more electrical installation questions


I just realized while rewiring my upstairs that some of the existing, original wiring apparently does not meet current NEC. An example: a switch box in the wall contains a toggle switch, a 14/3, and a 14/2. 5 conductors, 2 more for the yoke, and 1 for the clamps = 8 "conductors." A 2-3/4" switch box is only 14 in^3. If I repull and add a ground, that only makes the situation worse. Even in the case of a receptacle with two cables, it would seem that this is still not acceptable, even without a ground.
I can only assume that this was not a violation when the house was built, as all of the original wiring appears to have been done in a proper, workmanlike manner.
What do I do? Just repull and leave as is, or do I need to break all the boxes out where I have a situation like this and use a 3-1/2" deep box with plaster ears and Madison hangers?
'nother question. I need to replace a box in my bathroom for various reasons. Are there any limitations on what kind of box I can use in there? What about hanging from the rafters of an unfinished attic? (would like to have a lampholder up there and possibly a receptacle as well, so I don't need to keep using my construction lights and an extension cord when I need to be up there. Ironically, it is primarily for electrical work that I need to be there...)
nate
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*The short answer is that you will better off with the deeper box. The older codes did not require a deduction for wiring devices. If you are going to be adding wiring for the ceiling fans that you proposed in an earlier post then I suggest removing the one gang box and installing a two gang box.
Removal of the one gang box can usually be done without doing too much damage to the existing wall, but you must go slow and be a little gentle. Sometimes prying with a big screwdriver is all you need to do. Other times a sawzall is needed.
You can use a plastic two gang box or gang together two 3.5" metal gem boxes. In addition to the madison bars I usually drill a hole in the side of the gem box and shoot a #8 sheet metal screw into the wood. I do this with the plastic boxes as well.
You can usually use whatever kind of box is acceptable anywhere else in a bathroom unless there is something in your local code that requires something specific.
You can mount electrical boxes in your attic on the roof trusses or anything else that is solid and permanent. Just keep the light bulb away from direct contact with anything combustible. You can run the wiring on the surface of the roof trusses, but you cannot have wiring run along top of the ceiling joists unless you have a board running along side of it. You could also drill out the ceiling joists and run your wires through the holes.
An outlet in the attic must be GFI protected.
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John Grabowski wrote:

Ah, that explains it then. 6 "conductors" would not be a violation then.

Actually that work is already done, I did that yesterday. I did not replace those switch boxes but if we install fans it shouldn't be a big problem (one of those boxes is already an "old work" box so it's a matter of a few minutes with a scroll saw to make that change.) I left the single gang boxes because a) I do not have ceiling fans *currently* and b) I had an issue in my kitchen where I ended up with an existing two gang box and wanted to have a light switch and a fan control there. It was harder for me to find a single gang fan control than it was to find a single gang combined light/fan control, oddly enough. Although the decor in the bedrooms is "vintage" so I may just let the fans have pull chains there even though that offends me, as the devices are brown and the switch plates are antique pressed brass (that's antique as in contemporary to when the house was built, not "antiqued" finish. Although I only polished the ones that were really horrible, the ones with a nice even patina I left as is.) So that prompts another question - who makes good single gang fan controls, and are they available in brown? All the ones I've seen are mostly white with a few ivory.
But back to the question I was actually asking. The work I did over the last two days was pretty much *only* correcting what I saw as shoddy wiring in the half of the upstairs that had been previously renovated, and providing a new feed to the upstairs with a ground wire (and that right there tells me that the renovations weren't inspected, because how can you add receptacles that aren't grounded?) Everything that was original to the house was left as is and reconnected at the "new" ceiling box locations. It turns out that there were only two places where the "new" work met the old and in both cases there was a ceiling box *closer* to the location of the original work, so I just trimmed those cables shorter and reconnected them.
So any future work that I do will be either simply repulling existing cables to provide grounding and to get rid of old cables with non-90C-rated insulation entering ceiling boxes, or adding supplemental grounds where repulling is not practical/possible. I may also add some receptacles in the master bedroom, because I haven't measured yet, but I suspect that there may be one maybe two violations of the "within 6 feet" rule, but that's on down the road. I guess I know that it is not 100% correct to then pull a new cable (replacing an existing one) and/or supplemental ground into a box where the resulting fill will not meet NEC but was just wondering at what point the concept of "you touched it, now you have to fully bring it up to code" kicked in. Additionally, it sounds like I may have to replace one recep box to which I already pulled a new cable, following this logic. I *really* would prefer not to do that, because that's the box that holds my GFCI and even though I'd definitely wrap any device with tape that goes into a box with madison hangers, still...
*sigh*
I'd originally thought that now that I had good grounding available at several points in the attic that I could then also do some other things (e.g. pull a supplemental ground to another switch box that is on a different, non-GFCI circuit so that I could put a metal switchplate on it) but it sounds like literally anything I touch would involve replacing the boxes due to box fill considerations. That greatly increases the scope of work...

BTDT. I've already done this at least four times that I can recall, where I had to pull a wire into an existing switch box and couldn't for whatever reason without making a hand hole, and/or the existing box had come loose from the stud. I usually end up breaking the box apart inside the wall and then prying it completely loose and have been able to do this in every instance without noticeable damage to the plaster or paneling. (knock on wood.)

that's a good idea and I don't know why I didn't think to do that. How do you deal with the space between the side of the box and the stud? Looks like a paint stick might be about the right size...

OK, again this is where my not actually being an electrician makes me ask questions. I didn't know whether the bathroom was considered a "damp" or "wet" location and if that made it different than elsewhere in the house.

same as above...

Oddly enough, the *existing* wiring was laid across the top of the joists - both the original and the renovations. I did, however, drill everything that I redid through the joists with one exception, where there was a crosswise structural member that was 3 2-bys laminated together, I couldn't get all the way through it because my spade bit wasn't long enough. Should I get an electrician's auger and go back and redo that run?

Good to know. Are you using "outlet" in the common usage sense of "receptacle" or in the strict definition sense including lampholders?
nate
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*Brown is not that popular of a color anymore. Consequently manufacturers won't make and suppliers won't sell things that don't move. Check Leviton and Lutron. Lutron has a big assortment of designer colors. The alternative is to paint. Having two switches gives you the option of just using two single pole brown switches which are readily available for now and you can use the pull chain for speed control the few times a year you may actually change the speed.

*How old is the house?

*If you are in New Jersey we have a rehabilitation code which violates common sense and modern safety standards. However it does allow you to put back what was already there without having to update to modern standards.

*Maybe you should pace yourself with a long term goal of bringing almost everything up to modern standards and conveniences. Don't try to get too much done at once and get burnt out.

*I just put the box in, set the madison bars and shoot a screw. The trick is not to overtighten the screw otherwise the box gets crooked and distorted. The screw doesn't have to be tight to prevent the box from coming out of the wall, it is just supplemental to the madison bars. Keep the screw back far enough to prevent interference with the wiring device, but not so far back that it is impossible to shoot into the stud.

*The vanity and the ceiling near it are not considered damp or wet locations. The ceiling inside and around the tub and shower is. A light over a shower must be approved for that as well as an exhaust fan. In addition some manufacturers require that their fans be GFI protected over a shower or tub.

*The attic is not a damp or wet location. You can use metal boxes since they will be exposed and not protected by drywall.

*If it is easier just lay a piece of 2"x4" along side of the wire and screw it down to keep it in place.

*Actually I may wrong about this. 210.8 doesn't mention attics and a receptacle is not normally required there, but I think a GFI receptacle is required for servicing if there is HVAC equipment in the attic space. It is still a good idea to have the GFI protection even if it is not required.
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John Grabowski wrote (in reply to YT):
<snip>

I thought of just using a toggle switch... but the idea of having a speed control at the wall is appealing to me. What paint would a) adhere well to the plastic used for wiring devices and b) hold up to being touched repeatedly? Spray can epoxy? I'd feel really wasteful loading up a spray gun for such a small job.
You're right about brown not being a popular color. I ended up with a whole mess of spec grade stuff NOS still in the box from a salvage place for next to nothing. Need any toggle switches? I've got a lifetime supply :) It's the only color that looks right to me with patina'd brass though.

I believe it was built in 1948 or 1949.

No, I'm in Virginia. Actually you have a good point, I believe I have a copy of the state rehabilitation code at my desk at work, I'll have to read it thoroughly after the holidays.
I'm wondering at this point if I'm venturing into the area where I should draw up plans and get a permit, inspections, etc. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I've already violated that requirement, but if I ever get called on it, my explanation will be something like "well, I went up into the attic thinking I was just going to pull one cable to provide proper grounding for this area of my house that was already wired with grounded cable and also replace a couple ceiling boxes, and, well, it was a (expletive deleted) disaster and it was the holidays, so I just went ahead and fixed it all." Which is pretty much a good summary of the last two days.
I'm just a little hesitant to get a permit because my next door "neighbor" (in quotes because he still hasn't moved in yet) told me that a big reason why he's not done with his renovations has been with getting permits and inspections. Not that it was difficult, but the process took so long.

That's always been my goal, and if I had a good helper I'd be kicking butt. My real limitation is the patience of my cuter half. She tries to be helpful and supportive (and actually does have a decent amount of skill with a fish tape, and I taught her how to make a good "nose" the other day to pull one cable with another) but I get the distinct impression that "electrician's helper" was not on her list of life's goals :/ She's been very patient with me over the past few days however and has helped me with all of the vertical runs that I had to repull, taking down light fixtures while I was working in the attic, helping me set the new ceiling boxes at the right height, etc. but I suspect a lot of that had to do with the fact that I came down cussing and fuming after finding the overstuffed, loose, concealed, clamp-less junction boxes and explaining to her what I'd found. (I don't know if being hidden under a foot of insulation meets the strict definition of "concealed" or not, but *I* consider it to be so, seeing as I had no idea where they were until I spent a lot of time looking for them.)
A lot more of the work that remains to be done to modernize everything would involve either lots of vertical pulls (e.g. 2-person work) or else horizontal runs within existing walls, and patching plaster is not my idea of a good time.
<snip>

Right, and I will provide a GFCI for the bathroom when it gets to that point. (there's only a light in there now, but it is GFCI protected anyway as it's on the same circuit as everything else, and I have a GFCI on there because there's at least six receptacles still ungrounded.) I was just wondering if I needed to use a special box, mostly because some of the existing boxes that I've seen appear that they might be stainless steel. (either that, or they're just exceptionally shiny and corrosion resistant.) This would be only one box, the sink is right next to the door, so I figured on putting the light/fan controls and the required receptacle all in one three gang box.

Gotcha.
Probably easier to get an appropriate bit rather than to lug a 2x4 up into the attic :) I haven't even hung the light fixture in the room that that cable serves yet - that's also the room that I was going to try to repull to the original receptacles, until I started thinking about box fill.

Makes sense, and I'll keep that in mind. I also may put a vent fan in the attic at some point in time, so I don't know if that would qualify as "HVAC equipment" or not, but there'd definitely then be "equipment" up there.
thanks again for putting up with the stupid n00b questions...
nate
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*No problem Nate. Better to ask now before or while you are doing it rather than after. I have used Krylon acrylic spray paint on wiring devices. I've noticed that putting the device near heat seems to harden the paint. No need for a receptacle for an attic exhaust fan, but you need a shut off switch near it. You don't need any special boxes for bathroom receptacles. However current code calls for a 20 amp circuit for the bathroom and with the high horsepower blowdryers that are out there I highly recommend upgrading.
Getting a permit and inspections is not a bad idea. You could go and talk to your building department and tell them what you are doing and your time frame and ask how they want to do it. It is a good idea to the inspectors on your side early on. Once they see the quality of your work they may be a little looser on some of the inspections. It is a good idea to have had inspections done for insurance purposes and for when it comes time to sell the house.
Take the cuter half out and do something that she likes to do to maintain the balance.
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John Grabowski wrote:

right, that was always in my mental plans. Also is a new homerun to split the bedrooms into two 15A circuits rather than a single 15A for the whole floor as it is currently. (I would just pull 20A but that would mean I'd have to do it all at once, I couldn't pick away at it piece by piece.) So I would probably pull them simultaneously and actually incorporate this into the same "project." I guess I would then just blank off one space in the new box in the bathroom and leave a pull string so then the next "project" would be installation of the bathroom exhaust fan.

I'll take that as a compliment :) although you have described my professional relationship with a few inspectors, I get lots of slack at work because they know the guys that actually do the work are conscientious. Unfortunately, I don't know any inspectors in the jurisdiction where I actually live, nor would any of those guys be doing residential electrical inspections :(

I suggested maybe we should go to an autocross together, but that just got me a surly look. She claims not to like drag racing either. Is there a group that can help me with this? :)
nate
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*Ballet or a musical comes to mind. There is a cruise ship or two leaving out of Norfolk. Seven days at sea is nice. Of course there is always diamonds.
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Nate Nagel wrote:

snapped some pics while cleaning up. Not the most frightening electrical work I've ever seen, but I wouldn't want to claim it as my own.
http://members.cox.net/njnagel2/house/nopermit.html
nate
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*The plastic jacketed cables are not original to the house (But I guess you already know that). It looks as though someone just added and added as needed.
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John Grabowski wrote:

exactly. the box with the cloth covered cables I am pretty sure was the ceiling light box in what used to be a very large master bedroom. When it was split into two rooms and a hallway instead of laying out three new ceiling boxes and running power and switch legs to them (like I just did) they just... well... I really can't explain it. Best I can tell, every switch leg terminated in one of those two boxes, as did the cables to the ceiling boxes, as well as the drops to the receps. I guess the second box was added when they couldn't cram any more wires into the first one (there was only one cable connecting the two, they were within a couple feet of each other) I'm not even sure WHY, because "my way" I don't think would have been any more work.
Honestly, after taking a couple hours trying to figure everything out, I just said "I'm shutting down the second floor, and I'm going to start wiring everything how I think it should have been done. If I miss anything, I'll figure it out later." If I could have seen everything it would have been easier, but there's so darn much insulation up there that simply running one cable is a bit of an adventure. Oh, and my arms are all fiberglassy now. I didn't think to wear a long sleeve shirt at first. I figured it out soon enough.
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*Everyone always asks me why I wear long sleeve shirts to work in the summer time. Now you know why. Good luck with the new wiring and Have a Happy and Safe New year.
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John Grabowski wrote:

Romex that is 60C in ceiling boxes is not necessarily a problem. You just have to use fixtures that are compatible with 60C wiring. Fixtures for a long time have added fiberglass insulation in the canopy to limit the heat that migrates to the wiring above.
I believe 90C Romex was also required because Romex was buried in attic insulation. I haven't heard of actual problems from overheated Romex.

IMHO for an existing house that was code compliant when wired the question is are more receptacles needed because of the way the room is being used. Violations of the "6 feet" rule should not be an issue. (But rehabilitation or maintenance codes can modify NEC rules.) Do you need extension cords?

Ask what the inspector recommends. Are you better off having ungrounded wiring if you could fairly easily add a ground to the existing wiring and the wires can be reasonably fit into the box.

An excellent question for the inspector. If you could get all the wires into the box without using a hammer and still install the larger GFCI you are doing well.

A reasonable way to look at it is that you are better off with a ground and the wires reasonably fit into the box - which is the way you viewed it. An inspector may agree.

From UL: "Fans intended to be mounted over tubs or showers have been evaluated for such purposes and are marked 'Acceptable for use over a bathtub or shower when installed in a GFCI protected branch circuit."
Of course John is right, but the manufacturer will require GFCI protection for the fan.

The NEC requirement is in 334.23 which refers to 320.23 (BX): "Where run across the top of floor joists or within 7 ft of floor or floor joists across the face of rafters or studding, in attics or roof spaces that are accessible, the cable shall be protected by substantial guard strips that are at least as high as the cable. Where this space is not accessible by permanent stairs or ladders, protection shall only be required within 6 ft of the nearest edge of the scuttle hole or attic entrance."
If you have Romex that is allowed on the top of joists over 6 ft from the scuttle it can be fun when you are wading through insulation that is above the joists doing additional work and trying to avoid the Romex you can't see.
Nice thread. Sounds like you are doing quality work.
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bud-- wrote:

Neither have I, BUT, my attic definitely qualifies for "romex buried in insulation." And I do mean buried. There's at least two layers of (very ancient and falling apart) fiberglass batts, and then probably another 6" of cellulose on top of that. What a mess!

Yes. Oddly enough, I wanted a new recep in one particular location and SWMBO asked if I could add one in another particular location, and when I checked the room with a tape measure those were pretty much exactly the locations that the six foot rule would indicate. So sometimes the code actually makes sense!

right. Once I realized that the existing boxes wouldn't meet current code that's when I started thinking "maybe it's time for a permit."

Yeah, I think I'll just have to hold off on any more work until after the holidays and I'll see if I can talk to an inspector. I don't want to get in bad with any AHJ's if I don't have to. I think the stuff I've done so far might be excusable from a "why didn't you get a permit" perspective, as in I didn't actually *add* anything, but I suspect that rewiring an existing room with no evident problems, just old stuff and 1940's code compliance might raise some eyebrows, esp. if I am physically adding devices that weren't there.

Yeah, and I'll have it, in fact I've already bought all the material, I just need to get a 20A circuit up there.

Ah, that makes sense then. By that definition my attic is not "accessable" although it would make sense to treat it as if it were, in case I ever decide to provide a better access for it. Not sure how I would actually do that, mind you, but still.
nate
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In typed:

For definite answers, you really need to check with your Local Code Enforcement office. Local codes often have additional requirements they add to NEC requirements. Consider the NEC as the "minimum" requirements and your local code enforcement office as the last word. You don't even need to identify yourself when you call them unless you want to. I'd say that due to the type of work you're doing you really should have it inspected anyway. I've had them in quite a few times to approve changes I've made here in NY state and they don't inspect anything but the new work that you've done. Everything else is assumed to be grandfathered in and they don't go looking for it.
The box with all the wires in it is almost certainly not to code of any kind. Deeper boxes might be fine, but you still need their advice since apparently all the wires thru the box are not related to what the switch controls? It's possible another box might be needed (and preferable anyway since your attic is open?).
In the bathroom and attic, etc., simply be sure you use the approved boxes for your jurisdiction. Plastic, for instance, may not be allowed though it's OK per the NEC codes in some cases. And remember, GFCI's are required there too. Again, your local guys will give you the best answers. What they say is what their inspectors in theory look for. To get around the attic, get yourself a sheet or two of plywood and lay it across the rafters to work from; it's safer than knee-busting on the rafters<g>. Just be sure it's sufficiently thick to hold you on the span of the rafters. I often use 5/8" or whatever its actual final measurement turns out to be. Put two screws in each piece at opposite ends, just to keep it from jumping up if you lean on one end too hard, and twisting as you move about.
But whether you have it inspected now or never, or after you get reported, get you local code enforcement's final reading on your plans. They're simple questions and they should be able to answer off the top of their heads.
Twayne
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