Buyer finds undisclosed electrical problems

Q: I just purchased a home that was renovated two years ago, and city records show the work was permitted. The people who sold the house to me had bought it after all the work was done. I hired a home inspector before buying it, and he only found a few minor problems. The city also did an inspection and no problems were found.

However, since moving in, there have been countless electrical problems. For example, when I use the microwave oven, the breaker trips in the panel. So I called an electrician, and he found that too many outlets, lights and appliances are wired to that circuit. The electrician called it over-wiring. How could these problems been missed by so many inspectors?

It must have been inspected when the home was renovated. Two inspections were done when I bought it, and the former owners probably hired a home inspector when they bought it. To top things off, my home inspector now claims he does not inspect for code violations. What can I do? Am I stuck with the cost of rewiring my home?

A: Your situation is frustrating and raises a series of questions. So here is a series of answers to these issues:

1) The renovation work on your house may or may not have involved electrical alterations. To determine whether this is the case, get a copy of the building permit to see what types of work were listed and which portions of the home were involved.

2) People sometimes apply for permits, complete the work specified in the permit, but never call for an inspection by the building department. To be sure the work was inspected, check the permit be see that it was signed off by the municipal inspector.

3) Inspections by municipal inspectors are sometimes little more than cursory-type, walk-through inspections. In such cases, defects in electrical wiring can be overlooked, yet signed off.

4) Over-wiring is not usually discovered by home inspectors because it involves conditions that are concealed within the walls. In order for a home inspector to discover that too many fixtures are wired to a circuit, each circuit breaker would have to be turned off, one at a time, and the inspector would then have to check every fixture in the home to see which ones had been turned off. This would be a very time-consuming process to discover a defect that is very rare. Therefore, it is outside the scope of a home inspection.

5) The fault in this case is with the person who did the wiring, either when the home was built or when the renovations were done. Whoever it was that did the work was most likely not a licensed electrician.

6) Finally, there is one question involving the former owners who sold you the home. Did they also have problems with tripping breakers? If so, why was that not reported on their seller disclosure statement?

7) Resolving this situation does not necessarily require rewiring your home. So far, you are aware of one over-wired circuit. Hopefully, that is the only one. If so, what is needed is to add one or two more circuits. Your next step is to get bids from three electricians to see what it will cost to resolve the issue.

• 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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