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KNOB & TUBE WIRING
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Guide to knob and tube electrical wiring: This article answers basic questions about Knob and Tube electrical wiring. We define knob and tube wiring, we include photographs that aid in recognition of this generation of electrical wiring, and we describe both proper and improper K&T wiring installations, repairs, or circuit extensions. This website provides information about a variety of electrical hazards in buildings, with articles focused on the inspection, detection, and reporting of electrical hazards and on proper electrical repair methods for unsafe electrical conditions. Our page top photo shows a home inspection client pointing out knob and tube electrical wiring in an older home.
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The sketch at left, courtesy of Carson Dunlop, shows the usual ways that knob and tube electrical wiring is connected in homes.
Safety & Electrical Code Concerns with Knob and Tube Electrical Circuits that Have been Extended or Spliced-into
Our photo at below left shows a combination of errors, extending a knob and tube electrical circuit and a twist on connector electrical splice outside of an electrical junction box. The photo also shows three types of electrical circuit wiring: knob-and-tube, armored "BX" cable, and plastic cable wires. The photo shows therefore three generations of electrical wiring (and probably other modifications) in this building. Carson Dunlop's sketch at below right shows how these circuits might be extended.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about knob & tube electrical wiring inspection, troubleshooting, repairs, extensions
Question: the circuit I was working on does not seem to be connected to a circuit breaker - it only turns off when main power is off
Our home has a combination of 14/2 and knob and tube wiring - with an updated circuit breaker box. I wanted to change a kitchen light fixture and when I went to shut-off the breaker found that the light I wanted to change wasn't connected to a breaker? When I shut-ff the main breaker,the light circuit was off? Don't understand - help! -Mike - Joyce.email@example.com - 8/12/2011
Mike - Joyce, this is not good, and if you cannot quickly see what's going on I strongly recommend hiring an experienced electrician to trace down your wiring.
Question: how would you track down knob and tube in the walls of an old house
If you were an insulation person, how would you track down knob and tube in the walls of an old house so you could generally ascertain which bays NOT to insulate. I am thinking you begin in the basement -- though some of our insulation guys start in the unfinished attic and go down. I am a novice at electricity -- and having trouble identifying a proper plan of "attack." - MBT 9/7/2011
Reply: Tracking down just where knob and tube wiring is found in a building: tips
There are several electrical test instruments that can spot metal running through a wall, including both metal pipes and metal wiring. The trouble with the idea of leaving some bays uninsulated to avoid overheating the K&T wiring is that in walls wiring typically runs horizontally - through most or all stud bays.
Thanks, DanJoe for your suggestions. I had been told that there was also something that you could plug into the electric panel --then go around the house to see where knob and tube (or at least ungrounded stuff) was. Have you heard of this -- and do you recommend it?
MBT there is a variety of circuit tracing tools including what you describe. The simplest is a stand-alone device like the tic tracer by Tif that senses electrical wires in walls; schemes using transmitters also work though where I've seen them used more often it was to track down a specific circuit. Yes, it's a useful approach.
Do you know what they call the knob and tube ceramic junction box above the light bulb fixture that supplies neutral & hot to a drop light bulb fixture. My teacher said the word starts with R - Ray 10/21/2011
Electrical junction box.
Love your site.
Question: is it ok to run romex wire off of a knob and tube circuit?
isit ok to run romex off knob &tube - Jack 7/11/2012
Reply: No. Do not extend knob and tube electrical circuits
mixing knob & tube with romex is not safe - Bruse
k&t should never be spliced into to extend the circuit. When k&t was around it was used primarily only for lighting and other light load on the wiring. Don't even think of using it for bathrooms, hair dryers, coffee makers, kettles and toasters, etc. With the age of the wiring (splices were taped), the splices are brittle and often deteriorated. Adding a new circuit as illustrated above can be very dangerous, depending on new load added to the circuit. Splices overheat and can be a potential fire hazard. Many insurance companies in Quebec Canada will not insure a home with k&t or charge and insane premium for it. If they do insure it, they demand that the system be inspected by an electrician prior to insuring the home. I believe in Ontario Canada if you have a home with k&t it has to be replaced, they will not insure your home! (Can someone confirm this?). The insurance companies are doing this due the the higher risk of fire with homes that have k&t (statistically). I personally would never add a circuit modify the wiring or cover it with insulation. It can be performing well right now, but the modification can over heat the wiring and cause a fire. I would make a plan to slowly replace the wiring. If insulating an attic replace the wiring, its just safer, why take a chance.
This is my personal opinion based on past experience. Always consult an expert. - Kosta (professional home inspector)
- Kosta Trivlidis Home Inspector (AIBQ) National Home Inspector (NHICC) CSI Inspections Inc. csiinspections.ca firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks Kosta, we agree that extending K&T electrical circuits is improper. Most jurisdictions permit homes to continue to use K&T circuits but as you will see in the article above, even though as originally installed (widely separated hot and neutral wires, ceramic knob and tube support with no direct wood contact, suspension in air for cooling) made these circuits perform well, in older homes where conditions have changed, the circuits, even legally in place, may not be as safe and reliable. Reasons that K&T circuits cannot and should not be extended include:
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