Do you update electrical in your rentals?

21 Replies

When I'm looking at houses to purchase as rental properties, a decent percentage still have fuse boxes. Many also have all or mostly two prong outlets. I feel like a lack of 3 prong outlets is impractical for modern life and fuse boxes are a pain to deal with. I know they would have been a deal breaker for me when I was a renter, particularly the 3 prong issue. 

For reference, I'm looking mostly at SFH in middle class neighborhoods, not low income but not high end. I've been estimating that I should budget around $3,000 to update these in a typical house, but haven't actually done any yet. So here's my questions for you:

1. Do you update to a circuit breaker and 3 prong outlets for your rentals?

2. What's a ballpark price to expect that this would cost?

I don't go out seeking work to do. If the electric is showing age and stress and the profit is there and i discounted the house when i purchased it. knowing that i need to update the electric. Otherwise i just go to HD and grab several 2 prong to 3 plug for tenants. If the electric is easy to get to ie not a slab i'm more inclined to do the electric if i redo the entire eletric most likely am guting the unit and i make the entire unit electric. Tenants like only having to pay one bill even though electric heat cost more. 

Cost under 3k $1,500 rewire and new 200 amp box is $1,000. 

@Adam Moehn  

I personally would update the electrical, but it is pretty costly. it's not just the receptacles that are outdated. the third prong that you are missing is for the ground wire... old homes were wired with just a hot wire, and a neutral, and no ground. You can take out the old outlets and install new ones, but they wouldn't be grounded. I live in S. Carolina, and to completely rewire a house including a new panel costs between $3.50-5 per sq ft of living space. I hope this helps.


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If we are doing a full renovation, then yes we update everything, but if the house is already in good condition then we leave it alone. 

Some cases we will update the circuit breaker, but leave the two prong outlets. In these cases, we would have to rewire each outlet to insure there is a ground. So if the two prong outlets are not easily accessible, then they stay the way they are.

Price quotes from northern WI. tend to run on the high end. 

Rewiring the whole house, - 1200 square foot house, two levels, basement, and underground wiring to the two car garage - $11,000

Just the breaker box - $1,100

Some places will charge Labor and $3.00 per linear foot. 

Hope this helps, it is all about balancing costs verses amenities for the your rentals.

Fuses are dodgy, because your tenant could always stick in a heavier duty fuse than the circuit is designed for once they start popping fuses because they are overloading circuits (which is likely, with modern electrical needs in an older house).  That's a major safety issue. With a breaker box they don't have that option. 

(I'm no electrician, so someone please correct me if I'm wrong!)

@Adam Moehn  Yes we do for several reasons. First it is a major hazard, tenants are sometimes careless and might put a penny in if they keep blowing fuses. It does work and it will cause a house to burn down not a myth. Secondly you will have a hard time insuring this, and will pay alot more even if you can. Thirdly this is probably a 60 amp service again which will have problem insuring. We upgrade these (and have to by our code) to 100 amp ( if it has garage or larger than 1000 square feet its like 200 more to go 200 amp and we do) services. This cost 600-1100 depending what all we have to do. Usually new meter base, service cable and panel, with grounding rods. This is a very competitive price as it is so much more than just a panel.  The outlets then may or may not be required. Most building departments will at least make you upgrade to gfci outlets in the kitchen and bath. Understand that arch fault breakers now have to go in for the bedrooms. It is basically a complete rewire and you are missing a ground cable. However having all new electric will save you maintenance and insurance cost. A small ranch home built in the 50s we can usually redo all of for 1600-2200 hiring a licensed and quality guy. I ALWAYS have them run wire for a electric stove and a disconnect for a/c in case we ever want those. I also have the (dead run) one 12 gauge wire into the attic so if we need some power somewhere else we dont have to fish it into the panel. Finally if we have an upowered garage it is perfect time to put power out there. I have found that a garage with 60 amps means someone could hook up an air compressor in the garage and have a wood shop. I think you will be forced to upgrade the panel how far you go from there will be up to you. Our pricing is reflected in that we give him several jobs a year. 

No fuse boxes; there are municipalities where I have rentals that will not pass inspection in a rental with fuse boxes. See if you have that in your area. 

If there are fuses still, you might find knob and tube wiring - another thing that the insurance companies don't like. 

Unless you are opening walls up, you can avoid re-wiring all receptacles to three conductor; many newer devices come with power packs that only use two prongs anyway. 

Once you start re-wiring, find out first how much code upgrading you will be asked / required to do. Arc fault breakers, hard-wired and interconnected smoke and CO alarms, GFCI for almost all kitchen receptacles - those are just some code changes you might have to comply with. 

Regarding the two prone vs three prone issue, as @Adam Drummond stated, you still have ungrounded receptacles if you don't ground them.

I see many homes with three prone receptacles and once you open the junction or switch boxes the devices are not grounded.  Fortunately in all of the homes I have purchased they were built in the 1960s, 70s and back then at least here they used EMT conduits and metal boxes.  The raceway actually serves as a ground and all I had to do is to bond the switches or receptacles to the boxes with a pigtail and that's all I need to do.

However, one has to be very careful and make sure there is continuity all the way back to the panel, all it takes is for one modification by an ignorant home owner twenty years ago and disconnected something and use a section of NM/MC/BX or even some PVC conduit or smurf tubes and created discontinuity and you have to hunt that down.

Besides electrical, the other thing that scares me a little is a tanked water heater with a T&P valve with a 3/4" outlet but connecting to an old 3/8" or even 1/4" soft copper tubing that goes UP then behind the wall and no idea where it comes out or if it does at all...yikes.

Thanks for everyone's input. Sounds like most people would update it, but some might not depending on the situation and if they're doing other work already.

Quite the range on estimates, looks like $2,500 to $11,000.

@Adam Drummond   Right, if it was just the receptacles those would be a cheap fix. I'm assuming most of the time these outlets don't have a ground already. Looks like I'm underestimating cost if your rates are applicable here.

@Peter MacKercher  Thanks. Being from Missouri I'd guess the cost your seeing would probably be similar to Iowa.

@Jeremy Tillotson  I know my insurance guy has mentioned a property is hard to get insurance for if it's not at least 100 amps but I don't recall him saying anything about fuse boxes being an issue. 

@Steve Babiak  The city does do rental inspections here, but I don't believe rentals are required to have a circuit breaker instead of a fuse box. I do think GFCI is required in kitchen and bathroom though. I'll have to look into those things to make sure.

@Sam Leon  Right, I'd guess most 2 prong outlets aren't grounded. I'm not familiar with using EMT conduits to ground. That'd save money if new wires don't need ran though.

@ Adam Moehn Price will vary a lot depending on the electric code in your area.  I have heard Chicago is the worst they're worried about another great fire. 

I would get 3 bids from local guys. Get referrals from your local REI and your local real estate agent.

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That's a good point about depending on local code, @Peter MacKercher  . I'd certainly get multiple quotes before having the work done. But I don't actually have a house needing it right now, I'm just trying to get an idea for reference since many prospective investments may need it.

Any local Cedar Rapids, IA folks have experience with updating electrical?

Originally posted by @Peter MacKercher :

I don't go out seeking work to do. If the electric is showing age and stress and the profit is there and i discounted the house when i purchased it. knowing that i need to update the electric. Otherwise i just go to HD and grab several 2 prong to 3 plug for tenants. If the electric is easy to get to ie not a slab i'm more inclined to do the electric if i redo the entire eletric most likely am guting the unit and i make the entire unit electric. Tenants like only having to pay one bill even though electric heat cost more. 

Cost under 3k $1,500 rewire and new 200 amp box is $1,000. 

$2500 to upgrade to 200Amp and rewire?  Some good rates in MO

Depending on size with materials I'd say at least 3-4x that in most markets for 2000 sq ft 2 story 

Note that if you want to have three prong receptacles with two conductor wiring, the NEC allows a GFCI to be used in those places without need for the ground wire if such GFCI receptacles are properly labelled as being ungrounded. 

Regarding insurance: I used an insurance broker. One insurance company offered to provide replacement cost insurance but would only do so on houses with circuit breakers. Another company offered to insure with fuses but would only provide actual cost insurance and with an annual premium that would be a couple hundred more.

I was able to have the fuses replaced with circuit breakers for around $600-$700, which i think is surprisingly low. The electrical work will be paid for in a few years' worth of lower premiums and with significantly better insurance. Something to consider.

@Adam Moehn  I personally replace fuse boxes with breakers most fuse boxes in older houses are not equipped to handle what we run these days and they're usually double tapped or someone's put in to large a fuse making it ineffective.  I know of several local contractors that will upgrade to a 150 amp breaker box for 12 to $1500. 

To go to 3 prong can be very expensive especially in 2 stories because to do it properly you have to replace all the wire.  I used to ask what it would cost to and was always told time and material cause they have no idea what problems they will have until they get the wire pulled. I'd say its far more cost effective to give them the 2 to 3 prong converters or you could put a gfci outlet in every room that way they've got at least one 3 prong outlet per room.

I know this is an older question but wanted to add an update encase someone did a search as I did. 

I recent bought a 1959 SFR with Fuse panel and two wire (hot/neutral no ground) two prong outlets throughout. This is s rental so for me this is not acceptable. I update the fuse box to circuit in this case 100 amp service (in midwest) quotes from 1300 to 1500. so that will get you a new circuit box but you are left when two wire throughout the house (hot and a natural) so you still can't put in 3 prongs in (against code).


1 rewire house (ouch costly) only an option for me if I had tear down to studs for rehab 

2. replace every outlet in the house with GFCI (costly at 11 buck an outlet) but remember kitchen and bath need them by code. so depending on how big a place maybe an option. my property is 3/1 to costly 

3. when replacing the box add GFCI circuit breakers this will allow you to change the 2 prong to 3 prong outlets. breakers are a bit more expensive but less work than rewiring and protects down the line from shock. worst thing you have to remind you tenants that the rest is at the circuit panel. 

Hope this helps someone

At one of my properties I'm planning on updating the main electrical boxes to 200 amp from the current fuses but not because of tenant appeal (units will remain 2 prong plugs & GFI), Justification for the upgrade is that I can get my insurance cut in half with the upgrade which will pay for itself over the next few years.