Thursday, March 29, 2007

Common Electrical Safety Hazards

There can be real potential safety risks in the home, and real estate is the biggest investment most people make in their lives.

Cheryl's Story

We did an inspection of a condominium in for Cheryl N of Redmond WA. When we checked the electrical we saw several problems.

Serious safety issues noted on her summary were:

If you have a Zinsco or Federal Pacific panel, we recommend it be checked by an Electrician

Zinsco electrical panel - see safety information on panel at

Aluminum branch circuit wiring - more information at Consumer Product Safety commission.

Crack on main feed lug holder to panel. Possibly was over tightened.

Missing smoke detector in bedroom.

We also verbally recommended replacement of the Zinsco panel and repair the aluminum wiring and noted it further in her report. See Cheryl's actual electrical detail report page here.

We got a call 35 days after that inspection, the recommended repairs didn't get addressed immediately. She had an electrical fire in an outlet. Fortunately, she was forewarned and was alert to the potential hazard. She immediately recognized a dangerous situation and called the fire department. Luckily she was home and awake at the time of the fire and the damage was limited to the outlet or this could have been very serious.

She worked with a reputable electrician we recommend. JJ has known the guys at C&R Electric for almost 40 years. When their electrician first got to work on this job, the breaker box was malfunctioning to the point of heating up the case. The components inside must have been very hot to make the whole enclosure so warm. He diagnosed the problem to be an overloaded circuit which caused the outlet to catch fire. Electrical current had exceeded the capacity of the outlet and a faulty Zinsco panel never turned off the power.

It is our opinion, when you take into account both the aluminum wiring and the Zinsco panel, there is a significant hazard. This combined with the risk multiplier of a condominium with many units likely wired the same way causes our greatest concern. We hope this moves the homeowners association to investigate and repair this condition in all the units.

Here is excerpt from the US CPSC article Aluminum Wire Problems and Solutions

Read more about Zinsco panel hazards on Google

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New Home Inspections

Some buyers think that a city building inspection is all you need for a new home. In a perfect world all codes and best practices would be followed & there would be no need for independent inspections. In my 25 years of building fine homes, municipal inspectors rarely look at many of the most significant items in the home. How could they when most spend no more than 10 minutes onsite!

General contractors will often cut corners knowing that municipal inspections are rarely complete, and push their subcontractors to get it done as fast as possible. This is especially true in large developments where workers jump from site to site, missing the critical details, or taking the time to alert others of problems they find.

The following pictures were all items found in a brand new home we inspected before the owner took possession. This had passed all its municipal inspections, but clearly the building inspector didn't check any of these problems.

During this inspection we noted low air flow to the heat registers.

Disconnected duct work

This is the main heating duct for the entire home. This was blowing precious warm air into the crawlspace. I doubt that heating contractor left this duct work in this condition. Surely he was not the last worker in this space. This buyer was glad we caught it, his gas bill would have been astronomical trying to heat the home by warming the crawlspace.

Incomplete Insulation

In this picture, not only is the plumbing not insulated, there is exposed sub floor. We see this kind of problem all too often. Workmanship is everything when it comes to installing insulation, and we check all visible areas to assure it is properly installed.

Incomplete Vapor Barrier and Wood Debris

Vapor barriers (plastic sheeting) are critical to moisture control in the crawl space. During this inspection we noticed saturated, heavy clay soil. Water does not percolate like it does in sandy soil. In this crawlspace, all of the soil was damp. The lack of a complete vapor barrier and left over wood construction debris are conducive conditions for structural pests,( ie. beetles, ants or termites.) Removing wood debris and proper vapor barriers are simple inexpensive steps, yet crucial to preserve the integrity of