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Home Renovation Means Upgrading Electrical Systems

As residential housing continues to become more sophisticated, older building’s electrical networks must be upgraded. Burlington, Oakville, and Mississauga town homes built in the 1960’s have electrical systems which are almost always underpowered. The original builders installed either a 60amp or 100amp service rather than the 200amp supply that comes standard in new houses. Other common problems include ungrounded circuits, wiring with deteriorated or missing insulation, and circuits governed by old-fashioned fuses rather than modern circuit breakers. And then there’s the issue of aluminum wiring.

Our lead electrician tests the AC electrical outlets to confirm the power is off before the tradespeople begin work on the wall.

Many houses built in the 1960s still have aluminum wiring. Electrical wiring in Ontario homes has traditionally been done with copper which is a superior conductor. The first homes to get hydro-electric service in the early 20th century had copper wires run into and throughout their homes. For economic reasons, builders began using aluminum wiring all over North America in the mid-1960s. They did this because the price of copper was very high and aluminum was a cost-effective alternative. The Ontario Electrical Safety Code (the Code) still permits the installation of aluminum wiring but it’s seldom used today because of its limitations when compared to copper.

Regardless of the design or materials used, home renovations include electrical upgrades. That’s because modern homes must now accommodate power-hungry amenities not conceived when the house was originally designed and built fifty or sixty years ago. Smart switches and remote-controlled ceiling fans and sensor-driven window shades have become increasingly popular. Experienced home electricians place outlets directly behind wall-mounted TVs or projectors, and they place baseboard outlets in the ideal spots for tables. Chandelier lifts (motors which raise and lower light fixtures) and smart outlets for home automation are also popular electrical system upgrades for luxury houses.

What is a residential electrical system?

Ten-circuit main floor home electrical grid.

A residential electrical system is the network of electrical conductors and equipment designed to carry, distribute, and in some cases convert electrical power safely from the point of delivery to the various loads that consume the energy around the house. In North America, the standard voltage is 120 Volts with a standard frequency of 60 Hertz, rather than the 220 volts used in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Modern kitchens require at least seven separate electrical circuits to properly handle all the basic appliances that have now become standard issue. Importantly, if readers are in doubt about whether or not a certain appliance needs a separate circuit, the rule of thumb is that if the element has its own motor, it should have its own breaker. Why? Because when one or more appliances with motors exist on a single circuit, there’s an increased likelihood of overload which will “trip” the circuit breaker and stop the flow of electricity to the appliance. These breakers can wear out with excess tripping. If the breaker fails to trip, the electrical outlet will overheat leading to an electrical fire.

What exactly does a residential electrician do?

Electricians bring electrical service into the home. They install, repair, test and maintain electrical wiring, fuses and equipment through which electricity flows.

Eastview’s lead electrician installs pot lights.

At Eastview Homes, our lead electrician upgrades existing wiring where required and designs new infrastructure and when we’re doing whole house renovations. Residential power circuits are designed to carry either 15 or 20 amps for 120-volt household circuits. It’s not just the fuses / breakers; wires for a 20-amp circuit are thicker than for a 15-amp line.

Demolition sometimes reveals old powerlines hidden in the walls. Previous owners may have buried the wires behind drywall, an extremely dangerous practice.
The ideal approach is to remove all of the wires. But unless you intend to remove drywall up to the electrical service panel, this usually isn’t possible. The next-best approach is to terminate the electrical wires with wire caps (plastic wire nuts). All terminated electrical wires should be trimmed, capped, and safely enclosed in an accessible surface-flush electrical box.

When a circuit breaker trips or a fuse blows, it is a sign that the circuit is overloaded. The only solution is to remove some electrical load from the circuit. If kitchen designers expect a toaster, waffle iron, electric skillet, and other appliances to run.. on the same circuit, . The countertop plug some into another circuit.

Kitchen remodeling almost always requires a more robust electrical distribution network than what the original home designers built or could have ever conceived. Modern kitchens have between six and twenty electrical appliances and although these devices are more energy efficient than their predecessors, most also have more functionality and are bigger than older models and so they consume just as much or even more power. Electric ovens come with 30′ exhaust hood ranges and refrigerators make ice. There is a dishwasher, microwave, and garburator drain disposal device which should have separate circuits; the AC electrical outlets for the kitchen countertop need to be robust enough to handle a toaster oven, tea kettle and coffee maker simultaneously.

Eastview Home’s lead electrician installs pot lights on the main floor of a whole house renovation in Oakville Ontario.

What are some important safety concerns for electricians?

Electricians are safety watchdogs. They make all the necessary arrangements to ensure their work is carried out in compliance with the Safety Code for Construction. Under this legislation, the lead electrician must ensure that no work is done which could result in a person, scaffolding, or machinery coming anywhere near live power lines, or three meters away from electrical conductors with a phase-to-phase voltage of less than 125 kV and greater than 12 volts.

Good electricians know better than to work in wet conditions or near water puddles. They seldom use equipment with frayed cords or allow such wires to remain uninsulated. They never work on the lines unless the mains are turned-off and always use insulated hand tools and wear safety boots with rubber soles.

The most common type of wiring in modern homes is nonmetallic (NM) cable, which consists of two or more individual wires wrapped inside a protective plastic sheathing. NM cable usually contains one or more “hot” (current-carrying) wires, a neutral wire, and a ground wire. All residential home wiring is sold CSA approved.

What does it mean to be CSA Approved?

CSA registered symbols shows that products have been tested by the organization, or its partners, in order to be certified they meet recognized standards for safety or performance. The standards body grew from our nation’s logistics experience in World War I where the lack of interoperability between technical resources led to frustration, injury, and death. Britain requested that Canada form a standards committee which happened in 1919 with the foundation of CESA, Canadian Engineering Standards Association.

In the century since its founding, CSA Group has worked with regulators, consumers, manufacturers, and the electrical industry to develop standards that improve safety and reliability of electrical systems as well as electrical products for consumers and businesses. The organization also researches and supports improved energy performance and sustainability, including renewable energy through new and updated codes and standards. CSA Group works with our industry directly through partners such as the Canadian Electricity Association, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers Canada, and Electro Federation Canada.

What parts of a house consume the most power?

Here’s a breakdown of the biggest energy use categories in the typical home; this data is from Direct Energy 2019 study done in Ontario and so it may be biased toward the home heating category.

Air conditioning and heating: 46 percent
Water heating: 14 percent
Appliances: 13 percent
Lighting: 9 percent
TV and Media Equipment: 4 percent

Air conditioning and home heating are major consumers of hydro electricity and so they’re great ways to test your power bill. Homeowners who doubt the totals expressed on their invoice can limit the use of their heating and cooling appliances to check their consumption.

What causes electrical fires in residential homes?

According to studies done by NFPA, electrical failures or malfunctions accounted for 13% of home structural fires in the United States in four years between 2012 2016. In total that’s thousands of fires, and what makes this statistic truly sad is that it’s mostly preventable.

Loose AC electrical power outlets cause fires.

In Canada, the most common cause of home fires is loose screw terminal connections at wall switches and AC power outlets. Because these fixtures get the most use within an electrical system, these are the places that wear-out and should be the first place homeowners check if they suspect wire connection problems. Faulty wiring is the number one cause of electrical fires.

Aluminum wiring is softer than copper and can overheat at the receptacle where it meets other metals and oxidizes. The corrosion itself is not flammable, but it increases the wire’s overall resistance. Because aluminum is softer than copper, the lightweight metal can also be more easily bent and stretched. Electricity still flows through stretched wires but acts differently. When wire is stretched thin, it puts up even greater resistance to the flow of electrons. Aluminum wiring also tends to change shape due to thermal expansion and contraction. When this happens, the screws can become loose or fall away from the terminal.

There are also new safety innovations. New model electric stoves have High End Heat Limiting Technology (HEHLT) on them which prevents the cooking elements from reaching flammable temperatures.

What are the warning signs of an electrical fire?

Incandescent lights which flicker in rooms where people move about or close heavy doors is a sure sign of loose wiring (or loose bulbs). Light switches would be the best place to check first and then the connections at the fixtures is the next most likely zone to troubleshoot. Breakers that always trip are common electrical fault indicators. Discolored wall outlets because of sparks that occur in plugs and the smell of burnt electrical insulation is another clue that electricity is on-the-loose.

Should homeowners have back-up generators?

Homeowners should have backup generators with emergency batteries to eliminate the disruptions caused by power outages. Even small disruptions can do great damage to computers, televisions, and other major appliances. Power outages are only going to increase in frequency and duration as climate change results in more severe storms, which are the leading cause of disruption. Sixty percent of Ontario blackouts are caused by extreme weather. Another contributing factor is equipment failure which is responsible for 34 percent of hydro outages, and this is partially due to Canada’s aging and overloaded electrical infrastructure.

Standby generators are preventative measures which automatically turn-on to power electrical circuits during power outages. When there’s a battery in between, the occupants may not even notice the disruption.

A standby generator is a permanent portable emergency generator. Standby generators are stationary appliances that are placed outside and connected to a fuel source, such as propane or natural gas, and which has electrical output that connects to the home’s electrical panel. When a power outage occurs, the standby generator automatically turns on and supplies power to the building’s electrical circuits. Unlike portable generators, standby generators do not require set-up during an emergency outage – they are built in contingencies.

An uninterruptible power supply battery (UPS battery) offers seamless power for electronics which is critical to avoid data loss. They do not burn gas or require fuel service and they offer uninterruptible power storage inside the home. During a hydro electric outage, battery power automatically takes over. How long it can run, and how much power it can supply, depends on the size of the unit.

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