Are you thinking of selling your house? There is a lot of prep work to do before a home goes on the market, including decluttering, giving the interior a good scrubbing and a fresh coat of paint and adding some “curb appeal” with new landscaping. One item that is very important, but is often overlooked, is making sure the home’s electrical system is up to par. This article provides some background on building codes and summarizes the most common electrical violations that can impact the sale of a home.
The Importance of Building Codes
Federal and state laws govern the construction and remodel of homes and businesses. Any type of home improvement project that goes beyond a simple cosmetic update likely has requirements under one or more building codes. Generally, building code laws are in place to prevent potential hazards and to provide a safe environment. There are building codes for the structural integrity of the building, fire safety, HVAC, plumbing and the electrical system. In addition to federal codes, local municipalities often have their own codes that reflect regional issues. For example, a rural area that is prone to forest fires may have a building code with strict fireproofing requirements. Likewise, a warm, coastal area may have a building code with safety considerations based on heat and humidity.
Electrical building code standards are especially important because of the potential safety risks that electricity presents. Throughout the United States, the National Electrical Code (NEC) is considered the standard for the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment. In the State of Maryland, several local jurisdictions (such as the City of Baltimore, Baltimore county and Anne Arundel county to name a few) have adopted their own electrical codes that must be adhered to.
Signs Your Home’s Wiring is Not Up to Code
Electricity is such an integral part of a home, that it’s easy to take it for granted. Electricity powers our lighting, appliances, heating and air conditioning, televisions, computers and keeps our personal electronic devices charged. Ensuring your home meets electrical codes is important for your family’s overall level of comfort, but it is also a safety issue. A home that is not up to code is at a higher risk for electric shock injuries and electrical fire. If any of the following apply to your home, it is likely that the electrical system is in need of an upgrade:
- The circuit breakers frequently trip. A circuit breaker gets tripped when the electrical demands are too much for the electrical system. If you find you are continually heading to the breaker box to reset a flipped switch, this could be a sign that it’s time for an electric upgrade. A licensed electrician can offer advice and help to resolve any wiring, breaker panel or electricity-related issues before they become a safety hazard.
- The home was built in the 1970s or earlier. Older Baltimore homes often have charming architectural details such as decorative moulding and oversized windows, but often these homes come with outdated electrical systems. For example, homes built in the 1960s and 1970s often utilized aluminum wiring to save on cost. Aluminum wiring greatly increases the risk of a house fire and should be replaced with copper wire. Meanwhile, homes built before 1950 may have knob-and-tube wiring (K&T) wiring. While K&T wiring is not required to be removed from a home by code, it can be inefficient and it is unlikely to impress a prospective buyer.
- There aren’t enough GFCIs. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) are special electrical outlets that are installed in high-moisture areas of a home, such as the bathroom or laundry room. GFCIs are designed to prevent electric shock and are required by NEC. If you do not have GFCI outlets in your home, contact a licensed electrician to bring your house up to code.
Considerations for Selling Your Home
When selling your home, you’ll want it to look as attractive as possible to potential buyers. Be aware, however, that Maryland law requires sellers to reveal problems that could affect the home’s value. There are two options: 1) the seller may fully disclose any known defects or 2) the seller may offer a disclaimer, or sell the property “as is”. Even with the disclaimer option, the seller must still share any defects they are personally aware of. Failing to disclose unsafe electrical wiring conditions that you have knowledge of could result in liability for related accidents or injuries.
Selling your home “as is” may seem like the most straightforward option, but it will most certainly affect the price you’ll get for your home. You may also risk losing certain potential buyers due to financing or insurance restrictions. Some home financing, such as FHA loans, is dependent upon the home meeting certain electrical standards. Similarly, some insurance companies may not be willing to insure a home that does not meet electrical code.
Common Electric Code Violations to Address Before Selling
Before putting your house on the market, take a critical look at your home’s electrical system and see if you notice any of the below common NEC violations. For your own safety, don’t attempt to fix these on your own. Instead, hire a licensed electrician.
- Breaker boxes that are more than 30 years old.
- Insufficient electric service. Some older homes only have 60-amp; 200-amp is generally considered to be standard.
- Defective or improperly installed breaker boxes.
- Incorrect circuit breaker selection.
- Improperly grounded electrical outlets.
- Missing GFCIs or AFCIs (arc-fault circuit interrupters).
- Broken or outdated wiring.
- Spliced wires that are not enclosed by a junction box.
- Electrical switches wired without a neutral wire.
- Electrical outlets that do not have tamper-resistant receptacles.
- Incorrect covers installed on outdoor electrical outlets.
- Insufficient clearance in front of the electrical service panel.
- Insufficient number of electrical outlets for the wall space.
- Insufficient electrical grounding.
- Prior electrical work that was performed by a friend or unlicensed handyman.