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Old Wiring: Don't Let It Cause a Fire

  • Posted: 01.21.2020
Image of a light switch with old wiring
Image: Safe Electricity

Older homes have a lot of wonderful features: Sturdy construction, beautiful craftsmanship, a sense of history and more. But they often need a lot of work and updating, especially if you move into one that’s had maintenance delayed.

It’s tempting to focus on the visible fixes, such as restoring woodwork, painting and upgrading windows, while ignoring the invisible flaws in the home.

One of the top priorities on your “to do” list should be to get the electrical system inspected by a qualified electrician when you move into the home or if you have not had it checked in recent memory.

Old and Maybe Not so Good
Just because the wiring in a home is old doesn’t automatically mean there’s a problem, but there could be. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), many older homes that still have outdated wiring can’t handle the electrical load of today’s modern appliances.

That’s not good because old, outdated wiring could pose a fire hazard. As electrical components age or become overloaded, the system can overheat and wear out insulation. This can lead to arcs (electrical discharge) and short circuits — the two main causes of home electrical wiring fires, according to the CPSC. In addition, old rubber wire insulation can become brittle and easily flake, leaving wires exposed.

Older wiring called "knob and tube" can be found in homes built around 1950 or earlier. If your electrical system was not thoroughly inspected when you bought it, or if it was inspected but it has been several years, have it inspected by a licensed electrician to make sure it is safe and that it adequately meets the electrical needs of your home.

If your house was built between 1965 and 1973, it could be dangerous for another reason. Aluminum is great for cans, but not for wiring since it can overheat. Unfortunately, it was used in 2 million homes that were built during that time period.

Regardless of the age of your home, be sure to get any potentially dangerous wiring issues checked out by a professional, especially if:

  • Your circuit breaker keeps tripping or fuses blow often
  • You notice unusual power draws or dimming or flickering lights
  • You see discolored (dark colored) outlets or switch plates or they are warm to the touch
  • You notice unusual odors like a burning smell but can’t find a source
  • Your outlets only allow you to plug in a two-pronged plug (and not a three-pronged plug), which means they are not grounded
  • You don’t have ground-fault circuit interrupters near faucets or other sources of water in your home
  • Your house was built more than 40 years ago

Source: Safe Electricity