Hidden Junction Boxes & Outdated Smoke Detectors

Hidden Junction Boxes & Outdated Smoke Detectors

I was on a recent home inspection in Vancouver, looking through a 1970’s home. The house had been renovated a few times, so I had my radar tuned for what I would call “creative building practices”. One of the clues that immediately piqued my curiosity was the installation of suspended ceiling tiles in the basement.  In practice, there is nothing wrong with them. However, homeowners install these ceilings to make ongoing renovations easier when working with heating, plumbing or electrical systems, for example.

As home inspectors, we are not required to remove ceiling tiles. At the same time, I think it can be beneficial in selected areas, especially when inspecting renovated homes.

On this fine day I found a hidden smoke detector and some junction boxes without a cover plates.  BTW, these issues would be considered electrical safety concerns.

First I’ll discuss the smoke detector. All levels of a home must have a current smoke detector installed, on the ceiling, ideally outside the bedrooms. Before I lifted any of the suspended tiles, I was busy searching for a smoke detector, which I could not find. I thought that it had either been removed or was hidden.

Although I was happy to finally discover the smoke detector (above the ceiling tiles), I was quick to point out that it was outdated and quite possibly non-functional. Since the mid 1990’s all smoke detectors should be hardwired and interconnected throughout the entire home. This way, the inhabitants will hear the alarm even if one has been activated on a different level. Smoke detectors typically last 6-10 years and are 50% less effective after 10 years. In addition, they require testing approximately every 6 months. My recommendation was to have an electrician install new, interconnected and accessible smoke detectors throughout the home as soon as possible.

Now on the to hidden junction boxes… I found at two hidden, unprotected junction boxes above the suspended tiles. I was curious about this because the home was over 30 years old and had gone through some renovations. (no permits provided) Also, I was not able to find any junction boxes, so I knew they were somewhere hidden from view.

Without exception, all junction boxes must be accessible & protected with cover plates to contain possible fire or electrical hazards.  Other associated concerns include connecting aluminum & copper wires (incorrectly), exposed wires, loose connections, overloaded wires and splices and any missing junction boxes when connected to light fixtures; to name a few. Switch boxes and outlets need to have cover plates as well. All of these issues can cause electrical fires and or shock hazards.

So, with a bit of extra effort, I was able to uncover some electrical concerns for immediate repair. I explained the potential implications of what I found to the buyers. I recommended immediate correction of these electrical issues by a licensed electrician… while suggesting a thorough check of the electrical system for overall safety. I also thought that it would be a good idea to provide a new, accurate label on the service panel for easy reference in the event of future electrical repairs or renovations. Other electrical recommendations were noted, but for the purpose of this case study, I will not mention them all

By the end of the 5 + hour inspection I was tired, yet satisfied that I was able to arm my clients with some important safety information that they needed to know about.

For additional details relating to some common electrical issues that home inspections find, take a look at the link Common Electrical Problems and be safe.