Reuben talks about his electrical experiments. They discuss how much current it takes to overload a circuit and the effect of the panel’s loose connections in circuits. Tessa mentions that the common melted wires are made of aluminum conductors.
Reuben talks about the renewal of real estate agents’ licenses and submitting their CE. He announces the availability of Structure Tech’s in-person Continuing Education (CE) classes in the next quarter. These classes are also available online at Structure Tech Online Learning – Online learning center.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Reuben Saltzman: Welcome to my house. Welcome to the Structure Talk podcast, a production of Structure Tech Home Inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman. I’m your host alongside building science geek, Tessa Murray. We help home inspectors up their game through education, and we help homeowners to be better stewards of their houses. We’ve been keeping it real on this podcast since 2019, and we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom. All right, we’re back at it. We have taken a week off. Tessa, you and I just had calendars that would not align with each other, so we had to take a week off. It happens, but we’re back at it now. So I think it’s been a couple of weeks since we recorded our last podcast. How you been Tess?
Tessa Murray: Yeah. It’s good to see you, Reuben. I’ve been good. I actually… I spent some time out in New Jersey with my friends, actually three friends, women that I’ve done Habitat builds with in the past. And…
RS: Habitat for Humanity, just in case anyone doesn’t know what that is.
TM: Yeah. Habitat for Humanity builds and we had a tradition of getting together every January and doing a build, but we haven’t done one in a while actually since before the pandemic. And so I’ve been wanting to go out and visit them and it just hasn’t worked out. And finally it did. So two of them, one is a carpenter and one is a baker and shout out to Joe, Lucky Joe. She’s an amazing carpenter and she has her own business and she’s also an artist and she’s an archeologist. She is like… She does all these amazing things. So anyways, I got to see her space, her workshop, which she built and it’s amazing and beautiful. And then her wife, Sam, who’s a baker, and we helped move her bake shop actually they were renting a space in Highland Park where they live. And she’s downsizing and so I helped them move some of their stuff from the bake shop into their house and get it set up for her. And she’s an amazing baker too. We had so many good meals while I was there. [laughter] And then scoot.
RS: And you gained a lot of weight when you’re gone.
TM: Oh, I sure did. I sure gained some weight. Yeah. And I… And then I hung out a lot with Sue too. And she was the first female firefighter in New Brunswick. She retired a few years ago, but she’s just such an amazing person and she’s always volunteering and helping people out and so just a great person. So yeah, it was a fun trip. Lots of good food, lots of good time with friends and I’m glad I was able to go out there and help out. So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to.
RS: Oh, that sounds good. Yeah.
TM: Yeah. How about you?
RS: Yeah, things are good. No big complaints. It feels like winter might be almost over.
TM: It’s putting up a fight, that’s for sure.
RS: We had a good fight there, but, yeah. It ain’t lasting.
TM: Yeah, you didn’t even get a chance to do any snowmobiling with this last big storm we had, ’cause it’s…
RS: Oh, I absolutely did that.
TM: You did… [laughter]
RS: They didn’t plow my streets until late in the day that Saturday. So I took my snowmobiles right out of the trailer and my son and I just left from my house.
TM: Oh my gosh.
RS: And the trail had a few blocks from where I live and we just rode right on the streets. It was smooth sailing and neighbors were all out shoveling and plowing their driveways and they all smiled and waved. They’re like, yeah…
TM: And there you go on your snowmobile down the streets in Maple Grove. That’s of course you did. That’s so funny.
RS: It was a great end of the season.
TM: Well, yeah, hopefully. Right. Hopefully that’s the end of the season. How many inches of snow did we get?
RS: Good point.
TM: This was like April 1st, right? We got… How much did you get up in Maple Grove?
RS: Yeah. I never heard or saw the official mark. It felt like about 10 inches in Maple Grove.
TM: Okay. Yeah. I think the Twin Cities got like eight to ten, got hit pretty hard. But here we are, April 3rd and it’s mostly melted now. We got a warm day yesterday.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. That did not last long. Yep. Yeah, my son had a track meet that got canceled. [laughter] ‘Cause [laughter] The track is covered with snow.
TM: How can you run in 10 inches of snow? You can’t. Well… Yeah.
RS: Exactly. Yeah. But it’ll be done soon.
TM: Oh man. Well, yeah. So what’s on your mind for today, Reuben? What are we talking about?
RS: Well, just a hodgepodge of a few things. Things we just gotta get caught up on. One of them Tess, I don’t know if you’re gonna remember, but there was a podcast we did, it was probably maybe six weeks ago… Maybe a month ago, maybe six weeks ago, something like that. And we were talking about, I know we talked about phantom loads. And we did a podcast episode on that. I did a follow-up, did a bunch of testing on that. But something else we talked about, I think it was the same episode, was how much current does it take to melt wires or scorch wires or discolor them. And then we got to talking about what about loose connections and how much worse is a loose connection for causing arcing and overheating and problems. And I said, that’d be an interesting blog post.
RS: I’m gonna do some testing on it.
TM: Please tell me you didn’t burn anything down in this experiment that you’re about to tell me about. [laughter]
TM: You know what Tess, I did the testing down in my basement because that’s where the main panel is and I wanted to run wires just coming right off the panel so I could see the full run of the wire. So if something did go wrong, it’s not gonna be some junction box in the wall that I can’t see. So I ran wires directly from my panel.
TM: You’re so brave.
RS: To my testing equipment.
RS: Oh God. I don’t know. I joked with my wife. I did this on a Saturday afternoon and I joked with her. I was like, “All right, well I’m gonna go see about burning the house down if you smell smoke, run downstairs with a fire extinguisher.” I’m just kind of kidding with her. But my daughter, Lucy, she heard this and she took it very seriously and she brought a fire extinguisher downstairs to be proactive about this.
TM: Smart kid. She’s a smart kid.
RS: She had a… Yeah, she had a very worried look on her face.
TM: She’s seen her dad go down to the basement for experiments before. Yes, God bless Anna having faith and allowing you to do these crazy things, and anything that has to do with electricity or plumbing I think takes extra patience because it could be pretty bad.
RS: For sure yeah. So that was fun. I’ll show you what it looks like and it was… This was a test to see, I wanted to see what a loose connection, what effect a loose connection would have on a circuit and also just see what it would take to overload a circuit and cause scorching and maybe you can see my setup here Tess, I’ve got a receptacle that’s hardwired directly into my main panel and I’ve got a couple of space, a couple of 1500 watts space heaters attached to it. So each one of those is, what’s 1500 watts divided by 120? It’s about 12 amps each and so we’re running 24 amps and I ran that off of a 30 amp circuit to make sure I wouldn’t blow the circuit breaker but I’m using wire that’s only rated for 15 amps so I’ve got about an extra 9 amps going on this wire.
RS: The idea was, I’m gonna overload it and we’re gonna make it really hot and maybe cause some scorching and I have a very very loose connection at the electric panel. I didn’t tighten down the…
TM: The screw?
RS: The screw on the circuit breaker at all. I just took the wire and it took me a bunch of tries and I just kind of stuck the wire so it’s just touching.
TM: Oh, my gosh.
RS: And it’s… There’s nothing clamped down at all and then let it rip, turn on the space heaters. And Tessa, this is the most boring experiment I’ve ever done. This will not see the light of the day. I will not be blogging about this.
TM: [laughter] This is it. This is all the exposure this experiment’s gonna get on the podcast here?
RS: Yeah we’re gonna talk about it on the podcast and that’s all. After this we’re done because I did all of this and the the wires never heated up. The wires going to the space heaters got pretty hot. Those got up to about 160 degrees but the NM cable going directly into my outlet the 14 gauge wire with 24 amps on it that never really warm… I mean, it got warm. It got to about 140 degrees but that’s where it stayed. It got up to about 140 and it just stayed there after… And after 15 minutes, it did not rise in temperature and I had it going for another half hour. So 45 minutes of this, no change whatsoever and I tapped out and I went, “This is the most boring experiment ever. I’m not sharing this with anybody.” Of course I could have modified the experiment. I could have run a few receptacles and I could have had maybe four space heaters going. At that point maybe it would have worked but I would have had to buy more space heaters or get a hairdryer going and just the scope of this experiment would have gotten too out of hand and I just gave up on it. I said, “This is boring.” So.
TM: So. Lucy didn’t need the fire extinguisher. There weren’t any sparks that came out of the electrical panel?
RS: Not a lot of them. I did try to get some sparks.
RS: I’m serious. I ended up taking that wire when I had the full load going through it and I jiggled the wire around on the breaker to really get the sparks going I thought maybe the issue is that it’s just too good of a connection here. So maybe I need to jiggle this and maybe if there’s a whole bunch of arcing…
TM: Oh my God.
RS: It’ll make it get hot. So I did it and I’m jiggling it around, I got a video of it but it’s…
TM: Were there… So there were sparks?
RS: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I made a lot of sparks.
TM: Was Lucy there for this?
RS: And I sort of…
TM: Was she watching?
RS: No she didn’t see it.
RS: But it never warmed up though. So I just thought, “Okay someone smarter than me has to design this experiment to fail.
RS: We need the Mythbusters.”
TM: Oh. We need Charles Buell. So I wonder what it takes when we inspect panels and we see like melted wires and scorched wires. I wonder how much current is going through there that causes it to do that.
RS: Tess, you know what I think a lot of it ends up happening? A lot of those situations, I’ll bet it’s a multi-wire circuit where you’ve got two hots and one neutral and the two hots are on the same phase. So instead of canceling each other out, the two loads add to each other and and you’ve got like 30 amps on a neutral wire instead of zero.
RS: I think that’s a big reason for the problems and melted wires, maybe I should set up an experiment like that but… Yeah, I’m kind of bored with this now.
TM: You’re burnt out.
TM: Yeah well, and actually a lot of the melted wires that we see are in panels that might have aluminum branch circuit wiring or something like that too which is a problem but well…
TM: Too bad.
RS: Okay so…
RS: Next topic.
TM: Yeah. Interesting. Cool. Okay, well, there was some announcement you wanted to make today too right about CE?
RS: Oh yeah. Yeah we’re… Licensed real estate agents in Minnesota they all need to renew their licenses or submit all of their continuing education stuff. We’re gonna call it CE and gotta have all their CE done by the end of June. I know some offices like them to be done by the beginning of June just to make sure they got a little buffer there but this is kind of the mad scramble for all the agents to get their CE done, and we are offering a ton of it at Structure Tech. We’re doing… We’re doubling down on the amount of classes that we’re teaching in person. Our goal is to do… I think we said we’re gonna teach 25 in-person classes over this next quarter. So we are coming to… If you’re a real estate agent, we’re coming to an office near you.
RS: We will be teaching somewhere nearby. And we’re having both Brian and Lisa go to those offices to teach. And George is getting on board too.
RS: George is gonna start teaching CE classes.
TM: Oh great. That’s awesome.
RS: So, we are gonna have another teacher. And Tessa, you taught these classes for many years. You’ve probably taught, I mean, literally hundreds of these classes right?
TM: Yeah. You know what? It’s funny, I was actually going through… I came across all of the old sign-in sheets from the in-person classes I taught. And I found out most of the classes I did in person were 2019 and 2020. And then we switched over partway through 2020 to doing a lot of online stuff. But I went through and I added up the hours. I did over 200 hours of CE, over those two years.
RS: Wow. That’s a lot of teaching, Tess.
TM: That’s a lot of teaching. So thank you to Brian. Thank you to George. And I know Reuben, you did way more than I did, because you were doing it for years before I came on board. So it’s a lot of CE.
RS: Yeah. Yeah, there was a ton. I have definitely put in my hours on those classes.
TM: And I was gonna say, so these courses are also available online though too, right? When we…
RS: Yes, yes.
TM: Do you wanna talk about that a little bit?
RS: That was a huge undertaking that happened in 2020 where we made all of our classes available in an on-demand format, or asynchronous education, however you wanna say it. It’s where somebody can just log into our learning portal, sign up for a class and take it at their leisure. You can do it in the middle of the night, you can do half now, half later. You can pause it, whatever you want. It’s just, you do it at your own pace. And we’ve got a whole learning platform set up to offer this to agents. And it’s not free for that system. I mean, it’s free when we teach in person, but for the on-demand, there is a fee, but it’s really close to free. We’re charging $5 an hour for credits.
TM: That’s very reasonable.
RS: Where are you gonna get that?
TM: Very reasonable.
RS: That’s so close to free. And I’ll tell you, Tessa, I seriously think these are some of the best classes that are available for agents. I haven’t been to a lot of the classes. [chuckle] Okay. I haven’t been to any classes [laughter], but I’m going by what people…
RS: Have told me after taking these classes. Yes, and Tess, I’m sure you got the same thing when you were out teaching, right?
TM: Yeah, we did. We got a lot of good feedback. And actually, I remember too, in 2020 and 2021, having these courses available online. We got, I mean, we had hundreds of people. We had thousands of people taking these courses.
TM: And they… I mean, we got tons of positive feedback that these courses were the best courses they’ve ever taken online. Very interesting, fun, interactive. So not that we’re talking it up. [laughter] Hopefully it lives up to your expectations. But these courses are not just for… I mean, it extends beyond just real estate agents, right? I think home owners that are interested in learning about houses or anyone in the industry that wants to learn more, check them out.
RS: Yes. I know for a fact that there is a lot of home inspectors who have taken these classes and I mean, every once in a while I’ll be talking to a home inspector at a conference or something, they’re like, “Can I see one of them?” And I’ll just give them a promo code like, “Yeah, here, take a one-hour class.” In fact, you know what? I made one of those classes publicly available on our YouTube channel.
TM: That’s right.
RS: It’s the new construction class. Anybody can just take it on the YouTube channel. Now, I mean, of course for real estate agents, they don’t get credit. If you’re an agent, pay the five bucks.
TM: And get your…
RS: And get credit for it. But anybody else, if you wanna see it, you can check it out. That’s just a sample. And we’ve got seven courses that are available on demand now. That’s one of them. I’ll just power through the others. You got Showing Red Flags. It’s a 1.25-hour class and it’s… This one, man, every agent ought to take this class because it’s all of the biggest red flags that you can find as an agent during a walkthrough. I mean, we talk about nasty roofs, we’ve talked about siding problems, bad electrical panels, all these big things that you really don’t need a home inspector to find. You can see this stuff. So that’s a good one. It’s called Showing Red Flags. Of course, we got the one that started it all, Home Inspection Horrors. That’s just some of our most favorite home inspection topics. That’s a 3.75-hour class. We got home inspections on old houses. That’s a 3-hour class. We got the Water Intrusion Class. I mean, that one is…
TM: That’s a good one. Yeah.
RS: So good. You will get… I say you get a super power after you’re done with this class. [laughter] You have the ability to look at a house from a distance and know where you’re gonna have water intrusion problems.
TM: Yeah. If you wanna learn to think like Reuben, take that class. [laughter]
RS: That is a fun class to teach.
TM: It’s a fascinating class. I love that one.
RS: We got Hassle-free Home Inspections. And this is talking about some of the biggest hiccups that happened in the home inspection process. Like blocked attic access, or can’t get at this or forgot to order this service. And it’s just making sure that a transaction can happen smoothly. Very beneficial for real estate agents. I think every agent ought to take that class too.
TM: Agreed. And if you’re thinking about buying or selling a house, that’s a good one to take too, as a homeowner.
RS: Yes. Yes, for sure. And then the last one, this is one… Though a most recent class. And this one is a little bit more light-hearted. Of course, there is a ton of educational content in here, but it’s called the Decade of Defects. And you know, I’ve been doing the top 20 home inspection photos every year for over a decade now. So I took all of those, it’s our top 200 photos from the last decade and put those into an educational class talking about what’s the issue, why does it matter, and what someone’s supposed to do about this.
TM: That’s fun.
RS: And the photos are delightful.
TM: So this is a new class. I have not seen it. I have not taught it. I wanna take it. So if I wanna take these classes, I know you said there’s a portal, but can… Do you remember how people find this portal, Reuben?
RS: Yeah. We have a special site just set up for it. It’s called structuretechce.com. Again, Structure Tech CE as in continuing education, StructuretTechCE.com, and you can find it all there. You can sign up. It’s not a big registration process. There is a place, I think, where you’re supposed to put in a license number and all you do if you’re not a real estate agent, you just put NA or Home Inspector, I don’t care. Whatever you want. Just don’t make up a magic number or we’re gonna try to give you credit, we’re gonna get frustrated and we’re gonna call you. So just make it clear that we don’t need to try to give you credit for it.
TM: That’s awesome. Wow. Well that’s cool. Good for Brian and George for getting out there and teaching more CE in person again. And if you wanna take them on demand or online, that’s a great option too.
RS: Yeah. And a huge shout out to Lisa for being the one who’s coordinating all of this.
TM: Yes. Thank you Lisa.
RS: She’s scheduling this with all the offices. She’s coming to all the offices, making sure everybody is set up. I mean, that’s something you and I never had the luxury of.
RS: We never had someone like making sure it’s all just good to go for us.
TM: All the tech goes smoothly. That would’ve been nice. [laughter]
RS: Yeah. Yeah. Really awesome. So big shout out to Lisa for getting that done.
TM: Awesome. What was that it? Was there any other announcements we had to make today kind of a short podcast?
RS: You know, I thought there was, but there’s nothing that’s coming to mind [laughter], so, you know, maybe over the next week we will sleep on this and we’ll think of something else. But, Tessa next week, man, I’m excited to cover this with you because we’re gonna talk about this insulation scam that’s going around the Twin Cities, and you are gonna be whipped up.
TM: I think I will be. And I’m sure you’re whipped up too. I can tell. I can see it in your eyes.
RS: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I’m excited to talk about this.
TM: Looking forward to it.
RS: All right, cool. Well that’ll wrap it up for today, I guess. I’ll see you next week.
RS: See ya! Bye.