Homes built prior to 1950 may still have a knob and tube wiring system. Though the technology is old, it is still capable of carrying electricity throughout the home. There are additional factors, however, that homeowners should know about when buying or selling a home with knob and tube wiring. Knob and tube wiring must always be disclosed during the home inspection process even if replacement is not required in your specific area.
What Is Knob and Tube Wiring? These systems use porcelain insulators (knobs) for running wires through unobstructed spaces. Porcelain tubes protect wires that run through studs and joists. Knob and tube wiring may not always be visible, but outlets that are two-pronged and ungrounded may indicate that the home has this type of electrical system.
Is It Unsafe? Installations must be evaluated on a case by-case basis. Safety usually depends on the home’s history of modifications and upgrades. Modern homes have much greater demand for electricity compared to when these systems were commonly installed. As a result, modifications to handle the increased demand were often undertaken by a handyman or an unqualified contractor. While an electrician can do a proper splice and install the correct fuses, home inspections often reveal substandard modifications, including faulty splices and inappropriate fuse resistances, which can create a serious safety hazard.
Knob and tube wiring also requires free air circulation around it so that heat can dissipate. If insulation has been added to areas where the wiring is in place, the resulting heat buildup may cause a fire hazard. In addition, because knob and tube wiring is not grounded, it should never be used in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, or outdoors where it can be exposed to water.
Home Insurance – As existing knob and tube wiring continues to age, insurance companies may deny coverage due to increased risk. In fact, many property insurance companies will not write new policies on homes with knob and tube wiring, which will of course affect the financing prospects. A buyer or seller may have to upgrade part of or all of the system. Sometimes the insurance company will insure the home through the transaction period but will require an electrical upgrade within a defined period of time after closing. This is an important factor for homebuyers considering a home with knob and tube wiring and is another reason the system should be replaced.
Updating the Wiring – If there only a few knob and tube circuits to replace it will not be expensive. But if the home has knob and tube wiring throughout, an upgrade may involve more than just replacing existing circuits, such as upgrading the breaker panel, and thus may present a greater expense. In an upgrade, the wiring will be updated to today’s standards. In the end, for safety and peace of mind it is well worth the expense to upgrade to the safer, modern electrical system.
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