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Archive for the 'Knob and Tube Wiring' Category

Revisiting the Subject of Knob & Tube Wiring

July 29, 2014

Knob and Tube Wiring a Potential Hazard

Knob and tube wiring that was installed and used correctly and remains in exceptional condition is not dangerous. Nevertheless, given the fact that these wiring systems haven’t been installed in homes since the 1940’s, knob and tube wiring present in homes today are certainly aging.

Stretching and sagging is a common problem, which can lead to unsafe contact between the wires. Insulation can weaken, and breakdown to expose the copper wiring. These systems lack a grounding conductor, which are standard in today’s wiring systems to reduce risk of electrocution and electrical fires. Furthermore, when these systems were installed, most of today’s appliances didn't exist, so they were designed for much lighter electrical loads than is standard today. As a result of the increased demand, knob and tube systems are often overloaded, which cause wires to overheat and become brittle, creating hidden hazards inside the walls.

Deficient modifications are a very common problem with knob and tube wiring as well, as amateur upgrades that have often been made over the years to oblige increasing electrical needs. One common issue found in these systems is inadequately done, unsafe splices that were meant to expand the system. Fuses are another problem area, as many homeowners, in order to reduce the frequency of blown fuses, replaced properly sized fuses with ones with higher resistances. This does prevent the fuses from blowing as often, but only by allowing circuits to be overloaded, which causes heat damage to the wiring.

Home insulation and knob and tube wiring can be a dangerous combination, since this form of wiring relies upon open space to disperse heat. When insulation is placed around these wires, heat can’t escape as it should, which can cause wires to overheat or break, becoming a fire hazard. The National Electric Code (NEC) states that knob and tube wiring should not be in hollow spaces of walls, ceilings and attics that are insulated with loose, rolled or foam materials that envelope the conductors.

Home Insurance Issues

If your home has knob and tube wiring that’s still in use, you may find that home insurance companies are hesitant to sell you a policy. Some insurance companies refuse to insure homes with this type of wiring altogether, while others may insure you after your system has been inspected and declared safe by a qualified electrician.

The bottom line is that knob and tube wiring is very likely to create a safety hazard in your home. Upgrading the system is an investment, but one that will pay off in safety, peace of mind, and a more functional and efficient electrical system. For more information on knob and tube wiring please contact McCurdy Electrical Services, Inc. at 781-595-7074.

 

A Homeowners Guide to Knob and Tube Wiring

June 11, 2010

Back in the late 1800s, a new craze was sweeping homeowners across the nation: electricity.

Electricity was made available in homes through a method called “knob and tube” wiring. For the era, this was great stuff. Nowadays it’s just plain old, and has a potential to be very real fire hazard – it should always be replaced whenever possible. Most insurance companies will not insure your home if it contains knob and tube wiring (or a fuse panel for that matter).

There are some key points that should be known:

What is this stuff anyway? Knob and Tube wiring, sometimes abbreviated K&T, was a standard wiring method that was implemented as far back as the 1880s, and was used up until the 1940s and 50s. It is called Knob and Tube, because the single-conductor wires are supported by cylindrical ceramic nailed-down knobs, and passed through studs or joists via ceramic tubes which helped to insulate the wires. Splices were usually made by soldering the wires together and then just wrapped up with cloth tape. These were left in “open air” without the splice being contained in an electrical box (a requirement today). Where conductors would enter a switch or outlet box, the wire would be protected with a cotton cloth covering saturated with asphalt, called “loom”.

      • As I mentioned above, many insurance companies will not insure a house that contains this type of wiring method (or even a fuse panel).
      • The National Electrical Code prohibits the use of insulation of any sort installed in walls or ceilings where Knob and Tube wiring exists. This is because of a potential fire hazard. If any sort of insulation comes into contact with the conductors, they can’t disperse heat properly as they were originally designed to.
      • The cloth-like or rubber insulation breaks down after time. This may cause the conductor to be bare and unprotected – a real shocker!
      • This old style of wiring was mainly used to power things such as electric lamps, not modern equipment such as air conditioners, refrigerators, computers, space heaters, etc.
      • A lot of times the “neutral” wire was switched instead of the “hot” wire. This dangerous practice is against modern electrical code, but was a common practice in the era of K&T.
      • There is no equipment grounding conductor with this type of wiring system. Grounding is arguably the most important part of a sound electrical system. A tell-tale sign that an electrical outlet might be fed with Knob & Tube is that the receptacle is only a “2-prong” version, missing the 3rd prong on the bottom which is for the grounding conductor.

The problems…

A bad situation: I have heard of a report of someone hanging a metal clothes hanger on an exposed piece of knob and tube wiring located in the ceiling in the basement. Then, when they went to grab the metal hanger while doing some laundry in their bare feet, they literally got quite a shock. Fortunately, the person was OK and just shaken up a bit. In the right set of circumstances, this could be a deadly situation.

What can be done? We are always glad to come out and consult with you about your options. Your expert team at McCurdy Electric can quickly diagnose, and if necessary, upgrade the antiquated wiring system to current safe code standards. The wiring method that we install will more than likely be installed for the next 100 years or more, just like the Knob & Tube has been. We have many years of experience working in the older New England homes that are still utilizing the old wiring methods, therefore, we already know what to look for.

Please feel free to ask us any questions you might have by either calling us or by leaving a comment below!