The Benefits of Inspector Licensing

Home Inspector with Safe@Home Inspections, LLC in SE Washington 215

Living in a rural community (even one populated with two state univeristies - the Univeristy of Idaho and Washington State University) often leads to interesting discussions since everybody knows everybody else.

Case in point is a debate that the home inspectors here have been having with several electrical contractors regarding Federal Pacific Electrical panels. The debate has gone on for the better part of four years. We insist that the panels are problematic, the electrical contractor declares them fine and says nothing is wrong with them.

Since the Consumer Product Safety Commission finished their testing (they didn't have the money for testing), excuses have been made that the panels and breakers are okay. Even the CPSC found that the breakers didn't not operate correctly under UL testing.

That debate may soon be ended though. The proposed Standards of Practice for State of Washington Home iNspector licensing explicitly states:

(h) Report on any circuit breaker panel or subpanel known within the home inspection profession to have safety concerns.

This will relieve the pressure on the inspectors that do report on FPE and other panels - not eveyone does because they don't want to be perceived as a deal killer - and major electrical issues can and do kill deals. At the same time, it is implicitly endorsing the idea that there are some very bad panels out there and the consumer should be warned.

Most of the standards seem to be a rehash of the ASHI standards but this one change is going to help the Washington home inspectors do a better job of protecting our clients.

Score one for the good guys on the Board.

Comments (6)

Nate Rowe
Oakstone Properties, Homes in Richmond VA - Richmond, VA
Realtor, Homes in Richmond VA

Maybe the govt. needs to take some bailout money to complete this testing for the safety of the American People.  I think thats a little more important than helping companies that have been taking advantage of the American people.  I am a Realtor in Richmond but I also have an electrical card.  Huge safety concerns with these panels.  I am glad to tell you that a home inspector here in RVA did comment on one of these panels and wrote it up in his inspection report.

Jan 20, 2009 02:56 AM
Paul Duffau
Safe@Home Inspections, LLC in SE Washington - Asotin, WA
Caring for People, Educating about Homes

It's good to hear that they get written up in your area.  We have a lot of them here - I joke with clients that when FPE started getting sued, they dumped all there remaining stock in Idaho figuring it would take decades for us to catch on.

Electrical card and a Realtor.  There's an odd combo - good for you.

I'll be taking the ICC Electrical and Mechanical exams in a month or so...already passed a bunch of them, so the stress has worn off.  Now it's just about getting the studying in.

Jan 20, 2009 03:14 AM
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Paul - We had a lot of those panels installed around here during that era.  It is probably best to simply replace them - especially when they have aluminum wiring.

Having said that -->  we bought a house in 1988 with aluminum wiring and the infamous FPE Stab-lok panel.  It was sold to us by an electrician, who had lived there 17 years, raising his family in that house.  We lived there 10 years.  Neither of us had a problem.  Everything tripped properly as long as I lived there.  I will say this, I regularly, every couple of years or so, got into that panel and tightened down all the connections.  It is the looseness that develops that is very problematic.  Most people, I suspect, would not know to do that!

I don't know but have always wondered about the percentage of FPE's that have had problems, as it relates to the entire population on the market.  As inspectors, we call out certain dishwashers, for example, which may have a couple million on the market and 100 have had fire issues (i.e. GE serial # GSD500D, or G).  That's hyperbole, I know.  But, is that an unacceptable percentage?  Agreed, any fire is a bad fire, and unacceptable. But there is always going to be a percentage of even the best stuff that fails.

During inspections, and on my reports, I mention the problems associated with FPE's, but leave it there.  It is up to the buyer what he/she wishes to do with the information.

I have to also say - I get the regular CSPS recall updates and man oh man, I cannot keep up with them all!!!  I think we need to recall CHINA.  Personally I shy away from a product with the label "Made in China."

Jan 21, 2009 12:09 AM
Jim Mushinsky
Centsable Inspection - Framingham, MA

In my opinion, item (h) listed above should only be accepted if the State is committing to maintain a list of "known" breaker, sub-panels, or whatever component applies.  Putting aside the particular issue with FPE Stab-Lok, the criteria for "known" needs to be more substantial than folklore or popular opinion.  Especially if there are E&O Insurance claims that may be tried on this issue.  If licensed home inspectors will have access to a State list of "known" equipment, then I see how the inspector can make an "error or omission".  Without the State list, there is no objective criteria for "error or omission".

It sounds like consensus has not been acheived among the current authorities.  (electrical contractor says they are fine...)  To me, this sounds like E&O claims / lawsuits lining up at the door. 

In closing, my suggestion is to put the requirement on the power company.  If the power company is willing to supply power to these panels on a change of ownership (and responsibility of the electrical bill) then a home inspector should not be required to tell the client something different.

Jan 24, 2009 03:12 PM
Paul Duffau
Safe@Home Inspections, LLC in SE Washington - Asotin, WA
Caring for People, Educating about Homes

I don't think that we're going to have a choice in accepting the SOP that they are building.  Would a list be nice?  Yes, but I'm not counting on one.  The fact that they have used the phrase "within the home inspection profession" is indicative that the state will not take any responsibility.

Since I think these panels are bad, I'll continue to call FPE, Zinsco etc just as I always have.  Those folks that don't will be the ones with issues at the consumer level. 

Power companies will correctly point out that their responsibility stops outside the home.  They haven't a clue what's inside.

Jan 24, 2009 03:47 PM
Jim Mushinsky
Centsable Inspection - Framingham, MA

I agree with you on calling out FPE as a safety hazard, I give them a copy of the report as a basis for my opinion.   I don't mind taking my own risk when giving a condition rating.  I don't like the idea of being required to give a "significiantly defecient" rating without a sound basis.

I'm not so sure about the power company argument.  When the power company delivers natural gas, they will shut off your service if there is a leak or problem with the equipment in your home.  I think this argument can also be applied to the FPE panels and breakers.

I remember one time when I moved, and called the power company to switch service, they sent someone to the house.  I was told the local code did not allow CSST and it had to be replaced.  There was no leak, and the CSST was in good condition.  Seems like power companies have already set a precedent.

Jan 26, 2009 07:44 AM