Most Common Electrical Defects Found During a Home Inspection

Submitted by Ray Thornburg on Fri, 12/06/2019 - 10:14

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  Most Common Electrical Defects Found During Home Inspections

It might be helpful to know what the most common electrical deficiencies we find during a home inspection is so as to prepare your home (for selling) or just for safety. Here is my list with the most common issues at the top of the list.

Missing Switch, Outlet Covers

Switch Covers missing Outlet and switchplate covers are required. Missing outlet and switch covers are very common and so easy to fix. Seems a few are lost every time a home is painted.Protect those outlets when painting because painted outlets and switches are not allowed either. This is because paint has metal in it which could cause a short or interfere with the operation of the switch.




Open Junction Boxes

open junction box

   Open junction boxes are often found in attics and crawlspaces. Open junction boxes are not allowed because that is where the sparks or arcing is likely to occur (where the connections are made). The other issue with an open junction box is it is likely an indication of amateur workmanship and so often other issues often go along with this.  Often the wires inside the box are not wire nutted or the cables are not fastened within 12" of the box (so the cables could be pulled loose). Likely the box was added to add a light or ceiling fan. Sometimes adding an extra load on a circuit can be a safety hazard because the circuit may not be designed for the extra load. This would signal an evaluation by a qualified electrician.



No Junction Box

no junction box   Needless to say not having a junction box at all is not allowed either. Not only that but fixtures must be mounted to a box (where the elecrical connection is made) unless the fixture has a place where the connection is made (like a bathroom fan). If you look closely at the photo you'll see two small wires poking through the sheetrock indicating an improperly connected fixture below.


No Junction Box II

improper electrical connection   A connection outside of a box like this (is not allowed).  The pictured connection is just taped together (no wire nuts). Though it might be easy enough to put this connection in a box;  it's best to get an electrician to figure out what is really going on to make sure the circuit is safe. Other similar issues to this would be live wires just hanging there (must be terminated in a box) or improper support of cables under the home. Conductors under the home cannot just hang or lay on the ground. They are required to be properly supported ever four and a half feet. Abandoned conductors should be removed too to advoid confusion.


     It is important to note that the issues found in a home inspection report are not meant to be educational (as to how to fix an issue) but rather the reason the inspector is calling it out for further evaluation by a professional.


Bathroom and Attic Fan Connections

fan connections    Bathroom fans  and attic fans are often spliced outside of the junction space provided and often do not have a strain relief clamp. The conductors are often not properly attached to framing within 12" of the box. The bath fan at left has several things going on so an electrician should look at it.


Open Ground Outlets


Open Ground Outlet Pictured    Often people will fail to hook up the ground wire on an outlet so this is a deficiency. If the home is old and built before the adaptatin of the 1962 NEC then it may not have a ground wire. In this case the pictured outlet would still be a deficiency because there are special procedures for that situation.



Reverse Polarity Outlets


Picture of an electrical outlet with reverse polarity.     Reverse polarity is when the hot and neutral wires are on the wrong terminals somewhere in the circuit. It is a dangerous condition and should be investigated because several things can cause a reading like that on a tester. Other common deficiencies in an outlet are loose connections and loosely mounted outlets. Outlet should not wiggle when you're trying to plug someting in. Painted outlets are common in older homes. Remember do not paint outlets and switches.


GFCI Outlets


Picture of Ground Fault Outlet

     GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. It's used in wet locations like bathrooms, outside and kitchens. Most of the time there's a little but on it to reset it if it trips. Deficiencies in GFCI outlets are common. They can wear out on their own or sometimes they are not wired correctly. Often they are not installed where needed or if it's an outside outlet it could be missing the waterproof cover. I discuss GFCI (GFI for short) in more detail at my GFI page.



Ground Rods


picture of grounding conductor disconnected from ground rod.      A good tight connection is required at the ground rod to grounding conductor. This is a common deficiency and is checked by most home inspectors if it is observable. There is more information on this at our Grounding and Bonding Page.



Exterior Wiring



Picture of unprotected wiring outside.    Often people will run wiring out to a shed or a garage for instance in an unsafe manner. In the picture at left the conductor is the wrong type for direct burial, is not protected where it emerges from the ground and is not sunlight resistant. Often indoor wiring type is used outside strung through the air or along the eves. Using the wrong wiring type outside means that it will eventually fail. I won't go into all the rules concerning this but this is a common issue with almost any home that has an outbuilding it seems.


Double Tapped Breakers


Picture of double tapped circuit breaker.    Double tapping is when two or more wires are under a terminal which is designed for only one.  Most circuit breakers (except square D) only allow one conductor. So double tapping is not allowed tyically. On circuit breakers it is usually a sign of amateur work so it should be evaluated by a qualified electrician. The extra conductor could be to another cucuit which may overload the system design parameters.


Double Tapped Neutrals and Grounds


Picture shows double tapped neutrals and grounds.    Common in homes built before the adaptation of the 2002 NEC.  Double tapped neutrals or neutrals and grounds is a common deficiency.  The main reason beside uneven pressure holding several wires in place is the UL listing requiring only one conductor per hole for neutrals. There is more information on this on our What is a double tap page.








Ungrounded Fixtures


Picture of ungrounded fixture.    This fixture appears to be ungrounded. Grounding of fixtures has been required since the adaptation of the 1975 NEC. Grounding the fixture means that the metal part of the fixture is connected (typically by a green wire) to the grounding conductor of the electrical cable serving it. This protects against electrical shock should a malfunction occur.



Well....these are the most common deficiencies that I see. Believe it or not I've inspected homes where every one of these deficiences existed (and more).


Call Blue Palmetto Home Inspection 843-608-5851

Submitted by Ray Thornburg on Fri, 12/06/2019 - 10:14