Is Knob-and-Tube *Always* Dangerous?

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Joshua Putnam wrote: > > As an insurance agent, I wish more home inspectors were aware of what > conditions can lead to insurance problems.
In defense of home inspectors:
1) The "business" end of a real estate transaction is not their responsibility, and HIs get a lot of flack (and occasionally, legal problems) if they start giving advice on such matters.
2) Even if a HI feels it's within the scope of their responsibility to comment on such matters, the insurance industry does not make it easy to discover what underwriting standards apply to a given type of structure in a given area, and the standards very considerably from company to company.
So IMO it's primarily the responsibility of real estate agents and lenders to educate buyers about these issues.
As for insurance agents, it appears to me that they often have an inherent conflict of interest in such matters; what's good for their customers - for example, awareness that even *just making inquires* about coverage that end up in CLUE may result in increased premiums or even loss of coverage - is not good for their employers or carriers.
One reason I'm updating my understanding of local underwriting standards is that I'm putting together a presentation for real estate agent and brokers on "10 Insurance Issues You Can Spot" in the hope that this will assist them in identifying sales likely to hang up on insurance issues well before they become a ugly surprise to everyone involved. This is nice for my organization - I have the opportunity to present my company's services to Realtors, and hopefully to do something practical to reduce the mutual frustration of HIs and real estate agents with each other's role - but why should I be doing this, instead of the insurance industry?.
So IMO while an occasional individual HI choose may go "above and beyond" state or Association standards of practice by spending a day with the Yellow Pages attempting to understand underwriting standards in their community, I think it's a bit unrealistic for insurance agents to express surprise or disappointment that others don't - probably most insurance agents could learn a good deal about housing defects by taking to HIs, but don't feel this is within the scope of their responsibilities either.
Michael Thomas Paragon Home Inspection, LLC Chicago, IL mdt@paragoninspectsDOTcom 847-475-5668
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com says...

For me, that actually works out well -- while some companies report zero-paid-out inquiries to CLUE, the companies I work with don't surcharge for them or deny coverage because of them. So I've picked up some good customers who were turned down by other companies.

Good question. I have done group discussions with Realtors on insurance underwriting concerns, and they've always been very receptive to the information, and they refer buyers to me when the buyers have insurance questions.
It's good business for me, and it helps them avoid insurance surprises at closing. I expect it should work well for you, too.
On the subject of CLUE reports, almost any time I'm in front of a group of realtors or loan officers, I offer to reimburse the first person who goes on-line to order their own CLUE report as a demonstration of how it's done. More than half the time, that person finds something they didn't expect -- maybe a claim they had forgotten about, or a prior claim on their house, or an inquiry that was mis-reported as a claim. That almost always gets half the group ordering their own CLUE reports and asking about what they find. Makes it much more personal and memorable for them.
--
snipped-for-privacy@phred.org is Joshua Putnam
<http://www.phred.org/~josh/
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MDT at Paragon Home Inspections, LLC wrote:

[SNIP]
Very interesting. Said family member also looked at another, quaint hillside bungalow where some sort of foliage (still haven't identified the genus and species) grew straight up to the side of the house). I never thought of insurability when I walked through it, but I told family member to demand that seller raze the entire hillside before a sales agreement was even entered into. Man, but was this place cool. High off the ground, over a two-car circa 1900 garage, in PA coal country...but all hardwoood, with a new kitchen and bath. Kewl. I could not tell whether the mold I detected was in the "un-attic-ed" second floor, due to an old roof (BUT--no leak stains) or whether the surplus vegetation, and how! was responsible for the moldy smell.

Why would this be objectionable? As it happens, the home with the K&T had unbelievable wide framing, a stone foundation and first floor, all stucco-ed over. The sills on the leaking windows (and not all windows were leaking) were wide enough for the fat lady at the opera to sing on. I'd really appreciate hearing more about this point.

Because of the unknown condition of the "proximate" frame home?

Tell me if I'm stupid for even thinking of this solution. It turns out that the K&T home is being sold by the elderly owner because she's remortgaged herself out of existence with a new roof. (Big roof.) She said she'd "low ball" the sale to my family member IF said family member allowed her to remain in the home and rent.
But because of the condition of the property, which I spent an hour walking through yesterday, I thought buying the property for *any* price was unwise. Family member persisted in wanting it, nevertheless (location, location, location). I thought, if the seller were so inclined, family member could 1) take over the home for the exact amount of the elderly seller/occupant's refi, 2) offer to pay real estate agent whatever commission he would have received from a traditional sale at the ax-ing price, and 3) use the TON of bucks she'd spend on a mortgage to rewire the home, thus getting herself the home, accommodating an old woman in a time of need, and also compensating a hard working agent.
Am I living in tinfoil hat dreamland? (Please give me time to adjust the wire hanger, so I can receive your transmissions.)

I ax-ed real estate agent if seller would have any objection to home inspector cutting at least a 2' x 2' piece of the soaked drywall under a leaking window off to see if any K&T is buried in the wall. Agent said he "didn't understand what I meant." And what is a "CLUE search?"
Everybody, this thread should be required reading. Many opposing opinions; almost ALL thoughtful and very polite. Makes Usenet worthwhile.
Tanks a lot!
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

I think the issue here is there have been lots of problems with certain types of stucco done over frame construction. The problems stem from moisture trapped behind the stucco that leads to rapid rotting of the wood framing. I've seen TV reports of homes that are less than 10 years old that have major damage. And you can't see it until it's too late. There is a $2Mil+ home directly behind my house that is less than 15 years old. Right now they have removed all the stucco and are doing repair work, another victim.
I also was looking at a stucco home being sold recently where one of the features was that it had an electronic moisture monitoring system installed behind the stucco. I guess that way at least you know you are screwed. lol

Yes and if one catchs fire, it's a higher risk than if there is seperation.

Why would anyone be stupid enough to sell a house based on a refi amount as opposed to what it is actually worth? If you had a house worth $400K, but refinanced an existing mortgage of $200k, would you sell it for $200K? For the little old lady, a better solution may be a reverse mortgage, which would allow her to get out of debt and continue to live there, plus get an income stream.

If I was buying a house with K&T that has obvious maintenance issues, like this one apparently does, I would have the wiring replaced. What good is a limited inspection of one area going to do?
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snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

Holy Fee-holies. Am I EVER glad I posted here. I just got my $8.95/month dial-up connection money's worth. See, I thought that because the stucco was *generally* over an old stone foundation--and I'm talking "stone" as in Fred FlintSTONE--there wouldn't necessarily be anything to worry about. But now that you and the Paragon gent mention it, the unnaturally wide-silled windows that leaked ALL were set in this stucco, and the mold was tremengious.
Well, at least now I have a full alt.home.repair "inspection." Never ever ever occurred to me that the asking price was as low as it was because the frame construction--even if it's 2' x 200', rotted away over the last two hundred or so years.
THANK Y-O-U.
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CLUE:
http://www.insurance.wa.gov/factsheets/factsheet_detail.asp?FctShtRcdNum 
EIFS:
http://propex.com/C_f_env_EIFS_pbm.htm
Note that products such as EIFS and Dryvit are NOT the same materials or application techniques as older "conventional" stucco systems.
The big issue with EIFS and related materials is that they must be installed EXACTLY according to the manufacturer's instructions, not later modified incorrectly (for example, the "cable guy" leaves an unsealed hole), and carefully maintained to prevent subsequent water intrusion. The widespread problems with these materials reflects that fact that few homes are built ot maintained at this level of perfection.
In the last few years newer versions of such products have attempted to address these problem (fox example, by incorporating a drainage plane), but IMO we won't know for a decade or more whether these modifications will solve the problems under "real-world" conditions.
EIFS inspection is a specialized process, and EIFS inspectors are trained and certified to evaluate specific manufacturer's products. Evaluating these of these applications is an inspection nightmare: a tiny defect (a pencil-lead diameter hole or a hairline crack) can admit enough water to rot out a large section of wall, and the damage may not be visible at the exterior surface - the general technique is to use special moisture-meters to detect water *behind* the synthetic stucco were damage is apparent, where defects in installation and maintenance are noted, or in areas where problems are know to occur frequently.
Michael Thomas Paragon Home Inspection, LLC Chicago, IL mdt@paragoninspectsDOTcom 847-475-5668
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RBM (remove this) wrote:

Three years ago, I was denied by State Farm and USAA, but Liberty Mutual agreed to cover me with the condition that I get it all replaced within 6 months. They did not require proof, or a follow-up inspection. I'm guessing that if the place burned down due to an electrical failure of any kind, they would simply deny the claim.
If you look at it a differently, Liberty Mutual said "Yeah, sure, here's your policy. By the way, your electrical system is only covered for 6 months."
I have since replaced it, but it was a slow process -- my system was especially bad. Some instances included live wire stretched tightly under copper pipes (supporting them), a lamp cord hardwired into the circuit, fraying insulation, insulation that had chaffed off, overloaded circuits, outlets with grounds that didn't connect, a ceiling fan hanging by two wood screws and a piece of lath, etc.
When I look back on it, I can't believe the place didn't burst into flames every morning. The problem with anyhing that's 60 years old is that people with no idea of what they're doing have had 60 years to screw with it.
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On Tue, 25 Jul 2006 07:01:00 -0400, "RBM" <rbm2(remove

I wish they still used K+T wiring. It was the safest method available, except for those funky exposed scrrews on the turn switches. All they need to do is put a cover over the switches and add a 3rd wire for grounding.
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There are issues with insulation thickness, losing track of which neutral corresponds to which hot, box size (just try to get a GFCI into some of those old boxes), box entrance method ("loom" rather than clamps) and layout/dearth of outlets etc.
Installation is also MUCH more time-consuming.
But yeah, that wire is remarkably tough and the workmanship of initial install was almost always higher than current, cough, cough, "standards".
--
Chris Lewis, Una confibula non set est
It\'s not just anyone who gets a Starship Cruiser class named after them.
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

Knob and tube is not, by nature, dangerous. It happens to be a very save system The real problem is it is no longer used and has not been used for a very long time. Therefore it is not up to modern expectations, like having a ground or being able to supply a good size room A/C unit.
You need to check with local codes, including those that may only apply to rental property to determine if you need to do any replacement. Likely, and logically, if you are doing work in an area and it is convenient to replace the K&T at that time, you should. Don't mix it on the same circuit for example.
Stick to code and you will be safe.
--
Joseph Meehan

Dia duit
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

The deciding factor is not whether it is dangerous, which it rarely is unless it's been messed with, but rather whether you can get insurance for the place with K&T. Most insurance companies are absurdly paranoid about K&T and indeed any electrical older than about 30-40yrs.
Pete C.
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Pete C. wrote:

Pete nailed it. Start with a call to Insur agent.
Jim
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Since the days of knob-and-tube, a lot of experience has been gained from a safety standpoint. Many changes have been made to the electrical code which make things a whole lot safer. And the safety aspect means protection of life and property.
Over the years there have been fires and people electrocuted for this or that reason. Then the electrical codes have been changed to prevent these things from happening in the future.
With that said, the safest thing to do would be to re-wire the house to the latest electrical codes.
Also many years ago they did not have the electrical needs we have today. So there is the daily pain in the you know what factor. Not enough outlets, many rooms on one circuit and not enough capacity. Old outlets where you need to jiggle the plug in the outlet to get it to work, etc.
Having all new grounded wiring and plenty of outlets/capacity can make day-to-day living a whole lot more pleasant. It's nice to have outlets where you need them and not need to jiggle the plug to get it to work.
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote: > I'm sure this question has been posted and answered a thousand times > here, but a family member who routinely asks me to walk-through homes > she is interested in buying (because, as a walking Typhoid Mary of > Money Pits, I have hard-earned knowledge) has asked me to jump on a > particularly desirable (location, location, location) multi-unit this > AM. > > One half of this duplex has knob-and-tube. > > I have read conflicting estimates of the integrity and safety of > knob-and-tube on this group and other web sites. But I'm scheduled to > go through the home in two hours and thought I'd post and maybe get > some fresh insights. > >>From the street, and as far as the exterior foundation goes, this home > is an absolute steal (new roof, great landscaping, has it all). My > family member needs a place to run to as the result of a divorce and > won't be able to take on both the mortgage and a complete rewire at the > time of sale; hence, my post. > > Thank you as always for your responses. > No, its not always dangerous. As Joseph said, its not inherently dangerous.
Here are circumstances when it is dangerous.
- When a ground is needed by a device and its not available. - when it has been extended or hacked onto by somone not knowing what they are doing - when the fuse has been "upgraded" to a larger one because it kept blowing - Then the wire is overloaded
Remember - when it was installed there were no hair dryers, electric curing irons, air conditioners, PCs, microwaves, etc.
It becomes unsafe when people try to add on more outlets to accommodate these things.
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Insurance KNOWS its fire hazard rate is higher, and buying a preowned home its possible others did unsafe changes to the wiring.
Things DONBT last forever and K&T is just another thing.........
solder can and does fail over time espically if anyone used acid flux when making repairs, its great for plumbing but unsafe for electrical wires.
if your defending K&T please state if your home has that wiring..... thanks
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

Hi, I'm not defending K&T and I do not own any property with it. I was just pointing out what makes it unsafe. Realities of todays lifestyles with everything electronic and AC in every room make it very likely that K&T has been scabbed on to and over loaded. Thats what makes it unsafe. If K&T were just used for a couple of overhead lights and wall socket for a lamp and never was over loaded and the fuse was of a proper size, and always has been, then I would not be concerned.
If, as I stated, it has been messed with, added on to, over loaded, a larger fuse used, remodeled around, etc. I would not be comfortable with it.
So, most likely its unsafe or someone will make it unsafe my replacing a 15A fuse with a 30A fuse, swapping an outlet for a grounded outlet without hooking up the ground then running their window AC, hairdryer and PC off of that outlet. Thats when it becomes unsafe.
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wrote:

Mine does. In an english-style loop around the attic, feeding the attic lights, and drops to all the outlets on the second floor.
It hasn't burnt down yet.
As long as you remember that you've got a 60 year old wiring system, and don't abuse it, it should be fine. When you GET the chance to replace it you should, but it shouldn't be a deal-breaker on an otherwise good house.
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I just returned from my daughter and son-in-law's "new" home in Davenport, Iowa. Within the lathe-and-plaster walls on the two, finished floors, it is ALL knob-and-tube wiring. It never occurred (until now) to ask if they had trouble getting insurance. I assume they did NOT as they now have a nice mortgage.
All exposed wiring in the basement has been replaced. When the house's service panel was upgraded, the main and second-floor circuits (knob-and-tube) were placed on 20-amp breakers. This was, and probably still is, compliant with NEC.
Knob-and-tube wiring may not be very good but, in its original form, it is NOT the hazard some claim.
To answer the Subject above, K&T is NOT always dangerous. People with their over-sized fuses, pennies and half-assed taps ARE.
--
:)
JR

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Some Insurance companies BELIEVE it to be higher. Insurance companies do all sorts of strange things to avoid what they _perceive_ to be a risk.
Unmolested K&T used within its limitations (eg: not overloading it) is no more dangerous than any other kind of wiring, and is in fact safer than some more recent types.
I'll take a solid K&T installation over 40's/50's romex/BX any day.

As with any other kind of wiring.

If that were true, the NEC/CEC wouldn't permit soldering.
They _still_ do.

Well, yeah, but virtually anybody doing repairs on soldered K&T would be unlikely to be using their plumbing kit. To do anything even approaching reasonable on wiring means using a high power soldering iron or gun, not a torch, and if they have an iron, they probably have rosin-core solder too.

I've worked on several K&T systems. I've written the Usenet FAQ on it. http://www.faqs.org/faqs/electrical-wiring/part2/section-18.html
I've also discussed K&T renovation/modification with electrical inspectors. Each of whom say it's perfectly safe if it's not abused or mucked with.
Incidentally, Thomas Horne is a professional electrician of considerable experience and knows of what he speaks.
In an otherwise solid installation, I'd never recommend ripping out K&T simply because it's K&T. But if you're doing a renovation with opportunity to replace it with stuff up to modern spec, you might as well tear it out or abandon it.
--
Chris Lewis, Una confibula non set est
It\'s not just anyone who gets a Starship Cruiser class named after them.
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Chris Lewis wrote:

The answer to the original question is of course they are not always dangerous -- like Chris said.
Insurance companies don't deal with *always*. That's the key. In some parts of the country they may be familiar with it (like the NE) and insure it (perhaps with a special rider, like the $20 per year I pay extra for having a woodburning stove.) In other places, it's very unusual, and unusual is bad. If you have K&T, they're not interested in finding out if yours is safe or not, they just go by the averages. If there's not enough data points for a meaningful average (like maybe K&T in the Midwest or Gulf Coast?), they won't touch it.
Bob
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