Electrical Safety Within The Home - A Buyer’s Guide

by Broady Windsor Group on Wednesday, May 11, 2022

With the help of your real estate broker, you’ve found the ideal property in Montreal’s West Island. Fabulous location, perfectly priced and just the right size. Your search is over – or is it? Because then comes the pre-purchasing home inspection. The building infrastructure, plumbing, roofing and heating will all be assessed by a building inspector, and any issues or defects identified. This is where the heartache can happen – for the seller as well as the buyer. Some things can easily be remedied; some can be more problematic. Some will also have serious ramifications for home insurance and your ability to secure a mortgage, so everything must be studied with a fine tooth comb. 

The chances are that during your viewing you’ve been able to assess the age and condition of elements such as the roofing, heat pump and furnace, so there shouldn’t be too many surprises there. However, there’s one feature of your potential new home that’s hidden from the eye, but is vital to your safety and wellbeing – and that’s the electrical system.

Here’s our guide to the key electrical components you need to be aware of:

Aluminum wiring

When it comes to electrical wiring, copper is definitely the gold standard. However, between 1965 and 1973, prices for this metal went through the roof. So developers switched to a cheaper, malleable alternative – aluminum. As a result, this type of wiring was used extensively in home construction from the mid-60’s to the late 70’s. However, its very malleability means that aluminum is more likely to expand and contract, and is prone to oxidation. This can create issues at contact points, causing a spark, which can create a fire.

According to the Corporation des Maître Électriciens du Québec, 35% of all fires in the province are electrical in nature. So if there’s aluminum wiring in the home you want to buy, you will need to remedy this. Thankfully, it won’t mean that the house needs to be rewired. Rather, an electrician will need to add a copper jointing compound, to ensure all connections are safe. 

So how do you spot what type of wiring has been used? Firstly, look for exposed wiring. You can easily spot the type of metal as it will be stamped on the outer casing of the wire. Other signs include:

  • -Warm plug outlets or faceplates
  • -Occasional flickering of lights
  • -Strange odours around switches
  • -Plugs don’t always work
  • -Unexplained static on the radio or TV

Panel Safety

Within a home, the electricity meter is connected to an electrical distribution panel. Usually located in a low-traffic area such as a basement, garage or closet, the panel houses the main and circuit breakers, controlling the flow of electricity around the home.

The panel should always have a protective cover, to protect the contacts from dust and moisture. It should be unpainted, as paint will affect insulation of the unit and increase the risk of it catching fire. If you’re moving into a new home, you should always have an electrician inspect the electrical panel to ensure it’s up to code, works properly and – above all – is safe. 

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters 

An electric arc is a short circuit, where electricity jumps from one live connection to another. It’s incredibly dangerous and a leading cause of house fires, as within seconds it produces temperatures of up to 19,000°C. Arcing can occur for a number of reasons, including physical damage to wires, loose connections, overloaded outlets and exposed wires. However, before you panic and switch everything off, rest assured arc-fault technology does exist, in the form of Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs). AFCIs detect electric arcs and break the circuit, so they’re an essential component of your home electrical system. Since 2005, in order to remain up to Quebec’s Electrical Code, every bedroom circuit has to be protected by an AFCI, so make sure your electrician verifies that the house you’re viewing meets these legal requirements. For new construction, the requirements go even further, stipulating that wiring to 120V 15 or 20 amp sockets (with a few exceptions) must be protected by AFCIs. 

If the home you’re looking at hasn’t been updated in some time and doesn’t have AFCIs, it’s definitely not a deal breaker. They’re easy to install but you will need to seek the services of an electrician. 

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

Fire isn’t the only risk posed by electricity. Every year, thousands are injured or killed by electric shocks; and one of the main causes for this are ground faults. Ground faults can be caused by faulty appliances, as well as worn or incorrect wiring. Given that water is such a powerful conductor of electricity, the risk of suffering an electric shock due to a ground fault is even higher in wet areas. 

For this reason, in order to remain up to code, all plug outlets that are located within 1.5 metres of a sink are protected by safety devices called ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). They’re therefore used in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, saunas, and in areas close to swimming pools and hot tubs. CFGIs are designed to automatically shut off the power supply if they detect a change in the flow of electricity. They’re incredibly sensitive, and can detect changes as minute as 0.004 amps. Once again, GFCIs are relatively easy to install, but it should be done by a certified electrician.

We hope this article has helped you understand what should be in place in any home you’re viewing. For further support and guidance, get in touch today. Whether you’re planning on buying or getting your home ready to sell, our experienced team of real estate brokers can help. We’re also connected to a fantastic network of building inspectors, electricians and master electricians via our Homeowners Advisory Club, so can help you find a trusted local professional.