How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

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Does a home inspector remove receptacle outlet cover plates?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Because an inspection is primarily visual, inspectors are not required to disassemble most components they examine, or troubleshoot any defects they find to determine the cause when is not obvious. The electric panel is one exception. A panel must be opened and the wiring inspected. 

    But inspectors are not prohibited from pulling  the cover plate of a receptacle outlet if they suspect something wrong behind it. Here’s three examples:

1) When we see a wood wainscot or wall paneling that looks like it might not be part of the original construction of the home, we open at least one cover plate, to see if the receptacle assembly has been pulled forward of the box (like in the photo below), which exposes the flammable wood surrounding it to any arcing at the wire connection.

2) If there is subtle, mottled discoloration of color on a wall surface, it is possible that it was caused by mold growth in the wallboard that was painted over instead of being properly remediated. Any easy way to check is to remove a receptacle cover plate, because a quick paint-over rarely goes all the way behind the cover plate to the edge of the receptacle box.

3) If a homebuyer wants to know what type of insulation sits between the studs in a wood-framed exterior wall, the small gap between the edge of the wallboard and the receptacle, box that is exposed when you remove the cover plate, can help an inspector see the answer—especially if the drywall guy was sloppy cutting the opening.

Also see our blog posts Does a home inspector check every electrical receptacle outlet in a house? and When should I replace electric receptacle outlets? and How can adding wood paneling or a wainscot create an electrical safety hazard?

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

  To learn more about electrical wiring, devices, and receptacles, see these other blog posts:

 • What is the difference between what trips a GFCI (ground fault) receptacle and a circuit breaker?

When should I replace electric receptacle outlets? 

Does an electric receptacle outlet in a storage shed require GFCI protection? 

What are "self-contained" electrical receptacle outlets and switches?

What is the difference between an electrical receptacle, an outlet, and a plug?

Does a washing machine receptacle outlet require GFCI protection?

What is the building code requirement for receptacle outlets at stairs and stair landings?

Can I remove a 240-volt range receptacle and hard-wire the range? 

What is a "backstab" receptacle outlet? 

Why are some electric receptacle outlets upside down (ground slot up) in a house?   

Why are electrical outlets and plugs polarized?  

How many electrical receptacles (outlets) are required in a hallway?  

What problems does having too many electric receptacle outlets on a single circuit cause? 

Is a house required to have outdoor electric receptacle outlets?

How I can tell if a receptacle outlet is tamper resistant?

Why is there a GFCI breaker in the electric panel for the bathroom shower light and exhaust fan?

What is a false ground, bootleg ground, or cheated ground receptacle? 

How far apart should kitchen counter receptacles be spaced?  

How far above a kitchen countertop do electrical outlets have to be?

   Visit our ELECTRICAL page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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