As an electrician, there is one question I am asked by my clients over any other. “Is my home safe”. How can I answer that? I could be my naturally sarcastic self and tell the home owner that I forgot my infrared goggles at home, so I just can’t say. I could brush the “loaded” question off with a shrug and say “sure, your home is safe, as far as I can tell”. I could be that sleezy salesman and tell them that the whole house must be re-wired.
I say none of those things. What I do say is that every home, including mine, has the potential for an electrical hazard. Old electrical infrastructure does not equate to a recipe for fire. A new home certainly does not guarantee that the homeowner is free from an electrical fire. Let us look at the old home versus new home scenario.
Everyone whom owns an old home is afraid of the dreaded words “knob and tube wiring” Some insurance companies will not offer insurance to a new home buyer if the house has knob and tube. Is it old? Yes. Should it be replaced because there are inherent hazards with knob and tube? Yup! But, if it were this all-encompassing safety issue, half of the main line would be in cinders.
Those that just purchased or live in a newly built home assume that they are safe. The receptacles are new. They are grounded for your safety. They contain the latest version of electrical wiring with insulation that is superior to that of the cabling of yesteryear. The lights are new, the panel is new, and all the latest safety codes have been applied. These folks must be safe, correct? The short answer is an emphatic No! Often, and especially if you live in a track home, all contractors rush to get their work done. Why? So, they can make a greater profit. Homes aren’t built the way they were in the times of knob and tube. Therefore, items in new homes are in constant need of repair. I see it daily. If an electrical contractor must compete with five other electrical contractors to get the job, this drives bids down and hurries the workers, so they may make money on a “new build”. What if they are pulling wire in a rush, and that wire gets snagged on a nail or the sharp edge of a building product? Will you know? Maybe. What if the electrical contractor installs inferior products to save a buck, would you know? Maybe.
The point in all of this is that not one of us is guaranteed to live in an electrically safe home! Like the cars we drive, we must have our homes periodically inspected so that we can perform preventative maintenance and identify fire hazards. For this reason, the electrical contractor you work with ought to offer two things. Offering an itemized and concise electrical safety inspection is the perfect way to determine if you and your family are electrically safe. Furthermore, prioritizing what must be done immediately versus what can wait is essential! If there are signs of burning in your panel, we ought to address this immediately. If your grounding system is not commensurate with the current code, it can wait till a time when you can afford to address the antiquated system. With a yearly electrical safety inspection, you will never have to ask your electrician if your home’s electrical infrastructure is safe. And, furthermore, I won’t have to run home to get my infrared goggles!