Common Electrical Risks in Older Homes and Buildings

Common Electrical Risks in Older Homes and Buildings

Are you living in an older home or building in Australia? The warm glow of heritage features, the creak of polished floorboards – there's a certain charm to living in an older Australian home. But what about the hidden dangers behind the walls? 

While these properties have their charm, they also come with their own set of electrical risks. The electrical systems in these time capsules may not be equipped to handle the demands of modern life, posing a significant risk to your safety and comfort. 

This blog will guide you through the common electrical risks you might face and the necessary steps to remove them.

Understanding Electrical Risks in Older Homes

Older houses in Australia, especially those built before the 1970s, often need updated electrical systems. Back then, the electricity demand was much lower, and safety standards differed.

Common Electrical Risks

Outdated Wiring Systems

Many older Australian homes still have knob-and-tube wiring, a pre-1960s system with exposed wires encased in porcelain tubes or rubber sheathing. Over time, this insulation can deteriorate, crack, or fray, exposing live wires. Exposed wires are a recipe for disaster – they can cause arcing (sparks that jump between wires), overheating, and even fires. Another crucial safety element is proper grounding. Ungrounded electrical systems can lead to serious shocks if you come into contact with a faulty appliance.

For in-depth information on electrical wiring and grounding, check out the resources provided by: Electrical Work | SafeWork NSW 

Insufficient Electrical Capacity

Homes built decades ago weren't designed to handle the electrical load we demand today. We rely on many high-wattage gadgets – coffee machines, microwaves, and food processors. Overloading circuits can cause frequent tripping of circuit breakers and can even lead to electrical fires

If you notice your breakers frequently tripping or your lights dimming when you plug in an appliance, it’s a sign that your electrical system might need an upgrade.

Outdated Switchboards and Fuses

Those old-fashioned switchboards with fuses simply weren't built for the modern world. They may be unable to handle today's appliances' increased electrical services. Furthermore, most lack safety switches (RCDs), a crucial safety feature that cuts off power in milliseconds if a fault is detected, significantly reducing the risk of serious electrical shocks. Upgrading to a modern switchboard with safety switches provides peace of mind and ensures your electrical system can handle the demands of your lifestyle.

Damaged or Exposed Wiring

Over time, wiring can become damaged due to various reasons, including rodent activity or simple wear and tear. Exposed wires are a serious hazard, as they can cause shocks or fires. Regularly check your wiring for any signs of damage, such as frayed or discoloured wires.

Lack of Safety Features: A Gap in Protection

Bathrooms and kitchens are high-moisture areas where the risk of electrical shock is amplified. Unfortunately, many older homes lack Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) in these critical areas. GFCIs are lifesaving devices that can detect even small electrical leaks and shut off power in a fraction of a second, preventing serious electrical shocks if water comes into contact with an appliance. Having GFCIs installed in bathrooms and kitchens of your older home is an essential safety upgrade to ensure the safety standards.

Improper DIY Electrical Work

While DIY projects can be satisfying, electrical work should be left to professionals. Improperly installed wiring or electrical components can lead to dangerous situations, including electrical fires and shocks. In Australia, performing unlicensed electrical work is illegal, and doing so can void your home insurance.

Safety Measures: Steps to a Secure Home

  1. Warning Signals of Electrical Trouble

Don't ignore these warning signs:

  • Flickering lights: This can indicate a loose connection or overloaded circuit.

  • Buzzing sounds: This could be a sign of loose wiring

  • Burning smells: A burning plastic or rubber odour can indicate overheating wires – a serious fire hazard.

  • Warm outlets: Outlets shouldn't feel hot to the touch. This could indicate overloaded circuits or faulty wiring.

  • Tripping breakers: Breakers trip to prevent circuit overload. Frequent tripping suggests a potential problem.

If you experience any of these signs, don't hesitate to call a qualified electrician to investigate the issue.

2. Regular Inspections and Maintenance

Regular electrical inspections are crucial in older homes. An inspection can identify potential hazards and ensure your system is up to current standards. It’s recommended to have your electrical system inspected every 2 years by a licensed electrician.

3. Upgrading Electrical Systems

Modern electrical systems are not only safer but also more efficient. Upgrading your electrical system can reduce your energy bills and increase your home's safety. Key upgrades include installing new wiring, upgrading your electrical panel, safety switches, and GFCIs and adding more outlets to avoid overloading circuits. Upgraded systems can handle the demands of modern appliances, preventing overloading and potential problems.

Hiring Qualified Electricians

When it comes to electrical work, always hire a licensed electrician. They have the expertise to safely upgrade and maintain your electrical system. To become a licensed electrician, one must undergo rigorous training. 

Installing Safety Devices

Safety devices like RCDs and surge protectors are essential in protecting your home from electrical hazards. RCDs can detect electrical issues and shut off the power before it causes harm, while surge protectors prevent damage from power surges. Ensure these devices are professionally installed to maximize safety.

Ensuring electrical safety in older homes can seem daunting, but with the right knowledge and professional help, you can enjoy the charm of your old home without compromising on safety.

Thinking about a Career in Electrical Safety?

Did you know Building Institute NSW offers UEE30820 - Certificate III in Electrotechnology Electrician? This nationally recognized course trains you with the skills and knowledge to become a qualified electrician, ensuring a safe and rewarding career path. 

Building Institute NSW also offers Certificate III in Air Conditioning and Refrigeration. This path provides you with the skills to install, maintain, and repair air conditioning and refrigeration systems, ensuring cool comfort in Australian homes year-round.

Live a safe and comfortable life in your older Australian home with Building Institute NSW!


How can you keep an electrical system from deteriorating?

Answer: Keep it adequately ventilated. You should also ensure that all electrical equipment is properly cooled to avoid overheating and dielectric breakdown. Ensure that all equipment is correctly grounded. To avoid power surges, make sure that all of your electrical equipment is properly grounded.

How to avoid electrical shock in the bathroom?

Answer: Ensure that at least one GFCI outlet is installed in your bathroom. These circuit breakers save lives and prevent electrocution by interrupting the flow of electricity when electrical equipment falls into the water. Cover light fixtures, particularly those in your shower.

How can you avoid electrical shocks in the kitchen?

Answer: Keep damp hands away from electrical outlets. Turn off an appliance before plugging it in. When unplugging, always hold the plug rather than the cable.

Can you overload a power outlet?

Answer: Overloaded outlets are those that have too many appliances connected to them. This can be harmful since it may cause the circuit to trip, resulting in a power loss.

Why Electrical Safety is Important?

Answer: Electrical safety is important because electricity is strong and possibly dangerous. Mishandling electricity can result in serious injury or death, therefore electricians must employ correct practices to be safe at work. Make sure your personnel receive electrical safety training.

How can you improve the efficiency of an electrical distribution system?

Answer: In addition to lowering power use, efficiency may be improved by managing end-use customer consumption. For example, voltage control may be used to minimize energy usage and peak demand.