More Blogs Posts on Similar Subjects:

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

  4. Is there an adapter that can be placed on a two-slot receptacle to make it safe?

  5. What are the most common homeowner wiring mistakes?

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

  7. What is a ground wire?

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

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

  10. What is knob-and-tube wiring?

  11. Can an electric panel be mounted sideways-horizontally?

  12. How far apart should the electrical receptacles be placed?

  13. Is a bare bulb light in a closet alright?

  14. What is a “missing twistout” at an electric panel?

  15. What is an “open junction box”?

  16. Why does the bedroom have a light switch but there is no light in the ceiling?

  17. How far apart should kitchen counter receptacles be placed?

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

  19. Why is the circuit breaker stuck in the middle?

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

  21. Will the electric company remove branches rubbing against the overhead service lines to my home?

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

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

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

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

  26. What is a false ground, bootleg ground, or cheated ground receptacle?

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

  28. What is an open electrical splice?

  29. Why is an old fuse panel dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  37. What are the most common defects with over-the-range microwaves?

  38. Can an electric panel be located over stairs?

  39. Is a house required to have outdoor electric receptacles?

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

  41. How can I change a 240V circuit to a 120V circuit?

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

  43. What could cause an extremely high electric bill?

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

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

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

  47. Why are old electric components not always “grandfathered” as acceptable by home inspectors?

  48. When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?

  49. What causes flickering or blinking lights in a house?

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

  51. Why are some electric receptacles/outlets upside down (ground slot up) in a house?

  52. Why is a fuse box an insurance problem for homebuyers?

  53. What is a “backstab” receptacle outlet?

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

  55. What does “listed” and “labeled” mean for an electrical component?

  56. What does it mean when I find buried yellow "CAUTION" tape when digging a hole in the yard?

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

  58. What is the building code requirement for receptacle outlets at stairs and stair landings?

  59. Can a home surge protector be installed loose in the bottom of an electric panel box?

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

Here’s some typical defects we find:

Reverse Polarity

   If the wires going to the hot and neutral terminals are switched, you have reverse polarity. While this defect does not affect the operation of simple appliances like a lamp, it can make them more dangerous. In the correct wiring configuration, the hot wire is connected to the button at the bottom of

the light socket and the neutral is connected to the socket threads. When replacing a bulb in lamp that is connected to a receptacle that is wired properly, it is difficult to be shocked by the small button at the bottom of the socket. But a reverse polarity receptacle electrifies the threaded socket, making it more likely that you will be shocked when changing a light bulb.

Older 2-Slot Receptacle

   Two-slot receptacles, the ungrounded type that were typical in homes before 1960, are considered safe and we do not list them as needing repair. However they are noted, because 2-slot receptacles will not accept the 3-prong plug on the cord of many new appliances, that require a ground connection to work properly, and this may prove to be an inconvenience.

   Homeowners in older homes sometimes succumb to an easy, but unsafe, solution to plugging the 3-prong cord on their new refrigerator to the 2-slot receptacle behind it. They use a conversion gadget we call a “cheater plug.” It has 2 prongs on the back side and three-slots on the front, along with a short wire for connection to the screw at the front of the receptacle box cover--although the receptacle box is rarely actually grounded. We always call out cheater plugs for repair.
No Ground

   Another shortcut for upgrading older homes to accept 3-prong plugs is replacement of 2-slot receptacles with 3-slot receptacles, even though there is no ground connection available. This is a typical defect in older homes that have had a quick, cheap remodeling to be “flipped,” and it is a serious safety defect.

False Ground

   Yet another shortcut to installing 3-slot receptacles in an older home is a “false ground,” where the ground slot is connected to the neutral terminal of the receptacle. Again, no ground connection exists and we call it out for repair.

No Neutral

   When our circuit tester indicates no neutral connection, it usually a loose wire in the receptacle box or the main panel.

High Resistance to Ground

   In order for the ground to work properly as a safety device, it must have a low resistance to the flow of electric current so that a breaker is tripped quickly when electricity starts flowing to the ground. Electrical resistance is measured in ohms, and 1.0 ohms is the recommended maximum resistance.

Low Voltage

   The nominal voltage for household receptacles is 120 volts, but between 110 and 130 volts is acceptable. We note if the voltage at receptacle is outside this range.

Excessive Voltage Drop Under Load

   Voltage is a measure of electrical force, which is comparable to water pressure in a plumbing system. When a standard 15-amp load (approximating a large household appliance or several smaller ones) is applied to a 120-volt household  circuit, the voltage drops somewhat. The maximum acceptable voltage drop is 5%. More than that indicates poor wire connections, damaged, or undersize wires.

Non-Functional GFCI-Device

   We “pop” and reset GFCI receptacles and breakers to test them. Like any mechanical device, they begin to fail as they age.

Non-Functional AFCI-Device

   We “pop” and reset AFCI-breakers to test them. They also begin to fail with age and, occasionally, we find defective new ones.

Dead Receptacles

   Any receptacle that is not supplying current is marked for repair.

Missing Receptacles

   Sometimes they just aren’t there. For example, pre-1960 homes often had a 2-slot receptacle built into the base of the wall light over the bathroom sink, and it was the only power source in the room. Those combination light/receptacle fixtures aren’t made anymore. When the bathroom gets modernized with a new light fixture, the sole convenience receptacle is lost--unless the remodeler spends the extra money to have an electrician install a wall receptacle. Having a receptacle in the bathroom wasn’t a big deal 50 years ago, but it is today.

Too Few Receptacles
   The maximum spacing between receptacles, according to the National Electric Code, has been set at 12 feet since 1956—with no point along a wall being more than 6 feet from a receptacle. The logic behind that number is that an appliance with a standard length cord could then be plugged in anywhere along the wall. The prior maximum spacing was 20 feet.

   Several other standards also come into play: each wall more than 2 feet long needs a receptacle, and hallways more than 10 feet require one. Also, kitchen counters now have a more stringent standard: no point along the back of the counter can be more than 2 feet from a receptacle, and any counter more

than 1 foot long requires a receptacle.

   These tighter standards have developed over the years in response to the increasing use of plug-in electric appliances around the home. Home electric consumption has been increasing at a rate of about 5 percent per year for a while now. And, obviously, older homes have fewer receptacles. It’s not uncommon to have one receptacle per bedroom in a 1940s era bungalow, and only one receptacle at the kitchen counter.

Receptacles in the Wrong Place

Equally important, though, are locations where an electric receptacles should not be placed:

  1. Bullet Receptacles should not be placed lower than 18 inches above a garage floor. Gasoline fumes from a car parked in the garage are heavier than air, and accumulate at the floor. The slight arcing that happens when a cord is plugged in can set off an explosion.

  2. Bullet Although one receptacle should be placed near each bathroom sink, it should not be placed behind the sink, like in the photo below, to avoid the possibility of the cord drooping into a sink full of water.


  1. Bullet Receptacles directly over a baseboard electric heater are a no-no. The cord could come in contact with the top of the heater and melt.

  2. Bullet A receptacle should not be flush-mounted on a horizontal surface where it may have water splashed on it, like at a kitchen counter. And a floor receptacle in a dry area, like a living room, should have a special “rated” cover that protects the slots when not in use.


   As electric technology has evolved over the years, so have receptacles. The latest improvement is a receptacle that only opens to allow standard cord prongs—but not any metal object that a curious child may try to stick into it. Unfortunately, they can be difficult for grownups to use too, if they are unfamiliar with how they function, or the prongs of a cord they are trying to plug-in are bent or damaged. To learn more, go to our blog “How do the new tamper-proof electric outlets work?”


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.
©2015 - McGarry and Madsen Inspection.

 
 

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