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Buying an Older House? What to Know About the Electrical System

Living Room Interior
The classic appeal of older architecture is an aesthetic that tops your list of home buying must-have features. But with the aging structure comes functional issues — including the electrical system. Before you buy, take a look at what you need to know about older homes and their electrical systems.

Old Wiring

A home built decades ago (or more) wasn't wired to handle today's electrical needs. Aside from lights and a few major appliances, homes from the earlier and mid parts of the twentieth century didn't need much in the way of electricity. Compare that to the modern home's (and modern family's) needs.
Between your computer, entertainment system, smart devices, and all the other tech that you continuously power, your home has some hefty electrical requirements. An older home may not have the wiring to handle a modern electrical load. Without a high enough capacity, your home and your family are at risk.
How do you know if the wiring in an older home meets modern standards? You could buy the home, plug in your appliances/electronics, and wait to see if the fuses constantly trip or you have other problems. But that's a dangerous move, creating the possibility of a home fire.
Instead of taking chances, hire an electrician to assess the wiring capacity of your potential new-old house. The electrician can also evaluate the structure and integrity of the wiring.
As electrical systems age, the insulation covering wires may start showing wear. This type of damage exposes the wires, leading to risks such as electrical shock, fire, or power failure.

Knob and Tube Wiring

The ability to carry the correct current for your appliance and electronic needs isn't the only issue that comes with older homes. Depending on when the home was built, it may have knob and tube wiring. Commonly used from the 1880s to the 1930s, this type of wiring presents a serious safety risk that many home insurance agencies won't take on.
Exposed knob and tube wiring, such as in basements or attics, poses an even greater safety hazard. While knob and tube wiring on its own shouldn't sway you away from buying an older house, you do need to understand the necessary upgrades you'll have to make. Again, a qualified electrician can assess the wiring and recommend the next steps to take.

Ungrounded Receptacles

Ungrounded outlets have slots for only two prongs. Appliances, lighting elements, and electronics with three-pronged plugs require a three-slotted grounded outlet. Homes built before 1962 may have ungrounded receptacles — especially if the previous owner failed to update the electrical system. Before the early '60s, new constructions weren't required to have this shock-reducing safety feature.
Some owners of older homes worked around the ungrounded outlet issue by using three-pronged adapters. While this inexpensive option will allow your three-pronged electrical devices to fit into an ungrounded outlet, it doesn't provide the same safety measures as a fully grounded receptacle.
Likewise, simply replacing a two-slotted outlet with a three-slotted one would seem like an easy fix to a potentially complicated problem. But, like using adapters, this isn't a safe solution. Not only do you need new outlets, but you also need grounded wiring.
Before purchasing an older home with ungrounded receptacles, talk to an electrician about the costs involved in replacing the outlets and adding a ground wire.

Out of Code Issues

Ungrounded receptacles, knob and tube wiring, and other electrical issues may present code problems. If you're planning on renovating the home, unknown electrical code issues could slow you down. Prior to putting in an offer, ask an electrical contractor to inspect the system and alert you to anything that is out of code.
Are you in the process of buying an older home? Contact In Phaze Electric Inc. for more information on upgrades.