For the home-shopper searching for the ideal place to move the family, it’s important to ask this critical but often forgotten question: Is the property safe?
Sounds like a no-brainer, right?
Many people, however, simply assume that since the home is on the market, it must be free of dangers, both visible and hidden. Home inspectors, like those at A-Pro Home Inspection, know differently. After performing many thousands of roof-to-foundation inspections since 1994, A-Pro inspectors have spotted just about every possible danger in a home—often the kind of unseen problems that escape the eye of an untrained observer. Pinpointing potentially harmful conditions is perhaps the number-one reason to make sure you hire a qualified home inspector. After all, if your family isn’t safe, what else really matters?
Today we’re going to look at trouble areas found in a home’s electrical system. Beyond making sure that the lights go on when a switch is flipped, your home inspector will report on electrical issues (caused by poor installation, aging, and damaged components, etc.) that can be classified as shock and/or fire hazards. Below are just a few common concerns routinely discovered by the home inspectors at A-Pro. We’ll address other electrical safety pitfalls in a future blog.
Improperly Terminated Wires and Uncovered Junction Boxes: Live wires should be terminated in a junction box with a cover. Exposed wires pose a dual threat as both a shock and fire hazard, particularly in an arid, hot, and dusty attic, where overheating and sparks from overloaded wires in an uncovered junction box could start a fire. Your home inspector will check for proper wire termination and the use of approved junction box covers.
Lack of Receptacles: A bundle of extension cords resembling small intestines or a plate of spaghetti (or even one extension cord, for that matter) will throw up a red flag that the home doesn’t have a sufficient number of properly spaced and working receptacles to handle its electrical needs. Extension cords are temporary problem-solvers—not permanent solutions. They can also pose a risk of fire. Even when extension cords are not present, the inspector will report on the absence of enough code-prescribed receptacles in habitable rooms. The use of ungrounded receptacles will also draw the scrutiny of the inspector and end up in the report.
Insufficient Service Drop Clearance: Your home inspector will check to see if the overhead service (reaching from telephone pole to the structure) meets minimum clearance requirements over and near various locations (streets, parking lots, driveways, windows, swimming pools, etc.). Other problems include overhead conductors that are not properly attached to the building or too close to tree limbs.
Service Panel Issues: There is a slew of safety-related problems having to do with the home’s service panel—all of which will be noted by the home inspector. Some of the issues, such as moisture, will signal to the inspector that a panel may be unsafe to inspect.
Bare Light Bulbs: Bare light bulbs, especially in a closet, need to have approved coverings. When exposed, a hot bulb near linens and blankets can cause a fire. Plus, no one wants to be showered with glass in case one breaks while moving objects in a tight space.
Service panel problems include limited access that makes it difficult, or impossible, for the panel to be properly serviced; missing knockouts that allow access to the inside of the panel, posing a serious risk of electrocution (especially for unsupervised children); missing connectors on cables entering a panel;
evidence of moisture on the panel; rusting enclosures; signs of arcing such as burn marks or, in some cases, actual sounds of arcing occurring within the panel; incorrect dead-front screws or screws touching live conductors; missing or obscured panel listings (UL ratings); a missing, incomplete, inaccurate, or hard-to-read listing of what the circuits are connected to; damaged breakers; and panel bonding concerns, such as the absence of a bonding jumper between the bus and metal enclosure.
Other potentially dangerous electrical problems include the presence of outdated knob-and-tube wiring; double-tapped circuit breakers; and sloppy, do-it-yourself home wiring.