What you need to know about replacing old wiring
There’s a good chance that this is your first time replacing old wiring—most homeowners only deal with this problem once or twice during the lifetime of their home. It can initially seem like a daunting project. That’s because it is: a whole-home rewiring project is one of the largest and most challenging electrical upgrades a home can receive.
In this article, we’ll break it down and discuss how you can tell if you need to replace your wiring, what some of the potential warning signs of failing wiring are, and who you need to talk to in order to start your project.
How to know if you need to replace your home’s wiring
Does your home need to be rewired? Here are a few ways to know if it’s time to replace your home’s existing wiring:
If your home is more than 30 years old, it might be time to have an electrician take a look and determine if it’s time to replace its wiring. Your home’s existing wiring is aging on two fronts.
First, there’s the physical age and deterioration that comes with three decades of near-continuous use. Connections become loose. Wires start to fray and lose their protective insulation. Rodents and other pests can gnaw at wiring hidden behind walls. By the time your home turns 30, it—and its electrical wiring—has been through a lot.
Second, there’s the fact that today’s appliances, devices, and electronics demand more electrical output than most older homes were originally wired to provide. Our modern life, in other words, might be overtaxing the electric wiring that was installed back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s—long before there were smartphones and electric vehicles that needed to be charged. If your wires are having trouble keeping up with the demand placed on them, you might start to notice some of the warning signs outlined in the next section.
Your type of wiring
Most homes have copper wiring. It’s more expensive than other alternatives, but copper is the gold (or, well, copper) standard for electrical wiring for a reason. It’s safe, non-corrosive, and great at carrying electrical current. A home with copper wiring can expect to not need new wiring for 40-50 years after installation.
Unfortunately, not every home has copper wiring. Due to the high price of copper, some homes built in the 60s, 70s and early 80s feature aluminum wiring. Aluminum is great for tin foil and airplanes, but it’s a relatively poor substitute for copper wiring. Aluminum wiring corrodes, conducts electricity less efficiently, and—most notably—is a greater fire risk.
If you have access to the original paperwork that came with your home, check to see what type of wiring it has. If you’re still not sure, call Wagner and have one of our electricians out for an inspection. Due to the safety track record of aluminum wiring and the decades that have passed since it was originally installed, we recommend homes with aluminum be rewired as soon as possible.
Signs of trouble
Let’s start by stating the obvious: like so many other parts of your home, you’re not going to get a convenient text message alerting you to either a problem or a potential problem (although that would be nice!). You’re going to have to look and listen for signs of trouble. When it comes to wiring, this includes things like:
Circuit Breaker Resets: If you are constantly tripping your circuit breaker and needing to reset a circuit at the breaker box, it’s a sign that something is wrong with either the circuit or the wiring. Remember: a circuit breaker’s job is to prevent damage from overcurrent that could damage either the circuit or the things plugged into outlets attached to that circuit. If your circuit breaker continually trips, it’s a sign that the “highway” is just too small for the number of cars (in this analogy, your devices and appliances) on it.
Dimming Lights: It’s typically normal for your lights to briefly dim when a major appliance—typically, an air conditioner or furnace—first starts up. Your home’s HVAC systems draw a lot of power as they turn on. However, if you’re noticing this happening regularly with other appliances or devices, it’s a sign that your existing wiring is struggling to simultaneously provide power to both your lights and everything else on the circuit. Think of this as your “check engine” light flashing. You need to take action and bring in a Wagner electrician.
Smoke & Strange Noises: We probably don’t need to be the ones to tell you that if you see smoke coming from your outlets—or crackling or sizzling sounds when you plug something in or turn on an appliance—you need to turn off the power to your home and bring in one of our electricians immediately. You might also want to buy a lottery ticket in recognition of your luck: you caught an inevitable home fire before it happened and anyone got hurt.
You’ll need the help of a professional
There are many, many home projects that you can attempt to do yourself. Clogged drain? Have at it. Need a fresh coat of paint? Grab a few brushes and get to it. We can’t state this plainly enough, however: electric rewiring is not one of them. The stakes are just too high.
Let’s quickly run through the possible scenarios. A possible best-case scenario for DIY rewiring is that it just doesn’t work properly. You have dead circuits and outlets that just don’t work. Every other scenario from there forward is pretty disastrous, all the way up to your home burning down because electric wiring was put in the wrong place or a circuit was overloaded.
Even seemingly mundane electrical work and repairs is extremely dangerous and full of potential pitfalls. A major, blockbuster project like a full-home rewiring is about a thousand times more difficult. Do not attempt to do this project yourself.
You need a licensed electrician from a trusted company with a proven track-record of home rewiring projects. You don’t want your home to be someone’s first time rewiring a property. Keep this in mind when comparing quotes from different companies and contractors: there’s a time and place to go with the cheapest quote, and “whole-home rewiring” is not that time. You need to properly value which professionals have the right tools, experience, and licensing to complete the project right and up to code.
Watch: Installing electrical wiring in an older home
In this video from Bob Vila, watch as an electrician rewires an older home to bring it up to the modern day.
Call our team at Wagner
The licensed and experienced electricians at Wagner are some of the top electrical professionals here in Albuquerque. There’s no better team to help with your home rewiring project. We’ll start with an inspection of your home so that we can better assess the project and provide you with an accurate installation estimate. Contact us today to get started.