With hundreds, perhaps thousands of linear feet of wire in an average 2,000 square foot home, the potential for electrical defects is almost impossible to calculate. Every connection is a potential defect. So is every receptacle. For that matter, straight runs of wire might be defective if they incur damage from abrasion or pests that like to chew.
Here are six essential elements:
1 - Electrical Service Panel or Load Center
The service panel, also called the load center, is the heart of electricity in a home. Either mounted on a wall inside or outside the dwelling, it contains breakers—fuses if it’s older—and wires that create circuits in the house.
What to look for:
- Loose breakers
- Visible damage
- Charring or burn marks
- Pennies behind fuses (extremely dangerous, as the copper prevents fuses from blowing if they’re overloaded)
- Breakers that feel warm
- No main disconnect switch
2: Federal Pacific Brand Service Panel
If the load center is Federal Pacific brand, it needs closer inspection. Not all Federal Pacific breaker panels are defective, but defective ones are notorious fire starters. Look for FP Stab-Lok breakers. If present, the load center is an immediate fire hazard.
3: Aluminum Wiring
Many homes with aluminum wiring remain safe for years. But aluminum has (at least) two problems. Where it exists, the wiring is probably at least 40 years old and needs an update. And aluminum is softer than copper and doesn’t conduct electricity as well. Aluminum can expand and contract to loosen connections, causing a fire hazard.
Aluminum isn’t inherently dangerous, although it has issues. But some insurance companies won’t insure a house that isn’t wired in copper.
4: Push-in Connections at Receptacles
It’s generally accepted that push-in connections were developed for the DIY electrician. Most professional electricians wire in receptacles using the binding head screw on the side rather than a push-in connection on the back.
5: Overlamping Light Fixtures
While it’s not a wiring problem, it is a fire hazard. Overlamping happens when a homeowner uses a higher wattage light bulb (lamp) than what is recommended for the fixture. With a higher-wattage bulb, the fixture can heat up, melt, and start a fire.
6: GFCI Protection in Kitchens and Other Wet Areas
Every kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room needs outlets with ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI protection. GFCI outlets have a test button and some are labeled. But standard outlets might also have protection if the circuit is powered by a GFCI outlet in the breaker panel.
Electricity touches every room in nearly every house. Even closets have wiring. Many attics and basements do, as well. With so many possibilities for defects and the fire hazards that accompany them, the electrical inspection is arguably one of the most important for any home.