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Why Home Inspectors Should Also Measure Voltage

Man with a white hardhat working on electrical box.

Use a multimeter at the electrical box to determine voltage.

Most home inspectors do not have extensive training or knowhow in electrical matters and thus are not expected to perform an intricate examination of a home’s electrical system. They are, however, expected to perform some basic safety and efficiency checks.

Home inspector standards of practice say that you must “describe the voltage and amperage” of a home, but you are not required to actually measure it.

Describing it doesn’t sound particularly scientific, and the truth is that the practice itself is even less certain than that.

Inspectapedia has a series of articles that aim to help inspectors learn how to determine residential ampacity and voltage, and they say, “The process itself is inherently dangerous.” Beyond that, the complex determination often ends up being a guess, and a wrong one at that.

Measuring Instead of Guessing

For that reason, in an article in the ASHI Reporter, Washington home inspector Charles Buell recommends measuring the voltage. This is easily done with an altimeter in a wall outlet, but the farther you get from the main box, the lower the readings will be. To truly measure the voltage in the home, you have to insert the probes into the electrical box.

This makes some home inspectors nervous, and not without reason. Buell recommends taking the time to consult a licensed electrician to show you how to take the measurement safely.

Although this is a task home inspectors are not required to do, Buell outlines why skipping this part of an inspection is a disservice to the potential homeowner.

Lower-Voltage Systems

Most homes have a 120/240-volt system. This allows homeowners to use all their appliances safely and efficiently. But some homes have 120/208-volt systems. This type of service is more often found in condominiums.

What does this lower-voltage system mean to the homeowner?

It might not mean much, depending on their living habits, but it has the potential to have a big impact, and homeowners who don’t have this important information may never know why their electrical bills are so high or why their appliances are breaking down faster.

Water tank.

Water heaters can lose efficiency with lower-voltage systems.

What Could Happen?

Among the problems homeowners could have with a 208 system is water that’s tepid instead of hot or runs out more quickly than expected. The smaller system simply cannot keep up with the demands of the shower, clothes washer, or dishwasher. Or they may have to wait a while for the water to reheat in between taking a shower and running the dishwasher.

The HVAC might not work as well either. It could take longer for baseboard heat to warm the room, or air conditioners to cool it.

It may take the clothes dryer longer to dry the clothes or the oven longer to heat up (unless they’re gas-powered).

Basically, all the electric appliances will have to work harder, and they won’t perform as well. Further, they’ll wear out more quickly from all the added stress.

In short, although home inspectors are not required to determine voltage, leaving this matter in the hands of the potential homeowner can be a disservice to them. Buell recommends that if you are not going to determine the voltage in the home, to inform the potential buyers, recommend they get it looked at by an electrician and explain why.

Home Inspection Courses 

Good training is essential when you work as a home inspector, and ICA’s home inspection courses prepare you for all aspects of the job. Once you earn your home inspection certificate, you will know exactly what’s required of you as a home inspector, what’s recommended, and what you should leave to the experts.

For more information on what you learn in ICA’s home inspection course, get a demo today.

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