. SOMEDAY I will get a real, bona-fide IT pro to show me how to reply to you on here!

I did a service call yesterday in a GORGEOUS Hyde Park Condo on Woodlawn. The plaster moldings and mahogany woodwork were simply to DIE FOR, Dah-ling....Real old school craftsmanship. Beautiful.

The fixture that had been in place was a halogen that was throwing off way too much heat, as you can see by the burn mark on the plaster. It had burnt through on the wires feeding it. Fortunately, this place had been rewired so I was able to strip back and re-splice the conductors. Also fortunately, the fixture was deep enough that I was able to retrofit with a bracket and a reduction fitting off the original black iron threaded base, so we could hang the new one w/o too much hassle.

As I was leaving I noticed the outlet in the mahogany column very loose with a bent trim plate. I asked her if she was aware of that, and she said yes, but they did not know what to do about it. I had already written the bill, so this was a free-bie. I was on a mission. Just can't leave something like that alone once I see it. So since I knew how to fix it, I did.
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