Electrical systems in historic homes pose many interesting challenges. “Ask twice, drill once” is the motto of electricians who work on historic houses, so it’s told. Updating the electrical systems in aging homes is essential for the safety and convenience of modern residents, but it isn’t easy. Undertaking a project of this nature is complicated and requires careful planning and oversight to protect the look and structure of an old home. Owners must make it clear to the electrician that keeping the basic structure protected and intact is priority No. 1. Following is a look at the challenges involved and suggestions for getting the job done properly, without causing harm to the look and integrity of your old home.

Why Upgrade?

The first and most important reason to upgrade an old home’s electrical system is safety. Old homes have old wiring, which deteriorates over time. The demands of current homeowners can easily overwhelm the capabilities of old systems. Too great a demand can lead to short circuiting and fires.

The second reason to consider an upgrade is that older homes, even those from 50 years ago, are not equipped to handle all the electronic gadgetry that is standard in a modern home. Computers, video games, audio systems and microwave ovens weren’t a consideration when your historic home was built. If you have a home that is 100 or more years old, it was probably wired for 60 amps, considered ample for a single-family dwelling in an earlier century.

Why it Is Complicated

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points out that historic homes were built using different techniques and materials than modern structures. This means you must plan carefully and proceed cautiously, step-by-step, with any upgrades. The tendency when owners restore a home is to replace all the old wiring. In reality, even parts of systems from the 1920s can safely and efficiently deliver electricity, and don’t need to be ripped out and replaced. Make decisions about the extent of the upgrade after a professional electrician who understands old houses inspects and tests your system.

Five Steps for Planning an Upgrade

The most important work you will do as a homeowner is planning your system’s upgrade, doing the proper research and hiring electricians who have a working knowledge of wiring in old homes. Following are five tips for effective planning offered by homeowners who have had similar work done.


Create an inventory of all the electrical devices you will be using in your home. Be sure to include computers, workshop tools, devices your teenagers use, kitchen equipment and entertainment systems. If you plug it in, make sure it’s on your list.

Local codes

It is essential to know what the local codes and permits require. Make sure you pinpoint specific rules made expressly for historic homes, which can differ slightly from more modern structures. If you don’t match the work to the requirements, you will end up ripping out the wiring and having it redone. This is costly and makes more holes in the structure, a situation you are trying to avoid.

What to update

If you want to update other systems, this is the time. Besides the electrical system, you might want to look at data, fire and security needs too. Modern wiring can carry more than just electricity through your older home.

Plan of attack

Integrate your needs and the systems you want to update with the current code requirements, as well as your budget. Use this master list to plan your update project. Be specific about what you want to accomplish and your time frame.

Interview electricians

Finding the right electrician is essential if your home is going to retain its historic state after the update. Ask other owners of old homes for recommendations. Interview prospective electricians. When technicians come to check out your system, give them a tour of your home and ask them how they plan to carry out the project. This task is time-consuming, but worth every minute you devote to it.

If you plan to update your old home’s wiring, contact a licensed, local electrical contractor with experience rewiring old homes. You’ll be time and money ahead if you plan carefully and select the right electrician when you decide to upgrade the electrical system in your old home.