Electrical Safety Hazards Found During Home Inspections

Bright lightning striking roof of house.

Of all of the systems that comprise a home inspection, I think the electrical system is the most over-looked in regards to risk.

Clients and Agents are quick to ask about the condition of the roof and the foundation, but rarely am I asked specifically about the electrical system.

It’s possible that we are focusing on the monetary cost, but with the electrical system, we shouldn’t forget the cost associated with electrical shock and electrical fires.

I’ve seen my share of both, which is why I strive for a maximum-standard approach for each of my clients.

Electrical inspections help to ensure that your home’s electrical system is working in a safe manner. Your home’s electrical system has many components that must work in harmony in order to provide your home with electricity.

The vast majority of residential homes are supplied with power via two 120 volt wires and one neutral wire, giving your modern home the much needed 240 volts necessary to power appliances like the stove, range, dryer, and HVAC system. Generally, homeowners are responsible for everything that happens after the attachment to the meter. The outlets, switches, fixtures, and grounding system also play a key role in your homes electrical system.

Commonly Found Electrical Problems during a Home Inspection

ground‐fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) image 1. It is very common to find ground‐fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) that do not function properly or is not installed in the required locations. GFCI outlets should be manually tested once a month to ensure that the test button and manual rest button both function.

overheating electrical wires image image 2. When inspecting the electrical panel, the presence of overheated grounded circuit conductors (neutral) is also commonly detected. The image (left) shows the damage done to a shared neutral as part of an improperly configured multiwire branch circuit. This is usually wired as part of the dishwasher and garbage disposal circuit. When the multiwire branch circuit is not properly split between the two phases of the panel, a cumulative load is carried by the neutral conductor that often results in a greater current than the wire is rated for.

Electrical grounding system image 3. It is also common in newer homes to find the grounding system improperly terminated. Every modern residential electrical system has a grounding system. This is not to say that all the branch-circuits are grounded, only that the electrical system is connecting to “earth” at the utility transformer. The installation of a grounding system is incorporated to provide lightning protection and to limit over-voltage from the utility company.  The 6 AWG grounding electrode should have been accompanied by an 8 foot listed ground rod at this location.

4. When performing Pre-Cover framing inspections, a common defect found is the proximity of wiring that is within 1 ¼ inch of a bored stud edge. These locations are susceptible to nail penetration during the installation of gypsum board (sheetrock) and require a listed striker plate. 

5. An easily avoided but all too common defect is also located in the bedroom closets. When an incandescent light bulb fixture is not fully enclosed, it is a legitimate fire hazard. Hearkening back to our fire-safety statistics the reader should be reminded of the number of house fires that originated from within the bedroom.

When considering purchasing a new home, having the electrical service and distribution system inspected is extremely important. A professional home inspector should be more than capable of identifying troubling installation practices during a typical home inspection. The ability to recognize dangerous electrical conditions and helping explain the potential dangers will help any potential homeowner better understand the overall electrical system. Some instances may require additional observations by a licensed electrician, and that’s okay. The safety of you and your family is paramount and furthermore, having an acute understanding of the total cost of purchasing a new home should come with every standard home inspection.

Electrical Inspection Report

Every electrical inspection report should provide you with digital images and a detailed summary of the electrical components of your new home. Electrical safety is an extremely important consideration when purchasing a new home. A 2008 report produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) titled Residential Building Electrical Fires highlights the annual number of residential home fires and their devastating effects.

  • An estimated 28,300 residential building electrical fires caused 360 deaths
  • Fifteen percent of residential building electrical fires start in bedrooms
  • Nearly half (47%) of the residential building electrical fires where equipment was involved were caused by the building’s wiring
  • Twenty-two percent of residential building electrical fires occur during December and January
  • Even more electrical fires result from inappropriate wiring installations, overloaded circuits, and extension cords
  • Electrical fires in residential buildings result in more damage and higher death rates per 1000 fires on average than nonelectrical residential fires
  • Dollar loss per fire for residential building electrical fires is more than double that for nonelectrical residential building fires
  • Deaths per 1000 fires is about 70% higher for residential building electrical fires
  • Electrical fires that start in walls can smolder for some time, and by the time the fire is detected; most likely, it already has spread within the walls unseen

Electrical Safety Tips

Because electricity is such an integral part of our everyday lives proper electrical safety can sometimes be overlooked. Furthermore, as each generation is introduced to an ever-expanding world of electrical design, the importance of electrical safety can be overlooked. This is never truer than when purchasing a home. The often neglected switches, outlets, and quirks that a homeowner has known about for years, but never corrected, go undisclosed during the transfer of home ownership. This leaves many families in discovery mode when it comes to familiarity with a newly purchased home. There are a number of different safety precautions that a homeowner can take to reduce the threat of electrical injury within the home. The following list was published by the National Fire Protection Association titled Electrical Safety Tips

  • Have all electrical work done by a qualified electrician
  • When you are buying or remodeling a home have inspected by a qualified electrician
  • Only plug one heat-producing appliance (such as a coffee maker, toaster, space heater, etc.) into a receptacle outlet at a time
  • Test arc‐fault circuit interrupter (AFCI)  and GFCI (Ground-fault Circuit-interrupters) once a month to make sure they’re working properly
  • Check electrical cords to make sure they are not running across doorways are under carpets. Extension cords are intended for temporary use. Have a qualified electrician install  more receptacle outlets so that you don’t have to use extension cords
  • Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage on the lamp or fixture. There should be a sticker that indicates the maximum wattage light bulb to use
  • Make sure your home has ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in the kitchen bathroom(s), laundry, basement, and outdoor areas
  • If outlets or switches feel warm, frequent problems with blowing fuses or tripping circuits, or flickering or dimming lights, call a qualified electrician

Electrical Inspection Checklist

  • Observe the Condition of the weather head and mast as well as proper securing to the structure
  • Identify deficiencies in the grounding electrode system as well as bonding issues
  • Problems associated with the main service panel, gutters, and sub-panels
  • Inspect over-current devices for 240 volts and 120-volt circuits
  • Check ground‐fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets for proper coverage and location
  • Check requirements for arc‐fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) where applicable
  • Activate accessible smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
  • Report observed safety hazards and improper wire terminations
  • The bedroom is the leading area of fire origin for fires with injuries and dollar loss; with structural areas such as the crawlspace and attic and porches the second

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