Disagreement over the safety of electrical outlets

Q. Before we listed our house for sale, we hired a home inspector because we wanted to provide full disclosure to all prospective buyers. Now we have a buyer who is disputing the inspection report because he disagrees with the electrical findings. Here's the problem. Our house was built in the 1950s, before homes had grounded outlets. Last year, we had an electrician install GFCI outlets in our bathrooms for added safety. Our home inspector tested these outlets and found them to be OK, but our buyer disagrees. He says GFCI outlets will not trip unless there is a ground. Who is right about this?

A. This is a common debate, even among some electricians. Outlets with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) have been required for many years in wet locations, such as bathrooms and kitchens. Most people recognize these outlets as the ones with two built-in buttons (set and reset), but many are unaware of their purpose and function.

GFCI outlets can prevent electric shock or electrocution when a faulty ground allows current to pass through a person's body. When a ground fault occurs, the breaker inside the outlet trips, preventing personal injury to the user. Because the name of the device includes the word "ground," people often assume the outlet must be grounded in order to be functional. This is an error.

The GFCI device contains a sensor that measures the amperage of the hot and neutral sides of the circuit. As long as the relative amperage is equal, the GFCI is happy. When someone who is using the outlet receives an electric shock, power leaves the hot side of the circuit without returning to the neutral. This creates an immediate power imbalance, causing the GFCI to trip and thereby cutting off the power.

Therefore, the answer to your question is ground fault circuit interrupters can save lives without a ground wire in the circuit.

For those who have older homes without GFCI outlets, these can be added in bathrooms and garages, at kitchen counters, outside the building, near all other sinks, and at pools, spas, and whirlpool tubs.

Q. The house I'm buying was inspected this week. My home inspector said two of the hose faucets have threaded metal pipes that are screwed into plastic female fittings. He said these connections are faulty and should be repaired to prevent damage and leaks. The seller is a plumber, and he insists the connections meet code. Who is right?

A. Section 605.13.3 of the Uniform Plumbing Code states, "Female PVC threaded fittings shall be used with plastic male threads only." Therefore, your home inspector is correct.

When a threaded male pipe end is screwed into a fitting, the pipe creates increasing outward pressure on the fitting as it is tightened. The pressure that is exerted by a rigid metal pipe can exceed the resistance of the weaker PVC plastic material, causing the fitting to crack and leak. To prevent this, only plastic pipe should be screwed into a PVC fitting.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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