Your New Home: Spotting Electrical Issues Before You Buy
December 18, 2017
You finally found the home of your dreams. It's got the hardwood floors you've always wanted, a spacious kitchen and brand-new bathroom fixtures. It's perfect. That is, until you look deeper. While everything might seem all right on the surface, some of the most important parts of your potential new home aren't exactly up to code.
Even though the paint is new, the carpets are clean and the kitchen tile sparkles, outward appearances don't make a home safe. Poorly done electrical work can cost you money and even put you (and your family) at risk. That said, spotting "bad" work isn't exactly easy. Unless you're a qualified electrician, it isn't likely that you know what to look for.
How can you tell if your potential new home is electrically safe or not? Take a look at the first steps that you need to take right now and the signs that you may have a problem on your hands.
Ask About Installation
One of the home's selling points is its electrical upgrades. Whether the owner is boasting about brand-new light fixtures, new wiring, or outlets that they just had installed, knowing who did the work and when can help you to make some serious decisions.
Keep in mind that the owner may not know or may not want to share who did the electrical work. This is perfectly normal. But if they do volunteer any information, it can become useful right now and down the road.
There's never a time when saying, "My neighbor knows about electrical stuff, and he rewired the kitchen" is acceptable. A general contractor, home handyman, or someone who watched a YouTube video on electrical work and now thinks that they're an expert can put the home in danger. There is only one right answer to hear when asking who did the electrical work—and that is a licensed electrician.
Not all electrical problems come from new work that was done poorly. As homes age, their electrical systems (like everything else) can wear down and become outdated. Neglecting the home’s wiring, outlets and other electrical features can also increase the risk factor when it comes to overall safety.
While some older systems are well-maintained, are inspected often, and work in a completely safe manner, others haven't seen a qualified electrician in years or more.
If the home was built before 1930, it may have knob and tube wiring. While this is primarily concealed within the walls, some may be exposed and visible in the basement or attic areas. These older wires are open (when exposed in some areas of the house) and may pose a fire hazard.
If you think that you spot knob and tube writing, or if the seller discloses that the house has it, contact a licensed electrician about the price of an upgrade before putting an offer on the home. Along with posing a fire risk, this type of older wiring may make your home uninsurable.
The real estate agent flips on the bedroom light, and you start to notice a dull flicker. It could be a bad bulb. Or it could be poorly done wiring. Flickering lights are cause for concern. Even though the issue may end up being as simple as replacing an old bulb, it may also mean that you'll need a professional to rewire the fixture for you.
There's a junction box in the basement. And you know this because you see a jumble of wires near the wall. The brightly colored ball of wires catches your attention, and that's when you realize that there's a safety hazard. Junction boxes should have covers. The fact that one doesn't is the first red flag.
Likewise, if you see exposed wires coming from a lighting fixture or in an uncovered outlet, you're also seeing a sign of subpar electrical work. Uncovered wires are easily damaged and, if they should spark, pose a fire risk.