Douglas started in the industry as a carpenter in the 1960s, and he was also a teacher and a home inspector. He was tapped by Code Check founder Redwood Kardon to co-author the book. He describes the book as cliff notes and like a comic book for building codes. According to Douglas, codes are the language and vocabulary in the construction standards. Reuben mentions that they use the Code Check illustrations, which are available for sale online, in their home inspection reports.
Douglas discusses the various ranks of inspectors: code enforcement officers who have police functions and write citations, municipal building inspectors who pass or fail something then write a correction notice, and home inspectors who recommend and refer areas for investigation by specialists. He highlights that while these inspectors have different jurisdictions, they have to work together.
Reuben promotes Code Check as required reading and a tool for Home Inspectors. It has different sections: building, plumbing, mechanical, and electrical. He shares that it’s a consolidated booklet that gives you all the most important information that you need to know. They also talk about how useful ”Electrical Inspection of Existing Dwellings” is for home inspectors. Douglas mentions that the electric code is different from all other codes because it has the largest participation of people and code-making panels.
Join Douglas Hansen’s 2-hour training seminar on February 21, 2022: https://heartland.chapteroffice.com/calendar/. Members of the ASHI Heartland Chapter may attend for free, and others may attend for a $25 fee, which will go towards Feed My Starving Children.
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.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, as always, your three-legged stool coming to you from the Northland, talking all things houses, home inspections and anything else that’s rattling around in our house.
BO: On today’s episode, we were beyond excited to have Douglas Hansen join us today from his office out in California. Douglas is a titan of the home inspection industry. He’s been there from the beginning, but he’s come up with some of the best information for inspectors to learn from and to use in their reporting. He’s the author of the Code Check series, and he also wrote this amazing book called Electrical Inspection of Existing Dwellings. I think it’s one of the single greatest tools that anybody in this industry can use to become proficient on all things electricity. We got to spend more than an hour and 20 minutes picking Douglas’ brain. It was an absolute treat. He has done so much for this industry. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we enjoyed having the conversation. We have Douglas Hansen with us, author, inspector, well known for the work he’s done in the home inspection world, particularly with Code Check, and my favorite book as it pertains to this industry, which is Electrical Inspections of Existing Dwellings. I think this is the most wonderful piece of literature I’ve ever run across as it pertains to electricity from the chair that we sit in. So Douglas, welcome. We are so happy to have you here today and to be able to pick your brain.
Douglas Hansen: Well, it’s great to be here and to be with you. I’ve always had the utmost respect for Structure Tech and the work that you folks do, and especially the way that you willingly give back to the rest of the inspection community and, really, I think, enhance the profession that you’re in.
Reuben Saltzman: That’s a lot coming from you.
DH: I guess we like each other.
RS: Before the show, Douglas, Bill and Tessa were just kinda asking me a few questions about you, like, “Well, how did he start? How did he get in this?” And I said, “Well, just save it for the show.” But why don’t you just take us back to the beginning and how did you get into all of this, writing and inspecting and… What’s your history with houses?
DH: I started building houses in, actually, in the 60s, giving away how old I am here, at my first job as a carpenter in 1964. And I didn’t really pursue a formal path with it. I wasn’t in the union, I wasn’t in the Carpenters’ Union or anything. But I did get to build a few houses and then took some time off, went to college, did a few other things, and became a contractor and was a pretty terrible contractor.
DH: I thought that contracting had something to do with knowing how to build things, and I discovered that it’s really more about… It’s like Yogi Berra said, “90% of it is how to handle people, and the other 50% [chuckle] is how to handle money.” So at any rate, I wasn’t successful at it, and I… Although I had learned quite a bit about it at the time. And then a friend of mine bought a house in 1980 and said that he had a termite report on the house, but it didn’t really tell him what he was buying, and a light bulb went off over my head, and I just said, “Okay, this is what I’ve been doing all these years, is training to do this.” And so I did my first home inspection 42 years ago, and then did that, got involved, very involved with ASHI and CRIA and with my other peers in the… That were at the time really thought we were trying to invent the inspection profession. And then I had some health issues that sort of derailed my career in the mid-90s, and so I wasn’t really able to crawl under houses anymore, climb on roofs and so forth, so I had a couple of other jobs. I worked for an engineering firm for a while and then started teaching, taught in a community college for a few years, and then began doing classes with home inspection educational companies.
DH: And in 1997, I met Redwood Kardon, the founder of Code Check, and he asked me to be an editor of a book that he had just contracted to write on, which was the first edition of Code Check Electrical. And within a few years, he had sort of stepped aside and moved me into the leadership role in that, and we’ve done, I think, about 35 different editions of various Code Check books since then.
Tessa Murry: Wow.
DH: And we’re working on a big one right now on the 2021 codes, so…
TM: Oh, can’t wait.
DH: That gets us up-to-date. [chuckle] I did have also… Actually, add this. For seven years, I worked for the city of Santa Clara, which is in Silicon Valley, and it’s sort of the industrial backbone of Silicon Valley. It’s where the companies like Intel and Nvidia and Applied Materials are headquartered, and it’s also the… One of the two largest clusters of data centers in the world. And it was a very interesting experience for me because I got to work as a senior inspector and supervising other building inspectors. I was the Senior Plans Examiner for plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems, and we had some of the largest, most complex mechanical electrical systems you can imagine in these gigantic data centers that we built. And it’s a small city, but we did over a billion dollars a year of construction in that city, and so it was a very good experience for me to broaden my range of understanding of the different types of inspectors that… And different roles that inspectors play, and I also just learned a tremendous amount more that I wished I had known back when I was a home inspector.
BO: Well, Douglas, I was gonna say, of all of those experiences working on your own, working for municipality, teaching at the college level, which did you find most enjoyable?
BO: No hesitation. What… Okay, so what drew you to teaching in… Was it the young minds, or was it just knowing that you came across this information and you wished you had it sooner?
DH: Well, teaching is really… It’s contact with other people. When I was first becoming a home inspector, I consulted with someone who was a career teacher and I thought about becoming a teacher then. And I remember, this person said to me, teaching is an act of love, and that if you… You have to really be able to transcend the material you’re teaching and be able to reach the person that’s receiving it. And they also taught me how it’s very different to teach adults than to teach children, that it’s not the pedagogical method, it’s basically practical. And then I guess… So that was all what kept me out of this in 1980. But what I discovered in… When I did start teaching, especially teaching home inspectors, was that I really felt… That it was just very gratifying to be able to play a role in people developing their career and their knowledge of the subject.
RS: Yeah. And I gotta say, I’ve sat through a ridiculous amount of courses taught by home inspection educators all over the country, and a lot of national conferences, local conferences, we’ve flown people in, and Douglas is definitely one of the best educators out there. If… For any home inspectors out there, if you hear that Douglas is gonna be teaching in your area or you have an opportunity to come see him teach, don’t miss it. He’s one of the best out there. And Douglas, I know that you’ve pulled away a little bit. I remember many years ago, it felt like you would be at every conference everywhere. You were just always doing it. Did you intentionally pull away from it and just get burned down on teaching, or what… Why have you pulled away a little bit?
DH: Well, when I was working for Santa Clara, I was very, very busy that entire time, and I worked there right up until… Just about the beginning of COVID. [chuckle] So when I retired from there, we moved out of town and we’re still trying to fix up our new house here. That’s keeping me busy, plus we’re doing a comprehensive rewrite of all of the Code Check books right now, combining both residential and commercial, and really updating all of our material, all the illustrations and so forth. So that’s keeping me busy.
RS: Alright, now I got two thoughts I gotta share. I’m giving this big plug for your teaching ability, and it just dawned on me, we’re gonna air this podcast on the 14th, I believe. That’s a Monday, guys, right, February 14th? Yeah.
RS: We’re airing this podcast on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, and then the week after that, Douglas is going to be doing a two-hour educational offering for our local ASHI chapter, the ASHI Heartland chapter. He’s doing it on Zoom, two-hour class. So if there’s any local inspectors listening to this… In fact, you know what, it’s on Zoom, you don’t have to be local. [chuckle] Anybody could. If they go to our website, ASHI Heartland, I think it’s ashiheartland.org, you can figure out a way to attend Douglas’ class. It’ll be a good two-hour class. That’s a plug I had to put in there for that coming up. But…
DH: I would also add that it’s gonna be basically free, it’s on Zoom, but we are encouraging everyone to make a donation. This is a benefit for a charity in the Minneapolis area.
RS: Yes, that’s right. And Douglas did not want money to teach for our chapter. You said, “I will do it, but I want you to have people make this donation.” So that is Douglas’ payment, is that we make this donation to somebody else. That’s… Just speaks to the kind of guy Douglas is. But also, we’ve mentioned Code Check a number of times, and for anybody listening, whether you’re a general contractor, you’re a home owner who wants to understand the codes better, especially if you’re a home inspector, I call the Code Check series just… This is required reading for any home… It’s a required tool for any home inspector, is to have the Code Check series. And it’s all of the most important stuff in the codes.
RS: And Douglas, you can correct me when I’m done butchering a description of it, but this is how I see it. It’s a consolidated booklet that gives you all of the most important stuff that you need to know. And there’s different sections for building, for plumbing, for mechanical, for electrical. You can get some books that just have the most important stuff for each one of these trades. The one I’ve got in my hand shows the most common stuff for all the trades, but then they’ve got deep dives into each one of those. You can get just Code Check Electrical and it’s all of the most common stuff you’ll find. And it’s laid out so much easier than a code book is, and then it’s got the code book references if you wanna see what it actually says in your code book. So that’s my version of it. Douglas, how would you describe Code Check?
DH: It’s like the cliff notes to the building code, but it’s also…
DH: Illustrations. It’s like… It’s like a building codes as comic books.
TM: Oh, that’s… Yeah, good description.
RS: Yeah. And these illustrations are fantastic. They also sell these illustrations as a standalone product. You can buy all… I don’t know. How many you up to now, a couple of hundred illustrations?
DH: I think 319 in the current package.
RS: Okay. If you’re a home inspector, you can buy this package of 319 JPEGs and then you can use those to put in your home inspection reports. And we use these throughout our home inspection reports. When we come across certain defects, we will… We love putting the Code Check illustrations in our reports because it just so clearly illustrates what’s going on or what it’s supposed to look like. There’s a few plugs that I have to give you ’cause it’s good stuff. This makes me think of something else, Douglas, and this is something I’ve heard you talk about so many times. They keep saying code, and I know there’s people in this profession who are home inspectors who like to say, “Well, we’re not code inspectors,” or, “Why would you even have a code book ’cause we don’t inspect the code.” And I love your take on this. I wanna turn it over to you.
DH: Well, codes are the language of construction standards. They’re the vocabulary. It is something the inspectors need to know, but they also need to stay within their own lane in regards to that. And the thing that a code… It’s actually a much harder job in some ways to do this than if you’re working for a municipality. If you’re working for a municipality and you see that a stair handrail is not the correct height, you have a very simple cut and dried correction notice that you can make. If you’re a home inspector, you don’t have it as cut and dried. You can’t say this is wrong because the code says such and such. You have to understand why the code says that and what the safety factors are behind that, and you’re still citing the same defect. But you’re citing it for the reason that it affects the safety of your client, rather than it says something in a code book that may or may not have been in effect at the time that the house is built. So it’s really more important, I think, for home inspectors to understand the reasoning behind the code than it necessarily is for a jurisdictional inspector.
BO: Douglas, can you explain the various lanes. We’ve heard in the past… Well, we’ll go in in the attic and we’ll find there’s insufficient level of insulation, for example. And then you tell it to… You explain this to the client and they take it back to the builder and the builder says, “Well, the municipal inspector signed off on it, so we’re all good.”
RS: And Bill, you’re talking about new construction, right?
BO: Yeah, in general. There’s different people do different jobs, and from a consumer perspective, sometimes they think inspector means everything. So can you break it down for us, Douglas?
DH: I’m really glad that you asked this question because I know that, for instance, in the city where I worked, our Department of Community Development had several divisions within it. One of those was building… The building department, and one part of the building department is the inspectors. Another part of it was code enforcement, and another part of it was the housing department, and another part was the planning department. But, say, the difference between a building inspector, a housing inspector, a code enforcement inspector and a home inspector were very, very different roles. First off, being a municipal building inspector is a political job, that it is there for public safety and you’re there to enforce that things are being built according to the code. But where that comes to play in the real world is a very different situation in terms of the tact with which things are dealt and how existing conditions especially are addressed. I know one major jurisdiction in our state that has a city council directive that says if a building inspector is there for a specific open building permit and they walk past another egregious violation of the building code, that unless it is an immediate life safety issue, they’re not allowed to say anything about it.
DH: They can’t. So, for instance, you walk… You’re there to do the kitchen remodel and you see that there’s a bedroom that’s been chopped in half and has no ventilation on part of it, and so forth. You’re not allowed to go investigate it in that city. So that’s an extreme example of having to stay just very, very focused on something. But I think another thing you have to understand with it is, probably up to about half of the houses that are built as one of a kind, not as tracts, in this country were built without building permits. The other thing to remember is that, as far as plan review, we find that there’s typically a design professional behind every commercial building that we see, that there’s architects, engineers, there might be even engineers as part of the supervision and inspection process, but that’s very seldom the case with single-family residences, and that there are a lot of cities that don’t require any plan review whatsoever for them. So that leaves it up to a field inspector who is looking at a building being built according to a set of plans that have been rubber-stamped, not really approved, not really scrutinized.
DH: So it’s very difficult for that field inspector to rein it all in and require that it meet all of the codes. On top of that, many of these municipal inspectors are very pressed. I know in our jurisdiction where… What we would do with residential inspectors is we would typically schedule them for 10 stops a day, and you gotta have drive time and breaks and lunch in there too. So that means that they maybe were on site for somewhere between four and six hours a day. Some days they lose time for training sessions, etcetera. So four and six hours a day, divide that up into 10 sites.
DH: Now, imagine that three of those were a rough frame inspection where you’re also doing the rough electrical, rough plumbing, rough mechanical, etcetera, or maybe sheer walls at the same time. Each one of those inspections is something that, by itself, could take two hours, but you’re doing three of those and you’re doing seven more inspections and you’re doing this all in four to six hours. So what happens is that for… And I should also mention, ’cause it’s real that there’s a lot of language issues as well and just difficulty communicating with the contractors. So what happens is that as a jurisdictional inspector, building inspector, you have to pick your battles, and you have to really… You have to always sort of, in a sense, you’re doing triage. And then what happens as well is you need to document what you did so that the next inspector who comes in behind you understands exactly what the status of things is and knows what to look for and so forth. Let’s just fast-forward that a little bit. What happens with a home inspector that spends three hours on a building is they’re limited by the fact that they can’t see into the walls, they can’t tell what’s concealed from view, but they’ve at least got the time.
DH: They’ve got, say, three hours or so, four hours, to do a home inspection and they’re trained, they’re focused on what to look for, and they know what can tip them off that there may be some other underlying issues. And so they’ve ended up spending more time on that site than all the municipal inspectors combined. So I know that a lot of times home inspectors find themselves very surprised to see that something has been signed off, and yet it still had very obvious flagrant code violations. And for that, I can say, “Walk a mile in that inspector’s shoes and you’ll understand how it got that way.” On the other hand, there are a lot of municipal inspectors who resent home inspectors for precisely how they are portrayed by those home inspectors, that they hear the home inspectors talking about how these municipal inspectors maybe didn’t know what they were doing or hadn’t done their job right by not catching all these things. Well, what happens is you have to all work together. And I think that one of the things that’s always very encouraging to me is to see home inspectors who are involved with their local code organizations and who develop personal relationships with the building officials and inspectors in their area, and can work together with them and really prioritize what happens when something is a more egregious safety issue.
DH: In that regard, there’s another type of inspector, which is code enforcement. Code enforcement and building inspection aren’t the same thing. It’s important to make the distinction between those. Code enforcement officers are people who are oftentimes called out because a job has been begun without building permits, or because somebody is working during hours that they’re not supposed to be working, they’ve got their saws going on Sunday morning, that kind of thing, or because of other things that might be… They might be dragged into such as, say, unsanitary conditions that a landlord is refusing to address, or obvious violations of zoning, such as somebody’s got a car and blocks their front yard for six months, that kind of thing. Sometimes the things that they have to work with are really heartbreaking cases that can happen with landlord-tenant disputes, but it also can mean that they have to go into houses where the neighbors have complained about a hoarder and that there’s rats over running in the neighborhood, that type of thing. So the difference is between the three… Let’s just stick to three. There’s a lot more kinds of inspectors, but let’s just stick to those, code enforcement, municipal building inspectors, and home inspectors. A code enforcement officer writes citations. It’s like a traffic ticket.
DH: They’re like… They’re a level of police enforcement essentially, and a lot of police officers, when they retire, move into code enforcement. A building inspector either passes or fails something, and if they fail it they write a correction notice. That’s different than a citation. A citation is, “Hey, you’re gonna pay a fine.” A correction notice is just, “Thank you for taking out a permit, but you gotta fix this thing before we can sign your permit off.” And then with that also, a municipal building inspector, one thing that they cannot do is they can’t say, “Well, I don’t know if this is right or wrong. You better defer this to a specialist or an expert.” That’s not in the playbook. You either pass it or fail it. And if you fail it and you actually think it’s something that is an unusual condition that requires design, part of your correction notice can say, “Have this section here, this issue, addressed by the appropriate licensed design professional, by an engineer,” or something like that.
DH: But you can’t say, “Gee, I don’t understand this. Go get somebody who does.” Now a home inspector can do that. And a home inspector can do that for several reasons. A home inspector most likely does this because they’ve discovered something that requires really investigation by a specialist, not a generalist. Say, you found half a dozen things that indicate to you that the electrical system has been done in a non-professional way and you can recommend, as a home inspector, to refer this to a qualified electrical electrician for further investigation and repairs. But you can’t do that as a municipal inspector. As a municipal inspector, you have to say, “Here’s what we’re asking you to fix.” A home inspector can. A home inspector will see a lot of conditions under which you would be recommending further investigation on something, and that is in your playbook, and it’s the appropriate thing in your playbook, because you can’t be the one to investigate everything in the three or four hours that you’re doing your home inspection. You’re there to pick up the red flags. You’re there to pick up the things that say, here’s an area that needs further investigation and attention. So there’s very, very different roles that each of these people are playing then.
DH: And like I said, I think that all of them are important, all of them require respect for other people’s roles. You’re staying within your role. You’re not saying, for instance, such and such was a code violation or this and that. You’re saying, “This is a safety issue,” or, “This is something that needs to be fixed.” When you’re a municipal building inspector, sadly, you’re not there to inspect quality, [chuckle] and… You’re there to see, did it meet… How can you put it? Some people will say this, that meeting the building code means that you got a D minus, but you can’t tell people, “Boy, you really had an opportunity here to get an A or a B.” No, if it’s a D minus, you have to sign it. That’s the case there.
BO: I’ve never had anybody lay it out like that. That makes perfect sense. All of the work you’ve done with Code Check, do you see bridging these various lanes in helping everybody do a better job and hopefully helping the end consumer in the process?
DH: I hope so. [chuckle] Surprisingly, I don’t get all that much feedback on our work, and I really appreciate it when someone is using our books. And the thing I… This is gonna sound strange, but the thing I appreciate the most is when someone says, “Hey, I think you made a mistake here,” and that I can then fix it. And we post those on our website, and we do always try to make these things better. I think that in terms of helping things to be safer, that it requires all of us respecting each other’s role in things and caring about making things safer. And, unfortunately, we live in a world where people wanna get it done, wanna do things fast, want to just move on to the next one. And it’s very important that we understand what, again, what this language of construction is really about. So I hope that it helps that way. Yes.
TM: I just wanna give you some feedback, Douglas. You said teaching was one of your favorite things to do and writing your Code Check book, you are… You are helping so many people understand these codes and how to interpret them. And we use your Code Check books for training all of our new inspectors, and we use all the illustrations in our reports to educate our clients as well. And so we just wanna thank you for all of the knowledge that you’re sharing, ’cause it has a huge impact for us in our company in what we do.
RS: We refer to a lot of it, refer to a lot of your individual articles too. You had a really good one on… What was that? Aluminum wiring, aluminum branch circuit wiring in existing homes. There is another one that you had done a long time ago on FPE panels, Federal Pacific Electric “Stab-Lok” panels. That another good article.
DH: That the thing, I took that article down.
RS: You did?
DH: I referred people to your article instead.
RS: Stop it.
TM: Oh. [laughter]
DH: Yeah, I’m serious. I’m serious. I’d like to re-write my article on FPE because I think I’ve contorted myself into a pretzel trying to be fair and to look at all sides of the issue on the FPE one, and there’s no point to that.
DH: It’s… FPE standards for fire producing equipment, and that’s the end of it. Get rid of it.
RS: Alright, we’re talking about that. You have to share the story. I remember you told this at one of our seminars 10, 15 years ago. Tell the story of your personal experience with an FPE panel.
DH: Oh, well…
RS: Which one?
RS: It was the one with the wires whipping around in the air.
DH: Oh, that one. That was actually how I met Redwood Kardon. It was very interesting.
RS: Oh, gosh. This is gonna be good.
DH: Because what we had was, this home inspector had looked at this house in… It was in the Oakland Hills, and down in the basement, there was a fused disconnect on a 30-Amp circuit that was feeding a receptacle for a clothes dryer, and it was in the off position when the inspector was there. And so he said, “Well, I’m gonna turn that on just so that I can verify that there’s power available there at that clothes dryer outlet.” And so he turned it on and there was immediately smoke coming out of it, out of the switch, and so he turned it back off. But he asked permission to come back later with some specialists, with some electricians, to take a look at this after the house… The sale was completed. And so we arranged this thing where this home inspector and he had a couple of his colleagues and Redwood Kardon and myself were there. And we got there and the power was off, and so we…
DH: First, we tested everything with very primitive equipment. We just had a multimeter, and we couldn’t find anything that indicated a short circuit at the switch that would have caused this to be smoking. And so, at any rate, from the back end of it, we started turning things on. We turned on the switch and, again, it didn’t do anything ’cause the power was off, and then we turned on the breaker and the sub-panel that fed it, and then we turned on the breaker and the service panel that had the… That was feeding that sub-panel, and then it was time to turn on the main breaker. And I got the short straw, I turned it on. And the conductors overhead were individual open conductors. It wasn’t the triplex cable that you normally see for feeding a single-family residence. It was an older system with individual conductors. And so as soon as I turned on the main breaker, the entire wall that that panel was in started shaking and buzzing, and it was really loud. And if you’ve ever heard a dead short like that, it was loud. And then I heard this bullwhip, this whistling sound, and I looked up and overhead, that was the service wires, and they were whipping back and forth, moving about six feet, as a result of the high magnetic fields on them from being… From having thousands of amps of current going through them. And so I said a little prayer and turned the breaker back off, and it turned off. We were lucky.
RS: My goodness.
TM: Oh, my gosh.
DH: So what had happened was that there was enough of a short in that switch that it didn’t really… Without any voltage on, it didn’t show up on our primitive little test instruments. But it carried through the branch circuit of the FPE sub-panel, a 30-amp breaker there, and another 60-amp breaker that fed that sub-panel and the 200-amp main breaker that controlled everything, and they were all three FPE breakers, and none of them tripped with thousands of amps going through it.
TM: Oh my God.
DH: And also at the end of that experiment, the switch was a charred wreck. So, at any rate, that got me thinking there might be something bad about FPE.
TM: No kidding.
DH: Since then, I’ve taken apart a lot of FPE breakers. I’ve looked into some of the early designs on them. Even though they did use a lot of copper in them, they… Some of those breakers require as many as 12 different moving parts to actually function properly in order for the breaker to trip. There’s a lot of reasons that they might not. For instance, they have an axle in them that has a cardboard washer around it, which, if it’s been exposed to any kind of humidity, will then freeze up and prevent things from moving. So there’s a lot of things that can cause… That’s just one of many. One of the other ones is, there’s a flexible fine-stranded conductor inside most circuit breakers that… And it is part of the current path, and it has to be a flexible conductors so that it can move when the breaker handle has moved to it’s position. And in some FPE breakers, it appears that it would… That the magnetic fields in the breaker, when a short occurs, would cause that to impinge on the other moving parts and keep it from moving. So I’ve tried to find the actual reason why these things fail, and I’ve just found more than one reason.
RS: It’s everything.
DH: And so it’s sort of like… What you should ask yourself is, how did it ever work?
BO: Douglas, I have to compliment you on a couple of things. The specificity of the language you used as you broke down that situation, it just must bring joy to every electrician’s heart. Because nothing was said without very specific purpose in that. So thank you for the clarity in your speech when it comes to electricity. That’s amazing.
DH: Thank you.
BO: And the next thing, that’s why I love that book, Electrical Inspections of Existing Dwellings, so much because it’s so specific. It’s so just perfectly concise and… Anyway, I’m done. Reuben, back to you.
RS: And it’s… It is a long book. And in the beginning, there’s an index, and it covers just about every topic you can think of when it comes to electrical defects. They talk about wiring to garbage disposals. They talk about every type of wiring, securing wires, having wires exposed on surfaces, wiring in attics. It doesn’t just tell you how it’s supposed to be done and give you the code reference… That’s what Code Check does, it’s very concise. But this book expands on it and it gives you the why that Douglas talked about at the beginning of this podcast, and it gives home inspectors the understanding of why do we need fasteners every so often on non-metallic sheathed cable. Well, it’s because of this. And back in 1913, it used to be this, and the code actually changed this year. And it gives you a little history lesson on so much of the stuff. And it gives home inspectors that base knowledge of the why behind all of this. That’s why, what Bill is talking about, it’s such a fantastic book for home inspectors. When are you gonna write the same for plumbing and mechanical and building?
DH: I’d actually like to rewrite the electrical book, and I realize I’m never gonna have the time. And so what I’m hoping to do is to just do small sections of it and additions to it, and probably post them online.
TM: How long did it take you to write that book? And also, would you say that it was a learning experience for you too as you were going through all of it? Were you… Were there things that you didn’t know going into it?
DH: Oh, yeah. I had my… My office was spread out with code books going back to 1897, and just…
DH: Covering every surface. I had some code book open, and every time I’d wanna find the history of something, I would go back and see what… When did this first appear? When did we first get a rule that said that you couldn’t re-bond the neutral in an electrical sub-panel? And, well, I found it. It’s in the 1918 electrical code, but it was… The language used at the time was very different than the language we use today, and, of course, the structure of the code was very different. But, nonetheless, it’s there and it’s very clear. And you could see how the… From looking at those books, you can see how the electrical industry evolved and how codes have changed and where the really big significant rewrites were and what was behind them and so forth. So it was an amazing educational experience for me. It took me about… I think… Of just concentrated effort on that book, about five months to write it, and… And the reason you see that it’s dedicated to my wife is that she was… She had to suffer through all that.
TM: I’m actually surprised it didn’t take longer than five months, Douglas. I just have a whole new appreciation for this book after hearing how you put it together and how, basically, the history came from you basically just doing your own research and digging through all these different books and compiling it all. Just, thank you so much.
DH: There’s a couple of other books of history of the electrical code. David Shapiro in Maryland wrote a book that has some of the things that I’ll probably be referring to when I re-write that book. And then the National Electrical Manufacturers Association has a very short book of highlights of some of the changes of the code over the years. The electrical code is different than all other codes, in the sense that it has the largest participation of people coming forth to make proposals for changes. Right now, we’re in the process of developing the 2023 Electrical Code, and the final code making panel hearings on that are in the next two or three months, and then on NFPA’s website will be able to see what the new one is…
DH: What the new proposed code is gonna look like. But it’s done by 20 different code-making panels, each of which has at least 12 people in that, and that represent all different aspects of the electrical industry. You have people from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, you have people from the National Electrical Contractors Association, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, Underwriters Laboratories, other testing laboratories, utilities and special interests, the Copper Development Association and other groups that all sit on these committees, and some of these committees have as many as 20 people on them. And then anybody in the public can make a proposal to change the electrical code, and they get about 4000 new proposals every cycle, every three years.
DH: And then those committees take those proposals, they weigh them and they… It takes at least a two-thirds approval of the committee for it to move forward, to be something that actually gets changed in the code. There’s a tremendous amount of brain power that goes into it. I have the utmost respect for the effort that it takes to do it, even though I’m not always very happy with the result.
DH: And there’s a lot of things that I disagree with on things. There’s a section… And it’s interesting, it’s in one of our drawings in Code Check, we look at… This is a simple example. You’re putting in underground service conductors, we know what the burial depth is supposed to be of the conduit, but the way that the code is worded is that you also need a warning ribbon above those conductors, so when someone starts to dig, they realize, “Oops, we’re about to hit the utility conductors here.” Well, the way the code is worded, it technically only applies if those are bare individual conductors, not if they’re in a conduit. But the intent of that code is, yes, this applies even if it’s in a conduit. It especially applies because if somebody comes along and start digging there, we don’t want… Usually, those conduits are PVC and we don’t want to be putting the backhoe through them or a rototiller or a pick or whatever. And so the code should make that clear. And there is a proposal for 2023 to make that clearer and we’ll see how that comes out. [chuckle]
DH: It’s funny because I have to sometimes really research things to know, “What did they mean here?” But it’s… Like I say, it’s a very accessible process. You can see what everyone said and you can see where everything came from.
RS: Now, Douglas, I gotta ask you a question. I’m changing the topic a little bit. But you triggered my memory with that when you talked about, “What did they actually mean? What’s really supposed to be done here?” And I sent you an email before the podcast, so you know where this is going. I’m gonna write a blog post on a little known fact about deck building. Any time you’re cutting into treated lumber, those cut ends are supposed to be treated. And this is something that nobody knows about. And just for our listeners, the way it works is, when you got pressure treated lumber, the lumber is gonna absorb some amount of the preservative treatment and, depending on the wood, some wood may absorb less, some may absorb more. If you go to a hardware store and you got a stack of pressure treated 2×4’s and you pick them up and you load them on your car, you’ll notice some are gonna be really heavy, some are really light. Well, it’s all about how much they’ve absorbed.
RS: So it’s not consistent, but they’re all gonna absorb some on all six sides. And once you make a cut, well, now the middle portion of it is gonna be pretty much untouched. The end grain is gonna be untouched by the preservative. And for any of those cut ends in the field, you’re actually supposed to field treat them. That’s what the code says. Now, I think most people just don’t even know that exists in the code, much less… I don’t think anybody’s ever done this right in the history of building a deck. What is your thought on this, Douglas?
DH: It’s not just decks.
RS: Yeah. I’m talking a lot about decks.
DH: Yeah. I agree. I never saw it done. There’s a couple of reasons for it. One, I mentioned earlier how difficult it is to enforce a lot of things along the way, and that many times when the inspector is out in the field, sometimes those cut-ins aren’t exposed anymore. You can’t really see what was happening. But this is only part of the problem. The bigger part of the problem is the effect of pressure preservative treated lumber on the connectors and on the fasteners. So, for instance, suppose that you had a pressure treated wood sill plate above your foundation, and you had your wood siding that was being… So you had wood… Plywood shear paneling going on to that wall. Well, the nails at the bottom that go into that sill plate have to be galvanized nails. When this went into the code, actually at first there weren’t galvanized nails available that could shoot through a nail gun than there are now.
DH: So it’s a different nail than what you have to use for all the rest of the plywood because it’s going into that pressure preservative treated wood. But the fasteners themselves are the main thing, that a lot of times these will rust out. In the last few code cycles, they’ve done really good work on requiring that these either be stainless steel or have extra heavy zinc coatings on them to withstand the effect of those chemicals, because this is something that… Especially with attachment of deck ledgers to a building, once those rust through and can fail, you’ve undermined the entire structural support. So it’s very important to follow the rules for using the correct hardware, both in terms of the connectors and the fasteners, as well as this field treatment. Now, there’s another reason that I think field treatment might not be followed as diligently as it should be. And that is that the application of certain chemicals can be regulated by other agencies. For instance, here in California, if you showed up with…
DH: Some copper naphthenate and were going to fill up a bucket with it and dip the ends of the wood in it, you might be running afoul of our Department of Agriculture, which actually regulates those kind of chemicals. So there’s an exemption that a contractor can do this in the course of their ordinary work and if it’s something that they don’t need a special license to purchase. That could be another thing that’s holding people back. But the main thing that is holding people back, and Reuben, you know it as well as I do, is it takes more time…
DH: And so let’s skip that step. No one’s gonna enforce it anyway, kind of thing. But I did an experiment where I took a piece of pressure treated lumber and cut a short section of it and buried it. And it only took a couple of years. When I dug it back up, the end of it was hollowed out. It had gone away where the pressure treatment hadn’t gone through it. It only went as far as how it was incised on the surface.
RS: Sure, that makes perfect sense. And just another interesting thing, I was reading the installation… Not installation, user manual for a bottle of copper naphthenate on how it’s supposed to be applied, and I was fascinated. It said, either you hold the cut end dipped in this material for at least three minutes, or you brush it on and you gotta do two coats, and they need to be at least one hour in between coats, and then you need to let it dry for at least 24 hours before you use it on your deck. What are we talking about here? They’re writing instructions that nobody is ever going to follow. I think it’s just crazy.
DH: Well, there’s also a lot of concerns about this stuff for environmental reasons. Again, you have it on a construction site, until very recently… Well, for about a year and a half. We had a regulation here in California that said you couldn’t just dispose of that along with other construction debris, that you couldn’t even dispose of any pressure treated wood. You needed a special permit, and it had to go to a special dump. And so what was happening was the contractors who had to use pressure-treated lumber for a lot of things were then having to… You’d have to drive it 100 miles some place to find a disposal site that could accept it, and your stuff would be inspected. If you just took regular construction debris to a construction site, you had to wait while they off-loaded it off of your truck and inspected everything to make sure you didn’t have any in there, that type of thing. So we now have loosened up that. Governor Newsom just signed a bill that said, “Enough of this nonsense. Let’s let these people throw away pressure treated lumber along with other things.” But it was really burdensome on contractors to deal with this. So adding more of that, I’m not saying on top of that, you have to have a jug of copper naphthenate, I can understand why we wouldn’t.
BO: Guys, I think we should begin to put a close on this episode. But Douglas, I know you live in California, and California gets a lot of bad raps for being overly regulatory and things of that nature. Do you think when it comes to some of these things that you were just discussing, they do a good job, or is it just too burdensome and people just don’t participate?
DH: I think they do a terrific job here. I think that the building codes in California… Well, they might seem very burdensome… Actually, as accessible and clear as can be. The biggest change difference of California from other states is our energy code. Nothing gets into our energy code until it can be proven to be cost effective. And so that’s something that, while it might seem a bitter pill to swallow it first, you have to realize everything is there for the good of ultimately the user and the environment. For instance, every new house in California has to have a solar array now starting in… And starting in 2023, every new house will also have to have a battery backup for that solar array. It makes us more greatly independent and better for the environment. Again, these things all had to be proven to work before they could get into our codes. So I really respect California’s code-making process very, very much.
RS: Fascinating. Wow, we just had a guy last week, a guy out of Colorado, who does these solar rays in last week’s podcast, and that couldn’t be more perfect timing you talking about this is asset.
TM: Yeah, your paving the… California is paving the way for the rest of the country, I think, in that area.
BO: Yeah. I think we can all three say that we have the highest respect for you and the work that you’ve done to promote the home inspection industry, make everybody working in this industry better. So thank you for your lifetime of commitment to this, this…
DH: I look forward to the upcoming… When is it, Reuben? It’s on the 21st or 22nd or something?
RS: Yeah, that’ll be February 21st, 6:30 Central Time.
DH: We’re gonna be doing a discussion on the changes in the 2020 electrical code. Since Minnesota has adopted that, so we have about seven or eight other states, and eventually everyone will be. And we should have a good discussion then. I’m really looking forward to it.
RS: Sweet. Thank you so much.
DH: Thank you.
BO: Thank you, Douglas. Thank you everybody for listening. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. We appreciate you listening. Douglas, we appreciate your time, and I’m sure you guys are gonna crush it at the electrical conversation. So if you’ve heard this, get to that conversation. Have a great day, everyone.