Basement The Victorian House

It’s Electric!

Our Victorian had been converted to multiple apartments decades ago (during the Depression, I believe), and was only converted back to a single-family home shortly before we bought it. There have been some quirks associated with that, one of which being that the house still had four electric meters.

Then something really fun happened one day, several months ago, which is that we lost power in half of the second floor. This was independent of having any work done in the house — one day the lights worked, and then they didn’t, and we hadn’t changed anything at that point. The electric company came out and tagged one of our meters with this delightful sign.

Abnormal Condition Exists

Abnormal Condition Exists. Nobody wants to touch that, by the way, because of the liability involved if something happens. The electric company doesn’t want that on their hands, and neither do electricians. See? Fun stuff!

We had a backfeed issue. I could have my numbers wrong, so forgive me if that’s the case (I’m going off of memory from what ComEd told me and I’m not an electrical expert by any means), but essentially there should have been two prongs in the meter reading at 120 volts for a combination of 240. We were reading at over 400 volts combined when touching the meter to the top right and bottom left prongs because the bottom left prong was live when it should have been completely dead. There was a jumper placed from the top right to the bottom right prongs to power the house until the problem could be identified and remedied, and that’s when we got our lovely tag.

Multiple Electric Meters

The live feed meant that somewhere in the house, power was spliced from one meter system into another. We don’t know why it suddenly decided to go on the fritz one day after seemingly working without problem, but the upside is that it pushed along the process of moving from four meters to one. Thankfully, it was much smoother than when we did the same for our commercial and residential natural gas accounts. The village issued a permit immediately (there had been a couple of bad electrical fires in town recently, so they look at these situations with a sense of urgency), and the electricians were able start on the work quickly.

So we went from this:

Old Electrical Panels

To this:

New Electrical Panel

Isn’t that just the most thrilling way to spend a few thousand dollars? This is much nicer though:

Single Electric Meter

We’ll have to paint the patched siding, but no more Abnormal Condition. Hooray!

Ah, but then we discovered some knob and tube wiring still in use, so we’re not exactly celebrating over here. In fact, we’ve been having the house rewired over the last couple of weeks. The third floor is nearly done, and then we’ll be taking a break from home renovation work to enjoy our soon-to-arrive baby before moving on to the second and first floors, and the basement too. Our home inspection revealed old, inactive knob and tube, so it was a bit of a surprise to find more that was still in use, but sometimes that just the way things go with these old houses. Until you open up a few walls or run into unexpected problems, you don’t know what hidden issues may need to be addressed.

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  • Kim // Yellow Brick Home
    October 1, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Ugh, what a way to spend money! Our home is still split into 3 meters as well, and after combining the gas meters (which was a TOTAL nightmare), we didn’t have the energy (or funds) to do the same for electrical.

    At least you got it out of the way? One bill?! Yeah!

    • Making it Lovely
      October 1, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      Getting the gas meters combined was the worst! Ugh, it took forever, and the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. The electrical was much easier, but more expensive.

      Home ownership! ;)

  • Kathryn
    October 1, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Live knob and tube. That’s always a little terrifying. Glad you could get it fixed.

    • Making it Lovely
      October 1, 2014 at 3:27 pm

      Yep, and we had no idea. I knew about the old BX, because when I replaced Eleanor’s light that was a complete pain. Knob and tube though, yikes.

  • Sarah
    October 1, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    I feel your pain! We live in a 101 Colonial Victorian and just discovered some knob & tube as well. We had two friends who are electricians come check it out and they said everything looks terrific and not to touch it, that it could last much longer and its actually quite safe!! Its when people start messing with it and splicing it in with new wires that bad things could happen. Still, we had the whole 1st floor rewired. Now on to the 2nd floor ;) Small price to pay for piece of mind and a gorgeous home full of charm! They don’t make them anymore like they used to.

    • Making it Lovely
      October 1, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      That’s reassuring, but I’ve never heard anyone say it’s best left alone!

      • Sarah
        October 1, 2014 at 3:43 pm

        Nooo, not to leave it alone but in the state mine was in, there was no cause for alarm…some people are freaked out by the sight of it! I was more freaked out by discovering gas lines in the ceiling leading to the light fixtures lol really? that’s what they did back then? It was definitely an education for us when we first moved into this place ;)
        All they said was it was fine for the time being and it could last awhile longer. But yes, definitely getting it all removed and rewiring is the safest decision :)

  • Laurie
    October 1, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    I’m so impressed with all the work you have been doing on this beautiful, old house. Not only have you made it darling but stuff like this, that is really quite overwhelming to most of us, you guys tackle one project at a time. Whether you do it or have professionals, it is still a ton of work and worry. Kudos from this homeowner who feels maxed out with my house from the 70s.

    • Making it Lovely
      October 1, 2014 at 3:35 pm

      That’s the only way it feels manageable — one project at a time. Still, much more reassuring to have the work done and taken care of as soon as we can.

  • Kristy Daum
    October 1, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Old houses are the best, as they always keep you guessing. Before I could even get a permit to move into my recently purchased 1880s farmhouse, the county required that I upgrade my box…and let me tell you, it was one hell of a scary box. One of my favorite things is when a breaker goes out and it affects outlets or lights scattered throughout the house rather then in just one or more neighboring rooms.

  • Alana
    October 2, 2014 at 12:49 am

    Super. Fun.

    But it’s gotta feel kinda good to get that done, eh?

  • Jenny A.
    October 2, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Yes, I know all about ‘sexy’ ways to spend money on your house. We have roofers up on our vintage flat roof even as I write this. Repairs are $4,000 alone, let alone replacing the roof which will have to be done in the next 5-10 years ($$$$). It’s for a worthy cause, though. We are just keepers of the home for the next generation, never really ‘owners’.

    I hope you’re feeling okay! Those last days of pregnancy can be the hardest.

  • Jenniferl
    October 2, 2014 at 9:06 am

    I love these posts. Thanks for sharing. My husband and I bought a 97 year old house and have to put the first part of our renovation money into what is behind the walls. We had ALL knob and tube. We knew it going in but man what a process! Its good to know I am not the only one who has to deal with these issues. Love your blog!

  • Georgia
    October 2, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Oh, I so understand the misery of spending money on the places you can’t see in an old house. I have a brick bungalow on Chicago’s northside and we’ve been forced through similar circumstances to do it all, electric, plumbing, furnace, hot water heater, insulation, structural issues, old gas lines….errrr! Thankfully down the road a bit you can appreciate a sound home, but it sure hurts at the time.

  • Sayeh, The Office Stylist
    October 2, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Such a great investment on your home!! Thanks for sharing yet another great home project.

  • Maya
    October 2, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    No new post today! Baby time?? Holding my breath :)

  • Laura
    October 2, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    We have had similar issues! Our Victorian was a two-unit (well, illegal three-unit) before from 1950-2010. It had a historically sensitive renovation before we bought it, and was deconverted, but we still have issues with the ghost multiple unit. When I call ComEd they want to know which unit I am referring to. The same issue with Comcast. On top of that, every time I have to put our address on an online form, it tries to correct my address to Unit 1.

  • judy
    October 2, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    I remember the really exciting anticipation when you were house hunting and what will she choose? Everybody had their opinion which of the homes you were considering would win the vote! I have to admit in my naiveté I actually imagined the rest was going to be a walk in the Park-just finding pretty things and passing on all of your great decorating tips in the process. WOW! I know its still fun and you are creating an enchanting nest for your darlings-but BOY! its kinda a picnic basket shy of that walk. Its all good though-like the guy opined – that which does not destroy me makes me stronger. Lets hope the Reno Gods figure you’re strong enough for the next 100 years Good Luck Nicole! We’re rooting for you!

  • Setbacks in Rewiring Our 1892 Victorian House – Making it Lovely
    April 4, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    […] problems all started when we lost power to the second floor in October, 2014. The electrical system was unsafe and we quickly had the problem repaired, but we discovered active […]