In last week’s blog post, we looked at some of the electrical-related fire hazards that are most frequently discovered during home inspections. Today, we’ll be digging a little bit deeper on the topic, expanding our examination to include more electrical-type dangers as well as other areas/systems in the home where the threat of a fire may be lurking.
If you’re a home-shopper who’s debating whether or not you want to make the moderate investment of hiring a home inspector, it’s important to understand that pointing out conditions that pose an immediate or potential threat of injury or death is an indispensable part of a complete home inspection. As we mentioned in our previous post, a home inspection may save your life or that of a loved one.
You should also know that home inspectors are acutely aware that their job can be dangerous as well, especially when it comes to shock and electrocution. Red flags in a home may make it too risky for them to inspect aspects of the electrical system—most notably, the panel box (burn marks on the front door; rust, a sign of moisture penetration; actual water inside the box, around it, or on the floor below; overloaded circuits; missing or open breakers; wiring that is uninsulated; improper panel screws that might cut through wire insulation if removed, etc.). Your inspector will note in the report when a component has been deemed too dangerous to inspect. In these cases, hiring a certified electrician will be necessary. Further, inspectors who encounter standing water in a crawlspace may choose not to enter in fear that a hidden and potentially life-threatening live wire may be present.
Here is our continuing checklist of fire/shock hazards found by the home inspectors at A-Pro:
Service Drop: When applicable, your inspector will check the overhead high-voltage lines (owned by the utility company, not the homeowner) that deliver power to the property. In addition to noting the available voltage of the system, improper clearances and defects will be reported on. These include lack of insulated sleeves covering crimped connectors between service cables and service entrance cables; detachment of the neutral, grounded conductor from the building; less than minimum clearance of the service cables from the roof of the home, windows, balconies, patios, streets, swimming pools, driveways, and any areas of pedestrian traffic; tree limbs that are in contact with conductors; loose- fitting or broken mastheads; absence of a drip loop, which diverts rainwater from the masthead; lack of guy wires supporting a mast; and other concerns. Unless inspected in early phases of the home-building process, problems associated with service lateral systems (using underground cables or conduits) will not be able to be observed by the inspector.
More Panel Issues: Your inspector will point out areas of the service panel that provide dangerous access, such as breaker holes. These represent serious electrocution hazards, especially when children are around. As mentioned above, signs of arcing and smoke damage on the front panel, as well as on the breakers inside, will be cited. The panel should also have an up-to-date, legible listing clearly indicating what each circuit is connected to. Further, the inspector will check whether or not the panel is bonded to the grounding system. In some cases, inspectors may find oddball, jerry-rigged panels that are obviously the work of unlicensed handymen; certain brands of panels that are notorious for failure; or extremely outdated types that should be replaced.
Other electrical issues include damaged conductors that can overheat, abandoned wiring that has never been removed, wiring that shows signs of arcing or overheating, an abundance of spliced wires (a red flag that uncertified work has been performed), exposed live wires in livable spaces, lack of mechanical protection for exterior wires, unprotected cabinet wiring, and unsupported cables and assemblies in crawlspaces and attics.
Garages: Garages present several potential fire hazards. As mentioned in the previous blog post, garages are one of several spaces in a home that require Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets. For safety reasons, garages with gas-fired appliances (e.g., water heaters, furnaces) should have a barrier to prevent accidental bumping by a vehicle. For appliances in the garage that could ignite gasoline, the inspector will check to see if they are properly elevated at least 18 inches above the floor. With attached garages, the inspector will check to determine if the door separating the garage from the living space is fire-rated (exhibiting the proper thickness and material), self-closing, and weather-stripped. Additionally, the inspector will make sure the garage’s wall and ceiling materials meet prevailing building code requirements. For detached garages, the inspector may discover that the garage is too close to the home or does not have the required thickness or type of drywall board in its interior to prevent the spread of fire.