Do we need to rewire our old house before fitting solar panels?

Property Clinic: The cost of bringing our home’s electrics up to date is preventing us from doing our bit to save the planet

In our continuing quest to help to save the planet, while reducing our fossil fuel consumption and related costs, we have been looking at PV solar panels.

Our house is 1978 vintage and while wrapped and triple glazed some years ago, I am attracted to solar panels. We are not huge electricity users at 4,500 units a year. We have an electric shower and rarely use the bath, so hot-water storage is not that important to us. The old sink immersion with timer is all we need.

Our heating is via natural gas from a boiler installed in 2008. I had a few installers call to our house, but all said we’d need to upgrade our fuse board before any work could be done on the panels. None of the firms that quoted so far would include this work in their quotes. I have found it very difficult to get appropriately qualified tradespeople to call to the house to quote for the upgrade work.

Quotes I’ve received informally over the internet or phone have horrified us, cost wise. The latest rough quote, without seeing the house, was €1,500. One internet responder even suggested we may need a complete rewire done at an indicative cost of up to €17,000, based merely, it seemed, on the age of the house.


We needed a fair bit of persuasion that there might be an acceptable payback period on the project anyway, even with a grant of up to €2,400 and now the zero rate of VAT. An extra €1,500 approximately for a new fuse board is really putting us off the whole idea however, especially as we are pensioners in our 70s.

The last exchange with an electrician involved the possible upgrading of our ESB meter and something to do with us having gas heating and updating the earth wiring and ground connector.

Surely, we are not the only potential PV solar panel installers with an old fuse board. We might need a separate additional grant to encourage us to progress with this project. I’m sure many of your readers may be in a similar situation but may not be aware of potential costs.

Certainly, adding photovoltaic panels (PVs) with battery backup storage is a sound proposition in very many ways and should be seriously considered by most homeowners, not just for saving energy costs but in terms of sustainability, climate change and adding equity to your home, writes Fergus Merriman.

While your electrical energy usage is relatively low, 4,500 units will still add up to about €1,800 per annum, which could be reduced by at least half with the right system. That’s a worthwhile saving.

It is worrying to hear that installers are reluctant to assist you with PVs without upgrades to your electrical wiring so you possibly have an issue that requires prompt attention. Typically, wiring has a 50- to 60-year lifespan so if your house hasn’t been rewired since being built in 1978, you are getting close to that range. If the initial wiring was poor, the lifespan could be less. So, the advice you are getting may well be right.

Electrical systems in all homes should be periodically inspected, probably at least every five years, by a qualified registered electrician to ensure that the wiring and fittings are in good condition, that they are safe, and to provide you with peace of mind. Electrical faults can not only be wasteful of energy but can also cause fire, serious injury or, in some cases, death, so I would strongly advise that you get your electrical system properly checked as soon as possible.

A statutory regulatory scheme for electrical contractors is operated by Safe Energy Ireland ( on behalf of the Commission for Regulation of Utilities. Safe Electric is responsible for the regulation of the activities of electrical contractors in the Republic of Ireland with respect to safety and it keeps a list of all registered electrical contractors ensuring that all are operating to the relevant national standards and technical rules.

It appears that you probably require a periodic inspection report (PIR) but be mindful that it is only a report and not a completion certificate for any works that might be required and is only intended to identify the condition of your electrical installation, be it good or bad. It will also advise you how safe it is and what you might need to do next.

The cost of a PIR varies for many reasons, but an average might be about €250 depending on location and the size of your property. The average cost of rewiring is significant – in ballpark terms you are probably looking at €10,000 around the country and €15,000 in Dublin.

As pensioners you may be eligible for a local authority home-improvement loan to assist you with repairs and upgrades so you should contact either Citizens Information or your local authority (noting that not all local authorities operate these loans) to discover if financial help is available.

It is probably worthwhile discussing your gas-heating system and your direct-water immersion heater with a representative from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) through its “one-stop shop” process. An SEAI assessor will call to your property to provide you with a full suite of advice and guide you through the most appropriate grants for your situation.

Fergus Merriman is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland

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