Ask The Inspector
Q. How Does an Inspector Check the Electrical System in a House?
A. Starting off with the outdoor electrical service to the home, the inspector first determines whether the power source is underground or overhead. If the service is underground, then the only part visible to inspect may be a lateral piece of pipe coming up out of the ground on an outside wall and going into some type of meter panel. If there’s an overhead service, then the inspector can visually inspect the wires coming from the utility pole to the house, as well as the connections of the wires before the drip loop and weather head. They will also inspect the service mast and the mast going to the same outside meter panel, if it’s visible.
From the outdoor meter panel, a wire goes to either a main disconnect or directly to the main electrical panel inside the home. Once at the main panel, the inspector should first check to make sure the panel cover is not energized. If not, then he/she should carefully remove the cover to begin inspection of the main panel.
On the main panel, the inspector will determine the service size, and then inspect the inside of the panel, making sure that the right sized wires and breakers have been used for the branch circuits. Other things the inspector will look for are double-tapping (more than one wire under a lug or connection), open knock-outs, holes that may have been used at one time to run the cabling wire through, and too many disconnects in a panel. The inspector will also consider whether the wires used for the branch circuits are sized appropriately to the correct breaker.
In some cases, there may be additional panels, called subpanels, for more circuits in the home. Everything stated previously will apply to the inspection process for subpanels.
From the panels, the inspector will go about the house from room to room, inspecting the readily accessible outlets, light switches and electrical fixtures. On the outlets, the inspector will check for correct wiring practices: proper polarity, hot and neutral in the correct position, and proper grounding with three-prong outlets. Another safety requirement for certain outlets is proper ground fault (GFCI) or arc fault (AFCI) protection on newer homes according to today’s standards, so your inspector will check those, too.
When properly performed, the electrical inspection can take the most time and be more comprehensive than any other component of the home inspection process.
Holiday Fire Safety
The holiday season is upon us. That means Christmas trees, holiday lights, the warmth of candles and the glow of the fireplace, all contributing to that cozy holiday feeling. Unfortunately, these staples of holiday cheer can easily become fire hazards. However, with a little care, you can safely enjoy all of these things and keep your holiday season aglow.
Real Christmas Trees
Real or artificial seems to be a question that many people struggle with every year. After all, nothing beats the fresh scent of a real Christmas tree. But be careful with that tree — if it becomes too dry, the lights can too easily cause it to catch fire. Keep your real Christmas tree hydrated with plenty of water to avoid a fire hazard.
Nothing beats the soft, shimmering glow of holiday lights, both indoors and out. But keep two things in mind when hanging outdoor lights. First, always practice proper ladder safety. Second, be sure to use cords and extension cords rated for outdoor use. An indoor extension cord won’t do for outdoor lights.
Candles offer not only the soft lights of the holidays but also the scents of the holidays. Be careful where you set them, especially with pets or children in the house, and be sure to properly extinguish them.
If you recently had your fireplace cleaned, then good for you—it’s ready to go for the winter and the holiday season. If you haven’t had your fireplace cleaned in a while, then creosote buildup could potentially cause a chimney fire. As with candles, be sure to properly extinguish a fire to prevent a hazard.
Snapshots From The Field
What’s Wrong With This Picture?
- This is called a “concealed” downspout. It gives the outside of the house that “un-cluttered” look.
- This is called the maintenance-free downspout. You never have to worry about maintaining it or cleaning it out.
- Someone forgot to connect the downspout.
- The downspout is behind the wall.
Correct Answer D. It looks like there is no downspout there, when in fact they put it inside the wall. That’s okay isn’t it? When the day comes that it starts to leak, and it will, someone will be tearing the wall apart outside to fix it.
Being Smart About Appraisals
An appraisal is an evaluation of the value of a property at the time of the sale. It is generally ordered by the lending agency. Documentation to back up the appraisals may include a brief inspection of the home, a comparison of recent sales of similar properties and a general description of the property. It is not a home inspection. A home inspection is a detailed visual inspection of hundreds of components of the home or other property completed over two hours or more. A home inspector is generally hired by the buyer or seller.
Consider these tips when hiring an appraiser:
- Ask lenders you use about the appraiser’s qualifications.
- Check that the appraiser’s memberships in professional organizations are up-to-date.
- Verify years of experience with the state’s board of appraisers.
When reviewing the appraisal, use your own knowledge of the property, the location and the square footage to determine if the findings seem reasonable. If not, it should raise a red flag and you may have to get a second opinion.
Electrical protection: GFCI and AFCI
Advancements in electrical protection devices help keep families and businesses safe. These devices include Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) and Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs). Both help prevent electrical shocks and fires caused by erratic surges in electrical current.
GFCIs are designed to trip when they sense even a minor imbalance in current between the hot (black) and neutral (white) legs of an electrical circuit. They shut off power to the receptacle in a fraction of a second – fast enough to avoid a potentially fatal shock. In new construction, they’re required in kitchens and bathrooms, and in other areas that might get wet, such as the garage and basement.
GFCI outlets have test and reset buttons. If you locate the GFCIs in your home, it is a good idea to test them monthly to make sure they are operating properly.
As of 2002, AFCIs are required to be installed on branch circuits that serve residential bedrooms in new construction only, not existing construction. A property inspector can help pinpoint areas where adding AFCIs or GFCIs could help protect your family.
Did You Know?
Condensation on Windows
Noticing condensation on your windows? It could be the result of differences in the outdoor and indoor temperatures, but there are a couple of things you can do to put a stop to it. First, check the weather stripping on the window, as it may need to be replaced. Second, check the indoor humidity, as it could be too high. Indoor humidity should be 50 percent or less. If you have steamy windows, turn the humidity down to 25 or 30 percent. Also, make sure to use the exhaust fans in your bathrooms and kitchens to help control humidity.
Monthly Trivia Question
Two of the reindeers are named after weather phenomenon. Name the reindeer.
Be the first to answer correctly and win a $10 Starbucks’s gift card. Submit your answer to find out if you’ve won.