xxxx S 49th St., Philadelphia, PA
Inspection conducted January 27, 2011 pursuant to settlement contingencies in the sale of a home
Robert Monk Electric
Philadelphia Lic. #35849
PA HIC #060608
II SCOPE OF REVIEW
III ITEM DETAILS
IV PROPOSALS & ESTIMATES
V CONTINGENCY FOR CERTIFICATION TO INSURER
There are an unusual number of issues with the electric system, compared to systems in similar buildings in the same neighborhood. Problems identified during an initial consultation suggest that a more in-depth inspection would reveal additional items for correction. On the other hand, the system can probably be made ‘average’ to the neighborhood for about $500, and corrected throughout (to the relevant standard for the respective wiring methods in place) for around $1600; further, the 200A service that has been recently installed on a spacious new breaker panel should be appealing to you if you may consider installation of a central cooling system, or more than one additional 220V electric appliance.
Buildings in this neighborhood tend to have a number of items wrong with their electrical systems, due to their age and the number of modifications that have been made, both professional and amateur, and installers’ estrangement from the wiring methods of a previous generation. This building has been extensively re-wired in the basement and kitchen, but there appear to be significant errors both in the newly-wired sections and in the interface between the new wiring and remaining older wiring above the basement.
Absence of the usual evidence of inspection approval for the relatively recent electrical work at the service panel, basement, and kitchen, and some significant (though not necessarily costly to fix) errors in this new wiring, suggest that the work may have been done without permits and by a poor and/or unlicensed installer.
Electrical problems I observed in this building include: service panel enclosure not bonded to the grounding system, improper junctions/polarity in service panel, branch circuit equipment grounding conductors not terminated properly, basement knob-and-tube wire insulation cracked with wire exposed, receptacles with reversed polarity, grounding-type receptacles connected on circuits with no ground, GFCI protection missing in bathroom(s), kitchen and basement; switches inoperable (bad lamps?). Although some new wiring has been done to the kitchen and via exterior-run cables on the south of the building, new-looking grounding-type receptacles may be false-grounded on old wiring methods that provide no equipment grounding facility.
II SCOPE OF REVIEW
My review was limited to an inspection of the service disconnect breaker panel in the basement, and to a limited sampling of plug-in tests at many receptacles throughout the building.
Among other omissions, I did NOT:
- Verify function of any circuit under load (for example, with a cord-and-plug device attached), nor
- Verify function of any particular lighting circuit, nor
- Visually inspect for proper wiring terminations behind cover plates, where plug-in tests indicated proper polarity and grounding.
Plug-in testers can be intentionally ‘fooled’ by dangerous bonding of the neutral and equipment grounding conductors on the receptacle device, not visible without opening the box and dismantling the connection for inspection.
I began with an inspection of the aged knob-and-tube wires above the boiler in the basement, as flagged in a previous inspection. That section of knob-and-tube will likely continue functioning for decades, if left undisturbed, but the bare wires are obviously a much greater hazard than modern cable with pliable insulation and outer casings still intact, and should be replaced. I identified five additional locations where modern wiring methods in the basement transition to old existing wiring systems above the basement. The presence of non-grounding-type and false-grounded receptacles throughout the building suggests that knob-and-tube and/or non-grounding fabric-cased cables serve the majority of locations in the building, other than, most likely, kitchen counters. Beyond simple plug-in tests, I opened a single, obviously old-wired, receptacle location: the receptacle at the 3rd Floor Front room, northeast wall baseboard. I found this properly non-grounding type receptacle to be fed by a fabric-cased, non-grounding, two-wire cable.
III ITEM DETAILS
A. Problems at Service/breaker panel
1. Grounding electrode connection not completed.
The building grounding system’s wire was not connected to its terminal in the service breaker panel. Most of the branch circuit equipment grounding conductors, and one circuit neutral also were not tightened in the terminal.
a) I completed the grounding and neutral connections due to the hazard of this condition and the ease of fixing it.
b) Loose connection(s) here could have contributed to some false-ground observations made earlier, at receptacle locations throughout the house (see below), and could explain discrepancy between previous inspection and this one, with regard to grounding of receptacles.
2. Service/breaker panel missing bonding jumper
a) The breaker panel enclosure has not been solidly grounded. This is 101 for new electrical service equipment installations (yet a common enough mistake, even by installers for licensed companies).
3. Branch circuits miswired at panel and/or improperly junctioned in service equipment.
a) White branch circuit conductor connected to breaker position #7. Corresponding branch circuit black conductor connected to another branch circuit black. An installer may have been attempting to correct a polarity problem elsewhere in the building, or connect a switch-loop junction inside the service panel — in any case, the connection needs correction and may be causing inoperable switches or receptacles in the house.
4. No evidence of Permitting and/or Inspection Approval for Work
a) There is no evidence that the recent 200A service installation has been inspected and approved. Based on what I see, the work done at that time likely included re-wiring much of the basement cables, a few new circuits via the exterior south wall to upper floors, and the kitchen remodel. Normally, a service replacement inspection would be evidenced by the sticker of a Philadelphia-licensed inspection agency on the service breaker panel (there is a pest control inspection sticker there that is the right color but has nothing to do with electrical). If the work was all permitted together, the sticker on the service panel would describe other work included in the approval, such as ‘kitchen remodel’ and ‘basement rewire’. My guess based on past experience is that none of this work was permitted (and therefore never inspected).
The work at the panel and as evidenced in the kitchen (reverse polarity and non-GFCI receptacles) suggests that the work was by a bad and/or unlicensed electrician. The work as it stands has value, if completed and corrected with a few low-cost tasks; but this new work should not be considered code-compliant, and it may not be in compliance with Philadelphia permitting requirements. If it passed an inspection, it should not have done.
1. Locations observed, tapped from basement ceiling junctions at:
d) west(mid across from boiler),
e) east (above boiler)
a) single conductor knob and tube type wire run surface-mounted under basment ceiling joists, tapped above boiler, run to –? — foyer(?). Knob and tube wiring should be run on insulators and physically separated from building structural and finish materials on longer runs, and should not be run where exposed, as in a basement.
1. Locations observed missing (not an exhaustive survey):
a) Basement: at laundry area (2 locations) and five (5) other locations throughout basement ceiling.
b) 2FL Bathroom receptacle. Also, protect fan/light ceiling fixture via receptacle location, OR eliminate pullchains that provide electric continuity from people to ceiling fixture.
c) Kitchen countertops: all but one receptacle. Several of these receptacles were also reversed-polarity (see below), so this problem may be fixed with polarity, if the power source is in the one GFCI receptacle at the counters.
D. ‘False Grounding’ — grounding-type receptacles installed where there is no ground connection.
1. Locations observed (not an exhaustive survey of every location):
a) 3FL Front: east rcpt;
b) 3FL Mid, W rcpt, N rcpt;
c) 2FL Rear, NE rcpt,
d) 2FL Front, SE & NW rcpts;
e) 1FL SE rcpt, NW rcpt,
f) Kitchen NW rcpt
i. Also, this receptacle is rated for 20A, and is probably served by wire good for no more than 15A. The receptacle’s socket arrangement permits connection of cord-ends that have been specifically configured to prevent the use of higher-power 20A equipment on standard circuits protected and rated for lower power (15A) .
1. Locations observed (not an exhaustive survey):
a) 3Rr, SE rcpt;
b) Kitchen counter rcpt’s (2 or 3 of them); see also, GFCI Protection issue, above.
1. Locations observed:
a) A simple #6 AWG wire run continuous through approved grounding pipe clamps at the hot and cold water, and gas pipes serving the water heater, will effectively bond the metal piping systems to ground.
IV PROPOSALS & ESTIMATES
A. I recommend the following work without delay:
1. Correct termination and grounding errors in service/breaker panel.
2. Verify function of all circuits, especially switches/lighting, and label all breakers at service panel.
3. Demolish and replace single-conductor run of knob-and-tube from ceiling junction above boiler to whatever it serves above the basement SW.
4. Repair any reversed polarity, false-grounding, and malfunction of outlets (receptacles, switches, fixtures), wherever such work can be done through simple re-termination of existing cable/wire at the outlet location.
5. Install GFCI protection at bathrooms, kitchen (where missing), and basement (about 12 locations). Option: blank off most basement locations rather than upgrade them, for a reduction of $200.
$400 ($200 with reduced option)
6. Replace knob-and-tube connections to 1st floor receptacles, with modern, grounded cable methods and new grounding-type receptacles at these locations. ESPECIALLY at location above boiler where knob-and-tube casing and insulation has cracked away, exposing bare conductors. This process will eliminate several exposed knob-and-tube sections in the basement, and provide opportunities to correct polarity and verify wiring above the basement. The work may reveal that wiring above the basement is of the slightly newer, fabric-cased two-wire cable, rather than knob-and-tube type.
V CONTINGENCY FOR CERTIFICATION OF ELECTRICAL SYSTEM TO AN INSURER
1. I have no special insurance expertise, nor wiring safety credentials other than my Philadelphia license. Based on past experience, insurance providers will likely be impressed by the modern wiring from the service panel and not examine the system further than that.
2. This is an estimate, not a quote or proposal.
1. Should you or an insurer require a certification of the safety of the building’s electrical system, additional work I would need to do before I could take on that liability relating to the safety by providing a professional approval of the system in writing would include:
i. Install AFCI breakers
ii. Correct any circuit problems where AFCI protection reveals them — possibly nowhere.
b) Replace all remaining aged non-grounding type receptacles in kind with new non-grounding devices (improves snugness of contacts over aged springs in old devices, that can heat up due to arcing and ignite connected cords).
c) Register the review job and obtain inspection approval by my Philadelphia-licensed underwriter/inspector.
Grounding electrode conductor, equipment grounding conductor bundle, and one (1) neutral conductor are loose or not connected.
White conductor for 120V branch circuit improperly connected to a breaker. Black of this circuit connected to black of another circuit.
Knob and tube casings, and inner wire insulations cracked and revealing bare circuit conductors.
Typical tap of knob-and-tube wires serving circuit(s) above basement, supplied by modern wires run new in basement.
Single conductor knob-and-tube type wire run improperly stapled beneath basement ceiling joists.
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