Electrical 101

Electrical 101
by Phil Thornberry
We all know electrical defects show up on almost all inspection reports. Two things can help you deal with them more effectively: one, knowing when a particular rule went into effect, and two, the easiest resolution to a particular issue. Below are dates and resolutions to eight of the most common defects.
Non-grounded three prong receptacles:
Grounded receptacles were first installed in 1960. Any three-prong receptacle installed since that time should be grounded. If a three-prong receptacle was installed in place of a pre-1960 two-prong receptacle, there are three options. One is to change back to a two-prong receptacle. Two is to ground the receptacle (typically most difficult). Three is to install a GFCI receptacle at a reasonable cost if there is no ground available or if wiring was installed prior to 1960.
GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter): These are the receptacles with a test and reset button. They also come in breaker form.
Requirements are as follows:
1. Baths—1975
2. Outside—1975
3. Garage—1978
4. Kitchen—1987 (Within six feet of the sink)
5. Whirlpool tubs—1987
6. Basement—1987 (At least one)
7. Basement—1990 (All unfinished areas)
8. Kitchen—1996(All counters)
If any replacement or adding of receptacles is performed in these areas, the new receptacle should be GFCI protected. The fix for failed units or unprotected receptacles is simply to add or replace with a new GFCI receptacle or breaker.
Reverse polarity:
A polarized receptacle has one long prong opening and one short. They can be two or three pronged. The short prong should always be the hot side and the long, the neutral. If the receptacle is the polarized type, it should be wired as such regardless of age (non-polarized receptacles are no longer available). Correction is fairly simple.
The wire(s) on the left side of the receptacle should be moved to the right side and vice-versa.
Open junction box:
Junction boxes have required covers since they became available. If it’s there and open, it needs a cover.
Open splice:
Not since the 1920s and 1930s has any form of an open splice been approved. If an open splice exists, it should be enclosed in an approved electrical box with a cover.
Un-terminated wire:
An open-ended live wire was never approved (even if taped or wire nutted). All unterminated wires should be installed in an approved electrical box with a cover.
Oversized breaker to air conditioner or heat pump:
All manufacturers of cooling equipment install a rating plate on all units. This rating plate will have specific values for minimum and maximum sizes of breakers feeding the unit. Breakers should be properly sized so they can run without tripping the breaker and not damage itself if it starts pulling too many amps. In some cases the breaker rating is an odd size and may not be available over the counter. In such cases, an electrical supply house can order it. In Central Indiana, there is a specialty breaker distributor and most sizes and brands can be available the next day.
Aluminum wiring:
There are two categories of aluminum wiring; the 10- and 12-gauge wiring used between 1964 and 1975 and the larger gauges which are not a concern. If a house was built (or remodeled) from 1964 to 1975, it could contain the 10- and 12-gauge aluminumwires. This can be checked at the main panel and throughout the house at switches and receptacles. The problems that occur are typically at the connections. Overheating results from a reaction between the dissimilar metals and in some cases, improper installations. Proper installation requires that aluminum wire be one size larger than copper and the wire be wrapped around screws of devices (switches and receptacles). Connecting aluminum directly to copper wiring is also not allowed. If it’s determined that improper installation procedures were used or if overheating is occurring, steps should be taken to alleviate the problem.
There are three ways to rectify improperly installed or problem connections. One, replace aluminum wiring. This is expensive and typically not needed.
Remember most problems occur at connections. Two, install copper pigtails at all connections with an approved crimp connector (this is recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission). Three, replace devices (switches and receptacles) with aluminum approved devices. These devices are available through electrical supply houses. A qualified electrician should perform all electrical work.
Phil Thornberry is the president of Security Home Inspections, Inc. and is a licensed electrician. His office is located at
13277 N. Illinois Street, Carmel, IN 46032.
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