How to Look

at a House


A blog with answers
to your questions about
HOME INSPECTION
and HOME MAINTENANCE

Welcome to our blog!
We want you to be an informed homebuyer, and each blog post is a question that we have answered for our friends and customers over the years. Hope they help you make a good choice for your next home.

  1. 3)Lights dim briefly when air conditioner kicks on - The surge of electricity necessary to start a air conditioning compressor moving can momentarily starve the rest of a home’s electric system of voltage, causing split-second dimming. You can find a couple of fixes at our blog post “Why do the lights dim when the air conditioner starts up?”.

  2. 4) Lights on only one circuit blink - The problem is likely at a the circuit breaker or neutral wire connection in the panel. The heat generated by a bad connection may be enough to discolor or even melt the adjacent wire insulation and darken the area of exposed wire. Then again, the bad connection may not get hot enough for any visible signs, plus you have to remove the panel’s dead front to check this—which is not recommended unless you have electrical wiring experience. “There’s a good reason they call it a ‘dead’ front,” one electrician we know likes to ominously tell customers.

  3. 5)Lights are flickering throughout the house - The problem is likely at the main service cable connections or meter box connections, and will require examination by an electrician. These are high capacity wires and could be a fire hazard if not addressed quickly.

  4. 6)Lights are flickering at neighbors’ houses too - It is a problem with the electric utility service, either at a shared transformer or area-wide issue. Call and report it for repair.

  5. 7)Mysterious, erratic flickering - When it only happens at random and has no detectible pattern, call an electrician. There are several complicated scenarios that can only be detected by following a patient, professional troubleshooting sequence.


While we hope you find this series of articles about home inspection helpful, they should not be considered an alternative to an actual home inspection by a local inspector. Also, construction standards vary in different parts of the country and it is possible that important issues related to your area may not be covered here.
© McGarry and Madsen Inspection


More blogs about electrical service and distribution:

  1. How come my generator hookup got tagged as defective by the home inspector?

  2. Is the electric panel big enough for this house?

  3. My circuit breaker won’t reset. What’s wrong?

  4. What are the most common homeowner wiring mistakes?

  5. How do the new tamper-resistant electric receptacles work?

  6. The electric panel is marked “Trilliant” and it’s all grey plastic. Is it alright?

  7. Why do you pay so much attention to electrical safety?

  8. What is the life expectancy of a circuit breaker?

  9. How dangerous is old electrical wiring?

  10. What is the right electric wire size for a home?

  11. Why does the electric company want my house electric system inspected before turning the power back on?

  12. What is a double tap at a circuit breaker?

  13. Why does that wall plug have push-buttons in the middle?

  14. Does this place have one of those “bad” electric panels I’ve heard about?

  15. My bathroom electric receptacle/outlet is dead, and there is no tripped breaker in the electric panel. What’s wrong?

  16. What is reversed polarity at an outlet/receptacle? Why is it dangerous?

  17. What is the switch on the wall with only two pushbuttons for?

  18. What are those strange looking wall switches in houses from the 1950s and 1960s?

  19. What is a lock device on a circuit breaker for?

  20. Can multiple neutral or ground wires be secured under the same terminal in an electric panel?

  21. Why are Zinsco and Sylvania-Zinsco electric panels a problem?

  22. Can wiremold be used at an exterior location?

  23. What is the life expectancy of electrical wiring in a house?

  24. How can adding wood paneling or a wainscot create an electrical safety hazard?

  25. What are the most common electrical defects found in a home inspection?

  26. Why is an old fuse panel dangerous?

  27. What does it mean when a wire is “overstripped” at a circuit breaker?

  28. What is the difference between “grounded” and “grounding” electrical conductors?

  29. What is the difference between a Combination Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (CAFCI) and an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) circuit breaker?

  30. How can I tell if a receptacle/outlet is tamper resistant?

  31. What is a Dual Function Circuit Interrupter (DFCI)?

  32. Will a GFCI receptacle that is not grounded still function properly?

  33. Does a home inspector remove the electric panel cover plate and examine the inside of the panel?

  34. Can an electric panel be located over stairs?

  35. What are the code requirements for NM-cable (nonmetallic-sheathed cable or Romex®) in an attic?

  36. Can old electrical wiring go bad inside a wall?

  37. How do I trace and identify each circuit breaker in my electric panel to make a circuit directory?

  38. Why are extension cords dangerous?

  39. What problems does having too many electrical outlets on a single circuit cause?

  40. How can I find out the size of the electric service to a house?

  41. What happens when you press the “TEST” button on a circuit breaker in an electric panel?

  42. How many electric receptacles (outlets) are required in a hallway?

  43. Why does painting an electric receptacle (outlet) make it unsafe?

  44. Why are old electrical systems not always “grandfathered” as acceptable by home inspectors?

  45. Why do the lights dim when the air conditioner turns on?

  46. Where are GFCI receptacle outlets required?

  47. When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?

  48. Why is bundled wiring in an electric panel a defect?

  49. What electrical hazards does a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) not protect against?

  50. What is the color code for NM cable (Romex®) sheathing?

  51. What are the right words for talking about a house electrical system?

  52. Can a washer or dryer be located in front of an electric panel?

  53. How can I tell if the electrical service is 3 phase or single phase?

  54. What is the minimum clearance of overhead electric service drop wires above a house roof?

  55. Can you add circuit breakers by different manufacturers to an electric panel if they fit?

  56. When did arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) breakers first become required?

  57. What is the difference between an electrical receptacle, an outlet, and a plug?

  58. Should I buy a house near a high-voltage power line?

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