Wiring the DeBruhl-Marshall House

Contractors working on the DeBruhl-Marshall House in Columbia, SC, were charged with a formidable task-upgrading the house`s wiring system without impacting its historic beauty and charm, and completing the job in time for an upcoming interior design event.

Rich Levesque

The Wiremold Co.

Contractors working on the DeBruhl-Marshall House in Columbia, SC, were charged with a formidable task-upgrading the house`s wiring system without impacting its historic beauty and charm, and completing the job in time for an upcoming interior design event.

The three-story house, built in 1820, has two-foot-thick brick and plaster walls that make wiring difficult. In addition, because of its age, the house lacks a uniform structure. For instance, there is an elegant ivory-painted wooden baseboard on the first floor, but a subsequent modification left the baseboard on the second floor mismatched.

"Our job," says John Fennell, a general contractor at South Carolina Tees Inc. (Columbia, SC), which owns the building, "was to upgrade voice, data and power lines on all three floors to accommodate future offices."

The contractor`s first task was to add to the existing pipe-and-box wiring system on the first floor while keeping the elaborate baseboards intact. "The wiring on the first floor had gone through a number of modifications over the years," Fennell says. "We had to take off the baseboards and chisel through the brick to find existing outlets, which dated to renovations in the 1930s and 1960s."

In addition, more conduit had to be run to isolate the data from the existing power lines. "One computer terminal can easily use up one whole conduit," says Fennell. "There`s just not enough capacity in a pipe-and-box system to run electrical and computer wires together in one conduit."

In the basement, which had been gutted, and on the second floor, where the moldings were mismatched, there was more leeway with the cabling. There the pipe-and-box system was replaced by a more flexible, accessible perimeter raceway that carried both communications and power cabling in two separate channels. The raceway was finished in an ivory color to blend with the style of the first-floor baseboard.

The raceway was attached to the wooden nailers that existed in the brick walls of the house. Then outlets were snapped directly into place on the surface of the raceway. When changes need to be made in the future, the raceway is accessible and can be modified quickly and easily. "The raceway enabled us to leave the plaster walls in place, which is a benefit considering the age of the house," Fennell concluded.

Rich Levesque is product manager for perimeter raceway systems at The Wiremold Co., West Hartford, CT.

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