One of the main goals of a home inspection is to uncover safety issues. The home inspector is trained to assess the condition and function of hundreds of components inside and outside the home, including the electrical system. A common electrical system includes the service drop, service panel, fuses or breakers and a series of wires leading to every outlet in the home. The following is a list of 10 common electrical problems reported during an NPI/GPI inspection:
1. Ungrounded outlets – Grounding provides an emergency exit for electricity when it flows somewhere it shouldn’t. Two-pronged outlets found in some older houses include a live wire and a neutral wire but no ground. Inspectors commonly find two-pronged outlets have been replaced with the three-pronged outlets common today without a change to the wiring. This creates a false sense of security for homeowners. If installed properly, two-pronged outlets are acceptable when used with double-insulated appliances.
2. Lack of GFCI protection – Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters, which help detect electrical leaks and shut off power to the protected circuit, are now required in new construction in high-moisture areas like the kitchen, garages or bathrooms. They are recommended for use in these areas in any home. These outlets are designed to help prevent shocks and include test and reset buttons that should be checked monthly.
3. Faulty wiring in electrical panels – Electrical work should be completed by a licensed electrician, but many do-it-yourselfers will make their own modifications to the electrical panel causing unsafe conditions. Double-tapping, splicing errors or the use of unsafe wiring materials or installation practices can all cause a dangerous fire hazard.
4. Outdated electrical wiring – Older electrical wiring, such as a Knob and Tube wiring installed from 1920-1950, is still found in some areas. Age of this wiring, possible deterioration and its capability to support current electrical loads is important to examine. Although the copper wires will support a normal work load, it is important to know if there is evidence of overfusing or overworking these wires. Overheating is possible if the wires are buried in insulation. Some insurance companies refuse to insure homes with Knob and Tube wiring, or require an increase in premiums.
5. Exposed wires – Individual electrical wires should be insulated. A protective sheathing wraps around insulated wires and creating the cable. The sheathing or insulation can be damaged by age, overheating or rodents leading to shocks, sparking and possible fires.
6. Overloaded electrical panel – As families grow, or amenities, pool, spas or work shops are added, improper load may be placed on the electrical panel. Replacing, or upgrading the panel can cost several thousand dollars. In new construction, the minimum allowable panel size is 100 amps. Many older homes have 60 amp panels that can be easily overloaded.
7. Oversized or undersized fuses or breakers – Fuses or breakers are used to prevent overheating at the service panel. They must be sized correctly to function correctly. Oversized breakers will not shut off electricity when overheating occurs. Undersized breakers will shut off power when the system is still safe.
8. Moisture damage – Water is a good conductor of electricity. Electrical panels may be located anywhere in the house but should be kept free of water at all times. Outdoor electrical panels should be specially designed to prevent water intrusion and rust.
9. Permanent use of extension cords – Extension cords are not meant to supply power permanently. They should not be fastened in place or concealed in walls, floors or ceilings.
10. Poor location for a service panel – The area around the service panel and access to the main shutoff should be kept free of obstruction. Benches, boxes or other storage items in front of the panel may prevent someone from being able to access the shutoff in an emergency. The recommended clear space area around an electrical panel is 36 inches out from the wall, 30 inches side to side around the panel and 6-8 feet up and down.
For more information, contact your local NPI/GPI home inspector.