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Posted by benderrdrookie (My Page) on
Tue, Jun 23, 09 at 13:45

Hi all, I'm new here and this is my very first post. Hoping I can learn a lot and find answers to all my old home questions!

My fiance and I are in the process of closing on an 1867 double plank farmhouse. The first floor has most of the remodeling done other than the most expensive part -- the kitchen! The upstairs has no remodeling done and there are no overhead lights and only one outlet in each of the four bedrooms. Not acceptable for today's standards and needs. The walls are plaster and lathe upstairs (most have been removed downstairs). My main question is what is the best way to rewire the upstairs for more modern conveniences? My brother works for a contractor and he said he has seen it where you turn 2x4's sideways and insulate and wire directly over the plaster and lathe eliminating the need to rip it out and thereby saving the insulation value. Has anyone ever tried this or heard of it?

Would love to hear as many comments as possible! We are moving in a couple of weeks and would like to get started on the upstairs pretty quickly.


Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Rewiring

There are any number of ways of doing it.

One way is to pull wires up through the interior walls, cut into the baseboards or into the plaster and lath, and add new outlets, switches, and lights to each room that way.

Another way is to install a sub box into the upstairs. That way you only have to pull one wire from the basement (assuming the electrical panel is in the basement).

Then you branch out of that box and into the individual rooms for your electric. Often that new box can be hidden behind a door or in a closet.

In the house I grew up in, it was in my parent's bedroom behind the entry door.

Another variation is to surface mount the boxes and wring in something called Wiremold. Mom's current house (the house where my Dad grew up, and which was rewired by Dad and Grandpa), has a combination of old wiring (knob and tube), new wiring that was pulled in the late 1940s, low voltage, etc. Wiremold features heavily in a lot of it, especially on exterior walls where it would be impossible to pull romex because of the brick & plaster construction.

Unfortunately, with old houses, there's rarely a single method that will work with them all, and often in a single house multiple schemes will have to be employed because the construction/reconstruction techniques over the last 100+ years were so variable.

One thing you need to check above all else before you attempt to start with rewiring is that your electrical service is up to current code and will supply enough amps to service the house load.

Friends of mine purchased an old house some years ago. They knew exactly what they were getting into, so no surprises....

But, it had the original electrical scheme - knob and tube wiring, a SINGLE outlet in each room, including the kitchen, and a 30-amp main service and a six fuse box that dated from the first decade of the 20th century.

It was, in a lot of ways, a real time capsule.

In any event, all k&t wiring was abandoned, the main service entrance was increased to 150 amps, and the whole house was rewired so that it would support today's lifestyles.

Even though the basement was unfinished and allowed them access to some of the interior walls, they still ran into a LOT of challenging situations running the new wiring.

RE: Rewiring

Put a sub-panel on the second floor, then go up to the attic and drop lines down inside the walls.

With some practice you can cut a box size hole in the plaster and fit an old work box in the opening.

Things like fire stops in the walls can be a problem, but long extension bits allow you to drill through them from the attic, then fish wire.

Plaster repair is also not that hard using Easysand or Durabond. They both are available in a number of setting times from 20 minutes up to 240 minutes, though 45 and 90 minute are the the common slow ones available.

The 'patching plaster' is not worth the trouble to try and use. It sets way to fast for practical use unless you throw in a lot of retarder, or mix it with lime putty.

Old plaster use lime putty and gauging plaster for the finish coats, with sane added for the base coats.

RE: Rewiring

We did something very similar to what you are describing in a few of our 2nd floors rooms. We also wanted to level the ceilings, so we found the lowest point using a laser, added a 2x2 at at the level line to skirt the room, then strung lines between the skirt boards. We used 2x4 on their flat sides and shims as necessary to level out the ceiling. After this, we ran a 1x3 strip across the line of 2x4 and shims to give a solid nailing surface for the drywall. It worked beautifully. We ran our wiring above the plastered ceiling becuase we put in can lights, but I can't forsee why you couldn't run it along the old ceiling - but I'm not an electrician. I can dig-up some pictures if you would like to see them.

RE: Rewiring

My husband bought this house before I married him, so the new wiring was done. I think this house had 60 amp service added to it. It was constructed before electricity, and also rural, so wasn't electrified anyway until the REA came into being. The interior walls are triple course brick, eighteen inches thick, just like the exterior walls. It would have been a wiring nightmare.

He hired it done, since he doesn't work much with electricals. The comment Kframe made "Unfortunately, with old houses, there's rarely a single method that will work with them all, and often in a single house multiple schemes will have to be employed because the construction/reconstruction techniques over the last 100+ years were so variable." summed it up for our circumstances. Some of our electricals are run right up the outside of the walls inside decorative conduits, much like old houses I have lived in, in Europe. Nobody there much pays too much attention in trying to make old houses look modern. We have overhead lights in most of the upstairs rooms, and like Brickeye said, it was brought up into the attic and dropped down through.

RE: Rewiring

"Some of our electricals are run right up the outside of the walls inside decorative conduits"

I was looking at doing that with a new line into my Mother's office in her house.

Her office is over the kitchen, with a common wall for both rooms between the steps down to the cellar from the kitchen and the servant's steps (yep, servant's steps) from the kitchen to the second floor.

I could get electric up that wall, but in her office she has floor to ceiling book cases along the wall, making it impossible for me to get the electric out.

Then I decided that the best thing to do would be to bring the line up the kitchen wall from the basement, bring it through that wall above the drop ceiling in the kitchen, and then up through the floor along the outside wall and into her office.

I used a gray PVC exterior box and PVC conduit to bring the wire through the floor, and screwed the box to the plaster, lath, and exterior brick.

It doesn't really look great, but it's Mom's office, and it puts the electric right under the window for the A/C unit, which was the important consideration in the first place.

She had been plugging the old AC unit into the original K&T wiring...

I put an end to that when I realized that not only had the plug on the AC melted, the wall plug had melted!

Why there wasn't a fire, I don't know.

RE: Rewiring

"I put an end to that when I realized that not only had the plug on the AC melted, the wall plug had melted!"

Very likely a very worn receptacle caused arcing and heat buildup.

Breakers (or fuses) only trip if you exceed their rating, but you can generate plenty of heat with a bad connection that is well below the trip (or blow) current.

RE: Rewiring

Calliope, do you know where to get the decorative conduit? I know someone who would really benefit from those.

A lot of our receptacles are in the baseboards. I REALLY like them there, much more than the ones in the walls, because the plugs and cords are less obtrusive. Eventually I'd like to move all the wall receptacles down to the baseboards, but that's cosmetics and has to wait its turn. I wouldn't do it if the baseboards were the beautiful fancy ones I've seen in some houses, but ours are basically just simple boards, topped with a cap molding in a few rooms. (Wooden outlet covers can be had for stained baseboards, including finely-made thin ones that are much nicer than the thick, coarse-looking ones sold in the home centers.)

A note from our electrician's experience in moving receptacles and installing a couple of new ones... get a new, high quality drill bit if you need to drill through heavy parts of the framing because that old wood can be like rock. Our electrician broke two drill bits!

(Nitpicky peeve: it's plaster and lath, not lathe.)

RE: Rewiring

No johnmarie, I do not. I presume it went up when the house was electrified, and I assume that was around 1950. I tried to get more of same to enclosed some thermostat wires the installer left dangling down the walls. Man, that bugged me. I ended up with really nasty, cheap plastic junk. That's what was available locally, but painted, it still looks better than dangling wires.

RE: Rewiring

"Very likely a very worn receptacle caused arcing and heat buildup."


Plug fit just fine.

It was a case of drawing 100-year-old knob and tube wiring and components past its capacity.

RE: Rewiring

"It was a case of drawing 100-year-old knob and tube wiring and components past its capacity."

The heat would have been in the wiring, not the receptacle.

The actual design of the conductors in receptacles has gotten smaller over the years.
The older ones almost always have much heavier copper in them.

RE: Rewiring

All I know is that there's no evidence of any arcing, melting, or overheating on the plugs of any of the other devices that were plugged into that socket in the past -- just the air conditioner, and just the side of the receptacle into which it was plugged.

RE: Rewiring

Congratulations on buying your old house! Unless you are a licensed electrician, I wouldn't do wiring yourself. Just too dangerous.

We bought our 1910 house in 1988, and unfortunately didn't replace all the old knob and tube wiring. We had some new wiring added (there were no outlets on the second floor at all) but it wasn't done well. Two years ago we finally had the entire house rewired, including putting boxes into the walls where the original chandeleirs were, all the light switches, etc. The electricians would exclaim to each other as they worked : "OMG! Look at that! It's a wonder the house didn't burn down!" They found all kinds of scary things. Now I sleep better at night.

RE: Rewiring

"Unless you are a licensed electrician, I wouldn't do wiring yourself. Just too dangerous."

Not a good recommendation on a DIY site.

Residential wiring is not that difficult to do correctly.

The electrical wiring section here is a good source.

RE: Rewiring

I'll do simple wiring projects myself, such as pulling the entirely new branch (a single 4 gang outlet on a dedicated 20 amp breaker) into my Mom's office as I've described above, or a similar project I did in the utility room in my basement. I wired a single switched loop with 3 boxes and 3-prong outlets on the ceiling into which I could plug shoplights and small electrical items like my shop vac.

Things start to get really iffy for me when it comes to extending existing circuitry. That's when I'm inclined to hire a professional.

RE: Rewiring

In general, your easiest bet is to run 1 line from the main box up to a subpanel in the upper floor or attic. From there, you can go through the attic and drop lines into the individual rooms from above. Then, you just need to figure out a way to fish the wire down 1 wall and you can hide the rest behind baseboards.

An important thing to know: Everything in your home is probably "grandfathered in" right now. That means that as long as the electrical work was done in a workman like fashion, it doesn't have to meet modern standards. The second you start tapping into existing lines or running new lines, anything you open up needs to meet current standards. If you don't know anything about electrical codes, you could end up doing a lot of work and not passing inspection.

RE: Rewiring

My old house was originally built without electricity. It's not that old (1875), but this area of SD didn't have electricity until many years later.

Then at some point in time, the owner snaked in wires, very minimal. Then another owner decided to add, and branched off existing wires. At some point electric baseboard heat was added, and instead of running in the walls, they went under the siding on the outside. Then someone drilled a hole and cut a 220 wire off, and left it hot. . .

At some point the main panel was upgraded so there were many junction boxes in the attic where the old wires were tied into new wires to go to the new box. It was always a guess as to which breaker to flip for any given outlet, or what else might get shut off in another part of the house when you did.

When we got the place, we decided to start from the beginning, and tore out all of the wires and replaced them. Found so many "scary" things that I'm amazed the house had not burned down long ago, and also that no one electrocuted themselves!

We also had some serious structural work to do, so the whole house was gutted in the process.


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