I recently learned about an old electrical wiring system called knob-and-tube that poses major safety risks in older homes. As a homeowner, I was shocked to discover this antiquated and dangerous wiring still lurking unseen in many properties across the country. In this article, I'll explain what knob-and-tube wiring is, why it's so hazardous, and how to identify and safely upgrade it.

What is Knob-and-Tube Wiring?

Knob-and-tube (K&T) refers to an early method of electrical wiring used in North American homes and buildings from about 1880 to the 1940s. This outdated system consists of individual copper wires coated in cloth insulation and run through ceramic knobs attached to framing along with tubes to bridge open spaces.

Unlike modern wiring systems, the wires are not bundled together and there is no ground wire. K&T relies solely on air as an insulator, leaving wires exposed and vulnerable. While historically this wiring was considered safe, it does not meet today's electrical code requirements and poses major fire and shock risks.

Why Knob-and-Tube Wiring is So Dangerous

There are several key reasons why knob-and-tube wiring is unsafe compared to modern electrical systems:

Simply put, knob-and-tube wiring lacks the proper safeguards, protection, and durability of modern electrical systems. Over decades of use, the risks compound, making K&T downright dangerous.

How to Identify Knob-and-Tube Wiring in Your Home

Since K&T wiring is usually hidden behind walls, ceilings, and insulation, it can be tricky to detect during a standard home inspection. Here are some telltale signs that your home may still contain live knob-and-tube wiring:

I'd also specifically inquire with your real estate agent or home inspector about checking for K&T. They may probe walls with an inspection camera or use an electrical tester to confirm if any live wires are ungrounded. Don't ignore any signs of obsolete wiring - have it fully inspected and upgraded as needed.

Dangers and Risks of Leaving Knob-and-Tube Wiring In Place

While unusable knob-and-tube wiring that's been disconnected poses no active threat, any live K&T wires still operating in your home present serious risks, such as:

Leaving antique K&T wiring in place is clearly playing with fire, both figuratively and literally. The wise and safe move is to systematically replace it.

Upgrading Old Wiring: K&T Replacement Options and Costs

If you have knob-and-tube wiring, I'd strongly advise hiring a licensed electrician to overhaul and modernize your home's electrical system. There are two main approaches:

Full Rewiring

This involves pulling all-new wires through walls and ceilings to replace old conductors.



Cost range: $8,000 to $15,000


Individual K&T wires are spliced or "pigtailed" to new wiring in accessible areas like the attic or basement. Minimizes destruction of existing walls.



Cost range: $2,000 to $8,000

I chose pigtailing for my home since it was the more affordable option. Whatever route you take, upgrading knob-and-tube wiring immediately improves your home's safety and value. Don't put it off.

Final Thoughts on Replacing Obsolete Knob-and-Tube Wiring

After learning about the fire and shock risks posed by aging knob-and-tube wiring, I realize it's too dangerous to ignore. While expensive, removing K&T from my home provides essential modern safety protection for my family. I urge all homeowners with old wiring to heed its threats and schedule an evaluation and replacement by a qualified electrician soon. Don't become another tragic K&T electrical fire statistic. Protect your home and loved ones by taking action to eliminate this antiquated unseen hazard while you still can.