DEAR BARRY: I’m buying a 1954 home and have just gotten the report from my home inspector. My main concern is the electrical system. According to the home inspector, the main panel has fuses, rather than circuit breakers, and the capacity of the system is only 60 amps. The home is about 2,000 square feet, and most of the wall outlets are the two-prong ungrounded type. An electrician I know says the panel should be upgraded to 100 amps, and the house should be rewired for three-prong outlets. Does the code require the seller to upgrade the electrical system? And if not, is it reasonable to request an upgrade as a condition of the sale? –Joe
DEAR JOE: Upgrading the electrical system to 100 amps and providing fully grounded outlets is advisable, but it is not incumbent upon the seller to make these upgrades. The home was constructed according to building standards in effect at the time. Therefore, the electrical system is "grandfathered." A 60-amp service may not be adequate for a 2,000 square foot home, and ungrounded outlets are potentially unsafe, but the system is "legal nonconforming."
When you buy an old home, you should expect that electrical, plumbing and heating systems will be antiquated and in need of upgrade. If outdated systems are not acceptable, you should shop for a newer home.
DEAR BARRY: We purchased a home about a year ago, and our home inspector found no problems with the water heater. Recently the unit began to leak, so we filed a claim on our home warranty policy. When the warranty company’s plumber looked at the water heater, he found a list of code violations, none of which was reported by our home inspector. These violations included a loose flue pipe, an undersized overflow pipe, a substandard gas connector, and more. How could a professional home inspector have missed all these things? –Kirsten
DEAR KIRSTEN: Many people are employed in the profession of home inspection, but not all home inspectors are truly professional. The disparity among home inspectors is actually quite surprising and often disappointing, as illustrated by the defects that were overlooked by your inspector.
The problems that were found by the plumber are routine discoveries for a qualified home inspector and should have been reported when your inspection was done. If these defects are still not repaired, you should contact your inspector and ask that he take a second look. If he is concerned about the quality of his work, he might contribute toward the cost of repairs. No one expects a home inspector to be perfect, but water heater violations are among the basics that should be known by every inspector.
One of the ways that home inspectors learn to be more professional is to see the errors they have made along the way. Inspectors who are serious about the quality of their work will take these reminders seriously. The educational benefits of those occasional, embarrassing moments can be beneficial, enabling inspectors to improve the quality of their work and to provide better service to future home-buying customers.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com.
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