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Who the hell does this sort of thing (house/construction rant) - Paint It Black — LiveJournal
Living the American dream one heartbreaking piece at a time
Who the hell does this sort of thing (house/construction rant)
In preparation for the arrival of my parents, who should be here any time in the next hour, I put a space heater into the guest bedroom and turned it on. The guest bedroom in my house is at the farethest end of the furnace's limits so it tends to be chillier than the rest of the house in winter and can use a bit of auxillary heating.

Five minutes after I turned the heater on, the lights in the master bedroom and the office (a repurposed bedroom) went dark. The UPS units in the office went bezerk. Was I having a brown-out? No, the furnace was still running and the light in the den was on.


Off to the laundry closet I go, where a few seconds of looking later I can find a tripped circuit breaker. I reset the breaker, turn the electric space heater in the guest room down and go back to the office. About a minute and a half later, the UPS alarms are going off again and I'm sitting in the (relative) dark.


Back up, back to the laundry room, reset the circuit breaker. lady_curmudgeon suggested replacing the big space heater with her smaller ceramic-based unit. I do so, and once again three minutes later it's BEEP-BEEP-BEEP in the dark time.

I have run a heater in the guest room before and never had this problem, so this new set of circumstances vexes me mightily. I am making my way out of the office and cursing when I notice in the living room the Christmas tree lights are off, too. Wait, what?

Reset the circuit breaker, turn off the heater in the guest room completely and review what I know. I knew that all three bedrooms are strung on a single electrical circuit, but why is the livingroom off? Back into the breaker panel I go, and I reread the chickenscratch handwriting on the legend. "Bedrooms/living room." Then I look at the breaker - it's 10 15 amps.


Ten Fifteen amps to run the master bedroom, the guest room, the living room and the office. But wait! I also know from tinkering about in my electrical panel that this same circuit also serves the master bathroom, the guest bathroom AND the garage. You know, the garage that has the flood lamps for the flag pole plugged into it.


The way I was taught electrical work, while growing up, was to put every room on its own circuit with its own breaker. Clearly the contractor who wired this house was taught no such thing and had no qualms snaking wire hither, thither and yon throughout the walls and connecting an unnecessarily long leg attach to a single breaker. This explains everything: with the new flood lamps for the flag pole running off the garage, the exterior Christmas lights running off the garage, the Christmas tree lights running in the guest room and the various other electronic widgetry I've added over the intervening years (cell phone charges, new clock radio, etc) I've taken this breaker and pushed it to the very edge. The additional resistive load of a space heater takes that precarious balance and kicks it right off the cliff.

Great, so now I know what I'm doing for my spring project in the house! In the next few months I'll be plotting which walls are coming down, amassing conduit to put in and when it's "Go Time" I will be replacing this snarl of copper-clad aluminum crap with proper romex. I'll have to hire an electrical contractor to replace the breaker panel (it's far too small and doesn't have nearly enough breaker positions to take each room onto its own circuit) but that's fine. Hell, while I'm in there I'll have to see about the feasibility of pulling a 50 amp 240 line into the garage to run a sub-panel so I can put in my welder and air compressor.

I can't help but keep coming back to the thought that some lazy bastard thought a single 110v 15 15 amp breaker serving all those rooms was acceptable or even "good enough." Oh, to travel back in time and slap some contractors...

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Current Mood: aggravated aggravated

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tuftears From: tuftears Date: December 24th, 2010 12:11 am (UTC) (Link)
*comfort* Good luck with that, Inkblotkitteh!
gatcat From: gatcat Date: December 24th, 2010 12:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Code's come a long, long way.

I've been reading Wiring A House and Wiring Simplified (which isn't, comparatively) in preparation for getting Jacksontown up and humming, and am as appalled as you at the state of the circuits on the Happy Times estate. Short term, immediate functionality must trump excellence, but come spring someone's gonna wanna put a 200A box where this 100A box is left over from the days before a one room cabin became this three bedroom house, not to mention fix all the niggling shortcuts someone took between then and now to soothe the growing pains.

Edited at 2010-12-24 12:12 am (UTC)
yotogi From: yotogi Date: December 24th, 2010 03:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Ten amps is enough for 2/3 of anyone's house!

Provided they happen to be Amish.
From: neowolf2 Date: December 24th, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Q: What is this:

clomp clomp

clomp clomp


clomp clomp

clomp clomp

A: Amish drive-by shooting.
steelhelix From: steelhelix Date: December 24th, 2010 07:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
They're only be one bang, followed by a lot of cursing.

anher From: anher Date: December 24th, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
There are plenty of rifles from the 19th century that were muzzle loading. Can't say for certain it wouldn't be one of those with one bang.
steelhelix From: steelhelix Date: December 24th, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay... fine... heh.

Bang... clack clack... bang... clack clack... bang.

(bolt action)
From: neowolf2 Date: December 25th, 2010 06:20 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm not sure (semi-)automatic weapons would be against amish tech restrictions to any greater extent than any other gun would be.
panzier From: panzier Date: December 24th, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I guess I'm lucky in that I'm pulling all new wires for the folks place. What's the gauge of the wire, it could possibly take a 15 amp breaker, could be that they only had a 10 in the toolbox. I'm running all 12ga wire for utility and 14 for lighting, should be quite ducky. Also when breakers get older, they become subject to resistive heating through corrosion on the contacts causing them to fault quite early.
mwalimu From: mwalimu Date: December 24th, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
That reminds me of an experience I had at a previous home.

After a couple of basement flooding episodes, and the replacement of the original sump pump, we were still faced with a situation where on occasion the water was coming in fast enough that the sump pump couldn't keep up even when it was running continuously, and we decided to install a second sump pump. Both are in the same sump well next to each other, and plugged into the same outlet, which is on its own circuit.

The day came when the flooding occurred again, and the second sump kicked on. Moments later, both quit as the breaker tripped. Repeat a couple of times. I finally had to run an extension cord to plug in one of them in a different room on a different circuit.

The breaker was a 10 amp, which was fine for one sump pump but with two of them running it overloaded the circuit. I called the contractor who had installed both sump pumps, and he said it should be okay to pop out the breaker and put in a 15 amp as long as the outlet is wired with 12 gauge, which he assumed it almost certainly was. I aimed the flashlight at the wire to verify that, and lo and behold it was 14 gauge. His reaction was 'you gotta be kidding me'.

The problem got solved in a different way. One of our neighbors who was having the same flooding problem found out a key drainage tile had been blocked by tree roots. Once that was addressed we didn't have any more flooding problems in the remaining time we lived in that house.
steelhelix From: steelhelix Date: December 24th, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Realistically, there's no reason you can't put in a 20 or 30 amp CB in that line... especially if you have some GFCI outlets in there somewhere. Normal household wiring can easily handle that... of course, given the poor planning the contractor already demonstrated, it's possible he used thinner wiring than he should have.
captain18 From: captain18 Date: December 25th, 2010 05:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Gah. Reminds me of when I started rewiring the basement in ChezLakeCap and unhooked the neutral serving half of the fluorescents in the basement and the lights suddenly came on dimly. To this day I don't understand exactly how they were completing a circuit to do that although I'm sure the conduit had a lot to do with it.
chefmongoose From: chefmongoose Date: December 27th, 2010 04:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Ugh. :P

At Mom's house, we had issues with one circuit: Kitchen, bathroom, dining room... and the left half of the basement, which included Washer and dryer, and garage. That sucker trips when you run the Microwave and just about anything in the kitchen. It trips 8more* now that there's a circuit breaker instead of fuses; Mom didn't want the fusebox replaced but her home insurance company demanded it, because of the amount of people who;d penny-short a fusebox. :P
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