March 4, 2011

What The Electrician Told Us

One thing DH and I want to do as part of our kitchen remodeling project, is to have the circuit (service) panel moved. I've shown you where the panel is ...

note circuit panel behind the stove

our service panel
... behind the stove. This is both inconvenient, as well as unsightly, not to mention in the way of our remodeling plans. We want to move it into the utility room.

our electric meter
We also want to have our electric meter moved. Ours is not attached to the house like all the other houses in the neighborhood. Ours is out on the nearest telephone pole.

Dan has quite a bit of experience with electrical work, but wasn't sure these were jobs he wanted to tackle. Neither were we sure if local building codes would allow us to do our own work. So he called around to various electricians, and set up two appointments to get estimates.

The first company he called charged for their estimates. "Never mind," Dan said, "I was looking for a free one." A little while later, they called back to say that if they were already in the area, they'd stop by and give us a free estimate. OK, just let us know. A couple days later, we got an early morning phone call, could they stop by that day? In about 45 minutes? Fortunately Dan was home so I said sure.

We learned some interesting things. One was that moving the service panel wouldn't be difficult, though the electric company would need to run longer wires to reach the utility room. We also found out that the wiring to the house from the telephone pole is only 60 amp. No wonder all the lights dimmed every time the heat pump came on! We hadn't been able to figure that out, because the service panel had previously been upgraded to 150 amp, which is adequate for what we use. In addition, he didn't like the way the wiring is attached to the house, and said it needs to be replaced. He also recommended that when we have the meter moved and the wiring replaced, we have the line buried. The electric company would charge a fee, but it could be done.

Then he gave us the estimate. It would be $5552 if we didn't get the service agreement, $5111 if we did. And what did they do for the annual $99 service fee? Oh, come out once a year and tighten any screws and bolts that needed it. ??????

Service agreement aside, it might as well have been 5 million dollars, for what we've got in the bank. So. The very next thing we did was to head out to our local handy dandy home improvement and building supply center and price materials. DH estimated that we could save about 90% by doing it ourselves. And surely, if all the materials were for sale to the public, then we could do the work ourselves (?).

When we got home, Dan called the county building inspector's office and asked if we could do this ourselves. Hem-haw, hem-haw, all around the mulberry bush, blah, blah, hem-haw, blah. But could we do the work ourselves? Um, uh, well, pause, hmmm, uh, well, they'd have to work really closely with us. We took that as a yes.

The second electrician arrived on time for his appointment, with his teenage son in tow because there was no school that day. Ah, here's a dad who is interested in showing his son about his business. That's a good thing, right? He basically confirmed what the first one had told us, but before writing up the estimate, asked if we wanted to do some of the work ourselves. That's good too, right? It indicates someone who's willing to help us make it more affordable, right? He told us he'd email the estimate to us in a few days and then started looking for his son, who was nowhere to be seen. Finally said son came out of our house, where he'd been wandering about by himself looking for a bathroom. Hmm. That made us a little uncomfortable, but considering how his dad chewed him out, we figured it was probably pretty embarrassing for the both of them. For whatever reason, we never heard from this guy again.

The one thing this second electrician did do, was to get the utility company to come out and give us an estimate of what it would cost to replace and bury the line. It would be $500, and of course this is something we couldn't do for ourselves.

So, the wheels are turning. I think Dan may still get a few more estimates from electricians, if for no other reason than to see if $5000+ is as outrageous a price for the work as it sounds. He is definitely going to go talk with the utility company to find out what their requirements are. The plan is now to do at least some of this ourselves. Hopefully we can get started on this phase of the kitchen project soon.


  1. Are you on a well? You might want to run/have run a separate circuit to the well -- give it its own circuit breaker box, not in the house but in the pumphouse. This gives you the option to fight fire after the fire gets your power.

    This along with designing in a hand pump option! :)

  2. I can't believe a teenager went into your house uninvited and unescorted! Did you check to make sure nothing was missing? Scary!

  3. Odd bit about the teenager in your house. It certainly turns on the creepy aspect of things, especially with the lack of an estimate. My imagination would go overtime wondering if they were casing the property or something like that. Around here many electricians are so busy that they can pick and choose their work. We've had them not even bother to come for the estimate after saying so, because a better job came up in the meantime! Sounds like a big job but will make things better when done.

  4. Oh gosh Leigh, That is expensive. Electrical work almost always is and moving stuff in an old house they likely pad the bill for surprise stuff. We have a wonderful plumbing/supply place here, Grover's and they know all the codes and really really help out to do it yourself'ers. Rather than a big box store look for one of the smaller local elec/plumbing places. You may pay a bit more but if they are good it is money well spent.
    If it helps, Gene did all the wiring inside the house including the panel. The service though was brought to the house by the utility company. They have to move their meter and I would imagine it would be best to have them do the main into the panel, I realize that your needs are for 150, but you would be smart at this juncture to think about future needs and resale. You don't want to have to do this again and 200 is standard these days.It might be a penny wise/pound foolish thing. I would be surprised if the power company/codes don'tt insist on it. The cost difference is small if you are going new. A slightly bigger box, heavier wiring and beefier circuits. With electricity, a lighter load is better on higher rated things than having things running close to peak all the time.
    Teenagers aren't always the most thoughtful of people you know but I strongly doubt there was any malicious intent. :) Kids!

  5. When we moved here, we ran all the wiring from the house (mobile home) to the 4X4 post with a meter box we got at local home improvement store. Then, county inspected it, said it was good, called power company and they came out to hook it to the meter. They did not charge us anything, but that may be because we were new service - not moving existing. So if you DH is electrically inclined, shouldn't be a big deal to do it yourselves. Good luck!

  6. We're waiting our estimate. The guy came by and told us a bunch of stuff we could do ourselves to decrease the cost. We have to do it in order to get farm insurance.

  7. I would do as much as the city building department is willing to let you do. when we remodeled our basement we were allowed to connect into the panel ourselves. The city inspector just came to check it.

    and yeah Teens are unthinking, but unless you KNOW someone you always ASK to use the bathroom.

  8. Even if that second electrician finally sends you an estimate, I wouldn't hire him to do any work because of the stunt his son pulled. Sure, teens can be unthinking at times, but what he did (at the most innocent) indicates strongly that his parents haven't taken the time to teach him the proper conduct. If you don't do a good job raising your kids, I question how much time, effort and caring you put into any other job. Sorry, but I would be concerned about what he did "while looking for a bathroom." If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and looks like a duck . . .

  9. Wow! 5 grand. You are lucky to have such a handy person around. That's a lot of money!

  10. I feel your pain. My problem is just getting people to call you back, let alone give you an estimate. We end up having to do everything ourselves in the end. We are replacing the lines running to the meter also as they are rotting through.

  11. Risa, unfortunately, we're on city water though we know the house had a well once upon a time. That's very good advice though, because Dan either wants to find the old well, or dig one as an alternative to public utilities. And yes to the hand pump option!

    Michelle, no nothing was missing. Fortunately!

    Nina we hadn't thought about being scoped out. Nothing here thieves would want, I'd wager. No electronics except an old analog TV, an old DVD/VHS player, and a basic model, relatively slow computer. No jewels, no money lying about! Still....

    The electrical will definitely make things better, especially since we recently discovered that my studio is still knob & tube.

    Theresa, I'm not sure if Dan was thinking of upgrading to 200, but that is a good idea. He plans to go talk to the utility company in the next week or so, to find out their requirements.

    Dan didn't think there was any wrong motive with the teen in the house, especially after talking with him. Apparently he was a bit of a ditz and probably didn't even think about it!

    BrokenRoadFarm, I think that's the way we'll go too. The charge will be for burying the cable. Still, it will be worth the expense because right now, our electric line runs through several trees!

    Limette, I hop you'll blog about that. Are you getting farm insurance as opposed to homeowners insurance?

    Renee, I'm guess we'll be able to do most of the work and like you, will need the county inspector to come out to give it the okay.

    That teen was homeschooled too. You'd think he'd know better!

    Mama Pea, agreed. His son was evidently quite the chatterbox and an interrupter, for which his dad didn't correct him. So. Training makes all the difference.

    Benita, it's outrageous, isn't it? I don't know what we'd do if Dan wasn't as experienced as he is. It's a blessing that he is.

    Jane, that seems to be a fairly common problem, all over the country. I reckon electricians don't need the work that badly. Sounds like you've got a big job too though.

  12. Over $5,000. That's a lot of money!!!! I hope you and Dan can get most of it done without an electrician.

    I woulldn't want any kid in my house without being in it much less a teenager I don't even know.

  13. pretty similar to our experience! when we first asked if we could do jobs ourselves, we couldn't get a proper answer out of them. a neighbour (electrician himself:)) told us eventually, that yes, we can do most of the stuff ourselves, apart from actually connecting the house to the mains. they would have to send someone out to check it all, but of course that was cheap compared to have a company do the whole job! no teenagers checking out the house though... I wouldn't think too much about that - teenagers, easily bored and curious at the same time?

  14. I agree with the person who suggested that you go to a Mom and Pop type hardware store instead of one of the big box ones. They generally hire more knowlegable people to work in their departments. Heck the last time I was in Home Depot asking for shims to level a cabinet and the girl working in lumber didn't even know what they were. She told me to just pick up some scrap. I ended up looking around until I found a guy who looked like a contractor picking up material and he told me where they were. Another thought if you have a technical school or junior college you might talk with an instructor and find a graduate to help guide you and hubby with the work. You would probably still technically be the contractor but you'd have some current knowledge. Just some thoughts.

  15. Barb, it's too much money if you ask me. Almost as though they deliberately priced it too high because they really didn't want the job.

    Bettina, how odd! I'm sure there are a lot of people who don't research the project well and therefore don't do it properly. OTOH, we've had several supposedly qualified "professionals" come do things for us who did their work improperly. Makes it hard to know whom to trust.

    Donna, it's sad, but a lot of folks parade around as experts these days. A community or technical college grad is a good idea, though Dan has actually done a lot of electrical work in the past. He just didn't know if he wanted to focus his energies on this project, or elsewhere. I think though, he's gradually getting resigned to how long all of this is going to take!

  16. The estimate was ridiculous and I hope you can find someone not out to make a killing off of you. Good Luck!
    Have a Blessed Day!

  17. Wow, what a price difference. Before we got married I re-roofed one side of my wife's old house for around $700 after hearing an estimate of $8,000. Four years ago I re-roofed our entire house for just over $2,000...who knows what it would have cost us to have someone else do it....I can only imagine and didn't bother asking. Good luck with your project, sounds like you will save a bundle doing it yourselves and have something to be proud of to boot.:) Seems like one can expect about a 80-90% extra cost on just about any job that someone else has to do for you...leastwise that has been my experience.

  18. Linda, hello and welcome to my blog. We finally decided that it would be better stewardship of our money to do it ourselves. Finding someone to come out and give us a fair estimate seems to border on impossible. In the end, we'll be glad of it too, I think.

    Mr. H, good for you! We're wishing we had done our roof ourselves, not only to save money, but because the quality of the workmanship stunk. And it was a highly recommended, reputable company! It was $9000, BTW, which really ate up our home improvement fund. The only detriment to doing it ourselves, was the insurance company, which was breathing down our necks. We felt time pressured, which was unfortunate. Plus we would have put on a metal roof! Much better for rainwater recycling.

  19. Seems a bit steep on the bid.

  20. Very interesting! I'm glad I stopped by today.

  21. I just wanted to say thanks so much for creating this blog. It is sooo informative and diverse! I love love love it. The information about the flooring was really helpful. I follow this blog closely, and I thank you for the wonderful information provided.

  22. Woody, thanks for that. We thought so too but didn't have anything to compare it too.

    Shanae, thanks! I'm glad you did too.

    Michelle, thank you! You just made my day. :)

  23. Those are some serious things to consider. Dan knows what he knows - what he is comfortable doing. That's money in the bank. I'm crossing my fingers that your building department won't let you do anything that's unsafe. It's not Nevada, after all. Those are big price tags and about what we paid when we built.

  24. Sorry to come so late to this post. Here in New England we have an all-electric house. What I wish we had was an independent generator, powered by propane (not that we have yet needed one, but it's been close a couple of times). Propane can be stored indefinitely. Our well has a submersible pump, so there's no independent pump house, just an in-basement tank of modest proportions. While you could also install an artesian well to use for irrigation rather than all-house water, I suspect rainwater collection would be more beneficial,not to mention satisfying. Working closely with your building inspector is a good idea; also, your state's building code may be online--it's worth checking out for the electrical specs. I agree with Theresa. You may have gotten a high estimate since the wiring is so old and an electrician never knows what he may encounter. Adding 200 amps now is a good idea if your DH is going to spend any significant time doing the work; you'll probably be glad of it in the future even if you don't especially think you'll use it now.--Sue in MA

  25. Sharon, that's where the inspections come in. Any work we do will have to be approved by the county inspector before the electric company will finish the hook-up. Unfortunately, we've discovered that not all professionals around here know what their doing either. There's been more than one case of a licensed electrician's work not passing inspection!

    Sue, never late, always welcome. Our house is all electric too, except for the wood heatstove. Would absolutely love to dig our own well, that's on the list for the future. The rain and greywater for irrigation will come in very handy, though we'll be limited to the amount of rainwater we can store (greywater will be used without storage). Since there are several electric companies in the area, we have to go to them for the specifics. They work in conjunction with the building inspector, so that everyone is satisfied in the end. I'm not sure what Dan is planning for the amperage, though probably he'll upgrade to 200, though at the moment, anything will be better than the 60 we have coming in to the house now!


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