A splice of NM cable made outside of a junction box.

Electrical Code Violations: Where’s Waldo of Bad Wiring

 

Can you spot even more electrical code violations in this video?

Back in the 1980’s my 1860’s two-story home was retrofitted into a dental office.  The walls and ceilings were originally finished with plaster and lathe, but during the remodel some of them were covered with ½” drywall and some were just covered in wallpaper.  The ceilings seemed to have gone through two changes: at some point they cut into the plaster to run wiring and then covered everything with ½” drywall.  At some point later they ran more wiring, and simply hid everything with a drop ceiling.

I removed the drop ceiling ages ago and at least the wiring it hid was accessible, but when I removed the drywall and plaster and lathe it exposed a whole host of dangerous electrical code violations. Let’s take a look.

Electrical Code Violation 1: Splices Outside of a Junction Box

An electrical code violation found in my ceiling. The image shows a Romex cable splice outside of a juncton box.

This splice violates the National Electric Code by being made outside of a junction box.

Here’s the first problem:  someone made a splice outside of a junction box. The problem should be obvious: if a short occurs or the splice fails, there’s nothing between your hot wire and a bunch of combustible material like the dried-up lathe covering the walls and ceiling, and the corn cobs stuffed in the ceilings by rodents over the last 150 years.  Yeah, that’s totally a thing here.

Now this isn’t just good practice, it’s in the National Electrical Code, specifically code 300.15 which states that all spices in nonmetallic sheathed cable (the type you use for most household wiring) must be installed in a junction box.

 

Electrical Code Violation  2: Hidden Junction Boxes

This image shows a hidden junction box in my ceiling. It's an electrical code violation because the splices are hidden away and can't be accessed for maintenance.

This junction box violated code because it was hidden inside the ceiling and made inaccessible for maintenance.

The second problem that I discovered was that, above the drywall and plaster and lathe, there were a metric crap-ton of hidden junction boxes. You might not consider that a problem.  After all the splice is protected, so why get your panties in a bind over it?

A hidden junction box isn’t as much a safety concern as it is a maintenance problem.  Sometimes splices fail, and when they do, would you prefer the splice to be accessible, or would you prefer it to be hidden under drywall that needs to be cut, replaced, and refinished in order to make what should have been a simple, cheap, and fast repair? How about 10 years down the road when you don’t remember putting that junction box up there in the first place? The hidden junction box is an electrical code violation because it turns a cheap and obvious repair into a major issue.

The plethora of hidden junctions have already bit me in the butt numerous times in this house.  I’m not the one who installed them so locating them often required following wires out of the panel and into either the itchy, insulated space of the eaves, or into the claustrophobic, creepy crawlspace. I’ve spent entire days tracing wires in my house because someone took a shortcut 20 years ago.

Once again this in the National Electric Code, code 300.15.A if you’re curious.

Electrical Code Violation 3: Knob and Tube Wiring Cut Off and Live in the Ceiling

This image shows an electrical code violation I found in my ceiling. Not only was this knob and tube wiring junction not in a junction box, it was cut off and left live in my ceiling.

This Knob and Tube wiring was fine, until they cut it off and left it live in the ceiling.

And then there’s this.  This is some old knob-and-tube wiring. Now this isn’t a problem just because I found it.  Knob and tube gets a bad rap not because it’s inherently unsafe, but because it can break down with age, and because of the way it can interact poorly with modern upgrades to the home.  For example code 394.12 states that it can’t come into contact with insulation because it creates a fire hazard, but plenty have people have retrofitted with blown insulation without much regard to what might be within the wall or ceiling.

But as I said the problem here isn’t the mere existence of knob and tube.  It’s the fact that it was cut off and left live in my ceiling.  How this place never burned to the ground is beyond me. This single find illustrates a number of electrical code violations in a single junction!

Smashing Pumpkins

Living with Garden Vandalism

Living in town definitely poses some gardening challenges.  You run into space constraints.  You have to get creative about doing it in a way that doesn’t annoy the neighbors and of course, you’ll have to deal with pests of the upright hominid variety. In the past week someone stole and smashed all but one of the pumpkins in my garden, winning them the award for Most Destructive Garden Pest of 2014. Garden vandalism stinks.  It’s pointless destruction. It’s not funny, and if you’re friends think it’s funny you need better friends with better senses of humor.

I’m pretty livid but I’m doing my best to stay positive.  I collected one of the smashed pumpkins from the alley behind my house and I’m offering seeds to anyone in town who wants to grow them next year.  I’m sure it sounds silly given the cost of pumpkins or even your own retail pumpkin seeds, but this is the best idea I can come up with to keep the bastards from getting me down.

Gary Katz Introduces the Festool CT Wings

When you’re working solo on a construction or remodeling project you’re bound to run into situations that would benefit from a second set of hands.  This problem has probably existed since the day the first cave woman hinted that the stalactites hanging from the cave ceiling would look better a little to the left and then left her mate handle the details. But where evolution of the species has failed to provide an additional go-go-gadget appendage, German engineering has succeeded.

Gary Katz over at This is Carpentry just introduced the world to the Festool CT Wing, an add-on to the Festool CT Dust Extractor which uses the airflow to suction the Wing to the wall, giving you a horizontal surface on which to rest work while you secure it from the other side. I’m not sure if the Wing will be specific to the Festool CT or if it can be used with other dust extractors, but I do know I’ve killed numerous Shop-Vacs by blocking up the air-flow for prolonged periods.  If I get an answer to this question I’ll be sure to post it.

 

Rugged Stair Treads Using Butterfly Keys

Decorative Stair Treads Made From Cracked Oak with Butterfly Keys

What do you do if you have the perfect piece of lumber for a project, but it’s strength is compromised by a crack?  Or what if that crack is just what you’re  looking for in a natural or “worn” project, but the lumber must be stable for your project to function? Butterfly keys are the perfect solution!

Unfortunately this post is not about how to cut a butterfly key. That’s coming up later.  This post exists exclusively to gloat about my first project that incorporates a butterfly key: the steps leading into my master bathroom. The steps are made out of three 4/4 oak slabs I found covered with dust and dirt in my basement when I first moved into my house.  A few trips through the planer rendered some gorgeous red oak, but two of the three slabs had a pretty serious crack.

My first inclination was to cut out the compromised section and glue it back up, but then the idea occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity to try out a woodworking technique I’ve been itching to try: butterfly keys.  A butterfly key (or bow-tie key) is a piece that’s basically just a piece of wood shaped like a bow-tie. If you want to be all geometrical about it, it’s two trapezoids that mirror each other.  The butterfly key is then inlayed into the primary workpiece, right across the crack you wish to secure.  The shape of the key locks the two sides of the crack in place and provides a pretty significant increase in stability for not a whole lot of work.

Or course the video above won’t show you how to do any of that.  I’m just gloating because I’m so thrilled with how my butterfly keys turned out.  But I will be doing a tutorial video on how to cut butterfly keys in the near future.