Friday, August 29, 2008

Cooling down the Inspection

As a home inspector there are procedures you follow for every system you inspect. Below are the procedures for inspecting air-handlers, and heat-pumps;
1. Inspect the electrical conductors. They should be entering
the unit with the proper romex connector.
2. Inspect all wires attached to the unit for a secure
3. Inspect for dirt, rust and corrosion.
4. Inspect the fan system. If belt driven, inspect the
condition of the belt.
5. Remove and inspect the air filter.
6. Set the thermostat up about 2 degrees.

NOTE: Heat pump thermostats have an emergency
light that comes on to indicate the supplemental heat
is on. If you are demanding 3, 4 or 5 degrees
increase in temperature, it could cause the
supplemental or emergency heat to come on. If it is
a heat strip air handler, it could cause the heat strips
to come on.
7. Turn the furnace on and let it run for about 4 minutes,
then turn thermostat up more than 4 degrees to see that
the emergency heat comes on.
8. Inspect the exterior heat pump checking to see that is
NOTE: The heat pump does the same job as the air
conditioning. What makes it different is the
reversing valve.
9. Inspect that the heat pump is not be covered by a deck
and has clearance from bushes, shrubs and retaining
walls. The unit needs to breath.
10. Inspect refrigerant lines from the house to the unit. The
large line should be insulated.
NOTE: The larger copper tubing line is the suction
11. Inspect the disconnect for secure mounting to the wall.
12. Inspect the disconnect for open knockouts.
13. Inspect that all wiring has proper wire or conduit
connectors going from the junction box and connectors
going into the unit itself.
14. Inspect that the unit is setting on a secure flat surface and
not directly on the ground.
15. Retrieve model numbers, serial number and
manufacture’s name from the serial plates.
16. Inspect all supply registers for adequate airflow.
17. When inspection is complete, set thermostat to its
original position and let the unit turn off on its own.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

How Your Heat Pump Works

I receive a lot of questions about forced air systems with heat pumps. The questions are generally, how heat pumps work for heat and how they work in the air-conditioner mode. The best way to answer most of theses questions is to start by explaining how an air-conditioner works.
With forced air systems that have central air-conditioning, or a heat pump, they are a two-part unit, the part inside and the part outside of the home. Forced air units consist of ducts that distribute the conditioned air through the house, and a fan to help this process. Attached to the duct system is some type of furnace or air-handler, where the blower fan is located. At the furnace or air-handler in the ductwork is an evaporator coil that all the air blows through before it is distributed to the house. All of this is part of the inside unit, now from the coil are two small refrigerant lines, theses go outside to the compressor. The compressor is in either the air-conditioner or the heat pump unit, depending on which one you have. The outside unit has the compressor on the inside, and surrounding the compressor is a condenser coil (it looks like a radiator). In this unit there is a fan that blows on the coil to extract the heat it produces.
It appears that an air conditioner cools your home’s air, but actually it removes heat from the indoor air and transfers that heat to the outdoor air. Heat is extracted from the home by passing indoor air across the evaporator coil in the indoor unit. The refrigerant lines then carry the heat to the outdoor unit to the condenser coil where it is released into the outside air. The cooling cycle continues until the indoor temperature reaches the thermostat setting. So in the cooling process the coil on the inside of the house is cold, and the coil on the outside of the house is hot.
Now a heat pump works exactly like an air-conditioner in the cooling mode. It extracts heat from inside the home and transfers it to the outdoor air. Now the difference comes in the heating cycle. A heat pump has a reversing valve, that reverses the process, so in the heating mode the unit collects heat from the outdoor air and transferring it inside your home. So in the heating process the coil on the inside of the house is hot, and the coil on the outside of the house is cool. Even when the air outside feels cold, the air still contains some heat. The heat pump extracts the heat from this cold outdoor air and sends it inside to warm your home. In below freezing conditions, there may not be enough heat in the outside air to meet the demand of the thermostat setting, so an electric heater strip in the indoor unit helps to make up the difference to warm your house.
You may here different terms when it comes to rating cooling or heating. Most air conditioners have their capacity rated in BTU (British thermal units). Your central air-conditioner may be rated in “tons”, this rating is translated in heating and cooling terms to one "ton" equals 12,000 BTU.
In cooling systems you will here the term “SEER” (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). The higher the SEER rating, the less your unit will cost to operate. For example a 10 SEER unit is less efficient than a 15 SEER unit.
To rate the efficiency of the heating portion of a heat pump, the term “HSPF” (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor).
Tune in tomorrow for infomation on what a home inspector will look for when inspecting your HVAC system.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The House on the Hill

If you thought that that was an LP gas tank, you were correct, and if you thought it was active and in daily use, you are correct again.

Considering the location of the house, I think this is as close as the water and the gas people can get their trucks.

Here are the pictures I promised of the house. The cars are parked in the back of the house and the front of the house has the tall porch. I wish Rich had sent me a picture of the view off the deck, I bet it was panoramic.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

There is Water in them Hills

One of the reasons I love home inspections is I always see different things. But I have an advantage over most home inspectors, because I get to see a lot more different things then most inspectors. Because I have friends that are home inspectors all over the US and Canada that send me pictures and stories of their inspections. My friend and fellow inspector Rich from Carbondale, always sends me great pictures I can use for my training classes. He sent these pictures to me yesterday.

The main house is off to the side and not in the picture. The house that you see is for water storage. The water is delivered by truck from the road by way of the pipe you see. The last picture is of the water tank inside the water storage house.

In the first picture you also see a tank by the road, want to guess what it is?

I will tell you tomorrow and I will also post pictures of the house.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Keeping on top of things

We all understand the importance of routine/preventative maintenance; to limit our risk of premature failure to our large ticket items, such as cars, furnaces and AC unites. However, there are millions of dollars a year spent on replacing roofs that may have lasted a lot longer, had they had routine maintenance. Roof maintenance is an important part of overall home maintenance, and should get the same routine/preventive maintenance that we give our heating and cooling systems. With any system, routine maintenance will give it a longer service life, and keep it at maximum efficiency.
Many things can contribute to shortening your roof's life, such as algae build-up. If your roof is dark in color, you may have algae. These stains are often confused for sap, soot stains, and rust. This algae needs inorganic material to support its growth, which it gets from the filler material in the asphalt/fiberglass shingles. This algae is found in approximately 75 to 80 percent of the United States, but grows best in warm damp climates. If algae is the only symptom your roof is exhibiting, it may be professionally cleaned to add years to the life of your roof system.
Proper ventilation of the attic space is important to prevent premature aging of the shingles, due to excessive heat. Proper ventilation will also reduce moisture build-up that can damage the wood components of the roof. An easy way to check for attic ventilation is to observe the attic space in the daylight with the attic lights off. Where you see daylight, is an indication of venting. It is also important that you have cross ventilation. For example, if the roof has soffit vents (vents at the eves) and has ridge vents, the air will flow from the soffit vents through the attic to the ridge vents. Cross venting helps to prevent hot spots in the attic. You may see soffit vents on the outside, under the eves, but may not see light in that area from the attic side. The most common cause of this is when the attic insulation has covered the soffit vents. If this is the case, just pull the insulation back until the soffit vent is open, and look for light.
It is also important to have good insulation in the attic, especially if you live in a cold climate. Proper insulation will help prevent ice damming. Ice damming occurs when the heat from your house passes through a poorly insulated attic, thus melting snow or ice on the roof, allowing the melted snow or ice to run down to the lower edge of the roof where it can refreeze. As the snow or ice refreezes, it forms a dam. When the dam gets large enough, the water that is hitting it will start running back and under the shingles. This will cause the roof to leak and can damage ceilings and walls.
Here are some preventive maintenance tips that can help reduce the chance of getting leaks, and help avoid premature roof failure:
 Trim back any overhanging tree branches.
 Keep the roof free of debris.
 Keep gutters free of debris and in good working order.
 From the ground, with the aid of binoculars, inspect the roof for missing or broken shingles.
 Inspect all flashing; around chimneys, valleys, pipes, and butting roofs.
 In your attic with the aid of a flashlight, inspect the wood decking under the shingles for water stains.
 If you see signs of leaking have it repaired right away.

If your roof is more than twenty years old, you should consider having it inspected by a professional roofer.
Remember your roof is a major system of your house, and deferred maintenance of this system can be very costly.