Rewiring an 1850s gaslight home can be daunting, but with proper precautions it can be done safely. Gaslights were common in homes built before electricity became widespread. Over time, gas pipes and fixtures can become hazardous. Rewiring with modern electrical wiring improves safety and functionality. However, 1850s homes present unique challenges. Outdated wiring methods and deteriorated gas components require caution. With proper planning and safe working practices, even novice DIYers can rewire their historic gaslight homes without electrocution.

Dangers of 1850s Gaslight Wiring

Gas Leaks

The gas pipes and fixtures in 1850s homes were generally made of cast iron. After 150+ years, they are prone to cracks and leaks. Natural gas is combustible and leaks can lead to fire or explosion. Gas leaks are an electrocution hazard when combining old gas lines with new electrical wiring. Make safety your top priority.

Faulty Electrical Systems

Early electrical systems found in gaslight homes were primitive and dangerous by modern standards. Knob and tube wiring consists of exposed conductors running through walls and ceilings. Insulation is brittle after decades of heat exposure. Outdated fuse boxes lack circuit breakers, increasing fire risk. Rewiring will bring your home up to modern safety standards.

Lack of Grounding

Proper grounding protects from electrocution by providing a safe path for electricity to follow to the ground. Early electrical systems often lack dedicated ground wires. Failure to properly ground new wiring puts you at serious risk of electrocution. Modern building codes require advanced grounding systems.

Hidden Risks

Over a century of renovations and DIY repairs can leave surprises inside walls. Previous owners may have made modifications or repairs that seem functional but do not meet safety codes. Hidden junction boxes, unconventional wiring routes, and other oddball issues can present unexpected dangers. Proceed with an overabundance of caution.

Safely Preparing an 1850s Home for Rewiring

Turn Off Power and Gas

Start by turning off all electric and gas service at the main meter and breaker box. Verify power is off by testing outlets. Turn valve clockwise to close main gas line. Mark valves and breakers with tags noting the system is off for rewiring. Lock boxes if possible.

Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas produced when gas leaks and combusts incompletely. Install battery-powered CO detectors according to manufacturer instructions in all rooms before beginning work. Check detectors frequently to verify proper functioning.

Inspect the Gas System

Inspect all visible gas lines and fixtures for damage prior to rewiring. Look for corrosion, leaks, and deterioration. Perform a bubble test by applying leak-detecting solution to joints and look for bubbles. Label any leaks. Consider replacing fixtures or sections of pipe showing corrosion.

Check for Power to Fixtures

Verify all gas lighting fixtures are electrically dead. Test fixtures with a non-contact voltage tester prior to removing or working near them. Faulty wiring may backfeed electricity after the mains are shut off.

Use Caution When Removing Old Wiring

Assume all wires are live. Use caution when pulling old knob and tube wiring out of walls and ceilings. Wear thick rubber insulating gloves and nonconductive eye protection. Make sure wires are fully dead with a voltage tester before handling bare conductors.

Executing a Rewire Project Safely

Work With an Electrician

Consult a licensed electrician if you lack expertise in home electrical systems. Improper wiring can lead to fire or electrocution down the line. Though this guide provides an overview, there are nuances only seasoned electrical professionals will know. An experienced electrician can also obtain necessary permits.

Shut Off Power to Each Room

Rewire room-by-room to avoid leaving the entire home without power. Shut off the room's circuit at the breaker box before beginning work. Verify power is off with a voltage tester. This also avoids overloading circuits in other parts of the home.

Secure all Gas Lines and Fixtures

Before running any electrical wiring, examine gas lines and fixtures in the room. Seal any open gas lines. Support gas fixtures securely independent of electrical wiring. Never use gas lines or fixtures to support electrical wiring or hardware.

Follow Building Codes

Adhere to all local building codes and best practices for home electrical wiring:

Never take shortcuts when rewiring!

Install GFCIs and AFCIs

Use GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets near water sources like kitchens and bathrooms. Use AFCI (arc fault circuit interrupter) breakers to protect bedroom circuits. These advanced safety devices shut power off when dangerous conditions occur and prevent electrocution.

Have an Electrician Connect the Main Panel

Hire an electrician to complete the main service panel connections plus any complicated wiring situations. Let the pros handle large appliance circuits as well. An expert inspection provides peace of mind that all systems function properly and safely.

Install Smoke and CO Detectors

Update smoke detectors and add CO detectors throughout the home. Follow all local codes regarding required quantity and placement. Use interconnected models that all activate when one detects a hazard.

Final Safety Checks and Preparing to Live Electrically

Verify No Live Wiring Before Restoring Power and Gas

Before turning systems back on, thoroughly inspect all wiring using a non-contact voltage tester. Check that all connections are secure. Listen and smell for any indication of gas leaks when restoring gas service.

Update Insurance Policy

Contact your insurance provider to update your policy when rewiring an older home. Improving electrical systems may qualify you for a discount on premiums. Review coverage details for fire, flood, and electrical damage claims.

Test All Electrical Circuits

With the main breakers on, flip each circuit off and on at the panel to verify proper function. Walk through the home testing outlets and lights to confirm correct wiring. Check that circuits are correctly labeled.

Consider Rewiring in Phases

If rewiring the entire home at once seems overwhelming, consider rewiring one room or one floor at a time. This allows you to maintain a functional home during the project. You may also spread costs over time by completing the work in phases.

Use Caution When Hanging Decor

Avoid puncturing walls when hanging decor or mounting fixtures. Use wire detectors to scan for hidden wires or pipes before putting up shelving or artwork. Penetrating old plaster walls risks hitting outdated wiring.


While rewiring an antique gaslight home is challenging, the project is manageable for a diligent DIYer. Follow safety precautions, enlist professional help when needed, and take your time. The improved electrical functionality and safety are well worth the effort. Your historic home can meet modern standards while retaining classic charm. Contact a skilled electrician with any questions or concerns as you rewire your 1850s gaslight residence.