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!

Don’t Work Tired

The past few weeks have done to my brain what my twenties did to my liver: it’s freaking fried.  I come home in a mental state fit for little more than a Chinese take-out binge, some Netflix, and something that look a little like this.

This is not the right frame of mind for remodeling. Two nights ago I came home from work feeling obligated to hang drywall. The body was able but the mind wasn’t willing, and despite that I forced my way through hanging a few sheets on the ceiling. I’ll be honest: calling the work I did that day amateur makes amateurs look bad by comparison. I know how to hang drywall.  I know how to measure, mark, and cut. I know how to line screws up with the studs beneath them and I know how to drive them deep enough without breaking the paper face of the Sheetrock.  I know I should mark the location of fixtures prior to hanging so I don’t have to guess later.

Yet I was too brain-dead to do any of this, and now I’m left with cracked edges, a bunch of screw holes where I missed the studs completely, and a hole where I missed the location of a light by several inches.  My ceiling doesn’t look bad because I don’t know better. It looks bad because I don’t hang drywall enough for this process to be automatic, and my mind wasn’t in the right place to think before doing.

So take it from the guy that’s probably going to either live with an ugly ceiling or spend twice as much time on finishing: don’t start a project you’re not in the mindset to do right.

Marc Spagnuolo at the Wood Whisperer has a similar take when it comes to exhausting and woodworking.

The Busy Homeowner Guy, Part 1

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Holy crap have I been busy.

Last we talked I recalled the tale of a vicious beating I took at the hands of a 12 foot sheet of drywall that fell off the lift I neglected to understand prior to use.  Since then I’ve gotten a lot accomplished and I’ll be posting my progress over the next several days as I recover from a pulled muscle in my lower back and get absolutely nothing of a physical nature accomplished.

Hanging the Drywall in my Office

During the remodel of my bedroom I learned a couple of things that I took into account when prepping for the office remodel:

  1. The more you glue the less you screw, and that makes finishing your drywall that much quicker.Use LIQUID NAILS or another construction adhesive on the back of your sheets and then stare in amazement as they hang with excellent stability with three or four screws per row instead of 5 or more.
  2. Plan for the least number of joints, especially butt joints. Think about your room dimensions ahead of time and order drywall lengths and widths that will minimize the number of joints you need to finish and, ideally, will eliminate butt joints completely.
  3. If your house is old or otherwise horribly studded, use 2×4 scabs and furring strips to square up your room and simplify hanging. My house is more than 150 years old and nothing is square so this step is pretty important for good results.

During the hanging and finishing in the office I learned a few more lessons, some the hard way:

  1. I’m not so sure about collared Phillips Bits anymore. Though it worked fine on my first room I ended up having to go over about 50% of the screws in my office and sink them just below the paper. I’m not sure if this was user error or the fault of the bit, so the verdict is still out.
  2. Get a Drywall Pole Sander. A combination of a pole sander with a fine grit paper and a foam sanding block made quick work of the sanding.
  3. Do a level 5 finish (skim coat). After I finished sanding I watered down my remaining compound to the consistency of pancake batter and applied it with a paint roller. After it dried I gave it a very light sanding. I can’t find a single imperfection in my walls or ceiling (here’s a video showing how). Three coats and a sanding are probablygood enough, but a skim coat definitely gives your drywall a professional feel.

When Stupid Attacks: Brian Vs. the Drywall Lift

I now present a product endorsement cleverly disguised as a funny anecdote worthy of America’s Funniest Videos had the events been recorded. The following is a true story.  Names have not been changed to protect the stupid.

Pentagon Tool "Lazy Lifter" Professional 11Ft Drywall Lift Hois

Pentagon Tool "Lazy Lifter" Professional 11Ft Drywall Lift Hois

I bought this Drywall Lift on Amazon just before the holidays.  The product description claims the lift reaches up to 11 feet flat or 15 feet on slanted ceilings, a perfect height for my old house’s 10 foot ceilings.  At the time the lift was priced at $150 with free shipping, a price-point both cheaper than a similar lift from Harbor Freight and a more economical solution than a rental considering I remodel like old people hump: slow and sloppy.

The lift arrived a few days later. It assembled easily and I quickly got to work hanging the ceiling in my soon-to-be office. When I cranked the lift I found the height stuck around 8 feet and, rather than actually reading the manual, I cursed Amazon’s “false advertising” and decided to make the most of the situation.  I constructed some t-braces and lifted the first sheet the additional 2 feet to the ceiling with the first brace, then walked around to the other side with the second.

Before I positioned the second brace the first lost it’s balance and fell along with the 12′ sheet of drywall it held. Fortunately the sheet’s fall was broken by my face, but in my frustration I may have picked up my 2 x 4 brace and smashed it over the drywall lift…

… which stands as a testament to the lift’s sturdiness! Once my tantrum subsided and I sat down and looked at the lift, I realized the it has a clip that needs released in order for the telescoping pole to extend to it’s maximum height. I placed a sheet that wasn’t mangled by my face on the lift and turned the wheel.  Now we’re cooking with freaking gas, people.

The drywall lift is (Pentagon Tool “Lazy Lifter” Professional 11Ft Drywall Lift Hoist) turned out to be an excellent purchase.  Assembly couldn’t be simpler, the lift itself seems quite sturdy and well-balanced, and the only problem I ran into was due to my own rush to use the tool rather than understand it. I highly recommend this lift for anyone doing more than a few sheets of overhead drywall.

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