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Old 10-22-2010, 12:04 PM
 
Location: West Michigan
12,083 posts, read 35,856,022 times
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Speaking as someone who has jerked wire for far too many years, there have been some good comments made, and some uninformed comments made so far in this thread. Knob and Tube, unsafe or safe? Yes to both . I have seen some great K&T jobs over the years, I have seen some real nightmares as well. Same can be said for all the other wiring methods out there too. It all comes down to the Electrician who installed it originally and all the others who have had their fingers on it over the intervening decades between then and now. The points made about insulation degradation and heat generated at junctions are 100% accurate. That is one of several reasons as a professional I personally will not tie into K&T wiring in a home. Too many times the insulation just flakes off, or the conductor breaks in the wire nut when you twist it on. Leave it alone and odds are very good it will outlast the home, disturb it and it turns into a frustrating mess.

As for the OP, run a new circuit, or hire somebody to do it for you if you. If you are unsure about putting your fingers in the panel, you really shouldn't have them on any part of the wiring system in your home. Same voltage at an outlet or light that is in the panel, same destructive potential as well. Tying into K&T can be tricky, doing so with a GFCI can become a hair pulling experience in futility.

As much as it pains me, I have to agree with Coldjensens that most Sparkies just don't respect old historical homes like they should. On the other hand, not all of us are unprofessional or uncaring and a blanket statement that; "professionls" don't care about historical value or can't think outside the normal, just isn't true. Personally I love doing old homes, but I am a rare exception in the electrical trade. I like the challenge of working with 100+ year old plaster/lath walls/ceilings and leaving them looking like the switch/outlet/light fixture was there from day one. Not all of us are "wham-bam cheapskates" when it comes to older homes. On the other side of the coin though I have found most homeowners don't want to pay you to spend an extra 1/2 hour figuring out the best way to run a new line without doing any damage. Or will balk when you hand them a quote that takes into consideration that there is a 90% chance of firestops (or several) in each wall void you will be fishing through and is an honest quote of the time and expense that can be involved. I ALWAYS list how many hours I figure a job will take, and for a large re-wire, how many hours each section of the house should be. That comes with a written statement that if the time goes over what I figured, I eat the extra labor time; if it is under I will amend the bill to show the savings in labor cost. I've never seen another tradesman who does the same. It has come back and bitten me on the ass a couple of times, but that is rare. Older homes can be a sleep-robbing nightmare come true, but when you are finished and walk away knowing the homeowner is more than happy, and you haven't destroyed a part of a home that has stood for 100+ years, it is easy to forget those moments.
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Old 10-22-2010, 09:18 PM
 
Location: Knoxville
4,563 posts, read 22,666,819 times
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To use aluminum wire as an excuse to NOT rewire a house with K&T is really a stretch. Granted, it was used during the Viet Nam war for a few years, and was code (at the time), and created a bunch of big problems. But the codes were changed fairly quickly (to upsize the wire gauge), and a little later, solid conductor aluminum was no longer "code".

That's kind of like saying that Grandma replaced her old obsolete 60 amp fuse panel with a 200 amp breaker box in the 80's, but they used a Federal Pacific panel and her house caught on fire.

A house built in 1922 with the original galvanized pipes? No problems? I guess it depends on what you classify as problems. Unless the water in that area is very pure, its likely the interior of the pipes have got so much corrosion and rust that the inside diameter (meaning water flow) is a lot less than it was in 1922. MY guess, it is very difficult to run more than a couple plumbing fixtures at the same time without a flow reduction. Of course, for someone that has lived in the house a long time, the reduction is a very slow process, and they just don't notice it - so "no problems".

If galvanized pipes are so much better than copper, why don't they use it any longer to plumb houses? True, thin wall copper will probably split easier than galvanized, but the copper can be fixed a lot easier and cheaper.

Coldjensens covered everything really well by the way.
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Old 10-23-2010, 01:51 AM
 
27,505 posts, read 56,606,044 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Barking Spider View Post
To use aluminum wire as an excuse to NOT rewire a house with K&T is really a stretch. Granted, it was used during the Viet Nam war for a few years, and was code (at the time), and created a bunch of big problems. But the codes were changed fairly quickly (to upsize the wire gauge), and a little later, solid conductor aluminum was no longer "code".

That's kind of like saying that Grandma replaced her old obsolete 60 amp fuse panel with a 200 amp breaker box in the 80's, but they used a Federal Pacific panel and her house caught on fire.

A house built in 1922 with the original galvanized pipes? No problems? I guess it depends on what you classify as problems. Unless the water in that area is very pure, its likely the interior of the pipes have got so much corrosion and rust that the inside diameter (meaning water flow) is a lot less than it was in 1922. MY guess, it is very difficult to run more than a couple plumbing fixtures at the same time without a flow reduction. Of course, for someone that has lived in the house a long time, the reduction is a very slow process, and they just don't notice it - so "no problems".

If galvanized pipes are so much better than copper, why don't they use it any longer to plumb houses? True, thin wall copper will probably split easier than galvanized, but the copper can be fixed a lot easier and cheaper.

Coldjensens covered everything really well by the way.
My example illustrates sometimes things done for all the right reasons turn out to be wrong.

Water Quality in the EBMUD district is very high... not at all unusual to find blocks of homes built in the 1920's with original K&T and Galvanized potable water pipe.

I can't speak to other areas... perhaps the mild climate combined with excellent quality water accounts for this longevity? Mild climate negates the need for space heating and cooling... natural gas was installed standard when these sub-divisions were constructed... so the electrical requirements are quite modest...

Grandmother's home is 1100 square feet, 3 bedrooms and one bath... never had plumbing issues... her copper tank Hoyt gas fired water heater is circa 1950... so she does have some copper in the system.

By the way... the house still has a single 30 amp main with a two fuse panel... the fuses look like they belong in the smithsonian...

Modern households have different needs... perhaps modest living is the key... I manage or have managed a fair number of rentals... some of the homes with the most problems are those with lots of children... even more so the higher number of teenage girls...

A home with 4 teenage girls continually had breakers tripping... and this with a 125 amp service... microwaves, toasters, curling irons, space heaters in the bathrooms... plus washing and drying clothes several times a day... well you get the idea... then add that each has her own computer... I told them they would either have to move or learn to manage peak loads better. They quickly learned you can't plug in a 1800 watt heater and a 1200 watt curling iron into the same outlet and not expect the breaker to trip

Funny you should mention Federal Pacific... I'm living in a sea of Federal Pacific Panels... almost 300 in my neighborhood. Pretty much the panel of choice in the Bay Area in the late 1950's.

Copper pipes are not a cure all either... depends very much on water chemistry... there are areas where the water will go through M copper in 25 years... galvanized isn't much better there either... PEX and PVC are so far good... all depends on water chemistry and in some case electrical induced corrosion.

My High School buddy bought a Condo in San Jose' California in 1985... 212 units with Aluminum Wiring... it was nothing but trouble, expense and aggravation... it may have only been used a few years... but the effects are still reverberating...

I admit to being a little touchy on the subject because I detest how some salesman will often use fear to sell costly services to unsuspecting home owners.

I am part of my county's disaster preparedness team... we have over 400,000 people living in my city... the number of fires attributed to unmolested K&T is non-existent and much of the housing stock was built in boom years of the 1920s and wartime construction... the 4 leading causes of residential fire are candles, holiday decorations, defective extension cords and portable space heaters.

Last edited by Ultrarunner; 10-23-2010 at 02:10 AM..
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Old 10-23-2010, 10:12 PM
 
Location: sowf jawja
1,940 posts, read 8,601,045 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Coldjensens View Post
. . . . . When they did wiring in some areas, they did not think to consider how wide the door casings would be and put a half dozen light switch boxes too close to the door. In some cases, I had to move the boxes, in other cases, all we could do was cut the door casing around the light switch (for example where the wall was tiled), in another instance I had to cut the switch plate cover in half to get it on the box. . . . .
The trim detail should've been noted in the blueprints; you had drawings, right?


If not, it should've been mentioned to the EC before work began.

If you go into a remodel haphazardly, expect the same results.







K&T is not inherently dangerous. As long as the insulation is still intact and in operating condition, it is fine. Also check to make sure it was never fused at a higher ampacity than conductors allow. This would've allowed overheating, which leads to brittleness.

Romex is a cheaper method, not necessarily safer.

Leave the soldered connections alone; don't change them to wirenuts.




Not all aluminum wiring is dangerous; series 8k aluminum alloy is safe and still used today. I would guess that almost every new home built today has aluminum wiring somewhere in the system; usually on major appliances and in the service.

If you have it in your branch circuit wiring, have an electrician check it out to determine if it is safe to reuse w/ copper pigtails or cheaper to replace.
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Old 10-24-2010, 07:50 PM
 
Location: Knoxville
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Stranded aluminum wiring is still used. Solid conductor aluminum is not.

Bay area water must be a lot better than So CA water. When I lived in Long Beach I replaced the pipes in my 1950's house. I still carry some of them for show and tell.
The pipes were so corroded on the inside hardly any water would flow. There were numerous rust barnacles as well as many splits along the pipes, plus a few leaks.
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Old 10-24-2010, 08:07 PM
 
27,505 posts, read 56,606,044 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Barking Spider View Post
Stranded aluminum wiring is still used. Solid conductor aluminum is not.

Bay area water must be a lot better than So CA water. When I lived in Long Beach I replaced the pipes in my 1950's house. I still carry some of them for show and tell.
The pipes were so corroded on the inside hardly any water would flow. There were numerous rust barnacles as well as many splits along the pipes, plus a few leaks.
Most of the Service Drops from the Utility Poles are Aluminum...

I also run into it on occasion in Industrial settings... mostly circuits for large machinery.

I did some work in Austria right after college... Austria has large copper reserves and copper is or was at that time a major export...

Couldn't sell anyone on copper water pipes... they still are predominantly using galvanized... in part for freeze protection and in part on health concerns about copper and potable water.

Most areas have a track record of what works well in a certain environment and sometimes it is local building departments that prevent implementation of new materials... local city here does not allow any ABS DWV material above ground... keeps the local cast iron foundry happy...

Do you come across much PEX for residential water in Southern CA?
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Old 10-24-2010, 09:52 PM
 
Location: Visitation between Wal-Mart & Home Depot
8,308 posts, read 36,237,666 times
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Knob and tube or aluminum/copper aside, I think the OP has the feed connected to the "load" terminals on the GFI rather than the "line" terminals. This results in a condition of no power to the outlet, but if the GFI is equipped with a little light it will be lit.

Whatever the problem is, if you're having trouble with the GFI and working with a potentially problematic old wiring system I think that now is a good time to think hard about consulting with a good electrician.

**EDIT** Or the OP is trying to connect the neutral wire from the old run to the ground screw on the GFI... **EDIT**

Last edited by jimboburnsy; 10-24-2010 at 11:19 PM..
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Old 10-24-2010, 10:07 PM
 
27,505 posts, read 56,606,044 times
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Thanks Jim for being on point
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Old 10-25-2010, 10:50 AM
 
Location: Grosse Ile Michigan
28,931 posts, read 68,998,445 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bydand View Post
On the other hand, not all of us are unprofessional or uncaring and a blanket statement that; "professionls" don't care about historical value or can't think outside the normal, just isn't true. Personally I love doing old homes, but I am a rare exception in the electrical trade. I like the challenge of working with 100+ year old plaster/lath walls/ceilings and leaving them looking like the switch/outlet/light fixture was there from day one. Not all of us are "wham-bam cheapskates" when it comes to older homes. .
Sorry. I should not have generalizzed like that. I apologize to the three of you who are not typical electricians. However I wish that you would please stop hiding so that people who want to hire electricians who care about historical homes and are willing to think ourside the box can find you.
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Old 10-25-2010, 11:00 AM
 
Location: Grosse Ile Michigan
28,931 posts, read 68,998,445 times
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The trim detail should've been noted in the blueprints; you had drawings, right?

DRAWINGS DID NOT SHOW TRIM DETAILS. NOR DID THEY SHOW THINGS LIKE HOW TO ROUTE WIRING OR PLUMBING RUNS, HVAC DUCTING LOCATIONS, WHERE TO PUT NAILS, OR EVEN HOW TO FRAME INSIDE WALLS. IN MY EXPERIENCE THESE THINGS ARE LEFT UP TO THE CONTRACTOR'S EXPERTISE, OR HE IS EXPECTED TO ASK IF UNSURE. BASCIALLY THE DRAWINGS SHOWED WHERE WALLS DOORS, ETC WERE LOCATED. IN A FEW INSTANCES I MARKED SPECIFIC LOCATIONS WHERE I WANTED CERTAIN OUTLETS, BUT OTHERWISE, THE ACRHITECT LEFT IT FOR THE EC TO PUT THEM IN PER CODE. THAT WAS A MISTAKE. THE BRILLIANT EC PLACE AN OUTLET UNDERNEATH AND OUTDOOR SHOWER. SINCE THE PLUMBING WAS ALREADY IN, PERHAPS HE SHOULD HAVE FIGURED OUT THAT YOU CANNOT HAVE AN OUTLET BOX IN A SHOWER.

If not, it should've been mentioned to the EC before work began.

CONTRACTOR WAS TOLD THAT THE ADDITION WOULD BE BUILT TO MATCH EXISTING USING SALVAGED MATERIALS> EC WAS HIRED BY THE CONTRACTOR, BUT CONTRACTED DIRECTLY WITH US. UNFORTUTNATELY HE MOSTLY COMMUNICATED WITHTHE CONTRACTOR BECAUSE THEY WERE FRIENDS.
IN A FEW AREAS OF THE OLD PART OF THE HOUSE< EC REMOVED THE WIDE MOLDINGS AND INSTALLED A SWITCH TOO CLOSE OT THE DOOR TO PUT THEM BACK ON>

PERHAPS IF HE WAS UNCERTAIN HE SHOULD HAVE ASKED. HE CLAIMED THAT THE STANDARD DISTANCES FROM A DOOR OPENING IS SOMETHING LIKE 2.5 INCHES. HOWEVER AS I POINTED OUT TO HIM. HE PUT 60% OR MORE OF THE SWITCH BOXES FAR ENOUGH AWAY FROM THE DOOR. IF 2.5 INCHES IS STANDARD, THEN HE DID MOST OF THEM WRONG AND ONLY PUT THE PROBLEM BOXS IN CORRECTLY. IF THE PLANS DO NOT SHOW THEN PERHAPS YOU SHOULD ASK, NOT JUST INSTALL THEM WILLY NILLY ALL OVER THE PLACE.

If you go into a remodel haphazardly, expect the same results.

I EXPECT ALL CONTRACTORS TO FOLLOW CODE AND/OR ASK QUESTIONS. I ALSO EXPECT THEM TO USE COMMON SENSE. THAT LAST EXPECTATION PROOVE TO BE EXPECTING TOO MUCH IN MOST CASES.

Last edited by Coldjensens; 10-25-2010 at 11:08 AM..
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