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A Builder Anticipating Future Electrical Usage - As A Best Practice

It is always good when I see a builder anticipating future electrical usage - as a best practice.

One thing home inspectors run into is under-powered electrical supply in a house.  Older wiring often isn't sufficient for modern electrical needs.  Codes have changed to reflect this, but what is in an older house is in an older house.

I do a lot of new construction inspections.  Recently I did an inspection on a fairly large home that had one gas furnace, a gas cook top, and a gas fireplace.  The rest was electric - water heater, dryer, double wall oven, lower-level AC and a heat pump for the upper level.  Given the size of the house, and modern electrical usage, I thought it was minimally serviced with only one 200amp electrical panel box. 

That is kind of hard to say to a younger couple who is buying an expensive, and large, house.  And I don't wish to put doubtful thoughts in peoples' heads, because 200amps is fine, for now.  But I am always thinking ahead on a home inspection and I wonder how this service will stack up in a few years as their family grows, and they finish and use the basement.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration anticipates that electrical usage in the U.S. will increase 3.5% PER YEAR just for television sets and computers!  And that American's electrical usage generally will increase about 13% per decade.

But wait!  Aren't we making things more "efficient" and thereby curbing our electrical usage? 

Yes, but what else is happening?  We acquire stuff!  And then we acquire MORE STUFF!  If I remember correctly, 20 years ago nobody anticipated that today households would have TVs in every room, computers and printers all over the house, electrical chargers, video games and other entertainment devices out the wazoo, offices, space heaters, two freezers, basement apartments, etc!

WHAT WILL HOUSES HAVE IN THEM TWENTY YEARS FROM TODAY?  AND HOW MUCH OF EVERYTHING WILL LIFE STYLES DESIRE?

Agreed, I don't know either.

So, when I see this, I am encouraged.

Regionally, this is not a large house.

It is a very nice house, but not that large.

But look!  The builder has two 200amp boxes in the garage.

That is thinking ahead!  When the house is completed, each box will be about 2/3 filled with breakers.  That will leave plenty of room for the future and neither box will ever be overloaded.

I consider that

 

Best Practice

 

This is a builder thinking ahead.

My recommendation:  it's good to think ahead!  It's good to see best practices employed when they are not "required" by a jurisdiction.  Code requirements are minimal standards, and not terribly impressive.  They represent a floor from which the standard begins.  There is nothing that says codes cannot be exceeded, or superseded, by best practices!

 

 

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 28 commentsJay Markanich • August 22 2012 01:28AM

Comments

Jay, Nice to see some foresight on the builder's part.  I'm betting the builders 20 years ago didn't anticipate the rise in bedrooms converted to home offices and the increased demand for a circuit.  Our office has quite a few items pulling power.

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 www.LizTour.com) almost 6 years ago

It is Bliz.  And as to the electrical draw in home offices, it can really add up.  What about 20 years from now?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 6 years ago

Good morning Jay. Thinking ahead is always a good thing. I remember thinking I would never use up a 54 meg hard drive. A second box will assure years of not worrying about finding an empty slot.

Posted by Randy Ostrander, Real Estate Broker, Serving Big Rapids and West Central MI (Lake and Lodge Realty LLC ) almost 6 years ago

Jay, that is a best practice. It is very true, we are using more and more and more electricity.

Me? I want a windmill....

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) almost 6 years ago

Gone are the days of 60 amp service and fuses....more can be better !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) almost 6 years ago

Jay,

At this stage of the building, the cost to add the electrical capacity is insignificant. I can't imagine what it would cost to retrofit that 20 years down the line if required.

Rich

Posted by Richard Iarossi, Crofton MD Real Estate, Annapolis MD Real Estate (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) almost 6 years ago

That's a great idea, Jay.

Oh, and don't forget to add radiant heat to your list of growing needs.  This is growing a rapid rate (although sometimes electric and sometimes water).

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) almost 6 years ago

Morning Jay don't you just love it when you find a builder or for that matter anyone who just does the right thing? Enjoy the day and that looks like one nice home I know they will enjoy it.

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) almost 6 years ago

If that is an example of that builder's finished product, I have a feeling that you had a very positive experience with that inspection!

Posted by Kathryn Maguire, Serving Chesapeake, Norfolk, VA Beach (GreatNorfolkHomes.com (757) 560-0881) almost 6 years ago

most builders I've talked to out in Puget Sound area of WA not only consider electrical usage but the kind of wiring being used for electronics such as televisions.

Posted by Reba Haas, Team Reba, CDPE (Team Reba of RE/MAX Metro Eastside www.TeamReba.com) almost 6 years ago

Jay, it is actually pretty unusual for a house to need more than 200 amps---even pretty big houses.  It is more about having enough spaces for all the circuits requried in modern houses.  For example a 200 amp panel could easily have sub-panels added to it to accomodate future needs.  It is impressive showing off all those big panels though :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 6 years ago

Jay, 

It's the little things that make a huge difference.  We bought a lovely home 17 years ago - big enough for our growing family.  Never did I dream at that poin of five laptops, five tv's, etc.  

Now working in real estate it just sets the tone when you look at the details of who I think are just the better builders when I see the work they do plan for and those that cut corners doing the bare minimum.

All the best, Michelle

Posted by Michelle Francis, Realtor, Buckhead Atlanta Homes for Sale & Lease (Tim Francis Realty LLC) almost 6 years ago

Jay, the builder could have at least put in a 225 amp service as a minimum.

Posted by Mike Frazier, Northwest Tennessee Realtor (Carousel Realty of Dyer County) almost 6 years ago

Randy - every time I hear we will never need this or that I just wait a minute...

Andrea - you can't live near one of those - the noise drives people nuts.  Also, the biggest problem with windmills is the lubricant.  It can't stand hot or cold temperatures and the mechanisms break down quickly.  Improving lubricants for windmills was one of the earliest initiatives of this current regime (I think Lucent got the job) but they have had no success.  Windmills are extremely expensive to maintain, and extremely inefficient.

S&D - which is why I call it a best practice.  This is Markanich Doctrine of course.

Richard - exactly.  My clients yesterday were wondering why, with such a large house, there was only a 200amp service.  The supervisor's answer was that "all the houses in the neighborhood have 200amps."  Ummm, is that relevant?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 6 years ago

Debbie - true, and there are future needs we have not even thought about!

James - I don't know if it's the "right" thing, but it sure is a good one!

Kathryn - it was a nice house.  There were a few things though!

Reba - that is showing thought and forethought!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 6 years ago

Shadow - those weren't big panels, just two 200amps side by side.  I see these all the time now!  I had a house last month with 1200amps!  Size matters?

As you know, my calling it a Best Practice is Markanich Doctrine with no basis in code.  Just my thinking ahead.

Michelle - we are electric animals in this country!  What will we need in 10 or 15 years?  Nobody knows...  Well, the Shadow knows (above) but he isn't telling!  I wish he would.  I was his first internet date, so he should tell me.  (Long story)

Mike - that's possible too.  But this builder just throws up those two boxes and is done with it.

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 6 years ago

I agree with Charles.  Even though most of my calculations are under 200 amps I specify a 400 amp panel anyway.  On larger homes it is better to use a 400 amp main and a smaller sub panel on the other end of the house.  One feeder to the sub panel is better than many long home runs.

Posted by Loren Green, Phoenix Home Inspector & Designer (Greens Home Design L.L.C.) almost 6 years ago

I am seeing the 400 on one side and the sub on the other side a lot Loren.  The future cometh.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 6 years ago

Stuff stuff stuff! Our houses are filled with tvs and steroes and computers.

Posted by Erica Ramus, MRE, Schuylkill County PA Real Estate (Erica Ramus - Ramus Realty Group - Pottsville, PA ) almost 6 years ago

Jay -- but did they set up separate circuits for the Master bedroom, master bath and all their plugs?

Posted by Steven Cook (No Longer Processing Mortgages.) almost 6 years ago

This is a very good point that the vast majority of people would not even consider! I know my house was built in 1900 and there is no extra space in box at all. 

Posted by Rosalie Evans, The Evans Group, Sioux Falls, SD Homes For Sale (Meritus Group Real Estate) almost 6 years ago

That is who we are Erica!  We do acquire!

Steven - they will eventually when they set the boxes up.  Each bedroom will have an AFCI circuit, so they will all be separate in the box.  The bathrooms will be wired separately, but will all be connected to one GFI.

Rosalie - in older houses it is not only important to increase the service, but also probably replace a lot of the older wiring.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 6 years ago

It would seem to me the anticipated growth in electrical usage would go along with normal growth in building and simply more people demanding the same resources. I really have a hard time seeing the need for 400 amps in the future. I think it's just a matter of needing the space for the circuitry, not the actual electrical demand. But I do agree, it doesn't hurt to have a second panel for the future.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 6 years ago

Jay, That will probably be a tough practice to put into effect. Builders, in many cases, are looking to hold down expenses. Appliance makers are now looking to hold down electrical demands made by their products so maybe the number of things using electricity will be up but the amount of juice drawn will be down.

Posted by Wayne Johnson, San Antonio REALTOR, San Antonio Homes For Sale (Coldwell Banker D'Ann Harper REALTORS®) almost 6 years ago

Jay, I know what you mean. I recently had to upgrade when I had to add a dedicated circuit for a built-in microwave.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA almost 6 years ago

And then someone wants to finish the basement with an apartment (with efficiency kitchen) for mommom and daddad, and "needs" a steam bath for the master shower, an indoor sauna and outdoor pool with a built-in hot tub Jim!  Oh, and a work shop for the big new shed in the back yard.  I don't have a hard time seeing that as I see it all the time now!  The house with the bomb shelter I posted about has 1200amps!

Wayne - the new flat-screen TVs take twice as much energy as the old fat ones!  They are on 24/7.  Our demand increases because we acquire more and more stuff!

Mike - I would say that in 75% of new construction in this area two 200amp boxes are installed.

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) almost 6 years ago

Thank you for sharing your blog; we need Real estate Professionals to share their comments and information regarding their markets and experiences. Thanks again from beautiful Sunny San Diego.

Posted by Paul Gapski, 619-504-8999,#1 Resource SD Relo (Berkshire Hathaway / Prudential Ca Realty) over 5 years ago

You found another oldie but goodie Paul!  Builders who think ahead are the more impressive ones.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

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