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. What is knob-and-tube wiring?

  16. How far apart should the electrical receptacles be placed?

  17. My bathroom electric receptacle/outlet is dead, and there is no tripped breaker in the electric panel. What’s wrong?

  18. What is reversed polarity at an outlet/receptacle? Why is it dangerous?

  19. How far apart should kitchen counter receptacles be placed?

  20. What is the switch on the wall with only two pushbuttons for?

  21. What are those strange looking wall switches in houses from the 1950s and 1960s?

  22. What is a lock device on a circuit breaker for?

  23. Can multiple neutral or ground wires be secured under the same terminal in an electric panel?

  24. Why are Zinsco and Sylvania-Zinsco electric panels a problem?

  25. Can wiremold be used at an exterior location?

  26. What is the life expectancy of electrical wiring in a house?

  27. How can adding wood paneling or a wainscot create an electrical safety hazard?

  28. What are the most common electrical defects found in a home inspection?

  29. Why is an old fuse panel dangerous?

  30. What does it mean when a wire is “overstripped” at a circuit breaker?

  31. What is the difference between “grounded” and “grounding” electrical conductors?

  32. What is the difference between a Combination Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (CAFCI) and an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) circuit breaker?

  33. How can I tell if a receptacle/outlet is tamper resistant?

  34. What is a Dual Function Circuit Interrupter (DFCI)?

  35. Will a GFCI receptacle that is not grounded still function properly?

  36. Does a home inspector remove the electric panel cover plate and examine the inside of the panel?

  37. Can an electric panel be located over stairs?

  38. What are the code requirements for NM-cable (nonmetallic-sheathed cable or Romex®) in an attic?

  39. Can old electrical wiring go bad inside a wall?

  40. How do I trace and identify each circuit breaker in my electric panel to make a circuit directory?

  41. Why are extension cords dangerous?

  42. What problems does having too many electrical outlets on a single circuit cause?

  43. How can I find out the size of the electric service to a house?

  44. What happens when you press the “TEST” button on a circuit breaker in an electric panel?

  45. How many electric receptacles (outlets) are required in a hallway?

  46. Why does painting an electric receptacle (outlet) make it unsafe?

  47. When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  57. What is the building code requirement for receptacle outlets at stairs and stair landings?

  58. Can a home surge protector be installed loose in the bottom of an electric panel box?

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

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

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

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

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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.

Also, receptacles in newer homes may have lost their ground connection somewhere between the receptacle and main electric panel due to a loose wire connection. The ground wire connection is typically daisy-chained between a string of receptacles, so a loose ground wire connection at one receptacle will cause a loss of ground connection at all the downstream receptacles.

   We recommend testing receptacles, especially in pre-1960s homes, for this defect using a 3-light tester available at most hardware stores for about five dollars. If only the center orange light comes on when the tester is plugged in, the receptacle is not grounded. If both orange lights come on, then the receptacle is grounded and correctly wired.*
   Any other combination of red and orange lights indicates that the receptacle is wired improperly, with the most common defect being reversed polarity, where the hot wire is connected to neutral lug and neutral connected to hot. In other words, the receptacle is wired backwards. A diagram showing what the different light combinations mean is printed on the receptacle tester.


   There are three ways to repair an ungrounded 3-slot receptacle, listed below from most-expensive to least-expensive:

  1. 1)Install a ground connection to the receptacle, typically done by running a ground wire to the receptacle, which can be difficult to accomplish.

  2. 2)Change out the receptacle for a GFCI-receptacle. GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. Essentially, if there is a ground fault (you are being shocked), the circuit is interrupted (shut off to prevent your death). The receptacle should be marked with a sticker, which comes in the box with the receptacle, stating “NO GROUND CONNECTION.” The reason is that some appliances, such as televisions and computers, require a ground connection to work properly and should not be connected to an ungrounded GFCI-receptacle. Also, surge protection devices do not function properly without a ground connection.

  3. 3)And last, the cheapest remedy is to change the offending receptacles back to 2-slot, which are still available at most hardware stores.

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.
©2015 - McGarry and Madsen Inspection.

*An uncommon defect, in which both the ground slot and neutral slot are connected to the neutral wire, called a “false ground,” is not detected by a 3-light receptacle tester. A more sophisticated electronic test device is necessary.


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