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The Electrical System

By Mitch Kuffa

Let’s talk about your house and its electrical system.

When inspecting houses, I am constantly surprised at the amount of conspicuous electrical violations discovered.  It almost seems as if the homeowner does not realize the potential danger of this system.  Keep in mind that the electrical system can be the most hazardous system in your house and it is odorless, colorless, and tasteless.  We do not fool around with electrical! This concern becomes even more important if there are small children in the house.

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There is a list of common shortcomings that you can look for in your own house.  Remember, DO NOT TOUCH any electrical that you do not understand or that looks suspicious.  Use a flashlight when reviewing the system and do not probe with any tools.

MISSING OR BROKEN COVER PLATES:

All plugs, switches, junction boxes (where electrical wires meet), and wall or ceiling mounted lights are to be covered.  Go into your basement and look in the ceiling.  Check the garage and look at outside plugs or lights.  Walk in every room of your house.  Can you picture a curious child putting his finger in an open electrical box?  

HANGING OR LOOSE WIRES:

Wires are not supposed to be hanging down below the ceiling joists in basements, crawl spaces, attics, etc..
In crawl spaces, hanging wires can get very close to sitting water.  I was in one basement where the lady was doing some ironing and was using the wires to hang her clothes on.  Not a good idea.  Even low voltage wires (TV, telephone, intercom, etc.) should be neatly secured or hidden.

CRACKED OR BROKEN PLUGS:

People commonly yank on electrical cords trying to get the plug out of the outlet (ex. My wife with her vacuum cleaner).  This type of yank commonly damages the outlet.  

TAPED UP SPLICES:

Where 2 different wires meet, that juncture is supposed to be enclosed by a junction box (with a cover).  Taped up joints, exposed wire nuts or taped up wiring, in general, indicates non-professional workmanship and can fail or cause problems.  

EXPOSED WIRES IN FINISHED AREAS:

Wires themselves are either supposed to be in a wall, up in the ceiling, or if something was added in the house where the easiest installation is to leave the wire outside the wall, then that wire should be enclosed or protected by metal conduit pipe, flexible “Greenfield” type cover or “wire mold” (a molding that actually goes over the wire, protects it and creates a decorative look).

BROKEN OR MISSING WEATHER COVERS:

Outside plugs serve a special purpose and are exposed to the elements.  These plugs need a special cover that seals them when not in use and does not allow water to enter.  

INCANDESCENT LIGHTS IN CLOSETS:

Today, this type of light is considered a very serious potential hazard.  If the incandescent light bulb is left on, it gets hot, and if it is close to any type of combustible (boxes, toys, paper, etc.), it can cause a fire.  These lights should either be removed and capped off or have a globe fixture installed or fluorescent fixture or bulb (which does not heat up as much).

MAIN FUSE OR CIRCUIT BREAKER PANEL:

This cluster of circuitry should have a secure front, no missing knockouts (where you could accidentally insert your fingers), be secure to the wall, and should show no rust (water commonly enters the interior of the panel by dripping and running down the service cable from the outside and water and electricity do not mix).  

EXTERIOR METER, SERVICE CABLE & OVERHEAD POWER LINE TO THE HOUSE:

First of all, the overhead power line should be at least 10’ above the ground, should not be touching the roof of the garage, should never touch any metal awnings and should be away from any swimming pool. Look where the overhead electrical cable attaches to the house.  Does it look secure?  Does it feed into a riser pipe that has the proper connection at the top (should look like an upside down letter “J” and not just an opened pipe that water can run into). Also, look at the service cable feeding from the overhead power line down into the meter and from the meter leading into the house.  This cable should not be frayed, have its exterior protective insulated jacket torn or damaged, and should not be hanging loose (should be clamped to the building where necessary). The electric meter itself needs to be secured to the building.

ODDITIES:

If you go into a room and all the plugs are white except for one, then that one should be checked. If all the plugs are 18” above the floor and there is one 10” above the floor, you better check that plug. Typically, a licensed electrician runs wire from point A to point B in a straight line.  If any wiring looks like a bowl of spaghetti, this is an indication of non-professionalism. Just remember, if you live in an older house, this structure has had more time and opportunity for updates, changes, and non-professional modifications.  If possible, go to a hardware store and purchase a simple circuit tester with the capability to test GFI plugs.  All 3 prong outlets are to be grounded.  None of the plugs should show “reverse polarity” (indicates that the plug has been wired backwards and is considered hazardous).  Test all GFI plugs (typically in kitchens, bathrooms, outside plugs, etc.) and it is not uncommon to find these outlets providing electrical current, but will not “pop” when tested  (indicates a flaw or that they were installed/added incorrectly). Finally, this is the one place where it pays to have a professionally licensed person (electrician) repair or review any suspect areas to ensure proper function and safety.


To learn more about INSPECTIONS by Mitch Kuffa, click here.

INSPECTIONS by Mitchell J. Kuffa Jr. & Associates

Mitchell J. Kuffa Jr. has been in the construction industry since 1967. In that time, he has worked as a construction superintendent, general superintendent, and construction manager for several large developers in the state of Michigan.
He has been a licensed Michigan residential builder since 1977, was an incorporated general contractor for 11 years and has built and/or run the construction of approx. 3,500 residential houses, apartments, commercial structures and/or light industrial buildings.
In 1981 he started the first private home inspection agency in Michigan and to date has personally performed approx. 16,000 inspections for a fee.
Since 1981, Mr. Kuffa inspects properties and acts as a construction consultant for the Michigan Department of Mental Health (group homes), UAW Legal Services, numerous lenders, several non-profit organizations and for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Mr. Kuffa is a federal housing fee inspector and FHA 203K mortgage loan consultant, works with several attorneys’s as an “expert witness”, has been appointed by the Michigan circuit court system to act as a Receiver in several cases concerning construction litigation and teaches a series of construction classes (for misc. school districts, community colleges, Michigan State Housing Authority, etc.).
Mr. Kuffa has been a member of the National Association of Home Inspectors, in good standing, since 1983.

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