Don't hire a jack-leg to do a pro's job.

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Cornerstone Business Group Inc 0225086119

On any given day I may be showing houses, taking listing photos or saving a house from burning down. Today was the burning down day. The photo below shows a receptacle that Jon (my electrician son) and I discovered when a past client complained that her lights weren't working on her screened in porch. This porch has been a real nemesis for us over the past six months. 

On the first service call, I went and found what I can only describe as a beautifully built screened-in porch with a jack-leg electrical package. After a quick search, I found this electrical junction box installed half-way between the top of the deck and the bottom of the deck. It was nearly impossible to work on, but that is where the initial electrical problem was found. Once corrected, everything came back to life.

Forward fast a couple months and the second call came in. The deck lights and receptacles are not working again. This time, my son went, and he found another junction box under the deck with loose connections. He repaired them and everything worked. This week, another call came in that it isn't working again. Now, by this time, we're starting to doubt ourselves, but the wiring was so poorly done we assumed that it was something else wrong with the deck.

It wasn't. This time, the homeowners had stored a group of screens behind their garage freezer and when they pushed them in that space the screens made contact with the cord ends of the freezer and a small refrigerator. The screens pushed on the cord-ends enough to arc and burn up the receptacle as you can see. It only burned up the top of the receptacle which is where the wiring that was passed onto the deck was located. The bottom of the receptacle was still hot and feeding the freezer. This is a great reason to have GFCI receptacles in your garage.

Once we replaced the receptacle, everything worked fine. Up to that point, the possibility for a fire was enormous. I'm surprised that the arc that happened when the screens were pushed into the cord-end didn't alert the homeowner that something had just happened. How the jack-leg tied the porch onto this line is still a mystery, but the house is 50+ years old and who knows how many people have been in the electrical system. The panel has a couple dozen overloaded breakers as well. It's a genuine electrical nightmare. 

My biggest concern with issues like this is that you don't know how bad the wiring is until you have a fire or major portions of your house no longer work. We've intercepted numerous soon-to-be fire issues over the years. One thing I wish people would consider when hiring  tradesmen to work on their homes is are they qualified? When someone says, "Oh, I've done a little electrical work," that is not the same as, "I am a licensed and insured electrician." Spend a few extra bucks and get a pro. Your life may depend on it. This retired lady was fortunate, but not everyone is. 


Comments (12)

Fred Griffin Florida Real Estate
Fred Griffin Real Estate - Tallahassee, FL
Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker

Hi, Mike

   We purchased a house on acreage last year.  This house was owned by a senior citizen who trusted a number of "good old boys" to do various jobs over the years.  Unlicensed, unskilled amateurs.  I don't want to say they ripped her off, but the work they did was totally not acceptable.

      The first major issue we had was with the wiring.  Indoor light switches used on the exterior of the house, ungrounded receptacles, insufficient circuit breakers, water pipes within six inches of an outlet, and on and on. 

     The home inspector flagged over a dozen items.  It is by the grace of God nobody had ever been electrocuted or seriously injured, or that the house had not burned to the ground. 

      Yes, it was a major expense to get everything corrected, but it was the first priority.  I was a power lineman when I was in the Air Force; I worked on the airfield lighting, I climbed 90 foot poles, all of it.  But today, I don't have the knowledge of Code, nor recent experience, I am not qualified (other than to make sure it is up to Code), so we hired professionals.  Close to $2000 to get it done, but now it is wired correctly.

May 12, 2022 05:10 PM
Kat Palmiotti


May 13, 2022 05:04 AM
Kathy Streib
Cypress, TX
Retired Home Stager/Redesign

Hi Mike- hurricanes and floods don't scare me. Having my house catch on fire does!!!  In our first home, Larry, who is a builder, put in a wooden deck and hot tub. He did all of the work himself except for the electrical. He said he knew when to call in the pros. 

May 12, 2022 05:20 PM
Mike McCann - Nebraska Farm Land Broker
Mike McCann - Broker, Mach1 Realty Farmland Broker-Auctioneer Serving Rural Nebraska - Kearney, NE
Farm Land For Sale 308-627-3700 or 800-241-3940

Wow...thanks for sharing and for the photos.  I have seen thi s more than once...but it has been a long time since I have heard the term jack-leg.   They are lucky they did not burn the house down with the screens.  

May 12, 2022 05:30 PM
Anna Banana Kruchten CRS, Phoenix Broker
HomeSmart Real Estate BR030809000 - Phoenix, AZ

Oh man I so agree - hire a licensed electrician!  Great reminder to everyone Mike!  Over the years we've run into some pretty scary stuff.  A few years ago a client of ours hired an HVAC company to put in a new unit within a year or so of purchasing the home.  6 months later the house had a major fire and it took  1  1/2 years for them to be able to move back into their 'dream home'.  Bad electrical caused the whole mess nightmare.

May 12, 2022 05:53 PM
Liz and Bill Spear
RE/MAX Alliance 513.520.5305 - Mason, OH
RE/MAX Alliance Cincinnati & Dayton suburbs

Mike, If the Navy taught me nothing else, it taught me a significant amount about knowing our limitations regarding electricity.  On a ship, you become the ground if you mess it up.  Around the house I pretty much limit myself to changing light fixtures.  Anything more complicated than that and I have the pros come take care of it.

May 12, 2022 08:06 PM
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667,, Broker/REALTOR® - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

Yes, a professional is a must, especially when it comes to electrical. That homeowner is so lucky things weren't worse.

May 13, 2022 05:06 AM
Ed Silva
Mapleridge Realty, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

After the first time, it would have been appropriate to tell them to hire an electrician and go over all the electrics. Why didn't all of these show up in the inspection?

May 13, 2022 07:25 AM
Mike Cooper, Broker VA,WV, MD

Sadly, Ed, they didn't do inspections. Non-permit work for sure.

May 13, 2022 08:07 AM
Leanne Smith
Dirt Road Real Estate - Golden Valley, AZ
Relocation to NW AZ with elbow room & more freedom

So true, my husband is an electrical engineer and is extremely careful about electricity. When clients have the potential of electrical problems reported in the home inspection report, I refer them to a licensed electrical contractor.  Safety for my clients is one of my biggest concerns when it comes to purchasing a home.

May 14, 2022 07:13 AM
Kris Collis, Associate Broker
Smart Way America Realty - East Stroudsburg, PA
Professional Results you Expect 570-801-5525

Mike, "Jack-leg" a new term here.  This is a great blog surely to find homeowners thinking about going cheap on electrical repairs. They will change their minds, pictures speak a thousand words. Thanks for this important example about the importance of qualified electricians, which goes for any home improvement contractor.

May 14, 2022 09:07 AM
Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Mike when we bought our home, the home inspector told me that the house had 'cloth wiring' from the 1940's.... so with that said Diane wanted to have nice fence...... I insisted on  bringing my  licensed electrician and we rewired the entire house and put in circuit breakers not the ones that you screw in:)) on a side note we still do not have a fence.... funny part is I want one now and Diane is holding out:))Endre

May 14, 2022 07:20 PM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Great advice for everyone who owns a home. Electrical issues are one thing you really do not want to mess around with. I've seen plenty of electrical issues on inspections, and some pretty shocking DYI projects. It's not worth the risk to try and save a few bucks.

May 15, 2022 01:12 PM
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD

Thank you very much, Mike, for sharing this story and your advice.

Have a productive month.

May 18, 2022 06:00 AM