Inspectors find some electrical nightmares

By Tom Gocze, BDN Staff
Posted July 03, 2009, at 10:24 p.m.

Some time ago in my checkered past, I was doing home inspections. Since I think I know a little bit about houses and have spent a lot of time looking at home building problems (of my own and others), I felt that this would be a fun pastime, especially since I was always being asked to look at these problems anyway.

I went into this with no pre-conceived notions and figured that I had seen it all.

The cool part of doing home inspections is getting into houses that you might not otherwise get into. And you get paid to look in the attic and basement.

The bad part is always being concerned about getting it all right. As a home inspector, you are advising people to spend a lot of money.

You also wind up being the hired gun who can easily kill a deal.

I recall telling a local real estate agent (who will remain nameless) that I was doing home inspections. The agent remarked that it would be nice to have someone who could do inspections that would not kill one’s real estate deals. Wasn’t that an interesting comment?

I never viewed it as my job to kill a deal, although I am sure I did. The inspector’s job is to find all those things that will cost you money and-or problems and explain how significant they are. There is nothing that time and money cannot repair in an old house.

The big, scary problem areas are life-safety ones. And of those, the most common are electrical problems. Since anyone can go to a hardware store and buy wire and wire nuts, there are a lot of people who fancy themselves electricians. There are also a ton of houses in Maine with really scary wiring problems. It is absolutely stunning what otherwise rational people will do in the name of saving a couple of dollars with a licensed electrician.

I am first to admit that sometimes an electrician seems expensive. But, then, so is a good house fire. I think I have probably bought some of the nastiest DIY wired homes. I am sure that most of the wiring nightmares I have seen were by handymen who were hired to fix an outlet or light, not a licensed electrician.

One house I bought back in the 1980s was particularly memorable since right after the closing, I went in and disconnected about half of the wiring in the house. It was that scary.

Then there was the house I inspected in Orono that had belonged to a university professor who had died a couple of years earlier. His family had moved away and the finished basement had flooded and gotten moldy. That was the good news.

The deceased professor had fancied himself a good wirer and did all his own electrical work. The house was going to be a good deal since the mold was going to have to be mitigated. It also was a house where the first person in had to be a licensed, well-qualified electrician. I did not want anyone to sleep in that house before the electrician went through everything.

I stopped doing inspections since I was always worried about missing something important. I had checklists to be sure I went over everything. I had error and omissions insurance to cover me if I ever did. (Thankfully, it was never necessary.)

And I got a lot of work for electricians.

The one thing that still bothers me is that it is very simple to become a home inspector. There are some schools that teach you for a couple of weeks, give you a test and voila, you are an inspector.

This is the kind of job for which you want an anal-retentive, nitpicky, very experienced person who has spent a lot of years in building construction and also has a reasonable understanding of what makes it all work. Maybe even an engineer! Or at least someone who knows when to call in an engineer.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/07/03/living/inspectors-find-some-electrical-nightmares/ printed on July 28, 2014