Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shocking

Today I read an article that made me say, "Too bad you didn't ask me..."

Our local cable TV news service (News 8 Austin) reported the results of an audit by the City of Austin auditors indicating city electrical inspections that were not done properly.

Well, duh. I could have told you that. Back in 2004, I spent about a week replacing all the light switches in my house because the housings were cracked. The electrician who wired the house forced wire that was too large into the "plug-in" holes on the back, then when inserting them into the box the plastic cracked from the stress. It was a fire waiting to happen. In addition to that, they were using both the plug-in connection at the back of the switch and the screw on the side in order to daisy-chain the circuit. This caused a fair amount of current to be carried through the bad connection. But that's not all. There were instances of connections where the screw wasn't even tightened (the wire was just curled around the screw. I also found the transformer (power supply) for the doorbell hanging by its wires from the emergency shut-off switch for the heating/air conditioning system. In the circuit panel, multiple wires are connected to single screw terminals on the buss strips (a clear code violation).

Now I'm not an electrician, but I know enough about electricity and have enough common sense to know when something is simply fouled-up, and this is clearly one of those instances. I've seen some really stupid and dangerous do-it-yourself wiring jobs in my and my friends' homes. In my case, this mess was clearly done by the original (licensed) electrical contractor.

Back to the News 8 article and the City of Austin audit, though. The article goes on to say...
To begin with, the audit revealed that at least two inspectors conducted inspections of work performed by family members who are electrical contractors.
This was the one that had me kind of laughing. Why? Well, I managed to find the original construction permit online for my house, and noted that the electrical contractor had the same last name as the city inspector who signed-off on the inspection. Too bad the city auditor didn't have my case to look at. That inspector and the electrician should be brought-up on criminal charges. The article continues...
In addition, the report reveals that some electrical inspectors admitted to passing inspections without actually conducting the physical inspections.

"I know the report implied that there were several situations like that, but I haven't been able to pin those situations down," building inspector manager for the City of Austin, Dan McNabb said.
Well, Mr. McNabb, I've got one for you. Unfortunately, I can't actually tell you about it because the repairs I did to the light switches, the bell transformer, and a couple of other doozies, technically requires the work to be done by a licensed electrician, and a permit for my work would have been required, and an inspection done afterward. Given how things were in my home beforehand, I don't really feel I would sleep any better at night knowing that a so-called "licensed electrician" did the work and the city supposedly inspected it.

Worse still, when I bought my home, the home inspector was supposed to find this kind of thing. Now I seriously didn't expect the home inspector to remove every switch plate and inspect every switch box, but maybe he should have. He certainly didn't catch the bell transformer (in kind-of plain view in the attic) or the stuff in the sub-panel (he did remove the cover on that). It makes one wonder whether a home inspection is really worthwhile sometimes (I guess if you get a good home inspector, it is).

What really bugs me, though, about my story and the results of the audit is the lack of craftsmanship and pride in the work that is being done. While I understand some of the circumstances placed on contractors in new home construction, what I can't understand is how these people can do this kind of work and sleep with a clear conscience at night. You don't see electrical wiring unless something is wrong with it (or you need to change it). That shouldn't matter though. What has caused this lack of craftsmanship in the work being done? Why do people simply not do their job? Are people really that irresponsible today? Every time I hear about a home burning down from an electrical problem, I think about whether the circumstances surrounding that wiring were the same as mine. I think about someone who has probably lost everything they had, possibly even their life, because some contractor felt cutting corners on a wiring job was okay, and the city inspector (safety, code inspection) didn't feel it was important enough to check the contractor's work. What a sad commentary on life.

I leave you with one final picture of the wiring in my house...here is an example of the screw holding the wire not having been tightened...

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