Adding a Sub-Panel, Installing Exterior Outlets & Hooking up Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Detectors

electrical work low ceiling staiwell

My House:  Across the street from a beautiful school; One-time dairy farm; initial location for a (now defunct) lumber yard; 2nd oldest house in the immediate neighborhood; two years abandoned (before we purchased it); and Sadly, Sadly, under-improved, and under-maintained, especially after the 1970s.

Why do I bring any of that up? Well … Context.  I mean – some might ask, “How exactly do you go about updating a house that had been abandoned? Where do you start?”  Well … Answer: I don’t know.  However … this is what I did.

First, a complete plumbing system redo (short of digging up anything in the yard) and second, a complete electrical system re-do.  In fact, most of any updates that had been made to this house’s wiring … in say the prior 50 years … were installed on the outside of the house.  Yes, in conduit, mounted directly to the siding, on the outside of the house.  So … beyond securing windows and doors, beyond checking the roof, beyond the plumbing, and beyond repairing the existing (and still in use) hydronic heating system … to get the heat on STAT (ha!), one of my first priorities was simply moving the electrical wiring to the inside of the house.

electricians fish tapes for electrical workUpdating from 100 to 200 amp service, and working with a guy I know – we rewired the whole house.  That is … we cut back drywall, and plaster, and paneling, and floor boards, and, yes, we even cut back that siding, to fish this and that to here and there, and we did it all … at least, to a point. (Tip: Yep, it’s much easier to fish wire in pairs; that is – pairs of people.)


So … with something like five years now removed, my wife finally turned to me, one night, and said, “Can you get Dave back over here to take care of those wires hanging (… pointing with her thumb over her shoulder and not looking …) there?”

… Ha! …

And while I very much enjoy doing my own electrical work, as electrical work is actually generally easy (once you de-mystify it), I did . . . acquiesce and grant her that holiday wish.  I recently had my buddy Dave over to help me tie up a few . . . loose ends. A classic Pro & DIY Do-It-Together. ;~)

Together we (okay, maybe a little more he):

  • Hooked up a 60amp sub-panel (in my attic),
  • Ran a new 20amp dedicated circuit (to my youngest daughter’s bedroom),
  • Installed two exterior outlets,
  • & Finally . . . finished the hardwired circuit of six smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.


Adding a Sub Panel & Running a Dedicated 20 Amp Circuit

adding a sub panel seperate ground with ground bar sub panel

While I am a proponent of the built-in chase (for future upper-floor wiring needs), and as much as I actually tried to squeeze a flexible conduit into my remodeling plans (yes, I mean – I even tried to “fish” one down the home’s center wall when I had it open), I instead resorted to installing a 6/3 wire, bought by the foot, and pulled from the breaker panel (in the basement) up to the attic.

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I did this 1) When I had sections of siding removed in the back of the house, and 2) When we finished our daughters’ bathroom … a year or so back.   (Note: The 3-wire (the “3” in 6/3) is very important here; it provides a feeder for both “bus bars” of the sub panel.)

Okay.  And why exactly put a 60 amp sub panel in your attic?  Well … as things are, that is – the attic un-improved, I have a pretty good sense that I will be converting, at least some of that space, into a formal and true guest bedroom.  The sub panel will give me both the opportunity to wire in electric baseboard heat or other needs there, as well as the opportunity to provide for the house, if a new upstairs circuit is deemed necessary … at any point in the future.

More immediately, though – we wanted to run a dedicated 20 amp circuit over to my daughter’s bedroom.

fishing wires cut plaster finishing electrical wires

. . . Since I still had/have many floor boards out and pulled (and covered temporarily with scrap plywood), it was a fairly easy go to run a new line (12/2, yellow Romex) across the 2nd floor ceiling.  Getting it down the wall, though, was pretty much an exercise in frustration.  Not because of this (minimal) plaster repair, but because boring through the ancient old, and beefy, “top plate” as well as navigating blocking in the wall was simply a bee-atch (excuse my language).

And why run a dedicated 20 amp circuit?  Well … Confessions. I’ll admit one tactic we use to keep our girls sleeping in their rooms – Run a space heater.  Attempting to run one heater each, in both girls’ rooms, was popping the existing 15 amp bedroom circuit that their rooms share.

And OK … plus we are still using window air conditioners.  I know! That’ll likely be the absolute last thing we address in this house, and there should be still enough headroom on my service to fit “central air conditioning.”  (Side Note: 200 amps can get accounted for rather quickly in any modern house.)

* One note on connecting the sub panel: Unlike a house’s main panel – the neutral(s) and the ground(s) (by code) may not be bonded together.  A separate ground bar should be purchased and installed in your sub panel box (as noted in the image above).

Installing Exterior Wet Location Outlets

exterior outlet box weather rated gfi bubble coverOK, I’ll admit too that another beef I’ve heard (from my wife) through the years … “Why didn’t you install any exterior outlets?”

… I was gittin’ to it! …

And yes, this house was completely lacking.  So . . .  .   .  next, I had Dave install two outside plugs for us.  (I still swear – I’ll be wiring for XMAS lights along the ceiling of our front porches sometime soon (I swear!).)

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There really wasn’t too much to this, and there really isn’t too much that I can offer.  As code has it, all exterior locations should be protected by a GFI (and this does not mean that all exterior outlets must be a GFI <<  but more than I could explain here).

The latest revision to the NEC (National Electrical Code) was offered in 2011.  It says (though these points likely appeared in 2002 or earlier), “Outdoor boxes must prevent water entry.”  And further, “Outdoor WET location receptacle boxes require in-use covers.”  Since my boxes would not be under the cover (of say, a porch), and exposed to the elements … hence “a wet location,” we installed In-Use (aka bubble) covers as well as the GFIs.

* One note on purchasing supplies for wet location exterior outlets:  While I did it piecemeal, bought the surface-mounted exterior boxes, the exterior-rated GFIs, and the bubble covers separately, well-stocked home centers will sell these as a pack (at a slight cost savings).

Wiring and Hooking up Hard-wired Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detectors 

smoke detectors in clear plastic containerGeneral building codes, offered by the IRC (International Residential Code), address smoke alarms.  (The most recent update of the IRC was offered this year -2012.)  For “new construction,” the IRC clearly prescribes: A minimum of one smoke detector for each story of the house, and outside each separate sleeping area; There should be interconnectedness of alarms, so that activation of one alarm sets off all alarms; and it also requires all direct-wired “smokies” to have an on-board battery backup.

In my house . . . with natural gas-burning appliances, and with the goal of providing protection for my family, but … limited somewhat by my ability to wire to all locations, I laid out a simple six detector plan.  (One in the mechanical room, one in the laundry room, one kitchen, one each –  two upstairs hallways, and one in the attic.)  To accomplish that, and way back at the beginning of this story, I pulled 14/3 from every location I intended to put a smoke detector.  As I would with new construction, I planned at the time for a dedicated slot in my breaker box.

Dave informed me, though, and while out to hook them up, that each only draws about a half an amp of power.  Because of this, we decided instead to connect to an under-used lighting circuit in the basement.  (Effectively saving me a slot in my breaker panel.)

Now! Carbon Monoxide Detectors!

With changes that came with the IRC’s 2009 update, it provided more detailed requirements for carbon monoxide monitoring.  Fortunately for me, good friend and contributor, Sean Lintow, is pretty versed on this topic.  And … as recently as, well, yesterday, we G+’ed:

CO Discussion with Sean Lintow on G+


Kidde combo smoke carbon monoxide detectorNow, the area of this discussion that most folks find “interesting” is the wording, ” … in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms.”  What exactly does that mean?

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Well, for me, it meant – because Dave had it … one CO detector within 15 feet of every bedroom.  (And I am not certain if there was anything in his NEC that would dictate that specifically.)  For me, it just worked, and I gotta tell ya . . . adding the carbon monoxide monitoring was pretty dang easy.  I simply chose combo units from Kidde for the places that needed them.

* One note on my smoke detector installation: Though allowed for by code, Dave was very resistant to doing wall-mounted installations.  Citing the fact that CO or smoke can too easily pass a detector on a vertical surface, he opted for ceiling installations.  He also pointed out that all hard-wired units should be mounted to a box, which is then installed no less than 8″ inches (maybe just his preference) from any wall intersection.


To read more from Sean Lintow Sr.:

For more on just basically How Home Electric Works, check out Chris Long‘s article from, well, yesterday.

smoke detector hallway with light

exterior outlet with bubble cover

electrical tester in new outlet

Thanks all for reading. Hope I didn’t bore you and please have a super day. ~jb