How to Look

at a House


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to your questions about
HOME INSPECTION
and HOME MAINTENANCE

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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.


More blog posts about electric service and distribution:

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

  2. How can I tell if the electric outlets are grounded?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  10. What is a split bus electric panel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  17. Where are smoke alarms required to be located?

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

  19. How far apart should electric receptacle outlets be placed in a garage?

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

  21. What is the lock device on a circuit breaker for?

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

  23. Can wiremold be used at an exterior location?

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

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

  26. What is an open electrical splice?

  27. Why is an old fuse panel dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  35. Can an electric panel be located over stairs?

  36. Does a GFCI-receptacle that is not grounded still function properly?

  37. Is a house required to have outdoor electric outlets?

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

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

  40. Can old electric wiring go bad inside a wall?

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

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

  43. Why are extension cords dangerous?

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

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

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

  47. Why are electrical outlets and plugs polarized?

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

  49. When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?

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

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

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

  53. Why is undersize electric wiring in a house dangerous?

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

  55. What is a “backstab” receptacle outlet?

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

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

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

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

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

  61. How far away should a sink be from an electric panel?

  62. What are the requirements for NM-cables entering an electric panel box?

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

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

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

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

  67. Can a bare bulb “lampholder” light fixture be installed outdoors?

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

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

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

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

TPR Valve

  1. 2)Pool pump running continuously - Pool pumps use a lot of electricity and are meant to run for only for part of the day. If the pump timer fails or has been reset to “ON,” you will definitely see a jump in your electric bill.

  2. 3)Heat pump performing poorly - Heat pumps use a circulating refrigerant gas to collect heat from inside a home and move it outside during the summer, then they reverse the flow to move outside heat inside during the winter. One measure of the performance of a heat pump is the “temperature split,” which is the difference between the temperature of the air coming into the unit and the temperature of the air going out. A healthy system has a temperature split of between 16º and 24º F warmer in the winter and colder in the summer. If the system is malfunctioning or the there is a refrigerant leak, the temperature split will shrink. Until the system stops heating or cooling altogether, you may not notice that the the temperature split is half or less of what it should be; but the system will have to work twice as hard, using twice as much electricity, to produce the same comfort level as when it was operating efficiently. This means a doubling of the heating/cooling part of your electric bill.
        What can you do? If you notice that the system is running longer than normally, or that it is having a hard time adequately maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature, get it serviced. A service contract that gets the vital stats of your HVAC system checked every six months is one way to avoid this problem.

  3. 4)Incorrect meter reading - Many electric meters still have analog dials that a utility company meter-reader walks around the neighborhood and checks visually each month. Each of the tiny dials alternate between clockwise and counter-clockwise rotation, and sometimes they are read incorrectly. The meter reading number will be shown on your bill. If you get an astronomical bill, check your meter to see how the current kilowatt-hours reading compares the one on the most recent bill. If the current number is lower, then you’ve found the problem.
        Reading an electric meter takes a little practice, and the one shown above is at 93084. Most meters have five dials but, if yours is a four-dial type, then it is necessary to multiply the number by ten, or just add a zero at the end, to get a correct reading.
  4. 5)Someone is stealing your electricity - If you live in a duplex or multi-family  building, turn off the main breaker. Make sure that won’t cause any mayhem inside your home first, of course. If the meter is still spinning, or the digital numbers continue to change, then it is likely that one of your neighbors has tapped into your electric service. Hire an electrician to figure out where and fix it.

  5. 6)Electricity leakage - This is the most elusive and time-consuming defect to find. When a small amount of electricity, smaller than the amperage rating of the circuit breaker in the panel that it is connected to, leaks from the circuit, the breaker will not trip to indicate a problem. We are essentially talking about a short circuit with a low current flow. To find leakage, it is necessary to turn off all the circuit breakers in the panel, unplug all appliances on one circuit, then turn that breaker back on to see if there is any current flow at the meter—which would indicate current leakage. Because many appliances use electronics that continue to operate even when the unit is switched off, it is necessary to unplug everything that can be unplugged. Illuminated light switches and GFCI-receptacles with indicator lights make this test problematic. It’s likely that a current flow will only indicate that you missed something. So we suggest that, if you think current leakage is the problem, hire an electrician to evaluate your electrical system.


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.
©2016 - McGarry and Madsen Inspection

 
   Unfortunately, some TPR valves begin leaking as they get older. The piping from the valve may extend to near the floor next to the water heater, where it is very easy to observe any leakage as soon as it starts. But, in many homes, the pipe terminates just above the ground at an outside wall, pointing downward, and it is often obscured by landscaping growing in front of it. The photo below shows an example of a typical TPR valve pipe termination.

    Since TPR leakage is equivalent to leaving a hot water faucet running 24-hours a day, it will definitely run up your electric bill. So check the termination of the TPR piping for leakage. Although, the termination is required to be visible, in some older houses and mobile homes that have elevated floors it is hidden in the crawl space under the home. In that case, you can wrap your hand around the TPR  pipe about 6-inches away from the valve and, if you feel heat, you need to investigate further under the house. The fix is simple: replace the TPR valve.
    Another way that hot water can leak is from a pipe failure under the floor slab. Locating it can be difficult because the soil absorbs the moisture until the leakage becomes heavy enough to saturate the area and come up through the slab. We use an infrared camera during our home inspections to check for pipe leakage and the infrared image below shows the white-hot line of a hot water pipe at the floor slab next to a wall, and the hot water spreading outward around it.

Finding this kind of leak without fancy technology means you need to shut off all the water fixtures in your home—including the icemaker—and see if the spinner at the center of the meter dial is still moving slowly. This would indicate a leak, but not necessarily a hot water one. After that, you can search for moist areas in the floor and walls with hot water running in the area, and a $30 infrared gun thermometer may help find a warm spot. A cool moist spot may indicate cold water pipe or drain pipe leakage. Fixing a pipe leak under the slab is messy and expensive, but it will only get messier if left unrepaired.
 

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