Do Not Waive Your Home Inspection. Part 1.

Electrical Issues…A Great Reason NOT to Waive your right for a home inspection.

July 27, 2021

We’re in the COVID Era.  Many people are in a panic, including, for the first time, panicking about where they live.  My wife and I came to New Jersey, from Staten Island, NY in 1987.  We, like many New Yorkers, sought a better life and standard of living for our young and expanding family.  And, without a shadow of a doubt, we achieved a better life in the Garden State.

As a licensed home inspector in Monmouth County, NJ I’ve done many inspections for people moving to NJ for a better life.  NJ’s beaches and rural, suburban areas were a welcome change and attraction for people moving from Staten Island, Brooklyn and occasionally Queens. At one time the cost of living in NJ was an attraction too but unfortunately that may no longer be the case but that’s not important when compared to the other, quality of life issues.

Covid has been the catalyst for change in many, many ways. As it relates to the real estate business, Covid is pushing people to NJ. To some degree people are still coming to NJ for a better quality of life but 2020 has given New Yorkers other reasons to flee the Empire State and the Big Apple; Congestion, crime, unbridled riots the summer of 2020 and more. To some degree the real estate industry in NJ has benefited. I heard that Connecticut is also a welcome alternative to New York.

This all means that the competition for buyers is tough. Many buyers and too little inventory.  Supply and demand. What gives? Bid prices go up and sellers put stipulations that only structural or environmental inspection will be permitted. What? For buyers that’s a bad proposition.  You could be buying a money pit or a safety hazard.

Here are some examples of egregious electrical issues recently found that you would have no knowledge of if you gave up your right for a FULL inspection.  One area that a run of the mill DIY homeowner must never do is electrical work!  It could kill if not done properly, start a fire and worse. The examples shown are, in my opinion, so bad that there’s no way they were done by a licensed electrician or an apprentice working under the guidance of a licensed electrician. Items 1 and 2 are from one house inspected the week of July 19, 2021. Items 3 and 4 are from a house inspected the week of July 12, 2021.

  • A sub panel that’s mis-wired.  Neutrals and grounds are together on 2 different bars.  One set, on the top right is wrong because the bar is, by design, electrically isolated from the metal box (Also part of the electrical ground). So the ground wires are not really grounded.  “No big deal” you say?  Wrong, it is a big deal. If one of the hot wires short circuits it will want to go to the ground wire and to an earth ground. But due to the way it’s wired, there is no metallic path to an earth ground. The electricity from the short circuit will energize all of the other wires in the house and potentially electrocute someone or start a fire.
  • The same panel’s ground bar (Bottom left) also has neutrals wired to it. The grounds are grounded but so are the neutrals.
  • certified home inspector monmouth county nj
    Improperly wired sub panel.
    home inspector monmouth county nj
    Grounds and neutrals on the same bar. The problem is that it’s not grounded.

    home inspector colts neck nj
    Neutrals are also part of the ground.
  • At another house there’s a 20amp circuit breaker with a 14 gauge wire. That’s definitely a safety issue. If you don’t believe me try Googling, “Can a 14 gauge wire be connected to a 20amp circuit breaker?”  The 1st response is, “You can not use 14 AWG anywhere on a circuit that has a 20A breaker.”  For me it’s case closed.
  • At Regal Home Inspections, LLC we use combustible gas detectors and check the natural gas valves and couplings around the water heater, furnace or boiler and dryer when accessible. Yes, we found a gas leak. Do you want to move into a house with a gas leak? Of course that’s rhetorical question, of course you don’t. But if you give up your right to an inspection, that’s what you may end up doing!
  • home inspections monmouth county nj
    Gas leak detected.

Don’t give up your right to a full home inspection.  If you plan on renovating the bathrooms and kitchen, fine, exclude them from your inspection and maybe the seller will be OK with that.  But do not give away your right to identify Material Defects that effect the safety or habitability of the house.

 

Other Services | Home Inspections Monmouth County NJ

Regal Home Inspections, LLC is thermal imaging certified and offers Monmouth County NJ certified home inspections, condo inspections, estate inspections, and townhouse inspections.

It’s likely your mortgage company will require a wood-destroying insect inspection. Regal Home Inspections has the NJ DEP Core & 7B Pesticide Applicator license, so we can offer professional termite and wood-destroying insect inspections as well!

Call 908-902-2590 for your free quote or if you have any questions!

 

Thermal Imaging Certified

home inspector monmouth county njThermal Imaging Certified | Home Inspector Monmouth County NJ

Frank J. Delle Donne, owner and inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC has become certified by InterNACHI, the largest home inspector association, as a thermal imager. This requires taking and passing classes in Building Science and Thermal Imaging. This service will be rolled out this year as an ancillary service for home inspection clients or clients needing the specific analysis of thermal imaging.

What is thermal imaging? Thermal imaging is the use of specialized cameras that can look at the thermal (Heat and cool) properties of objects. A thermal imaging camera compares the thermal signatures of building surfaces comparing hot (or warmer) areas to cold (or cooler) areas. Then, using the training, a skilled thermographer can interpret the images that may identify moisture or poor insulation for example. In the photos below some examples show how the thermal imaging can identify or confirm electrical issues as well. Not all thermal imaging efforts are to identify issues. As shown below, thermal imaging can be used to confirm the operation of radiant heating in a ceiling or floor. The radiant heat is very subtle and not able to be distinguished with a laser thermometer, for example. But, as shown below, a thermal image can confirm the proper operation of a radiant heat system.

The thermal imaging service will be offered to home inspection clients at a steeply discounted rate or offered as a singular service for home or building owners. For more information call Frank at 908 902 2590.

This photo shows the heat of a light against the background of the cooler ceiling. Building anomalies such as moisture, poor insulation and electrical issues can be photographed in the infrared spectrum to identify issues that are not apparent to the naked eye.

 

There was a small stain on the kitchen ceiling, approximately 6 inches wide. The thermal image shows (the dark area in the photo) an area approximately 3 feet wide that’s wet from a bathroom leak above the kitchen ceiling.
Visually, an overheating wire can be seen.

 

The thermal image confirms that the circuit breaker and wire are warmer than the surrounding breakers and wires.

 

The thermal image camera can detect the heating coils for a radiant heat system. The coils can’t be seen with the naked eye but are in sharp focus with thermal imaging. This image is of the heating coils in the ceiling.
These two photos (above and below this caption) are of the radiant heating coils in the floor of a bathroom.

 

Other Services | Home Inspections Monmouth County NJ

Regal Home Inspections, LLC is thermal imaging certified and offers Monmouth County NJ certified home inspections, condo inspections, estate inspections, and townhouse inspections.

It’s likely your mortgage company will require a wood-destroying insect inspection. Regal Home Inspections has the NJ DEP Core & 7B Pesticide Applicator license, so we can offer professional termite and wood-destroying insect inspections as well!

Call 908-902-2590 for your free quote or if you have any questions!

Electrical Issues – Findings of a Home Inspector

Electrical Issues – Part 4

Findings of a Home Inspector – Electrical (aka Circuit Breaker) Panels

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

August 1, 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 & Disclaimer

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) because it is a SAFETY issue. Being classified as a Major Defect in a home inspection report usually means that some corrective action should 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 article looks at some all-too-common issues with circuit breaker panels. While some panel issues may have been mentioned in Parts 1, 2 or 3, these examples were from inspections that were done in June and July 2014. The areas that I’ll cover today include the circuit breaker panel location and the issue of double taps. I will also point out an example of a bad situation in which there wasn’t any panel cover at all.

General Panel Observations

Circuit breaker panels (referred to as, “panel”) should be accessible from the front. Technically, if there isn’t 3 feet of clearance in front of a panel, by rights, a licensed home inspector may not even try to inspect it. If you are buying a home, it’s worth a call and ask the seller to ensure that the panel is accessible. Below is an example of a panel that was tucked behind a refrigerator/freezer in a utility room. Luckily I was also performing a radon test which required that I return in a couple of days. The buyer was able to ask the seller to move the refrigerator so I could get access to it when I returned for the radon. It was a slight delay in completing the report but it had to be done.

DSCF1766
Missing Panel Cover

Some panels are too readily available. This panel’s cover was no where to be found. I cannot emphasize enough the potential of death (that’s not too extreme of a scenario) when the panel cover is not there. Would you ever climb a ladder and grab the electrical wires from the pole to your home? Of course not. But when the panel cover is missing it is practically the same shock/electrocution/death potential inside your home. Imagine you trip and reach out to stop your fall and your hand goes into the panel? Imagine you are sweeping or mopping the floor and you are using a metal pole mop or broom and you accidentally turn and the handle of the mop touches the inside of the panel box. It can be a death causing event. That’s why panel covers are REQUIRED!!!

Also, under the heading of general panel observations, if you are selling a home, make sure the legend in the panel box is complete and accurate. Don’t sell a house that doesn’t have the proper “operator instructions”. An incomplete or non existent legend should be pointed out in a home inspection report. Some may think it’s minor (and it’s not necessarily a Material/Major Defect) but it should be complete and accurate.

Location, Location, Location

As mentioned earlier, a panel should have adequate space in front of it for access. Ideally 3 feet to allow an inspector to open the door, remove the screws, lift off the panel cover and inspect the internal wiring and condition. Additionally, the top of the panel should not be too high. Ideally the main disconnect should not be higher than 6 feet. This will ensure the probability that even someone that is not too tall can reach up and turn off the main-breaker in the event of an emergency.

Panels should also not be located in closets. Below are 2 examples of panels situated in clothes closets. There have been others. One is of particular concern. The shelf in the closet prevents the panel door from opening completely not to mention the fact that the panel shelf is right up against the panel cover. I was able to remove it but I think most inspectors would record the condition as a “Limitation” to the inspection process and not inspect further. This is perfectly appropriate if invoked but I wouldn’t let that stop me from doing the best job for the client.

DSCF8563
Panel in Closet.
DSCF0051
Panel in closet has access hampered by shelving.

A Particularly Hazardous Condition

In a previous article I wrote about “Double Taps”. As stated then, 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.

DSCF1769
Double Tap in Main Breaker. Very Bad!!!

This, however is a particularly hazardous situation (photo above). Someone double-tapped into the main feed and the main circuit breaker.  The other end of the wire is connected to a breaker below, back-feeding power to the panel with no main breaker protection.

With this condition, it is impossible to actually disconnect power from one half of the panel. In the series of photos that follows, notice that there are two wires into the main breaker. One comes from the electric meter and is the live feed. There is a double tap into the same main breaker lug and as a result, the second line is ALWAYS energized. It then goes to another breaker in the panel. To tell you the truth, I cannot figure out what the purpose of this is but this is exactly how I found the panel when it was inspected.

Conclusion

I continue to share some of the more dangerous and interesting findings that I come across as a home inspector. I invite you to use this and the other posts as learning aids and that they help you learn mre about the home’s systems. Remember, electricity can kill. Do not attempt to fix any electrical problems you may notice. Call a licensed electrician.

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.

 

 

Maintaining Your Home – Part 2; Help The Sale Go Smoothly

Maintaining Your Home – Part 2

Help the Sale Go Smoothly

Findings of a Home Inspector

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

July 11, 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

In the first part of this two part series I tried to introduce the reader to some not-so-obvious maintenance issues that I have found during my home inspections. The reason they are important is because they are safety related and some are objectively deemed to be Material (aka Major) Defects. This article looks at a few others. The goal here is that possibly sellers will read this, consider their home and either perform a more thorough inspection on their own or, better yet, hire Regal Home Inspections, LLC to perform a Seller’s Inspection so that when it comes time for the buyer’s inspector to come through, many of the issues may have been addressed already. There are two ways that a seller can benefit from a Seller’s Inspection performed by Regal Home Inspections, LLC. First, the seller can use the findings to make corrections and/or repairs. Second, the seller can always include those items found in the Seller’s Inspection in the Seller’s Disclosure. I find that home sales hit snags when things are found by the buyer’s inspector that weren’t previously known by the seller or the seller knew but was hoping the inspector wouldn’t find. Quite the roll of the dice for all parties.

Brief Review (This section is repeated from the initial article)

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?

Preparing Your House

Does anybody decide on a Monday, out of the clear blue, that they are going to list and try to sell their home that day? Isn’t it more reasonable that people know in advance that they will be selling their home? It may not be known years in advance but a month, maybe two at least. “Honey, maybe we should plan on selling our home when we retire next year?” Or perhaps, “I just got offered a new job at work but it requires a relocation. The company wants me to move to California in 2 months.” My wife and I have been in our current home for almost 22 years with no plans to leave…yet. However, when we moved into our previous home in April, 1987, we knew that in the summer of 1991 (over 4 years later) we would be moving again. We used the summer when our oldest child would be between kindergarten and 1st grade as the target. I am not kidding when I say that we knew at the house closing in 1987 that between the end of June and early September, 1991, we’d be making another move.

Literally, the day before my son started 1st grade on September 5, 1991, we moved into our current home. That 1st grader is now 29 years old!

Sure there are exceptions. Parents pass away suddenly and the home has to be sold as part of an estate is one example and there are others. The point is that in the majority of situations planning can occur and fixing inspection related issues should be high on the priority list. Especially for estate sales!

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt (GFCI) outlets are currently required in any outdoor outlet, kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, garages, unfinished basements and elsewhere. A home inspector must look for and test GFCI outlets. GFCI outlets (and GFCI protected circuits) protect people from stray electrical current that they may inadvertently come in contact with. Electricity wants to follow the path of least resistance to ground. When people are struck by lightning, they accidentally become the path of least resistance to ground for that lightning bolt. If there is a damaged electrical circuit in the kitchen, bath or elsewhere, a person may accidentally become the path of least resistance to ground. A GFCI outlet or circuit can detect that unintentional path and in a tiny fraction of a second, the GFCI shuts the electricity off.

When I am inspecting a house I provide the client with information that shows, for example, that GFCI outlets haven’t been required in kitchens since 1987.   I inspected a house last week that was built in 1977. Before I went inside the house I provided information to the client and stated, we may not find GFCI in the kitchen…and we didn’t. It’s a Safety item on the report.   This sale may not go through because the GFCI are one item on a not too long list of things that need to be fixed. It’s an estate sale with, “who gives a damn” sellers that just want their money.

Does your house have a door between the attached garage and the living area? If it does, is the garage door solid core or metal? Is it fire-rated? Does the garage door have a mechanism (spring loaded hinges or other device) that AUTOMATICALLY closes and latches the door between the garage and living area? Spring loaded hinges cost about $10 each at Home Depot or Lowes. Don’t have a fire rated door or it doesn’t automatically close and latch? It’s a Material Defect related to SAFETY.

How close does the soil get to your siding? In a wood framed house you have the foundation wall and then the wood frame sits on top of that. The siding, let’s assume vinyl, covers the wood framing and exterior wood sheathing. It’s not a Material Defect or a Safety item but the inspector will recommend that there is at least 6 inches of space between the top of the soil and the bottom of the siding and wood framing. Does a buyer want to close on a new house and then spend the next couple of weekends digging and raking the dirt away from the house? I’d bet the answer is a resounding, “NO”. If you’re planning to sell, hire a landscaper and pay them some money to re-grade your yard so that you can see 6 inches of concrete foundation between the top of the soil and the siding. Do you know why it’s important? Let me put it to you this way. If the soil comes to the siding and framing, the inspector will tell the buyer that the condition makes it easy (conducive) for termites to go from the soil to the wood. Do you know what the buyer thinks? They think, “if I buy this house I’ll have termites!” All they will remember is, TERMITES! An associated aspect to this is if you are planning to sell, get a termite inspection and treatment. Have the pesticide company give you a certificate and share that with the buyers. Turn a potential negative into a positive.

Conclusion

I have just shared three inspection issues that are A) Relatively easy to fix and B) Can scare the heck out of a buyer and chase them away. 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.

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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?

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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.

 

 

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.