Endsleigh specialise in Home Contents Insurance for people in the UK

Rewiring our house: a post-mortem

Electrical, How-To, Major Projects

We took advantage of the long weekend (and the exposed hallway walls/ceiling) to finish rewiring all of the upstairs electrical. This is a major milestone for us. Finally checking “Electrical” off the to-do list, after nearly two years of fiddling, is extremely satisfying. I love drawing a nice thick line through something huge like that. It’s what list makers live for.

From day one, the knob-and-tube situation gave us trouble. It got us thrown off two homeowners insurance policies, for starters. Nothing was grounded, there were bare wires all over the place, and we had frequent shorts and mini-brownouts. I have a phobia about house fires to begin with. Imagining all sorts of nightmarish wiring hiding behind our walls was enough to drive me batty.

Our original plan was to hire an electrician to help us; when our electrician completely flaked, we decided to try tackling it ourselves. I have no idea how much money we would have had to part with to have a professional rewire the entire house. I do know it would have been thousands and thousands of dollars, too much for us to handle. It would have gone undone for years, perhaps. So doing it ourselves, though not the ideal situation, seemed better than no improvements at all. And as it turns out, Teague is great at it!
Lucky for us, New York State does not require electricians to be licensed. (This is sort of scary though – any Joe Schmoe can call himself an electrician.) I raided the library for books on wiring, and we purchased the latest New York State code book.

Though I can neither condone nor encourage our approach to this particular problem, I do want to share what we learned along the way for others who might be in a similar situation.

  1. It wasn’t as scary or hard as I imagined it would be. We each got zapped a few times when we were wading through old, bare wire – but no permanent damage or major scarring occured. A rarity for us.
  2. It was, however, extremely time consuming. A single light switch our outlet sometimes took half a day, not including clean-up. Multiply this by the number of outlets per room, and you start to see why it has taken two years to complete.
  3. Fishing Romex through old walls is a real pain. We fished everything for the first floor, but waited until our hallway ceiling and walls were out to rewire the second floor. Much of the electrical ran up through the hallway and into the attic crawl space, so this made life MUCH easier
  4. Make sure you get a code book for your state. Plan to add significantly to what’s already there in order to bring it up to code. Our two breaker panels are nearly full now, and we started out with only two circuits!!
  5. If you’re a team effort, buy two wire strippers, two nice needle-nose plyers, two utility knives, and two wire cutters. You’ll need these with you constantly, so trying to share doesn’t work very well.
  6. Buy the biggest rolls of Romex you can find. You’d be amazed how much you’ll go through. It’s sorta like insulation or mulch; you’ll think you have enough, but you never do.
  7. Be patient. Expect slow progress. Relish the small accomplishments. Over time, they add up to a major achievement!

Now that we’re done wiring, we’re ready to start…….. INSULATING. Yee-freaken-haw. We’re planning to do blown-in for most of our outer walls. Any pointers/warnings/suggestions?

Comments, Thoughts, and Feedback

Beth had this to say on 09.05.06:

Huge, HUGE accomplishment. I hope y’all opened a bottle of champagne as big as the romex roll.

Eilis had this to say on 09.05.06:

Congrats! You have nerves of steel as far as I’m concerned! I cringed when I read the part about being zapped. Eek!

Heather had this to say on 09.05.06:


Congrats on getting the eletrical marked off your list! What a huge job…and not one I envy you for. Now that it’s done though you will have plenty of electricity to light up the house and see just what amazing progress you are making elsewhere!


Paul had this to say on 09.05.06:

Congadulations! I went through something similar when we redid the inside of our house. I purchase the NEC 2003 code book and I was glad I did. There were several things in the kitchen I would have done wrong if I had not read the code. I did have an electrical inspection, I think through the local building department. I had to pay $40 for the rough in and $60 for the final inspection, but it was worth it. Anyway, it feels good to have that done, I know.

amanda had this to say on 09.06.06:

We were lucky to get an electrician to come and give us a few lessons and work out a general plan. The sad thing is that our house was rewired, but the po was so lazy, that he ran everything in 14/3 so that he only had to pull one wire, and wired huge sections of the house off of one wire (two hots would feed two different rooms, then share the ground back.) It was at least as, if not more unsafe than the knob and tube he replaced. I can’t wait until we get the last of our po’s crappy wiring ripped out.

John had this to say on 09.07.06:

We recently had insulation blown in our exterior walls. So far, so good. We had limited options for what we could use (the downside in living in the middle of nowhere), and we opted for fluzzy celluloid.

In an ideal world, I would have loved to have gotten some of the liquid foam stuff that has shown up on the market over the last few years. The one thing that you need to be careful with the foam insulations is that some types are NOT moisture permeable; if moisture ever gets into the walls, it will start to rot the siding/walls from the inside out.

As with anything else, do your research. Good luck.

Kristin had this to say on 09.07.06:

Congratulations! I’m with you on the housefire phobia, so I’m very relieved to hear you’re finished. :) Our has has been rewired, but Darwin is about to add outlets in the bathroom. Fun times.

Derek had this to say on 09.07.06:

We replaced our wiring in just over a month. We flew my father in law out, and he did a lot of it. We had the advantage of having an open basement, and having attic space over most places we had to get to. A couple over head lights were challenging. Our knob and tube was mostly safe and in good condition. Except where it was altered in a few places. It’s was good to get rid of it anyways I guess, for lights it doesn’t make a big difference, we needed to do it for insurance too.

colleen had this to say on 09.09.06:

when we added on 500 sq ft my husband mike did all the wiring gosh i thought hed have stroke, he couldnt sleep at noc worring about it . we had a trencher come in to run all the wiring from the main box to the otherside of the house much easier than under the house [we have no basement] so he put in a subpanel 2 cieling fans 3 3way switches, 220 for the laundry and the 2 wall heaters,various switches and outlets. also up graded the wiring so no brownouts. so actually better than the rest of the house. but that wire was a lot harder to run. what really helped us out was the inspector is actually a nieghbor and a retired electrician. it was a spiritual moment when we were done and all the lights and outlets worked. [i cryed]
so what an achievement for you good luck

John had this to say on 08.04.07:

It was good reading your summation and encouragement. We’re trying to sell an old house and have had some feedback that the electrical is what’s scaring people off, so a rewiring might be in order–only one floor, though, and no finished basement, so it sounds like it might be a possibility.

Melissa had this to say on 11.21.07:

I am in the same boat. I have a hot mess of half finished wiring in my basement that I need to tackle but that phobia that I won’t name bothers me too. Back during the summer lightening ran in on some of the old cloth covered stuff and fried out the living room entirely. It has been extention cords and lamps since them. I have a book…sooner or later I am gonna have to deal with this.
Congratulations on completeing your wiring nightmare.

Katherine had this to say on 01.09.08:

You mentioned that you read a bunch of books from your library. Do you have any which you could recommend? My husband and i just bought our (first) house and it is in desperate need of a lot of things, but perhaps most desperate for new and up-to-code wiring. We have some knob and tube and then a handful of different kinds of wires, even some that are newer, but the quotes we have gotten to fix it have been outrageous – lowest being $4000 highest 10,000. We have to do it for insurance reasons ( of course!!) but really cant afford that with everything else the house needs. We have decided we need to take matters in to our own hands.

Anyway, we are both only semi knowledgeable about this stuff. Changing an outlet, grounding one etc. is the extent of my knowledge. Is this where you started out? Any book titles would be a great help to us, we keep coming across information and some of it is confusing –

Thanks! Love your website, blog etc. We plan to make one for our fixer-upper too!

Steve had this to say on 10.19.10:

We had knob & tube throughout our 1901 Victorian as well, but we were lucky much of the downstairs (kitchen, bathroom) had been updated in the past. All the rest of the house outlets were K&T though, especially the upstairs, which was on a single circuit (outlets and lighting)

We’re 4 years into adding a new upstairs bathroom and I recently disconnected ALL the K&T upstairs – some rooms are still without working outlets.

The way I rewired the master bedroom outlets was clever, I thought.

Chip off some plaster and remove a single lath board all the way around the room, connecting all the outlets with a ‘chase’ – then use a right-angle drill to drill a 1/2 inch hole through all the studs and fish your romex all the way around the room. Once that’s done, you can add as many outlets as you like in between the insufficient number of outlets you had before! Best of all, you don’t have to go into the cramped itchy fiberglassed attic except to hook up the lights!

Once your wire goes all the way around the room and everything is working as expected, replace the one strip of lath, add a bit of drywall, a bit of joint compound, sand and paint. It was a big job, but I think quicker and easier than working in the attic and fishing through the walls. (yuck)

Good job! Feels great to get that old electrical kindling out!

Amanda had this to say on 12.17.10:

I know this is a few years after your post, but I just found your site today. My husband and I can fully relate to this. Our house needs a full electrical makeover too. We are doing it ourselves and have just passed our electrical inspection for the stairwell, upstairs hallway, and 2 bedrooms. Our next step will be insulating!

Matt had this to say on 03.12.12:

Well done on completing a massive job – I started out on my own but in the end had to get an army of Cambridge electricians to sort out my mess! Defo ensure you get an inspection done though as any future purchaser will want to know that the wiring is A-OK. Nice job.

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