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Electricity Is Resistant To Rust

The electricity in a house comes and goes.  It arrives, happily flows around the house, and is continually connected to the distribution facility nearest the house via a closed circuit.  It likes to flow freely (don't we all?) and energize every spot in a house it is supposed to.  Anything that interrupts or slows down that flow causes resistance, and its path is impeded.  One thing that can cause resistance is rust.  Electricity is resistant to rust.

Water or rust in a panel box is a WARNING SIGN.  If the box or circuit breakers are rusting, unseen corrosion could be causing high-resistance electrical connections.

These "poor" connections often cause excessive voltage drop that may shorten the life of motor-driven appliances like vacuums, air conditioners, washing machines, etc.

And oxidation of aluminum wiring is especially dangerous.  I have seen houses, where water had infested the panel box, demonstrate 40 volts on one side and 165 volts on the other as the aluminum neutral conductors in the box slowly turned to powder and did not provide proper connections.

This box showed a lot of moisture and rust on certain breakers.  Inside the box had lots of stains where previous water had actually dripped and run.  We never did find the source of this moisture, which maybe came from outdoors before they sealed the entry point years ago.  What we see here is not recent moisture.

The washing machine breaker is rusty, on the top.  And that receptacle was nearby, so I tested it.

The lights on the left indicate voltage, which jumped between <100 and 105, too low.  The resistance, the light on the right, was well above 15%, too high.

So obviously this circuit was affected. 

I found other branch circuits with even lower voltage around the house.  These are apparently similarly affected by this panel box rust.

All in all, an electrician is needed, and perhaps a new box!

I did mention to everyone that the breakers in the box had been altered, but the labeling was not so legible and I could not tell what.

When we went to the kitchen, before I tested the GFI, the Realtor, one Cindy Jones, said, "And the fridge should not be on the GFI!"  I think she said it jokingly.

WELL, IT WAS!  Good call!  And so was the dining room!  So, yes, that was confirmation that the box had been altered!

My recommendation:  when the signs point in a certain direction, follow them!  Sometimes they are full of information!

 

 

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 40 commentsJay Markanich • May 14 2011 06:05AM

Comments

Good morning, Jay. Wow, you go for the circuit analysis bit. Good for you. When mine broke some years ago, I never replaced it. Really debated as to whether it opened the door for scrutiny as surpassing the "visual inspection of readily accessible" items. Just my 2¢ worth...

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

Michael - how can one visually inspect a GFI breaker or receptacle?  I actually have two of those devices.  When one breaks I send it in for repair and use the other one!  Clients always appreciate the extra mile!

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

Jay, Always love the extra info I learn from you and your inspector brethren.

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 www.LizTour.com) almost 8 years ago

Did a similar post not long ago. I found a panel with just about every connection rusted. The homeowners told they had fixed the leak years ago. Yet no one fixed the panel.

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

Jay,

Good post. That is always an area to be more concerned. As you stated that panel has a much higher probability of resistance that can lead to overheating and other issues.

Just curious, when you do this type of analysis what do the electricians say to you? I have had many conversations about this type of testing with electricians.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Wow Jay, this is information that all homeowners should be aware of, but I feel many are not.  Thank You for sharing this...

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) almost 8 years ago

You ignore rust at your peril, same as rot. Rust is corrosion. Simple right?

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) almost 8 years ago

There are just so many things that can go wrong in a home.  Best to always have a true professional w/ lots of experience to check everything.

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

HI Jay,

We so very much appreciate your posts and very clear information, it is so common to see little signs of trouble that get ignored for long periods of time and cause major problems down the road. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Peter Pfann @ eXp Realty Pfanntastic Properties in Victoria, Since 1986., Talk To or Text Peter 250-213-9490 (eXp Realty, Victoria BC www.pfanntastic.com) almost 8 years ago

Jay - You are one of the best! Thanks for improving our education on what to watch out for!!!

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

Jay-I thought the GFI statement was a joke until you tripped the switch.  I think by that point I'd figured out the electrical updates in the house were questionable.

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

Jay ~  Just more terrific information for me to try to assimilate -- or . . . just call Jay Markanich!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

Bliz - I think we have a diligent bunch of inspector posters on this site and I am glad so many take advantage of what we have to say.  We are very eclectic.

I remember Jim.  They did nothing about it?  That's gonna fry some stuff.

Don - I have only had one electrician call me and it was after I discovered that the kitchen light switch turned the fridge on and off!  It was new construction!  He was surprised I found it and to tell the truth it was serendipity!

You are welcome Chris, as always.  This is old hat stuff to us inspectors, but when we post what we think are simple and common sense things it gets a great response!

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

Right on Robert.  Rust is a big deal, everywhere it develops.

Thank you Debbie.  We check, we check!

Thanks Pfanns!  You never phorget to read my posts!

There are a million things to look out for Barbara-Jo.  We try to inform!  I think the group of home inspectors on AR do a great job.

 

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

That was pretty funny Cindy!  When the fridge stopped humming I knew what was up, but the buyers didn't!  When the GFI turned off the dining room (or "dinning" room in the panel box) I knew things had been badly tampered with!

Keep assimilating Tish!  It will take a while, so get started immediately.

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

Once again good call Jay. Having the right tools to do the job help but even without you can spot rust. Never a good sign for a breaker box. Always enjoy your posts. Thanks.

Posted by Randy Ostrander, Real Estate Broker, Serving Big Rapids and West Central MI (Lake and Lodge Realty LLC ) almost 8 years ago

Randy - I thought it would be instructive for my clients to trace that rusty breaker's end point to demonstrate what rust does.  It worked!

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

And we can always depend on you,Jay, to follow the trail!  Don't you want to move to Ocean City, Maryland?

Posted by Kathy Opatka, Serving Ocean City, MD, & The Delaware Beaches (RE/MAX CROSSROADS) almost 8 years ago

Kathy - thanks and you can!  I confess, I have not been in Ocean City since I was a Boy Scout, circa 1967 or so.  Not that I wouldn't want to enjoy the beach!

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

I would wonder HOW it got that way. Leaking pipe above the box? Water and electricity not a good mix...

Posted by The Derrick Team - Indy Metro Realtors, Your Pet Friendly Realtors (Carpenter Realtors) almost 8 years ago

I saw stains, Derricks, but could not determine the source.  I expect there used to be a hole where the service line comes in, and has since been sealed.  But the rust is still there!

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

As a follow on to your discussion on resistance I would add that the fact there is a voltage drop across the resistance indicated power dissipation better known as heat. Enough heat equals fire which can be much more costly that a burned out motor or dim lights.

A secondary issue may be interference with the mechanical operation of the breaker itself. Rusted or corroded components do not always work the way they should. If the breaker can't operate because it's stuck in the on position the next protective device is the main breaker, possible 200 Amp, which will quite happily melt 14 AWG cables when afforded the opportunity.

Thanks for the discussion. Good points for all.

Posted by Marshall Brown, BSEE, CHI (Mid America Inspection Services, LLC) almost 8 years ago

¡Sí Señor Marshall!  Resistance is like friction and creates heat.  We had a long discussion about that during the inspection, and with the report I showed them what fried insulation can do!  And your second point is well taken also!  It's all bad.

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

So important to have a thorough inspection.  Sounds like whatever caused the water to seep in could still be a an issue even with a new panel.  Hopefully the seller will be willing to pay for a new panel, they aren't that cheap.

Posted by Patricia Beck, Colorado Springs Realty (RE/MAX Properties, Inc., GRI, CDPE) almost 8 years ago

They aren't Patricia!  I could not determine what caused that previous leakage, so it must have been repaired.  The panel wasn't!

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

Jay ~ wonderful information to know and now understant thanks to your explanation!

Posted by Dawn A Fabiszak, The Dawn of a New Real Estate Experience! (Private Label Realty ( Denver metro area, Colorado) almost 8 years ago

Jay - I always enjoy your posts. I stopped selling real estate only a year or two after inspections became "the thing to do" around here. I wish any of the inspectors I met then had been as thorough as you!

Posted by Marte Cliff, Your real estate writer (Marte Cliff Copywriting) almost 8 years ago

Dawn - I am glad you found it instructive!  Keep stopping by!

Thank you Marte.  I think inspections are the thing to do around here, but they did not get popular in this area until the early 90s.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 8 years ago
This was great information Jay! Funny you would bring up that comment about the fridge not being on a GFI. The other day I heard this same thing because if the breaker is tripped while you are away, the owner could loose all the food inside.
Posted by DeeDee Riley, Realtor - El Dorado Hills & the Surrounding Areas (Lyon Real Estate - El Dorado Hills CA) almost 8 years ago

Yes, DeeDee, that's why I tell people not to put freezers in their garage!  It could turn off during a thunderstorm and you would never know!

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

Jay, if I were the buyer I would be scared to death of this house. Just knowing they allowed moisture into the electrical box and not replaced it after the moisture correction would make me think of what other systems are in jeopardy in this house?

Posted by Ray Waisler, NMLS #6621 - Specializing in Jumbo FHA & VA (Finance of America) almost 8 years ago

Ray - that is always atough call for buyers.  Hopefully a qualified electrician will look at it and determine what to do.

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

Jay - The presence of rust or moisture in the Electrical Box is something most would pick up on.  But knowing the ramifications takes a good inspector and if necessary an electrician to analyze what needs to be done.  Your work is important for sound decisions being made by those considering a purchase.

Posted by Robert Courtney, Century 21 All Islands, RA, CDPE, MCRE, CIAS almost 8 years ago

Robert - there were other problems around the house likely caused by this box, so a complete investigation by an electrician was warranted.  I hope it happens!

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

Wow I have never had a home  with rust in and on the box.  If it happens I now know to recommend an electrician.  Thanks for the info.

Posted by Jennifer Manchester, GRI, ePRO, ASP - Broker/Home Stager (Suburban Properties of Charlotte, LLC ) almost 8 years ago

I've learned two things about inspecting electricity.  Most of the time homeowners leave it alone.  That's the good part.  The bad part?  Often, when it does get worked on or modified, it's frequently incorrect.  Reviewing the Electrical System in itself is a good enough reason to have a home inspection.  Thanks for the valuable info.

Posted by William (Bill) Zoller (U.S. Inspect, LLC) almost 8 years ago

Oh, and the GFI thing with refrigerators and freezers?  As a former insurance adjuster, it was a frequent visit to an insured's property to hear about the expensive elk and buffalo meat that lost due to GFCI tripping at the garage or basement.  I find it frequently as a home inspector, including sprinkler timers and garage door openers too!

Posted by William (Bill) Zoller (U.S. Inspect, LLC) almost 8 years ago

I'm glad you learned something Jennifer!

Bill - ha!  I often have to warn people about the fridge or freezer plugged into the garage GFI!  The garage door opener should be unto itself in the ceiling.  They plug it into the GFI when a homeowner puts the opener in himself and uses and extension cord!

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

This is a great post.  I love good home inspection post.  they make great reblogs for my clients.  Thanks again.

Posted by Gene Riemenschneider, Turning Houses into Homes (Home Point Real Estate) almost 8 years ago

And thank you Gene.  There is a lot to see out there!

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

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