Author Topic: I don't think this is quite right :: ceiling fan mounting options  (Read 904 times)

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Offline mrFinpgh

  • Posts: 431
It's too hot to work on my porch right now, so I've turned my attention indoors.  :-)

Last weekend I floated out some bad crack repairs in the ceiling and repainted everything.  Of course, once the ceiling had a fresh coat of flat white paint on it, the ceiling fan which came w/ the house no longer looked classy very good (it didn't before either, but it got worse..).   I disassembled the old fan today to see what was going on up there and to put the new one in.

So, there are a number of issues which raise some concern.  I figured I would run it by everyone here and see if someone had a good idea or solution.

I think the original lighting in the house was gas.  There is black iron pipe which projects down from the ceiling about an inch, and the pancake box seemed to be installed around that.  The ceiling wiring is still K+T, with the conductors each popping through a separate KO.  The conductors look to be in good shape, although someone seems to have pigtailed on a small length of stranded wire to the ends of each of them.  Since that is wrapped in friction tape, I don't know if it's soldered or just twisted on and taped (yes, I've seen that with this house before).

The way the previous owners had the fan installed, there is a bracket threaded to the end of the pipe.  They added a circular disk of plywood to compensate for the pipe's projection into the room, and then attached the fan to the bracket, where the canopy would meet the plywood.

I'm pretty sure that the plywood is problematic in this case, although I guess technically the junction happened between the mounting plate + canopy.

I'm also not sure what type of weight rating a black iron pipe has when it comes to holding a fixture.

Also, neither of these things really works well for my new fan, which uses a short downrod and has a bracket for the same.

So I'm hoping some clever folks on here might know of some good options or solutions for this that don't involve cutting out a chunk of the ceiling (I can do that, but it's going to be nasty w/ the plaster/old paint/whatever up there). I'm not certain whether I'll be successful removing the iron pipe (it's been there a very long time, and from what I've read they tended to bend rather than use a fitting at the right angles), but I'm reasonably certain that it is not being fed at this time (the pipe in the basement which would be most likely is not connected to anything).

Here's some photos to illustrate the issue.  I apologize for the quality - at the moment I was mostly focused on balancing :-)

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« Last Edit: July 13, 2020, 12:19 AM by mrFinpgh »

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Offline Sparktrician

  • Posts: 4054
Suggest that you consult with your local building code officials.  Some jurisdictions require that existing K&T installations be upgraded to current standards in case of any potential modifications. 
- Willy -

  "Show us a man who never makes a mistake and we will show a man who never makes anything. 
  The capacity for occasional blundering is inseparable from the capacity to bring things to pass."

 - Herman Lincoln Wayland (1830-1898)

Offline Holzhacker

  • Posts: 979
    • www.aic-chicago.com
That's a very common old school installation at least around here. I've removed that more times than I can count. You've got a few issues there. As it sits you could pretend you know nothing, tie into it and leave it. Its unlikely a new fan would fall. However, I wouldn't recommend that.
First off you should be very careful using the K&T term. Electrical code isn't your main concern. The bigger concern is your homeowners insurance policy. It is very common for policies to either exclude or limit damage caused knob & tube wiring and old fuse panels. Around here the major insurance providers will typically not give full coverage on a new policy until the K&T and/or fuse panel are replaced. This comes up during a new home purchase. I urge you to verify whether this is actually K&T or just old cloth wiring running through pipe or BX. If it is K&T I suggest you start figuring out a replacement plan and check your insurance policy. If its old cloth BX plan on getting rid of it a piece at a time as you do work.
Next you want to verify that the gas pipe is no longer LIVE. Don't be surprised if it is. We still find some of those old lines LIVE around here these days. If its LIVE, kill it at the source.
Next once you have verified there is no gas:
Cut out a square at the ceiling, 1'x1' or so. Cut out the pancake and gas pipe. Install a new electrical box with joist bar rated for fan use. Do the electrical, patch and paint the ceiling. Install the fan.
As mentioned I've done this job so many times. Don't screw around with wanting to not open up the ceiling or patch drywall. Open the darn ceiling. Having a legit size hole will allow you to cut out pipe, assess and redo electrical as needed. Drywall is easy, don't waste time trying to save junk that isn't worth saving. This job is what Sawzalls were made for.
On a related note, cloth wiring is considered outdated / at the end of its useful life cycle at this point. From a daily use perspective the bigger issue is this. IF you don't look at the cloth wiring, don't breathe on it, don't talk dirty to it, and most importantly don't move it, the wiring is generally safe to keep using. I say that with caution of course. The problem is once you move the wire to hook up a new device, that old dry, brittle cloth cover flakes off resulting in exposed conductors. That's why you see the wire wrapped in electrical tape anytime you open up a previously accessed point. You just don't know if the cloth has only flaked off where you can see it or also within the pipe or BX. Once you touch it, you should plan on getting rid of it to protect your house from an electrical fire. Running some new wire is much easier than building a new house.
Hope that helps.
"The Code is not a ceiling to reach but a floor to work up from"

Offline mrFinpgh

  • Posts: 431
Quote from: Sparktrician
Suggest that you consult with your local building code officials.  Some jurisdictions require that existing K&T installations be upgraded to current standards in case of any potential modifications.

Fair point.  I don't think that's the case in Pittsburgh, but I'll need to see.  Certainly has never come up as a 'must do' when i've brought electricians in for other work.

That's a very common old school installation at least around here. I've removed that more times than I can count. You've got a few issues there. As it sits you could pretend you know nothing, tie into it and leave it. Its unlikely a new fan would fall. However, I wouldn't recommend that.
First off you should be very careful using the K&T term. Electrical code isn't your main concern. The bigger concern is your homeowners insurance policy. It is very common for policies to either exclude or limit damage caused knob & tube wiring and old fuse panels. Around here the major insurance providers will typically not give full coverage on a new policy until the K&T and/or fuse panel are replaced. This comes up during a new home purchase. I urge you to verify whether this is actually K&T or just old cloth wiring running through pipe or BX. If it is K&T I suggest you start figuring out a replacement plan and check your insurance policy. If its old cloth BX plan on getting rid of it a piece at a time as you do work.
Next you want to verify that the gas pipe is no longer LIVE. Don't be surprised if it is. We still find some of those old lines LIVE around here these days. If its LIVE, kill it at the source.
Next once you have verified there is no gas:
Cut out a square at the ceiling, 1'x1' or so. Cut out the pancake and gas pipe. Install a new electrical box with joist bar rated for fan use. Do the electrical, patch and paint the ceiling. Install the fan.
As mentioned I've done this job so many times. Don't screw around with wanting to not open up the ceiling or patch drywall. Open the darn ceiling. Having a legit size hole will allow you to cut out pipe, assess and redo electrical as needed. Drywall is easy, don't waste time trying to save junk that isn't worth saving. This job is what Sawzalls were made for.
On a related note, cloth wiring is considered outdated / at the end of its useful life cycle at this point. From a daily use perspective the bigger issue is this. IF you don't look at the cloth wiring, don't breathe on it, don't talk dirty to it, and most importantly don't move it, the wiring is generally safe to keep using. I say that with caution of course. The problem is once you move the wire to hook up a new device, that old dry, brittle cloth cover flakes off resulting in exposed conductors. That's why you see the wire wrapped in electrical tape anytime you open up a previously accessed point. You just don't know if the cloth has only flaked off where you can see it or also within the pipe or BX. Once you touch it, you should plan on getting rid of it to protect your house from an electrical fire. Running some new wire is much easier than building a new house.
Hope that helps.

Thanks for your detailed response. It sounds like you have some experience in this area. 

I'm reasonably certain this is straight up K+T - running through ceramic and kept 8"+ apart until getting into the box.  I've only found one instance of armored cable, and that was a switch trenched into a brick wall.  Did any of the other wirings have a loom sleeve around them?

I appreciate what you're saying here, and understand the viewpoint and reasoning.  No question, it would be safer and better, all things considered, to replace the circuit with romex. The cost and cleanup is a reasonable tradeoff.

I think if I was only dealing with drywall, I'd pull it out or otherwise decommission it without much hesitation.   However, I have good reason to believe the plaster in the ceiling has a small (2-4%) amount of white asbestos in it based on tests from other areas in the house.  This complicates the process of opening it up significantly. Now that I think about it, I guess there is some possibility the joint compound in what I think is the lamination of drywall on top of the plaster might also pose a concern.   Additionally, since the joists are running side to side, I'd need run the wire through about 5 or 6 joists, which could mean a couple additional holes in the ceiling for drilling through the joists.  Again, the asbestos thing is what kind of messes up an otherwise good choice.  :-/

My homeowners insurance is aware of the existing K+T - i pointed it out to them when I purchased the house.  They said it wasn't ideal, but since most of the house is updated wiring they were less concerned about that and more concerned that I get the panel updated and get proper grounding.

I will say, the overall condition of the older wiring in this house has generally been okay from what I've seen of it.  The sheathing never seems to be brittle, although sometimes the exposed metal is a bit fatigued.   

I really appreciate your input on it.  I'm going to keep considering perspectives for a while and live with the pigtailed light for the time being.  :-)

Offline Bob D.

  • Posts: 1791
"Around here the major insurance providers will typically not give full coverage on a new policy
until the K&T and/or fuse panel are replaced. This comes up during a new home purchase."

I ran into that on my first house which was built in 1905. That place had some beautiful combination
gas and electric fixtures. Yeah, NG and electricity in the same light fixture and the gas was still on to
all the fixtures, scary it was.

Insurance Co. said no dice. I ended up rewiring the whole house as my first job which was in the plan
anyway but not #1. A 24 room, 3 story home with 60A service. Only four 15A glass fuses plus the range.
-----
It's a table saw, do you know where your fingers are?

Offline mrFinpgh

  • Posts: 431
Quote
I ran into that on my first house which was built in 1905. That place had some beautiful combination
gas and electric fixtures. Yeah, NG and electricity in the same light fixture and the gas was still on to
all the fixtures, scary it was.

Insurance Co. said no dice. I ended up rewiring the whole house as my first job which was in the plan
anyway but not #1. A 24 room, 3 story home with 60A service. Only four 15A glass fuses plus the range.

 [eek]

That's crazy.  24 Rooms?  Did you buy a B&B?   [big grin]

I have been letting this one simmer for a while, as I don't really want to tear the room apart again for the third week in a row (we only have 6 rooms in the entire house including the kitchen and BR, so if one goes down, it's disruptive). 

At this point, I see three basic choices:

1. Replace it: Put some holes in the ceiling + wall,  Replace the K+T, cut out the pipe.  Put a new box up and hang the fan w/ romex.
2. Leave it but don't try to move it: Remove the plywood disc, put a pancake extension on the existing pancake, find a fixture that fits over the pipe.
3. Minor Relocation: Move the hole in the ceiling over about 2.5", run the K+T through a remodel box, cut the gas pipe w/ a hacksaw or something, hang the fan.

I did find an interesting remodel box : https://www.alliedmoulded.com/product/4-dia-round-adjustable-fan-support-box-for-use-with-nonmetallic-sheathed-cable-sb-cbfr/   Seems pretty similar to the Madison Electric smartboxes I've used elsewhere.  I do like the KOs at the top, since I'd need to run the K+T through.  I'm not a fan of those integral clamps on plastic boxes. 

Obviously option 1 is a great choice for a couple reasons, but it is the most destructive and would require a lot of careful hole making.  Option 2 is probably the least pleasing choice, but it is safer. The room does feel bigger without the fan it it.
Option 3 seems like a good choice, although it does mean both leaving the K+T in and rerouting it a couple inches.  I don't see any indications of degradation or stress in the K+T, but it still gives me some hesitation.  I still have to deal w/ the careful hole making, but it's less holes to make and less to fix too.





Offline Bob D.

  • Posts: 1791
"That's crazy.  24 Rooms?  Did you buy a B&B?"

No, it was a single family home. 24 rooms and 64 windows. Slate roof and beautiful white oak interior that had never been painted. The brasswork was beautiful too. Huge windows that were murder to get storms for. They had lead sash weights ~2x2x18 inches. And it resides within an historic district so the exterior had to be kept original or at least in keeping with the period of construction and any changes approved by the Historic District Commission.

This is how it looks today. A bit run down since it is now three apartments which saddened me greatly after all the work we put into restoring the place back in the 80s. But we bought with the intent of renovating and selling since the property is in a commercial zone and near City Hall when we did sell it went fast and was originally used as a lawyers office on the first floor with an apartment upstairs.

One winter I took all six of those porch columns out and rebuilt them in my shop in the basement. Had to make new bases and caps too for a couple of them.
-----
It's a table saw, do you know where your fingers are?

Offline mrFinpgh

  • Posts: 431
@Bob D. that is quite the house. It sounds it was like a very intense project. 

The picture reminds me of the area where I did my undergraduate work - lots of grand looking older homes.


Offline leakyroof

  • Posts: 2324
Holzhacker was spot on, as usual.  In fact, as a 3 decade resident of Chicago, I was laughing that you only had TWO wires up in the ceiling box.  Multiple wires coming down, and a few passing through,  would be the normal from what I've seen of old 2 flats here in the Northside. and all of that cloth insulation starting to flake off as HH noted, once you start moving it.   [scared] [scared]

 The Asbestos complicates your decision. True enough..
Not as many Sanders as PA Floor guy.....