Anyone Can Be a Residential Electrical Inspector?

What is the IAEI all about? To me the IAEI’s primary concern is safety! It insists on electrical safety wherever electricity is used. It insists on electrical safety for installers, industry workers, owners, and for future generations. To ensure greater electrical safety we support standards by sponsoring representatives on code-making bodies and standard developing committees. The IAEI educational programs are another way we strive for electrical safety. The IAEI has seminars and materials for training in a variety of different subjects.

The IAEI and NFPA have joined together to provide an inspector certification program that will provide recognition for the inspector that he or she has met extensive requirements of training and possesses the knowledge for enforcing electrical safety provisions.

Borrowing from opening remarks by Mark Earley, chief electrical engineer NFPA, during his report to the IAEI Southwestern Section in October 2003, I believe some comments about the importance of inspections of building and building systems are timely. Marks’s remarks went something like this:

“An electrical engineer who was familiar with the electrical code was having an aboveground aluminum swimming pool installed at his home. He chose to do the wiring himself. The inspector “red-tagged” the installation because the engineer failed to run a bonding jumper to connect to five separate points around the pool. Anyone can do a residential electrical inspection!

“Later this engineer bought a new house for his family. This home had a final occupancy certificate issued. During his walk-through, the engineer discovered that type NM cable had been run right through the scuttle opening. This meant that the cable would be disturbed or damaged anytime anyone went into the attic. Further into the walk-through, the engineer discovered that the ceiling fixtures in two bedrooms did not function; in addition, there was no power to the receptacles in either room. Furthermore, during the inspection, he discovered that a ceiling fan didn’t work. Why did all this happen? Anyone can be a residential electrical inspector!

“The engineer decided to enlist the services of a home inspector because he was concerned that he might miss problems in other trades. At one point during the inspection, the inspector said, “Now I am going to overload the GFI!” The engineer stood back as the home inspector pushed the test button. Yes, anyone can be a residential electrical inspector.

“During his own walk-through, the engineer discovered that receptacles required by section 210.52 had not been provided and, although not an electrical safety hazard, it was discovered that the telephones did not work.

“When he subsequently decided to install paddle fans in the bedrooms, he found that the contractor had indeed installed listed fan boxes but he found a new meaning to knock outs. It seems that the contractor had used a hammer and knocked out the entire side of the box. Anyone can do a residential electrical inspection!

“When the engineer visited the jurisdiction’s inspection department he found that they had no requirement for inspector qualifications. By the way, the inspector was not a member of the IAEI. Anyone can make a residential electrical inspection.”

Of course if the inspector had been a member of the IAEI he may not have been any more qualified. But at least he would have had the opportunity to become qualified. The IAEI offers many educational programs available to anyone, member or not. Reflecting on Mark’s story it becomes clear how important good, thorough, and accurate inspection is. If the jurisdiction had insisted on and provided training for its inspectors, violations such as these and maybe some even more serious, would have been caught and corrected.

How can we impress upon our officials the importance of trained and qualified inspectors? Do houses have to burn down or people be hurt before we insist on properly qualified inspectors?

In the IAEI’s quest for safety, not only in the installation of electrical systems free from hazards or potential hazards, we must stress the importance of qualified inspectors. Even when the installer is a qualified contractor who has pride in the work he or she does, it is still important that another set of eyes check the electrical installation. This “other set of eyes” must have the knowledge of the code and experience in the trade.

It has already been mentioned that the IAEI has many good educational programs. But you have to take advantage of them. The buzz-word around now is “networking.” There is no better place to network than at section, chapter and division meetings. Getting together to talk about common problems is a great way to learn and it is fun, too.

I am sure you have noticed that an over-cover is being placed on the IAEI News. This is being done to promote our 75th Anniversary celebration, September 7-13, 2003. The Diamond Jubilee registration form is on the inside cover and the hotel reservation form is on the inside back cover. Look for older covers from previous magazines in the coming issues. A schedule of the educational program and other information will be printed in future editions. Stay tuned and start making plans for the Jubilee.

Thanks to Mark Earley for permission to use the story about anyone being able to be a residential electrical inspector. It was a true story. Indeed, this inspector is a danger to the community. As Mark says, “Only one thing about this story is not true, anyone can be a residential electrical inspector. It takes training and experience. It takes a dedicated professional who cares enough about his profession to join IAEI, attend its meetings and to seek its certifications.” And I will add, it takes the backing of the jurisdiction and the public to demand qualified electrical inspectors to be this “other set of eyes.” Happy reading!

James W. Carpenter
Former IAEI CEO and Executive Director, and Editor-in-Chief for the IAEI News, James Carpenter was previously the chief electrical engineer, state electrical inspector for the Engineering Division of the Office of State Fire Marshal, North Carolina Department of Insurance. He had been with the department for twenty years, with twenty years electrical experience prior to coming to the state. He was a member of CMP-2 from 1987 to 2002 and was chairman for the last three cycles. He has been a member of IAEI since 1972. He was also a member of NFPA and is serving as the TCC chair and on the Standards Council. He was on the UL Electrical Council.