We spend more time at home than anywhere else, and yet few homeowners understand how houses are built and what's required to keep them safe. After running a handyman business for 8 years, it's hard to remember when or how I first learned about smoke detectors.
Maybe I was lucky because my handy husband learned about home maintenance from his father, plus summer jobs painting his parents house and working for a roofing company? Or we're both just curious and figured out which houses on our first home buying trip were fire traps because of crazy, exposed wiring?
My life is a bit crazy right now as we're buying a new house outside Phoenix, Arizona. I'm not just writing about home ownership right now, I'm living the home buying roller coaster but the difference is, at the end of the ride I will move into our new house and I want it to be safe!
We've owned 13 houses, in 5 states including California where we bought our first home. So we've got a lot of experience with home inspections but I was shocked at the number of serious home safety issues that were identified, like smoke detectors missing or not working. It's not that there were any show stoppers, or that any of the problems will be costly to repair. It's that so many of them could have caused a fire or worse, a death, and then to hear …
- This is typical of home inspections in the area, and your report is one of the better ones.
- This is not unusual for a single woman homeowner who fixed things that broke but otherwise, didn't know what home maintenance and repairs were needed.
- Many home buyers don't want to pay for a home inspection. My real estate agent pays for one to make sure the buyer doesn't come back and try to sue them for not telling them about problems … are you kidding me?
Smoke Detectors, GFCIs & Other Electrical Issues
It's scary to look at one house and realize it might represent half the homes in the US. So here's what my report said, and what we've requested the sellers to correct before our closing.
- Smoke detectors – did not respond when the test button was pressed. They're required (more about where to put smoke detectors) on each level of a house and inside and outside each bedroom door, so we're talking about 8 smoke detectors. Inspection report stated they were missing or didn't work.
- Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCIs) – were missing (or not working) in many locations. The home inspector recommended following deficiencies be corrected by a licensed electrician.
- 2 guest bathroom receptacles are not GFCI protected.
- Several exterior (rain) electrical receptacles do not have GFCIs.
- Garage receptacles are not GFCI protected.
- External GFCI receptacle in the swimming pool service area tested no power and would not reset.
- Other electrical issues:
- More than one hot wire connected into a single breaker(s) at the box.
- Double lugging (multiple wires going into a single breaker) which can create compromised connections leading to a potential fire or other safety hazard.
- Open light fixtures with exposed bulbs are vulnerable to breakage hence can be safety hazards.
- Underwater swimming pool light did not respond to the switch.
- Junction box located at the previous spa area has a hole in the box that should be plugged.
- Exterior receptacle located at the previous spa area that is not hooked up to power and has an open exposed wire.
- Conduit just above the pool equipment area that is gapped open and exposing the wires to the weather.
- Electrical ceiling junction box on the upper patio that has properly capped wires, dInstall cover plate or light fixture/ceiling fan is needed.
Why Are We Finding These Problems Now?
Sadly there are numerous reasons for these problems, some of which I can only guess at … and some I'm not proud of because they represent shoddy workmanship by contractors.
- Most if not all the GFCIs were required by building codes when the house was built in 1991 (learn more about the history of GFCIs which started with concerns about lighting around pools).
- We will be the fourth owners of this house, so why weren't these omissions found earlier?
- Did buyers not have the house inspected? Every home buyer should get a home inspection, and especially with new construction as things get forgotten during the final days leading up to the closing.
- Were there home inspections and buyers ignored the recommendations?
- Do homeowners understand how critical it is to use licensed electricians (plumbers too), when wiring anything in their home and especially at the electrical box where all the breakers are?
- Were licensed electricians involved when the pool and spa were installed? and the spa removed?
- Maybe homeowners don't know about GFCIs, but they should be familiar with smoke detectors and the need to test them, replace batteries and replace the units every 5 to 10 years.
Hopefully this simple story is a lesson to all homeowners. There are some things in your home that should never be ignored and electrical safety is one of them. If you don't know how to maintain your home, check out our homeowner guide to Putting Your Home Maintenance on Autopilot.
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