Author Topic: Are my electrical issues an emergency?  (Read 12545 times)

MustardTiger

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Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« on: October 25, 2015, 09:29:19 PM »
We bought our current home as a foreclosure.  Got a great deal, but of course things needed work.  The house was built in '58 and has the original Federal Pacific box which apparently is a fire hazard.  Add this to random lights that stopped working, and a power surge when trying to plug in a power supply (which sparked in my face) has me thinking I need to fix this.  The house also has no bathroom or kitchen ventilation as well.

Money is currently pretty tight as my wife is pregnant, and she is not currently working.  We have ~4k in savings/emergency fund, and are spending right at my salary currently.  I also am planning on taking another grad school class next semester which I plan on paying in cash (1k).

So pretty much, with this impending pregnancy and everything else, I am not thrilled about dipping into those savings.  We plan on getting other quotes, but the first was around 5k to update electrical system, install exhaust fans, and to put in hardwired smoke detectors.

I can live with some inconvenience, but with a child on the way do not want to live in a potential deathtrap obv.

bacchi

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2015, 10:37:28 PM »
I'd replace it yesterday. Not all of the FPE panels/breakers are problematic but the StabLok ones are. Have you seen the inside of the panel? If it looks burnt, you've got an emergency.

In the mean time, don't run high amperage appliances. No electric heaters or hair dryers or a lot of things on one circuit.

https://diy.stackexchange.com/questions/62320/should-all-federal-pacific-panels-be-replaced

I replaced mine in the garage after the breakers started sticking (!).

MoonShadow

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2015, 10:41:52 PM »
I am an electrician by trade, and I was taught in school about Federal Pacific.  The rate at which their breakers would fail closed was stuff of legend.  Replace it immediately.  Your homeowners' insurance policy might even pay for part of it, once they find out that they are on the hook for a house that still has FedPacific gear inside of it.  Also, check to make sure you don't have aluminum or copper-clad aluminum wiring.  If so, call a professional this week, and expect to lose money on the deal.

MustardTiger

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #3 on: October 26, 2015, 06:18:34 AM »
So this is worth depleting all of our savings?  We can probably borrow the difference from my mom.  I will call the ins. company today to see if there is any chance of them paying.

Kaplin261

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2015, 06:47:42 AM »
So for the last 60 years there has not been a issue with electrical fires in your home? What has changed that would make it more likely to cause a fire now?

Smoke alarms are $10 and can run on a 9 volt battery, installation is also super simple. Install one in every room.

I would also follow bacchi's advice on not using high amperage appliances.  You could even take it a step further and install CFL or LED bulbs. If you can avoid using electricity, than your safe and the sacrifice is only a life without household appliances.

You can have someone replace the breaker box only(get them to put a outlet beside the box for your microwave.), this will be much cheaper then replacing the whole system. As a DYI project you can replace all the receptacles in your home yourself without danger and it is super cheap just make sure to turn off all breakers. Why do you need exhaust fans? I would imagine your home is drafty enough that fresh air in your home is already plentiful. You need a bandaid here not surgery and stitches.
« Last Edit: October 26, 2015, 06:49:39 AM by Kaplin261 »

hops

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #5 on: October 26, 2015, 07:56:14 AM »
At the risk of sounding like a total jerk, I'd suggest perusing Kaplin's posting history before following that advice. MoonShadow's suggestion to see if insurance will cover any of it is a good one.

Kaplin261

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #6 on: October 26, 2015, 08:05:12 AM »
At the risk of sounding like a total jerk, I'd suggest perusing Kaplin's posting history before following that advice. MoonShadow's suggestion to see if insurance will cover any of it is a good one.

I believe hops is referring to how I question conventional wisdom and look at alternative methods for doing things.

nereo

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #7 on: October 26, 2015, 08:27:27 AM »
So for the last 60 years there has not been a issue with electrical fires in your home? What has changed that would make it more likely to cause a fire now?
because of this: 
Quote
.  The house was built in '58 and has the original Federal Pacific box which apparently is a fire hazard.  Add this to random lights that stopped working, and a power surge when trying to plug in a power supply (which sparked in my face) has me thinking I need to fix this.  The house also has no bathroom or kitchen ventilation as well.

Known fire hazards, lights that randomly stop working and power surges (with sparks) are all things to be urgently fixed.


Smoke alarms are $10 and can run on a 9 volt battery, installation is also super simple. Install one in every room.
Smoke alarms won't stop a fire.  They only (hopefully) give you enough time to evacuate with your life.  It's a good idea to install them in every bedroom but it has nothing to do with the OP's question about fixing electrical issues. In many locations a hardwired smoke detector is code.

EDIT: emphasis added for OP's benefit.

« Last Edit: October 26, 2015, 08:51:12 AM by nereo »

hops

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #8 on: October 26, 2015, 08:29:13 AM »
Quote
I believe hops is referring to how I question conventional wisdom and look at alternative methods for doing things.

Yes. It's great to question conventional wisdom, but there are things you can question that are ultimately silly (like your lively recent threads about kitchens and eating out) and things you can question that are extremely serious (like whether you should choose to bring your new baby home to an enormous fire hazard to save money).

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #9 on: October 26, 2015, 08:36:10 AM »
I would get it fixed, by a professional.

thd7t

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #10 on: October 26, 2015, 09:02:19 AM »
Regarding smoke detectors, I would say that buying a number of battery operated smoke detectors will provide a safe option, if you want to limit expense.  You can always go back to have hardwired ones put in.  Battery operated smoke detectors (as long as they have batteries) work really well. 

Get the breaker box replaced as well as any dangerous wiring, though.

Sibley

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #11 on: October 26, 2015, 09:18:23 AM »
Insurance question. If you know that there are electrical problems that have a much greater likelihood of starting a fire, and you choose to not fix things, then there's a fire (surprise!). Would insurance deny your claim? I feel like they should deny you, since it becomes sorta your fault - you knew there were problems.

Bottom line, fix it. Personally, I'd turn the power off until it is fixed.

nereo

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #12 on: October 26, 2015, 09:28:33 AM »
Insurance question. If you know that there are electrical problems that have a much greater likelihood of starting a fire, and you choose to not fix things, then there's a fire (surprise!). Would insurance deny your claim? I feel like they should deny you, since it becomes sorta your fault - you knew there were problems.

Bottom line, fix it. Personally, I'd turn the power off until it is fixed.

I believe there is a legal obligation by the homeowner to fix known problems. It's called negligence.

Imagine if you owned a car and the brakes stopped working, but you chose to continue driving it for several days before you ultimately (and predictably) got into an accident.  The insurance companies would go for your throat saying you operated a vehicle any reasonable person would know was unsafe. 

Kaplin261

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #13 on: October 26, 2015, 09:29:20 AM »
Quote
I believe hops is referring to how I question conventional wisdom and look at alternative methods for doing things.

Yes. It's great to question conventional wisdom, but there are things you can question that are ultimately silly (like your lively recent threads about kitchens and eating out) and things you can question that are extremely serious (like whether you should choose to bring your new baby home to an enormous fire hazard to save money).

If the home really has a significant risk of fire and is putting the family at risk then I would assume the OP would not of posted on a financial forum for advice for his family's well being. So if I assume the OP thinks its not a significant risk of danger(he/she is the expert on their family's safety) then he must be looking for a way to make it a little safer on a budget and that is the advice I gave.

nereo

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #14 on: October 26, 2015, 09:35:10 AM »
Quote
I believe hops is referring to how I question conventional wisdom and look at alternative methods for doing things.

Yes. It's great to question conventional wisdom, but there are things you can question that are ultimately silly (like your lively recent threads about kitchens and eating out) and things you can question that are extremely serious (like whether you should choose to bring your new baby home to an enormous fire hazard to save money).

If the home really has a significant risk of fire and is putting the family at risk then I would assume the OP would not of posted on a financial forum for advice for his family's well being. So if I assume the OP thinks its not a significant risk of danger(he/she is the expert on their family's safety) then he must be looking for a way to make it a little safer on a budget and that is the advice I gave.

What???  the title of this thread is "Are my electrical issues an emergency?"  I think that pretty much spells it out that the OP is asking people whether his electrical issues are an emergency.

Posting that he should 'band-aid' the situation and 'avoid using electricity' then backing off your advice to say you assume the OP wouldn't be asking about safety is just plain dangerous advice. 

Spork

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #15 on: October 26, 2015, 09:35:56 AM »

If the home really has a significant risk of fire and is putting the family at risk then I would assume the OP would not of posted on a financial forum for advice for his family's well being. So if I assume the OP thinks its not a significant risk of danger(he/she is the expert on their family's safety) then he must be looking for a way to make it a little safer on a budget and that is the advice I gave.

There are several electricians on this forum.... many of which have given out lots of high quality impartial (and free) advice.   Calling a random electrician in the phone book is going to give you someone that has vested financial interest.  I totally understand why someone would ask for non-financial advice here.  I've done it.

Kitsune

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #16 on: October 26, 2015, 09:36:49 AM »
Buying smoke detectors (and extinguishers, if you don't have them) is a worthwhile investment in ANY case. But you know how MMM occasionally talks about the line between cheap and frugal? Not dealing with urgent electrical problems that may impact your insurance coverage, and then bringing a child to live in a house with known dangerous wiring TO SAVE MONEY, isn't frugal. It's cheap.

See if there are rebates to fix issues like this from either the state/province, the electric company, or your insurance company (I'm in Quebec: the comparative I can offer is that our electric company offers partial rebates on work done to increase house insulation, for energy-efficient appliances, and the like).

If money is that tight... You say your wife is pregnant and now working. I'm assuming she's not due next week (and if she is, ignore this comment!), but if she's only a few months pregnant and isn't having a horrific pregnancy of doom (hey, some women have it worse than others!), could she maybe pick up temp work/do tutoring/do something to bring in a bit of extra cash to pad the savings out some?

AZDude

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #17 on: October 26, 2015, 10:13:56 AM »
$5K was for everything. Maybe get a quote for just the emergency needs to be fixed RIGHT NOW! stuff and let the exhaust fans go(or do that work yourself)?

MustardTiger

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #18 on: October 26, 2015, 11:22:35 AM »
$5K was for everything. Maybe get a quote for just the emergency needs to be fixed RIGHT NOW! stuff and let the exhaust fans go(or do that work yourself)?

The exhaust fans were fairly cheap at 200 each.  The rest was for getting the box fixed and everything else up to code.  Stuff like hardwired smoke alarms, etc

MustardTiger

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #19 on: October 26, 2015, 11:25:57 AM »
Buying smoke detectors (and extinguishers, if you don't have them) is a worthwhile investment in ANY case. But you know how MMM occasionally talks about the line between cheap and frugal? Not dealing with urgent electrical problems that may impact your insurance coverage, and then bringing a child to live in a house with known dangerous wiring TO SAVE MONEY, isn't frugal. It's cheap.

See if there are rebates to fix issues like this from either the state/province, the electric company, or your insurance company (I'm in Quebec: the comparative I can offer is that our electric company offers partial rebates on work done to increase house insulation, for energy-efficient appliances, and the like).

If money is that tight... You say your wife is pregnant and now working. I'm assuming she's not due next week (and if she is, ignore this comment!), but if she's only a few months pregnant and isn't having a horrific pregnancy of doom (hey, some women have it worse than others!), could she maybe pick up temp work/do tutoring/do something to bring in a bit of extra cash to pad the savings out some?

My wife is working a limited amount.  She is a massage therapist and currently working like 5 hours a week.  I don't want to count on this money though as if it becomes stressful I want her to be able to stop working without worrying about the lost money.  Once she has the baby she will probably go back part time (10-20 hours a week)

MustardTiger

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #20 on: October 26, 2015, 11:29:11 AM »
So for the last 60 years there has not been a issue with electrical fires in your home? What has changed that would make it more likely to cause a fire now?

Smoke alarms are $10 and can run on a 9 volt battery, installation is also super simple. Install one in every room.

I would also follow bacchi's advice on not using high amperage appliances.  You could even take it a step further and install CFL or LED bulbs. If you can avoid using electricity, than your safe and the sacrifice is only a life without household appliances.

You can have someone replace the breaker box only(get them to put a outlet beside the box for your microwave.), this will be much cheaper then replacing the whole system. As a DYI project you can replace all the receptacles in your home yourself without danger and it is super cheap just make sure to turn off all breakers. Why do you need exhaust fans? I would imagine your home is drafty enough that fresh air in your home is already plentiful. You need a bandaid here not surgery and stitches.

I am not just going to stop using electricity.  Also they won't just replace the box only as they have to do it up to code which includes several other things.

nereo

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #21 on: October 26, 2015, 11:40:39 AM »
MustardTiger - everything you have said indicates that you need to bite the bullet and have these problems fixed by a certified electrician. 
At this point I'd collect several quotes from various electricians.  Ask each if they offer a cash discount, and since money is tight do only the projects that are required for safety and code purposes.
g'luck.

MustardTiger

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #22 on: October 26, 2015, 11:54:05 AM »
Getting two other quotes this week, I will update the thread afterwards.

MoonShadow

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #23 on: October 26, 2015, 12:14:01 PM »
Insurance question. If you know that there are electrical problems that have a much greater likelihood of starting a fire, and you choose to not fix things, then there's a fire (surprise!). Would insurance deny your claim?

If they can prove that you reasonably should have known about the fire hazard, then yes.  That's almost certainly in your contract.  Electricity is one of the safest forms of consumer power ever devised, but it's still the #1 cause of residential fire damage.  FedPacific is famous for it's poorly designed over-current protection devices, and the very fact that it still has such a breaker box would have been a red flag on any home inspector's report.  Any new breaker design will fail open, preventing current flow.  It's annoying, but it will protect your home from electrical over-current heating inside your walls, which is the entire point of the breaker box.  Original FedPacific breakers will not, but check and see if they are after-market breakers.  The actual breaker box is irrelevant.  If the breakers themselves say Siemens, you're good to go.

Kitsune

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #24 on: October 26, 2015, 12:57:31 PM »
My wife is working a limited amount.  She is a massage therapist and currently working like 5 hours a week.  I don't want to count on this money though as if it becomes stressful I want her to be able to stop working without worrying about the lost money.  Once she has the baby she will probably go back part time (10-20 hours a week)

... If she's going to be bringing a baby home to a house with serious electrical problems OR no savings, then, while she's able to work, maybe ramping up that income would be an excellent way to avoid serious issues. I know you don't want to 'count on' that income, but depending on how far along she is, in 3 months she should be able to make a significant amount of the amount you'd be spending on fixing your house.

Full disclaimer: I am NOT advocating that she work 60 hours a week until her due date (though, for the record: I did). But if you're in a financial tight spot and she can physically manage it, well, you're two adults and those are shared expenses and shared income, and it's a relatively easy fix. Even if you're not 'counting' on the money and she stops after a few weeks because it's too much for her, it'd still give your situation a significant boost.

Spork

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #25 on: October 26, 2015, 01:09:39 PM »
$5K was for everything. Maybe get a quote for just the emergency needs to be fixed RIGHT NOW! stuff and let the exhaust fans go(or do that work yourself)?

The exhaust fans were fairly cheap at 200 each.  The rest was for getting the box fixed and everything else up to code.  Stuff like hardwired smoke alarms, etc

Maybe an electrician can answer this for sure but...  I wouldn't think you would be forced to do a whole-house code upgrade just replacing the panel.  [ I *so* could be wrong here.  I am speaking with zero authority. ]

I would think you could do the other non-emergent code upgrades at your leisure.  They're all probably reasonably good things to have, I'm just not sure you'd need things like hard wired smoke detectors RIGHT NOW if you already had working battery operated detectors.

index

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #26 on: October 26, 2015, 01:13:41 PM »
If these electricians show up with nice looking vehicles with advertising on the side you are not going to get a good quote. Replacing the box is a day's worth of work. The box and all the breakers are going to be in the neighborhood of 4-800 depending on the brand. Labor should be 4-1000 depending on where you live. We routinely get boxes 100 amp boxes swapped out and new service line ran outside the house for $1200.

What is the list of things that have to be done?

One of my good friends just had their service upgraded and got quotes of 4K, 5k, and $3800. I gave him two numbers and the quotes were $1800 and $2100 going from a 100A to 200A.   

bacchi

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #27 on: October 26, 2015, 01:22:26 PM »
What's required with a panel upgrade depends on the local code.

If it's the original service, it may need a ground plate and a taller mast, besides GFCI and hard-wired smoke detectors.

MustardTiger

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #28 on: October 26, 2015, 01:36:40 PM »
If these electricians show up with nice looking vehicles with advertising on the side you are not going to get a good quote. Replacing the box is a day's worth of work. The box and all the breakers are going to be in the neighborhood of 4-800 depending on the brand. Labor should be 4-1000 depending on where you live. We routinely get boxes 100 amp boxes swapped out and new service line ran outside the house for $1200.

What is the list of things that have to be done?

One of my good friends just had their service upgraded and got quotes of 4K, 5k, and $3800. I gave him two numbers and the quotes were $1800 and $2100 going from a 100A to 200A.   

Just the electrical panel was quoted at 3950 for 200A.  This week I am getting an electrician my parents used and the husband of a coworker to come give two additional quotes.  I also seriously doubt that I need 200A since we have gas heating and relatively few appliances.

MoonShadow

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #29 on: October 26, 2015, 01:44:52 PM »
$5K was for everything. Maybe get a quote for just the emergency needs to be fixed RIGHT NOW! stuff and let the exhaust fans go(or do that work yourself)?

The exhaust fans were fairly cheap at 200 each.  The rest was for getting the box fixed and everything else up to code.  Stuff like hardwired smoke alarms, etc

Maybe an electrician can answer this for sure but...  I wouldn't think you would be forced to do a whole-house code upgrade just replacing the panel.

Not typically, but if it has aluminum wiring, that will have to be dealt with.  There are less invasive ways to deal with aluminum wiring than replacing all the wiring.

Quote

I would think you could do the other non-emergent code upgrades at your leisure.

Most states have an exception for homeowners doing their own work, but you should check.  You should also not do anything that you don't understand.  Electricians make a lot of money for skilled labor, but for good reasons.  Electricity is dangerous, both while doing the work & once in use.  Respect it, or it will hurt you.

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #30 on: October 26, 2015, 01:50:56 PM »
I bought my 1960s-era house recently. There were/are various things that need work, but the Federal Pacific Stab-Lok box was the one item that my home inspector flagged as an outright fire hazard. Indeed, there's some blackened surfaces in the attic that suggests that the house did have some sort of fire in the past. (Whether that fire was electrical in nature is uncertain.) Even in a strong seller's market, there was no objection when I asked for replacement of the breaker box before continuing the sale.

As for OP's situation, I would even be OK taking on some debt to get this stuff fixed if needed. I'd count it as one of those financial risks one takes to score that great deal on a house.

Joggernot

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #31 on: October 26, 2015, 01:58:23 PM »
We had this problem, too, along with "double lugged" circuits, bad ground, and a few other items that didn't meet code.  Found a local electrician who replaced the breakers and breaker box, put in a separate breaker box for future planned work, and verified the wiring to be acceptable.  I don't think this work was over $2k for everything, including pulling new wires where required.  Luckily we had copper wire in the house, so no major work removing the aluminum.

Previous house had aluminum with copper pigtails connecting to the outlets, lights, etc.  Sold that house as is.

rulesofacquisition

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #32 on: October 26, 2015, 01:59:27 PM »
I have a house from the same year, and I believe the same breaker panel. We (DH & I) do HVAC, and when I was looking at the house (short sale) I had the electrician we subcontract electrical to at work look at the situation. He said replace the panel, they have a rep for catching on fire. I have not replaced it yet (house had no heat and other major issues) but plan on having the electrician do the panel and upgrade from 100 to 200 amp main, and DH will do the rewiring, etc. himself. This electrician has nothing to gain by ripping me off, as I send business his way, so the panel is leaving shortly.

Not sure if you need 100 or 200 amp service, in my area (Southern Delaware) most houses are 200 amp and are all electric (heat pump with electric backup heat) and trailers and older homes are 100 or 150. (No, we are not running electric heat on a 100 amp main.)

Be careful, handle what you can yourself if you're qualified and get bids on the rest. Good luck.

index

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #33 on: October 26, 2015, 02:08:20 PM »
I've definitely seen quotes that high for a panel but there is really no reason for that. A new panel, service hook up (new mast) and box where the electric meter hooks in, and new ground rod is about 6 hours worth of work for an electrician and a helper. A lot of times electricians will charge an extra few hundred for labor if you decide to go with 200A because the wire is a heavier gauge a a PITA to deal with. The actual materials are only a 300-400 different in cost going from 100A-200A service. Unless you are adding new high draw electric appliances (dryer, heater, instant hot water) 100A should be fine for you.

All in I wouldn't pay more than $2200 for 200A service and $1800 for 100A service.

There are a lot of things they will try to up sell you:

Whole house surge protection (part is $100 and plugs in just like the main breaker, they will try to charge $350).

The last electric code I looked at (2013 I think) mandates that new home runs have to use updated breakers or receptacles in bedrooms (AFCI), bathrooms (GFCI), and kitchens (AFCI/GFCI). Some municipalities might make you upgrade when you get a new box. Call your building department and find out for sure. I know we had  an electrician tell us this was the case when it was not.

As far as the breakers go, Siemens now has dual AFCI/GFCI breakers for $45 each compared to $7 for traditional breakers. If you don't have a lot of breakers and (can find an honest electrician) it might not be a bad idea to upgrade all your breakers if you are really worried about your old wiring and you don't have a lot of circuits. I.e. if you only have 12 circuits a good electrician will charge you an extra $500 to upgrade to these breakers (prevent electrical arcing aka-fires, and ground fault aka-electrocution).     


Spork

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #34 on: October 26, 2015, 03:06:49 PM »

Whole house surge protection (part is $100 and plugs in just like the main breaker, they will try to charge $350).


For how many amps?  I paid 2-3x that for an 80k amp Square D.

MoonShadow

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #35 on: October 26, 2015, 03:30:23 PM »
If these electricians show up with nice looking vehicles with advertising on the side you are not going to get a good quote. Replacing the box is a day's worth of work. The box and all the breakers are going to be in the neighborhood of 4-800 depending on the brand. Labor should be 4-1000 depending on where you live. We routinely get boxes 100 amp boxes swapped out and new service line ran outside the house for $1200.

What is the list of things that have to be done?

One of my good friends just had their service upgraded and got quotes of 4K, 5k, and $3800. I gave him two numbers and the quotes were $1800 and $2100 going from a 100A to 200A.   

Just the electrical panel was quoted at 3950 for 200A.  This week I am getting an electrician my parents used and the husband of a coworker to come give two additional quotes.  I also seriously doubt that I need 200A since we have gas heating and relatively few appliances.

100 amps is the code minimum, but it's usually worth slimming down your concurrent loads.  If you don't have central air, or a lot of space, you probably don't need a 200 amp panel.

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #36 on: October 26, 2015, 03:42:44 PM »
Some municipalities might make you upgrade when you get a new box. Call your building department and find out for sure. I know we had  an electrician tell us this was the case when it was not.   

No matter what the local building code enforcement requires, this is always the case for a licensed electrician in the US. As a matter of legal responsibility, we are not supposed to only do part of a necessary upgrade.  It's a matter of professional responsibility & legal liability.  If you can find a real electrician to do half a job, he is going to ask you to sign a waiver that basically says that you know what you are doing and won't hold that electrician responsible for something you screw up, or forget.  That guy might have been trying to sell you something you didn't really need, or he might have been trying to cover his own a**; but in either case, he was doing his job.

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #37 on: October 26, 2015, 03:48:43 PM »

I would think you could do the other non-emergent code upgrades at your leisure.

Most states have an exception for homeowners doing their own work, but you should check.  You should also not do anything that you don't understand.  Electricians make a lot of money for skilled labor, but for good reasons.  Electricity is dangerous, both while doing the work & once in use.  Respect it, or it will hurt you.

That was badly stated on my part.  I should have said "non emergent upgrades" (without the word "code").  I totally understand that if it's code, a good electrician is going to do it.


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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #38 on: October 26, 2015, 04:43:50 PM »


Whole house surge protection (part is $100 and plugs in just like the main breaker, they will try to charge $350).


For how many amps?  I paid 2-3x that for an 80k amp Square D.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CONA1OQ/ref=cm_cd_asin_lnk
$107

http://www.amazon.com/Siemens-QSA2020SPD-Protection-Circuit-Breakers/dp/B0052MG5K0
$85

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #39 on: October 27, 2015, 11:59:24 AM »
Some municipalities might make you upgrade when you get a new box. Call your building department and find out for sure. I know we had  an electrician tell us this was the case when it was not.   

No matter what the local building code enforcement requires, this is always the case for a licensed electrician in the US. As a matter of legal responsibility, we are not supposed to only do part of a necessary upgrade.  It's a matter of professional responsibility & legal liability.  If you can find a real electrician to do half a job, he is going to ask you to sign a waiver that basically says that you know what you are doing and won't hold that electrician responsible for something you screw up, or forget.  That guy might have been trying to sell you something you didn't really need, or he might have been trying to cover his own a**; but in either case, he was doing his job.

I agree you should make a new installation safe. There is no national electric code requirement to replace existing circuit breakers with AFCI type breakers, install whole home surge protection, solid copper bus bars, or require aluminum wire to be replaced in a home.

The equipment an electrician choose is really not the problem; it is what they choose to charge for the labor or markup on the equipment. There is no excuse to charge $350 for a surge $100 surge protector that can be installed in 10 minutes, $400 for a new grounding rod, $1000 for new service lines, or $3-$4-$5k for for a service upgrade. I don't think electricians are just covering themselves, I think they are taking advantage of homeowners that don't know what the equipment costs or how long an installation takes. I would understand if an electrician wants to install the best of the best for a home owner but you are talking $1800 in equipment tops then another 2k for a days worth of labor.

It is not a bad idea for homeowners to educate themselves for what is actually required by the local building department, and cross check prices on the equipment they need/want.   

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #40 on: October 27, 2015, 12:41:21 PM »
. There is no excuse to charge $350 for a surge $100 surge protector that can be installed in 10 minutes, $400 for a new grounding rod, $1000 for new service lines, or $3-$4-$5k for for a service upgrade. I don't think electricians are just covering themselves, I think they are taking advantage of homeowners that don't know what the equipment costs or how long an installation takes.

Whatever the market will bear, brother.  Your lack of knowledge of the risks or pitfalls of my proffession is your problem.  If you believe that you can do it, then do it; that's your right as the homeowner.  Don't start accusing professionals of "taking advantage" because you don't think it should cost that much.  Maybe it shouldn't, but I make a premium because I know how to manage the risks and not get myself killed.  Electricians get paid well because our work is both dangerous to ourselves; and dangerous to others if done incorrectly, so the liability is enormous.  You'd not believe some of the business insurance quotes I got ten years ago while considering going independent.  More than half of everything you pay to that electrician is either taxes, employee benefits, or liability insurance.  So, yes, you can save a lot doing your own work; but you can also screw things up.  I have seen so many screw-ups by homeowners that I can't, as a rule, recommend it.  Just because it works, doesn't mean it's a safe (or proper) installation.  The 3-way & 4-way lighting systems are always suspect when I enter a home.  I have, literally, never seen one wired correctly by a non-professional; and have seen them wired incorrectly even by professionals.

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #41 on: October 27, 2015, 01:53:31 PM »


Whatever the market will bear, brother.  Your lack of knowledge of the risks or pitfalls of my proffession is your problem.  If you believe that you can do it, then do it; that's your right as the homeowner.  Don't start accusing professionals of "taking advantage" because you don't think it should cost that much.  Maybe it shouldn't, but I make a premium because I know how to manage the risks and not get myself killed.  Electricians get paid well because our work is both dangerous to ourselves; and dangerous to others if done incorrectly, so the liability is enormous.  You'd not believe some of the business insurance quotes I got ten years ago while considering going independent.  More than half of everything you pay to that electrician is either taxes, employee benefits, or liability insurance.  So, yes, you can save a lot doing your own work; but you can also screw things up.  I have seen so many screw-ups by homeowners that I can't, as a rule, recommend it.  Just because it works, doesn't mean it's a safe (or proper) installation.  The 3-way & 4-way lighting systems are always suspect when I enter a home.  I have, literally, never seen one wired correctly by a non-professional; and have seen them wired incorrectly even by professionals.

I am just making the point that a homeowner should be informed when hiring any trade or contractor to do work for them. This is not exclusive to electrical trade. This is coming from someone who manages 20+ rental properties and has flipped a couple houses. It is incredible the difference in cost if you call your local Mr. Sparky franchise then get a quote from John Doe and Sons electric driving a white van with a small logo.

I understand that Mr Spraky has to pay for their franchise fees, the owners have to make a cut, guys actually working need to be paid, insurance, etc. This is a forum about being frugal and saving money. It is fair to tell people what they are paying for when they hire Mr. Sparky and its fair for Mr. Sparky not to get hired if their overhead is too expensive to compete with John Doe and Sons.

You are probably an honest tradesman and don't realize how some of your peers are really ripping people off. If you are replacing a box and the homeowner asks about adding a surge protector; is it is dishonest to sell it to him for $350 when you are literally swapping one breaker for another?

 

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #42 on: October 27, 2015, 02:26:42 PM »
is it is dishonest to sell it to him for $350 when you are literally swapping one breaker for another?

If I was already on the job when such a request is made, and I happened to have such a part in my truck, then I'd likely charge 15% over cost for the part plus time.   However, if the part was not something I'd keep on the truck, then I have to figure extra for the time required to order the part, pick up the part (if necessary), and return to the job location.  More if the work required a new or modified permit, inspection, etc.  Driving around from house to house is a huge part of your time as a residential service electrician.  I really can see the merit in charging $350 to install a single specialty breaker that costs $100, even though I expect I could be done & driving away in 20 minutes, because it might have taken me two hours to pick up the part and drive to your house.  That kind of (total) markup would be high for my area, but I live in a low COL area; so it's entirely plausible in a higher cost of living region.

This might be a different story if you had asked me to replace a dozen of your breakers with special breakers at one time.  Your installed cost per breaker would certainly have gone down.

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #43 on: October 27, 2015, 02:39:01 PM »
I have seen so many screw-ups by homeowners that I can't, as a rule, recommend it.  Just because it works, doesn't mean it's a safe (or proper) installation.  The 3-way & 4-way lighting systems are always suspect when I enter a home.  I have, literally, never seen one wired correctly by a non-professional; and have seen them wired incorrectly even by professionals.

Can you explain in more detail what are the most common mistakes you see in three-way switched lights? I installed a couple of these in my house and they function correctly, but I guess I'm kind of curious what a professional would flag as "wrong" about these.

MoonShadow

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #44 on: October 27, 2015, 03:08:15 PM »
I have seen so many screw-ups by homeowners that I can't, as a rule, recommend it.  Just because it works, doesn't mean it's a safe (or proper) installation.  The 3-way & 4-way lighting systems are always suspect when I enter a home.  I have, literally, never seen one wired correctly by a non-professional; and have seen them wired incorrectly even by professionals.

Can you explain in more detail what are the most common mistakes you see in three-way switched lights? I installed a couple of these in my house and they function correctly, but I guess I'm kind of curious what a professional would flag as "wrong" about these.

The 3-way, and especially the 4-way, lighting system can be wired up so many ways that I'd be hard for me to identify a most common wrong way.  However, IMHO, the most dangerous error I have seen is the addition of a (typically romex) cable that, in practice, carries an unbalanced current load.  The danger is that an unbalanced current running through a plastic jacketed cable can create a moving magnetic field, and cause induction heating in ungrounded metal parts nearby to the cable, such as nails.  Imagine a person who wanted to control an overhead light over a stairway, but found it easiest run the circuit feed into one 3-way switch, to the light, then to the other switch.  This can be done correctly, but the installer must make certain that current travels to the second 3-way and then only back to the light, and that there is no other possible path for current to flow.  One error that I have seen is that someone decides to add another light (or something else) after the original installation has already been covered up by drywall.  Instead of taking that new cable from the center light fixture, they take a new switch leg from the second 3-way switch box, run it to their new light/load, and when they realize they still need a neutral to make it work, they run another cable from the nearest outlet just to get a neutral.  This creates an imbalanced current load on the cables from the original light, to the 2nd 3-way switch, to the new light, to the outlet; potentially heating nails, drywall screws or staples along the entire path.  When this happens, the junction box on the new light fixture, if it's made of metal, will be warmer to the touch than it should be, even with all of the surface area of metal to heat sink away the effect.  A touchless current 'ticker' will go nuts several feet away from an imbalanced current load as well.
« Last Edit: October 27, 2015, 03:31:39 PM by MoonShadow »

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #45 on: October 27, 2015, 03:15:09 PM »
is it is dishonest to sell it to him for $350 when you are literally swapping one breaker for another?

If I was already on the job when such a request is made, and I happened to have such a part in my truck, then I'd likely charge 15% over cost for the part plus time.   However, if the part was not something I'd keep on the truck, then I have to figure extra for the time required to order the part, pick up the part (if necessary), and return to the job location.  More if the work required a new or modified permit, inspection, etc.  Driving around from house to house is a huge part of your time as a residential service electrician.  I really can see the merit in charging $350 to install a single specialty breaker that costs $100, even though I expect I could be done & driving away in 20 minutes, because it might have taken me two hours to pick up the part and drive to your house.  That kind of (total) markup would be high for my area, but I live in a low COL area; so it's entirely plausible in a higher cost of living region.

This might be a different story if you had asked me to replace a dozen of your breakers with special breakers at one time.  Your installed cost per breaker would certainly have gone down.

I totally understand the scenario above. What I saw last time I got a quote with a Mr. Sparky type electrician was a guy who showed up in a nice collared shirt to give a quote and a free inspection. He looked at the old box, took a few measurements, and looked around the wiring in the basement then gave me two quotes. One for a 100A upgrade one for 200A upgrade. On the quotes they gave me all sorts extras. Line items were: Surge protector for $350; AFCI breakers for kitchen all bedrooms $500 (5 in all); upgrade range to 50A $550 (I assume this included replacing wire); replace two prong outlets on the first floor $1300.

This outfit ran a slick operation and the guy giving the quote was a tech and a good salesman. They essentially come in to give a quote and try to drum up other work which I understand. This is what auto garages do when they give you a cheap oil change, but those prices? I mean they are already there for a panel upgrade then tacking on $850 to "protect my family" with special breakers? I mean that is $350 worth of breakers and $500 in labor to install them when they were already replacing the panel! I wonder how often this works?     

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #46 on: October 27, 2015, 03:30:59 PM »
is it is dishonest to sell it to him for $350 when you are literally swapping one breaker for another?

If I was already on the job when such a request is made, and I happened to have such a part in my truck, then I'd likely charge 15% over cost for the part plus time.   However, if the part was not something I'd keep on the truck, then I have to figure extra for the time required to order the part, pick up the part (if necessary), and return to the job location.  More if the work required a new or modified permit, inspection, etc.  Driving around from house to house is a huge part of your time as a residential service electrician.  I really can see the merit in charging $350 to install a single specialty breaker that costs $100, even though I expect I could be done & driving away in 20 minutes, because it might have taken me two hours to pick up the part and drive to your house.  That kind of (total) markup would be high for my area, but I live in a low COL area; so it's entirely plausible in a higher cost of living region.

This might be a different story if you had asked me to replace a dozen of your breakers with special breakers at one time.  Your installed cost per breaker would certainly have gone down.

I totally understand the scenario above. What I saw last time I got a quote with a Mr. Sparky type electrician was a guy who showed up in a nice collared shirt to give a quote and a free inspection. He looked at the old box, took a few measurements, and looked around the wiring in the basement then gave me two quotes. One for a 100A upgrade one for 200A upgrade. On the quotes they gave me all sorts extras. Line items were: Surge protector for $350; AFCI breakers for kitchen all bedrooms $500 (5 in all); upgrade range to 50A $550 (I assume this included replacing wire); replace two prong outlets on the first floor $1300.

This outfit ran a slick operation and the guy giving the quote was a tech and a good salesman. They essentially come in to give a quote and try to drum up other work which I understand. This is what auto garages do when they give you a cheap oil change, but those prices? I mean they are already there for a panel upgrade then tacking on $850 to "protect my family" with special breakers? I mean that is $350 worth of breakers and $500 in labor to install them when they were already replacing the panel! I wonder how often this works?     

I see.  Probably more often then you know.  It's also true enough that a standard breaker is not designed to protect personnel, but equipment.  Those new GFCI breakers are so fast your 4 year old boy could pee on the outlet, and never feel the consequences. 

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #47 on: October 27, 2015, 06:09:22 PM »
Today the husband of a coworker came and looked at my house.  He said for my house a replacement 100a unit would likely be sufficient.  (Is this ok for house with gas heating and limited electronic use?)  He said that to replace the panel without getting a permit he would do it for 1k.  I told him that I would want to get permits just to be on the safe side.  I didn't do this with the water heater but this seems more necessary.  He said it would be a few hundred more to do this way.  Why the huge discrepancy here?

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #48 on: October 27, 2015, 07:32:10 PM »
Today the husband of a coworker came and looked at my house.  He said for my house a replacement 100a unit would likely be sufficient.  (Is this ok for house with gas heating and limited electronic use?)  He said that to replace the panel without getting a permit he would do it for 1k.  I told him that I would want to get permits just to be on the safe side.  I didn't do this with the water heater but this seems more necessary.  He said it would be a few hundred more to do this way.  Why the huge discrepancy here?

100 amp service is fine for the vast majority of people. My house in AZ has central air, electric appliances and a pool with a 100 amp panel.

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Re: Are my electrical issues an emergency?
« Reply #49 on: October 27, 2015, 08:10:50 PM »
Today the husband of a coworker came and looked at my house.  He said for my house a replacement 100a unit would likely be sufficient.  (Is this ok for house with gas heating and limited electronic use?)  He said that to replace the panel without getting a permit he would do it for 1k.  I told him that I would want to get permits just to be on the safe side.  I didn't do this with the water heater but this seems more necessary. He said it would be a few hundred more to do this way.  Why the huge discrepancy here?

Because proper permits are expensive, silly; it's a tax.  You can pull a permit yourself, as a homeowner; but then you are also responsible for paying for the inspection as well, which is likely not included in the price of the permit itself.  This is likely what he means by "without getting a permit"; i.e., it's not him getting the permit.  In some cases, a homeowners' permit is cheaper; but if you do it that way, you're your own general contractor, and he is simply an employee, and not responsible for a screw-up.  A whole lot of 'side-work' gets done this way, I've done plenty of it this way myself, but it's not quite kosher to a lot of people.  And you still need to have a general idea of how this kind of work goes.  If you're a plumber pulling an electrical permit for an electrician buddy you know, odds are you have enough experience around electricians to spot a fake.  If you sit in a corporate office & work by sending emails all day, odds are good you shouldn't assume you could spot a handyman in over his head.