Many homeowners are frightened by the electrical functions in their home, and they should be, because faulty electrical components can result in a fire and possibly death. The daily interaction most homeowners have with their home’s electrical components is limited to flipping a switch. However, behind every wall is a maze of electrical wires connected to breakers, boxes and ultimately the community’s main power grid.
Over the last few years, some of the hidden electrical components in older homes have proven to be faulty, forcing homeowners to deal with thousands of dollars in repairs in order to retain insurance coverage for their homes. A base knowledge of faulty electrical items is imperative for anyone considering the purchase of a home built prior to 1995.
Know your home’s breaker box. The Federal Pacific Electric Company’s electrical panel with FPE Stab-Lok breakers has been identified as a “latent safety hazard,” which means the breakers fail when something unsafe occurs and the breaker should trip.
According to Clarence Tibbs of S.T.E. Electrical Systems, Inc., a leading code expert in the state of Florida, the panel and its breakers should be replaced. Tibbs says, “The company made a bad batch of breakers that do not trip when they should and it caused many fires.”
Tibbs also noted a Zinsco electrical panel box has fire-related problems due to the connectivity of the breaker in the panel to the bus bar. Tibbs says, “Not enough direct metal-to-metal contact between the breaker and bus bar creates arching and, in some cases, a fire.” Tibbs recommends that both faulty panel boxes be replaced.
The other big issue is aluminum wiring. From 1965 to 1977, builders across America switched from copper wiring to aluminum wiring to save money. At the time, copper supplies were very tight. Opinions differ on the long-term serviceability of aluminum versus copper wire. Tibbs contends that as a product aluminum wire will perform. Other electricians believe aluminum has conductivity, crimping, expansion and corroding issues.
The problem with aluminum wiring in most homes is that a lot of homeowners use incorrect fixtures, switches and outlets. CO/ALR- or CU/AL-rated products, which can be used with copper or aluminum wiring, are required in homes wired with aluminum. Once again, because of cost, most people buy the cheapest electrical items, which are only rated for copper.
Whether the problem exists with the panel boxes and breakers, aluminum wiring or the old knob-and-tube wiring found in homes from the 1940s, electrical problems can create havoc in the home buying and remodeling process. To prevent unwanted surprises and costs, always have a licensed home inspector or electrician evaluate the wiring in any structure before you buy it.
Some homeowner insurance companies are not covering homes with known faulty electrical equipment issues, and this trend is expected to continue. Even though you might not be able to see it, faulty electrical wiring problems can cost you a fortune, or worse, your life. Know what is behind your walls.
Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc., and he is also the host of the “Around the House” Radio Show heard every Monday at noon on My790AM WLBE in Leesburg.