Electrical Systems

Canada has great codes for fire and safety in construction. Our electrical code is well thought out and updated and Canadians generally have an out of hand trust that the electrical system in their home is safe and that when they throw a switch the intended light will come on.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t deficiencies, especially in homes built prior to 1995. Knob and tube still exits in some older homes. In fact my nephew, a carpenter in Manitoba, was recently doing some remodeling and came to realize his entire house had copper wiring that was connected to knob and tube and then back to copper at receptacles and fixtures. This is a very scary set up. As a temporary fix I recommended replacing all receptacles with GFCIs until he could rewire the entire house. Still a less than ideal scenario, but far better than the current system. Along with being on the lookout for knob and tube you need to watch for aged fuse systems and make-shift “fixes”. I have seen everything from pennies to bent nails wedged into the fuse sockets instead of replacing them properly. These two out of date systems aren’t the only once accepted now rejected systems. 

Federal Pacific Panel
The stab-lok system distributed by Federal Pacific Electric and also under the brand Pioneer Electric here in Canada is now extinct due to the flaws in the products. Breakers and panels installed prior to the mid 1990s and especially prior to 1993 may not trip when overloaded exposing a real risk of fire and shock.

So to get down to brass tacks, how much does it cost to replace a panel? 

Gary Rose, a Certified Master Inspector and Master Electrician with 30+ years of experience, said “In terms of (replacing) the panel, between $2,000 – one out and one in no alterations – [which is] rare, to $3,500 possibly more, but not much more worst case.”  I did some work a few years ago on a house that required a new panel and the bill for that home owner was $2455.

What to look for on a walk through: 

  • Look at the receptacles. Any plugs within 5 feet of a sink or tub must be GFCI’s, and all external outlets be GFCI. Remember that all receptacles down stream of GFCI receptacle are protected by that first one. Sometimes the only way to know for sure is to test. If there are an over abundance of GFCIs installed on a older home this can sometimes indicate old wiring in the walls that someone was trying to make safer without the cost of updating the wiring and panel. Newer rectangular receptacles on an older home usually just indicates an aesthetic change to make the property look more modern and up to date. Check that there are 20 amp receptacles in the kitchen.

  • Look in the panel and sub panel. USE CAUTION. Never touch anything that seems off or is inaccessible. Look for burn marks and double taps. Double taps are when a breaker or fuse has two circuit feed wired to it. Are there any arc fault breakers? These on an older home would represent a fairly recent upgrade, most likely after 2005. Are there any hanging exposed or coupled wires, or electrical tape? None of this should be there. Look for the previously discussed Federal Pacific or Pioneer Electric fuse panels.  Again, only look if it is absolutely safe and easy to do so.

For more information on the topic of this blog contact ralph@inspectorphd.com, go to Inspectorphd.com or look for us on Linkedin.


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