Saturday, October 10, 2009

Preserve us from previous homeowners - three inaccessible electrical junction boxes

Someone please save me from previous homeowners. I, of course, always follow the electrical code and do perfect work whenever I do any electrical work in any of the houses that I have owned, but those guys that owned the houses before me, what do they know?

We are renovating the second floor bathroom and are to the point where the floor is up, and the walls that had tile on them are out (all done by Lynn, it is really her renovation), which gives unprecedented access to wire new plugs and add an exhaust fan (all done by me, I do the electrical). Breaking up the cast iron tub with a sledge hammer was also lots of fun and one of the few tasks besides electric that I have done, mostly by virtue of the weak but still present sexual dimorphism of homo sapiens.

The other day we took the medicine cabinet off of the wall, because we are going to save it and recess it properly and guess what we found.

A hidden electrical box right behind it. This is not allowed by code. More fun was the realization that the box was connected to two other boxes that had been walled up behind the drywall years ago. We suspect 2001 based on the date on the Corian sink we removed.

This box is in the wall covered up to the right of the stud bay with my new correctly wired outlet. This outlet was at the end of the run. At least they covered the outlet with a plate. Possibly the code allowed this back when they did it. I doubt it.

This box is on the wall covered up to the left of the stud bay with my other correctly wired GFCI outlet. This stud bay was only six inches wide. I was surprised they was an inaccessible junction box there. This was the box with the most issues because the power came down from the attic through a hole in the studs to this box on the left and then across to the center box and the one on the right.

These boxes had power going through them, and worst of all the lights above the opening are powered through them. A glance at the internet reveals that you are not allowed to have inaccessible junction boxes. This guy had to rewire a junction box with a lot of wires that he found, you guessed it, behind a medicine cabinet. He provides good pictures and a nice tutorial on the process. This idiot asked advice about whether he could have an inaccessible junction box. The comments are universally no, but then he wants to solder the wires together and leave them in the wall and argues his point. I suppose he was looking for just one person to say it was OK.

One of the best uses of a digital camera is in this situation where I could put the camera in the bays and see what was going on much easier than trying to poke my head in there. I was able to get rid of the box on the right by unwiring the center box.

I then figured out that the light above was connected with the copper wire. Once I convinced myself that the left box only had the wire with power going in and the black wire coming out the center. I cut those to get the box out and proceeded to figure out how to connect the light's copper wire to the power wire without doing it in an inaccessible junction box. One idea would have been to turn the junction box around and have it be accessible with a plate over it on the other side of the wall, which is inside a closet in the next room. I finally realized that I had enough wire to pull the power wire and the light wire up through the top plate into the attic and connect them in an accessible junction box in the attic. Problem solved, light switch works again, after about a half a day of thinking about a solution and then fixing it. It also wouldn't be a remodeling job if at the end I didn't have to do the final wiring up in the attic amidst the blown in fiberglass insulation, by flashlight, because the attic light was on the same circuit breaker that I turned off to do the work.

The final excitement in this drama is an old problem to me since we have been in this house almost three years now. The house was wired with aluminum wiring. At this point most readers have fainted dead away or are calling the fire department right now because they just assume my house is on fire because it has aluminum wiring. I know that this type of wiring is associated with an increase of the rate of fires, but it can't be that large since so many of these houses from the 60's and 70's still exist and this one was around to for us purchase. I always use the correct fixtures that are compatible with aluminum wiring or I pigtail with copper wiring. I also use the correct UL listed purple connectors with anti-corrosive paste in them if I must have copper and aluminum wiring in the same junction. Many sites say these are inadequate, but those are usually sponsored by the much more expensive cold weld alternative companies that can only be done by an electrician or by very paranoid home inspectors. I have been warned.

No comments: