Everybody’s an Electrician (Evidently)

By Tim Shuford, NPI Franchise Owner, Jamestown, North Carolina

Fire HazzardMaybe it’s because so many of us were encouraged to learn about electricity by experimenting with batteries, wire, light bulbs, small motors, etc. during our youth.  (And I certainly don’t discourage this experimentation, since that provides critical learning opportunities.)  But it sure does seem that a lot of folks missed the lesson that some additional precautions and rules apply to the electrical system in a home.

A couple of the most common electrical findings (especially in attics and crawl spaces) during home inspections are splices not enclosed in electrical boxes and electrical boxes without proper covers installed.  The National Electric Code requires splices to be made inside enclosed electrical boxes and that electrical boxes have covers installed.  The drivers behind these requirements are fire safety and shock hazard prevention.  Since we see this so often, one might wonder how important this really is, since the houses obviously haven’t burned down and we typically don’t observe any electrocuted bodies near these installations.  (In case you didn’t know, the NEC is published by the National Fire Protection Association.  This fact should allow some of the old brain cells to conclude that not following the NEC rules just might result in a fire.)

Of course, there are many other electrical deficiencies that are discovered by home inspectors.  A significant percentage of these deficiencies were obviously created by a well-meaning DIY-er or handyman with an ultimate goal in mind.  Unfortunately, the “how to do it correctly” knowledge seems to be based largely on the discoveries made by playing with batteries and wires many years prior.  The scary part is how much stuff may be hidden in walls and other areas inaccessible for observation during an inspection.

Although preferred, I’m not necessarily a stickler that all electrical work in a home must be performed by a licensed electrician, but it would seem to be reasonable that such work be done in a manner that provides a safe result for the occupants of the home.  If folks are not going to hire a professional to make modifications to an electrical system, then they should put forth some effort to gain an understanding of how to do it correctly.

Now, how many other areas in the home and in life could we say this about?

 

Shuford PhotoTim Shuford is a professional National Property Inspections home inspector in Jamestown, North Carolina. If you live in the area, call 336.823.6605 to schedule your home inspection with Tim.


NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an assessment of your home.

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My Three Favorite ‘Photo Follies’

By Randy Yates, Training Consultant Administrator, NPI/GPI Corporate Office

Our home inspectors frequently send me pictures for my “you won’t believe this” file — known here at NPI and GPI as “photo follies” — so I thought I’d share three of my most favorite. To be honest, each is my favorite in its own right. These are pictures of things our inspectors have found during the course of their inspections of items, construction practices and installations. They are often amateurish, shoddy work or projects done by home owners who think they know how to build, fix or install things. Of the three I‘ve selected, some are self-explanatory and others you may have to think about.

This is what the home owner got with a brand-new roof installation.

This is what the home owner got with a brand-new roof installation.

 

I call this one, “The note says it all.”

I call this one, “The note says it all.”

 

Do you see the problem? If not, look at the roof shingles creeping up the siding. They’re not supposed to do that.

Do you see the problem? If not, look at the roof shingles creeping up the siding. They’re not supposed to do that.

 

Yates PhotoWith more than 10 years of experience in his current position and over 30 years of experience in remodeling and contracting, Randy Yates provides technical training to new NPI/GPI inspectors and provides field support to all NPI/GPI inspectors.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home from roof to foundation. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for your next home inspection.

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Historical Houses Often Reveal Hidden Treasures

By Kenn Garder, National Accounts Manager and Technical Support, NPI/GPI Corporate

Photo A

Photo A – Click to enlarge

Home inspectors come across unique items in the course of a home inspection. Photo A is of a main service panel found in use in a house built in the early 1900s. Keep in mind that at the time it was built, very few houses had an electrical system, and if they did it was small — typically two circuits. So, while this panel was certainly state-of-the-art, it could also be considered a piece of art in its design and functionality. Nevertheless, it does not meet today’s safety standards, and the home inspector recommended upgrading the panel.

Below is some information from the manufacturer’s specification document for a similar product, from the “Descriptive Catalog and Price List” of the Bossert Electric Construction Company, published in 1896:

DISTRIBUTING

Box is intended to be used for “concealed” work, and arranged for 12 branch circuits. It is entirely made of iron, and contains main and branch circuit terminals, also binding posts for main and branch wires, all conveniently arranged.

All fuse terminals are calculated to receive standard fuse links. The box is also provided with a specially designed 100-amp double-pole knife switch; the operation of same does not interfere with closing and locking of door, whether circuit is thrown “on” or “off.” As will be seen from cut, the box is provided with ornamental iron door and lock. Box can be furnished from 6 to 12 circuits, with or without main switch, for either brass or iron armored conduit work.

IMG_9509

Photo B – Click to enlarge

PRICE

12-circuit Box, without switch, plain slate, metal work dipped, $15.00

12-circuit Box, without switch, enameled slate, metal work dipped, 16.50

12-circuit Box, without switch, enameled slate, metal work polished, 20.00

12-circuit Box, with 100-amp double-pole knife switch, enameled slate, metal work polished and lacquered 25.00

I guess the moral of the story is to be on the lookout for treasures in historical houses!

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Is Anything Wrong With This Photo?

A. The plastic prevents the plugs from rusting.
B. The timer acts as a surge suppressor.
C. This is not a waterproof exterior electrical outlet.
D. There is safely room for one more cord.

Blog-Outlets

Correct answer: C. This is not a waterproof exterior electrical outlet and is an electrical shock hazard that could hurt someone.

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Two-prong Outlets Vs. Three-prong Outlets: Does It Matter?

Submitted by Ken Roleke, NPI Franchise Owner, Tucson, Arizona

Outlet_shutterstock_116694235Ever wonder why the older electrical receptacles have only two slots, and don’t have the hole below the slots to allow three prongs? Think they can just be switched out? Sometimes they can, but other times that would be a potentially dangerous mistake.

Understanding the implications of two prongs or three can be one of the more bewildering situations a home buyer has to deal with.

Let’s review a little of the history of residential wiring to see how this came about. Knob-and-tube (KNT) wiring was phased out in the 1930s, as both nonmetallic sheathed cable (NM for short, commonly referred to as Romex) and armored cable (AC, commonly referred to as BX) became prevalent. Until the early 1960s, most NM and AC cable for residential use did not have a grounding conductor. The two-prong receptacles normally used until this time have only a “neutral” slot, and a smaller “hot” slot, without the additional hole below for the ground. As houses were wired with the grounding conductor starting in the early 1960s, three-prong receptacles were generally installed.

Why should an electrical receptacle be grounded? The lack of a ground path could lead to getting an electrical shock. If there were a short circuit, then an ungrounded metal object could become energized, and the circuit breaker would not trip. The ground protects you from getting a shock, as it directs a large amount of current back to the circuit breaker, causing the breaker to trip.

A properly wired three-prong receptacle is both more convenient and safer than an ungrounded two-prong, so how and when can they be switched? If a house is wired with BX without the ground wire but metal boxes, then the metal armor and box will still generally be grounded. A three-prong receptacle can be grounded to the box with a grounding wire.

It is more complicated, and normally not worth the trouble to install a three prong receptacle when the wiring is Romex cable without the ground wire. That would require running a separate ground wire or a completely new cable with ground wire.

Often the solution is to install GFCI circuit breakers and three-prong receptacles, or, what is more commonly done, to replace the two prong receptacles with GFCI receptacles. The receptacles should be labeled “No Equipment Ground”. These labels come in the box when purchasing GFCI.

The GFCI function is not the same as grounding, but in most cases, it is even safer. GFCI outlets and breakers trip, disconnecting the circuit when it detects leakage current that the electric current is not balanced between the energized conductor and the return neutral conductor. And it trips quicker than a regular circuit breaker.

Unfortunately, too many homeowners and contractors, either through ignorance or to save money, have taken the easy solution, by simply replacing the two-prong receptacle with the three-prong. And some have even gone a step further: They create a “bootleg” or false ground by making a connection between the ground and neutral on a receptacle. This is not detectable with a simple receptacle tester used by most inspectors. If it is suspected, then there is more sophisticated equipment, although the simple solution is to remove the electric plate and check whether the wire was added between the neutral and ground screws on the receptacle.

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Electrical Problems Are Commonly Found During Home Inspection

Submitted by Kenn Garder, Technical Support, NPI/GPI Corporate

Home inspectors frequently encounter electrical problems in the homes they inspect. The following are some of the more common electrical issues found during the home inspection process, in no particular order:

GE DIGITAL CAMERAOpen Junction Boxes
Connections within the electrical system are required to be enclosed in an appropriate box and must be accessible for service. Many connections take place in the box that switches, outlets and light fixtures are in, but in some cases a junction box is used. The wires are routed through openings in the box and properly secured and connected. The junction box should be properly secured with a cover plate installed to enclose the connections. When systems have been added on to, it is common to see a junction box without a cover plate in the attic.

 

Knob and Tube Wiring
GE DIGITAL CAMERAIn houses built in the early decades of the 19th century (through the 40s) it is common to find knob and tube wiring (KNT). The tubes, as seen in the photo, are inserted into a hole in the framing and the wire is routed through the tube. A knob is a split insulator that is secured into the framing using a nail. If this wiring has not been over heated, covered in insulation, spliced incorrectly and has been fused properly, it may be safe. The likelihood of it being safe in today’s world is not high, and many insurance companies will not cover KNT or will increase premiums if KNT is present.

Electrical 3

Double Taps
When two wires are place under the same screw or lug in a panel, it is called a double tap. Two wires are not to be installed under a single screw or lug unless the device is designed for that application. Some breakers are designed to accept more than one wire; the most common are certain Square D breakers. In the past, it was common to install more than one neutral or ground wire under a single screw on those buss bars, but today’s standards require a single wire per opening on the neutral and ground bus bars.

Open Knock-outs
Service panels have areas that can be “knocked out” to allow a wire to be installed. A connector or bushing is installed to keep the wire from chaffing against the sharp metal of the panel. If these knock-outs have been removed from the side of the panel or the dead front where the breakers are located, then a foreign object may be inserted into the opening, creating a shock hazard. Plugs and covers can be installed into the openings to correct this issue.

Ungrounded Outlets and No GFCI
Some common issues found in the branch circuits include ungrounded outlets and lack of GFCI protection.

Prior to the 1960s a two-wire system was used to provide power to outlets: A black wire and a white neutral wire were used to power two-pronged outlets. It is common for do-it-yourselfers to replace these two-pronged outlets with three pronged outlets, giving the false security that the outlet is grounded and safe for appliances with three-pronged cords.

In the 1970s, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) were introduced. These outlets and breakers are designed to sense a very small change in the current flow of the wires and will stop the power to the outlet or circuit if a change is detected. The locations for GFCI protection has expanded over the years, but to help keep people safe, GFCI protection may be recommended in areas where it may not have been required when the electrical system was installed.

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