Home inspector cites padlock on breaker panel

Posted4/26/2020 6:00 AM

Q: The home inspector who checked our house advised us to remove the padlock from our outside electric service panel. This seems like a needless recommendation because there are no electrical problems in the panel, and there is no legal prohibition against locking the panel.

We're just trying to make sure no one tampers with our circuit breakers. After all, the cover is equipped with a hasp for installing a lock. We previously lived in a high-crime area and had a series of problems until we began securing the panel.


What do you think about locking electric panels?

A: Padlocks are commonly used on electric service panels in large urban areas where security problems are common. In suburban and rural communities, mischievous activities of this kind are rare. However, for the sake of general safety, electric panels should remain readily accessible, which means they should be unlocked in case of an emergency.

For example, if a circuit breaker were tripped and needed to be reset on a dark or rainy night, you wouldn't want to be searching for a mislaid key. If a major emergency, such as a fire, made it necessary to turn off the electricity, immediate access to the main breaker could be crucial. In fact, fire departments prefer that panels remain unlocked, because it is their practice to shut off the power to a building at the onset of a fire fight.

As much as possible, electrical panels should be readily accessible. Another common impediment to panel access is overgrown shrubbery.

Accessibility is also required for interior electric panels, which are sometimes blocked by poorly-placed cabinets or by storage of personal property.

Q: Now that I'm selling my house, the buyer's home inspector noticed an unused gas valve in the laundry room. My clothes dryer is all electric, so I've never needed to use the gas connection. The home inspector says the gas valve is unsafe because it has not been capped. This seems to me like a lot of needless bother. The valve has been just as it is for the past ten years, without any problems. Do you see any reason to install a valve cap?

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A: Unused gas valves are common in laundry rooms where electric clothes dryers are installed. In most cases, people don't even realize they have a latent hazard. Imagine what could happen if an object were to bump against the valve handle. Just a slight turn could start a gas leak inside the house, with potentially disastrous results.

Anyone who has an electric clothes dryer should check behind their laundry appliances for unprotected gas valves. Capping an open valve is a simple and inexpensive way to eliminate an avoidable household hazard. If you're not able to make this repair yourself, have it done by a licensed plumber.

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

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