(Photo: Jon Crispin)Computers, blenders, TVs, even refrigerators—none of these existed when many historic homes were built and first wired.So upgrading electrical systems is an essential task for a lot of old houses.Yet efforts to update electrical systems can often result in damage to historic buildings.Conversations with top electricians have provided us with a a list of steps to take in order to make rewiring proceed more smoothly, with fewer holes punched in the walls, floors, and ceilings—or, heaven forbid, a structural beam.1.Do an “electrical inventory,” creating a list of all the devices you’ll be using in the house, and where.Your electrical system needs to match your needs; figuring out where and how you’ll be using power makes it easier to frame the parameters of the job.2. Codes set standards for everything from how many outlets you’ll put in each room to what kind of wire you’ll be using.
Breaker panels with a jumble of old wires (top) need to be checked carefully by an electrician for intact coatings, burn marks or signs of arcing damage, and solid connections. (Photos: Jon Roberts/Courtesy of Perfect Electric Services, Inc.)5. Part of avoiding damage is making sure nobody punches holes in plumbing or existing wiring.
This kind of awareness needs to be a top priority in any rewiring job.
“Ask twice, drill once”—one historic electrician’s credo—are words to live by.6.
Always put things in writing, but leave flexibility.
Failing to get permits can result in having to pull out finished work.3.
Decide whether you want to run just electrical, or data, fire, and security as well.