When people think about home inspections, the most common areas they consider are wind mitigation, the roof, plumbing and HVAC. But it would be a mistake to not consider the electrical system as well.
In fact, a few months back we wrote here about four-point inspections. They include roof, plumbing, HVAC and electric.
So, we asked our colleague Craig Eaton of Eaton Electric Company to explain some of the most significant points about an inspection of a home electric system and how it’s done.
“Any inspection that includes electrical should start at the electric panel or the meter from the utility that distributes power to the home,” said Eaton, who has been involved in the electrical trade since he was 14 and has owned Eaton Electric since 1985. “You can’t inspect the inside of the meter because that’s sealed. But an inspector should pull the electric panel cover off and determine if any breakers have a double tap.”
When two wires are connected to one breaker, it is commonly referred to as a double tap. The problem with double taps is they can cause loose connections arcing (electrical current flowing through the air) and potentially fires.
“If an inspector sees a double tap, it should certainly be included in the report,” Eaton said. “In addition to looking for double taps, the inspector should check the connections at the neutral bar. If there’s any sign of disconnections, blistering or bubbling of wire insulation at either the breaker connections or the neutral bar, the inspector should report that.”
As is the case with other aspects of any inspection, the inspector is only required to do a visible check – just observe. If there are any issues, an electrician should handle them.
Additionally, an inspector should test a majority of the outlets.
“Using an outlet tester, they plug in to each outlet in the home,” Eaton said. “They are looking for loose fitting connections, open ground or reverse polarity. They would also operate every wall switch to see if there is popping or arcing. That should be audible. They should refer those for an electrician to fix or replace.”
While not common, Eaton has gone out on inspections with home inspectors.
“This might happen if they are unfamiliar with something they see,” he said. “That’s especially useful in older homes – 50 years or more – where equipment may be outdated, obsolete or dangerous.”
As we know, most home inspections occur prior to or during a home sale. It’s possible the new owners will be making changes to the home. If those changes include electrical, there are some newer rules that could impact those changes.
“The newest rule in terms of electrical changes in homes deals with adding on or altering an existing system,” Eaton said. “Arc-fault breakers are now required in any circuit where wiring changes are being made. That’s the most significant change in the last 10-to-15 years.”
Also, under the area of new rules are the requirements for weather-proof outlets.
“The standard flip-down weather-proof covers are no longer acceptable,” he said. “New homeowners are required to install weather-proof while-in-use covers.”
As the name suggests, these covers protect the outdoor electrical outlet while it is being used, which was not necessarily the case with the old flip covers.
With electricity having the potential to be volatile, it is worth making sure your home’s electrical system is safe whether you are buying, selling or simply staying. And you should upgrade when it’s necessary.
Next time, Mr. Rick’s Blog will feature an article on decisions to make when downsizing.