The big day is here, and today your new home will be inspected. Things seem to be going great until suddenly the inspector points out that one or more deficiencies in the electrical system in your prospective new home are hazardous. Suddenly the jovial mood is gone, both agents look concerned, and the seller is definitely not smiling anymore.
The difference between an ordinary defect and a hazardous deficiency is that a hazard has the potential to cause a serious injury or loss of life. Below are a few, but by no means all, of the most common, hazardous electrical deficiencies found in home inspections.
- Outdated Federal Pacific, Sylvania, or Zinsco panels.
- Exposed or improper wiring anywhere on the property.
- Bonding, grounding of a swimming pool or spa.
- Non GFCI outlets located by water source (kitchens, baths, pool areas).
- Gas hot water heaters made prior to 2011 that are not elevated 18 inches off the floor.
- Wall sockets that have reversed polarity.
- Double tapped or triple tapped breakers.
- Missing electrical connectors.
- Aluminum cloth main feed.
- Missing, not hard wired, or non operational smoke alarms.
So what happens next? Who is responsible for fixing the problems, and should you think about finding a different home? The good news is that your agent or broker is trained to handle events like this and in fact, your contract with the seller should specify who will pay for the repairs. Rest assured that a licensed Electrician can bring the home up to the current code so that it will be a safe place for you and your family. This is a lot less work than starting all over to look for another home.
You will want to sit down with your agent to make a list of what needs to be taken care prior to closing. If the home is older than 30 years, your insurance will likely require a 4 Point inspection, in addition to the home inspection. The electrical system is one of the 4 points that must be clear, meaning no hazards or deficiencies present. If the 4 Point is not clear, you may have difficulty finding someone to insure the home. This means the seller must take care of the issues, or can likely only sell the home for cash. For the seller who has lived there for a while unaware of any problems, they can be less than enthusiastic about a major repair when they are ready to leave.
As the future owner, you are probably wondering about the work being done and how will you know if it was done properly? When hazardous electrical deficiencies have been noted on the inspection report, the inspector should follow with a statement saying this repair and any other deficiencies found during the repair process must be corrected by a licensed Electrician. There are a number of reasons why Inspectors do this, but the main one is that it is in their client’s best interests to do so. It is very important to be aware of the following points.
- A home inspection is non-invasive but the Electrician will need to do a more invasive inspection and possibly identify other issues that must be brought up to standard. Ideally, a buyer would want this information before they close and become responsible for those items.
- Re-inspection liability in case the buyer decides to pay the inspector to go back and clear the repair work. If there was a 4 Point, the insurance usually requires this service prior to binding the policy. The inspector does not know if an Electrician did the work or the current owner and it may, or may not, be obvious the issue was corrected properly. It is important for the buyer or their agent, to verify that the work was done by a licensed Electrician and request copies of all invoices, warranties and permits as proof.
- Most Home Inspectors have very little, if any, training in building codes because they are not Building Inspectors. A Building Inspector has a different license than Home Inspector. The Electrician will have to pull permits for almost all electrical work. This means his work will be inspected for accuracy by the Building Inspector who is employed by the city/county where the home is located, and other possible code violations may be identified by the Building Inspector before they become your problem.
- Bonding, and grounding of swimming pools and spas must be done to Article 680 of the National Electric Code. This code was updated in 2012, and not all Electricians are familiar with it. Under no circumstances do you want to accept this repair done by someone unfamiliar with Article 680. It will require a permit and in most cases, it will require a serious upgrade of the pool electrical that can be expensive. The pool or spa will be unsafe to use until this is done correctly.
An informed buyer has a better chance of successfully closing on the right property for them by being aware the issues listed above. No home is perfect, but most things are negotiable and correctable. If our inspector notes any electrical hazards, we will require proof the work was done by a licensed contractor, and our client must sign a statement that clearance, if issued, is conditional to the client obtaining proof that the repairs were made by licensed contractors, that permits, if required, were obtained and that the repair passed final inspections by the appropriate building departments prior to the scheduled date of re-inspection.