Installing a grounded outlet: Is this procedure and price reasonable?
March 2, 2014 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Is running wiring outside reasonable or should we get a second opinion?

I just moved in with my grandmother into a 100+ year old home built by my great grandfather. I’m living upstairs in an addition that’s also quite old, but not sure when it was added. I’m going to use one the bedrooms up there as an office, but there are no grounded outlets upstairs at all.

An electrician that my grandmother has used for years for odds and ends came out and quoted us $250 to install the outlet on the outside-facing wall. The electrical box for the whole house is in a cupboard in the kitchen directly below the bedroom on the same wall as the outlet needs to go, and that is grounded. The electrician wants to run the line on the outside of the house to the box and under the window in the upstairs bedroom. They’re scheduled to do the work on the 10th.

My parents came over yesterday and my dad was really unhappy with this solution and said all the wires should be kept inside the house (the wire would be run directly up through the floor and wall for the new outlet in that case, I’m assuming) because it’s ugly, and that we should get a second opinion or challenge this process. I think the electrician tried explaining why going outside was easier/better to my grandma, but she understands these things less than I do so I don’t have a good explanation. Because it’s going through an addition? Because it’s just a pain?

My grandma kind of just wants to do what the guy said because she trusts this company (probably more out of loyalty than logic), but if this isn’t the best way I want to find out since it’s going to be my fault this thing is installed and I’m putting expensive technology on this outlet.

Should we get a second opinion? Is the procedure reasonable or should we ask that it go through the floor/wall to keep the wires inside the house? Is the price ok (Southeast Michigan)?

Disclaimer: sorry if I’m using the wrong terms; I’m not familiar with this. I’ll answer any clarifying questions, but I don’t know a lot about this house’s structure.
posted by rawralphadawg to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
I suspect that running the wires outside of the house would violate building codes. It's one thing to have wires outside that are intended to be there (phone, cable, etc.) but this just sounds fishy and pings my "bad idea" radar.
posted by cooker girl at 12:54 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A 100 year old house will have multiple generations of out-of-code wiring hacks and walls that are hard to repair.

If it's lath and plaster walls, it's a real headache to run a new wire through that and likely impossible without redoing the entire wall.

It's possible that the difference is $250 for an outside route vs. $7000 for "exploratory" internal re-wiring which may or may not include re-doing the whole wall and all the current wiring. My gut tells me you're better off not knowing what wiring horrors lurk behind the walls.

My grandma's house was 100 years old and had a number of wires that ran outside. They were encased in conduit, though.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 1:22 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I had an external grounded outlet installed in my current house - it was about $200 - so your price quote doesn't sound out of line. As long as the wiring is in weatherproof conduit I think running on the exterior is ok. My external outlet is mounted on a concrete wall with conduit connecting back into the interior wiring.
posted by COD at 1:29 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The quote includes the wire being in conduit. And, ohhhh yea the house is not up to code!
posted by rawralphadawg at 1:34 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Properly done outdoor wiring in conduit with an IP rated outlet may be ugly but would be legal and safe everywhere I have worked. I have never worked in the US however so take this with a small grain of salt.
posted by deadwax at 1:50 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The conduit changes things.
posted by cooker girl at 2:09 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is pretty much a cost thing. The trusted guy is pretty sure he can run it outside as quoted. I am sure that if you ask him to run it inside he will but now that might cost as little as $700 or well into the thousands depending on what is discovered in them there walls! In an old house if you and your grandma are not prepared for the thousands of dollars bill, stick with the known solution.
posted by saradarlin at 2:09 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

We have an external grounded outlet on our deck for running our pond pump and heater and it's been fine for several years at this point
posted by brilliantine at 2:37 PM on March 2, 2014

Best answer: Actually there's electrical wire with a sheathing appropriate for outdoor/direct burial use (though local code may or may not permit that, but it is done; usually for HVAC purposes) but the conduit is a good anti-cut measure.

$250 for a soup-to-nuts job is not remotely unreasonable and in a house that old keeping everything inside the walls can, as said above, be a real nightmare. Probably not $7k worth of nightmare but if you're going to cut into l&p walls you'd bare minimum need to also be paying someone to do that (many electricians will not do more than rough-cut through drywall) and repair it.

You can point out to your father that the nice thing about an outside-the-wall gig is that it's removable, so were there ever to be a gut job done on the house it's not like it has to stay there.
posted by phearlez at 2:50 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Other thoughts about running electric:
  • Was the house originally lit by gas lights? Many homes that age had gas lights installed originally, and were retrofitted with electric. If this is the case, it can be really easy to rewire if the 2nd floor has the typical fir/pine floors. There will be 2 or 3 surface-nailed floorboards in each room that were pried up when the original electric was installed. Simply pry those boards up again, drill some new holes, and run the new wiring. Inevitably, there will be a spot where the boards cross an interior partition that you can use to drop the wire to the basement. This, of course, doesn't work if the floors are covered with carpet or some other covering.
  • Running wires up the outside of the house is perfectly fine, and last time I looked at the national electric code, you didn't even have to encase them in conduit so long as the NM cable wasn't subject to being damaged by normal wear and tear. Local codes may vary, of course. Personally, I'd use conduit anyway, but it's not strictly required.
  • $250 for exterior wiring is pretty cheap!

posted by circleofconfusion at 3:30 PM on March 2, 2014

There's a third alternative: wire can be run inside the house, on top of the wall. This protects it from the weather and doesn't require you to tear the wall down. Conduit isn't needed.

It should be cheaper than the other two alternatives, at the expense of being rather ugly.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:07 PM on March 2, 2014

I agree with the thought that it should just be inside. Why not just run some conduit inside the cabinet, through the ceiling/floor, and up to the outlet box in the room?

100% of the wiring in my current place is like this with the exception of the bathroom which was redone with sheetrock walls in the past couple decades. Running conduit outside seems loopy to me and seems like a potential moisture into the wall vector.

Not an electrician, nor a licensed GC. But i've done a lot of work on houses(both that i've lived in and for friends/relatives) and this just violates all the common sense i can muster up. I can't help but side with your dad here.

There's nothing technically wrong with running it outside like that, it just seems like a somewhat weird and easy-route slapdash solution to me.
posted by emptythought at 6:28 PM on March 2, 2014

When the wire is run inside the house, on top of the wall, it's held in place with things that look like big staples. Usually it gets run along corners and along the tops of sideboards, and it isn't really blatant.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:46 PM on March 2, 2014

Do you need your grounded outlet to follow code for insurance reasons, or do you merely want your equipment on a grounded outlet for the sake of EMI filtering? If it's the latter, you can take the ground connection from a radiator or some other metallic plumbing. It will be just as good as the one you'd get from a new outlet. Get a ground fault breaker too.
posted by Herr Zebrurka at 8:29 PM on March 2, 2014

You can always paint the conduit.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:19 AM on March 3, 2014

Best answer: I think the solution your grandma's electrician offered was appropriate. When we had similar work done, we chose external wiring. In some cases, code requires a conduit for external wiring--I think it's a good idea, if for no other reason than it provides a secure way to tack the wire to the wall. You can paint the conduit if you like. I say put bands on it, like a King Snake. Or make it the color of your house.

$250 seems like a reasonable price for what you described. Tearing out the inner walls is another option, but it's easy to see how it will be much more expensive, and will involve tradesmen in addition to the electrician.

I suppose drilling holes through the floor will work, but you still have to channel the wiring along the inner wall, even before you punch a hole in the inner wall to install the outlet. This is technically no different than running the wire outside the house. The difference is that you don't have to deal with internal channeling from the box to the second-floor office. I'm using the terms channeling to refer to masking the wire inside, and conduit to refer to protecting the wire outside.

You may want to have other outlets in your office. If so, the electrician may split the leads outside (make two holes in the external wall, one for each outlet), or he may prefer to run the channels along the baseboards, inside the room. You can buy molding that doubles as channels.
posted by mule98J at 11:04 AM on March 3, 2014

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