Older Homes Part One: Electrical Systems

The thing that draws most people toward buying older homes is their rustic character and quality craftsmanship, vouched for by the idea that older dwellings are built on firm foundations, backed by old world trustworthy hard work – they have good bones! However, this is not, and has never been, universally true. Though many older homes still stand and are available for purchase today, some of them are only barely standing. Older does not necessarily mean better (and of course newer homes come with their own set of problems too).

Here are a few things that any savvy homeowner, or prospective homeowner, should be aware of:

1. Breaker panels and their electrical components do not have unlimited life expectancies, contrary to popular belief. These should be changed every 25-30 years or so. With homes that have electrical systems over 30 years old, the safest course of action is to consult with a licensed and qualified electrician to determine whether the breaker panel is working properly or needs to be replaced

2. Older homes were built to live up to the expectations of the time period they were built in, which means they usually do not live up to the requirements for homes today. The electrical needs of homes made in the first half of the 20th century are vastly different than today’s.

3. 60 Amp electrical systems used to be normal for single family homes. Today, no insurance company will insure a home with this kind of system; the norm ballparks closer to 200 Amp systems. Homes have a much higher demand for electricity in the 21st century than pre-WW2 era homes. Trying to supply present-day electrical power demands in a home with an outdated electrical system is potentially dangerous and can lead to accidental fire and frequent malfunctions.

The Ontario Electrical Safety Authority strongly recommends an electrical inspection at the time a property is sold. It is safer and smarter to have a skilled electrician inspect your prospective older home before purchasing it. You will be informed of the risks early on, before you are committed to the house, and can then discuss solutions, like rewiring the house. This is important information to have if you are selling/flipping an older home too.

When it comes to older homes, like with any home, the buyer should beware. Don’t fall in love with the unique exterior before you get to know it for what’s inside.

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