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. What is the life expectancy of a circuit breaker?

  10. What is knob-and-tube wiring?

  11. What is a split bus electric panel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  19. What is an “open junction box”?

  20. Is an ungrounded receptacle/outlet dangerous?

  21. Where are smoke alarms required to be located?

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

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

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

  25. What is the lock device on a circuit breaker for?

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

  27. Can wiremold be used at an exterior location?

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

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

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

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

  32. What is an open electrical splice?

  33. Why is an old fuse panel dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  41. What are the most common defects with over-the-range microwaves?

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

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

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

  45. What could cause an extremely high electric bill?

  46. Why are extension cords dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  53. When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  60. What is a “backstab” receptacle outlet?

  61. What is the color code for NM cable (Romex®) sheathing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

    Plastic wire insulation with good resistance to thermal deterioration followed next in the mid-1950s, and the formulation of the plastic was upgraded in the 1980s for better heat resistance. The newer wiring is expected to have a lifespan of 80 years or more...but only time will tell.

    Many of our customers buying older houses are concerned about the possibility of a fire due to arcing of damaged or deteriorated wiring in the walls or attic. Two options to consider are wiring replacement or installation of AFCI-breakers in the panel for the general household circuits. AFCI stands for Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter, and an AFCI breaker does double duty: it protects against too much current flowing through the wires, just like a regular breaker, but also recognizes any sparking in wiring, and trips when either problem occurs. We recommend discussing your options with a professional electrician, who can evaluate the current condition of your house wiring and discuss the pros and cons of the two alternatives.

    Although old wiring remains the #1 bugaboo for buyers of vintage homes, other older electrical components are more likely to be a fire problem. To read more about this subject, see our blog post “How dangerous is old electrical wiring?”

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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