Let electrician deal with that big, fraying cable running to house Drawing limits: The homeowner can do many things, but repairing the main power service line should not be one of them.

Home Work

January 27, 1996|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson BTC

Usually we encourage homeowners to tackle pretty much anything themselves, whether it's sanding floors or repairing damaged plaster or trying to make a basement waterproof. But there are some things you just can't (or shouldn't) do yourself.

Case in point: We got a letter from a reader in Baltimore County who wrote, "I have a braided electrical line attached to my house, coming out of an insulator and going around the side and down into the electrical meter. Someone painted it (it's about an inch wide and 1/2 -inch thick) with white paint to match the siding and now the cloth braid is tattering and coming off in spots. My question: How can I protect this? Can I wrap it with duct tape or black electrical [tape]? Is this code? Is this safe?"

It sounds like the reader is describing the main service cable that brings electricity into the house. Part of the line is the responsibility of the local utility company (the part from its pole to the loop at the house connection; it's the highest point where the wire coming from the pole meets the wire running up the side of your house), and part is the homeowner's (the part from the loop down).

Generally, the service cable has two hot wires inside a sheaf of smaller wires that are gathered together to form a ground when the line enters your meter box. The guard wires protect the inner wires and there is usually some rubberized insulation around the wires, so even if the cable is fraying, you should still be protected from the current.

However, it's not a good idea for anyone who's not an expert to tamper with a service cable. Neither duct tape nor electrical tape could provide a waterproof, lasting repair.

But if the service cable is old enough to start fraying, it's time to hire an electrician to replace it. That entails running a new cable parallel to the old one, having the work inspected by the local jurisdiction, then having the utility come and connect the new line to the line running from the pole.

An old service connection may mean that the house has an old electrical "service." Service comes in a number of sizes, from the old 30-amp (Randy sees these in old houses in the city and in barns in the country) up to 200 amps, which is the largest available to residential customers. The size of the service governs how many circuits (breakers or fuses) it can hold.

If your existing service doesn't have enough circuits for your needs, or if you want to add a circuit for a microwave oven or separate line to a computer, you can add new ones.

Replacing the service cable is part of what electricians do when they upgrade your service, so it may be possible to solve two electrical problems at the same time.

When the new service is installed, you may consider putting a hard plastic sheath around it to protect it near the ground. Electrical codes generally require such a sheath if the cable comes close to decks or places with a lot of traffic. If you want the sheath, be sure it's in the specifications for your job.

Carbon monoxide

We wrote recently about problems with poor maintenance of heating equipment that allowed carbon monoxide to build up to dangerous levels in homes, after a spate of local incidents in which residents were made ill by high levels of CO leaking into living space from damaged furnaces.

We got a note from Shirley A. Conibear, of Carnow, Conibear & Associates Ltd., Chicago, a firm of occupational and environmental health consultants, noting that stoves and ovens are also a "common and significant" source of CO buildup in homes. "Burner adjustment usually solves the problem," Dr. Conibear wrote.

If you're concerned about carbon monoxide buildup in your house, you might consider a continuous CO monitor, such as the American Carbon Monoxide Sensor from American Sensor. It's a little like a smoke alarm, but it plugs into an electrical outlet and provides a constant digital readout of the levels of CO in the air.

When the CO-parts-per-million reading reaches a questionable level, the device issues a series of beeps; when the CO levels are dangerous, it shrieks with an 85-decibel alarm.

Because the monitoring is continuous, watching it can give you early warning if something changes in your home's atmosphere, such as a gas burner going out of whack, or a problem with a furnace flue.

You can send us questions, tips or comments, as this reader did, on the Internet. Our e-mail address is homeworop.kis.net.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.

Calvert St. Baltimore, 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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