When performing a home inspection, the inspectors at Building Pro Inspections will thoroughly examine the structural and operational elements of the home, including the electrical. One of the biggest questions we are asked by home owners purchasing older homes is how the age of wiring can impact the quality and safety of the home. In addition to the answer of this sparking question, we provide examples of some of the most common electrical concerns experienced during our years as home inspectors within the Okanagan.
Age of Wire:
Faulty wiring is often noticed if wiring has become damaged, worn out, or improperly installed. Infamous nob and tube wiring consists of individually wrapped wires typical of pre-war homes of the 1940’s. Instead of having coating surrounding the wire, each individual wire was typically taped with a high potential of wire exposure. The tape often become brittle and was usually observed flaking off the wire with a high potential to cause contact between wires and the box, increasing the chances of fire. Wire evolved once again in the 1970s with homes being equipped with aluminum wiring. More protective than the taping method of nob and tube, the draw backs were the necessity to increase one size larger in circumference (verses modern day copper) to accommodate the expansion and retraction of the metal, e.g where a copper wire would require a size 14, the aluminum needs more spatial accommodation and would require a size 12. While the malleable aluminum allowed for more thorough coverage of the wires, aluminums qualities are also extremely heat sensitive. This trait meant that when electricity ran through the circuit the wire coating would expand, and retract when the circuit was stopped. This constant retraction increased the possibility of the wire to be dislodged from the screw and come into contact with the box. This will either result in a short, or a potential fire. Modern builds typically will contain copper wire for its conductivity and durability.
Concerns to Shed some Light on:
While we do not see double tapped, or double lugged breakers too often, we feel its important to shed some light on the effects of improperly performed electrical work, or DIY attempts to breakers. The breaker is in essence the electrical heart of the home and can often become over loaded. Double tapped breakers occur when two wires are immerging from one breaker which will result in a loose connection. Due to this ‘doubling up’, the breaker has a much higher incidence of overloading and ultimately causing a fire. Too many devices on one breaker is termed ‘loading’ the breaker and should result in breaking up the responsibility by rewiring and installing two breakers. A typical residential breaker is a 15amp but do not be fooled, this does not mean home owners should utilize 100% of the breakers capacity. Instead the rule of thumb for electricians is to load the breaker at only 80%, e.g. 12/15 = 80% therefore a 15amp breaker is actually only 12amp capable. A very common electrical concern for homes is reversed polarity. While this is a simple correction it can cause unsafe outcomes for residents of the home. On an electrical plug you will notice there is a short and long prong. The design of the plug is to ensure that you cannot plug the prongs into the socket both ways. The small prong is known as being hot, while the long prong is the neutral. If reverse polarity has occurred in a socket this will actually make the neutral end of e.g. a lamp, hot and produce a shock if you begin the circuit by turning the light bulb on. And a warning to those who are tech savvy; beyond the shock you can receive, reverse polarity can damage many modern electronics. Often electronics are polarity sensitive, meaning the equipment must know which wire is hot, and which is neutral. Lastly, while inspectors are checking sockets in your property they will also take note to see GFCI outlets are being utilized in areas of water. A GFCI outlet are the outlet covers you have noticed in bathrooms that come with test and reset buttons. The purpose of the design is to ensure the outlet stops working if water comes into contact with it.
We hope this blog article has given you some bright ideas of what some of the most common electrical concerns are within home inspections. If you require a residential or commercial property inspection don’t hesitate to call the pros at 250 862 1054