I just bought a 1974-built house with aluminum wiring and a 150A Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panel [ why did I buy it? location, location, location ].
I need to re-wire the house, replace the panel with a 200A Cutler-Hammer in a better location, but I need to do it on a budget, and I also need to simultaneously live in the house - I can live with partial power, but I have my limits - thankfully, I live alone, so I have nobody to worry about but myself .
My background: Software engineer with some EE education; handy with electricity and electrical test gear, comfortable around a service panel, but not an electrician; handy with power tools; able to read code docs (though sifting out the non-residential stuff gets tiresome).
So, I'm confident about doing all but the service entrance and the actual cutover of the service to the new panel.
Engineer that I am, I came up with the following 10-step plan to carry out this live-in rewire job. Given the constraints of my day job, I'm allocating 120 man-hours and six calendar weeks for this effort.
After reading the plan, please comment on:
1) Is there anything that I didn't think through?
2) How can this plan be improved for speed and efficiency while not compromising safety or more living convenience than is alreay being sacrificed?
THE 10-STEP LIVE-IN ALUMINUM-TO-COPPER HOUSE REWIRE PLAN:
1. Trace all circuits house-wide with a fox-hound circuit tracer and produce a correct and complete circuit map from panel to end of all branches.
2. Assess whether existing circuit routes are appropriate and up to 2013 code, and adjust where necessary; also determine whether new dedicated branch circuits are required or advisable. All multiline shared-neutral branch circuits will be replaced with dedicated-neutral circuits. The result will be a new circuit map.
3. Estimate total cost of components (and electrician labor used in 7) and pull permit based on that cost estimate and new circuit map and plan.
4. For each branch circuit (in order of least-used to most-used, lowest-amp-rated to highest-amp-rated):
A. Turn off breaker at panel
B. For each section of branch circuit (in order of furthest from panel to nearest to panel) [ SEE NOTE 1 ]
1) Precisely cut away sufficient wallboard necessary to expose section of wire and all cable staples / fasteners.
Save sections if possible.
2) Verify that no current is present on the wire at the terminating end of the branch, and at the adjacent outlet.
3) Disconnect wire from all outlets and switches the wire is connected to.
4) Remove far-end outlet [ and switch ]. At this point, the adjacent connected outlet is terminating the branch circuit.
5) Pull cable staples and pull out disconnected section of aluminum wire.
6) Replace outlet box and switch box if required and/or advisable.
7) Rough-in feed new section of copper wire of same (or thicker if required) AWG, either in existing or newly determined path
(based on assessment in 2.) . Feed and staple to 2013 code.
C. At the last outlet before the panel [ SEE NOTE 3 ]
[ Option 1 - expensive ]
Remove last section of aluminum wire between panel and first outlet, feed new copper wire , and install a new FPE breaker
[ Option 2 - inexpensive ]
Retain last section of aluminum wire on the panel until cutover to new panel, using a UL-listed AlumiConn Al/Cu coupler to couple last section of aluminum to new copper.
D. Install new outlets / switches at each section of branch circuit. In the box(es), label all wires for easy tracing per the new circuit map.
E. Perform continuity and grounding tests on all sections of the branch circuit.
F. Re-fit, but do not permanently repair, wallboard cutaway, allowing for instant removal and access to new cables and boxes for inspection [ SEE NOTE 2 ]
G. Turn on the breaker, resulting in a safely functioning branch circuit.
5. Mount new panel at desired location, as close to meter as possible.
6. Rough-in new copper from new panel location to first outlet of each branch circuit per the new circuit map established in 2)
7. Bring in an electrician to :
A. Do a dry-run inspection of all rewired branch circuits [ SEE NOTE 4 ]
B. Cutover all new branch circuits from new panel to first outlet of each branch circuit.
C. Install new 200A service drop and cutover to meter.
8. Remove and discard abandoned FPE panel, and if Step 4.C Option 2 is selected, extract remaining aluminum wiring.
9. Schedule and conduct inspection, make necessary changes until approved.
10. Repair all cutaway wallboarding.
11. Enjoy the safety and versatility of an approved, all-copper-wired home! :-)
NOTE 1: If end-of-day or other stopping point is reached after step 4.B.4) and before return to step 4.B.1) , the remaining connected segments of the branch circuit should be in a sufficiently safe condition to where , if necessary, the breaker can be turned back on and the remaining legs of the branch circuit safely returned to service.
NOTE 2: It is hoped that at the end of each iteration of Step 4, individual inspections will not be required as long as and cables / boxes remain accessible.
NOTE 3: Step 4.C : Which of the options listed makes more sense, given that I have a FPE panel? Keep in mind that either option is a short-term connection ( 1 month max ) pending cutover to new panel.
NOTE 4: Alternatively, this might also be done periodically after each iteration of Step 4.This message has been edited. Last edited by: GottaDIYIt,
1. Here's a big one that will save you loads of time (but will cost you more money): Check with your code department first. Most areas with code departments will only issue an electrical permit for a project of this scale to a licensed electrician. To put it into perspective, I am a licensed general contractor and have been since the 80's. I am not a licensed electrician. I could not do your rewiring project - it takes a licensed electrician. No electrician = no permit. No permit = no insurance coverage in the event of a fire or other problem. In short, if your area requires an electrician to do this, then you'll have to hire one.
2. No matter if you do it or you have an electrician forget this disconnect/reconnect/disconnect/reconnect plan. There is no need for all the extra work to remove the old wire - all it's good for is scrap and certainly not worth all the time, effort and destroyed walls to try to pull it out. So keep your entire system up and running, install your new service panel and run all your new copper to all locations. Then the only step left is to remove the old wire from each individual box and install the ends of the new wire in the same. You can probably get inspected right before you make this final switchover. Once you start the switch use extension cords to power essential 115v circuits (with the cords powered from your existing main box). The 220 to the stove will be wired to a new outlet anyway, so keep the old one intact until the final switchover. That just leaves a couple of HD runs like heat/air and water heat where the new lines will pass inspection without being wired into the final connection - keep these units on the old power until you are ready to feed power through the new main.
3. Do not discount the difficulty that is involved with all the wall repair. Do all your wall demo up front first. Don't be tempted to make many as small as possible cutouts - a huge waste of time with so many patches that your finished walls will look like crap. Instead, cut out large sections of wallboard with two things in mind:
1. Give yourself enough removed so that you can run all your new wires to each location.
2. Cut out the wallboard in such a way that it makes sense for reinstalling new. This means in most cases removing the lower 4' of one side of each wall.
You may be thinking that that's a lot of new drywall (and it is) but it will save you huge amounts of work during the wiring process, will allow the inspector to see all the he needs to see and will make for a much easier and better looking wall when you are done. Don't even consider saving any old drywall pieces - throw them away and save yourself a lot of trouble.
All of your plan really hinges on the code requirements in your area though. Check that first as your participation may be limited to watching the progress and writing some checks.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply.
We're talking about an unincorporated area near Portland, OR - I have a co-worker who re-wired his own home in an incorporated suburb nearby, having an electrician do the panel cutover. He worked directly with the inspector who he said was actually quite helpful and cooperative in ensuring that quality and compliant work was done.
I'll have to ask him his permit method, but I could imagine that he had the cutover electrician pull the permit, who then entrusted him to run the cable and outlets. I'll quiz him more to find out for sure and follow up here. In any event, I would only hire an electrician willing to allow a mostly DIY effort, her role being merely advisory up to the new panel and active at the new panel and beyond.
I hear you on taking out sufficiently large chunks of drywall for ease of wiring and inspection. I'm not as concerned about the look of the repairs as you are - drywall repair is something I'm good at - how good it looks is all a matter of attention to detail :-)
I understand the rationale for not pulling out the abandoned aluminum, but I really don't want it there if it doesn't need to be ; moreover, I want to use the existing run paths where possible.
Anyhoo , more homework to do .. Thanks again :-)
It's a big job. Good luck.
Thanks. I know it's a big job. That's why I want to go in eyes wide open and have a solid plan.
BTW, it looks like my state law says as long as it's residential or farm property, and I own it, and I'm not selling, renting, or leasing it, I'm good ...
My county's electrical permit app has a declaration to sign stating that I qualify under that statute.
..kinda makes me sad for would-be DIY-ers in TN ... borrowing from the Beastie Boys, "you gotta fight .. [boom][boom] ... for your right ... [boom] ... to DIY! ... LOL
Again, thanks for lending an ear!
In your area.
I believe if you are 'the owner'.
You 'can perform the work'.
Just like I can. But I am in MN.
(you just said this is possible ^ ) You just saved a few thousand dollars right here ^ )
You sound very well qualified to do this job, more than most DIY peoples.
So far I can only come up with some reminder code issues you should comply with such as wiring tacks, conduit grounding, metal box grounding, fixture grounding if required, ceiling fan light box supports, no wire crowding, neutral at every switch, 6 inches of wire sticking out of box (measured from back of box), twisting wires with linesman pliers prior to wingnut,
1 Neutral under each load center screw,
Grounds of same gauge wire can be combined under 1 screw to panel allowance of usually 2 or 3 "read panel instructions for this max ground wire number per screw", Sub panels get grounded to main panel and main panel should be grounded to your water main or ground rod but i like water main better.
Multi-Branch Circuits which share a neutral cannot be on same phase\space but must be side by side (the side of 2 phases) with handle tie so both will turn off if one turns off.
A 'Double Pole' breaker in the width-size and amp rating is required if you cannot find handle ties.
These are all very basic but overlooked a lot.
Multibranch circuits are usually for Dishwasher plus Garbage disposal combined on one 14-3,15a
and Furnace plus WaterHeater-ERV outlet which is also 14-3, 15a.
I assume you know how (but wanted to explain) to MBC jump the above and below 2 phase sides so it only takes 15a on black-wire from one phase and 15a on red wire from other phase above or below it.
If you are following 2011 NEC. You will be fine.
I haven't heard of 2013 NEC yet but i will look into it and edit this paragraph.
What killed me on cost of my remodel is the required AFI breakers at 37.00 each and tamper resistant gfi outlets aren't cheap either. Sub-panel was 60 bucks not bad, 250ft coils of Romex were about 80 dollars each and i needed 3 but you will need more in your project. A coil wheel is nice to have when running wire in project your size. This would be my 1st tool investment to save tons of time pre-shaping your wire as you remove from coil.
Only use the same brand of breaker as the Load Center it goes into. Warranty will mention this.
I only use G.E panels myself so i don't have any information regarding CH but i hear they are just as good if not better This message has been edited. Last edited by: JB Builder,
Excellent info! Exactly the kind of input I'm looking for to make for the best possible plan.
I said 2013 just in case things change by the time I start work in January. I have a PDF copy of the 2011 Oregon Electrical Specialty Code, but if a new one is not issued in January, I assume 2011 will still be the controlling document.
I asked the inspector of the house what he thought the "gold standard" of panels was - he immediately replied Cutler Hammer. The breakers that HomeDepot stocks these days seem to bear that out - primarily CH and GE - they stock Siemens as well which are supposedly compatible with Westinghouse/Bryant, and some very-expensive FPE-compatibles.
Cheers!This message has been edited. Last edited by: GottaDIYIt,
Westinghouse/Bryant sold their line to Cutler-Hammer when Westinghouse broke up (well, technically they sold all business lines when they bought CBS) and that is known as the "BR" series. the "CR" series was the legacy Cutler panel system. they are NOT compatible or interchangeable.
I would use one of two paths on the new panel/service... either do everything in parallel, new wiring to all devices and masts etc, and then cut it over all at once and pull out the old stuff... or cut circuits that don't need rewiring over to the new panel, dropping them temporarily, and energize everything again at once on the new panel.
don't even think about adding more stuff to that FPE arcwelder, even temporarily... single breakers run around $45 and doubles $65-70, and you will only need them for a short time. dump that gnarly hog completely.
sig: if this is a new economy, how come they still want my old-fashioned money?
Naming the benchmark of panels is truly a personal preference. But having posted that, Cutler-Hammer while a respected name, takes a back seat to Square D Homeline & QO panels in these parts.
You may want to Google Cutler-Hammer CR panels because a soft recall of that product line.
"Why isn't everyday Earth Day ?"
only thing I found on CRs was loose breaker tu buss bolts on the main breaker. this is something the electrician should have checked on installation. checking the torque on all connections carrying current is a basic part of the job, and the first thing that a master did when we paid for a panel inspection after buying our house. (inspection needed, was an FPE, and the wife was not springing for a new entrance installation. good news: tensions up to snuff. bad news: 6 breakers turned up as famous FPE no-trips. two more failed later, the water heater breaker was actually burned.)
sig: if this is a new economy, how come they still want my old-fashioned money?
On another board I read of problems with CR breaker type boards and if you contact the man they are supplying new panels and breakers. Can't recall the board az I was searching for a neutral lug to fit a 25 year old CR panel. Calling the 800 # did not help as they told me the part was obsolete and no longer available. And that was not a very big help to me at all. I would install a C_H panel in a heart beat though.
"Why isn't everyday Earth Day ?"
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