Electrical Projects Part 2

Our kitchen is one of the few rooms in the house that we have not made any substantial changes to during our tenure here.  At some point, in the 1950s or 1960s, the owners built an addition to the back of the house to add space for an expanded kitchen and a water closet.  How do I know the approximate dates?  Just take a look at the electrical.

This website has a nice array of pictures to help date different outlets.

All of the kitchen counter outlets and the over-the-sink lights were all on the same 15 amp circuit.  The 2014 National Electrical Code, NEC, calls for two (2) 20 amp circuits to service the kitchen counters.  We are about 25 amps short of where we need to be.

Why So Many Amps?

If you have ever lived in an old house, you’ll know why.  Have you ever tried to use the microwave and toaster at the same time?  What happened?  The fuse or circuit breaker probably blew or tripped!  Small appliances can  draw a lot of power.  For instance, our countertop microwave draws 1,350 Watts.

The coffeemaker draws 1,450 watts, and the toaster oven requires 1,100 watts.

Watts / Voltage = Amps.

Microwave: 1350W / 120 V = 11.25 Amps

Coffeemaker: 1450W/ 120 V = 12.08 Amps

Toaster: 1100W/ 120 V = 9.12 Amps

Circuit breakers don’t always trip exactly when the amperage exceeds their listed value.  A 20 amp circuit breaker won’t necessarily trip if you plug in 20.01 amps worth of appliances.  There are many factors that go into when a breaker trips including heat, the multiple of amperage demanded, as well as time.

The answer to our personal dilemma was to simply add another circuit.  I chose to wire up a new 20 amp circuit from the breaker to the receptacle closest to where the microwave sits.  Snaking and fishing new cabling is the hardest part of the job.  I still have a few holes to patch in the walls from where I had to navigate around insulation, fire blocks, and a 2″ galvanized vent pipe.

I had never seen an outlet like this.  The electrician that installed it had to piggyback hot and neutral from the top receptacle to the bottom receptacle.  The manufacturer was stamped onto the part and read ‘Bryant’.I replaced both the outlet and two switches with modern equivalents.  I used a new Leviton 20 Amp tamper resistant GFCI outlet.  I also replaced the old light switches because I could not find a cover plate to fit the old size.

With the microwave on its own 20 amp circuit we shouldn’t trip a breaker nearly as often on the existing 15 amp.  It would be quite a chore to rewire the 15 amp circuit into a 20 amp, so I settled for replacing the receptacles with modern ones that add GFCI protection, a built-in night light, and USB chargers for guests.

The one GFCI outlet to the left of the knife block protects all downstream outlets.  It also contains an integrated ambient light sensor and LED guide light.  If you cover up the light sensor with your finger, the lights will turn on.

The last one that I added was this duplex 15 amp Leviton receptacle with integrated USB chargers (link).  It is GFCI protected because it is downstream from the interrupter receptacle.

It was definitely a squeeze to fit the bulky receptacle into the narrow 1950s electrical box, but with some careful finagling I got it in.  I like these Leviton receptacles because they have an innovative side/back wiring mechanism.  Instead of the distrustful backstab style of wiring or the time taking wrap around a screw wiring, Leviton created a system where you slide the wire into a tab underneath the side screw and then tighten the screw.  The result is a back wiring that has all the pros and few of the cons of either of the traditional systems.

The Leviton T5632-W USB charger outlet had one critical review on Amazon about the USB charging voltage being out of spec.  A standard USB should deliver 5 volts.  Naturally, I tested mine.

5.05 volts!  That looks perfect.  Leviton claims that it is the most powerful USB charger on the market.  Why does that matter and how do you verify it?  It matters because more and more phones and tablets are coming with quick charge capabilities.  Plug your device into a USB charger and in 30 minutes you’ll go from 0% battery to 80%.  That can be a really useful feature, but you need the right charger to support it.  Most charging capabilities are measured in Watts.  Amps x Volts = Watts.  Leviton claims their product puts out a collective 3.6 amps of current.  3.6A x 5.05V = 18.18W of charging power.  For reference, the standard charger that Apple supplies with their 2018 iPhones is a 5W charger.

And the iPad charger is either 10W (older style) or 12W (newer style).

The Leviton T5632 will charge your device faster.  How much faster?  Well that depends on what device you have and if it supports quick charging.

Dan Loewenherz put together this chart showing how fast an iPhone 8 (which supports fast charging) would charge given different wattages of power.

The purple line shows a standard 5W charger.  The Leviton, at 18W, would fall between the red and yellow lines.  For example, to charge from 0% battery to 80% would take about 135 minutes with the standard charger, but only about 50 minutes with the Leviton.

Frugal Girl has an interest in electronics, or maybe she was just looking for a snack.

It isn’t a complete kitchen remodel, but this long weekends worth of electrical upgrades does bring increased safety in the form of GFCI protection, added amperage capacity, and grounding as well as modern conveniences such as night lights and built in USB chargers that eliminate the need for wall warts.  Plus who doesn’t like being able to use the microwave and toaster oven at the same time.  😛