Inspecting Electrical Wiring

There are so many things that an experienced Electrical inspector looks for that it would be almost impossible to list them. Sometimes, just the quality of the installation or the lack of quality forces you to look more carefully. But, at times even the best electricians simply just “miss” something. That’s where the value of the electrical inspector becomes evident. 

Electrical wiring

One of my mentors reminded me years ago that the average inspector is only on a job like a new build home for perhaps an hour altogether during the months of construction. Therefore, at best, we are just another set of eyes. But what a difference that hour can mean to the decades of future occupants.

It’s important to note that what we see today while we make our inspection might be changed or even gone immediately after we are. It can’t all be our responsibility. Occasionally, we might miss something too, but as inspectors, we always strive to give the best inspection possible. In the end, we are not the contractors so, our input is limited at best.

What you do will last

The house I live in is 150 years old. A tour of my basement reveals numerous code violations. Most old houses would not pass modern codes. Today’s houses will probably last just as long.  During all those years the many families that occupy the home will, in many ways, depend on the inspections that were done while it was being built. From over-spanned beams, resulting in an eventual sag or collapse to overloaded circuits, eventually resulting in failure or possible fire, the value of the building inspector cannot be underestimated. The level of quality you require will last for decades. So will the mistakes.

I have been an Electrical inspector in three different States as well as a Building, Plumbing, and Mechanical Inspector in two, and some of the differences in code enforcement are striking. 

Code Enforcement in Florida

In Florida, the codes are usually enforced with precision. If the plans or the code require four nails they might fail you for using five. I think much of the strict enforcement of codes and rules comes more from a desire not to be legally at fault than from a desire to see a good product.  Of course, hurricanes play a large part in their thinking.

On top of the building codes, many local jurisdictions and municipalities in Florida, add on a huge list of local requirements such as the color of roofs and walls and types of finishes. All these are designed to “protect” the real estate values of the area. Some work and others are just total failures sometimes resulting in a lower value on properties due to a lack of desire by people to live under such control.

Code Enforcement in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the State has instituted requirements for various inspectors, including electrical inspectors, and has also provided excellent classes at almost no charge to teach the inspectors how to do the job. I could not recommend the classes any more highly. They are taught by experienced professionals with additional input from engineers and architects. 

The problem with North Carolina and actually most places is the fact that, after requiring experience and competency in the profession, the municipalities don’t even pay the equivalent of what they would make simply working at their trade. Therefore, the morale of many inspectors is low and getting lower. Fewer and fewer people are being drawn to the industry. With fewer inspectors doing more and more work, the quality of the inspections will go down. 

Code Enforcement in New York

This brings me to New York State. I currently live and work in western New York. This is not to be confused with the failed area known as New York City. They are totally different.

 In western New York, I have seen some of the worst buildings being passed on inspections. The rule seems to be that if somebody built it a hundred years ago and it’s still standing, leave it alone. While that argument has a lot of merit I often see things that will not stand the eventual 100-mile-an-hour wind or a simple shaking from an earthquake. All that said, it is amazing what will hold up under the weight of 4 feet of snow. I’ve seen roofs made of 2×4 joists spanning 12′ and they’ve been there for 100 years! Go figure!

But many things are overlooked as being considered “existing,” and are not repaired.

The worst offenders are the “flippers.”

House Flippers are the worst

Flippers buy homes with the goal of quickly making them look beautiful and reselling them at a profit. This often includes leaving existing things alone which, in my opinion, should be repaired. This is where inspectors can get into real trouble. If we see something on inspection and simply look the other way because it’s not considered “in the scope of the permitted work” what are we to do? 

As an electrical inspector, often I see things that are violations, but not in the trade I am inspecting. My only recourse is to just look the other way and hope that the other inspectors will catch it. Occasionally, when I point these things out to the builder, hoping he cares, I hear the answer that “it already passed that inspection.” 

The thing that does the most to provide good building in my area is not the inspectors but the builders themselves. I have seen some of the finest electrical wiring I’ve ever seen here in western New York. Many of the contractors seem almost in competition to do the best job and also the best-looking job possible.

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