Category Archives: Electrical

3 QUESTIONS: STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS WITH ARMSTRONG ELECTRICAL SOLUTIONS LLC

Every month, we seek to bring our readers insight from the worlds of home construction, home repair, and home maintenance straight from local Northwest Washington contractors in a segment we call “3 Questions.” Yep, you guessed it: we ask three questions, and the contractors answer them.

This month, we talk about electrical issues with Stan Armstrong, owner of Armstrong Electrical Solutions LLC in Eastsound.

Q1: Sylvania Zinsco and Federal Pacific electrical panels are frequently called out as potential safety hazards in home inspection reports.  Do you recommend replacement of these panels and, if so, what’s a typical replacement cost for a 200-AMP panel?

Yes, those circuit breakers have had issues tripping when there is an over-current situation on the conductor. The Zinsco breaker could melt to the bus bar and never trip. Poof, a fire in your panel or even on your conductor or at the devices it feeds. 

Secondly, as the electrical panel world has evolved to a Combination Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter (CAFI), its protection was required in Washington State for permits acquired after June 2014. All single-pole residential interior circuits must be Combination Arc-Fault Circuit Breakers (this provides protection against overloads, short circuits, parallel arcing, and series arcing). 


If you change a device or extend a circuit over six feet, the circuit is required to be upgraded. 

A new 200-AMP electrical panel will typically cost between $1,300 – $3,000 depending on the number of circuits and complexity. If you’re buying an old home, that correction should be a bargaining chip as you will want to replace it.   

Q2: Separating grounds from neutrals is typically recommended for subpanels, although older subpanels don’t always observe this practice.  What’s your advice if grounds aren’t separated from neutrals in a subpanel?

This depends on if the subject panel is the service panel or a feeder panel. Service panel grounds and neutrals are always bonded together. 

Prior to the 2002 code change, the neutral conductors in feeder panels were bonded together, no 4th conductor, and the ground conductor was installed in the conduits. 

After 2002, all installations that involve feeder panels—a panel fed with a current limiting interrupter upline—shall have the neutrals isolated or floating, whereas the ground conductors are bonded to the metal panel body. If that panel is not attached to the home, it is also required to have two ground electrodes connected by a ground electrode conductor. 

Q3: When testing outlets, my test equipment frequently discovers “hot-neutral reverse,” which typically indicates a loose neutral in the circuit.  In your experience, why does this happen?

When amateurs/handymen install electrical wiring, they may be confused and not know the difference between a non-grounded conductor, or hot conductor, and the neutral that eventually feeds back to ground, known as the grounded conductor. The appliance or device switch will turn off the neutral return path but leave the appliance energized, resulting in possible electrocution. 

BONUS: Do you have any pet peeves or electrical advice you’d like to share with our audience?

When we find short conductors (wires) in a junction box, we often know the homeowner or amateur has been in there. Trained professionals generally have 6-9” coming out of the junction box. 

Another Issue: Bigger circuit breakers beyond what the conductor is designed to handle.

Someone may put a 20-AMP breaker on 15-AMP circuit, with a 14-American wire gauge (AWG) conductor because their breaker continues to trip. The conductor could become overheated and is a safety issue. 

About Armstrong Electrical Solutions LLC

Armstrong Electrical Solutions LLC (AESLLC) was created with a vision to provide innovative electrical solutions for both the simple and complex home. The company uses durable, time-trusted products, and incorporates technological solutions when appropriate. 

The business serves clients on Orcas Island, its outer islands and the San Juan Islands in general. Owner Stan Armstrong has been involved in the construction/electrical industry since 1984. Recently, the company focus has been developing electrical solutions for high-end residential construction clients.

For more information, visit www.armstrongesllc.com

A big “thanks” to Stan for his responses!

Do you have questions or comments about home inspections in general? Go “All” in and tweet us (@AIHomeInspect).

WHEN IN ROME(X): HANDYMAN WIRING PRACTICES NEED TO BE ADDRESSED

During a recent inspection in Friday Harbor, I came across handyman electrical wiring practices serving garage ceiling light fixtures. In this case, homeowners had unconventionally routed Romex electrical wiring and open wire splicing.

I recommended that my clients consult with a qualified electrician to address the issue.

Do you have questions or comments about home inspections in general? Go “All” in and tweet us (@AIHomeInspect).

WANT TO KNOW SOMETHING IN A HOME I WON’T INSPECT?

As a home inspector, I’m rightly expected to know a lot about a lot of different things in a home. However, for a variety of reasons, I can’t address every issue I come across.

Certain home features are just beyond the scope of the home inspection, and this includes electric generator systems.

Recently, during an Anacortes home inspection, I came across one of these generators. In my report, I recommended that the prospective buyer ask the seller as to when the generator system was last serviced. Additionally, I suggested that they verify with the seller as to their routine maintenance protocol for the system. Finally, I recommended further evaluation, service and repair (as necessary) by a qualified contractor.

Do you have questions or comments about home inspections in general? Go “All” in and tweet us (@AIHomeInspect).

UH OH: YOUR ELECTRICAL PANEL IS NAKED!

I think this goes without saying, but you really need to make sure your electrical panels have fully installed cover fronts. When I say fully installed, I mean that all the appropriate fasteners are in place and the front is secure. 

And when I say appropriate fasteners, I mean screws that are not sharp—which can potentially pierce underlying wiring. 

And when I say potentially…I’m just kidding. No more italics

So, what if you don’t have a panel cover front in the first place? This is a scenario I recently came across recently during an inspection in Mount Vernon. 

Obviously, if the circuits, circuit breakers, conductors, and other fun stuff are exposed to the world, you are inviting trouble to the party. 

And trouble is a terrible guest. 

The takeaway? Get your panel a cover, pronto!

Do you have questions or comments about electrical issues or home inspections in general? Go “All” in and tweet us (@AIHomeInspect).

BREAKING UP WITH YOUR ZINSCO ELECTRICAL PANEL: IT’S NOT ME, IT’S YOU

Zinsco, Sylvania-Zinsco electrical panels are known in the home inspection industry to be problematic.  In fact, Zinsco is one of two brands of electrical panels that home inspectors are warned about in home inspection training courses to be aware of and inform clients about.

To identify these panels, look for the words “Zinsco,” “Magnetrip” or the characteristic red, green, and blue toggles on circuit breakers.  Issues include failure of the circuit breaker to trip on overcurrent, arcing and burn-ups at the breaker-to-panel bus bar connection and circuit breaker burn-ups.  

The majority of modern electricians aren’t familiar with these panels, which were installed in the 1940s through 1980s, so it’s important to have these panels further evaluated by an electrician familiar with Zinsco panels and their history.  While the wiring inside an older panel may appear perfectly fine, I believe these panels should be replaced (better safe than sorry). 

In fact, were I buying a home with a Zinsco panel, it would be the first thing I’d have replaced.  In 2012, the city of Napa, Calif., actually required replacement of Zinsco main service panels.  Here’s a link with more information about Zinsco electrical panels you might find interesting, https://inspectapedia.com/electric/Zinsco_Electrical_Panels.php.

Do you have questions or comments about Zinsco panels, electrical panels or home inspections in general? Go “All” in and tweet us (@AIHomeInspect).

IS YOUR HOME WIRED PROPERLY? AN INEXPENSIVE, EASY WAY TO FIND OUT

Testing an electrical outlet is simple with an outlet tester. This device is economical, typically costs under $20, and every homeowner should have one. I recommend you purchase the outlet tester with the GFCI button so you can also test bathroom, kitchen, garage and exterior outlets for GFCI protection. 

To test any outlet, plug the outlet tester into the outlet and note the light pattern. A legend on the outlet tester will show you what the pattern indicates (e.g., whether the outlet is wired properly or not). 

You’d be surprised how many incorrectly wired outlets I discover inspecting homes, even brand-new homes! If you discover an electrical issue, you shouldn’t use that outlet until it is repaired. 

To test for GFCI protection, plug in the outlet tester, see if the light pattern is correct and then push the top button. If it trips (e.g., if the power goes off), then the outlet is indeed GFCI protected and working properly (you’ll need to find the tripped GFCI breaker or outlet elsewhere in the home and reset it to restore power after tripping). 

I encourage you to go out, purchase an outlet tester, test your outlets and repair any noted defective.

Questions or comments about electrical issues or home inspections in general? Go “All” in and let us know at @AIHomeInspect