Dear Dot: Are There Rebates to Replace Knob-and-Tube Wiring (So I Can Electrify My Home)?



Dear Dot,

I have found that I cannot take advantage of energy efficient programs due to knob-and-tube wiring. Is there a rebate program to rewire a small house allowing me to move forward toward a more energy efficient home?

Thank you for your time!


The Short Answer: While there are not currently any federal rebate programs for rewiring knob and tube in the U.S. or Canada, some American states offer programs. Canadians, it seems, are going to have to update wiring on their own dime. If rewiring remains out of your budget, Dot found some experts with ideas on how to make your home more energy efficient … and therefore, more cost-efficient, too. 

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Dear William, 

Dot’s first home, a two-storey yellow brick that celebrated its centennial the year my family moved in, boasted many old-house flourishes, including stained glass, hardwood floors, a spectacular fireplace, ten-foot ceilings, crown molding and … knob-and-tube wiring. Knob and tube, or K&T as it’s sometimes called, was the typical wiring in North American buildings from the late 1800s to the early 1940s. And though it’s frequently cast as hazardous, that reputation seems to rest more on the age of the wiring, improper modifications over the years, or insulation around the wires (which poses a fire hazard) than any inherent danger in knob-and-tube wiring itself. 

That said, you’re wise, William, to want to rid your home of its knob-and-tube wiring, both for energy efficiency and, potentially, for safety. Knob and tube, the first wiring system installed when humans invented electricity, consists of copper wires run through porcelain “tubes” and held in place by porcelain “knobs.” It doesn’t meet modern safety standards. Knob and tube is highly energy inefficient, and, when it comes to your safety, poses a significant fire hazard. Many insurance companies are washing their hands of homes with knob-and-tube wiring. What’s more, most knob-and-tube wiring was installed when the most demanding electrical appliances in a home were a kettle (invented in 1891) and an iron (invented in 1882) for crisp petticoats. 

Out with the old, William! Assuming, of course, you have piles of cash lying around to de-K&T your home. The cost to replace knob and tube averages between $12 and $35 thousand. Dot completely understands your frustration at the lack of rebate programs to ease some of that financial pain. 

But William! Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to live in a state that actually does have programs that you can take advantage of. In Massachusetts, for example, Mass Save is offering up to $7 thousand to remove knob-and-tube wiring. 

If what remains is still a bit too rich for your blood, focus on energy efficiency in other parts of your home. Joel Rosenberg of Rewiring America offered Dot a few suggestions to pass along — starting with an energy audit. (Americans can click here, while Canadians should try this link.) “The general recommendation is to get a home energy audit where a professional comes in and looks through your house, your appliances, your insulation in your attic, basement or crawlspace and can make recommendations,” Rosenberg says. And get three quotes, he says, for big purchases or renovations, such as knob-and-tube removal or purchasing a heat pump. 

Your audit will reveal any energy drains you can address. One of these could be your air conditioning. Rosenberg recommends replacing it with a heat pump. Heat pumps both cool your home when it’s warm outside and warm your home when it's cool. (Though, do the math, William. Heat pumps don’t typically come cheap — our Bluedot Cool Tech columnist wrote that heat pump installation can come in between $8,000 and $20,000.  Replacing your knob and tube might end up the more affordable choice.)

Seek out energy efficient appliances, such as a portable induction burner or a toaster or countertop convection oven. Just make sure these new appliances are wired through new wire, as they can put too much strain on the archaic knob-and-tube wiring. 

If you’re a homeowner, look into a heat pump for water. If you’re a renter, you likely won’t be able to install one of these, so all you can really do is just reduce water usage, which is generally good practice anyway. Similarly, give your dryer a rest. Hanging clothes on a drying rack or outdoors helps them last longer, too. 

Take note, William, knob-and-tube wiring can’t handle the energy requirements of many new appliances. “So we would not use a plug-in heat pump water heater on a knob-and-tube plug circuit,” says Larry Waters, President of Electrify My Home, which designs and installs electric heat pump systems. “And for any of the other appliances, we would install IE heat pump stove and dryer circuits, which would all be run in new wire and not rely on the existing knob and tube.” Waters emphasizes that while “our advice on knob and tube is to have replacement as part of the long-term plan,” it’s a good idea in the meantime to wire “all the new appliances with regular wire that doesn't use any of the existing knob and tube for high energy loads.”

Dot sold her old home more than two decades ago. Replacing knob and tube was beyond our budget, so the house we sold had something of a hybrid system. The house is still standing, and I hope its new inhabitants are happy in that lovely, drafty, knob-and-tube ridden home. I also wish them energy efficiency. 



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