What I'm Seeing Now

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Can You Stress Your Electrical Service?

When I inform my clients that they might want to bump up the service to more amperage and a differently-distributed box, I often get the question, "Can you stress your electrical service?"

Why?  Often on home inspections I find that the service is underpowered for the load the house will demand, particularly if a family of four or five people will be moving in.  And remember, our electrical use increases an average of 7% per year, so, employing the 72 rule, that means our use doubles more or less every 10 years.

Yes, yes you can!

The house in question has more people in it than it should and fewer receptacles than it should.  The service of 150amps is minimal for modern use since everything in the house is electric (except for an oil-burning boiler which probably does not work), and there is a lot going on in there!

The panel box in the house has no cover.  It was probably upgraded to this box in the early 80s.  Some unprofessional people have been in it to make changes.  Notice the photo on the right.  There is corrosion of the service line (that powdery substance in the hole) and more than one double-tap on the neutral bar on the right.  A double tap is when two, or more!(!), white cables are secured by one screw, called a lug.

Since it is not labeled I don't know what corresponds to what.

Almost directly below the box is a sump pump which does not work.  Every time it rains water must percolate up out of it because the floor nearby is underwater, as is all the STUFF nearby.

It is plugged into the only receptacle in the basement!  As are two power strips, and other things in the basement.

This basement houses, unbelievably, a family with two adults and 2-4 children.

If someone was to touch that aluminum strip under the circuit breakers it would kill them.  That outlet is not grounded, as it has only two prongs to plug into.  Notice that the black sump pump cable is utilizing and adapter to plug into it because the sump pump demands a grounded, three-prong receptacle.  Those power strips service everything electrical in the "apartment."  This one receptacle is very overloaded.

Throughout the house, NONE, not one, of the three-prong receptacles was grounded.  I could find very few receptacles on the walls because of all the STUFF.  The ones that were able to be accessed all looked like the overloaded photo above.  This can be very dangerous.

Plugged into these few receptacles were four large-screen TVs and four window air conditioners.  They draw a lot of power.  There were other things too, like lamps and things, and the normal STUFF people plug in.

Is there stress?  And how could we tell?  With thermal imaging!

For all I know, those two breakers on the right which are white in color  are the two that service all the receptacles.  There may be more as there is a little warmth else where.  But without labels you can't tell what is what.

Warm temperatures would be orange and yellow.  White would be the hottest temperature evident in the thermal image.  In this case the hottest spot is 149F.

THAT IS VERY HOT!  THAT IS VERY STRESSED!

My recommendation:  too much is too much!  The entire panel box can be stressed electrically, as can individual circuits.  It's very important that the proper number of people are using a proper number of receptacles to get the proper distribution of service throughout the house.  If too many people are using too few receptacles, thereby overloading them and the entire circuit, a dangerous situation can result.  Also, it is critically important to properly label the panel box circuits so you know what use is where!

How many receptacles are typically serviced by one 15amp breaker?  The rule of thumb employed by most electricians is 12, but I have seen more.  Often the number is less!

 

 

 

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 30 commentsJay Markanich • October 01 2011 08:14AM

Comments

Another great blog. Good job. Keep up the good. Work. Good luck this year.
Posted by JOSH EVANS *JoshEvansHomes 516-655-5000 (Village Properties of Mineola, LLC) almost 9 years ago

  Upgrade Upgrade.....add that power...double taps are commonly found in inspections here...

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Real Estate Agents - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) almost 9 years ago

Thanks Josh.  When lessons found in home inspections can be published to inform, we inspectors really try to do that! 

S&D - they really should not be, it is counter NEC codes, and can be dangerous because the indicate unprofessional work.  If unprofessional work is found in the panel box, it is likely to be elsewhere in the house!

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

Jay, I will let you in on a secret about myself... I just have to look in the direction of any electrical panel type thingy and I get stressed. Nevermind finding all that out... YIKES!

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) almost 9 years ago

I will be doing a thermal imaging scan this week of an entire buildings (6 floors) service. Hot can mean trouble is brewing.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Andrea - it's best to employ the lick test to see if things have juice.  And I hear the rusty stuff tastes like chicken.

Jim - I honestly wish I had time to come up and follow you around on that.  What an education that would be!  I might have to see how my week shakes out!  What day are you going?

Yes, I expect trouble is brewing in this house!

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

OMG what a disaster.  I'm showing this all to my niece who is with me (we are in DC) and she is saying gross to all these blogs.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) almost 9 years ago

Is that the cutie we have heard about before Debbie?  While you're here, you want to stop by that house?

I wish I had time today to meet you all somewhere, but I don't think I do.

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

Wed at 8AM in Hartford CT. Should be there all day.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Send me the address off line and I will Google a map to see how long it will take to drive it.  I will have to do it all in 24 hours.  Possible?

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

Jay, ok, you are trying to kill me, aren't you... I didn't just fall off the cabbage truck ya know.

The good news is if I saw something like that I would have left the building... just like Elvis...

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) almost 9 years ago

Andrea - no, not really!  I heard it was a turnip truck but whatever...

And who's to say who is living in that basement?  You know what happens when we assume!  Seen Elvis lately?

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

Great use for thermal imaging Jay. I am amazed more houses don’t have fires or panel failures.

Posted by David Gibson CNE, 719-304-4684 ~ Colorado Springs Relocation, Relocation, Luxury & Lifestyle residential (Colorado Real Estate Advisers LLC ) almost 9 years ago

David - I would guess this box has been stressed like this all summer long!  But don't know.

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

Jay-After following your last few posts, I think you should raise your life insurance policy. Quick!

Posted by Michael S. Bolton, MN Appraiser (Michael S. Bolton,Inc.) almost 9 years ago

Michael - ha!  I think I am worth more dead than alive.  Well, let's just say my wife is worth more if I'm dead than if I'm alive!

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

OMG another scary post!  How can someone not realize what a danger that is??

Posted by Debbie Walsh, Hudson Valley NY Real Estate 845.283-3036 (Shahar Management) almost 9 years ago

Good morning Jay. Love the thermal imaging for electric. The time to fix electric problems is BEFORE there is a problem.

Posted by Randy Ostrander, Real Estate Broker, Serving Big Rapids and West Central MI (Lake and Lodge Realty LLC ) almost 9 years ago

Apparently not Debbie!  Electrical, overloaded, near water - not THAT'S a combo!

Randy - a thermal camera is a good predictor of failure of electrical and mechanicals.  Heat is the precursor!

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

Good morning Jay,

Another great blog...love the thermal imaging - can't make the problem more apparent than that.  Thanks for sharing, and have a great weekend!

Posted by Lisa Von Domek, ....Experience Isn't Expensive.... It's Priceless! (Lisa Von Domek Team) almost 9 years ago

Thermal imaging is very definitive Lisa.  It describes exactly what and where problems are.

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

Jay -- we moved into a house that had 12 breaker spaces - 6 used for range, dryer and furnace.  That left 6 for the rest of the house and there were 10 circuits going off of them (one was tripled).  Talk about a mess.  That thermal image is great - it shows where the real danger is going to be.

Any further news on possible demolition?

Posted by Steven Cook (No Longer Processing Mortgages.) almost 9 years ago

Steven - no news yet.  Unfortunately.  I hope this happens for her.  Your box may have been stressed, but it's hard to know.

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

Jay - Some houses in my area are still on 60 amp service.  An evaluation of the occupants contents and lifestyle sometimes needs to be done in order to determine whether an upgrade is necessary.  Some people use minimal modern electronic items.

Posted by FN LN almost 9 years ago

Jay, there is so much wire here I cannot tell if I am looking at double taps, triple taps or whatever, but it just looks wrong!

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) almost 9 years ago

Every now and then I run into that too Marc.  And with fuse boxes too.  It is amazing.  That isn't unsafe, but very underpowered and can be overloaded easily.  And maybe we use minimal electronics, but we are using more and more of them!

Chris - looking closely you can see two white cables tight together.  It is easier to see in person, for sure.

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

Jay had the best comment I've seen it looks like you're making a lot of friends out there in inspection kingdom

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty) almost 9 years ago

Thank you James.  What do you mean?  And yes, always trying to make friends!

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

Wow, that white part looks very dangerous!  I have felt a very hot brass switchplate before and it burned my finger.

Posted by Justin Dibbs, REALTOR® - Ashburn Virginia Homes for Sale (Pearson Smith Realty) almost 9 years ago

Um, that's not good either Justin!  And this whole house was a fire begging to happen.

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

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