April 27th, 2018 – Knowing even a few things about electricity is going to make a big difference when you are out shopping for a home. If you are working with Ralph, he will be your guide and will try to point these things out to you, This is important because, in Toronto, the homes you are looking at may span almost a 100-year time frame from the 1920’s to today! Electrical standards have changed over the years, we want to see how much updating has been done and what further updates may be required to bring the home up to the standard that would work for you.
Homes Reflect the Era in Which They Were Built
Even though the electrical code gets updated every few years, existing homes don’t get rewired for every change. The wiring in the home will typically reflect the code and the materials that were in effect at the time of original construction. Subsequent updates will reflect the code of that time. So don’t be surprised to find a mixture of wiring in a home from the 1950’s with a bathroom that was renovated in the 1980’s and the kitchen renovated in 2010.
Knob and Tube Wiring
This type of wiring would be found in homes built before 1940. So, we could find it in the inner city neighbourhoods like Cabbagetown, Rosedale, Moore Park, Davisville Village, North Toronto, Lawrence Park and High Park. But most likely the home has been renovated and this wiring has all been removed or left behind in the walls and no longer active. That’s okay. The insulation on this wiring isn’t nearly as good as what we use today and it would be much more prone to starting a fire, especially if the fabric covering becomes worn. If you do purchase a home with this you would want to discuss with an electrician the necessary steps to replace it.
Today we use copper or a copper alloy based wiring, but for a period in the 1970’s aluminum was a popular choice. Now there is nothing wrong with this stuff, just that it doesn’t make a nice connection when it is connected to copper. So the terminal end points are important. There are special connectors needed. An electrician can inspect each light switch and each outlet plug and each ceiling light fixture to see that the connections have been made properly. If this has already been done, the existing homeowner may have an inspection report to share.
The electrical panel is where the main service from outside the home comes in and gets divided-up into several individual circuits. Older homes may have a fuse panel, with individual screw-in replaceable fuses. While it is important that the right type of fuse is used on each circuit, it would be best simply to have this upgraded to a circuit breaker style panel with switches that go back and forth. Typically when buying a home with a fuse panel your insurance provider will request that this be updated within the first few months of occupancy.
How Many Amps?
So the home has a modern circuit breaker panel, that’s pretty good! Just a few more things to check. What is the total amperage of the service coming into the home? A 3,000 square foot home and less would likely be fine with 100-amp service, assuming there is no electrical heating happening or other really big demand for power. Larger homes will have 200-amp service. It means the occupants can draw that much more electricity, without causing a problem.
If there is a basement apartment, electrical heating, electrical swimming pool heater or other big devices having the electrical system analyzed further would be a good idea.
If you are conducting a home inspection or bringing in an electrician, they can remove the cover on the panel to examine the gauge of the wiring and the connections.
Prongs, GFI’s, GFCI’s and more…
Three pronged grounded outlets came along in the early 1960’s. If the home you want to purchase has a lot of these, don’t plan on plugging in your modern electronics, like a TV or a computer! Outlets near the kitchen sink and bathroom should have a ground fault interrupter circuit that detects slight differences in voltage and protects you near water. Outdoor plugs should have covers. All connections should be made inside an electrical box. Electrical boxes should be covered. There shouldn’t be any loose wiring running around. The polarity of outlets shouldn’t be reversed and so on.
Ralph has learned how to spot many of the common electrical issues in a home, but to be sure, calling in the experts is never a bad idea. Each of these items has a solution and a price. They shouldn’t be a reason to hold you back from making a purchase, if you otherwise like the home. Its best just to be purchasing with your eyes open, aware of the improvements you may need to make to the home. Remember this wiring has worked just fine for the current homeowner.