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Question DetailsAsked on 1/17/2018

2 story house built in 1905. 2656 square feet. Results of electrical inspection listed below.

ELECTRICAL ISSUES: 1. The electrical service is overloaded and overfused, the service must be upgraded. 2. All tenants must have access to the electric service disconnect and the overcurrent devices serving their occupancy. 3. Ceiling fans must be supported from outlet boxes listed for the purpose. 4. The wiring above the suspended ceilings must be properly installed. 5. The open lamp light fixtures in the clothes closets must be removed or replaced with lighting fixtures designed for the storage spaces. 6. All open wiring must be repaired. 7. The basement wiring must be repaired where necessary. 8. All receptacles for the bathrooms, kitchen counters, basement, laundry, etc; must be GFCI protected. 9. All bathrooms must have at least one receptacle outlet. 10. All habitable rooms must have at least two receptacle outlets.

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Pretty normal sounding list for acentury-plus old house with some probably DIY or unofficial wiring additions along the last century plus. I presume this was from a real estate inspection for a sale (presale, or post-offer contingency period inspection), and you are the owner looking at this for doing repairs before listing, or maybe as contingency repairs to be done before closing ?

Or maybe you are the buyer and your inspector dropped this list (in addition to probably a slew of other items - this house sounds like candidate to be a 100-200 item inspection list house) as the result of a post-offer contingency period inspection ?

Or possibly an inspection preparatory to a remodel - like a flipping situation ?

The list is pretty complete sounding as far as electrical, though he did not address grounding or condition of the existing outlets, many of which might be pretty scorched at the contacts with that age or might be dangerously deteriorating or cracked bakelite outlets.

But it does not spell out exact amount of each type of wiring issue needing repair/replacement, number of each type of fixture with issues, etc, so to prepare a detailed scope of work would require a detailed top-to-bottom electrical inspection with detailed itemization of the work items. Or at least some measurements toward total rewiring of the house if you go that way, to have a specific scope-of-work for bidders to work to - so maybe one done under the auspices of an Architect with an electrical inspector or electrician assisting with the inspection and itemization.

Or you could choose a single electrician (particularly if you have a personal go-to electrician already) for the work initially, pay probably $400-600 range for him to do a detailed work scoping with the written understanding the scope of work/materials list is a work product belonging to you (once paid for), then let him prepare a bid which you can accept after any negotiation, or if you cannot come to what you feel is a reasonable price, take the scope of work to get other bids.

Assuming this is a list during a presale inspection, almost without exception the building code does NOT require full compliance with current electrical codes for a resale - but depends on area, and if a rental property as opposed to owner occupied, compliance requirements before new leasing/rental are generally a lot more strict. Of course, a buyer may, in the contingency period, mandate a greater level of repairs than the code requires - and the seller has the option of refusing, or negotiating a lesser scope of repairs or improvements.

All the things listed sound like legitimate safety-related issues to me - but in many states only maybe #1 and 2 would "required" - even not those in many. Those two are a pretty major portion of the expense, though. Only #8 is an item that is normally "mandated" by state law before a sale. Plus minimum required fire/CO alarms as required by local code, which can be battery operated in almost all residential codes - but generally have to be hardwired with battery backup, at least for public halls, in multi-family buildings exceeding so many units (duplex in some areas, four-plex in others).

As I see it, #1 & #2 are probably pretty major (typically around a thousand or couple or even few $ depending) - both a major upgrade in capacity back to at least (and including) the service entrance (usually meter box) and quite likely a new utility service drop (the wire from their transformer) and meter/meter box replacement to upsize capacity too. Lots of previous questions with answers about upgrading just breaker boxes, and also (probably your case) upgrading the entire service and breaker box can be found in the Home > Electrical link under Browse Projects,at lower left. And if this is a multi-family unit, will likely require separate breaker boxes in each unit for the circuits serving each of them- sometimes allowed to bein common areas accessible to all but that can be a vandalism problem too, with kids turning off breakers as a joke.

#3, 5, 8 are pretty minor items - probably talking ROUGH ballpark $500-1000 for all of them combined, assuming normal numbers of each. Basically a matter of (if actually needed) pulling the fan and putting in proper fan box (or maybe just, especially if accessible from above, just putting cross-joist support brackets on existing, if adequate sized, metal ones), and pulling the offending outlets and closet light receptacles and replacing with suitable ones - usually no rewiring or box changes needed for that.

On #3 - different boxes are rated for different loads (code marked in them) - generally, as I recall (off the cuff without checking) only fans over 35# are required to have a box specifically rated for (or upgraded with joist-to-joist support bars) for fan use. Otherwise a standard 50# capacity 3x5 and some 4x4 square metal electrical boxes with rigid sides (not the expandable type with removeable side) can normally be used, well fastened to the adjacent joist. Generally, octagonal boxes are also rated at 50# capacity, but many are specifically rated not suitable for fans. Plastic and bakelite boxes I would NOT use with a ceiling mounted fan regardless of weight - don't know what the code says about them for that use but I know I have seen a few fan failures, including "helicopter fans" totally broken free of the box that had been flopping about underneath just hanging from the wires, because of plastic or bakelite or - oh what is it called - the old fibrous asbestos white boxes. Fiberglass boxes are also pretty iffy for fan use, in my opinion - they tend to fatigue readily. In my opinion, fan mounting bocxes should be fastened with at least two 16d nails or #10 x 3" wood screws - not shingle or teco nails or drywall screws as is common.

#9, 10 require new circuit wiring in the walls and probably totally new circuits, so a fair amount of new wiring work here, likely all the way back to the panel, and if not readily accessible from attic or exposed ceiling basement/crawlspace, might involve a fair amount of subsequent drywall repair and painting too to close up the access points for running the wiring. Hence - cost could be some hundreds to thousands depending on amount needing done.

Note on #10 - generally the code requires that outlets in "habitated rooms" be spaced so that no point along any wall (including peninsulas and islands) is no more than 6 feet, measured along the wall, from a convenience outlet. That rule is generally waived for unfinished basements and unfinished attics used only for storage and utility rooms, though laundry rooms are generally required to have one convenience outlet for iron or such, in addition to any outlet(s) used for washer or dryer. But for a normal size room this usually ends up with 4 or more outlets in the room, not just two. Also on the two outlet thing - the codes I remember requiring only 2 outlets (from about the 60's, as I recall) required they be on opposite walls if there were only two, but if putting new outleets in habitable rooms the 6 foot maximum cord reach rule would almost certainly apply.

#4, 6, 7 being an "as necessary" item, depending on conditions and whether it all has a problem or maybe it is only sporadic in the area, leaves the amount of work pretty open - might just take some stapling of wires up right and wire nutting and putting boxes around any open splices, or might mean running totally new wiring.

I note nothing was said about replacing fuses with circuit breakers, so if it has breakers now from a prior upgrade (and they are not a recalled type) it might be possible to leave some circuits running off that box, and installing a new one to carry some of the other loads - depending on circuit run locations, locations of major loads, etc. In upgrading older houses it is quite common to run a new "main" tap off the main service feed (so splitting the incoming feed and putting two main breakers on the splits right next to the meter panel), with one main breaker protecting the existing panel (with reduced demand on it) and the other covering a new tap to the new panel - then putting the major loads like electric dryer, furnace, range, A/C etc on the new panel and locating it as central to those loads as possible (so few circuits to rewire and hopefully for only short runs). This gets a major portion of the load out of the old panel so it might, if otherwise acceptable, continue service as is after removing the relocated circuits, and also makes that panel and wiring safer by putting the major amperage loads (hence most likely to cause a fire if they short out) on new wiring and panel. This is why you commonly see an older breaker panel or even fuse box with most of the 10-20A circuits outside (though that is generally illegal now for new work) or in the basement or utility room, then a newer panel with commonly only 220/240V breakers of maybe also a few newer 110/120V circuit ones also, located in an area near the kitchen or laundry room.

Nothing was said about grounding, which surprised me - if original wiring, not only could some or all still be knob and tube or paper-insulated or glued-on or sleeved asbestos insulated wire (definitely a good thing to replace in either of those cases), but if there is no ground wire in the wiring that would be a major safety issue - though probably would not have to, by law, be replaced for a sale as a single residence or possibly duplex to four-plex, depending on state and city. (Note some cities have stronger or different codes than the state they are in).

Ditto about possibility of aluminum wiring - maybe in some of the add-on wiring over the years, except for allowable uses for main service drop and feed and for major 220/240V appliances.

Assuming a typical 1905 home without major rewiring in the interim, this would normally be a total rewire job to bring it all up to current code - though whether it "has" to be brought up to code or not for a resale is dubious. But that might be required regardless if you do some major upgrades, because in most areas if you rework or upgrade a portion (commonly more than half the cost of total upgrade) of a "building system" - electrical in this case - you are then required to upgrade it all to current code,so it is possible to get cuaght in the "total replace" trap if you take on too much repair/upgrade work on a system. Which in this case would probably lead you to a total rewire and upgrade to modern system capacity - like typically 150-200A service for that size house (more if all-electric) versus the probably about 60-100A service it might have if from 1905. In this case, assuming this is a multi-family building, the requirement that all residents be able to get to the breakers for their unit may require a lead to a major rewiring job anyway, so you may well be forced into that - though access to adjacent panels in a common basement say can sometimes meet that requirement. In fact, in some area in older buildings with basement breaker panels, they have put in so-called "jumper panels" - one for each unit in a row along a wall, in a room accessible by all tenants (which in some jurisdictions are allowed to be locked as long as tenant door keys or a common key issued to all will provide access) so each can access their own panel as needed. Panels needs to be clearly labelled with the unit number they serve, of course.


Bottom line - if you are the buyer, I would talk to your realtor - but unless you have a LOT of time until closing and no rush then, or are willing to pass on having a lot the work done (meaning you are getting into a major fixer-upper), I would call this a walk-away because that scope of work is likely months rather than days or a few weeks work unless an electrical contractor with several electricians really jumped on it. And the risk of delay in closing or failure of inspections is quite high - meaning you could be stranded with an incomplete job at closing date, mandating a closing extension or cancelling the contract, which would normally throw a major monkey wrench into your moving plans.

If you are the Seller - this is a major decision - as broken out below:

1) do you say, in response to a contingency worik request, that you will do the bare minimum required for resale of existing homes (#8 and maybe 9 say if the overload in the breaker box is eliminated by reducing some loads) but no more, and let them walk if they do not like it. In which case the buyers have to decide if they want to accept a major fixer-upper situation, realizing the same situation is going to arise with each subsequent potential buyer because you will undoubtedly have to disclose the recent inspection report. And of course, with the next potential buyer you are into the same likely sitution - plus in many states the inspection report from buyer one has to be disclosed to subsequent buyers - though in some states that is NOT provided to the Seller and is labelled as confidential, so you only have to disclose that a report was done but not the report itself - that is a MAJOR flaw in inspection report disclosures, as is not having to put them on file in the property title/recorder's file.

2) Or do you sink the money (and I would throw out a VERY ROUGH $5000-15,000 range guesstimate on this for bringing all those items up to code - most likely a total rewire, at least of all original wiring and service entrance wiring to the breaker panel - or adding a secondary box and rewiring some circuits to it, plus the other repair/safety items. Realizing there is a good chance this buyer will walk because of the amount of work needed - or that things will overrun and you end up defaulting on the contract because of delays, which could in some states cost you more $ in contract default damages, so this might end up being done for a future buyer yet unseen - which of course, while the work is being done, likely takes it off the market so you lose selling months, plus unless started soon (which may bring in winter freezing issues while power is out) may make you miss the prime springearly summer selling season.

3) Or do you sell the house as uninhabitable due to code violations, As-Is, Where-is.

Obviously, there are a lot of complications and implications to moving/relocation/new home plans involved in these questions. And the above does not address any rot, insect damage, general condition (roofing, paint, decks, paint, flooring, cabinets, bathrooms, etc), plumbing, HVAC, or structural issues, of which presumably there are likely to be quite a few - so I suspect the total picture is even less pretty than the above electrical-related items. All told, if you are the Seller, having an Architect assess the situation (with inspection report in hand, and possibly further HVAC, plumbing, structural expertise assisting) and give you a remodel cost estimate or two (maybe minimal to make it saleable, another for full remodel to try to fetch top dollar for its location and age) would give you an idea of just how much you want to sink into this house. Given location and general condition issues, it might be worth a significant remodel/upgrade to seel as a fairly "clean" period or classical home, or it may turn out it is more of a prospect for a flipper or DIY fixer-upper as-is, or even a sale as a tear-down.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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