DEAR BARRY: Our home was built in 1946 and has a serious electrical problem. The previous owner replaced the old fuse box with a breaker panel and the old two-prong wall outlets with three-prong outlets. But he left the old knob-and-tube wiring as-is, and this was never disclosed by our home inspector or the seller.
Our contractor discovered it recently, while working in the attic. How serious is this issue, and what actions can we take against the seller and our home inspector for nondisclosure? –Lucas
DEAR LUCAS: The wiring and outlet issues may not be as bad as you suspect. Knob and tube wiring is not inherently dangerous, as long as the wire insulation is intact, the wires are not covered with attic insulation, there are no faulty splices, and the circuits are not connected to over-capacity breakers or fuses. A licensed electrician should evaluate your electrical system to determine whether corrective work or rewiring is needed.
Home inspectors who are thorough always disclose the type of wiring that is in a home. The knob-and-tube in your attic was visible to your contractor, so it should have been reported by your inspector. However, nondisclosure does not mean that you have a major problem.
In most cases, inspectors will disclose that knob-and-tube is not consistent with current standards but is functional and may warrant future upgrade.
In homes where two-prong outlets have been replaced, the new three-prong outlets are often ungrounded. In those cases, home inspectors routinely report them as safety violations and recommend upgrades by a licensed electrician.
If your home inspector did not disclose the knob and tube wiring or ungrounded two-prong outlets, he probably missed other conditions that have not yet been discovered. In that case, you should have your home reinspected by someone who is more experienced and thorough.
DEAR BARRY: We found a house that we like so much, but our home inspector found some problems. There’s a big crack in the foundation, water seepage in the basement, and settlement of the garage. But the interior of the home is so nice, and we’re not sure if the problems in the home inspection report are really that serious. What do you think we should do? –Nate
DEAR NATE: There are two sides to this issue: the emotional side and the rational side. The emotional side tells you how nice the interior of the home seems to be. The rational side reminds you that there are costly considerations such as foundation problems and faulty ground drainage.
Problems of this kind can be extremely serious and very costly. The financial weight of owning such problems could make you forget how nice the interior once seemed to be.
If you decide to buy this property, the big issues need to be fully evaluated by qualified professionals. The foundation crack and garage settlement should be evaluated by a licensed structural engineer, and the site drainage should be reviewed by a geotechnical engineer.
If you overlook these considerations and proceed with the deal, you could be faced with years of costly regret. There are many houses with nice interiors. If you shop around, you will find one without major issues.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.
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