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Mr_Pat 08-31-2009 11:08 AM

How Bad Does This Electrical System Look??? (buying a house)
Hello, long time lurker, first time poster... DIYChatRoom is a great site!!!

OK here is the low down, I am getting out of the military with in the next 10 months and we found a house to buy in western Massachusetts. Its a Colonial Farm House built in 1841 We had a home inspection and really the only thing that stood out was the electrical.... Its a mix of Knob & Tube, some alunimum wireing and some modern copper romex.

Its a 100 Amp service with a 60 amp sub in the attic...

How bad does this look?

Mr_Pat 08-31-2009 11:09 AM

Scuba_Dave 08-31-2009 11:32 AM

Knob & tube - some insurance companies will not insure a house with knob & tube
My MIL has knob & tube on the 2nd floor - not renovated
She lives on the 1st floor - that was all rewired
I won't touch the K&T - unless she wants it all ripped out

I've never touched K&T - other then dead wires

Looks sort of a mess
Paper is supposed to be stripped off inside the panel
Open knockouts that have not been sealed off
Three neutrals twisted together under one screw down
If the fuse box is a sub (and 4 wire feed) neutrals & grounds need to be separated, neutrals not grounded to the case

Large white cable coming inot bottom of panel does not have a clamp on it ??
or does it - another pic seems to show a clamp

Corrosion on that main panel/feed

Are you planning on DIY?
Looks like 100a feed, is that enough or do you want/need 200a?
What is there for large electric use in the house (now or future)?
Hot water, heat, stove, dryer, jacuzzi

If in the budget I'd put a new 200 panel in & feed it with 100a
Then start moving circuits to the new panel

Michael Thomas 08-31-2009 11:34 AM

The first issue is that at least in my area of the country it is extremely difficult to obtain homeowners insurance insurance on property where energized knob and tube wiring is present, and when you can obtain it is very expensive and it's questionable how long you will be able to keep the insurance in force.

Also, generally speaking, when there is knob and tube wiring visible in basements and attics - even if the visible portions of the system have been decommissioned - there is a substantial possibility that energized knob and tube wiring is present but hidden within walls and ceilings. At home inspections I've called out short lengths (a few feet of knob and tube) - the only such readily visible wiring in the house - only to to have the electrician follow along behind me and discover less readily visible knob and tube with eventual replacement cost in the tens of thousands of dollars including repairing the finish materials that had to be removed in order to rewire with modern methods.

The only way to know with any certainty if such hidden knob and tube is present is to carefully inspect the basements , attics and other such areas where the framing is exposed, and then to open every switch an outlet plate , open every junction box, and expose the wiring behind every fixture (for example, at ceiling lights) and determine how they're wired.

So when I observed the presence of any knob and tube - energized or otherwise - at a home inspection, my recommendation is that the system be evaluated by electrician experienced in the remediation and upgrading of older electrical work (not every electrician enjoys this kind of work, or is good at) to establish the potential cost of bringing the property to an insurable state and into compliance with local code requirements.

spark plug 08-31-2009 12:09 PM

Displaying house "with lot of potential"
MR. Pat. (Poster #1&2) As Scuba Dave pointed out, there are violations Galore!
Here are some of my personal observations; the house looks beautiful (on the outside); There are lots of violations, showing poor or careless workmanship; Besides eliminating the Knob & Tube wiring, the Service should be increased to 200Amps.; ALL the violations should be corrected. For example. According to NEC, an undeveloped basement area should be protected by GFCI outlet/s. Those outlets that are missing covers and the subpanel/s in an open exposed area. And the main panel is a horror show! (Extremely poor workmanship) But it is a beautiful, spacious house. (Now more than ever) :yes::no::drink:Don't Drink and Drive!!!

Yoyizit 08-31-2009 12:41 PM

Decide if you want the house at any price. This may just be the tip of the iceberg.

InPhase277 08-31-2009 01:15 PM

Yeah, you have some violations, but honestly, in my opinion, the biggest concern would be the aluminum small gauge wiring.

It looks as if there is very little that could really be left in place if you are planning on renovation. It's a lovely house, make them an offer which leaves you with some money to rewire.

Mr_Pat 08-31-2009 01:18 PM

Thanks for the feedback everyone....

We have about 2 weeks till closing and at 145k for the house we just cant pass it up... I think we will be ok on the insurance and the plan for the electrical is to hire an electrician to come in and clean up the main breaker box and make everything safe. Then I plan on upgrading the house room by room my self...

Mr_Pat 08-31-2009 01:21 PM

If anyone is interested here is a link to more photos of the house...

Scuba_Dave 08-31-2009 01:22 PM

Nice looking house, looks to be a decent size
Not sure of prices in your area of MA, but seems like a good price
Lower mortgage leaves room for hiring an electrician :thumbsup:

Stubbie 08-31-2009 02:43 PM

I agree with all the positive things that have been said and in particular Inphase77s observation about the aluminum wire. The house is no hazard for a fire IMO based on the photos. No electrical fire damage that I can see. I see no immediate nor signs of heat damage on any of the connections at panel. It really is very typical of many old home across the country in my experience. I do think it should be priority as you remodel to address the wiring as you go in other words don't leave the old stuff to new remodeling areas and keep a watchful eye on the existing. The wiring is not the best and it shows signs of age and you are likely to encounter problems like outlets not working time goes on. A good home inspection is always a plus to get the buyer to possibly correct some of the issues. They might and they might not nothing is binding due to home inspection unless the mortgage or insurance company want certain things corrected. Looks like you are past that point though. Since you close in a few weeks I would'nt lose any sleep over this house it really looks like a nice "do it yourselfer" to fix up.

The main panel is simply a mess but it isn't anything that anyone here has'nt seen before. It could easily been tiddied up and the violations corrected along with all that exposed wiring in your phots. A couple weekends if you study up or get a qualified person to do it or help you.

The sub-panel has some issues... it appears to have no provision to separate neutral and ground. The feeder coming in appears to be a 4 wire feeder. Check that but I believe it certainly is 4 wires. That fuse panel has neutral and ground bonded... this needs to be corrected to separate neutral and ground...probably an inexpensive new panel with circuit breakers is best and would only take you a few hours. Anyway that panel is a big time violation as it is now

Knob and tube is very old wiring and is fine as long as a person that doesn't know how to deal with it leaves it alone. I would inspect it carefully for any evidence of modification or deterioration. Like the insulation falling off the wires or broken insulators etc... If it doesnt supply critical areas and shows signs of altering or deterioration consider turning the breaker off to those circuits till you can rewire or repair. Study up on knob and tube is your friend...:) One place I see that you should check very closely is the knob and tube terminated to the right side upper breakers in the panel photo. The cloth insulation looks to be iffy at the connections and the bare copper looks discolored . It it not unusual for copper wire to take on that coloration from age but check to make sure it isn't from heat...

Now for the aluminum wiring.. I'd actually make that a bigger priority that anything I see but frankly I'm not seeing anything alarming in the photos.

Aluminum has a bad reputation for overheating an causing fires particularily at connection points. I would suggest tracking all the aluminum and make sure switches and receptacles are the kinds that are allowed to have aluminum terminated to them. Check the wirenuts and connections for signs of overheating and then repair if needed. Copper wire terminated to aluminum is not good practice. So if you find this simply change the wire nut or connector to one rated to connect the to different metals. Again google is your friend. But do not overreact to what you see doing your reseach cause it will scare you. Eventually you should eliminate the aluminum wirng and replace with modern romex. That's a nice home from what I can see and if it is structually sound I see no issues whatsoever that would cause me to lose sleep. I wish it were closer to me cause I might just buy it myself and move the MIL into it instead of under my roof....:wink:

EDIT: The spiders seem to be under fed so may want to get them something to eat....:jester:

Yoyizit 08-31-2009 03:03 PM

Are you allowed to go deeper?

Turning off a 10A load (a hair dryer) should increase an outlet voltage by ~3 vac from the nominal 120 vac measured at the outlet.

Turning off a ~20A, 240v load [e.g., elec. wall oven, central air] should increase the load center incoming voltage by ~0.4 vac from the nominal 240 vac measured at the load center. If you measure this voltage at an unused elec. dryer outlet you won't need to remove the panel cover.

Red Squirrel 08-31-2009 03:10 PM

Wow the only way to make that worse is to put pennies in one of the fuse sockets. May as well go ahead and do that and take one for the team. :p

No really I'd get that all replaced. I mean if you're tight on cash you may be able to get by and do your other renovations first, but I'd keep a very close eye on it and plan to replace it all.

Scuba_Dave 08-31-2009 03:19 PM



Originally Posted by Yoyizit (Post 321867)
Are you allowed to go deeper?

Turning off a 10A load (a hair dryer) should increase an outlet voltage by ~3 vac from the nominal 120 vac measured at the outlet.

Turning off a ~20A, 240v load [e.g., elec. wall oven, central air] should increase the load center incoming voltage by ~0.4 vac from the nominal 240 vac measured at the load center. If you measure this voltage at an unused elec. dryer outlet you won't need to remove the panel cover.

InPhase277 08-31-2009 03:46 PM


Originally Posted by Scuba_Dave (Post 321874)

It is a method to determine the quality of connections on the branch circuits and service connections. Too far outside of the values stated, there may be high resistance or loose connections in the circuit.

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