You found your dream heritage home in a beautiful neighbourhood, well within your budget, with the ideal location, history and proximity to all the amenities? Well, if you have, you should make one more important check, as home inspection may reveal that there is knob and tube wiring (K&T) in the house. Naturally in a dilemma you have three options: pass on this property and look for a similar one, fix this one, or just buy it as is and negotiate price adjustments with the seller.
If you are fixed on buying an older home with a lot of character, you may not be much pleased to know that every house in North America built between 1880 and 1940 was outfitted with K&T wiring. When first introduced, its use was limited to general household appliances like clothes irons, coffee machines, tea kettles, toasters, etc. K&T wiring brought electricity from a 60 amp service to different areas of the home, running through walls, attic and floor spaces. It consists of an insulated copper conductor that passes through joist and drill holes via protective porcelain insulating tubes which are supported along their length by nailed down porcelain knobs. The wire is covered with a cloth and rubber insulation sheathing also known as 'loom'.
It was not conceived that K&T wiring would be used to run washing machines, televisions and other modern day gadgets and appliances. As this type of wiring does not bear much of a load, there is a possibility that it could be high risk and lead to fire hazards. As a result, several insurance companies refuse to insure houses that have such wiring. Many other buyers have paid extremely high insurance because of K&T wiring.
Richard Silver, salesperson and vice president of Sotheby's International Realty Canada, says that inherently K&T wiring is not dangerous per say:
"However since there is no grounding to K&T wiring, it can experience short circuit. Such wirings are vulnerable to overloading, especially when it is taxed with supplying electricity to our newer appliances."
Besides being an obsolete electrical system, K&T wiring problems can also result from the shoddy work of amateurs who are unaware of the its requirements. They can tamper with wiring while making alterations. Many times home inspections have revealed that the connections in these wirings were wrapped with scotch and masking tapes instead of electrical tape.
More than 1.5 million homes in Canada were built with K&T wiring. Therefore, when selling houses, especially old ones, realtors always face a situation where they have to educate the buyers as well as sellers regarding the issues related to this kind of wiring. Essentially, an inspection from a certified electrician is required, and the finding would invariably suggest removal of K&T wiring.
"I would recommend the potential buyers to let the sellers know that they want the K&T wiring to be removed. In addition to this, a warranty from a licensed electrician should also be provided, confirming that wiring has been removed and the walls are repaired. If for some reason these steps are not addressed, it is crucial that one should get an estimate of removal cost and make sure the wirings are replaced soon after closing the deal,"
Removal of K&T wiring is not easy, especially from a cost point of view. It could range anywhere between $5,000 and $25,000 and sometimes more, depending on the size of the house as well as the complexity of the task. The estimated time for removal is one week or more, depending on the job at hand.
"It is better for the seller to remove these wirings even though they have to incur hefty cost and the removal process could be messy and time consuming. Why enter into a market place with unfavourable attributes; also look at the brighter side as after renovation the resale value of the house will increase considerably,"
Another problem that crops up when buying such houses is that many insurance companies will refuse the property because of the risk of fire and related accidents waiting to happen; and if they do, the rates are extremely high.
"Insurance companies are nervous about fire hazards and K&T wiring because the way they are installed are instant fuel for a spark resulting in fire. However the companies do give a short period of time after closing to remove it. This results in the insurance becoming conditional,"
These days, the electrical systems of houses typically consist of copper wiring, and homes with K&T wiring are replaced by the modern system that meets the requirements and is on par with electrical safety code standards. Silver, however, feels that when it comes to dwellings with K&T wiring, buyers could use it to their advantage when negotiating the price or could get a home with a fully renovated electrical system.
"A problem like this can become an opportunity. Do not let your dream home go away just because of one single issue. Get an estimate of the removal cost, let the seller know it and then suggest the most cost effective procedure in order to acquire the property. Don't let it affect the sale if you love the house,"
Title photo by laurascudder