What Sellers Can Expect from an Electrical Home Inspection
home inspection covers a lot of details to make sure that the house you’re selling is up to code, safe for a potential buyer, and doesn’t have a costly hidden maintenance issue. But even though home inspectors are trained to identify a lot of issues, they might recommend that a buyer call on an electrician’s expertise for an electrical home inspection.
Jeff Glover, a top-selling real estate agent in the Detroit, Michigan area with 16 years of experience, said that one out of every 40 or 50 homes that he lists needs an electrical home inspection
That’s often because of a home’s age, its wiring, and whether the electrical service panel has been updated. “A lot of older homes have different wiring,” said Glover “There’s a wiring called knob-and-tube that still exists in a lot of homes today. There are some complications with that.”
Here’s what you need to know about this particular home inspection and how to spot any potential problems that might need a professional’s help.
Inspecting a Home’s Electrical System
Electrical Panel Cautions
Inspectapedia warns never to touch an electrical panel if you notice anything dangerous, such as a missing grounding electrode. Also, do not touch any service entry cables or other wires or attempt to pry the electrical panel cover off with a tool. Never touch any part of the electrical system if there is water on the floor. If you feel any heat or tingling when touching any part of the electrical system, stop and do not go any further. Recommend an evaluation by a licensed electrician.
Copper or Aluminum Wiring?
An important notation to make when you first look inside the electrical box is whether copper or aluminum wire is being used. Aluminum wiring was used in many houses built between 1965 and 1973, due to the high cost of copper at the time. At least 1.5 million houses were built using aluminum wiring. More problems come from using aluminum wiring, as it tends to overheat more often, causing fires.
Checking the Wiring and Connections
Whereas it is impractical to rewire an entire house, an electrician can replace outlets and wall switches with newer, safer models that will work better with aluminum wiring.
Check Panel Conditions
Look to make sure the panel itself is clean and rust-free. Note if any insulation is coming off of any wires and exposing them, as this is hazardous. In addition, look for any burned or singed areas that may signify unsafe conditions.
Inspecting Wall Outlets
By comparison, testing wall outlets throughout the home is easy. You need a multimeter to test wall outlets. The red probe goes in the right side of the outlet and the black goes in the left. At this point, you should get a reading of about 120 volts. After you get this reading, switch the black probe to the oval hole to check the ground wire.
Checklist for an Electrical Home Inspection
The National Fire Protection Agency estimates that electrical failure or malfunction caused more than 144,000 house fires between 2007 and 2011. While an electrical inspection may not be required when buying a new home or making major renovations to an existing home, it can reveal electrical deficiencies, and prevent fire hazards.
Electrical Service Panel
Every home has an electrical service panel. It may be located on the exterior of the home, in the garage or basement. The panel contains fuses or circuit breakers. The panel and its components must be reviewed for age, dark or smoky residue, and wear and tear. If the panel contains out-dated round fuses, these should be replaced by a licensed electrician with circuit breakers switches. If the service panel is rusty or worn, it should be replaced as well.
In general, a home that contains round fuses at the service panel may give clues to the general age of the home’s wiring. Older homes built before 1950 may contain knob-and-tube wiring. Homes built between 1965 and 1973 may contain aluminum wiring. Both types of wiring have unique safety and performance characteristics and could be more challenging to insure. Homebuyers should be aware of this issue and homeowners should consider replacing the home’s wiring for improved safety and marketability.
Wet Area Outlets
Wet areas, including bathrooms and kitchens, must have ground fault circuit interrupters installed. Additionally, light switches must be several inches away from water. Outside outlets also must GFCIs installed. In general, GFCIs must be installed in any area where water could be present. Homeowners are advised to test GFCIs periodically; homebuyers should check them during the home walk-through before closing.
Interior Outlets and Lighting
Whether a home is up for sale or currently occupied, interior outlets, light switches, appliance cords and GFCIs must be routinely tested and visually inspected. Loose outlets must be tightened or replaced and cords must fit snugly. Outlets should be visually inspected for black smoke and cool to the touch. A licensed electrician must inspect any humming noises or switching sounds around outlets or lighting.
What is a Home Inspection?
A home inspection is an inspection of the structure and systems of a house. They typically include the foundation, basement, heating system, plumbing, central air conditioning, electrical, roof, and attic. An inspection should be done by someone who is certified by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI).
Electrical Panel Inspection
It is not unusual for a home inspector to find a #14 wire (15 amp circuit) connected to a 20 amp breaker. When a 15 amp circuit is overloaded and the circuit breaker trips often, someone may replace the 15 amp breaker with a 20 amp breaker. This situation could be a fire hazard or cause the whole circuit to fail.
An electrical pre-inspection can be done by the homeowner on switches, receptacles, and GFCI’s. A homeowner should not inspect the electrical panel, leave that to a certified home inspector.
Do an Electrical Inspection Before You Buy a Home
The receptacles, often called outlets, should be inspected to make sure that they have a ground, don’t have any cracks or physical defects, that they have the proper tension to hold in a cord that is plugged into them, and that they are the proper type for the area. Specific areas to watch are bathrooms, kitchens, basements, garages, and outdoor outlets. Any of these areas could be wet or damp and are required to have ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) installed. Kitchens require many special outlets and circuits to supply the vast number of kitchen appliances in them.
There are plenty of common electrical mistakes that people make, and you may be wondering if the old wiring is safe or whether your home has aluminum wiring. Check for incorrect electrical wiring and signs that a previous owner overloaded a circuit.
To examine the electrical system even further, you can perform a service panel checklist examination. It will take some time to do all of this, but it is well worth the effort. After all, you wouldn’t buy a sinking ship with holes in it, and you shouldn’t buy a faulty home either. If you know the defects ahead of time and negotiate the price to offset the faults, you may get the home of your dreams at a price that you can afford!
Electrical wiring has a certain safe lifespan, and standards have changed over the years—knob and tube wiring was state of the art in its day, but it’s now outdated. Just like the electrical switches and outlets wear out and need to be replaced from time to time, the wiring should be updated when necessary.
The home’s electrical service should be large enough for the current size of the house, with room to spare. Even if you are not planning an addition now, it is safer to have some breathing room.