Tony’s been wanting to insulate the attic for some time now. (Okay, not really wanting to DO it, just to enjoy the results of having it done. : ) When we would take Charlie for a walk on a snowy day last winter, our house was invariably the only one on the block with a perfectly clear roof – read: there’s little to no insulation up there. And it sure would be nice to have the job done before this winter hits. The problem has been that some of our old home’s wiring is original. Potentially 1890 original. It’s hard to know for sure.
Original wiring for a nineteeth century home is called Knob and Tube as the insulated copper wire was run along joists and studs between porcelain knobs and through joists or studs via porcelin tubes. The research we’ve done has revealed that the wiring itself, when left alone and undisturbed by debris, is fine. However, it runs too hot to have insulation blown over it and the insulation itself can wear away at the protective coating on the copper wire. You can see that ours, up in the attic, was not in great shape.
(By the way, that railroad tie pattern is the top view of our plaster and lath ceiling. The ridges are where the plaster pushed between two pieces of wood lath. Most of it is now covered with sheetrock… we think. It’s hard to tell!)
We only have this original wiring left in our ceilings and through a few (mostly interior = no insulation) walls, but that meant Tony couldn’t insulate the attic until the wiring had been modernized. Tony’s gotten pretty good at basic electical work, but he was not going to take on this project! It was time to call in an expert.
Unfortunately, finding an expert to do this sort of work was not an easy task. Our first bid came from a company just down the street. The guy walked around for about 20 minutes, took a cursory glance at things and quoted us $700. We though, “Sweet,” but decided it would be responsible to get a second bid. This time Tony called a company he’s called a time or two in the past. Their guy looked around for 30-45 minutes and came back saying the entire house needed to be rewired at a minimum of $9000, and that didn’t include wall or ceiling repair after the work was done. At this point we thought, “Well, *badword*!” Clearly, with such a discrepancy, a third opinion was needed as a swing vote. The company we called for that bid couldn’t even give us one. Despite my request for an electrician who was knowledgeable about Knob and Tube, that gentlemen practically ran from the house saying he’d need to check on some codes and talk to a coworker. Not promising! Finally Tony found a company out of Topeka who would come do a bid for a fee. At this point, if we could find someone who knew what they were talking about, we’d gladly pay them the $75 to come tell us whether our house was about to spontaneously combust!
The electrician that came from Green Wave Electrical went up into the attic with Tony for a good hour and a half. He had Tony pull up nearly all the plywood flooring that was up there and he tested every wire at least once. He traced wires as they criss crossed the space, and both men were pretty sweaty by the time they came down! There was a lot to see up there as our wiring was kind of a (literal?!) hot mess with all the junction boxes and mix of both modern and original.
He quoted us a price that was in between the previous two bids, but said it was the final price, no matter what he found once he started the job. It was more than we wanted to pay, but we’d actually found someone who knew what he was talking about! Tony told him we’d have to think about it and get back to him. I was eavesdropping though, and said, “Nope. You know what you’re doing, and that’s what it’s going to cost, we’ll make it work.”
The work took the electrician and his apprentice an entire day. They arrived from Topeka at 7:30 am and left to go back home around 6:30 pm, but they took with them all the old knobs, tubes, and wires so there would be no confusion about which wires were live in the future. He’d told us the wiring in the first floor ceiling should be just fine. What he could see of it was in excellent shape, and since it hadn’t been damaged by debri like the attic wiring, he felt we had nothing to be concerned about (which was consistent with the research we’d done previously on Knob and Tube).
The funniest coincidence, though, came when I asked him about his British accent. It turns out he is from the same town where I studied abroad! In fact, he met his wife while she was studying there as a student at Baker University (where I went to college). She participated in the Meet-a-Family program, like I did, and his was her host family! They lived there for a number of years after they were married and have been here in Kansas for the last 5 or so. How cool is that?!
Anyway, back the attic. Since we’re talking about the wiring up there, I might as well show you some more pictures of the space. Who knows when I’ll be back up there again!