Rewiring a home can seem like a daunting task. With the risk of electrocution, fires, and other hazards, it's understandable to be hesitant about taking on such a project yourself. However, with the proper precautions and techniques, it is possible to rewire portions of your home safely, just as our ancestors did. In this article, I'll share some of the obscure methods people have used over the years to update wiring without catastrophe.

Protect Yourself with Safety Gear

Before touching a single wire, equip yourself with proper safety gear. This includes:

I cannot emphasize enough how vital it is to wear rubber gloves and goggles when handling wiring. One wrong move could mean instant electrocution or an arc flash burning your eyes. Your hands and eyes are irreplaceable, so invest in quality safety gear and make a habit of using it.

Shut Off Power at the Main Circuit Breaker

Before going near any wires in your home, you must shut off all power at the main circuit breaker. Every home has a main breaker box, usually located outside or in the basement. The main breaker switch cuts electricity to the entire house.

To be sure the power is off, turn on a light or appliance and flip each breaker switch individually until everything goes dead. Use a non-contact voltage tester on the wires to double check they are de-energized. Working on live wires can be lethal, so take every precaution.

Rewire One Circuit at a Time

It's tempting to gut all the wiring in your walls at once for a major overhaul. However, you're better off approaching it one circuit at a time. This minimizes the amount of work with ungrounded wires exposed.

Turn off the main breaker, then switch off the individual circuit you want to rewire at the breaker box. Check that power is off with a voltage tester. Open the outlets and switches on just that circuit and remove the old wires. Run new wires from the panel to each box, secure everything neatly, and flip the breaker back on.

Use the Right Wire Gauge and Type

Selecting the proper wire gauge (thickness) and composition is key for safety. For 15 amp household circuits, 12 AWG or 14 AWG copper wire is recommended. For 20 amp circuits, use thicker 10 AWG copper. Ensure any new wire you buy is marked with UL certification for proper home electrical use.

In older homes, you may encounter cloth-wrapped wiring that is brittle and prone to starting fires. Whenever possible, replace this with fresh copper wiring. Copper has excellent conductivity and stands up well to heat and current over many years.

Secure Wires Properly

Sloppy or loose connections can lead to arcing, overheating, and fire. Whenever you disturb or replace existing wires, take time to fasten them properly. Wrap the bare wire firmly around the screw on the side of the outlet or switch, tightening the screw over the loop.

You can also use push-in connections in the back of many modern boxes. Push the wire firmly until it clicks into place. Then gently tug to confirm it won't budge. Neatly trim excess length from the bare wire end so it doesn't contact other connections.

Consider Installing GFCI Outlets

For added protection against shock, install GFCI outlets in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and other places with lots of water. GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets have an extra circuit that cuts power when it detects electricity leaking through water. This can prevent major shocks or electrocution. It's a smart upgrade during a rewiring job.

Don't Overload Circuits

A common problem is overloading circuits with too many appliances and devices. This can cause wires to overheat, breakers to trip constantly, and fires. When rewiring, be mindful of what's on each circuit and evenly distribute load. Having too few circuits is also an issue, as it forces you to overload them. Adding circuits means more capacity.

Inspect Your Work Thoroughly

Before turning the power back on, inspect every inch of your work, checking for loose connections or stray bare wires. Make sure wires are secured neatly and boxes are fastened back in place. One stray strand touching the wrong spot could lead to catastrophe when the juice is flowing again. A meticulous final inspection helps catch any last hazards.

Rewiring any portion of your home takes great care and attention to detail. But armed with the right knowledge and safety steps, it can be accomplished without peril. Always exercise extreme caution when dealing with electrical systems. But have confidence that if our ancestors could rewire their homes safely, you can too.