Upgrading Old Electrical Systems

Most older home electrical systems can be upgraded into safe and fully functional systems without a complete re-wiring of the home. Some of the original wiring - even some of the old "tube and knob" - may be safely used for lighting circuits and other low amperage utility circuits. The "87 gig drive" needs a newer grounded circuit, but the light and table radio next to the computer will work fine in a properly functioning 1910 circuit.

So, if you get a bid from an electrician for a re-wiring of the house, here are a few questions to ask:

  • Could the existing electrical entrance provide me with enough amperage if I switched some of the larger appliances to natural gas or propane? (Note: a larger home may not need more than a 100 amp. entrance if most of the cooking, heating, water heating and clothes drying is done with gas or propane).
  • Conversely, does this work take into account next years project? For example, a new kitchen may require further upgrades to the electrical capacity of the entrance.
  • Can some of the existing circuits be used in conjunction with some new circuits?
  • If some of the new wiring is being performed during a remodel, would this be a good time to add new circuits to neighboring rooms?
  • Are some of the proposed upgrades required in new construction but not required in existing older homes? And, if not, do I need them? For example, today's code requires a receptacle within 6 feet of any wall surface. But that code does not apply to most existing walls in an older home. Adding receptacles in some walls may be very useful in some areas but not in others.
  • Will the electrical work damage any surfaces, trim or other elements of the home? Is the restoration included in the bid? (Note: electricians who specialize in remodeling and upgrades may be able to perform the work with less damage to the home).
  • Does the bid include permit (and any hookup) costs?
  • Which fixtures (if any) are included in the bid?
  • What about additional telephone and cable wiring?
  • Is this a good time to add a new bath fan or ducted kitchen fan? (George's Tip: Some of the newer bathroom fans are very quiet, pick one with a "sone" rating of 1.5 or less. Quiet fans are used more often, and more frequent fan usage reduces moisture damage and mildew).

A note about electricians and other specialty contractors: Some electricians, as well as some roofers, plumbers etc., suffer from the "specialist disease". They are expert in their area of work, but may not be thinking about related items and issues. For example, how to reduce electrical capacity requirements by using natural gas, or how to reduce the need and frequency of bathroom re-painting by installing a better quality fan.

Article: 
Electrical Systems