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.