If you are considering buying an historic home, you may come across an electrical issue that gives you pause: old electrical wiring. If you're used to modern home wiring, the electrical systems in old homes may be puzzling and leave you wondering if you should reconsider your purchase. Fear not; read on to learn about old-fashioned electrical wiring in historic houses and what you can do about it to still have your dream home.
Wiring in Older Homes
When historic homes in America were first built, there was no electricity, or it was in its infancy. These homes were not made to accommodate central heating and air conditioning units, entertainment systems, washers, dryers, or even sometimes electric lights.
Once electricity was installed in the home or if the home was built during the early years of electrical power in the late 19th or early 20th Centuries, it was integrated as "knob and tube" wiring. Many older homes still have knob and tube wiring intact, as it is not required to be replaced as long as it is working properly.
Problems with Knob and Tube Wiring
There can, however, be problems even with properly functioning knob and tube electrical systems. Knob and tube wiring elements should not touch insulation due to a potential fire hazard, which can make some renovations tricky or leave the homeowner with a poorly insulated attic, for example.
Knob and tube wiring also only allows for two-prong outlets that don't accommodate modern three-prong appliances. You can install a GFCI (Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter) to prevent accidental electrocution when using two-prong ungrounded outlets, but it will not protect your wiring from overload.
Even when you can obtain mortgage financing on a home with knob and tube wiring, you may not be able to get homeowner's insurance on it. Homeowner's insurance not only protects your home and belongings in case of damage, but it may be required by your mortgage lender as well. Insurance companies are worried about faulty electricity causing large-scale damage, such as with an electrical fire, and they are particularly leery of any kind of DIY (do it yourself) electrical work that is often hidden in historic homes.
Options for Electrical Wiring in Historic Homes
You have several options when dealing with a historic home with knob and tube wiring. You should seriously consider bringing a licensed electrical contractor who is familiar with old homes to look at any properties you purchase or are thinking about purchasing, in addition to the regular home inspection.
You can certainly use the electrical wiring as-is if it is functioning properly, although you may have to deal with the limitations as outlined above. A more popular solution when budget is a concern, is to rewire rooms in the home that typically see the heaviest electrical loads: the basement, kitchen, bathrooms, and living room (if you plan to run a TV and stereo system).
You can also, of course, completely rewire the home with a modern system. Whichever option you choose, make sure to remove any old wiring that gets replaced, so it is clear to building inspectors that it no longer exists (you can even document the process photographically). Eliminating old wiring will also deter any future occupants of the home from mistakenly using it again.
You can also ask your electrical contractor about connecting any remaining knob and tube wiring to a circuit breaker panel if it is still using old-fashioned fuses. If the breaker is set properly for the wire load, it can help prevent electrical fires by shutting off power when the load gets too heavy on the system.
Don't let old wiring keep you from having the historic home you've always wanted. Consult a reputable electrical contractor like R & R Electric Co Inc, and once you know your specific options, you can make your wiring work legally and safely.