Thankfully, you don't have to take full responsibility for checking out the electrical system of a home when you're buying it. That's what electrical inspections are for. However, with so many homes on the market to choose from, you can't afford to have them all inspected. Instead, have the skills to weed out any obvious problems.
Being on the lookout for a few warning signs of an ancient electrical system can help you when you're narrowing the field. Here are a few warning signs to keep your eyes open for.
1. Visible Knob-and-Tube Wiring
If you don't want to have to pay thousands for a new electrical wiring system just as you're settling into your new home, don’t choose a house that has aluminum or knob-and-tube wiring. These are two outdated types of electrical wiring that often cause fire hazards.
Unfortunately, you may not discover aluminum wiring until your electrical inspection, because aluminum wiring tends to look similar to copper wiring. However, you can at least ask the seller and see if they admit to any old wiring, and you can keep your eyes open. Remember never to touch anything electrical to get a better look.
Although aluminum can look identical to copper wiring to the untrained eye, knob-and-tube wiring has a distinctive look. Some of this wiring may be visible in an attic, basement, or unfinished storage room. You may notice the knobs, which are white spool-like cylinders made of ceramic.
2. Electrical Panel Is Low-Amp or Has Fuses
A fuse box is an extremely obsolete electrical component, and that means the fuse box is likely to be old and past its useful life. Where there's one obsolete component, there are likely to be others. A more modern electrical panel will have circuit breakers rather than fuses.
Another obsolete component is an electrical panel that has a low capacity, such as 60 amps. These lower-capacity electrical panels were used in past decades when households had lower electrical needs. Not only will you have to replace these types of electrical panel, but you may need to have other, more extensive electrical work done as well.
3. Outlet and Light Switch Problems
Like many household systems, the electrical system has components that simply wear out over time. Some of the more visible components that do this are outlets and light switches.
For example, old electrical outlets that are wearing out sometimes become loose and drop electrical plugs after you've plugged them in. If you find multiple switches or outlets that are dead with no power or that spark, smoke, smell funny, or feel warm or hot to the touch, you can be fairly sure the house has other electrical problems that may be age-related.
4. Lack of Recent Maintenance and Rewiring
Many houses that were originally built with hazardous wiring systems have since been rewired in a more modern style, with the result that they're much safer to live in now. Ask the seller if they know when the house was last rewired. If they don't know, ask to see the maintenance records for the electrical system.
If the seller doesn't know of any recent maintenance to the system, he or she may be dangerously out of touch with the state of the home's wiring. This can be especially problematic if the seller has lived in the house for decades without updating the electrical wiring.
These warning signs can help you identify, sometimes at a glance, a high probability of age-related electrical wiring problems. If you want a professional opinion on a house's electrical safety, give Lee Electrical Enterprise a call to schedule an inspection before you buy.