What I'm Seeing Now

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Service With An Old Smile

While in downtown Washington DC, inspecting a 100 year old row house (we would call them townhouses!), I noticed something interesting between the house we were inspecting and the one next door.

Both houses had upgraded electrical service conductors.  I took a minute to explain this to my client.  Somewhere I even saw an action shot of my explanation!  Um, an excellent photo!  OK, maybe not that excellent, but I digress.

The house on the right had a conductor that was so old the insulation had completely disintegrated with time.  Guessing, I would date it to the 50's.

My client's house had a newer conductor, which I dated to the late 70's or early 80's.

The meter boxes are quite different in age as well.

But each replaced a service that was previously there. 

Interestingly, the older service on the right was probably the first to upgrade to "modern" stuff, way out of date by our standards today.

The service line into that house looks to be 125amps and may even connect to an old fuse box.  Even if it connects to a circuit breaker box the system is still very old - but state of the art at that time!

A service amperage of only 125amps is very minimal service for modern usage, even with gas appliances in the house.

My client's house had been upgraded more recently, to 150amps of service and a circuit breaker box.  Again, this upgrade was state of the art at that time.  But this house had been purchased and completely remodeled in recent months.  And the electrical in the house was supposedly done with a permit, although I saw no evidence of a final city inspection.

Even 150amps is minimal service in my opinion.  I wonder why the contractor did not recommend upgrading the service, and the panel box, to a more modern, state of the art at this time, 200amp system?  I suggested on the report that this service was minimal, again given modern usage.

Overall my biggest concerns with this house were electrical.  For instance, the lighting "main" breaker, 100amps by itself, turned the furnace on and off.  And not all the lights!  Did a city inspector look at this?  Or approve it?  Ummmm...  There were other such things as this, which, I noticed, my client's Realtor, Pat Kennedy, called "funky!"  That's not a bad word!

My recommendation:  when houses are remodeled, look to see if an inspection permit was pulled and if it had a final approval by the local jurisdictional authority.  Typically that approval appears as an orange sticker, usually left on the inside of the door of the panel box.  If you do not see one, you may want to have your own electrician have a look prior to making a final decision on the house.

 

 

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 49 commentsJay Markanich • October 20 2010 05:59AM

Comments

I still see that old 60-100 amp braided wire from time to time while inspecting older properties here in our area. I mention it, but if it looks to be in serviceable condition, why upgrade for the sake of upgrading? Leave it to the buyer's discretion...

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) almost 8 years ago

And fuse boxes to boot, right Michael?  Those older systems are more vulnerable to overheating with something as simple as a light fixture.  Why not upgrade!

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

Thanks Jay , good article.  Due diligence and inspections  should be done with every deal.

Someone should think ahead to " Modern standards " before historical wiring costs lifes .

Let's upgrade America, this may help put some people back to work and the recession behind us.

Cheers

Nor Yeretsian

 

Posted by Nor Yeretsian, Envoy Capitol Realty Inc., Brokerage Toronto (Envoy Capitol Realty Inc.) almost 8 years ago

Thanks Nor.  If you are going to the expense and care to remodel something, and this house was completely remodeled, why not upgrade everything!?

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

Jay,

I recently showed a rental house with a 60 amp service.

But...  It was "renovated to the studs."  And had stainless steel appliances.  Including smoothtop electric range.  And the client has tons of computer gear.  Whoops......

Posted by Mike Jaquish, 919-880-2769 Cary, NC, Real Estate (Realty Arts) almost 8 years ago

That won't cut it Mike.  And the "contractor" who did all that work is a dope or unprofessional or worse!  For sure, no permits?

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

Jay,

I saw refinished floors, and new cabinets, but nothing that made me believe that work was performed that required a permit.

Also, no grounding receptacles, of course...

Posted by Mike Jaquish, 919-880-2769 Cary, NC, Real Estate (Realty Arts) almost 8 years ago

Hmmm...makes you wonder.  Looking for the orange sticker is an easy thing to do!  Thanks for the tip!

Posted by Kathryn Maguire, Serving Chesapeake, Norfolk, VA Beach (GreatNorfolkHomes.com (757) 560-0881) almost 8 years ago

Might be very different there Mike, but here if a remodel costs more than $1000 it requires that a Class A contractor pull a permit.  Remodeled "to the studs" can mean a lot of things!

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

Seldom, Kathryn, to flips come with permit stickers!  But they all claim to have been done by "professionals!"

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

Certainly things would trip off very often Valerie.  It is no where near enough service for today!

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

Jay, It's really like taking a class in raising my level of awareness every day -- you have given me so much knowledge; thank you.  No blowing smoke up your skirt here, it's true!  Went to look at a house yesterday to give a listing price range recommendation; it has been "remodeled" and I found myself thinking, "What would Jay be telling me to be observant of?"  Thanksssss.

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

You are very welcome Tish!  And I'm glad there's no smoke being blown anywhere.

FYI - I am a MacGregor - have the kilt, but I don't wear a skirt...

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

When you shop for real estate in an older community, you're going to see older electrical services.   It comes with the area and the fact that most home owners believe that "as long as it's working, it's just fine, thank you."

Sadly, it's hard to get inspections like elec. before getting under contract with a home inspection contingency.  Your inspection report supports an upgrade and the buyer should be prepared to do it quickly after taking possession. 

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

Well, that's exactly right Lenn.  I will always suggest an upgrade on the report.

Another thing with older homes is that there is often a complete mish mash of electrical with this and that being done over the years.

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

Jay - Electrical service is often misunderstood by both buyers and "remodelers," and offers the potential for disaster--or at best, inconvenience.

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

OK, but your most impressive catch was the heating and air conditioning system, just installed but manufactured in 2004!  I had a very interesting conversation with the seller last night, and he's going to fix everything - but we may have to have you back to make sure it's fixed right!

Thank you so much for a wonderful job!

Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) almost 8 years ago

Checking for permits and more importantly inspections on electrical work or all really ALL the work in a renovated property is good advice. I do the same for my clients.

One thing I would debate is the need for 200 Amp service. Not knowing the size of the town house I would believe 150 Amp service to be adequate.

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

Checking permits these days is pretty easy with everything on line ion most states. Another value point for "why to use a Realtor® when you buy a home.

Posted by Glenn Roberts (Retired) almost 8 years ago

Hey Jay

That service size for a townhome is adequate, I have to agree with James.  But whatever, 220, 221, whatever it takes (old movie line).

No permits can lead to big expenses for the new owner later on.  If the town finds out renovations have been done with no permits, they could make the new owner pay to have it meet new codes.  The town does not care how you purchased the home.  I have personal experience to the tune of $9,000 to change windows and interior lay out plus electrical changes to make the town happy with renovations that were made by a previous owner.  It was even proved to the town the date the changes were made, they did not want to hear it. 

Not to mention, Jay, your inspection is probably more thourough than the towns.  I read your posts and feel you are probably doing a better job.  Oh did I just say that.

Lee

Posted by Lee Floyd (Race City Inspections Inc) almost 8 years ago

John - that is so true.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it is a common VA saying.  I agree with you that older service can be a big inconvenience and if you are in the house only 3 or 4 years the next buyer may insist on newer service.

Pat - thank you.  And thanks for the call!  I don't know what he means by "fix" everything?  What about any permits?  And to "fix" that HVAC you would need a system with components that are compatible and at least of the same brand.  I wouldn't have a problem with an Amana compressor, but you can't buy a 10 SEER now to go with that system.  The new regs require a minimum 13 SEER system.  That means an entire upgrade.

Jim - sure we can debate.  But only if afterward I can give you an agape smooch.  My thinking is three fold - 1.  this buyer is going to sell this property one day, perhaps in 3 or 4 years, and the buyer might insist that the system be upgraded.  Why not do it now when remodeled?  2.  The box is probably 25 years old or so, making it somewhat antiquated for many modern things.  Again, why not do it now when remodeled?  3.  Our electrical usage now is dramatically different from even 10 years ago.  And it will be different again in 10 years.  I think an upgrade of such an old system is essential.

But that is me...

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

What?  No knob and Tube wiring?  I saw one like that that was live just a few years ago.

Posted by Geoff ONeill (John L. Scott Medford) almost 8 years ago

Glenn - sure they can check it, but they want the contractor to provide it I think.  There was no permit for a lot of it.  The contractor claims there was one pulled to do the electrical, but I see no evidence of a final.

Lee - I agree, it may be adequate.  But see my comments to Jim above.  I always consider the client's needs and future needs.  I am a Scoutmaster - so that kind of guides my thinking!   ;)

Also, the contractors in DC are required to pull permits.  And his not pulling one, and/or getting a final, is not my client's problem, until after he buys the house!  Then it is his problem!

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

Jay

Smooching is good, and I see your point.  I am a strong believer in protect all who are involved with the transaction.

Agree, Agree, Agree

Lee

Posted by Lee Floyd (Race City Inspections Inc) almost 8 years ago

I see knob and tube all the time Geoff, but not in this case.  I think this house had been remodeled a few times over the years.  Most of the basement was covered in drywall too, which I couldn't see above.

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

You are like me Lee.  Our clients rule.  The last thing we want to see is a client inherit a big mess.  Or a future one!

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

I had an electrician come out for repairs on a 50+ year old home. He saw my electrical box and said that parts would be hard or expensive to replace and recommended I replace it. This was sound advice because no problems have come out of this nor do I expect any......

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) almost 8 years ago

In the long run, Richie, and in the "new" run, that is sound advice.

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

Thanks for the post today.  Good information for sure, it's always good to be on alert to things that could pottentially be a problem down the road.

Patricia/Seacoast NH

Posted by Patricia Aulson, Realtor - Portsmouth NH Homes-Hampton NH Homes (BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY HOME SERVICES Verani Realty NH Real Estate ) almost 8 years ago

I believe I could live with the fuses verses the underrated service if I had to.

Posted by Mike Frazier, Northwest Tennessee Realtor (Carousel Realty of Dyer County) almost 8 years ago

They probably didn't upgrade the electrical because of the expense.

Posted by Tammie White, Broker, Franklin TN Homes for Sale (Franklin Homes Realty LLC) almost 8 years ago

Patricia - I am glad you can use it!

Mike - but the fuse box was certainly underrated too!

Tammie - who knows why, but I would have wanted it done if it was my house.

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

jpgIf this is not done right and not looked at. The appraisal could come back with a condition to have it inspected and a permit might be required from the lender. This one thing could hold up the closing.

NOT GOOD!!!

Althought for a 100 year home this could also be common, all depends on the Market.

Posted by Danell Estrada (Highlands Ranch Appraisals, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Might be Danell - I don't know how it all works in the city. 

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

Hi Jay,  Great advice !  Electrical is one of those things which so many buyers are not comfortable with and wouldn't notice a defect or shortcoming if it jumped out at them ! 

Posted by Bill Gillhespy, Fort Myers Beach Realtor, Fort Myers Beach Agent - Homes & Condos (16 Sunview Blvd) almost 8 years ago

Well, with that you don't want to fool around Bill.  That is why inspectors so often recommend that electricians look at particular things.

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

Congrats on working w/ Patricia and the feature.  Well deserved.  Gotta run to my next appt.

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

Thanks for the great advice.  We definitely want our clients to be safe.

Posted by Lynne Ruffin, Century 21. The Gold Standard. (Century 21 Nachman Realty) almost 8 years ago

Pulling permits has been sticky business in our market lately.  There have been a  lot of do it youselfers who have had to tear out walls the get work permitted.

Posted by Team Honeycutt (Allen Tate) almost 8 years ago

Thanks Debbie.  We had some fun!  You should drive, it's much easier, though probably more stressful.

Lynne - safety is probably the number one goal of a home inspection!

Allen - it happens!  That's why it is best to do it right the first time.  Flippers don't always want to do that!

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

Great article! It's one of the first things I check.

Posted by Judith Knutson (REMAX River Cities. Inc ) almost 8 years ago

Good for you Judith!  Keep it up!

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

You consider 150 amps minimal?  What kind of stuff are you guys running in Virginia?

As part of an electrical inspections class that I took, one of our homework assignments was to do a load calculation on our own houses.  My only major 240 volt appliance is my air conditioner, so my final number was 50.9 amps.  100 amps is totally overkill for my own house. 

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

Hi Jay, thanks for sharing the story and the advice.  

Posted by Dale Ganfield almost 8 years ago

I do Reuben!  Don't you have more electrical stuff now then you did ten years ago?  New houses regularly now are being built around here with two 200amp boxes.  They are each only half full, but anticipating future needs.

Dale - I'm not sure how much advice I could give to you, but I am glad you liked the story.  Pat Kennedy got a photo of me explaining this blog to my buyer!

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

I do have more electrical stuff today than I did 10 years ago, but most of that stuff runs on batteries; it don't think it makes a dent in my electric service needs.

TWO 200 AMP BOXES?  Wow.  I've seen that done on a handful of houses here in Minnesota, and I've seen a handful of 600 amp services for single family homes, but they were all homes that were in the 10,000 sf range.

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

Every now and then a see two 150's, but for the most part two 200's...

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

Exellent post!  I do not sell many homes in that age range, but I do from time to time.  This is an excellent reminder to not get caught up in all the updating and forget this important issue.

Thanks!

Posted by Barbara Hensley, Homes for Sale in Rockwall County, Texas (RE/MAX Properties) almost 8 years ago

Thanks Barbara.  Any older home, even remodeled, has many issues that cannot be forgotten!

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

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