Eichler Electrical Conduits

Buried trouble and challenges: subsurface Eichler atrium conduit dies a lingering death

conduitsRemodeling projects often contain unexpected challenges, and Eichlers are no exception. If you're planning on removing your atrium patio concrete and converting the space into a garden, be aware that some models have barely submerged electrical conduits that will probably be exposed for the first time in decades.

Since the conduits were made of steel, it's no surprise that after being buried for decades they are likely to have rusted through and be in a sorry state. Such was the situation one Eichler homeowner encountered when he decided to install a Japanese-style garden in the atrium of his 1959 Jones & Emmons model. While leveling the ground, he was astonished to discover four barely submerged electrical conduits in very bad condition. They ran from the garage side of the house across the atrium to the front bedrooms. The photo below shows the conduit pipes emerging from the foundation on the garage/living room side, just a few inches below soil level.

photo of conduits

All the pipes ran through a planting area, meaning they had been directly exposed to damp ground for more than four decades. An electrician was called in to evaluate the situation. He discovered that the pipes contained the following electrical lines: the radiant heat thermostat wiring, the 220V wiring for the dryer, power to the wall outlets in all three front bedrooms and the second bathroom and kitchen, and power to the ceiling lights in the hall and second bathroom.

The electrician informed the homeowner that the old conduits could be replaced with new PVC conduit and wiring. Of course, some portion of the old conduit pipe had to be retained where it came out of the foundation, and it had to be joined up to the new conduit.Christy Box He made the junction inside what is called a "Christy box" (right, with cover removed to show wiring), a sunken container open on the bottom with a removable cover. The photo below at the right shows a box (on the left) with the old conduits coming in from the lower left. The box cover is on the right.

Traditionally these boxes are rectangular in shape and made of concrete. You probably have one or two in the front yard of your house where the sewer connection is or at the water meter. Recently, manufacturers started making them from fibreglass, which is what is shown here. With fibreglass boxes it is easy to make cutouts on the side of the box to bring in the old and new conduits. The old conduit enters the box, waterproof wire nuts are used to connect the wiring, and new PVC conduit exits the box.

A day's work and the problem was solved. It seems likely that, left alone, the original conduits and wiring would have eventually failed. So if you live in an atrium model and suddenly develop mysterious electrical failures, don't rule out the possibility that buried conduits may be the culprit.