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.
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Leavenworth and Wenatchee Home Inspection- The dirty dozen of wiring Problems <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Are you a closet electrician? Many people including homeowners, mechanics, handymen and engineers think they are weekend electricians. Is some of this work is beyond their comprehension?
As a professional home inspector we are looking for these repairs or installations which could create fire and shock hazards.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) is the code that all electricians operate under. There are many local interpretations around the country, but for all intents and purposes this is the minimum standard for safety. Wiring that does not comply with the standards could end in a fire or severe shock, it happens!
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports electrical problems are one of the largest causes of property damage in home structure fires. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) states small appliances plugged into inadequate and improper house wiring is the leading cause of accidental electrocutions.
The NFPA statistics for 2009, U.S. fire departments responded to 362,500 home structure fires. These fires caused 12,650 civilian injuries, 2,565 civilian deaths, $7.6 billion in direct damage.
In recent years the average of 53,000 home electrical fires has been reported per year. These fires resulted in an average of 500 deaths, 1,400 injuries, and $1.5 billion in direct property damage per year. One of every seven home fires was an electrical fire.
Here is the most common wiring problems found during a typical home inspection. They are not in any particular order.
Grounded receptacle improperly wired
Ungrounded receptacles are converted to accept newer 3-prong plugs without connecting the ground wire. This gives the illusion is that the receptacle is grounded but in reality, it is not. Properly grounded outlets allow stray current (yes stray current) to travel to the ground and not into you if a malfunction occurs.
Hot Neutral Reverse
Another commonly found issue on home inspections is receptacles wired improperly with the hot and neutral wires reversed. All electrical devices today are polarized. That means the small slot in a receptacle should be hot and the larger slot is neutral. The half round opening is for the ground wire. If improperly wired, (i.e. reversed polarity), there is an opportunity for electrical shocks.
Performed by the homeowners or the handymen they hired there is usually a problem. Inspectors find loose, hanging wiring and open junction boxes. We find wiring under joists or connections not in boxes, inadequately sized wiring and/or switches (which means not heavy enough to handle the load). During the inspection home inspectors frequently find improperly wired switches, fixtures and devices. This category is probably responsible for the majority of lost lives and fires. Wiring has been performed by a homeowner or handyman you should consider having a licensed electrician perform a further evaluation.
Extension cord wiring
Extension cords are used all the time. They should never be considered permanent wiring. Extension cords should never be installed under rugs or covered. Excess cord should not be bundled or rolled up because it could cause overheating. They should periodically be inspected to make sure they are not warm, overheating, brittle or cracked. Extension cords have “gauges” or sizes. The proper gauge and length should be used with the load required. Undersized cords, 16-gauge or smaller, can overheat and cause a fire. Today’s codes require a receptacle on every wall over 4-feet in length, as well as within 4-feet of a doorway. There should also be one on every wall that can be reached by a standard 6-foot cord.
Oversized fuses or breakers
The fuse or breaker is supposed to be the weakest link in the circuit. If there is a “situation” you want the fuse to blow or the breaker to trip. By increasing the size, the homeowner has not increased the power to that circuit. They have made the wiring within the walls the weakest link and that could cause a fire. Think of it as turning the wires in the wall into heating elements. The house could burn to the ground.
Houses built between 1960 and 1973 could have some aluminum wiring. There was a copper shortage during this time which made it more expensive. The inexpensive substitute was aluminum. The problem was that aluminum wiring expands and contracts at a different rate than the copper and brass screws used on all fixtures and outlets throughout the house. Aluminum also corrodes when it is in contact with copper. Many fires occurred and aluminum wiring was discontinued. Needless to say tens of thousands 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 will immediately sense overheating and/or arcing, and shut off the current to the circuit.)
Knob and tube wiring
Many older homes have knob and tube (K&T) wiring which is the earliest type of residential wiring. K&T looked like individual cloth covered wires approximately 8 to 12 inches apart. The wires were secured with white ceramic knobs and tubes. Much of it is still in use today but problems arise when connections/splices are taken off the wiring. The wiring can also become brittle and the solder joints can weaken. If you have this type of wiring and are planning any major remodeling, at that time you should consider updating the service and replacing the wiring.
No Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI’s)
GFCI’s sense a fault to ground (read that as being electrocuted) and cut off the power within 1/4 th of a second. That means it’s off within 3 to 5 milliamps, which is before the average person would be seriously injured. They are required in all new construction for exterior, garage, basement, bathroom and kitchen circuits. They can and should be retrofitted into all existing homes. In addition, AFCI’s, which were discussed previously, should also be installed in all existing homes.
Worn out receptacles
Yes, wall outlets wear out. If you plug a cord into an outlet and it falls out or 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 the receptacle should be replaced.
Missing or broken junction boxes covers
This is very common item. When the junction box (for outlets, switched or wire splices) cover is missing or broken the wire connections are exposed or accessible to children. This is an easy and often overlooked item.
Zinsco or Federal Pacific Service Panels
Federal Pacific, Zinsco, Zinsco-Sylvania, GTE-Sylvania or Kearney panels where manufactured residential and commercial circuit breakers and load centers(panels) from the early 1950's until the 1980's.
Significant problems and failures have been documented with these panels and the circuit breakers. The circuit breakers have a history of not tripping correctly during a circuit fault. This can be a dangerous situation which can result in fire or electrocution. Other problems experienced are melting buss bars, loose connections and overly crowded wiring. The panels can be identified in many cases without removing the dead front cover. The words "Stab Loc" are printed on some of the panel covers. Some versions have multi covered circuit breakers, typically red, white or blue. It every case these should be evaluated by an electrician and in most cases will need replacement.
Inadequate service for today’s requirements
Most houses are built with minimum electrical service. That’s always been true. Nowadays with 1500-watt hair dryers, microwaves, frost-free refrigerators, and computers along with all the other conveniences we want, our electrical service may 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 blow fuses or trip circuit breakers frequently? If so, consider upgrading your service.
Leavenworth and Wenatchee Home Inspection- The dirty dozen of wiring Problems
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North Central Washington Home Inspections, LLC proudly serves Chelan County, Douglas County, Kittitas County, Okanogan County and Grant County Washington.
Cities served Wenatchee, Leavenworth,Cashmere, Chelan, Cle Elem, East Wenatchee, Quincy, Oroville and all areas of North Central Washington.
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