Fishing Wires In 100 Year Old House

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I am in the process of replacing the wiring in my in-laws 100 year old house. So far the work has been in the basement, with short runs up to the appliances. But now I'll need to run wires up to the attic for ceiling lights, fans, and smoke detectors.
The current knob and tube wiring actually runs along the OUTSIDE of the house between the basement and attic, and is seriously corroded with crumbling insulation. Obviously, this is not an acceptable way of routing the wires!
Normally I'd just drill a hole at the top, one at the bottom, and dangle a string down to connect the two. But as is common in these old houses, there is blocking partway up inside the wall. They have 12 foot ceilings, so I don't know yet whether there is a single block, or additional blocks.
I DO NOT want to cut into the old plaster and lath walls, so what is the best way to get a wire through the wall in this case? I remember seeing really long drill bits at Lowes, but I don't remember how long they were, and am concerned they wouldn't reach far enough into the 12 foot high walls.
If all else fails, I figured I could mount a length of conduit in the corner of one of the closets, as a chase to run wires from the basement to the attic. But I'd prefer to fish the wires in the wall if possible.
Any tips?
Anthony
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You could find wind bracing in the walls, which are criss crosses, and they make snaking really tough. You don't say how many floors are involved, but if it's just one, you can easily run lines inside a closet from basement to attic. If it's two floors and you find two closets, one on top of another, you can go through both. Also you may find a cast iron stack pipe in the attic, which often has enough space around it to drop lines from attic to basement. If all else fails, run a conduit outside the house

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On Sat, 27 May 2006 11:48:43 -0400, "RBM" <rbm2(remove

You may also find, if the house is post-and-beam, heavy timbers that you don't especially want to put holes in.
If you're re-wiring, wouldn't this be a good time to re-insulate as well? If you're going to be doing both anywhere near the same time period, you're better off just opening the walls.
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In our case, the house is standard platform construction; studs, joists, and rafters.

My in-laws house needs a LOT of improvements, including insulating, a complete gutting and rebuilding of the rotten bathroom, etc. But they both have serious health issues and are living on a fixed income. So we're working off of very limited funds they've saved up over the years, and what little we can afford to contribute ourselves. Their home insurance is sky high because the electrical wiring was a fire waiting to happen and they heat with space heaters. So I'm replacing the wiring and adding in some permanent wall heaters.
As it is, I just had to replace 90% of the plumbing for what started as a leaky faucet. You know "while you're here, can you take a look at our faucet...". They had an old wall mount faucet in their kitchen that was leaking around the stem. Turned out to be a rusted and broken spout. I couldn't find a new spout, but I did track down a replacement faucet. Of course, when I tried to remove the faucet, the rusted pipes broke instead. When I tried to replace the broken pipe, another section farther down the line broke. It continued to escalate till I was halfway through the house! :) So I just replaced the majority of the plumbing with new pipe, and installed a new sink with a standard deck mount faucet.
Anyway, the moral of this story is to avoid the "might as well" syndrome. It has a way of quickly spiraling out of control around that place! :)
Anthony
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[snip[

I'd go with the conduit in a closet. BTDT.

Put the conduit in one of the *front* corners of the closet. Nobody will ever know it's there -- who goes into a closet and then turns around to look at the door?
Conduit is cheap. Don't skimp. Use a big one. Like three inches.You may want to run more circuits later.
If you're just really set against using conduit, you could build an actual chase with studs and drywall... but conduit's a *lot* cheaper, and faster to install.
--
Regards,
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
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Greenlee makes those 6 foot long bits that fit in a standard electric drill, plus they sell extensions for greater length. The bit has a hole in the business end, drill thru, attach wire and pull bit back retrieving wire too.
I once went thru about 12 feet into a closed space above cabinets.
they work great
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Thanks! I was wondering if they had extensions or not. A bit and an extension would probably let me reach from the attic down to the basement. I'll have to see what is available on my next trip to the store.
Anthony
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wrote:

The extensions are the same 1 foot extensions that work with spade bits, etc.

Not only are they six feet long, they are flexible. there is also a tool that goes into the wall to help you point the bit the way you want it to go. It has never been useful to me. The times I've tried it, I've found it not very good.
There might be long drill bits that are stiff. I haven't seen them. It would have helped me in a situation something like yours. I was in the attic lying on my belly, with my arm into the stack around the heating ducts (new house) and with my arm and an extension I could reach the middle of the stack where there was a sheet of plywood, a fire stop I guess. Because the bit was flexible, and dull from use, it was hard to drill the hole, but eventually I got it through.
But flexibility has other advantages, like the ability to start through a hole in the sheetrock and drill down to the basement.
Or the ability to start in the basement, and go in a bit above the foundation, then up the wall.
I did this once, aiming for just to the left of the hall and front door light switches. Unforunately it's very hard to control direction from there, so I drilled into the bottom of the platic box, and ripped the wire out of one of the toggle switches. Heh, double insulated drills are great to have. The whole basement went dark when I blew the breaker in the hall. But the second time I tried, I hit the right spot, for my burlgar alarm touch-pad to panel wires.
(I couldn't have drilled this hole down from a hole in the sheerock, because the new hole for the touchpad was going to be right above the lightswitches, and I didn't want to take the lightswitches and their box out.) If it had been someone else's house, maybe I would have done things differently, but I don't know how.)

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Doug,

That's kind of what I was thinking. Easy to install, and basically out of sight.

Inside the wall is my first choice, the conduit my second, and building a chase in the closet was my third backup plan.
Unless the first two options don't work out for some reason, I'd rather avoid having to do any sheetrock, taping, painting, etc. I have enough work to do already. :)
By the way, my in-laws currently have one or two electrical outlets per room mounted in the 8" high baseboard. I'm planning on adding a few more. Are there any codes that would prevent me from locating additional outlets in the baseboard? I'm concerned that trying to cut holes for outlets in the plaster/lath would turn into a big mess of crumbling plaster. Cutting holes in the wood baseboard would be a lot less destructive, and simplify access from the basement.
Anthony
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Edwin Pawlowski:

Can you back that up?
***
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Eww, and I thought our knob and tube wiring on the INSIDE was bad enough!
Lots of good advice already. We're almost done doing our 80 year old house without opening any walls, so I'll add a few things we've learned:
- Find your main vent stack. If your house is like ours, you may well have a TON of space around it to run wires through. We tried several other approaches to getting wires from the basement to the attic (through two stories) before wising up to this one.
- Cutting into baseboards is often easier than cutting lath and plaster. (Even when those baseboards are OAK!) Our lath and plaster doesn't come down much below the top of the baseboards.
- Pulling baseboards and/or crown moulding off, running wire, and reassembling is relatively easy. You will spend a bit of time with putty and paint after you put the trim back, but it's much easier than patching lath and plaster. (Pulling down the crown moulding allowed us to wire the ceiling lights on the first floor without using surface conduit or making huge holes.)
- We got very little use out of the long flexible drill bits, but tons of use out of the 18 inch (or longer) -rigid- drill bit extenders. Those are great, since you can swap out bits as they get dull, and you can use a couple of them together while working in tight spaces where a longer extender wouldn't fit at all. Most of our interior walls had firestops at about 5 feet from the floor.
- Fish tape is ok, but fish sticks are better unless you need to take a bend. Either may get stuck on the keying inside lath and plaster walls, but fish tape is especially evil in this regard. I understand it's great in conduit, but we did very little conduit.
- Pull with gravity when possible. (Pull from attic from outlet box, not from outlet box to attic.) Pull with a partner whenever possible. One person pushes the line into the space you're pulling through, the other person pulls out at the end, keeping light tension on the line at all times, to prevent getting hung up on lath and plaster keys.
- Dental floss with a small weight (like a nut) on the end works better than fish tape as long as you're working with gravity.
- We also used about 15 feet of flexible, skinny chain. You can drop it down from the attic and as long as some of it hits the hole in the mid-wall brace you've just drilled, it will fall through to the outlet hole.
- If your chain sticks to a magnet, you can attempt to catch it with a small but powerful magnet connected to a fish stick. This worked much better for us than trying to get two fish tapes to hook, but sometimes it just didn't work at all, if there were nails, etc in the space we were trying to fish through.
- If you've already got knob and tube running through your joists, consider using those holes (after removing the porcelain inserts) to run your wires, rather than drilling new holes and further weakening the structure.
Hope that helps! :)
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CAS,
Thanks for the great tips!

My in-laws house is a real mess when it comes to wiring. From what I can tell the original house probably had a single 120V drop for lighting. At some later point the house was "upgraded" to 240V to support the electric range. Then a variety of subpanels were added over the years as additional appliances were added. The back porch had an assortment of electrical boxes including a large EXPOSED knife switch, a small fuse panel, and a couple of small breaker panels. Wiring ran all over the wall in various forms including knob and tube extensions, metal conduit, cloth covered romex, and a piece of modern romex. A virtual museum of electrical technologies. :)
I posted some pictures of the old wiring on the back porch at:
www.mountain-software.com/wiring1.jpg www.mountain-software.com/wiring2.jpg www.mountain-software.com/wiring3.jpg
I'm happy to say this mess is all gone now that I have the new service installed.
The knob and tube wiring on the side of the house was the real surprise. Comes out of the wall in the attic, runs down the side of the house, and then back into the basement. The insulation was clearly not intended for outdoor use, as it has mostly crumbled and fallen away. A quick check with a meter and tracing the wires confirmed those outdoor wires carry the full power for every outlet in the living room and bedrooms. So I still have a fair amount of work to do before I can remove those wires from the side of the house.

Not an option. It's only 2" and on the outside of the house.

My thoughts exactly. Since they already have outlets in the baseboards, it would be nice to have the new outlet locations match the old ones.

No crown moulding in their house.

The knob and tube wiring is all surface mounted along beams in the basement and the tops of the ceiling joists in the attic. The only exception is where wires run up through the floor to an outlet.
I'm drilling holes for the new wiring and moving everything up into the joist bays. Though we have no plans to finish the basement ceiling, this would allow that and gives the wiring a bit more protection.
Thanks again!
Anthony
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As another poster mentioned, this is compliant with the NEC, so the only issue would be some additional local code. I did this in my house with 1x10 baseboards. It gives you an extra 3/4" of depth, so the really deep boxes will fit in a 2x3 interior wall. It is also easier to cut the wood neatly than to cut the plaster neatly.
My method was to use a rotary cutter (rotozip) set to the proper depth to cut out the baseboard. I made a template that I could just nail in place and run the rotary cutter around the inside. After cutting out the plaster, I mounted an old work box to the baseboard with screws--if you want to use plaster ears, you need an old work box with extra long screws on the plaster ears because of the baseboard thickness. Then I had to use "midsize" faceplates to provide proper coverage of the box and screws.
Cheers, Wayne
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replying to HerHusband, Doreen wrote:

You should check your updated NED for the code-approved height of new receptacles. Installing receptacles in old baseboard openings does not meet the new floor-to-receptacle requirement. You MAY be able to get some type of waiver but this would have to be issued by your local municipality. I redid a 3-story, 4-unit, 120 year old property. Thank goodness it was a balloon-framed structure. I was NOT permitted to re-use openings in baseboards. There are ways to install boxes in plaster and lathe so as to secure the un-keyed plaster. Best to find old studs and purchase old work boxes from Madison electric for the install. These plastic boxes are code-approved for drywall screws that are INSIDE the box and easily install to studs. Wall damage is therefore minimal. This way the box is secured on the stud and there is no worry about the Carlon old-work box 'wings' that do not usually hold up. Wire box before attaching to stud. Not approved for MC and MC installs are much more difficult but safer in narrower walls or homes with a lot of rodent activity.
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On Saturday, July 11, 2015 at 3:44:05 PM UTC-4, Doreen wrote:

espically since this topic is super old, dating back to 2006
i hope google never sells auto drive cars, since they will try to drive on non existent roads.
they should be ashamed at how bad the truly are
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I have done this twice. The first one was knob-n-tube. I will never fish thru an exterior wall again. So I run the conduit up the interior walls and all outlets and switches are on the interior walls.
As for runnig conduit to the attic, the closet is the I would do it. I ran the conduit thru the corner of the closet nearest the door and inside a PVC pipe that went through both floors (first floor and attic floor.
Also where I have seen knob-n-tube, the meter has been inside the house. Almost everywhere code is going to call for the meter to be outside. And as soon as you do that, you will an electrician to pull a permit and to inspect and approve your wiring. I learned that after-the-fact when the meter reader saw the changes. Fortunately I found a cooperative contractor (35 years ago). He liked my work.
Dick
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There's no insulation in my in-law's house, so fishing wires to the outlets from the basement should be no problem. As long as there's no blocking in the wall, the switches won't be too bad either.
It's the full run from top to bottom where blocking is involved that it'll be an issue. I'm "hoping" the interior walls don't have the blocking, but haven't had the chance to check that out yet.

Seems to be the overall favorite... :)

I already have a permit, and the new panel and meter have already been inspected and approved. It's just a matter of updating all the individual circuits now.
The current knob and tube wiring has everything on ONE circuit. :)
Anthony
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They are fire stops.
Don <www.donwiss.com> (e-mail link at home page bottom).
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I went up into the attic, and dropped a plumbing snake down along the waste vent pipe. This, with a little work, went through all the way to the basement. I then pulled wire, and additional pulling cord through. I probably ended up with 6 or 7 12/2 wires with no big problem.
Then it's just a problem of running wires from rooms to the attic.
Bob
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Okay, so now that I've heard enough suggestions that pipe dope is the way to go, what good is teflon tape? Where it is used that pipe dope isn't?
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