3 pin power cord on white background

What is the third prong on my extension cord?

That third prong on your extension cord plug (and appliance cords), enables electricity to flow through the circuit and then, literally, into the ground. It makes electrical systems safer because electricity can flow into the ground rather than through you if there is a short circuit. It can prevent fires and electrical shocks.

According to electrical codes, all structures are required to have the electrical system connected to a metal grounding rod. The metal rod gets driven 8 feet into the ground (in the soil outside the house). The grounding rod must be deep in the ground because we want to make sure that there is a way for stray electricity to be dissipated into the ground.

In 1971, all electrical outlets and other electrical circuits were required to be grounded. This was a major step in the right direction for electrical safety. In addition, Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) started to be required in all new construction. Eventually, GFCIs became required in all “wet locations” including garages, exterior outlets, bathrooms, kitchens and basements. GFCI outlets shut themselves off immediately if there is an electrical leak through the grounding system. GFCIs save lives!

The good news is, that the world has become safer due to better grounding systems and electrical safety devices.

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electrical failure in power outlet isolated

Electrical Outlet Safety

Many people ask us what we discover to be the most common electrical issues during a  home inspection.

It’s very rare to find a home that doesn’t have a few incorrectly wired electrical outlets.  Problems such as ungrounded outlets and reversed polarity outlets are very common. Although these aren’t major electrical hazards, they should be rectified to avoid any potential shock hazards. Missing GFCI’s are also very common. GFCI’s prevent electrical shock when an appliance comes into contact with water such as a hair dryer falling into a sink or bathtub. The outlet automatically shuts off to prevent electrocution. These may seem like small issues but could actually save a life!

By the way, we recommend that you enlist the services of a licensed electrician. When it comes to electric and fire safety you can’t be too careful.

All these problems are relatively easy and inexpensive to rectify. We recommend that you have an electrician evaluate all your outlets as well as your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and make modifications as needed.


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bare stranded wires, stranded wires on the table

Are aluminum wires covered with copper safe?

Sometimes during our home inspections, we come across a wiring product called Copper-Clad aluminum wire. The core of the wire is made of aluminum, but the exterior of the wire is clad in copper. Is it safe even though it’s aluminum? Yes, it is safe and approved without modification. Because the wires are clad in copper, corrosion and oxidation do not occur like they do in typical aluminum wires. (It’s the corrosion and oxidation that causes aluminum wires to overheat).

If you are told that you have aluminum wires, they may be correct, but they may be leaving out a very important piece of information, which is, are they copper-clad. Again, copper-clad aluminum wires are safe.

If someone, (for instance an inexperienced inspector) tells you that you’re dealing with aluminum wires, ask the question, are they clad in copper? If they are clad in copper, you can save the expense of having the wires in the house modified or replaced.

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Stainless steel electrical circuit box open with circuits named by hand in basement on rough concrete block wall with conduit and ceiling and other pipes overhead painted black with dust on them

How many AMPS do I need?

Many houses built before 1950 originally had less than 100 Amps, which by today’s standards would be considered too low.  Fortunately, most of those electrical systems have been updated to 100 Amps or more.  Today, 100 Amps is considered okay for a smaller house, unless there are large electrical draw appliances, such as air conditioning systems, swimming pools, hot tubs, electric dryers, and electric stoves.  Often, 100 Amp electrical services get updated to 150 or 200 Amps.  If the electrical service is too low for the structure, the main circuit breaker may trip and become a nuisance and possibly an electrical hazard.

Most main electrical panels have one large circuit breaker labeled 100, 150 or 200.  Those numbers represent Amps, which means the amount of electricity the system can deliver (the total amperage should be confirmed by an electrician because it can be a bit tricky).  200 Amps provides plenty of power for small and medium sized homes.  Larger homes often have more than 200 A.

By the way, updating the system to more power provides a secondary benefit of having a brand-new electrical panel along with brand-new circuit breakers.  These new components provide a substantial benefit to the electrical system of the home.

If you are interested, all our previous newsletters are available on our website blog. Click on the following link and it will take you right to it.


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GFCI’s can cause problems.

GFCI’s (the outlets with trip and reset buttons) are great safety devices, but they can cause a lot of havoc!

  • If you have a GFCI powering up your garage freezer, it could trip and shut off the power to the freezer without you knowing it. Everything in your freezer could go bad. That could be a costly mistake.
  • Likewise, if you have a GFCI powering up your basement bathroom sewage ejection pump, it could trip and cause an overflow wastewater in your bathroom.
  • If you have basement sump pump connected to a GFCI it could trip and stop pumping the water out of your basement and cause a flood.

So, we recommend checking your important appliances to see if they are vulnerable to nuisance tripping. If they are, contact an electrician to deal with it correctly.

If you are interested, all our previous newsletters are available on our website blog. Click on the following link and it will take you right to it.



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fuse box for the old building to house

Old School Fuses

During our inspections, sometimes we see old glass fuses. Fuses still do their job, which is to shut down the power if too much electricity is going through them. This protects the wires from overheating and possibly starting a fire. Fuses typically function well.

However, fused electrical systems do have some inherent issues.

  1. Typically, fused systems are old and not capable of providing enough power. Often, fused electrical services only provide 60 Amps as opposed to 150 or 200 Amps, (typical for today’s standards). In addition, usually there are not enough circuits for today’s electrical needs.
  2. When there are not enough circuits, often multiple wires get connected to a single fuse (called double tapping) which is an electrical safety concern.
  3. If a fuse “blows” it must be replaced. As opposed to circuit breakers which can easily be reset (similar to a light switch).
  4. Circuit breaker systems can incorporate today’s safety technology, such as GFCI’s (ground fault circuit interrupters) and AFCI’s (arc fault circuit interrupters). These newer technologies provide a substantial safety improvement.

Fused electrical systems are usually recommended to be replaced with an updated circuit breaker system. Updating the system, including bringing in more power typically costs between 1,500 and $2,000.

If you are interested, all our previous newsletters are available on our website blog. Click on the following link and it will take you right to it.



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Circuit Breaker Box

What is an AFCI?

AFCI stands for Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter. AFCI’s are designed to shut off an electrical circuit if there is a spark in that circuit.  So, if there is a loose wire causing a spark (arc), anywhere in that circuit, the power gets shut off which may prevent a fire.  Sparks can overheat wires very quickly.  All newly installed electrical systems are required to utilize these devices in main electrical circuit breaker panels or as individual outlets pretty much throughout the entire house.  (GFCI’s were originally required in bedroom circuits only) but the code has been updated.  A licensed electrician can advise you as to exactly where they are required.

AFCI’s are great safety devices and you may want to have them installed even if your home is “grandfathered”.  If you are not updating a circuit or installing new ones, AFCI’s are “grandfathered” and are not required (but they are recommended).

If you are interested, all our previous newsletters are available on our website blog. Click on the following link and it will take you right to it.


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Knob and Tube Wires

Knob and tube wiring is an outmoded form of electrical distribution in homes.  It was commonly used until about the 1940s. It gets its name from the use of white ceramic tubes used to hold a single strand of wire where it went through wood framing, and the white ceramic knobs used to hold the wiring in place.  The wires were soldered together and wrapped with exposed electrical tape without a junction box and are subject to mechanical damage.

Electricians recommend replacing it with newer conventional type wires.  None of the outlets can be 3-prong and cannot be grounded. The wires can easily be damaged and present a fire hazard.  Sometimes portions of the original knob and tube wiring is still in place and supplemented with newer style wires.  Many insurance companies will not insure a house wired with knob and tube systems.

Fortunately, as time goes on, knob and tube wires are being replaced with newer and safer wires.  As a result, we rarely see knob and tube wires anymore, but on occasion we do.  When we see knob and tube wiring, we recommend replacing it for safety reasons.

If you are interested, all our previous newsletters are available on our website blog. Click on the following link and it will take you right to it.


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Electrical Closet

Is your main Electrical Panel safe?

During our inspections we often see main electrical panels that have been recalled and are recommended to be replaced.

The main electrical panel takes the electrical power from the street and distributes it to all the circuits in the home. Each circuit is protected by a circuit breaker. The circuit breaker is intended to stop the flow of electricity before a wire inside a wall overheats and becomes a fire hazard. Obviously, the functionality of the circuit breakers is especially important to avoid a potential fire. Unfortunately, some defective and unsafe circuit breaker panels were installed in homes over the years and this presents an electrical safety hazard because the circuit breakers may not do their job and consequently start a fire.

I recommend that you look at the panel to figure out who the manufacturer is. If it’s one of the following manufacturers, contact an electrician for further evaluation and advice.

The following panels should be replaced period, end of story.

1) Federal Pacific
2) Zinsco
3) Sylvania
4) ITE/bulldog Pushmatic

Secondly, electrical panels may be unsafe just based on age. A good rule of thumb is 30 years. Usually you can locate the date of manufacture on the inside of the panel door. If you can’t get a date, we recommend calling an electrician for an evaluation. Remember, Circuit Breakers are electrical/mechanical devices which age and can become faulty over time. Faulty circuit breakers present an electrical safety concern.

Better safe than sorry!

For more related information click on this link:  https://safeharborinspections.com/

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Silver Wire

The truth about Aluminum Wiring

Builders started using aluminum wiring in the mid-1960s due to the high cost of copper at the time.  Over the years, problems frequently developed, so builders stopped using aluminum wires in the late 1970s.  Aluminum wires can cause overheating, and on occasion, fires.  Since the 1970s, many houses have been “pigtailed” which is an approved method of dealing with aluminum wires.  However, some houses have not been attended to and may present a safety hazard.

During our home inspections, we remove the cover to the electrical panels and look at the wires.  If we see aluminum wires, we recommend that a licensed electrician perform a more detailed evaluation and suggest the appropriate solution.  Rewiring the house is not necessary. But, an evaluation by an electrician is necessary.  If the electrician recommends correction/repairs, it will likely be “pigtailing.”  Pigtailing consists of connecting a splice of copper wire to the aluminum wire with a special connector.  After the repairs are done, an inspection by an independent electrical inspector should be done.

I recently contacted an independent electrician (HEH Electric), for pricing.  They charge approximately $300 for the initial assessment.  The cost for correction is highly variable but a safe range is $2,000-$4,000.  It can be cheaper if some corrective work has already been done.

By the way we never quote pricing during our inspections, rather, we recommend evaluation by a licensed professional.

For more related information click on this link: https://safeharborinspections.com/

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