OntarioACHI recently had a call from an inspector that was threatened with reporting to the ESA for opening an electrical panel to perform a visual inspection.
We contacted the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services (MGCS), for comment on how, given the fact that our profession is being regulated to protect consumers, then can condone the omission, by a suitably trained inspector following safe practices, of a critical component for consumer safety from a Home Inspection.
We asked how this could even be considered when the law allow for a non-trained Home Owner consumer to not only open a panel but to actually change fuses and breakers.
The contact at the MGCS came back and said “Under the Licensing of Electrical Contractors and Master Electricians regulation, only certain individuals, such as a homeowner or a licensed electrical contractor are legally allowed to do electrical work in a home that falls within the scope of the Ontario Electrical Safety Code.
Interacting with electrical equipment (e.g, removing a panel cover) could create a safety hazard. If electrical hazards are left at a home, this would be a concern for the ESA.”
We responded suggesting that this reply created yet more questions.
We responded that while the comment that suggested “with electrical equipment (e.g,removing a panel cover) could create a safety hazard.” may have some truth in it “a safety hazard could already exist behind that panel cover.”
We went on to explain:
“Frequently Home Inspectors that do open these panels and find things including:
* dangerously tapped breakers;
* dangerously tapped neutral lugs;
* burnt connections;
* undersized wiring for the breakers/fuses;
* incorrectly wired GFCI and AFCIs;
* incorrect marrets (twist-on wire connectors) for pig-tails;
* white conductors used for “hot wires” without the requisite red/black tape or marking.
Failure to remove the consumer distribution panel front, by a suitably trained and protected Home Inspector, to visually inspect (and photograph) the condition of the interior of the panel, creates far more of a risk to consumers.”
The second part of the MGCS reply added implications for Home Inspectors and their ability to protect the consumer is the “Electrical Equipment” phrase.
According to the Ontario Electrical Safety Code, “Electrical equipment” is defined as “any apparatus, appliance, device, instrument, fitting, fixture, luminaire, machinery, material, or thing used in or for, or capable of being used in or for, the generation, transformation, transmission, distribution, supply, or utilization of electric power or energy, and, without restricting the generality of the foregoing, includes any assemblage or combination of materials or things that is used, or is capable of being used or adapted, to serve or perform any particular purpose or function when connected to an electrical installation, notwithstanding that any of such materials or things may be mechanical, metallic, or non-electric in origin.”
That being the case, and if opening a panel to visibly inspect the interior is considered “working” on the equipment, Home Inspectors would be similarly not allowed to open the inspection panels on a number of other items in the home, one in particular, being an HVAC furnace, the HVAC disconnect cover, the main fused disconnect (to identify the fuse ratings on the main feed).
We explained this seemed to be in opposition to the CSA A770-16 requirement that a Home Inspector, as part of the Electrical System Inspection, inspect
* “The electrical service, main disconnect, and earth grounding system shall be inspected. The inspection shall include, but not be limited to, an examination for a) improper location of equipment; b) inadequate service capacity; and c) safety issues.” (Section 5.7.1) and
* Distribution panels shall be inspected. The inspection shall include, but not be limited to, an examination for a) improper location of equipment; and b) safety issues (Section 5.7.2) and
* Distribution wiring and circuitry shall be inspected. The inspection shall include, but not be limited to, an examination for safety issues, including improper wire type (Section 5.7.3) and
* Lighting, switches, receptacles, and junction boxes, including in each room, attached garage, and the exterior, shall be inspected. The inspection shall include, but not be limited to, an examination for a) improper location; b) improper function; c) the absence of necessary equipment; d) non-functional lighting, ceiling fans, and switches; e) inappropriate switch locations; and f) safety issues. (section 5.7.4).
The response to this was that the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) had been contacted and they will provide a written response. That was last week.
Since then, we received an email from one of our members who copied me on a reply to another person who had obviously been asking the same question directly of the ESA. The response from the ESA was “The questions the home inspector industry have raised has precipitated a great deal of discussion within ESA… As a result, ESA will be providing regulatory direction as to what constitutes “electrical work” in relation to specific activities that are undertaken by home inspectors in single family residential dwelling units in the near future. In the interim please consider the following information for the application of the Ontario Electrical Safety Code in relation to home inspection practices. I have also included information related to the CSA A770 Home Inspection Standard and considerations of the regulatory relationships that need to be understood by the home inspection industry.”
In the meantime, we leave you with what Robert Mitchell, Safety and Technical Program Advisor at the Electrical Safety Authority stated “Home Inspection Regime and other jurisdictions – It is important to note that the Ministry of Labour and the Ontario College of Trades play an important role in defining the scope of work for trades and determining who may work on electrical equipment and under what conditions.
ESA recognizes that there may be a number of work practices and scope-of-work considerations of a home inspector that require further contemplation through the upcoming home inspection regime being created by Ministry of Government and Consumer Services. Determining how the upcoming home inspection regime will interact with existing legislation (i.e. ESA, OCOT and MOL jurisdiction) will provide additional clarity on how the ESA and home inspectors can work cooperatively to ensure the safety for the people of Ontario.”
We received back from the ESA a letter that outlines what the ESA is prepared to state with respect to opening the electrical panel for a visual inspection. You can read it here
The summary is:
- It is ESA’s opinion that a home inspector can take the cover off an electrical panel in order to undertake a visual review of the electrical equipment when conducting a home inspection.
- a home inspector does not need to be a licensed electrical contractor under the Licensing Regulation
- a home inspector does not need to pull an application for inspection (a permit) as per the Ontario Electrical Safety Code
- home inspectors should take the necessary safety precautions when inspecting a panel by determining the severity of potential exposure, planning safe work practices, and selecting personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect against shock and arc flash hazards
- where possible you should isolate electrical equipment before working on it
We would also suggest that all home inspectors provide this link to the clients for electrical safety tips.