Restoration Guide: Introduction to Electrical Systems

Shannon Lee

Editor's Note: This is article 1 of 8 in Chapter 7: Electrical and Electronics of the Old House Web's Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rehab Guide.


This summary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rehab Guide is a nine-part series edited by Old House Web with the goal of helping architects, builders, suppliers, homeowners, and restoration experts who are preserving and restoring old houses.

This seventh volume of the Old House Web Guide focuses on the electrical system in an old house, including:

  • Wiring
  • Receptacles
  • Up-to-date codes
  • Safety
  • Upgrades

The guide covers techniques, materials, and tools necessary to make the most of your home restoration.

Table of Contents for the Electrical/Electronics Guide

  1. Introduction
  2. Electrical/Electronics Overview
  3. Service Panels
  4. Wiring and Receptacles
  5. Lighting and Controls
  6. Electric Baseboard Heating
  7. Phone/Computer/TV Cabling
  8. Security Systems

What can you expect from each section of the Electrical/Electronics guide?


  • The Overview section discusses what to expect when you begin work on the electrical system of an older home, including safety precautions, requirements, and building codes.
  • The section on Service Panels describes the most common situations you might encounter and helps you determine whether a panel is safe or unsafe. Here, you will find information developed by HUD about installing a new breaker, panel, sub-panel, adapters, and circuit interrupter outlets.
  • The Wiring and Receptacles section describes how to install new wiring, repair insulation, install new receptacles, and spot the differences between different types of wiring, including knob-and-tube and aluminum.
  • The information in the Lighting and Controls section focuses on both interior and exterior lighting. This section describes how to repair and replace fixtures, rewire existing fixtures, install dimmer switches, and understand low-voltage, photovoltaic, and LED lighting. The section also contains an overview of different types of lighting controls.
  • The section about Electric Baseboard Heating offers information about old and new thermostats, describes how to maintain an existing system, and tells you when it is best to install a more modern and energy-efficient system in your old house.
  • The information in the Phone/Computer/TV Cabling section discusses how to incorporate the power needs of modern devices into the restoration of an older home. This section will also tell you what to expect from each type of wiring you might find.
  • The section about Security Systems offers an overview of security alarm installation, including control panels, sensors, and wiring replacement. This section includes information about smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, as well as lightning hazards and surge protection. Here, you'll also find out how to make your old house safer. The section closes with information about the techniques, materials, and tools required to install and maintain garage door openers.

Electrical/Electronics Home Restoration and Preservation Sources

The guide includes current information from respected sources, including suppliers, builders, architects, manufacturers, trade shows, conferences, reports, and publications which focus on the home restoration and preservation industry. Also included in the list of sources are trade organizations and building research centers.

Publications included in this section of the Rehab Guide include:

  • Advanced Wiring (Time-Life Books)
  • Basic Wiring (Time-Life Books)
  • Energy Design Update
  • Environmental Building News
  • Home Energy
  • Journal of Light Construction
  • Old Electrical Wiring (McGraw-Hill)
  • Old-House Journal
  • Old-House Journal Guide to Restoration (Dutton)
  • Practical Electrical Wiring (McGraw-Hill)
  • This Old House
  • Traditional Builder
  • Wiring a House (Taunton Press)

All information in this guide summary was adapted from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rehab Guide. For more information visit: http://www.hud.gov



About the Author

Shannon Dauphin is a freelance writer based near Nashville, Tennessee. Her house was built in 1901, so home repair and renovation have become her hobbies.

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