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Do You Have Old Electrical Wiring in Your Home?

Oct 10, 2017



A Northern Virginia homeowner in 2017 has electrical needs that far outpace that of a homeowner 20, 30 or 40 years ago. The old fuses and circuit breakers in a home built for a Warrenton family in the 1970s may not be sufficient to handle the electrical draw of your plugged-in brood.
Antiquated wiring can be annoying — no one wants the power to go out every time you plug in the iron while your phone is charging — but, more seriously, it can pose a serious danger to your home. The National Fire Protection Association reports that U.S. fire departments respond to an estimated 45,210 home structure fires each year that involve some type of electrical failure or malfunction as a factor contributing to ignition. 
How do you know if your wiring is too old or too dangerous for your home? Before you start thumbing through the Yellow Pages for local electricians because you just blew another fuse trying to start your computer, here’s what you need to know about outdated home wiring.

What makes old electrical wiring different? 

Does your home need to be rewired? First, you should understand what makes an old home’s wiring different from newer arrangements. Here are some of the issues local electricians find with electrical systems in older homes.
  • Outdated electrical panels. Buying an older home? Unless it was rewired in the recent past, it’ll probably come equipped with older electrical panels. An electrical panel — that box that holds your home’s circuit breakers or fuses — receives power from the electric company and distributes it to the circuits in the home. Older panels often don’t have sufficient power for modern-day needs, and they may cause breakers to flip or fuses to blow because they can’t handle the electrical load your family demands. 
  • Aluminum wiring. In the 1960s and 1970s, electricians commonly used aluminum wiring because it was less expensive than copper. They didn’t always optimize these systems for aluminum's idiosyncrasies, however, which led to higher failure rates at connection point — causing sparks and short circuits. 
    Aluminum, isn’t bad, per se, but it’s simply not as good as copper. One common problem with aluminum, for example, is that the metal is soft and easy to damage. Aluminum can also rust. When an aluminum wire heats, expands and re-heats over time, it can slip its terminal screws and create loose connections — this is called creeping. Any of these issues can hinder your ability to draw the electrical power you need.
  • Cloth insulation. Prior to the 1950s, the insulation that covered electrical wires was made of cloth. Because it’s vulnerable to the elements, cloth deteriorates and becomes brittle over time. It’s pretty rare to come across cloth insulation today, but if you have old-school knob-and-tube wiring in your home, you may still find the remnants of looms — the cloth insulating sleeve that protected wires as they ran into appliances or walls — in your home. If your wiring setup is so old that you have looms, you probably need an update.
  • Knob-and-tube wiring. A popular method from the late 1800s to the 1940s, electricians used to use porcelain knobs to anchor wires to studs and floor joists and insulated tubes (see above) in order to pass wires through walls. This type of wiring doesn’t include a ground wire, though, which means it’s dangerous for appliances that require a three-prong outlet — which, if you look around your home, is now most of them — increasing the risk of fire. 
Let’s put it this way: knob-and-tube wiring was out-of-date by the 1950s. If you legitimately have a first-generation knob-and-tube setup — and maybe you do, because there are a decent amount of older homes out in the Warrenton and Fauquier region of Northern Virginia — you are asking for trouble unless your home is using an uncommonly small power load.

How do you know if you need to rewire your home?

One of the first things you need to consider when planning a wire remodel is the house's existing electrical system. If you’re unfamiliar with electrical workings (as most homeowners are), it’s always a smart idea to pursue Warrenton electrical services for a whole-home electrical inspection. 
You can also be on the lookout for these three signs:
  • Circuit breaker trips frequently. Your circuit’s job is to prevent fires by cutting off electrical flow when a circuit exceeds its maximum number of amps. If your wiring is old, though, it will become faulty and stop working properly because it’s been overloaded too many times. 
  • Burning smell. If you notice a persistent burning smell, it’s possible you have an electrical short. If this is the case, check your outlets and switches for any discoloration. Without any, you may have a short within the walls. If this is the case, turn off the circuit and seek out Warrenton electrical services right away.
  • Discolored outlets. A discolored outlet or switch is a sign of a loose connection or faulty wiring. When there’s a loose connection, a spark will occur and create a small fire (giving the outlet surface a char/discolored appearance). 

What happens if you ignore old electrical wiring?

If you don’t update your home’s wiring, you may be subjecting your family to fire hazards. The National Fire Protection Association predicts that electrical fires result in an estimated 420 deaths, 1,370 injuries and $1.4 billion in direct property damage each year. 
Less serious (but frustrating nonetheless), old electrical wiring can run up your electric bill. Faults in poorly-maintained older homes can cause a drastic increase in electricity use. If your house is more than a decade old, it’s a good idea to have your local Warrenton electrical services conduct a complete inspection of your system.


How can I fix old electrical wiring?

If you suspect something is wrong with your electrical system, you probably time to consider rewiring your home. Contact the local electricians at CroppMetcalfe at 1-877-740-6657 or schedule service online now.


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