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Homeowner Wiring

Homeowners do a lot of wiring in houses, as this appears to be one of the easiest ways to save money. Obvious signs that will alert you to the presence of homeowner wiring are electrical cables hanging in the basement, open metal junction boxes with covers missing and wire nut connectors hanging out of the box, and missing electric switch and outlet plate covers. Although these very visible deficiencies may not appear to be significant, even a missing outlet cover can result in a fire or electrocution if there is contact with a live wire.

As members of the American Society of Home Inspectors, we ASHI inspectors are required to remove the electrical panel, and it is here that we will often find some of the more serious homeowner "installations" that you will not see on a casual inspection of your intended or existing home. Electrical problems are probably the cause of one-third of fires in homes, amounting to about 40,000 fires a year. If you are living in a home where you observe non-professional wiring, I suggest that you have a licensed electrician eliminate any unsafe conditions.

One very common outdoor homeowner installation is the entry walk light. Very few homeowners realize that the electrical supply cables to outside fixtures have to be rated for exterior exposure, as ultraviolet light from the sun will deteriorate non-rated plastic, possibly allowing the cables to crack, which can make live wires accessible to curious dogs and to children. In addition, any electric cables that come down the foundation of the building must be enclosed in conduit to protect them from damage inflicted by overzealous gardeners. We often find exposed wires that have been damaged by shovels and weed-whackers.

One of my favorite indoor electrical deficiencies is the type of wiring that the least knowledgeable homeowners will do: using ordinary lamp-cord wire which is a prohibited form of such usage. A totally inexperienced homeowner will run lamp-cord wire through walls. Need an outlet in the closet? No problem - buy a spool of wire, run it from an outlet in the bedroom, tack it or staple it along the baseboard, run it in the corner up the wall into the closet, and install the outlet. I have actually found staples and nails that were live, having been set through the wires in such cords. In one home, the owner used telephone cable to wire the disposer and kitchen lights.

Whether you are living in your own home now or are about to purchase a home, one of the more dangerous conditions that may exist is the presence of non-professional electrical wiring. I dislike upsetting people, but take a look around. Think of how much better you'll sleep after the electrician has corrected your or your seller's electrical handiwork.



By J. May

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