Each part of a home inspection, including the electrical, has its own general standards that you’ll follow. Every home is different, and the Standards of Practice don’t attempt to cover each situation that you might encounter. Instead, they give you the framework to use as a guide.
You can obtain a copy of the Standards of Practice through any of the national home inspector organizations, such as NAHI. But this is what they cover, just with a bit more detail to give you an idea of what a day in the life of a home inspector is like.
Elements of the Exterior Inspection
You’ll first want to determine how the service reaches the house. Sometimes a primary service comes in overhead, but sometimes it’s buried. You’ll need to test the service for voltage, amperage, and whether the load center uses fuses or breakers.
At the load center, you’ll look for the presence of a grounding conductor and describe it for your report. In many homes, this ground is clearly visible and runs from the service entrance straight down into the soil.
Inside the panel, check for proper over current protection, such as a main breaker. You’ll need to open the cover to determine its condition. And if you see aluminum wiring at the main or a subpanel, add that to your report.
Elements of the Interior Inspection
Each load center has a certain number of breakers or fuses. In a best-case scenario, these will be labeled. But that’s not always the case. Check the condition of the branch circuit conductors, looking for potential hazards to the home owner or the home.
Note the number of switches in the home and accompanying light fixtures, and also note the number of outlet receptacles. Some receptacles may be outdoors, such as on a front or back porch. Where receptacles are near or around plumbing, check for grounding and polarity. When you encounter a GFCI receptacle, test to ensure proper function.
Verify the operation, grounding, and polarity of each switch, fixture, and receptacle to the extent possible, and note the location of any receptacles near or around plumbing.
What You’re Not Required to Do
Inspectors work to ensure a thorough inspection, but that doesn’t mean every square inch of a home is covered. Visible and accessible areas are inspected, but anything that poses a risk or involves disassembling parts of the home are not.
You’re not required to use any type of tool or tester on the service entrance or any subpanels. And if part of the electrical system is not operational, it’s not your responsibility to fix it or arrange to have it repaired. And for overload protection, you don’t have to operate them to determine whether they function or not.
Although you’ll inspect most elements of the electrical system, you’re not required to test burglar alarms or security systems, smoke and heat detectors, antennas, heated plumbing tape, or wiring for sprinklers, landscaping or pool lights.
You’re also not required to move furnishings or appliances to access any part of the electrical system, and outlet and switch face plates aren’t removed for an inspection, either. Further, you’re not required to test every receptacle in the house. You’ll inspect what’s accessible, but devices that are inaccessible are exempt.
One of the biggest misconceptions about a home inspection is that it covers every single element of a house, top to bottom. But that’s just not the case. There’s the safety of the inspector to consider, and also a realistic idea of what’s possible.
An inspector shouldn’t be expected to open up a wall or ceiling to see whether a wire might be damaged inside. That’s why home inspections are limited, and only cover what’s visible and accessible. Your training will give you the tools that you need to perform quality inspections for every customer, and at no time should your safety ever be an issue.
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