Sunday, August 2, 2015

House Post: Rewiring Knob & Tube Electrical

When we bought the house, there was one big, glaring red flag up front: the electrical.

The owners estimated that 75% of the house was knob & tube, an outdated and potentially dangerous electrical system. None of it had been touched since the house was built in 1928. They supplied a quote from their electrician that said that rewiring the house would cost about $18,000.

Yikes. We hemmed and hawed and talked it through, then got two more quotes from different electricians, and when we made our offer, we basically offered their selling price minus the electrical work. After some negotiation, it worked out!

Next hurdle: homeowner's insurance. In order to get a policy, we had to prove to them that we would rewire the electrical system within a reasonable amount of time. We scheduled the electrician and provided the date to our insurance company.

The electrician arrived on Monday morning at 8:30 am, and we got started.

We picked the electrician based on a couple of things: she's a woman, has a truly stellar reputation, was smart, honest, and fun to work with in the quoting process, and she loves to teach. She told us that if we could supply some extra labor for the grunt work, our quote would probably even come down, and she would be happy to show us how to do basic work that we didn't need a license for.

My father came up from Boston -  he's very handy and actually has a master's degree in electrical engineering. I took the week off to provide extra background muscle, and away we went!

On Monday morning, we figured out how to get wires up to the attic. This involved holes in the wall to determine whether the plumbing stack would provide a good "chase" - a clear way upstairs with enough room for many wires.

We were successful, and by 11:00 am had all the wires we needed in the attic. Part of our discovery process that morning was how unbelievably over-constructed the attic floor was. Every single board was tongue & groove, nailed at every joist, and then "toenailed," ie, nailed diagonally down into the joist underneath the floor itself. A single board could have between 20-25 nails and would still need to be sawed out to remove the tongue & groove part, which had hardened together into a solid mass after nearly 100 years.

Monday afternoon, Tuesday all day, and Wednesday morning, we did the attic and second floor.

This involved: pulling up floor boards, getting wires up, down, and across to the right outlets, determining where to add new outlets (both to get up to code and to provide more convenience), and generally an absolute fuckton of hard, exhausting, complicated physical labor. My dad had a stomach bug for most of these days and was on and off, so I literally jogged from place to place to provide backup, communication, and grunt labor. I pulled up floor boards, held wires, opened up and pulled out switches and outlets, cut outlet & switch holes, fished into cavities, drilled holes through joists, made decisions about new outlets & switch configurations, passed tools, checked on circuits, and on and on.

At night, every night, I cleaned up the day's work - took the ground cover sheets outside to shake them, gathered all the wire bits for recycling, vacuumed up plaster chunks, consolidated tools, and made a plan of work for the next day.

Wednesday afternoon and Thursday all day we worked on the first floor, which was in some ways easier and other ways harder. We were out of the attic, thank God, especially since it was 90+ degrees outside and an actual oven in the attic. But we also lost the easy drop-down of the attic, and in order to replace lights the electricians had to make many holes in my walls and ceiling.

On Day 4, Arya heard the electrician's truck pull into the driveway and ran upstairs to put herself back to bed.

As it stands right now, after 4 solid days of work, we are halfway done on the first floor. We know at some point soon that it has to get easier, because the panels downstairs have a lot of new wire, and we have only found two circuits so far that do not need to be rewired. So we're really hoping that the kitchen, breakfast nook, and back office are all set. We're also hopeful that the basement will be a little easier, being all open.

On Friday, my father installed a bathroom ceiling fan in our upstairs bathroom - or got most of the way there; it was more complicated than he intended. I used my newfound skills to install two new ceiling fans in our living room & sun room, and just cleaned up/made lists/unpacked and re-packed various things.

Friday night, I consolidated one last time and did as thorough a vacuuming of rooms as possible. Today, I'm going through our overall house layout and identifying the last places we need to pull/swap wire. Then I am headed out of town for tonight and tomorrow, and Sunday night I will pull all the remaining knob & tube in the basement so we can just go through and get the last of it done.



  1. Oh knob and tube! you were so effective, and so hazardous and such a reasonable idea for such a loong time!

    The people ahead of us did a lot of electrical work, but I still found an old knob and had a temporary freakout over it.

  2. Way to go! Electrical stuff is HARD work.

  3. What a project! Glad you're almost done with it.

  4. YAY for new learned skills...but ack, this sounds like my personal hell. I'm with Arya, let's go back to sleep when the silly humans start playing with cords.

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