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ELECTRICAL INSPECTION, DIAGNOSIS, REPAIR
ACCURACY vs PRECISION of MEASUREMENTS
AFCIs ARC FAULT CIRCUIT INTERRUPTERS
ALUMINUM SECs & WIRING
ALUMINUM WIRING HAZARDS & REPAIRS
AMPS & VOLTS DETERMINATION
AMPACITY - the LIMITING FACTOR
APPLIANCE EFFICIENCY RATINGS
BACKUP ELECTRICAL GENERATORS
BACK-WIRED ELECTRICAL DEVICES
BOOKSTORE - ELECTRICAL
BUILDING SAFETY HAZARDS GUIDE
Cadet & Encore Heater Recall
CIRCUIT BREAKER FAILURE
CIRCUIT BREAKER SIZE for A/C or HEAT PUMP
Classified CIRCUIT BREAKER WARNING
CORROSION in ELECTRICAL PANELS
CORROSION & MOISTURE SOURCES in PANELS
CUTLER HAMMER PANEL FIRE
DEFINITIONS of ELECTRICAL TERMS
DIRECTORY OF ELECTRICIANS
DMM Digital Multimeter HOW TO USE
ELECTRIC METERS & METER BASES
ELECTRIC MOTOR DIAGNOSTIC GUIDE
ELECTRIC MOTOR OVERLOAD RESET SWITCH
ELECTRIC PANEL AMPACITY
ELECTRIC PANEL INSPECTION
ELECTRIC PANEL MOISTURE
Electric Power Frequency Table
ELECTRICAL DISTRIBUTION PANELS
ELECTRICAL GROUND SYSTEM INSPECTION
ELECTRICAL SERVICE DROP
ELECTRICAL SERVICE ENTRY WIRING
EMF RF FIELD & FREQUENCY DEFINITIONS
FEDERAL PACIFIC FPE HAZARDS
FIRE SAFETY Checklist, CPSC
GFCI PROTECTION,Testing GFCIs AFCIs
HEATING COST FUEL & BTU Cost Table
HEAT TAPE USAGE GUIDE
Hertz - Definitions of KHz MHz GHz THz
KNOB & TUBE WIRING
LIGHTING, EXTERIOR GUIDE
LIGHTING, INTERIOR GUIDE
LIGHTNING PROTECTION SYSTEMS
LOW VOLTAGE BUILDING WIRING
LOW VOLTAGE TRANSFORMER TEST
MAIN ELECTRICAL DISCONNECT
MAIN DISCONNECT AMPACITY
MOISTURE SOURCES in PANELS
MURRAY SIEMENS Recall
PHOTOVOLTAIC POWER SYSTEMS
PUSHMATIC - BULLDOG PANELS
REMOTE ELECTRIC POWER, PHOTOVOLTAIC
RUST in ELECTRICAL PANELS
SAFETY for ELECTRICAL INSPECTORS
SE CABLE SIZES vs AMPS
SIEMENS MURRAY Recall
UNDERGROUND SERVICE LATERALS
VOLTS / AMPS MEASUREMENT EQUIP
VOLTAGE MEASUREMENT METHODS
WIND ENERGY SYSTEMS
WIND TURBINES & LIGHTNING
ZINSCO SYLVANIA ELECTRICAL PANELS
Hazards of touching electrical equipment - safety procedures: this article reviews safe and unsafe methods for touching or not-touching electrical equipment during its inspection. Warning: photographs in the article below include one of a gruesome death by electrocution. Electrical safety is an important consideration for both workers and building owners/occupants, and the hazards are real.
This is a chapter of our article on electrical safety procedures which discusses safety hazards at residential electrical panels and suggests safety procedures for the electrical inspector, home inspector, or other professionals who examine residential electrical systems. Also see SAFETY for ELECTRICAL INSPECTORS.
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Safe electrical inspection procedures and safe use of volt meters, DMMs, multimeters, and similar electrical test equipment is discussed at the end of the article. Original text: DF, as ASHI Technical Journal Staff, January 1992, with updates February 2006.
Watch out: See SAFETY for ELECTRICAL INSPECTORS. Never touch metal plumbing or gas system pipes while you're working around electricity. Never touch electrical equipment while standing on a damp or wet surface.
During an inspection an ASHI inspector warned the home owner that there was a short in a florescent ceiling light fixture.
The owner, a contractor who had done his own electrical work, irritated and incredulous at this supposed defect, licked his knuckles and bridged a small space between the light body and a nearby gas pipe. He's now a believer. [NOTE: DJF home inspection, Beacon, NY 1990]
A very questionable procedure is suggested in The ASHI Training Manual [NOTE: "Electrical Systems," ASHI Training Manual, chapter by Alfred L. Alk, p. 18. ASHI 1987] indicating that the inspector can "test" to see if a panel is dangerously "live" (has an internal short) by tapping the box with the knuckles of his/her right hand to check for current, then laying the right palm on the box to feel for heat before beginning to remove the cover.
From a safety view, this is a bad idea. Never rely on physical touch to judge electrical safety of a component. Use instruments.
Test instruments such as the VOM described above, and the TIFTM Tic Tracer shown at left are inexpensive, effective, safer when used properly.
NOTE: Alexandra Radkewycz, a Canadian researcher, reports severely shocking experiences from failure to make proper use of instruments. [Private communication to author, 12/91.]
We describe the TIF Tic Tracer in detail, including providing examples of its use, at VOLTS / AMPS MEASUREMENT EQUIP.
The gruesome death by electrocution shown in the photograph at page top occurred when the man shown tried to steal electrical power from a high voltage cable. - Jim Simmons
From a safety view, these are bad ideas that can kill someone. Never rely on physical touch to judge electrical safety of a component.
Use electrical test instruments to check for live voltage. Test instruments such as the VOM described above, and the TIFTM Tic Tracer (above), and the contact and "touchless" pens (photo at left) and tools used to detect the presence of voltage are inexpensive, effective, safer when used properly.
[Alexandra Radkewycz, a Canadian researcher, reports severely shocking experiences from failure to make proper use of instruments. Private communication to author, 12/91.]
See VOLTS / AMPS MEASUREMENT EQUIP for a description of tools used to detect the presence of live electrical wires & devices and for the measurement of actual volts or amps. See DMMs VOMs SAFE USE OF for details about using test equipment during an electrical inspection.
In the same ASHI Training Manual chapter the author, Al Alk, offers another more accepted suggestion: "Inspectors should practice working around open enclosures with the left hand behind the back. If the right hand receives a shock the current will more likely pass down the right half of the body: the heart is on the left side. Inspectors who wear rings must be especially wary when working near an open box." [NOTE: ASHI Training Manual, Op. Cit.- Obsolete]
Grounding: A basic rule for working around electrical equipment: if you are yourself not grounded, and if you only touch one single component at a time, risks are reduced. Never ground yourself through your feet. Don't stand on a wet floor. If it's necessary to touch electrical components in such a location, a trained electrical worker uses a dry ungrounded platform such as boards or a wooden ladder.
Rings and watches: When working around electrical equipment, first remove rings and watches to reduce the risk of electric shock. At an IBM test site in Poughkeepsie, NY in the 1980's a test technician was killed while working on a computer. His metal watch band contacted a live component while other body parts were touching a grounded component, possibly the steel frame of the assembly. Similar accidents around electric panels are a real risk for home inspectors.
Electric Panel cover screws: if you find that a sharp-tipped sheet metal screw has been used (usually to replace a lost original fastener) you should be alert for pierced, damaged, short-circuited wires in the panel - both during removal and during panel cover replacement. We will not reinstall a sharp-pointed screw in a panel cover if wires are crowded close to the screw opening. Having seen more than one shorted and burned panel from precisely this cause, we warn clients about this unsafe detail. It is trivial to correct.
Never Assume You've Turned Power Off - Use a Neon Tester, Voltage Detector, or Multimeter
The most basic electrical safety procedure I can think of when working on electrical devices or electrical wiring involves knowing how to:
I never touch something electrical that I've "turned off" without using at least a neon tester to or a voltage detection pen to see that electrical power is really off. In 1970 I turned off power to a junction box to fix a light - the light went out - so I figured that all electrical power to the junction box was really off. Then while wiggling wires in the junction box I got a huge spark and a little shock.
Some nitwit had run two different live circuits into the same junction box.
Now I'm more careful. I figure that if you don't electrocute yourself, the rest is easy - you can always run out of a burning building. Well really inspectors have more responsibility than that: in addition to not killing yourself, you must protect the safety of your clients and of the occupants of buildings on which you've performed work.
VOLTAGE MEASUREMENT EQUIPMENT describes voltage sensors, DMMs, VOMs, and other choices of equipment we use for testing electrical circuits and for performing basic electrical or appliance wiring repairs.
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