Is It Time to Upgrade Your Home’s Electrical Wiring?
You’ll never know what’s behind the walls of your house!
No, we’re not talking about mildew, bugs, honey bees, or squirrels. We’re talking about old, outdated and even faulty electrical wiring in your home. Even if your electricity seems to be in good working condition (your lights don’t flicker, there are no unexpected shutdowns, etc.), it isn’t necessarily functional and, more importantly, it may not be safe.
If your home is more than 40 years old (and how many homes in the Pittsburgh region fall into this description), you may need to update your electrical wiring to protect your home from potentially dangerous or expensive damage.
Inadequate or Faulty wiring is one of the leading causes of residential fires in the U.S.—over 50,000 a year — and the risk of fire caused by faulty wiring dramatically increases based on the age of your house. Older wiring may not meet code and wire insulation and other materials tend to deteriorate over time.
Although a check-up by a certified electrician is always a good idea if you own an older home, it is especially important if you’ve noticed any of these red flags:
- Blown fuses. Do you feel like you are running to your breaker box every other day to replace a blown fuse? If this is the case, you need to call a licensed electrician to get to the root of the problem. At a bare minimum, you’ll most likely need to have an electrical repair done, and it could possibly include a complete electrical system upgrade.
- Flickering lights. One of the easiest ways to identify a problem with your electrical wiring is to keep an eye on your lights. They will often flicker or dim throughout the day when your wiring begins to go bad. Obviously, a flickering light could signal an entirely different problem than bad wiring, but you should not ignore lights that flicker,
- Discolored or warm outlets. If your home consists of two-prong outlets, chances are you have an older electrical system. Also, if you have outlets that are warm to the touch or that have some discoloration, you should address the issue right away.
- Smelly appliances or rooms. This should go without saying, but if it smells like something is burning each time you’re are in your home, you likely have an issue that requires immediate attention from a qualified electrician.
- Extensive use of extension cords and power strips. If you find yourself plugging nearly everything into one power outlet via power strips and extension cords, it’s a good idea to upgrade your electrical panel. You can allow each circuit to run straight from the panel or install a new electrical outlet and circuit, minimizing the fire hazard.
- Knob-and-Tube wiring. Houses built in the 19th and early 20th centuries often contain knob-and-tube wiring (you’ll know it when you see it) which may be worn out and lacks the capacity to handle modern electric loads. In fact, many insurance companies will no longer cover your home unless the knob-and-tube wiring is either replaced or augmented with electrical wiring.
Was Your House Built in the 1960’s or early 1970’s? Be on the lookout for Aluminum Wiring.
Instead of standard copper wiring, many houses built in the 1960’s and early 1970’s have aluminum wiring, which is now considered a safety hazard. As one electrician describes, “Aluminum wiring connections often loosen up over time. This can cause overheating and possibly fires at receptacles when appliances are plugged into them.” Again, an inspection can determine whether it’s safe to leave the wiring in place. Sometimes, the addition of copper connectors, called pigtails, at receptacles and circuit breakers can resolve potential problems of aluminum wiring.
J&A South Park electricians will be able to survey the situation and come up with the best solution.
Let’s Face it. You Simply Need More Power than Your Parents or Grandparents!
Sixty amps used to the standard for household power. Today, houses often need 200 amps to run air conditioners, flat-screen TVs, computer equipment and all the other electronic gadgets our parents and grandparents couldn’t even have imagined.
Not having enough power isn’t just an inconvenience, it can actually damage sensitive electronics. Says a local electrician, “It’s very hard on these devices if the voltage drops off.”
When it comes to rewiring, you need to know whether and how much updating you need before you start.
If your home needs rewiring, you may be wondering how extensive the project will be. Will your walls have to be torn up? How big of a mess will I have?
In some cases, it will be necessary to tear out walls, run the new wires, then put up new drywall. If that is the case, the cost of all this should be included in your estimate before any work begins. At other times, it may be possible to run the wires through basements, crawl spaces, joists or the attic, or “fish” wires through walls, which minimizes the need to essentially rebuild the walls.
So, you need a scheduled inspection or an estimate for updating your wiring? Contact J&A South Park today. We look forward to answering your questions and keeping your electrical system going strong for many years to come!
DIY or not to DIY, That Is the Question.
Of course, doing some of the electrical work yourself can save you money on hiring an electrician, but this is certainly not for everyone. One mistake can easily turn into a tragedy down the road. It’s important to keep in mind that electricians study as apprentices for a period of time, and then must pass rigorous testing before obtaining a professional license. Also, laws vary between municipalities on what you can and can’t do. In some places, even something as simple as running a wire to a new electrical outlet requires an inspection, an electrical permit and the work must be done by a licensed electrician.
If you reside where a homeowner can legally do work without an electrician, it’s also important to remember that this means you as the homeowner, not your Uncle Joe who has a tool box filled with every tool imaginable!
Before proceeding with any rewiring, here’s a few tips for planning the job:
Are you planning to remodel a kitchen, add a new room or some other renovation? Replacing older electrical wiring may automatically be part of the renovation project. If fact, remodeling is often a great time to update household wiring, as walls may already be open anyway, giving the electrician easy access.
Do you want to run wiring for data and security while you’re at it? Obviously, it will be less expensive to do everything at once if this is something you might be contemplating down the road.
Determine whether a partial rewire will be enough. Ask your electrician to assess whether part of the system is still in good condition and is able to be left in place.
Find an electrician that has experience working on older homes. Rewiring is a complicated procedure that requires not only understanding the structure behind the wallboards but also the best way to run wiring with a minimum of wall damage.
Get a written contract specifying the work to be done and how any surprises will be handled. Let’s face it, Murphy’s Law is in effect here. There’s always something unanticipated when you open a wall of an old home. Be prepared.
Pull permits for the work. A professional electrician will know the electrical code standards and he or she will be able to secure a permit for the work. When everything is done, however, be sure that a final inspection was performed and keep a copy of the permit with all inspection signatures and notes should you decide to eventually sell your house, many homebuyers now want visual proof of building permits for all renovations.
Make reconstruction and wall repairs a key part of the job. Let your contractor know upfront that cleanup and restoration is important and that he or she knows exactly what level of finish is expected. For example, do you want the walls repainted?
Open Your Walls (and Your Wallet)
While there are many variables in determining the cost of rewiring a home, especially an older home, there are some typical or average costs that we can review.
Copper wire is increasingly expensive, so just the materials alone for rewiring a typical house can start out around $400 to $1,000 and might run $1,500 to $3,000 or more for an extensive upgrade (lots of outlets, lots of light fixtures) in a larger home.
Depending on local rates, having an electrician require your home can run about $65 to $120 per device (outlet, switch, light fixture), plus $800 to $3,000 to upgrade to a 100-200 amp electrical panel. Average total cost (materials and labor) for rewiring a house starts around $3,500 to $8,000 for a moderate-sized home with easy access but can run $8,500 to $20,000 or even as high as $30,000 for a large house and/or one with difficult access. By access, we are referring to the ease of access to a crawlspace and exterior walls.
Rewiring is messy and disruptive, at times requiring holes to be punched in walls in multiple locations, with dust, noise and construction materials stacked everywhere during the actual work. If at all possible, you don’t want to be there while the work is performed. You can probably figure a minimum of two weeks to completion, and possibly three depending on the size of the house and the ease of access.
You Might Consider More Bells and Whistles
If you’re already remodeling or upgrading your home, it might be a good idea to think about structured wiring. These are heavy-duty data cables that facilitate the latest features of flat-screen TVs, sound equipment, computers, game consoles, phones, security systems, and even internet-based remote control of house systems like heating and lighting.
Structured wiring begins with a structured network panel that accepts cables from outside providers and distributes the signals directly to each room in your house. These direct lines are called “home runs” and they ensure the strongest possible connection and signal to each of your electronic devices.
Structured wiring can be installed while a home is under construction, retrofitted during a remodel or added on its own.
To give some more practical and exciting examples, a structured wiring system is the backbone that will allow you to:
- Play a DVD in one room and watch it on any other TV in your house.
- Listen to your sound system in any room
- Hook multiple computers up to one internet connection.
- Send files among all computers in the house
- Have over a dozen different phone lines
- Easily make adjustments to all these, as well as other options as your family’s needs change
Do I Need to Buy Everything Now?
No. many structured wiring packages come in different feature levels. If you are on a budget, you can install a basic system that will provide simple cable TV and phone distribution. At a later date, you can add control box modules to enable other features such as computer networking. The key is to make sure you have the bundles of wires running to every important room in your house. Since these bundles run through your walls, they are difficult and expensive to add later.