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Brain Freeze


This cold spell has made our exterior inspections very uncomfortable to perform, especially when our clients are shimmering with chattering teeth along side us and are not attentive to what we are telling them.  We almost fell like saying after 5 minutes, OK the exterior looks good, lets go inside to warm up.


Well, here I was all alone inspecting the detached garage while waiting for my client to show up.  In the garage was a new electrical sub panel neatly installed with a GFCI breaker with a 2001 final approval sticker by the town.  My fingers numb from the 9 deg weather was telling me please don’t take me out of your pockets to open this panel.  My bad side conscience was telling me “No one is around, you don’t need to open this town approved panel” my good side conscience was telling me “No pain no gain, now open  the panel”.  At that very moment a fellow inspector called me on my cell phone to consult about another panel he had just opened to inspect that had problems.  Even though his panel was in the interior where it was nice and warm, I said to myself OK open the panel.


This panel had a 30 amp main disconnect breaker and the 4 slots for breakers had two 15 amp breakers and one GFCI breaker.  The service cable from the house consisted of a black, red, white and bare copper. The black and red wires where connected to the panels main disconnect breaker, the white wire connected to the neutral bar and the bare wire connected to the equipment grounding conductor bar.


Three of the four set screws fell to the ground as I removed them because my fingers where too numb to feel them.  After placing the cover on the floor it did not take more than a second to see several problems in this sub panel.

  1. The grounding wires (bare) and the grounded wires (neutral, white) were terminated together on the same bus bar.
  2. The bonding strap was still in place between the neutral bar and the metal enclosure.
  3. Even with plenty of spare screws they seem to fit 3-4 wires under the same screws on the neutral bar.
  4. The panel was not bonded to a grounding electrode at the garage.
  5. Two of the four breakers had two wires under the single set screw on the breaker because they homerunned all the outlet and lighting wires back into the sub panel.
  6. The GFCI breaker was tripped to test its operation.  The wall outlets stayed live and only the light fixture turned off.
  7. Not all the romex wiring entering the panel where secured with clamps.
  8. The nonmetallic sheathed cable’s (Romex, NM cable) outer jacket was extended into the panel almost right up to the breaker connections.
  9. The last thing to mention is the first thing I saw and was what the cell phone call was in reference to.  The panel was enclosed on all four sides by a nice painted white piece of plywood cut out for the panel opening to match the rest of the white finished walls.  When they spray painted the plywood white, some of the paint was over sprayed into the panel that apparently was not covered at that time.


Several days after the inspection the home owner called to tell me that after consulting with his electrician that all of the issues will be taken care of.  I asked him why didn’t his electrician wire this panel correct in the first place and how did it pass inspection.  His reply was that he wired the panel not his electrician and the inspector must not have opened the panel.  So the story goes.



Tip of the month:    Receptacle outlets shall be computed at not less than 180 volt-amperes for each single or multiple receptacle.  Computing this out the maximum number of outlets permitted on a 15- and 20- ampere branch circuit is 10 and 13, respectively.  (VA = 15A x 120V =1,800VA  / 180VA = 10)   (VA = 20A x 120V = 2,400VA  / 180VA) = 13.33.  This restriction does not apply to outlets connected to general lighting.

When is a length of electrical conduit considered a nipple.  Answer = 24” or less in length.

Ernie Borsellino is president of All Pro Home Inspections. He is a NJ and NY state licensed home inspector, licensed by NJ DEPE for Radon Testing & a Licensed Pesticide Applicator for Termite Inspections.  in addition Ernie is a NJ state licensed electrician and educator for other home inspectors.   30 years in business, inspected over 10,000 homes, Voted in as President of the Garden State Chapter of ASHI  two times (2005-2007) & (2017-2019) . For more information please call All Pro Home Inspections, (973) 868-4979

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