When Old Wiring Is Dangerous, Not Quaint

Time to call an electrician

Posted by Katie Marks | Oct 09, 2013
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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?

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 livijng 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, and you might have trouble getting coverage if you don't replace it.

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 doubletime, 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.

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.

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.

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 in the house, which can happen to 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 Painted Lady with a stunning view of the Bay, make sure your San Francisco remodeling company works closely with plumbers and electricians to complete any needed system updates.

Katie Marks writes for Networx.com.

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