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Buying a new (old) house. It has a fuse box. Questions inside.
March 6, 2014 1:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the due diligence period of buying a house built in 1964. It's in Atlanta. The inspection yesterday went well, but the house has a fuse box and a breaker panel (the breaker handles AC and washer/dryer only). I know absolutely nothing about electric/wiring issues or systems.

The inspector said it was fine, but that having it updated to a breaker box would be good. The realtor told me some insurance companies wont insure a house with a fuse box. I've spoken with several large insurance companies and all seemed ok with the fuse box. I then spoke with a local insurance broker who scared the shit out of me. He told me he wouldn't personally buy a house with a fuse box, that it needs to be updated or no insurance company he knows of would insure me, or that if they did they'd be willingly ignoring it and would later deny me coverage. He also thinks all of the old wiring should be replaced.

Who do I believe? Who can I trust? Will a fuse box be able to handle my electronics (tvs, computers, speakers, videogame consoles, etc.)? What do I need to know? Please help me with any advice, opinions, explanations! Thanks!
posted by arm426 to Home & Garden (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
just a data point, I live in the 1964 built home with a fuse box. Everything works. We only occasionally blow a fuse. I was able to get and keep homeowners insurance. And when I had a electrician out to give me a quote on updating the fuse box to a breaker panel, he essentially told me it wasn't worth doing. The amount of labor that'd have to be done to do the swap negated any gains in performance or safety. As long as you're not blowing fuses left and right or sticking pennies in there, you should be fine.
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:12 PM on March 6


Generally speaking, modern breaker boxes should include a something that I'm reading is called in English a ground fault circuit interruptor, which is decidedly a good thing. Old-style fuses are too slow if there's a fault, and nasty stuff can happen even on an otherwise healthy and functional system. Toddler putting a fork in the contact, that type of thing…
Occasionally that breaker will send you into a spin when (for instance) the motor warmer cable of your car is damaged and helps thusly create a mock power outage in the early morning when you're still too tired to think properly (happened once). Otherwise I'm sure I've been saved a few of my nine lives through these switches, because, heck, electrical mishaps happen even with people as neurotically over-careful as myself.

Wherever I moved and bought the house (happened twice) the first thing was to chase a certified electrician through the entire property, to change whatever wasn't safe according to current building standards. It seems like a good investment.
posted by Namlit at 1:16 PM on March 6


Will a fuse box be able to handle my electronics (tvs, computers, speakers, videogame consoles, etc.)?

Fuses aren't inherently dangerous, but they do tend to coincide with old wiring throughout the walls, which may or may not be dangerous, and low-amperage service, which may or may not be enough to run all your toys comfortably. Are the wall outlets around the house grounded? What's the service amperage? If you've only got 60-amp service then it could be overtaxed if you plan on, say, using the microwave, central air, electric dryer and a big TV all at the same time. Solving such a problem gets expensive because you need a bigger wire from the street to the house, then a big new breaker box, then new, bigger wires from the box to various points around the house. Doing it all is into several thousand dollars, which is why people tend to defer it as long as possible.
posted by jon1270 at 1:22 PM on March 6 [3 favorites]


We bought a house two years ago in Nashville. It was built in 1950, and had all the original wiring and a fuse box. We paid cash, so we weren't dealing with any mortgage related required repair situations. Our inspector was not so concerned about the fuse box, but the wiring coming into the house was not up to code. In fact, the main wire coming down from the line and into the house was fabric covered, with wire peeping through in places. So, that was the primary issue driving us to do repairs.

That said, we had no problem getting insurance. I think they asked about a fuse box, but that was it.

We had a couple of bids to replace the feeder line coming into the house, and change the fuse box for a breaker box. We ended up paying $1600 for the job (although one quote was double that). I think the bulk of the cost was the replacing the main line, which then had to be inspected by the city. When we asked about the safety of existing wiring, both electricians told us that it really wasn't a major concern They said that unless there is some extraordinary issue, that replacing old wire is cost prohibitive unless your are doing gut renovations, and are going to open up the walls anyway.
posted by kimdog at 1:23 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


I live in Minnesota, in a home built in 1960, that has a fuse box.

This house has, in the past, been inhabited by 3 heavy computer users (multiple desktop machines + monitors a piece), it also had a very old 1990s 40" CRT TV, 80s era fridge, washer/dryer and water heater. The only time in that period that we ever blew a fuse was during a LAN party when there were maybe a dozen PCs hooked up to the same circuit as the kitchen and someone decided to microwave some popcorn.

We have not blown a fuse since (though now it's only 2 nerds, and the TV/fridge and other energy hogs have been updated).

My insurance company did not bat an eye when I bought the house (in 2004, on an FHA loan so lots of extra inspections/hoops to jump through). It was recommended that we consider updating the electrical, but it's really never been enough of a problem. I was quoted, at the time of purchase about $5,000 to to the upgrade for my 1,200 sq ft rambler.

Maybe things are weirder in other jurisdictions, but I would find another insurance broker.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:24 PM on March 6


Fuse box isn't great, but it's pretty fine. As long as the rest of the wiring checks out, which you should know from the inspection, you're probably ok. I don't know if there will be any impact on modern devices like phone chargers, laptops, etc., but I suspect not. I certainly wouldn't consider it a deal breaker. I'm a bit surprised to hear that cosmicbandito's electrician said it wasn't worth upgrading. My guess was more in line with what kimdog describes in terms of cost.

Older houses (as in older than the 1930s) sometimes have "knob and tube" wiring, which is a disaster and no one will insure. It's possible the insurance broker is confusing fuses with knob and tube. It's also possible he just has no idea what he's talking about.

Don't panic!
posted by that's candlepin at 1:24 PM on March 6


FWIW, my last house had been rewired before we got it. That house was small, almost entirely on one floor and had an unfinished basement, so getting new wires fed into joist cavities from below was really easy and relatively cheap.
posted by jon1270 at 1:25 PM on March 6


Are you getting an appraisal? Appraisers catch most of the lender required repairs in the deals I have worked with.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:28 PM on March 6


The house will be appraised by our lender but I'm not really sure at what point in the process that takes place at.
posted by arm426 at 1:30 PM on March 6


The reason insurance companies don't like fuse boxes (more than they don't like older circuit breaker boxes) is that edison-base fuses are all the same size, even though they have different ratings. If you have 14 gauge wiring (standard in older houses), you should only use a 15 amp fuse, but if the fuse keeps burning out people eventually discover that a 20 amp fuse fits just fine & doesn't burn out - but it also allows the wiring to overheat. As long as you stick to 15 amp fuses you won't start any fires.

As others have said, the fact that you have a fuse box almost certainly means that you've got an undersized electric system, by today's standards. It sounds like somebody put the AC on a separate sub-panel after the fact, and probably bypassed the fuse panel (because it wouldn't handle the additional load). Make sure that the wires leading into the house are sized properly for the combined load.

Finally, if your wiring is that old, most of it is probably ungrounded. If that is the case, you should look into having GFCI outlets installed on any plugs in your bathroom or near the kitchen sink - this will give you some additional protection against electric shock.
posted by mr vino at 1:35 PM on March 6


We are in an even older house with a very similar situation and literally just got ours replaced as we were getting wall insulation and they wouldn't do with fuses.

Our electrician, who is not the kind of guy to recommend work for no reason, said he wouldn't lorve in a fuse house as he has seen too many that let wires melt before the fuse burnt out, with all that implied. He said they are much more unsafe than breakers.

I must say with two babies in the house, I was happy to follow his advice.
posted by smoke at 1:41 PM on March 6


Well the inspector didn't have anything negative to say about the wiring. He recommended that one or two outlets that weren't GFCI be updated but that most in the house already were.

Is there any other way that in the instance my electronic stuff is too big a load, that I could have the system "upgraded" to handle more electronics? Is there a way to do that that wont cost me thousands? If I do have it upgraded to a breaker, any other things I should ask an electrician to do alongside that? Anyone in Atlanta have any recommendations on a good electrician? Thanks for all the info so far!
posted by arm426 at 1:47 PM on March 6


Well if you have an appraisal contingency (which you should) then if it's an issue with the lender you'll have an option to bail out.

But really, there's no real reason to be worried about a fuse box. A glass screw-in fuse which protects against a 30 amp overload does the exact same thing as a 30 amp breaker. The breaker just happens to be re-usable. It's a little easier to put the wrong rating of fuse in than it is to change out a breaker such that it's too high for an electrical run, but I wouldn't lose sleep over it. (Don't do it, obviously)

That's the sort of thing that would cause the situation smoke mentions above; a fuse (of physical fuse or breaker type or whatever) exists to prevent power flow from exceeding the level the wire is rated for, and for it to work right it has to be the right level. People have been defeating these things for as long as fuses have existed by putting pennies in there (preventing it from EVER doing its job) or via other methods. I'm sure there are breakers being held closed with tape too.

My 1939 home has a breaker panel but there's still some cloth-wrapped wiring in places. That's a far bigger likelyhood of an issue than a fusebox, and in fact we have one of those too - our electric water heater and electric dryer are on a small 4-socket fuse panel next to them. For a home of your era I'd be WAY more worried about aluminium wire.
posted by phearlez at 1:48 PM on March 6


We bought a house with a fuse box in Atlanta. We immediately replaced it with updated electrical breaker panel. Best $2,000 I've ever spent. Get ARC fault grounding when you do it. We had Belco do ours and it was fantastic. We did a bunch of upgrades electrically and the guy gave us a 20% discount with a program they had. I got pot lights, sconces, a new doorbell an attic fan, etc.

You want to do this because you have a bazillion electrical devices and your current service will not adequately service them all.

Between your TV, Roku, Cable box, cable modem, wifi, computers, other TV, charging station for your phones, plus your HVAC, Refrigerator and etc.

Dude, just swap it out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:49 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


if you want more juice, you'll have to upgrade the service (the lines running into the house to panel) and the panel itself. There is no cheap way to do this. If you're doing the panel upgrade, get the service upgrade at the same time.
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:50 PM on March 6


Is there any other way that in the instance my electronic stuff is too big a load, that I could have the system "upgraded" to handle more electronics? Is there a way to do that that wont cost me thousands?

You can add a subpanel (or twelve, really, if you have the wall space) to allow for more power so long as you have a high enough rated run from the power company. They may or may not foot that part of the bill depending on if they think they will realize more money from you as a result.

Between the box and your sockets you're limited to the gauge of your current wiring. If what's in there can handle 30 amp and you're currently only fused for 20 then it can be upgraded. Else you need to have new wire pulled. What that costs depends on how hard it is, which depends on a lot of things. The easier you can get close to the area under where it will go the cheaper it will be.

I don't know that you can do much of this without spending 'thousands' at the low end but you can do a whole lot without spending half a dozen or more thousand. Any reputable electrician will give you a quote.
posted by phearlez at 1:53 PM on March 6


First, get yourself a copy of The Virgin Homeowner. You should have this anyway. It's a great reference for how every system in your house works.

Second, as others have said, fuse boxes are just fine except that the fuses burn out slower than breakers throw, which means that there is a short, then the wiring could cause more damage to walls/people/pets/appliances. The insurance agent who flipped out is a nervous nellie who doesn't (a) have the actuarial table to take "fuse box" as an input and adjust the rate based on known (low) risk and (b) doesn't understand power too well.

Third capacity is a whole different ballpark. Olders homes very commonly have something like 100 amp service, which is fine until you run the washing machine, fridge, electric oven, air-conditioner, a few computers, all the lights and a blow dryer.

What happens is that 100 amps gets divided among all the circuits in the house and hopefully all the circuits individual capacities add up to less than 100. If you're blowing fuses, then you have too much on some of the circuits. If you still have capacity in the box, you might be able to divide up the loaded circuit into a new fuse. Likely, you would need more capacity in the box.

If you want to up capacity in the box, you should know things like, can I split up the (potentially) overloaded circuits? Will I be adding on to the house/property in any significant way (addition, powered workshop, infrastructure for the Christmas light display that will blind your neighbors)?

To plan this out, map the circuits in the house - it will be a blissfully small number. You do this by removing a fuse and seeing which outlets/lights go dead. Then you can look at each circuit and the fuse that runs it and decide if it has enough capacity for what you want to put on it.

Here's how you do that.
I have a circuit with a 15 amp fuse. That means that if you draw more than 15 amps, the fuse blows. Most appliances will list what they draw or they will list the number of watts. If you have watts, take that number and divide by 120V. So looking at the dell website, I find that an Inspiron desktop has a 220 Watt Power Supply. 220/120 = 1.8 amps. So you could hook up 8 of those (without monitors) for your gene-folding work, for example.

Oh, and by the way, air conditioning will be your largest draw. Here's the spec for a typical unit: 12,000 BTU's, Power: 1110 W/10.2 A. That means that if you're running it on a 15 amp circuit, you really shouldn't be running a whole lot else, which is why many outlets near windows get put on their own circuit - just for running a window A/C unit.
posted by plinth at 2:16 PM on March 6 [2 favorites]


How many circuits does the house currently have, and how are those circuits laid out in the house?

Here's what happens: You have the drop from the pole to your house. In a modern house, that's either 100 or 200 amps, in an older house that can be 60 amps (that's what it was in our house). So you get that much at the panel, and it's then divided up into individual circuits in the house.

Each of those circuits, general utility and lighting circuits are either 15 amps or 20 amps (more for special appliances, like electric stoves, dryers, and HVAC). Each of these circuits has a fuse or a breaker at your panel.

Simplistically: If you draw more than the wires from the panel are rated for (14ga wire for 15 amp circuits, 12ga for 20a circuits), the fuse blows or the breakers throw, preventing that wire from melting and setting your house on fire.

Again, simplifying greatly, volts times amps is watts, 15 amps at 120 volts is 1800 watts, which is why the largest electric space heater you can buy for your house is 1800 watts. That's the biggest appliance you can put on a 15 amp circuit.

So on a house with a 60 amp drop from the pole (what our 1947 cottage had when we moved in), you get 7,200 watts total for the house, but on each circuit you can draw at most 1800 (15 amps) or 2400 (20 amps) watts. On a house with a 200 amp drop from the pole you get 24,000 watts total for the house, but still only 1800 watts per circuit.

To figure out if you're electronics stuff is too big a load, either get a Kill-A-Watt meter and measure the devices in practice (because often they'll draw less than they say they do), or total up the wattage on the back of all of the devices you want to use simultaneously in one place. Looks like a Playstation 2 sucks about 72 watts, a 42" LCD TV is around 110 watts (plasma will be higher), my laptop power brick claims 1.5 amps and I'll be running it at 120 volts, so there's 180 watts (I suspect it actually runs more like 80 or 90, but we'll be liberal).

So the TV+PS2+a relatively high-powered laptop is (72+110+180), or 362 watts (on the high end of the estimate, for the laptop that'd maybe be hit with full brightness, pegged CPU, and charging the battery), or 1/5th of what a standard circuit can provide. If you have a fuse which controls a circuit that feeds the sockets in two bedrooms (again, how our house was set up), that setup in each bedroom will be under half of the available power to those rooms.

As others have mentioned, replacing the main panel with breakers (a good idea, you should have AFCI on your bedroom circuits) will probably run you $1500-2000. Running additional circuits in the walls to places in the house will cost more, and depending on how they run it could cost way more.

But you know what your current devices are, you know where you're going to put them, you can figure out which fuse feeds which sockets so you can figure out what wiring you're going to have those devices attached to. Take that number and figure out if you need more circuits anywhere.

If you do, get a quote on running them and factor that into your house acquisition costs. And also note that device power consumption generally has been going down: Modern LCD TVs draw a lot less than the old tube TVs, lighting draws way less power than it used to, the more power a computer or game console draws the more heat the designers have to get rid of.
posted by straw at 2:19 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


Not only does it imply older wiring, it also implies not enough outlets. My last house was built around the same time, and there just weren't enough damn outlets. You'll want to check that, and ask an electrician what you can do about adding them if need be.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:21 PM on March 6


A different data point; we bought a 1913 Queen Anne with a 1950's era fuse box. The first thing we did was replace the fuse box with a breaker box - it was very easy, and under $500 to do. Even if you're concerned about the fuses, it's easy enough to upgrade the box.
posted by anastasiav at 2:30 PM on March 6


Straw's amps to watts numbers assume you've got only 120V coming in from the street - this would be the case for very old wiring but I'm not sure about 1964 - and you could tell because there are only 2 wires coming in. More commonly (and probably true in your case because you've got the AC and dryer panel), you've got 3 wires coming in, giving you twice the capacity (this works because the 3rd wire is out of phase from the 1st, so each hot wire is 120V relative to neutral, but they are 240V relative to each other.
posted by mr vino at 2:31 PM on March 6


Full disclosure: I'm an electrician but in Canada; there are some code differences between here and there but the ones of note are on the bleeding edge of safety issues.

Fuses panels aren't inherently riskier than breakers. In fact fuses in edge cases are better than breakers; the only thing breakers have going for them over fuses are easy of reset and compactness. If you could find a NOS fuse panel it would be legal to install it in a new home.

The reason insurance companies will sometimes fixate on fuse panels is they are associated with older wiring in residential use as fuse panels were phased out in the 60s-70s. And one of the problems with wiring in residences is the older the system is the greater the chance they've been messed with by bob-handyman or harry-homeowner generally to deleterious effect. A shiny new breaker panel in a 60 year old home means that at a minimum the panel at least is likely free from poor quality hackery.

Also a fused service being older is often associated with ungrounded receptacles or knob and tube wiring. The former is a safety risk and the latter is almost always problematic because of substandard alterations to either the electrical system or the building envelope. If you have neither of these things I wouldn't be worried.

Whether a particular insurance company will find it a problem varies a lot. Some won't insure at all, some don't care and some require varying levels of inspection and updating. It's not uncommon for an insurance company to require the electrical service to be inspected by an electrician. (BTW if one has any worries about the electrical system in your home this is the way to go. An electrician can test for problems that home inspectors specifically disclaim and they can give you options and costs to remediate problems.)

Modern fuses are all of the non-interchangeable style and if you are concerned someone will install the wrong fuse you can permanently alter older fuse holders with screw in rejection holders. This is generally only a problem in rental units; home owners are more invested in not having their house burn down and it is straight forward to avoid using the wrong size (or a penny!) accidentally.

The two things that fuse panels don't support in residential applications are GFCI protection (current leaks large enough to kill a person but not large enough trip an overcurrent device) and Arc Fault protection (high frequency arcing that can cause fires but isn't drawing enough current to trip an over current device). Both of these classes of protection can be provided at the receptacle end. Most people have experienced GFCI receptacles in bathrooms and AFCI receptacles (and combination AFCI/GFCI) are becoming available. You may hear that AFCI devices aren't "code legal" but that is a quirk of the code rules and not a significant safety risk of AFCI receptacles.

Electronics generally have low power draws. A whole room full of electronics for example will draw less than a space heater or hair dryer. And for residential customers there aren't any problems with power factor that might be of concern in commercial settings.

arm426: " He recommended that one or two outlets that weren't GFCI be updated but that most in the house already were. "

This is a very cheap and therefor common recommended way of increasing safety in your home where GFCI protection absent or ungrounded receptacles exist. Essentially code requires GFCI in wet areas like bathrooms and kitchens and a GFCI receptacle is less than $20.

plinth: " fuses burn out slower than breakers throw, which means that there is a short, then the wiring could cause more damage to walls/people/pets/appliances"

This is a complicated issue but generally speaking this isn't true in any significant way. During a short both fuses and properly functioning breakers will interrupt current within 1/360th of a second.
posted by Mitheral at 2:38 PM on March 6 [9 favorites]


Fuse boxes are OK, the only problem is the capacity. If you have a fuse box, you likely have 60 amp service, which isn't enough to run most modern day toys -- particularly central air, but it sounds like someone tried a cheap workaround for that in your potential house.

My first house was built in 1952. I bought it in 2004. I had 100 amp service and breakers. One of my first projects was going to be to install central A/C (this was in Massachusetts -- people in New England don't tend to believe in A/C even though it DOES get hot in the summer). EVERY installer I had out to the house for an estimate said I needed to get 200 amp service. So my first project became upgrading my electrical service. I hired an electrician for $1,200, and he gave me a brand new breaker box and brand new breakers. Then the town inspector came in (to approve the work and close out the permit) and said the line from the street was bad and made the utility come out and fix it.

If you decide to buy the house, I'd recommend hiring an electrician to swap out the fuse box and upgrade your service to 100 amp or even 200 amp. The electrician should be able to tell you if the wiring in the house can handle it.

If there's an issue with your mortgage company, or with getting insurance, you'll have the option to back out of the deal. Alternatively you can make it known to the seller that the wiring is preventing you from getting a mortgage or insurance, and try to get them either (a) have the work done themselves (not a great option, since they are leaving and may hire someone who does a poor job), or (b) to come off the sales price by the amount of your estimate.

I wouldn't try to come after the seller if it's not a problem getting insurance or a mortgage, unless your home inspector said it was a problem.

Pro Tip: Try to get a few (written!) estimates if you can, and pick the highest one to present to the seller. Then when you do the work, pick the one you want to do it (by perceived quality/knowledge or lowest price, which hopefully will be the same but is not likely to be).
posted by tckma at 2:56 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


One possible worry about the interchangeable base fuses is that you don't know that the size in there now is correct. An electrician can tell you. When your house was built, most circuits were 15amp, but there could be a larger one meant for a big appliance. There would be a completely different circuit for an electric stove or dryer.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:27 PM on March 6


Here's some additional information from the actual inspection report.

Electrical Service Conductors:
Overhead service

Panel capacity:
150 AMP

Branch wire 15 and 20 AMP:
Copper

Wiring Methods:
Romex

Any red flags there?

(in red, and we're asking the seller to repair this):
"The sub-panel is tapped off of the main lugs. This does not allow a safe way to cut power to the sub-panel. Have further evaluated by a licensed electrician and repaired as needed."

Then this note, but not highlighted in red as a must:
"The A/C condensing unit appears over-amped. The manufacturer recommends it be connected to a maximum 35 amp breaker when it appears to be connected to a 40 amp one. This may cause damage to the unit by not tripping when needed and should be evaluated and repaired by a qualified electrician."
posted by arm426 at 4:29 PM on March 6


I will note, as i have in the past, that i am not a licensed electrician nor an expert.

The last note about the AC made me think something though. I bet there's a 40 amp breaker there because it causes a sag in the line(read the wiki articles "power quality" and "brownout" if you're not familiar with this term), and momentarily draws enough current to blow a 35 amp breaker. So they ghetto-rigged it and popped in a 40 amp that wont occasionally blow when the AC is trying to start.

Should it really work that way? No. Is it the kind of thing i've totally seen people do before? yea.

As for the fuse box, my Dads comment on them as a guy who maintains rental houses and generally has a lot of contracting experience echoes what was said above. In that fuse box usually = shitty underspecced wiring for a modern person with modern electronics and such.

I lived in a place that had fuses and we had a full sized 15in woofer PA system, club/stage lights, 2000+ lumen business projectors, older plasma TVs(which SUCK power), my huge wall of recording gear/powered studio monitors/synths/etc, an electric deep fryer, and tons of other dumb stuff. We only ever had an issue when my dog chewed through an extension cord, and a couple other random times. Not any more than i've blown breakers in any other place. The only really annoying thing was we didn't have any extra fuses, and at one point the management ran out... i had to bike across town super hungover the day after st patricks or something to the only hardware store in the area that still sold fuses.

Overall i think fuses are wasteful and vaguely annoying, but sort of a loss-leader to the real point of "does the wiring suck?" Romex wiring is the current standard though from what i've seen, so if it's the right gauge... couldn't you just swap the panel if fuses concern you?
posted by emptythought at 4:53 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


arm426: ""The sub-panel is tapped off of the main lugs. This does not allow a safe way to cut power to the sub-panel. Have further evaluated by a licensed electrician and repaired as needed.""

This could be totally fine and legal (American code doesn't require power to be disconnected with only a single throw); safe but not code legal; or crazy unsafe and not code legal. Your electrician will be able to tell you.

The A/C breaker size is wrong (assuming the HI actually knows what he is talking about a lot of them don't on finer points of code like this) but is really cheap to fix so I wouldn't stress about it.

emptythought: "Romex wiring is the current standard though from what i've seen, so if it's the right gauge... couldn't you just swap the panel if fuses concern you?"

Yes, though the jurisdiction may require some updating. Here we'd typically need to install GFCIs in the kitchen and bathroom, install a dedicated outdoor circuit, upgrade grounding and bonding to metal piping and run a dedicated circuit to the fridge.
posted by Mitheral at 6:16 PM on March 6


The only thing I would really be concerned with, as long as you're not blowing fuses frequently, is to make sure that the house does NOT have aluminum wiring. During the 60s copper prices were shooting up, so aluminum wiring was used as a cheaper alternative. Aluminum wiring is totally unsafe. Do NOT buy the house if it has aluminum wiring (unless you're willing to immediately shell out and have it replaced with new copper wire).

Aluminum wiring
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:26 PM on March 6


"Older houses (as in older than the 1930s) sometimes have 'knob and tube' wiring, which is a disaster and no one will insure."

Untrue. Houses all over Seattle have knob and tube and we all seem to find insurance and aren't required to replace the wiring. Code up here in Washington, from what I saw when I was researching it, is relatively friendly to keeping it. See the post here that discusses issues with it in Washington.

In my house I have a fuse box (for the knob and tube) and two breaker panels (for the electrical service). The knob and tube supplies the light fixtures on the main floor, and nothing else these days as far as I know. Everything else goes through the breaker panels and it is fine. The place has been upgraded to way more power than is needed, even with a bunch of computers and appliances.

The only time a fuse blew in the fuse box in 18 years is when we had a fixture rewired and they actually screwed the wiring up, so the fuse blew when we flipped a switch. So, hey, it works.
posted by litlnemo at 10:06 PM on March 6


Our 1962 house didn't have any ground wiring in the existing outlets. So plug EVERYTHING into a good quality surge protector.

If you don't have an electrician, I highly recommend Belco. They are a local company, not a national franchise and the guys are fantastic.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:25 AM on March 7


mr vino: "Straw's amps to watts numbers assume you've got only 120V coming in from the street..."

Yeah, thinking about that a little more: Duh, my in-feed breakers are one on each leg, and 200A each, so my "200A drop" actually gives me 48 kilowatts to divvy up, and it's likely that the original poster's 150A feed gives 36 kilowatts (modulo all the other handwaving). So, yeah, the pole-to-house drop is not the limiting factor here.

Sub-panel "tapped off the main lugs" is scary if that means that the sub-panel is completely un-fused or protected. If it's protected by the main fuse/breaker and both the sub-panel and the feed to it are rated to the full current of the main panel, then I wouldn't be worried about it.

And re empthythought's musing on that 40A breaker for the 35A device: I'd have someone verify that the wires to the AC condenser are sufficient for the length of their run. Those may be long enough that you're getting a bit of resistance in them and causing start-up nuisance trips. If this really bugged you then there's probably a switch in a box next to the condenser (I had to put one in for my heat pump when I built my workshop), you could replace this with a small panel that had a 35A breaker in it rather than the switch that's currently in it.

(Since it bears mentioning: I am not an electrician, I am, however, a homeowner who has built and wired a permitted and inspected a free-standing "habitable structure" and re-wired a good portion of my home.)
posted by straw at 10:05 AM on March 7


Some good news: the seller has agreed to have the fuse box updated to a breaker box in addition to addressing the notes the inspector made regarding the sub-panel! I'll still probably have things checked out shortly after moving in by an electrician, but this is some good comfort not having to spend quite as much right off the bat.
posted by arm426 at 7:52 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


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