Thursday, October 27, 2022

GFCI Inspections

                                                        GFCI Inspections


 









Many inspectors use a plug in device to “test” GFCI receptacles. Although these devices may work on older GFCI receptacles, they may not trip a newer GFCI receptacle. I have seen many times a GFCI tester not trip an ungrounded GFCI receptacle. GFCI’s monitor the current between the hot and neutral; not the ground. Although, an ungrounded circuit with a GFCI receptacle will provide some protection, it is always best to have a GFCI connected to a grounded circuit.

Newer GFCI’s can be identified by a status indicator light. They perform self tests and are designed to meet the latest UL standard for auto-monitoring (self-test). Newer GFCIs periodically conduct an automatic internal test to confirm that it can respond to a ground fault. If the test button is pressed on a newer GFCI it will prevent reset of the GFCI if it is not wired or operating correctly.  Because of this most of the states and national standards for testing GFCI receptacles and circuit breakers advise the inspector to press the “test” & “reset” buttons in that order. If the status indicator light goes on (newer GFCI’s) and the unit resets, then the device is wired and functioning properly. On an older device, be sure to check and ensure power has been restored. Always recommend a licensed electrician properly ground all circuits. So how should a home inspector test, evaluate, and advise their clients regarding GFCI’s;

 

Testing an older GFCI (without a status indicator light):

  • Older GFCI’s can still be tested with a plug in device, however if the receptacle is not grounded, it may not trip the receptacle.
  • If there is not a ground, recommend a licensed electrician upgrade. (trips or not with tester)
  • If a ground is detected, your testing device should trip the test button (satisfactorily responded)
  • If a ground is noted and the tester does not trip the test button; recommend it is evaluated by a licensed electrician. Although grounded, the “line” and “load” connections or branch circuit wiring may be incorrect.
  • The receptacle itself could be also faulty
  • There could also be an issue with the circuit or over current protection device
  • It may be prudent to have the electrician upgrade the GFCI to a newer self testing receptacle
  • These devices are meant to protect against electrocution; therefore, we should not indicate they are safe unless grounded and respond to our testing device.

 

Testing a newer GFCI (with a status indicator light):

  • If you see a green status indicator light; this will indicate that the receptacle is wired & working properly. TO TEST:
  1. Press the “test” button, the receptacle should trip & the status light should go off. You can also verify this with a mechanical tester
  2. After the receptacle is tripped, pressing the reset button should cause the status indicator light on the receptacle to come on (green). This indicates that the receptacle is wired and functioning properly. This is an acceptable method to test newer GFCI’s.
  • If a ground is not detected (which would be unlikely, but possible) with the mechanical tester, recommend a licensed electrician upgrade, even if it responds to the test button.
  • A determination should not be made on the GFCI’s status with a mechanical tester because it may not trip the test button.
  • Most home inspection standards of practice require pushing the test button to ensure the power is turned off. This can be verified by the mechanical tester or the status light going off.
  • Be sure to press the reset button and verify the status light comes back on. If it does not, the receptacle may be defective or there is a problem with the circuit. Recommend repair by a licensed electrician.
  • Newer GFCI’s periodically conduct an automatic internal test to confirm that it can respond to a ground fault
  • A red status indicator signifies the following:

-        Red blinking = initial self test (initial power up only)

-        Red solid or blinking = press test / reset to reset GFCI

-        If red status light does not go off = device / wiring faulty

Monday, August 29, 2022

Electrical Wiring Materials and Proper Installation

 

Electrical Wiring Materials and Proper Installation


There are many different types of wiring materials. Installations of these components are different depending on the usage. Although you may be able to use different wire / conductor types for similar applications; there are specific recommendations for these types of branch circuit wiring. Here are the most common types of wiring and how they are normally used. Armored Cable (AC) has been used for many years and still in use today. The conductors are plastic (cloth for older applications), and the outer covering is metal. Rigid Metal Conduit is designed for protection of conductors. RMC ranges in size from ½” to 4”. Non-Metallic Tubing (ENT) is a flexible corrugated tube designed for protection of conductors. ENT is not approved for exterior locations. Check with the manufacture. Liquidtight Flexible Conduit (LFC) is made from PVC and can be installed

in all locations. Often found on exterior HVAC equipment, swimming pools, & hot tubs.

Rigid Polyvinyl Chloride Conduit (RNC) is not the same as plumbing pipe and cannot be used as such. Plumbing PVC may not be used as RNC either. It comes in two wall thicknesses; Schedule 40 or 80. Underground Feeder (UF) is designed for wet locations. It is normally gray in color. Nonmetallic (NM) is most common in modern construction since around 1940. Early versions of NM from around 1920 – 1940 had cloth sheathing instead of the modern PVC sheathing. NMC has a coating that is non conducting, flame-resistant, and moisture resistant. NMC is approved for damp environments. So what are some things home inspectors should look for:

 

  • AC cable should only be used indoors
  • AC conductors should have an anti-short bushing at every end
  • AC should be supported every 4 ½ feet and within 1 foot from boxes and terminations
  • RMC can be installed in all locations including into concrete
  • RMC should be supported every 10’ and within 3’ from boxes & terminations
  • ENT should be supported every 3 feet
  • LFC should be supported every 4 1/2’ and within 1’ from boxes and terminations
  • RNC may be installed in all locations including burial and embedded in concrete
  • RNC should be supported every 3 feet for 1” and smaller sizes, 5’ for 1¼” and larger sizes and within 3 feet from boxes and terminations
  • UF cannot be embedded in concrete
  • UF may not be used for swimming pool, hot tub, or spa wiring
  • NM should only be located in dry locations only and not below grade
  • NM should not be installed inside of conduit that is buried
  • NM may not be embedded in concrete or in conduit embedded in concrete.
  • NMC is approved for damp locations
  • All electrical conductors should be protected by strike plates if closer than 1 ¼” from the edge of any framing member
  • Burial depth is as follows: UF / MC is at least 24”, RMC at least 6”, LFC is at least 18”, GFCI protected residential branch circuits of 20 amps or less may be buried at least 12 inches regardless of the wiring method.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Why Is The Air Conditioner Not Cooling Properly?

 Why Is The Air Conditioner Not Cooling Properly?



All home inspectors have a method they use to inspect the air conditioning system. We know the obvious things to look for and how to energize the system and see if it appears to operate properly. A visual home inspection is limited to the time we are at the house. I try to leave the system running as long as practical, however sometimes it is a shorter period than I would like. We check for proper operation, thermostat response, leaks, noise from the compressor, fan, blower, and proper condensate discharge. If everything checks out ok and the system is running properly but there is no or very little cool air coming from the ducts there is an issue. Of course, we are going to recommend a qualified HVAC professional evaluate the system. There are some conditions that may cause what appears to be a operating system from producing adequate cold air and proper dehumidification. A normal temperature drop should be between 14-24 ℉ (measured at the plenum about 12” from the supply & return side). Another issue may be the length of the refrigerant lines. Normally 60’of horizontal run and 45’ of vertical distance is the maximum recommended by many manufactures. Anything longer than that may cause proper operation issues. The refrigerant lines should be supported approximately every 8’ and supports should be compatible with copper as not to corrode. Home inspectors are not required or even expected to diagnose a problem or conduct a temperature drop analysis; however here are some conditions that may cause a central electric air conditioning system to not adequately cool that they should be aware of;

 

  • Evaporator coils located before the fan
  • Evaporator coil not rated the same BTU as the condenser unit
  • Improperly sized system
  • Condenser unit outside has improper clearance or dirty (recommend 3’)
  • Growth / bushes / landscaping to close to the condensing unit (recommend 3’)
  • Condenser unit to close to dryer discharge (recommend 3’)
  • Condenser unit exposed to direct sunlight throughout the day
  • Condenser fins are damaged
  • Insulation missing on suction line
  • Refrigerant lines kinked or damaged
  • Dirty evaporator coil
  • Dirty air filter
  • Low coolant
  • Undersized or restricted cold air return
  • Leaks in the duct system
  • Insufficient supply / return ducts (often seen in Cape Cod style houses)
  • Ducts not properly balanced. They should be changed in the winter / summer months if the system in integrated with heat
  • Improper fan speed (we see this with older retro-fitted AC systems)

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Properly Advising Your Client About Asbestos

 


Just about every week I get asked that question. Home inspectors are fully aware that the “A” word could create confusion and fear in our clients. Most standards of practice & code of ethics we follow do not recommend or allow us to note that Asbestos is present without first testing for it. Of course those of us that have been doing this for any length of time know what Asbestos looks like and where it is commonly found. Many people think that Asbestos is no longer in any products on the market. If you think asbestos is banned in the U.S., that is not the case. From 1973 to 1978, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did ban everything from asbestos pipe and block insulation to the use of asbestos in artificial fireplace embers and wall patching compounds. In 1989, the EPA issued a final rule under Section 6 of Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) banning most asbestos-containing products. However, just a few years later, the rule was vacated and remanded by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. As a result, most of the original ban on the manufacture, importation, processing, and distribution in commerce for the majority of the asbestos-containing products originally covered in the 1989 final rule was overturned. Today, asbestos is still used in dozens of products, and the public might not be aware of just how close to home these products are. Asbestos is the only cause of mesothelioma, so it is important to be aware of the products that still contain this deadly mineral. We know that Asbestos can be found in insulation of boiler / stem pipes, around forced air ducts, insulation, siding materials, roofing materials, & inside or around old fuse boxes. It still is used in the following areas:

Construction Materials - Many homes built before 1980 already have asbestos in their flooring, insulation, plaster, and paint. Today, it is still legal to manufacture, import, process and distribute asbestos-containing construction materials such as cement corrugated sheet, flat sheet, pipe, and shingle, non-roof coatings, pipeline wrap, roof coatings, roofing felt, and vinyl tile floor.

Car Parts  - Asbestos can still be found in automatic transmission components, brake blocks, clutch facings, disk brake pads, drum brake linings, friction materials, and gaskets.

Fertilizer and Potting Soil -  According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), vermiculite (which may contain a type of naturally occurring asbestos called tremolite-actinolite) has been used in some potting soil and fertilizer. The IDPH says the mineral is used in potting soil for plant growth, and it appears as bright gold or silver flakes.

Talc -  Although talc isn’t made with asbestos today, Consumer Safety says, “in nature, talc deposits occur together with asbestos, and mined talc can easily become contaminated with asbestos.” Some companies have been sued over talc products that have been found to contain asbestos.

How should a home inspector properly advise their clients and a link to A Homeowners Guide To Asbestos & Removal and a Vermiculite removal program that will financially assist your clients when Asbestos is suspected:

·       When you suspect Asbestos recommend your client have the material in question tested for hazardous materials including Asbestos. Make sure this recommendation is in your written report

·       Explain to them that products containing Asbestos may not pose a risk if it has been properly encapsulated. Refer them to a professional who can further evaluate and advise them

·       Do not disturb the material. Leave that to the professionals

·       We do not recommend a home inspector test for Asbestos unless specifically trained because it would have to be disturbed which could cause a problem

·       Advise the homeowner if they plan to perform any construction work in the area where the Asbestos is contained to contact a professional first to ensure it is safe

·       If the Asbestos is not friable, and in areas where it will not come into contact with individuals, it may not pose a risk to the occupants. Recommend further evaluation and testing.

·       Any friable Asbestos should be removed by a trained abatement company

·       For Vermiculite suspected in insulation contact: Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust by CLICKING HERE. They have a program that will financially assist your clients in removing and re-insulating their attic

·       CLICK HERE for a Homeowners Guide to Asbestos & Removal you can share with your clients

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Inspecting Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

 Inspecting Electric Vehicle Charging Stations



As electric vehicle’s become more popular we are seeing more charging systems in garages and mounted outside. Some charging stations are supplied by a 240 Volt AC single-phase electricity source or 120 Volt AC to provide electricity to the vehicle’s charging system. There are three types of charging options: Level 1, Level 2, & Level 3. Level 1 chargers employ a standard AC current at 120 Volts and is supplied to the vehicle using a portable cord that plugs into standard 20 amp three prong outlet. Level 1 chargers provide 2-5 miles of electric range for each hour of charging. Level 2 chargers are a higher voltage at 240 volts and is supplied as AC current to the vehicle using a standard connector that works with most vehicles. (Tesla provides an adapter). Level 2 chargers provide about 20 miles of range in an hour. 3-6 hours usually provides a full charge. Level 3 charging is a bit different. First these 2 fundamentals of electric vehicle charging. 1. Power from the utility company is always alternating current (AC). 2. Electric vehicle batteries only accept direct current (DC). In level 1 & 2 charging the AC to DC conversion takes place in the vehicle in an onboard charger. With level 3 charging, the conversion takes place before the power reaches the vehicle inside the charging station. This bypasses the slower onboard charger and instead charges the battery directly. Normally you can charge a battery to 80% in 30 minutes. Level 3 charging stations are not currently available for home use as they use a 480 volt system.

  Most charging stations are designed with a permanent grounding system to provide safety to the user. The charging station is wired similar to a sub panel. They are also GFCI equipped and will shut down if a fault is detected. This connection is typically at the utility entry power distribution panel. Most charging stations are designed to control and monitor energy delivery from the residence’s electrical service wiring to the electric vehicle. The vehicle monitors current and battery state of charge. What should a home inspector be looking for:

 

  • The charging enclosure should be completely insulated with no exposed parts
  • Check the charging cable for damage.
  • The charging cable should not be in contact with the ground
  • The charging station should be on a dedicated circuit
  • The charging station should be connected to a grounded, metal, permanent wiring system
  • An equipment-grounding conductor is to be run with the power circuit conductors and connected to an equipment grounding terminal or lead on the charging stations ground strip
  • Corrosion  / arcing / damage on the inside of the charging station
  • The mounting plate and face unit must be used and securely fastened to the wall
  • Most home charging stations are rated for 40 amps, however check with the manufacture
  • The two phases must each measure 120 Volts AC to Neutral.
  • There should be no exposed wires
  • Earth ground must be connected to neutral at only one point.
  • A service disconnect should be near the unit if it is not in close proximity to the service panel housing the service disconnect for the station (check local requirements)
  • Four conductors should be used to supply the charging station (2-hot, 1-neutral, 1 ground)

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Inspecting Ungrounded Branch Circuits

 Inspecting Ungrounded Branch Circuits

                                                                            

Many times home inspectors are told that the “electric service was updated.” Automatically people think that the house was rewired. In reality the main service, and possibly sub-panels were replaced and updated with modern circuit breakers. However many two wire ungrounded branch circuits remain. Often times knob & tube wiring is still being used. As can be seen in the picture, many of the branch circuits are older 2 conductor and do not have a ground. Many of these are cloth covered. Some are metal sheathed or BX / AC cable. Using the metal sheath is not considered a ground, however may show as one if the metal components are bonded. This was addressed in another newsletter. Even though the receptacles have been changed to 3 prong receptacles, they are not grounded. We can tell by looking in the electric panel just how many branch circuits are not grounded. When I am inspecting the electric panel, I inform my clients that the service panel has been upgraded, however many branch circuits are not grounded. I explain to them that a ground protects you. The circuit will still work, however it is not considered safe without a proper ground. My clients always ask me; “what do you recommend”. I inform them that all circuits should be grounded. Grounds protect people and appliances / devices, however there are things they can do to provide some degree of protection for ungrounded branch circuits. Of course the best and most expensive thing they could do is to rewire the ungrounded branch circuits with grounded branch circuits. Here is some more information and some other ways you can advise your client:

  •  Install a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter receptacle or circuit breaker at the beginning of the circuit. It should be labeled; “No Equipment Ground”
  • A tamper resistant GFCI would be a better option
  • Knob & Tube wiring can nuisance trip a GFCI because of shared neutrals
  • GFCI test buttons apply current between the hot and neutral. GFCI testers you may use, apply current between the hot and equipment ground. So if there is no equipment ground, the tester will not trip the GFCI receptacle
  • The receptacle can be individually grounded if connected to the equipment ground rod or on a metal water pipe within 5 feet of entering the house
  • Installing a Combination Arc Fault Circuit Breaker or receptacle may also provide protection from older wiring that could be prone to the type of failure these devices are able to detect
  • A Combination Arc Fault / Ground Fault dual function circuit breaker with a  tamper resistant receptacle might be the best option if rewiring the entire branch circuit is not possible
  • It is important to note that fire resistant materials are required for anything combustible

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Inspecting Mini-Split Heat Pumps

 

Inspecting Mini-Split Heat Pumps


As more people want air conditioning in homes heated by hydronic or steam heat, we are seeing more ductless mini-split systems. Basically mini-split systems transfer heat / cool through the same refrigerant cycle as a conventional heat pump. The advantage is that each room or area has its own “mini” air handler and thermostat. This allows the homeowner to individually control the thermostat for that zone. Mini-Split systems also are more efficient and ensure less energy loss because the conditioned air is not traveling long distances through duct work. Also unused or underserved areas of the home can be eliminated or turned off. Mini-Split systems have an inverter driven compressor that allows the system to adjust capacity and operated down to 30% of their full rated capacity saving a considerable amount of energy and cost to the homeowner. A ductless heat pump’s indoor units are connected to the outdoor unit by conduits that contain the refrigerant tubing, electrical wiring, and condensate drain tubing. The conduits go through the home’s exterior wall. While most mini-split installations feature wall-mounted or ceiling-mounted air handlers, an alternative option that most manufacturers offer for homeowners who do not want to see the heads is a ducted mini-split that employ short runs of ductwork to one or multiple rooms. Also self contained air handlers that are ceiling or wall mounted that have exposed grills. This eliminates the large air handling units that some find unsightly. Inspecting these units is different in some ways to inspecting a conventional heat pump. Like any other heat pump, you should be looking at the age of the unit, proper leveling, adequate electrical supply, proper startup and cycling, leaks, & compressor noise. So what are some other things a home inspector should be looking for:

 

  • Ensure all penetrations in the house are properly sealed
  • One thermostat should be provided for every “zone”
  • Any supply or return duct in unconditioned space should be insulated with a minimum of R-8 where 3 inches in diameter and greater. R-6 where less than 3 inches in diameter.
  • Supply ducts in other areas of the home shall be insulated to a minimum of R-6 where 3 inches in diameter or greater and R-4.2 where less than 3 inches in diameter.
  • Stud / joist or other framing cavities should not be used as ducts for distribution
  •  The outdoor unit should be raised at least 3 inches above the ground
  • Condensate discharge from all evaporator coils should be discharged in an area as not to come in contact with humans or animals. It should also not discharge into a street, alley, or other areas where it could create a nuisance. 
  • Condensate discharge pipe shall maintain a minimum horizontal slope of at least a 1 percent slope.
  • Insulation on refrigerant suction pipe should be R-4
  • Refrigerant circuit access ports located outdoors shall be fitted with locking type tamper resistant caps or shall be otherwise secured to prevent unauthorized access
  • Insulation in exterior walls shall be fit properly around plumbing and wiring