By Steve Vacha
President, Home Standards Inspection Services
So, what is with this picture (to the right) I took recently at a home? Looks like a normal electrical panel with a screw driver sitting on top of it.
I am told this very scenario killed a young man who was doing mission work at a church. A breaker went bad and he had to take the panel off to change the breaker. As he took the cover off , not noticing the screw driver, it fell into the panel, made contact with the 220 line and the door at the same time and he was killed.
I think of that story often when I take off an electrical panel for inspection. I always feel the top of the panel for anything metal that could fall into the panel.
Inspecting for electrical safety in a home is integral to a home inspection. Because more people now have a home inspection completed, electrical safety and safety in general for homes has greatly improved.
25 years ago folks just thought, “if it works just leave it alone.” Trouble is there are possible problems if proper inspections are not completed.
For instance, last week I removed an electrical panel, set the panel down, stood up and saw a bat looking right at me. It startled me, but then I saw this bat was not going to fly again. It had been fried in the electrical panel. In the report I recommend an electrician remove the bat and check the wires in the area. There is a chance the wires were scorched and need to be replaced.
Not only was there an electrical concern, but now I had to try to figure out how the bat got in the panel and if bats were a problem in the house. I did find guano in the attic and reported that in the report.
In addition to safety items, major structural concerns must be looked for. To do this inspector need to walk roofs, crawl into crawl spaces and get up into attics. Again, going where buyers are not allowed to go – or even want to.
There are limits, of course. For instance, a wood shake roof is as slippery as ice if it is even a little damp. When we can walk roofs we often find concerns that are just not visible from the ground. Even one missing shingle at an obscure place in the roof can cause a lot of headaches for the buyer down the road when a leak starts to show at the interior.
Inspecting these hidden areas gives the buyers important information, helping them feel safe and sound in their new home.
A Shocking Update
The electricity that powers our homes is a wonderful thing. Wonderful, if it is installed correctly and safely. Several days after I wrote the article above, I was inspecting a well maintained detached garage. At the exterior I reached down to open an electrical shut off that had been disconnected from an exterior appliance.
I was jolted with a large shock of electricity as I touched the tab to open the box. Luckily, I yanked my hand away quickly. Someone had cut the 220 line at the base of the box so that the exposed electrical wires were only visible from below the box. The breaker had not been shut off at the panel.
This is why we inspect homes. This kind of shock can kill people. This box was in a location children would have access to. My fingers tingled the rest of the day and I had an upset stomach, but felt lucky nothing worse had happened.
Written by Steve Vacha
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