FAQ: Can You Sell a House with Knob and Tube Wiring?

by | Aug 8, 2019

Old houses can be full of charm. They often retain the character of their original builders, who may have been their original owners. Over decades or centuries, the personalities of its occupants will have been imprinted in the rooms, the walls, and the yard. Of course, a character from a hundred years ago is often out of place today. Take, for instance, knob and tube wiring. 

Knob and tube wiring is a household electrical scheme dating back to when electricity was expected to be a passing fad. While effective for the low-amperage loads required by Edison bulbs, this wiring system couldn’t keep up with the increasing demands of post-war consumerism and the appliances that came with it. As a result, regulation now requires that no new houses are built with knob and tube wiring. 

While you can’t build new houses with knob and tube wiring, in some areas, you’re allowed to live in them without being legally required to remove and update the wiring. But, even in these areas, insurance companies may not cover your home or at least may charge higher rates. If you want to live in the house, maybe this is okay. If you want to sell the house, though, this can create serious difficulty.

What’s the Problem with Knob and Tube Wiring? 

Why is everyone so worked up about knob and tube wiring? If it was good enough for your great-grandparents, why isn’t it good enough anymore? Don’t LEDs take less electricity than old lightbulbs anyway? 

Honestly, knob and tube wiring can work just fine. After all—as you asked—it did work just fine for over half a century, from the 1880s to the 1940s. It kept working after that, too, just not as well. In the modern era, there are two big problems with this wiring style: amperage and insulation. 

Amperage Issues with Knob and Tube Wiring

Knob and tube wiring can carry more amperage per gauge than modern wiring. This is because the neutral and hot wires are separated, allowing heat to dissipate into the open air. But, smaller gauge wires were used in knob and tube wiring because older appliances didn’t need as much electricity. 

While LEDs are more energy-efficient than older light bulbs—air conditioners, dishwashers, clothes dryers, televisions, sound systems, computers, electric ranges, and other appliances demand more amps than when knob and tube wiring was first introduced. 

So, starting in the late 40s and picking up steam as consumer culture got rolling in the 60s, knob, and tube wiring couldn’t keep up with the load demands placed on it. Often, homeowners or their buddies tried to “fix” the wiring themselves, creating fire hazards with improper fuses or poorly sealed splices. This is the amperage paradox: if it’s original and safe, the wiring probably won’t have enough amperage. If it can carry the amps, it’s probably been “fixed” and is unsafe. That’s a lose-lose situation. 

Insulation and Knob and Tube Wiring 

If knob and tube wiring is covered in insulation, the heat it’s supposed to dissipate into open air instead of going into the insulation. This can start a house fire. If your house burns down, you obviously can’t sell it. 

On the other hand, if there’s no insulation, there’s no protection. The temperature outside is the temperature inside. This may not be a huge issue in San Diego, but in Northern California, you better hope your antique home came with an antique wood stove. 

What Does it Cost to Replace Knob and Tube Wiring? 

The cost to replace all the knob and tube wiring in your house with modern, standardized wiring depends on the size of your house and how much wiring must be replaced. It also varies based on location, including local laws, supply chain access, and your contractor’s cost of doing business. The price of supplies, your timing, your relationship with your contractor, and their relationships with their suppliers also affect the price. 

At the very least, you can be sure that the knob and tube wiring in your home costs more to replace than the last owner wanted to pay for it. Which means it also probably costs more than the next owner wants to pay for it.

The costs for replacement range from $3,500-$15,000. This accounts for ancillary costs, such as the removal and replacement of drywall, plaster, and insulation in the walls and ceilings. It doesn’t account for other issues workers may find lurking behind your old walls. 

What’s the Best Way to Sell a House with Knob and Tube Wiring? 

Selling a house quickly is a complex game. Trying to sell a house that requires significant renovations—and replacing an entire wiring system counts as a significant renovation—poses difficulties for buyers seeking credit. 

Finding Traditional Buyers for Homes with Outdated Wiring

Most traditional home loans are for homes only, not for renovations. This means any buyer using a traditional loan must have the cash on hand to make the renovations after purchase. That’s if a bank can find an underwriter for a loan on a fixer-upper in the first place, and, remember, insurance companies don’t like covering homes with knob and tube wiring. 

Finding insurers willing to underwrite loans on fixer-upper homes for banks has been enough of an issue in the U.S. that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has begun to provide loans for both the purchase and renovation of homes.

But finding a buyer willing and able to deal with HUD and able to find an FHA-approved lender is still a hassle for the seller—you might spend longer than you’re willingly waiting for them.

Then, if you sell, you have the hassle of finding a buyer willing and able to deal with HUD and able to find an FHA-approved lender

Finding Cash Buyers for Homes with Knob and Tube Wiring

The longer your home sits on the market waiting for a prospective buyer and for the approval process to go through, the more you’ll end up paying. So, you’ll likely want to find a way to sell your home quickly for cash

Cash buyers save homeowners time, and money, by purchasing homes “as-is” for cash.

Since market values are bid up to include the cuts the banks, insurance companies, lawyers, agents, local, state, and federal government agencies, owners of marketing infrastructure, and others take out of the pie, a cash price doesn’t necessarily hurt the number of money homeowners ultimately receive. 

Unless homeowners can sell their houses traditionally, a cash sale can be the best option. When you factor in the hours wasted trying to renovate or sell an outdated house and the high cost involved, homeowners can come out of a tough situation ahead of the game. So, yes, you can sell a house with a knob and tube wiring. If you need our help, we are happy to advise you on the best possible solution.

To learn more about selling your home with knob and tube wiring contact us by filling out our online form or calling us directly at 760-566-7716. If you get an offer today, you can lose your real estate worries fast.
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