Wenatchee Home Inspection-The Dirty Dozen of Electrical Problems

This blog has a good comprehensive list of electrical problems that inspectors are on the alert for. The stats at the beginning actually apply to the US but the proportions will be the same here in Canada. Safety conscious home owners will find this informative.

This is a reblog so when you wish to make a comment please link through and do it on the original writer’s blog. Thank you.

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Are you a closet electrician? Manypeople including homeowners, mechanics, handymen and engineers think they are weekendelectricians. Is some of this work is beyond their comprehension?

As a professional home inspector weare looking for these repairs or installations which could create fire andshock hazards.

The National Electrical Code (NEC)is the code that all electricians operate under. There are many localinterpretations around the country, but for all intents and purposes this isthe minimum standard for safety. Wiring that does not comply with the standardscould end in a fire or severe shock, it happens!

The National Fire ProtectionAssociation (NFPA) reports electrical problems are one of the largest causes ofproperty damage in home structure fires. The United States Consumer ProductSafety Commission (CPSC) states small appliances plugged into inadequate andimproper house wiring is the leading cause of accidental electrocutions.

The NFPAstatistics for 2009, U.S. fire departments responded to 362,500 home structurefires. Thesefires caused 12,650 civilian injuries, 2,565 civilian deaths, $7.6 billion indirect damage.

In recent yearsthe average of 53,000 home electricalfires has been reported per year. These fires resulted in an average of 500deaths, 1,400 injuries, and $1.5 billion in direct property damage per year.One of every seven home fires was an electricalfire.

Here is the most common wiringproblems found during a typical home inspection. They are not in any particularorder.

Grounded receptacle improperly wired

Ungrounded receptacles are converted to accept newer 3-prong plugs withoutconnecting the ground wire. This gives the illusion is that the receptacle isgrounded but in reality, it is not. Properly grounded outlets allow straycurrent (yes stray current) to travel to the ground and not into you if amalfunction occurs.


Hot Neutral Reverse

Another commonly found issue onhome inspections is receptacles wired improperly with the hot and neutral wiresreversed. All electrical devices today are polarized. That means the small slotin a receptacle should be hot and the larger slot is neutral. The half roundopening is for the ground wire. If improperly wired, (i.e. reversed polarity),there is an opportunity for electrical shocks.


“Homeowner” wiring

Performed by the homeowners or the handymen they hired there is usually aproblem. Inspectors find loose, hanging wiring and open junction boxes. We findwiring under joists or connections not in boxes, inadequately sized wiringand/or switches (which means not heavy enough to handle the load). During theinspection home inspectors frequently find improperly wired switches, fixturesand devices. This category is probably responsible for the majority of lostlives and fires. Wiring has been performed by a homeowner or handyman youshould consider having a licensed electrician perform a further evaluation.

Extension cord wiring

Extension cords are used all thetime. They should never be considered permanent wiring. Extension cords shouldnever be installed under rugs or covered. Excess cord should not be bundled orrolled up because it could cause overheating. They should periodically beinspected to make sure they are not warm, overheating, brittle or cracked.Extension cords have “gauges” or sizes. The proper gauge and length should beused with the load required. Undersized cords, 16-gauge or smaller, canoverheat and cause a fire. Today’s codes require a receptacle on every wallover 4-feet in length, as well as within 4-feet of a doorway. There should alsobe one on every wall that can be reached by a standard 6-foot cord.

Oversized fuses or breakers

The fuse or breaker is supposed tobe the weakest link in the circuit. If there is a “situation” you want the fuseto blow or the breaker to trip. By increasing the size, the homeowner has notincreased the power to that circuit. They have made the wiring within the wallsthe weakest link and that could cause a fire. Think of it as turning the wiresin the wall into heating elements. The house could burn to the ground.

Aluminum wiring

Houses built between 1960 and 1973could have some aluminum wiring. There was a copper shortage during this timewhich made it more expensive. The inexpensive substitute was aluminum. Theproblem was that aluminum wiring expands and contracts at a different rate thanthe copper and brass screws used on all fixtures and outlets throughout thehouse. Aluminum also corrodes when it is in contact with copper. Many firesoccurred and aluminum wiring was discontinued. Needless to say tens ofthousands of homes have aluminum wiring within their walls. It can be replaced,but it is expensive.

(Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters(AFCI’s) can be installed in place of existing breakers. The AFCI willimmediately sense overheating and/or arcing, and shut off the current to thecircuit.)

Knob and tube wiring

Many older homes have knob and tube (K&T) wiring which is the earliest typeof residential wiring. K&T looked like individual cloth covered wiresapproximately 8 to 12 inches apart. The wires were secured with white ceramicknobs and tubes. Much of it is still in use today but problems arise whenconnections/splices are taken off the wiring. The wiring can also becomebrittle and the solder joints can weaken. If you have this type of wiring andare planning any major remodeling, at that time you should consider updatingthe service and replacing the wiring.

No Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter(GFCI’s)

GFCI’ssense a fault to ground (read that as being electrocuted) and cut off the powerwithin 1/4 th of a second. That means it’s off within 3 to 5 milliamps, whichis before the average person would be seriously injured. They are required inall new construction for exterior, garage, basement, bathroom and kitchencircuits. They can and should be retrofitted into all existing homes. Inaddition, AFCI’s, which were discussed previously, should also be installed inall existing homes.

Worn out receptacles

Yes, wall outlets wear out. If you plug a cord into an outlet and it falls outor is loose, it means the receptacle has worn out and the contacts can arc,causing fires. This is another area where AFCI’s can prevent a fire, but thereceptacle should be replaced.

Missing or broken junction boxes covers

Thisis very common item. When the junction box (for outlets, switched or wiresplices) cover is missing or broken the wire connections are exposed oraccessible to children. This is an easy and often overlooked item.

Zinsco or Federal Pacific ServicePanels

Federal Pacific, Zinsco,  Zinsco-Sylvania, GTE-Sylvania or Kearneypanels where manufactured residential and commercial circuitbreakers and load centers(panels) from the early 1950’s until the 1980’s.

Significant problems and failures have beendocumented with these panels and the circuit breakers. The circuit breakershave a history of not tripping correctly during a circuit fault. This canbe a dangerous situation which can result in fire or electrocution. Otherproblems experienced are melting buss bars, loose connections and overlycrowded wiring. The panels can be identified in many cases without removing thedead front cover. The words “Stab Loc” are printed on some of thepanel covers. Some versions have multi covered circuit breakers, typically red,white or blue. It every case these should be evaluated by an electrician and inmost cases will need replacement.

Inadequate service for today’srequirements

Most houses are built with minimum electrical service. That’s always been true.Nowadays with 1500-watt hair dryers, microwaves, frost-free refrigerators, andcomputers along with all the other conveniences we want, our electrical servicemay be inadequate. That is especially true if your house is over 40 years old.Do your lights dim when the air conditioning or fridge turn on? Do you blowfuses or trip circuit breakers frequently? If so, consider upgrading yourservice.


Leavenworth and Wenatchee Home Inspection- The dirty dozen of wiringProblems

NCW Home Inspections, LLC is located in Wenatchee Washington serving Chelan County, Douglas County, KittitasCounty, Okanogan County and Grant County Washington and the cities ofWenatchee, Leavenworth, Cashmere, Orville, Cle Elum, East Wenatchee, Quincy andmanymore…

NCW HomeInspections LLC-509-670-9572


NCW Home Inspections the “buyersadvocate”.

NCW Home Inspections, LLC,                located in Wenatchee WA             509-670-9572.

North Central Washington Home Inspections,LLC proudly serves Chelan County, Douglas County, Kittitas County, OkanoganCounty and Grant County Washington.

Cities served Wenatchee,Leavenworth,Cashmere, Chelan, Cle Elem, East Wenatchee, Quincy, Oroville andall areas of North Central Washington.


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