[FONT=Arial][size=3]Time for a Checkup!
Keeping Pace with Code Changes
Homes age just as people do.
Sooner or later, both will require
checkups. And, as old age sets in, major
repairs are often needed.
The average age of the housing stock
in the United States reflects the aging of
its population. That’s not surprising,
considering that a building boom accompanied
the baby boom of the 1950s and
1960s to accommodate millions of new
families and their children.
As the baby boomers reach late maturity
and old age, so goes the housing.
Old age for a home is typically
between 50 and 60 years, although
many very old homes are still around,
too. Across the country, renovations are
increasing on this mature stock. Unfortunately,
boomer generation homes
may be lagging far behind the present
safety standards for electrical wiring.
According to David Brender,
national program manager, Electrical,
for the Copper Development
Association, “Next to the installation of
smoke alarms, one of the most effective
ways to improve the safety of these
older homes is to upgrade the wiring.”
The Ever-changing Code
The National Electrical Code (NEC)
is the definitive guide to electrical wiring
safety in most locales — but it is a
dynamic document. The electrical professionals
who write the Code are continually
evaluating safer wiring practices.
New technologies have been introduced
over the years, such as ground-fault circuit
interrupters (GFCIs) and arc-fault
circuit interrupters (AFCIs).
Additionally, patterns of electrical usage
are changing, necessitating important
changes in home wiring.
The Electrical Section of the
National Fire Protection Association
(NFPA) revises the Code every three
years. The current edition is dated 2005,
and the next revision cycle is for the
2008 edition. Consider that the Code
may have been through 10 or more revision
cycles since the electrical wiring
was first installed in your older home!
Many old homes have been neglected.
Probably, no electrical inspections
have been performed — and little has
been done to bring the wiring up to the
current Code. To make matters worse,
if wiring work was done, there’s a
chance that a nonprofessional improperly
installed the wiring.
Wiring Then and Now
For older homes, inadequate and/or
aging wiring is probably the most serious
concern. Homes built in the 1950s
simply do not have enough branch circuits
or outlets to accommodate the
increased electrical consumption of
today’s homeowners. Home computers,
home offices, home theaters and
home electronics — and a multitude of
electrical appliances — all add up to a
much higher usage of electricity. The
average electrical consumption per
household has increased more than
fourfold since the 1950s.
An under-wired home is not necessarily
a safety hazard in itself, but blown
fuses, tripped breakers and overuse of
extension cords are signs that your
home needs a professional checkup.
Fatter 12-gauge wiring is often better
than thinner 14-gauge wiring for
branch circuits. Upsized wiring doesn’t
cost much more and provides better
performance; for a given length of
wire, heavier wires are less susceptible
to voltage drops than the thinner wires,
because electrical resistance is less for
the former than the latter. Be sure your
electrician doesn’t skimp on wire gauge
in the branch circuits and ensures you
have properly sized circuit breakers or
fuses when you upgrade the wiring in
your home. Also, today’s electrical
code calls for several separate branch
circuits to kitchens and bathrooms for
More Reasons to Upgrade
Older homes commonly have
architectural details rarely seen in
modern homes. What’s more, an old
home may have sentimental value. In
many cases, these homes can be
refurbished into high-quality living
spaces. And, one of the key renovations
to ensure safety and increase
your home’s livability and resale
value is an upgrade of the electrical
wiring. While you are at it, you can
also install a modern communications
wiring system. The best (and least
expensive) time to upgrade the
wiring, whether communications or
electrical power, is while the house is
For more information about residential
electrical wiring, visit