Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Unwanted Guest

Home Inspectors can get some strange questions, for example:

Question: I have a guest living in my home and he doesn't pay rent, he tears up the place and he comes and goes as he pleases. I have a squirrel in my attic. I have tried to catch the little guy many times and I am embarrassed to say that he has outsmarted me at every turn. I thought it to be fun at firstbut I swear I heard him in one of our walls the other day and I amconcerned that he could bite into something that he should not. Should I beworried and what kind of damage can one squirrel do?

Answer: There has been a lot of success using an ultrasonic rodent repeller. These ultrasonic rodent repellers create sound patterns that the pest don’t like, and they will leave. These devices start around thirty dollars. It is best to purchase one that has a money back guarantee.

The main problem is to find the opening in your house they are using to get in. I recommend looking around the eaves and soffits for openings. Once you have evicted your unwanted guest it is time to seal these openings.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Stonewall Heading South

One concern of any home inspector is water control around foundations or any subterranean wall. The combination of soil and water against a wall can cause hydrostatic pressure that will cause the wall to implode. The main defense is proper water control. Retaining walls much like a foundation wall is a wall that holds soil in its place.

Here is a typical question I receive on this subject.

Question: We just moved into a wonderful cape cod that was built in the 1950's. We love the home, but we have a retaining stonewall on the side of our drive and it appears to be leaning inwards. It looks like there was some patchwork in the past (new concrete). How worried should I be and should I just pay to have a new wall built? Answer: Retaining walls over the years will start to lean inwards because of hydrostatic pressure. This is caused by poor grading on the high side of the wall, and also poor draining at the bottom of the wall. If the wall is leaning in slightly, with proper maintained and drainage the wall can still perform for many more years.
For proper grating at the top of the wall, the dirt should be higher against the wall and sloping down away from the wall. This will help stop water pressure against the wall. You should find drain holes (scuppers) at the bottom base of the wall, removing dirt and debris from these holes will help with drainage. This will also help prevent water pressure against the wall.
Perform these maintenance tips and monitor the wall movement.
If the wall keeps moving, there are other cures besides removing and rebuilding the wall. One such method is to install soil anchors. Soil anchors are rods that go through the wall and under the soil, and are anchored in the soil. There are plates on the open side of the wall that the rods pass through. The rods are treaded and have nuts on the end, by tightening the nuts the wall is pulled back into place, and is held there by the soil anchors.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The All Important Roof Flashing

Any home inspector can tell you the important role roof flashing plays in avoiding costly leaks. Using the proper flashing in its proper place a good start, but keeping it in good repair will avoid costly repairs to the interior of your house. Inspecting the flashing from the exterior is a good start, but the real story is revealed from the interior of the attic. For example, valley-pan flashing can appear in good condition from the surface, but that is only part of the story. The way it was installed is not apparent from the surface, and improper installation will cause leaks that can only be detected from the underside of the roof.

Here is an example of questions I receive about roof flashing.
Question: We recently had some roof work, including the installation of drip edge. Could you tell me the purpose(s) of a roofing drip edge? Could you also tell me the proper location of a drip edge in relation to a gutter? (I fear that I may have had one installed incorrectly.)

Answer: Of all of the different types of flashing, drip edge flashing is the simplest. Drip edge flashing is commonly used at the rakes (gable end edges) and at the eaves (the leading edge of the roof where the gutters are installed). There are two basic types of drip edge. One type is known as “C”, this type of drip edge does not have an overhang. The other type is known as “Extended”. The Extended type has a hemmed overhang at the edge of the roof deck. Both types can be installed on the rakes or the eaves.
To prevent high wind and rain from entering at the rakes, the drip edge is installed on top of the underlayment. On the eaves the drip edge is installed under the underlayment, this allows any water that gets under the shingles to shed safely off the roof. If there are gutters on the eaves, the drip edge should be extended so water will flow directly into the gutters.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Childproofing Your Home

As a parent of three and a grandparent of five I realize the challenges, especially when it comes to safety matters. Getting ahead of the game is the answer to avoid harm to your children. Believe it or not, accidental injury is the number one killer of children in American. More children lose their lives to accidents in their homes than to disease or violence. According to the Safe Kids USA organization, 4.5 million children are injured in the home every year.

Every parent knows the danger of sharp corners that can cause head and bodily injuries. Let’s not forget the small objects that any child will put in their mouth and choke on before we know it. Childproofing is a major task and any stone left unturned could result in a potential danger to your child.

We know the dangers of cleaning products and keep them away from our children, but how about the automatic toilet bowl cleaner we use. Dipping their cup in the toilet bowl to get a quick drink is gross, but will not kill them. But a drink out of the toilet with a toxic automatic toilet bowl cleaner in it could be fatal. Toilet lid latches are a great idea, but only if all family members remember to latch them.

A nice warm bath for your baby is a good thing, but water too hot can cause burns and in some cases serious burns. While it is important to adjust bath water to a comfortable temperature for your baby, it is also important to adjust the temperature of your water heater. For safety reasons a water heater should not be set with a temperature higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

All electrical switches and plugs should have cover plates. All plugs should have child proof caps, or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) on outlets near sinks and bathtubs.

Beware of furniture that has moving parts, such as recliner chairs and exercise equipment. It is easy for a child to get their fingers or other body parts caught in a moving part.

Installing window stops will prevent a child from getting their head stuck in a window or getting out of a window. This may sound funny, but a window that has stops will only allow the window to open four inches, see how this can help?
Window cords should always be removed or cut from any drapes or blinds to avoid strangulation.

Child latches on washer/dryers, refrigerators, freezers, drawers, and cabinets will also help prevent an accident. Installing door knob sleeves is a simple way to keep a child out of a room that you are not in.

Have your home inspector inspect all decks and balconies for fall protection devices and general safety.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reversed Polarity?

As a home inspector we find a verity of safety concerns, but one of the most common safety concerns is reversed wiring (reversed polarity) on receptacles. This is a potentially dangerous problem, but one that can be easily corrected. Here is a typical question I received on reversed polarity.

We are moving to New Castle because of a transfer. We went there and found a house we liked, but we had to leave before the Home Inspector could come. We received his report and everything looks good, but there was a note that some of the receptacles had reversed polarity. The report did not indicate that this is a big problem. Since I do not know what reversed polarity is and I have a fear of electricity, this concerns me.
Can you tell me what is reversed polarity and is it dangerous?
Can this condition be corrected?

The wire that supplies the power to the outlets consists of three wires, a black wire a white wire and a non-insulated copper wire. The black wire is the hot wire. The white wire is a neutral, and the non-insulated copper wire is a ground. An outlet is wired with the hot connected to the side of the outlet with the small slot, and the neutral lead is connected to the bigger slot. This is done for safety reasons. Cords have one of the prongs wider so the neutral side and hot side line up correctly to match the wiring of the appliance. Provided the outlet is wired correctly, appliances are wired so the hot wire goes to the on and off switch. When wired this way, when the switch is off, there will be no voltage inside the device. If the outlet is wired in reverse (Reversed Polarity) this means that the hot is wired to the bigger slot and the neutral is wired to the smaller slot. With reversed polarity, now the on/off switch is opening and closing the neutral. This will turn the appliance on and off, but even in the off position the appliance still has electricity running through it. This could be a potential danger, but this is a very easy and inexpensive situation to have corrected.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Botanical Garden?

From one of our home inspectors in the northeast comes this exciting news of an entirely new botanical technology. While on a routine home inspection our savvy inspector found a startling demonstration of previously unheralded ingenuity, a breakthrough which may nudge Daisy, the replicated sheep, from the headlines, or fulfill the promise of ten-pound tomatoes for every pot.

It was just a routine home inspection, nothing in the outward appearance of the home gave any hint of the startling technological breakthrough sheltered inside. Our intrepid veteran had no fear of dark crawlspaces absent humans for decades, or musty attics where time stands still. He had seen Moloch in coal-dust scented fireplaces, braved diabolical electrical service patterned after Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory. But nothing in his experience had prepared him for the amazing display of spontaneous ingenuity he was to encounter one bright New England morning.

The owner had vacated, there was standing room only throughout. Left behind, for posterity, perhaps, or as a gift to mankind, or maybe as a riddle for the University thinkers sure to swarm when the discovery sizzled on the evening news like a Star Wars death ray vaporizing one of Saddam's wobbly SCUDs, was the Mutha of All Inventions. It was awesome. Our man stood agape.

To be sure, a home inspector has to know a lot about a lot. Like a many-headed Hydra, one head must be a carpenter, another an electrician, still another a roofer, yet another an HVAC technician, another a mason, another a plumber. But our expert was humbled by the remarkable synthesis of technology left behind in that living room. He was as in a Holy place, made small by soaring arches reaching heavenward, sensing the presence of the infinite. He took off his hat and scratched his head.

What in tarnation was it?

When we are befuddled by the complex, we do well to fall back on the folk wisdom "one thing at a time." So did our man. It began where a drop of water was about to fall from a blister on the ceiling. For a moment, the drop quivered, then fell. Well, a leaky ceiling is a leaky ceiling.

As it tumbled through space, the drop was intercepted by a funnel fixed to the end of a hollow pipe and suspended from the ceiling. Through this pipe passed a patient multitude of drops, one by one, across the vast empty space below the ceiling to a destination twenty feet away, above a big picture window.

After their long journey the trickle once again separated into drops, again falling one by one, this time into a two-pound coffee can suspended on a string. The coffee can is tapped all the way around with 1/4" plastic tubes, hanging like arms of an octopus. Each of the plastic tubes leads to a potted plant.

One more genius!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fired Up

Nothing draws people to a convivial gathering like a crackling fire on a blustery Winter day. Friends and family love the warmth of a fire-and each other. Like a magnet, the dancing flames draw us close. Let's look at the way fireplaces are built and the way they should be maintained to assure our safe enjoyment of them.

Fireplaces are inspected as part of a Home Inspector’s standard service. The firebox is examined for cracks and creosote buildup.

Creosote is a gummy or sometimes-hardened residue left by incomplete combustion. The burning of green or resinous wood will deposit elevated levels of creosote in the vapors of these woods as they condense on the inner walls of a cool chimney. Creosote is not easy to remove, so it is best to burn seasoned hardwood to avoid, as much as possible, the creation of creosote. Creosote build-ups can be very dangerous when they catch fire. The heat of flaming creosote is intense and may crack the chimney liner and make your chimney look like a blowtorch from the outside.

The lining of a firebox is usually brick. Firebrick is different from ordinary brick and made to withstand the heat of your fireplace. The rear of the firebox is called the fireback and the sides are called covings. On the floor of the firebox you will probably see a small metal access cover to an ash dump. This makes it easy to get rid of ashes by raking them into the ash pit underneath. Home Inspectors always look for cracks in the firebox which might allow sparks to pass or poisonous carbon monoxide, a normal byproduct of combustion, to find its way out to living areas of the home.

Your Home Inspector will also check for the presence and operation of the fireplace flue damper. The damper should be kept closed when the fireplace is not in use. The typical forced air furnace will drive your home's heat out the chimney if the damper is left open.

The safe, proper fireplace will also have a hearth at least 16" deep in front of the firebox, or 20" if the firebox opening is greater than 6 square feet. A mesh firescreen or tempered glass viewing doors will protect the area in front of the hearth from possible sparks or shooting embers.

Your fireplace flue should not be shared with any other appliance, such as your furnace, or venting source. Build your fire with kindling rather than lacing the logs with flammable liquids.

Your home should be built so that none of its weight rests on your fireplace and its chimney. This is so that, if the house should settle, the fireplace and chimney will not be subjected to stresses which might cause cracking or misalignment of the masonry.

Now don't get all fired up, be safe and enjoy that cozy fireplace.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Preventing Mildew

If you are a Realtor, Home Inspector, Handyman, or in any other business that involves you being in many different homes for a living, you know that distinct smell of mold/mildew. Most of us at some time or another, have opened a closet or walked into a basement or a crawl space and have been greeted with that distinct musty odor. If you live in an area that is known for high humidity, you know all too well the problems with mold/mildew. The fact of the mater is that no mater where you live, certain conditions in areas of your home can produce mold/mildew.
Here is a sample of a common mold/mildew question.

We live in an older two-story home with a full basement. Although the house is full of old-world charm’ it also is filled with a musty mildew odor, which is not so charming. I know with older homes there is going to be some mildew-related problems. The basement is the worst, followed by the bathrooms and closets. Are there things we can do to keep it under control? We would appreciate any tips.

There are several steps you can take to combat mildew, starting with cleaning closets, dresser drawers, basements, and any place where mildew is likely to grow. Using a 60-watt light bulb continuously can dry air in closets and other small areas. The heat will prevent mildew. Do not let the bulb touch anything! In addition, hang the clothes loosely so that air can circulate around them.

Controlling dampness in the basement is an important step. Good working gutters and downspouts, and positive sight drainage will help control the dampness that results from ground water. Dampness also can come from condensation, which can be controlled by good ventilation.

Cooking, laundering, and bathing may add 2 or more gallons of water a day to a house. It may be necessary to use a mechanical dehumidifier to control dampness. They always help.

Get rid of musty odors as soon as possible to prevent further mold growth.

It may be necessary to scrub cement or tiled walls and floors in basements, baths, and kitchens with chlorine bleach solution. Use one cup of liquid household bleach to a gallon of water. Rinse with clear water and wipe as dry as possible. Keep windows open until walls and floors and floors are thoroughly dry.

If you can limit dirt and moisture, you have a good chance in eliminating mildew.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Shower Flush Syndrome

As a home inspector we are asked a wide verity of questions by homeowners dealing with all aspects of their homes. The "shower flush syndrome" question is one I am asked offten.

We have lived in our four-bedroom three-bath house for three years. I love the house, but I am tired of the “shower flush syndrome”, you know when you are taking a shower and some one flushes the toilet, and the temperature changes to HOT.
Is this something that is just normal, that I have to live with?
My friend said that it could be corrected by redoing the whole plumbing system.
If there is anything that I can do please let me know.

At the time the house is built if it is plumbed with larger pipes with enough volume and pressure many fixtures can be used at the same time without noticeable changes in water temperature, and pressure. For example only two fixtures in a bath are run on a ½ inch pipe (the smaller pipe); usually the line to the toilet, and the line for the sink. The hot and the cold for the tub and shower would be run with ¾ inch pipes (the larger pipe). With the increase in pipe size, this will help prevent drastic changes of temperature in the shower when the toilet or sink are being used.
In your case I think that the cure for the problem would be replacing your old tub and shower valve with a pressure balanced tub and shower valve. The pressure balanced tub and shower valves are single handle valve that balances the hot and cold water to try to maintain a temperature range plus or minus 2 degrees.
Call some of your local plumbing companies and compare prices.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Common Mold Questions

As a home inspector I receive my share of mold questions. Having a mold/air quality test is a good start, but controlling moisture in your home is the key to mold prevention. Here is a sample of the mold questions I receive:

I saw your article on crawlspaces and found my vents closed and about a quarter of an inch of black mold completely covering the wooden beams and insulation. I had a couple of questions. When I turn on the heat I smell a rich sweet smell; is this mold? I had the entire heating system cleaned and sealed but the smell is still there, though lessened. Is this the mold problem? What can be done to take care of this problem?
Also, do you know if they make white vapor barrier? I found a copperhead in the crawlspace and thought that if the vapor barrier were white, I would avoid nearly picking them up in the future.

Thanks for any help!!!

I am glad you opened your vents, but that may not take care of your mold problem. If you have a quarter inch of mold on the wood beams, you have two concerns. The first is that mold will try to digest your wood. Not only is mold eating away at your house, it could be eating away at your health. Mold and mildew need only a damp moist environment and organic material to thrive. They can breed and thrive in drywall backing, carpet backing, in the moist dust particles in your heating system, wood beams, bottom of sheathing, baseboards, and wallpaper to mention the most common.

With exposure to mold and mildew it is common to experience headaches coughs, skin rashes, nausea, runny noses and other sinus problems, and in some cases memory loss. The sweet smell could be mold or mildew; the duct cleaner also has a sweet smell. The duct cleaning surely will help, but it may not completely cure your problem. Here are some things you may consider doing;

Ø Open all the crawl space vents
Ø Make sure your vapor barrier is covering the entire earth portion under the house
Ø Make sure all gutters and downspouts are working properly
Ø Make sure that the earth around the foundation slopes away from the house
Ø Change the furnace filter often

To conquer mold and mildew, you must first conquer moisture. The best defense is good ventilation and water management. Also checking the trouble spots such as the furnace and the bathrooms.
Check your bathroom for plumbing leaks and make sure the exhaust fan works properly and is vented to the outside.
When you have your furnace serviced, have your service tech check the condensate tube; to make sure it is draining properly.

If you or your family are still experiencing any of the aforementioned health symptoms, you may consider having a professional home inspector perform a mold test. You can find some excellent sites on the web, just type “mold” in your search engine, and you will find a lot of good information.
About your snake troubles, you have two choices; You can get a king snake under there and you will not have any poisonous snakes including copperheads. Or perhaps you may prefer to purchase some six-mill white poly sheeting. You can find this at your local building supply. This material comes in different widths; find the size that works best for your size of house. It is fine to install the new poly over the existing, just make sure that the old poly is laying flat.