Testing Electric Receptacles

South Carolina requires its Home Inspectors to adhere to the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) inspection standards. The standards provide a solid protocol to adhere to for home inspections. Even so, I like to go beyond those standards in some areas. Take, for example, testing the electrical receptacles in the house. According to ASHI, the inspector shall inspect “a representative number of installed lighting fixtures, switches, and receptacles.” This generally is interpreted to mean at least one receptacle in each room. Schillerstrom Home Inspection tests every receptacle I can locate and get access to.

Why do I test as many receptacles as I can locate and get access to? I find that, even in homes with up-to-date electrical panels and with receptacles testing as ‘grounded’ and properly wired, there is often one outlet that is Ungrounded or has reversed polarity. That outlet is a potential safety issue.

Outlets have a hot wire that delivers electricity to the receptacle and a neutral wire that directs the electricity back to the electrical panel power source. A third wire is the ground wire, which serves as an important safety feature. If there is a power surge, the excess electricity travels through the ground wire back to the electrical panel and out through the grounding wire to the earth. An ungrounded outlet does not have a way to get rid of an excess surge of electricity and this risks causing fire, shock or electrocution.

Reversed polarity describes incorrect wiring where the hot wire and the neutral wires have been attached to the wrong posts on the receptacle. When a properly wired fixture is turned off, the ‘hot’ feed from the receptacle is interrupted and (essentially) turned off. When the fixture is turned on, electricity feeds through the fixture and completes the circuit by returning through the neutral and back to the electrical panel. If the wiring is reversed, when the fixture is turned off the circuit is interrupted because now the neutral has been ‘turned off’. The circuit is not complete and the fixture looks like it is off. The hot wire, however, is not turned off and the fixture has an electrical current still running to it. The fixture may be off, but you can still get a shock because there is still power flowing into the fixture.

Most often these incorrectly wired outlets are the result of a homeowner error when replacing an outlet. Houses don’t come with a booklet identifying which outlets have been replaced over the years, so every receptacle I can locate and get access gets tested. If an incorrectly wired receptacle is located, it is noted in the report and recommended that the client contact a licensed electrician to re-wire and correct the situation. A new home is an exciting new adventure and Schillerstrom Home Inspection wants your new chapter to be a safe one!