Are You Current With The TREC’s New Inspection Requirements?

Riki Markowitz

Riki Markowitz

Contributing Writer

If February came and went without much notice, then you may not have been paying attention when the Texas Real Estate Commission’s new residential real estate inspection requirement went into effect. Last August, TREC announced changes to their Standards of Practice (SOP) for home inspections, which covers dwellings for one to four families. According to inspectors, REALTORS and their clients are already seeing the effect of that change on inspection recent reports. 

Updates like these might not sound exciting, but they’re important for REALTORS to know about because they can (and almost always do) change the outcome of subsequent inspections. Also, a deficiency on an inspection report is the kind of thing that can result in buyers having a last minute change of heart. When agents are aware of these updates — what they are, why they were instituted, and what to do if a deficiency shows up on a new inspection report — it’s easier to discuss next steps with clients.

You probably figured out by now that we’re referring to the February 1 start date for TREC’s new electricity inspection requirements. The agency updated standards for ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) and arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) devices. If these acronyms look like computer code or a foreign language, then keep reading because the SOP update is actually expected to prevent a lot of home fires, reduce injuries and save lives. However, keep in mind that discussing fixes to home wiring and electrical issues can be pretty complicated. So agents and brokers shouldn’t feel obligated to talk about issues outside of their expertise. There are plenty of inspectors and licensed electricians who can go down that road with clients.

What are GFCIs and AFCIs?

Here’s a quick and easy way to tell the difference between ground-fault circuit interrupters and arc-fault circuit interrupters: GFCIs protect people; AFCIs protect property.

Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters

Ground-fault circuit interrupters — commonly known as GFCIs — protect homeowners from getting shocked by electrical devices and outlets. For agents who work with international clients, Brain Greul, an inspector from Houston, suggests being familiar with another acronym that clients from outside the US should be familiar with: RCDs, or residual current devices. 

If there’s a leak in a circuit, it can shock someone who’s close by (that includes pets). So GFCIs can literally save a person’s life. They’re designed to seek out current leaks and upon finding one that’s above a certain threshold, trip the power. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the agency responsible for keeping workers safe and healthy, says that 50 milliamps (mA) of electricity can actually stop someone’s heart. Just so you understand how much power that is, a 60-watt-equivalent LED light bulb uses about 80 mA of power. “That’s enough to kill someone,” says Greul. 

There are typically two types of GFCI devices inside most homes: Circuits in the breaker panel and wall outlets.

Modern class-A GFCI units will interrupt the current when they identify a leak at 4 to 6 mAs. Inspectors are required to test devices in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, crawl spaces that are wired for electricity, garages and outdoor areas, including yards, patios, and near pools. All receptacles that use power and are located within six feet of the edge of a sink, shower, or bathtub should have a GFCI device. The most common one used in dwellings for one to four families (aka, the residential real estate market) is a power outlet. 

An inspector tests all GFCI devices using the test button on the device and again using a handheld tester. When GFCI devices do not meet TREC’s updated requirements, the inspection report will show a “deficiency.” According to Gruel, “It’s not uncommon to see a failed GFCI where the unit either fails to reset or the test button stops working.” And fortunately, he says, adding a new device or replacing the deficient one is a very easy job for a qualified electrician.  

Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters

Devices that protect property, AFCIs, are also in the form of circuit breakers, special outlets, and portable devices with cords. Their purpose is to detect electricity at a higher current than the person-protecting GFCI devices. According to TREC’s new inspection rules, AFCI protection must be available in all living areas. It’s in this section of the updated inspection report that most homes on the market are getting dinged with deficiencies. 

In a helpfully-comprehensive article that Gruell wrote about TREC’s updated inspection standards—one in which he reported on the history of GFCIs and AFCIs— he said, “It’s important to note that arc faults are a leading cause of residential house fires in the U.S. Each year, over 40,000 fires are attributed to faulty electrical wiring. This results in over 350 deaths and 1,400 injuries each year.” 

While “regulation” is seen as a bad word in Texas, when the Commission revises the SOP it’s a process that requires unanimous approval. And these specific electrical inspection updates have been a work in progress for three years, according to Lee Warren, 2021 chair of TREC’s Inspector Committee. So if a seller, especially one who has been through the buying and selling process in the past, complains about a deficiency on their inspection report, brokers can explain that this update is expected to reduce the number of fires, fatalities, and injuries at residential dwellings. 

In 1999, the National Electrical Code (NEC) called for installing AFCIs in bedrooms, followed by all other rooms in the house between 2008 and 2014. Like home inspectors, electricians also have safety standards they’re required to follow, namely, the NEC. Since Texas now requires electricians to use the 2020 NEC, that means all new homes and many built in the last eight to 15 years have AFCIs throughout the dwelling. According to Greul, adding AFCI devices to older homes can be complicated because they’re prone to “nuisance tripping.” This is something that occurs when the AFCI detects a hazardous condition even when one does not actually exist. One example of when AFCIs are at risk of nuisance tripping is when home wiring is stapled too tightly to a wall stud. And even though manufacturers have worked to reduce the device’s proclivity to false alarms, there are still kinks to work out. 

Gruell says that some homeowners have to consider rewiring if they want to upgrade their old house for AFCI protection on a specific circuit. But again, that’s something that agents can suggest that clients discuss with a licensed electrician. Or, if REALTORS want to be blunt to clients about why there’s a new regulation in the inspection process, just follow Gruel’s lead by saying, “Electronic monitoring senses the type of spark likely to cause a fire.”

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