This is not your Grandfathers' Electrical Outlet... from a Camano Island Home Inspector

Home Inspector with Miller Home Inspection WA HI Inspector Lic. #209

"Grandfathered" is a term often used when referring to something installed in a home that was in compliance with codes at the time it was installed, but no longer would meet the current code.

Like the old drum style trap in this picture. drum trap

It is grandfathered, meaning that the building code official will not be knocking on your door and telling you to remove and replace it. You don't need to do anything, regardless of the fact that these are obsolete, and not allowed in modern plumbing installations.

But does this same concept of grandfathering apply to home inspection reporting? A lot of agents that I talk to seem to think so.

I could not even keep count how many times I have reported deficiencies such as stair and deck railing pickets that exceeded 4" separation, the absence of smoke detectors, and similar concerns, to hear a response from the agent that those items are grandfathered since the home was built before the code was adopted.

Take for example the GFCI (ground fault circuit interupter) outlets that in modern homes are required in bathrooms, kitchens, exteriors, outlets, basements, and other locations where electrical and water are in close proximity.

gfci    GFCI

GFCI's were implemented in phases for a variety of locations according to the NEC starting in 1971. (See chart below)

History of GFCI Requirements Introduced by NEC
(National Electrical Code)
Year of NEC
New GFCI Locations or Conditions Concerning GFCI Applications
Introduced in NEC Publication
  • GFCI receptacles required within 15 feet of swimming pool walls
  • All portable swimming pool equipment must be GFCI protected
  • All outdor receptacles must be GFCI protected
  • GFCI protection must be used on construction sites
  • GFCI protection required for bathrooms, fountain equipment, 120 volt pool lights, and boathouses
  • Exemption for exterior GFCI outlets located 6′&6″ above the ground
  • GFCI receptacles required for garages and spas (some local jurisdictions also included hydro-spa)
  • Exemption for garage receptacles for dedicated equipment or not readily accessible (i.e. garage door opener power supply outlet that can not be reached without the ladder)
  • Replacement of non-grounding receptacles with no grounding conductor
  • Pool cover motors require GFCI
  • GFCI receptacle distance from swimming pool wall extended to 20′
  • GFCI required for unfinished basements
  • GFCI required for hydro-spa
  • GFCI protection required for kitchen countertop receptacles located within 6′ from the sink
  • GFCI required in crawlspaces with an exception of sump pumps and any other dedicated equipment
  • GFCI required for wet bar countertop, within 6′ from the sink
  • Any receptacle replaced in an area that currently requires GFCI
  • GFCI protection required for all kitchen counters, not only within 6′ from the sink
  • GFCI required for all exterior outlets except for dedicated deicing tape / cable receptacle
  • Unfinished accessory building at or below grade require GFCI protected receptacles
  • Exception for dedicated equipment in crawlspace area removed
  • "Smart Lock" type GFCI receptacles required

But, while the history list above is interesting, it has absolutely no bearing on how an inspector reports the absence of such devices. Grandfathering is not part of the Home Inspection laws that we are required to follow.

GFCI's are a safety device and the Washington State Law regarding home inspections (WAC 308-408c-110) require inspectors to "Verify" (iii) Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection, and (f) Report the location of any inoperative or missing GFCI devices.

Thankfully we don't have to remember the chart above and apply it to every home we inspect. Either the home has acceptable GFCI protection or it doesn't.

So now you know the rest of the story....


Miller Home Inspection

Camano Island Washington

Licensed Home Inspector #209


Comments (12)

Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Harold good post----also great for our SOP's to be so pro-active about this issue.

Apr 07, 2010 11:16 AM