Electrical system reconnaissance before marketing or buying a home

By: Dena Kouremetis, The Telegraph
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As Americans, we tend to have an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality where electricity is concerned. But when we’re having problems with our homes’ electrical system, want to make a home is ready to sell or want to check out the state of a system in a home we want to buy, it presents itself as an issue. In an article by RealtyTimes’ Phoebe Chongchua, electrical technician David Zedakar lent some sage advice on “getting current” on some basics within a house. Amping up: When Star Trek’s Scottie kept saying, “Capn’!! I haven’t got the pw’r!!” – he must have been looking at an electrical panel. This is the center that powers the house and can tell you just how much “oomph” the home possesses. Older homes typically had 50 or 60 amps electrical service – all that was needed back then. But today’s high-tech homes require a 100-200 amp system and for 3,000 square feet or more, a 200 amp system is a given. Getting grounded: Up until 1960 or so, homes had two-wire ungrounded systems with two-pronged outlets, still somewhat acceptable today for most of our needs. But computers as well as large kitchen and laundry appliances require three-pronged outlets, which, in turn, require a three-wire electrical system, says Zedakar. “You can’t just change the face plate without having it wired properly.” So how can you tell that an outlet is properly grounded? Buy a polarity tester at your local hardware store for about $3.50. Then plug it into an outlet and it will light up to tell you whether an outlet is properly grounded or if it has what electricians call “reverse polarity” in which the wires are backwards. Go on a witch-hunt for exposed wiring: Try to spot damaged outlets or ones that look worn or loose as well. It’s easy to spot rudimentarily (weekend warrior variety) strung wiring - wiring that is unprotected under eaves or looks subject to damage. Ground fault-us interruptus: GFI protection is a vital safety feature in a home and can be installed quickly by a licensed electrician in bathrooms, kitchens, garages and backyards. They are the outlets with tiny push-buttons on them – the ones you occasionally may have to re-set when your two teenagers decide to dry their hair at the same time – especially when someone picks up a device with wet hands. A GFI outlet will sense this and shut off the outlet before tripping the circuit breaker. Use a Pro: Electricians these days are card carriers with certified credentials, so it’s important that you ask them to identify themselves as such. Otherwise, you may be setting yourself up for shoddy workmanship, even if your non-certified handyman does offer a better price. Dena Kouremetis is a Coldwell Banker broker associate specializing in the complete custom home experience with Folsom’s G.J. Gardner Homes. She may be reached by emailing her at