Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tips from the Inspection -- Electrical

From The Back Twenty

I suspect this will end up being several posts, because the electrical system was a big deal when we did our home inspection. My purpose in writing this post is to record the process, so if I, or the one other person reading this, ever wants to look over a building, we'll have a place to start. The second part of the introduction is this: we' don't hate our house. No, really. In fact, we love it. I'm about to write about a long list of electrical problems, but it's not a complaint. We knew about (most of) them when we bought the place. Again, the idea behind this post is to record the process we went through, and demonstrate the system our inspector used when looking it all over.

The picture at the top shows where our electrical system starts -- in a transformer at the road. This one transformer supplies only our home, in contrast to a city system where one transformer might supply several homes at once. The pole carries four major lines -- three different phases at 14,400 volts, and one neutral. Don't touch 'em. This transformer is the new one -- lightning destroyed the original the day after we moved in.

From The Back Twenty

Step two is the meter. We have three of them -- one for an RV pad, this one for our well and three (dead) outside lights, and a third for the actual house. Each consists of one big breaker feeding a panel full of little circuit breakers. And here's where the problems start. First, our house is fed by a 125 amp breaker -- meaning if our house tries to pull more than 125 amps at once, all the power goes out. We have an electric furnace ... and three electric water heaters. At least according to the inspector, 125 amps isn't big enough. There's another problem: none of the circuits is labeled, so if you have to turn one off, you can't easily tell which switch to flip. Third problem: the wires inside the box are supposed to be nicely organized. These are more like ... rats' nests. In fact, inside some there are what appear to be actual rats' nests.

At this point it's worth noting that the beautiful duct tape job on the window screen is gone now because... WE GOT NEW WINDOWS! Yay!

Moving right along, we find that our house has several subpanels -- smaller breaker boxes feeding off of the main one. Since our home was built in several sections, that's not entirely surprising. This one is the most disconcerting:

From The Back Twenty

Yes, those are live wires coming unprotected from the top of it, leading into an open hole into the attic. One of the wires is modern (indoor-grade) romex; the others are cotton/asphalt insulation that has decayed noticeably. I plan to install a conduit and replace all those. Sometime.

For the next part of the Electrical series, we'll explore the inside of the house and the wonders found therein...

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