What will it involve

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What will it involve to redo my wiring? What sort of money will it take?

These are obvious questions for people with old, or otherwise greatly unsatisfactory electrical systems. To offer some experiences from which you just might be able to extrapolate, Iíll describe two townhouse rewiring projects. First, though, something quite different.

I received an urgent call from someone whose basement was so badly flooded, in Alexandria, Virginiaís once-in-200-years flood, that the electrical panel was covered. Fairfax County representatives, Iím told, came by and killed power. (I suspect it may actually have been utility company reps, but no matter.) The County told the owner that power could not be restored until the breaker panel was replaced.

The owner called me, wanting that done. She had an idea of what was needed, and wanted a rough estimate of what it would cost. As it turned out, the discussion had to be cut short, and for whatever reason she did not call back as planned. The important point about her situation is this. Any electrician who has followed the hurricane aftermath reports should know that much more needs to be done after a space is inundated. Any indoor-style electrical cables whose ends were exposed to floodwater need to be replaced, because dirty, conductive water could have wicked into them. This includes all the cables terminated in the electrical panel, as well as all those at its level or lower in the basement-the switches and receptacles et cetera as well. The industry has very clear guidance on this. When UL or its equivalent investigates a product for use in dry locations only, they mean just that.

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The two townhouses whose stories I will tell next were not such clear cases, not by a long shot. Nonetheless, in both cases, the owners decided on total rewiring-in the first case, replacing all branch circuits (Iíll explain the term), and in the second, absolutely everything. How well their situations might apply to what you are considering, and thus how well the costs might be extrapolated, I cannot predict.

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The first was a recently-constructed townhouse with problems. It had been wired on the cheap, and while it was basically Code-compliant, there were violations. More important, the owners were dissatisfied. Their biggest issue was that when the heat pump/central air conditioner kicked on, the lights would dim or blink.

We tried a number of expedients to ameliorate their discomfort. When I say ďwe,Ē I suggested some, and engineers from a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory based in Columbia, Maryland, Met Labs, investigated as well and made suggestions. No luck. Consequently, I rewired it, replacing all the wiring feeding switches, lights, or receptacles, and some feeding appliances. (Their lights and appliances were reusable.) I did not change their electrical service, but did add a subpanel so as to be able to separate the circuits very carefully. I ran a great deal of high-quality cable heavier than even I normally recommend, and corrected the problem entirely.

Hereís what it took. The owners moved out, their belongings were moved out, a builder gutted the building, and I worked on it in this condition for several months. Cost for labor and materials, about $45,000. This was in 2005, but at a rate set before gas prices spiked: 10% lower than I charged for most of 2005 and now charge. Electrical cable was at the very least 10% cheaper then than it is now. While I donít know the details of their other costs, they were some multiple of what they paid me.

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The second four-story townhouse was quite a different story. A couple bought it in 2003 or 2004, old, worn, to rehabilitate. The husband, a young professional, gutted much of it, although they and their pets continued, and continue, to live there. I did much of the wiring removal, for safetyís safe, starting in late 2004. With his help, I installed two new services, one to serve a basement apartment and one for theirs upstairs. I have specified materials and design, limited considerably as is the case when I agree to work with a customer in a sweat equity arrangement. He has bought them, I have confirmed that they meet my standards, or sent them back. With his help, actually with him doing the major part of the work under carefully specified limits, we did the wiring for his classy modern basement unit, now completed, passed all inspections, and rented. We continue to work on the upstairs unit, where they live. So far, he has paid me less than 10% of what the other customer paid.

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So there are two examples of arrangements to upgrade wiring. Both left customers in very different circumstances satisfied with what they got and what they paid for it, and left me happy as well.