Loose/terminated wires in main panel

Had an electrician call me and question why I would call out some wires that were inside the main panel, loose with just a wire nut on them. I suggested to the client the they have an electrician evaluate this and properly terminate them outside the box. The electrician said that there is nothing wrong with leaving loose wires in the box as long as they are disconnected. I disagreed with him and said that everyone has their own opinion and I felt this was an unacceptable pratice, and aside from that I felt in was in the best interest of the client I advise them to have this looked at to be safe.

What do you think? Would you have done the same thing?


Generally, unterminated, wire nutted wires are OK if there is a reason(enough for a AHJ to agree, usually).

If a branch circuit, say an electric dryer becomes a gas dryer, you aren’t required to remove the circuit. So you remove the breaker, cover the blank, and dead-end the extra hot wire(s) with a wire nut.

In the future, if you see dead-ended (ground wire), this might a concern. Dead-end, means it’s insulated against becoming live.

tom (Really IMHO, since this is a case by case situation)

But do you spend the time to determine this? I told the electrician that was his job to determine this, and that it was only my job to point out potentially unsafe conditions. As I see it, it is not a dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t situation,… it is only a dammed if you don’t report it.

You are very correct, that is why I didn’t say “DON’T DO IT”, it was a case where you both were right. You did your job as a HI, and he did his as an electrician.

When it comes to the cost of a home, I think electrical panels should get ‘check ups’ every few years. Reason behind this, see I have a story for everything :wink: , is that in my own house, my meter base is on the south side of the house. The duct seal failed(crumbled) and allowed water down the SEC, which entered my panel. I found it eary, but resulted in 4 of my breakers corroding. Sure only cost me $16 bucks, but if they were AFCI’s that would be $120+.


It is acceptable to terminate wires in the panel, provided as stated above they are capped and pushed to the side. However we have all seen the opposite, and the in-betweens. Its one of those judgement calls inspectors have to make from time to time, better to error on the side of caution.

Besides it would not be any more cost wise to straighten up any loose ends considering the electrician is already there working on the panel.


Quick questions, did you use a non-contact voltage sensor to see if there was any current in the line?

Was it just one wire, one set of wires (romex), etc? I’ve had loose wires before in the subpanel like this, the hot wire was okay, neutral was hot. Pays to check.

As far as I know, it is perfectly safe to terminate a wire at a wire nut in the main panel.

You have more information than this, don’t you?

I call out terminated wires outside the box to be put in a box. You want them taken out?

Are they “hot”? It’s your job to know this.

You can “report it” without calling in an electrician at an added cost to the seller/client.

I would hope that you found more issues for the electrician to work on besides some terminated circuits. If he’s already there, cleaning up the box if it’s getting a bit crowded seems appropriate.

“Further evaluation”; I think the home inspector has the same responsibility to conduct further investigation on their own (like using the voltage ticker mentioned above) rather than just looking at something and sending someone else off to do the evaluation. I’m sure the electrician has a lot more important stuff to be working on than a terminated circuit. And you can bet he is going to tell the seller/client this and make you look incompetent. People believe what they are told by those that know more on the subject then they do.

You can report on issues that may be a concern and the client can decide for themselves if it’s a concern. As soon is you call for further evaluation, I would think you need" significant deficiency" (as is required by many state laws).

If you came to inspect my house and called in an electrician for an issue that was not an issue, I think I would send you the bill! This attitude and frame of mind is the same that lands you in court!

You worry about ending up in court over a terminated circuit?
I would take you to court if it turned out frivolous and cost me the sale of my house!

Just my humble opinion as a homeowner.

The home inspector is in the opinion business. He/she does not have the authority to pass / fail things. If you make a recommendation - no matter how foolish or stupid - its just that, a recommendation.

If the buyer negotiates this issue with the seller and the seller agrees to further evaluation, etc - thats it - win, loose or draw.

I’ve had sellers call me and say “Well, old Charlie said they always do it that way. Nothing wrong with the 4 wires under 1 breaker, etc; the top loaded taps on the main electrical panel; the whatever …”

My response is “Terrific, thats old Charlies opinion - I gave my client (not you) my opinion. Apparently you and them negotiated this, you agreed to have further evaluation & pay for it. Were you going to send me a bonus check if your old Charley agreed with my findings and admitted to screwed the pooch - probably not. So have a nice day and go pay old Charley”.

Think about something real long and seriously. You’re at your doctors for your annual check-up and he finds something that worries him - say a black spot on your lungs. He recommends going up the hall to the lung specialist for further testing. Turns out to be just discoloration from growing up on a hay farm in South Dakota and breathing the dust.

Do we run back to the 1st doctor and call him / her a slimy POS and want him to pay for the tests - not often.

Why would we be any different - Guys / gals, butch up and get professional. We’re not their momma’s or pappa’s - we didn’t agree to adopt and raise them - just inspect the house 1 time - end of story. Don’t be bashful about telling them and real estate agents that story.

Way too many agents, buyers and sellers think we owe them something more than we actually do. Many of you think you’re demonstrating great customer PR when you baby them. When in fact you’re making them think our whole industry should babysit them - this hurts us all.

But Home Inspection Clients do!

Maybe it’s because an Electrician has more clout than a Home Inspector in some markets. ie. lack of state licencing, for one! Sorry Jams B!


This practice is commonplace and perfectly acceptable. It is not an “unsafe” condition.

The only other option is to remove the conductors of the circuit entirely, which would be unreasonable to expect.

The BOSS of electrical service has spoken!

Sorry Paul A! :slight_smile:

It is actually an intentional practice many times.
We run a 3-wire instead of a 2-wire for a “future” circuit for instance. This “extra” wire is left lose with a wire nut. It is actually MUCH safer to do this than to terminate the wire making it a hot wire that is going no where. Although yes, the other end is capped off as well.

IMO if you are going to call stuff like this out you should have more of a reason than “I felt this was an unacceptable pratice”. You really should have more of a reference than “you think”.

I STRONGLY agree with David A…

It would be nice if sparkies started labeling in the panel when this is done, the plain fact is that even though it is not an electrical “hazard” We as home inspectors don’t know what is was supplying… I ran into a home the other day that had apparently had a previous home inspection calling out the double taps and the owner had done exactly this to “remedy” the situation, instead of adding a proper breaker. I did some investigation, and it turns out, It was powering a vent fan in the attic (this could have cost a lot of money in lost efficiency, and in some areas of the country could cause roofing issues). A lot of the time it is impossible during a home inspection to determine what circuit has been “pre-wired” or “disconnected” I will generally just make a note for buyer to Check SPDS for explaination, or to have an electrician verify the circuit is no longer needed.

Just my two cents…