Any electricians amongst the Dopers?

Now that the roof’s done, my next big project will be to upgrade the electrical in my 165 year old house. Electrical was added in 1961.

Presently I have an old-fashioned fuse box with 60 amp service. Eventually I would like to increase the amperage to at least 100 (more if recommended) and replace the fuse box with a breaker box. I’d like to pull new wire and replace the current outlets (If the wire is pulled, I could install the outlets myself). The wiring in quite accessible presently - it’s all run up through the attic and there are no walls blocking access. The walls themselves are balloon walls with no fire breaks between the studs. No knob and tube, thank God.

Approximately how much is this likely to cost?


The cost is highly dependent on the area in which you live, the number of outlets, and the type of existing wiring. The service upgrade and installing a new panel would cost $1,200 to $1,800 in my town in the Boston suburbs.

The cost of rewiring depends on how much work it is to pull new wire and how much wire you need (wire is no longer cheap). However, you may not need to rewire. Do you know what kind of wire the house has? Does it have cloth sheathing or plastic sheathing. Ground wire or not (are there three wires in the cable or just two)? It’s possible that what you have is fine. My house was built in 1961 and all of the outlets were the non-grounded style (two-prong), but the wiring was 3-wire Romex, which is what is currently required by code. I was able to replace all of the outlets with three-prong outlets with no rewiring.

One last note: you won’t save much, if any, money by installing the outlets yourself. In many areas you wouldn’t be allowed to do that anyway. I do recommend that you specify the outlets you want. Otherwise it’s likely that the electrician will use cheap and flimsy $0.38 outlets from Home Depot. I use Leviton outlets. They cost $2 or so per outlet but I’ve never had one crack or lose grip like the really cheap ones.

Gus - Thanks for the reply. I’m likely a cheaper market than Boston, being in TN. I guess the only way to really know is to get some estimates. I’m just trying to see if I’m looking at $2500 or $10,000 or what for the whole shebang. I won’t be in a position to do it right away, but it would sort of ease my mind to know what kind of expense I have to save for.


balloon walls with no fire breaks is a fire trap. it would be a good thing to put that in. if you wire in the walls then you will need to open them up anyway.

a 200A service would be done.

the cost wil depend on what your house actually is for size and construction.

johnpost - House has stood since 1849. As far as I can tell, wiring was dropped from the attic through the walls, caught at the location of the outlets and wired in. At no point did they go through the walls, since the walls are all original wood. I’m not gutting my house to build in fire breaks. I would have to remove the original interior wood, retrofit the breaks and then put up something like drywall. It’s not going to happen.


No idea on cost, but I’ll second the notion of not going cheap with the devices, as you’ll end up replacing them in a few years. I also don’t really like going with minimum gauge wiring for branch circuits. Sure, you can probably get away with using #14 AWG, but if you want to add on to the circuits at some point, you may wish you had put in #12.

Just as a data point, about 7 years ago in Little Rock, AR, we had a house professionally re-wired (it still had the original knob and tube). The walls were plaster and lathe, which added significantly to the work of pulling the wires. The house was about 1600 SF, and the job cost about $5500. Since you’re upgrading your service panel, go with 200 amp service, which is pretty much standard now. I will, however, say that I’ve never once had a problem with cheap outlets, and would not personally pay extra for fancy ones. YMMV.

There’s such a variety of nice ‘designer’ receptacles, switches and plates that it’s well worth the extra money to but something that looks nice in addition to being higher quality.

I think for a very rough estimate you might figure $130.00 per receptacle average plus the cost of the new service around 1500.00 or so. Each room might have 3 plugs plus a light for instance.
Where you live can make a big difference.

Dopers? I don’t get the reference. What does that mean in the context of what you are asking?

We members of the Straight Dope Message Board refer to ourselves as Straight Dopers, or just Dopers.

14+ years a Doper

Save money by buying a used main circuit breaker panel. You can get a Federal Pacific panel for next to nothing! :wink:

A couple of things…

IMHO buy a GE load center, east to deal with and the breakers are cheaper than most other brands. 200amp service. These can be bought at Home Depot, Lowes etc with most of the breakers you need already.

Find an electrical supply warehouse and buy romex in bulk say 1000’ to start, make nice with the guys behind the counter you are going to need their help. If needed get a DBA so you can buy from them.

If you have aluminum wiring, do not try to reuse it. Just pull it out and sell it for scrap. Please trust me on this, please.

You have tools to buy, probably. Fish tape, wire dykes, NICE screwdrivers, wire strippers, volt meter and more, if you can afford it buy Klein.

There is a little green book called wiring simplified, sold in the electrical section at home improvement stores. Buy it and read it, you will be glad you did.

There is an old joke that applies here…

Where do Master Electricians go to die?

A panel.

IOW be safe, don’t get complacent and check that the power is off before you stick your hands in there

Soon your beautiful house will have new power


costs money for ones that aren’t partially melted.

Seconding the recommendation for Klein tools. You might think a small screwdriver is a small screwdriver, but I got a combo pack of a pair of Klein dikes and two screwdrivers a couple of years ago - think it was about fifteen bucks at Home Depot, and that screwdriver is exactly, and I mean perfectly the right size for releasing “back-stab” wires. It works so well, it’s worth fifteen bucks on its own.

You can pick up a Federal Pacific panel for a song. I used to live in a house with a Federal panel that forgot the words, so it hummed to itself all day. How many bad jokes can we make about bad circuit breakers?

I get nervous thinking about rewiring the house myself. And won’t the electric company require a licensed contractor to upgrade the service?


you have building codes and good practice to follow.

the utility will likely want the name of the contractor before connecting.

there are lots of details in planning, materials and technique that have to be done correctly to not have a hazard. not something to cut corners on.

*Really *nice looking house, btw.

Thanks! Now that the roof is done, I smile every time I look at it. I can’t wait for spring. I’m thinking some old-fashioned snowball bushes in front. Maybe some clematis when I get the trellis remounted. And the roses in the front will bloom.


The only thing that really enraged me when I got divorced is that my ex kept all my tools, including my Klein sidecutters, dikes, cable cutters, and needle nose pliers, and my Simpson multimeter. She did send my Craftsman router, but kept the box full of router bits. :mad: I’ve replaced all that stuff, but it wasn’t cheap. There simply is no substitute for Klein tools.