Most of the wiring found in homes is coated in plastic and this is standard and common practice. However, homes built in the 1950s-70s or even rewired during that time used cloth wiring. This is because it was inexpensive and the norm until the plastic covering became more available. Cloth wiring is cloth insulation that is around wires. If you have it in your home, do you need to replace it? The answer is yes. Replacing it with the standard plastic wiring is necessary.
Let’s take a look at why you need to know about cloth wiring, why it is dangerous, 4 point inspection, insurance, how to identify it, cost and benefits of replacing and other issues.
Why You Need to Know About Cloth Wiring
As mentioned above, cloth wiring was used in homes in the 1950’s to 1970’s. The cloth can become brittle as it deteriroates over time (that is really old wiring!) and can cause a fire. Some places it might be difficult to get home owners insurance if this is in the home. Other places it might not matter but you are better off replacing it for safety.
Why Cloth Wiring is Dangerous
Installed 45-70 years ago
As with anything, cloth wiring can deteriorate over time.
Cloth Was Added Over Bare Wire
Another reason is that the cloth was put over the bare wire. Thus, this is a fire hazard. Eventually, the cloth over the bare wiring faded away and plastic was added in between the cloth and wire.
Insects and Rodents
They often can get to the wires quicker as the cloth deteriorates, leaving the homeowner with fire hazards and possible electrocuted pests. Also, arcing can happen which is the electricity jumping from one wire to another and exposing wires. This is very dangerous.
We know that asbestos was used in the ceiling tiles for a long time, but did you know that it was also used in paper? The cloth-covered wires were covered with a paper that had asbestos and then the asbestos was airborne. This is very dangerous.
Wires Are Not Insulated
The cloth covering does not provide insulation in the wires so the electricity can flow through effectively. In fact, excess heat can build up and cause a fire.
4 Point Inspection
States that require a 4 point inspection, such as Florida, make this mandatory for homes that are 25 years old or older. An insurance company won’t issue a policy without it. In the inspection, it will come out if this type of wiring is in the home.
Insurance with Cloth Wiring
Some companies will ask for an electrician to evaluate the wiring. If the electrician decides that the wire is not deteriorating, he/she usually writes a letter that you can give to the insurance company. Then, the insurance company will decide if it is sufficient or if you need to replace the wiring in the home. If the insurance company does accept it, keep in mind that your premiums may be higher due to the wiring in the home.
If the electrician notes that the wiring is deteriorating, then replacing the wiring will be necessary before the insurance company will insure the home.
How to Identify Cloth Wiring
Cloth wiring used in homes came from some of the following manufacturers:
- Phelps Dodge
- Triangle PWC
Cost to Replace Cloth Wiring
An electrician may charge a few hundred dollars for replacing a few circuits, but it will also depend on the size of the home. If there are other issues such as knob and tube wiring, you can expect the cost to go into the thousands. Call a professional to get an estimate.
Benefits of Replacing Cloth Wiring
- The modern plastic insulated wiring is readily available and safe
- Plastic wiring passes inspection
- Lower premiums for insurance
- Peace of mind that the new wiring is safer
Other Issues in Addition to Cloth Wiring
Knob and Tube Wiring
Knob and tube wiring was also used during the time of the cloth wiring. This was using ceramic knobs and tubes to run electrical wires through the home. Just like cloth wiring, this method can be dangerous and cause anelectrical fire as they don’t have the same safety features that today’s wiring has such as grounding.
Lacking Safety Features
If your home has cloth wiring, it may also be missing GFCI outlets. This is a ground fault circuit interrupter and is a circuit breaker that shuts off power at the outlet when detecting an electrical fault.
Does your home have two and three prong outlets throughout the house? You may have a bootleg ground. The idea is to have the whole house grounded but if you have two prong outlets, it may not be. Call a professional to check it out.
Fuse Box or Circuit Breakers
If you are finding some of the issues above, take a look at your electrical panel. Make sure it is not an FPE panel or has recalled Challenger GFCI breakers.
When to Contact a Professional
Contact a professional if you suspect you have cloth wiring, need the home inspected for insurance, or any other issues. They can help steer you in the right direction and check the rest of the home for you as well. If you are buying a home with cloth wiring, you want to make sure there are not other issues in the home as well. A professional can also take a look at the wires to see if there is any concern. Remember, safety is important.
Making sure your home is safe with the correct type of wiring is important. It can be stressful when you find this type of wiring and then other issues that go along with it i.e. knob and tube, possible bootleg grounding if there is any grounding, etc. We inspect for cloth wiring during our home inspections in the New England Area.