GFCI vs. AFCI Outlet/Breaker
By Carl Heywood
A GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) or GFI (ground fault interrupter) outlet/breaker is an electrical surge protector which protects against electrical shock by cutting off electrical current when the flow of the electricity is misdirected away from its normal path. GFCI outlets are typically required to be installed in wet areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, unfinished basements, garages, outdoors, and anywhere else near water.
GFCI protection is available in one of two options, an electrical outlet or a circuit breaker. (E078) The GFCI outlet has two buttons on its face, a test and a reset button, the test button is used to check if the electrical outlet is working properly. The GFCI outlet monitors the current going into the hot slot in the outlet (smaller vertical slot) and coming back out the neutral slot (larger vertical slot). If there is any fluctuation in amperage (as little as .004-.005 milliamps) the GFCI will trip, cutting off the electrical current to the outlet. As little as 30 milliamps of current can stop your heart, but a GFCI protected outlet will trip at a much lower amperage, protecting you from electrical shock. One GFCI outlet will protect all the other outlets in the circuit that are wired from it (downstream), preventing electrical shock at these receptacles too. (E022)
GFCI outlets can also be used to protect circuits that are not bonded (non-grounded) back to the electrical panel and earth. Today’s building standards require all the electrical circuits to be grounded/bonded back to the electrical panel for personnel safety. What is bonding/grounding? Electrical bonding is the practice of intentionally electrically connecting all exposed metallic items (washer, dryer, lamp, TV) not designed to carry electricity in a room or building as protection from electric shock. For example, if a wire became loose or damaged inside an appliance it could energize it and shock or kill anyone who touches it. (E125C)
Electrical panels in homes built before 1960 were grounded to the earth via the water supply piping, however these outlets (2-prong outlet) were not grounded/bonded back to the panel. One option would be to rewire the entire house, but that is expensive. Another less expensive option would be to install GFCI protected breakers in the panel. GFCI protected breakers will not ground/bond the circuit to the panel but will trip and provide protection if there was an electrical short in the appliance. (E125C)
An AFCI outlet (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) is an outlet that provides protection from arc faults caused by damaged house wiring or damaged wiring in electrical appliances. (E020) An arc fault is essentially the unwanted discharge or electricity in a circuit and is one of the causes of residential electrical fires. The discharge produced from the fault produces heat, which will damage the wire sheathing, making it more susceptible to an electric fire. By detecting these arc faults, the AFCI breaker trips, turning off power to the circuit and reducing the risk of an electrical fire.
Arc faults can occur anywhere in the home; for example, at loose/damaged wiring connections in the walls or appliances. The AFCI breaker can determine whether the arc fault is hazardous to the wiring system and responds accordingly, removing power if necessary. AFCI's have been required per U.S. and Canada electrical codes since the beginning of the 21st century. Since 2014, AFCI breakers have been required on almost all housing circuits by the National Electric Code (NEC). Today, the required circuits for AFCI breakers are almost every room in the house
There are currently 2 different types of AFCIs; a branch/feeder as well as a combination AFCI. Both offer overcurrent protection, and both protect against arcing. The difference between the two is the branch feeder is intended to dissipate the high current arcing faults in the circuit occurring from parallel arcing (line-to-neutral) whereas the combination AFCI is a breaker in the electrical panel which provides protection against series arcing (loose, broken, high resistance wires) ground arcing (line-to-ground) as well as overload and short circuit protection.
Remember, a home inspection is not a code inspection. We are not inspecting your future property to make sure it is code compliant. Code changes every 3 years, homes built 50 years ago will not meet the required building codes of today’s homes. We are inspecting the property for functionality and safety, GFCI & AFCI outlets can improve the safety of your home and should be considered as future upgrades. As always, we suggest consulting with and using a qualified electrical contractor to make any upgrades to a home’s electrical system.
If you have any further question about GFCI & AFCI Outlets, please feel free to give us a call.
Horizon Point Inspections
Top Ten Things Found During a Home Inspection
By Brian Tergoning
I have come to realize that being a home inspector is a lot like being a doctor. When people find out what you do for a living, they have a lot of questions. One of the big ones, “is that bad”? Here is the short answer, a lot of small issues can turn into larger issues if left unfixed. For this reason, I have put together list of the top ten items that we encounter on most inspections. This is by no means an exhaustive list, nor will it be the most important issues a home inspector may find in your prospective new home. Some of these items prospective homeowners can fix themselves, or ask the realtor to include in the final negotiations as things the sellers need to fix. We always suggest that the work be completed by a qualified contractor for the warranties and to avoid having a well-intentioned seller fix the problem incorrectly.
Chimneys: A chimney has a rough life up on the roof exposed to all the elements. The most common things we find with chimney is cracking due to expansion and contraction of the chimney, this is also called the freeze thaw cycle. Another common issue is cracked or improper chimney crowns. Once the chimney components start cracking it will only get worse. More water in the cracks means more freezing and bigger cracks. If the cracks are small, temporary repairs can be made. However, the chimney crown/cap will eventually need to be replaced.
Roof Penetrations: This does not always mean you have a huge hole in your roof that will produce a waterfall every time it rains. The most common roof penetrations are in the roof or chimney flashing, plumbing vents, and exposed nails in the shingles themselves. Whether these are caused by improper installation, or simply unattended maintenance issues, all roof penetrations should be repaired to prevent water from getting into the home.
Gutters: The roof is meant to shed water; the gutters are installed to carry the water a safe distance from the home to keep the moisture away from your foundation systems and/or basements. A good gutter system considers not only the square footage of the roof, but where the water goes after that. For the homes with buried gutter extensions, try to find out where the drains go and be on the lookout for especially wet or swampy areas. This could mean there is a defect in the drain line and may affect how much water is diverted. For homes with above ground downspout extensions, a good rule of thumb is to have the extensions drain water 4-6 feet from your foundation.
Caulking: Caulking around doors, windows, and other penetrations can degrade relatively quickly. We suggest homeowners inspect the caulking yearly. While most homeowners can caulk their own homes, they tend to think any caulk will do. We suggest researching what type of caulk is recommended for the building materials installed on your home.
Garage Door Openers: For most people there are only two types of garage door openers. Ones that work and ones that don’t. Garage door openers have several components and safety features that do require periotic maintenance. This can be quickly accomplished by a qualified garage door company. Two of the safety features checked during a home inspection are the photoelectrical sensors and the pressure reverse system. Both safety features are intended to prevent a small child or infant from getting trapped under a closing door.
GFCI Outlets (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter): Today's building standards require any circuit/outlet on the exterior of the home or, any areas exposed to water such as a kitchen, bathroom, or unfinished basement to be protected by a GFCI outlet or breaker for personal protection. If it is an older home, GFCI outlets may not have been required at the time of construction. We suggest having a qualified electrical contractor add them to these areas for safety.
Loose Toilets: When a toilet is loose it can cause damage to the wax ring used as a seal to the connecting toilet flange. This can cause water to leak between the toilet and the floor it is resting on. Over time this can lead to wood rot and water leaks into the space below. We suggest having a qualified plumbing contractor evaluate your toilet and fix the problem. Typically, a new wax ring will need to be installed and the toilet will need to be secured. If the leak has been an ongoing issue the flooring material may have water damage and will need to be replaced.
Leaking Sinks: A leaking sink or drain line can drip water into the cabinet and the floor below and cause early degradation of the cabinet and wood rot to floor surface below. Most minor leaks can be fixed by the homeowners but, when in doubt call a professional plumber to ensure the problem is fixed correctly.
Double Tapped Breakers: A double tapped breaker is when there are two (hot) wires attached to a single breaker. Some breakers allow for this but (your inspector should know which manufactures allow this), if it listed as a defect, we suggest you call a qualified electrician to evaluate and fix the issue.
Fogged or Defective Windows: Windows can suffer from several issues. The two most common are fogged windows, and windows that just don’t operate correctly. If your prospective house does have issues with the windows, we suggest that you speak with your inspector and realtor about how to address the problem during the negotiations. The cost to fix the problems with multiple windows can add up quickly.
Federal Pacific Stab Loc Breakers
By Chris Heywood
Federal Pacific Electric Company (FPE) was one of the most common manufacturers of electrical panels in North America from the 1950s to the 1980s. Millions of their panels with Stab-Loc Breakers were installed in homes across the country. As the years passed, electricians and home inspectors often found Federal Pacific Electrical panels failed to provide proper protection to homeowners and their families. Experts now say that FPE panels can appear to work fine for years, but after one overcurrent or short circuit, they can overheat and become fire hazards.
In a class action lawsuit, a New Jersey State Court ruled that the Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Company “violated the Consumer Fraud Act because FPE knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet UL standards…" An expert who investigated the potential hazards of Federal Pacific Electric panels stated under UL 489 test conditions, that FPE panels fail to trip at a much higher rate than standard panels.
When a breaker fails to trip, an extreme amount of power from the outside electrical supply surges into a home’s panel and circuits. Once that happens, it cannot be stopped or shut off manually. Electricity will burn until it runs out of fuel or the wires melt. The panel could overheat and catch fire, causing serious harm to a home and its occupants. Many Federal Pacific Electrical panels and breakers can operate properly for years. But if and when they do malfunction, they can catch on fire. If you have a Federal Pacific Panel with Stab-Loc breakers we suggest having a qualified electrical contractor replace your panel. Depending on the electrical service for the home, replacing the panel could range from $1500-$3000.
What Is a Home Inspection
By Chris Heywood
Certified ASHI Inspector (ACI)
The first time you heard about a home inspection was probably when your real estate agent advised you to get one after your contract to purchase a new home was accepted. A lot of people go through the inspection process not understanding its purpose, only to find out it's more than they expected. In this article, I'm going to discuss the history of the inspection industry, explain what a home inspection is, what it's not, what gets inspected, what doesn't, and what to do after you receive your inspection report
In the early 1970s, home buyers started hiring general contractors to perform pre-purchase inspections for homes they wanted to buy. As the home inspection industry grew, it became evident that a "general contractor" did not have the in-depth knowledge to evaluate all the systems in a house. Hiring a contractor with expertise in one field was too expensive and hard to coordinate in a short period. This lead to the start of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) in 1976, the industry's most recognized and oldest professional organization for home inspectors. ASHI developed their Standards of Practice, which today, are still the most recognized standards in the industry and the real estate community. www.homeinspector.org
The ASHI Standards of Practice lay out the minimum requirements an inspector must follow and inspect during a home inspection. The home inspection is not a pass/fail or code evaluation, it's an evaluation of the house to determine the current functionality and safety of the property and structure. The ASHI Standards of Practice state, the inspector, should inspect, at the minimum, the following items. Roof & Chimney Systems, Exterior Components, Lot/Grounds, Garage & Garage Door Opener, Interior Components (Walls/Ceilings, Doors, Windows, Outlets, Stairs, Fireplace), Attic System, Electrical System, Structural Components, Plumbing Systems, HVAC System.
The home inspection is a non-destructive, visual inspection of the readily accessible components and systems in the house. A home inspection is not an insurance policy or appraisal, code inspection, energy audit, or intended to detect latent (concealed or hidden) issues. Items such as nail pops, wall marks, hairline cracks, loose interior trim and small drywall cracks are common and typically shouldn't concern the inspector; however, the inspector should explain why these items are not in the report. We are often asked if the security system, sprinkler system, landscaping lighting, phone or TV service is working. These items are not included in the ASHI Standards of Practice and the inspector will often clarify this before starting the inspection.
If the house is brand new or 100 years old, every home will have some problems. Depending on how well the house has been maintained, we typically find 10 to 20 repair/replace items during an inspection. On the other hand, homes that have not been maintained could have 30 to 40 repair/replace items noted in the report. Most things found during a home inspection are relatively easy to fix. However, some items may be a safety issue or expensive and should be further evaluated by a qualified contractor. Once the inspector is done, he/she should review the repair/replace items with you on-site. This time is an excellent opportunity to teach our clients about the house and explain what was found, point out the issues and review solutions for repairs or replacement. In the end, it is ultimately up to you and your real estate agent to decided what to ask the seller to fix.
We always meet with the client before starting the inspection; this is the "driveway presentation." This is our opportunity to explain what will be inspected, how information is documented in the report and the order the inspection is performed. This time is also an excellent opportunity to answer any questions or address concerns the client may have about the house. Clients questions are an essential part of the inspection; they may be about disclosures or matters the inspector can answer or consider during the inspection.
After the driveway presentation, we start inspecting the roof and chimney first and continue with the following components; exterior & grounds, garage, kitchen and interior parts of the home, bathrooms, attic structure, electrical service and panel, foundation and structure, plumbing and water heater and finish with the HVAC system.
The roof is where the house starts; the roofing system will protect everything you own. The roofing system consists of the shingles, flashing, and gutters and is one of the major components of the house. Any damage to the shingles, flashing or gutters will result in roof leaks and foundation issues. Most of the roofs we inspect have some damage either to the shingles or flashing. They are relatively easy repairs, however, over time leaks will occur, getting these items taken care of are very important.
When it comes to the roof and exterior inspection of the home, the most significant concern for the client is water intrusion. We will typically spend an hour or longer (depending on the size of the house) inspecting the roof and exterior of the home. Water is the homes biggest enemy, checking the roof, window, siding and door flashings as well as all the caulking joints is critical to maintaining a dry house.
After completing the exterior portion of the inspection, we move on to the garage. The most important part of the garage inspection is making sure the garage door opener is safe and functioning as intended. The garage door opener has two built-in safety features, the reverse pressure sensor, and the photoelectrical eye sensor. Depending on the age of the door, these safety features may not be present during the inspection. The reverse pressure sensor is designed to automatically reverse the doors downward motion if something or someone is trapped under the door. If installed correctly, the door will stop and change its direction of travel within two seconds if resistance is detected. There are two photoelectrical eyes mounted on both tracks within 4-6 inches of the floor. When the door closes, the sensors monitor for movement or objects between them, if detected, the door will automatically reverse its direction of travel.
The interior inspection starts with the kitchen, and then we work our way around the house checking the following items: interior/exterior door and window operation, walls and ceilings, outlets and switches for proper wiring and power, fireplace, smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, bathroom plumbing and drainage lines. During the kitchen inspection, all the appliances are operated and checked for recalls. After completing the interior inspection, the attic inspection is next. The attic inspection takes a minimum of 15 minutes, this gives the bathtubs time to drain, making it easy to locate leaks in the plumbing system during the plumbing inspection.
One of the most concerning items found during the attic inspection is mold on the attic framing and roof sheathing. Mold is usually the result of a poorly insulated attic. Warm air from the house or improperly vented exhaust fans will condensate inside the attic space, if the attic ventilation is poor the moist air will not be able to escape, creating a mold environment. If mold is visible during your inspection, it will need to be tested to determine the type of mold and proper mitigation by a qualified mold specialist. When it comes to mold in any area of the house, you must address the underlying issue that is allowing the mold to grow. Like the attic space, you must address the lack of insulation and ventilation before having the mold mitigated, or the mold will return.
The last part of the inspection is typically done in the basement inspecting the electrical panel, foundation and framing, plumbing and the HVAC system. The inspector removes the electrical panel cover, the breakers and wiring are checked for proper sizing and installation. The foundation and floor structures are carefully inspected for distress, cracking, foundation shifting or bowing and water intrusion. The inspector checks the plumbing for leaking, corrosion, damage and proper installation.
The HVAC system is the final part of the inspection. We pull the furnace panel and check the overall condition of the furnace and its systems. One of the items we typically find is a dirty filter and blower fan. This condition is due to a lack of monthly and yearly maintenance and is one of the biggest reasons for the early failure of an HVAC system. If the HVAC system has been maintained it will typically operate for 20-25 years. A neglected HVAC system can fail within the first 10 years, we suggest having the system serviced twice a year; once in the spring and again in the fall.
When the inspection is over, the inspector will review all the repair/replace items with you on-site. This review is an essential part of the inspection process. This is an excellent opportunity for the inspector to explain to their client the issues found during the inspection. Being able to show and tell our clients what we saw makes it easier for them to understand the problems versus trying to make sense of it in a report. At the end of the inspection, we want to be able to teach our clients about the home and educate them on its current condition. No surprises!! This is one of the biggest reason you should consider getting a home inspection on a house you are buying.
If you have any other questions about your home inspection, please feel free to call Chris at 513-515-9799.
If you would like to schedule your inspection with Horizon Point, please call our office at 513-831-1200.
ASHI Certified Inspector