I like maps, maps make sense to me. If you give me directions to your house I'll politely write them down, then look up your address on Google Maps. I don't know why but I can look at directions on a map for about 10 seconds and have the route memorized but if I have a list of turns I'll forget them immediately.
With that said, I've been as nerdily excited to map out our house since well before we moved in! I finally made a 3-level floor plan of our house and gleefully took note of which walls had a hidden plumbing vent behind them or where the chimney goes up behind our kitchen wall.
That was fun, but the real reason I wanted a floor plan is so I can map out the electrical circuits, cables lines, phone lines, and pluming. I wanted this mapped out so:
- If I need to shut off a breaker to work on an outlet or light I'll know exactly which breaker to shut down and where the circuit runs.
- If we go through with our dreams to finish our basement next year, all these wires will be hidden in our ceiling and it will be almost impossible to trace them. If I make a good map now, we'll know where everything runs and if we need to cut a hole in the ceiling to access something we'll know where to start - much better than having to rip down large sections of ceiling to find what we're looking for.
I started my goal by mapping out all the electrical circuits. I grabbed 20 copies of my floor plan, my circuit detector (beeps if current is detected), my 3-prong outlet tester, a red pen for writing on the floor plan, a sharpie and tape for writing on metal conduit or the wires directly, and a screw driver for when I had to open junction boxes.
I started by opening our circuit breaker panel since half the wires go right from the breaker into conduit and I couldn't figure out which breaker connect to which wire.
Not a bad looking panel for a 90-year old house! We're lucky to have had previous owners who maintained the electrical system pretty well.
Next I turned off one circuit at a time and followed it as far as I could. I used the circuit detector if I wasn't sure which wire was on the circuit (wires on the circuit I turned off won't beep, other circuits do). Any time the wires entered a junction box (we have lots of em!) I marked the wires on both sides of the box with the circuit number so it will be easier later.
Then I drew the the circuits on my floor plan. If the circuit traveled to the first or second floor I drew it in. It might be hard to see (click to enlarge) but this circuit travels through the basement, then up to the first floor to the bedroom on the top-left corner of the floor plan.
Then I repeated those steps for each circuit. It took a while and I ran into some fun problems!
- Two of the circuits were marked as "???" on the breaker box. I was able to figure them both out eventually and solve the mysteries of our house!
- I discovered what I'm calling the "Infamous circuit #18" which covers all the outlets and lights for about half of our main floor. That's a long circuit! Plus, it's not grounded so we only have two prong outlets in those room. PLUS I discovered it's knob and tube wiring which is ancient and should be replaced before we finish the basement.
- I couldn't figure out what circuit a few outlets were on in our master bedroom on the second floor. Instead of going down two flights of stairs, trying a breaker, walking back up two flights, checking the outlet and repeating 20 times I decided to be a little sneakier. I turned on the stereo that was plugged into the outlet and put my phone next to it on speaker phone. I carried Katrina's phone to the basement and listened to the music through her phone. I flipped the breakers one at a time and when the music cut out I knew I had the right one!
I'm really glad to finally have this mapped out! I kind of wish I hadn't found the Infamous Circuit #18 since I'll spend a good chunk of time this winter re-wiring it but I'm glad I know about it now instead finding it half way through the basement remodel.