NYC Renovation Chronicles

Buddy, can you spare an amp?

By Clare Donohue | October 1, 2009 - 7:11AM 
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The Situation:

Yesterday, my client called me in a panic:  "They just told me I have 'inadequate electrical service!'"

No, it's not some dreaded disease--it just means she doesn't have enough juice to power up her new 48" fridge, built-in cappuccino maker, toaster and AC all at once. It's something typical to city renovations, when we upgrade our "Honeymooner's"-era appliances to today's models.

Here's the deal:

• As part of any serious renovation, you'll have to submit a formal electrical plan to your building and the city. Your building decides the maximum amount power allotted to each apartment, based on how much is available to the building as a whole. The question is whether you need more, or have enough available but aren't using it all.

• By today's code, every appliance must run on its own circuit. That means a lot more circuits than your apartment was built for--it may only have one circuit for your entire kitchen! With your designer or architect, lay out exactly how many lights, outlets, HVACs and appliances you'll be adding.

• An electrician will look at your circuit breaker to assess how much power is currently available to your apartment, and compare it to how much you'll need. He will draft a "load letter" for the building's engineer to review.

• If there is enough power, you'll just need a new, larger circuit breaker, and to run new lines from the breaker to your new appliances.

• If there's not enough power, and your building approves the amount you're asking for, you'll have to bring it up from the basement. Expect that to cost about $2,000 per floor. (If you're on a low floor, you get off easy.)

• Remember that dual-fuel ovens and some air conditioners require a 220 line. Some buildings will not allow you to install that. Don't purchase an appliance until you know for sure. 
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