Leave old wiring as it is for the time being

40 Replies

Just bought an older house and have explored rewiring.  As was mentioned in another thread, I'm thinking about waiting until winter time to get bids on the work because everyone seems to be swamped in my area (San Marcos, Tx) at the moment.  I was told because of recent floods... dunno.  

I talked to one electrician who said he had a friend who had an older property that he was leasing as is... old wiring and all.  What are the risks of leasing with 50's wiring, basically, no grounding? 

Thanks,

Brad

The risks are huge. 

First and foremost, that house with the dated wiring could continue to function and let countless more families live there safely and comfortably.

Second, if you don't replace that wiring immediately, you will end up with a house like several of my rentals and approvimately 50% of the real estate in your market.  

Finally, and least importantly, you could end up minimizing your expenses and being able to invest that money elsewhere or just keep it.

Seriously, get an electrician to make the necessary updates like gfi's outside, in garage, kitchen, bathrooms etc.  Other important things are 1) confirming the house does not have knob and tube wiring and 2) does not have the screw in fuses. If knob and tube, yes...absolutely rewire. In my opinion. If just screw in fuses, then update the box with normal breakers. If it is in closet, you may have to relocate the box to the outside. Your licensed electrician will know the rules.Give the other items a once over to make sure no other issues, illegal splices in attic etc.   Then, leave it alone.  

Will I eventually replace my wiring in the older houses to bring current?  Sure.  Am I in a rush or somehow motivated due to it's inferior status and concern around liability?  No.  Not at all.

Chris, 

If I'm reading this right, you said the risks are huge but it sounded like you weren't doing anything about it.  Am I reading that right?  

No screw in fuses, all breakers but I do have THREE panels!  The house was added on to in the 60's and I bet it started with one in a closet in the middle of the old section.  The new section had it's own interior panel added and there's also one outside but can't tell when that happened.  I'm definitely going to move everything to one panel outside when the work is done.  The old wiring runs under the floor... pier and beam.  The new addition has a flat roof so the wiring runs through the rafters somewhere.  It's going to be hard to rewire. Might pull everything through the crawl space under the house and just fish them out for the new section.

I don't think there's any knob and tube wiring but, since I haven't crawled under the house yet, dunno.  The inspector didn't mention it and I think he would have.  I think this house was built after that was discontinued.

I've looked into tenant contracts that simply say the property is leased "as is" and would explain that to anyone interested. 

Thanks,

Brad

@Brad Smith I think you missed the facetious/sarcastic tone in Chris's post. There's absolutely nothing wrong with "old" wiring. There can be issued with the actual quality of the work done, as well as issues with the materials used (aluminum wiring, fuses, knob and tube ect). 

I'd have a GOOD electrician look and tel you what NEEDS to be fixed. I say GOOD and NEED because many electricians may tell you to replace things that don't need to be done and it just costs you money. You don't necessarily need to rewire, just make sure what is there is safe.

MATT... AWESOME!  Thanks!  I don't want to ASSUME (you know what that does, right?) anything when it comes to an issue that carries such liability with it.  That's great feedback, much obliged!

Agreed, just because something is old, does not mean it is not up to code.  Sure the rules are different for new construction, but there is nothing that says if you buy an old house that you need to rewire the whole thing.

Like was previously mentioned, get a good electrician to come in there and make sure everything is done the way it should be.  For example, if the house does not have a ground, then you need two prong outlets only (or GFI with the proper warning label).  

Get a good inspection, update the panel if needed, have the proper outlets, and you likely will not have any problems.

@Brad Smith , I agree with everyone's points above, and would like to underscore the importance of licensing and permitting in this process. Many people do the work but have no license, and many never pull a permit. While this is common, the licensing and permitting process is a) the right way to do it and b) helps transfer liability in the event there's ever an issue with or because of the work. Generally, I agree with @Chris Simmons , other than the risks being huge ;-) If it's aluminum or knob and tube, get rid of it. Fuse boxes, just replace. Also bear in mind that just because a place has 3 prong outlets, doesn't mean there's a third ground wire attached to it in the wall (i.e. the house may have no ground wires running to the receptacles, though someone may have updated the receptacles themselves. This is basically the reverse equivalent of breaking the ground plug off: just a way to make it fit, but no grounding effect). Also, here's the link to Texas' licensing website - check out the blue tabs at the top. Bear in mind there are many licenses handled at the municipal level as well, but this cover the major trades. Good luck and let us know if we can help with anything.

Thanks, folks, I have talked to two licensed electricians (see thread our of San Antonio about DIY) and I am going to use one... when the time is right.  Now I feel more comfortable waiting especially since I HAVE to replace the heater.  Bad heat exchanger on a gas unit (CO), mismatched heater/AC and coil.  

I'm also replacing the false grounded plug face plates with two prong.  

Def want inspection so that's why I'm getting a contractor.  Cancelled my permit application and got my refund.  :-)

@Brad Smith , just to be clear, you may not actually need to switch those receptacles. Regarding my previous statement, they may have the right wiring already. Honestly, the cheapest, simplest way to test this is with a receptacle tester, easily available from Lowe's or Home Depot for under $10. That said, they can be fooled to think an ungrounded 3-prong does in fact have a ground wire, but it would essentially be a deliberate act to do so. On rare occasions it is possible to see where someone tried to cheat the system and connected the neutral to the ground, which makes the tester think there is a ground wire present when in fact there isn't, but that generally goes unnoticed unless the receptacle is removed. See diagram below, where the left outlet is correct and the right two are not. The "line" is the hot wire:

Worst case scenario, if you ever run across a place wired with no grounds and are feeling really conscientious, you can replace the two prong outlets with GFCI's (Ground Fault Circuit Interruptors) and leave the ground disconnected, as the GFCI will still operate without a ground wire. You can get a a 3-pack of GFCIs from Lowe's for under $30. If any electricians out there know of a change on this issue, please let me know, but I believe this is an approved fix, as opposed to the "just stick 3 prong outlets in there" fix. Hope this helps; take care and good luck!

Chad, 

I had previously pulled a couple of the receptacles in the newer part of the house, ones with three prong capacity.  Old part only has two hole outlets.  There is a ground wire running to the ones I pulled and it runs back into the wall like the other wires.  When I put my volt meter to the hot side and the ground, I'm only getting 60 +/- VAC.  The electricians I've talked to have all said that whoever installed it probably tied that ground to the neutral somewhere, maybe back at the panel but I haven't been back over to look yet.  I didn't see any bootleg jumpers as in your illustration.  In any case, I'm told that this still provides some degree of protection, i.e., grounding. 

May go ahead and install the GFCI's.  I just don't want them tripping all the time and causing tenant problems if there's not a good reason to do so.  Most people I've communicated with say they will still work without a ground wire attached but, interestingly, I called the local electrical supply house yesterday and they guy said they wouldn't.  Maybe he's used to dealing mostly with electricians who wouldn't likely install them that way, dunno.

Thanks for the helpful and fun conversation!

@Brad Smith

GFCIs work without ground. In fact, they interrupt the circuit very quickly as soon as they detect a current leak, ie when part of the current is directed through your body. 

Originally posted by @Brad Smith :

...

No screw in fuses, all breakers but I do have THREE panels!  The house was added on to in the 60's and I bet it started with one in a closet in the middle of the old section.  The new section had it's own interior panel added and there's also one outside but can't tell when that happened.  I'm definitely going to move everything to one panel outside when the work is done.  ...

So you have sub-panels; there is nothing wrong with properly wired sub-panels. A properly wired sub-panel has ground and neutral wiring that remains separate; this is a key distinction from a main panel that ties directly to the service line from the electric company, where the bus bars are used interchangeably for ground and neutral.  For a rental, I don't see why a properly wired sub-panel should be eliminated - it is a big expense and I don't think most tenants would be put off when you assure them it is safe. 

So before embarking on rewiring of everything, open those sub-panels and verify that they are properly wired with respect to ground and neutral being separated. If not properly wired, your electrician should be able to give you an idea of whether it will be easier to fix the line that supplies the sub-panel with power, or whether rewiring all the way back to the main panel is easier.  I suspect going back to the main panel will be a lot more - the main panel might not have enough breaker positions so that might mean a new panel, and then every circuit from the sub-panel then has to be run back to the main panel (you might have places where a splice box could be used, but what would be the point of the rewire).

Leaving two prong receptacles for ungrounded circuits is acceptable by code; in fact, if you were to replace two prong receptacles with three prong receptacles that are non-GFCI on any ungrounded circuit, you then have introduced a code violation. If you do replace two prong receptacles with a GFCI receptacle on an ungrounded circuit, to comply with code you also have to put a label on those circuits indicating that they are ungrounded. The GFCI will safely operate without ground, since it works by detecting current imbalances - ground is not needed for that. But those fancy GFCI plug-in testers won't always trip an ungrounded GFCI in testing; the test button on the ungrounded GFCI must be used to guarantee that you have a properly functional GFCI.

There is one benefit to having a grounded circuit. Surge suppressors use the ground wire - so rooms where sensitive / expensive electronics will be installed might benefit from having a grounded circuit. 

End of this morning's educational post ;)

Originally posted by @Brad Smith :

Most people I've communicated with say they will still work without a ground wire attached but, interestingly, I called the local electrical supply house yesterday and they guy said they wouldn't.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional electrician.

GFCIs work just fine without a ground attached.  Get yourself a cord and plug off of an old appliance or something, and a new GFCI from the hardware store.  Wire only the hot (black) and neutral (white) wires from the cord to the "line" terminals on the GFCI; if the cord has a ground (green) wire, just let it hang in the air.  Plug this whole mess into the wall and carefully press the "test" button on the GFCI.  It will trip and the "reset" button will pop out.

Your electrical wiring plays a huge role in providing you with all of those great modern conveniences in your home, but if your home has been around for more than 10 or 20 years, your wiring may in fact be starting to pose a significant risk.

The wiring systems weren’t designed to handle a lot, so when it comes to an old wiring system trying to handle the huge amount of electrical appliances that we use today, it will often mean it becomes quickly overloaded. The danger of overloading your electrical wiring is twofold, in that firstly it will probably be unable to handle the workload and simply shut down, and secondly, as your wiring struggles to cope it will heat up more and more, increasing the risk or a fire. It is better to consult with a professional services site like(http://www.fire-monitoring.com/cctv/).

Originally posted by @Andrew Whatley :

Your electrical wiring plays a huge role in providing you with all of those great modern conveniences in your home, but if your home has been around for more than 10 or 20 years, your wiring may in fact be starting to pose a significant risk.

 Actually, I've found the opposite true. Far more efficient lighting, appliances and switching transformers for gadgets have reduced loads.

Something I'm not understanding about these ungrounded old systems. If they're old, they should be AC (BX) steel armored cable, which is code to use as a ground with proper connectors. Why would they not be grounded? Are they, and simply never got 3 prong receptacles installed when they became common? Being screwed to the metal box was considered good enough, rather than a wired ground, but I beleive that's no longer acceptable as the connection might loosen and fail. FWIW, all my properties are over 100 yo, and originally lit by gas! You should see some of the electrical archaeology I've uncovered.

Originally posted by @Andrew Whatley :

Your electrical wiring plays a huge role in providing you with all of those great modern conveniences in your home, but if your home has been around for more than 10 or 20 years, your wiring may in fact be starting to pose a significant risk.

The wiring systems weren’t designed to handle a lot, so when it comes to an old wiring system trying to handle the huge amount of electrical appliances that we use today, it will often mean it becomes quickly overloaded. The danger of overloading your electrical wiring is twofold, in that firstly it will probably be unable to handle the workload and simply shut down, and secondly, as your wiring struggles to cope it will heat up more and more, increasing the risk or a fire. It is better to consult with a professional services site like(http://www.fire-monitoring.com/cctv/).

Absolute garbage.

Anything built in the last 20 years (and most certainly 10 years) will have 12g wiring at the very least. Pulling apart 40 year old wiring from a house at the moment and nearly everything is 12g. 

As for loads, they are going down. Phone chargers pull next to no power, most people are or have transitioned to laptops, the modern tv (which isn't so modern anymore) pull nearly no power, even lights today are those horrid flourescents which pull next to nothing, not that a ceiling fan with incandescent 4x75W lights (if you like really bright rooms) pulls any amperage (3a maybe?).

The only thing I've ever seen not handle loads are when tenants plug in two electric heaters on the same ring and then you have a handy thing called a circuit breaker.

Something like this happen with one of my properties. When I bought it it had 1 cloth wire that ran from the stove to breaker. Therefore causing me to fail the inspection and not being able to insure the property. I changed the wire and 3 outlets to gfci and was able to pass inspection and insure the property. Just change what is necessary, just because it is old doesn't mean that it needs to be changed

@Andrew Whatley , the number of electrical appliances/fixtures and their associated requirements in the home have certainly increased from what they used to be (25-50A AC units, 30A dryers, 40A ranges, etc, things which didn't used to be in much older homes), but the ones that do exist are much more efficient. There's no issue at all with structures >20yrs in and of themselves, particularly with the wiring. Now aluminum, knob and tube, things of that nature certainly pose a concern/potential hazard (I'd definitely get rid of knob and tube and be strongly inclined to lose any aluminum), but in modern wiring it's just a matter of having the right wires on the right breakers with the right fixtures. 

Originally posted by @Chad Clanton :

@Andrew Whatley , the number of electrical appliances/fixtures and their associated requirements in the home have certainly increased from what they used to be (25-50A AC units, 30A dryers, 40A ranges, etc, things which didn't used to be in much older homes),

The loads from these devices don't count in this discussion, as today they all have to be served on separate wires, and will all have their own dedicated breaker.

If someone has managed to wire up a dryer to 15A or 20A ring, the house has long since burned down.

FWIW, ranges are coming down from 50A to 40A. It's worth noting for anyone buying a new range from Lowes/HomeDepot to check the breaker requirement, as we've started to downgrade a bunch of them to keep them correct.

@James DeRoest , thanks for the additional input, though with a dryer on a 15-20A, you'd probably just never get anything dry :-P That said, what I was trying to get across (poorly, methinks) was that we have many more appliances, etc in the home than we used to, and that could be misconstrued as having a greater burden on the system, when it's really just the main panel/breaker that need to be increased from past days. I think that's what Andrew was trying to get at. If that makes sense. 

Originally posted by @James DeRoest :
Anything built in the last 20 years (and most certainly 10 years) will have 12g wiring at the very least. Pulling apart 40 year old wiring from a house at the moment and nearly everything is 12g. 

 Are you certain about this? I have little experience with wholly new construction, but rewiring I've had done is 14 ga, except in the kitchen for the counter & appliance circuits.

I'm sorry, but I took his post as selling through fear.

I've had too many electricians tell me "this house needs to be rewired", when the cabling is perfectly acceptable, whenever I ask them "why?", I'm told some horse manure like I'm some idiot they can bamboozle.

I've had investors who have been told "house needs rewiring", yet the same house, and my electricians I use say nothing of the sort (but do tell me about real problems). Bought a house last year that an investor backed out of because his tradesmen were telling all sorts of rubbish, including "house needs rewiring". My electrician merely said "need to put breaker box on new wall and rethread everything to it".

I actually had an electrician tell me "house needs to be rewired" on a house that had been rewired 3 years earlier. Apparently "can't be too safe". I've had one electrician tell me that a house needs rewiring and service upped to 200A - whilst standing in front of a 6 year old 200A breaker box! I know it was 6 years old - as the green county inspection sticker had a date on it!

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