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


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. 

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