Tag 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).

DANGEROUSLY LOW Electrical Wires!

Tim Hance, owner of All Islands Home Inspections, recently discovered dangerously low overhead electrical service entrance conductors that were a clear safety issue at a recent home inspection in Friday Harbor, WA. Additionally, these older wires were unconventionally run alongside the home’s exterior and vulnerable to mechanical damage. A qualified electrician was recommended to further evaluate and make necessary repairs for safety reasons.

Proper wiring for hot tubs

So, you’ve decided it’s time to finally get a hot tub!  It’s important to install wiring serving the hot tub properly for obvious safety reasons.  Pictured here is wiring simply run in the grass to the hot tub appliance. Hopefully it doesn’t get hit by a lawn mower or someone doesn’t trip over it!  Wiring should be sleeved in conduit, run underground to the hot tub and have a GFCI-protected subpanel installed within sight of the hot tub and readily accessible.  Also, any and all wiring modifications or additions at a home require a permit and inspection through the Department of Labor & Industries.  This was discovered at a recent home inspection in Mount Vernon.

Open wires

Open wires, like those pictured here, need to be secured and properly terminated/enclosed in a covered junction box or have the appropriate fixture installed for obvious safety reasons.  This is called out frequently at home inspections and with real estate appraisals.  It’s a simple, straightforward repair.  These pictures were taken at a recent home inspection in Anacortes on Fidalgo Island. 

AFCI Breakers

AFCI breakers, common to newer homes, provide added protection to homes in the event of an arc-fault. AFCI stands for “Arc Fault Circuit Interruptor.” If there’s an arc fault, the AFCI breaker “trips” the circuit, turning off power to help prevent the possibility of an electrical event or fire. The video above explains how to best test AFCI breakers to ensure they’re working properly. Technically, manufacturers typically recommend testing these breakers every thirty (30) days. If they don’t “trip,” replacement by a qualified electrician is advised.

“Updated” wiring?

At an older home inspection in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, the home was advertised with “updated wiring.”  Unfortunately, when I got into the crawl space and attic areas, I noted numerous unprofessional wire splices like that pictured here which are signs of handyman wiring practices and a definite safety issue.  I recommend further evaluation and repair by a qualified electrician.

Lack of safe electrical wiring protection

Electrical wiring needs to be protected where it enters junction boxes for appliances and fixtures.  Pictured here is wiring vulnerable to mechanical damage, a safety issue.  A simple bushing can be installed in this application to protect wiring and keep the house safe.  Wiring practices like these suggest the fixture wasn’t professionally installed and should be further evaluated and repaired by a qualified electrician. This photograph was taken at a recent home inspection on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands.

Safety: Secure loose exterior light fixtures!

It’s important to secure loose exterior light and electrical fixtures to prevent water intrusion and mechanical damage to underlying wiring. This was discovered at a recent home inspection in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island where there were three (3) loose exterior light fixtures and four (4) very loose, dangling, exterior outlets which needed securing. Some of the underlying wiring was beginning to corrode from water intrusion.