To look at and appreciate the effort and green in a vintage built T is out standing.
As home builder repairing or putting safety features on a vintage hundred year old home is very comparable.
Both have hard to replace parts or safety parts not installed at the time of creation.
Knob and tube wiring, no breaker panel, no insulation, no sheet rock, poor leaking windows and doors are a few of the issues in a hundred year old home------look at the issues with safety, leaks, tires, wheels, brakes, and more in a T.----- Both have come a long way with newer engineering and aftermarket products.
And with both, some things are a decided improvement and other things are definitely not.
Our house is late 1400's, so the T feels modern by comparison!
Where do you live in a "late 1400's" house?
It is my understanding that knob and tube wiring is very safe.
They become unsafe when someone tries to marry modern wiring to it or modify it. So, if it is a fully intact and unmolested electrical system no worries but if you want any modern wiring you need to abandon the knob and tube system completely.
I go to many estate sales in Minneapolis and St. Paul and I have been in many high quality 100+ year old houses that are basically unmolested and still have their original boilers, knob and tube wiring among other original accoutrements.
Regardless of the age of a home, in my opinion what matters is if it was quality and proper construction when built and if it has been properly maintained through the years.
Another area where folks get in trouble with old wiring is when they blow insulation around it.
Knob and tube wire size is usually undersize for modern electrical loads and needs open air space around it for cooling.
Henry - Deke's hometown
My house has a breaker box on the porch and knob and tube wiring in the attic that runs 4 pull string lights and 2 outlets. Then later somebody added modern wiring to run everything else. No studs or insulation in the walls, so the modern wires wrap around the outside of the house and go to the garage, around back and where ever somebody wanted a plug they drilled holes in the wall and mounted them in boxes. I looked at Deke's profile, he's in the U.K. My mother grew up in Germany and she told me the house she grew up in was like 500 years old.
The problem with the knob and tube wiring is what it doesn't do. The first house I remember living in as a boy, had two fuses. Each room had a ceiling light in the center of the room with a pull chain switch. There were two sockets in the house. One was in the living room and the other was in the kitchen. We used to have something like an octopus hanging from the ceiling light with cords going from it in all directions and the fuses would burn out often. My dad "fixed" it by using a higher amperage fuse. One thing I remember was replacing the ice box with a refrigerator. Then every time the refrigerator came on the lights would dim.
The wiring was fine for a light bulb in each room, but it overloaded everything by running the more "modern" appliances and other things of the 1950's.
The next house had a crawl space underneath and so new wiring was placed with several sockets in each room and a modern breaker panel.
And so with the Model T. In modern traffic we need better brakes And if we use speed equipment to try to keep up with traffic, we meed better brakes. Etc.
A few folks in the USA live in 16th century houses (New Mexico), and 17th century (New England), but I doubt that there are any 15th century American abodes in use today.
"Deke" lives in Kent in United Kingdom. They have houses that old over there :-)
There is some truth to the above posts----throw in insulation over knob and tube or steps and hand rails that are dangerous and not current code with folks ageing or foundations poured against existing dirt without footing---or---no GFI--or many unknown issues not safe by the owner. Its often done. Sheet rock and fire alarms are a huge safety upgrade that I have seen cause folks to die not knowing the importance of them. One fire I repaired the elderly owner died, his grand daughter staying in the home for security started a fire smoking then died at the back door with several locks that had to be turned the right way to open the door. All happened in a few weeks.
Another fire the owner had put an alarm in the kitchen by chance. Phone rang in the back room she answered with her baby in the kitchen. Her baby was saved by the smoke alarm not normally put in a kitchen.
I could go on and on about things personally seen.
The orig post likened a old home to a model T which brings vibration to mind.While people seldom think of it in a house,wires and connections should be tightened every ten years! Bud.
Many truths here, and a few assumed falsehoods, especially about knob & tube.
PROPERLY installed and maintained K&T is very safe--safer then modern romex if you get rodents in the attic (or squirrels). K&T doesn't really even need insulation, as the air acts as an insulation. BUT if someone damages the wiring crawling around in the attic, there will be problems. If the wires are too small for the current load, there will be problems. This usually isn't an issue, as the wire is usually larger than needed. Done properly, modern wiring can be added to K&T, but it likely won't meet code! The big problem nowadays with K&T is the many uses we have for electricity and it usually only is put in with two fuses at the service entrance. Best thing to do is to put in a new box and connect the K&T to it to do only it's original purpose, not the added loads. I once saw an 1860s warehouse (one of the oldest warehouse in CA) with a wonderful K&T three phase installation, still in service and properly maintained--it was a thing of beauty--wish I'd had a camera with me.
But yes, old houses are like old cars; sometimes a money pit!
A man's home is his hassle.
David D said much of what I might have if I had read this earlier. I used to work with several high level electrical engineers (including my dad who was sometimes called in by PG&E for especially difficult problems). Almost all of them said that knob and tube was better than the common modern methods. The primary reason for the modern methods is that it is simpler, and easier, therefore cheaper to install.
I could talk for hours on the subject of electricity and safety related to politics.
DEKE!!!! I want to see pictures of your house, and a bit of history about it. Later, when I have a few minutes, I will have to look at the website that the other David D posted a link to.
One of my longest-time best friends lives in a house in the San Francisco Bay Area (Califunny) that was originally built shortly after the (so-called) Civil War. The exact year it was built, was not recorded. However, it is recorded that the original house existed in 1869. The house has been lived in almost continuously since, but has been added onto several times. It also has been said (40 years ago), that it was the second oldest house in California still privately owned and owner-occupied. There were a number (not a lot) of older houses, a very few that dated back to the 1770s. Most of them owned by the state (or arms thereof), and had long since become museums.
It just goes to show, that here in the states, we think something 200 years old is really OLD! While in England and Europe, they think 200 miles is really far!.
Not to start anything political here. Please. But just as another frame of reference. A wonderful fellow I used to know from work, was a "recent" immigrant to the USA. Because I have always been interested in things like history, and culture, I had figured a few things about him from his accent and things he said occasionally. One day, we were in his office, talking about some system issues that needed to be addressed, and I noticed a travel poster on his wall, for Israel. The poster was a large photograph of one of the older parts of town. When I asked about it, his face lit up a bit. He pointed to one of the houses (an apartment really), and said "This is the house I grew up in. I was born there!" We talked a bit more, and he told me that his home was not so old as some of the others in the area. It was only built about 300 A D. Some of his family still lived in that home.
He pointed to roof-tops he played on as a child, and other special details.
So, maybe 500 years isn't so old after all?
My wife's family was here in 1630. We do not know how or when they got here, but they lived in New Hampshire. Wonder if any houses there are 500 years old.
Back, way back, when I was the assistant curator for the Butte County historical sociey, I put a sign on one wall, "On this site on May 2, 1820, nothing happened"
No, it wasn't just for a joke; when I had school groups come through I would point out that no one was here at this site to write down or record anything that went on in the area at that time--but that if we were back east in a town, there would be a record of what went on, as folks were there to write it down. California really is "the new land!" There are a few houses around here that go back to the 1850s, but very few!
The problem with knob and tube is the insulation. It deteriorates over time, especially if it is handled. My house was built in 1924, and is half and half.
A lot of good points on knob and tube, but let's add the historical perspective.
Electric lights were the original use for electricity. At least in the home. Appliances
would come later, and when they did, would rival modern day silliness for mobile
phone "apps", but Edison perfected the incandescent bulb in 1876 and it has a
lot of competition from coal gas, natural gas, acetylene, and even arc lighting.
Electricity was slow to catch on from 1876 and the big push to market appliances
didn't happen until after 1900, and even this was slow to catch on. It truly was
in the Model T era that electrical appliances because more common.
And what's the point ? Well, the reason knob and tube gets a bad rap is for several
reasons, but the biggest is ignorant people not understanding circuit loading, wire
capacity, etc. and plugging in all sorts of things that the system was not built to
Another factor was the open wires allowed installers to "jump" neutrals across circuits.
In modern wiring, each neutral travels with its hot leg from the panel to the use points.
When latter-day repairs/modifications occurred, these jumpers are hard to track and
often led to weird back fed circuits and shorts. I have a light circuit in my house that
inexplicably runs 150 volts and burns up bulbs rapidly. I have been unable to trace the
problem with all the bastardized wiring in this place, so that circuit goes unused until
such time as I can open up some walls.
In principle, open wiring is always superior to a multi-conductor sheathed cable for
keeping wires apart. The troubles come later in overloading and improper modifications
and additions. My shop is largely wired as openwire, with separate conductors and
insulators at each contact point. The City inspectors required a lot of slow talking
and explanation to make them understand basic electrical principles rather than what
code books read.
As a side note, in the early days of gas or electric light, you were living pretty rich to
have such stuff in your home. As a result, gas lines and wiring were often proudly
displayed as surface mount. Today, we try to hide it all as "unsightly". If you study
old photos, you will often see that wiring right there in your face. A bit of "bragging
rights" from back in the day.
Yes I have been on many house fires from microwaves and A/C ran on k+T wire. Overloading is the biggest problem. Most homes had electric before indoor plumbing. I guess the wiring and charging system would suffer in a T with A/C and a big stereo and amp.
Hoo, boy. I gotta think about this. However, Burger, I wish I could somehow spend a good leisurely half day up there with my old test equipment all freshened up with new batteries and functioning like it did twenty years ago. I would bet I could find and fix your 150 volt problem in that time. It is a problem common to old wiring systems connected to modern power sources. The "great change" was made nationwide back during the late '60s, through the '70s. Many of the top electrical engineers of the day said the wrong side won. It is still a political hot potato.
Ah, but it's not the K&T design that caused the fires, but the overloading of the wiring. There are two major problems with K&T, one is overloading the circuit, the second is inept modifications or add on's that do not respect the proper separation of wires. That was one of the wonderful things about that 3 phase in the warehouse; it was maintained, and the circuit taps were all done properly, it was a thing of beauty.
I know of what Burger had to do as one year in Dunsmuir the fire department came out to "inspect" our resort's wiring, which is overhead and runs around the resort. A "newbie" was complaining that there was no insulation on a wire, it could cause a short! I noted that the other wire was 10" away, separated by air. Air is the insulator I explained to him. The logic of it dawned on him, fortunately! Otherwise we'd probably had to rewire the whole place!
I consider myself lucky to have grown up there, surrounded by what is now antiquated technology, and learned how to work with it--we even did some cast iron waste lines with leaded joints. Almost useless knowledge nowadays. Oh well. . . .
Wayne,As it turns out i think the wrong side did as we could have had all 220 volt 3 phase? Bud.
A big problem with K&T is the lack of a ground. It is possible for things to be live that should not be. What scares me most about the old Knob and Tube is the potential for fire. My brother now lives in the house that we grew up in. it was built around 1915. A few years back he had some fairly extensive renovations done. In several places where the wires were secured to the ceramic knobs there were black singe marks on the studs. This was the result of long use and most likely inadequate current carrying capacity. Most of the old homes originally had 60 Amp or less service.
Sorry the point of this thread went to just one part of the thoughts of comparison of vintage homes and cars for danger unknown by the average.
A few weeks past my brother broke his hip not caring about hand rails on his personal home done in the sixties. It looks like he will require in home continuous help for the rest of his days. Probably it would have been prevented with proper hand rails after his knee replacing.
Many of the T owners are of retirement age----Vintage homes are generally two story with poor steps and rails----falling for seniors can be a big time life change taking your T out of retirement enjoyment.
The odd part is he was a master electrician his knee replacement was caused by an eight foot fall from poorly built railing giving away on the job.
Having busticated my leg in a fall last November, I can say that those of us who have accumulated significant numbers of years don't mend as fast as we used to. I'm up and walking, and I can drive the T, but I still have a bit of a hitch in my get-along.
I hope I am never proven wrong on this, but my plan of emulation is to
be like many old timers I met and looked up to as a kid. Some were
relatives, others neighbors or people I just met. They did not ratchet
back their movement as they got old. They told me it was a matter of
common sense and that you get old and die when you slow down. My
own grandmother is 102. John Moore, a neighbor I have told about here
more than once died at 105, still active and taking care of his "dangerous"
old house, farm, and outbuildings.
As it was often said in my time with the USMC, some people run when
they here gun fire. Others run towards it. I know where I fall out on this.
Dave, I talk funny(Southern Accent) for someone whose American roots are New Hampshire but the home of two grandmothers is the Wentworth house in Rollinsford NH which was built in 1701. Remarkable story of it's removal,relocation and return. Great folks up there. Hope to make the trip again someday. There are some in that area that may be older.
Burger, You can think your made of cast iron as I did wakening up one morning with what I thought was a leg going to sleep------then needing to relieve myself in the bath room holding on to the sink thinking could use the toilet then falling on it braking three ribs then spend a week in the hospital treating broken ribs not a stroke the cause. Its been a game changer with one gimpy leg but I am very lucky----Good thing my daughter is a nurse practitioner she probably saved my life talking to local doctors who then put me in intensive care.
Seems to me that the only people singing the praises of K & T are the ones who are still using it. Can't insulate near it, no ground, inability to handle modern loads, deteriorating insulation, it's age. Nothing good there folks.
Amen to that!!!!
How come you enjoy your T ?
No heater, no air conditioning, no radio, no all wheel drive, no back-up camera, none of the "amenities".
Like you said - because the ones who are still using it like it
You left out Not trying to burn my house down. LOL.
Charlie also said No Ground!!!!
Paul, I prefaced by saying "I hope I am not proven wrong ... " Genes
and taking care of oneself play a big part in longevity. It seems I have
I have a family history of going long. The taking care of oneself is
entirely up to the individual.
I still laugh at the moron widow I know. At 65 or so, her chain smoking
husband got croaked out with lung cancer. I had not seen them in a while,
and when I got the news, she said "It came as such a shock !" Really ?
Doing obviously stupid stuff will get a person dead. Be it smoking or
overloading small wires with appliances they weren't installed to service.
You are right Burger-----it was a shock to me spending any time in a hospital after 73 years of not doing that. I am still learning the ropes.