What I'm Seeing Now

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When GFI Receptacles Do More Than They Are Supposed To Do

I often find other electrical problems when GFI receptacles do more than they are supposed to do.

Why would that be?

Because an improperly-wired GFI receptacle indicates unprofessional work.

And in houses that have been substantially remodeled, there is usually unprofessional work. 

UNPROFESSIONAL WORK IN ONE PLACE WILL IS THE TIP OFF TO UNPROFESSIONAL WORK ELSEWHERE.  AND IF WIRING, OR PLUMBING, OR SOMETHING ELSE THAT I CAN SEE IS A PROBLEM, I ESPECIALLY WORRY ABOUT WHAT I CAN'T SEE.

Like Uncle Martin on the TV show "My Favorite Martian" (my favorite TV show in fourth grade), I have antenna that go up when something impresses me on a home inspection.

My antenna have been known to poke builders in the eyes.  And sellers, and Realtors, and others...

A GFI receptacle - AKA GFCI - is a "Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter."   The GFI receptacle, or circuit breaker, is a safety device.  It is intended to prevent people from electrical shock.

In a GFI receptacle the neutral slot is the larger one on the left.  The hot is the smaller right slot.  When things are properly wired, electricity flows from hot to neutral.

The GFI device is constantly monitoring that flow.  If there is any imbalance or interruption, even as small as 4 or 5 milliamps, the device will shut off the receptacle, and anything else wired to it.  And if working right it can shut things off in as little as 1/30th of a second.

On a home inspection I test every one.  I tripped this one.  You can see that the little green light is off.  It is located beside the lower ground hole on the lower outlet.

When I did the fridge turned off!

The fridge is not supposed to turn off when the GFI is tripped.

Similarly, when the other GFI in the kitchen was tripped, the dishwasher turned off!

And, not surprisingly, when the GFI in the newly-remodeled bathroom was tripped, the lights and fan turned off!

While consistency is important, in this case it indicates a consistent lack of understanding of electrical wiring.

AND THEREFORE THE JOB WAS NOT DONE BY AN ELECTRICAL PROFESSIONAL.  THEREFORE THERE WAS NO PERMIT FOR THE WORK.

In this case the fridge, dishwasher and bathroom lights and fan should not be controlled by a GFI receptacle, or that circuit.  These other appliances or fixtures should be dedicated or independent.

My recommendation:  home inspectors have antenna!  Really.  It's true.  They will look, and sniff, and test and evaluate, especially when a home is touted to be "newly remodeled!"  And any opinion or finding by your home inspector will be objective.

 

 

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 25 commentsJay Markanich • September 21 2014 02:42AM

Comments

Wow.  Great catch.  Electricity is no joke and should not be done by a handyman or hobbiest. Just lectured my own son on that matter.

Posted by Chris Griffith, Bonita Springs Listing Agent (Downing-Frye Realty, Bonita Springs, FL) about 4 years ago

Once my mother lectured me Chris.  She said not to stick anything in that hole on the wall.  I had to test her lesson.  I only tested it once...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

Good morning, Jay.... it's unbelievable how homeowners could even think of not hiring a licensed electrician to do all of the electrical work including pulling a permit and having it signed off, to make sure the electrician's work was done properly.

Posted by Barbara Todaro, "Franklin MA Homes" (RE/MAX Executive Realty ) about 4 years ago

And I felt bad Barbara because this seller met me at the door and was clearly proud  to show me all the stuff he had done on his house.

Still, wrong is wrong.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

Jay: There is no substitute to hiring a professional to do the job correctly...it will save money down the line.

Posted by Anita Clark, Realtor - Homes for Sale in Warner Robins GA (ColdwellBanker SSK Realtors ~ 478.960.8055) about 4 years ago

I don't mess with anything electrical and leave it to those who know it best. 

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) about 4 years ago

 Good morning Jay. I have seen all sorts of goofy stuff when it comes to electrical wiring. And you are right, home inspectors do have antennas that go up when goofy things happen.

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) about 4 years ago

Anita - it's those cheap amateurs who are the most expensive.

James - woulda, coulda, and shoulda - but apparently on another world.

Michael - mine can get quite long, hence the poking.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

HA!  I'd have a fine time writing the repair addendum for that home inspection report.  It would, of coure, begin with a request for the closed permits for the work done.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) about 4 years ago

The GFCI receptacle has been long misunderstood Jay, it just wants to help. It must have been misdirected in its youth. 

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage www.tromlerconstruction.com Mobile - 916-765-5366) about 4 years ago

This is a single lady, late 60s, wanting to purchase a house she doesn't have to worry about Lenn.  For the work I found for sure there were no permits.  And how would they be obtained and closed at this point?  The basement bathroom, for example, wasn't there until recently, and opens to the garage.  The ceiling in the room is 6'4".  They had to cut the door off to accommodate the ceiling height.  That left a 1" gap at the top of the door!  Right into the garage...

I bet it has issues with its mother Tom. 

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

Jay~ That was a cute show! I can just imagine your antenna going up as you walked through the house you described. One bad GFI is trouble enough, but 3! Yeesh!

Posted by Donna Foerster, Metro Denver Real Estate Agent (HomeSmart Realty Group) about 4 years ago

Donna - as I remember, Uncle Martin's antenna helped him read minds.  Glad I can't do that!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

Good morning Jay,

This is how an amateur gets curly hair!

Make yourself a great day.

Posted by Raymond E. Camp, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson Greater Rochester (Howard Hanna Real Estate Services) about 4 years ago

Raymond - it doesn't take the generational genetics thing when done electrically.  Much quicker.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

Jay,

 

You are right there should be dedicated circuits to the specific areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry room etc... That being said a refer can be on the kitchen circuit and many times they are just they are upstream of he GFCI's.

Now depending on what code rule you are under it may need to be GFCI protected (within 6 feet of sink).

 

The dishwasher should not be on that circuit but again if you are under the 2014 NEC it should be GFCI protected.

Ah rules are so much fun ;)

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

Don - this was supposedly all done in the last couple of years, although not this year.  Nonetheless, any fridge on any GFI is dumbass.  It could trip because of a lightning strike nearby while the people are away on a 2 week vacation and drain water all over the house from melting ice and such!  And around here all that venison gets trashed!  That would be blasfeeeemus!

I notice builders are putting the fridge well away from the sink in new construction.  Smart.  A lot of new homes here come with a fridge and freezer side by side.  Away from the sink for both is smarter.

The nannies won't be satisfied until we're all dead.  And the roaches take over.

In either case, neither kitchen circuit GFI should turn off the fridge or dishwasher.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

Sellers do not realize the "domino effect" that can go on when one thing is done by the not so handy person and not a licensed professional.

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) about 4 years ago

One thing often leads to another S&D.  And not very often for the better!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

Lightning is messy business.  A direct lightning strike on your electrical system mast is going to mean you simply replace everything that is damaged---including your GFCI's.  A lightnigh strike even nearby can damage sensitive sensative electronics and why homes need surge protection in the service panel and at point of use of electronics.  It is smart to always test your gfci devices after a lightning storm.  Keep in mind that a lightnight strike to the ground near your house will be "collected" by your house grounding system and energize all of your connected ground wires throughout your home for a split second.  They can make lunch of your GFCI and AFCI devices.  Surge protection devices in homes is becomming more and more critical.  If you live in a lightning prone area, ligthing arrest sytems for the home is probably a good idea.  You could argue that the GFCI device for the frige gives it a level of "surge protection" it might not otherwise have

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 4 years ago

Lightning around here does in AFCIs, Charlie.   I tell my clients that all the time.  I've seen it trip GFIs too, but that would follow necessarily.  If your big freezer in the garage is full of venison, after the big season, and it turns off one day and nobody knows, well, bummer!

And I am seeing more and more surge protectors inside panels boxes.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

Richy Johnson in Ada, Ok is one of my favorite professionals.  He is a Home Check home inspector and often comes to Idabel to inspect homes for my clients.  He has very good antenna too!

Posted by 1 ~Judi & Don Barrett & Chassy Eastep - Integrity, BS Ed, Integrity Real Estate Services -IDABEL OK (Integrity Real Estate Services 118 SE AVE N, Idabel, OK 74745) about 4 years ago

Good to hear Judi.  Mine have not only gotten more sensitive over the years, but I have sharpened them too!

That's a long drive!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

Anyone that has a freezer that does not have an alarm to let them know the power is off probably deserves to have to stuff themselves and all their friends on thawed venison :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 4 years ago

I was in a garage once with an odd odor I could not place.  There was a chest freezer in the closet with stuff all around it.  Opening it we discovered the source of the odor...  it has been off for a long while!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 4 years ago

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