Update Old Electrical Wiring
LESLIE: Jean in Virginia listens to The Money Pit on WJFK. And you’ve got a question about wiring. What can we do for you?
JEAN: Okay. I have a house that I’ve owned since ’89. And it’s a brick duplex. It’s one of these sort of pre-war houses. And it has plaster and the original wiring.
JEAN: And whenever you … whenever I’ve ever looked at the wiring – first of all, it’s too scary (laughing) – and it looks like it’s almost covered in cloth. And so I have replaced the outlets with … from two prong to three prong to accommodate the newer appliances. And I have a new … I don’t have a fuse box anymore; I have a breaker box. But the wiring is original. Would you think that it’s a good idea – and it’s a rental right now – to rewire it? And if I do rewire it, would it be better just to have the wiring run on the outside of the wall or – because that sounds … seems like it’ll be much more expensive to have them run it through the wall.
TOM: Well, my first question is how did you take two prong outlets and put three prong outlets in without a ground …?
JEAN: I had an electrician do it.
TOM: Well, did he run a ground wire?
JEAN: I think he did.
JEAN: Put it this way. I called an electrician. I said what I wanted and that’s what I got. And at the time – put it this way – I was assuming that what he was doing was correct.
TOM: Yeah. Well, my first concern is just to make sure that he actually did ground those outlets. Because, after all, that’s why you wanted to do that.
LESLIE: Well, because if it is such old wiring, can you even run a ground?
TOM: Well, yeah. They’d have to run a separate ground. The fact that you have cloth-covered wiring, not to worry. You said it’s probably like – what? – 1940s, 1950?
JEAN: I would … no, I’d say it was built somewhere between 1930 and 1940.
TOM: Oh. Mmm.
LESLIE: So it’s probably knob and tube.
JEAN: I understand … someone once referred to it as BX but I’m just not sure that’s the right term.
TOM: Yeah. I don’t think it’s knob and tube wiring. Do you … do you see the ceramic insulators? The white ceramic insulators strung from post to post? I think it’s probably BX cable, which is basically a cloth-covered version of our modern wiring.
JEAN: That’s what it is.
TOM: Yeah. That wiring usually doesn’t break down. That cloth is not a fire hazard. That’s just the outer surface to it.
TOM: So that wire is actually okay as long as it’s grounded.
JEAN: Okay. And if I had someone check and go back – because this was done quite a while ago and I don’t live in the house anymore; I rent it out. And I don’t know why I should be even more concerned because I’m not living in it. Except if I burn up it’s not a big problem but …
TOM: Yeah. (laughing)
JEAN: Yeah. But yeah, that’s … if I went ahead and had an electrician come and check those outlets to make sure that a separate ground wire was run, then we’re pretty much okay.
TOM: Then you’re good. Yep. Exactly. The only improvement you might want to make, beyond that, is questions that have to do with service; whether or not you have too much on one circuit and that sort of thing. Sometimes in the older homes, for example, you may have all of the lights and all of the outlets on the same circuit and then you start plugging in hair dryers and vacuum cleaners and you start popping circuits. That’s a matter of breaking the service up. But your wiring is probably okay. As long as when the electrician did convert from two to three prong outlets, that he did ground it properly.
JEAN: Okay. Well, I can have … certainly, I think it will be easy enough to have that checked and you certainly made me feel a lot better.
TOM: Alright. Thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT. 888-666-3974.