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December 2017: Electrical Inspections

Ask The Inspector

Electrical Inspections

Q. How Does an Inspector Check the Electrical System in a House?

Ask The Inspector

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.

Be Advised

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.

Be Advised

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.

Holiday Lights
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
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.

Fireplaces
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?

Snapshots From The Field

  1. This is called a “concealed” downspout. It gives the outside of the house that “un-cluttered” look.
  2. This is called the maintenance-free downspout. You never have to worry about maintaining it or cleaning it out.
  3. Someone forgot to connect the downspout.
  4. 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.

Noteworthy News

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.

Noteworthy News

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.

Maintenance Matters

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.

MAINTENANCE MATTERS

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.

January 2016: Winter Maintenance

Ask The Inspector

Q. What is the proper location for the thermostat in my house?

A. Thermostats control the operation of heating and/or cooling systems in your home. Proper location, maintenance and operation of your thermostat keeps indoor temperatures comfortable and can save on utility costs.

Ask the inspector

Your thermostat should be located on an interior wall near the center of your home. It should not be in direct sunlight or near radiated heat from fireplaces, radiators or other heat sources. Generally, the thermostat is placed outside the kitchen. It should also be away from doors and windows that open and close frequently. Thermostats are generally located about five feet above the floor so they can be read or adjusted easily, and they may be controlled by a gauge, a dial or digitally with a panel of buttons. Thermostats should be assessed as part of a home’s general mechanical system during a home inspection.

Most thermostats for gas-fired appliances also have a variable anticipator to help prevent overheating. The anticipator “fools” the heating unit into shutting down just before the room hits the set temperature so the heat remaining in the furnace finishes the job.

Whenever changing a thermostat or performing routine maintenance, it’s a good idea to make sure the settings for the anticipator are correct.

Be Advised

Water Under Shingles Spells Trouble for Home Owners

Snow or rain can cause big problems in attics if insulation, ventilation and caulking, or sealing is not installed or maintained correctly.

Be Advised

In colder climates, ice dams, thick ridges of solid ice forming in the gutter or in the eaves of a home can damage gutters, siding or walls if left uncontrolled. Ice dams are caused when warm air flows into the attic and can’t escape. The warm air heats the roof, melting the snow above. The snow melts, and the melt-off runs down the roof to the eaves. Colder temperatures lower down toward the eaves cause the water to refreeze. Eventually, the ice forms dams in the gutters. Then, water flowing down the roof backs up under the shingles and can flow from there into the attic or interior wall spaces. Wet insulation or framing members can reduce R-values, lead to possible mold and mildew problems, or damage interior finishes.

In warmer climates, mildew and mold can still be a problem if warm moist air coming up from the house isn’t properly vented outside. Excessively warm temperatures in the attic can weaken components of the roof and shorten the lifespan of roofing material. Make sure all appliances in your home vent outside and your soffit vents are kept clear of insulation and other debris. This allows cooler air to come in at the bottom of the roofline and push warmer air out the top.

Snapshots From The Field

What’s Wrong With This Photo?

Snapshots From The Field

  1. This is called ice damming and is bad news for a home’s roof and attic.
  2. This is called ice bridging and is bad news for a home’s roof and attic.
  3. This is normal ice and snow melt-off from the roof and poses no threat.

Correct Answer 1. This is called ice damming and is usually caused by inadequate insulation and ventilation. This is about the worst case of ice damning we’ve ever seen. It will be tough for the home owner to fix because the ceilings on the second floor of this house are vaulted, leaving little room for ventilation, which is one of the things need to keep this problem from occurring.

Noteworthy News

Smart Light Bulb Technology

Noteworthy News

If you thought the newest lightbulb technology was the CFL or LED bulb, then you’re in for a big surprise. The latest innovations are smart light bulbs that offer a vast array of exciting features, such as wi-fi and Bluetooth, automation, and color changing. Here are just a few of the new options available:

BeOn Starter Pack

Each BeOn smart bulb houses a removable battery pack that allows the bulb to illuminate even when the light switch is turned off. This feature is handy in the case of power outages, and you can leave the battery pack in any bulbs that you want to stay on while you’re out of the house.

BeOn bulbs offer a unique security feature: If the bulbs “hear” your doorbell or alarm, they’ll light up automatically to make it look like someone is home, and in the event of a fire, they will hear your smoke alarm and light up so you can safely get out of the house. According to CNET, BeOn bulbs “also have a sort-of DVR function that lets you set them to ‘replay’ your typical at-home lighting patterns when you’re out on vacation.”

C by GE LED Starter Pack

Science suggests that the color temperature of lighting affects humans’ circadian rhythms. For example, a warm, lower color temperature tone (such as orange) can help you sleep better, while a cooler, higher color temperature (such as white) can help perk you up in the morning. With this in mind, the C by GE LED bulb changes color temperatures automatically, which can help stimulate melatonin levels and balance your circadian rhythm.

In addition, each bulb contains a Bluetooth radio, so you can pair it with your phone to control brightness and to turn the bulb on and off.

Qube

Qube bulbs offer built-in wi-fi and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), so the bulbs can connect to your mobile devices without a hub. You can also use your mobile device to control the bulb’s color, brightness and motion (dancing lights, anyone?). Priced under $20 per bulb, Qube claims to be the most comprehensive and affordable lighting solution.

Maintenance Matters

Dryer Maintenance for a Safer Home

Maintenance Matters

If you own a clothes dryer, then the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers recommends that you clean the lint filter after each load, and you should also check and clean the dryer vent periodically. This helps improve air flow and energy efficiency while reducing the chance of overheating and fire. Despite several improvements in dryer construction and safety, several thousand fires are started by dryer lint each year.

Like your oven and stove, your dryer uses extreme heat on flammable materials. Although most people are careful to keep their eye on the stove when cooking, they think nothing of leaving a dryer unattended in the basement, garage or utility room for an hour or more.

Other tips to prevent dryer fires and improve appliance efficiency include the following:

    • Occasionally remove the filter and clean with a nylon brush and hot, soapy water.
    • Avoid drying clothes that have had any type of oil or other flammable liquid spilled on them, such as alcohol or gasoline.
    • Replace plastic or vinyl exhaust hoses with rigid or flexible metal venting.

For more information about dryer lint safety, see this article on our blog.

Did You Know?

AFCI and GFCI Outlets Improve Electrical Safety in Your Home

Advancements in electrical protection devices help keep homes and businesses safe. These devices include ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). Both help prevent electrical shock and fires caused by erratic surges in electrical current.

GFCI outlets 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 cut off power to the receptacle in a fraction of a second — fast enough to avoid a potentially fatal shock. Although requirements vary by location, GFCIs are generally found in kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages and other areas where water may be present, such as a workshop. GFCI outlets have test and reset buttons, and it’s a good idea to test them monthly to make sure they are operating properly.

AFCI outlets are designed to help prevent fires caused by arcing faults — erratic current flows that get hot enough fast enough to start a fire without ever tripping the breakers. In many areas, AFCIs are required on branch circuits that serve residential bedrooms in newly constructed homes. Existing structures are not required to have AFCIs, but it may be a good idea to look into having them installed in your home. A home inspector can help pinpoint areas where added safety measures such as AFCI or GFCI outlets could help protect your family.

From Our Blog

Proper Fireplace Venting: A Complex Issue

One of the most controversial issues with home construction has been proper fireplace ventilation. In an effort to prevent indoor air contamination and improve overall efficiencies within modern homes, the home envelopes have become tighter — meaning little to no air leaks between interior and exterior spaces. While the intentions were good, constructing a tight home has caused some other issues, such as poor air change ratios and controlling pressures between interior and exterior spaces. This has resulted in new technologies to provide controlled mechanical ventilation systems.

Click here to read the rest of the blog posts.

Monthly Trivia Question

What is the oldest building material that is still used today?

Be the first to answer correctly and win a $10 Starbucks gift card. Submit your answer to find out if you’ve won.

Building an Efficient Fire

Having the right appliance and the proper safety components, such as smoke detectors, is important. So is having the right kind of wood to burn.

Fireplace safety begins with a properly installed chimney or ventilation system. This helps move the byproducts of combustion out of the home. Properly placed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are also a must in any home with wood-burning appliances.

What some people fail to consider is that building an efficient, productive fire has as much to do with the wood as with the appliance that houses it. To build an efficient fire:

  • Use only seasoned wood. Seasoned wood is wood, hard or soft, that has been cut and allowed to dry for six to nine months.
  • Seasoned wood should be cut and stacked off of the ground, preferably in a spot that receives good sunlight and air movement. Cutting the wood allows air to blow across both ends, evaporating moisture inside. Cover the top of the wood to prevent rewetting from precipitation. The wood pile should also be located away from the house and other structures to prevent the infestation of wood-destroying insects.
  • Using dry, seasoned wood also reduces the buildup of creosote, a byproduct of wood burning that collects on the inside of the chimney and can ignite, causing dangerous chimney fires. When creosote reaches ¼ inch of thickness on the walls of the chimney flue, you should have it cleaned by a trained professional. Inspect the chimney frequently to check for creosote buildup.
  • Start fires using clean newspapers and dry kindling, never garbage, plastics or treated wood.
  • Let the fire burn down to coals, and then rake the coals toward the air inlet, creating a mount. Do not spread the coals flat.
  • Regularly remove ashes from the woodstove into a metal container with a cover. Store ashes outdoors on a nonflammable surface until completely cooled.

Information for this article came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at www.epa.com.