Kathy Henne: Ask some powerful questions


A home’s electrical system is its bloodstream, and when you’re buying, you want to know that the flow is strong and safe. While a whole house inspection should be part of your offer, knowing just a couple basics will expand your knowledge.

Recently built homes have 220-volt service, meaning two 110-volt wires run into the house, below or above the ground. Large appliances need extra power, and you should pay attention if you’re looking at an older home that hasn’t been upgraded yet. Get an estimate from an electrician so you’ll have an idea of the expense you might incur should you choose to upgrade in the future.

Important question: “Where is the main electric panel, and does it contain fuses or circuit breakers?” Both cut the flow of electricity when the system overloads, but in very different ways. Circuit breakers are more convenient, because they just need to be flipped back on when they “trip,” but fuses found in older homes have to be replaced when the “blow.”

Looking at an older home? Check to see if the main panel has been upgraded to accommodate breakers instead of fuses. Some insurance companies are reluctant to insure a home with fuses and want the electric upgraded to circuit breakers. One of the last things the buyer does before closing is to secure insurance on their new property. Homeowners insurance is a requirement of the buyer’s loan. Sellers are not happy when they find out at the last minute that their buyer will not be able to close on their loan because the buyer is unable to obtain homeowners insurance. Then the seller is scrambling to find an electrician to come “today” to upgrade the electric panel to circuit breakers. If you’re planning to put your home on the market, it’s a good idea to get your electric panel upgraded to circuit breakers. It will take some of the stress out of your life when you get to closing day.

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