Running A Gas Line To Your Older Home? What Electrical Upgrades May Be Needed?

If you've decided you can no longer bear to cook meals on an electric stove, or simply want to take advantage of low natural gas prices to heat your home during the winter months, you may be considering running a gas line to your home. While gas can be a great source of energy, older homes with outdated knob-and-tube wiring (or those lacking ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs)) may pose a greater fire risk than those with updated electrical systems. Read on to learn more about the electrical upgrades that may be necessary if you opt to run a gas utility pipeline to your home.

Why do older electrical systems pose a risk when gas is installed? 

In general, knob-and-tube wiring (popular in the U.S. until after the Great Depression) carries a greater risk of fire than electrical systems that use power cables and grounding conductors. This wiring is less able to carry large electrical loads than modern wiring systems, and homeowners who absentmindedly swap out a blown fuse with one with greater capacity could find themselves reaching for the fire extinguisher as a hot wire begins to smolder inside the wall. In other cases, a just-hot-enough wire could contact an errant piece of insulation or debris and catch fire.

Other homes built after the Depression still may not have the electrical infrastructure to support today's energy-sucking appliances. Even with refrigerators and heating systems more efficient than ever before, the sheer number of appliances in most homes today (compared with the average number at the time these homes were built) can overload systems that don't have a ground conductor to direct excess current and avoid power surges.

While this fire risk is still relatively low (especially given the number of homes in the U.S. that still have the original knob-and-tube wiring or have GFCIs installed), combining the possibility of a hot wire with the possibility of an undetected gas leak could take a potential fire from manageable to catastrophic. 

When a gas supply line is disturbed (such as by underground digging) or manages to disconnect itself from the pipeline inside your home, this gas may be pumped straight into the air. Although most utility companies will treat this colorless, odorless gas with a chemical that creates a telltale smell so that leaks can be more easily detected, if you're asleep or out of the house at the time the leak occurs, you may not notice it. In the meantime, a tiny spark or arc of electricity that would normally go without notice could be enough to ignite the leaked gas, setting the room instantly ablaze or even causing an explosion. 

What should you do to upgrade your wiring before you install a gas supply line? 

Regardless of the state of your house's current electrical system, it's crucial to reduce your fire risk as much as possible before introducing a gas supply line to your home.

If completely replacing your home's knob-and-tube wiring isn't in your budget, you'll want to at least have the wiring inspected and any extra insulation removed from the surface of the wires. You'll also want to have an electrician inspect each of the fuses (particularly if you've replaced some blown fuses over the years) to ensure that they have an adequately low threshold to cut power to a wire as soon as it becomes hot.

For slightly newer homes, you may want to have a ground conductor installed so that you can replace your current outlets with GFCI outlets, reducing your fire risk and increasing the amount of electrical load your outlets can handle before shutting off. Contact an electrical company like Beckstoffer-Welsh Inc for more information.