What’s Wrong with Cloth Covered Wires?

Does your home have cloth-covered wires? If so, it’s time to upgrade the electrical system and bring it into the modern era. This older style of wiring typically consists of copper core electrical wiring covered with rayon or cotton.

It was commonly installed in homes before the 1960s, after which safety hazards and more durable innovations rendered cloth wiring obsolete.

5 Reasons You Need To Replace Old Wiring

If you’ve seen cloth wiring in interior walls or attic spaces, or it was recently red-flagged on a home inspection, it’s time to replace it. Old wiring poses significant risks to occupants and the building’s structure.

Here are five of the most severe risks posed by cloth wiring and outdated electrical systems.

1. Health Issues Due to Asbestos Exposure

Cloth wiring is flammable (more on that next). To mitigate fire risk, cloth wire manufacturers used toxic materials that made the cloth less flammable. As a result, most cloth-covered wires contain asbestos.

Asbestos is dangerous when inhaled, causing cancer and chronic lung damage. When brittle cloth wires are disturbed, heated, or eroded over time, they release asbestos fibers into the environment.

Please Note: If your home has cloth-covered wires, there’s a good chance old attic, crawlspace, and exterior wall insulation contain asbestos, too. In that case, we recommend scheduling an attic inspection to ensure insulation is asbestos-free along with your new wiring.

2. It’s Flammable

Ironically, while asbestos is touted for its fire and water resistance, the covering becomes brittle with age. This reduces its heat tolerance, making it more flammable.

Old electrical systems, which typically include an overloaded electrical panel, are one of the leading causes of house fires in the United States. Therefore, the sooner you replace old wires, the safer your household will be.

3. General Heat Exposure

Even if the wires don’t start a fire, they expose surrounding materials to excessive heat. This can cause other issues, including excessive damage to the insulation or malfunctioning light switches, electrical fixtures, and outlets.

Also, if someone replaced some of the cloth wires but not all of them, the heat generated from cloth wires could heat the protective coating on the new wires, damaging wires that wouldn’t have required replacement otherwise.

3. Not as Durable as Modern Wiring

Over the years (and decades), the outer cloth covering becomes brittle, after which it starts breaking away from the wires. In addition to posing the fire risks listed above, exposed wires are more prone to shorting or exposure-related corrosion. Also, rodents and other pests often chew away the cloth covering to make nesting materials, putting exposed wires at risk.

Replacing the wires with their contemporary counterparts means the addition of a safe electrical system that will last for decades to come.

5. They Don’t Meet Current Code Requirements

Cloth-covered wires are not properly grounded. And the wires no longer meet current building code requirements. Typically, cloth wiring is part of a “knob-and-tube” (K&T) wiring system. The wires are run and tied together using a series of ceramic knobs and tubes.

However, K&T wiring isn’t compatible with current grounding conductors. Also, it doesn’t work with GFCI outlets, which are required in areas where electrical currents could be exposed to water (kitchens, laundry rooms, bathrooms, etc.). If your homeowner’s insurance company finds out your home has cloth or K&T wiring, it will drop your policy or significantly hike premium rates due to the overall risks.

Suspect Your Home Has Old Wiring?

Do you suspect your home has old wiring? We frequently get calls from homeowners who went to replace a light fixture or install a ceiling fan only to find cloth wires or other signs of old wiring in their homes. A building inspection is the best way to get a thorough list of any red flags related to old wires or other outdated home systems so you can fix the issues as soon as possible.

Contact Super Inspection Pros to schedule an inspection. We can isolate the inspection of your electrical system. However, if you’ve noticed cloth wires in your home, we recommend scheduling a four-point or whole-home inspection because the odds are that other systems or materials are equally outdated and may already compromise structural and occupant safety.

Our inspectors guarantee a 24-hour turnaround, after which you’ll receive a detailed inspection report outlining critical repairs and suggestions for other repairs, replacements, or improvements to get your home back up to current code standards.

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