Sometimes basic renovations can turn into huge projects and what to do about it
A client recently approached us with what seemed like a simple proposition, a renovation and extension to the family home in Pascoe Vale. The clients were a married couple who both ran their own businesses from the family home, one being a catering business and the other in property maintenance. For the renovation the clients needed us to change the existing light fittings to new LED downlights, install new power points and light switch covers, and revamp the kitchen. The extension was the bulk of the work where 6 rooms, a pool and an additional garage where to be built.
This sounded like a fairly simple job for us, while the house was doubling in size, it was all work we had done many times before. The major difference in this build was the “prep room” that was to be added to the back of the property. It wasn’t until we started discussing the appliances that were going to be used the prep room that we realised just how big a job this was going to be.
The list of appliances that was needed is below:
2 Commercial fridges
3 Commercial freezers
A washbasin with hand sensors for washing hands
A commercial dishwasher
A blender/food processor
3KW air conditioner
Lights (10 X LED downlight)
Power points scattered around the room for hand held kitchen appliances
This room was nearly a house on its own and with the huge amount of power being placed inside this room alone we were worried about the total/maximum demand for power. To explain the problem in laymen’s terms, for each property the incoming mains power cable into the building will be a certain size, this size is determined by the amount of power needed if everything in the house is running. To calculate how much maximum demand is needed on a property, electricians will use a set of rules that outline what power appliances, power points and lights use and tally them up to a total.
Our problem with maximum demand was that on top of the power needed for the prep room alone, there was a kitchen at the front of the house, again with its own oven, fridge, microwave, etc. The house was also 40 years old, with outdated and potentially dangerous wiring throughout. On top of all this, there was a garage to be installed separate to the main building with its own power demands. What we thought was going to be a straight forward job was turning into a huge project.
All the cabling inside the existing property was extremely old, run inside metal conduits which we could not add to or remove and the mains cable installed only catered for what was in the existing house. We were left with no other option but to upgrade the existing mains to bigger cables.
We decided that it was in the best interest of the client to install 3 phase metering and upgrade the size of the incoming cables. Deciding to go with 3 phase metering means that not only did the client have plenty of power to the house, it also allows them some breathing room if they ever need additional circuits.
After all this was decided, the Prep room was left with one last problem – trying to keep the room cool. An air-conditioner was needed for the hot and cold days of Melbourne, but having the fridges and freezers on 24/7 emitted an extraordinary amount of heat. Two commercial grade extraction/in-line fans where installed, one at each end of the room to help with the airflow and keep the room at a comfortable temperature. The units were also installed inside the roof space to minimise noise.
While the prep room problem had been solved, we still needed a solution for the garage. The garage was going to require enough power for the client’s tools, which were going to be regularly used as the client wanted run his maintenance business out of the garage. He was also moving his office outside, which meant we had to run phone and data cabling via an underground system to the new garage location.
Inside the garage the client asked for the following to be installed:
6 x Double power points to be installed around the walls of the garage
4 x Fluorescent light fittings
1 x LED downlight in the toilet
2 x LED downlights in his office
1 x Data point
1 x Phone point
2 x Double power points for his computer
1 x 15 Amp power point to run a welder
2 x Weatherproof power points to run the pool pumps behind the garage
With so much power being needed in the garage, rather than running 3 or 4 power circuits from our main switchboard to the garage, we ran 1 bigger cable to a sub switchboard we installed in his office. By running the one larger cable, it saved us a huge amount of time, saved the customer money and more importantly, putting the switchboard in the garage allowed for future additions.
After all the problems faced by our team, the last obstacle was rewiring of the front of the house. All of the existing cables were old, corroded and falling apart when touched or disturbed. Among other questionable things noticed about the wiring, there were also power points wired in the wrong size cable.
There was no other option but to replace the cables to all lighting and power circuits. A full rewire is never an easy task and normally comes with a fair amount of labour involved. Not only did we have to get the cables out of their original places, we needed to replace them with new cables. Today’s cables are much better protected, they come with thicker sheaths, so when trying to run them down tiny cavities in the wall or even use the existing holes drilled for a smaller cable, difficulties regularly arise. But nonetheless! Our team has seen it all before and in no time, the house was rewired and the power was restored to the property.
Upon reflection of our experience on this property, we realised just how big this electrical job was. Starting from a simple renovation, we ended up with a 3 phase mains upgrade, a full rewire of the existing part of the house, an external sub switchboard in the garage and the head-ache of getting the prep room in perfect working condition.
We thank the builder for the opportunity to bring our expertise to life and we learned plenty of extra tricks along the way. We look forward to the opportunity to use what we learnt on this renovation to improve someone else’s home.