The House Detective: by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: I sold my house five months ago. The buyers hired a home inspector, and I paid for the repairs that they requested. But now they’re complaining about electrical problems that were not reported by their inspector. They say some of the wires in the service panel are too small for the circuit breakers. I disclosed every defect I was aware of and cooperated with the findings of their home inspector. Am I now liable for problems that turned up months after the sale? Beejay
Dear Beejay: The electrical problem in question is called “over-fusing.” It is a common defect that should have been found by the buyers’ home inspector, and that is whom they should be contacting. They shouldn’t fault you for not disclosing the problem because it is not something that would be recognized by the average homeowner, unless the owner was an electrician or building inspector.
Over-fused circuits can function for years without any adverse consequence. However, in the event of a circuit overload, they can cause a fire. Therefore repair is recommended. The solution is to have an electrician replace some of the circuit breakers.
As for making peace with the buyers, ask yourself if you would have paid to repair the problem if it had been found by the home inspector. If the answer is yes, you might consider paying for the repair just to maintain good relations. Or you could offer to split the cost. Still, the buyers should call this to the attention of their home inspector.
Air Quality Question
Dear Barry: We have been renting a home for about one year. During this time we’ve noticed something that worries us. If we leave a glass of water on the table for a few hours, it turns dark in color, and the moisture on the outside of the glass leaves a black ring on the table. Besides this, the return air grills for the heating and air conditioning system are covered with a black, oily soot. This can’t be good for our health, but we don’t know where to turn for help. What do you recommend? Ralph
Dear Ralph: These are serious symptoms that could pose a hazard to you and your family. The first thing that comes to mind is a combustion or venting problem with one or more of the gas-burning fixtures – the furnace, water heater, or the kitchen range. You should have all of your gas fixtures checked by the gas company. If this does not produce an answer, a licensed heating and plumbing contractor should be employed by your landlord. In any event, you should notify the landlord of these conditions as soon as possible.
If no problems are found when the gas fixtures are evaluated, an environmental inspector should be hired to determine what contaminants are in the air. If you use a fireplace or wood-burning stove, have it checked by a certified chimney sweep.