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How to Look

at a House

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More blog posts about electric service and distribution:

  1. How come my generator hookup got tagged as defective by the home inspector?

  2. How can I tell if the electric outlets are grounded?

  3. Why are electrical outlets and plugs polarized?

  4. Is the electric panel big enough for this house?

  5. The electric panel is marked “Trilliant” and it’s all grey plastic. Is it alright?

  6. Why do you pay so much attention to electrical safety?

  7. How do the new tamper-resistant electric receptacles work?

  8. Why does that wall plug have push-buttons in the middle?

  9. Does this place have one of those “bad” electric panels I’ve heard about?

  10. How dangerous is old electrical wiring?

  11. What is the life expectancy of a circuit breaker?

  12. What is knob-and-tube wiring?

  13. What are the most common homeowner wiring mistakes?

  14. What is a split bus electric panel?

  15. What is the right electric wire size for a home?

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

  17. My circuit breaker won’t reset. What’s wrong?

  18. Is a bare bulb light in a closet alright?

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

  20. What is a “missing twistout” at an electric panel?

  21. What is an “open junction box”?

  22. Is an ungrounded receptacle/outlet dangerous?

  23. Why does the bedroom have a light switch but there is no light in the ceiling?

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

  25. How can I figure out what a mystery wall switch does?

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

  27. How far apart should electric receptacle outlets be placed in a garage?

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

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

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

  31. Can wiremold be used at an exterior location?

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

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

  34. What is a false ground, bootleg ground, or cheated ground receptacle?

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

  36. What is an open electrical splice?

  37. Why is an old fuse panel dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  44. Can an electric panel be located over stairs?

  45. Is a house required to have outdoor electric receptacles?

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

  47. What could cause an extremely high electric bill?

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

  49. Why are extension cords dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

  55. Why do the lights dim when the air conditioner turns on?

  56. When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?

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

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

  59. Why are some electric receptacles/outlets upside down (ground slot up) in a house?

  60. Why is undersize electric wiring in a house dangerous?

  61. Why is a fuse box an insurance problem for homebuyers?

  62. What is a “backstab” receptacle outlet?

  63. What electrical hazards does a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) not protect against?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  71. Can a bare bulb “lampholder” light fixture be installed outdoors?

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

Welcome to our blog!
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.

the hot wire side enters the appliance and the neutral is connected to the other end of the appliance circuitry, when the polarity is reversed the appliance circuitry is electrically charged all the time, but only functional when a switch closes the neutral wire connection and the current begins flowing.

   The diagram below illustrates the difference in reversed polarity with a toaster. When wired correctly, the circuit is energized only up to the open switch (left). But, with reversed polarity (right), the entire circuit within the toaster is “live” up to the backside of the switch.

  So, the heating element wires in a toaster (the ones that turn red) would shock you if you stuck a knife in the toaster with reversed polarity to prod a piece of toast loose. Also, the metal shell of the light bulb socket in a lamp would cause a shock if touched when the polarity is reversed. Both of them are harmless if the wiring is correct.

   A three-light circuit tester available at most hardware stores can verify if your receptacles are wired correctly. If the two orange lights turn on when its plugged in, like in the photo below, then the receptacle wiring is correct. A red and orange light combination indicates reversed polarity.

   Although reversed polarity is usually caused by incorrect connections at the receptacle, it can also be due to wiring reversal in the electric panel or at wire connections between the panel and the receptacle.

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.
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