As remodeling surges, some homeowners are discovering old, faulty electrical wiring in their home, while others may be creating new problems in the course of their DIY projects. Buyers also may uncover electrical problems in older homes during an inspection. Electrical problems are increasingly emerging because remote work and school may be taxing on older fuseboxes and frayed wiring.
Electricians consider electrical systems older than 1980 to be most likely to experience problems today, The Washington Post reports. But the costs to upgrade can mount quickly—about $25 to $30 an hour to replace a receptacle, for example. Homeowners could be charged about $200 to rewire an outlet and about $3,000 to rewire an electrical system, according to the Post. In today’s seller’s market, buyers don’t usually have the negotiating power to ask the seller for repairs to the electrical system or a discount if the seller refuses.
“Buyers don’t have the luxury to reject an old house in this market,” Catarina Bannier, a sales associate with Compass in Chevy Chase, Md., told the Post. “With lean inventory and multiple offers, buyers aren’t taking the chance of losing competitiveness by adding contingencies, even ones as ordinary as an inspection clause. A few years ago, I had a buyer who walked away because of an electrical problem, but I doubt I’d see that now.”
Rebecca Weiner, who works in the same real estate office as Bannier, suggests that buyers get a pre-offer inspection—a less comprehensive inspection that’s scheduled by the buyer, with the consent of the seller, prior to submitting an offer on a home. “A pre-offer inspection lets you know what you’re buying, what fixes you’ll have to make, and, generally, will make you feel more comfortable about the state of the house,” Weiner told the Post. “If you’re out a few hundred dollars, it’s a risk worth taking and the cost of doing the business of buying a house.”
Home inspectors say that during pre-inspections, they’ll determine the age of the furnace, air conditioners, and water heater. But during the full inspection—which usually comes after an offer is submitted—they’ll verify circuit breakers are properly matched and corresponding to electric wire sizes and test wall outlets using handheld plug-in testers to check polarity and grounding, the Post reports.
Some of the most common electrical issues home inspectors are seeing include the overloading of outlets and safety hazards from aluminum wiring, which is most often found in older homes. Also, electricians say not enough homes use the safer three-prong outlets, referred to as “grounding,” as many older homes have two-prong outlets that could increase the risk of shock or fire if they malfunction.