One of the most important aspects of being a home inspector is detecting safety hazards. Unsafe electrical practices are one of the most common safety hazards home inspectors will come across. As home inspectors, we NEVER cite code, but being aware of current building codes/practices will make you a much better home inspector.
One area of the electrical inspection in particular is Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI). Depending on which state you live in or which inspection association’s standards of practice you are following, the majority of them address GFCI. For example the NAHI SOP states “the inspector has to verify the operation of GFCI if present”. It also says the inspection is not required to include information from any source concerning past or present violations of codes.
First, how does a GFCI work? The GFCI has a sensor inside that detects changes in current to the appliance that is connected to it (such as a toaster or blow dryer) by comparing the current flow TO the appliance and the current flow FROM the appliance. If there is a potentially dangerous drop off in the current, then the GFCI turns off all power by tripping a relay within it in less than one second. If a GFCI turns off your appliance, then you will have to press the reset button. A GFCI has two buttons: a test button and a reset button. If a GFCI turns off your appliance, then you will have to press the reset button. On a home inspection you should be testing each GFCI for proper operation with a GFCI 3-prong tester. If installed properly, a GFCI can save the homeowners’ life.
Home inspectors need to remember that they are not there to cite code violations, but rather, are there to make recommendations to the client if additional safety can be added or upgraded. For example, if inspecting a bathroom in a house that was built in 1987, or for that fact 2007, and the receptacle is checked and is properly grounded but does not have GFCI protection, it should NOT be written up as a safety hazard, even though the code for GFCI protection in a bathroom went into effect in 1975. Instead, this should be expressed verbally and should be written in the report as, “for additional safety, recommend GFCI protected receptacles in the bathroom.” It is okay to recommend GFCI protected receptacles in locations that typically require them but do not currently have them.
Per the 2011 NEC, GFCIs are required in the following areas of the home, excluding pools, spas & boathouses.
- Required to be in readily accessible locations
- All bathroom receptacles
- All garage and accessory building receptacles
- All receptacles in unfinished basements, excluding permanently installed fire alarm or burglar alarm systems
- All outdoor receptacles, excluding GFPE circuits dedicated to non-readily accessible receptacles for snow-melting or deicing equipment
- All receptacles in crawl spaces or below grade level
- All receptacles serving kitchen counters
- Receptacles within 6 ft. of all non-kitchen sinks
- Whirlpool tubs