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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
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    5

    Default How safe is old wiring?

    Hi,

    My family has moved into an 80-year-old home. How can we assess the safety of the wiring in the home? It appears that some (but not all) of the wiring was added at some point.

    For example: In one bedroom, rather than opening up the plaster walls, wiring has been run to outlets through exterior conduit, while two wall-mounted lights are served by wiring run within the walls.

    In another room, the polarity is "reversed" in one outlet.

    In another room, a light switch connects to nothing. (Judging by it's placement, it seems that it should go to an overhead light, but there is no fixture.)

    What can we do to make sure that all of the wiring is safe? And afterward, if it appears that rewiring is necessary, what is involved in rewiring a house with plaster walls?

    Many thanks!

    Jo
    Last edited by Jo McGinty; 03-30-2009 at 11:01 AM. Reason: misspelled word in title

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Posts
    175

    Default Re: How safe is old wiring?

    Just because it's not up to the standards that exist today doesn't mean it's not safe. To me it sounds perfectly usable from your description... after all it has stood 80 years!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
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    1,387

    Default Re: How safe is old wiring?

    Howdy, consider having an electricain come and inspect the wiring in your eletrical service panel( taking the panel cover off allows inspection of the wiring int the panel give a good indicator of the wiring you cannot see in the walls... to give you an opinion for an hours labor cost.
    The light swithc to no where may be to a split outlet, recpticl have you tried plugging in a light to all the outlets in the room and see if one works only if the switch is on....

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
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    109

    Default Re: How safe is old wiring?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jo McGinty View Post

    In another room, the polarity is "reversed" in one outlet.
    Consult an electrician.

    Rubber based wire insulation dries out, becomes brittle and flakes off. 1930s wiring might be beyond its safe useful life. Without a good bond to grounding CBs can fail to open. You didn't mention if your load center was fuse or CB protected.
    Last edited by Gray Watson; 03-31-2009 at 01:07 PM.
    SPAM: never liked it from a can, can't stand it on a board forum. This board needs MODERATORS!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
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    Default Re: How safe is old wiring?

    Quote Originally Posted by Timothy Miller View Post
    Howdy, consider having an electricain come and inspect the wiring in your eletrical service panel( taking the panel cover off allows inspection of the wiring int the panel give a good indicator of the wiring you cannot see in the walls... to give you an opinion for an hours labor cost.
    The light swithc to no where may be to a split outlet, recpticl have you tried plugging in a light to all the outlets in the room and see if one works only if the switch is on....
    Hi, Timothy,

    Thank you for your reply. I'll try that. As for the mystery switch, I did check to see whether it operates any of the outlets, but it doesn't. - Jo

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
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    5

    Default Re: How safe is old wiring?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gray Watson View Post
    Consult an electrician.

    Rubber based wire insulation dries out, becomes brittle and flakes off. 1930s wiring might be beyond its safe useful life. Without a good bond to grounding CBs can fail to open. You didn't mention if your load center was fuse or CB protected.
    Hi, Gray,

    Thank you for your reply. We have circuit breakers, and the box is fairly new, but we have 110 volts. (Our purchase inspector remarked that it seemed silly that someone went to the trouble of putting in a new board without upgrading to 220 volts.) - Jo

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Posts
    1,387

    Default Re: How safe is old wiring?

    Howdy again. Did you check the adjoining rooms to see if any outlets are on the switch to no where? Have you opened the switch plate cover to see if any wiring to the switch and to see if it is hot/ energized? If the switch was abandoned then the wiring in the switch should be capped/ taped off so cannot energise anything. You may want to explore and see if any of the outlets also have wirestaped /capped off. Someone may not of wanted a switehed outlet and disconnected the wirieg and replaced the $.40 outlet.( a switched outlet plug just has the metal clip that adjoins the top and bottom plug oepnings broken off so you can wire one plug from the switch and the other from the other wall outlets)

    The newer service panel is a good sign. However in my 105 year old home had rewiring- that is being too generous- some fool had added in violation of code and any sense of wiring workmanship, installed a 200 amp panel and tied romex to knob and tube and visa versa. In the panel the wiring was a mess. Goodness was keeping the whole home from burning down. I have rewired the whole house so a newer panel does not mean more then a newer panel....
    Have you contacted the building department to see when an if anyone pulled any permits for any renovations on the home?

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Location
    Fairfax, VA
    Posts
    76

    Arrow Re: How safe is old wiring?

    We also have a 106 year old home in DC and the wiring was original when we moved in. We did have to update quite alot (not for safety) but for use of computer, newer appliance, and such, so the wiring could handle all that technology. We did put in a new breaker box, with many new breakers so the larger appliance had their own line.

    NOVAPros

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Posts
    19

    Default Re: How safe is old wiring?

    You have to determine what you wan tot change,, and what you want to leave alone, then look at it from a practical standpoint... what CAN you change without creating boatloads of work?

    My last house was very old, and had been remodeled in 1954. So it was a combination of knob and tube, romex, BX, and MC. I had a 200 amp panel installed, and pulled about 1500 feet of new wire, cutting holes in walls for recepticles, drilling down through floor plates to make cable runs, etc. I left the ceilings alone, just putting in boxes (there were just pieces of wood spanning the stud cavities for the ceiling lights)and new fixtures. But pulling wire through the walls was mostly a matter of logical decisions about what and where, and alot of time-consuming fishing with a pair of fish tapes (fish one up and one down and let them hook each other, it is a lot easier than trying to do it with only one tape...), some pull string, some thin weights (to drop pull string down the walls), etc. Really frustrating at times, but not hard to get the feeds to the basement. Once in the basement, it is smooth sailing.

    Bill

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Posts
    5

    Default Re: How safe is old wiring?

    Hi, Timothy,

    Thank you again -- more good ideas. The switch is definitely not "working" anything, but I have not pulled off the plate to see what is there. And I hadn't thought to check for permits. I can see that some work (quite a bit of it on the cheap) has been done, so I suspect there are permits on file. I'll follow up with your good suggestions. -- Jo
    Quote Originally Posted by Timothy Miller View Post
    Howdy again. Did you check the adjoining rooms to see if any outlets are on the switch to no where? Have you opened the switch plate cover to see if any wiring to the switch and to see if it is hot/ energized? If the switch was abandoned then the wiring in the switch should be capped/ taped off so cannot energise anything. You may want to explore and see if any of the outlets also have wirestaped /capped off. Someone may not of wanted a switehed outlet and disconnected the wirieg and replaced the $.40 outlet.( a switched outlet plug just has the metal clip that adjoins the top and bottom plug oepnings broken off so you can wire one plug from the switch and the other from the other wall outlets)

    The newer service panel is a good sign. However in my 105 year old home had rewiring- that is being too generous- some fool had added in violation of code and any sense of wiring workmanship, installed a 200 amp panel and tied romex to knob and tube and visa versa. In the panel the wiring was a mess. Goodness was keeping the whole home from burning down. I have rewired the whole house so a newer panel does not mean more then a newer panel....
    Have you contacted the building department to see when an if anyone pulled any permits for any renovations on the home?

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