Steven L. Smith, Bellingham, WA Home Inspector (King of the House)

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Government Trusts in Thee (to do the right thing)

In the course of a home inspection in Whatcom County, I ran into an unusual situation. The home was about 30 years of age, so trying to decipher the series of events that took place, from that many years ago, is pretty much impossible to do. But, based on the state inspector's notes inside the remote distribution or sub-panel, I have a hunch as to what took place.

I think the state code inspector approved the electrical panel and wiring subject to corrections: (1) properly wiring the sub-panel (2) installing GFCI receptacles.

As you might anticipate, this was not a wise thing. It is now 30 years after that tag was stuck on the panel and the sub-panel is still wired incorrectly. As inspectors know, the photo below, with the grounds and neutrals co-mingled is a "no, no." 

The more obvious deficiency is this: The home had zero....not one....GFCI protected receptacle. Granted, over the years, GFCI installation requirements have become more stringent. But, even in 1980, the devices were required in garages, by sinks, outdoors. I repeat, there was not one such protected receptacle onsite. This bath sink is one of multiple receptacles with no GFCI protection.

A number of other electric issues were present as well -- missing switch and receptacle covers, improperly terminated splices, reversed polarity at receptacles. Some of these problems might be newer, having been brought about by improper workmanship over the past 30 years.

However, I believe that the concept of municipal or state code inspectors approving work that was done incorrectly, subject to someone later showing good intentions and making corrections, is foolish. To begin with, these wiring errors are safety violations. Signing off on safety violations is a recipe for disaster and nasty litigation.

I have never before seen anything quite like this degree of trusting in a homeowner, and I hope to not see anything quite as silly again. Sure, I inspect houses with deficient or missing GFCI protection and any number of improperly wired panels of all types, but usually the defects are not adorned with state-jurisdictional inspection tags that put the blessing of a governmental body on obvious system deficiencies.

Steven L. Smith

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Comment balloon 5 commentsSteven L. Smith • August 25 2013 03:06PM
Government Trusts in Thee (to do the right thing)
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In the course of a home inspection in Whatcom County, I ran into an unusual situation. The home was about 30 years of age, so trying to decipher the series of events that took place, from that many years ago, is pretty much impossible to do. But,… more