And So It Begins...Stage One

Today is a glorious day in history. First in foremost, it's my father's birthday and he's a pretty cool guy. Second, a great friend of mine got married. Third, Jessie's dad (Doug) has been busting his butt to finish rewiring things with my assistance. I'll tell you what, even if you know how to pull wire, install breakers, and mount junction boxes, it doesn't matter. Having someone around who's done it several times before makes EVERYTHING go way, way faster. Less second guessing, less mistakes, and it gets done right. That's a key theme here that follows one of my favorite sayings: there's never time to do it right the first time, but there's always time to do it again, right? No. The answer is no. Do it right, you'll be happier.

Thus begins the first installment of the epic tale of rewiring half of our house. As mentioned before, half of the wiring in this house is 87 years old. When the modern appliances were installed (range, refrigerator, dishwasher, washer/dryer, etc) they updated wiring in those certain areas. This included installing a modern breaker box, a 220V feed, GFCI protected bathroom circuit, a few junction boxes here and there, and some Romex run to it. However......

When systems like this get updated over the years, there's never documentation for it. Most of the time, people are just trying to get it working quickly for what they need. You'll notice here, that even though they have a proper grounded outlet (3-prong), they just painted right over it and the cover plate, plugging it up with paint, among other things. This is an easy problem, I'll try to document each of the various frustrations encountered along the way.

First, we had to determine which outlets and fixtures were run off the old knob-and-tube wire. Flipping through breakers we found that there was one 20A breaker that fed the knob-and-tube fuse box. Inside that box, there were 4 circuits, each with a 30A fuse. In case you didn't catch that, that's 120A of fuse capacity on top of 20A of breaker capacity. That, is stupid (the comma was intentional to indicate a pause, because it's really stupid). Even better, is that this one breaker fed 5 different floor outlets, as well as every ceiling fan and light in every room. You know what that means...we get to have our fun up in the attic. Great.

Here we go. DEATH LADDER. The access to the attic was a 12" x 15" hole busted in the lathing strips (because our whole house is plaster, except where they put drywall on top of the plaster...even there it's still plaster......more on that later). The "ladder" is "constructed" of various lengths and thicknesses of tongue-and-groove floor boards nailed into the wall studs. Of course, the first three steps are two feet apart, each. Also, the ladder is directly over the stairs to the basement. This is how we have to get into the attic. Every time.

The roof pitch has a couple gables intersecting perpendicularly, plus there are three front windows added after original construction, so there are little channels cut through the roof boards to access certain areas, others are just a major pain to reach. Much like this one, where we had to go reach into the corner into the roof over the porch, then feed wire back up from the porch light and grab it with a 3-foot long hook I fashioned out of some steel welding rod. Plus it's a little dirty and sweaty. Have I mentioned yet that it's 1,000 degrees in an attic in summer when it's 96 degrees out?

The blown-in insulation was clearly not original (though it's also clearly not at all recent, or clean), so it is completely covering all the knob-and-tube wires. First thing, we have to uncover and trace the wires to all the ceiling fans and the walls where switch wires are run. Of course, only one of the 7 ceiling fans is properly supported with a real, up-to-code junction box. Some are pretty secure, but I will tell you that proper mounting for fans is not: screwing mounting plates into lathing strips, screwing mounting plates into drywall, one screw holding a junction box into a joist on one side with half the box sticking out past the plaster, dangling from a bolt in a 2x4 that's nailed on top of the joists, or any of the crap that was done in our attic.

If you're putting in a new junction box you should: cut a 2x4 that fits snugly between two ceiling joists, screw the junction box to the 2x4, drill a hole through the 2x4 in the center of the box to run the wire through, then have someone check that the front edge of the box is flush with the drywall/plaster, and screw through the joist into the 2x4 with at least two screws on each side to secure it. Not rocket science, but it does take longer than just screwing stuff into the ceiling, so I can see why they wouldn't want to do it...Quick note while I'm thinking of it, make sure you wear a dust mask when working in any attic, particularly old ones. Check out the inside of mine.

Now there's all new, properly supported boxes that fans can be securely mounted to. We ran every the Romex to every one, plus to all the wall switches that controlled them, with every box having one hot wire. This way, we can have the fans always powered, operated by the pull chain, with the light fixtures on the switches. Makes it easier to add lights and outlets later too. With 12-gauge wire running everywhere (12-2 with ground Romex) we'll have no need to redo anything to add capacity later on. We spent a few hours up in the attic yesterday, plus at least another 5 today. That of course, was including the wiring we had to do....in The Hole.............stay tuned.


Currently listening to "Glamorous" by Fergie

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