Dear Barry,

The home we just purchased home was listed as 30 years old, but our neighbors say the house was actually built in the 1940s and was moved to the site 30 years ago. We’ve also learned that the some of the electrical wiring is very old, so we’re now worried about electrical safety. Do you think the house should be rewired? – Gale

Dear Gale,

Older residential wiring is substandard when compared to current requirements. In some cases, these deficiencies warrant major changes, such as total rewiring or replacement of the service panel, but major upgrades of this kind are usually unnecessary. To best answer your question, the system should be thoroughly evaluated by licensed electrician.

The most common and apparent shortcomings with older electrical systems involve wall outlets, specifically the lack of grounding and the shortage of available receptacles. Ungrounded outlets increase shock hazards and may expose electronic equipment, such as computers, to possible damage. When outlets are the old 2-prong type, the lack of grounding is obvious. But in many homes, old outlets have been “upgraded” to 3-prong receptacles, without actually being grounded. Users are thereby given the false impression that outlets are safely wired to ground.

When outlets are sparsely provided, occupants are inclined to use extension cords and other drug-store devices in ways that may overload circuits and create fire hazards.

Another common shortfall of older systems is inadequate size of the main service. Homes built before the mid-1950s were not designed for the myriad power demands we currently take for granted – i.e. dishwashers, garbage disposals, hair dryers, air conditioners, etc. In very old systems, especially those with fuses, overloading is common and upgrading the main panel is essential. Since your home was moved only 30 years ago, panel upgrades have probably taken place.

If you hired a home inspector prior to purchasing this home, evidence of its age should have been discovered. Regardless of renovations, signs of vintage should be apparent to a qualified inspector. If you did not have a pre-purchase inspection, you made a major mistake – one that should now be corrected. A competent inspector can evaluate the condition and adequacy of your electrical system and will identify items of concern involving other aspects of your home.

Dear Barry,

The home I’m buying has a screen on the vent outlet for the clothes dryer. My home inspector says it should be removed, but the seller says it is necessary to keep rodents out of the building. Could you please weigh in on this debate? – Adrian

Dear Adrian,

Few will dispute the undesirability of uninvited rodents, but this common aversion may be trumped by other considerations. Screens are specifically prohibited on dryer vent outlets because they become clogged with lint. This restricts the airflow, causing the dryer to overheat, affecting your clothes and posing a fire hazard. If rodent control is a concern, other means should be considered. A reliable cat is one possibility.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


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