Rewiring a home can be a daunting task, but with proper precautions and some key knowledge of electrical systems, it can be done safely without electrocuting yourself. As someone who has rewired my 19th century Victorian home entirely on my own, I have learned some crucial tips and secrets that I will share with you here. My goal is to empower you to take on this project and upgrade your home's electrical system, while avoiding any deadly missteps.
Dangers of Old Wiring
Many old homes still have original cloth-insulated wiring installed during the Victorian era or early 20th century. This type of wiring is dangerous for several reasons:
- Cloth insulation around wires breaks down over time, exposing bare copper. This can cause shorts, fires, and shocks.
- Older gauges of wire are not designed to handle the electric load we need today. This can cause overheating.
- No ground wires in old systems also increase shock risks.
- Frequent tripped breakers or blown fuses suggest overload.
- Discoloration on outlets or switches signals heat damage.
- GFCIs not working properly indicates faulty wiring.
- Lights dimming when other devices turn on points to inadequate wires.
Rewiring solves these dangers, bringing your home up to modern electrical safety standards.
Planning Your Rewire Project
Careful planning makes a wiring project go smoothly and safely. Here are my top tips for planning:
Calculate Electrical Load Needs
- Review all your home appliances and devices and add up their wattages.
- Factor in any new items you may want to add like air conditioners, kitchen appliances, etc.
- This gives you the data to size your electrical panel and wire gauges appropriately.
Choose a New Panel
- Pick a main circuit breaker panel suited to your calculated load.
- Make sure it has room for at least 20 individual breaker circuits. More is better for future expansion.
- I recommend a 200 amp main breaker panel for most homes.
Map the Wiring Plan
- Sketch out each wall and room in your home.
- Mark where you want switches, outlets, and fixtures in each room.
- Plan the layout of your circuit breaker branches and where they will connect.
- Buy all the wire, conduit, boxes, breakers, and tools you will need upfront.
- Make sure everything is designed for home electrical use. No shortcuts with car audio wire etc!
- Have extra supplies, breakers, wire, and boxes on hand in case you need more.
Safely Running New Wires
Running the miles of new wire through your home is the most labor intensive stage. I'll share the techniques I used to do this safely and efficiently:
Turn Off Power and Install New Panel
- Shut off power at the main breaker and verify it's dead with a tester.
- Remove the old panel and mount your new breaker panel first before any other work.
Protect Yourself Against Shock
- Wear rubber soled shoes and insulated gloves when handling wires.
- Keep one hand in your pocket when working to avoid accidental shock paths.
- Never work on wires when you, your clothes, or tools are wet.
Cut the Walls Carefully
- Use a drywall saw to cut openings for wire runs and boxes. Make small exploratory cuts first.
- Go slow and check for existing wires, plumbing, or fire blocking before cutting further.
- Vacuum dust frequently to keep it from spreading through the home.
Fish the New Wires
- Use fish tape or glow rods to thread wires through walls and ceilings between outlets and switches.
- Keep wire runs as short and straight as possible.
- Label wires clearly at both ends for easier connection later.
Drill Holes Mindfully
- Check for existing wires in the space behind any new switch or outlet box holes you drill.
- Drill from the middle outwards carefully to avoid drilling into unseen wires.
- Use a wire tracer or stud finder to detect wires in walls before drilling.
Connecting Switches and Outlets
With the wires run throughout the house, it's time to make all the final connections:
Follow Codes Exactly
- Consult the National Electrical Code book for all required details. Don't wing it!
- Use the correct size and type of wire for each circuit. No compromises here.
- Mount boxes securely and position at the proper heights.
Make Tight Splices
- Join wires together with wire nuts or crimp splices. Twist connections very tight.
- Tug test each connection to ensure it won't come loose over time.
- Insulate all splices with electrical tape for additional protection.
Ground Everything Appropriately
- Connect the ground wires properly in each box. This is critical for safety.
- Bond neutral and ground bars correctly in the main panel. Keep them separated.
- Ensure all devices like lights and receptacles are grounded properly.
Label All Circuits
- Label each wire as you connect it to a breaker in the panel.
- Mark each receptacle and switch clearly indicating its circuit number.
- Update any old wiring labels you come across in boxes to reduce confusion.
Wrapping Up Your Rewire Project
You're in the home stretch once all connections are made. Now you just need to finish things up:
Inspect Everything Thoroughly
- Check for any missed connections or unlabeled wires.
- Verify proper grounding and polarity of each circuit.
- Tighten all connections one more time.
Close Up the Walls
- Patch drywall openings neatly with joint compound and primer.
- Paint and reinstall trim once patching is complete.
Test and Turn Power Back On
- Plug in and turn on lights and devices on each circuit to test.
- Check for any tripped breakers or non-working outlets.
- Carefully turn the main breaker on once everything checks out.
Add Safety Features
- Install GFCI outlets anywhere needed for protection from shocks.
- Consider adding AFCI breakers to protect against arc faults in wiring.
- Verify all major appliances are properly grounded.
There you have it - everything you need to know to rewire your home safely without dying! It's a big project, but completely doable for a dedicated DIYer. The key is taking precautions, using the right materials, and following electrical codes. Be sure to get your work inspected by the city at the end before covering the walls. You'll gain amazing peace of mind knowing your home's electrical system is completely modernized and safe for decades to come. Let me know if you have any other questions!