A Conflict of Interest with Electrical Inspectors?

Jesse Kuhlman News

Should electrical inspectors be allowed to perform work in the same town where they’re inspecting? Does this scenario create a conflict of interest in any way?

Many smaller towns have part-time electrical inspectors.  These inspectors usually have their own businesses, in addition to their inspector positions. This juggling makes sense. If their job is only part- time, how are they going to pay their bills?  Over the years, I’ve dealt with these inspectors numerous times. Quite frankly, I never felt like the inspector was being unfair in any way—even when their company was one of our competitors.

I have countless stories about inspectors.  I always wanted to share my stories, but I never had the platform to do so until our company launched this blog.  Of all my stories, the following one is undoubtedly my favorite. Before this inspection, I honestly thought I’d seen it all, but this one threw me for a loop!

We completed a job involving knob and tube replacement in a North Shore town in Massachusetts. I won’t mention the name of the town, even though I probably should because this inspector’s behavior was quite shady.

As many of you may already know, knob and tube replacement is a mainstay of our business. We specialize in it, and we often simultaneously do two or three replacement jobs year-round. So yeah, we do A LOT of these jobs, and we like to think we do them better than anyone else.

Since I get along really well with the head electrical inspector of this town, I was looking forward to seeing him at the job. Unfortunately, he was on vacation that week and the assistant inspector wasn’t available either.  I was assigned a backup inspector whom I’d never met.

When the inspector pulled up, I was sitting outside on the front stairs waiting for him. As he got out of his car and started walking toward me, I got this really weird feeling. He was looking at me in a very odd way. Right away, I could sense some negative energy.  But I was polite and said, “How are you doing?” He replied, “Fine. What’d you do here?” I told him, “Knob and tube replacement.” Then I proceeded to show him around.  The homeowner was also there to let us in, so he followed along.

We started in the living room and I showed the inspector what we had done. Right away, he asked, “Why didn’t you add a receptacle to this wall?” I answered, “All we’re here to do is replace the knob and tube wiring.” The owner was not interested in ADDING more receptacles. The inspector kind of groaned, shook his head, and said, “Okay.”

We then moved onto the dining room. Again, he asked about a wall not having a receptacle. At that point, I could see where this situation was going. He then said in a very condescending way, “I hope you used arc-fault circuit breakers.” I answered, “Yes, of course. They’re required by code. We can take a look at them in the basement panel.” From there, the negative energy only got worse.

When we were upstairs in the bedroom, he asked, “Why didn’t you add a receptacle on this wall?” I gave him the same answer yet again: “We only replaced the knob and tube wiring—nothing more than that.” He then stated, “This is unacceptable. You must bring the ENTIRE HOUSE up to code and add receptacles on every wall—to fit the 12’ rule.” (When a house is gutted or being built new, we are required to install receptacles on walls so there is no wall space with more than 6’ to the nearest receptacle)  I asked, “How would a knob-and-tube-replacement job trigger a complete update? The knob and tube in this house is only a small portion of the existing wiring.  Why would we need to bring it up to code like a new-build house?”

He really had no answer, other than, “That’s what I want and I’m not going to pass the job because of it.” I asked him to show me a code article that required us to do what he was demanding. He didn’t like that!!  I also mentioned, “We do tons of these jobs and we’ve never heard this from an inspector before.” This response only made him more pissed!  He then said, “I’m not passing it. Call me when the entire house is up to code.” And he left.

Why don’t you need to bring your house up to code when replacing antique wiring?

Simply put, the job is to REPLACE THE ANTIQUE WIRING.  Nothing more! Imagine if you called an electrician to add a receptacle in your dining room. He looks around and says, “Well, if I add that one, I’ll need to bring the entire room up to code.  You’d probably be like, “What the heck? I just want to add a receptacle in this spot, nothing more.”

The logic of bringing this kind of space up to code makes zero sense. Plus, we need to consider budgets. A homeowner who needs to replace their knob and tube wiring is probably being forced into it by their insurance company. So it’s very unfair to expect them to spend double or triple that cost to bring a house up to code.  We’ve all heard the old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day!”

The only time an electrician can be required to bring a room up to code is when it’s gutted. Period.  Once the space is gutted, it becomes a new-work installation, which must follow the current code requirement. 

Back to the story….

After the inspector stormed out, I didn’t know what to think. And quite frankly, I felt a little embarrassed. Failing an electrical inspection in front of a homeowner is not a great look LOL—even when the reason for failing makes no sense and the inspector is being hostile. 

When he was gone, I looked at the owner and said, “I have no idea what just happened here.  I’ve honestly never had this kind of run-in with an inspector.” The homeowner looked at me and said, “You know what?  He bid this job!” You don’t say!  Now it makes sense!! 

I waited until the main electrical inspector was back from vacation and brought my concerns to him. He couldn’t believe it either and he apologized for the hostile inspector’s behavior. We set up a new inspection, which we passed with flying colors. Can you say conflict of interest?