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.

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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?

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.

 

 

Pre-Listing or Seller’s Inspection

Pre-Listing or Seller’s Inspection.

Why is it the right thing to do?

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

January 9, 2014

About the author.  Frank J. Delle Donne is a NJ Licensed Home Inspector, owner and Senior Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC.  and a member of the New Jersey Association of Licensed Professional Home Inspectors (NJ-ALPHI) & the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI).  Frank graduated from Pace University in New York City and he is a 30+ year veteran of the telecommunications industry.  Frank founded Regal Home Inspections, LLC and is building it into the most professional, comprehensive and thorough inspection company in New Jersey leveraging his technical skills as well as his professional sales skills learned during over 3 decades of industrial sales.    Regal Home Inspections, LLC can also test your house for radon having exceeded the NJ requirements to obtain a Radon Measurement Technician certification.  Indoor Air Quality, Mold and Allergens are also tests we can provide for real estate transactions or for the self motivated, concerned homeowner.  We can also facilitate testing of septic systems and oil tanks; tank integrity and soil tests below ground.

Introduction – Preparing to List Your Home

Most homeowners like their homes.  They’ve probably lived in it for a number of years and, for whatever reason, are compelled to sell.  Perhaps it’s to downsize or upgrade.  Perhaps to relocate to a new area, move to a better school district, move back home or away from the in-laws.  Whatever the reason, you have decided to sell your house.  So what’s next?  You contact a Realtor® or a number of agents.  You compare recent sales in your area or, “comps”.  You think about an asking price and perhaps a minimum price and think, “I won’t go below this price or that.”.  You consider the balance on your mortgage, interest rates for a new mortgage and how much new home you can afford to buy.  Your new commute, your new local taxes, and you should consider the condition of your house.  There are lots of things, right?

Perhaps the last point is one that you should give some extra consideration to.  Why?  We all know that it’s the buyer’s market.  A qualified buyer with a no-contingency purchase, good credit and ready to move in is what every seller is looking for and for that purchaser, there are probably numerous options for them in your area, in that school district, with an easier commute, etc.

So how do you attract the buyer to your house?  Well, you could drop the price or initially set the price so low it sells in days.  In my opinion, if you see a house that has a contract for sale within a few days of its listing the price was probably set too low.

Sprucing Up Your Home – Curb Appeal and Neutral Colors

I am no strange to these real estate sales TV shows.  Whether it’s someone flipping a house or a team of experts showing someone how to prepare their home for sale, like them or not, they have a point.  Homes with great curb appeal and those that present well inside will sell faster than a house that looks like it needs significant repairs and improvements.

I don’t think anyone disagrees that a new coat of paint in the rooms and halls, steam cleaning the rugs, lighting a few scented candles or baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies or an apple pie during the open house will help present the house well.  Good work.  Your plan to appeal to the senses seems to have worked.  You get a contract and it goes into and out of attorney review and then the buyer schedules a home inspection.   This is when the items in disrepair and other issues come to the surface quickly surpassing the positive benefit of the coats of paint and aroma of the pies and cookies.  And you start thinking, is the deal going to go south?

Solution

While there are no guarantees in life except death and taxes, you can help minimize the potential for a last minute deal crash by having Regal Home Inspections, LLC perform a Pre-Listing or Seller’s Inspection.   As you may have read in some of the other articles I have written, there are numerous problems that I find that a homeowner isn’t even aware that I will be looking for.  The step on your front porch that measures 9 inches high, the downspout that dumps all the rain water off your roof next to your basement wall then the water enters your basement!  Or the simple electrical outlet problem that becomes a highlighted safety item in my or any inspector’s report.  Even something as simple as having (or not) the service records for your heating system and central air conditioner could result in price negotiations with the buyer at the last minute.  This is particularly important if those appliances are more than 10 – 15 years old.

The solution is to get a Pre-Listing or Seller’s Inspection.  Share that information with prospective buyers.  Perhaps correct as many as possible.  Show the buyer that you are diligent and thorough too.  You can, “Sell with Pride” and you can help them, “Buy with Confidence” as we say here at Regal Home Inspections, LLC.

Even if you don’t lift a finger to correct any of the items a Pre Listing or Seller’s Inspection may identify, you can at least use that information in your Seller’s Disclosure and state that the asking price has been set with these inspection items in mind.  Then when the buyer’s inspector finds the same issues, they are not a surprise to you or the buyer.

As we all know, if you get a buyer to agree to $X for your home and then the Inspector finds numerous safety and major defect items (items that a Pre-Listing or Seller’s Inspection would have found) the buyer is going to demand a reduction in price to fix those items.   You will either lose the sale or reduce the price.  This price concession can be for the water heater that’s perfectly fine but it’s 12 years old or the 100 am circuit breaker panel that many consider inferior for today’s living.

Summary

If the cost of a Pre Listing or Seller’s Inspection is $350 but it saves you $10,000 in last minute price concessions is it worth it?  If the inspection costs $450 but it saves you $5000 in last minute negotiations with the buyer or having to hire a plumber or electrician at premium wages to fix a problem  at the last minute to save the deal, is the $450 worth it?

Of course the Pre Listing or Seller’s Inspection is worth the cost.

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