Why Hire a Licensed Electrical Contractor?

Many home and business owners hire a handyman, carpenter or electrician “on the side” to do their electrical remodel and updating in an attempt to save money.  Indeed, if you hire an electrician who doesn’t pay workman’s compensation insurance, unemployment taxes or product and liability insurance for the work they are doing on your home it might appear to be cheaper.

Liability when things go wrong

What happens if your moonlighting electrician gets hurt on the job? You may find yourself liable for their medical bills.  What happens if the product they installed fails or starts a fire, or if the workmanship is sub-standard and causes a fire?  Who will pay to repair your home?  If you hire a handyman or carpenter to do wiring they are probably not licensed, insured or properly trained to do electrical work.

Benefits of hiring a licensed contractor

All electricians and the administrator of an electrical contractor have to take continuing education classes to remain current with code and safety issues.  If you are not hiring an electrical contractor you are probably not having a job done safely and per current codes.

There should always be an electrical permit, obtained from your local jurisdiction, and an inspection to make sure that any wiring installed is up to code.  This does add to the cost of the job but also adds to your safety and sense of well-being in your home or business. In order to save money, someone who does electrical work without a permit will often not install safety equipment, such as arc fault breakers, which is required by code.  You, as a home or business owner, would not be aware of it.  Your lights will still come on, but if there is a problem it could result in a hazardous condition or even a fire. Instead, if the proper equipment, such as arc fault breakers, is installed the problem will result in a properly tripping breaker and you can have the necessary repairs made before there is a hazard or fire.

Real world example of the problems with “on the side” jobs

We recently bid a total rewire for a homeowner.  Our bid was to remove the existing knob and tube wiring and add new devices to meet his needs.  We did not do the job and he chose to put a review on a popular website saying we were too expensive and that he used someone else.  The interesting thing about this particular customer and job is that, according to the City of Seattle’s records department, no permit was ever taken for the work.  He probably saved some money by having his home rewired without permits but he does not necessarily have a safe or correctly wired home.

When this homeowner wants to sell his house he will not be able to show a potential buyer that the job was done with a permit and a home inspector should note the fact that a rewire was not done per code.  Most states require real estate disclosure forms to be filled out when a home is sold and he will be required to disclose that he had wiring done without permits or inspections.

More information

The State of Washington has a pamphlet about permits at http://www.lni.wa.gov/IPUB/500-078-000.pdf The State also have a site to check to see if a contractor or electrician has a current license at https://fortress.wa.gov/lni/bbip/Search.aspx

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Knob and Tube Wiring


Knob and tube wiring is a two wire, non-grounded wiring system that is supported by knobs where it attaches to framing members and runs through tubes where it penetrates framing. It was the main form of residential wiring until the early fifties, when “romex” wiring was introduced into the market.

There are two main types of knob and tube wiring. Early knob and tube systems (installed until around 1915) used a non-petroleum based insulation that tends to crumble when touched. The later versions used a petroleum-based insulation that holds up better but still degrades quickly when exposed to heat or weather.


Knob and tube wiring presents many problems, but the primary issue is that it does not have a ground wire. Grounding is very important, not only for personal safety, but also for the safety and longevity of modern appliances, including computers and other home electronics. A non-grounded circuit is a safety hazard when any device requiring a ground (having a 3-pronged cord) is plugged in to it. The National Electric Code does not permit a separate ground wire to be added to a knob and tube system, so that leaves little option but to rewire.

Another problem associated with knob and tube systems is that most do not have junction boxes for light fixtures. Instead, the wires are fed through a 1×6 board and connected directly to the light fixture. This makes the otherwise simple task of replacing an old light fixture with a modern unit not only difficult but unsafe.

A third frequent issue with knob and tube wiring is improper modifications. When knob and tube was originally installed the technique used to splice wires was solder and tape. To the layman it looks like the wires are simply twisted together and then taped and thus many do-it-yourselfers have done just that when making modifications to their home’s wiring. These types of improper connections can lead to arcing and eventually to a fire. Today’s code does not permit splicing the wires with solder and tape; instead, any splice should be made with wire nuts and enclosed in a junction box. Some jurisdictions do not permit adding-on to knob and tube circuits at all.

Finally, another issue that has become prevalent with knob and tube wiring is obtaining home insurance. Most insurance companies are very aware of the many issues associated with knob and tube wiring and have adjusted their policies accordingly. Some insurers will not sell a policy at all if the home has knob and tube; others will, but at an increased rate.

Knob and tube rewires

To many people a knob and tube rewire seems like a daunting task. Some contractors tell stories of having to cut slots in all the walls in order to get the new wiring in. Some say you will have to bring the entire house up to code as it relates to the number of receptacles, etc.

At Bowie Electric Service & Supplies, Inc., we approach knob and tube rewires with a different attitude, one developed from years of experience doing these rewires. We fish the new wiring in wherever possible using the latest tools, such as flexible drill bits and interconnecting fish rods. If we do need to cut a hole to get a wire in we use a hole-saw and we cut all holes the same size (making the patching much easier and therefore less expensive). Where a receptacle is very difficult to get to without damage our technicians may suggest a new location that requires little or no damage.

We work in occupied homes often and are comfortable doing so. We use tarps for protecting furniture and floors and special covers for our saws that collect the majority of the dust created when a cut becomes necessary. We have done hundreds of knob and tube rewires and our crews are well-qualified craftsmen.

If you have any questions or concerns about the knob and tube wiring in your home, please contact us for more information.

Posted in History, Knob and tube, Safety | 2 Comments