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Thread: Dilemma

  1. #1
    Ralph Schade's Avatar
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    Default Dilemma

    I did a job on a 14 year old house in January of this year. The basement was unfinished, hence all wiring appeared to be original. My clients moved into the house in March and noticed that the upper level hall light was "flickering". The agent called me and I told him to call an electrician. The electrician opened the panel and noticed a breaker arcing. Of course, he told my client that I should've seen this. The breaker WAS NOT arcing when I had opened that panel and there was no obvious evidence that it had been.
    When I revisited the home, my client told me that the vendor (a fireman)had said that the light had been flickering for "some time" and he just upped the wattage of the bulbs in in attempt to remedy the situation. The panel is a Cutler-Hammer. My electrician was in attendance during the follow up visit and also stated a) when did the arcing occur? and b)that I would not have seen the resulting damage behind the breaker. The client wants $800 from me for repairs. I am of the opinion that the vendor should have disclosed this issue. My client was present during the inspection but now claims I should've seen arcing. My client also stated that his lawyer advised that there is no recourse against the vendor. Lights were not flickering at the inspection. Opinions?

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    Inspection Referral

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    Was the contract signed up front prior to inspection stating limitations and conditions which inspection is conducted?

    Condition was not observable by visual examination, thus a patent defect.

    How can the client prove light was flickering during inspection? I don't think he can.

    At $800 I doubt the client will proceed legally in order to recoup his so called loss the onus is on him to prove you were negligent, did not inspect to a standard of care, nor to SOP's and must prove your negligence and/or omission caused him a loss.

    My view the client is being unreasonable given that the electrician stated damage was behind breaker which you could not see at time of inspection without removing breaker which is well beyond the SOP and a standard of care.

    In my view I don't think you owe the client anything.


  3. #3
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymond Wand View Post
    ... thus a patent defect. ...
    latent?

    "There is no exception to the rule that every rule has an exception." -James Thurber, writer and cartoonist (1894-1961)
    www.ArnoldHomeInspections.com

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    1) Canada does not have any laws/licensing/regulations that govern Home Inspections, do they?
    2) Did you take a picture of the open panel?
    3) Did you check the breakers for excessive heat? Thermal Imaging? Non contact Temp devise?
    4) Did the seller disclose the flickering light issue to the buyers?
    5) Did the Selling Agent know of the flickering light?
    6) Did the Buyer's Agent know of the flickering light?
    7) Was there any evidence of the arcing breaker during the inspection?
    8) Was it required to remove the breaker to determine that it was arcing?

    My first impression is that you do not have any responsibility.
    The evidence of the arcing may not have been present at the time of inspection.
    Can they prove that the arcing was visible at the time of inspection 3 months ago?
    The light was not flickering at inspection.
    The Seller failed to disclose a known problem with the property.
    The Seller's Agent failed to ask if there were any defects or problems with the property.
    The Buyer's Agent failed to ask if there were any defects or problems with the property.
    The Buyer failed to ask if there were any defects or problems with the property.
    The Buyer's opinion as to that you should have seen is irrelevant unless they are trade professional.
    The buyer will develop amnesia about every thing since the want some one to pick up the bill.
    The lawyer will try to extort money from anyone that he can.
    The Inspector is the easiest target.

    Can you say "Go suck eggs" ?

    What has happened to you is why it is good procedure to take a picture of the open panel and also to check it for breakers that are heating up more than others and what temp is registered. Most do not check for heat as an indicator of a potential problem, not SOP.


  5. #5
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    I don't know for sure, but I don't think Garry is a home inspector. We don't all carry IR cameras around to do IR imaging for free. If we have the IR equipment and training, there is normally a surcharge for the use of that equipment, which frankly, most clients don't want to pay. They want the basic home inspection package.

    You gave the clients the basic package they asked for. You checked the panel to the best of your ability within the limitations of a residential home inspection. In my end of the country, we are not permitted to remove breakers, don't be silly. That is work which can only be performed by a licensed electrician. We are barely allowed to remove the deadfront for a visual inspection, not 'performing works'

    The Safety Council of BC recognizes that home inspectors perform a valuable service to the public by inspecting electrical panels. For members of associations in Canada, there is nothing in the SOP's we use that require us to use heat-sensing equipment during the inspection.

    The lights are often turned off in the house, nobody home, when we are there to inspect the place. We go around turning on lights, and a lot of times, the realtor follows along and turns them off behind us. That's so they can make the quick getaway when we're done. So the breaker would not be heavily loaded when you removed the deadfront. Chances are, it wouldn't have been excessively warm either. The flickering light would likely occur in the evenings when a variety of lights were on, increasing the load.

    You did your job. The clients found a problem that should have been disclosed. the sellers lied on the disclosure statement, which ask "Are you aware of a problem?".

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455
    www.allsafehome.ca

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by John Arnold View Post
    latent?
    Thanks John.

    Yes I meant 'latent'.


  7. #7
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    [quote=Garry Sorrells;165015]1) Canada does not have any laws/licensing/regulations that govern Home Inspections, do they?

    Only BC has licenced home inspectors.

    And we also have ACHI, ASHI, Nachi, CAHPI in all provinces.


  8. #8
    James Duffin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Schade View Post
    I did a job on a 14 year old house in January of this year. The basement was unfinished, hence all wiring appeared to be original. My clients moved into the house in March and noticed that the upper level hall light was "flickering". The agent called me and I told him to call an electrician. The electrician opened the panel and noticed a breaker arcing. Of course, he told my client that I should've seen this. The breaker WAS NOT arcing when I had opened that panel and there was no obvious evidence that it had been.
    When I revisited the home, my client told me that the vendor (a fireman)had said that the light had been flickering for "some time" and he just upped the wattage of the bulbs in in attempt to remedy the situation. The panel is a Cutler-Hammer. My electrician was in attendance during the follow up visit and also stated a) when did the arcing occur? and b)that I would not have seen the resulting damage behind the breaker. The client wants $800 from me for repairs. I am of the opinion that the vendor should have disclosed this issue. My client was present during the inspection but now claims I should've seen arcing. My client also stated that his lawyer advised that there is no recourse against the vendor. Lights were not flickering at the inspection. Opinions?
    Do you have a picture of the damage behind the breaker?


  9. #9
    Ralph Schade's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    I'd like to thank you all for your replies. All of them were exactly my thoughts but sometimes I get sidetracked by feeling sorry for the client and trying to avoid a confrontation. However, I believe that his recourse should be with the fireman who should've known better for no other reason than for the safety of his family while he lived there. Furthermore, the fact that he didn't disclose the issue to anyone should be criminal.
    I have an IR cam but usually don't use it on a panel when it doesn't appear that anyone else has been in the panel since the install. 20/20 hindsight.....
    The panel was in the garage and I would not have turned on any lights in the house yet either, so, no load. I don't just "look" at the panel, but explain all the wire sizing and different breakers to my client. In the process, I look for patent signs of any existing problems.
    As I was driving away from the re-visit I was trying to take my foot off of the gas pedal to kick myself in the a** for not having taken a picture! Unbelievable! THAT won't happen again! I should know better, but then I rarely run into these situations.....knock on wood! Thanks again for all of the input from everybody.


  10. #10
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    An IR camera may not have caught it either, nor a picture if the damage was in behind the breaker.

    Recently did an inspection of a firemans house and found no smoke alarms (its the law in Ontario to have smoke alarms). Also the fireman was a fire prevention officer. I called him on it too.

    Why is the client looking for $800? How did he arrive at that figure?


  11. #11
    James Duffin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    [quote=Raymond Wand;165049]An IR camera may not have caught it either, nor a picture if the damage was in behind the breaker.

    Recently did an inspection of a firemans house and found no smoke alarms (its the law in Ontario to have smoke alarms). Also the fireman was a fire prevention officer. I called him on it too.

    Why is the client looking for $800? How did he arrive at that figure?[/quote]

    That is what I was wondering too. If the panel is only 14 years old the interior should be able to be replaced for about half that.


  12. #12
    Ralph Schade's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    His electrician quoted a remote panel install for $800. The insulators were melted on one bus and the breaker in question was fused to the bus. My electrician quoted him a new, larger 32 breaker circuit panel for $800 as a favour to me. On a side note, his wife wants a 60amp kiln wired up in the garage as well.


  13. #13
    James Duffin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Schade View Post
    His electrician quoted a remote panel install for $800. The insulators were melted on one bus and the breaker in question was fused to the bus. My electrician quoted him a new, larger 32 breaker circuit panel for $800 as a favour to me. On a side note, his wife wants a 60amp kiln wired up in the garage as well.
    A panel interior should be less than $100 and three hours work. Wish I lived near by!


  14. #14
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    One thing I can say, from experience, whether the client is there or not doesn't matter. It's folklore that they are less likely to come after you.

    The big issue here is the butthead electrician. I had a similar situation with a stucco contractor. He told the client that "all the inspector had to do was pry some stucco off the parapet and he could have seen that the staples were driven through the underlayment".
    My insurance company told him to take a hike and that was the last I heard.
    From then on, it's open war with the contractors. This was a guy I had recommended to them!

    Speaking of, you may want to contact your insurance company and let them know about the incident to cover yourself.


  15. #15
    Ralph Schade's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    At $2500 deductible, I think I'd rather take my chances in court.


  16. #16
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by Benjamin Thompson View Post
    He told the client that "all the inspector had to do was pry some stucco off the parapet and he could have seen that the staples were driven through the underlayment".
    Classic. Let's all start prying the stucco off of the parapets from now on. Heck, let's cut off the parapets to see if there is water damage under the canales.

    Jim Robinson
    New Mexico, USA

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Schade View Post
    My client was present during the inspection but now claims I should've seen arcing. My client also stated that his lawyer advised that there is no recourse against the vendor. Lights were not flickering at the inspection. Opinions?
    You stated your client was present during the inspection, and that the lights were not flickering at the inspection, based on that, your client would know that the lights were not flickering during the inspection (because you have already established that), and as such, there would not have been any arcing during the inspection.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  18. #18
    Ralph Schade's Avatar
    Ralph Schade Guest

    Default Re: Dilemma

    True enough, because I wouldn't have turned on the upper level hall lights until I was on the second level. There's that issue and he may claim that I did not see the fused screw holding the breaker. It was not scorched and still a bright silver on the re-visit.


  19. #19
    Kevin O'Hornett's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    Ralph,

    I've assisted numerous home inspectors who have found themselves in situations similar to yours, i.e., they performed an inspection in accordance with their contractual scope of work and an established or required standard of practice only to have their customer later accuse them of negligence based on statements made by an individual who was neither a home inspector nor present at the time of the inspection.

    Whether I've written their response letter or guided them through the process of writing it on their own, over 98% of the time the letter has ended the issue.

    The following is not legal advice or a legal opinion. It is simply a very basic and general outline based on not having reviewed the specifics of your contract, report, or the standard of practice which you follow.

    If you choose to respond by mail, ask them to put their concerns in writing (this reduces the potential for claiming additional concerns regarding the electrical system later).

    Once you have received their written correspondence, I would suggest that you
    consider replying to them in a letter sent by certified mail with return receipt requested in which you:

    • Acknowledge receipt of their letter outlining their concerns regarding the inspection of the electrical system performed by ______ (company) on _______ (date) at _______ (subject property).
    • Address those concerns in the order in which they appear in the customer's letter by refuting each concern using applicable portions of (A) your contract language (B) the information provided in the inspection report and (C) the established and accepted standard of practice you follow, i.e., visible, readily accessible, internal components of panels are not removed/disassembled, etc., and what actions you performed during the inspection relevant to examining the electrical system.
    • Include the information they have already provided concerning statements made by the seller regarding flickering lights and point out that not only did you not have that information at the time of the inspection but also that the lights weren't flickering during the inspection.
    • Close by stating that, based on all of the above, the company respectfully declines to participate financially or in any other manner in any modification they choose to make to the electrical system at the subject property. Please contact the us if we can be of further assistance.
    Sincerely, etc.


  20. #20
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    Post Re: Dilemma

    The suggestion of a letter sounds good. It seems there are a few problems with their case:
    • the second-guessing electrician was not present during the inspection
    • the second-guessing electrician is not a home inspector
    • the second-guessing electrician likely has no clue what a home inspection is
    • there is no basis for the claim


    Randall Aldering GHI BAOM MSM
    Housesmithe Inspection
    www.housesmithe.com

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    Give him his fee back and move on.... he'll take it given the repair is only $800.... you'll easily spend $400 worth of time stewing and arguing about it.

    It stings when you've done nothing wrong but IMO it's just the cost of doing business. My time and sanity is worth it to me to just get past it.


  22. #22
    Lou Romano's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    I am an electrical contractor and I work with several competent inspection companies. While they are as I said competent inspectors, they are NOT electricians and their ability to inspect is limited to visual in most cases, especially when it comes to the inside of the panel.

    A flickering light can be caused by a breaker arcing, a light switch that is bad, a big load turning on, a loose connection at the weatherhead or pole, a loose splice etc etc... Most of the above items, if not all of them cannot usually be found during a "visual" inspection. Since you are not qualified to remove the breakers from the panel (even if you know how) you could not see the damage behind it and should NOT be held liable for the damage.

    Beyond that, $800 seems a bit much to remedy this, but I haven't seen a picture so I could be wrong. If the panel is completely full and all the spaces that will accept twin breakers, if any, are taken or otherwise unavailable, the panel might have to be replaced. If not, a twin breaker may cure the problem, or maybe a quad breaker in place of a double pole could give you the space you need.

    In the future you might want to state in your report to have qualified electrician check the panel if any of the following items are found.

    1) The panel is a Zinsco or FPE, because this equipment is old and notorious for having problems.
    2) The panel is an old ITE Imperial with lots of twin breakers in it, or an ITE Imperial split bus panel! These panels have been known to burn where the breakers plug onto the busbar. Especially the split bus type which would burn beneath the main for the lower section/s of the panel as well as at the individual breakers. I have replaced more of these type of panels than all others combined, including Zinsco and FPE.
    3) If the panel is a split bus, check to make sure nobody has installed loads that are too big for the split bus main which is usually 50-60 amps. I have seen people feed 50-amp AC loads and Spa's.
    4) The panel is an old fuse panel.
    5) The panel cover (for example) states the bus will accept 30-circuits and you count more handles than that, there is a good chance that someone has modified a circuit breaker to make it fit!

    I could go on, and may one day but these are the among the most common things I look for.


  23. #23
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    Can anyone tell me why this comes up in a search for "stucco"?? Seems like it should be under electric??

    I'm a dyslexic agnostic-Don't believe there is a dog...

  24. #24
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    Default Re: Dilemma

    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Fellman View Post
    Give him his fee back and move on.... he'll take it given the repair is only $800.... you'll easily spend $400 worth of time stewing and arguing about it.

    It stings when you've done nothing wrong but IMO it's just the cost of doing business. My time and sanity is worth it to me to just get past it.
    This is the mentality that drives insurance companies to settle and hurts us all. I'm not a big fan of returning an inspection fee when I've done nothing wrong.
    I say, tell them if they want their fee back to prove that you were negligent.


  25. #25

    Default Re: Dilemma

    Can anyone tell me why this comes up in a search for "stucco"?? Seems like it should be under electric??
    Hi John,

    It's probably because you did a key word search under all open forums.
    Do an advanced search to narrow down where you want to search for the keyword "stucco". Do this by clicking on the "search" menu, and then at the bottom of the box that opens, you will see "advanced search" -- click on that.


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