There are few things that can annoy me quite so much as walking into a room at the end of a long day, flipping on the light switch, and hearing that oh-so-telltale “pop” that signals the death of yet another light bulb. Or while, during a rainstorm, having my nice cozy house and the laptop into which I have just typed a multi-page presentation go dark because a transformer blows somewhere.
Electricity is one of those things that most of us take for granted. But when it comes to buying a home or investment property, it’s something you have to take into consideration.
Although I frequently recommend that buyers work with a qualified home inspector, there are a number of things that you can do yourself as you look at a prospective property. We examine how you can check your home electrical wiring below.
Checking the Home Electrical Wiring System
The first step in checking the electrical system is to ask to see the electrical panel. When you open it, you want to see the wires well organized and neatly labeled. If you see a hodge-podge of wires, crossed-through or blank labels or (even worse) loose wires, you need to be aware that trouble may not be far behind. It likely signals wiring done by the homeowner or another unlicensed professional.
Next, look at every outlet to see if you see signs of wear and tear—or even black marks that could signal sparking. In older homes particularly, the wiring originally installed oftentimes simply cannot meet the needs of today’s plugged-in homeowner. As a result, the system may have been overtaxed, or unsafe measures may have been taken (power strips plugged into power strips) to try to accommodate those needs.
Also survey every room to see if you can see evidence of any wiring—such as extension cords— running underneath rugs or carpeting. This is another giveaway that the home’s electrical system isn’t all it could or should be.
Turn on the Power
One of the most effective tests for checking the electrical systems that I have come across begins with turning on every light (take some inexpensive lamps with you if the property is empty) and every appliance in the property. If the property has a heating and cooling system, turn that on as well. Then, using an ordinary blow dryer (preferably not your wife’s—I learned that the hard way) start testing the load on the system. Plug it in to each outlet, turn it on, and see what happens. If it blows the breaker, you know there’s a problem. Another simple trick is to bang your fist near the outlets and switches while the lights are turned on. The lights may flicker, signaling a loose connection.
If you see evidence of improper electrical work, be aware that should you buy the property, you’ll probably need to take steps to bring it up to code and make the property a safe one for your tenants. As such, you’ll need to weigh the cost of those repairs take them into consideration in any offer you make on the property.
Another hint? Hit the save button often. Especially during a rainstorm. No matter how good your electrical system is, it can’t protect computer users from their own forgetfulness.