Electrical

Aluminum Wiring

Written by:  Jim Allhiser President/Inspector
When I trained to become a home inspector I went to a national school and learned about all sorts of things that good home inspectors should be aware of when inspecting homes.  Over the years of doing inspections in Salem, Oregon I have noticed real patterns in building materials that were not reflected by the home inspector schooling.
Bricks for one thing are very popular in other parts of the country.  My schooling spent hours on the issues that can be noted with brick siding.  We have brick siding here, but at a very small percentage compared to the east and the south.  Most of this difference has to do with the shale that composes bricks.  We do not have shale mines on the Pacific coast and so if you want brick it has to be shipped in from the south or east.

Recently Chinese Drywall has received quite a bit of media attention.  That stuff is bad news but for all of the newly built homes that I am inspecting, none of the associated issues have manifested.  I have been looking for it and well educated home buyers have been asking about it but it seems that  our area did not receive the supply of drywall from those particular problem vendors.
Aluminum wiring was also a large topic of education at the home inspector training.  It is also another material that, for whatever the reason, we North-westerners largely managed to escape.  From the mid 60s to the early 70s aluminum was widely used for the smaller (15 and 20 amp) branch circuits in homes.  Problems occurred when the small aluminum wires were used with devices that had connections specifically designed for copper.  Aluminum also tends to expand and contract more than copper (which can cause loose connections) and it can corrode (which is an insulator), all bad things when consistent conduction is desired.  These issues lead to house fires and if your wiring is a fire hazard it is a very big deal!  I have seen and heard of small aluminum branch circuits in manufactured homes in this area but I have only seen one stick built home that had aluminum wires in 5 years!
The more experience I gain the more specific my inspections become, relating to the issues with Salem, Oregon homes.  Still, I can’t forget about those nationally recognized issues.  A great home inspector not only needs to know about homes in this area but also about building products that are not generally used in this area.



Jim Allhiser President/Inspector
http://SalemOregonHomeInspections.com
503.508.4321         jallhiser@perfectioninspectioninc.com

“Always on the cutting edge”

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Thermal Imaging/Infrared sees electrical issues before problems occur on a South Salem Home Inspection

I was doing a home inspection the other day on a very nice, and newer home here in south Salem today.  The home had very few minor issues but one thing popped out when I used the thermal camera to scan the master bedroom.

The circuit did not appear to be hot enough to cause a fire however there was no significant load on this circuit and it should not have been heating-up.  As it turns out there was a loose wire in the heated outlet in the picture.  The heat was produced because of the looseness/resistance of the connection.

Just another issue that can be easily resolved with the help of thermal imagining/Infrared.


Jim Allhiser President/Inspector
http://SalemOregonHomeInspections.com
503.508.4321                   jallhiser@perfectioninspectioninc.com

“Always on the cutting edge”

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Multi-wired circuits

A material and man-hour (read MONEY) conservation technique I have noticed more and more recently is called multi-circuit wiring. The purpose of this technique is to save money on wires and man-hours by pulling only one wire for two circuits.

Seems like a good idea and there are definitely a fair amount of contractors that agree. During normal operation of most circuits no significant problems will be noted. However if too many watts are added, the circuits could be prone to overheating.

The issues come from the neutral wire. With a single circuit wire there is a black wire for the hot, and a white wire for the neutral. For simplicity sake let’s look at these as the supply=hot(black) and the return=neutral(white) for the current respectively.

A 15amp circuit should use a 14 gauge wire for supply and return. That means that if the maximum amount of power (allowed by the breaker) is called for, the wire on the supply and on the return are both thick enough to hold all of 15 amps or 1800watts at 120 volts. [(15amps)x(120volts)=1800watts]

Now let’s save some time and materials during installation by running a multi-circuit wire. This wire has two supplies and only one return. Remember each one of the 14 gauge wires are designed to hold 15 amps but now you have two wires that could be called on to hold all of 15 amps and only one 14 gauge return/neutral wire for 30amps! (15+15=30amps) Normal alternating current modulation will prevent the neutral from having to carry both loads at the same time but if something goes wrong and the neutral does experience over current in this manner the breaker will not trip, because breakers only protect the hot/supply wires.

The deal is the authorities that say this is ok are betting that there will never be a situation that causes both wires to call for the entire load at the same time. As a home inspector here in Salem, Oregon I am paid to be a “worst case scenario,” guy. It is my job to alert my clients to not only issues but also potential issues and educate them as best I can.

Have you Inspected your Salem, Oregon home’s GFCI’s lately?

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters: They are a wonderful safety item that has been required around water since the ’70s and according to the CPSC could prevent over two-thirds of the approximately 300 electrocutions still occurring each year in and around the home. Installation of the device could also prevent thousands of burn and electric shock injuries each year.

GFCI’s continually monitor what goes out, through the hot side and what comes back through the neutral side. Power always flows in a loop so these devices can tell when there is leakage, ie. ground fault.

Ground Fault: Is where the loop of electricity, instead of properly running out the hot side (into the thing that’s plugged in) and back in to the wall on the neutral side, gets shorted.  In other words the power jumps out of the loop / you might get shocked.

That jump/shock is very likely to happen when you are handling your mixer, weed trimmer, curling iron, etc…. that has an electrical problem (internal loose wire maybe) and you reach for something that can allow a direct flow of electrons to go right in to the ground (faucet, water pipe).

"Test Monthly"

So how and how often should you test my GFCI’s? If you look closely on the GFCI it will say, “Test Monthly.” To properly test you should plug something in that you can see is on, like a lamp. Then press the test button. The buttons should ‘pop’ and the lamp should go off. Then reset the button and the lamp should come back on.

If the test doesn’t happen like that, it may be time to replace your hard working GFCIs.

If that is still to much work I would be happy to come and inspect the function of the GFCI’s in your home.