Old Wiring and Sawdust Insulation

Over the years, in listening to news on the radio, reading the newspaper, or, in more recent times, reading news stories online, you hear of house fires.  Often the cause is said to be faulty wiring.  And now I understand. 

Not that I am an electrical expert — not by any stretch of the imagination!  In fact, electricity and all things electrical scare me a little.  I’m even a little bit nervous when changing a light bulb by myself.

However, as fast as I get the walls down to bare studs in each room, John follows along behind me, re-wiring the various rooms in the house at Prairie Woods.  And I get to listen to exclamations of surprise as he sees what is in behind the walls and over the ceilings.

Family-friendly comments have included “Boy, the inspector would not like this!” and “Why would anybody do something like that?!” and “It’s a good thing we’re doing this.” (this being the extensive renovations, meaning we are finding what is behind the walls in each room)

While I don’t understand all the details about which wires are supposed to go where and so on and so forth, I was fully able to understand the potential danger when he showed me  some electrical wire he removed from the living room.  As he was pulling it out (the breaker being turned off at the fuse panel, of course), the outer protective insulation on this particular run of wire crumbled to pieces in his hand.

electrical wiring with crumbling insulation

A close-up showing the condition of some of the old living room wiring John removed.

I know wire can get hot.  If there is nothing separating it from old wood shavings which have been drying in the walls for decades, no wonder fires can start and once started, burn quickly.  The insulating value of wood shavings or sawdust comes from the air pockets distributed throughout.  Those same air pockets guarantee any small fire that does happen to start, unseen inside a wall, will grow and soon engulf an old house in flames.

New houses tend to survive a fire, albeit often with extensive “smoke damage”.  Old houses tend to burn to the ground.  Now I understand why this is so often the outcome.

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