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Electrical consideration should always be an essential topic when renovating or upgrading your home but since it’s also National Electrical Safety Month, it seems most fitting.
When buying or remodelling an older property, you will typically expect a mix of wiring, aluminum, copper, knob, and tube, or all three. While knob and tube wiring was the norm in the early 1900s, it was replaced by aluminum wire in the 1960s and 1970s, followed by modern copper wiring, which is now found in most new residences.
When you combine outdated wiring with house upgrades like home offices, improved lighting, basement apartments, and hot tubs, the danger of electrical fires and shocks increases. If the job is done in a non-compliant way, the danger is amplified. No matter what your plans are for your home, homeowners should know a few things about electrical systems.
Aluminum is a softer metal than copper, and when heated, it expands more, making it more vulnerable to damage during installation. When properly connected and disconnected without injuring the wire, it is safe. That is why it is critical to engage a Licensed Electrical Contractor to complete the task properly; I do not advise doing this yourself.
Ensure the gadgets are compatible with aluminum wiring; otherwise, an electrical arc might occur, which could result in an electrical fire. Evidence of electrical arcing are warm or discoloured cover plates or switches, flickering or dimming lights, bulbs that burn out too often, tripping circuit breakers, or the smell of plastic burning.
While replacing your aluminum wire is not needed, it is recommended if you are remodelling and intend to stay in your house. You’ll almost certainly need to upgrade your electrical panel, and some insurance companies may refuse to provide or renew coverage unless the wiring is inspected and modified to meet code requirements.
The fundamental difference between knob and tube wiring and today’s wiring is that there is no ground wire. Contemporary households contain more electrical appliances and components, that are more than the old knob and tube can handle. Three-pronged plugs cannot be used in homes with old knob and tube as the risk of shocks and fire is substantially higher.
With knob and tube wiring, the wires are normally insulated in a rubberized fabric covering and have porcelain “knobs” to hold them tight and prevent them from contacting the wood. The best way to see knob and tube is by looking at any exposed floor or ceiling joists in an older home, like a basement. However, most of the time, it’s what’s behind the wall, that can make things more complicated. Hire a Licensed Electrical Contracting (LEC) company to open up the walls or send a tiny camera within the walls to confirm whether or not you have knob and tube.
The best advice I can give any homeowner is to do a test and trouble shoot, especially if you’ve just purchased an older home. I would get a complete trouble shoot inspection with a licensed electrical contractor. The LEC tests and checks all the home’s devices (plugs) and wiring. This takes about 6-8 hrs. and costs about $2,000.
The alternative is discovering issues or old hidden wiring and have to hire an electrician to cut open your walls and ceilings and fish new wiring. Then someone else has to do the repairs. That’s drywall, plaster, and repaint — costing you even more money.
Try to obtain any records or permits related to your property. In Ontario, contact the ESA for any work notifications or electrical inquiries. Check with your local electrical authority for other provinces, as each province and territory regulate electrical safety in Canada. There is a small fee, but it will provide you with peace of mind, knowing the permits have been closed, tested, and passed inspection.
In addition, you need a permit any time the wiring in your home is changed or a circuit is being altered. If you are working with aluminum wiring, the electrical code says that you require a permit if you decide to change your switch.
Even when paying someone else to undertake the work, the homeowner often should verify that the necessary building permit applications have been filed and secured for the residence. Remember, the person doing the work should be the one filing for the permit. If a LEC asks you to file the permit or tells you one is not required, that’s a big red flag.
Our homes, toys and gadgets use a lot of electricity and it makes sense to ensure your home is safe, especially if you plan on doing any remodelling. Get your home inspected by a licensed electrical contracting business. Stay safe.
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