Ask an Electrician: What to Look for When Buying a House

Ask an Electrician: What to Look for When Buying a House

Why You Should Always Ask About the Electrical System Before Buying a Home

If you are looking at purchasing a new home, you need to know in advance if there are expensive and potentially dangerous electrical problems.

Electrical issues can be complicated to fix so it’s important to ask questions during the buying process. Below we review what you should consider when buying a home and the important electrical-related questions you should ask before purchasing a home. Keep reading to learn more.

What Type of Wiring Does the Home Have?

Several different electrical methods and types of wiring have been used in home construction over the years. The age of the home and whether it was recently remodeled or rewired can both factor into the home’s type of wiring. Additionally, some homes may have several different types of wiring, depending on their history. An older home may have one kind of wiring in a new addition and a totally different type of wiring in the original part of the house. This is why you mustn't assume a home has a certain kind of wiring based on age.

Types of wiring that has been used over the years:

  • Cloth wiring
  • Knob and Tube (K&T) wiring
  • Aluminum wiring
  • Copper wiring
  • Non-metallic (NM) cable
  • Underground feeder (UF) cable
  • Thermoplastic high-heat resistant nylon-coated wire (THHN/THWN)

Ideally, a new home will feature modern copper wiring that is sheathed in plastic. NM cable is the most common type of wiring used in homes today, but UF and THHN/THWN are also common, especially in homes that require specialized wiring in certain areas, such as sections that are prone to dampness or when the wiring needs to be buried underground. If the home doesn't have modern wiring, you will want to know this upfront.

You should then schedule a dedicated electrical inspection during the inspection period. Our electrician can help you identify the type of wiring used in the house, if it is safe and whether you should plan to have the home re-wired.

Where Is the Electrical Panel and How Big Is It?

Before purchasing a home, you should ask to take a look at the electrical panel. Not only do you need to see what condition it is in and whether it is clearly labeled, you also want to find out what size it is. Looking at the electrical panel can indicate if the electrical system is in good shape and whether the current panel and system are adequately sized for the house and your needs.

On average, a home will require a minimum of 100 amps to accommodate all appliances and electrical needs. However, if a home has been remodeled or you plan to incorporate upgraded appliances and other electrical features, you may need significantly more. Consequently, you may see homes with upgraded or supplemental electrical panels to accommodate the increased electrical needs.

It is not uncommon for older homes to have undersized electrical panels. If this is the case, you will want to speak with our electrician during the buying process to determine the panel size the home actually needs and how much this will cost.

For information on how to correctly label an electrical panel, review our blog here.

Was Past Electrical Work Permitted?

Kitchen and bathroom remodels are incredibly popular. Many will tackle these projects as soon as they buy a new house. Furthermore, home additions and conversions have become more popular as owners look to improve and expand their space. However, while large remodeling projects require permits to ensure that everything is up to code, not everyone follows this rule and it is not that uncommon to learn that an addition or remodeling project was completed without permits. This can pose several problems, not the least of which relates to the safety of the electrical system.

Before starting a remodeling project, city permits should be acquired. If they have not, you will want to schedule an electrical inspection with us to ensure that existing work is both up to code and safe. If the current homeowner does not know if the work done to the home was permitted, you will want to check the permit history for the property with the city.

Do not rely solely on the home inspection. During your home inspection, the inspector won't be able to access wiring that is behind walls or underground. Furthermore, while home inspectors work very hard to provide rigorous, comprehensive inspection reports, they are not electricians and therefore, their electrical knowledge is limited.

Review this blog post for more information on common electrical code violations in California.

If you are purchasing a home and need a professional electrical inspection from a master electrician, contact Valley Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Solar. We are always here to help!