One Thing Leads Us To Another

Home Inspector with JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC HOI 394

Hansel & GretelHansel 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.

Electric baseboard heaterNot 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.

Electric panel

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).

data plateImmediately 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.

Posted by

James Quarello
Connecticut Home Inspector
Former SNEC-ASHI President
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC

 ASHI Certified Inspector

To find out more about our other high tech services we offer in Connecticut click on the links below:

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Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Jim, Nice work. I see receptacles over baseboards all the time. But catching they have been wired to 120v was very good. I find that often things are not label (or labeled correctly) to know what circuit goes where. Could they be two-poled without a handle tie?

Nov 03, 2013 01:22 AM #18
Dwight Puntigan
DRP Realty, LLC - Saint Peters, MO
Dwight Puntigan

If it did not work for them I will not try it.  I always learn from activerain.  Thanks

Nov 03, 2013 02:40 AM #19
Tammie White, Broker
Franklin Homes Realty LLC - Franklin, TN
Franklin TN Homes for Sale

James, so often home inspectors see what we do not. That is why I always recommend a home inspection.

Nov 03, 2013 03:04 AM #20
Jimmy Faulkner
Florida. Homes Realty & Mortgage - Wantagh, NY
The Best Of St. Augustine
Superb post and good information for me about basements. Yes, there is always someone who knows everything about homes except you the home inspector. Only problem is that you do not leave home without a home inspector
Nov 03, 2013 03:46 AM #21
Jay & Michelle Lieberman
Keller Williams World Class - Agoura Hills, CA
Creating Calm in the Buying and Selling Chaos

With your expert eye you may not need the breadcrumbs.  I would need full slices of bread leading me to the answers.

Nov 03, 2013 04:06 AM #22
Jay & Michelle Lieberman
Keller Williams World Class - Agoura Hills, CA
Creating Calm in the Buying and Selling Chaos

With your expert eye you may not need the breadcrumbs.  I would need full slices of bread leading me to the answers.

Nov 03, 2013 04:06 AM #23
David Shamansky
US Mortgages - David Shamansky - Highlands Ranch, CO
Creative, Aggressive & 560 FICO - OK, Colorado Mtg

And this is why I HIGHLY recommend EVERY buyer to invest the 3-500 for an inspection to insure they are not buying someone elses problems!

Nov 03, 2013 05:42 AM #24
AJ Heidmann ~ CRS
McEnearney Associates, Inc. - Alexandria, VA
YOUR Alexandria & Arlington, VA Real Estate Expert

James - A great home inspector is worth their weight in gold for connecting the dots to clueless/DIY renovation projects and the down stream problems that they create.

Nov 03, 2013 06:29 AM #25
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667 (MT), 914-419-0270 (NY), Broker in NY with Grand Lux Realty and in MT with (coming soon!) - Kalispell, MT
The House Kat

Wow, that was a great job of following the non-edible trail!   I find electrical work being done by non-electricians to be a scary thing.


Nov 03, 2013 06:36 AM #26
Kelly Young
The Platinum Group Realtors - Colorado Springs, CO
Colorado Springs Real Estate ~ 719-226-0126

James, a great example of just how valuable a good inspector like yourself is and can make a huge difference for a home buyer.  

Nov 03, 2013 07:52 AM #27
Bill Reddington
Re/max Southern Realty - Destin, FL
Destin Florida Real Estate

This is a perfect example of why you always do a home inspection. Amazing what crops up.

Nov 03, 2013 07:55 AM #28
Barbara Altieri
Kinard Realty Group - RealtyQuest Team, Fairfield and New Haven County CT Real Estate - Shelton, CT
REALTOR-Fairfield County CT Homes/Condos For Sale
Great post, Jim..... And back to the original problem..... NO PERMIT!!!
Nov 03, 2013 09:53 AM #29
Ralph Gorgoglione
Maui Life Homes / Metro Life Homes - Kihei, HI
Hawaii and California Real Estate (310) 497-9407

James, what a creative frame for your story! When will people realize that cutting corners will never get the results they want.

Nov 03, 2013 01:39 PM #30
Morgan Evans
Douglas Elliman Real Estate - Manhattan, NY

This is a great example of the difference between the inexperienced casual home inspection and a professional trained inspection that like you mention knows what to look for and what looks out of place.

Nov 03, 2013 10:15 PM #31
Tony Marra
Bay to Bay Lending, LLC - Tampa, FL
Tony Marra

thanks for sharing

Nov 04, 2013 01:29 AM #32
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Clint, Same here. When I tested them, before discovering all the fun stuff, they didn't heat up that much. 

Hey Deb, Interesting. Small places with gas for cooking I would imagine. 

Bill, I highly doubt this is the work of an electrician. 

Margaret, Thank you!

Jay, Your powers of intuitiveness are remarkable. Everyone knows the lower you go, the less voltage you need, right? ;)

Brian, Same rule applies here in CT.

Dianne, That road should be closed :)

Michael, I wonder if they wondered :)

Silvia, Exactly why we all have important roles to play in real estate and life. No one knows everything about everything. 

Ginny, Thanks. Glad you took a way a nugget of knowledge.

Tom, No way it can be working right. And that Uncle Bob sure does get around :)

Nov 04, 2013 08:55 PM #33
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Goran, I think they believed they did understand. Scary. 

Richie, Thanks!

Marc, And there lies the "problem" with electricity. Even when done incorrectly, it can work. Thus giving the less than knowledgeable install a false sense of accomplishment. Dangerous!

Charlie, That was my point to the buyer. It may seem like a simple error, but correcting it won't be. 

Fred, So true. In the end nothing is really saved.

Don, The circuit was marked. No guessing. Also all the new circuits had been incorrectly terminated inside the panel. More fun stuff :)

Dwight, Electricity should be left to the license professional. 

Tammie, Exactly. We have our area of expertise as you do yours. 

Jimmy, I have not found one of those "experts" able to match the knowledge of a good home inspector. 

Nov 04, 2013 09:20 PM #34
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Jay & Michelle, I think that all depends on what your looking for.

David, A point I sometimes make during an inspection when I find a big issue. It's not their (buyers) problem now, but it will be after the sale. 

AJ, Yep, stuff like this can be like falling dominoes.

Kat, And it seems to be done quite often. Double scary.

Kelly, Thank you. At the end of the day, everyone is the better knowing that major issues exist.

Bill, Amazing is right. You can't make this stuff up.

Barbara, Thanks. It does come back to that small detail, doesn't it !?

Ralph, Thanks! I believe the homeowners are in some instances, this being one, unaware. The contractor knowingly cut corners to maximize his profit and lower his work burden.

Morgan, I think you raise a great point of distinction that can be universally applied. 

Tony, Thanks for reading.

Nov 04, 2013 09:34 PM #35
The Sarenpa Team
Keller Williams Premier Realty - Wayzata, MN
Serving Lake Minnetonka & Surrounding Communities

Yes! Many times basements are finished by a collaboration of contractors or the homeowner chooses to do it or part of it themselves which can result in red flags. I've seen an extension cord going thru the ceiling in a home built in 2002, where the basement was likely finished a couple years later. The basement appeared to be very well done with a theater room and a full wet bar. This same house, HVAC was only roughed in to one of the upper bedrooms. Things aren't always as they appear.

Nov 04, 2013 11:32 PM #36
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

Sarenpa Team, Which is why all house bear scrutiny before purchase. 

Nov 05, 2013 12:34 AM #37
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