Electrical Panel Home Inspection Checklist in Pittsburgh
It is not uncommon for a home-buyer or seller to assume that the electrical system portion of a home inspection is a simple matter of turning on and off the lights to see if they work. While lights and receptacles will certainly be checked, this represents only part of what your inspector will be examining as they go from room to room. Central to assessing a home’s electrical system for functionality and hazardous installations is an inspection of the service panel.
While this is an important part of a home inspection, it is also one of the most potentially dangerous for the inspector. Before opening the panel, which houses circuit breakers, the inspector will take all precautions necessary to make sure it can be done safely, in addition to informing the client that this is a step that should be left to certified inspectors and qualified electricians. If the inspector deems that the condition of the panel renders it unsafe to inspect, this will be noted in the home inspection report.
Here is a brief home inspection checklist of electrical panel defects that have been uncovered by A-Pro’s certified inspectors over the last 26 years:
Dangerous Wiring: Your home inspector will observe the presence of safety hazards such as outdated aluminum branch wiring, which is prevalent in older homes. This type of wiring, particularly single-strand varieties, is prone to oxidation and surface deterioration, resulting in increased resistance of current flow that makes them major fire hazards due to the higher levels of heat produced and the greater chance of arcing. The inspector will also report on wires bundled together, which can lead to overheating and fire ignition.
Animal Damage: Rodents have an amazing ability to squeeze into tiny spaces. For example, mice can slip through a hole or crack as small as one-quarter of an inch, which means it doesn’t take much of an opening for a hungry critter to get inside an electrical panel and feast on the wires inside. The inspector will look for bite marks or animal droppings (or an actual decomposing invader) to confirm that rats and mice are the culprits.
Double-Tapped Circuit Breakers: Another fire hazard that commonly ends up in home inspection reports is when two wires are connected to a single circuit breaker which has a terminal screw designed to handle only one wire.
Moisture: Water and electricity do not make good bunkmates. Moisture that finds its way into an electrical panel can cause wires, circuit breakers, screw terminals, and the box itself to corrode. This can lead to malfunctioning breakers and, worse, a potential fire. The presence of moisture and rust on the outside of the panel will be evaluated by the inspector to determine if the panel is safe to inspect.
Signs of Arcing: Burn marks or a burning smell, caused by arcing (electricity discharged to a grounded object) in an electrical panel, is often due to frayed or exposed wires; overloading, which can lead to a damaged bus and connections; too many fuses inside the box; and other conditions. In addition to burns, inspectors may notice panels that are warm or that emit a cracking sound like evidence that arcing is a problem.
Sharp-Pointed Screws: The use of sharp-pointed metal screws, rather than preferred blunt-tipped ones, to hold an electrical panel cover in place is a safety hazard that will be noted by your inspector since these fasteners can pierce wire insulation upon removal, causing shock and spark dangers.
Among other issues, the inspector will also alert clients of the following:
- Damaged breakers
- Incompatible-sized circuit breakers that could become overloaded and trip
- Missing breaker knock-outs, which leave a hole that can pose a shock hazard, especially to children
- Missing or obscured panel listings (UL ratings)
- Panels that do not clearly identify what breakers are controlled by what circuits
- Combustible materials kept too close to the electrical panel
- Panel bonding concerns, such as the absence of a bonding jumper between the bus and metal enclosure
- Panels from specific manufacturers that have a history of defects