More wiring crimes

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More wiring crimes

Postby Texas_Ranger on Sat Oct 29, 2011 6:17 pm

Title courtesy of jharkin...
Today I got my younger brother to let me have a look at the wiring in the 1960s apartment he rents together with two other students. As usual with buildings from that era, the original wiring was in fairly decent shape, but the later additions were pretty scary.

Loose twisted and taped wires in the TV cabinet?
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Check.

Grossly undersized wires (roughly 18AWG) damaged when the outlet was installed (it got pinched between the metal claw that speads to hold the outlet in and the wall of the hole, no box, even though it was installed in a piece of particle board)
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Check.

Ungrounded outlet in the bathroom, falling out of the wall?
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Check.

Building wiring fed from a cord with plug and a splice in mid-air?
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Check!

Holes in walls rather than junction boxes?
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Check!

Broken outlets?
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Check!

Flexible cord spliced roughly into the building wiring and strung loosely along the soffits?
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Check!

This cord feeds two spot lights on a drop ceiling and was clearly an afterthought. Not the whole ceiling is dropped, only an L-shaped area covering maybe 2/3 of the room. The transition to the original ceiling is faced with mahogoni veneer chipboard nailed to plain chipboard. The cord feeding the lights is taped to the hidden layer of chipboard (using band aid). The drop ceiling is a monstrosity all by itself, consisting of 1/2" chipboard rather than drywall, with two rows of recessed lights - I guess even if they used 15W bulbs it would amount so some 300W of incandescent power, not counting the ugly 3-bulb pendant and the two spot lights (probably at least 40W each). The can lights are in fairly bad shape, I unscrewed one bulb to have a look at the whole thing and half the socket came down with the bulb (European sockets usually screw shut with big threads rather than snap together like US sockets) and that can lead to the socket coming apart when you unscrew a bulb. At least since the 1970s all sockets have a small spring-loaded tab that prevents accidental unscrewing, but these sockets don't. Add to that mix that I absolutely don't trust the wiring above and you've got a recipe for disaster. Oh, and I don't trust the framing either... so I strongly recommended to get rid of that ceiling. Besides, dropping an 8'4" ceiling by 6" most certainly isn't a good idea in my book...

I fixed some glaring obvious problems I could do easily without any new materials, but strongly recommended to contact the landlord about the further issues and demand him to send a licensed electrician over... according to a 2008 law, Austrian landlords are required to have the entire wiring tested by a licensed electrician every time before they rent out any residential space and no matter how old the wiring is they have to install modern ground fault protection. From what the wiring looked like it's pretty certain no electrician looked at that place since it was built and the ground fault protection is woefully inadequate by modern standards (trip current of US GFI outlets is 5mA, current standard in most European countries is 30mA, this one is 250mA).
The bad thing with electricity : it almost always works.

http://whatapigsty.blogspot.com
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Re: More wiring crimes

Postby nezwick on Sat Oct 29, 2011 7:49 pm

Wow! I guess that goes to show Europe has its share of sneaky landlords and DIY hack jobs too! The apartment we rented prior to buying this place was pretty nice - just completed before we moved in - but who knows what kinds of things were hiding beneath the new drywall. I see this landlord didn't even bother to hide his indiscretions. Good luck to your brother in having those corrected.
The McCullough/Simkins house, built 1872-1877:
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Re: More wiring crimes

Postby Texas_Ranger on Sun Oct 30, 2011 12:29 pm

I'm pretty sure a lot of this hack work was committed by previous tenants, some maybe by the landlord (i assume at some point he lived there himself, it's actually a condo as far as I can tell). He is either too cheap to have anything fixed or too ignorant to even recognise the issues though I guess.

We'll see how this turns out... I guess it could be made somewhat safe with miminum effort if they absolutely don't want to deal with the landlord.

BTW, today I had a look at the pictures again and counted... a grand total of nine incandescent can lights, probably with 25 or even 40W bulbs each and two 40W spot lights in one room! Plus a 3-bulb pendant, most likely 40W each too.
The bad thing with electricity : it almost always works.

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Re: More wiring crimes

Postby nezwick on Sun Oct 30, 2011 6:08 pm

Texas_Ranger wrote:according to a 2008 law, Austrian landlords are required to have the entire wiring tested by a licensed electrician every time before they rent out any residential space


If this were the case over here, there would be a lot of landlords getting out of the business in a hurry. In this economically depressed rural area, there are a lot of apathetic/absentee landlords who couldn't be bothered to fix the wiring in their sh!t hole duplexes and rental houses. The actual apartment buildings seem to be better as far as maintenance/safety goes, but only because they are managed by a company instead of an individual who already has a day job.
The McCullough/Simkins house, built 1872-1877:
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Re: More wiring crimes

Postby Daniel Meyer on Sun Oct 30, 2011 7:22 pm

If I was a landlord I'd just roll 120% of that right into the rent. Each and every time? Good grief.
CUAgain,
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Re: More wiring crimes

Postby Texas_Ranger on Mon Oct 31, 2011 6:52 am

Daniel Meyer wrote:If I was a landlord I'd just roll 120% of that right into the rent. Each and every time? Good grief.

It's not like it's that expensive if you don't have any glaring violations... last time I heard of someone having it done (this spring) it was €300, i.e. about 1/3 of a month's rent for a place that size. What I think they do is pluck out all outlets and switches for visual inspection, megger every circuit, test GFIs and that's about it. Only a few hours of work. The new laws weren't really made public though... I stumbled across them by mere accident and apparently most landlords don't have the slightest idea. Old wiring isn't required to comply to modern code, but it has to be up to the code of the day it was installed, except for the updated ground fault protection (which is a serious issue in some places were there are no separate ground wires in pre-1978 wiring but all outlets and lights are grounded to the neutral individually, a practice long forbidden, thankfully).

Most tenants tend to stay a minimum of 2 years here too, with some staying 50 years or more (our neighbor spent something like 78 years in the same apartment, first with her parents, moved in when she was 2 years old and then with various husbands and alone until she passed away in 2001) so if you don't play slumlord you won't likely have to have your wiring tested too often.

BTW, in Switzerland you're legally required to have ANY home wiring tested by a nationally recognised testing company! Some of those companies put the pics of the violations they find on their web site... quite an impressive collection! :D
The bad thing with electricity : it almost always works.

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Re: More wiring crimes

Postby jharkin on Mon Oct 31, 2011 12:53 pm

Hey Texas.... Just saw you note in my thread ;) Missed this as I spent the weekend redoing the electric range wiring and completing the generator transfer switch install (which got tested yesterday when we lost power in the snow).

Nice shoddy work you have there! The 18ga wire prompts a question- what are the required wire gauges supposed to be for you guys? I thought on 220 systems they used lower amp breakers, say more like 8 and 12 for general use circuits instead of the 15 and 20 common in North America.

Let us know if the landlord does anything about it... always frustrating to put effort into something you don't own.


~ Jeremy

BTW I cant claim credit for the 'wiring crimes' phrase.. saw that in the George Nash book.
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Re: More wiring crimes

Postby jharkin on Mon Oct 31, 2011 12:56 pm

Another question - in picture 4... is that a breaker box? If yes is it usual to not have a cover plate over the wiring connections or is it just off while you are working?
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Re: More wiring crimes

Postby Texas_Ranger on Mon Oct 31, 2011 4:34 pm

The 18ga wire prompts a question- what are the required wire gauges supposed to be for you guys? I thought on 220 systems they used lower amp breakers, say more like 8 and 12 for general use circuits instead of the 15 and 20 common in North America.

Required minimum is 1.5mm^2 which is somewhere between 16 and 14 AWG (actually pretty much smack dab in the middle) which is good for 16A, but it is recommended not to go beyond 13A. 10A breakers are fairly rare nowadays, they used to be more common, especially for lighting circuits. In new wiring you mostly see 13 and 16A breakers. In Germany they tend to just slap 16A on everything. Our outlets are only rated for 16A max., so you can't go beyond that. The 0.75mm^2 (18AWG) wire they used here isn't good for more than 6A I'd say and it isn't allowed for fixed wiring (inadequate mechanical strength).

Another question - in picture 4... is that a breaker box? If yes is it usual to not have a cover plate over the wiring connections or is it just off while you are working?

Well, something of both... actually it fell off the instant I touched it. It's supposed to snap on, but since they connected the ground wire from that loose wiring to the breaker panel rather than the cord with plug (don't ask me why!) so the extra wire kept the cover from going on and staying there safely. Besides, it's missing the blank plates for the extra breaker spaces.

Here's a picture with the (inadequate) cover on.
Image

It's a 3-phase panel with three single pole breakers for the electric range and single pole breakers with switched neutral for all other circuits. 3-phase is very common in some Continental European countries, whereas others such as the UK and Ireland prefer large 1-phase 2-wire services. I think the Germans are the country with the beefiest supplies, some power companies will have a 63A 3-phase supply by default, even for a tiny single-bedroom apartment with gas heat and range (which is somewhere near a US 200A service).

On a side note, this is the first Austrian place I've ever seen where all original connections were made using wirenuts. Apparently they were somewhat popular for a very short period in the 60s and were then replaced with the terminal strips (called choc block connectors in the UK for they originally only came in brown) as in the last picture. Nowadays, almost all electricians switched completely to push-fit connectors, commonly made by Wagos. They work like the infamous backstabbed receptacles but seem to be much more reliable (have yet had to see one fail and they've been around for more than 20 years now).
The bad thing with electricity : it almost always works.

http://whatapigsty.blogspot.com
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Re: More wiring crimes

Postby jharkin on Mon Oct 31, 2011 8:02 pm

Interesting... Dint realize there was a difference in the UK system vs. the continent other than that big plug. Having 3 phase power everywhere seems a bit odd, but then again that probably allows them to relay save costs on wire with nothing sized bigger than 63A. The main cables we have for 200A are freaking enormous... 0000 gauge I think. Houses with electric heat (ugh) sometimes get 400A service. they run even larger cables or double 0000's.

The funny things is just like your German example this is all grossly oversized. the only reason we put in the 200 was because we ran out of circuits in the old 100 panel and didn't want to deal with a lot of subpanels. Even so I think with the electric stove and dryer both on along with the usual stuff I doubt Ive ever pulled more than 12kw at once. Average load is <2kw. An ancient 60amp service cold handle that.


I wonder why they break the neutral...
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