Along with the cold, snow, and ice that can affect a house and its components, the winter season also means shorter days and more darkness, which can have adverse effects on our own internal systems. The reduced exposure to sunlight can exact a tremendous physiological and psychological toll, causing what is familiarly known as the “winter blues.” In some cases, a well-lit home can play a role in easing the symptoms of this seasonal syndrome.
With this in mind, we thought it would be appropriate to devote this week’s blog post to home lighting and some of the things home inspectors look for during a 500-point roof-to-foundation home inspection, like those performed by the certified inspectors at A-Pro Home Inspection. While your home inspector won’t render any judgment on whether there is enough lighting to ward off the winter blues, the inspection will include a number of checks of home lighting, covering both functionality and safety—with some limitations. For example, per standards of practice, inspectors are not required to check exterior accent lighting.
Here is a brief checklist of some of the lighting issues your home inspector will be checking for:
Interior Lights: Your inspector will flip on each light switch to see if the light is operative. If a light doesn’t work, the inspector will note this in the report. A light that doesn’t turn on can be the result of a range of issues, from dead bulbs to more serious problems with the fixture, wiring, switch or fuse. Pinpointing the exact cause of an inoperative light is beyond the scope of the inspection, but the inspector will highlight missing and broken bulbs, visible damage to the fixture, exposed wires, and other observations.
Bare Bulbs: Often found in basements, attics, closets, or garages, light bulbs not protected by an enclosure will be pointed out by the inspector. A bare light bulb is particularly problematic in a closet, where it can cause a fire if it comes in contact with blankets, clothing, or other combustible material. Unprotected bulbs are also more prone to breaking—another safety concern since glass and dangerous materials in the bulb can rain down and cause injury.
Stairwell Lighting: In addition to checking a stairwell’s width, handrails and grips, headroom, treads, risers, and leading edges, inspectors will also make sure this high-accident area is properly illuminated by artificial light. According to the National Safety Council, annual stairway falls account for more than one million injuries and 12,000 fatalities. It’s why your inspector will make sure that wall switches (3-way types) are present at each floor and landing level (when there are at least six risers), unless there is continuous illumination or a device that automatically controls stairwell lighting. Your inspector will operate the lights to see if they function and if they illuminate the entire run of the stairs and landing. Lights for exterior stairwells, which should be located at the top of the steps, should be controlled from inside the home. Lack of or non-operational stairwell lighting will be noted in the home inspection report.
Recessed Lighting: While recessed lights can offer a stylish alternative, their presence will certainly draw the attention of your home inspector for reasons beyond how they fit into the home’s interior design scheme. For example, non-IC-rated single-can recessed lights can get very hot and are not intended to come in contact with insulation. Such contact poses a fire hazard. Your inspector will check for proper clearance or the presence of a baffle or shroud to prevent the recessed light from touching the insulation. Even most IC-rated can lights, which have a double-can design that allows direct contact with insulation, are not made to come in direct contact with spray foam-type insulation.
Exterior Lighting: Some homes have outdoor lighting (floodlights, security lights) that will be looked at during the exterior portion of the home inspection. By visual inspection alone, a home inspector may find amateurish, jerry-rigged installations that present a fire hazard; exposed wiring; cracked bases; underroof-installed fixtures in contact with fascia boards; missing weather covers; lack of required GFCIs for certain installations; use of non-outdoor rated enclosures; loose wall fastenings; evidence of water leaking into the fixture; and other issues. The inspector will operate these lights to see if they are functional. As noted above, inspectors are not required to check non-utilitarian, accent lighting.
Skylights: While not electrical in nature, skylights are also an important part of a home’s “lighting” inspection. When installed correctly and properly maintained, a skylight can provide a room with just the right touch of sun to supplement the home’s artificial lighting. Unfortunately, skylights are also prone to experience a number of defects that will be reported by your inspector, including leaks, not being firmly secured to the roof, poorly installed flashing, wood rot, and cracked glass—all things that turn the potential benefits of a skylight into a negative.
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