The insurance industry is taking a hard stance on homes with Knob & Tube wiring.
This is a controversial subject, and it affects anyone who owns, or is considering the purchase of an older home in Northeast Ohio. Keep in mind, I'm not aware of any company cancelling existing policies because of Knob & Tube wiring at this time. However, the insurance industry has been quietly restricting underwriting guidelines to the point where it is nearly impossible to find a standard company willing to issue a new policy on a home that contains this type of wiring.
Let me be clear; I realize many electricians consider this a safe and effective means of wiring. I'm not arguing for the position insurance companies are taking. In fact, I'm sometimes frustrated by the approach. I just think it's time to share what I know, so you are informed of the challenges this issue is causing.
So what is "Knob & Tube" (K&T) wiring? This form of wiring was installed in homes from the 1880's and into the 1930's for most of the country. However, it continued to be installed for another 30 years in parts of Northeast Ohio (I've seen homes in our area with Knob & Tube that were built as late as 1963).
It consists of two wires, a black "hot wire" and another white or neutral colored wire to create a circuit. There is no ground wire.
The individual wires were run spaced apart at least 2 1/2 inches. As they passed through walls and floors, they were run through porcelain "insulating tubes". These were meant to stop arcing that might cause a fire.
The main concerns are:
- The wiring is old. The insulation is subject to drying and cracking and may not be intact, leaving bare wires.
- It's not grounded, making it more hazardous, especially in areas where it can come into contact with water such as kitchens and bathrooms.
- In the past, many older homes had loose fill insulation blown into attics and walls. This material covers the wiring and creates a potential fire hazard.
Although I have no statistics regarding fires caused specifically by Knob & Tube wiring, according to a March 2017 report on electrical fires by The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there was an average of over 45,000 home fires per year between 2010 and 2014 that involved some type of electrical failure as a factor contributing to ignition. Nearly half of these were caused by wiring and related equipment.
This has caused companies to view Knob & Tube wiring as an unacceptable risk. I've contacted other insurance agents in my area, and have found only a few who have markets that will consider homes with limited K&T wiring (in basements or attics) if a licensed electrician will provide a written statement attesting to its safety.
The only market I'm aware of willing to write (in Ohio) a home predominately wired in this fashion is The Ohio Fair Plan which offers limited homeowners coverage. So what does this mean to you?
For existing homeowners, safety is a priority. Have a licensed electrician inspect your home. Get an honest assessment of the risk. Request an estimate to rewire the home. If not now, inevitably, it's something you will need to begin to plan for.
If you're shopping for a home, be proactive. Your dollar can go a long way when considering an older home. However, this issue should be a priority. Remember, any home built in this area before 1965 may contain Knob & Tube wiring. Make sure the seller discloses this. Insurance may be limited to The Ohio Fair Plan. Some of our clients have negotiated the purchase price based on the cost of rewiring.
When selling a home containing Knob & Tube, provide a much information as possible to the buyer. Many homes built with Knob & Tube have some updated wiring. This may have been done during past remodeling projects. Let the buyer know, so he/she can get an honest assessment of future upgrade costs. It will also help the buyer's insurance agent determine the best market for the home.
As always, please call us if you have any concerns or more questions. We're always glad to help.
Regis Coustillac, CIC