Older homes were built long before the prevalence of TVs, computers, and security systems. Not surprisingly, it can be ill-advised and even dangerous to hook up such amenities in a home with older wiring. Though your home may look old-fashioned, its wiring does not have to be. You can still use modern appliances and electronic technology—and use them safely—when you invest in total home rewiring.

Important Note: Only a licensed electrician should inspect and rewire your electrical panel, as it is equipped with live wires and can present a high risk for electrocution.

Service Capacity

Simply put, older homes were not built to handle the electrical demands of today’s technology. Many homes built before 1960 have 60-amp service, whereas modern homes are built with at least 100-amp service. Sixty-amp service is often not optimal for safety and usability. In fact, some insurance companies will not insure homes with 60-amp service or will charge a higher premium.

A house’s electricity needs are usually directly related to the size of the house and number of appliances. Typically, a service with less than 100 amps will not be sufficient, especially if major appliances are electric or if central air conditioning is used. If your house has 100-amp service, you might still consider an upgrade to handle all your devices.

What to Do: Upgrade to at least 100-amp service. Upgrading to 150 or 200 amps may be worthwhile depending on your usage and devices, and it can leave room to grow as well. An electrician will be able to educate you on what capacity is best for your home.

Benefits for the Homeowner: Now you can safely use multiple appliances and electronics—no more worrying about overloading your system. Also, you may now be eligible for insurance coverage if your 60-amp system was problematic.

Electrical Panel

A number of small branch circuits conduct the electricity inside the house. Most modern homes have at least two 240-volt circuits for heavy-duty appliances and at least sixteen 120-volt circuits for lighting and small appliances. It is possible for an older home to not have 240-volt capacity.

Circuits are protected from electricity overload—possibly leading to overheating, sparks, or even fire—by circuit breakers or fuses. Accordingly, your home will have a circuit breaker panel or fuse box from which the house’s wiring begins. Like anything else, electrical panels can wear out over time, increasing the risk for safety hazards. It’s important to be aware of signs of equipment failure, especially if you’re dealing with an older home. Things like frequently tripping wires, buzzing sounds, and power outages can be signs of more serious issues and should be addressed by an electrician.

An electrical system is safest when grounded, and an older home may not have a grounding wire. A grounding wire offers a path for electricity to follow when there is an electrical malfunction, like a short circuit, so the electricity will run into the earth instead of causing electric shock.

What to Do: Update your obsolete electrical panel. Specifically, circuit breakers are often considered safer and more convenient since they are reusable, unlike fuses, which can only be used once.

Benefits for the Homeowner: A new panel can be grounded and support more circuits, thereby allowing dedicated 240-volt circuits for major appliances. A grounded system is safer, and you can also add surge protection and grounded outlets. You might also have arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) installed to protect against fires, as they detect electrical arcs and can disconnect power if needed.


Most homes built after 1960 have insulated cables with ground wires. Some older homes, especially those built before 1945, may have a knob-and-tube system, which—while sometimes acceptable to use—is often a safety hazard or not insurable. Some homes built in the 1960s or 1970s may have aluminum wiring, which can be more vulnerable to hazards. In general, older homes are more susceptible to wiring with inadequate, deteriorating insulation. Older homes were built before best practices were codified and inspected, so those electrical systems may not be living up to current standards.

Most modern homes have a minimum number of wall receptacles required per type of room, dictated by current code. Some of these receptacles—especially in kitchens and bathrooms—have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), which give protection from high currents and electrocution. While most older homes were only fitted with ungrounded, two-slot outlets, outlets in modern homes have a third slot—and sometimes a fourth—to accept the grounding plug in appliances or electronic devices.

What to Do: Hire an electrician to inspect your system. If you need to rewire, the electrician will remove the old system and run new wires that will be properly installed, enclosed, and insulated. This would be a good time to consider adding other modern lines, like data or security. The electrician should also replace two-slot outlets with grounded, three-slot outlets, and additional outlets can be installed. GFCI outlets will be installed in areas where water is used, like the bathroom and kitchen, but they can be installed elsewhere for added protection. Keep in mind that during rewiring, walls may need to be opened up. You’ll want to carefully plan this process and factor in reconstruction, especially if you want to maintain the historic feel of your home.

Benefits for the Homeowner: Appliances and devices—and most importantly, people—are better protected from electrical malfunctions that can lead to shocking and fires. Energy-efficiency tasks, like insulating attics and other spaces, are now options without exposed or defective wires, and insurance coverage may be easier to obtain after the removal of an old system. Also, today’s electronics and appliances can be easily plugged in and used.

When you decide to rewire, consider your electricity needs before calling an electrician. Make a list of devices you want to use and where you want to use them to ensure your upgrade is as beneficial as possible. A licensed electrician will also be up-to-date on local electrical codes, will know how to fit your house to those standards, and can tell you what permits may be necessary.

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Sources: Electramedics Electrical Services; HGTVRemodels; GreenYour; US Department of Energy.

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