Should I rewire my house myself, or pay to have it done?

I recently bought a rental property which has knob and tube wiring. It also needs more outlets installed and most of the circuits are ungrounded.

Clearly, if money were no object, having a licensed electrician do the work would be the best option.

On the other hand, I am a licensed professional electrical engineer. I’m no stranger to electricity or electrical safety. And, this being an investment property, it sure seems like I could save a lot of money doing this myself.

On the third hand, besides hooking up a few light fixtures and installing a few outlets and switches over the course of my life as a homeowner, I have no experience doing electrician-type work. It’s something I’d be interested in learning, but I’m not sure if this is the best way.

Finally, I have a full time job, and I’m not sure how long something like this will take. I’m pretty sure that an experienced electrician could do it in a few days. I’m mostly going to have weekends and evenings to get this done (if I choose to), and I’d rather it not take inordinately long.

I’m leaning towards paying an electrician, FYI. It’s just really tempting to save several thousand dollars and also learn a lot about house wiring in the process. As a new landlord/business owner with somewhat relevant skills, I feel like I’d be leaving a lot of money (and experience) on the table if I hire this out. So tell me, Dopers, is this even remotely a good idea?

I’m not sure where you are located, but in many jurisdictions an owner can pull a permit for their own residence but not for a rental property.

If you have to replace the drop/lateral, meter base, and panel it’s a much bigger job than just rewiring circuits one by one. Note that if you upgrade the circuit you will lose any code grandfathering e.g. AFCI, bathroom circuits, SABC for the kitchen.

My thought is that, since this is a rental property, you probably want to do it all above-board with permits and inspections, etc. Which means, at a minimum, someone involved is going to have to know enough to pull a permit and talk with the city building inspector. If you don’t think you know (or can very quickly learn) enough to explain wiring choices to the building inspector, maybe you should let a pro do it.

My second thought is that since this is a rental property, every day the project drags on is a day that you can’t get income by renting it. And I don’t think re-wiring a whole house is a quick one-Saturday project. The pro may well even be cheaper when that’s accounted for.

I was reading that. We actually live in half of the duplex. So I think we still might count as “owner-occupant”.

Also, I’m not 100% sure I want to work on the service entrance and breaker panel. I just thought I could save money by doing all the wiring back to the panel and let an electrician handle the service upgrade. But they might not want to if they didn’t install the wiring themselves. Also, I do plan to bring it fully up to code with grounded outlets and GFCI in the bathrooms, etc.

Please hire an electrician and pay to have it done.
My Dad was an electrician for the phone company, he started at Bell Telephone and retired 50+ years later from Verizon, belonged to IBEW.
Our house was built in 1912 and my parents bought it in 1961. A small part of it still has the knob and tube wiring. I remember my Dad knocking holes in walls and running BX and romex all over. He would label the wires in the basement with little paper labels of what each one was.
Just now I took a flashlight down to the basement to reread the label I remembered seeing for an electrical box that says “This one is reversed because of the reversal in the old wiring”. Yes, flashlight, guess why?
I had our back porch razed and rebuilt last year and the contractor (my neighbor) had an electrician run the wires for the lighting. Later he begged me to have the whole house rewired and get a new service panel because what we have “isn’t safe”, I think it’s the original Federal Pacific one? And we’re still 110, not 220.

Knowing the engineering and fishing wires through walls are two entirely different things. Our house is not very big - 7 rooms, rough attic, unfinished basement; 1904 construction - and it took a professional roughly 20 hours not counting the access line and detached garage. It cost ------ but I still consider it worth every penny I paid. And in my case I had done rewiring before; which could be why I so happily wrote the check.

Rewiring an old house is harder than rewiring a new one. We renovated a 1920s Craftsman that had knob and tube, and it took the electrician a long time to pull the wires–I think the whole job took about 2 weeks, and that was with a lot of the walls open. The plaster and lathe gets in the way, and the wood is thicker and harder than new studs, plus things just weren’t as standard back then. People frequently overestimate the difficulty of wiring a house–it’s not really that hard, for a new construction, at least. But for a first wiring job, I wouldn’t recommend this.

Hmm… seems that you have the knowledge, but perhaps not the experience.

What about the proper tools?

I built a two story addition to my house. Designed it, framed it roofed it. Did the excavation, but not the concrete. I have a LOT of plumbing experience so I did that too including moving the mechanical room washer/dryer and laying in in-floor heat.

I, like you have done plenty of replacing outlets and light fixtures. I hired a pro to pull wire and hook it all up. I did have to have the panel/breaker box moved on this job too. And I was not going to mess with that.

Mind if I beg you to get the house rewired as well? That Federal Pacific panel is a disaster waiting to happen. AFAIK, Federal Pacific was the only maker to lose their UL listing because the breakers have a nasty habit of not tripping on an overload and causing fires.

Just using the skillset you already have could probably save you money.

Draw it up, spec it out and let a few guys bid apples to apples. What your considering is taking on a second full time for twice(minimum) the time it would take for someone more experienced to complete.

Okay, I’ll move this to the top of the to-do list. Thanks.

I agree, I work at an older 1920’s estate, the 2 x 4’s are just beasts!! Termites wont even eat them!!
We do most of the light electrical, fixtures etc but IMO the main panels and subpanels should be done by pros.

Its also pretty gnarly work sometimes, when small issues can hang up larger ones…and a full range of heavy duty tools is needed. And a helper or two.

If I remember correctly the problem with the Federal Pacific stab-lok breakers is that the the two “blades” that formed the breaker connection could move separately from each other. On occasion when conditions called for the breaker to pop only one of the two blades would disengage leaving enough current to blow the breaker flowing through only a single pole, fires ensue.

More info here.

I’ve wired several homes in my life … both old and new construction … it’s actually kinda fun … and not that terribly difficult … any EE should be able to read one or two of the many excellent books written on the subject and do a fine job … and I’ve found electrical inspectors are more than happy to be helpful, like don’t forget the ground strap ring for the metal conduit …

This will cost you more money than hiring an electrician to do the job … so include entertainment value to your cost/benefit ratio calculations … best advice I can give is to use commercial grade outlets … not the $2 or $3 cheapies … spend the $6 or $7 each for the high quality units …

New to being a landlord? … may the Good and Gracious Lord above have mercy of your eternal Soul … yer gonna need it … better to leave the unit open and empty for six months than to have one bad tenant … I recommend in the very highest respect joining a local Rental Owners Association … take some classes … it’s a trade with a specific skill set and you should treat it as such … you never want to hear a judge say “judgement for the tenant for $60,000” …

Why would you wire everything back to the old panel? You’ll probably want a larger one anyway if you’re adding more outlets. Find out what you can legally do yourself and get a rough estimate on the cost so you have something to work with.

I’m the first person who thought immediately of this song? (Specifically, the lyrics at 00:39.)


Just want to add, if you are replacing the panel, make sure you check out what is required to hook that up to your electricity provider. My SIL does audio/video for a huge museum, and did some improvements in his modest home which were well within his ability. But he can’t get the new board hooked up without sign-off by a licensed electrician. And it is next to impossible to get a licensed electrician to sign off on work he didn’t do.