Homeowners will take on all kinds of projects that should be left to trained professionals.
This is especially true in relation to electrical wiring. People love to finish off those attics and basement spaces without getting permits because it is so easy to do the work unnoticed by officials of the building department. They work unseen on the interior of homes much the same way wood destroying insects work concealed inside walls and woodwork.
They can work on the projects in their spare time and as they get the funds—all with the idea of making a “ton of money” later when they sell their home—–because they didn’t have to hire some over-priced professional to do the job.
This is very much a false economy usually—- even if we are only talking about the money. It is really false economy if “Mr. Home Remodeler” is called to task by the building department (and has to rip it all out), or has to provide documentation for the work later on, or worse yet—–somebody dies because the house burns down or because someone gets electrocuted.
A while back I inspected a home that had a nicely finished off attic that was now the Master Suite. Everything looked great electrically. All the receptacles tested as grounded etc. My first clue that something might be amiss was that the 3 Master Bathroom receptacles were not GFCI protected (You know the receptacles with the little test buttons?). All new construction would require them, so my next thought is that I am looking at work that wasn’t inspected and/or didn’t have a permit issued.
Like many finished-off attic spaces there were knee walls with attics along the sides. From inside those attic spaces some of the receptacles and wiring were visible—-sort of a glimpse inside the walls—a view we don’t often see as inspectors. One of these attics even had a light with a switch (run from one of the room receptacles). Now this one switch location had so many issues that I just snapped a picture of it and moved on. It wasn’t until I got home and saw the picture on my computer screen that the implications of the defect hit home.
It was obvious that this was not a professional installation. As an inspector I don’t even get overly concerned about whether work had permits or not—-I want to know how the work was done and that it was done professionally—safely.
While permits will get you headed in the right direction, unfortunately, even that is no guarantee of good work.
This switch location had: wires not secured near the box, ground wires just twisted together without a proper connector, no ground wire to the switch itself, the switch not connected to the box, a box of a type without a place to connect the switch, and no cover plate. Sounds like enough issues for just one location doesn’t it? But, that is not the end of the list. The biggest problem is that the neutral (white) wire is being switched.
The idea behind the requirement that the “hot” (black) wire be switched is that when the light switch is “off” there would then be no energy potential at the light fixture. By switching the neutral wire, the light wouldn’t work but there would still be a shock hazard present between the ground wire and the hot wire in the fixture itself. A very serious shock hazard!
This brings me, finally, to the point of this blog. Does “Mr. Deal Killer Inspector” have to recommend that every junction box in all portions of this remodeled attic be taken apart and evaluated by a licensed electrical contractor?
Me thinks so.
Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector
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