Hansel and Gretel out in the woods left a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back home. Unfortunately, being children they did not realize, all though I would suspect a few adults would not have seen the error, bread was a bad choice for a trail marker. Without their doughy clues to follow, the children become lost in the dark and sinister woods. Eventually, as so often happens in fairy tales, things worked out for the best for the two wayward children.
Now if Hansel and Gretel had attended a survival training course, they would not have wasted their food leaving an edible trail marker through the woods. Their schooling would have taught how to look for subtle clues to where they had been and natural signs to indicate their direction. Clues are everywhere, you just need to learn where to look and recognize.
Not unlike inspecting a house. The task requires knowledge and observation. The order of the skills is necessary. Without understanding, recognition can not occur through examination.
As is often is the case with a buyer inquiring about a home inspection, a comment is made to the effect of;
"I/we, my uncle, dad, best friend walked through the entire house and didn't see anything majorly wrong."
I have heard that literally hundreds of times. I have also found issues in those same houses, some really big, many not.
Case in point. A newer condominium that according to the buyer is in immaculate condition. Translation, the house is neat and clean, with newer fixtures. The unit has a finished basement. Finished basements are so often a place of discovery for the home inspector.
Typically a finished basement is heated by an auxiliary heating system, electric baseboard heaters. They are a cheap, easy and effective means to bring heat to the new space. As with most things that get hot and run on electricity, there are a few rules to their installation.
The first oddity I noted with the system was the size of the units. They were small, about two feet each. And numerous, five in all. They were also nicely fit around the existing furniture. Apparently someone knew the dangers of covering electric baseboard heaters.
From this point, the installer became lost in the woods.
The next quite noticeable, at least to me, characteristic with the install was the electric outlets above several of the heaters. A big time no, no. As far as I know, placing an outlet over an electric baseboard heater has never been allowed and for good reason. The insulation on an appliance or lamp cord left on top of the heater can melt. I've seen it.
What this installation error says me as an inspector is the installer was unaware of the rules. Meaning the person who did the work was not an electrician. It also tells more. Permits were not pulled and if they had been, the ensuing inspections were almost assuredly not done. Later, inspection of the electric panel revealed further clues to the ignorance of the installer.
The electrical work in the basement requires new circuits. After seeing the installation of the heaters and outlets, I was keyed in on these new circuits. I found three marked as for the basement. Two for outlets one for the heaters. There was another bit of strangeness with the heater circuit, specifically the breaker. It was a single pole breaker or more commonly known as a 110 breaker. Baseboard heaters are normally 220 volts, needing a double pole breaker (220 volts).
Immediately I went to the nearest heater, found the data plate, and read 240/208 volts.
Someone was really lost in the forest. The information is right in front of them and yet they failed to see it.
By recognizing and then following the available clues, the trail lead to an incorrectly wired and installed electric heating system in the basement.
No breadcrumbs needed.