Electrical Problems – in an Old House

If you have an old house and have not renovated the electrical systems you probably have electrical problems.  Since my parent bought the house I recently inherited there has been electrical problems.  My Dad was an electrician and fixed some of the issues then have he died my Mother had electrician do work on several occasions and yet there is still a few issues that need work.   Here are some of the issue you may encounter:

  • Old wiringOld and New wiresWhile the copper wiring does not deteriorate much over time the wire jacket does.  If you have old cloth resin jacketed wiring it is a good chance it is dried and brittle and prone to falling apart.  If no one messes with it is probably okay but if you go to replace a switch or light fixture pieces of it might fall off and you might have to wrap it with electrical tape (ask me how I know).  At some point it is better to run new wires.  At one point we had an issue, the circuit breaker keep tripping, with much of the up stairs lighting and had it completely rewired.
  • Flaky wiring — No not the previously mentioned cloth resin stuff I mean instead of the more recent hot-return-ground  it has just hot and return or they did hot and ground or they have several hot leads tied to one return or they used the wrong color if you can even tell what the colors are anymore or god knows what going on.
  • Fuses electrical Panel – Sure fuses work and you can get the fuse breakers but, really?  It is probably underrated (see next item) anyway so just get it replaced already.  Breakers are so much better and you have cool new options like Ground Fault Interrupt (GFCI) and Combination  Arc-fault Circuit Interrupt (CAFCI).  Make sure you get a panel with Plug-on Neutral it is so much easier when you go to add a GFCI or CAFCI..
  • Under rated Electrical Panel – Back when Fuses panels were standard or in the early days of breakers people used much less power so 60 to 80 Amp were more common.  Now days a 200 Amp service is the norm and even if you are not using anywhere near that much you are probably going over 60 a lot or would like to.   Time for a nice new shiny 200 Amp panel.
  • Bad or missing house Grounding – For at least the last couple of decades the National Electric Code (NEC) has specified how to properly ground a houses electrical system. Before that if a house was even ground it maybe in a variety of ways that would not be to any resent code.  The proper way is of course to drive a grounding rod or if necessary two at least 6 feet apart.  Here is an interesting list of the 10 Worst Grounding Mistakes.
  • Deteriorated Out Side Power feed – The problem with adding wiring to an old house is it is a pain to run new lines through the walls so electrician have a bad habit of running them on the outside of the house; and to make matters worse they don’t feel like running conduits so you get these wires running up the outside wall unprotected and in some cases poorly attached.  Of course the attachments start to break after 5 or 10 years and these wire are flopping around in the wind.  Even wire with jackets rated for outdoor use will start to deteriorated after decade or two.
  • Damage from rodents and insects – This is not just an old house issue but since old houses have more holes for various pests to get in through they are more susceptible.  You maybe one of those people that doesn’t want to hurt any living creature but they see your house as a good place to setup house in and they don’t get the concept of electrical systems or structural integrity so the sooner you get ride of them the better.  My Mom had squirrels in the attic for a few years which is why she ended up spending a bunch of money on rewiring after she couldn’t get the circuit breaker to say on.

After living in an old house for a long time as well as renovate a couple my advise is save up some money and redo your whole electrical system.  I had one probably in Baltimore I spent $9,000 on the electoral and it is much nicer.  I even got the hardwired smoke detectors.  Of course I was doing a fairly full rehab so the $9K is just the electrical and isn’t counting ripping holes in the wall to run the new electrical then patching them back up.

I also think before you get electrical work done you should get up to speed on electrical system so you know how things work enough to spot some problems. I have noticed over the years that some electricians make mistakes and either they did not pull a permit or the inspector missed the mistake.  There are two points here:   First you should know when a inspection is needed for an electrical job in your county.  Second you should know enough to spot stupid mistakes even if the inspector misses them.

Some interesting links:



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