Faq you see kids, once upon a time...

FAQ Frequently Asked Questions

+Is knob-and-tube electrical wiring safe?

If you live a home built prior to 1950, as are many homes in the Walla Walla Valley, chances are you have what’s known as knob-and-tube wiring. Electricians no longer use this method to wire new houses, and it’s widely believed to pose a hidden risk to homeowners.

Knob-and-tube (K&T) wiring was method of wiring used in the United States from the 1880s to the late 1930s. Many pros continued to use this method through the 1950s, ’60s and even ’70s for new home construction. Now, many homeowners looking to upgrade their electrical system or complete a renovation are discovering “hidden” knob-and-tube wiring in their home and wondering how to proceed.

Knob-and-tube wiring gets its name from the ceramic knobs used to hold wires in place and ceramic tubes that act as protective casings for wires running through wall studs or floor joists. Instead of the three wires found in modern electrical installations, K&T wiring has only two: a black (hot) wire and a white (neutral) wire. This means there is no ground wire in the system for excess charge or in the event of a short.

As a result, outlets in a knob-and-tube home will have two prongs, not three, and won’t support ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). In addition, the hot and neutral wires in a K&T setup are run and sheathed separately and approximately an inch apart, rather than being bundled together as with new wiring. Most knob and tube installations are restricted to a 60-amp service.
Problems with knob-and-tube wiring

If a K&T system is intact and working, it poses no immediate risk to you and your family. Problems often arise, however, because of the age of the installation or modifications made to the electric system by a previous owner or unscrupulous electrician.

One of the most common problems with this kind of wiring is its insulation, which is made of rubber instead of plastic. Over time, the rubber degrades, exposing bare wires to air and moisture, in turn increasing the chance of a short or a fire.

Extra circuits are also a problem because basic installations only allow for 12 circuits in a home. Often, homeowners who needed extra circuits would pay contractors to add new circuits at the panel or simply splice into an existing wire. Both of these modifications run the risk of overloading the system.

You also need to watch for older homes with renovations. A popular electrical scam making the rounds involves attaching new wiring to a switch or socket, which is then checked by a home inspector who declares the house free of K&T. In fact, the new wiring only runs the height of the wall and connects to knob and tube in the ceiling.

Knob-and-tube wiring also poses a problem for insurance companies. Some demand higher premiums from customers with this kind of wiring in their homes, while other companies refuse to insure homeowners at all until the wiring is changed.

So, is K&T wiring safe? Not exactly. The risk of faults and fires, coupled with difficulty finding home insurance makes replacement your best option.
If you want to remove K&T from your home, give us a call for a free quote.

+I have an old panel/fuse box. Should I replace it?
There are many factors to consider here, ranging from the age and current condition of your service, amperage capacity, reliability and/or safety of your service, availability of replacement parts, and etc. We can evaluate your system to determine whether or not an upgrade is necessary. Sometimes repairs can be made to bring your panel up code without needing to replace the whole service. Give us a call for a free evaluation and estimate of upgrade or repairs, if needed.
+What is the difference between a breaker panel and my old fuse panel?
Both devices, either breaker or fuse, are designed to trip (turn off) in the event of an electrical overload, i.e. 20Amps of electrical load on a 15Amp circuit would cause a trip. The only difference is that a breaker is mechanical and may be reset. Whereas, a fuse is one time only and must be replaced.
Please Note: Modern breakers are much more efficient and offer greater levels of protection.
+What is a GFCI device or breaker?GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. In layman’s terms this device protects you from electrical shock. When it senses the slightest increase in resistance resulting from ground fault, (i.e., the use of electrical devices in or near water), it turns off to protect you.
+What are the red and black buttons on my GFCI outlet?
The black button is a test button and when pressed, should deactivate the outlet and any other outlet fed from it – Indicating a properly functioning device.

The red button is the re-set button that you depress to reactivate the outlet or outlets in the event of deactivation resulting from a fault.

+What should I do if my lights, switches and receptacles don’t work?Check to see if the outlet is on a switch. Check and reset GFCI outlets and circuit breaker. Check light bulbs and replace if necessary. If none of these are the problem, call Nico Electrical Contracting.
+What causes the lights in my house to flicker?Central air conditioning and heat pump condensers may cause a noticeable slight dimming on start up. Lights may flicker or dim due to startup of some appliances or motor driven equipment. Check with the local utility company for possible defects in supply source or for the utility switching to other utilities for supply.
+How do I reset my breaker when it has tripped off?First, disconnect any additional devices that may have caused the breaker to overload and trip. Breakers are mechanical devices and must be turned all the way off before turning back on. Remember this is a mechanical device, so this may require several attempts. If this fails to reset the breaker, there may be a more serious problem. Give us a call for help.
+Why do I blow fuses or why does my circuit breaker trip?Except in the case of ground fault interrupters, which are susceptible to moisture and/or weather conditions, fuses and circuit breakers should not trip. Check to see if some type of plugged in appliance is causing the problem.
+I have a new home. Why does my refrigerator or freezer, located in my garage, keep going off?
Unless you made provisions with the builder for a dedicated circuit, the outlets in your garage are GFCI Protected per National Electrical Code. This device will not tolerate the additional resistance load created by refrigeration equipment. The GFCI senses there is a fault, and therefore trips off. The only cure to this problem is to provide a dedicated, non-GFCI circuit allowable by code.
+Can I dim fluorescent lights?Yes. Dimming fluorescent requires not only a special dimmer, but also special fixtures. You cannot place a typical incandescent dimmer on existing fluorescent.
+Can I hang a ceiling fan where a light is?Yes, but first you must make sure the electrical box is properly braced and rated for the weight and torque of the ceiling fan you are installing.
+When my air conditioner cycles on, I notice my lights blink. Is this normal?Yes. This is a common occurrence when large motor/compressor loads start. These devices cause a minor momentary voltage drop, demonstrating itself as the blinking in your lights. This has no negative effect on the electrical equipment within your house.
+Can I plug any 110-volt device I wish into my regular 110-volt outlets throughout my house?Yes. Though, if the device exceeds the capacity of the circuit, the breaker will trip off.
+Can I plug my coffee pot and toaster oven into the same kitchen counter outlet?Yes. Though, if the two loads exceed 20amps, your breaker will sense overload, do its job, and trip off. Under this condition, you must plug one of the appliances into a different kitchen outlet on a different circuit, in order to balance the load.
+If I have problems with TV or telephone wiring within the house, whom should I call?With deregulation of the utility companies in most areas of the country, the cable or telephone companies are no longer responsible for the equipment or wiring in your home. This responsibility has fallen to you and your electrical contractor. Therefore, when a problem arises, we recommend you call us. Most TV and telephone utilities will still service within your home for a substantial fee. This service, as in the past, is no longer free.
+Why does my recess can light cycle on and off since I put a larger wattage bulb in?Modern Recess Cans are rated for a maximum wattage bulb and are equipped with a thermal device that does not allow a bulb larger than that rating. If a larger wattage bulb is used, as the excess heat builds up, the thermal device will shut the can off until it cools. This is a safety device to protect your home against fire.
+My smoke detector keeps chirping. What does this mean?
This could mean one of two things.

  1. An intermittent chirp is probably an indication of a defective smoke detector.
  2. A consistent chirp is probably an indication of a low battery condition and the smoke detector requires a new battery.

+Why do the bulbs in my exterior fixture burn out so often?
This is usually caused by several factors.

  1. Use of non-brand named bulbs.
  2. Larger wattage bulbs, which cause excessive heat build-up shorting the life of the bulb.
  3. Power Surges.

+What are the advantages of installing a ductless mini-split heat pump system?

Energy Efficient
Because there are no ducts, ductless systems lose less than 5% cooling vs. up to 40% for traditional forced-air systems. Increased efficiencies up to 27.2-SEER mean lower utility bills.  Several models are even Energy Star Qualified, meaning they save you on your utility bill.

Individual Zoning
Why pay to heat or cool areas that no one is occupying?  Individual zoning allows you to heat or cool the areas you want, and not the areas that are unoccupied.

Quiet Operation
Ductless air conditioners are comprised of an indoor and outdoor unit, which allows for a peaceful inside environment by enabling the contractor to install louder components like compressors and motors outdoors.

No Ducts
Copper tubing running through a small 3 to 4-inch opening in the wall or ceiling easily connects the indoor and outdoor units. Refrigerant is cycled through the lines from the outdoor condensing unit to the indoor unit, where the air is quietly distributed to the interior space. This allows for easy installation in any home, even if you don’t have any existing ductwork.

Year Round, Whole Home/Business Comfort
Ductless systems provides home and business owners just the right amount of heating and cooling needed by installing 1 to 8 indoor units connected to one outdoor unit. Indoor units vary by size and style and each creates its own “zone” of comfort, allowing you to heat or cool individual rooms, hallways and open spaces.

Power Company Rebates Available
Pacific Power is currently offering a $1,000 rebate per outdoor condenser unit to qualifying customers, who are replacing existing electrical heating systems. Find out more information at their website