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Electrical Box Question


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By Bret in Rhome, TX on 1/22/2007


Do electric dryers, cooktops, wall ovens, and HVAC inside and outside units need a particular outlet box? I am doing all-steel stud construction and I purchased a large quantity of single-gang 22 CI with attached screws for metal studs. I will use these for all outlets and switch boxes, except I know I need special ones for ceiling fans and light fixtures, but am unsure about the appliances. Any help would be appreciated.

Bret


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By Chad in Nampa, ID on 1/22/2007


Brett, Yes those major appliances do need a different electrical box. In some cases, you can get away with using a double-gang box, but your best bet would be to talk with your supplier as to exactly what you need. Good luck.
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By Bret in Rhome, TX on 1/24/2007


Thanks, Chad.

I did find a diagram in the install docs for the cooktop that shows what looks like a 4"x4" metal box. It appears the ovens and the cooktop are "hardwired". I'll have to get more info on the HVAC connections. I know the electric dryer uses a plug, and so it will have a specific receptacle; I should be able to find that info in the install docs for it.

Thanks again,

Bret


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/25/2007


When I hard-wired these appliances (oven, cooktop), I was required to obtain a little gadget that lets a service person lockout/tagout the appliance at the breaker box. The code inspector wouldn't let me pass without it. And although he claimed it was common, the local electrical supplier had to order the part and have it shipped from their outlet in Omaha, NE. I figure either it isn't common (if so, wouldn't the local electrical suppliers carry this little part), or isn't commonly enforced.

However I found another local electrical supplier that did carry them, but only for the panel boxes they carried, which wasn't the Square D box I had. I also went to the BORG (Big Orange Retail Giant) since they carry Square D, and were local. Those idiots didn't even have a clue as to what the little device was, why I needed it, and why it wouldn't pass inspection without it, even though I had a copy of the code in front of me. I hate Home Despot and only shop if I have no other practicable alternative.

They are cheap little things, I think mine were like $1.30 each. But in my locale (at least my inspector), you better have them for the final occupancy inspection if you have hardwired appliances. I s'pose this is one of those lessons you learn being an O-B.


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By Bret in Rhome, TX on 1/25/2007


Thanks Ken,

I was hoping you'd reply, you usually have good learning experiences to share. As far as inspections go... I live in an unincorporated part of Wise County, Texas and am subject to no inspections at all, just need to pay a fee for septic. I am doing 90% of all the work myself (which is why I'm in month 13 since the slab was poured). I'm completely dried in, with just one or two days of exterior trim around fascia and soffit to complete. I've started to set the electric boxes and will pull wire soon. I will have a licensed electrician come and connect the circuit box to the meter that the co-op set on the pole last month.

Any other useful info on electric would be appreciated. I did telephone/cable TV, both pre- and post-construction in a former life, but this is my first attempt at electric. I got a good book where the guy explains what is required by the national code and then goes to what he recommends as "above code". I'm pretty much going to follow his above-code ways of doing it. Again,

Thanks,

Bret


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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/25/2007


Building your own house (and really building it, not subcontracting) is a great way to learn new skills. I know I learned a lot about construction because I did a lot of my own work as well. Being hands-on gives you a much better appreciation of the people who do this for a living.

That said, I did a lot of my own plumbing, electrical, etc. However, the approach I took was that the electrician spends a lot of time doing non-electrical work, what if I can do this work, learn something about the electrical system in my house, and leave him (at a much higher hourly rate) to do strictly "electrical" work? Same with the plumber, but since you asked about electricity, I will not provide plumbing examples. For example, figuring out where you want outlets, where you want the switches, where you want your light fixtures, wall sconces, nailing up zip boxes, ceiling-fan braces and boxes, lighting-fixture boxes, drilling holes in the studs to run the wiring, stapling the wires near electrical boxes, etc. is all done by the electrician. However, it is really pretty much unskilled labor that you can do yourself and save a boatload of money (that electrician bills a plenty-healthy hourly rate, but it is skilled work).

My electrician told me where to put wiring, where to put boxes (specifically to meet code; I have many more boxes than code dictates), etc. So while he was doing "true" electrical work (making up boxes, four-way switches, three-way switches, smoke detectors), I was pulling home runs, drilling studs, hanging boxes, channeling ICF, etc. - all the stuff that is just labor for him and not really necessary to have a "skilled" electrician perform. Sure he had to redo some of my work (e.g. I used some boxes that didn't have sufficient volume for the number of conductors), but by and large it was a very efficient use of his time and my checkbook.

When it came to finish electrical work, while he was putting in the three-way and four-way switches and hanging the more complex light fixtures. I was putting in outlets, two-way switches, and pre-assembling the more complex light fixtures for him to hang, etc. Again, a very efficient use of time.

Some of the things I would consider when doing electrical work:

1) I don't know what book you got, but I used a lot of the Stanton Press For Pros by Pros series when I was trying to learn a new trade. For electrical, I didn't use a book (I had the electrician help me), but lacking a good reference point, this is the first book I would go to.

2) I upgraded all wiring to minimum 12-gauge size. Around here, they use a lot of 14-gauge, which is fine for 15-amp circuits, but it is nice to have the headroom. In every case, I upgraded my wiring one size from the code requirement for the headroom. However, for what I was paying for copper (which was double from the year before I bought it) is quite a bargain over copper prices today - they have more than doubled again. For reference, I paid <$30 for a coil of 12/2wg, I saw this at almost $80 the other day!!!

3) Make sure you have a pathway of light through your house. Basically you can walk through your house from any point to any other point, and always have light. For example, walking out of my bedroom next to my bedroom switches, I can turn on the hallway fixture. As I get to the end of the hallway, I have a switch box with two switches, one to turn off the hallway fixture and another to turn on the wall sconces in my family room.  And so it goes, make sure you can walk from anywhere, to anywhere, and always have light switches at the proper location so you always have light.

4) My electrical box is in the basement. Make sure you put a conduit or chase into your wall so that you can always (future) pull wire into the unfinished attic from the electrical panel. This allows me to unobtrusively run wiring later, if for some reason I need to.

5) Do you hang Christmas lights? I know a lot of people really like a switched outlet in the soffits. I am too lazy for this (hanging Christmas lights) so I passed.

6) Put power in the garage. My last house had one outlet in the garage - what a waste. My current house has one circuit of heavy 220v in the garage; I have no idea what for, but if I ever want a big air compressor, welder, plasma cutter, etc. I already have the power. If not, I can always split it off and have two more 120v circuits. Run your garage-door openers on a separate circuit, so that if you ever go on vacation, you can simply shut that circuit off and prevent this as a convenient access when you are gone.

7) Run big power to the kitchen. These things are power hogs and most kitchens are seriously underpowered. Separate circuits for microwave, oven, cooktop, refrigerator. I have 220v (perhaps I want a commercial toaster someday) that I have split off two 120v circuits. I have six 20-amp circuits just serving my countertops, so if I want to make bread, pasta, toast, coffee, waffles, and deep fry something at the same time, so be it.

8) Around here they almost always skimp and use aluminum on the service (between the electric meter and the electrical panel). Splurge and get copper; you won't regret it later. I would guess since you don't have building inspections, that this is common practice in your locale.

9) Try to think ahead and plan for circuits there. If you have an unfinished basement, go ahead and run a couple of extra circuits into the joists in this area so you can finish it later. Are you going to want a hot tub someday? Get 220V where you think you might want it - wire it even if you don't think you will use it as wiring now is cheaper than tearing up a wall to get wiring in later. Do you have a high-end stereo, entertainment center, computer, sensitive electronics? You might run these on separate circuits so they get clean power. 

My electrician said we used over double and almost 3x more wiring that he would put in a "code" installation for a house my size. However by using his time efficiently coupled with my labor, I still got a much better system for less price than paying an electrician to do the whole house code minimum. I am a big believer in the theory that nothing built too strong has ever broken. Now if I was trying to sell this house on spec, sure I could have saved a lot of money on these "small" things. But again, 15 extra coils of 12/2wg was only $450, and that is a small price to pay for no electrical problems later. Actually what kills me is I could sell my house for a pretty healthy profit with no additional value considered for these upgrades that no one will ever notice or truly appreciate.


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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 1/28/2007


Most jurisdictions  require labeled, dedicated circuits for hardwired appliances. Not all require that you provide the lockouts.

And if the local suppliers don't generally stock the item, I would guess that the inspector was being hard on you.

HVAC is generally hardwired to a disconnect located near the outside unit so it can be shut off during servicing.

One of the other posts mentions upgrading to 12-gauge wire for all circuits; that's great, but too often if you are buying receptacles at BORG, the wire will crack the slot because they are sized for 14-gauge wire.

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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 1/29/2007


If the wire cracks the slot, try to avoid backwiring/speedwiring. There is more than one way to connect a receptacle. 

One more suggestion - always run a neutral to the switch box. Some of the timers, motion sensors, etc. need a neutral, and if you just have it run as a switch leg, retrofitting these later will be a pain. Just as practical application, I am going to change my walk-in closets to motion-sensor switches, and my bath ventilation to timers - thankfully I have neutrals already in the box. Some electricians use the switches as switch legs only.


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By Tom in Stroudsburg, PA on 1/29/2007


Bret, you will be doing yourself a disservice to hard-wire. Plug and receptacle saves so much aggravation, it's almost a no-brainer. The dryer can get away with a one-gang box, but I recommend using two-gang metal boxes with plaster rings that match the appropriate depth of your drywall. The dryer gets #10 wire; this is usually a 240-volt 30-amp circuit. The cooktop and wall oven (if under 8,000 watts) can be run with #8 copper or #6 SE (aluminum). If it's a long run from your panel or higher wattage, use #6 copper three-wire with ground (four wires total), because as Kenneth stated, the neutral may be helpful for present or future use.

For these receptacles you will want to go one step further... on the receptacles for flush-mount, depending how the wire enters the back of the receptacle, things can be very tight. If you use a 4" 1900 box, they make a full-size extension ring, then the plaster ring goes on that, giving you plenty of room to make the wire bends in the box. These boxes require the use of an appropriate clamping connector, usually 3/4" sometimes 1". If you use #6 Romex or metal-clad wire, be sure to get a box that has the right-size knockout (hole). Don't forget the ground screws.

The dishwasher receptacle should be placed low in the cabinet next to it for ease of installation and a long cord attached to the dishwasher that will allow you sufficient length to pull it out of its pocket. The wall oven receptacle goes low on the wall; the cabinets these set in have a drawer at the bottom, sometimes just a simulated drawer, that allows you to reach in and disconnect the oven from the wall receptacle. I failed to mention it earlier, but these are normally 240-volt 40-amp circuits (oven, cooktop).

Remember, with the receptacle for any exhaust fan, placement varies by type of hood. I'm not a big fan of the surface-mount receptacles; they are big, bulky and too susceptible to damage, and most people install them wrong, leaving wire exposed, which is a whole different topic. Additionally, they force you to put your appliances out farther from the wall.
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By Tom in Stroudsburg, PA on 1/29/2007


I missed the HVAC. These must have a disconnect within sight and are hard-wired. The wire type varies greatly depending on size of units and if the heat is separate. A/C condenser outside gets a disconnect (usually has a removable connector bridge) (also weathertight) on the outside wall and the wire is in "LFC" liquid-tight flexible conduit a.k.a. "Seal-Tight". The attic installation requires a disconnect or switch (if 240 volts, you must break both hots) depending on amperage. Also required is a 120-volt circuit for servicing the equipment this must be within 25 feet.

Heating boilers require the same, within sight, but if the circuit breaker panel is clearly visible, the circuit beaker is technically acceptable; but ideally you should also have an emergency shut-off in a convenient location (usually top of cellar steps if in a basement). Code is a little screwy on the heating. If you have any motors above .125 hp but basically if you use a circuit breaker and provide a disconnect means within sight of the motor controller you're okay.


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By Bret in Rhome, TX on 1/31/2007


Wow, thanks for all the detail, I am using the Pros for Pros book on wiring a house. I am also using 12-2 w/ground Romex for all outlets that do not require larger copper, i.e. the appliances I originally asked about. I've been told outside of this forum that 10-3 WG Romex would be correct for all my appliances that require 40-amp load or less (cooktop, double wall oven, A/C outside and inside units; these are all 40-amp per their data sheets). Electric dryer is 30 amp, dishwasher and garbage disposal just use 10-2 WG dedicated circuits.

I'm also looking at two wall heaters as supplemental in bathrooms, but they just need 240v 20 amp or less so 12-3 WG should be OK for them. I am planning on using 14-3 for three- and four-way lights and smoke detectors, the only applications the book recommends for using smaller gauge. I am doing most of the work you describe as what you did, although I will use an electrician to do panel and meter connection. With steel studs, most holes are pre-cut, so not too much drilling needed, only in top plate. I don't have a basement and only one story; inside HVAC goes in a closet with water heater. Anyway, thanks to all who have replied.

Bret


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By Bret in Rhome, TX on 1/31/2007


Thanks for the info, Dale. I replied in detail above. By the way, the Pros book says to never use the quick connects, something to the effect of a short waiting to happen. Always attach using the screws. He also said if they only have quick connects, then they are too cheap of a receptacle to use.

Again, thanks for the info.

Bret


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By Bret in Rhome, TX on 1/31/2007


Tom, thanks for all the great info. I did reply with more detail on what I'm doing in my reply to Ken, in particular to some of your info regarding using plugs vs. hardwired. I don't remember if it was in the Pros book or not; I will have to look again, but the spec sheets for some of the appliances i.e. the cooktop and ovens, especially say not to use plugs. The unit must be hardwired.

Again, thanks for all the helpful info.

Bret


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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 1/31/2007


Do you have a slab-on-grade?

Don't forget that steel studs require grommets for wiring. One thing that I have found recently is that because many of the new ceiling fans come with a remote rather than using a rheostat, electricians are only running a single hot lead to the fan box. Not sure if the minimal wire count will adversely affect your future options.

As long as you are still wiring, I would recommend providing electric supply at the water heater for a "D'mand Hot Water" system. And provide the plumbing and power needed to install solar hot water. Maybe even think about doing a tankless water heater in combination with solar.

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By Bret in Rhome, TX on 1/31/2007


Dale,

Thanks for the tip on hot water on demand and fan remotes. I'm going to wire for traditional non-remote fans even if the ones I buy have remotes. Yes, we are on slab and I did already buy the plastic grommets. The company that sold me the steel kit made sure we knew about them and even told me part number and local supplier.

Thanks,

Bret


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By Tom in Stroudsburg, PA on 1/31/2007


Bret, in regards to the spec sheet calling for hardwire, it most likely reads "recommended". I don't see too many hardwire jobs and don't do them myself. It is a cheap install for the electrician, but it is certainly an option. The easiest way to do this (hardwire) and meet code is to drill and punch (or hole saw) a cover plate to the size connector you need. Use a 90-degree connector; this turns the wire immediately along the wall, saving space. Since it is no longer cord- and plug-connected, you are required to use metal-clad, flexible metal conduit or liquid-tight flexible conduit.

The information you received about wire size for the range and oven is severely flawed. As with most codes, there are exceptions, but they failed to give you the rules. E3605.4.4 of the Residential Building Code, which hijack it directly from the National Electric Code, states that NM wire must meet 90-degree centigrade degree-rating requirements, but after any assembly/temperature adjustments, it cannot exceed the amperage of the 60c degree rating. The calculations and variables are too involved to just throw out there. Basically the insulated wire which is the heart of NM is allowed to be loaded to 40 amp if it were in conduit, but since it is in a cable assembly, it is no longer as simply applied. You're risking turning the wire into a fuse, which means the wire will burn before the breaker would trip. It's not worth the risk. Use #8 copper, or larger if the unit calls for it and again, the four-wire now is a lot easier and cheaper to install than trying to do it again later.
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By Michael in Cave Creek, AZ on 1/31/2007


For your 15-amp circuits use #14.

For 20A --> #12.

For 30A --> #10  (dryer or water heater typically).

For 40 A --> #8 (#10 is not okay for house wiring) (HVAC typically).

For 50A --> #6 typically 5-ton HVAC or electric range

If in doubt about coordination of wire size and circuit breakers, have an electrician look at it. Getting this wrong is a BIG fire hazard.


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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 1/31/2007


For $60 or so you can buy a copy of the current building codes from amazon.com. There are probably few local amendments to the electrical code.

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By Joe in Ruskin, FL on 2/1/2007


Hi Dale,

I saw your comment on going with a tankless water heater in combination with solar. I have been thinking of doing just that. My thought on how to accomplish it was to use a water-heating tank as a storage unit with a pump that circulates that water through the solar at appropriate times and then just feeds to the on-demand system when the hot water is turned on. Are your thoughts similar on such a system, or do you have another alternative way?

Joe


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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 2/1/2007


With solar and tankless you could, in theory, eliminate the storage tank. But if your hot-water demand is in the morning, it would probably be better with a highly-insulated storage tank. The solar can act as a pre-heater either way, and the tankless would only boost the warm water. I have seen closed-loop set-ups where the solar had 160-degree output.

If you are interested, we have started a solar hot water discussion over in the Green Building section of the forums.

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By Bret in Rhome, TX on 2/1/2007


Tom, thanks for more detailed info, I guess I will end up using either #8 or #6 on oven and cooktop, these are not comercial grade units that are going into alot of new houses these days, just a 4 burner electric downdraft cooktop from GE and a double wall oven with top being a convection and bottom a standard elec self-cleaning oven also from GE, their spec sheets simply said 40 amps and "local code" for wire guage. You and others have been a great help, I'm not under any "local code" but want to follow NEC or above. Again Thanks!

Bret

 


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By Bret in Rhome, TX on 2/1/2007


Michael, thanks for the breakdown of what to use for what appliance, yours and others' inputs are a great help to me.

Bret


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By Terry in Phoenix / Oracle, AZ on 4/25/2007


A note on wiring devices: The "stab-ins" in the back of 15-amp devices (i.e. the little holes in the back of a receptacle or switch that you can push the wire into) are sized for the device. That is, you can only put 14 AWG solid wire into them that way. It is against NEC to wire a device this way with oversized wire. There is a warning on most devices that the stab-ins are for 14-ga wire only. That is generally required by NEMA.

Instead, you must make a loop and use the screws on the side of the device for wiring. Make sure the loop follows the direction that the screw tightens and covers at least 180 degrees of the screw. I also recommend running down all the screws before installing a device. It is just a bit safer not having those protruding screws.

If you are using stranded wire for some reason, then before making the loop and installing, back-twist the wire against the natural way the wire is twisted when stripped. This will prevent it from unraveling when you tighten the screw and eliminate the need for using insulated crimp lugs.


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By Robert in Oakland, CA on 7/9/2008


There are specific requirements for how many wires of each size and devices are allowed in a box of a particular volume. If sizes are mixed, then you need to calculate individually. 

For wiring devices, a screwed-on pigtail with wire nuts can help keep the circuit healthy in cases of device problems, too.


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