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Question DetailsAsked on 5/4/2012

Is it worth upgrading electrical in an apartment complex built in 1950?

We recently purchased an apartment complex built in 1950. Inspector's report advised us to upgrade the main electrical panel (fuse box) on the outside of the building. He also advised us to relocate fuse boxes in closets stating it is unsafe and a fire hazard.
We met with several electricians to get a quote. It's so confusing because everybody says different things...
FUSE BOXES IN THE CLOSET: One electrician advised us to flip the panel into the bathroom(closet is adjacent to bathroom) and install a breaker instead of a fuse box, another electrician claimed it's not up to code to have breakers in the bathroom.
MAIN PANEL OUTSIDE THE BUILDING: One electrician advised us to upgrade the amperage (currently 30 amps), the other claimed it's an unnecessary change that drives the cost up since we do not have any appliances that require high amperage: no washers or dryers.
So confusing. I want the property to be SAFE for our tenants, but cost-efficient for us. Any thoughts?
thank you.

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4 Answers

0
Votes

You can't put a breaker or fuse box in a wet area (i.e. bathroom) per code so forget everything that electrician told you. It is against NEC, the electrical code. How big are the apartments? 30 amps is pretty small but if they are only running lights and outlets in a one bedroom unit without a cooking range or any other major current draw it is doable. An electric stove should have a dedicated 50 amp circuit to itself. I'm assuming these must be gas.

How many units are there? Upgrading electrical panels on old apartments can become very costly very quickly. They should be easily accessible and away from water or flamable materials. A good location is usually behind a bedroom or entry door.

See if your local power utility has an inspector that can assist you with your decision. Most have one that will go out for free or a very reasonable cost for energy savings that can also tell you what you should be concerned about.

Todd Shell
Todd's Home Services

Answered 7 years ago by Todd's Home Services

0
Votes

A fuse box outside a building is dangerous and doubt that it is upto code. Apartment building do get inspected by towns at times, usually when they are purchases/sold.

There is nothing wrong with having a fuse box in a closet as long as it is easily asseable.

I agree that you should upgrade the amps for the building. Sounds low even if you don't have many appliances. What happens when every one turns on their AC at the same time and leaves it on?


Also, it is better to have a breaker instead of fuses. THey are easier to manage and can be located ALMOST anywhere.


Doesn't each apartment have electrical outlets with breakers in each bathroom.

Sounds like thi city inspector did a lousy job transfering the certificate of occupancy.


I agree with the other response, call your electric company first to check off your list, but I wouldn't expect much.


But at the very least get that fuse box inside, and while you are at it switch to a breaker.

Answered 7 years ago by help1968

0
Votes

Here are a couple of previous similar questions with answers FYI - note those are generally discussing 100-150A panels, and costs are for one - additional ones on same job might run half to two-thirds as much again each when done as part of same job :


https://answers.angieslist.com/how-co...


https://answers.angieslist.com/how-de...

https://answers.angieslist.com/100-AM... https://answers.angieslist.com/Should... https://answers.angieslist.com/Cost-u... On the specific questions - and I guess the one electrician ruled himself out based on lack of code knowledge and common sense by suggesting flipping the panel to the bathroom. 1) Fuse/breaker panel cannot be in residential or hotel/motel guest room - NEC reference 240.24 E (added in 1993) below, applicable in almost all jurisdictions except as I recall Louisiana, as usual, has different codes they work to - http://www.neca-neis.org/code-questio... Plus I saw an interesting what-if commentary on this in a code committee minutes when this section was passed (and was part of the reason for passage) - if located in the bathroom, because part of the circuit wiring for all circuits are in the bathroom, does that then means ALL the circuits including the incoming main lead have to have GFCI protection ? (GFCI protection on main feed tends to be a problem, and trips out entire house when there is a fault anywhere in the house - a nuisance.) And maybe that the panel installation has to be NEMA 4 or 5 for damp area ? - which would crank the cost up quite a bit. Even if code allowed it, putting it there would not be a smart move due to not only the possibility of splashed water (which technically the panel should deflect) but also the frequent high humidity and shower fog causing corrosion in the panel and wiring as well as potential for internal condensation and shorting, not to mention the hazard of shock. 2) For safety and avoiding having tenants calling every week or so at 2AM to change a fuse or zapping themselves in the process of changing a fuse, I would go with modern breaker boxes. Note if you are moving the box, in almost all jurisdictions, you have to upgrade to current code anyway because that would be considered "new construction". Do note though, in some areas, replacing more than 25% to 50% of the system invokes a rule (over 50% by national code) that the entire electrical system has to be brought up to code at that time - which because you most likely have fiber-insulated wire in BX flex conduit or rigid conduit (possibly Romex - about the time it came in common use) - and most likely have 2-wire wiring with no integral ground in the wiring or boxes, could mean having to replace ALL the wiring - so during this remodel talk to your architect or electrician about those issues. 3) On the closet issue - not legal today if you mean a clothes/storage closet as opposed to a dedicated Utility Closet. But if you could convince the building inspector that replacing the fused panel with circuit breaker panel was a "repair" rather than an upgrade he might allow it to stay as a "grandfathered" item - otherwise cannot be in a closet because it would be obstructed by the clothes and stacked junk and such, so is not "readily accessible" with 6 foot high (or is it 7 feet) 3 foot of clear standing space the width of the panel in front of it as required by code. 4) Main outside panel - I presume you mean each apartment is 30A capacity, though even that would result in a LOT of tripping out I would think - that is basically not enough even for normal lighting and home electronics plus more than one hair dryer or microwave or toaster or portable heater running. You said no washers or dryers - evidently no heat-dry dishwashers, electric ranges or electric heating / wter heating either, because each of those would almost certainly use the entire circuit capacity just by themselves. Generally these days the code requires minimum 60A 220/240V service to apartments by NEC 230.79 and 408.16 - though an actual load calculation should be done, which for non-electric heating and applicances would usually yield something over 60A so you would need a 100A service. With electric appliances more commonly 150A for larger apartments or condos these days and more commonly 200A for all-electric units - which gies you some leeway on future appliance choices too, like electric range or dryer if desired, or possibly electric water heating. And of course, the existing wiring is likely 10-15A circuits which cannot carry higher amperage without wiring upgrades through the circuits - so with fuse box situations trying to upgrade to modern electrical demand commonly gets you into total electrical system upgrading because of the cascading effect of each upgrade requiring upgrading upstream or downstream elements of the system. The electrician should assess the load actually expected to be drawing on the panel - there are formulas for that (is a lot less than the sum mof all the fuses/breakers because you do not draw maximum demand on all circuits at the same time). But 30A - that is so 50's or before. Of course, if you increase the individual panel capacities then you will probably have to increase the incoming and main meter panel/disconnect/main breaker capacity to the building as well, which might then lead to needing an incoming service capacity upgrade, and so forth. Which can drive cost up a lot as well as possibly push to over the 25% or 50% replacement rule and mandate complete system upgrading. My recommendation - though normally this would have been done before buying an older income building, is to get your Architect into this to get a complete system assessment done by his electrical engineer/designer of existing condition and upgrades already done if any - which would also get into future appliance options to wire for, whether you have legal grounding to the panels now (not a real big thing to upgrade), whether your outlets are grounded or not, possible AFCI/GFCI protection (though that is not really fully at the fully functional stage yet - still get a LOT of inadvertant trips, especially from surge protectors and uninterruptable power devices - and just how far you want to upgrade. He/she can also look at minimum requirements for current rental units in your area - some areas are requiring upgrades to electrical and such after so many years, others grandfather and never require an upgrade until you decide to or have a major electrical fire. Hence, there are still an amazing number of knob-and-tube and cloth-insulated wiring installation still in use - especially in older apartment buildings. You did not say how many units there are in the complex - but even for just a fuse to breaker box relocation/replacement you are talking a good $1000-2000 range or more per unit in almost all cases, and complete building upgrading could well run into the couple to few thousand per unit range - and commonly in the few thousand $ to as much as double that or more range to completely upgrade and rewire an apartment building and patch the openings necessary to run the wiring - with the highest costs usually in solid brick and concrete buildings with embedded wiring. Depending on the panel relocation location, you might well end up having to convert the existing panels to junction boxes, with new leads to a new breaker panel location. And of course that brings up the next unpleasant subject - if you get into major tearing into things for rewiring, commonly HVAC and piping and windows and insulation and sewer/septic is upgraded at the same time to cut overall maintenance costs (which in a 6 years building are going to be soaring if not previously replaced) and to avoid having to vacate apartments or put tenants through major construction work for those later on. Of course, how far you can or want to go is dependent on your finances, potential to raise rents after the upgrades and what the capability of your current tenants to handle that increase is, any long-term fixed rate rental or lease agreements, rent controls, etc. Your architect (and building manager ifnot self-managing these units) can help guide you through this sort of cost-benefit analysis and assessing what is a nice-to-have upgrade and what is required by building code or housing regulations.

Answered 1 year ago by LCD

0
Votes

OK - that is odd - this originally showed up as a current question, now showing as 2012. Oh well, anyway, I will post the answer I prepared for future reference for other users.


Arrghhh - Angies List computer is taking out paragraph breaks again - so every place you see a ==== that is where a paragraph break should be - maybe you can copy and past the response somewhere to reinsert the Returns to form paragraphs and separate the links.

====

====

Here are a couple of previous similar questions with answers FYI - note those are generally discussing 100-150A panels, and costs are for one - additional ones on same job might run half to two-thirds as much again each when done as part of same job :

====

====


https://answers.angieslist.com/how-co...

====

====


https://answers.angieslist.com/how-de...

====

====

https://answers.angieslist.com/100-AM...

====

====

https://answers.angieslist.com/Should...

====

====

https://answers.angieslist.com/Cost-u...

====

====

On the specific questions - and I guess the one electrician ruled himself out based on lack of code knowledge and common sense by suggesting flipping the panel to the bathroom.

====

====

1) Fuse/breaker panel cannot be in residential or hotel/motel guest room - NEC reference 240.24 E (added in 1993) below, applicable in almost all jurisdictions except as I recall Louisiana, as usual, has different codes they work to -

====

====

http://www.neca-neis.org/code-questio...

====

====

Plus I saw an interesting what-if commentary on this in a code committee minutes when this section was passed (and was part of the reason for passage) - if located in the bathroom, because part of the circuit wiring for all circuits are in the bathroom, does that then means ALL the circuits including the incoming main lead have to have GFCI protection ? (GFCI protection on main feed tends to be a problem, and trips out entire house when there is a fault anywhere in the house - a nuisance.) And maybe that the panel installation has to be NEMA 4 or 5 for damp area ? - which would crank the cost up quite a bit.

====

====

Even if code allowed it, putting it there would not be a smart move due to not only the possibility of splashed water (which technically the panel should deflect) but also the frequent high humidity and shower fog causing corrosion in the panel and wiring as well as potential for internal condensation and shorting, not to mention the hazard of shock.

====

====

2) For safety and avoiding having tenants calling every week or so at 2AM to change a fuse or zapping themselves in the process of changing a fuse, I would go with modern breaker boxes. Note if you are moving the box, in almost all jurisdictions, you have to upgrade to current code anyway because that would be considered "new construction". Do note though, in some areas, replacing more than 25% to 50% of the system invokes a rule (over 50% by national code) that the entire electrical system has to be brought up to code at that time - which because you most likely have fiber-insulated wire in BX flex conduit or rigid conduit (possibly Romex - about the time it came in common use) - and most likely have 2-wire wiring with no integral ground in the wiring or boxes, could mean having to replace ALL the wiring - so during this remodel talk to your architect or electrician about those issues.

====

====

3) On the closet issue - not legal today if you mean a clothes/storage closet as opposed to a dedicated Utility Closet. But if you could convince the building inspector that replacing the fused panel with circuit breaker panel was a "repair" rather than an upgrade he might allow it to stay as a "grandfathered" item - otherwise cannot be in a closet because it would be obstructed by the clothes and stacked junk and such, so is not "readily accessible" with 6 foot high (or is it 7 feet) 3 foot of clear standing space the width of the panel in front of it as required by code.

====

====

4) Main outside panel - I presume you mean each apartment is 30A capacity, though even that would result in a LOT of tripping out I would think - that is basically not enough even for normal lighting and home electronics plus more than one hair dryer or microwave or toaster or portable heater running. You said no washers or dryers - evidently no heat-dry dishwashers, electric ranges or electric heating / wter heating either, because each of those would almost certainly use the entire circuit capacity just by themselves.

====

====

Generally these days the code requires minimum 60A 220/240V service to apartments by NEC 230.79 and 408.16 - though an actual load calculation should be done, which for non-electric heating and applicances would usually yield something over 60A so you would need a 100A service. With electric appliances more commonly 150A for larger apartments or condos these days and more commonly 200A for all-electric units - which gies you some leeway on future appliance choices too, like electric range or dryer if desired, or possibly electric water heating.

====

====

And of course, the existing wiring is likely 10-15A circuits which cannot carry higher amperage without wiring upgrades through the circuits - so with fuse box situations trying to upgrade to modern electrical demand commonly gets you into total electrical system upgrading because of the cascading effect of each upgrade requiring upgrading upstream or downstream elements of the system.

====

====

The electrician should assess the load actually expected to be drawing on the panel - there are formulas for that (is a lot less than the sum mof all the fuses/breakers because you do not draw maximum demand on all circuits at the same time). But 30A - that is so 50's or before. Of course, if you increase the individual panel capacities then you will probably have to increase the incoming and main meter panel/disconnect/main breaker capacity to the building as well, which might then lead to needing an incoming service capacity upgrade, and so forth. Which can drive cost up a lot as well as possibly push to over the 25% or 50% replacement rule and mandate complete system upgrading.

====

====

My recommendation - though normally this would have been done before buying an older income building, is to get your Architect into this to get a complete system assessment done by his electrical engineer/designer of existing condition and upgrades already done if any - which would also get into future appliance options to wire for, whether you have legal grounding to the panels now (not a real big thing to upgrade), whether your outlets are grounded or not, possible AFCI/GFCI protection (though that is not really fully at the fully functional stage yet - still get a LOT of inadvertant trips, especially from surge protectors and uninterruptable power devices - and just how far you want to upgrade. He/she can also look at minimum requirements for current rental units in your area - some areas are requiring upgrades to electrical and such after so many years, others grandfather and never require an upgrade until you decide to or have a major electrical fire. Hence, there are still an amazing number of knob-and-tube and cloth-insulated wiring installation still in use - especially in older apartment buildings.

====

====

You did not say how many units there are in the complex - but even for just a fuse to breaker box relocation/replacement you are talking a good $1000-2000 range or more per unit in almost all cases, and complete building upgrading could well run into the couple to few thousand per unit range - and commonly in the few thousand $ to as much as double that or more range to completely upgrade and rewire an apartment building and patch the openings necessary to run the wiring - with the highest costs usually in solid brick and concrete buildings with embedded wiring. Depending on the panel relocation location, you might well end up having to convert the existing panels to junction boxes, with new leads to a new breaker panel location.

====

====

And of course that brings up the next unpleasant subject - if you get into major tearing into things for rewiring, commonly HVAC and piping and windows and insulation and sewer/septic is upgraded at the same time to cut overall maintenance costs (which in a 6 years building are going to be soaring if not previously replaced) and to avoid having to vacate apartments or put tenants through major construction work for those later on. Of course, how far you can or want to go is dependent on your finances, potential to raise rents after the upgrades and what the capability of your current tenants to handle that increase is, any long-term fixed rate rental or lease agreements, rent controls, etc. Your architect (and building manager ifnot self-managing these units) can help guide you through this sort of cost-benefit analysis and assessing what is a nice-to-have upgrade and what is required by building code or housing regulations.

Answered 1 year ago by LCD




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