Rewiring My House - Electrical Lessons, Life Lessons
There is a phrase I've "gotten in trouble" with over the years: "How hard could it be?". Many times I've gotten into projects and ended up learning a lot about the process. This time it was kind of a dire situation, and I really had nothing to lose but time. My home experienced a water leak disaster, and although I received some money from the insurance company, it didn't go very far. Of course, I had BIG plans. When I bought the house, I kind of had a 5 year plan for all the improvements I wanted to do. The kitchen was small and old. The dining room didn't flow well. The "master bedroom" had no windows. All I could see was potential, especially once I learned the home had hardwood floors. That was all I needed to know.
Fast forward a year. The water leak meant that my home was pretty much gutted. I replumbed the house and rebuilt the bathroom. Somewhere along the way I started thinking that I should rewire the house too. The electric wiring in my home was old and mixed up. I had some really old knob and tube, some patched in aluminum wiring, and some later stuff done with modern romex. I called around and managed to talk two electricians into coming out to give me a quote. Of course they wanted between $5,000 to $10,000 to rewire the house. They explained that they had to plan it, purchase materials and crawl under the house or in the attic.
The more I thought about it, the more determined I became to rewire my own home. I certainly didn't have the extra cash laying around to have it done by a professional. Because it was an old home, my current electric service was only 100 amp. That may have been enough back in the 40s when the home was built, but in modern times, it was taxed by all the XBox and computer stuff going on. Oh, and somewhere long the way someone had added an apartment, so the 100 amp service was not just to one "residence" but two. I called the electric utility and found that they would actually hook up to my new meter for free! It seemed like a sign.
I bought a book, and studied electrical layouts. I can not say enough for the amount of information contained in this book. Of course you need to have a basic underlying understanding of electricity, but I used this book extensively to make sure that my diagrams were correct, my circuit loads were properly calculated and my runs were properly wired. I still use the book regularly, even pulled it out this morning when I was adding a switch for a new light. My Dad was into mechanical and electrical stuff, so I was around soldering irons and circuit boards from a young age. I also took a year of electronic shop in high school. So, I was, of course, an expert. HA. I downloaded an architectural program and measured out the entire house. I drew the floorplan in the program. I began by visualizing how I wanted to use the home -- where I wanted a computer center and where I wanted my tv. Stanley Complete Wiring
Of course I knew that I would have to pass an inspection by the county, so I studied electrical code, and made sure my wiring diagrams met code. Once I had the plans drawn, I submitted them to the county for approval. This had to be done before the electric utility would install a new meter, and I couldn't start work until the new meter was installed. The apartment had a submeter, but the main shutoff was in the house. A tenant was still living in the apartment, so I had to do the switchover for that part quickly. How hard could it be to get a new panel box in, run a huge 50 amp wire to the subpanel and get the power going again?
As it turned out, that part went smoothly. In fact, all of the electrical work went smoothly. I only had one area that was really hard to pull the wire. Remember, almost every wall did not have drywall, so I had the advantage of not having to fish wire. I measured out every single outlet and switch to make sure they were level and at the right height throughout the house. I made sure that I had electrical outlets every 6 to 8 feet so I didn't ever have to use an extension cord again. I installed ceiling fan boxes in every single room because we live in a warm climate.
It was the most exciting day when I finished wiring the inside panel box and was ready to hook up the main line from the meter to the panel. My inspector was so kind and helped me understand a couple of tricks that made the "finishing touches" so much easier. He passed the wiring and even complimented that I was so diligent in making sure that the wiring was done properly and to code. All the weeks I spent crawling around in the hot attic and the swampy crawl space paid off. I managed to completely rewire my house, with a minimum of help, and spent less than $1,500 doing it.
Would I do it again? You bet! I think that many people are scared by the fact that electrical work is extremely hazardous. But, if you follow proper safety procedures and have the time to complete the work it is a job that a homeowner with average skills can accomplish. I learned to be patient. I learned to stop when I got too tired to crawl. I saved a ton of money, and knew it was done right.
I really, truly began to believe that I can do anything I need to do to survive in this life. The sense of accomplishment I got from repairing my home is something that has followed me through the tough times of this economy. I remember thinking that I couldn't do "it" anymore. But then I thought of Mothers all over the world who struggle to feed their children. Then I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, took a hot tea break, checked my book and started over.
And yes. Everything worked when I was done !