Electric Service – An electrical service of 100 amps is generally the minimum required for today’s modern appliances. Additions to the home in the way of space or appliances may require a minimum of 150 amps. Service lines carry power from the utility company to the house. They can be either overhead or underground (buried) lines. Your local electric company is responsible for any repair or adjustment to these lines up to the connection at the house. You are responsible for all the electric materials from the connection at the house into the house.
Main Electric Panel – The electric main panel box is the connection between the power line and the house wiring. It may contain fuses in older homes, or circuits. All circuits or fuses should be labeled to identify which area they serve. It is recommended the service contain a main disconnect to shut the entire system off quickly in an emergency. Household wires are usually 14 or 12 gauge and should be protected by 15 or 20 amp fuses or circuits, respectively. Only one circuit should be connected to a breaker for safety reasons. Any rust on the interior of a panel box could indicate moisture infiltration and should be evaluated by a licensed electrician.
A continuous electric ground must be provided from all points in the system with a secure connection from the panel to a grounding rod or to an approved element such as a water main. The ground should never be disconnected for any reason. If we find any improper grounding, this should be evaluated and immediately corrected by a licensed electrician for proper protection. Reversed polarity occurs when the hot and neutral lines to a receptacle are reversed. The receptacle still functions, but the potential for electric shock is present.
During the home inspection the electric systems inspection is limited to readily visible and access elements as listed herein. Wiring and other components concealed from view for any reason cannot be inspected. The identification of inherent material defects or latent conditions is not possible. The description of wiring and other components and the operational testing of electric devices and fixtures are based on a limited/random check of representative components. Accordingly, it is not possible to identify every possible wiring material/type or all conditions and concerns that may be present.
Aluminum Wire: Used from 1965 to 1973. Aluminum has a greater resistance to current flow, and is subject to more deterioration from oxidation than copper. It also has a greater expansion/contraction rate which increases the chance of a connection loosening. This can lead to a gap between the wire and the connector which causes arcing of the electric current between the two, thereby causing sparks which could ignite materials. Also, corrosion can develop from the contact between aluminum and non-aluminum metals which can generate excessive heat. Areas of greatest concern are switches and receptacles. Signs of problems include a cover plate which is hot to the touch, flickering lights, or sporadic appliance operation. The older the system, the greater the potential for problems. Pigtailing (using a wire nut with a short piece of copper connecting to the device) and crimping (using a pigtail in a special heat sealed capsule connector) are used to correct these situations. Aluminum on the main service line into the house is acceptable. Multi strand aluminum lines are no longer allowed to be used within the house.
Copper or Tin Copper Wire: This type of wiring is acceptable and in most cases is found. Low voltage: Used primarily for exterior lighting systems. All separate structures such as garages and sheds that carry electric are now required to have a main shut off in the structure.
Power Usage of Major Appliances and Mechanical Equipment: Electric range 30-50 amps, Electric dryer 24-40 amps, Electric hot water heater 25 amps, Electric central air conditioning 30 amps, Room unit air conditioner 7-20 amps, Electric heat 50-75 amps and Electric heat pump 50- 75 amps.
Appliance Lifespan: Dishwashers and Disposals have a normal life of 5 to 12 years. Ranges, Ovens and Refrigerators have a normal life of 15 to 20 years. The self-cleaning feature of an oven and its components are not tested. Clothes Washers and Dryers cannot be properly inspected without a load of laundry, so these appliances are not usually tested other than to determine whether they are operating. A washer or dryer has an average life of 6 to 12 years. When hooking up a dryer, it must be kept vented to the exterior to prevent excessive moisture from building up in the house. Washers and dryers often are not included in a sales contract or are included in an “as is” condition.
Smoke Detectors – If no smoke detectors are presently installed in the home, it is recommended that at a minimum, smoke detectors be installed in the basement stairwell as well as in the ceiling of the hallway outside bedrooms. It is recommended detectors be tested each month to ensure the units are operating properly and the batteries are live. It is recommended all older smoke detectors be replaced after you move into a home as over time, a film can develop on the sensors which slows down reaction time. Smoke detectors should be present in each bedroom, outside the bedrooms, in the main living area, and in the basement stairwell. Most areas require that they be hard wired and that they communicate with each other, so when one goes off, they all go off.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors – regulations require that at least one carbon monoxide alarm be present in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms on the lower floor where the bedrooms are. (e.g. if all bedrooms are on the second floor, that is where the detector goes). The alarms must have UL certification. It is recommended detectors be tested each month to ensure the units are operating properly and the batteries if they are present, are live. It is recommended all older detectors be replaced after you move into a home as over time, a film can develop on the sensors which slows down reaction time.
Ground Fault Interrupters (GFI’s or GFCI’s) The purpose of a GFCI is to prevent serious shocks which can occur when holding a faulty electrical appliance while water or another ground is touched. GFI’s are required near sinks or any water, outside outlets, unfinished basements and garages. Do not use GFI’s on any type of appliance that has a motor such as a refrigerator, garage door opener or washing machine. GFI’s should be tested monthly to insure they are functioning.
Inspection of Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupters – Auxiliary items and electric elements (or the need for same) such as surge protectors, lighting protection systems, generators, security/safety systems, home entertainment and communication systems, structured wiring systems, low-voltage wiring, and site lighting are not included in a standard home inspection. Note that only actual GFCI outlets are tested and tripped during a home inspection. Some baths may have non-GFCI outlets which are protected by a GFCI outlet in a remote area (garage, another bath, etc.). Confirm that apparent non-GFCI outlets within 6’ of wet areas are thus protected. Also, note that most electricians agree that smoke detectors are good for about 5 years, and the breakers in your panel box have an expected life of about 20 years. Therefore, if this home was built before 1990, consider having the panel box and breakers evaluated by a licensed electrician, as an overheated breaker can result in a structural fire. If your home does not have a carbon monoxide detector (few do!), we recommend making that investment.
Any home that has a Bulldog Pushmatic, Zinsco, Sylvania Zinsco or Federal Pacific Electric panel should have it evaluated by a licensed electrician, as these older types of panels and breakers have been known to overheat and cause house fires.
Panel Circuit Labeling – Recommend tracing and labeling, or confirm correct labeling, of all circuits. Light Fixtures/Switches – Light fixtures, ceiling fans, etc., are generally randomly checked to assess basic wiring conditions. Any inoperative unit may be due to a defective fixture or bulb, connection to undetected switch or other factors.