A home inspection is the best way for a homebuyer to protect themselves from unexpected setbacks and costly repairs. Although the home may be freshened with paint and new carpeting, flaws in the electrical system can hide behind the new decor.
The electrical system consists of the service, distribution wiring and convenience devices (switches, lights and receptacles) of your home. Your inspector is looking for safe electrical distribution throughout. Any issues with wiring or incorrect usage can result in costly damage to your home and the safety of the people who live there.
The inspection focuses on the flow of electricity from your provider at the service drop through the breakers and wiring to the outlets and switches. Your inspector pays special attention to amperage and any possible overload, correct control of breaker panels and appropriate wiring for safe electrical flow.
Whenever an electrical system is overloaded, the potential for fire lurks behind the walls of the home. Your inspector’s independent and unbiased inspection ensures that your new home will be safe from potential electrical hazards.
From Supplier to the Home
Your inspector starts tracking the flow of electricity into the home to ensure that all wiring and conduits are in place, the correct size and material are used, and the materials meet current electrical standards.
A typical electrical system brings power from the utility company through a “service drop.” The power is run through a meter to measure usage and is distributed to the structure through a weatherproof service entrance box. The box rating (measured in amps) determines the maximum size of the service; a typical 100-amp box will support up to a 100-amp main breaker. The main breaker is designed to shut off power to the whole structure.
Separate distribution breakers to shut off individual circuits are located either at the main electrical service panel or at one or more distribution subpanels. The service sent to the distribution subpanels should not exceed the ratings of the subpanel. Circuit breakers should be labeled to facilitate service or repair, and unused breaker positions should be protected with blanking plates.
All breakers in the system should only have one wire connected to them. More than one wire is a non-approved connection referred to as “double lugging.” (Note: Some special breakers allow for more than one wire, but they must be used if more than wire is connected to a breaker.) All splicing of wires should be made in an approved junction box, and wires properly connected using wire nuts or another approved method.
Most wiring is usually copper, but larger circuits and older homes may also have aluminum conductors. New aluminum wiring work requires an aluminum-oxide paste to be installed at the connections. All wiring below eight feet should be enclosed in approved conduit or protected inside wall and floor cavities behind sheetrock or plywood.
All exterior wiring should be waterproof and protected with ground fault circuit interruption (GFCI) protection. Older “knob-and-tube”-style wiring should not have damaged knobs, tubes, wire or insulation, should not be covered with insulation, and should not be tapped or spliced.
All electrical wiring work should be referred to a licensed electrical contractor for further evaluation and repair.
Inside the Home
Once you are in your new home, you’ll want to take advantage of all the ways electricity makes modern living comfortable and convenient. Your inspector knows how to seek out and evaluate electrical connection faults that may not be visible to an untrained observer. Your inspector’s expertise can keep you and your family safe from potential harm.
Electricity provides power to many conveniences of modern living. A proper system for flow is essential for safety. Your inspection includes searching for potential hazards that you may overlook or that are hidden in the attic space or under the house.
Some examples of common electrical hazard findings:
- Loose or improper connections, such as electrical outlets or switches
- Frayed appliance or extension cords
- Pinched or pierced wire insulation, which could occur from, for example, a chair leg sitting on an extension cord
- Cracked wire insulation caused by heat, age, corrosion or bending
- Overheated wires or cords
- Damaged electrical appliances
- Electrical wire that has been chewed by rodents
Pay attention to any recommendation for the electrical system in your report. Shortcomings are dangerous to your home and the people who live there. A safe electrical system prevents fire damage to the home and electrical shocks to residents.
Evaluating Your Home Inspection Report
Your inspection report will advise you of any concerns with the electrical system in the new home. Consider asking the seller to address immediate threats as part of your offer. Depending on market conditions, you may be able to negotiate concerns in your final offer.
If you do purchase the home, be sure to follow up on any suggestions for remediation or repairs. You don’t want to lose your new home through neglect.
Address any electrical overloads, improper grounding or unsafe wiring immediately. Never use extension cords as permanent wiring or install wiring under rugs and carpeting. Regularly check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors for proper operation. Immediately repair damaged outlets, switches and lights.
Because a professional home inspection provides an unbiased report, you can make informed decisions about the cost of repairs, whether to negotiate the price or to withdraw an offer.
If you are considering buying a home, be sure to engage a professional home inspector to give you an honest evaluation of the current state of the property.