What I'm Seeing Now

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"It Might Be OK"

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

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 38 commentsJay Markanich • September 24 2010 06:46AM

Comments

Might is a long way from right

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) almost 8 years ago

Just a few letters James!  It can't be that much of a problem, can it?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Those investor owned remodel jobs are always suspect. 

We had a home inspection on a remodel in Silver Spring a while back.  You gotta love it.  OLD 100 AMP service coming from the street and a new 200 AMP box.

Did they think that the service was upgraded by instalation of the new panel box??? 

We got it through after the seller paid to bring the 200 AMP service from the street to the house.  

The question is, didn't the electrician tell them they needed to increase the service from the street?? 

Second question.  WHAT ELECTRICIAN?????  

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) almost 8 years ago

Well, Lenn, that is what you get, or don't get, with Flippers.  Who does this work?  Are they qualified?  Where are the rest of the permits?  It goes on and on.

This is serious stuff.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

It's not just flippers, it's weekend warriors too, the handy homeowner who thinks they have enough knowledge to put a band aid on the problem, and the years speed by, and when they go to sell, it's all of a sudden a problem. Why? They thought it was fine because it was functional to their needs in the interim.

Posted by Carol Zingone, Global Realtor in Jax Beach, FL - ABR, CRS, CIPS (Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Network Realty) almost 8 years ago

Right on Carol.  There are a lot of DIYers out there who have been inspired by a TV show or magazine.   And sometimes the work is fine, other times no. 

Often I see something done on one of these DIY shows entirely incorrectly by a "professional" teaching people how to do it!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Jjay:  Showed a 1948 house downtown yesterday which still has original wiring -- still has the push button light switches -- lots of "cool stuff" as my Client said.  "Scary stuff" to me since it was obvious not one single thing had been done to that home since the people moved in.  Okay, so they cleaned, but that was it!!!  We did discuss having a Home Inspection and an Electrical Inspection.

This is such great information, thanks.

Posted by Tish Lloyd, Broker - Wilmington NC and Surrounding Beaches (BlueCoast Realty Corporation) almost 8 years ago

Tish - old houses typically have a mish-mash of wiring, with changes made over the years.  The push button light switches happen to be my favorite (since that was what my grandmother's house had) but you are right, they are old and therefore potential problems.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Clever solution to gray issue.  love it.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) almost 8 years ago

Glad to hear that Debbie.  I have used that one before.  Once, on a dangerous gas furnace installation the County condemned the property after I called them!  

http://www.jaymarinspect.com/improper-furnace-vent-Springfield-Virginia.html

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Jay - Your clients should be pleased that you've "got their backs."  While the "make-up" on a flipped house may be attractive, sometimes it hides a skeleton suitable for a horror movie.

Posted by John Mulkey, Housing Guru (TheHousingGuru.com) almost 8 years ago

Well put John!  I have called it lipstick on a pig and made a Realtor made once saying that!  They haven't called me back since!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

I'm getting ready to do an electrical upgrade to my old, 1940's vintage rental property.  You can bet there will be permits and more than just a new box over the old wiring.  Pricey but it's time to be able to plug in more than just a toaster in the kitchen :-)

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) almost 8 years ago

Good idea Cindy.  There's probably a lot of original wiring there, with the mish-mash of new that I mentioned earlier.  Well, at least you can plug in a toaster!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

My dad used to say "mites (mights) grow on chickens and when you spray the chickens, they all fall off" every time there was a doubt about something.  As an electrician, he didn't deal in "mites" well.

Posted by Tammy Pearce, Tammy Pearce (Haute Realty 214-994-6474) almost 8 years ago

That is a good analogy Tammy!  I love that.  I don't like it either when things MIGHT be okay electrically.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Interesting catch.  It is amazing what people try to get away with in these days.

Posted by Damon Gettier, Broker/Owner ABRM, GRI, CDPE (Damon Gettier & Associates, REALTORS- Roanoke Va Short Sale Expert) almost 8 years ago

Jay,

Some codes are so marginalized that it is a shame that some people worship them as law.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Don't you just love the "ummm might be okay".  Specially when it was coming from an electrician.

Kind of like a bomb disposal crew saying it.

 

Posted by Jack Gilleland (Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton) almost 8 years ago

Damon - you have to look at everything!  I could see from the outside that the cable was meant for a 100amp box.  I did not know at that time that there had been an upgrade.

Steve - agreed.  But if the County looks at it and signs off on it, everyone is protected.  If they don't, the guy needs to pull it out or upgrade the service!

Jack - and it might!  But it is an older copper line.  Will it work with 150?  Might be okay...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Jay- one more reason to inspect these flippers with a fine tooth comb.

Posted by Eric Middleton, Professional Property Inspector (Closer Look Property Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago

And a fine-tooth thermal camera, and fine-tooth moisture meter, and a fine-tooth branch circuit analyzer, and a...

Thanks Eric for stopping by again!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Guessing that "keeping the home fires burning" should not start at the power source...good heads up as always...insurance companies don't pay for what the seller should have/could have known !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) almost 8 years ago

That's true S&D and I warn my clients of that fact all the time.  It is important to listen to your home inspector!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Jay - two electricians told you it might be okay?  Yes, and a 20 amp circuit breaker used on 14 gage wire might be 'okay'.  

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Reubs - I just know from my charts that a #2 copper service line was meant for "95" amp fuse boxes.  That's an odd size.  But to service 150?  I don't know, so I deferred to the County!  Did I spell PUNT correctly?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Check out Table 310.15(B)(6).

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Reuben - I hope that's not the Bizarro chart...     ;)

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Jay, an interesting, and often mis-understood fact, is that the conductor size is not the only determining factor for wiring needing an upgrade. The following is a partial quote of a narrative I use for homes built prior to 1988...

"Branch circuit wiring installed in buildings built prior to the mid 1980s is typically rated for a maximum temperature of only 60 degrees Centigrade. This includes non-metallic sheathed (Romex) wiring, and both BX and AC metal clad flexible wiring. Knob and tube wiring, typically installed in homes built prior to 1950 may be rated for even lower maximum temperatures. Newer electric fixtures including lighting and fans typically require wiring rated for 90 degrees Centigrade. Connecting older, 60 degree-rated wiring to such newer fixtures is a potential safety hazard due to the risk of fire. Repairs for such conditions often involve replacing the last few feet of wiring to newer fixtures with new 90 degree-rated wire. This often requires installing a junction box to join the old and new wiring..."

You were fortunate to have two electricians that used the "might" word. All too often I hear "It's fine", when those of us that bother to stay educated on matters such as this know better. Nothing disgusts me more than an alledged professional that hasn't learned a thing since they attained their Journeyman status many years ago.

Thanks for another great post.

Posted by Jeffrey Jonas- Minnesota Home Inspector (Critical Eye Property Inspections / JRJ Consultants) almost 8 years ago

Jeff - I hear you.  I have wording here and there regarding potential hazards, et al, but in this case we weren't sure there was no permit.  I seriously doubt there was, but we don't want to assume do we?  Recommending it to the County was the best option for my buyers.  And that might get the seller into trouble with them if he did something they wouldn't approve of.

And my electrician friends, both Masters, I trust to give me a straight up answer.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

'It might be ok' means that it is cool... unless the house burns down...  That is the 'might not' part. 

Posted by Lane Bailey, Realtor & Car Guy (Century 21 Results Realty) almost 8 years ago

Lane - it was important to me that my friends be honest!  My clients were protected in the end though.  We'll see where it goes from here.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

My recommendation would have been to have the wiring inspected by a licensed electrician, pointing out the areas of concern in my report.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Jim - That will come after the County has a look see.  I didn't know if there was a permit.  If the County had previously approved it, what recourse does my client have?  And the electrician might say, "might" again!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Jay - thank you - thank you - your educational posts are absolutely wonderful!

Posted by Barbara-Jo Roberts Berberi, MA, PSA, TRC - Greater Clearwater Florida Residential Real Estate Professional, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor (Charles Rutenberg Realty) almost 8 years ago

Thank you Barbara-Jo!  You compliment me every time you stop by!  Feels great, by the way...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Great information, Jay.  Absolutely critical to any home buyer.  Have a great week.

Eldon

Posted by Eldon Hendrix (Hendrix and sons Home Inspections) almost 8 years ago

Thanks Eldon.  Finally home.  Loooong day of travel.  I appreciate your stopping by my posts and your comments!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

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