Whether it was the antique fixtures, real wood floors, or leaded windows that charmed you into making your offer, you know that older homes come with the kind of charm that money can’t buy. Unfortunately, the walls of that adorable Craftsman bungalow may be hiding a much less appealing feature: knob and tube wiring. Common in homes constructed before 1950, knob and tube systems are ill equipped to handle the electrical needs of the modern household, often show signs of age-related deterioration, and have often been inappropriately repaired and expanded over the years. All of these factors contribute an increased risk for fire and accident, which in turn causes many insurers to balk at providing coverage.
What is Knob and Tube?
Knob and tube is an early electrical wiring system used widely in homes from the late 1800s through the early decades of the 1900s. These systems consist of fabric- or rubber-insulated copper wires that run through the cavities of your home’s walls and ceilings. These wires are insulated by ceramic knobs that hold them away from the studs in your walls, and tubes, also ceramic, that insulate the conductors where they pass through joists.
Why is it so difficult to insure homes with knob and tube?
To put it bluntly, knob and tube wiring is difficult to insure because it comes with significant added risk of fire or electrical shock. Some of this risk is endemic to the knob and tube wiring—such as the lack of ground conductor and a tendency to have switches on the neutral wire--while many others are the result of age and inexpert additions to the system.
As the decades push on, the rubber insulation on some knob and tube systems may become brittle and begin to fail, creating the potential for dangerous arching. This is particularly common in areas where electrical appliances, such as ceiling lights, have exposed the wiring above them to heat. The wires are also open to damage from animals and many systems have been stressed by improper alterations over the years. Inexpert splices and branches that are too large for the fuses supporting them both create the potential for arching and overheating—both of which create a significant risk of fire.
How can I find a policy for my home?
Finding a homeowners policy for a house with knob and tube wiring can be particularly challenging. Some carriers refuse to insure homes with these wiring systems entirely, while others are willing to underwrite policies for an (often significant) rate increase. For those shopping for a policy as part of the homebuying process, some carriers may be willing to provide coverage under the condition that you replace the wiring within a set period after closing.
Whether you ultimately want to keep your original wiring or would like to modernize your home’s electrical system after purchase, the complexity of finding a policy for a home with knob and tube makes the guidance of an insurance agent particularly valuable. An independent agent can help you find a carrier willing to work with knob and tube and negotiate rates that won’t break the bank.