What to Know About Updating Electrical Wiring - Quicken Loans Zing Blog

We bought our first house almost a year ago now, and there are several items on my ever-expanding to-do list related to my home’s electrical system. The house is old, and the electrical is original, so some of the outlets and switches are either temperamental or don’t work at all. In addition, nothing’s been updated to ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), which prevent accidental electrocution. So, I started looking into what would be required to update my old electrical.

Does My Electrical Need to Be Updated?

Rodenhiser Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning & Electric provided us with a list of basic questions that you should ask yourself when trying to figure out if you need to update your electrical system:

  • “Do I have any systems that are older than 20, or 25 years old?”
  • “Are my kitchen outlets, bathroom outlets, outdoor outlets, garage outlets, and unfinished basement outlets GFCI protected?”
  • “Do I have more than 8 or 10 circuits on one breaker?”
  • “Am I tripping breakers?”
  • “Do the outlets and switches look dated?”
  • “Are the devices loose, or not working correctly?”

If, like me, you answered yes to some of these questions, you probably need to update your home’s electrical system.

Jamie Dent of Point Loma Electric explains that circuit breaker panels last 25 to 40 years, so if your panel is in that range or older, at the very least you’ll likely want to have an electrician inspect it. HomeAdvisor reports that most homeowners who update their electrical system spend between $570 and $1,581. While not cheap, updating your circuit panel will give you more amperage to run power-sucking devices like air conditioners, computers and other modern electronics, in addition to protecting you from the risk of electrical failure and even fires, among other hazards.

Our house was built in 1952, and the circuit panel was installed along with a 1980 addition, so I’m thinking I need to get an electrician out to inspect it in the near future.

Can I Update My Electrical System Myself?

One piece of advice that I encountered again and again when reading up on updating my old wiring is that, unless you’re experienced with electrical, you should probably get a pro to handle it.

If you’re going to try to do some basic electrical work on your own, Isaac Hammelburger from Payless Power has some tips for staying safe.

“Use a wooden platform when working with a fuse or circuit breaker box; and similarly, use a wooden ladder when working with electrical wiring,” he recommends. “Turn the power off before replacing a receptacle or a switch or doing any other work on a circuit.”

Hammelburger also suggests you “diagram the circuit breakers (or fuses) to the specific circuits they activate and place this information inside the circuit breaker or fuse box.”

Along with taking safety precautions, be sure to find out what, if any, work permits you need to pull from the city in order to work on your home.

While writing this post, I learned a lot about when and how to update my electrical system, but the two main takeaways are that I definitely need some electrical work done on my house and that I can’t do this type of work by myself. I just don’t have the necessary skills and experience to take on that project. In the past, I’ve used HomeAdvisor to find contractors (I always get three estimates for work like this), so in the coming days, I’ll be checking out that resource to find contractors who can do this type of work safely and reliably.

Do you have any questions about the information here, or do you have experience updating the electrical system in your home? Let us know in the comments!

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Well for me I usually check our electrical wiring at home since I’m an electrician. In this way, we can keep our family safe and prevent fire. This post is really important to share with everyone else so that they are aware of their electrical wiring status at home.

  2. Wow! There are a bunch of inaccurate facts in your article. It sounds like you spoke to some companies trying to make some business for themselves. First, my qualifications: I have been an electrician for almost 40 years, the last 10 of which I have been a state electrical inspector.

    Now for the facts: “systems older than 20-25 years”, while never a bad idea to have them inspected by a qualified person, the same wiring was used 25 years ago (NM-B cable) as is in use now and unless it has been subject to overloading or environmental issues, it does not degrade. There is simply no way to decide that copper wire or NM-B cable is bad simply by a timeline. I have seen cables nearly a hundred years old, well before the newer technology of NM-B cable, that are still in good shape.

    Next: “more than 8 or 10 circuits on one breaker”; breakers are only designed for one circuit. Could you, or your referenced electrician, mean devices? Even if you mean devices, the number of them is not necessarily an issue, but the load on the circuit.
    You say “Do the outlets and switches look dated?”; is this for a safety reason, or cosmetic? Once again, I’ve seen devices that are very old, some from the 20’s, that are still in good shape and function well with no safety issues. Safety has nothing to do with something “looking dated”.

    Once again on placing a timeline on equipment, “circuit breaker panels last 25 to 40 years”, I’ve seen panels a few years old that need replacement, and ones 50 years old in good shape. Sure, have them inspected, but a timeframe alone is no indicator.

    Change a panel for more power; “updating your circuit panel will give you more amperage”, not necessarily. If your current panel is an older 200 amp panel, a new 200 amp panel will not give you more power, just newer equipment, and if your existing panel is in good shape (again, there hasn’t been any huge improvements in this technology for the last 20-30 years), you’ll not gain any extra protection from fire or electrical failure.

    The tip “Use a wooden platform when working with a fuse or circuit breaker box; and similarly, use a wooden ladder when working with electrical wiring,”, is an odd one. First: wood, especially if it was to be wet, or green, at all, is still an electrical conductor, just not a great one. A better tip would be what most electricians use, a rubber mat, or good rubber soled boots, and similarly a fiberglass, not wood, ladder. The best tip is to, especially if you are not experienced, shut off all power before attempting to work on anything electrical.

    I don’t usually comment on these types of things but in this case there was so much incorrect or misleading information, I just felt compelled.

    1. Hi Ryan:

      We definitely appreciate your tips and perspective! The writer of this article reached out and did several interviews as well as sourcing from electricians’ websites. Every situation is different. I think it might be easier for an electrician to tell when the wiring is bad than your average person, so maybe it’s easier for you to let the wiring last longer as well. I definitely think these are good thoughts, though.

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