Don’t be Shocked When You Upgrade Your Electrical System

Because electrical systems are a seeming mystery, homeowners involved in a remodeling usually simply trust their electricians to do a responsible, safe job. And most electricians are remarkably conscientious with their work, making sure that it “meets code.” But many opportunities to improve existing problems and eliminate future ones are routinely lost to inattention.

Most homeowners don’t realize that “code” is intended as a MINIMUM level of safe work. High quality remodeling deserves better than this minimum. But an electrician bidding on work doesn’t want to risk losing the job by figuring in extra work that wasn’t requested.

Including some of the following upgrades will add some extra cost to your project of course. The cost is generally insignificant, though, to the damage or headaches that an underwired house can cause.

A few items that you might want to include in your remodeling project:

1) Adequate electrical service. A skilled electrician may be able to stretch your existing 60 amp capacity to serve your new kitchen remodeling. But try running the dishwasher, the microwave, and a blender all at once, and fuses start blowing. Let your electrician tell you what capacity service you should have, and add some extra. The trend is towards more electrical use in the future, not less. Most clients opt for 200 amp service, and some are even going to 400 amp.

2) Old “knob and tube” wiring that is being kept in use should be divided into as many circuits as possible (and reasonable) to keep the load on these wires as small as possible. Don’t try to reuse this wiring with new appliances that use lots of electricity, such as electric heaters, electric cooktops, refrigerators, and washers or dryers.

3) Have at least one separate circuit for each room. Rooms that serve as a home office should probably have at least two or three circuits. It’s amazing that people will plug in thousands of dollars worth of delicate electronic equipment into circuits that are being shared with other appliances that can “pollute” the power and fry the brains of the electronic equipment. Buying surge protectors may help prevent problems of over-current, but not under-current.

4) Don’t go along with the common practice of sharing circuits between bathroom sink areas. Two hair dryers on the same circuit at the same time will trip the circuit breaker.

5) I suggest using metal boxes inside the wall to hold electrical outlets and light switches. The plastic boxes that are commonly used are cheap and easy to install, but they can be easily damaged and often become loose inside the wall.

There are many other little upgrades that you can add that will make your future life easier, such as a light fixture and switch in the attic space and crawlspace. Or making sure that each telephone outlet is run back to a central, easily accessible location, and that each outlet has at least two-line (2 pairs of wires) capacity. Most people, though, are running at least 4-pairs to each location, and even incorporating TV cables into the run to handle future computer data needs.

But the best advice is to make your electrician a partner in the remodeling and ask about other upgrades that you should consider doing beyond the code minimum.

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