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Most older homes have electrical systems that are in perfectly good working order – but completely inadequate by modern standards. They have too little power, too few circuits and far too few outlets. Even if the electrical service in the home has been upgraded in the last 25 years, more circuits may be needed to keep up with the demand created by today’s multitude of electrical conveniences.

Few homes built before World War I were wired for electricity. Circuits were added later, usually gouged into plaster walls or run behind baseboards. In the 1920s and 1930s, most new homes were planned for 40 amps. The next jump was to four 15-amp circuits, or 60 amps total power. Many rooms had only a single duplex receptacle and a switched light fixture. By the 1950s, 100 amps was considered adequate power, unless the plan included an electric range or electric heat. Since the 1970s, 150 amps has been considered the minimum for a small home and 200 amps a better choice for most homes.

If the ampacity available isn’t enough to carry the planned loads for your home improvement, you’ll need a new service panel, and possibly a larger service drop from the electric company. If there’s nothing wrong with the existing electrical system, you can just leave it in place. Then upgrade by adding more circuits and outlets and the new electrical service panel. We will be able to calculate what size panel you’ll need to have us install. While doing that math, we can also figure the most efficient way to run circuits to new light fixtures, appliances and outlets.

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Adding Outlets and Switches

Most rooms in old houses have a single electrical outlet, and all the outlets in the house may be on the same 15-amp circuit. That’s enough power for a few lamps and not much more. It certainly won’t support a modern lifestyle. You may be able to turn on the lights and watch TV in the evening, but forget the microwave popcorn!

The NEC sets standards for residential electrical outlets. These standards may or may not be enforced in home improvement projects in your community. The degree that these regulations affect your project may be a matter for negotiation between the Parko Home Renovations and the building department. Parko Home Renovations has the experience in negotiating with building inspectors. Remember, however, that the code exists for a reason and most of what it requires is simply good professional practice.

Spacing of outlets

Spacing of Outlets – In most rooms, the code requires that no point along the floor line be more than 6' from a receptacle. That means you need an outlet at least every 12' along walls. Floor outlets don’t help meet this requirement unless they’re near the wall. Different standards apply to kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms. Spacing in hallways can be 20' and closets don’t need any outlets at all.

Spacing of outlets - kitchens

Kitchens – Plan at least two 20-amp small appliance circuits to serve the kitchen, pantry and dining area. These circuits are in addition to circuits used by the refrigerator, dishwasher, oven, range, garbage disposer and lighting. Every kitchen counter wider than 12" needs at least one outlet. No point on a kitchen counter can be more than 24" from an outlet. That means you need at outlet at least every 4' over counters. Outlets have to be mounted on a wall, not face-up in the counter. The outlet next to the sink must be protected with a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Plan on dedicated circuits for the range, dishwasher, garbage disposer, refrigerator, and microwave oven. A microwave oven will trip the breaker if it’s on the same circuit with another large appliance, such as a refrigerator.

Spacing of outlets - bathrooms

Bathrooms – Every bathroom needs at least one GFCI-protected outlet by the sink, even if the vanity lighting fixture includes an outlet. Keep the receptacle far enough away from the bathtub and shower to prevent the use of electric shavers or hairdryers while bathing. New updates in the Electrical code suggests to upgrade the bathroom circuit to a 20amp.

Laundry – Provide at least one GFCI-protected duplex receptacle in the laundry area. The laundry receptacle must be on a dedicated 20-amp circuit.

Unfinished Basement or Attic – Provide at least one outlet.

Outdoors – Include a GFCI-protected duplex receptacle at the front and rear of the house.

Garage – Provide a GFCI-protected duplex receptacle for each parking space. Detached garages may not need any outlets.

Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter – GFCI protection opens the circuit when a ground-fault is detected – such as when someone gets an electric shock. Outlets over the kitchen and bathroom sinks, in the laundry room, garage and outdoors have to be GFCI-protected. Installing GFCI outlets is easy, assuming the circuit includes a ground wire. we need to remove the old outlet and replace it with a GFCI outlet. You don’t need to have a GFCI outlet for every receptacle that requires ground-fault protection. Several regular outlets can be wired to a single GFCI device. Circuitry in the GFCI outlet will protect all attached receptacles. That’s the good news. The bad news is that GFCI outlets require a ground to work properly. If the old circuit has no ground wire, we will have to run grounded cable to GFCI outlets.

Arc-Fault Interrupter – The NEC now requires these special breakers for circuits that serve sleeping rooms. Regular breakers open when there’s an overload. Arc-fault breakers open any time the circuit is creating sparks, even if there’s no overload.

Outlets per Circuit – Plan on six duplex outlets per 20-amp circuit. Parko Home Renovations may suggest ways to put 10 or even 12 outlets on a circuit and still meet NEC requirements. The code doesn’t prohibit mixing light fixtures and outlets on the same home run (connection to the breaker panel).

Lights – Every room needs either a switch-operated overhead light or a switch-operated outlet. The code requires the switch to be located by the door at the room’s entrance. Parko Home Renovations can run the wiring to any ceiling fixture that’s still in good condition. If the fixture is worn, broken, or simply unattractive, replacing it is a simple task. But don’t go overboard on wattage, such as replacing a 75-watt bathroom fixture with a 500-watt heat lamp. If your choice of replacement fixtures is a fluorescent, be sure there isn’t a grounding problem. Many fluorescent fixtures require a ground wire. If we install a ceiling fan or a chandelier, plan on Parko Home Renovations to set a ceiling fixture box specifically rated for that purpose.

Smoke Detectors

Nearly all of the Michigan communities require some type of smoke detector. When performing a major renovation the building code dictates to have a central wired smoke detector system. This system is wired so that one detector will trigger all detectors connected. Locations for detectors include and are not limited to one on each floor, one in each bedroom, and one located outside the bedrooms. The most common are ionization detectors that recognize products of combustion even before flame is visible. Other types of detectors recognize smoke or detect a rapid rise in temperature. If you have the opportunity, we recommend an AC-powered detector with a battery backup, rather than a battery-powered unit. Surveys show that a high percentage of battery-powered smoke detectors have a dead battery at any given time. For that reason, many building codes require AC detectors, some with a battery backup.

Kitchen appliances

You’ll never see an old kitchen with adequate electrical service. Upgrading the electrical service is a prime reason for remodeling most kitchens. Consider the following checklist when planning extra runs from the electrical service panel. Note that some building codes require as many as three ground-fault receptacles in the kitchen. If you’re adding base cabinets, figure which electrical outlets have to be moved.

Kitchen Electrical Service Checklist:

Ceiling fixture

Ceiling paddle fan

Clock in soffit



Electric range

Range hood

Soffit lighting (fluorescent strip)

Light fixture recessed over the sink

Light fixture over the desk

Microwave oven



Three ground-fault receptacles

Small appliance outlets

Trash compactor


Wall or ceiling exhaust fan

Wall switches

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Electrical, electrician

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Phone: (734) 812-3884
43812 Leeann Lane
Canton, Michigan 48187
Written "By Ron Parko"