poor wiring layout
Separate wires were run inside the walls for live and neutral. They would be passed through joists through ceramic tubes (to prevent chafing) placed in holes in the center of the studs and fastened to the walls and structural members using ceramic insulators called knobs.
Some electrical inspectors say the method is not inherently bad, in and of itself, if it's undamaged, original and undisturbed. It's what was done AFTERWARDS - homeowners adding, splicing and tinkering that compromise it and make it unsafe.
I hate to sound like a broken record but you might want to sit down with a licenced EC, tell him what you want, show him what you have and draw up a plan....especially if it sounds like you're going to need work done starting at the panel (from what you describe).
Who you hire is very important, I consider myself to be a good electrician but I spend my time doing commercial work, if you hire me to do your job, the walls will be full of holes, you want someone who does "fishing" all the time.
A guy who does this allot can really do a good job with little damage, part experience and part intuition for what's in the walls
I would like to add sometimes some damage to walls or ceilings is unavoidable, and you should not be surprised if some patching needs to be done.
Electricians can be good at fishing wires but they are not magicians.
[This message has been edited by iwire (edited April 20, 2003).]