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  • Spencer Brothers, President

Most Common Home Defects - #1

So yesterday I’m at a home inspection…

Now, per my standard protocol I arrive 15 minutes early and begin my inspection process walking around the exterior of the house. Our roof, in this particular case, was much too steep to be walked on, so in our case a ladder and binoculars did the trick.

The roof looked good, and so did the siding. The windows for the most part were in good condition as well. Just as a disclaimer, as an inspector we don’t come to find “problems”; we simply observe what there is. We have an understanding that exceeds what the average man or woman could potentially identify as a problem, but we aren’t licensed to perform every job (plumber, electrician, mason, etc). So as I walk around the side of the house, almost certain that the outside is in great condition without a defect, I spot it.

The one thing, that never seems to fail. The one thing, that I can never go 1-2 inspections without seeing. There it was…

An overhead cable passing DIRECTLY through several tree limbs before reaching the outside of the dwelling. This problem has been eliminated on new construction, seeing as to how most of the time a “service lateral” is the method of which electricity is directed into the home (in other words, the cable comes up through the ground, instead of through overhead service line). Yet, on houses built back in the 80’s and before, service drops are almost guaranteed.

We could argue over the distribution method of power, but it seems rather pointless. My concern is that when I enter the house, as soon as I flip a switch, I expect the power to come on!

As far as the service drop is concerned however, there are a few problems that stand out. We can examine these problems easily (some of them anyway) by simply observing the lines, which only helps equip the realtor with more knowledge prior to bringing the inspector out:

  1. The service drop at times passes directly through tree limbs or very, very close to tree limbs. At the home that I inspected above, the former was the case. This happens all the time right so why is this a problem? A slighter longer answer lies here, but i’ll sum it up: safety (trees or branches touching power lines put a constant stress on live wires), voltage loss (trees in contact with power lines can drain electricity) and storm-related outages, which basically means if that tree falls it’s taking the power lines down with it!

  2. The service lines may not be properly secured to the mast head (see image below) or the mast head itself may have no protective hood, meaning that water can drain directly into the mast where the cables enter.

  3. Lastly, we expect to see three separate conductors: two hots and one neutral. The two hot wires provide the standard 240 Volt power that we come to expect on modern homes. Yet, we see sometimes, that one of these conductors (or wires) has been tied back. This means that it is no longer being used, and as such we now only have 120 Volt being supplied to the house, which does not meet the current living standard of most of us considering that we like to wash clothes, cook dinner in the oven, and blow dry our hair while watching tv all at the same time!

Image via InterNACHI

These problems are not encountered when we have a service lateral, or underground service.

Image via InterNACHI

Nonetheless, several electrical questions remain, and this article on RealtorMag tells 4 things every agent should know, or at least know to ask, prior to or at the home inspection. You can check that out here.

So what happens if your tree has taken over your power line? It’s a quick fix really that can be dealt with by a simple call to the power company. An arborist is another great option who can help by trimming back the limbs.

This is one of those jobs that we should NEVER attempt to do ourselves (I sure would not) simply because if we fall onto the entrance lines, or damage the lines, suffice it to say it will not end well.

Spencer Brothers

Sterling Home Inspection, LLC


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