If you live in an older home, you’re probably no stranger to flickering and dimming lights or the occasional power surge. While outdated electrical wiring can seem nothing more than an inconvenience, it can pose a serious danger to your home and your family. The National Fire Protection Association reports that U.S. fire departments respond to an estimated 45,210 home fires annually that involve some type of electrical failure or malfunction.
How do you know if your home’s wiring is too old or too dangerous? Old wiring—even knob and tube wiring that dates back to the early 20th century—isn’t inherently dangerous, but unless you were around when the house was built, you can’t be sure the electrical system is up to code.
Before you blow another fuse trying to start your computer, here’s what you need to know about old electrical wiring:
Characteristics of Old Electrical Systems
Does your home need to be rewired? First, you should understand what makes outdated wiring different from newer arrangements. Here are some of the electrical issues typically found in older homes:
Outdated electrical panels. Buying an older home? Unless it was rewired in the recent past, it’ll probably come equipped with older electrical panels. An electrical panel, also known as a fuse box, receives power from your local electric company and distributes it throughout the circuits in the home. Older panels often don’t have sufficient power for modern-day needs, which may cause breakers to flip because they can’t handle the electrical load your family demands.
Aluminum wiring. In the 1960s and 1970s, electricians commonly used aluminum wiring because it was less expensive than copper. They didn’t always optimize these systems for aluminum’s idiosyncrasies, however, which led to higher failure rates at connection point — causing sparks and short circuits.
While aluminum isn’t necessarily bad, it’s simply not as good as copper. One potential safety hazard of aluminum wiring is known as “creeping” — when connections loosen over time. Not only does this hinder your ability to power devices as needed, but these gaps between the wiring and connectors may lead to overheating and potentially even house fires.
Cloth insulation. Prior to the 1950s, the insulation that covered electrical wires was made of cloth. Since cloth is vulnerable to the elements, it becomes brittle and deteriorates over time. It’s pretty rare to come across cloth insulation today, but if you have old-school knob-and-tube wiring in your home, you may still find the remnants of looms — the cloth insulating sleeve that protected wires as they ran into appliances or walls. If your home’s wiring setup is so old that you still have looms, you definitely need an update.
Knob-and-tube wiring. A popular method from the late 1800s to the 1940s, electricians formerly used porcelain knobs to anchor wires to studs, floor joists, and insulated tubes in order to pass wires through walls. Since this type of wiring doesn’t include a ground wire, it’s dangerous for appliances that require a three prong outlet — which, if you look around your home, is now most of them.
Faulty wiring is the leading cause of residential fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration — and the older your house is, the greater the chances that your home’s wiring might be outdated or unsafe.
A good reason to consider replacing old wiring, aside from electrical home safety, is that some insurance carriers may refuse to insure houses with older electrical systems, or they may insist owners pay higher premiums.
If you don’t know the condition of your wiring, it’s worth paying a licensed electrician to inspect your electrical system. Look out for these signs that it’s time to replace old wiring:
- Circuit breakers trip frequently
- Vibration or tingling when you touch a wall switch, appliance, or receptacle
- Dimming and flickering lights
- A burning smell in a particular room or from an appliance
- Discolored outlets and switch plates that are warm to the touch
- Ungrounded outlets throughout the house (these only accommodate two prong plugs)
- A lack of ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets in your bathrooms, kitchen, and other areas that may be exposed to moisture
If your home is over 40 years old, you should consider rewiring your electrical system. Our 5-Star Technicians are trained to tackle any electrical issue and provide a solution that works for you and your family. With CroppMetcalfe, you can trust your home is in good hands. Call 1-877-740-6657 to speak with one of our licensed electricians or request service online today.