When Old Wiring Is Dangerous, Not Quaint

Photo: Paul Cross/Flickr.comBuying, and living in, an older home can be totally charming. But along with the quaint comes the antiquated; the rooms that are a touch too small, the old plumbing that leaks and grumbles to itself, and aging electrical systems that simply aren't up to daily use. Where do you draw the line when it comes to an old electrical system and the difference between quaint quirks, and actual electrical hazards that need to be addressed?

What Kind of Wiring Do You Have?

Hopefully, your home was inspected before you bought it, and the inspector should have checked out the electrical system and given you some advice. If the electrical system hasn't been looked at recently, it's time to call an electrician and have it evaluated. One thing you'll definitely want to establish is what kind of wiring system you have, because if you're still living with old knob and tube wiring, it's got to go.

This wiring is ungrounded, and it often has fraying insulation, cracking wires, and other problems after decades of use. There's a higher risk of fires and electrical shock -- neither of which you want in your home -- and it can also be a code violation, depending on where you live. Because of the known risks associated with aging knob and tube, some insurance companies are picky about it too, meaning you might have trouble getting coverage if you don't replace it.

Do You Have Random Non-Working Outlets and Switches?

Do you have random outlets and switches that don't work? You need to find out why, because there could be a problem. If any outlets or switches spark, get hot, hum, emit smoke, or otherwise behave unnaturally, get it addressed double-quick, because you could be looking at a serious electrical issue. Cut off power to that circuit at the junction box, and call an electrician for help.

What Kind of Shape is Your Junction Box in?

Speaking of which, what kind of shape is your junction box in? Is it exposed, rusting, or otherwise compromised? Does it still have fuses, or has it been replaced and transitioned to breakers? Fuses aren't necessarily a bad thing, but they do indicate that the box hasn't been replaced in a while ... which means that it could be harboring electrical problems.

Do You Often Experience Power Cuts?

Have you had problems with power cuts and brownouts when you run multiple appliances? Or plug in too many holiday lights? This could be a sign of an inadequate service drop from the power company, and might also be an indicator that an overload is occurring somewhere in your electrical system. Your electrician needs to evaluate the situation to find out what is happening and why in order to fix it.

Do You Have Push-Button Switches?

What about those cute push-button electrical switches you just loved when you bought your house? They're getting super-trendy right now, but like other older fixtures, they sometimes hold unpleasant surprises. Have an electrician check them out just to be safe, and if they need to be replaced, don't worry: a number of companies make replica push button switches!

Another thing to check for is frayed or damaged wiring, which can happen in a home of any age -- although it's more common in older structures. While you're at it, check out the outlets in the kitchen and bathroom. They should be ground fault circuit interrupt (GFCI) circuits for safety, and in accordance with the electrical code. If they aren't, have them replaced so you can bathe (and breathe) easier.

When you're taking on a remodel of that beautiful vintage home, make sure your remodeling company works closely with plumbers and electricians to complete any needed system updates.

Katie Marks writes for Networx.com.

Updated May 13, 2018.

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