Common Electrical Safety Violations Found in the Home
Auto Beauty Business Culture Dieting DIY Events Fashion Finance Food Freelancing Gardening Health Hobbies Home Internet Jobs Law Local Media Men's Health Mobile Nutrition Parenting Pets Pregnancy Products Psychology Real Estate Relationships Science Seniors Sports Technology Travel Wellness Women's Health

Common Electrical Safety Violations Found in the Home

Inspecting your home to find common electrical violations.

Whether it’s an electrician or a do-it-yourselfer, there are several common electrical code violations that can be found in almost every home. Even though you may have the best of intentions, you may not be familiar with the National Electric Code to the degree where illegal electrical installations may be installed in your home. Even electricians make mistakes, whether they are intentional or not is debatable, the best way to insure a safe installation is to acquire the proper permits from your local building inspection department and have all of the required inspections done. Hiring a reputable electrician is also a must. If you perform some of the work yourself, research what the basic installation requirements are before you start; why would you want to put your family and property in jeopardy?

Violation

There must be a 1 ¼ inch clearance from the edge of a wood-framing member to any wire to keep drywall screws and long trim nails from puncturing the insulation which in turn can cause a short.

Corrective Action

Wiring passing through holes closer than 1 ¼ inch to the framing face must be protected with nail plates, sometimes called kickers. Several runs of wiring can be corralled with inexpensive cable stackers that maintain the distance dictated by code.

Violation

With more and more data and security cabling being installed in homes today, many people run low-voltage and line voltage cables together and install them in the same electrical boxes. You must use caution when doing this and install only boxes rated for both line and low voltage cables. There is typically a divider inside the box to separate to cables are required by code.

Parallel runs of line- and low voltage wires cause interference in electronics and/or communication, such as TVs and telephones. Also, any un-insulated contact between low- and line-voltage wires in a box can damage equipment or cause a fire.

Corrective Action

Maintain a minimum of 6 inches between parallel runs and don’t bring low voltage and line voltage together in the same box. Instead, use separate boxes or a box that has an approved divider.

Violation

When too many wires, outlets, or switches are crammed into a box, the heat generated cannot dissipate and can melt wire insulation and has the potential to cause a fire. Although this is rare, if dimmers are installed in the box, which generate heat, the dimmer can melt.

Corrective Action

If the box is too small, use a larger box and a plate known as a plaster, or mud, ring. This provides enough airspace inside the box. The NEC is very clear on the volume of the box required for various numbers of conductors.

Violation

Don’t install new fixtures directly onto old wiring. Because of compatibility issues related to the operating temperatures, new fixtures can overload an older wiring system and cause a fire if improperly installed. Newer light fixtures are made with 90°C wires, which means the wire inside the fixture is rated to operate safely at temperatures up to 90°C. Older wires are rated for 60°C.

Corrective Action

A splice box and a minimum of 3 feet of new wiring should connect a new light fixture to a circuit wired before 1987. By doing this you will avoid having to rewire the entire circuit. Insulation jackets made after 1987 are stamped with the date of manufacture those made prior to 1987 have no date.

Violation

During the rough-wiring stage electricians sometimes run as many as five wires in a 7⁄8 inch hole. Overcrowding such as this causes “burning”, a term electricians use to describe the damage that occurs when the insulation of one wire is dragged across the insulation of another wire. Insulation is torn off the wire that is being already in the hole. If more runs go through the hole, the “burned” wire can go unnoticed and leave exposed conductors inside the wall, which can pose an increased fire risk. At most, 3 wires can be run in a 7/8 inch hole and leaves enough room to pull the wires without burning.

You may see this in your basement or crawlspace where all of the runs come together to go to your panelboard.

Corrective Action

Check the NEC Handbook to determine the correct number of wires for a specific size hole. If wires are burned, you should replace them; repairing them with electrical tape may only conceal the damage already done. You can hire an electrician to cut away the damaged wire and install a junction box and replace the wire from there to the panelboard or fixture.

Violation

Unless recessed lights are IC-rated (insulation contact), you must keep 3 inches of space between the light and the insulation. When non-IC lights have insulation that is pressed up to them or over them they can go out due to overheating or, over time, the thermal protectors can fail and the lights can become extremely hot and may cause a fire. Many counties and townships already require the use of IC-rated lights, so check with your local building department to see what type of lights you should use. Unless the fixture is rated for insulation contact, there must be 3 inches of space between the fixture and any insulation. Check in your attic since there is usually no insulation present in the joist between floors.

Corrective Action

If you retrofit non-IC recessed fixtures, cut back the insulation so that it cannot spring back and cover the light after it’s installed.

Violation

When you unpack a smoke or carbon monoxide detector, it should have a diagram that indicates where you can and cannot locate it. The diagram should indicate the proper distance from the wall, the distance from air ducts, and the proper locations for installation on sloped ceilings. A common mistake is to install a smoke or carbon monoxide detector too close to an HVAC duct.

Corrective Action

The increased air circulation around the duct can dirty the detector, causing it to go off or blow smoke particles away from the detector, causing it to fail to sound an alarm. Make sure there are at least 36 inches of space between the duct and the detector.

Violation

Electrical boxes installed behind drywall are impossible to find and service. Problems such as short circuits might go undetected and cause a fire inside the wall.

Corrective Action

Find a spot where the splice box is accessible and still not obvious. In kitchens, try mounting a box slightly above the upper cabinets. Unless the room is enormous, you will never see it. If the cabinets go to the ceiling, mount a box in the back of the cabinet and install a blank cover plate.

Violation

Illegal splices mainly occur due to laziness or shoddy workmanship. No electrician should leave an exposed splice anywhere in a building, unless they are running temporary lighting or troubleshooting a circuit. Illegal splices are connections between 2 or more wires that are not contained inside a junction box. Wire nuts and electrical tape are often used to make the splice, but occasionally I have found splices made using only electrical tape.

Corrective Action

Mount a junction box of the appropriate size on a framing member and run the wires into the box and make the connection with wire nuts. Remember to turn off the breaker before repairing the splice and install a cover plate over the box when finished.

Other items to look for are:

• Staples that are pinching the insulation of the wires.

• Over tightened box connectors, also known as “Knock Out” (KO) connectors.

• Missing box plugs or knockout seals. Especially in the panelboard where dirt and even mice can get into the panel and cause a short.

• Ground rod removed or not adequate.

• Less than 3 feet of clearance in front of electrical panel.

• Using an extension cord are a permanent circuit.

• Installing a panelboard too close to a sump pit.

• Exterior light fixtures mounted directly to sheathing or siding.

Sources:

NEC (National Electrical Code) Illustrated Handbook,

National Fire Protection Association: www.nfpa.org

Need an answer?
Get insightful answers from community-recommended
experts
in Home Inspections on Knoji.
Would you recommend this author as an expert in Home Inspections?
You have 0 recommendations remaining to grant today.
Comments (1)
Spring Electrician

This is a very good article. I recently had an electrician, http://www.springelectrician.net, go through my house, and they found several violations. I'm so relieved!!

ARTICLE DETAILS
RELATED ARTICLES
RELATED CATEGORIES
ARTICLE KEYWORDS