How Do My Home's Electrical Systems Work? | Direct Energy Blog

How Do My Home’s Electrical Systems Work?

Learn When to Replace Outdated Electrical Equipment to Power Your Home Safely

Household appliances don’t last forever, and you usually expect to replace a refrigerator or washing machine eventually. But most homeowners rarely think about the lifespans of the wiring, circuit boxes, switches, and other elements of the home’s electrical infrastructure.

If you live in an older home, it’s important to recognize that you might need to make updates and replacements to your home’s electrical systems – and then plan accordingly. Ignoring any potential problems that might live in your home’s wiring, electrical box, switches, and outlets can increase the risk of fire and electrical failure.

Hidden in the Walls

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You can’t see it, but a network of electrical wiring runs all throughout your home. Copper wiring is extremely durable and can provide reliable service for more than a century, but the insulation surrounding that wiring may age much faster.

The oldest form of electrical wiring you’re likely to find today is knob-and-tube wiring. Electricians started phasing it out in the 1930’s, and its simple sheath insulation is now brittle and flaking, creating a fire risk.

How Do My Home's Electrical Systems Work? | Direct Energy Blog

Wiring insulation design has changed several times over the 50 years that followed the knob-and-tube era, but most of these insulation types don’t meet today’s standards, and many are likely disintegrating behind the walls of older homes. The heat-resistant thermoplastic wiring insulation used in electrical systems today was introduced in 1984, so if your home was built or rewired after that, there’s a good chance your wiring will still be safe decades from now.

If you’re unsure about the age of your home’s wiring or the condition of its insulation, a licensed electrician can easily make an assessment. Replacing outdated wiring can be a big job, but it’s preferable to the increased risk to the safety of your home and family.

The Nerve Center

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Your home’s electricity is distributed from its main electrical panel, and this is where you’ll find circuit breakers for various rooms and appliances. The average lifespan of a main panel is about 60 years, but if it’s located in a clean, climate-controlled area, it may last much longer. Panels exposed to the elements may require replacement sooner.

Individual circuit breakers are less durable, lasting around 40 years on average. Circuit breakers that trip frequently will burn out faster, and frequent tripping can also be an indicator that a breaker is at the end of its lifespan.

Unlike wiring, electrical panels and breakers can be evaluated, serviced, and replaced with relative ease. If you’re experiencing excessive circuit tripping or your panel appears corroded or damaged, schedule an inspection with a licensed electrician before the panel fails and leaves you in the dark.

Points of Contact

How Do My Home's Electrical Systems Work? | Direct Energy Blog

The lifespans of your switches and outlets will vary based on frequency of use and where they’re installed. A switch that is used multiple times per day or is installed outdoors may not last ten years, but a seldom-used outlet in a climate-controlled room can last a lifetime.

Switches and outlets are generally inexpensive, and if you know electrical safety, you may even be comfortable replacing them yourself. If you have any doubts or discomfort, trust this task to the professionals. And remember — quality counts. You’ll pay more for the most durable models, but they’ll pay you back with a longer service life.

When your home’s electrical systems are due for an upgrade, call a local licensed electrician and fix the problem while it’s still manageable.

About 

Josh Crank is a freelance writer and content marketer with a background in legal journalism, travel writing, and marketing for numerous commercial industries. He's found his perfect fit at Direct Energy in writing about home maintenance and repairs, energy efficiency, and smart home technology. Josh lives with his wife, toddler son and endlessly howling beagle-basset hound mix in New Orleans.