Our House Wiring Lessons May Help You Prevent a Disaster!

The Featured Image, above, is one example of possibly significant issues from something that seems so minor. The White Wires are Looped Around the Screws in the Wrong Direction, because Tightening the Screws will spread these Loops Open Wider. The Black Wire is Looped Correctly (Tightening the Screws will Pull the Loop closed more, assuring a Better Connection), but one wire is being held onto by the Skin of it’s Teeth, something like this, with a Heater plugged in, will generate much heat because of the limited contact area, this will produce receptacle failures, possibly heater plug failures, and even could cause a fire.

I am an Industrial Electrician. I worked 25 years at the same employer (some Electricians work from their Union Hall). Although I wouldn’t feel comfortable wiring a home, there are well established principles of Electricity. U.S. Homes used a Fuse Box or most likely use a Circuit Breaker Panel to provide Overcurrent Protection to the circuits used in your home.

Wiring from the Circuit Breaker Panel or Fuse Box is sized according to need in the house, and the Circuit Breaker or Fuse is Sized According to the Wiring Used.

Rule of Thumb, #14 Gauge Wiring is used on 15 Amp Circuits, #12 Gauge Wiring is used on 20 Amp Circuits, and #10 Gauge Wiring is used on 30 Amp Circuits. Most Home Wiring is generally #14 Gauge or #12 Gauge. The lower the Gauge, the thicker the wire.

Older Homes were Knob and Tube. They used an Insulator to Connect an Insulated Wire to a Joist or Stud, and a Ceramic Tube was used to take an Individual Insulated Wire through a Joist or Stud. Newer homes (for many years now), use an Insulated Cable, with 2 or more Insulated Conductors inside, and an Uninsulated Grounding Conductor, these Cables are run by Drilling Thru Joists or Studs (in an approved area of them according to specific rules) and in principle end in a Workbox or Enclosure that, in turn, receives wiring from the Intended Device (Light Switch, Receptacle, Ceiling Fan, etc.).

Knob and Tube and More 1

Older homes often are Electrically Insufficient for modern living needs. I have had 2 homes Rewired due to Electrical Deficiencies. Our first Home was from 1900, the “newer one” from the 1930s. All the photos in this Blog (unless otherwise Indicated) are from the Re-Wiring Effort of the 1930’s Era Home. 

We inherited our first home, it was my wife’s home from childhood, it had only had 2 Bedrooms as does our current house, yet in both cases, the entire upstairs was practically on one circuit. That means a Heater used in both Bedrooms will likely overload and Trip the Circuit Breaker, blow the Fuse, or if the Breaker is not functioning correctly, or the Breaker or Fuse are oversized for the wiring, may well cause a fire. For Example: If you have 15 Amp Wiring, you cannot have a 20, or 30 Amp Fuse or Breaker on the circuit. If you have a 20 Amp Circuit, you cannot use a 30 Amp Fuse or Breaker on it.

You must understand the Electrical System in your house, and its limitations, and work within that to be better able to safely use various Electrical Devices.

A Breaker may be labeled Front Bedroom, or Rear Bedroom, but in the wall between the Bedrooms, or other receptacles in each room, may not be on the circuit you think, same with a Bedroom and Bathroom Sharing a common wall, or Kitchen/Dining Room, Living Room/Dining Room, etc. To help you Visualize what receptacles are wired to what Breaker or Fuse, you can Map-Out your Electrical System.

One Suggestion:

Mapping Electrical Circuits in Your Home (Do not worry about the part on Determining the Gauge of the Wiring, that should be left to someone that is Trained and Experienced on doing so).


My solution was simple. I took a piece of paper and drew maps of every room in the house. On the map I located every outlet, light switch, etc. Then I turned off each breaker one at a time, and tested every outlet in a room, every switch. It helps to have a few items to plug into different outlets so you can test more than one outlet at a time.

For some boxes, you must be careful, as you may have two circuits going into the box in some cases. And some outlets may even be split in two, or some outlets are set up as switched outlets. Identify all of these things, taking careful notes on the map.

This all took little time….. In the end, I have those maps, so whenever anything needs doing, I pull out the map and shut down the correct breaker easily before I do any work. Even so, I STILL check the box to test if the lines into it are dead. You can never be too careful with electricity.”

Take your time. It doesn’t need to be done in one day, but try to Map a Room or two Per day as time allows. The Top Part of a Receptacle can be on one circuit, and the bottom on another, or more likely, they can be Split this way to allow a Light Switch to control ½ of the Receptacle but not the other. Watch out for such possibilities. Remember the Ceiling Lights, or Ceiling Fans, with or without Lighting, must be Mapped to the Fuse or Breaker that supplies it, same with Basement, Garage, Porch, Deck, and Patio Lights and Receptacles.

20 Common Signs of Electrical Problems at Home or in Your Office

Top 8 Signs Of Electrical Problems In Your Home

Buy Commercial Grade Receptacles, Especially for Receptacles to be used for Air Conditioners, Microwave Ovens, Heaters, Refrigerators, etc., or in Shop Areas that may see significant current draw during Tool use, have them professionally installed. I used these (see following link) installed in every location throughout both my homes when I had them rewired.

EATON Wiring BR15V-SP-L 15-Amp, 125-Volt Commercial Grade Back and Side Wire Duplex Receptacle, Ivory (or Similar)


The Receptacle Above Accepts Wiring Straight in the Rear, without looping around the Screw (or you can use them Looped Around the Screw if Desired). But these Clamp the Wire Tightly when the Screw is Tightened, see the Silver Metal Plate at the Base of the Screws. The Screw must be loosened, wire Inserted, then Tightened to Clamp the Plate against the wire for an Excellent Connection. Always Tightened Unused Screws on any Receptacle or Switch. These are Quality Commercial Grade Receptacles.

The Following Video is not of the Rear Connector style Receptacle above, it’s of a very cheap, Push-in Wire Connector prone to failure. Push in means the Wire is Pushed-into a Spring Clip and the Screws have nothing to do with the Connection, but on many you can use the Push-In Connection (not advised) or Loop the Wire on the Screw (Advised). The Eaton Receptacle Above can be Rear Wired, but the Wire is FIRMLY CLAMPED by the Screw (Excellent design).

Backstabbing/Push-in Wiring causes Electrical Failures and Fires

What is Backstabbing a Receptacle or Switch and why is it important to hire an electrician that does not use this method of wiring?

Receptacle Compilation

These Images only show some heating, likely due to the Back-Stabbing Push In Style Connector. Other websites have images of Receptacles Destroyed by the Heat, but I am unable to use their images. Visit the Above Link to see a somewhat worse Receptacle, but even those don’t compare to what I have seen in images today and in my experience as an Electrician.

As I said, we inherited my wife’s home from childhood, it had Electrical Issues. One was an Extension Cord run from a receptacle to a remote area of the room, the cord was attached to the top of the Baseboard, went up, over, and back down, the Door Frame, and continued on along the top of the Baseboard. Not a good thing to do. Another was the Sink Area Receptacles, No GFCI (in England an RCD), No Grounds, and my mother-in-law touched the Dishwasher and the Sink and was almost Electrocuted (had a problem in the Dishwasher). It is permissible in the U.S. to use a GFCI Receptacle where Grounds are Absent. Had that been done, she would likely not have been significantly shocked, had the Grounds been used, and the Appliance Properly Grounded via the Power Cord, she would not have been shocked. And Grounds throughout the house were missing due to the Knob and Tube Wiring originally used.

The Test Buttons are on GFCI Receptacles for a reason, GFCI Receptacles and Breakers can fail to Trip when needed, Test periodically, and before use if possible.

Below – Click on Images for Full Size.

  • Showing mostly Ungrounded Receptacles:

Below – Click on Images for Full Size.

  • Wires Crushed by Ceiling Fan Brackets
  • Electrical Work Boxes Absent
  • Non-Permitted Splices and Splice Techniques
  • Light Socket used with Extension Cord and not Mounted on Electrical Workbox:

Our 1930’s Era Home had also had Significant Wiring Issues.

  • No Grounds for most Receptacles
  • No Required GFCI Near Sinks
  • Splices made in areas and in ways not permitted by Code
  • And the House Inspection that revealed signs of a “Former” Rat Infestation failed to note that the house had a “Current Rat Infestation”, and Rats, and Mice, chew on Wire Insulation. The condition of the house allowed us to move into a Neighborhood that would otherwise be well out of our price range. It’s not Upscale, but it’s above Downscale.

Bathroom Issues 1

We called the people that Re-Wired our former home for about $5,000 and they wanted $15,000 to do this one, and this one was easier. I threw them out. We found a Registered Electrician willing to do the job over a few week’s time, the total came to about $6,000 which is fine when prices were adjusted over the 15 year period. And, in an unusual move for a contractor, we paid him before he completed the work, so he could take his family to Disney or similar (which made the job take longer, but we were still living in our other home), and he returned and finished the job. I’ve known contractors to bolt when they had cash in hand. A few things were adjusted based on my input, I appreciate him working with us. He did the job in the evenings, after working his regular job.

Rats 2

Rats 1

Rats, UGH. All the Electrical Work being nearly done, the Electrician said that the Wiring from the Breaker Panel to the A/C Condensing Unit outside was modern, and he wasn’t going to replace that. So I inspected it, and lo and behold, I found exposed copper on a 240 Cable, and it needed replaced.

I carried an Inductive Voltage Tester (Non-Contact Voltage Tester, see Link Below this Paragraph, it’s my Blog Entry and has other photos on the Rat Damage), and happened to place it against the Refrigerator Shell, and it showed Energized. I unplugged the Refrigerator, and discovered the Cord had been chewed on by a Rat or Rats, and it was contacting the Refrigerator shell. I replaced the Cord, the Electrician Replaced the Outlet, modernizing it, grounding it, and it’s on it’s own circuit. The Rats also ate the Cable TV Outer Cable Insulation (not shown).

Non Contact Voltage Testers 

Non Contact Voltage Testers

Porch and Living Room Ceiling Fan

Deviations based on my Suggestions:

The Porch Light Switch, on the Left. We had to have the Front Door Replaced, the Frame was damaged. Here, the Door Work is done.

The Switch is Fed from the Basement, but the Wires weren’t coming out, though they can be abandoned in the wall once verified as De-energized and Isolated (Cut) from the Feed, it still posed a problem with the New Wiring, and I didn’t want the Electrician to disturb the Plaster Repairs that had been done for the Door Frame.

I suggested we move the Switch inside more. Just inside the Door are the stairs to the 2nd Floor. The Angle of the Steps can barely be seen in the Right Photo. This puts the Switch about 8 Feet into the Living Room, which was fine for Electrical Code.

An astute observer might notice there are 2 Switches. There is a Ceiling Fan/Light in the Living Room that was Fed by a Power Cord from a Receptacle, Strung Across the Ceiling on Hooks used to hang Decorative things from, the Cord had a Switch in it, and the Cord entered the Ceiling Fan by being Crushed under the Top Canopy against the Ceiling, risking a Short. We kept the Fan but fed it from the Right of the Two Switches, a location the Electrician already intended for use for the Ceiling Fan Switch.

The Bathroom Receptacle and Switch Movement is Described above. It was my Idea, and his effort, that accomplished it.


Above: Two 3 – Way Switches at the Top and Bottom of the Steps to the 2nd Floor. You can control the lights at the Top, Bottom, or Both, from either location. Though I was surprised the Electrician tied to discourage me from insisting on this feature, insist I did. Above is the end result. At the base of the Stairs, we wanted a Receptacle (used for a Light on the DVD Stand, or Vacuum Cleaner on the Stairs) as we eliminated a nearby Receptacle that would be behind a DVD Cabinet. Both Switches Shown are 3-Way Switches. The Left, (an Illuminated Clear Switch) is for the Ceiling Light above it, the Right (shown in Combination with the Receptacle), is for the Light at the Top of the Stairs. There was no Switch at this location (above), as there were no 3-Way Switches, and the Hanging Light above the base of the Stairs was fed from a Receptacle and used a Cord Switch.

Upstairs Hall Light

Above: This was at the Top of the Stairs. I still have the Brass Switch/Receptacle Plate. But now there are 2 Lighted 3-Way Switches. We used a Clear Switch for the Downstairs Light, and Clear Switch at the Top of the Steps for the Downstairs Light, but one Illuminating Switch eventually failed to Illuminate, I replaced it, with a Different Brand Clear Switch. Like an idiot, I allowed the Right One to stay Energized (only shut off one Breaker, I wanted the Hall Light on). After 25 years in Heavy Industry as an Electrician, this is the worst I was ever shocked. Pushing-in the wiring on the Left Switch I replaced, I touched the Hot Wire on the Right Switch, and it went through my chest to my other arm that was touching the Grounded Electrical Workbox, I screamed and scared my wife that was helping me. Shut that Power off, Test to be Sure it’s off. Don’t take chances.

The 3 – Way Switches described above, most are Illuminated, i.e. Lighted.

Lighted Switches

But we went from a Switch and Receptacles at the top, and nothing at the bottom (of the stairs) to Switches Only at the Top and Switches and Receptacle at the Bottom.

Illuminated Light Switches can actually show if the Light is Available to come on. If the Bulb Burns-out, or the Light is off by another Switch (such as in a Ceiling Fan), the Illuminated Switch goes out too (depending on the Design of the Light Switch).

Charm and Practicality of Illuminated Switches

Charm and Practicality of Illuminated Switches

Recessed Lighting

Recessed Lighting 2

One thing we liked about this house was the semi-finished basement. Dry Wall on the Walls and Ceilings, and the Ceilings had Recessed Lighting. The Dry Wall also provided housing and pathways for the Rats that were still living in the home, and these Recessed Lights had almost no clearance to the floor above. If you used the Correctly Sized Bulb, they “probably” wouldn’t be a Fire Hazard, but people have a tendency to improvise. I remember waking in the middle of the night to Fire Trucks at my neighbor’s when I was a kid, they left the Light on at the Base of the Stairs to the 2nd Floor, and the Bulb Heat caused the Ceiling to Smolder (but not catch fire).

My neighbors didn’t abide by the warning on the size Bulbs that could be used. For these, I left them in place with most of the Dry Wall Removed, but I bought LED Flood Lights sized to the Wattage Equivalent but that used tremendously less current and are much cooler in use. Also notice that the Electrical Box Cover is missing on the Bottom Image, as is the Box Connector for the Cable. In addition, I think this is 30 Amp Wiring, much larger than needed. It does seem to be grounded though.

Here is the inside of the Recess Light Shell. It gives various bulbs and the Maximum Wattage that can be used for each Style. It points out, a few times, about the Fire Hazard Nature of the Lights and the need to be careful and follow the Labeling and Installation Requirements. LED Floods are great, they are very bright and nowhere near as Hot as one of the Incandescent Lights that many would use.

Table Lamps, Ceiling Lights, other types of Lighting Devices, have specifications for the Maximum Wattage the Bulb can be to Safely Use the Light. The Light must be used as specified. Distance from Combustibles, Air Flow for Cooling, and some Bulbs are Specified for Base Down use, or Base Up and Base Down, follow the advice to use the Lighting Safely.


Ground Improvised

Above: Can you believe this. A Grounded Receptacle is Needed, You can see the Receptacle on the Bottom of the Black Wire to the Left. It looks like it’s going “over” the top of the Pipe. Nah. They wrapped the Black Wire (Technically it should be Green or Taped Green) around the Cold Water Pipe and Taped it (not permitted of course). With New Water Meters, it may not even have a Pathway to Ground, and if the Water Meter was Pulled, it may be a Shock Hazard to the Plumbers. This Receptacle was Removed. The Receptacle wasn’t needed. I think the Electrician provided a Jumper Across the Water Meter, and he Supplied 2 Ground Rods, hammered them into the Ground, and Correctly Grounded the Circuit Breaker Panel.

Click on the Images Above to Enlarge. They were from my son’s house, the Neutral Opened at the Weatherhead (right image), a Very Dangerous Condition, but the Fuse Box was Grounded on the Water Pipe, so the Current was Returning to the Transformer Via the Cold Water Pipe. The meter on the Above Left View reads 4.4 Amps Flowing in the Cold Water Pipe.

No Work Box

Apparently a Common Practice “Back in the Day” This Porch Ceiling Light (or any Ceiling Light) just had the Knob and Tube Wiring pressed again the Ceiling. There should be an Electrical Workbox for the wires to Junction In, and being in such a Box, if they happen to Overheat at the Connections, will be much less likely to start a fire.

Learn about your Electrical System. If you feel confident, Map the System, for Each Receptacle and Each Overhead Light. If it takes a while to get it done, at least it will be done, if you don’t start, it’ll never get done. Get the help of someone to make it easier. Be sure to be safe. If the Breakers are Loose, if the Fuse Box or Breaker Panel is rusted, get someone with experience to decide if it’s safe. Be sure to restore all the power when your are done testing, to be sure that Essential Equipment, Furnace, Refrigerators, and Freezers, are powered.

If you want a Dedicated Area for a Heater Receptacle, whether in one Room, or Multiple Receptacles on Different Circuits for Different Rooms, consult a qualified Electrician. I can guarantee you many of the people you call may want to Give you a New Service. Apparently, that’s their Schick, find someone that can do the work you want with what you have (unless it’s genuinely dangerous).

I wrote this blog due to the number of Fires that are occurring in the Pittsburgh Area. One just is happening now as I am at the end of the Blog, 5:15 PM, 2022-12-23. I am convinced that the use of Space Heaters in multiple areas of a house, or the use of a Heater that draws too much current for the wiring, is responsible for many.

Author: Dr-Artaud

A Doctor that is not a Doctor, but named after a character in the movie "No Such Thing", as is the Avatar.

3 thoughts on “Our House Wiring Lessons May Help You Prevent a Disaster!”

  1. I am always amazed at how much abuse that old knob and tube wiring withstood. Twenty-seven triple taps on an outlet and a 1 cent, 1000A fuse in the old fuse box…..and it valiantly soldered on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I approved this comment long ago, I should have responded to it, but forgot. Cleaning my email today, I saw the link to approve the comment. I know what you mean by the overloaded circuits, Knob and Tube had the advantage of the conductors being separated and therefore more likely to stay cooler and therefore weather the overload, so to speak.


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