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Is Your Electrical System Up to Code?May 14th, 2018 by
Worried about your home’s electrical system? Considering that electrical deficiencies ranked third among a National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) survey of common code violations, your fears might not be unfounded. Whether you’ve recently purchased a home, remodeled, or are experiencing electrical issues, an electrical inspection will provide you with peace of mind.
My family ran into some electrical hazards about 20 years ago when my parents purchased a home that was previously owned by a fervent do-it-yourselfer. There were too many makeshift repairs and upgrades to remember them all, but a few stood out. The 1970s gold shag carpet glued to the living room wall was without a doubt the most memorable “upgrade,” but the most terrifying “improvement opportunity” was hidden behind the outlet covers.
To alleviate any potential drafts, the previous owner had removed all of the outlet covers, stuffed cotton balls around the outlets, and reattached the outlet covers, creating a serious fire hazard. After this frightening discovery, an electrician was called and any necessary repairs or updates were made. With that in mind, it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the safety of your family.
Now, how did this happen if everything was supposed to be “up to code?” It’s most likely due to permits not being pulled for the more extensive projects, but it’s also just one the realities of owning an older home.
It’s okay if everything in your home isn’t completely up to code, but there are a few things you should not ignore. Check your home’s electrical wiring when:
- It’s more than 40 years old
- You’re purchasing, leasing, or selling a home (especially if your home was inhabited by a DIY enthusiast who dabbled in the art of electrical repair)
- Any home additions or remodels have been completed
- Extension cords are used to power most items in your home
- You have two-prong, ungrounded outlets (as opposed to three-prong outlets)
What is the National Electric Code (NEC)?
While it’s naturally ideal for every home and office electrical system to be up to current regulation, it’s realistically not feasible. What this means is that (unless you live in a new construction) your home probably isn’t up to code.
The NEC handbook is produced by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) every three years to set the standards for electrical safety in residential and commercial constructions. The handbook is roughly 1,000 pages long, so it’s not an easy read.
The handbook provides strict rules and regulations for the following types of electrical work:
- Electrical wiring
- Overcurrent protection (which prevents the shorting out of circuits)
- Grounding (a safety feature protecting your appliances, home, and family from electrical shock)
- Equipment installation
Using what it calls an “open consensus-based process,” the NFPA develops its guide through a public input period, public comment period, technical meeting, and Standards Council review to review any changes or updates. As sources of power and their technologies change, regulations are updated.
Even though it’s called the “National” Electrical Code, adoption of the code varies by state. Before the NEC can go into effect, it must pass through each state’s legislature, which operate on different legislative schedules and respond to local pressures from businesses and constituents. For example, as of April 2018, Virginia and DC follow the 2011 NEC, while Maryland suggests (but does not require) that local governments adopt the 2014 NEC, so some areas may use an earlier code.
Common Building Code Violations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia
You don’t need to fix every code violation in your home, but you’ll want to address these common electrical violations. Though some repairs and updates are more complex than others, a qualified electrician can repair each of these issues.
A state-of-the-art technological innovation in the 19th and 20th centuries, knob-and-tube wiring isn’t grounded and supports a lower amount of electricity than what is used today. The insulation on the wiring also deteriorates over time.
The good news is most insurance companies won’t insure buildings with this kind of electrical wiring, so it’s rare that you would come across this issue. If your home has knob-and-tube wiring, the entire house must be rewired.
It’s not uncommon to splice wires when adding a light fixture or outlet, reconnecting wires, connecting an old wire to a new one, or extending wires. Splices are illegal if they’re done outside of a junction box. If your home has illegal splices, hire an electrician to mount a junction box and either run new wires or make the splice within the new junction box.
Avoid overcrowding wires into small spaces and holes to avoid damage to the insulation. Without insulation, wires are exposed and at an increased fire risk. If you fear there are areas with overcrowded wires, call an electrician to open up the space and make sure those wires haven’t been damaged.
Recessed lights and attic insulation
There are two different types of recessed lights: non-IC-rated and IC-rated. Non-IC-rated recessed lights run hotter than their counterpart does, so they must be at least three inches away from any attic insulation. If you have recessed lights, check your attic to see if the insulation is touching your lights. Look at the light housing to get more information about the light installed.
New lights with old wiring
Newer fixtures are equipped with wiring that can handle temperatures up to 90 degrees, but wiring for older fixtures was designed to withstand 60 degrees. New fixtures can overload old wiring, creating a fire hazard. If your home was built before 1987, check the wiring to see if a date is stamped on the insulation jacket. Wires produced after 1987 should have a date, while wires produced pre-1987 will not. Older wiring will need to be replaced.
Other common code violations:
- Missing permits
- Ungrounded outlets
- Mislabeled circuits
- Lack of GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) or AFCI (arc-fault circuit interrupter) protection
- Overloaded or undersized circuits
- Low-voltage electrical systems
- Panel design
Building codes can vary from city to city, so it’s important to hire a local electrician that’s familiar with the area-specific laws and regulations that might be in place. Though you’re not legally required to bring your home up to code unless the violations are especially dangerous, remember that the codes exist minimize risk and create a safer environment for you and your family, so it’s never a bad idea of improve the electrical system in your home.
What to Expect from Electrical Work
There are three main types of electrical work: inspections, repairs, and upgrades. Each involves a different timetable and level of disruption. Regardless of what’s going on in your home, it’s a good idea to understand what each kind of project entails.
The purpose of an electrical inspection is to assess your home for shock risks and fire hazards. Expect an electrician to look for overloaded electrical circuits, defective electrical work, and anything that’s not grounded. The electrician inspecting your home will run tests and check for any signs of wear or damage. Furniture might need to be moved around so all of the outlets can be accessed.
When should you schedule an electrical inspection? Schedule an inspection if you’re buying, leasing, or selling a home or if you’ve recently done any remodeling or addition work. Because electrical codes and technologies change over time, you should also periodically schedule inspections every few years to assess the health of your system.
How long will an electrical inspection take? While the exact amount of time depends on the size of your home, an electrical inspection should generally only take a few hours.
Since electrical repairs vary so widely, it’s hard to really know how disruptive the repairs might be. If your home is experiencing electrical problems, call an electrician to track, diagnose, and fix the problem.
Upgrading your system can be as simple as replacing outlets or lights and as complex as rewiring your entire home. Both types of tasks sometimes involve creating holes in drywall. Speak with your electrician about drywall repair before any work begins, because some companies do not offer this service.
Expect some dust if you’re rewiring your home. Light fittings, sockets, switches, and everything electrical hidden behind your walls will be replaced. They will also have to turn off your power during some of the work.
When should you schedule electrical upgrades for your home? If you’re experiencing several of the below issues, it’s probably time rewire your home.
Signs it’s time to rewire your home:
- Burning smell
- Sizzling sounds
- Hot or discolored plates, cords, or plugs
- Frequently blown fuses
- Light bulbs that regularly burn out
- Sparks from an outlet when you plug or unplug a cord
- The insulation on your wires is damaged
How long do electrical upgrades take? Some upgrades (such as outlets and lights) can be completed within a few hours, while a complete home rewiring will take several days.
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Hiring an electrician in DC
DC electricians are required to hold an Electrical Contractor License issued by the District of Columbia Board of Industrial Trades.
Hiring an electrician in Maryland
Maryland electricians must have a Master Electrician License issued by the Maryland Board of Master Electricians.
Hiring an electrician in Virginia
Electricians in Virginia must hold an Electrical Contractor License issues by the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation.
- Schedule an electrical inspection if you’re buying, leasing, selling, or remodeling. Also schedule periodic inspections over the life of your home.
- Unless you live in a new construction, your home probably isn’t up to code. While your home doesn’t have to be completely up to code, removing code violations will only increase the safety of your electrical system and decrease the risk of fire in your home.
- If you’re experiencing electrical issues, an inspection is a good place to start. From there, an electrician can diagnose your issue and offer recommendations.
- When it comes to hiring a qualified, experienced electrician, review the Best Pick Reports electricians to find someone you can trust.