Shocking electrical situation

OK, this is perhaps the least beautiful and exciting post (but probably largest single chunk) of the kitchen remodel, so let’s get it out of the way.  We knew we would have to address our electrical system when we bought our house.  As I mentioned before, none of the outlets in our home were grounded, although some of them had been modified to have three-pronged plugs.  We also learned that our electrical panel from 1956 is too small by today’s code to handle today’s kitchen appliances legally.  Additionally, someone wired that 100A electrical panel with wires that are too small to handle the amount of current:

small wires

Certainly the rust and such doesn’t look good, but I confess I don’t know what a properly-sized wire WOULD look like.

First order of business: Grounding outlets means that you ground whatever is plugged into the outlets.  This means that any stray electrical charge (read: erroneous contact from the live wire to the outside world, say through casing) will pass to earth’s ground through the plug and not through you or any other part of the house.  This is similar to why lightening strikes – it is taking the easiest path to ground.  By the same logic, one can imagine how the electricity produced by the ungrounded appliance finds an alternative path to ground and starts a fire on the way.  To make things worse, our outlets consisted of both ungrounded three – prong misleading safety hazards to two pronged outlets that don’t even fit some of our lamps.

We decided to have all of the outlets grounded, or actually rewired from our new panel.  Turns out that this was within about $5/outlet since the large majority of the work is stringing any kind of new wire from the box to the rooms.  In a raised-foundation house (This is CA.  We don’t do basements.), this is somewhat painless because the wires can be strung through the crawlspace.  In a slab foundation house, this chore can really become expensive if the concrete slab needs to be torn into.  We also learned that some codes have very particular placements as to where the outlets are placed in bedrooms – most of which do not agree with those from 1956.  If you’re not careful, you can end up tearing out a whole lot of the drywall that you carefully painted before moving it.  We opted instead to have the electricians fish the wire up, leaving at most some small damage around the outlets.  Truth be told, we probably did not need to ground the entire house, but it was safer than having decoy three prong outlets that weren’t grounded and we expect it to improve the value of the house.  Plus, it’s much more difficult to stick a fork in these new outlets…

As to the second two problems, code demanded that we upgrade our electrical panel to a 200A panel.  This required the removal of some stucco on the back of the house and we now have this lovely beast of a panel with circuit breakers:

photo 1(1)

It was convenient to do this all in conjunction with the kitchen since more circuits needed to be strung for the kitchen upgrade.  Electrician B does not like to be sued if Electrician A’s wiring faulted when Electrician B is installing these kitchen circuits.  Insurances are much easier to deal with.  We also will need someone to repair the dry wall and the stucco, as you can see.  Since our wiring was “fished up”, we don’t have major repairs, but there will be small patches in most rooms.  Lucky us – we get to drag out all of our paint colors again! (another post for another day)

Finally, while shopping for light, I learned that lamps are frigging expensive.  It actually cost less per LED recessed light in the living room than many lamps would cost, even those at cost plus world market.  The best part is that we will actually have lights in our house again!  Our house came with overhead lights in the kitchen, bathrooms and hall – but none in any of the rooms.  We are sticking with lamps only in the bedroom, but are looking forward to solid living room lights like more modern homes have.

First lesson: electrical work is surprisingly dirty.  We keep finding dust all over the house and it needs to be done while the drywall is torn out if it’s coming out.

Second lesson: read above for grounding info

Third lesson: This electrical work has taken 6 days and now we are waiting on inspection.  That’s a lot of wiring!  And that is not uncommon for a panel change and grounding from our shopping around.

Fourth lesson: The electrical contributes to about 1/3 of our total kitchen renovation cost – or just over.  We did go with LEDs, but nothing crazy as far as lighting…


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