Does My House Need Rewiring?
LESLIE: Now we’re going to take a call from Susan in Alabama who’s rewiring her house.
Susan, how can we help you?
SUSAN: Yes, how y’all doing?
LESLIE: Good, how are you?
SUSAN: Good. The thing about it is, my husband inherited a house from his grandparents. It’s a family home, we have a horse barn. Everything’s here, so we’re not moving. However, before we got married, my husband lived here alone and just wanted to do some quick renovation. He had insulation blown into the house …
SUSAN: … and then he just nailed up paneling. It’s not glued to the walls – that’s the good thing – so we can take it down easily. But the wiring is another story. He didn’t have it rewired before the insulation got blown in.
TOM: OK, now how old is the wiring in the house?
SUSAN: Probably as old as the house. I’m saying at least 40 to 50 years old.
TOM: Well that’s not so old for electrical wiring.
SUSAN: Some of the lights blink.
TOM: OK, well there could be other reasons for that and the reasons probably don’t have anything to do with the wiring that’s inside the walls. It’s probably the connection points or the fact – like for example, do your lights blink in the kitchen?
SUSAN: That’s the main one. I’ve used those swag lamps and I just unplug them before I go to bed every night.
TOM: Well let me tell you why they might blink. They might blink because in a house of that age, the electrical circuit that controls the kitchen lights is the same electrical circuit that controls the refrigerator. And whenever your refrigerator kicks on, the compressor draws a lot of power and causes lights to dim or blink in some houses. That’s not unusual. In a more modern electrical system, the circuit for the kitchen ceiling would be different than the circuit for, say, the outlets for the refrigerator or even the counter outlets.
I would suspect that in a 40-to-50-year-old house you probably have a slightly small electrical system; maybe 100 amps or so. But that might not necessarily mean that you need to rewire the house. What you might need to do is add some new circuits and that could be done simply by adding the circuits to the existing panel or by adding a second panel or, in the worst-case scenario, just putting in a bigger service. But generally, the wires that are in the wall are fine. So I wouldn’t give your husband a hard time about having blown in that insulation without replacing the wires because I don’t think you’re going to have to do that.
SUSAN: Oh, well I’m so glad to hear that. However, we have a front room and in the front room, there’s just wires sticking out with those little caps on it.
SUSAN: And we use lamps. My tanning bed is in there, so we have it run directly to the breaker box.
SUSAN: They used fuses a long time ago and then they switched it over to the little …
TOM: Circuit breakers.
SUSAN: Yeah, those.
TOM: Right. Well if you have open junction boxes or you have open wiring, I would recommend you have an electrician come in and check all of those circuits. They may or may not be live. If they’re not being used, they can be disconnected. There’s no sense to have live, loose wiring around but the wiring itself sounds to me like it just needs to be cleaned up; it might not need to be replaced.
SUSAN: Oh, so that won’t cost near as much.
SUSAN: I asked this one electrician that I know – I just happen to know him from where I work and he does that on the side – and I said, “Would you consider working on my house, the wiring on my house? We have blown insulation in there.” And he was like, “No, no, no, it’s not worth it. I don’t …” (chuckles)
TOM: Well that’s because he’s envisioning he’s going to have to crawl through it. But if it’s a matter of just checking circuits and adjusting circuits and so on and making sure that they’re properly wired – I mean a good, basic electrical inspection of this house is probably the best place for you to start.
Susan, thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.