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  1. #1
    D Johnson's Avatar
    D Johnson Guest

    Default ungrounded and inadequate - home shopping

    I'm house shopping and getting very discouraged and stressed. I'm not a handyman and would need to hire for any work. I don't have much time to find a house and the decent homes move quickly. The homes in my price range are older, 1920 - 1965.

    Even if the homes have been remodeled, the wiring hasn't been upgraded.

    The realtor has taken me through 30 homes and it's obvious that the homes have older wiring because the outlets are only 2 prong. What isn't obvious is the size of the electrical service. I want at least 100 amps. My realtor said I can get the amp info from the electric company. I've called the electric company for 10 houses. I'm getting different responses from the electric company reps. Some reps tell me, others say they don't have access to that information. One of the reps got snotty and she told me I should hire an electrician to tell me how many amps there are. Really? I should hire an electrician to go with me to look at homes? BTW, of the 4 houses they gave me info on, the homes were only 30 amp, one of which was a home converted into two apartments. How could the city approved and permitted apartments have upgraded wiring with grounds and GFCI but not upgraded service to 100 amp?

    I'll be getting a home inspection and I would have to hire an electrician do the re-wiring but I'm really stressing over how much this is going to cost. I would have thought limiting my searches to only the few homes with upgraded wiring would guarantee 100 amp service but apparently not. Which costs more, grounding outlets or upgraded service?

    The realtor's answer with everything is "that will be found in the inspection" but a lot of things, like this wiring, passes inspection because it's pre-existing and grandfathered so in the end, if I don't make the right offer, it's going to cost me, not the seller. The realtor also said I don't need to re-wire, I should just put in GFCI and it'll cost a few hundred. I don't trust realtors.

    Any advise?

    Thanks!

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  2. #2

    Default Re: ungrounded and inadequate - home shopping

    You can look for the main breaker or main disconnect and hope it is labeled and installed correctly. Or you can go to the local home depot or other supply house and ask if they will cut you some service wire, just few inches of the most common sizes so you can compare the samples to what you find at any home. Be advised that you will likely need to removed the cover to see what the main wire looks like.
    In other words...the answer is not simple or easy for a layperson.
    If you take photos of what you find and they are good photos you can post them on this site and we should be able to help.

    Other suggestions, it is OK to buy an older home but it may be smarter to buy one that has NOT been updated and have this done yourself. This way you will be sure what you have purchased.

    Jeff Zehnder - Home Inspector, Raleigh, NC
    http://www.jjeffzehnder.com/
    http://carolinahomeinspections.com/

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Chicago IL
    Posts
    1,984

    Default Re: ungrounded and inadequate - home shopping

    I don't know where you are in IL. If you are in the Chicagoland area though you can pretty much figure 60A service for an old house that hasn't been upgraded. Some will have 30A but that's becoming less common these days. Some older homes will have 100A but will likely need replacement anyway due to condition.
    There are a few points to consider...
    - You don't need to upgrade if you don't want to. However, the wiring and service are likely at an age point where replacement would be good for safety reasons.
    - Depending on your electrical usage it may or may not be a big issue. If you are electronics heavy you may want to do this right away. If you aren't you could probably do over time as your budget allows.
    - Some insurers reportedly won't provide coverage if there is a fuse panel or knob & tube so that's something to look out for.
    - 100A service +/- $2K; Rewiring $2500-$6K, take your pick, depends on size of house, how many openings etc.
    - There will be additional costs. Its not just about a new service or replacing existing wiring. Old electrical layouts typically had minimal locations. New requirements call for a lot more receptacle locations. There will also be costs for wall and ceiling repairs related to new installations. My point isn't to scare you but to make you aware of the details.
    Often times low ball contractors will give you a bid on what you ask for knowing that what you ask for will not be code compliant or pass municipal inspection. Once on the job, all the extras start adding up. People often times end up paying more than they would have paid the honest contractor who came in higher in the first place.
    There's no point in stressing about this or trying to figure out every last detail. If you are looking at old houses in a certain price range, just figure you'll need to replace certain things and budget for it.
    If you want to actually know anything about the wiring in the home, try not to hire one of those checkbox idiots off of c-----list

    www.aic-chicago.com
    773/844-4AIC
    "The Code is not a ceiling to reach but a floor to work up from"

  4. #4
    Carl Morello's Avatar
    Carl Morello Guest

    Default Re: ungrounded and inadequate - home shopping

    D
    This is the challenge of an older home, but Jeff is right, sometimes it may be better to buy an older home and renovate yourself. But this would be a negotiating point on any offer. The problem with old wiring is that it is buried in the walls. Just adding a GFCI or an AFCI doesn’t change the fact you have old technology wiring.
    My first house I bought was built around 1810. It had the history of electrical wiring; Knob & Tube, Asphalt cloth, and BX. It had a 60 amp service with four fuses for the entire house. I did have the “luxury” of totally remodeling and could replace all the wiring, little by little. But in all honesty, in hindsight, I should have bought a more modern home.
    The other issue you are going to have with older homes is the plumbing. The piping is probably galvanized steel. Corrosion will be a big part of the future failure.
    We have a guide titled:
    Building Updates: Insurance Concerns and Upgrades for Older Buildings
    Send me an email, (carlm@sequoiains.com), and I’ll send this to you along with our paper on electrical panel hazards and any other paper that may help you with older buildings.
    Good Luck


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Location
    Upstate N.Y.
    Posts
    116

    Default Re: ungrounded and inadequate - home shopping

    Quote Originally Posted by D Johnson View Post
    I'm house shopping and getting very discouraged and stressed. I'm not a handyman and would need to hire for any work. I don't have much time to find a house and the decent homes move quickly. The homes in my price range are older, 1920 - 1965.

    Even if the homes have been remodeled, the wiring hasn't been upgraded.

    The realtor has taken me through 30 homes and it's obvious that the homes have older wiring because the outlets are only 2 prong. What isn't obvious is the size of the electrical service. I want at least 100 amps. My realtor said I can get the amp info from the electric company. I've called the electric company for 10 houses. I'm getting different responses from the electric company reps. Some reps tell me, others say they don't have access to that information. One of the reps got snotty and she told me I should hire an electrician to tell me how many amps there are. Really? I should hire an electrician to go with me to look at homes? BTW, of the 4 houses they gave me info on, the homes were only 30 amp, one of which was a home converted into two apartments. How could the city approved and permitted apartments have upgraded wiring with grounds and GFCI but not upgraded service to 100 amp?


    I'll be getting a home inspection and I would have to hire an electrician do the re-wiring but I'm really stressing over how much this is going to cost. I would have thought limiting my searches to only the few homes with upgraded wiring would guarantee 100 amp service but apparently not. Which costs more, grounding outlets or upgraded service?

    The realtor's answer with everything is "that will be found in the inspection" but a lot of things, like this wiring, passes inspection because it's pre-existing and grandfathered so in the end, if I don't make the right offer, it's going to cost me, not the seller. The realtor also said I don't need to re-wire, I should just put in GFCI and it'll cost a few hundred. I don't trust realtors.

    Any advise?

    Thanks!
    D. Johnson,

    The minimum requirement for service per the National ELectrical Code is 100A.

    Of course, an older home's service would be "pre-existing, non-conforming" if the service rating was less than that. ( The term "grand-fathered" does not exist in code language.)


    I would expand upon Jeff's response to suggest that you do obtain some "samples" of 100A, 150A and 200A Service cable that are intact, including the jacket, neutral and line conductors.

    Instead of actually opening an energized panel, you could then compare the samples to the existing cable on the exterior of the property. You should be able to acscertain the capacity or size of the service by matching the sample to the existing service cable.

    As it pertains to two-prong receptacles and considering replacement with 3-prong, you seem to be cognizant of the fact that 2-prong devices are un-grounded.

    Code does not allow you to replace a 2-prong receptacle with a 3-prong receptacle unless: A) the branch circuit wiring to the receptacle contains a ground or B) you label the receptacles as being ungrounded.

    In scenario B, you would utilize a GFCI receptacle in the first device of the branch circuit to provide better protection against shock hazards in an ungrounded circuit.

    Additionally, code now requires you to install "Tamper-Resistant" (T/R) receptacles and to the best of my knowledge they do not manufacture 2-prong T/R receptacles.

    Having said that, I'm assuming that you would prefer grounded outlets.

    That could turn out to be very expensive to resolve.

    You can install a seperate equipment ground conductor to each receptacle looping from device to device and then back to the panel. That could prove difficult for second floor receptacles but not impossible.

    You could re-wire the branch circuits feeding those receptacles, however, if you install new branch circuit wiring in certain areas, you will need to install Arc-Fault circuit breakers.

    If you find a property that really suits you, I would reccomend that you do obtain an electrician to evaluate the condition of the electrical system in the house.


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Maryland
    Posts
    2,776

    Default Re: ungrounded and inadequate - home shopping

    D Johnson,
    The agent is working for you (supposedly). Reduce your stress by telling the agent that you want to see properties with minimum of 100amp service panel and 100amp service. The agent can find out this information from the listing agent.

    When; " My realtor said I can get the amp info from the electric company..." give the agent the number and tell them to make the call.
    If the agent says that they can not or will not do this then get another agent.
    If the agent seems agitated over this demand then get another agent.
    If they argue at all then get another agent. Just that simple.
    The agent needs you more than you need them. They are providing you the service so they can make a buck. So no service then no bucks.

    Don't be sad ,,,,,, Be Happy


  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Location
    Southern Vancouver Island
    Posts
    4,546

    Default Re: ungrounded and inadequate - home shopping

    All good advice so far, including having the agent dig up the info. I recommend you bring a camera with a flash and take pictures of the service entry cables at the weatherhead and pictures of the main disconnect and panel. Then post them here and we can try to help that way.

    Re: upgraded wiring. I have seen plenty of 'upgraded' wiring that involved the downstream portions of the wiring, but where the service was never changed. Such as the bright new breaker panel and designer switches but still with the original 60 amp fused disconnect.

    BTW, there is no fault with a fused disconnect provided the conductors are well insulated and grounding of the service panel is intact. Fuses are more reliable than antiquated circuit breakers.

    Most older homes will have ungrounded receptacles for lighting and general use, quite alright. You want to upgrade to grounded wiring in the kitchen, garage and outdoors and preferably bathrooms and the media room, where your expensive electronics will want the 3rd prong.

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455
    www.allsafehome.ca

  8. #8
    D Johnson's Avatar
    D Johnson Guest

    Default Re: ungrounded and inadequate - home shopping

    Thanks to everyone for the replies. I will try to see if an agent can find me homes with 100amp but if not much is out there, I'll just need to have the wiring upgraded. So I guess, if I want to keep the cost down, I should try to find a 1 story with an unfinished basement?

    Garry Sorrells,

    Now that I think about, when I first started looking at houses, there were 2 houses with 100amp service panels and 100amp service. As soon as we walked in the basements the agent pointed it out. Funny those were the only two................ Unfortunately those two houses had bad foundations, old roofs, un-grounded outlets and very old windows.


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