Category Archives: Interior


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

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).


Is your flue pipe a little too cozy with other elements of your home? 

During a recent home inspection on Shaw Island, I noticed a combination furnace-water heater double wall B-vent flue pipe in direct contact with sheetrock and floor carpeting within a hallway closet. 

This is a big “no-no” because the pipe did not observe proper clearance-from-combustible requirements, a significant safety issue. 

Typically, 1″ of space, free and clear from contact, is advised around this type of piping.

If you have questions or comments about home inspections in general, tweet us (@AIHomeInspect).


Sometimes, home inspection problems can be hard to spot. And other times…

A recent inspection in Bow provided one of these “other times,” when I discovered an active plumbing leak in the bathroom. It was kind of impossible to miss the bright, yellow bucket that had been installed to catch the dripping water. 

It certainly made my job easier. 

If you have questions or comments about plumbing issues in general, tweet us (@AIHomeInspect).


So, your kitchen isn’t exactly top-of-the-line anymore?

Maybe the dishwasher doesn’t make the dishes quite as sparkly clean as it used to? Or perhaps the milk doesn’t seem quite so cold, even though the refrigerator runs at a low setting?

This week, I wanted to share a helpful video produced by This Old House entitled “How to Maintain Kitchen Appliances.” Maybe, just maybe, it will help you to get one more ice cube or heat another hot kettle of water.

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


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).


During a recent home inspection on Orcas Island, I came across a bar sink drain line not connected to the home’s septic system. Furthermore, the sink’s line discharged directly onto the front lawn.

That can’t be good for the landscaping.

I recommended that my clients seek further evaluation and repair by a qualified plumbing contractor to address the issue.

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


Most of us keep all the highly flammable stuff we own in a specific area of the house. Typically, this is the garage. Or on the third shelf of the refrigerator (have you ever tried ghost pepper hot sauce? Yee-ow!) 

For this post, we’ll focus on the garage and not your condiment collections. So, what if your garage were to catch on fire? Good news: if it was well-made and is up-to-code, garage ceilings and walls are considered fire separation barriers. In other words, these walls and ceilings would (hopefully) burn first, and buy a little time before the fire department arrives and the rest of your home catches on fire.

During a recent home inspection in Mount Vernon, I came across a garage with holes in the sheet rock ceiling that needed to be taped, mudded and sealed. Again, that’s because the ceiling and walls of a garage are considered a fire separation barrier in a home. 

Is a fire separation barrier the same as a firewall? Nope. The Uniform Building Code defines a firewall as the following: 

FIREWALL: A fire-resistance-rated wall having protected openings, which restricts the spread of fire and extends continuously from the foundation to or through the roof, with sufficient structural stability under fire conditions to allow collapse of construction on either side without collapse of the wall.

“The closest thing you’ll find (to an actual firewall) in residential construction is a one-hour fire-resistance-rated wall,” wrote Minnesota-based home inspector Reuben Saltzman in a recent article. “This is needed between townhomes and two-family dwellings, with a lot of fine print and special requirements.”

While it probably doesn’t have a firewall, your garage should always be considered and maintained as a fire separation barrier and an extra level of safety for your home and those who live in it.

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


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 water heaters with Brad Tully, president and owner of CPI Plumbing & Heating in Mount Vernon.

(1) Is it really necessary to service and flush water heaters annually? How much does this typically cost?

“Yes, it is necessary to maintain efficiency and prolong the longevity of water heaters. It is required by most water heater manufacturers to maintain warranty compliance. The cost to service/flush water heaters varies, but most residential water heaters can be drained/flushed under CPI Plumbing & Heating’s Club Membership program for $149.50 (plus tax), provided they are installed and meet the current Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) standards.”

(2) In your experience, how long do water heaters last (gas and electric) and what are typical replacement costs? 

“Water heater longevity is determined by a variety of factors, including water quality, maintenance, anode rod replacement, etc. A typical water heater will last from eight to 12 years. The cost of water heater replacement varies depending on size, fuel type, code updates, permitting, etc.”

(3) Seismic straps are always called out by home inspectors and real estate appraisers. Is this easy to do and what kind of fee would you normally charge to double-strap a water heater?

“Seismic strapping is required, per UPC standards. The cost varies based on a variety of factors—including the size of the water heater, water heater location, anchoring points/accessibility, etc. CPI Plumbing & Heating technicians can easily assist with getting a home’s seismic straps up to code, as we’re just a call away!”

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

“Most homeowners don’t realize that there is a sacrificial rod (an anode rod) inside the water heater. The sacrificial rod allows minerals to consume the rod instead of the interior tank lining of the water heater. Draining and flushing the water heater, alongside periodic inspection/replacement of the anode rod, could in many cases double the life expectancy of a water heater.”

About CPI Plumbing & Heating

CPI Plumbing & Heating provides repair, installation, and maintenance service solutions for plumbing, heating and cooling problems for residential and light commercial customers. Its service area includes communities in Skagit, Island, Whatcom and North Snohomish counties.

The business was founded in 1986. Since then, the company has won numerous prestigious awards, including the National Plumbing Contractor of the Year Award in 2013 and the George Brazil Trailblazer Award in 2014.

For more information, visit

And finally, a big “thanks” to Brad Tully for his responses.


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).


I was on a job recently in Coupeville when I came across a basement pellet stove thermostat that was not professionally installed. In fact, it was merely dangling on an adjacent window.

Correctly installing thermostats and related electrical infrastructure can require a lot of time, skill and patience. If you decide to take on such a project, make sure you really know what you are doing. While there are lots of great tips on do-it-yourself electrical wiring, it can be dangerous if you are not prepared and experienced. 

For those who want to learn more about thermostat installation, in particular, take a look at the video below. Hope it helps!

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