You’d be surprised by how many homes have electrical wires that aren’t up to code. Some of these wires are simply old or made of outdated material. Others are damaged, worn out, or even dangerous.
Of course, it’s difficult to tell whether wires are up to code just by looking at them. That’s where professional home inspections come in. Here’s what you should know about home electrical inspections and how to tell if you should schedule one:
How do home electrical inspections work?
A home electrical inspection is a thorough review of your home’s entire electrical system conducted by a professional. A proper electrical inspection follows a procedure stipulated in the National Electrical Code (NEC). The NEC is a set of electrical safety standards that the National Fire Protection Association constantly re-evaluates and updates with input from electrical professionals all over the country. When electricians determine whether something is “up to code,” the NEC is what they’re talking about.
The NEC establishes the minimum safety standard for all home electrical fixtures, systems, and devices. If something is “up to code,” that means it meets this minimum safety standard. During the inspection, electricians check the safety of all electrical devices in your home following a checklist. This will include your wires, outlets, circuits, fixtures, appliances, service panels, and more. At the end of the inspection, you will have a comprehensive understanding of your home’s electrical safety.
Why wouldn’t my wires pass an electrical inspection?
If any electrical feature doesn’t “pass” inspection, that means it fails to meet the minimum safety standards established by the NEC. Wires are among the most common electrical features to “fail” inspection because they’re hard for non-professionals to check on. Wires can fail inspection for any of the following reasons:
Wires may wear down over time, especially if you installed them a long time ago. Older wires are also more likely to be made of substandard material or installed with substandard methodologies like knob-and-tube wiring. The older your home, the more likely it is that your electrical wiring is old, too. If you can’t remember the last time you had your older home’s wires inspected, then it’s probably time.
Many homes built in the 60s and 70s have aluminum wiring. Aluminum is considered poor wiring for several reasons. It rusts, breaks, and overheats easier, and it doesn’t integrate well with newer installations. If you have aluminum wiring, your electrician will recommend replacing it. You can learn more about the hazards of aluminum wiring here.
If your wires were installed by non-professionals or they were installed many years ago, then there’s a good chance they were installed incorrectly. Professional inspectors can evaluate whether your original wiring works correctly and recommend how to fix it if it doesn’t.
Wires sustain damage for all kinds of reasons. If wires come unseated from their connection points or fray, they could spark and start fires. Inspectors can identify wire damage even in its early stages. We may even be able to fix it before it becomes a serious problem!
The electrical code doesn’t require grounding existing circuits, but it does require all new installations to include grounding. If you don’t have grounded circuits, your inspector can tell you and recommend the best way to stay safe.
How can I identify wiring problems before an inspection?
It can be tough to identify all the ways your home’s wiring could fail to meet code (that’s what inspections are for!), but there are a couple of things to watch for. If you want to know how up-to-date and safe your electrical system is, look for:
Outlet discoloration or damage
Often, your outlets will be the first indication that something’s wrong with the wires behind them. If your outlets look discolored, damaged, or if they smell like burning, it’s likely because of a wiring problem. When circuit wires fray or overheat, they often melt the nearest outlet. Obviously, if your outlets ever spark or catch fire, then something’s seriously wrong.
If you can find any exposed wiring, try to figure out what it’s made of. Manufacturers mark aluminum wiring with “Al” at various places around its casing. You should take this opportunity to check for any fraying or damage to the casing. If wires look rusted, frayed, chewed, or otherwise damaged, they probably won’t pass inspection.
Frequently tripped circuit breakers
Your circuit breakers trip to protect your wires and fixtures from excess voltage. The more frequently they trip, the more likely it is that there’s a problem in your home’s circuitry. If your wires can’t handle the voltage demanded of them, your circuits will break quite frequently. Damage or faulty connections will also trip circuit breakers.
If your electrical outlets have two prongs instead of three, then they aren’t grounded. Although the electrical code doesn’t strictly require grounding, we highly recommend it. Often, a lack of grounding is also an indication that your wires are old, which could exacerbate all kinds of problems. You should consider upgrading any two-pronged outlets in your home and getting an inspection for good measure.
If you don’t think your electrical wires are up to code, don’t panic: that’s what inspections are for. A professional electrician can tell you what’s wrong with your home’s electricity and how to fix it. “Failing” an inspection isn’t a problem, it’s how you start to deal with a problem.
If you need to update your wiring, get in touch with Early Bird right away. Our experts will conduct a thorough inspection of your home’s electricity. We can tell you exactly what’s wrong with your wires and how we’ll fix it. You’ll never have to worry about unknown electrical problems again.