What I'm Seeing Now

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Are You Plugged In?

On an inspection a couple of weeks ago, a house had been added to and the addition and upgrades were sensational.  In the older part of the house, though, the outlets had been painted so many times that some were simply not usable.  On others the holes were all visible but somewhat closed off so I could not insert my testing device to see how they were.

There are many problems with painting outlets:

  1. The holes close off and eventually, as I said above, they are unusable.  I have seen many outlets where the receptacle holes are painted so much they are barely visible.
  2. The paint sticks the cover plate to the wall and the receptacles to the cover plate.  If work needs to be done on that outlet, the cover plate needs to be cut from the wall, and the outlet fixture cut from the cover plate.  That can, and will, damage the wall, and that can, and will, often break the outlet.
  3. When plugs are pushed into the holes, paint can get pushed in at the same time.  Paint is not a very good conductor.  In fact, latex is a pretty good prevent-er of electrical connectivity!  The electricity cannot flow.  It has been impeded and resists flowing freely.

That is called "impedance" and causes "resistance."  Electricity moves throughout the house in an alternating fashion.  It comes and goes.  Anything that impedes that flow throughout the house, or any appliance or object that causes it to resist movement, can cause heat. 

It can also cause a voltage drop in an outlet, which means that appliances plugged into it are not being provided the amount of electricity they are designed to receive.  That can cause them to overheat as well.

Over time such latex build up can cause the insides of the receptacles can load up more and more with latex and create enough heat to cause the wiring insulation to burn away.  And that can cause a fire.

All in all, I don't like seeing painted outlets.  Once painted, people are tempted to paint them again, especially if the wall color changes.  I identify them on the report in the condition they are, and indicate that they are potential fire hazards.  In the report I say that ideally, all such outlets should be replaced.  Someone, after all, is buying that and inheriting the associated problems.  I think it is fair that the seller not turn over to a buyer what they don't want to have to correct themselves.  Some would call that the "Golden Rule."

That is what I did on the house above.

A few days later I received a call from the irate seller.  She has had her electrician look at the outlets and he told her that there is no problem because they are all grounded.  He said that her responsibility is to sell a house with properly-grounded outlets.

Me:  "But Ma'am, the grounding is not a problem and it is not what I identified."  And I went through my spiel.

Her:  My spiel made no dent!  "But the electrician says they are grounded and fine."

Me:  "Some of the outlets are not usable.  You certainly know that, you live there.  Doesn't he consider that to be a problem?"

Her:  "He didn't say it was.  He said that to replace them he might do damage to the wall and he does not do drywall repairs."

Me:  After my mind went !!!!! -- "But all of the problems I explained to you are left to the buyers.  They will have to do all those repairs and if I understand the addendum correctly they do not want to inherit all that.  Are you willing to sell to someone else a problem you don't want to have to fix yourself?  Would you want someone to knowingly sell you the problems on their house they don't want to fix themselves?"

The silence was golden.

Her:  "Well, my electrician says they are grounded and that's all I am responsible for.  And I trust HIS opinion."

She was pretending not to understand what she understood completely.  And trying to mask it with an angry attitude to boot.

Me:  "We are back to square one.  That is not the problem I identified.  You understand that is not the problem I identified.  You merely don't want to have to take care of the problem.  I think it is unkind of you to push off onto someone else a problem you created.  And some of what you are pushing off is dangerous.  And I trust MY opinion."

My recommendation:  Sometimes you simply can't plug into people.  Or they pretend that they haven't been plugged into!  When you see painted outlets, identify them to the sellers as the problems, and potential problems, they are.  And go from there...

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 18 commentsJay Markanich • April 08 2009 09:24AM

Comments

And around and around we go-----where the argument stops nobody knows.  Good call Jay----someone is going to have to patch the walls sooner or later----and you are right those painted receptacles are fire hazards regardless what the electrician is telling her.  If either side is willing to blow the deal over this----they both might be misguided regardless of who is "right."

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Jay,

I have had receptacle problems in my last two inspections....painted in one, loose in the other.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 9 years ago

Agreeeeed Mr. Charles, agreed.  I can't believe that the electrician said that!  He probably did because he didn't want to have to fix it...

Steve - about half my inspections now are foreclosures.  I have many electrical problems in virtually all of those.  Not just a few!

I will make time tonight when I get home to catch up on your posts guys...  too little time, so much I want to do...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay, you'll be happy to know that I removed all the electrical plates today when I painted my living room. The five minutes it takes to remove and reattach the plates is definitely worth my peace of mind. You should have told the woman that she was lazy since she wasn't willing to invest that extra five minutes. I wonder what her justification or excuse would have been for that!

Posted by Lanna Broyles over 9 years ago

Well, Lanna, I am certain she did not paint her own house!  Those outlets, though, had been painted many times.  The original house was 32 years old.  I don't know how long she has lived there.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay, I love those 100 year old rental units that have been painted at least once a year for a 100 years----and no one has EVER taken the covers off:)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Charles - geez, I see them nearly every day!  And on houses that aren't 100 years old.  Often the outlets have disappeared into the wall...  Like my neighbor* Lanna says above, how long does it take to remove the covers?  It is a lazy practice and can do real damage!

* You are my neighbor too, Charlie, but in a different way...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

"It's a wonderfull day in the neighborhood, won't you be my neighbor?"----that is what the sweater guy said.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

I loved the sweater guy!  When we were teenagers and had nothing to do, my brother and I used to turn Mr. Rogers on and watch him and have a good laugh.  All in all, he was a wonderful man.  But to a teenager he was a real nut.

But, yes, Charlie, I will be your neighbor!  In fact, I am.  So says the parable...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

I think we all are neighbors more than any of us is capable of grasping.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 9 years ago

Well, we are told, even commanded, to grasp it.  We are told to love as we are loved... and by whom?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Jay - you stayed on the phone with the irate seller a lot longer than I would have.  Good for you.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 9 years ago

Thanks Reuben.  I think a big part of our job is education and in my opinion this was a serious circumstance.  I was trying to communcate that to the seller.   To her I was the bad guy!   We do try, we do try...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Sometimes you just have to shrug your shoulders and admit defeat.  There are those that can't be taught Jay.

Posted by Jack Gilleland (Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton) over 9 years ago

Jack - you may be right, but I think she understood completely.  She just didn't want to take care of it.  The outlets were in very bad shape and damage would have been done!  She wanted out-o-dere.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

Happy Birthday Dad!

Posted by Jay's Son over 9 years ago

Hey Jay,

My broker keeps telling me to remind myself that I am not a building inspector (and I am not, but 25 years in property management...well you pick up a few things to look for). I love your posts, and usually after telling prospects and clients that I am not a building inspector and why they should get one, I point...a LOT!!!

all the best!

Posted by Bill Saunders, Realtor®, www.BillSellsHotSprings.com (Meyers Realty) over 9 years ago

Thanks Bill!  Good to hear from you.  Keep in touch.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 9 years ago

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