Home Improvement

Purchased An Old House? Upgrade The Electrical System First

Buying a new home can present many challenges. These challenges are even greater when the house you bought is old. Chances are there are a lot of hidden problems that will take time and money to fix. One such issue is likely to be with th electrical system. 

Old houses are full of old wires that simply can’t handle the electric needs of a modern family. We use far more devices and the appliances are not at all what they were like back in the day. 

The first thing to do when you buy an old house is to update the electrical system before you think about moving in. in this article, we will go over exactly what that type of upgrade will look like. 

The electrical panel

If the house isn’t too old then the first step is to change the panel rather than take out all of the old wiring. Though that may be necessary for very old homes, anything built after 1970 is likely going to have a wiring system that is adequate. The panel is another thing altogether, however.

If the panel is an old fuse box then there is no way that this is going to be adequate for modern needs. And it is downright dangerous.

What you need to have is a circuit breaker. The purpose of both circuit breakers and fuse boxes is the same but the way they work is totally different. A fuse box has a single fuse that will literally break if it overheats. This is dangerous because it can easily start a fire or even lead to electrocution if there is faulty wiring before the fuse breaks. 

A circuit breaker trips a breaker that turns off electricity to that area of the house at the first sign of a surge in electricity. This makes it much safer and also easier to deal with. If you find yourself without a new fuse, then you won’t have electricity until you buy a new one. With a circuit breaker, you just flip the switch back on once the problem is resolved. 

An old house may have a circuit breaker, but it is a good idea to replace it as the old breakers may only supply around 100 amps. A modern household will require something closer to 200 so look to add Zinsco breakers that can handle the demand of a modern lifestyle. 

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Add some outlets

Old houses were not set up to have an area to charge phones, watch TV with DVD players and video game consoles, and everything else a modern family has. This means that there is almost always a serious lack of outlets in the rooms. 

Adding lots of extension cords or trying to plug multiple devices into one outlet is inefficient and even dangerous to do. The way to deal with this is to add at least a couple of outlets per room. Do a walk around and take note of how many outlets there are in each room. 

Once you’ve singled out which rooms will be used for things like bedrooms and living rooms then determine what will be needed in terms of electrical usage. Then add as many as the situation requires per room. You should also know where you plan to use things like the TV so you know where to add an outlet. 

In the kitchen and bathroom look for spots to add a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlet. In areas where there will be wet zones or water being used then this type of outlet will stop a current if there is any water detected. This is a good way to avoid any kind of electrical shock that even a circuit breaker couldn’t prevent. 

In fact, some local building codes require updating to GFCI outlets in bathrooms and kitchens so you may have to do it regardless. 

Replace the old wires

As we mentioned earlier, very old houses have old wires that need to be replaced. Updating the circuit breaker or trying to use new appliances or devices without replacing the old wires is a recipe for disaster. These old wires are a fire hazard as the insulation on them is likely to be frayed or worn in spots that expose the wires. Since the gauge is not likely to be sufficient to handle the load of a modern device, the wire is in danger of overheating and causing a fire before an old breaker or fuse box has a chance to shut off the electricity. 

New wires have the gauge that will allow a higher flow of electricity that modern devices are going to place on it. Even the appliances themselves, assuming they would work, will end up getting damaged if the wires are of an insufficient gauge. Usually, they have sensitive electronics and computers in them that are susceptible to damage. Appliances in the old days were workhorses, but today’s efficient machines are more sensitive. 

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Go smart

Once you have the electrical system updated, then you can take things to the next level by outfitting your house with smart devices. An example would be to start using smart thermostats that can use the Internet of Things to control your heating and cooling. They require a C-wire which provides 24 volts of electricity. Now that you are already updating the system, make sure that you can connect these without having to use a type of bypass. 

This wire will run continuous electricity to the thermostat which will allow it to connect to your wifi and essentially program itself based on factors like the weather and your preferences. 


Buying an old house requires a lot of patience and a solid renovation budget. If you love the quirks and character of an old house, this is part of the deal as well, however. Once it is done, you will have a cool house that will suit your modern needs and look good doing it. 

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