Endsleigh specialise in Home Contents Insurance for people in the UK

Preparing for rewiring

Electrical, Major Projects

Tomorrow morning, Teague and I will throw caution to the wind and attempt to begin replacing the knob and tube wiring ourselves. At first, this sounded like such a freakishly hard project I was sure we’d have to take out loans and hire a professional electrician. After all, it’s electricity we’re messing with. And that is both dangerous and incredibly complicated, right?

Well, it turns out it might not be as complex as those highly-paid pros would like you to believe… In fact, I checked 3 basic wiring books out of the local library, and all 3 state in the very first paragraph that basic home wiring is not nearly as hard or as dangerous as most people imagine.

So for the past 2 days we’ve been doing our homework. I have read two wiring books cover to cover – they are incredibly boring, but even a novice like me could understand the concepts. The Complete Guide to Home Wiring by Black & Decker is my favorite. The pictures and illustrations are in color, and the diagrams are easy to understand. I’m a visual person, so this is especially helpful for me.

Teague made a materials list and came back from Home Depot with all sorts of goodies, including 500ft of Romex cable, new receptables, new light switches, a “fish kit” (to fish wires through the walls) and some GFI boxes for the basement.

Tonight I plan to finish mapping out our first floor – I’ve been taking measurements and labeling all of the various outlets, switches and light fixtures found throughout the house so that when we are examining the maze of knob and tube in the basement we’ll have some idea where it’s leading and what it’s powering.

So, wish us luck – I’ll report back to let you all know how it goes. Hopefully we will bust the myth that only pros can handle this stuff!

Comments, Thoughts, and Feedback

jenne had this to say on 01.11.05:

I am totally clueless about electricity too. If you have knob and tube wiring, does that mean you have a newer panel box in the basement? Or do you have an old school fuse panel like me? I really wanted to have all my wiring updated, but the guy who came quoted thousands of dollars. You’ll have to tell us how hard it is…maybe then I won’t be so intimidated and we’ll try to tackle ours too. I have bad images of having to tear holes in my walls to get to everything :(

Eric had this to say on 01.11.05:

Having recently replaced all the visible knob and tube wiring in our house (i.e. in the basement), I might offer the following bits of advice.

1) Don’t assume that the set of outlets that were a circuit should be a set going forward. In my house, half the circuits in the downstairs were on one circuit, while other circuits had next to nothing.

Practically, that means you may want to regroup outlets and lights into small clusters. The first temptation is to cluster closely located outlets and lights on a circuit and I found that’s usually a good idea in practice. However, I can say from experience it helps to put your basement lights on multiple circuits (i.e. how do you work on the basement circuit if all the basement lights are out …) but put certain devices (e.g. the refrigerator, window air conditioner) on their own circuit.

2) I’ve found that as you install junction boxes in the basement, it’s very helpful to label the lid with a sharpie with the circuit number.

3) Think carefully about whether you want to use 20 amp wire or 15 amp wire. I usually find 15 amp wire is a lot easier to work with, particularly if you’re fishing through walls.

4) One thing I didn’t fully grok about knob and post is that sometimes the hot wire ran between one set of studs and the return wire through an adjacent pair of studs. This can make rewiring ceiling lights on the first floor controlled by a switch particularly challenging.

5) Focus on what the inspector can see. This also means tear out and throw out all the little pieces of ceramic before he or she comes over.


Carol had this to say on 01.11.05:

Wiring is not hard, just time consuming. In rewiring an old house, I have seen people remove the crown molding at the top of the wall and making their plaster hole up at the top for fishing new wires through. Also, 15 A wire is for light switches (it is white) and the 20 A wire (yellow) is for plugs. If you are getting a permit you should check what your local codes are. Ours state no more than 10 outlets on a 15 A circuit. And if you are getting a permit you may have to bring everything up to code and have an outlet every 6 feet.
Good luck!

john m had this to say on 01.11.05:

Have fun + good luck! We’re in the middle of having our downstairs rewired in bits and pieces. I’ve traded web design work for labor or we’d be doing it ourselves…

The bulk of the work that they’ve done doesn’t look complex, in part though because they made it look so easy. The professionalism and detail of how the lines were laid and attached is what I carried away from watching the guys work. Their knowledge of what code requires is awesome to discover, too. Code seems to be doing everything opposite of how it was done to our house before :)

We’ll probably be doing our upstairs when the time comes; we’ll be watching to see how y’all do!

merideth had this to say on 01.11.05:

i really cant wait for y’all to do this…beth has decided that she wants to do ours so i’m grateful to have you as a test case…keep us posted…take photos!

Eilis had this to say on 01.12.05:

Mindy and Teague: You know how I feel about electricity, so you are much more brave than I will EVER be! Good luck and BE CAREFUL! You know where to find me if you need to fix any scrapes, bruises, or electrical burns. :) You guys are amazing.

Kristin had this to say on 01.12.05:

I think electricity is fascinating, though I’m glad our house’s rewiring was done long before we came along. Good luck and keep us posted!

Leah had this to say on 01.13.05:

My husband and I just finished wiring our WHOLE HOUSE. Wow, what an exercise in patience and stress management!

We are a similarly young and energetic couple who decided to tackle this project ourselves, and when we added up the numbers, we discovered that this project saved us the greatest percentage of money by doing it ourselves than any other home renovation project.

And although I wouldn’t say it was difficult, I would say that it takes much, MUCH longer than initially anticipated, so save yourselves looooots of time. And stock up on sleep ahead of time.

We found it very helpful to keep music playing at all times. We found we could work late into the night so long as we didn’t need to unplug the stereo to use the extension cord for power tools. Once the music stopped, we realized our energy had stopped, as well.

Also, make sure to check your local codes, even if you’re being secretive and don’t get a permit (I’d assume in your situation, you don’t have TIME for a permit, but you won’t want to have to redo things later to meet code). We were required to use yellow 20 amp wiring for every outlet in the kitchen / dining room, as well as for every GFCI outlet. Everything else was the white 15 amp (minus the dryer and the stove).

Label everything carefully as you go (it sounds like you’ve got that all planned out already) so you don’t have to go through the difficulty of tracing wires back through the house later – even more difficult for you than it was for us because you have actual WALLS and not just studs.

Good luck and I’ll be checking back to see how it goes!


Brian had this to say on 01.16.05:

Ill lend a little help.
return your 250′ 12-2 and get 1000′ spool. cost is about what 600-750′ is and you will kill 1000 easily. get some 14-3 to wire all your 3 way switches. get master packs of round juction boxes and covers.

get a LONG 3/32 drill bit to drill in the corner of the wall floor to use as reference point.

there will be a horizontal 2×4 running accross the top of doors to the next natural stud instead of having a king stud.

when tying new wires to old connect with 2 loops instead of twisting them. use only 1 bare wire to make the connection.

use only 3m electrical tape (33+)

wire all of the new stuff to the new box then get the electritian to wire the new box to the service. if the electrition goes first he will put the box where he wants it. if you call your electric provider to shut down the service they will want to see your permit. your electritian is not likely to need a permit?!:)

I recomend a seperate pannel for each floor, garage, out buildings. this will allow your projet to go into “convenient” stages.

using 1 gfci breaker to serve circuits will save time/money (kitchen bath basement outdoor) where as 1 gfci outlet can serve itself and 1 other only(WI)

determine the extent of a circuit in an “expendable” part of the house and start with that one to get your feet wet. maybe the garage or childrens play room or formal dinning. determine when you are at the point of no return and re evaluate your decision.

some of the trix you learn will apply to other mechanical. but when in the kitchen/bath consider updating supply piping. vent piping has come along way in the past 30 yrs you may find yours unacceptable if your doing lights for the vanity and have the wall a little messed up its probably a good time to run a permanant vent pipe to serve the bathroom group.

mindy had this to say on 01.18.05:

THANKS to all of you for your help and enthusiasm – seriously, you have no idea how much it means to us. I print out all the little helpful tidbits and bring them home to study, and you’re no doubt saving us from making some big mistakes.

Brian – we put a new GFI breaker in for the fridge – do you mean we can run other stuff (say, the bathroom outlets) on this same breaker instead of putting another GFI breaker or multiple GFI outlets? That’d be nice, those things don’t come cheap. Sounds like you’ve learned from experience – thanks for taking the time to post!

theresa had this to say on 04.05.05:

my circuit has blown but wont work at all what do u suggest

Bridget had this to say on 02.19.06:

Don’t know if you still use this, but I wanted to tell you what a beautiful house you have. I am in the process of purchasing an Italianate style home that needs some work. They have so much character! Good luck to you in your journey….

ryan had this to say on 08.06.06:

I’m an electrician from Eng but i now live in Ohio as a maintenance tech. If you have any questions I’ll be here to help, and by the way you are only supposed to run 12 receptacles max on 250ft of cable, and i would stick to 14/2 for lights and 12/2 for receptacles.

Jayme had this to say on 02.28.07:

My husband and I are looking to buy a house. It was built in the 1950’s and has very outdated wiring. Nothing is grounded, and it has a fuse box instead of the breaker box. The current Amp. is 60, the inspector suggested that we go to at least 100 or 110 for a 1200 sq.ft home. I have heard it is very expensive to have done. I think there are about or less than 15 plug ins and about a handful of light swithes. Does anyone know about how much it cost to do it your self, and how long it takes.

Shayla had this to say on 03.24.07:

We are looking at buying a nice home that is 5 bdr, but unfortunatley looks to have K&T wiring. I’m not 100% sure, and are only taking a guess because the current box is 60 Amps, each room only has one outlet, and none are grounded – sounds like K&T to me, right?

So I’m out doing some research on the cost of getting it redone. The house is great and I don’t want the K&T to be my only factor for not taking the house – but so far anything Ive read says it is extremely expensive to do. I don’t think we’d have the ability to do it on our own sadly – but thank you for taking the time to blog your experiences.

mark had this to say on 09.17.07:

Be careful with Knob and tube. when these circuits were run they would run the neutral to where it was needed. then add a hot from one side of the Fuse box. Once done they would use the other hot to other parts of the house.

These wires are not color coded so you will need to find out which is the neutral.
They usually used one stud in the wall for the hot and the other stud for the neutral and they were run on insulators down to the receptacle.

Depending on the age of the house there may be boxes or there may not be boxes, some installations had cast iron boxes imbedded in the plaster. If there is no box one must be added.

If there are 3-way switches in this house be extremely careful, they used an old wiring system called the Carter wiring system. which on occasion of the switch sequence the lamp would be off but both sides of the lamp socket would be hot.

A lot of times the old timers would uses these Carter set-up to an outdoor garage. Here they are especially dangerous.

Rex had this to say on 12.19.07:

Wow , it’s seems I’m not alone by a long shot . We bought this 1929 , 2400 sq.ft home with about 80% K&T , some of the wiring has been upgraded ( very badly ) unfortunatly . I have re-done most of it so far . I have only just started on the K&T. I am replaceing all with 12-2 , I hope thats OK , I have been going in 100′ purchases . I wish I could have bought the 1000′ to start , you are right … It goes very fast .No boxes in the receptacle’s …just a outlet hanging in the rough wood hole . I did purchase new metal boxes ( could not buy bulk though ) But thanks for the suggestion . Where can I read more about the carter system ? I will be running into the 3-wire switch’s shortly .Also I have ran into the same thing about circuits not being very even , in fact not even very well thought out at all . I kinda wanted each room grouped together , but that was not as easy as I thought , I just tried to stick with what is pulling from each individual run . I really liked the idea of seperate circuits for the rooms and mainly the basement for light to work in . This was a last minute thought when I wired the basement lights by flashlight . You are all very sharp , I am thankful I found you . Thanks for the very good info I found here , maybe I can return the favor with some good input back at ya .

We love to hear from you, dear readers.

Please note: Comments are moderated to keep out the spam. It may take a while for them to show on the page.