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.

    Dimming is an annoying problem, but not necessarily dangerous. You might just choose to live with it. We see it most often in older homes with 100-amp service and a large central air conditioner. A 4-ton air conditioner, for example, can briefly exceed the rating of the electrical system at start-up, but not long enough to trip a breaker. Plus, the LRA grows further as the compressor ages.

    In newer homes with 150 or 200-amp electric panels, it may require some detective work by an electrician to figure out why the lights are dimming. Our electrician friend, Craig Eaton, suggests to start by checking the wire connections at the panel and the condenser circuit. Repairing a loose or deteriorated connection could solve the problem. Also, running heavier gauge wiring would definitely fix it, but that’s an expensive and labor-intensive solution that is impractical.

    There are two different devices that an air conditioning contractor or electrician can install to eliminate light dimming. One is called a “hard start kit,” which is a capacitor on steroids. Every heat pump or air conditioning condenser unit has a capacitor built-in that adds an extra surge of current needed at start-up. A hard start kit is a super capacitor that stores and then releases a larger bump. It is the cheaper of the two solutions.

    The second choice is the “soft start kit,” a more sophisticated system that uses a programmed circuit board to measure the characteristics of the compressor motor. It then optimizes the electrical input of a start capacitor over several start cycles, causing the starting inrush current (LRA) to be significantly reduced. We suggest you ask your trusted electrical or air conditioning contractor which is best for your system.

    To learn about other defects that can cause lighting fluctuations, see our blog post “What causes flickering or blinking lights in a house?”

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.
© McGarry and Madsen Inspection

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

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

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

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

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

  20. What is a 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. Why are Zinsco and Sylvania-Zinsco electric panels a problem?

  23. Can wiremold be used at an exterior location?

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

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

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

  27. Why is an old fuse panel dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  35. Can an electric panel be located over stairs?

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

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

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

  39. Why are extension cords dangerous?

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

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

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

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

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

  45. Why are old electrical systems not always “grandfathered” as acceptable by home inspectors?

  46. When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?

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

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

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

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

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