Free Encyclopedia of Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, Repair
Ask a Question or Search InspectAPedia
InspectAPedia ® Home
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
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 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
WIND ENERGY SYSTEMS
WIND TURBINES & LIGHTNING
ZINSCO SYLVANIA ELECTRICAL PANELS
This article answers basic questions about assessing and repairing the electrical service, capacity, wiring type, condition, and safety in older homes. Sketch at page top courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2013 InspectAPedia.com, All Rights Reserved. Author Daniel Friedman.
Older homes often have electrical receptacles and fixtures that are ungrounded, and many local codes do not require that they be rewired so they're grounded. Still, grounding is worth adding to your system because it adds protection against electrical shock. Grounding provides a third path for electricity to travel along, so if there is a leak of any sort, it will flow into the earth rather than into the body of a person who touches a defective fixture, appliance, or tool.
A building or home electrical system is grounded with a grounding rod driven at least 8 feet into the ground outside the house or by connecting to a cold water pipe. Each individual branch circuit must be grounded as well, either with a separate wire that leads to the neutral bar of the service panel or with metal sheathing that runs without a break from each outlet to the panel. (In theory, electrical outlets could be grounded individually, but this is impractical.)
Readers of this article should also see ELECTRICAL DEFINITIONS. This website provides information about a variety of electrical hazards in buildings, with articles focused on the inspection, detection, and reporting of electrical hazards and on proper electrical repair methods for unsafe electrical conditions.
Ungrounded, un polarized electrical circuits in older homes
If your outlets have two slots that are the same size, then they are neither polarized nor grounded. This leaves you with no protection against shocks from defective fixtures or appliances using that outlet. At the very least, you need to install polarized outlets. You cannot and should not install grounded electrical outlets on circuits where no ground path is actually present (such as knob and tube wiring). To provide a grounded outlet where no ground is present is dangerous.
Some locations in your house- especially where the outlet and/or appliances may become wet- require ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) receptacles. Older, ungrounded circuits usually are protected by polarization, which is less effective than grounding but better than nothing. Grounded and polarized receptacles work only if they are wired correctly.
An older home may have electrical service that is inadequate or even unsafe. It can be confusing, as well. If you are unsure about your home’s wiring, have a professional check it out.
See ELECTRICAL OUTLET, HOW TO ADD & WIRE and ELECTRICAL GROUND SYSTEM INSPECTION for details about electrical wiring of receptacles (outlets or "wall plugs") and how to inspect the electrical grounding system at a building.
Some Potential Electrical Problems in Older Home
Here are a few things to consider when inspecting the electrical system in an older home.
Warning: this list of electrical wiring defects and safety concerns in older homes is incomplete. Contact Us to suggest corrections, changes, or to add additional items.
For an example of installing an additional electrical receptacle, see Electrical Outlet-how to add.
Reversed polarity shock hazards: "Polarity" in an electrical receptacle and on the device that plugs into or connects to it means that we're making sure that we connect the "hot" or "live" side of the electrical circuit to the connection point in the appliance or device that was intended to be "hot" or "live".
Carson Dunlop's sketches show why it's important to respect polarity when connecting an electrical receptacle, a lamp or any other appliance. In short, reversed polarity on a light fixture means it's easier to receive a dangerous electrical shock by touching the shell of the bulb socket or even the side of the bulb itself while screwing in a new light bulb.
Reversed polarity device burn-up or fire hazards: Never clip or file down the prongs on a grounded or polarized plug in order to force it to fit into an older electrical receptacle. The risk is that your plug will be installed with reversed polarity - connecting the "hot" side of the electrical circuit to the normally neutral-wired side of the appliance.
We've found appliances (a coffee maker) that simply burned up when connected in this fashion. Even though power was "off" according to the coffee maker "on-off" switch, feeding live voltage to the wrong side of the coffee make's circuit board led to a component burn-up and failure of the appliance.
Go to the heart of the problem: Test and upgrade your electrical circuit system. See ELECTRICAL GROUND SYSTEM INSPECTION for details about how to inspect the electrical grounding system at a building. Also, see details about electrical grounding at Electrical Circuits, shorts, and at Electrical Wiring in Old Houses and at Electricity Basics - how it works.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Use the search box below to ask a question or to search the InspectApedia.com website.
Ask a Question or Enter Search Terms in the InspectApedia search box just below.
Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.