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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am a Home Inspector. Love us or hate us, we are out there, and a -few- of us try to stay up-to date, educated and aware...

That said, our job requires us, in most states, to open and inspect residential electrical panels. No touching, no modifications, just inspecting. This USED to be considered a Level-00 arc flash risk until they did away with the zeros...

I am arc-flash aware.., I know that some residential panels have -very- high surge/arc potential as they may be just a few feet away from a large transformers feeding many many houses on a street. So, I wear nomex & leather gloves when I open panels along with my safety glasses. Minimal for sure, but more than many do...

So my question for all of you is: What precautions do you take when INITIALLY opening a unknown residential panel? Gloves, glasses, does your employer provide any flash rated street clothing? Do you buzz the outside of the panel first, or just test it with the back of your hand? I am lucky in the only thing that has "bit" me so far after 20 years was a GFCI that exploded when I pressed the test button... and I want to keep it that way.

PS... a few inspector friends have been burnt when they were -removing- screws from a panels, pointy screws, that some idiot had put in and all but pierced a feeder... when they moved the screws, boom... some have been burnt badly, others just had to change their underwear. I have refused to open some panels because I could -see- non-factory screws, drywall, lags, metal self tapping or similar. I don't get paid enough...
 

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Industrial Mostly, Panels and drives
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Yikes! I am not an inspector, nor have I tried to be. I have helped friends out before but I have never had any of these issues.

I will start first and foremost by saying I am awful at practicing what I preach. Unless I can see how bad a lighting panel is, I have never gloved up or put on my face shield for it.

Often even in drives, I tend not to wear my gloves when testing points.

I have worked where it is mandatory on any voltage over 60V that you need to wear gloves, and anything over 120 a face shield (FR clothing is a mandatory to even walk on site to begin with)

That being said, with what you are doing, I would test the outside of those panels first, and wear gloves when removing. And I agree, if you see non-conforming screws there is no point in gambling on that front....

Seriously, a GFCI blew up when you hit test?! I've seen lots fail but never catastrophically. I have taken to using the klein plug tester with GFCI test button on it. Might be worth a stab? I don't know if it would prevent that particular occurrence.
 

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Do you have to open the panels up? Cant you just write something up in your report like “recommended a consultation by a licensed electrician”?

Do you mess around with the Water Heaters and HVAC equipment too?
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
We are REQUIRED by our LICENSES to open, examine and report on electrical panels. We are licensed, and trained, and required to get continuing education. Yes, some say we shouldn't be opening panels, but we are... get over it. We send you lots of business. From what I see some of us are better trained (on residential) than some of the "electricians" out there... but that is true for all the trades, including mine. As for unlicensed Home Inspectors, my opinion of them is lower than yours. We don't "mess around with" we examine and report.

Now, how about something useful... I was politely asking about what you do when opening a new residential panel. Who gloves up, what do you wear, and all that.

As for the person asking about other systems, yes we examine everything, from walking the roof if safe, to sump pump crocks. Under sinks, behind washing machines, and everywhere in between. We do "triage" and let the buyer know who needs to be called in, such as a licensed, bonded (grounded) electrician, plumber, HVAC tech, roofer etc...

If a buyer were to try to get an electrician in to examine ever receptacle & outlet in the house from the far end of the attic to the basement and write a comprehensive report IN THE NEXT 3 DAYS, and a plumber, and an HVAC technician, and a roofer, Pest guy, and and and... first it wouldn't happen, next it would be extremely expensive, and lastly, most trades don't write reports... so there are Home Inspectors. Oh, and all the trades have to show up in the same 4-hour window set by the seller. Some, like me, care enough to go to electrician classes, and HVAC classes, and and and... some are even code certified...

We save lives every day by calling out hazards that need attention NOW. We send licensed contractors lots of business. LOTS. We send even more in recommended upgrades and improvements. Want to learn more, or maybe teach Home Inspectors what they are missing or should NOT be flagging as problems, visit a local association meeting... Most association chapters would welcome you.
 

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Than you should go by NFPA 70E. Our opinions in reality don't mean squat in a court of law.
 

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Maryland only requires 72 hours of training.

This forum doesn't count for CEUs...though...again...Maryland only requires 72 hours of "training" for ALL aspects of home inspection.

I can see why you have questions.

Maybe your answers are here:

Insurance for Inspectors
To be a licensed home inspector in Maryland, individuals must meet certain requirements for adequate insurance coverage. InterNACHI members are eligible for discounts and enhanced coverage. Visit nachi.org/insurance for information on how to sign up.

>>>You should probably check into that insurance thing. It might be better protection than your...gloves.

Inspector Continuing Education (online & free for members)
Maryland Home Inspector Commission approves InterNACHI as a Continuing Education Provider. Visit the Maryland website for approved free, online courses. Click the link below to take MD-approved free, online courses for Maryland Continuing Professional Competency Education:
Click Here For Maryland Approved Courses
 

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Do you buzz the outside of the panel first, or just test it with the back of your hand?

I don't get paid enough...
You say you have some training, you say you know what you are doing and yet you say something like this.
I have never been concerned about voltage on the panel frame too many way of it being grounded, if I ever had any doubts it would be a METER not a backhand.

When we open a panel even the most skilled of us still have a pucker factor not knowing what is going to fall out of the panel when we pull the cover, be it wires, the breakers or a dead snake/mouse.
What happens when something does falls out, do YOU try to put it back in or leave panel open creating a safety hazard and call an electrician.
This is what happens when an unqualified person pulls a panel cover.
I am not picking on you personally but on the people dumb enough to have you opening a panel creating a safety hazard/risk. You working on your own trying to hold cover, remove screws, hold screwdriver and slowly remove cover all while wearing gloves is reason to face shield/hood up.
 

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Just trying to get home
Site Engineer
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Maryland only requires 72 hours of training.

This forum doesn't count for CEUs...though...again...Maryland only requires 72 hours of "training" for ALL aspects of home inspection.

I can see why you have questions.

Maybe your answers are here:

Insurance for Inspectors
To be a licensed home inspector in Maryland, individuals must meet certain requirements for adequate insurance coverage. InterNACHI members are eligible for discounts and enhanced coverage. Visit nachi.org/insurance for information on how to sign up.

You should probably check into that insurance thing. It might be better protection than your...gloves.

Inspector Continuing Education (online & free for members)
Maryland Home Inspector Commission approves InterNACHI as a Continuing Education Provider. Visit the Maryland website for approved free, online courses. Click the link below to take MD-approved free, online courses for Maryland Continuing Professional Competency Education:
Click Here For Maryland Approved Courses
Removing a panel cover in some cases can be quite dangerous. This should be done by a qualified person.
Maryland says that they are qualified if they are licensed...as I've outlined above.

¯\(ツ)
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Yup... That's why I don't open some and refer them to sparky... Zinsco, Bulldog’s, Federal Pacific’s and now even Siemans panels are problematic. Anything with the wrong screws gets a hard look... I won't lean over a washer/dryer or squeeze in between boxes/cabinets either...

I -Love- the new panels with covers on the SE lugs... Much less scary. But any panel can be a hazard if homeowners/handypeople have done strange things... I have seen ties directly into the SE wires with self tapping screws... Into the SE wires? Surprised they didn't get killed doing it...

I got a lot more training than that before I began 20 years ago. I routinely go to Electrician classes for the new code releases, and manufactures seminars, and association seminars, and builders seminars and
IEAI seminars, NFPA, ICC, and that's just for electrical... there is also gas, water, structure...
Spend a lot of time in class, and with teachers in the field seeing things as they are really installed, not just text books... and reading and reading...

I generally follow the Level-00 guidelines, gloves, eye protection and all natural fabrics... but the summer shirts are a blend... next order will be 100% cotton...

And yet 90% of the electricians I see don't glove up, wear any eye protection and are wearing a generic blend short sleeve shirts...

PS... don't get me started about the clients who want to take a flash photo when...
 

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Panels should only be opened if they're de-energized.
So for residential panels that means flipping the disconnect or pulling the meter.
Sure, live panels get opened up all the time - but it's universally understood that it's a bad practice.
You can wear all the rated gear you want, but there's no substitute for LOTO and metering.
Not to mention all the damage, unplanned downtime, labor, and material costs involved when an arc incident occurs.
And these incidents are more often than not caused by material defects or poor installation - stuff that's completely outside of your control.
IMO, it's just never worth it to open up a hot panel, even to "take a quick look" because you're taking a sucker's bet each time.

Back when I mostly did commercial, we would be opening up covers of hot equipment all the time. Now I work in plants and have been with very safety-conscious contractors. I've wised up since then.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
There are lots of things that go into deciding when to open, or not, a panel.
What brand is the panel, what brand are the breakers, are the breakers straight, are they buzzing?
What is going on around the panel? Is there room to safely move? Are their signs that someone has been in the panel...
TECHNICALLY, we should de-energize the panel before opening it. Yea, never seen an electrician IN RESIDENTIAL kill a panel to work on it. They work HOT even through it is a simple thing to throw the main... 25% chance the main won't reset is a good reason, all of the electronics in a house is another...

Again, what we are SUPPOSED to do is make sure it's safe, open the panel, LOOK, no touching, and then put the cover back on...

Over stuffed panels, loose breakers, wrong screws, snakes in the panel, water in panels, and many other things are what make it "interesting."

I hear what some of the electricians are saying, yup, it's dangerous, so is walking a roof, or walking an attic, or driving to work next to the gasoline truck on I695. I want to be safe AND do my job.

I get tired of hearing from "electricans" that Gnds and Neutrals under the same screw is "0k" or that they can fix the rust in a panel with some spray paint, or that they can remove the overspray on the buss bars with some varsol, or that the exposed wire wrap on the old cloth SE drop is "just a ground and isn't carrying any current" and they will just wrap it with friction tape... this is the ***t I hear from "electricians" routinely. In each case they wanted to do something fast, cheap and stupid. But because they are "electricians" the customer listens to them... Most of time more work, and money, was justified but for some reason they just didn't want to do it...

I know my limits, and I routinely ask people with more training, experience and licenses to double check me and my procedures...

And occasionally, when my skin is feeling thicker, I will post a question on a forum like this...

I too am amazed at some of the questions that get posted here...
 

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Be a safe as you can, wear gloves, safety glasses and either FR shirt or 100% cotton. BUT do not sue me for my advice.

I never wear gloves when in a residential panel, I'll get my ass handed to me by some members but I will still do it my way.
 

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There are lots of things that go into deciding when to open, or not, a panel.
What brand is the panel, what brand are the breakers, are the breakers straight, are they buzzing?
What is going on around the panel? Is there room to safely move? Are their signs that someone has been in the panel...
TECHNICALLY, we should de-energize the panel before opening it. Yea, never seen an electrician IN RESIDENTIAL kill a panel to work on it. They work HOT even through it is a simple thing to throw the main... 25% chance the main won't reset is a good reason, all of the electronics in a house is another...

Again, what we are SUPPOSED to do is make sure it's safe, open the panel, LOOK, no touching, and then put the cover back on...

Over stuffed panels, loose breakers, wrong screws, snakes in the panel, water in panels, and many other things are what make it "interesting."

I hear what some of the electricians are saying, yup, it's dangerous, so is walking a roof, or walking an attic, or driving to work next to the gasoline truck on I695. I want to be safe AND do my job.

I get tired of hearing from "electricans" that Gnds and Neutrals under the same screw is "0k" or that they can fix the rust in a panel with some spray paint, or that they can remove the overspray on the buss bars with some varsol, or that the exposed wire wrap on the old cloth SE drop is "just a ground and isn't carrying any current" and they will just wrap it with friction tape... this is the ***t I hear from "electricians" routinely. In each case they wanted to do something fast, cheap and stupid. But because they are "electricians" the customer listens to them... Most of time more work, and money, was justified but for some reason they just didn't want to do it...

I know my limits, and I routinely ask people with more training, experience and licenses to double check me and my procedures...

And occasionally, when my skin is feeling thicker, I will post a question on a forum like this...

I too am amazed at some of the questions that get posted here...
Look man. I'm getting very defensive vibes from your post, and I'm not sure why.
It seems like you know full well (like the rest of us) that opening energized panels is bad practice. And from a practical standpoint, isn't it far easier to inspect equipment when it's de-energized?
IMO, for your job, scheduling "downtime" with the home owner and contractor should be a given. A deenergized panel would allow you, the inspector, to perform your job to the best of your abilities. I get that you're supposed to "look not touch" but I'm sure you've had to shift conductors out of the way to get a better look at something.

Furthermore, in principle an uninspected panel shouldn't be powering a home, right?

Again, I'm not attacking or criticizing you. If anything, it seems like we're completely on the same page here.
 

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I get tired of hearing from "electricans" that Gnds and Neutrals under the same screw is "0k"
Show me a code reference saying that that is not acceptable now if it was when installed.
or that they can fix the rust in a panel with some spray paint,
Again show me a reference not YOUR opinion that it is not acceptable.
or that they can remove the overspray on the buss bars with some varsol, Again code reference
or that the exposed wire wrap on the old cloth SE drop is "just a ground and isn't carrying any current" Is this what they said then yes it is wrong or did they say "it does not have a potential to ground so it can't shock you"
and they will just wrap it with friction tape... this is the ***t I hear from "electricians" routinely. In each case they wanted to do something fast, cheap and stupid. But because they are "electricians" the customer listens to them...
Most of time more work, and money, was justified but for some reason they just didn't want to do it...Yes we respect our customers money and don't want to waste it like you do for no reason.
See above
 

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Be a safe as you can, wear gloves, safety glasses and either FR shirt or 100% cotton. BUT do not sue me for my advice.

I never wear gloves when in a residential panel, I'll get my ass handed to me by some members but I will still do it my way.
Same here, I've never worn gloves for a single phase resi panel, just safety glasses and a fire resistant long sleeved shirt.
 

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Thanks Cowboy, I was about to hammer home the lack of knowledge the poster exhibits.

Safety, nomex alone has not been approved for electrical work for more than a decade. It is all about arc fault nowadays. I wear FR clothing and you should as well. Your point about short sleeves and man made fibers is very valid.
Are your gloves clean? Are you wearing electrical hazard boots? Mine are. I wear glasses that are electrical hazard rated, and even my Chums are FR rated. Your pic looks like non safety metal framed glasses. Hopefully you do not wear them for inspections.

The idea that the poster can not read the listings on the panels shows how little he has learned. Not that every panel will have the paper still in tact.
Yes you can put two wires of the same size under listed and labeled equipment.

Point of order here. An electrical panel is far more dangerous than an outlet or switch. I believe you said you do not open them. You plug in your tester and go.

My intention is to point out areas that you can improve on your personal safety. I really hate reports of people and electricity on the news. It is not that hard to know how to deal with the invisible dragon.

Testing with the back of your hand................... ya right. Do you test for voltage by using two fingers? I have known electricians who did that in the 50-60's
 

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...

I get tired of hearing from "electricans" that Gnds and Neutrals under the same screw is "0k"
Not as tired as professionals are getting of reading home inspectors reports that have a disclaimer that everything they say may or may not be correct, and that if the paying customer wants to know the real deal they should consult a real licensed professional because you need to cover your arse for all the unprofessional bullchit you pull to earn a living.

And it is OK for N and G to be together under the same screw, and was standard practice right up until the end of the 90's. Some used to take every ground strand and line them up in a bundle, bend 2 90 degree bends to form a "crank handle" at the bottom, grip the bottom of the strands before the 1st 90 in one fist, and then twist all the grounds up into one thick copper wire and land it in one lug on the neutral/ground bar.

And it was perfectly acceptable.

But then Johnnie come lately with 0 talent and little to no experience and needs a gig takes a 48 hour class and comes along and tells everyone what is and isn't acceptable, takes some snapshots and runs a program on a tablet or a laptop and just checks off all the carefully worded phrases describing each defect you think is applicable and spits out the same damn inspection report on every house. Rinse and repeat, cash the check, the entire concept of "thorough" be damned.
or that they can fix the rust in a panel with some spray paint,
Paint is exactly what covers, stops and prevents rust. Of course your job is the provide the buyer with ammunition, so when all you got is pebbles to throw, give them a taste of grape.
or that they can remove the overspray on the buss bars with some varsol,
or that the exposed wire wrap on the old cloth SE drop is "just a ground and isn't carrying any current" and they will just wrap it with friction tape... this is the ***t I hear from "electricians" routinely.
That exposed wrap is the N and it is at exactly the same potential as that metal panel box you're touching and the boiler, copper pipe, or washer machine you're leaning on while you're clutching your pearls.
In each case they wanted to do something fast, cheap and stupid. But because they are "electricians" the customer listens to them... Most of time more work, and money, was justified but for some reason they just didn't want to do it...
Wait a sec - you inspect - they (your buyer and the seller, and the electrician or whatever other professional is involved) come to a consensus to rectify or address the issues. What business is it of yours to get all bent out of shape because you don't think their resolution meets YOUR standards? You're taking that night class certificate a little, no... a lot too far buddy. You ain't all that. You're not a REAL inspector.

You're in OZ. You have no power there. Now go before somebody drops a house on you too.
I know my limits, and I routinely ask people with more training, experience and licenses to double check me and my procedures...
Your problem is that you don't know what you don't know. It's everyone's problem really but, this is about you. And bitching about repairs not up to your standards is you pushing your limits.
And occasionally, when my skin is feeling thicker, I will post a question on a forum like this...

I too am amazed at some of the questions that get posted here...
While I have your ear... and if you want to get better at your game...

-Stop calling out the chime transformer fed from a breaker as "double tapped breakers" nobody has ever died and no fire has ever started because the 10 watt ding dong maker wire was under the same terminal as a real circuit.

-Stop calling out the aluminum service feeder, and the aluminum circuits for the dryer, range, AC, or HVAC as "Aluminum wiring" to scare the bejesus out of everyone. You know G-D well these are normal aluminum high ampacity feeders and there's no problem with them. You job is to point out problems NOT CREATE THEM out of thin air.

-Stop calling out old acceptable wiring and construction standards as "code violations" as if every property owner in the country is supposed to update their everything every time a code changes to something more stringent. Listen to the professionals when they tell you what was code accepted and standard acceptable practices in the past.

-Stop saying in 2 paragraphs that you observed something but cannot verify because a cardboard box full of old toys was in your way, or the ladder to the hatch was too rickety you *****.
 
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