Peter McCarthy Electric Co., Inc. - Specializing in Older Buildings in Chicago
Adventures in Old House Wiring....

New 200 A Service on Vintage Home in Hyde Park

Electrician Hyde Park Chicago
Electrician Hyde Park Chicago
Electrician Hyde Park Chicago
Electrician Hyde Park Chicago
Out with the old and in with the new!

We upgraded the service on this vintage home on Woodlawn Ave recently. Notice how the old white metal box which contains the original meter was only fed with a small cable? While that was adequate for 75 years ago, it falls way short today. The 2" rigid pipe that goes up contains the large power cables for the new 200 Amp service. Also notice the small 1/2" pipe that comes from the bottom of the meter housing and goes down to the sidewalk. This provides the supplemental grounding cable, which is bonded to an 8' driven copper ground rod. The Chicago Electrical code now calls for a more robust main ground and a supplemental grounding system on every service. This is very necessary for fire safety and protection from severe over voltages.

Emergency Service repair on Harper Ave

Old wiring Hyde Park electrician South side ChicagoOld wiring Hyde Park electrician South side ChicagoOld wiring Hyde Park electrician South side ChicagoOld wiring Hyde Park electrician South side ChicagoOld wiring Hyde Park electrician South side ChicagoEarly this week, on Monday night, there were very severe thunderstorms in the neighborhood. Winds were blowing very strongly, knocking down anything in the way. This home had its electric service totally destroyed by a large tree from the neighbor's yard falling directly on the overhead ComEd lines and yanking them and all that was attached to them down to the ground. 

Top: Rear view of house with the riser laying horizontally in bushes and on the ground.

Middle: Close up of damaged meter housing and riser.

Bottom:  The ComEd service drop main power cables laying on the ground in the yard. While all the service equipment was destroyed and knocked off the house, these cables were still live and "hot" because they did not rip off the service head connectors, and the cables themselves never shorted or became grounded.

Top:  New service riser, grounding electrode, service head and meter housing.

New service conduit, riser, service head and the Com ED cables lifted off ground and re-attached. Lights on!

It was a very exciting day on Harper Ave last Tuesday!

5 Star Review from ANGIE'S LIST

A lovely client put this nice review in for us on Angie's List a couple weeks ago. I really appreciated it. Her old house needed a little attention in the basement. I was very glad to help out.   THANK YOU!!!!!

Review Date: June 04, 2014
 East 89th Place
Services Performed: 
* More Weight is given to a review where work has been completed.
Work Completed Date: 
June 04, 2014
Hire Again: 
Approximate Cost: 
Description Of Work: 
Fixed light fixtures and ceiling fan.  
Member Comments: 
I got a quick response from Mr. McCarthy when I "messaged" him. The service provided was superior!  The cost was exactly as quoted; even repaired a couple of things seen, but of which I was not aware.  I will recommend highly to family and friends!! Very prompt!
Share on Band of Neighbors: 

OverallA PriceA QualityA ResponsivenessA PunctualityA ProfessionalismA

Lovely Lighting in Hyde Park

Old wiring Hyde Pak Chicago South sideOld wiring Hyde Pak Chicago South sideOld wiring Hyde Pak Chicago South sideOld wiring Hyde Pak Chicago South sideOld wiring Hyde Pak Chicago South sideI have great clients with great taste in design, decorating and light fixture choices. I make some very basic recommendations, like "This room would be very nicely lit by two rows of recessed lights, and we could use the 5" ones because they are a little more stylish than the 6" ones. Then, one or two hanging pendents over the island, or coffee table, would look so cool."  

Sometimes I can tell when there is a good chance we will find long abandoned sconce light boxes buried in the walls. I let folks know that and if I'm right, they often get another touch of classic elegance to their living room or dining room.

But in all cases, it's really my clients' great taste in picking out the fixtures that ends up making the look awesome!

I'm just glad to be a help.

Lovely Kitchen lighting

Rewiring Chicago Hyde ParkRewiring Chicago Hyde ParkWe were very honored to be trusted with updating the lighting at Steve and Gretchen's Condominium in Hyde Park last week. They are such great people; I wish all my clients were like them. A couple years ago, we did the track lighting in the main hallway. It came out very nicely. This year they turned their attentions to the kitchen.

Beforehand, they had two Home Depot economy fixtures surface mounted on the ceiling. They were left over from the old center light locations, and afforded neither sufficient illumination nor a hint of style. Gretchen and I put our heads together and came up with this design. There are six recessed  fixtures in two rows, providing ample illumination for cooking and preparing food. Gretchen chose these really cool looking pendent fixtures that we centered over the island. They have just a hint of green shading to the clear glass, and when the retro type light bulbs come on, they look awesome. Finally, we replaced the haphazard under cabinet lights that had been lovingly installed by a relative who was long on good intentions but short on electrical knowledge. 

All in all, the result was very lovely. Thanks Gretchen and Steve. Enjoy!

ALWAYS LOOK BELOW THE SURFACE!!! (Or above the ceiling)

Old wiring Chicago South side
.I want to dedicate these pictures to all the handymen and "ELECTRICIANS" WHO SAY THAT "THE OLD CLOTH-COVERED WIRE IS OK AS LONG AS YOU DON'T TOUCH IT."

These are all real-life examples of deteriorated cloth-covered wire that were still in use, carrying 120v current, waiting to burn the house down. It always BREAKS my HEART when I come into a house where the walls and ceilings are freshly painted, there is nice new tile on the kitchen wall and stainless steel appliances gleaming, and the defective, dangerous wiring has been just ignored (or sometimes hidden) by unscrupulous rehabbers who know "out of site is out of mind."  

Old wiring Chicago South sideQuality electrical work is not inexpensive, and its not nearly as fun or sexy as a cool new IKEA light fixture. But Please, please, please be sure you get a bona-fide electrician to evaluate the actual wiring if you are purchasing an older (1950 or earlier) home, or condo in a building that age. It can save your life and your purse or wallet!

Beautiful Lighting in Hyde Park

Old wiring chicago Hyde ParkOld wiring chicago Hyde ParkOld wiring chicago Hyde ParkOld wiring chicago Hyde ParkWe installed these beautiful fixtures earlier in the week on Dorchester Ave.

They are gorgeous.

Not much I can add to that!

LED Undercabinet lights in Hyde Park

These under-cabinet LED lights came out nicely. We were able to give them power through transformers plugged into a switched outlet in the upper cabinet, so it turned out to be a very clean, nice look.

Intercoms should not be plugged in randomly!

Electrician Hyde Park Chicago Rewiring
Electrician Hyde Park Chicago Rewiring
Electrician Hyde Park Chicago Rewiring
Recently I got a call from a Condo Association I have worked for off and on over the years. They said the doorbuzzer/intercom system was repeatedly going out. This was a slightly more complicated than average system because it utilizes the phone lines.  They had had it installed last summer. It worked fine all summer and fall but now was going out.

It turns out the new system has several transformers. The folks who installed it were not very good craftsmen, in my opinion. There was one outlet in the basement by the panels, and they plugged two cord strips into it and rigged the transformers with extension cords. That was pretty sloppy. But the kicker was, the outlet they plugged into was a GFCI outlet that had been installed to provide GFCI protection to the circuit that went outside and up the back porch to power the de-icing cable in the gutter. So when there was flooding and extreme moisture permeating those gutters, the GFCI protector tripped, as it should. You don't want 120v power "live" laying in soaking-wet metal gutters! Normally, after the severe moisture passed, one would simply re-set the GFCI protected outlet. It was never intended to be used for other loads, especially not an intercom system that controls the building entryway. Since there was an on/off switch right next to the GFCI outlet, so that the de-icing cables can be turned off during the summer months, I would have thought the idea of plugging an intercom system into it would be off the table. Just by the co-incidence that no one at that condo association was paying attention to these things, and the de-icing cable power was not turned off for the summer, that the system worked in the first place.

I installed an array of receptacles so that each transformer would be plugged in separately, and all of them are now powered by a new, dedicated circuit. Big improvement.

If you live in a condominium or multi-residence building, it is a good idea to be sure all of your critical systems, such as furnace or boiler, hot water heaters, and door buzzer/intercom systems are on separate dedicated circuits so that if something unrelated goes down, you are not left out in the cold!

TOP: How I found it. (The plug-strips had been plugged into the GFCI outlet next to the switch.

MIDDLE: Transformers and plug-strips temporarily hung during work.

BOTTOM: Finished Product.

Cloth-covered 1920s wire; A FIRE waiting to happen!!!

Electrical contractor Hyde Park Chicago  RewiringElectrical contractor Hyde Park Chicago  RewiringElectrical contractor Hyde Park Chicago  RewiringElectrical contractor Hyde Park Chicago  RewiringI started to rewire a 1920s condominium on Dorchester Ave. in Hyde Park this week. This vintage unit really needed rewiring. The cloth-covered wiring was in very bad shape; it was quite a fire hazard in my opinion. I am glad the owner decided to do the rewire. It was really a matter of electrical safety. 

In the top picture, a wire nut that had been burning in the wall is shown. Wire nuts are used to connect copper wires to each other. The copper wires are twisted together to make a splice, so the electricity can flow from one to the next. The splice has to be made up tight and solid. The spliced wires must be wrapped tightly against each other so the electrons can flow from the surface of the first wire to the second wire easily and without resistance. If the splice is poorly made or loose, such that there are air gaps between the wires, the electricity "jumps" through the air from one wire to the other. That is called arcing. When wires arc they overheat and can start a fire, especially with the little "hairs" and frayed-end fibers being in immediate contact, as is found where cloth-covered wire has be deteriorating for generations.

This is very clear in the second picture, as well as the third and forth. In the third picture, two pieces of BX cable with cloth-covered wire can be seen, with the actual wire insulation at the  connection point being very frayed and combustible.
The bottom picture shows two more of these BX cables, with the outlet box having been removed.

In the second picture, you can see that the insulation itelf has completely fallen off the hot wire. The bare metal portion is visible just above the red wire nut. This exposed, hot wire could have caused a short-circuit easily. It is not a good idea to overload any old cloth covered wire. Depending on the circuit breaker to disconnect the current flow before a fire can begin is a fallacy. It won't, unless it is an AFCI. Arc-fault circuit breakers have been designed specifically for disconnecting the circuit when they detect even a small arc, which is where many electrical fires begin. Unfortunately, you can not install an AFCI circuit breaker without rewiring first. You could not just connect it to pre-existing wiring unless it has been specially designed to accept it.

I will post again later as this job progresses.
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