Is Your Home Electrical System Up To Code?

August 15, 2020

Electrical fires are a leading cause of home damage in the United States. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, there are about 51,000 electrical fires in homes every year. These fires cause more than $1.3 billion in property damage, 1,400 injuries and 500 deaths each year. Whether you’re buying a home, making some upgrades to your existing home or simply wondering about home safety, you may be curious as to whether or not your home’s electrical system is up to code. Read on to learn more about what electrical codes are, how you can find out if yours meets current guidelines and some common residential electric code violations that your Seattle, WA, home might have.

About the National Electric Code

The National Electric Code is a set of guidelines created by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The NFPA updates the National Electric Code every three years. The manual is more than 1,000 pages long, so chances are good that you haven’t read the whole thing. It’s important to know that states don’t have to adopt the National Electric Code for home building requirements. Unless your home is new construction, it’s unlikely to meet the most recent version of the National Electric Code.

Seattle Electrical Code

The city of Seattle updates its electrical code every three years. The last update was in 2017, and the city is expected to release an update in mid- to late-2020. The city’s electrical code is available for downloading from the city of Seattle’s website. This PDF document includes the entire electrical code requirements for Seattle homes and businesses. In the code, you can find specifications for where smoke detectors need to be located, which types of outlets are required in the proximity of water sources and what types of grounding and surge protection are recommended for homes.

Get a Home Inspection

Whether or not you’re planning to buy or sell a home, an inspection of the electrical system is a smart decision. At Brennan Electric, our certified and licensed electricians offer residential electrical inspections for concerned homeowners. If you’re thinking of selling your home, it’s a good idea to have it inspected. This gives you time to correct any issues that could delay the transaction. If you’re buying a home, especially an older home or one that hasn’t been updated in a long time, an inspection of the electrical system will identify areas of concern, such as past DIY repair jobs that might be hazardous. Even new construction homes need an electrical inspection in order to make sure that everything meets the newest electrical code requirements. A general home inspector may not be aware of the latest electrical code updates, which is why having a Brennan Electric electrician do the inspection is a wise decision.

Knob-and-tube Wiring

Knob-and-tube wiring was used in the early to mid-1900s. If your home was built before 1960, it’s possible that there’s some live knob-and-tube wiring in it. Knob-and-tube wiring isn’t grounded, can’t handle today’s voltage requirements and has poor insulation that falls apart over time. Most insurance companies will not give a new buyer a policy until the knob-and-tube wiring has been removed and upgraded to meet the 2020 wiring standards in the National Electric Code or Seattle electric code.

Improper Splices

A previous DIY homeowner may have added improper splices. This is when a wire is split in order to service an additional fixture or outlet. Splices can also include connecting an old wire to a new one, a split wire to an existing one or an extension of wires. Splices are illegal if they are done outside of an electrical junction box. That’s because they can start a fire that spreads through a wall or ceiling. An electrician can install a junction box or rewire the area properly.

Crowded Wires

It’s tempting for an amateur to stuff a bunch of wires through a small opening in a wall or ceiling. In order to get all the wires to fit, they might have stripped off the insulation. This is a dangerous situation that doesn’t meet code and needs prompt repairs.

Recessed Lights in Contact With Insulation

Many homes have recessed lights. These lights are installed through the ceiling. If attic insulation comes into contact with lights that are not rated for this location, the insulation could catch fire. You may need to verify which type of recessed lights are installed and whether or not they meet the code requirements.

New Fixtures Paired With Old Wires

If you’ve updated any of the lighting fixtures in your home, but the wiring was installed before 1987, this is a problem. Wiring installed before 1987 was rated to handle 60 degrees of heat from the fixture. Wiring produced since then can withstand 90 degrees of heat. Wires made in 1987 and later have a date stamped on their jacket. If you can’t find a date on the wire, it’s probably older. Old wires paired with new fixtures are a potential fire hazard and need to be replaced.

More Common Seattle Electrical Code Violations

There are many other code violations that are common to Seattle area homes. These include a lack of ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets, ungrounded outlets, mislabeled circuits, overloaded or undersized circuits, low-voltage electrical systems and improper panel design. Doing electrical work without a permit from the city of Seattle is another code violation. Permits are required for all electrical work, and an inspector will verify that the work was done by a licensed and certified electrician.

Follow These Electrical Safety Tips

Once your home is up to the Seattle electrical code requirements, you’ll still need to take precautions and be safe when it comes to electricity. Make sure that you use the right wattage of light bulb for a fixture. Install a smoke detector on every level of your home. Test it monthly, and replace the batteries every six months. Avoid using extension cords. If you must use one, keep it temporary. Secure the cord so that nobody trips on it.

Electrical Danger Signs

It’s important to be aware of the signs of an electrical problem in your home. Even if everything’s up to code, problems can happen. Look out for the following signs:

  • Smoke: If you smell or see smoke from an outlet or fixture, stop using it and call for electrical repairs.
  • Damaged wiring: If you see damaged wiring or insulation with burn marks, call for an electrical inspection.
  • Strange sounds: If your lights flicker for no reason, you hear buzzing sounds or sizzling sounds from a fixture or outlet, you need a licensed electrician to check it.
  • Short lifespan for bulbs: If you notice that light bulbs burn out after a short amount of time, this is also a danger sign.
  • Sparks: Sparks coming out of the outlet when you attempt to plug something in or turn something on requires an urgent electrical repair. Consider outlet safety upgrades and tamper-resistant outlets if there are children in your home.

Brennan Electric is Seattle’s go-to source for electrical inspections and repairs. We also offer surge protection, electric panel, lighting and generator installation. To learn more or schedule one of our services, call us at Brennan Electric today.

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