What’s that on your inspection sheet, and is it really that important to fix? Great question. An inspector's job when looking at your electrical system (or the system of a home you're looking at buying) is to find anything that is against electrical code; it is their duty as inspectors to ensure that everything of concern is noted.
Some items may include: open junction boxes, exposed splices, ungrounded electrical panels, ungrounded “open” plugs/switches, reverse polarity, etc. Below I'll get into the "what's that?" of some of these inspection list items and why they're important.
Open/missing ground. The purpose of a ground is to safely transfer any unsafe faults back to their source, and to quickly trip (open) a breaker to stop the power from flowing. If there is no ground, then the above isn't possible, which can lead to hazardous situations.
Exposed splices/open j (junction) box. Any type of electrical connections (where you might see wire nuts making connections/splices) need to be safely contained inside of a box. When there is an exposed connection (wire connections outside of a junction box), it opens up a potential hazard for other tradesman/homeowners that come in proximity of these splices. Some potentially dangerous situations include if the wires were to get wet, if a rodent were to chew them, or if the connections were to become loose. Since the wires are exposed, these situations could create potential for a fire.
Reverse polarity. Reverse polarity means that the electricity is flowing on the wrong terminals of the receptacle (means that the electricity was wired "backwards"). This happens when the “hot” wire (also known as the black or red wire) is wired on the neutral side and the neutral wire is wired on the “hot” side. I'll offer a few examples as to why this is bad. When a lamp is plugged into a reverse polarity outlet, the lamp socket will have power even if the lamp is switched off. In another example, say your toaster was plugged into an outlet that was wired in reverse. If you were to stick your knife in the toaster to retrieve your toast, you could get shocked if your knife were to touch the metal. Essentially, reverse polarity leaves items that normally wouldn’t be energized with voltage.
Undersized breakers. Breakers are rated for a certain amount of current to pass through them. When a breaker has more current running on it than it is rated for it will trip. This said, the correct wire size is needed for a breaker. For a 15 amp breaker, the circuit should have 15 amp wire (and so on). To give a picture of why this matters, if you had a hose and cranked up the water pressure inside the hose, and shrunk it, eventually that hose would burst. The same goes for wire. Eventually the wire's insulation would melt and heat, causing a hazardous situation. This is why the size of a breaker and the wire it is on matters.
I hope this has given some insight into a potentially confusing inspection report. If you're wondering how your home stacks up, even if you aren't thinking of selling, I do offer electrical system inspections (in-depth inspections as well as panel and surface inspections). Above all, you reading this means you care about your home's safety and are an informed-homeowner--good job!
Gloudeman Electric, LLC