There are 5 major areas in every home. And no matter how big or how old, they are always the same:
These 5 areas also make up our Major-Items Inspection and form the basis of our discussion at the end of every Electrical systems inspection because they not only mean the most to me, but to everyone else who’s ever bought a home.
Depending on the age, a Kansas City home will either have 60-amp, 100-amp, or 200-amp service. There are also a few unsafe main electrical panels (breaker boxes) in circulation and a small chance you could end up with aluminum wiring (which isn’t usually as scary as it sounds).
Let me help you understand what you’re up against.
Electrical Systems Service
This became the standard service size of homes during the 50s and 60s. This is also the era when fuse blocks transitioned into circuit breakers. Homes during this period were smaller and simpler and could get by with only 4 circuits, which included the dryer, water heater, and range.
This is too small for the demands of today’s modern home, but plenty of older homes with 60-amp service can still be found around Kansas City.
If you happen to find one, it’s important to know that many insurance companies will require an upgrade to at least 100-amps before they will insure the home.
This is the minimum service size for today’s homes. It can supply enough power for lights, outlets, range, and dryer in a small home but not enough to include electric heat.
Some folks think 100-amp service delivers more power than 60-amp. Actually, the biggest difference between the service sizes is the number of circuits they make available.
60-amp panels have fewer circuits (4) than 100-amp panels (20) which have even fewer than 200-amp panels (42).
The bigger the home, the greater number of lights, outlets, and electric appliances, so the greater number of circuits needed.
This is the standard service size for new homes. Not only does it give you up to 42 circuits to use, it lets you install a sub-panel if you need more.
Recalled And Obsolete Electrical Panels
These panels were popular from 1950-1980 and were never formally recalled, but the problems they’re developed have been serious enough to give them a reputation of being unsafe.
For example, their push button breakers are known to lock up instead of tripping. This is a fire hazard.
ITE breakers bolt onto their buss bars. This allows wires to bypass the breaker and screw directly to the buss bars. This is also a fire hazard.
There are no main breakers in any of them. In order to turn power off to the home, all the circuit breakers have to be turned off manually. This is a safety issue, especially if any of the breakers fail.
Replacement breakers are only available in the aftermarket, which makes them expensive to replace (about $80 each).
These breakers should be tested monthly.
Distinguishable by red tipped breakers that open backwards, this panel was recalled in 2002 following a series of lawsuits that included loose, arcing, and failing breakers.
If you have this panel, be careful to listen for arcing and buzzing before trying to remove the cover. If you do, go slow since it has a tendency to trip the breakers. Aftermarket breakers are about $50.
This panel was also recalled in 2002.
These were originally made in Puerto Rico and installed in homes and apartment buildings throughout the United States during the 1960s and 70s.
1) Circuit breakers don’t trip when they’re supposed to (it’s been known to take 60-amps to trip a 15-amp breaker). This is a fire hazard.
2) The buss bars are made of aluminum and easily corrode. This is a fire hazard.
3) The buss bar coating sometimes fails and causes weak circuit breaker connection. This is a fire hazard.
4) Circuit breakers aren’t locked into place. This lets them slide up and down. This is a fire hazard.
For as long as we’ve had electricity, we’ve had copper wires. But when the price of copper spiked in the mid-60s, aluminum started to look like ice cream on a hot day.
But things didn’t stay that way. Aluminum acted differently than copper by making lights flicker and switch plates hot.
They soon realized special parts (labeled AL/CU) were needed to handle these problems. And they worked.
At least until they ditched aluminum and went back to using copper in the mid 1970s.
So if your home has aluminum wiring, don’t worry too much. As long as it’s got the right switches, sockets, breakers, and connectors your home is safe.
Look for the AL/CU markings on the outlets, switches, and circuit breakers.
The electrical systems inspection happens in 2 parts:
The electrical systems inspection starts outside the home at the pole and service mast.
The pole is quickly checked, the service cable is inspected for clearances, and the service mast is studied for damage.
Then the service cable is inspected to make sure it’s attached to the house and undamaged and the meter is checked to make sure it’s sealed and not pulling away from the siding.
If there is no pole, the service conduit is checked for damage and movement away from the meter base.
We also start to determine service amperage and voltage at this point.
Once inside the electrical systems inspection starts in the attic and continues to the basement.
Open junction boxes and exposed splices are a common problem in attics and basement.
Throughout the home, each outlet, light, and switch are tested for safe and proper operation.
The exterior, garage, bathrooms, kitchen, and basement are also checked for GFCI outlets.
Finally, the main panel is checked by removing the cover (if possible) and checking for moisture, rust and corrosion.
Then we check the circuit breakers and wiring. The hot and neutral wires are inspected along with the panel bonding and grounding components to make sure they’re tucked in nice and tight.
We jot down the type of panel along with the condition of the circuit breakers and their wiring. If an unsafe or recalled panel is installed, we’ll check for unsafe conditions and any past problems.
If there are any sub-panels, they’re also inspected to make sure they’re wired properly (sub panels are wired differently than main panels).
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