Electrical fires in older homes: taking preventative steps to minimize risk

About 200 electrical fires occur per year in buildings in BC, often causing devastating or total losses for owners and tenants.  These losses typically result in higher home insurance premiums for these individual owners and also indirectly impact insurance rates for all property owners.

As buildings age, the risk of fire increases, with a disproportionate number of fires occurring in homes older constructed before 1970.  These are some key factors to consider with regard to electrical fire risk:

Handyman tinkering

Electrical installations done by unlicensed individuals – also known as “handyman tinkering”  – is, by far, the principal cause for electrical fires in BC.  Unfortunately, such unlicensed work is particularly prevalent in older homes, where unlicensed electrical work tends to accumulate over the years due to the changing of property ownership.

Note:  In British Columbia, only licensed electrical contractors are permitted to do electrical installations.

Pre-1950s homes:  Knob & tube electrical wiring

In 99% of homes built pre-1950 “old-fashioned” knob & tube wiring is still prevalent.  Interestingly, the knob & tube wiring in itself is often in stable condition.  However, with renovations and modernization of these older homes, handyman tinkering will have often compromised the safety of the original knob & tube wiring, and thus increasing the fire risk.

1968-1974 homes:  Aluminum wiring

During these years, many houses were wired with aluminum as a solution to the high price of copper. Most homes built at this time still to this day typically have aluminum wiring.   Risks associated with aluminum wiring include electrical arcing, loose connections, and corroded connections.  Handyman tinkering with in houses with aluminum wiring is also very prevalent.

Minimizing your risk of electrical fires

The first step to understanding the potential of an electrical fire risk in your building is to have a licensed electrical contractor to inspect your home and provide a detailed report about the risks.  We also highly recommend a BC-based company, PowerCheck www.powercheck.ca which provides Electrical Safety Assessments, tailored to provide an accurate risk assessment of the electrical system in a home for the insurance industry.  The cost of a PowerCheck assessment is $350 to $500.

Once an assessment is done, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that instead of facing a daunting bill of $20,000 to completely re-wire a home, you may only need to spend less than $1,000 for licensed electrical contractor to carry out the necessary remedial work.

An added benefit is that an older home with correctly updated wiring will typically be given preferential premium ratings by home insurance companies, which is another good way to save money on the annual cost to insure your home.

And, at the end of the day, your safety should be the greatest concern.   Professionally assessing and addressing the electrical fire risk of your home is absolutely vital for all property owners.

Find out more

 These informative slides, courtesy of PowerCheck, provide you with more detailed information and photos of electrical fire risks in older homes: http://www.powercheck.ca/pdfs/PowerCheck_slides-Electrical_Risks.pdf

Contact us about insuring your older home

Habitat Insurance Agencies specializes in insuring older homes.  If you would like a free, no-obligation quote, please contact us:

Habitat Insurance Agencies Ltd

Tel 604-438-5241

[email protected]

 Copyright 2011 © Habitat Insurance Agencies Ltd.   All rights reserved. Disclaimer:  This article is designed to provide information for personal use only.  Please consult your professional insurance broker for further information. Habitat Insurance Agencies Ltd is not responsible for any legal disputes of this matter.