Your Place: Ask an electrician about that dated wiring

Posted: June 02, 2014

Question: My wife and I purchased a home two years ago, and the sellers failed to disclose knob-and-tube wiring in the home.

It also did not come up during the inspection. Our inspector clearly stated that if it's an issue behind the walls, he couldn't write it up on the report.

Do you have any contacts you can put us in touch with? I'm hoping there could be some way of having the sellers pay for it.

Answer: Employer policy and personal choice prevent me from becoming involved in readers' legal disputes.

But I can tell you many lenders and insurance companies do not look kindly on knob-and-tube, the first generation of electrical wiring installed in houses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Such wiring, and indoor plumbing, for that matter, was typically installed on the walls of existing homes. Later, and in new construction, it was moved behind the walls.

I once was told that knob-and-tube was not a problem if it hadn't been chewed by rodents, but it is inadequate to meet today's needs, is more likely not to have been maintained, and does not meet today's code.

Wiring from 1880 to 1930. That's 84 to 134 years old.

Let's look at the sellers' disclosure law in Pennsylvania. The standard form covers the structure, such as roof, basement, foundation, and walls.

It asks the seller to let buyers know whether the house has been treated for termites or has had water or sewage problems; if the house has been remodeled, and whether the plumbing, electrical, heating, and air-conditioning systems are in good, working order.

If there are hazards or environmental con-

taminants, the seller must disclose these, as well.

How much the seller really knows depends on his or her level of expertise, according to the law. My agent held me to the strictest disclosure standards when I sold my last house in 2001. But most sellers aren't me.

If the sellers do not tell buyers about known problems with their property, they can be found responsible for the costs of the repair, as well as other actual damages the buyer may suffer.

My advice: Hire an electrician. Based on what he or she says, a lawyer may be next.


aheavens@phillynews.com or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies.

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