Rewiring a home with an outdated or undersized wiring system will keep you safer, prevent annoyances such as flicking lights, and even save you money on electric bills. Rewiring is a major undertaking, though, and it requires planning and patience.
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Understand Your Needs
Rewiring usually involves more than just replacing old wire. If your electrical panel (breaker box) is undersized, replacing it with a larger one will let you use more electronics and appliances at once.
Before 1965, many homes were built with 60-amp panels, which were enough for a time when families used less electricity. Even if you feel you can make do with that much, chances are you’ll need to upgrade your service to qualify for homeowner’s insurance. A 60-amp panel isn’t inherently unsafe if used correctly, and even today it’s enough for a very small house. In more typically sized homes, however, modern users tend to overload these panels, which presents a fire hazard.
Almost all modern homes are built with 100-amp, 150-amps or 200-amp panels. The most common electrical panels are 100- and 200-amp models. A 100-amp panel is enough for most homes of 3000 sq. ft. or less. If you have a larger house or you use energy-hungry appliances such as an electric water heater or a hot tub, it’s usually more cost-effective to go for the 200-amp panel.
On the other hand, if your house was wired in the 1980s or later, chances are only a few upgrades will be needed to replace worn or damaged wiring and fixtures.
You might also want to replace old sockets, light fixtures, and light switches. Old round switches and sockets installed in skirting without skirting trunking should be upgraded for safety reasons. What you can install depends on the existing socket or fixture’s fitting requirements, so make sure you know before you buy replacements. Consider modern options such as sockets with USB ports and alternatives such as push-button light switches instead of toggle designs.
Do it Yourself or Hire a Pro?
If you’re a dedicated DIY-er, you might consider doing the rewiring yourself. You’ll save money, but spend several weeks doing dirty work involving cutting, drilling, running wires, and patching holes. First familiarize yourself with local electrical codes and permits. Then create a detailed map of the circuits you want to rewire or install along with sockets, switches, and other electrical features you want.
Before you jump in, have a certified electrician inspect your existing wiring for signs the work might be more complex or dangerous than you expected. Ask them to look over your new wiring map for any potential problems. Your finished DIY rewiring job must pass inspection by a licensed electrician. Before you start your project, find an electrician who’ll be willing to do this inspection. Not all electricians do inspections on work they didn’t install themselves.
A DIY rewiring job starts with preparing the house by removing furniture or moving it to the middle of the room and covering it with drop cloths, then lifting the carpets and floorboards. Next, remove the old wiring. Where removal is impractical, you can cut the wires to disable them instead. After this, you can install the new wiring. This means both the replacement wiring and wiring for new outlets or other fixtures. If you need to drill new holes, take care not to hit wires or pipes inside the walls.
When you’re done, test the circuits. If they all work correctly, you can connect each to a breaker in your electrical panel and label each breaker with the name of its circuit. Finish up by calling an electrician for an inspection before you cover the wiring access points.
Create Your Plan
If you’ll be doing the rewiring yourself, you’ll need to plan both what you want and how it will be installed. If you’ve decided to hire an electrician, your job is to plan what you want, not decide how to install it. Leave the circuit design work up to the pros.
Start by listing the appliances and electronics you currently have and those you want to upgrade or add within the next 25 years. Most homes are rewired only once every two decades. When you plan ahead, your electrician can factor future appliances into your rewiring design. Consider features such as:
- Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC)
- Lighting and ceiling fans
- Water heater
- Washing machine and dryer
- Kitchen appliances, including the refrigerator, oven, microwave, dish washer, and deep freezer
- Home office electronics such as computers and device charging centers
- Entertainment systems, including the TV and stereo system
- Hot tub, spa, sauna or swimming pool
- Hobby-related electronics such as a guitar amp, power tools or sewing machine
- Mobility assistive devices such as wheelchair lifts, stair lifts, and assistive chairs
- Larger miscellaneous features such as towel warmers or a motorized treadmill
Once you know what you want, make a simple drawing of your home that includes your major appliances, electronics, lights, switches, and sockets. A visual representation helps your electrician understand your goal, which in turns help them plan your home’s electrical circuits.
Review the drawing with your electrician. They might suggest changes due to practicality, safety, or cost considerations. Make sure you’re truly happy with the plan before your electrician starts work. Once the work has started, asking for changes adds to the time and cost of the job. What looks like a simple change to you might actually require some complex wiring.
Set a Budget
Before you start looking for an electrician, set a budget for your rewiring project. The cost of rewiring depends largely on the size of your house and how much you want rewired. If you’re on a tight budget, consider rewiring the house room by room or section by section as your budget allows.
Taking on some of the preparation and clean-up work yourself can also reduce the costs. If you’re willing to move the furniture, pull up the carpets, clear out the attic, and possibly even chase the walls for wiring and socket boxes, there’s a good chance your electrician will subtract the cost of that work from your total.
Materials aren’t the place to cut costs, though. Cheap materials will lower the job cost, but it’s not worth going cheap on a system you expect to work safely and efficiently for 25 years. Ask about the types of materials your electrician uses and do your own research to make sure the quality meets your expectations.
Find a Qualified Electrical Contractor
Rewiring isn’t something to leave up to your local untrained handyman. To find a qualified electrician, start by asking around for recommendations. If you can’t get any personal recommendations, ask construction trade or professional associations for suggestions. Once you have at least three company names, get in touch with each to discuss their experience with rewiring homes like yours.
Check the electricians’ licensing. Look for a company with at least one master electrician who carries both a master electrician license and an electrical contractor license. A master electrician license is a professional license, while an electrical contractor license is a business license. Only a master electrician can hold an electrical contractor license. Also check that the contractor carries general liability insurance.
Make sure this electrician actually works for the company. Some electricians allow companies to use their credentials even when they don’t work there.
Be Prepared for Disruption
Rewiring is one of the most disruptive home renovation jobs there is. Because wires run throughout your house, accessing them often means lifting carpets and floorboards, and opening walls and ceilings. Your contractor won’t be able to tell you exactly how long the job will take until they’ve assessed your existing wiring system and your new plan.
Rewiring jobs are done in two stages:
First stage – Replacing the cabling, wiring, circuits, and mounting boxes.
Second stage – Installing faceplates on sockets and light switches and installing light fixtures. At this stage, everything is connected and goes “live.”
This means even rewiring just a few rooms usually takes two or three days. For a three- to five-bedroom house, the work could take up to a week. If you want any special features, such as recessed overhead lighting, that will extend the time. Asking for changes to your original plan, such as putting a socket in a different place, also adds time. What’s more, there’s always a chance your electrician will run into a problem they couldn’t have predicted when starting the job.
You won’t have electricity for this time, which most likely means no lights, air conditioning, electric range cooking or TV among other things. For your convenience, consider staying somewhere else while the work is being done.
If you decide to stay in your house, talk with your contractor to learn what will be done in what area at what time. They should be able to give you an area to stay in where you won’t be in each other’s way. They might be able to work room by room and let you keep electricity on in certain rooms, but this can draw the job out for weeks.
Having your home rewired might feel like a hassle while the work is in progress, but it will leave you with a safer and more enjoyable home. Take the time to plan out what you want from your electrical system and review your ideas with an electrician. If the job is planned well and carried out by skilled workers, your new wiring system will serve you reliably for the next several decades.