What Is Cloth Wiring & Why You Shouldn’t Have It

November 23, 2020 | Cristina Dinulescu

cloth wiring

When electricians perform a home inspection, especially if the house was built before 1960, one of the most frequent issues they find is cloth wiring. This is actually a common trait in older homes, as before plastic insulation was invented, electrical wiring was insulated using a cotton cloth.

As major advancements in electrical wiring were made and plastic insulated wires started being used in homes and office buildings, cloth wiring became an obvious issue. Old wiring has been a hazard for years in terms of residential electrical fires and home safety.

A major problem when it comes to this type wiring is that you don’t know when something goes wrong. You won’t be able to tell when it becomes high risk, because the decay takes place behind the walls. Not only do you want to keep your home and family safe at all times, but having this type of wiring may be a problem when looking to get insurance. Let’s take a deeper look into what cloth wiring is and why you should make sure you don’t have it.

What Is Cloth Wiring?

what is cloth wiring

Commonly used before 1960, this type of wiring consists of a cloth-insulated wiring complex. The copper is wrapped in cotton or rayon. Additionally, rubberized insulation or asbestos paper was also used in the mix. 

Over time, the wiring becomes frailer and frailer, turning into a major risk for your appliances, as well as yourself. Your home is exposed to several dangers, sometimes without you even knowing it. Here are 5 of the most common hazards: 

  • Health issues: older cloth wiring may contain asbestos, which means your health could be at great risk, as long-term asbestos exposure can cause serious harm and it’s even linked to cancer. 
  • Excessive heat: this type of wiring may have difficulties containing heat and this may pose a threat to surrounding areas, exposing them to excessive heat. 
  • Electrical fires: cotton wiring may become brittle and when that happens, your home is exposed to fire risks. 
  • Lack of grounding: old wiring, in general, is seldom properly grounded and cloth wiring makes no exception. Ungrounded wiring can be dangerous.
  • Increased risk of damage: this wiring is much more susceptible to insect and rodent damage. Insects and rodents may chew on the wiring causing greater damage and increasing fire risk. 

How Do You Know If Your Home Has Cloth Wiring?

cloth wiring

If your home is older than 40 years, then you should be asking yourself whether there is cloth wiring present in your house. One way to tell whether or not this is the case is to search for knob-and-tube wiring. Usually, if you have knob-and-tube wiring, chances are cloth wiring is also present in your home. 

However, you might be tempted to assume that because your wiring looks rubberized, this type of wiring is not present. That’s actually not true. Even if your wiring looks rubberized, you could still have cloth wiring, composed of rubber with an insulating cloth. 

When in doubt, ask an expert. If you cannot find any indication that you might have this old wiring or you simply want to make sure, then call in a professional. An electrician will be able to tell you more about the wiring systems in your home, even make a few recommendations in terms of repairs or rewiring. 

What To Do In Case Of Cloth Wiring

rubberized cloth wiring

If you do find that you have this type of wiring, you might be wondering what the next steps are. Here are a few things you need to do to protect your home and family. 

Hire a professional to examine the system 

First thing’s first. Until you have an expert’s confirmation that cloth wiring is present in your home, there is no point in taking any measures. The best part of hiring an electrician is that you’ll not only get an accurate answer to that question, but also a comprehensive assessment of the state of your house wiring. This is usually followed by knowledgeable recommendations.

Test the wires for asbestos 

Asbestos is a serious threat, both for your family and for the electricians who will remove the wiring. Because asbestos paper is known to be used in the cloth wiring mix, in the early 20th century, you need to act cautiously. 

Before having it removed you need to hire a professional company to test the wires. In case asbestos is identified, certain measures need to be taken to make sure that the wiring is removed safely.  You will need to hire a specialized expert to remove it, to ensure that no toxic asbestos fibers are released into the air. 

Replace the cloth wiring 

It is possible, rare but possible, to have cloth wiring without having the knob-and-tube system. This means that you have to replace the cloth wiring with plastic-coated, modern wiring. If your electrician feels that everything is safe simply by replacing the cloth wiring and nothing more, then you are looking at a more affordable solution. 

The knob-and-wiring isn’t dangerous by default. But due to unsafe modifications, it tends to fail over time. If this is not your case and the electrician believes that you don’t have to replace it, then you are all good. But you might want to check with your insurance company and see if a home with knob-and-tube wiring is accepted. 

Can You Replace Cloth Wiring By Yourself?

The short answer is No. Do-It-Yourself electrical work is not advisable, especially when it comes to replacing wiring systems. Not only are you exposing yourself to unnecessary risks, but you might also do it the wrong way and make mistakes which, in time, may lead to further, more complicated issues. 

We strongly recommend you hire a professional who can analyze, diagnose, and fix your problems. This way, you can rest assured that your home wiring is done right, and your family is safe. 

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