How to Look

at a House

A blog with answers
to your questions about

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. Is the electric panel big enough for this house?

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

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

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

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

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

  9. How dangerous is old electrical wiring?

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

  11. What is knob-and-tube wiring?

  12. What are the most common homeowner wiring mistakes?

  13. What is a split bus electric panel?

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

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

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

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

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

  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. Where are smoke alarms required to be located?

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

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

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

  27. Why is the circuit breaker stuck in the middle?

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

  29. Will the electric company remove branches rubbing against the overhead service lines to my home?

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

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

  32. Can wiremold be used at an exterior location?

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

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

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

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

  37. What is an open electrical splice?

  38. Why is an old fuse panel dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  45. Can an electric panel be located over stairs?

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

  47. How can I change a 240V circuit to a 120V circuit?

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

  49. What could cause an extremely high electric bill?

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

  51. Why are extension cords dangerous?

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

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

  54. Why are electrical outlets and plugs polarized?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  61. What is a “backstab” receptacle outlet?

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

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

  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?

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.

  1. 4)The switch may be connected to a ceiling fan/light that requires a hand-held remote to operate after the switch is on. If there are no pull-chains on the side of the fan, look for a remote and try the switch again.

  2. 5)A switch next to an exterior door may serve floodlights under the soffits or post lights in the yard with dead bulbs. Try changing the bulbs in the exterior lights and trying the switch again.

  3. 6)The switch may be connected to an attic exhaust fan. Because these fans have a thermostat that acts as a secondary switch to activate the fan only when the attic is hot, the switch may not appear to be functional during cool weather.

  4. 7)Kitchen sink disposals and gas fireplaces often have a switch hidden in a nearby cabinet.

  5. 8)Also, if the previous owner removed the disposal—or some other long-gone appliance—it may just be an orphan switch.

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.

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