Short Circuit – The Kitchen

I always wondered what happened to Steve Guttenburg.

In the weeks leading up to closing on my new home, I went through the standard process of having a home inspector come give the house the old hairy eyeball. At the time, I wasn’t so much worried about him finding something so erroneous that the home couldn’t be sold, like having it built over a Native American graveyard. (Walk towards the light, Daniel!) In truth, I was more interested in what was not visible after the obvious renovation. What hidden secrets did the owners bypass in hopes of making a quick sell in a loaded market?

As it turns out, there wasn’t much to bitch about. The shed needed some moulding, there were some nail pops on the roof, and some siding needed to be patched. Other than that there was not anything serious enough to hold up the sale or make the then current owners crinkle their noses like Sam in Bewitched. However, there was something that did concern me and that was the power in the house.

My house was built in 1941 and since then it has seen some changes, renovations, and updates. But one thing that hardly changed was the power distribution in the home. The home inspector showed me where a great deal of the wiring was the old cloth-covered, two conductor cable. While it was not something to prevent the home from being sold or even something I could ask for a credit or to be replaced, it was a point of concern. This old cable had no ground wire, just a hot and a neutral. While not inherently dangerous, it doesn’t carry the same sense of comfort as does today’s wiring jobs. Appliances, stuff you plug in, etc., aren’t as grounded as in newer homes. The biggest issue isn’t so much becoming one with the circuit but protecting vital (see expensive) electronics that depend on a reliable ground during power surges and other electrical mayhem.

After the whole process of closing, I decided to grab my voltmeter and electrician’s plug and test all the circuits in the house. I made an electrical diagram of the entire place; what outlet and light was on what circuit. I was astonished to find that not only were there not a great deal of circuits of the house, but entire rooms were all tied together on a single branch circuit. But the area that was the worst was the kitchen. In all, the kitchen had only four circuits, microwave, refrigerator, oven/dishwasher/disposal/washing machine, and lights. There were only three actual outlets in the kitchen. One behind the fridge, one for the oven (I have a gas oven) but not usable because of how the plug covered the outlet, and one GFCI near the sink. This meant that there was only one usable outlet and an outlet that was shared with the disposal, dishwasher, oven, washing machine, and a few other outlets. While the breaker wasn’t popping like a bag of microwave popcorn, I was imagining trying to cook or bake or both with this very limited capacity.

Nope.

And thus my first ‘major’ project of my new place became a complete re-wire of the kitchen – separate circuits, add new outlets on new circuits, and revamp the crap-no-ground-wire. In a perfect world with unlimited resources, I would find an electrician on Angie’s List, pay a grand or quite possibly more and let them do it. But to me, electricity is easy. Far easier than plumbing or roofing. I just needed to run new wire, connect some appliances, and add a few outlets. Simple, right?

It was on my third trip to Home Depot this past weekend when I realized it was anything but.

The Klein Tools 56″ extension bit only excepts 9/16″ bits, but the only auger bits Home Depot sells are 1/4″. In other words, the bit wouldn’t fit in the extension – which I needed to make holes through the studs in walls. To complicate matters even further (as though this entire process needed further complication), Home Depot is apparently discontinuing their line of Klein Tools long auger bits and extensions. I was faced with either returning both the extension and the auger to buy a 56″ long auger that costs around $45 or trying to modify the smaller auger bit to fit in the extension bit. Fuck it, I got out the Dremel and made the bit ‘fit’ in the extension. Not an elegant solution, but hey, I’m not Cinderella at the Ball.

The next issue was the switch for the disposal and the outlet were separated by a vertical stud and it took a bit of sleuthing to figure out where wires were running where. And, of course, it was a complete clusterfuck. The Einstein who wired the kitchen for the renovation brought wires running from under a cabinet that went… to who the hell knows where. Instead of simply pulling out old wire and using this to pull in new wire, I was faced with a bit more of a challenge. It was all a learning process.

In addition, I learned that having three sets of 12/2 Romex (required for 20amp circuits) in one wall box is a PAIN IN THE ARSE to push all in. I also learned that there are different types of circuit breakers. Naturally, the best time to learn this is when the main power is shut off and I’m ready to wire in the breaker box. That was trip #3 to Home Depot.

Trip #4, the next morning, was to get more wall boxes and a switch plate that actually fit.

After all the wiring was complete and a set of numb fingers from not-so-subtle coercing of bending 12/2 wire, I finally had the kitchen wired. The last steps involved covering the hole where the old disposal switch was with a piece of drywall, mud, sand, and paint.

I have no idea what the total cost of parts, tools, and fuel for repeated trips to Home Depot. Frankly, I don’t want to know, because if this cost is any where close to what it would have cost to hire an electrician to do this, I would probably slither under the house in the crawl space, roll myself into a fetal position, and stain the new vapor barrier with my warm tears of shame.

Oh, and the two outlets in the dining area are kaput, deader than a can of corned beef. I will have to re-wire those. Somehow. Someday.

Here is the list of circuits, new and old:
9 – 20A (Existing) = GFI Outlet – East Wall
12 – 20A (Existing) = Refrigerator
13 – 20A (Existing) = Microwave
14 – 20A (New) = GFI Outlet – West Wall
15 – 20A (New) = Oven/Washing maching
16 – 20A (New) = Disposal/Dishwasher

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