Electricity is something we take for granted. It’s always there. One flick of the switch and…let there be light. And yet, for safety and convenience, it’s something everyone should give more consideration to. Is the wiring in our home safe? Is it efficient? Are we optimizing the technology in our home? We spoke to three different experts on how to wire a house, each with their own focus, to ensure that our humble abode is as comfortable and secure as possible.
General home wiring – Melissa Weigert: Co-owner, Lake Katonah Electric, which provides general electrical work and generator installation/repair to homes throughout Westchester
Commercial wiring – Paul Pellucci: Katonah-based master electrician who serves homes and commercial properties
Home entertainment and ethernet wiring – Ray Benza: Co-owner of Entertainment Technology in Mount Kisco, which specializes in premium home entertainment products and installation services.
Wiring your home is no small feat. It’s a complicated endeavor that shouldn’t be approached casually. However, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming either. By following some basic rules, along with expert advice, this important aspect of home ownership can be managed with relative ease.
Hire the right people
Accept one simple truth: if you’re not a licensed electrician, don’t try to be one. Unlike other home repairs and do-it-yourself solutions, electrical work is not for the inexperienced weekend warrior. In fact, you really do need a licensed professional.
“You want to make sure electrical work is done to code,” says Pellucci. “Those codes exist for a reason, and the best way to ensure they are being followed is to hire an experienced electrician who will use the proper materials for the proper purpose.”
This is the most important step towards wiring your home. A competent electrician will identify problems, suggest improvements and work with quality materials. Pellucci says every homeowner gets to make a choice.
“You can have things done right, fast or cheap,” he says. “You can only get two of those options, not all three. Choose wisely.”
But sometimes, finding one competent electrician may not be enough. Weigert says it’s important to find the right person, or people, for the right job.
“Don’t assume one person can do everything,” she advises. “Low-voltage wiring is entirely different from high-voltage and commercial wiring setups.”
Benza echoes this sentiment.
“A general electrician will not necessarily know anything about what it means to wire using Ethernet cables or coaxial cables,” he says. “Today’s smart home also needs an experienced HVAC worker and IT person to make sure all your devices are installed and connected correctly, including your lighting, thermostat, cameras and more.”
Cleaning up after Uncle Bill
Northern Westchester is filled with homes built prior to World War II, and while these homes may be chock full of character, they’re also potentially dangerous. Pellucci says your top concern should be the possible old-fashioned solutions.
“Many of the older homes in our area used knob and tube wiring,” Pellucci explains. “This wiring is often ungrounded and insulated with cloth. Over time, the cloth insulation decomposes, making the wires at risk of heating up and causing fires.”
He says aluminum wiring is another cause for concern.
“During World War II, copper was used for bullets, so electricians often used aluminum wiring in its place,” he explains. “This is a problem because when aluminum heats up, it flexes and moves, which can be a fire hazard.”
When checking for older wires, Pellucci recommends starting in the basement. Often, knob and tube wiring will be fed through the beams in the ceiling. They’re usually held in place by white plastic tubes and rubber or cloth insulation. If found, this wiring should be replaced.
Weigert adds that substandard breaker panels are another issue in older homes.
“Two hundred amps is an adequate amount of power for a breaker nowadays, but older homes don’t often have that,” she says. “If you’re looking to renovate an old home, don’t forget to upgrade the breaker panel so that your renovated house can get the power it needs.”
But, she says the most concerning thing about older homes is not knowing who did what before you became its rightful owner.
“I’m worried about what Uncle Bill did decades ago,” she explains. “Did he use the right kind of wiring? Did he leave live wires and live junction boxes inside the walls, or did he terminate them as he should have? It’s hard to know those answers when you’re dealing with an older home. That’s the scariest part.”
Planning for tomorrow
With rapidly changing technology all around us, our homes must now adapt as well. Home theaters, audio centers, lighting and smart home solutions often require a series of low-voltage wiring and Ethernet cables throughout the home. But, be careful of who you hire – this type of wiring demands an expertise outside of the standard realm of electricians, often calling for an IT professional to visit your home.
“Understanding how to run Ethernet cable is entirely different from standard electrical wires,” says Benza. “One bend or kink in a Cat 6 Ethernet wire can compromise the consistency and cause problems with your internet, cameras and more.”
When you upgrade to new wiring, Benza recommends having a dedicated room in your house for all servers and data.
“Ideally, this room should be temperature controlled and centrally located either in the basement or on a middle floor,” Benza explains. “From there, wiring can octopus out to the surrounding rooms, which will prevent problems with the cables and be much more cost-effective by avoiding longer cable runs across the house.”
Other considerations should be made for wall-mounted TVs, home theaters and high-end audio systems which, according to Benza, should be grounded and isolated on a 20 amp. breaker to avoid electrical problems and noise in the wires.
“You don’t want to overload anything,” he warns. “One brown-out can destroy some very expensive equipment. It’s better to do it right than to regret it later.”
Who to hire when
To recap, here’s who you should hire for each type of job:
For safety, lean on your standard electrician to identify code standards, correct past mistakes and avoid future ones.
For future planning, identify the limitations your standard electrician may have, and don’t be afraid to call for backup. The right IT expert can save you a great deal of money (and frustration) in the long run.
And remember, the right team will help keep the lights on, and the Wi-Fi working, for years to come.