The Operating Systems, Lower Level, Interior and Exterior Inspection sections are EXTREMELY condensed versions of those found in our home inspection book: Home Inspection Business From A to Z
Real Estate Appraisers are not required to be home inspectors. However, I will include these sections anyway to give you some basic details about home inspections.
The main components of the electrical system consist of: the service entrance lines, the electrical conduit lines, the electrical meter, the main electrical panel and any sub panels, fuses or circuit breakers, the interior electrical wiring and the electrical system grounding cable.
Remember that electricity can kill you!! Before touching the main panel or any sub panels check them with a voltage tester to make sure that it's not electrified. Voltage testers can be purchased very inexpensively at a local hardware or electrical supply store. There was a story in a home inspection newsletter about one inspector who noticed that the insulation on the service entrance line had worn off at the top of the main panel. This caused the main panel to be electrified. Luckily he tested the panel before touching it.
Also, don't go near any exposed wiring or any electrical panels or wiring if there's water on the floor or near the wires. Water and electricity don't ix! You're not paid to get electrocuted; you're paid to appraise the house. State appraisal and home inspection standards state clearly that home inspectors and/or appraisers are not required to do anything that can be hazardous to themselves or to others. So be careful.
Check the main panel for any rust or corrosion. If there's excessive rust or corrosion, then recommend that a licensed electrician evaluate the system. After testing the electrical panel with a voltage tester check to make sure it's installed on the wall securely by gently trying to shake the panel. Be careful - you don't want to loosen the electrical panel nor any wiring, you just want to see if it's secured properly. See if there are any hazardous conditions around the panel. Some hazards to watch out for are: potential water, objects in the way, the panel being too high to reach safely, etc.
Check to see whether the system has fuses or circuit breakers. Newer houses have circuit breakers which are the plastic switches that can easily be turned on or off by the homeowner. Older houses have fuses which are the glass screw-in type. Do not turn any circuit breakers off or on or replace any fuses!! Sometimes a circuit will be off because the homeowner is making repairs or the circuit was overloaded. Just inform the client of this and tell them to check with the owner or a licensed electrician to figure out the cause. You aren't allowed to turn any circuits on or off or replace any fuses for safety reasons.
Check to see if there are any open circuit breaker or fuse slots in the main panel or any sub panels. Open slots need to be covered with blanks or spare circuit breakers or fuses. This will prevent anyone from sticking their fingers or any objects inside the main panel and getting electrocuted. Sub panels are small electrical panels that branch off from the main electrical panel. The purpose of sub panels is to prevent very long branch circuit runs in the house. Long branch wires can cause a "drop" in the electrical current.
In the main panel you'll see the main disconnect for the entire electrical system in the house. This is similar to the water and gas main shutoff valves. Sometimes the main disconnect is located outside the house, next to the electrical meter. Check the main disconnect for an amperage rating number. It should be written right on the circuit breaker or fuse. Fuse systems have either a pullout fuse box or a cartridge fuse for a main disconnect. A pullout fuse box is simply a cartridge fuse inside a small box that's pulled out to shut off all the electrical power to the house. A cartridge fuse is a fuse that looks like a miniature stick of dynamite that has metal blades at the top and bottom.
Do not remove any electrical panel covers unless you are a licensed electrician!! Do not pull out the main disconnect box or touch the cartridge fuse if you can't see their rating number!! Just tell the client that you can't determine the amperage on these disconnects due to the type of system that it is. Tell them to have a licensed electrician find out the amperage for them.
It's extremely important that the electrical system be grounded to a properly working grounding cable attached to the water main line or a grounding rod in the soil. Make sure the client understands the importance of maintaining a properly operating grounding system of the electrical service for safety. Review the plumbing section that details the attachment of the electrical ground cable near the water meter.
As you go through the interior and exterior of the house check for any loose wiring that needs to be secured or any electrical hazards. Make sure you warn the client and the homeowner of any hazards. Remember, electricity can kill people so be very thorough and careful during the inspection. Check for loose electrical switches and outlets that need to be secured. Also, check for any "do-it-yourself" work in the house. All electrical repairs must be performed by a licensed electrician. All valid permits and building department approvals must be obtained for any work done. As a safety precaution, check to make sure that the outlets and switches in the bathroom are not reachable from the tub or shower. Remember that water and electricity don't mix! Remind your client of this.
Older houses will have the two pronged outlets as opposed to the modern three prong types. The third prong is used for the grounding prong in electrical cord plugs. The purpose of this grounding prong is that most appliances today have an internal ground. All two prong outlets should be upgraded to the modern three prong grounded outlets by a licensed electrician.
In newer construction or recently renovated houses you may find Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters in some outlets. They're also called GFCI's for short. GFCI outlets have two buttons in the middle that are marked test and reset. A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter is an electronic device that will trip or turn off the circuit when it senses a potentially hazardous condition. It's very sensitive and operates very quickly. The National Electric Code recommends that GFCI's be installed anywhere near water for safety. Water prone areas include basements, garages, kitchens, bathrooms and all exterior outlets. You should recommend the installation of GFCI's to all of your clients for safety reasons. They're an inexpensive item to have installed and they significantly increase electrical safety in the home.
If the client has children, recommend that they install child proof caps for the electrical outlets. These are small plastic plugs to cover any unused outlets so a child won't stick anything into them and get electrocuted. You should also recommend that they use child guards for all cabinets to prevent children from opening cabinets that have cleansers and sharp objects inside.