How dangerous is electrical wiring in your old house?
If you hear a hissing sound and you don’t own a cat, check your electricity. Damaged wires and outlets can hiss when something’s wrong, just like the cat. But hissing electricity is much more dangerous than your pet. If you have an older home, be sure to check for specific problems by year below. However, all homes are susceptible to electrical problems, so read on to keep your home and your family safe.
People who love older homes usually get drawn in by their grandeur. They see a Victorian home in the historic district and fall in love with its stately staircase and intricate architectural features. Once they sign on the dotted line, they painstakingly restore woodwork, make sure windows are in working order and tend to other repairs. One of the top priorities on their “to do” list should be to get the electrical system inspected by a qualified electrician.
Old electrical wiring could pose a fire hazard
Just because the wiring in a home is old doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad or in need of a change, but it could be. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), many older homes that still have outdated wiring can’t handle the electrical load of today’s modern appliances. That’s not good because old, outdated wiring could pose a fire hazard.
As electrical components age or become overloaded, the system can overheat and wear out insulation. This can lead to arcs (electrical discharge) and short circuits — the two main causes of home electrical wiring fires, according to the CPSC. In addition, old rubber wire insulation can become brittle and easily flake, leaving wires exposed.
Knob and tube wiring: is it safe?
Older wiring called knob and tube is considered dangerous by many and can be found in homes built around 1950 or earlier. Knob and tube wiring is not equipped to withstand modern household power usage, which means it poses a greater risk of starting a fire. If your electrical system was not thoroughly inspected when you bought your home, or if it was inspected several years ago, have it inspected by a licensed electrician to make sure your electric system is safe and that it adequately meets the demands of your home. If your house was built between 1965 and 1973, it could be dangerous for another reason. Aluminum is great for cans, but not for wiring since it can overheat. Unfortunately, it was used in 2 million homes that were built during that time period.
The signs of electrical problems in your home
Regardless of the age of your home, be sure to get any potentially dangerous wiring issues checked out by a professional, especially if you see any of the following signs:
- Your circuit breaker keeps tripping or fuses blow often
- You notice unusual power draws or dimming or flickering lights
- You hear hissing sounds from your outlets or switches
- You see discolored (dark colored) outlets or switch plates or they are warm to the touch
- You notice unusual odors like a burning smell but can’t find a source
- Your outlets only allow you to plug in a two-pronged plug (and not a three-pronged plug), which means they are not grounded
- You don’t have ground-fault circuit interrupters near faucets or other sources of water in your home
- Your house was built more than 40 years ago