Inheriting your childhood home can be a dream come true. Not only does it allow you to relive pleasant memories from your past, but it also gives you an opportunity to share those memories with your children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, however, your childhood home may be hiding one or more dark secrets within its walls that could turn your dream into a nightmare, especially if it has not undergone electrical upgrades to make sure it conforms with all current safety codes. If you are inheriting a home you lived in as a child, or any other older home, the following information will help you determine if the electrical system is safe to use, or whether you should consider having it upgraded or replaced as soon as possible.
Determine the Type and Age of the Current Electrical System
If your parents, grandparents or any previous owners of the home are still living, consider asking them to provide you with as much information as possible about the current electrical system and its condition. It is particularly useful to know:
- who installed the current system, whether they were qualified at the time and when the work was done
- any information about fire, wind, flood or other damage to the home and any repairs that were made afterward
- any experiences they may recall about electrical issues in the home that may not have been repaired, such as problems with tripped breakers or burnt fuses
If you live in a city or town where there is a permit process for home improvements and repairs, obtain a copy of the permits on file for the home. Although this will not provide information about any work that may have been completed without a proper permit or before permits were mandatory, it will provide some useful information. If any electrical contractor or repair person is named on the permits, it can be helpful to see if they have any further information about the home and any work they may have completed on it.
Look for Clues that Might Indicate Existing Condition Issues
If you are not able to gather information from your parents or a recent owner of the home, consider looking for clues that could help you determine whether the electrical system is safe to use in its current condition.
- In the attic: look for wiring that is cracked or appears improperly spliced or connected, as well as older types of wiring now known to be dangerous, such as knob and tube and aluminum wiring
- In the kitchen, bath and utility areas: make sure all that all electrical outlets in areas where water is used have been upgraded to Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets to prevent accidental electrical shocks caused by exposure to water
- At the electrical panel: check to see if the panel appears to be in good condition, with sufficient space to add additional circuits and make sure there are no signs of any past damage from heat, smoke or fire
- At each light switch: determine if each light switch works correctly and be alert for any switch that appears damaged or that is found to emit an electrical spark or shock when operated
- At each outlet: carry a small electrical lamp to plug into each one to determine their condition while being alert for any outlets that appear to be discolored, ones that are not operable or ones that seem excessively loose when attempting to plug the lamp into them
If you feel that your inspection of the home or any information you discovered about past electrical work on the home could point to a potential safety issue, it is wise to turn off the power at the main electrical breaker in the fuse panel. Contact a qualified residential electrical services contractor, like those at All American Air & Electric, Inc. or similar companies, for a professional evaluation to ensure the system is safe before attempting to resume using electricity inside the home.
Since many older homes can fall short of the number of electrical circuits and outlets needed by today's families, consider asking the contractor to also include an estimate for upgrading the current system to allow for the installation of additional circuits and outlets.