Updated Jan 12, 2023
Many people use the electricity in their homes without thinking about the wiring system that supports it. Whether making a morning cup of coffee or simply turning on the lights, the wiring in your home allows you to perform daily activities that are often taken for granted. While you may not think about your home’s wiring very often, it’s important to look it over occasionally, especially if you live in an older home.
The age of the wiring in your home doesn’t inherently mean it’s unsafe. However, it does take an experienced electrician to assess its condition properly. Though serious electrical work should be left to the professionals, there are a few signs you can look for in your wiring system that will indicate its ability to perform and handle the electrical loads of your home.
If your house’s wiring is older, overloading it can have dangerous consequences — like shocking you or sparking a house fire. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), home electrical fires are responsible for around 500 deaths and cause about $1.3 billion in damage annually. You can prevent electrical dangers by learning to recognize some warning signs of bad wiring.
While the hum of appliances is normal, hearing any buzzing or crackling could mean you have a serious problem. Unplug the appliance, turn off the breaker, and call an electrician to inspect the wiring ASAP. Buzzing noises from any of the following are also a serious cause for concern:
Do the lights in your bathroom flicker when you use the hair dryer? This may indicate that you’re overloading that particular circuit or that the wiring can’t handle the electrical demand. If you trip the circuit, you can flip the fuses back on at the electrical panel, though you should have an electrical contractor inspect the wiring to see if it needs an upgrade.
If you have to reset the circuit breaker in your home often, it may be a sign that your home’s electrical system can’t handle the demand of your household. If your appliances short circuit frequently, call a professional to perform an electrical inspection.
Electrical outlets that vibrate or are warm to the touch are not safe. If you notice this, you should hire an electrician to determine if you need electrical work done to your home.
Burning smells or scorch marks on electric receptacles indicate a serious problem with the wiring in your home. If scorching or burning smells are present on or near outlets or switches, you should take it seriously and contact an electrician.
Smoke from an outlet or appliance is a definitive sign of bad wiring. Turn off the appliance or shut down the electrical current immediately, and identify the source of the smoke. Leaving the power off until you identify the source of the smoke is a good idea.
If you notice droppings or other signs of mice or rodents in your home, it’s best to check the electrical wiring in the area where you’ve spotted the evidence. Rodents often chew through wire insulation, creating a potential fire hazard. After inspecting the wiring, place traps or call an exterminator to eliminate the rodent problem and prevent future electrical trouble.
Damaged or frayed wires are dangerous and should be replaced with new wiring quickly. Wires can fray with age or be damaged by corrosion or stray nails and screws in the studs. Regardless of the cause of damage, you shouldn’t ignore frayed wires.
Knob-and-tube wiring is the oldest type of wiring. While knob-and-tube wiring isn’t necessarily unsafe to use, it doesn’t provide the modern safety feature of a ground wire. Perhaps you live in an old home but have valuable or sensitive electronics. In that case, you may want to upgrade to more modern residential wiring — this will ensure your electronics are protected if there’s a power surge. Left ungrounded, they may become damaged.
If you’ve noticed any of the above signs, you should get a professional licensed electrician out to your home to inspect your electrical system. They may recommend a total overhaul, like changing old wiring for newer copper wiring — an excellent conductor used in many modern wiring systems. They may also be able to upgrade certain components of your system, like changing out older outlets for ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets.
Regardless, performing an audit of your home’s electrical system can give you invaluable peace of mind. It’s better to find problems with your system before it’s too late — the consequences can be grave.
Homeowners insurance will protect you in catastrophic events like a house fire. However, many homeowners don’t realize that home insurance doesn’t extend to your home’s major systems, like plumbing and electrical. A good home warranty will cover your electrical system and help you find a qualified electrician if you need repairs.
Home warranties can also offset the costs of electrical repair, which can sometimes total up to thousands of dollars. If you want the assurance of protection for your entire home, systems, and appliances, consider getting a home warranty.
You should call a professional electrician if you notice any signs of damaged or old wiring in your home. They will be able to assess whether or not your electrical system needs rewiring. Being vigilant about electrical safety in an old house can protect you from devastating consequences.
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