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Common electrical problems found in older homes

If you’re thinking about purchasing an older home, or have decided to renovate an older home in which you presently reside, it’s important to learn about certain electrical problems that tend to be common in homes of a certain age. Some of the problems you might uncover are minor, and can be easily remedied yourself. However, there are other electrical issues that require the expertise of a licensed electrician.

Here is a look at some of the more common problems homeowners and renovators can uncover in older homes.

No GFCI Outlets

A ground-fault circuit interrupter (or GFCI) is a device intended to protect a person against electric shock, by shutting off an electrical current when something interrupts its intended path.

Chances are, you see a GFCI every time you step into the bathroom at home. It’s that electrical outlet near the sink, with the “Test” and “Reset” buttons in the middle. If you don’t see one in your older home, it means that you need to do some minor installation work.

While GFCIs have been used in Canadian households since the 70’s, they weren’t a requirement until years later. Today, GFCIs are required by Canadian Code for outdoor outlets, bathrooms, whirlpools, and your pool’s electrical system.

If your home doesn’t have GFCIs in the required places, you can easily acquire them at your local home improvement store and install them yourself, or contact an electrician to do it for you.

Double Tapped Breaker

Double tapped breakers are typically discovered during a pre-purchase home inspection. Although they can be discovered anytime work needs to be done on the breaker.

A double tapped breaker refers to the instance of two or more wires connecting to a breaker not designed for multiple wires. It can result in faulty connections and poses a fire hazard. Repairing the problem can be done in an afternoon, but DOES require the services of a licensed electrician. Please, do not attempt to remedy this electrical problem on your own.

Copper vs. Aluminum Wiring

If your house was built anywhere between the 50’s and 70’s, there’s a good chance it may have aluminum wiring. With the price of copper on the rise in that era, opting for aluminum became a popular cost-cutting tactic.

Unfortunately, aluminum wiring simply does not have the tensile strength of copper, which makes it more susceptible to breakage and rust. Aluminum wiring is also more easily loosened, due to its tendency to expand and contract when heated. Unfortunately, these shortcomings can result in overheating and electrical fires.

If you suspect that your house may contain aluminum wiring, contact a licensed electrician. They can come to your home and do an electrical inspection. If aluminum wiring is found, you’ll need them to do a wiring upgrade for you.

Is this an expensive problem? It can be. However, it’s preferable to the overwhelming costs (both monetary and otherwise) that come with a fire decimating your home.

Knob and Tube Wiring

Over a million Canadian homes built prior to 1945 came standard with knob and tube wiring, and some of those older homes still have it today. Knob and Tube (K&T) wiring is comprised of single-insulated copper conductors, which run within cavities in the wall or ceiling. These conductors pass through holes in the joist and stud via protective porcelain insulating tubes, and are supported along their length on nailed-down porcelain knob insulators.

While many professionals no longer consider knob and tube to be the electrical boogeyman it was once thought to be, chances are, if you’re trying to purchase a house containing it, you’re going to have some problems with your mortgage and/or insurance.

You will need to have an electrician with knob and tube experience come in and inspect the knob and tube conductors, and confirm that best practices are in place.

Even if your wiring is perfectly safe, chances are your home isn’t going to have the electrical capacity required by today’s lifestyle demands. So, your best bet is to contact an electrical contractor and have them perform a wiring upgrade.

To find an electrical contractor in your local area, be sure to browse the listings here on

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