Burning up electric meter and main switch (C) DF SSElectrical Safety Hazards: When Should an Inspector Shut Down Unsafe Electrical Equipment
     


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This article discusses safety hazards at residential electrical systems that may lead an inspector to turn off or shut down equipment, even if there is risk of collateral damage such as loss of heat. There are also circumstances in which an inspector should not turn off electrical equipment during testing because doing so may create a greater hazard.

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These electrical inspection suggestions are not a complete inventory of all electrical safety procedures nor of all electrical components that should be inspected; these notes focus on identification of conditions that may present special electrical hazards for the electrical inspector. Contact Us by email to suggest changes, corrections, and additions to this material.

When to Shut Down Unsafe Electrical Equipment

Heating equipment stack relay switch (C) Daniel FriedmanASHI Home Inspector Educational Seminar Proceedings: ASHI-NE Chapter Annual conference September 22-23, 2008, Randolph, MA. -- Daniel Friedman. This is the full text version. A powerpoint presentation version of this class is also available.

Original text - Daniel Friedman, as ASHI Technical Journal Staff, January 1992,updates February 2006, September 2008.

This is the full text version. A powerpoint presentation version of this class is also available. Readers of this article should also see these other building inspection safety articles:  Safety for Building Inspectors and  Septic Inspection Safety and also STAIRS, RAILINGS, LANDINGS, RAMPS - INSPECTIONS, CODES

Some inspectors, with adequate training, exceed the requirements of the standards and will actually shut down extremely dangerous equipment themselves.


Heating equipment stack relay switch (C) Daniel Friedman

Even the simple task of pulling the cover on a marginal bimetallic stack relay switch on an oil-fired heater can result in failure or inadvertent shutdown of the equipment.

Stack relays have a stepping lever which is reset by the service person if the switch, often fragile on old systems, is disturbed.

Be warned that whether you touch a building component or not there are grave responsibilities.

Touching a building component: if you precipitate a catastrophe, will of course be viewed as a mistake.

Not touching a building component: Failing to act effectively to protect occupants of a building you inspect will, of course, also be viewed as a mistake. If you failed to inspect, detect, report a hazard in a building you may bear liability if later an event occurs.

Disclaimers: A simple disclaimer "not inspected" is in adequate. An adequate disclaimer that meets ASHI standards makes sure that the client understands the significance of an observation [or of steps to omit making an observation].

The last man in rule: Trade and professional education classes concerning mechanical systems, which can involve life-safety concerns, commonly teach the "last man in" rule. Home inspectors know this problem as well. The last "expert" to set foot on the property is vulnerable to blame for any ensuing failures, even if s/he acted entirely correctly and even if s/he never touched the component later in question.

During an electrical inspection, it's your judgment call. Document your judgment

In the final analysis then, the precise safety steps to be taken are up to the judgment of the inspector at the scene. The inspector should also document his or her action. Failing to do anything and failing to even serve notice may be viewed as very dangerous and seriously irresponsible.

With proper training, knowledge, and procedures, electrical inspections can be done safely and accurately. Be careful.

If in your opinion unsafe conditions exist at a property you are inspecting you should notify all parties concerned, including building occupants/management/owners, realtors involved, and other appropriate authorities.

December 18, 1988 - Smyrna, GA - A Smyrna family's troubles with a faulty circuit breaker in their mobile home ended in tragedy when a fire broke out and killed 18-year-old Jeffrey Scott Auton. Auton's family, experiencing problems with the main circuit breaker, went to a home products store to buy a new one for their trailer, said Fire Investigator David Herndon.

The store did not have a circuit breaker to fit the family's needs and a new one had to be ordered. .... Herndon said the fire was started when the circuit breaker shut down completely as three space heaters were running. The family had a history of problems with the breaker, particularly from a load put on it by a large heating unit. Herndon stated that after the fire there was not a trace left of the circuit breaker; it was completely gone from the panel. -- Ibid.

For example, what if the case above had happened the day after the property described had been examined by an ASHI inspector? Were there perhaps clues which telegraph a developing problem? What about anecdotal reports from the occupants of recurrent breaker tripping, visible signs of overheating in the panel, widespread and unusual use of electric heaters, or evidence of work in the panel by untrained people? These risks to occupants are also a hazard to the inspector on several bases.

ELECTRICAL INSPECTOR SAFETY PROCEDURES describes important basic safety procedures, clothing, and equipment for home inspectors and electrical inspectors.

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Technical Reviewers & References

  • Electrical shock injury statistics: www.healthatoz.com - September 2008;
  • Mark Cramer Inspection Services Mark Cramer, Tampa Florida, Mr. Cramer is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors and is a Florida home inspector and home inspection educator. Mr. Cramer serves on the ASHI Home Inspection Standards. Contact Mark Cramer at: 727-595-4211 mark@BestTampaInspector.com
  • John Cranor is an ASHI member and a home inspector (The House Whisperer) is located in Glen Allen, VA 23060. He is also a contributor to InspectApedia.com in several technical areas such as plumbing and appliances (dryer vents). Contact Mr. Cranor at 804-747-7747 or by Email: johncranor@verizon.net
  • Carson, Dunlop &
Associates Ltd., TorontoCarson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 info@carsondunlop.com. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides:
    • Commercial Building Inspection Courses - protocol ASTM Standard E 2018-08 for Property Condition Assessments
    • Home Inspection Education Courses including home study & live classes at eleven colleges & universities.
    • Home Inspection Education Home Study Courses - ASHI@Home Training 10-course program.
      Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on these courses: Enter INSPECTAHITP in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
    • The Home Reference Book, a reference & inspection report product for building owners & inspectors.
      Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
    • The Home Reference eBook, an electronic version for PCs, the iPad, iPhone, & Android smart phones.
      Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order. Enter inspectaehrb in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
    • The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors.
      Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Illustrated Home purchased as a single order Enter INSPECTAILL in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
    • The Horizon Software System manages business operations,scheduling, & inspection report writing using Carson Dunlop's knowledge base & color images. The Horizon system runs on always-available cloud-based software for office computers, laptops, tablets, iPad, Android, & other smartphones.
  • "Frequency of Occurrence and Sources of Rust and Corrosion in Electrical Panels," Daniel Friedman, IEEE HOLM Conference, Philadelphia PA, 1992 - see ELECTRIC PANEL RUST for an online version of this article.
  • Jim Simmons: Personal communication, J. Simmons to Daniel Friedman, 9/19/2008. Photographs contributed to this website by Jim P. Simmons, Licensed Electrician, 360-705-4225 Mr. Electric, Licensed Master Electrician, Olympia, Washington Contact Jim P. Simmons, Licensed Master Electrician, Mr. Electric, 1320 Dayton Street SE
    Olympia, WA 98501, Ph 360-705-4225, Fx 360-705-0130 mrelectricwa@gmail.com
  • Kenneth Kruger: Original author of the sidebar on testing VOM DMM condition: Kenneth Kruger, R.A., P.E. AIA ASCE, is an ASHI Member and ASHI Director in Cambridge, MA. He provided basis for this article penned by DJ Friedman.
  • "How to Use DMM's Safely," Leonard Ogden, CEE News, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10106, Dec 1990 p.10.
  • Dr. Jess Aronstein, consulting engineer, Poughkeepsie NY, 1991 protune@aol.com
  • Rex Cauldwell, master electrician and contributor to the Journal of Light Construction on electrical topics
  • New York State Central Hudson Gas and Electric Company, G&E/1-2/85 consumer safety pamphlet
  • American Society of Home Inspectors, ASHI Training Manual, Al Alk -[obsolete, and includes unsafe practices-DF]

Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair

  • Home Reference Book - Carson Dunlop AssociatesThe Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume. Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.

    Or choose the The Home Reference eBook for PCs, Macs, Kindle, iPad, iPhone, or Android Smart Phones. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference eBook purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAEHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.


  • Recommended books on electrical inspection, electrical wiring, electrical problem diagnosis, and electrical repair can be found in the Electrical Books section of the InspectAPedia Bookstore. (courtesy of Amazon.com)
  • Rust and Corrosion in Electrical Panels, A Study and Report on Frequency and Cause for Electrical and Home Inspectors at Residential Electric Panels
  • "Electrical System Inspection Basics," Richard C. Wolcott, ASHI 8th Annual Education Conference, Boston 1985.
  • "Simplified Electrical Wiring," Sears, Roebuck and Co., 15705 (F5428) Rev. 4-77 1977 [Lots of sketches of older-type service panels.]
  • "How to plan and install electric wiring for homes, farms, garages, shops," Montgomery Ward Co., 83-850.
  • "Simplified Electrical Wiring," Sears, Roebuck and Co., 15705 (F5428) Rev. 4-77 1977 [Lots of sketches of older-type service panels.]
  • "Home Wiring Inspection," Roswell W. Ard, Rodale's New Shelter, July/August, 1985 p. 35-40.
  • "Evaluating Wiring in Older Minnesota Homes," Agricultural Extension Service, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108.
  • "Electrical Systems," A Training Manual for Home Inspectors, Alfred L. Alk, American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), 1987, available from ASHI. [DF NOTE: I do NOT recommend this obsolete publication, though it was cited in the original Journal article as it contains unsafe inaccuracies]
  • "Basic Housing Inspection," US DHEW, S352.75 U48, p.144, out of print, but is available in most state libraries.
  • ...