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Electrical Issues in the Addition

Our house has a large family room addition that the previous owner built. Because there are numerous issues, ranging from electrical to structural to general workmanship, we decided years ago that it will be easier to tear it down and rebuild it rather than try to fix it.   This week, I take a closer look at the electrical work in the addition.

Sub-panel location

The sub-panel for the addition is located on the side wall inside a closet, which might be okay if nothing is stored in the closet. Otherwise, this location would likely not pass code.

sub panel
Electrical sub-panel inside closet.

There is no access to either the crawl space or attic space from this location, so there is no way to fish new wiring without removing drywall.  

How it can be fixed

We could conceivably re-locate the sub-panel to the basement in the original house, and have numerous junction points in the closet. The threshold for accessibility is lower for junction boxes than it is for electrical panels.

We would have to create some sort of chase between the new panel location and the closet. We could also cut out a section of the ceiling in this closet to create an access point to the attic, though there may not be much room to move around up there because the roof of the addition has a low slope. This would be an ugly solution but within my abilities as a do-it-yourselfer.

The rebuilt addition will have a full basement giving us plenty of options for the convenient location of the panel without the need to resort to using junction boxes.

Number and location of electrical outlets

The addition contains two rooms:  the family room and the home office. Code requires electrical outlets approximately every twelve feet. The back wall, which measures about 13 feet from the patio door to the kitchen, has no outlet at all. This would not pass code.

We learned after moving in that no permits were pulled for the addition and therefore it was never inspected. Because of the design of the family room, and the location of closets and doorways, there are only four outlets in the entire room, one of which is not live. While almost meeting minimum code, there are other places where plugs could have been added for convenience.

How it can be fixed

The back wall is accessible from an open crawl space area under the addition. It would be fairly straight forward to run new outlet or two from the old part of the house. It would be necessary to drill though the block foundation of the house and run the wire through conduit. Fishing the wire up into the wall of the addition would likely displace insulation and vapor barrier. But it could be done.

The rebuilt addition, of course, will have sufficient outlets. Plus there will be access from the basement and attic so it will be easier to add more later.

What’s the deal with all the switches?

Here we see four switches plus a junction point. We have no idea what the left switch in the two-gang box is supposed to control. The right switch controls two ceiling fans over the dining area.  The single switches around the corner control the overhead light in the family room and the light inside the closet. At the very minimum, those single switches should be in a two-gang box matching the switches around the corner. The switch for the closet light could have even been located inside the closet.  Or the previous owner could have used of duplex switches so two switches would take up the space of one. That would have looked much cleaner.

wall switches
There are better ways to do this….

How it can be fixed

Improving this ugliness depends on the length of the wires inside the wall. It would be very difficult to fish new wiring without removing any drywall. Certainly the rebuild will be more carefully thought out.

Mystery switch in a bizarre location

There are bookshelves on either side of the fireplace. A switch in this location doesn’t make any sense, especially when we can’t figure out what it is supposed to control.

mystery switch
We have no idea what this switch does.

How it can be fixed

We don’t know what the switch is supposed to control, so we don’t know where the wiring goes or where we could better locate the switch.  I’m looking forward to the demolition of the addition to solve this mystery.

Another mystery switch…

Why is there a switch so close to the floor?  We don’t know.  We also don’t know what it is supposed to control.  To further illustrate his lack of forethought, the previous owner had to cut the trim work around the plug.

strange location for a switch
Strange place for a switch.

How it can be fixed

The switch defies logic, but we could probably relocate the plug, patch the drywall and install a new piece of trim.

Bulky electrical outlet

The electrical outlet behind the TV with its circular configuration is something that I have never seen before.  I cannot figure out if this design has any advantages over “normal” duplex receptacles.  Plus it sits about an inch and a half proud of the wall so it doesn’t save any space. Only one of the outlets appears to be live. [Update 2018: Could it be possible that the mystery switches might control the other plugs? I wish I had thought of this before we moved so I could have tested this theory…]

Can anyone tell me what the advantage might be to this design?

How it can be fixed

It is possible to replace this thing with a couple of standard receptacles, although tracing some of the wiring might prove difficult.

Inaccessible junctions

I found one hidden junction box when I replaced the overhead light in the family room (read about that here). The problem is that when you find one issue like this, you wonder how many more there are. We found enough other hidden junctions during our renovations that this is a real concern.

skylights insulated
The side of this box containing the light was paneled.
hidden junction box
Hidden junction box.

The way the previous owner built the structure around the light, it was clear that he never expected to have to replace the fixture. I only found the junction in the ceiling after demolishing the paneling on the side of the box.

The bottom line

As I first sat down to write this post, I thought the electrical problems were worse than they actually are. I could probably solve some of the issues over the course of a couple weekends. An electrician might be able to clear up some of the other mysteries. But the possibility of other hidden junctions troubles me, and those can only be uncovered by demolition.

The electrical alone is not enough reason to justify a tear-down and re-build of the addition. But there is a certain amount of comfort with new construction that eliminates all of the “unknowns.”

Other posts in this series

Poor Workmanship in the Addition

The addition: Foundation problems