How to Look

at a House

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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.

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 the right electric wire size for a home?

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

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

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

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

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

  16. Where are smoke alarms required to be located?

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

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

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

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

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

  22. Can wiremold be used at an exterior location?

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

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

  25. What is an open electrical splice?

  26. Why is an old fuse panel dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  34. Can an electric panel be located over stairs?

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

  36. Is a house required to have outdoor electric outlets?

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

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

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

  40. What could cause an extremely high electric bill?

  41. What is a luminaire?

  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 are electrical outlets and plugs polarized?

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

  48. When was the three slot (grounding) outlet/receptacle first required?

  49. When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?

  50. Where are GFCI receptacle outlets required?

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

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

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

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

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

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

  57. What is a “backstab” receptacle outlet?

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

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

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

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

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

  63. Can a washer or dryer be located in front of an electric panel?

  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 minimum clearance of overhead electric service drop wires above a house roof?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. 3)When an electrical cable is permanently installed, it is required to be protected from damage within conduit or in the wall cavity. But an extension cord left in place for years is subject to being rolled over, walked on, tripped over, and impacted by dropped objects. Long-term sunlight exposure will also deteriorate the cord sheathing. Damaged extension cords can cause arcing and a short circuit.

  2. 4)Because most household extension cords are two-wire and do not have a ground wire, connecting an appliance cord that has a ground prong necessary for shock protection (by pulling out the ground prong or using a “cheater” plug connector) will eliminate the shock protection.

    We define a permanently installed cord as one that is connected to an appliance that stays in one place and is used regularly. So an extension cord plugged in to use a leaf blower in the yard is temporary, but one that runs from a wall outlet in the garage to the ceiling for a garage door opener is permanent. Extension cords that run around the perimeter of a room which has only one wall outlet in an older house is another example of a permanent installation.

   One way to tell if a home has an inadequate number of wall outlets is to look for extension cords running around the room and peeking out at the baseboard between furniture pieces. Pre-1950 homes often have only one receptacle per bedroom and none in the dining room, and outlets that are 2-slot ungrounded; so we often see multiple cords attached to power bars that are plugged into the wall with ground prong removed, or with cheater plugs, in older homes—like in the photo below, where the heavy cord running up to the top of the picture goes to a power bar with more stuff plugged into it. This particular old-time Gainesville home also still had the original knob-and-tube wiring running to the receptacles, which was not designed to carry these electrical loads.

    One final note: a damaged extension cord should be thrown away, not repaired. “Repaired” extension cords are a prime fire hazard.

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.
©2016 - McGarry and Madsen Inspection


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