If you live in a older home, there is a good chance that you are a bit of a handyman! However, there are some electrical problems that elbow grease alone can’t fix.
Please note - the prices listed in this article are estimates only! The actual cost may vary widely depending on the contractor and the house.
1. Ungrounded Receptacles
The Symptom: If you have electrical outlets with 2 holes instead of 3, these outlets are ungrounded. That means that there is no ground wire running from your electrical box to the ground. Even if the outlet has 3 holes it is not necessarily grounded - sometimes homeowners change the receptacle without fixing the grounding. To confirm, you can purchase a plug tester for about $20.00 at your preferred hardware store.
The Hazard: Ungrounded receptacles are an inconvenience, as you can not plug in 3 prong cords. There is also a definite hazard – if there is any failure in the circuit, there is no ground wire to carry away excess charge. Any fault in the circuit may cause arcing, sparks, electric shocks, or fires.
The Fix: An electrician can trace out your circuits and install GFCI receptacles at the beginning of the circuits. There are also GFCI circuit breakers that can be used to provide ‘grounding fault protection’ to circuits.
The Cost: Each circuit would cost between $80-$150 to ground in this manner.
2. Aluminum Wiring
The Symptom: If your house was built and wired between 1965 and 1973, there is a good chance you have aluminum wiring.
The Hazard: When contractors started installing aluminum wiring in 1965, many of the problems of aluminum had not been foreseen. Aluminum has several properties that make it less reliable than copper. It experiences greater thermal expansion and contraction, oxidation when exposed to air, and it is more prone to breaking. Aluminum also breaks down when in contact with other metals. While aluminum wire is still occasionally used in construction today, the installation standards are much more stringent. The issues with aluminum, combined with improper installation, may result in the wire deteriorating or breaking within the electrical fixtures or the walls.
The Fix: Install CAFI breakers on all circuits, this will help protect circuits if there are loose wires or protect your house from broken electrical wires in the wall. Ensure that all receptacles, switches, and fixtures are either rated for use with aluminum, or pigtailed to copper wires in a safe manner.
The Cost: $100-$200 per circuit that would benefit.
3. Federal Pacific Panels
The Symptom: If your home was built between 1950 and 1990, there is a chance you have a Federal Pacific Panel. Check the name on the label on the front cover of your panel.
The Hazard: If you have insufficient smoke detectors, or if the smoke detectors are not interconnected, there is a risk that you would not be informed of a fire in another part of the home. If one smoke detector fails, you may not have another connected to warn you of the hazard.
The Fix: The fix is the addition of new Smoke Detectors. This can present several challenges in older homes, especially when the smoke detectors need to be hardwired to each other through finished walls. One helpful new product is the hardwired wireless smoke detectors provided by FirstAlert – with these the electrician only needs to access a nearby power source.
The Symptom: If your primary electrical panel does not have a large main breaker at the top, which clearly indicates the size of your electrical service, you have a panel which lacks a main breaker.
The Hazard: As you add more appliances, develop your basement, add a hot tub, or any major renovation where you are increasing your power consumption, you run the risk of drawing too much current. Without a main breaker this current can overrun the service cable from the utility to your house, and potentially melt the wire.
The Fix: The simplest fix is installing an electrical panel with a main breaker. If you are actually drawing more current than your electrical service can supply this may cause issues with nuisance tripping, but your wires will be safe.
Nuisance tripping can be resolved with an electrical service upgrade. If you have an overhead electrical service, it is a fairly straightforward job to upgrade your electrical service to 100A, 150A, or even 200A. There is very little price difference between the size of services you upgrade to.
An underground electrical service may be more difficult to upgrade, as you need to trench from the transformer installed by your utility provider.
The Cost: $1500-$5000
We hope you enjoyed this article. There are many benefits to living in an older home, and we often find that the framing and foundation are of higher quality than in many new homes. But the electrical often leaves something to be desired.