One of the shady zones of doing home inspections is marginality. Things that "might" be okay, or "might" not. Things that are to a local code, but not "best practice" or conforming to the latest building techniques. Codes, not surprisingly, sometimes lack behind. Things that might be fine in the short run, but we know will be a problem later.
The hardest thing sometimes is how to address such things on the report. Home inspectors live and die with their reporting. And "sorry, that was a typo" doesn't fly. Or, "that wording was poor, but I meant..." is in the no fly zone also.
One of the shady zones is in the electrical system. It involves cable sizes. And it depends! Is the cable copper or aluminum? Each size is relevant and important to what amperage it can support. Amperage has been related to the amount of force of the water coming down a waterfall. Certain cable sizes can only handle so much "force" of electrical energy before heating up. Getting too hot is a problem.
On a recent inspection of a flip (SO many flips!) I had a red flag at the front door. A permit sticker was covering a broken window. But hey, at least there was a permit pulled! It was for a basement shower which looked great. Then, looking closer I noticed that the hardware was placed on a wall inaccessible from behind so the tiles had to be pulled off the wall to do any repair. Oh, and the shower head was directed at the door. So you had to get IN the shower before turning on the water. I love those 30 seconds or so of cold water in the morning, don't you? Typical Flipper stuff.
But I digress!
Look at these photos. THIS had me concerned. Consider the following:
We had an original 1958 electrical service, and very weathered insulation, with a #2 copper service line entering the house. In that day a #2 copper line serviced a 100amp FUSE box. (You will also notice the broken legal seal, the gray thing hanging down on the right. Does that mean Flipper was inside the meter altering the electrical usage? The electrical company will think so... But my client is protected by my report.)
However, center photo, Flipper installed a new PANEL box with circuit breakers. And it has a 150amp main breaker, photo right. There was no permit or approval sticker, so I do not think the local jurisdictional authority, in this case the County, as approved this. That approval is CRUCIALLY important. Without it, and if there is a problem because of this installation, THE INSURANCE COMPANY WILL LIKELY NOT COVER A CLAIM!
Here is the question! Does an old #2 copper service conductor properly supply enough electricity to a new 150amp panel box with more circuitry than previously existed in this house? I talked with two Master Electrician friends of mine. They both said the same words, "It might be OK."
I am not at all comfortable with the word might.
So how did I protect my client? With my report! I described what I just did above, with the recommendation that they contact the County and ask for a special inspection, sans permit, and approval of this installation. I assure you they will NOT like the sans permit part!
I am covered. My client is protected. And if the County approves it and the house burns down, my client's insurance will cover it!
My recommendation: Any time you see an older house with older electrical service conductors, and there is a new panel box, ALWAYS look for an approval sticker by your local jurisdictional authority. Without one, and if there is a problem, your client could end up with a mortgage, a burned-down house, and no insurance coverage.
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC
Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.
Office (703) 330-6388 Cell (703) 585-7560