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


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


Steven, Thanks for sharing this electrical issue. Hopefully, it's been remediated or will be soon. I observed a somewhat similar situation recently at a home inspection, but no one signed off on it!
Posted by Andrew Payne Realtor® Richmond VA Homes For Sale~804-938-5257~, Richmond, VA, Real Estate, SRES®, NAR Green (Coach House Realty) over 5 years ago

Steven, it can get dicey out there. I don't like electrical "stuff". Good thing the buyer had you on their side. Now the seller needs to heed the warning. That is just so unsafe...

Now... where is Nutsy???

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) over 5 years ago

Andrew, hopefully so, it will be least if the sale occurs.


Andrea, Nutsy is in the marketing department at the moment.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) over 5 years ago

Hi Steven,

Looks like after 30 years the electrician is not coming back to do squat. :-)

I run into thew sub panels not being right and the electricians say that is a stupid code and do nothing. All we can do is report.

Have a great day in the Great Northwest my friend.

Best, Clint McKie

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) over 5 years ago

I think around here the jurisdictional inspectors are above being drawn into litigation.  On a recent home inspection I discovered that the water heater was not manufactured for propane use, or converted from natural gas to accommmodate propane.  The county had approved it. 

I called the county about it.

Nothing was done by anybody and two weeks after my clients moved in the water heater exploded.

The only party absolved was the home inspector, who had warned everybody.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago