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My third run-in with Code Enforcement – My Breaker box

September 13, 2012

I was interested in having some more circuits added to my home. I got a recommendation for an electrician from a friend and set an appointment with them. The gentleman came out to my home and inspected the existing system before he quoted me $7,000 just to bring it up to code. That did not include adding new circuits. He showed me my breaker box and said that the same model had been implicated in several fires and recommended that we get it replaced.

I inquired into the costs as $7,000 was FAR more than I was expecting. He said that the breaker box couldn’t be replaced without bringing it up to code. The box needed to be moved out of the closet. The meter on the outside needed to be updated, some other box on the outside needed to be changed or upgraded too. I was fairly stunned.

I expected that for that kind of money, I’d be looking at a couple of days work. He informed me that he was pretty sure that if he got there at 8am, he could be done by noon. Again, I was fairly stunned. I can’t imagine paying $7,000 for less than 4 hours worth of work.

I thanked the gentleman for his time and informed him that we would not be getting the work done. The mini-van my wife drives didn’t cost $7,000; in fact,not even half that.

I called a friend of mine in Rockwall that did a lot of contracting while he lived in California. I asked him how much the parts would cost to do the job. He guesstimated that they would be around $800 and told me that any major hardware store would carry them. I was fairly surprised to hear that too. Since I knew that the time involved was only about 4 hours, I asked him what it would cost to have someone that knew what they were doing come out and do the work. He suggested that it might be possible to get the job done for around $500, but that no one he knew would do it. The power company wouldn’t turn off the power without a work permit and to get the work permit would require a licensed electrician.

This information was fairly disconcerting to me.

As I pondered the situation, it just made me so mad I could barely stand it. I started to do some research online about my breaker box. I found a website which claimed that the box had been implicated in home fires, but the site clearly stated that it was hosted by some organization that had been paid for by the electrician’s company. I couldn’t consider that objective, by any means.

I found a copy of the Code our city uses, there was a used copy online for about $12. Not worth buying by the way, but it made me feel better at the time.

So, having discovered that my almost 50 year old breaker box has been implicated in house fires (assuming that the source is accurate) I can’t afford to get mine replaced, because I can’t just replace the breaker box, I’ve got to do a bunch of other crap that I don’t care about. Replacing the breaker box would mitigate the risks that I’m most concerned about. I can’t see any reason why I should pay to replace my meter. If the electric company wants to do that, they can do it.

Since there may be more than a casual risk of fire, I’ve put a smoke detector in the room. I’ve also mounted a fire extinguisher to the wall along with an emergency light that will turn on if the power goes out. I also moved my clothes into the living room closet so that my wife could keep her clothes in the closet. Now we don’t store anything in the half of the closet closet to the breaker box.

The incident made me wonder how many of my neighbors might also have put off a similar project and are hoping that theirs doesn’t cause a fire because they can’t afford $7,000. That’s not a happy thought.

So, here I am, cursing the government and their “oversight”. If the market had been allowed to work, I could have replaced my breaker box and significantly reduced the risk to my family and my neighbors. But instead, now I’ve got a breaker box that still 50 years old and as many mitigations as I’m able to do without costing me $7,000.

May God curse these safety Nazi’s and their out of touch regulations. So here’s another instance where the government, a government of my peers supposedly, who think it’s a better idea to build something out to perfection rather than make incremental improvements. If the city were forced to pay for the repairs to bring it up to code, I’ll bet they’d change their tune in a heart beat.

There’s much more I could say about this, but I’ll not lest my blood pressure go up and I lose it.

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