Electrical Inspection 101

Home Electrical Inspections: GFCI, Electrical Wiring, Residential Electrical Services

Keep Your Home Safe From Threat of Electrical Problems

Your home is a safe house from the world, a place to relax and enjoy your time with family and friends. Covert risks may be hiding behind the walls that threaten your safety and that of your loved ones. That’s why it’s an excellent time to discover how safe your home is from electrical threats by performing or hiring an inspector or electrical contractor to perform an electrical inspection on your place of residence.

According to the National Fire Defense Association, there are many factors for concern: Nearly 32,000 fires in the home were triggered by faulty house circuitry or damaged circuitry devices each year between 1999 and 2002. Even still, there are certain things you can do to safeguard your home from unsafe electrical risks. The Leviton Institute recommends that with May being National Electrical Safety Month, homeowners perform an inspection of their home interior and exterior locations as part of their routine spring-cleaning tasks.

What to Expect From a Residential Electrical Inspection?

As part and parcel to a comprehensive residential home inspection, the electrical inspection portion covers everything in your home that a power current moves through. This means that during an electrical inspection, the home inspector begins at the service drop; or the area where the conductors from the energy service outside your home connect with your electrical service at the meter.

From the meter, that electricity then runs via wire conductors into the main distribution panel, or service panel, where it should attach to your main disconnect circuit breaker.

More often than not, you will find different types of wire will be used inside the panel. Now, whether or not the energy current or signal is split into branch circuits and subpanels with their own electrical circuit, the power coming from the main distribution panel then distributes, typically via lots of insulated copper wire (there should never be bare copper wires running through the walls of a residential house) running through the walls of your home.

This wiring then proceeds to the different electrical outlets & receptacles, light fixtures & light switches, and appliances within your home, allowing them to function properly. It is important to make sure that the wire connects fully with any termination contacts so that a good solid connection can be established.

Electrical service outlet tester displaying results of correct outlet wiring

It is the path and travel of this electrical current which we home inspectors follow from the source to all of its logical conclusions in the home, assessing any electrical problems that may occur along the circuit. Now, it is the IRC that tells us the proper configuration, amperage, current exchange rates, etc. for residential electrical services, but what is the IRC? What does IRC stand for?

What is the International Residential Code?

The International Residential Code (IRC) is an extensive, stand-alone household code that produces minimum regulations for one- and two-family dwellings of 3 stories or less. It brings with each other all building, plumbing, mechanical, fuel gas, energy, and electric stipulations for one- and also two-family residences. The IRC likewise offers a prescriptive strategy (i.e., a set of procedures) as well as a performance technique (i.e., energy modeling) for establishing conformity.

You could even say that the electrical regulations of the International Residential Code are based on the National Electric Code and the standards it regulates. Modern wiring and electrical work practices have changed so much over the years to help decrease home electrical fire occurrences as well as the risk of electrocution etc. Electrical service hot wire with rubber insulating jackets provides ample wire protection from the elements as well as enough wire insulation to protect anyone handling it from that risk of shock.

What is a GFCI and How Does it Work?

Ground fault circuit interrupters protect you and your loved ones from hazardous electrical shock. Apart from these ground fault circuit interrupters, you will also find what are known as GFI breakers inside of the main electrical service, as well as subpanels in a home.

“The GFCI is based on Kirchoff’s current law that states: Any currents flowing into a junction must equal the sum of currents flowing out of that junction in a parallel circuit. Simply put current going in = current going out.
Using this principle, a GFCI monitors current in the hot (black) wire, and the neutral (white) and the current in both should be equal according to Kirchoff’s law. If there is a leak of between 4-5mA, this will shut down power. This leak can occur due to short circuits, which means current takes an unintended path either through faulty wiring, malfunction or going through a human body. If a GFCI trips it is required to be manually reset at the receptacle, it is also essential to use the test button on your GFCI once a month to ensure it is working correctly.”

(Author David L.7, Jan, 2018, “Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter”, https://thegrid.rexel.com/en-us/knowledge/electrician-documentation/w/wiki/713/ground-fault-circuit-interrupter-gfci)

According to the International Residential Code, What Areas of a Home Require GFCI Protection?

The kitchen area, bathrooms, utility room, or any other location around your house that has a water source within 6 feet of the receptacle need GFCI outlet protection. Inspect all outlets and switches for fractures, damaged parts or loose-fitting plugs. Change defective devices right away, along with those that feel hot to the touch. You ought to likewise inspect all power cables and extension cables: Those revealing signs of breaking, fraying or visible wear ought to be replaced instantly. Never run extensions under carpets, rugs, or furniture where damaged or frayed wires can hide.

Knob and Tube Wiring: Is It Safe?

kt wiring

Many of you may have heard the term knob and tube used in conjunction with older homes and dated electrical systems, as well as having common electrical problems, but what is knob and tube wiring, and what are the concerns about knob and tube wiring?

In and of itself, knob and tube wiring is not inherently dangerous, rather the dangers knob and tube wiring pose come about due to its age, the situation or environment the wires have been exposed to, such as being enveloped by insulation.

Depiction of knob and tube wiring, courtesy of InterNACHI

Knob and tube wire also does not have a ground wire and so is unable to properly service any three-pronged outlets which are a much more common electrical receptacle style nowadays, leaving homeowners with no way to use three-pronged electrical devices.

Some jurisdictions require the complete removal of knob and tube wire from one and two-unit residential homes, others only require it be decommissioned. Wherever you are though, the use of knob and tube wiring is no longer permitted in any new construction.

What is a Switch Box?

A switch box, or more commonly known as a junction box, is a protective enclosure for housing wire connections and keeping them safe. Junction boxes will typically have several “knock-out” style holes in the sides for conduit and wire to be run into.

As a Homeowner, What You Can do to Inspect Electrical Services for Safety

Make certain outlets are not strained. Many household outlets are usually ranked around 15-20 amps. Plugging in too many devices into one outlet can surpass that rating and create a fire or shock threat.

At times, it becomes necessary to add an electrical subpanel to your home’s electric system in order to safely and properly supply all areas of your home with power.

Always plug the home appliance into the extension cord initially before inserting the extension cord into the outlet when you use an extension cable.

When in Doubt, Contact a Professional

If you believe your home may have potential electrical problems such as single-strand aluminum wiring, unexplained flickering lights, hazardous junction boxes, outlets near water with no GFCI reset button, or frayed or damaged electrical wiring, do you and your family a favor and contact SPS Inspections to schedule a walkthrough of your home and help alleviate any anxieties you might be having. Maybe your electrical wiring systems are not up to snuff with building code. Well, one saving grace is that you don’t need to worry much about being up to code internationally; code on residential homes tends more towards the National and Regional scale.

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