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Is There a Fire Hazard Lurking in Your Walls?

by Matt Myers

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Your electrical box is the spot where electricity from the grid connects to your home. From here your breaker box divides up the electrical source to different rooms and different areas of your home. This is just the basics of your home electricity. While many people know how to turn a breaker back on when one has flipped, not very many homeowners understand the importance of the age of the wiring in their homes, current regulations, and scary potential of losing your home to fire because of an old fuse box.

If Your Home Is More Than 15 Years Old
Older homes are in more danger of fire hazards than new ones, simply because of the electrical. Insurance companies will not insure homes that have solid evidence as having the old porcelain knob circuitry and old fault wiring in general. This is basically gasoline and matches behind your walls, and it won't take too much load to cause a fire.

The problem for insurance companies is that your home inspector is not allowed to dig into your walls for any reason, not for termites, leaks, or checking the viability of a certain material. As such, a home inspector cannot say for certain that a particular home has a particular grade of wiring. The existence of 2-pronged outlets rather than 3-pronged is a definitive sign that the wiring is very old.

However, new regulations have made it so that a home electrical box has to be attached outside the home. This regulation was imposed in part by the fire department, which has proven that it is advantageous to have the electrical panel on the exterior of the home so that when fire fighters arrive at a home that is aflame, they can quickly shut off all the electricity to the house. This was imposed all over the country 15 years ago, and as a result of how long it takes new regulations to take effect, homes that are 12-15 years old and younger have exterior breakers.

What This Means for You
The average age of home across the country is 44 years old. This means that the majority of homes need an electrical upgrade to carry the average load in this technologically dependent time.

Protect your home from a fire by hiring a local electrician for an

Electrical Box Upgrade

No matter if your electrical box is inside or outside, what you need to realize is that the wiring and electrical panel in older homes was designed for very low loads. If you go 20 years back, the typical home had a fridge, a TV, washer/dryer, water heater, HVAC unit, a microwave, and dishwasher. If you go 35 years back, there were no microwaves. The amount of load that the typical home's fuse box could carry was enough to manage, even with the addition of more televisions and a microwave.

Jump forward to today. If your home was built 50 years ago, it not only might be struggling to handle the addition of a TV and a microwave, but your home is also struggling to handle multiple TVs, CD players, DVD/VHS players, computers, and printers, not to mention coffee makers, coffee grinders, game systems, blenders, food processors, paper shredders, and the list goes on.

Upgrading Your Electrical
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is for older homes to upgrade their electrical boxes. If you have a fuse box, then this is a must. This is not the kind of home improvement that you will get to show off to your friends. But increasing the load to your electrical panel will allow you to show off your home for a long time, because if you don't update your breaker box, all it takes is a little bad luck to start a big fire.

Matt Myers is a freelance writer for the home maintenance and remodeling industry. Formerly a contractor specializing in deck building and casework, Matt has written over 500 articles for both homeowners and contractors.