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Old ungrounded houses

Posted By: BobH

Old ungrounded houses - 01/10/06 08:23 PM

I started out as a electrical troubleshooter for Buick Motor Division, troubleshooting computer and electronic/ electrical gremlins. The I became a stationary engineer and hvac/ refrigeration mechanic troubleshooting everything from large horsepower boilers to industrial laundry equipment, roof-top units, commercial kitchen equipment, chillers and related controls. Then I worked as a commercial electrician under a master for some time, then on my own. All these years of troubleshooting electrical systems and still, every now and then some old, ungrounded, half-knob and tube, half romex house kicks my butt! These old houses can be a real hair puller, bootlegged neutrals, reversed polarity, circuits tapped into circuits tapped into circuits, Diy work, rodent issues, among other things. Anyone out there who thinks residential work isn't challenging enough for them, think again, or come to my town and see for yourself. I hope we're all charging what we're worth!

[This message has been edited by BobH (edited 01-10-2006).]
Posted By: trollog

Re: Old ungrounded houses - 01/11/06 03:33 AM

Encouraging sentiments. In the coming months I am going to be tackling a remodel of my aunt's house in Pasadena Ca, built in 1909 which had K&T added years after it was built..

From an initial inspection of the house as it is right now, part of me is dreading what I will find there... I'll have to pack the digital camera...
Posted By: Larry Fine

Re: Old ungrounded houses - 01/11/06 03:36 AM

Bob, I'd like to recommend a very handy tool for tracing and troubleshooting: a 3-wire extension cord plugged into a known-good receptacle.

this gives you a reference ground, neutral, and hot to test against. That and a solenoid voltage tester make a great duo.
Posted By: Steve Miller

Re: Old ungrounded houses - 01/11/06 11:32 AM

You've been in my house? My old house was built around 1790. It's chestnut log with creek mud and horsehair for chinking. The electric appeared to have been originally installed around 1925/30. I found everything you described in the house. Through the years I've eliminated it all as I remodeled. Come to find out, many houses in the area are wired like you describe, even the old stick built ones. The only answer I've come up with is T&M billing. I tell the owner this up front and each time I run into some real "piece of work" I show it to the homeowner and explain the prob. Most people appreciate this approach but some have told me to not fix a prob or two. I just note that on the ticket.
Posted By: BobH

Re: Old ungrounded houses - 01/11/06 04:26 PM

Trollog, it's one thing when you're remodeling and working from scratch in some cases, but it's service work/ troubleshooting that gets you. Some of these old houses are beautiful, remodeled to show house condition, but the electrical was just never really updated completely. They really test your skills and knowledge because nothing is wired the way it would be today. Larry, I like your extension cord idea, that's a good one. I've thought of running thhn around for this but never thought of a simple extension cord. I'll use that one for sure. I had one call the other day where they switched all the neutrals instead of the hots and made all the romex to K&T splices inside the walls, no box of course and beautiful rare wall paper on plaster walls. Now there having problems with flickering lights, go figure. It would be one thing if you could get to these splices, like in commercial work, but when everything is buried in the walls it's a little difficult. Oh well, it's always a challenge and it pays the bills. T&M for sure on these.
Posted By: shockmaster21

Re: Old ungrounded houses - 01/12/06 06:17 AM

Hello Friends,
Regarding the subject of knob and tube wiring, there may be yet another aspect that warrants our attention. In his book, “Tracing EMFs in Building Wiring and Grounding”, author Karl Riley writes:

“Effects of separation: So what kind of wiring allows magnetic fields to generate? Any wiring method which allows some or all of the neutral current to separate from its circuit and travel in other paths before joining up again. In other words, when conductors of the same circuit are physically separated. ……….. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

An example of separation: A former wiring method which one still sees frequently in cities with older residences, such as San Francisco and Boston, illustrates what happens when conductors are separated. Up until the 1940s it was legal to run the hot and neutral conductors along completely separate paths. This is called knob and tube wiring and when you find it you will always find high magnetic fields. The only solution is replacement with contemporary wiring.”

For an interesting and informative perspective, please see:


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