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Electrical Issues Found During Home Inspections

Updated: Mar 1

We are not electricians we are safety and function inspectors. South Carolina Standards Of Practice for Home Inspectors specifically states that inspectors shall inspect Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters and Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters. Therefore, when we find deficiencies with GFIC and AFCI we are required to report them and recommend follow-up by a Licensed Electrician.

When we find electrical outlets with open grounds or neutrals, we identify where they are in the home, write them in our report, and recommend that a licensed electrician review the issues.

Often, the buyer, seller, or real estate agent asks us, if they are functional why is it an issue? An open-ground outlet will function normally but puts you at risk of electrical hazards like fire and shock. Ungrounded outlets are not safe and can be extremely dangerous. Ungrounded outlets are a leading cause of house fires worldwide. Ungrounded outlets are often accompanied by other electrical defects like frayed wiring or bad wire connections concealed inside walls. These electrical defects make ungrounded outlets susceptible to arcing and electrical shorts that can cause nearby furniture or curtains to catch fire.

The National Electrical Code states that every electrical outlet and fixture in residential buildings must be grounded. Grounding enables faulty current, which would otherwise be dangerous above ground, to safely find a path to discharge unwanted current to the ground.

We also get questions regarding GFCI outlets as to why and where they are needed.

GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. A GFCI outlet replaces a standard outlet in any location that may be exposed to moisture. It is identifiable by the addition of two buttons to control the GFCI functions, labeled “Test” and “Reset.”

A GFCI outlet constantly monitors the electrical current on the hot, neutral, and ground lines, and it can physically turn off the circuit if it detects any abnormalities in the flow of electricity. It can respond in 30 milliseconds or fewer, greatly reducing the risk of injury from electrical shocks. For instance, if you touch the metal case of an appliance with a damaged ground connection or drop a radio in a sink of water, the GFCI outlet will shut off the power before a significant injury can occur. A single GFCI outlet can protect multiple outlets on a circuit by connecting one or more standard outlets downstream from the GFCI outlet. Additionally, GFCI protection can also be added directly to the service panel with a GFCI breaker, protecting an entire circuit.

GFCI outlets should be installed in any location that is six feet or closer to a plumbing fixture or moisture source. This includes multiple areas of a typical home. Today they are required in all kitchens, bathrooms, wet bars, laundry rooms, garages, crawl spaces, exterior outlets, and pool, spa, and hot-tub outlets.

What is an AFCI breaker and how does it function? AFCIs function by monitoring the electrical waveform and promptly opening (interrupting) the circuit they serve if they detect changes in the wave pattern that is characteristic of a dangerous arc. They also must be capable of distinguishing safe, normal arcs, such as those created when a switch is turned on or a plug is pulled from a receptacle, from arcs that can cause fires. An AFCI can detect, recognize, and respond to very small changes in wave patterns.

The first requirement for AFCI breakers was in the 1999 National Electrical Code (NEC), to be effective on January 1, 2002. It applied only to all receptacle outlets in bedrooms.

In 2002 NEC increased the ante to include all outlets in bedrooms. The difference between a “receptacle outlet” and an “outlet” in the NEC is that a receptacle outlet is defined as “an outlet where one or more receptacles are installed,” but an outlet is “a point on the wiring system at which current is taken to supply utilization equipment.” That would include the receptacle outlets but also could be a light fixture, appliance, ceiling fan, or smoke alarm. Essentially every electrical appliance or device that has a connection in the bedroom.

Hopefully, this article will clear up some of the confusion regarding the need for GFIC outlets, AFCI Breakers, and the danger of ungrounded outlets.

Submitted by: John Schuler, Certified Home Inspector

J & H Home Inspections, LLC Located in Little River, SC

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