The house came with a 60-amp FPE-brand
panel. Apparently FPEs are bad
news, so, before signing the purchase
agreement, we had the panel upgraded
to 200 amp. Upgrading the panel
was nice, but it doesn't solve as
much as some might think. All
the existing wiring had been served
by a 60-amp panel. The wealth
of additional breakers would be useful
for adding new dedicated outlets,
but wouldn't solve the fact that some
existing breakers served as many as
15 outlets and built-in lights. Plus
half the outlets in the house were
not grounded. Never mind the safety
issue - that meant that these outlets
were useless for many of the electrical
devices in a typical house.
I went on Craigslist and, over the next year, hired a few electricians to help me make the place a bit safer/more useable. But the fact remained: the place would never be close to modern without stripping the sheetrock, and rewiring to spread the load across the additional breakers now available.
Two years later, with the foundation remodel in full swing, many of the walls are open. There are still areas where two prong outlets will survive because I cannot get to them, but this is the opportunity to upgrade much of the electrical.
The first thing
I needed was a map of what I had.
Right now, some breakers were labeled
with phrases like "Lwr Bthrm."
OK - but does that mean the lights,
or the lights and fan and heater,
I started with a schematic of each floor, and walked room by room, putting a mark on the drawing depicting the location of every outlet, built-in light, wall heater, wall fan, etc. Then I labeled every breaker, numbering them 1 through 20.
next step was to collect as many small,
plug-in electrical devices as possible.
I bought a half-dozen nightlights,
but put every other device imaginable
to work as well, from electric toothbrushes,
to shavers. The technique was
to plug something visible or audible
into every outlet, turn off all the
breakers, then turn them on one by
one. When breaker #1 was turned
on, every light and outlet impacted
would be labeled "1". Then
the process would be repeated for
breaker #2, etc.
one Saturday at dusk, Terry upstairs,
and me downstairs. With the exterior
wall torn off, it was easy for me
to flip breakers and immediately be
inside the house, checking outlets. One
short-cut was to top bring the activity
to us, rather than having us try to
chase down the activity. In other
words, instead of flipping breaker
#1, then searching the house for every
light that was on (and likely having
to move some night lights to cover
every possible outlet) I switched
off all breakers then "on-offed"
each one until I found the one that
controlled the lights in the room
that Terry happened to be in. She'd
then be able to label 8 to 15 outlets/lights,
perhaps calling down to be to give
that particular breaker another on-off
so that she could spot other impacted
outlets that she might have missed
the first time. Then Terry would move
to another main room, and I'd find
her again, flipping breakers until
I was impacting the outlets where
she was. In this manner we quickly
labeled 90% of the outlets/lights.
Then we plodded through the last 10%.
I used high-lighters on the schematics
to color code the breaker numbers
that were particularly common. This
way, at a glance, I can see if my
map makes sense. Most of it does
- I just need to double-check that
that upstairs bathroom fan really
is part of the downstairs bedroom's
downstairs and the pantry torn apart,
and upstairs soon to be torn apart,
it's time to get quotes for electrical.
Although I'm used to shopping on Craigslist
for these services, Servicemagic.com
has once again proven to be the most
efficient way to get contractors by.
The following vendors impressed me:
Clay Hassinger, owner of Cycles Electric, Ran Rafael 415-298-0599
Moe Zahawi, owner of MZ Electrician, Sonoma 707-738-1551
Lonnie Vincent, Summit Electric, Santa Rosa 707-542-4776
Paul Brunner, Synapse Electric 415-819-0668
Val Dimitrov, owner of Value Electric, San Francisco 415-420-0695
My big mistake:
not having stamped architectural plans
available for the bidders. Had plans
been ready when they visited, the
bids would be easy to compare.
I've hired Moe Zahawi, owner of MZ
Electrician. I asked him
and Val Dimitrov, owner of Value
Electric for a bid
on just the downstairs. Moe was a
bit less expensive.
latest development: I am replacing
the 200-amp panel with a new panel
that allows two separate meters. This
is a late-developing decision, but
a call to PG&E indicated that
their charge would be "less
than a couple-hundred," so
I'm going for it. Although I will
need to pay an additional ~$2,000
to replace the panel, I guess it really
is better than me being the energy-police,
every time the tenant leaves his/her
After being very satisfied with Moe
Zahawi, I hired him to do the upstairs.
Upstairs is a massive project. All
electrical has been torn-out, and
we're starting from scratch.
#2: I am pleased with Moe's attention
to detail upstairs, and have hired
him to do the house's low voltage
wiring: phone, CAT-6, and cable.