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.

Bathrooms - First required in 1975 NEC.

Crawl Spaces - Beginning with 1990 NEC

Dishwasher - GFCI required with 2014 NEC. If a receptacle, must be accessible. Not yet adopted in some jurisdictions.

Exterior - All outdoor receptacles in 1975 NEC. Amended to include only receptacles with readily accessible to the ground (defined as below 6’-8” above grade) with 1987 NEC, then returned to all outdoor receptacles in 1996 NEC. Go to our blog post “Is a house required to have outdoor electric outlets?” to learn more.

Garage - All garage receptacles readily accessible (defined as below 6’-8” above floor) in 1978 NEC. For minimum garage receptacle requirements, visit out blog post “How far apart should electric receptacle outlets be placed in a garage?”

Kitchen - Required for counter receptacles within 6 feet of sink in 1987 NEC.  Expanded to include all kitchen receptacles with 1996 NEC. See our blog post ”How far apart should kitchen counter receptacles be placed?” for the spacing requirements.

Laundry & Utility Sinks - Receptacles within 6-feet starting with 2005 NEC.

Pool - All receptacles within 15-feet of pool edge in 1971 NEC, and no receptacles at all allowed within 10-feet of pool edge. Later expanded to all receptacles within 20-feet of pool in 1996 NEC.

Spa Tub Indoor - 1987 NEC required GFCI for receptacles within 10-feet of tub, but no receptacles allowed within 5-feet. Changed to no receptacles within 6-feet at 2008 NEC.

Spa Tub Outdoor - 1984 NEC requires within 10-feet of edge, but no receptacles within 5-feet.

Unfinished Basements - Required beginning with 1990 NEC.

Wet Bar - Receptacles with 6-feet of wet bar sink on counter require GFCI protection beginning with 1993 NEC. Wet bar sink, with or without counter, 2005 Edition.

One last note: GFCI-protection can be provided by a GFCI receptacle (one receptacle will protect others downstream in the circuit, which should be marked as GFCI protected), a GFCI circuit breaker in the electric panel, or a GFCI dead front (often used for indoor spa tubs). To learn more about a GFCI dead front, see our blog post “What is the switch on the wall with only two pushbuttons for?”


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. What is the difference between GFCI and AFCI circuit breakers?

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

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

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

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

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

  52. What is a “backstab” receptacle outlet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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