V. The Electrical System.
+ 1. Summary in advance of commentary: The building needs a thorough rewiring with modern circuit breaker panels to replace the fused subpanels and with sheathed, grounded cable to replace the old cloth covered two strand wiring. A new layout needs to be conceived to accommodate the equipment the students will have in their rooms so that circuits don't overload. All the outlets should be updated and GFI outlets should be put in the bathrooms, the kitchen, the basement and outside. Replace all the switches before the connections wear out. The lighting needs to be modernized for both illumination improvement and safety.
A minimum short term fix will include:
a. GFI circuits on all kitchen and bath circuits.
b. Tracing the circuitry to be sure that all wires are protected with the right size fuses and circuit breakers (Remember the wire sizes seem to change down the circuit).
c. Clean up the existing workmanship on open junctions, loose outlets, and exposed connections.
d. Install modern smoke alarms in each room.
e. Perform resistance tests/voltage drop tests on the circuits from remote locations to track out any high impedance connections that would indicate hidden bad points in the circuits. Then fix any circuits with more than a 10 % voltage drop.
2. Service panels: The main panel is a 200 amp 3 phase 4 wire system with circuit breakers. This is an ample amount of power for this building. The main panel distributes throughout the house but we also found two smaller fused subpanels on the upper floors for distributing some lighting wiring. Fused panels are obsolete technology, particularly in this type of building, because of the propensity to install oversized fuses when a circuit overloads too often. With the use of refrigerators, window air conditioners, computer equipment, microwaves, etc. in the rooms the potential for over load is high. Replacement of the fuse panels should be part of the overall modernization of the electrical system.
3. Distribution: Distribution refers to how well the service panels are dividing up the electric load in the building. This building has unique distribution requirements that the original design didn't anticipate. Each bedroom needs to be able to accommodate a student's refrigerator, microwave, window A/C, computers, and lighting. This requires at least 2, 20 amp circuits per room. There are several 20 amp circuits in the house but there is no centralized plan of distribution. Most of the students are running their equipment on 15 amp lighting circuits. Although the circuit breakers in the panel are mostly 20 amp breakers, we observed many 1S amp wires (#14) running through the building. This means that the overload protection may not be right on many circuits (a possible cause of your fires). You will also need dedicated 20 amp circuits to the bathrooms, kitchen appliances, and laundry equipment.
4. Wire condition: The majority of the wiring is the original 2 strand cloth wire with no ground. This is an obsolete technology for a building full of students. Replacement of this wiring should be done when re-wiring the rooms This is a standard improvement that all houses of this vintage have to go through.
5. Workmanship, Fixtures, Switch, and Point Condition: There are some open junction boxes and exposed connections in the basement. We noted some loose outlets, and the GFI outlets in the bathrooms are not tripping correctly. The GFI outlet repair should be a priority. As part of any modernization you should replace old switches and outlets. Old light fixtures should be replaced for fear of baked insulation. Old fluorescents should be updated with modern electronic ballasts.
6. Modernization: Finally if the building is going to be used by a successful student population it needs to be wired for modern communication. You need phone lines and computer cabling in each room.
+ 7. Smoke alarms: The smoke alarms are a mix of old and new. Old smoke alarms cannot be trusted to go off in a fire even if the test button indicates they work. Every room should have a new smoke alarm. The ultimate remodeling goal should be a hard wired smoke alarm system in each room.
Click below for each of the other parts of the Inspectors' Report
II.....Roofs, Gutters, Chimneys, and Vents
V.....Electrical System [You're already here]
VIII..Bathrooms and Kitchen