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Question DetailsAsked on 3/11/2018

In California a landlord sends in a electrician to do inspection on electrical and HVAC . What License is required

What License is required to do a homes inspection of a known electrical breaker tripping every time the AC unit is turned on and is running at very high amps? And lights are flickering throughout the home and burning out every couple weeks. Also the electric bill is averaging 760.00 a month every month in a 2400 square foot home. Can the worker be a non certified or unlicensed worker with no supervision? This is in California

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OK - first off, in California all bets are off as to what is "required" - because the state licensing board is pretty strict but the law is pretty vague and loopholed. Also, you would need to check your city and county website - some have stricter requirements on licensing.

First off, if the amount of the work done in the inspection/repair is less than $500, there are no licensing or qualifications requirements - so could be an unlicensed person including a handyman working for the landlord or the landlord himself and still be legal in that case.

IF the landlord does not live in the building himself (if he does, could act as Owner-Builder himself and not have to be licensed for any work done on the building by or under him), then the inspector should have, IF the amount of work exceeds $500, an Electrician specialty license for the electrical work - a C10 license. Unless he actually works on the heating/cooling parts of the HVAC system (as opposed to just the electrical connections to them or checking power draw) then he does not need a heating/cooling license - C4 or C20 as applicable (C20 for A/C)

Here is the link to the state website on when license is and is not required, and specialty license types.

Of course, with a complaint of this type, if the landlord uses a person who is not qualified (albeit licensed or not) he runs a lot of risk if there is a subsequent electrical fire after the inspection and any repair is done by that unqualified person.

First thing I would check is if the dimming/flickering is occurring when the A/C breaker is off - if so, A/C may be part of the problem but certainly not all of it and I would start with an electrician. If occurs only when the A/C power is on (so I would start with an HVAC contractor to check it out), then likely A/C problem like damaged motor or compressor or more commonly, a failed capacitor or hard-start kit (or it needs one and does not have it) so it trips breaker and/or causes dimming upon startup - or the A/C may be resulting in more total load than the overall house circuitry is rated for, especially if an older house which did not originally have the system sized for A/C.

When you say lights are burning out every few weeks - I presume you mean flourescent, LED or CFL type (which do not like frequent on-offs or low voltage) - flickering power or low voltage should not significantly affect the life of traditional filament-type incandescent bulbs. If old- incandescent bulbs are going out I would be suspecting overvoltage from the utility - a rare thing, especially just a little bit over-voltage rather than 2-20 times overvoltage (or more), which fries plug strips and electronics real quick so pretty obvioous when that happens.

Assuming your meter shows the usage amount (almost all do, and I think all residential ones have to by law) try leaving the A/C off for a couple-few days and record the amount of power used over that number of hours basis (try to check basically full days - 48 or 72 hours so it is not biased by more away than home hours or vice-versa) and figure out what that would be on a monthly basis, and compare that to your electric bill usage in a typical month.

If you had bought rather than rented you would have had utility usage from previous owners - but (assuming you have not lived there long) you could contact the utility and see if they can give you a monthly or maybe at least yearly usage total on the house over the past few years for comparison - to see if this usage is dramatically higher than historic.

Though using averages is questionable because each house and family is different and the "household" numbers include apartments/condos and houses, typically (without A/C) a household uses about 450-650 KWHr per month in California, A/C for normal size home typically 200-400 KWHr per month depending on outside temps - ballpark numbers - so that should give you an idea if you are seeing unusually high demand without the A/C. That would lead to a normal electric bill (assuming natural gas heating) around $100-160/month including A/C in a normal area, sometimes up to $200-250/month with electric heat in "normal" parts of the state (not high up in the mountains). Though in "desert" conditions the A/C can drive that up to around double that $100-160 range. But unless your house is basically uninsulated AND you live in a really hot part of the state, your $720 bill (assuming about $40 is "fixed" service charges and regulatory/taxes, not usage-based) so about 4800-5000 KWHr probably (assuming 15¢/KWHr) per month sounds WAY out of whack, by a factor of about 2-5. That is almost 7 KW constant demand versus the normal 1-1.5 KW average household demand. For a normal size A/C, (assuming there is not a short or dead resistive loss somewhere) it typically pulls around 2000-4000W when running - so to pull maybe around 5-6 KW average over a day (to get you up to the 7KW average number) it would have to be running all of the time or at overload amperage (hence the breaker tripping).

Or you have a demand elsewhere - though for that much power I can't see anything else other than an electric heater pulling that much power without causing a fire or melting through the wires. One other thought - look around outside for wires which don't make sense coming off your wiring at or between the meter and where the wires go inside to your main breaker box - maybe some neighbor has a grow operation going and is stealing power from you (common in my area) by tapping into your line. Or if this is a condo or multi-plex unit, maybe some neighbor (or several) are being billed to you ? Or could be as simple as a master meter for a multi-unit building (measuring all power to the building) is being read and billed to you, instead of your individual unit meter. (Some buildings like that have a total-usage meter as well as individual meters for each unit, which belongs to the utility and they use to guarantee no one has tapped a line, bypassing their meter.) With that high a bill, I am actually surprised the utility has not contacted you about the high demand or reported it to the police as a possible marijuana grow operation.

A real problem with the A/C - electrical or mechanical would be a suspect especiallyk since it is tripping out the breaker - or if it is low on refrigerant (or out - which also means the lubricating oil contained in the refrigerant is not being circulated) then your power draw when the unit is running could roughly double or even a bit more (causing damage in the compressor or fan pulling that extra demand) and causing a major electric bill - but would have to be running or trying to start almost constantly to pull that much power.

Also, if you have a heat pump as opposed to normal A/C (so provides heat and cooling from same unit) and something has gone wrong in the control unit so an electric heating element is running continuously or at least whenever the unit is running (could be either if due to a control or sensor failure) that would greatly increase your power usage - could be a supplemental heating coil (which provides heat when it gets cold enough that the heat pump cannot pull enough energy out of the air) or could be a condensor / comppressor defrost coil staying on. With the power draw you are talkiing about (assuming the meter is correct) that certainly that needs to be checked as a likely source, along with the amperage being pulled by that unit, and through your household wiring total.

There is also a possibility the meter is bad (though would not explain any of the breaker tripping or flickering or such) - some brands have had a high incidence of very high readings. I have read of extremely high readings on meters from SoCal Edison and PG&E at a minimum - you might google about that. If that is considered likely ask for a meter replacement, and commonly if you new usage drops way off and historic usage was nowhere that high, they have to refund the overage billed over normal usage over a 3-6 month period or so.

Answered 9 months ago by LCD

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