Electrical upgrade

When we decided to buy this house we did so with our eyes wide open. In addition to the sweat equity we would be putting into the restoration, we knew there were two areas which would need special, professional attention…and would not be cheap… the plumbing and electrical systems.

Remember the basement demolition? One of the benefits to removing the basement’s false ceiling was gaining the ability to see the plumbing pipes and electrical lines. We saw many lines, many pipes, many decades of additions, fixes and downright crazy, “not to code: things. Such as this extension cord connection for one of the flourescent light fixtures:

uncovering crazy methods of adding power - this has been fixed correctly!

uncovering crazy methods of adding power – this has been fixed correctly!

But let’s get back to the first big fix. We had plumbing issues to resolve first because there was a large leak under the kitchen sink and the concrete utility sink in the basement leaked. The washing machine drains into this utility sink, so a leak meant the washing machine was off-limits. Oh boy, a trip to the laundromat! We’d lived in the house for less than one week and I had no idea which plumber to call. So I called my neighbor and she directed me to the amazing Wendricks-White Plumbing.

Ken Wendricks came to the house the same day I called and surveyed our issues. His vast knowledge of plumbing was immediately evident to me and he was not at all perplexed by the conglomeration of weird plumbing lines. He has worked on just about every house in my neighborhood and is a second generation plumber along with his two brothers. Their father started the business and they have continued a fine tradition.

We accepted Ken’s work proposal. He returned the next week and spent two and half days repairing the under sink mess in the kitchen; installing a new InSinkerator garbage disposal and a double utility sink in the basement, (one of my new favorite items, no more washing paint brushes in the kitchen sink); repairing the washing machine lines and then replacing the old iron pipes in the basement with copper. I actually forgot to take pictures of the plumbing before and after. I remember I was upstairs cleaning many things while Ken was working in the basement. This is the only picture I have with any relationship to the plumbing before the work, but you do get to see my favorite double utility sink.

the laundry area is to the left in this picture, out of the frame.

the laundry area is to the left in this picture, out of the frame.

My favorite double utility sink!

My favorite double utility sink!

The plumbing lines are now streamlined and everything is to code. There is still work to be done with the bathroom plumbing, (which will be addressed when we remodel the two bathrooms), but for now, we have good water pressure and solid plumbing. Big ticket item number one – check.

The next issue: 85-year-old house  +  6 previous owners = 2013 electrical mayhem.

The solution: Find an exceptional electrician.  Know when the work is above your pay grade!!

We chose our electrician carefully and could not be happier. He was actually recommended to us by our plumber! (We learned this lesson a while back – If you respect a contractor, ask them for recommendations for other trades, they know who is trustworthy and competent.) Jack Winston of Winston Electric is a master electrician and appreciates old homes like ours. He has worked on an extensive number of historic homes in our area. Plus, he’s a wizard at figuring out the puzzles often associated with upgrading old electrical lines. Like the multiple layers of electrical additions over decades of owners:

Three types of wiring just added on over the years.

Three types of wiring just added on over the years.

and more additions, YIKES!!!

and more additions, YIKES!!!

Strange wiring, YIKES!!!!

Strange wiring, YIKES!!!!

We accepted his work proposal and scheduled four days for the work. What he accomplished in those four days is extraordinary to us and so well appreciated. He laid all the new lines and then pulled out the old wiring. A lot of old wiring.

Old wiring pulled out of the house.

Old wiring pulled out of the house.

more old wiring pulled out of the house...

more old wiring pulled out of the house…

a bit more old wiring...

a bit more old wiring…

and the last of it!

and the last of it!

We learned our circuit box is a really good one. Yeah! The overloaded circuits have been streamlined and I can now plug-in the vacuum upstairs rather than running an extension cord from downstairs. Joy, joy, joy. Our outside lights work, the back doorbell works. I can use the hairdryer in the upstairs bathroom without blowing the circuit!  We have extra circuits now as well as a dedicated line to the attic should we want to add AC to the house in the future (money willing!).  When the contractors are in, it pays to plan ahead for future projects. We reused all the porcelain light bases and one flourescent light fixture. What we didn’t want to or couldn’t reuse went to the recycling station.

Wall outlets added in the 1950's, replaced with coded boxes, the right amount of power in the right places.

Wall outlets added in the 1950’s, replaced with coded boxes, the right amount of power in the right places.

Also, Jack installed hard-wired, integrated smoke and carbon dioxide detectors on all four levels of the house so if one detector goes off, they all go off.  Because the house has six-inch wide plaster walls, each room is quite sound proof. The hard-wired system will allow us to hear an alarm no matter where we are in the house. We now have appropriate lighting and outlets for all the power equipment in the workshop and good lighting in the basement for the storage room and laundry area.Those crazy connections are gone and power is correctly allotted to the breakers. Our home is now safe.

The dangerously frayed original knob and wire connections on the garage are gone now, updated and to code.


Old knob and wire electrical connections – now gone. Plus, the wood has been repainted.


Original wiring in the attic floor. It’s good, we kept it. Cool to see for old stuff buffs.

Although there was a bit of sadness at having to remove the original fuse boxes, we opted for the safe and reliable modern outlets. The old fuse boxes were really good at doing their job. The problem is when they blew, you had to replace a fuse. Not convenient when compared to today’s method of flipping the breaker if it blows. If you had no extra fuses handy…well, here’s the fun history trivia… a lot of folks would pop in a copper penny and run the electricity off of that. Now you have a really great fire hazard.  Breakers are user friendly and since we have a top notch breaker box, replacement was a no brainer.


The original fuse box before removal.


Old fuses, penny for your thoughts?

Now, when we upgrade light fixtures in the bedrooms, we can rest assured the electrical lines are safe. May need to add an electrical box to the fixture, but we can handle that!

It's always a DIY challenge to change and old light fixture...

It’s always a DIY challenge to change and old light fixture…

...you never know what situations you'll uncover.

…you never know what situations you’ll uncover. No electrical box!

Big ticket item number two – check. Onward to restoring windows.


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