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Q&A: Are Minnesota home inspectors allowed to open electrical panels?

I received the following email last week from another home inspector here in Minnesota regarding the inspection of electrical panels:

Today I received a call from a local electrical contractor in <omitted>, MN.  He decided he needed to call me and tell me that "I'm not a licensed electrician and I have no business removing electrical service panel covers" or testing outlets, etc as part of my inspection.  He named some statute that states that you have to be licensed to inspect any electrical.  I just listened and thanked him for the call.  Sounded like he was a friend of a home seller who's house I recently inspected with some electrical issues.

Just curious what your understanding of this is?

scorched neutralsThis is not a new story.

I've heard similar stories from numerous home inspectors here in Minnesota. There is no law that applies specifically to home inspectors in Minnesota, because home inspectors are not licensed. Thankfully, the rules can be found in the 2016 Minnesota Statutes that cover construction codes and licensing. They're in the electrical section under 326B.33 Licenses, Subd. 12: Unlicensed individuals. I'm pretty sure that this would have been the section that was quoted to my fellow home inspector. This section of the Minnesota Statute says the following:

(a) An unlicensed individual means an individual who has not been licensed by the department to perform specific electrical work. An unlicensed individual shall not perform work...

There's a lot more to it than just that, but that's the important part that has been brought into question. For the purposes of this discussion, home inspectors are typically unlicensed individuals. The obvious next question is "what constitutes electrical work?" For that, let's turn to the definitions section for electrical work.

What is electrical work?

Electrical work is defined under section 326B.31, Subp. 17, which says the following:

"Electrical work" means the installing, altering, repairing, planning, or laying out of electrical wiring, apparatus, or equipment for electrical light, heat, power, technology circuits or systems, or other purposes. The installing, altering, repairing, planning, or laying out of electrical wiring, apparatus, or equipment for electrical light, heat, power, technology circuits or systems, or other purposes includes, but is not limited to, the performance of any work regulated by the standards referred to in section 326B.35.

So there you have it. Removing an electrical panel cover to see inside the panel does not constitute electrical work. There is no rule or law in place that says that home inspectors can't do this.

The Standard of Practice of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) also requires the inspection of panel interiors. ASHI SOP (7.1.A.5) says the inspector shall inspect interior components of service panels and subpanels.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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Seek Thermal CompactPRO infrared camera: a home inspector's review

Seek Thermal has a new infrared camera for smartphones called the Seek Thermal CompactPRO. They claim this camera delivers unprecedented high-resolution thermal imaging and software capabilities for under $500. To find out if there was any truth in this claim, I took the camera for a test drive. In short, I think they nailed it.

The Basics

This camera looks nearly identical to the old $199 Seek Thermal camera. It's a small camera that plugs into the USB port on either an Android or iPhone, using your phone as the screen and brains of the camera. After downloading the Seek Thermal app, all that's needed is to plug the camera in. No batteries, no cables, no hassle. I was using this camera on my phone within about two minutes of opening the package.

The most noticeable difference is the adjustable focus lens on the CompactPRO. The older camera has a fixed focus lens.

Seek Thermal CompactPRO

The CompactPRO also comes with a handy little waterproof carrying case.

Seek Thermal CompactPRO carrying case

Size and Shape

Just like its predecessor and like any other infrared camera that plugs into your phone, it's tiny. If you drop your phone with this thing plugged in, you'll probably break the camera, the charging port on your phone, or both. This is not a rugged device.

Software Options

The software is pretty straightforward, giving the options that should be expected. It records images and videos, it has several different color modes, it has a spot meter mode, and a mode that displays the warmest and coldest temperatures found within the image. It also gives the ability to select certain temperature ranges to display and focus on, and allows for different emissivity settings.

Resolution

The CompactPRO camera delivers a resolution of 320x240, which is four times that of my 160x120 FLIR E6 camera. To get a camera with this resolution at this price is quite impressive. The Flir E8 offers a resolution of 320x240, but that camera also sells for $4,000. I don't know of any infrared cameras that offer better resolution for the price.

I asked the manufacturer about the thermal sensitivity and was told that the company does not speak publicly about that detail.

Image Comparisons

To do a fair apples-to-apples comparison between the CompactPRO camera and my FLIR E6 camera, I turned off the MSX technology on my E6. The MSX technology brings out a ton of detail in images, making it appear as though you're getting a far higher resolution image than you really are. It doesn't add any 'real' information, but it makes images look so much better that no other camera can compete, so it's not a fair comparison to have it turned on. For an example of what I'm talking about, click on MSX on vs. MSX off.

For each of the images below, I put the CompactPRO image on the left and the E6 image on the right. The E6 has 45° field of view while the CompactPRO has a 32° field of view, so I tried to get close enough to the images with my E6 to give approximately the same viewable area.

CompactPRO vs E6 1

CompactPRO vs E6 2

CompactPRO vs E6 3

CompactPRO vs E6 4

CompactPRO vs E6 5

CompactPRO vs E6 6

CompactPRO vs E6 7

Pretty impressive, huh? These images from the $500 CompactPRO rival those from the $2500 E6.

Conclusion on the CompactPRO

If I had an occasional need for a high-resolution infrared camera and I didn't want to break the bank, this would be my camera of choice. I wouldn't want to use this camera for home inspections, however, because I would be too afraid of breaking it and the operation would be too clumsy. The adjustable focus lens is also time-consuming to use; I prefer a fixed focus lens for quicker operation.

Seek Thermal also makes a stand-alone camera with the same resolution that would probably be a good choice for home inspectors, called the RevealPRO. It's small, rugged, has a low thermal sensitivity rating, and a fixed focus lens. It retails for $699.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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