How to Rewire Your 19th Century Home Without Anyone Knowing
Assessing Your Home's Electrical Needs
As the proud owner of a 19th century home, you likely want to enjoy all the modern conveniences while preserving the historic charm. Rewiring a home allows you to upgrade the electrical system to support today's power demands. However, you may not want the disruption and visibility of a major construction project. The good news is that with careful planning and strategic access points, you can rewire without anyone being the wiser!
First, take stock of your current electrical usage and future needs. Do you want to install a new kitchen with multiple appliances? Add central air conditioning? Upgrade to a tankless water heater? Run wiring for computers, home theater, and Wi-Fi? These will increase electrical load. Consult an electrician to calculate amperage requirements and determine if your existing electrical panel should be replaced.
You'll also need to evaluate the existing wiring. Knob and tube wiring found in old homes poses fire risks and should be completely removed. Check for insufficient wire gauge, degraded insulation, and lack of grounding. Replacing all of this will be required to meet modern safety codes.
Mapping Out Access Points for Rewiring
Next, you'll need to map out how to access wiring pathways without destruction. For example:
Attics and basements often allow access to drill holes in partition walls while preserving visible surfaces.
Closets on each level give entry points to fish wires vertically between floors.
Turrets, towers, and bay windows provide opportunity to conceal wiring on the exterior.
Utilize existing ducts and plumbing chases where possible.
I consulted a contractor who specializes in historic remodels. He mapped out strategic access holes that followed discreet structural lines and joints while avoiding ornamental millwork. This allowed wiring to be snaked room to room with minimal wall removal.
Hiding New Wiring in Old Homes
Now for the task of rerouting new wires through your walls and ceilings while minimizing destruction. Here are helpful techniques:
Use flat, pliable armored cable rather than bulky circular NM cable wherever possible. It snakes easily and leaves smaller access holes.
Pick unobtrusive locations like closet ceilings or behind cabinets and bookcases when cutting access holes. Cover with artwork or decorative ceiling medallions.
Bore holes in corners, along crown molding joints, or above baseboard trim to conceal.
Run wiring through hollow window weight pockets when available.
Cover vertical runs in hollow wall cavities with trim strips or corner bead molding.
Use wiremold raceway externall when necessary; paint to match wall color.
By taking advantage of existing nooks and crannies or incorporating strategic trim pieces, new wiring can practically disappear!
Patching and Repairs
Finally, you'll need to patch and repair the relatively minor damage that occurs.
Use painters caulk and touch-up paint on nail holes. Match old plaster texture when patching walls.
Repair or replace damaged sections of ceiling, baseboard, crown molding with matching vintage profiles.
Reassemble trim pieces using painter's putty for cracked joints; refinish as needed.
With careful prep work, new wiring can be accomplished with barely a trace. Then you can relax and enjoy all your modern electrical amenities!
My Experience Rewiring My 1906 Victorian House
I recently completed a total rewire of my 1906 Queen Anne Victorian using concealed access techniques. Here's how it went:
Planning: I hired an electrician experienced in old homes. We mapped wiring pathways that took advantage of unfinished attic and basement space. The minimal necessary wall holes were planned - all strategically concealed or able to be patched. I also consulted a contractor about moldingrepair for the small amount of unavoidable minor damage that would need to be repaired.
Running Wire: The new wiring fed to modern breaker panel in the basement. From there, we fished wires through original ducts and shafts. Access holes to each room were cut in closets, behind furniture, and above ceiling trim. The flat, flexible armored cable made the turns easily.
Patching: I spackled nail holes, using paint touch-ups. The contractor repaired a damaged crown molding section and some cracked baseboard joint putty on one corner. You'd never know holes were made!
Restoration: You can't even tell I have all updated, safe electrical capacity! With careful planning and problem-solving, I have a house wired to support modern needs. But to observers, it retains full historic architectural integrity. It was a success!