Electrical Home Inspection: A Brief History & Key Takeaways

by | Feb 10, 2023

The interior electrical system is an ongoing portion of the general inspection. As the inspector moves around the interior (as well as the exterior) they are checking outlets and light fixtures throughout. It’s a simple process of using an outlet tester to check for connectivity and wiring connections. Depending on the age of the home, the wiring installed will either be grounded or not. 

Electrical Home Inspection: Does My Home Have Grounded Wiring?

The ungrounded wiring would have been installed when the house was newly built but in an era before grounded wiring was developed. Grounded wiring had a slow uptake before it became a code provision in the early 1970s, but this new three-wire grounded wiring started being used as early as 1963. Any home built before 1963 would have been built with two-wire ungrounded wiring. The main visual observation an inspector can make is when they observe two prong outlets inside the structure. This simple observation is the lowest-hanging fruit for a person to know that a house was built without grounded wiring being installed.

Oftentimes, an older house (early 1960s and before) may have had a very simple upgrade by one of the past owners by replacing the two-prong outlets with three-prong outlets. People thought that the grounding of an electrical system is in the outlets installed. Some people thought, and still think today, that if you replace a two-prong outlet with a three-prong outlet, the outlet is now grounded. This is not the case generally. Some people know this is silly but do it anyway. 

An Inspector’s Job During an Electrical Home Inspection

In modern times, three-prong grounded electrical cords are far more prevalent than two-prong ungrounded plug-ins, so the installation/replacement is one of convenience. 

An inspector’s job is to point this out to the prospective buyer. It is this inspector’s opinion, that in most circumstances, the grounding of an outlet is not a pressing topic, with one exception, near water fixtures.  This inspector feels that the modern electrical code is the best-use scenario where all outlets inside the conditioned living space are within. In the modern electrical code, grounded outlets with GFCI protection are required within 6 feet of a water-use fixture. Also, not to overlook sensitive electrical equipment, but if someone owns equipment so sensitive that the grounding is make or break for their purposes, these people are already aware they need to have grounded wiring in the house with the proper polarization.

Indoor electricity was provided in large scale to homes in the late 1930s. Direct current had been discovered long before this time, but direct current had a limited range from its source, whereas alternating current could be transferred much further using less resistance. Alternating current was developed in 1888 by Nikola Tesla but appears to have taken 50 years to convince the scientific community and the public at large that this was the future of electrical power. 

Finding Knob & Tube Wiring During an Electrical Home Inspection

The original wiring is known as “knob and tube” wiring. This wiring is easily recognized by its installation practice. These wires were installed separately (the black and white wires were not inside the same sleeve) and used porcelain insulators to ensure flammable materials such as wood framing would not make contact with the wiring as it could get hot. If an inspector sees this wiring in a house today, it should be made a topic of concern and highly recommended for replacement as a whole. 

There are a lot of individual circumstances that are taken into account when an electrical system is reviewed, but the era of installation and the allowable practices of that time period are the setting for how the inspector needs to make recommendations in his or her report. 

Getting an Electrical Home Inspection in Portland Oregon

If you’re in the Portland Metro area and looking for a professional home inspector, schedule a home inspection with Octopus Home Inspections. Octopus Home Inspections is committed to upholding a strong code of ethics, including professionalism and integrity. Our home inspections are extremely thorough, priced fairly, detailed, and accurate. We provide each client with a comprehensive written report, document our observations with numerous color photographs, and offer unlimited follow-up support to ensure any and all concerns you may have are addressed. 

“Terrific service, taking time to answer all of my questions on a difficult 85yo house. Alex even jumped into a muddy, tight crawlspace and came out covered in spiderwebs in order to make sure we got the best photos of a crack in the foundation. Will be using them again for future home buys.” –  Evan (5-Star Google Review)

With over 170 reviews and 5 stars on google, working with Octopus Home Inspections is an excellent choice for your home and your family’s safety. We look forward to hearing from you.