Maintain Your Home. Findings of a Home Inspector.

Maintaining Your Home

Help the Sale Go Smoothly

Findings of a Home Inspector

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

June 17, 2014

For most people, purchasing a house is the largest purchase they have thus far made. Help ensure that you, “Buy with confidence. Sell with pride” ® by using Regal Home Inspections, LLC.

Please leave a review of this article or of our services.   Click Here and then click on, “Write a Review”.

Reading this article will not guarantee that you will sell your home. It offers observations of issues found in homes both new and old. However, older homes usually contain more issues.

If you are planning to sell your home and would like to have a Seller’s Inspection conducted please call Regal Home Inspections, LLC. We can perform a thorough inspection and make recommendations that should help any buyer feel more comfortable in making an offer.   We can perform a New Jersey Administrative Code (NJAC) compliant home inspection. We can conduct a radon test and have your house professionally inspected for termites and Wood Destroying Insects and Wood Destroying Organisms (WDI/WDO). We can also conduct pool inspections. If issues are found we can help facilitate additional levels of expertise. All in an attempt so that your home, a small cape cod or a country estate, will be better prepared for the eventual buyer’s inspection and closing!

Introduction

I have inspected homes of various ages, sizes and in different geographies; Bergen County to Ocean County. Some have been urban and some suburban. From 1200 square feet to approximately 8000 square feet. From 1 furnace and no air conditioners to a single home with four furnaces and 5 air conditioners.

Regardless of the age, size, price or location there have been inspection related issues found with nearly every inspection I have performed. In this article I will share some examples because they are probably not the type that the seller has ever considered. Some are easy to prepare for. Some not as easy and you should be prepared. It’s when the seller is unprepared and the item is deemed to be significant* that there’s potential for contention. * Significant is subjective when it comes to the buyer. Items of note should not be subjective for the inspector but one never knows how the buyer will judge an issue. Some examples are in the article.

Brief Review

The NJAC has many requirements of an inspector. However, when it comes to the actual inspection and the reporting there are a few key points. The NJAC follows the Standards of Practice of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). When it comes to the inspection, the inspector is required by law to DESCRIBE specific systems and components of the house; Plumbing, electrical, exterior, etc. The inspector is required to IDENTIFY any Material (aka Major) Defects; Findings that effect the habitability, safety or value of the home (in very simplified terms here). And the inspector is required to PREPARE a written report memorializing the previously mentioned elements.

What the inspector is not doing is determining if the curtains match the rug. If the choice of siding materials matches or clashes with the general theme of the other houses. We are looking for very specific things that are not otherwise apparent to the buyer or the seller and for this reason, it’s a very good idea for the seller to be as prepared as best as possible. You painted the walls so they look fresh, right? You had the grass fertilized and the bushes trimmed so the yard has curb appeal, right? Maybe you’ve even put some chocolate chip cookies in the oven to make the house smell good for that open house?

But did you think about:

  1. Having your furnace or air conditioner serviced?
  2. Checking to make sure your electrical system was up to date?
  3. Did you check to make sure there aren’t any leaks under any of your sinks?
  4. Did you check to make sure your dryer vent is clean and relatively lint free?

The inspector will go even further. Let’s look at some examples.

  1. How old is your garage door and garage door opener? Since 1993 garage doors have to have entrapment protection mechanisms. In fact the NJAC REQUIRES that they inspector check for functioning garage door entrapment protection mechanisms.   Furthermore, if they are not functioning properly, this is classified as a SAFETY issue (remember the Material Defect definition in the NJAC? I paraphrased above but SAFETY issues are included).
  2. Do you know what the difference between a guardrail and a handrail on a set of steps? The inspector better and if there isn’t either where they should be that too is a SAFETY issue. On a related note, do you know how far apart the spindles of a guardrail should be? If they are too far apart this is a SAFETY issue.
  3. While we’re on the general subject of steps and stairs, do you know how high a step’s riser (the vertical part) can be? How about the minimum depth for the tread (the part where your foot goes) before it too is a SAFETY issue?
  4. Your water heater and air conditioner are working fine, right? As a home inspector part of our inspection process is to determine how old some of the major appliances are. When I mention, “Major appliance” I am referring to water heaters, furnaces and central air conditioners, not microwaves as an example. If you, as the seller, don’t have receipts or records of when the water heater, furnace or air conditioner was purchased, the inspector can almost always determine the manufacture date from the serial number. Different manufacturers code the date differently but it’s almost always there. Sometimes the year is coded to a letter or the year is abbreviated; “0803” for manufacture the 8th week if 2003 or C99 where the “C”, 3rd letter in the alphabet corresponds to March and the “99” is 1999. What’s my point? If the water heater, AC or furnace is too old it may be flagged as a Material (aka Major) Defect. It’s not subjective but it’s objective. If a water heater is 20 years old, it is well past its typical useful life and every day that it continues to work is a gift. The buyer is being told by the inspector that they should have no (zip, zero, nada) expectation that the 20 year old water heater will work another day and therefore, the “value” of that NJAC required system or component is practically $0 but there is an expectation that the house’s price includes a working, functioning and reasonably reliable water heater. The seller thinks it is but the inspector will use the facts to determine that it is not.

Here are a couple that aren’t as obvious.

  1. For a single family home or townhome, there is often an attic. A space above the regular living area but below the surface of the roof. The science behind most attic designs is that the air inside the attic should be the same temperature as the outside temperature. In the summer it’s tough to keep the attic at 90 degrees on a day when it’s 90 degrees and sunny out but in the winter, when it’s 5 degrees outside, the attic science says that the air temperature in the attic should also be 5 degrees. Why? Well, if the air in the attic is 50 degrees when it’s 5 degrees outside, where might that heat source be coming from? Some may be the sun load but most is probably heat leaking from inside the house’s living space into the unheated attic. Do you pay to heat your attic when there’s no one living or sleeping there? I don’t. Secondly, when the roof is snow covered, if it gets too warm inside the attic the snow on the roof will melt and the water will freeze. The water will make its way up under the roof shingles and then freeze. Constant freeze thaw cycles will shorten the life of your roof surface. I just had my roof replaced at my home. The manufacturer’s warranty states that the warranty does not cover damage due to, “Inadequate ventilation”. Inadequate ventilation will cause the roof surface and the sheathing (plywood) below to get way too hot in summer and the freeze damage mentioned in winter. Proper ventilation helps in all seasons.
  2. I’ve had this come up twice in the last few weeks. A situation that I don’t believe any homeowner would notice but one that will be identified as a SAFETY issue on an inspection report. Many homes have had old oil furnaces replaced with newer gas furnaces. Perhaps the water heater too. I came across this situation this week. A couple of weeks ago I saw an old wood burning fireplace converted to a gas fireplace. The old designs for both these houses had oil or wood appliances and properly designed and sized flue pipes were originally built. The clay flue pipes inside the chimneys were built to a height that allowed the hot (oil or wood) exhaust to rise up the flue and exit the chimney where the vapors cooled. Please note that the exhaust is very caustic and when it cools it condenses into water which is also, caustic.   Comparatively, believe it or not, gas appliance exhaust isn’t as hot as oil exhaust or wood smoke.

When the gas exhaust enters the clay flue in the original chimney, since the gas doesn’t start out as hot, it actually cools and condenses before it leaves the clay flue pipe. The caustic materials in the gas have now attached, mixed with water, inside the clay flue pipe. Over time this caustic water can corrode the clay, the mortar connection clay sections and the mortar and brick of the chimney’s structure.

When the appliance is upgraded to gas, an insert should be installed. The metal flue duct will reduce the diameter and make the draft characteristics of the metal flue pipe much more efficient and appropriate for a gas appliance.

Conclusion

Regardless if you are buying or selling a home, it is a significant transaction either way. Buy with confidence and sell with pride by having Regal Home Inspections, LLC conduct your inspection. We look for things that you probably never considered. That’s why we can help you avoid issues and delays in closing when the buyer and seller are of different minds on whom should address inspection item A, B or C. We can help get some of them out of the way for the seller or help the buyer identify issues that may not be obvious.

Regal Home Inspections, LLC starts every inspection with the presentation of a folio of information for the client. That folio includes general information but also includes a written introduction to the inspection. I present an initial overview of the main elements detailed in this article; Laws that govern the inspection process, areas that will be inspected and more. I believe this is unique to the service that Regal Home Inspections, LLC provides.

I would appreciate your comments about this article. Please email your comments to frank07722@gmail.com

About the author. I am a NJ Licensed Home Inspector. I am the owner and Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC. In addition to being a New Jersey Licensed Home Inspector I am also a NJ-DEP certified Radon Measurement Technician and Regal Home Inspections, LLC has also collected samples for lead paint, allergens and mold. We are affiliated with the state’s best labs that perform the sample evaluation and testing. We can also help facilitate the testing of septic system and numerous aspects of oil tank evaluations. This includes oil tank integrity testing, tank locate services and soil samples. We work to ensure that the house you’re buying is sound or that you know of any issues.

Electrical Issues – Part 3

Electrical Issues – Part 3

Observations of a Home Inspector

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

May 15, 2014

For most people, purchasing a house is the largest purchase they have thus far made. Help ensure that you, “Buy with confidence. Sell with pride” ® by using Regal Home Inspections, LLC.

Please leave a review of this article or of our services.   Click Here and then click on, “Write a Review”.

Never perform electrical work yourself unless you are a licensed electrician. Nothing in this article suggests that you should attempt to diagnose any electrical problems you may have or make any repairs yourself. Any attempt to make electrical repairs or upgrades can lead to your death. ALWAYS hire a licensed electrician to perform any electrical work. Electricity kills. Never remove the cover to your circuit breaker panel.  

If you’d like a visual inspection of your home’s electrical system because you think there might be problems with it, please call Regal Home Inspections, LLC and we can perform a limited, visual electrical inspection of your system in accordance with the New Jersey Home Inspection laws and ASHI & NACHI Standards of Practice. This is not a “to code” inspection. Our inspection DOES NOT guarantee conformance to local electrical codes.

Introduction

I would predict that 90% or more of the homes that I have inspected have had some sort of electrical system issue. Because of the fact that electricity is very dangerous if not handled by professionals most of the time an electrical issue is determined to be a Material Defect (aka Major Defect). Being classified as a Major Defect in a home inspection report usually means that some corrective action will be taken by the seller prior to closing or that monies have been set aside (escrow) so that the buyer can address the problem after closing occurs. It is very important that if the later of these two situations exist that the buyer use the money for the intended electrical repairs. As defined by NJ State Law, a Material Defect is a condition of the structure or of a System or Component that substantially affects the habitability, value or safety. Since electricity can kill, and often does, electrical issues almost always rise to the level of a major SAFETY issue.

This piece looks at three situations that have recently been found (in the last 2 months prior to the date of this article) that have been highlighted as SAFETY issues and require immediate attention by a licensed electrician.

Double Taps

When working with electricity it is very important to have and maintain a secure, tight connection whenever two pieces of the electrical system are connected together. This applies to situations when two wires are spliced (twisted) together or when one wire is connected to a mechanical connection. The mechanical connection may be a screw on the back side of a light switch or outlet or it may be a screw lug on a circuit breaker in the Main Panel or Sub Panel. Why is a good, tight and secure connection necessary? Without getting too far down into the detail, if there is a loose connection and electricity is flowing there is a high potential for a small gap to occur and sparks (or arcing) to occur. If there’s a less-than-ideal gap then the connection between these two metal components may be a high resistance connection. This could lead to the buildup of heat. Both of these two potential situations can lead to fire.

A double tap is when someone incorrectly tries to connect two wires to the circuit breaker lug and is of concern because most circuit breakers are designed to hold only 1 wire. When 2 wires are installed into a single lug there is a potential that the wires are of differing gauges (sizes and therefore wire diameters). The larger one may be tight but the smaller will have a poor, possibly high resistance connection and that, as we know, can generate heat or arcing and be a fire hazard.

From a circuit breaker function point of view, the breaker should still trip (shut off) if the total current draw reaches the breaker’s trip rating (15amp, 20amp, etc.) due to the total load from the double tap wires.

The photo(s) below show what a double tap looks like.

DSCF6011
The 2, lower left circuit breaker lugs each have 2 wires into them.

Bad Electrical Panels

Electrical panels should protect people and property from high voltage energy as found inside an electrical panel. Make no mistake, the energy entering and inside the electrical panel is more than enough to kill someone or start a fire. The panel is designed to isolate the energy fields so the hot or ungrounded wires are not energizing metallic components that should not be energized. When energy is present where it shouldn’t be it is sometimes called, “stray” energy.

Of course, all hot electrical components should be insulated as not to be a possible source of electrocution and the Electrical (or Service) Panel is no different.

They should be clean and free of contaminants or damage. The cover should be properly secured using the correct types of screws. Screws used to connect a panel cover are special in that they do not have sharp points like most screws. The screws for electrical panels have flat tipped screws reducing the possibility that the screw will poke a hole in a wire’s insulation and allow electricity to stray to the panel box.

The panel box should be completely sealed. No holes or gaps where someone can poke something in and accidentally get electrocuted. They should be clear of dirt and debris and garbage.

These photos are indicative of a very bad panel. Can you tell why?

DSCF5560
Obvious Rust
DSCF5561
Rusted screws on breaker and Double Taps

Knob and Tube Wiring (State of the Art in electrical wiring Circa 1900)

It is not too uncommon to find working (energized) K&T wiring in a very old house today. When electricity was first deployed residentially the technology was Knob and Tube. They did not have cable like we have today. Today, a cable is a tube or jacket of metal or plastic or rubber like material and inside there are multiple wires and each wire is insulated with its own plastic jacket. Sometimes the, Ground wire isn’t insulated but the Hot and the Neutral wires that make up the circuit are.

Well in the ”olde tyme” days wiring was different and as mentioned earlier, it’s still here in some old houses. Way back when, the electrician installed individual wires and used ceramic knobs and ceramic tubes to attach and route the wires up the walls and through the floor joists for example. You can see this in the photos below.

In fact way, way back when, they used one wire and looped one big circuit. This is like the old Christmas tree light problem. One bulb goes out and the circuit is broken therefore all the lights go out. This too can be seen in the photo below. Note the one wire going into the lit bulb and one wire out. Remove the bulb, or if the bulb pops, and all the lights on that circuit go out!

So what’s the home inspection philosophy about K&T wiring? Well, ideally, if you have K&T wiring that is energized you should remove it. It’s like still having gas lamps in the house to provide light. You wouldn’t, right? But technically, the mere presence of K&T wiring is not a Material (aka Major) Defect if (and it’s a HUGE if) the K&T wiring was never modified or touched electrically. Heck, it has lasted this long. It can last longer. However, if it was touched, modified, tapped into, etc. it must be removed. It’s good advice and good, prudent practice.

In the photos below look for the white, ceramic knobs and the white ceramic tubes and the wires associated with them.

DSCF5125
Notice the one wire in and out of the light as well as the ceramic knobs holding the wires off the wood framework.
DSCF5130
Can you pick out the two wires and the white, ceramic tubes in the wood joist?

Conclusion

There are way too many electrical issues to mention in one article that I have seen in my inspection career. More articles will come but for now, here are a few of the problems that I have seen and thought you might be interested in learning about.

Regal Home Inspections, LLC starts every inspection with the presentation of a folio of information for the client. That folio includes general information but also includes a written introduction to the inspection. I present an initial overview of the main elements detailed in this article; Laws that govern the inspection process, areas that will be inspected and more.

I would appreciate your comments about this article. Please email your comments to frank07722@gmail.com

About the author. I am a NJ Licensed Home Inspector. I am the owner and Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC. In addition to being a New Jersey Licensed Home Inspector I am also a NJ-DEP certified Radon Measurement Technician and Regal Home Inspections, LLC has also collected samples for lead paint, allergens and mold. We are affiliated with the state’s best labs that perform the sample evaluation and testing. We can also help facilitate the testing of septic system and numerous aspects of oil tank evaluations. This includes oil tank integrity testing, tank locate services and soil samples. We work to ensure that the house you’re buying is sound or that you know of any issues.

 

 

Understanding the Home Inspection – Setting Expectations

Understanding the Home Inspection

Setting Expectations

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

Originally Posted April 30, 2014

Updated June, 2015

For most people, purchasing a house is the largest purchase they have thus far made. Help ensure that you, “Buy with confidence. Sell with pride” ® by using Regal Home Inspections, LLC.

Introduction

In accordance with New Jersey Administrative Code (NJAC) Chapter 40, Subchapter 15, as of May 29, 2003, “No person shall perform or hold oneself out as permitted to perform a home inspection nor represent or call oneself a home inspector unless licensed pursuant to NJAC 13:40-15.5 or 15.6.” 

The aforementioned licensing is well documented in the NJAC and requires a potential home inspector to take approved training from an authorized training service in accordance with the Standard of Practice as detailed by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) as stated within the NJAC. The candidate is also required to perform forty hours of field work and take a national home inspection test. The candidate must also apply to the state of New Jersey to obtain a home inspection license number. Regal Home Inspections, LLC is licensed with NJ State License number 24GI00125100.

A license may also be obtained if they were in the business prior to May 29, 2003 or if they performed over 200 inspections as an apprentice inspector while working for a licensed inspector.

Starting one’s own inspection business, like Regal Home Inspections, LLC, requires further documentation such as proof of a legal business, Federal Tax information, proof of state regulated minimum insurance (types of coverage and amounts) and other pertinent information must be provided.

Ask your home inspector to provide a copy of their license, proof of insurance, etc. Every inspector must have their state issued license on their person when they are performing a home inspection.

The Inspection

Contrary to popular belief, a NJAC home inspection IS NOT a “to code” inspection. An inspector will not “Determine compliance with codes, regulations and/or ordinances.” according to the NJAC. Please note that this description below is an overview and not intended to cover or address every detail of the NJAC.

The process and procedure of the home inspection is very well documented in the NJAC. New Jersey has these, highlighted requirements (this is not a complete list):

  1. Within 24 hours of setting an appointment (scheduling a date) the inspector must provide the client with a written contract. The contract can be emailed of course but the NJAC cites exactly what the contract must address. A few examples include the date/time of the inspection and the cost. Regal Home Inspections, LLC’s Inspection Agreement is comprehensive and asks for the client’s signature. On a side note, after it is signed, the home inspection company must retain a copy of the signed agreement for five years.
  2. The inspector must provide you with a Home Inspection Report. Click Here For Sample Report Regal Home Inspection, LLC’s reports are very thorough and comprehensive. We use photographs and written text to document our findings. Many photographs are captioned in addition to the detailed explanation. I use arrows and circles to additionally highlight areas of concern or interest in a photograph. One should not rush through the reporting process and quickly hand you a report as they are getting into their car. For every hour I spend on site doing my visual inspection I spend at least another hour preparing the report. Some inspectors simply use a checklist. While technically legal, it does not provide a detailed account of the findings. Some inspectors prepare their inspection report on site. I do not believe that they are providing you with the best service possible. The report is the product you are buying. Insist on a thorough report with a detailed section as well as a Summary Section. At the request of an attorney, early in my inspection career, I was asked to include a Summary Section. This attorney didn’t want to have to read the entire report to find the Material (aka Major) Defects or Safety items. My report contains a Summary Section that re-lists the Material Defects and Safety items that were found during the inspection. The main body of the report has all the detail, photos, maintenance suggestions, serial numbers as well as those important items that are mentioned again, in summary form, in the Summary Section.
  3. The overall inspection and the report must include a description of the Systems and Components inspected as well as a list of any of the specific areas (mentioned below) that were not inspected and why. These are called “Limitations”. For example, during the months of January and February 2014, on many inspections the roofs were completely covered with snow. If inspector’s safety is an issue or due to a condition like complete snow cover, it is accepted that the roof may not be inspected. However, it should be noted in the report as a limitation. As detailed in the NJAC, the Systems and Components to be inspected include:
    1. Structural Components
    2. Exterior
    3. Roofing
    4. Plumbing
    5. Electrical
    6. Heating & Cooling
    7. Interior (doors, windows, walls, etc.)
    8. Insulation and ventilation
    9. Fireplaces, wood stoves, etc.

Recreational elements aren’t listed including spas, swing sets, etc. There are items that are not part of a home inspection, both inside and out. Areas excluded include pools, sheds, etc.

  1. The report should state the significance of the findings. Specifically, were there any “Material Defects” (aka Major Defects) found? And if there were, “Provide recommendation…to repair, replace or monitor a system or component or to obtain examination and analysis by a qualified professional, tradesman… without [the home inspector] determining the methods or costs of corrections”.

This leads us to the core of the discussion and often a bone of contention between inspectors and real estate agents, buyers and sellers. What is a Material Defect? The following definition is an exact quote from the New Jersey Administrative Code Chapter 40, Subchapter 15.

“ ‘Material Defect’ means a condition, or functional aspect, of a structural component or system that is readily ascertainable during a home inspection that substantially affects the value, habitability or safety of the dwelling, but does not include decorative, stylistic, cosmetic, or aesthetic aspects of the system, structure or component.” 

As we read this important definition, what are some of its key elements?

  1. The aspects are limited to the Systems and Components as mentioned in 3) a. – i. above.
  2. They are “readily ascertainable.” Remember, this is a visual (and non-destructive) inspection. The inspector is usually hired by the prospective buyer and the prospective buyer does not yet own the house. The inspector does not cut holes in finished basement walls to see if the foundation behind it is sealed, dry and well insulated. The home inspector IS NOT even required to move furniture or storage boxes if these items are prohibiting the inspector from accessing one of the systems or components. Ascertain means to find out or to learn with certainty. Home inspectors should not guess. So the condition or situation must be easily (readily) learned with certainty (ascertained) during the inspection.
  3. “Substantially affects”. Substantially is defined as, “considerable in quantity, significantly large”. “Affect” is defined as “to produce a material influence upon or alteration in”. Does any matter associated with a system or component have a significantly large influence upon the system or component so that it causes a problem with the value, habitability or safety of the dwelling?

This is where the home inspector should apply their training. Let’s look at an example. A “beam” refers to a main structural, element supported at its end points usually by the foundation wall and mid span by columns. It could be a large piece of wood or a steel I-beam.   A “joist” is a smaller structural member that often rests on top of a beam (perpendicular to the beam) and it is the structural platform for the floor of a house. A beam should never be notched, cut or have any holes in it. A joist, within reason, can have holes and/or notches. A hole or notch in a beam is a material defect. A hole or notch in a joist may, or may not be a material defect. A notched beam affects the habitability of the dwelling. It needs repair. It is not the inspector’s responsibility to say “the beam will break if you dance on the floor above.” or “a strong wind will cause the house to collapse”. A beam should never be notched! This situation needs to be analyzed by an architect or structural engineer and repaired by a qualified technician or tradesman as that expert deems necessary.

Here’s another that causes angst. A typical forced hot air furnace may have a useful life of 10 – 15 years. In this example, the home being inspected has a forced hot air furnace that is 25 years old. The furnace is part of the HVAC system and it is definitely an element of the home that is inspected. Let’s assume the furnace works. It heats the house but it is 10 years past its useful life. The inspector needs to state the facts; A) The furnace is 25 years old.  B) Furnaces typically last 10 – 15 years. C) This furnace is past its expected lifespan. It could stop running any day or it may continue to provide heat for years to come. You can’t tell what may happen during the course of a brief furnace inspection. They should, at least, provide information so the buyer can make an informed decision. The inspector should state the facts and advise the buyer to seek the services of a furnace expert for further analysis. If the buyer (client) wants to negotiate with the seller, prior to closing, for a new furnace that is their option. The age of the furnace may have been part of the seller’s disclosure and a new furnace is already factored into the asking price of the house. That’s not for the inspector to get involved with.

Let’s consider some examples. Those that I think have obvious answers are not answered (like #3 and #5).

  1. A hole in the roof is a material defect.
  2. A furnace that is leaking carbon monoxide gas into the house is a material defect.
  3. Is a closet door that sticks a material defect?
  4. If the pump in the hot tub in the back yard isn’t working, is that a material defect?
  5. Wallpaper is peeling in the kitchen. Is that a material defect? If the cause is a hole in the exterior wall that is allowing moisture to enter the wall it very well may be. If the wall paper is peeling because it wasn’t installed with the proper wall paper glue, it is not.
  6. A kitchen floor tile is cracked. Is this a material defect? If the tile is cracked because someone dropped a hammer on it then no, it is not a material defect. If the tile is cracked because the floor and beam beneath it are falling, then it’s an indication of a material defect elsewhere. You have bigger problems.
  7. A broken electrical outlet above the bathroom sink? Is this a material defect? Does this pose a safety issue for the occupants? Yes, it is a shock hazard.
  8. How about a crack in the sidewalk or a railing that is missing on the front porch? Are either or both of these material defects? They may, or may not be. It depends on the details of the situations and herein hide the challenges for inspectors.

Your inspector shouldn’t be an alarmist. They can point out items that are not material defects in the interest of helping the buyer understand maintenance issues or things that might require maintenance in the near or distant future. They should stay focused on those items that NJAC requires; System and Component Descriptions and Material Defects.

Optional Services

An inspector may provide additional services, but please be aware that some services also require their own licensure or certification and some do not. As an example, NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJ-DEP) requires certification to set and collect devices for a radon tests.

As of this writing, New Jersey does not require regulated certification or licensing to collect samples for lead paint, allergens, mold or conduct indoor air quality tests. The inspector should be familiar with the sample collection procedures. For all of these the inspector is facilitating the test by collecting the sample(s) and sending it (them) to a licensed laboratory in the state or elsewhere (but licensed by the state) for analysis and reporting. Often times the inspector can help you understand the findings of the report.

Summary

  • The home inspection professional must be licensed and insured in NJ.
  • A contract must be tendered in a timely manner so the client (usually the buyer) and their lawyer have a chance to review the agreement.
  • Inspection is visual, non-destructive.
  • The inspection must produce a written report.
  • The report must include a description of the aforementioned Systems and Components.
  • The report must include an accounting of any Material Defects found, implications of those defects, if not self-evident, and recommendations (bring in an expert, etc.).

Conclusion

Understanding the intended scope of a home inspection is important and it is the responsibility of the home inspector to set those expectations such as the systems and components to be inspected as listed earlier and that this is neither a “to code” inspection nor an inspection for cosmetic blemishes.

Regal Home Inspections, LLC starts every inspection with the presentation of a folio of information for the client. That folio includes general information but also includes a written introduction to the inspection. I present an initial overview of the main elements detailed in this article; Laws that govern the inspection process, areas that will be inspected and more.

I would appreciate your comments about this article. Please email your comments to frank07722@gmail.com or you can call on 908 902 2590.

About the author. I am a NJ Licensed Home Inspector. I am the owner and Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC. In addition to being a New Jersey Licensed Home Inspector I am also a NJ-DEP certified Radon Measurement Technician and Regal Home Inspections, LLC has also collected samples for lead paint, allergens and mold. We are affiliated with the state’s best labs that perform the sample evaluation and testing. We can also help facilitate the testing of septic system and numerous aspects of oil tank evaluations. This includes oil tank integrity testing, tank locate services and soil samples. We work to ensure that the house you’re buying is sound or that you know of any issues.

Customer Comments: Regal Home Inspections

Originally Posted April 21, 2014

Updated October 20, 2014

Clients are now also leaving reviews at Google+.  Please visit REVIEWS .

If you are a client, please review our services.   Click Here  and then click on, “Write a Review”.

The reviews here are typical of the results of a home inspection conducted by Frank J. Delle Donne of Regal Home Inspections, LLC. These quotes are taken from a popular online service review website.

“I strive to ensure that every clients is as happy as the client reviews highlighted here.” Frank

Thank you for considering Regal Home Inspections, LLC

7/22/14 “Frank, from Regal Home Inspections, came to do a home inspection on the house I am trying to buy. In addition, he also coordinated to get someone to do a termite inspection and based on the results of the home inspection, an additional mold inspection was performed by Frank. 

It went great!!! Frank was on time, professional, and really spent time with me explaining everything in the home and what I would see on the inspection report. For someone with no home experience, this was really useful to me for him to take the time and explain things to me in easy terms. Frank provided the report within 36 hours. Overall I was extremely happy with Frank’s work ethic and product. I would recommend him to all that need a home inspection.” M.D. Lincroft, NJ

7/8/14  “Frank from Regal Home Inspections completed a home inspection on the about 40 year old home I plan to purchase.

First, Regal Home replied to my email inquiry within hours. Each time I have called to contacted Regal they have responded within hours. Regal’s prices were competitive. Regal was most professional, prompt and responsive to each request. They provide follow up and re-inspection without charging another fee. What made my experience with Regal outstanding was that it was much more than a home inspection. Frank explained everything he was doing and why. It was an inspection and it also an orientation to my new home. I learned where the fuse box was, where the electric and water shut-offs were. I learned about the heating and A/C and furnace shut off were as well as how to change the air filter. It was educational and also a delightful experience. I recommend Regal without reservation.”  E.C., Middletown, NJ

6/25/14 “The job was done fantastically, Frank is very professional. We couldn’t have been more pleased.” M.A., Colts Neck, NJ

6/13/14 “I contacted 4 home inspectors and Frank was the first and only one to get back to me.  His prices were reasonable and he did the job we paid him to do.” J.P., Piscataway, NJ

5/28/14 “Very thorough and informative”  N.T., Little Silver, NJ

5/28/14 “Frank has done and continues to do an outstanding job as my  home inspector. He was knowledgeable on the laws and codes involved and even though my building is dated 1929, he was able to explain and educate me on how things work.  Frank was extremely thorough, surpassing what I had expected and found issues that I would not have anticipated. Even though the kitchen was recently remodeled he found some electrical issues which, since the kitchen was new, I had just assumed that area would have been the least of my concerns. He enlightened me on inherent characteristics of older masonry walls which put me at ease knowing that my unit and the building is solid and in great historical shape. He showed me where emergency shutoffs are to water and electric in my unit. He also tested the moisture content of my window sealing and sill areas, which is actually higher than it should be. He went above and beyond and has contacted window repair companies for me and I should be getting estimates for the repairs needed, which saves me valuable time in this hectic pre-close time period. I would absolutely recommend Frank for your pre-buying home inspection, he does a great job!” A.B., Asbury Park, NJ

5/20/14 “We would recommend Regal Home Inspections to anyone looking to purchase a home or even people looking for some professional advice on their existing home. We couldn’t have been happier with the service we were given from start to finish. Frank Delle Donne, the owner of the firm, took us through all stages of the process. Regal was flexible to our scheduling needs and was able to offer a full spectrum of inspections services we required. Regal performed a meticulous inspection and Frank took was sure to take us through every aspect of the home providing feedback on how the systems work and any recommendations. The report was delivered within 48 hours and included a listing of even the slightest potential issue, photos of everything, references to building codes, and general suggestions. It was a complete document that not only were we able to use through the home buying process, but as a reference point going forward with future home maintenance. We were very happy that we made the decision to use Regal Home Inspection and would rely on any of their services, if given the chance, in the future.” D.P., Colts Neck, NJ

4/25/14 “A very thorough home inspection that was very professional and helpful for us as future home buyers.  Frank is highly professional and handled every aspect of the inspection with great detail. His report was extremely detailed with photos and recommendations on what should take place after inspection and I would highly recommend his services to any one buying in Bergen county area.” S.W., Ridgewood, NJ

3/2014 “Frank was extremely professional, courteous, informative, knowledgeable, patient & friendly. Not only during the inspection (I tend to be overly inquisitive), but after when I continued to seek his guidance & recommendations for subsequent services (e.g. chimney, termite, structural, radon, etc). I cannot say enough, he truly went above & beyond. HIGHLY recommend Frank!” E.R.

4/2014 “Better than I could have ever imagined. Great communication and feedback. Frank made me feel complete at ease the entire time. Pleasure to work with.” C.J., Elizabeth, NJ

3/17/2014 “I was not able to be present at the time of inspection but he was very trust worthy and I am glad with my decision of going with him. He was very helpful in the process of buying my condo.” D.T.

2/15/2014 “Frank was excellent! He is very professional and did an excellent job on our home inspection! He goes above and beyond to do all that he can to help you in the process. He also performed radon testing and even took lead paint samples for us. His inspection report was very detailed and thorough and included many photos. He always makes himself available for any questions you may have. I highly recommend him for a home inspection. You will not be disappointed!” M.M.

10/2013 “He went through the whole house, including basement and roof very thoroughly. It went well. He walked us through the home and explained about different potential problems.” BH, Old Bridge, NJ

1/2014 “Frank is a wonderful guy. He performed services needed and on time. He was very helpful in helping me find additional men for services I needed. I would definitely use Frank in future inspections.” DA, Millstone, NJ

 

Radon. What does 4pCi/L mean and why is it important?

Radon

What does 4.0pCi/L represent?

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

January 16, 2014

About the author.  I am a NJ Licensed Home Inspector.  I am the owner and Senior Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC.  I have been a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician for over 20 years and was  a past member of the Colts Neck, NJ Board of Health and was Chairman of that Board for 2008 and 2009.    During my studies to become a Home Inspector and earning my NJ Certification to be a Radon Measurement Technician I learned a great deal about Radon and felt compelled to share that information in a manner that is easy to understand and increases awareness.  Every home in New Jersey should be tested for Radon on a regular basis.  Regal Home Inspections, LLC is having a New Year 2014 SPECIAL on Radon testing.  These discounted prices are good through February 28, 2014.  Please call now to schedule your Radon test.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been leading the effort to make citizens aware of radon and closer to home, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJ-DEP) has been following suit.  Please read our earlier post for general information about radon.   This piece is intended to explain the measured results; When is it an issue and when is it not?

Background

A few points that I’d like to repeat from the earlier article is that radon is everywhere and it is naturally occurring.  It is a radioactive gas which means that it transforms spontaneously and in that transformation it releases tiny bursts of energy.  It is these tiny bursts of energy that cause harm.

Radon, like other radioactive materials, are measured in pCi/L.  This stands for pico Curies per liter of air.  A “pico Curie” is one-trillionths of a Curie.  A Curie is equivalent to 37 Billion radioactive disintegrations per second.  Therefore one pico-Curie works out to 2.2 radioactive disintegrations per minute (dpm) in a liter of air.  A “Curie” is of course named after Marie Curie who lived in the late 1800s to the 1930s.

Action Level

The EPA (and NJ-DEP) refers to 4.0pCi/L as measured over a minimum of 48 hours as the Action Level for radon mitigation.  This applies uniformly to real estate transactions and for the self motivated homeowner who tests for radon, they too should mitigate at this, measured level.

As mentioned in the previous article, the radioactive disintegrations take on three different forms.  There is Alpha radiation, Beta radiation and Gamma radiation.  The result of a, “disintegration” is a new element (Polonium, Lead, Bismuth or Radon) but the process that the atoms change also releases energy in Alpha, Beta or Gamma form.

At 2.22 dpm per pico Curie at 4pCi/L (assuming each one of your lungs holds a liter of air) that’s 16.88 (8.44 per lung) radioactive disintegrations that are occurring inside your lungs!  While these releases of energy are extremely tiny, they have the potential to damage cells and DNA.  This can lead to the events that begin the formation of mutant or cancerous cells.

So is 3.5pCi/L that much better?  Not really but for the real estate transaction, a radon test measurement that reads 4.0pCi/L will result in a letter from the buyer’s attorney to the seller/seller’s attorney stating that the seller must mitigate the radon and provide new test results that show the level is, post mitigation, less than 4.0pCi/L.

At or above 4.0pCi/L and a letter is coming.  A reading of just below 4.0pCi/L may ask for a second test where the two tests might be averaged.  Rest assured that at or above 4.0pCi/L and the seller will be calling a radon mitigation company.

Mitigation

Radon mitigation comprises of a system, usually a vent, that will reduce the measured radon inside at the lowest, “livable” area.

A very common type of mitigation system is a sub soil depressurization system.  In this method, a pipe is placed below the concrete basement floor.  That pipe (usually a 4” PVC pipe) is routed to the outdoor and a fan is placed to draw the air (and radon) from below the basement floor and vent it to the outdoors before it enters the house.  With this system the basement floor has to be sealed which means that sump pits are sealed and French drains are sealed.   Also, any cracks or other basement floor penetrations must also be sealed for the sub soil depressurization system to be most effective.

radon-mitigation-system-3
The white pipe is the radon mitigation system pulling air and radon from below the basement floor, up and outside before the radon gas enters the house. The area of the vent system that bulges out is a fan. The fan runs constantly.

The cost for such a system can be as low as $1500 but based upon many factors could be higher.   After the system is installed and activated, it should be left operation AT ALL TIMES.  It should be operating for at least 12 hours to allow “Dynamic Equilibrium” to occur.  This is a fancy way for saying that the positive effects of the new mitigation system should be set in place after 12 hours.  After this period of time a post-mitigation test must be done to ensure that the mitigation steps were successful.  In some cases secondary or tertiary mitigation steps must be taken to achieve a reading below 4.0pCi/l.  If for example your initial test reading was 8.0pCi/l and the first mitigation effort reduced the radon by 25%, Post-Mitigation test #1 may indicate a 25% drop but that’s still 6.0pCi/L.  A second mitigation system may have to be added which may reduce the radon by another 25%.  6.0pCi/L less 25% is only a 1.5pCi/L reduction so you STILL may be above 4.0pCi/L.  A third mitigation system may be necessary to finally get you below 4.0pCi/L.

Conclusion

Radon is a serious health issue but it can be minimized.  Likely, it cannot be eliminated.  It’s naturally occurring and exists in nature.  It’s not man-made nor can we stop it from existing.  We can, however, minimize its pathways into our homes and help ensure a healthy and safe environment.

Please call today to schedule your  radon test for your family.  Discounted prices are valid for tests started by February 28, 2014.  Please mention, “Radon Discount” when you call.  Also, if you need radon consultation, Regal Home Inspections, LLC can help guide you through the testing and mitigation process.

I would appreciate your comments about this article.  Please email your comments to frank07722@gmail.com .

Residential Electrical Problems. Part 2 – Branch Circuit Wiring

The Electrical System in Your Home.

Common Problems Found by a Home Inspector.

Part 2 in a Multi Part Series.

Branch Circuit Wiring.

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

December 16, 2013

 

About the author.  I am a NJ Licensed Home Inspector.  I am the owner and Senior Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC.  I am a member of the New Jersey Association of Licensed Professional Home Inspectors (NJ-ALPHI) and the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI).  The standards used to inspect your home’s systems are in accordance with New Jersey State laws, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and NACHI Standards of Practice.  Regal Home Inspections, LLC can also test your house for Indoor Air Quality; Mold and Allergens.  Radon testing is coming soon.  We can also facilitate testing of septic systems and oil tanks; tank integrity and soil tests below ground.

 

Never perform electrical work yourself unless you are a licensed electrician.  Nothing in this article suggests that you should attempt to diagnose any electrical problems you may have or make any repairs yourself.  Any attempt to make electrical repairs or upgrades can lead to your death.  ALWAYS hire a licensed electrician to perform any electrical work.  Electricity kills.  Never perform electrical work yourself unless you are a licensed electrician.

 

If you’d like a visual inspection of your home’s electrical system because you think there might be problems with it, please call Regal Home Inspections, LLC and we can perform a limited, visual electrical inspection of your system in accordance with the ASHI & NACHI Standards of Practice.  This is not a “to code” inspection.  Our inspection DOES NOT guarantee conformance to local electrical codes. 

Introduction

This article in the electrical series will cover the Branch Circuit Wiring.  Branch Circuit Wiring includes the wiring FROM the circuit breaker box to your outlets, switches and appliances.  What is the inspector looking for?  What have I found that can become an issue with a Home Inspection Report?  Occasionally a home has a Sub Panel which is a second or smaller circuit breaker panel. There are many reasons for their use but for this article, I will deal only with the wiring to outlets, switches and appliances.

 

General Description

Branch Circuit Wiring is the cabling in your home that distributes the electricity to outlets, switches for lights and other fixtures (e.g. a ceiling fan) and often times directly to an appliance like your furnace or Air Conditioner Compressor.  As you may recall, electricity operates in a circuit and the electrons flow from the circuit breaker (or fuse) through the “hot” or “ungrounded” conductor to and through the appliance consuming the electricity and then it returns on (usually) the, “white” or “neutral” wire back to the circuit breaker panel.  If that circuit is opened at any point the electrons stop flowing and the appliance will not work.  The “open” can simply be a result of a switch being shut off, a  light bulb filament breaking, a plug being pulled out of a socket (all normal occurrences thus far) or a connection coming loose.  This last one is not normal but nonetheless still stops the flow of the electrons. 

In your circuit breaker panel the hot wire is connected to a lug on a circuit breaker.  This is usually the black wire and sometimes the red wire.   The corresponding white wire is connected to a lug on the neutral bus bar.  Please note that specialty circuits such as a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupts (covered in a later article) may be terminated differently.  This description applies to 120V non GFCI.

 

Over the years different types of branch circuit cabling and conductors have been used in homes.  Let’s focus this discussion on modern homes and let’s define a modern home built from 1965 to present.   So with that in mind the two main types of conductors used are copper (predominant) and for a period of the mid 1960s to the early 1970s aluminum was used.  Around this time a third, ground conductor was also commonplace as was the three-prong outlet that we are familiar with.  The three prongs are hot, neutral and ground.  Both types of conductors were insulated (early on the ground conductor was left bare) and then the conductors were wrapped in a jacket.   Metal or Armor jacketing is common and often referred to as, “BX”.  Non metal wrapped jackets are very common as well and commonly referred to as, “romex”.   

The gauge or thickness of the individual conductors is very important because the type of metal and the thickness of the conductor (among a few other things) determines the electrical carrying capacity of the wires and therefore cables.  This capacity is measured in Amps or Amperes and for typical branch circuit wiring varies from 14 gauge copper for a 15 amp circuit breaker to 12 gauge copper for a 20 amp circuit breaker.  These are very typical for the vast majority of household circuits and appliances.  However when we consider appliances like pools, hot tubs, air conditioning compressors, electric furnaces, electric clothes dryers and other large appliances, 12 and 14 gauge wire is inadequate.  This too is a topic for another article. Suffice it to say that the smaller the gauge the larger the diameter of the conductor and these large appliances may require 10, 8, 6 or lower gauge and hence, thicker wire. 

 

Observations

As an inspector I see some pretty awful wiring and would like to share a few examples.  If you see things like this in your house it would be wise to call Regal Home Inspections for a thorough inspection and it would be prudent to call a licensed electrician afterward to correct the problems before you try to sell the house.   

Here are some examples of poor residential electrical wiring.

 

Do you think this was installed by a Licensed Electrician?  Photo 1 is under a deck.  This is “romex” type cabling.  Can’t verify that it’s designed and approved for outdoor use.  Use of a rigid conduit is appropriate.  Not only is this highlighted in an Inspection Report but it will also raise concern that the work was not done by a professional, with a legitimate permit in place and I can assure you that it wasn’t inspected. 

 Carrs Tavern 065

Photo 1

An inspector should alert the client that this would have never been done by a qualified, licensed electrician. As a result this will be a clue that work has occurred in this house that may not be legitimate.  By this I mean that there may be electrical work that was likely not done with a permit and inspection.  Consequently there may be other aspects of the house, like plumbing, structural changes, etc. that may have been done by the homeowner.  Not necessarily the person you are buying from but perhaps someone that they bought from and the last inspector didn’t find for whatever reason.  

Poorly maintained outlets also seem to be very commonplace in homes that I have inspected. Photos 2, 3 and 4 are examples of outlets and a junction box that should be covered and secure.   Some should be completely removed. If you look carefully you can see an outlet without its cover in Photo 2.  The issues with Photo 3 include no cover to the junction box, no cover to the outlet, the receptacle isn’t grounded (as indicated by the green test probe) and it should be a GFCI outlet.  GFCI outlets are required in unfinished basements. GFCI outlets have been required in unfinished basements since 1990.  In Photo 4 is a junction box with wires hanging down.  The uncovered junction box is located in an attic space.

   Carrs Tavern 099                    557 Penn St 100

    Photo 2                                                                                Photo 3

Carrs Tavern 199

Photo 4

I come across numerous light fixtures that aren’t mounted properly and have exposed wires.  Here are a couple of examples in Photos 5 and 6.  Please note that in Photo 5, a globe should cover the exposed bulb.  Although this fixture was in a crawl space I have seen many fixtures like this in closets, stairwells and basements.

Carrs Tavern 110

Photo 5

  

557 Penn St 137      

Photos 6

These are just a few examples of electrical issues I have found in homes.  When inspecting a home I try to identify every electrical problem that I see.  As soon as I have identified one, single electrical problem the standard template words include, “consult a licensed electrician” to help/correct/evaluate, etc.   Most inspectors will stop there as soon as they find the first electrical problem.  In an effort to help the client I try to identify as many issues as I can find in my report.  In this manner the client can either have the issues properly priced and ask the seller to fix them or they can evaluate the cost and perhaps ask the seller for some price concession.  If the seller isn’t willing or able to pay for obvious corrections, in the case of a bank owned short sale for example, at least the client has a thorough list of the issues and can share that with an electrician and get a more accurate estimate of the repairs.  If I find 10 problems with the electrical system, for example, it’s probable that a licensed electrician will find a few more.  My findings are not intended to be an exhaustive list nor a list of work items that is required to fulfill the requirements of an electrical work permit but it will give the client an idea of the extent of the work; Minor, extensive or major repairs necessary.

If you are planning to sell your home, give Regal Home Inspections a call and hire us to perform a pre-listing inspection.  Here’s the logic.  If you allow Regal Home Inspections to perform an inspection before you list you can take care of some of the things up front.  You can use the inspection findings to make a list for the seller’s disclosure. More importantly, you can set the price with this knowledge.  Think about it…if you ignore the issues now, then when it comes time to execute the contract, the buyer’s home inspector will find these problems.  Then you are either negotiating away premium dollars to appease the buyer or you’re hiring an electrician (or a plumber, etc.) at the last minute to make corrections and that will cost you top dollar as well.  Deal with the issues you can and disclose the other issues.  That’s why at Regal Home Inspections we say, “Buy with confidence.  Sell with Pride.”

I would appreciate your comments about this article.  Please email your comments to frank07722@gmail.com.

Residential Electrical Problems – Part 1

The Electrical System in Your Home.

Common Problems Found by a Home Inspector.

Part 1 in a Multi Part Series.

Service Entrance and Your Main Service Panel.

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

December 9, 2013

 

About the author.  I am a NJ Licensed Home Inspector.  I am the owner and Senior Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC.  I am a member of the New Jersey Association of Licensed Professional Home Inspectors (NJ-ALPHI) and the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI).  The standards used to inspect your home’s systems are in accordance with New Jersey State laws, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and NACHI Standards of Practice.  Regal Home Inspections, LLC can also test your house for Indoor Air Quality; Mold and Allergens.  Radon testing is coming soon.  We can also facilitate testing of septic systems and oil tanks; tank integrity and soil tests below ground. 

Never perform electrical work yourself unless you are a licensed electrician.  Nothing in this article suggests that you should attempt to diagnose any electrical problems you may have or make any repairs yourself.  Any attempt to make electrical repairs or upgrades can lead to your death.  ALWAYS hire a licensed electrician to perform any electrical work.  Electricity kills.  Never remove the cover to your circuit breaker panel. 

If you’d like a visual inspection of your home’s electrical system because you think there might be problems with it, please call Regal Home Inspections, LLC and we can perform a limited, visual electrical inspection of your system in accordance with the ASHI & NACHI Standards of Practice.  This is not a “to code” inspection.  Our inspection DOES NOT guarantee conformance to local electrical codes.

Electricity is something that we all use and likely, all take for granted.  I know I have up until the time that the power to my home goes out as it did during Super Storm Sandy.   The electrical system in your home is, like many other systems in your home, critical to its proper operation and critical to our comfort. It is also crucial to our safety as electrical problems can be fatal.  They can be fatal because they can electrocute someone and they can be fatal because they can be the cause of a fire which is equally dangerous.  Properly designed, built and maintained the electrical system in your home should be as safe as any other aspect of your home but a poorly built or maintained electrical system is a safety issue.  As I completed an inspection recently I was motivated to write this piece for two reasons.  First, the number of electrical problems were many and the second reason is that rarely do I do an inspection and not find electrical problems.  Furthermore, the types of electrical issues found on home inspections often rise to the level of significant, “Safety” problems.  This means, they are potentially serious accidents waiting to happen as a result.  Finally, they are either because of homeowner performing their own electrical work, which may be illegal, or because the home is old and the owners over time never upgraded the electrical system.  Now we are applying current day analysis to a semi-obsolete electrical system resulting in a number of problems identified as problems and often, “Safety” issues. 

 

When I prepare a report “Major Defects” and “Safety” issues are highlighted within the report as well as the sole subject of my report’s Summary.  The report, of course, includes many other informative aspects but these two are of particular interest (to lawyers and buyers) and of concern to both as well.  It has been requested of me by lawyers, that recommend me to clients, that they like to see a Summary of the “Major Defects” and “Safety” issues.  A lawyer isn’t as concerned about maintenance issues and a dripping faucet for example.   They want to go to the areas that might impact the occupancy, safety and value for example.  This is understandable in my opinion.

 

The electrical system is a significant aspect of the inspection.  All areas are important but the electrical system is rather extensive.  It begins with the service entrance.  This is the cable that brings electricity into the home.  It’s often through overhead cables but many newer homes have service that comes to the home through underground cables.  This is known as a “Service Lateral”.  The overhead wires are known as “Service Drop”. Let’s look at the rest of this piece assuming a Service Drop type of installation.  The wires come from a utility pole and not too far away is a transformer. 

 November 2, 2013 059-400

Photo 1

Please note that much of these explanations are simplifications.  To provide all the detail is too exhaustive for this piece.  The first thing an inspector will look at is the height of the cable at its lowest point and its proximity to the roof, metal gutters and windows as it arrives at the mast or conduit at the side of the home.  Some homes have SE Cable and not a conduit.  “SE” stands for Service Entrance.  The cables (you will usually see 3 distinct wires) should have a loop in them very close to the side of the house.  This loop is called a drip loop and prevents water from running along the wire and into the conduit.  This loop also facilitates the splices between what is the utility’s wire (from the pole) and the start of the electrical system owned by and the responsibility of the home owner. 

In Photo 1 you can see the loop and while it’s hard to see, there are three cables.  The wider sections at the bottom of the loop are the splices.  In this photo, to the right of the photo is the utility’s cable (responsibility) and to the left (and in to the home) is the owner’s responsibility.  Where the loop goes into the SE cable (straight gray cable going down to the left) is a weather head or seal so water does not enter the cable.

 Typically, homes have three wires as this one does.  One is the neutral, one is 120V AC and the other is also 120V AC.  This home would therefore have electrical service referred to as “120/240”.

557 Penn St 020-400

Photo 2

In Photo 2, please notice that the weather head does not exist.  Water from rain can enter the conduit and once in the conduit the next stop is inside the electric meter panel.  Water and electricity are not a good combination when safety is the goal.  This is also 3 wires so it is 120/240 service.  As you probably know, the wires go through the electric meter.

 557 Penn St 156-400

Photo 3

The electric meter measures the amount of electricity you use.  The meter should be safe from damage and secure.  Please notice how the conduit for this electric meter (Photo 3) is not secure in the manner it should be.  A curious child might try to stick something in the gap because that’s what kids do.  Additionally this meter is ankle high at the top of the stoop by the front door.  The entire electric meter box is also loose.  From the weather head to the meter must be serviced by a licensed electrician!

DSCF0586

Photo 4

Coming out of the other side of the electric meter, the cables should quickly (in the shortest path possible) go into the house’s electrical Service Panel (aka Circuit Breaker Box or Panel) – Photo 4.  Circuit breaker panels are typically located in a garage or basement.  They may also be located in an interior wall in a hall for example.  But they should not be located in a closet or bathroom.   In most homes there is one Service Panel.  A Circuit Breaker is an “over current protector”.  Current in this situation means amperage, amperes or amps.   Amps refers to the amount of electrical energy and as little as a fraction of an amp can kill.  If your house has fuses and a fuse-panel, you should consult a licensed electrician and plan to have the fuse panel replaced with a modern circuit breaker panel.

Your main panel is rated for a particular amperage (amperage rating) and is usually 200 amps.  While the panel is “rated” for 200 amps your main disconnect at the top of your panel may be 100, 150 or 200 amps.  Below the main breaker are the individual circuit breakers.   This photo is of a modern panel with the door closed. 

This panel is clean and secure.  What are some of the issues with panels?  There are many issues that I have encountered.  They almost always are documented in the report as Safety issues and have the potential of causing problems at the time of closing.  Why is that the case?  The seller says the house is for sale, “As is”.  The inspector highlights the problem as Safety related or a Major Defect and the issue has the potential to spoil a deal.  Lesson: If you are planning to sell your house, spend a few hundred dollars and have it inspected.  Then fix the problems the inspector finds.

November 2, 2013 091-400

Photo 5

In Photo 5, notice that there isn’t a main disconnect.  For safety reasons, if more than Six (6) switches are needed to disconnect power in a home, a single, main disconnect is required.  Notice that this panel has 14 circuit breakers but does not have a single, main disconnect.  It was highlighted in the home inspection report as a Safety issue.

Other issues with panels include missing and/or incorrect screws that attach the panel cover to the panel base.  Why are these important?  If the cover is removed or can easily be dislodged because the appropriate screws aren’t used or are missing, the exposed metallic components (wires, bus bar and terminals) are dangerous.  As you will probably agree, most screws have a point at the end, right?  The screws used to attach the cover to the base DO NOT have points.  The points could pierce the insulation of the hot/live wires inside the box again creating a safety issue.  Only the screws provided by the panel’s manufacturer should be used.  DO NOT grab the handiest wood screw and use it to secure the cover.  You could electrocute yourself.  Call a licensed electrician!

Frequently seen (or not seen) in panels are missing bushings where the cable enters the metal box, knock outs that were never used for cable entrances as well as for circuit breakers.  Although this panel cover (Photo 6) was removed for inspection, please notice the bushings that secure the orange cables to the side of the box.  Then look a little lower to the white cable.  Notice that there isn’t a bushing.  The soft cable jacket and the wire’s insulation can be cut or nicked by the sharp edge where the cable enters the box.  That isn’t the only issue with this box.  Bushings are missing elsewhere, there weren’t four screws securing the cover and NONE of the screws used were correct.  If you look on the left side of the face, where the screw holes are, you’ll see a small brown dot.  That’s the hole where the screw goes. Now notice the cable right behind where the screw goes in.  This is a safety hazard. Because of this, and other wiring issues, analysis and correction by a licensed electrician was emphatically encouraged.

 557 Penn St 072

Photo 6

Among many other things that an inspector should look for includes “double taps”, bare wire ends inside the box, proper use of the correct wire gauge for the capacity of the circuit breaker and many other aspects that could compromise safety. 

In some homes there are also “Sub Panels”.   Sub panels concentrate some circuit breakers for a specific reason.  If you add a pool for example, a sub panel might be used.  If you have a panel that can house 24 (as an example) circuit breakers and you do an expansion and need 10 more, a sub panel may be added to increase circuit breaker capacity.  The inspection of a sub panel is similar to the inspection of the main panel.  There are differences however.

Your inspector should spend a good deal of time inspecting the service panel.  If you are planning to sell, hoping to buy or planning to stay in your home for a while, call Regal Home Inspections, LLC for an inspection of your electrical system in accordance with ASHI and NACHI Standards of Practice.

The next article in the electrical series will cover the Branch Circuit Wiring.  This includes the wiring FROM the circuit breaker box to your outlets and switches.  What is the inspector looking for?

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