The Scariest Thing About a Home Inspection

By Tim Shuford, NPI Franchise Owner, Jamestown, North Carolina

Inspecting homesFrom this home inspector’s perspective, one of the scariest things about many home inspections is what I can’t see.  As you probably know, a home inspection is a “non-invasive” inspection of readily-accessible components and systems.  That means that the things hidden inside walls or other inaccessible areas are not inspected.  If a home inspector had X-ray vision or some other super-power, I feel sure that inspection reports would list a lot more areas of concern.  Here are a three “real life” examples of what I’m talking about.

Several hundred homes in a nearby housing development were constructed 20-30 years ago.  Almost all the homes were clad with composite hardboard (Masonite type) siding, and no re-siding has been done on approximately half the homes.  A small percentage of the homes now have cement-fiber siding, and the remainder are now clad with vinyl siding.  It’s pretty common knowledge that most 20-30 year old composite hardboard siding has some amount of deterioration, and a lot of it is badly deteriorated……maybe to the extent of allowing water to reach the structural components and cause decay and other moisture-related issues….and this development is no exception.  (Of course, there’s also plenty of decay typically found in the window sills and trim, door jambs, etc. on these homes.)   When inspecting one of these homes with deteriorated hardboard, it’s easy to report the defects and indicate that there could be structural damage due to water intrusion.  The scary homes in the development are the ones that have vinyl siding and aluminum trim installed.  You just have to suspect that the newer surface treatment was installed right over whatever deterioration and decay existed, without much thought of whether any underlying damage was present.  Unfortunately, there’s not much to report here, as long as the siding and trim is intact and installed properly, and there’s no other evidence of structural problems.

Occasionally, we’ll inspect a home with an area (such as a basement) that was obviously finished by the homeowner.  (Well, maybe they did invite some friends to join in and provide some pizza and beer.)  It seems that most of the time, we’ll find some kind of electrical deficiency (such as a spliced electrical cable not enclosed in a junction box) in an accessible area of the same home.  You just have to wonder if similar conditions exist behind the finished walls or ceilings.  Again, there’s not much to report unless you can see it.

Many homes (especially older homes) have portions of the crawl space that are inaccessible, due to low clearances, ductwork, etc.  It’s not uncommon to find structural problems, electrical problems, etc. in the accessible areas of these crawl spaces.  So, why would I think that everything is “just fine” in the areas of the crawl space that I can’t inspect?

The “gut feeling” that goes along with inspecting a property like this is not the best.  You want to make sure that the condition of the property is as accurately represented as possible, and your gut tells you that there are probably some hidden items that need repair.  I guess that the best we can do is just try and make sure the client knows that there are areas in the home that we can’t see or inspect.

 

Shuford PhotoTim Shuford is a professional National Property Inspections home inspector in Jamestown, North Carolina. If you live in the area, call 336.823.6605 to schedule your home inspection with Tim.
NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an assessment of your home.

Fire Safety Tips from the Inspector

By Stephen Gremillion, NPI Property Inspector, Montgomery, Texas

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) http://www.nfpa.org, there were about 365,500 household fires in 2015. As an inspector, I’ve learned that many house fires are preventable. In fact, the NFPA also states that three out of five fire deaths were in homes without working smoke alarms. This, to me, says that simply installing and maintaining smoke alarms could save your life.

When talking about fire safety, I like to break it down into three categories: Fire Prevention, Fire Preparation, and the Fire. Fire Prevention items are things that you can do to prevent a fire. Fire Preparation items are things you can do to be prepared in case of a fire, and the Fire is what to do if you find yourself in a house fire.

Fire Prevention:

  • Use caution when using electrical resistance heating items like toasters, heating blankets, etc.
  • Use caution when using open flames like candles, barbecues, fireplaces, tobacco, etc.
  • Keep your kitchen clutter free and clean of grease.
  • Fix sub-standard electrical work.
  • Add Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) protection. For more info: http://www.npihome.com/2016/2510/afci-and-gfci-outlets-improve-electrical-safety-in-your-home/
  • Keep your dryer vent and lint trap clean. For more info: http://www.npihome.com/2014/1248/have-you-cleaned-your-dryer-vent-lately/
  • If you have a wood burning fireplace and use it regularly, the flue must be kept clean. For more info: http://www.npihome.com/2014/1728/keeping-your-chimney-clean/
  • If you use portable heaters, they should be monitored and have a tip safety. A tip safety is a function that shuts off the heater if it tips over. Also, it should be kept clear of combustibles.
  • Get a home inspection. A home inspection can reveal problems like sub-standard electrical work, improper fireplace hearths, etc.
  • Get a thermal imaging inspection. A thermal imaging inspection can reveal electrical problems that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Fire Preparation:

  • Proper smoke alarm placement and maintenance. You should have a smoke alarm in each bedroom and each adjoining space. These should be tested once a month, have the battery changed once a year, and be completely replaced every ten years.
  • Fire extinguishers. We recommend that you have clear access to an extinguisher in the garage, kitchen, and bedroom. You should be familiar with their use and have the right type. For more info: http://www.npihome.com/2014/1863/1863/
  • You should have two escape options from each room. (Second-story windows do count).
  • Teach your kids some basic fire safety.

The Fire:

Hopefully, you never find yourself in this situation. However, if you do, here are some basic tips.

  • If the fire is small, try to put it out with your extinguisher.
  • If the fire cannot be contained, then you must leave immediately. Gather your family and an extinguisher and leave through one of your planned routes.
  • Door handles may be hot. It is best to grab them with a piece of cloth.
  • Close doors behind you! It may seem silly, but it’s for a good reason. A door can act as a barrier in two ways; 1) It can restrict airflow, 2) It acts as separation that the fire will take time to burn through.
  • If you find yourself trapped, there are two important things you must do:
  1. Signal for help. A piece of cloth hanging from the window is a largely recognized symbol, but a phone call is better.
  1. Minimize your exposure to smoke and flames. This can be done by opening a window, getting low, covering your mouth with cloth, and blocking underneath doors with wet cloths.

 

Make sure to be diligent about fire protection to keep your home and family safe. Practice these steps and have a happy and healthy 2017.

Stephen Gremillion Stephen Gremillion is a professionally trained NPI property inspector working for franchise owner/inspector Garner Gremillion in Montgomery, Texas. If you live in the area, call 936 230-3440 to schedule your home inspection with Garner or Stephen.

Before you move, make sure to have your house inspected by an NPI or GPI home inspector. Visit the links below to find an inspector near you.

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What’s the HWBB Heating Pipe Doing in the Attic?

By Lawrence Englehart, GPI Franchise Owner, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Englehart_Kitec

My client was wondering why their house’s addition above the garage was so difficult to heat during our Canadian cold winter season, and why their heating costs were so high. I guess that’s what happens when an incompetent contractor (nine years ago) installs the Kitec hot-water baseboard (HWBB) heating pipe on top of the attic insulation, which runs for more than 20 feet in an unconditioned space! The attic was relatively warm on the day I inspected it, about 0° C (32° F), versus this pipe at 70° C (162° F).

Englehart PhotoLawrence Englehart is a professional Global Property Inspections home inspector in Halifax, Nova Scotia. If you live in the area, call 902.403.2460 to schedule your home inspection with Lawrence.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an inspection of your home or a home you are planning to purchase.

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What’s Wrong With These Photos?

By Lawrence Englehart, GPI Franchise Owner, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Englehart-BlogI came across this on a home inspection. This property is only 12 years old. The seller did not have a home inspection when he purchased the house because it was brand new.

The roof was too high to safely climb, so I took a picture from below (Photo 1). The first picture shows the exterior depression in the roof, and Photo 2 shows the top of the drain-waste-vent (DWV) stack inside the attic space — which shows that the sewer vent had not been extended above the roof line. As a result, the warm, moist sewer gases have been deteriorating the sheathing in this area for more than 12 years!

The dry-rot of the oriented strand board (OSB), shown in Photos 3 and 4, is so severe that anyone who would have walked on the roof might have fallen through this rotted area. In fact, it looks like last winter’s snow load may have caused the depression, which now leaks when it rains.

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Mold: Friend or Foe?

By Todd Newhook, GPI Franchise Owner, Markham, Ontario

Newhook 1Mold in general is an important part of our ecosystem. It is all around us! Is it really harmful? Why does media treat mold as a bad thing? Is it a bad thing? Should you be concerned?

Good questions. When it comes to living in a home — an enclosed environment, so to speak — the most important issue is ensuring that you manage the environment you live in to help reduce the risk of high levels of harmful or toxic molds. Mold in general needs a food source (e.g., water or elevated moisture levels) to grow and spread.

The good: Molds eat garbage and turn it into soil. They break down dead plant and animal matter. Some of them are also beneficial to our health — do you bake/cook with yeast and mushrooms (fungi)?

The potentially bad: Many home owners don’t understand building science, the importance of managing relative humidity levels in the home, and maintaining proper room temperatures. The majority of excessive or toxic mold growth in homes is due to this lack of understanding and poor housekeeping.

Newhook 2Relative humidity levels should be maintained between 30 percent and 50 percent, with a target of 40 percent. Low levels of humidity contribute to dry air and possible respiratory problems. During dry winters, a humidifier will help to add moisture to the air inside your home — just make sure to keep the humidity level around 40 percent to avoid excess moisture in your home.

Excessive levels of humidity contribute to excessive moisture levels and may contribute to harmful mold growth and respiratory problems. Often when we inspect basements during the summertime, the insulation at the exterior walls is wet due to high humidity. In the summer, when there are higher levels of humidity, a portable dehumidifier will help to control humidity levels. Always follow manufacturer setup and operation procedures for using humidifiers.

Another common source of mold is poor maintenance of heating and cooling systems. The cooling system typically has an A-coil and an evaporator pan enclosed above the heating system. If not maintained on a regular basis, the evaporator pan that captures and drains condensation can sometimes clog. Standing water in a stale and dark environment contributes to mold growth. If you turn on your heating/cooling system you may be blowing potentially harmful mold around your house.

Leaks due to aged roofs, deteriorated caulking/seals, etc., can also contribute to excessive or harmful mold growth. Home maintenance is key to preventing leaks and the opportunity for mold to grow.

Older homes did not require ventilation as mandated today. For example, todays’ standards require that bathrooms and kitchens include properly vented systems. But if you live in an older house, you may not have a ventilation system, and that can contribute to mold growth on bathroom walls.

Newhook 3How is the insulation in your walls and attic? Ensuring that your home has proper insulation levels will help reduce the risk of heat loss and excessive condensation and mold growth.

To-do List

  1. Ensure your home includes a humidifier and dehumidifier to help manage humidity levels depending on the season.
  2. Set up an annual maintenance program with a qualified HVAC company to properly maintain your heating and cooling systems.
  3. Ensure that the exterior of your home is properly maintained to help reduce leaks (e.g., roofing, caulking/seals, siding).
  4. Run exhaust fans during, and for a minimum of 30 minutes after, cooking or showering. In bathrooms, consider installing an automatic switch that runs the exhaust fan to control humidity levels.
  5. Ensure that insulation in walls and attics is properly installed and evenly distributed.

Your local NPI or GP inspector has the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI/GPI Inspector to do an assessment of your home to help reduce elevated levels of harmful mold in your home.

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Proper Fireplace Venting: A Complex Issue

By Rodney Twyford, NPI Franchise Owner and Inspector, San Antonio, Texas

Fireplace_shutterstock_172698602One of the biggest controversial issues with home construction has been proper fireplace ventilation. In an effort to prevent indoor air contamination and improve overall efficiencies within modern homes, the home envelopes have become tighter — meaning little to no air leaks between interior and exterior spaces. While the intentions were good, constructing a tight home has caused some other issues, such as poor air change ratios and controlling pressures between interior and exterior spaces. This has resulted in new technologies to provide controlled mechanical ventilation systems.

Since the topic of building ventilation is vast and involves many different systems and components, this article will focus on exterior air supply, specifically for factory-built and masonry-built fireplaces.

This is a subject that is often misunderstood and which has resulted in improper installation of exterior air supply vents. The current International Residential Code (IRC) Section R1006.1 says, “Factory-built or masonry fireplaces … shall be equipped with an exterior air supply to assure proper fuel combustion unless the room is mechanically ventilated and controlled so that the indoor pressure is neutral or positive.”

Most masonry fireplaces are not constructed with an exterior air supply, and factory-built fireplaces are designed to incorporate exterior air supply vents but are often not connected or are installed improperly. During home inspections, we typically find the exterior air vent to be installed in areas that are specifically prohibited by current code — such as on the side of chimney structure or in the attic area above the firebox.

IRC Section R1006.2 states, The exterior air intake shall be capable of supplying all combustion air from the exterior of the dwelling or from spaces within the dwelling ventilated with outside air such as non-mechanically ventilated crawl or attic spaces. The exterior air intake shall not be located within the garage or basement of the dwelling, nor shall the air intake be located at an elevation higher than the firebox.”

So, while the intake vent is allowed to be located in an attic, the IRC prohibits it from being located higher than the firebox.

However, one manufacturer of a factory-built fireplace allows and actually instructs the installer to locate the exterior air supply vent at least 3 feet from the top of the chimney. Knowing that these instructions are contradictory to current IRC provisions, I contacted the manufacturer about this issue and was quickly informed that the local codes governing your municipality shall take precedent over the manufacturer’s installation instructions.

Fireplace3So, why is it even important where the vent is located? Because pressure differentials between interior and exterior spaces can fluctuate depending on installed equipment, weather conditions and where the home is located. This difference in atmospheric pressure could prevent the chimney from drafting or exhausting properly, or it could cause the exterior air supply vent to function as an exhaust vent for which it is not designed for.

Some inappropriate vent locations are in garage and basements, where combustible materials are often stored. Be sure not to locate an exterior air intake in a mechanically ventilated attic or crawl space. Attic and/or crawl space mechanical ventilating systems are primarily used to remove air from those areas by exhausting unwanted air or creating a negative pressure in those areas. If an air intake for a fireplace terminates in a crawl or attic space that has a mechanical ventilation system, then there is potential for the air intake to perform exactly opposite of its designed intent.

Oftentimes, the exterior air vent is properly installed in a non-mechanically ventilated attic as is permitted by code. However, later down the road, an attic fan is installed and thus causes a problem. Also, where combustion air openings are located inside the firebox, the air intake opening on the outside of the dwelling cannot be located higher than the firebox. Such an installation could create a chimney effect, drawing the products of combustion up through the combustion air ducts, which are not generally constructed of materials that can withstand the heat and sparks that could be drawn through them.

So what do you do if your fireplace is located in the center of your home and not on an exterior wall? This is often an issue, and home inspectors will discuss it with the builder or installer. There are actually two ways to address this issue.

First, in the foundation phase, an exterior air supply vent could be installed through the foundation prior to pouring concrete. This would meet the requirements of not being located higher than the firebox.

However, if the foundation has already been poured, then there is a provision in current code at the end of Section R1006.1 that says, “Unless the room is mechanically ventilated and controlled so that the indoor pressure is neutral or positive.” This provision seems to allow elimination of the exterior air vent altogether if the room is “mechanically ventilated and controlled so that the indoor pressure is neutral or positive.” With that said, new air conditioning systems are becoming more sophisticated in their technologies to provide for this controlled mechanical ventilation.

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Make Your Home More Comfortable: Improve Its Insulation

Insulation in Attic_shutterstock_95608564Did you know that most homes don’t have enough insulation? Insufficient insulation may be caused by uncompleted rooms or areas of the house, incorrect type of insulation, or improperly installed insulation. Regardless of the cause, the result will be that heat will escape your home in the winter and enter during the summer. If your home is properly insulated, you can save up to 10 percent on your annual energy bill.

Signs of Inadequate or Missing Insulation

  • Drafts: Air drafts coming in around doors, floors, windows and through outlets could be a sign that your home needs more insulation.
  • Icicles: Icicles hanging frozen from the roof edges and gutters could indicate that the home’s insulation is insufficient. Icicles mean that heat is escaping through the attic and melting rooftop snow, causing a freezing drip.
  • Leaky roof: A roof that has been leaking could have allowed water to soak insulation. If insulation has been wet, it needs replacing, as it will no longer be as effective and will most likely grow mold.
  • Excessively hot areas: In a two- or three-story house, you may have an upstairs floor that is excessively warm in the summer, which could be an indication that hot air is seeping through to the inside of the home.
  • Wall sweat: Walls will appear to “sweat” when there is no or insufficient insulation.

Types of Insulation
Insulation comes in a variety of types. Choose the one that works best for your home and the area you are insulating.

  • Foam board: Comes in sheets like a drywall sheet and can vary in thickness that range from one-half to 2 inches. Foam board allows moisture to escape, so it is used outside or under and between concrete — like basement walls and floors.
  • Blown-in insulation: This type comes in blocks, and a machine is used to spray it into areas, such as an attic. The machine breaks the insulation into small pieces so it is distributed evenly and accurately. You can hire an insulation company to blow insulation into your home, or you can purchase the insulation and rent the machine from a home improvement store and do it yourself.
  • Spray foam insulation: This insulation is available in smaller spray cans and typically used around windows or doors to seal small areas where air may leak through. You can also find larger quantities of spray foam to spray entire walls if you choose. Spray foam insulation has one of the higher R-values compared to some other types of insulation.
  • Rolls or batts of insulation: Typically made of fiberglass, this insulation is similar to blankets. To install, you cut off the length you need and lay it where you need insulation. Some people use a staple gun to affix the edges of the paper to wall studs. To insulate a floor, you can basically cut pieces to fit and drop or roll them into place.

Got Some Time This Weekend? Insulation Is an Easy DIY Project
Installing insulation is a simple weekend project you can do yourself. You may only need to measure, cut and stuff or roll the insulation between joists, but spraying or nailing insulation in place can be just as simple.

If you don’t have the time or the desire to attempt the project, hiring a professional to install insulation costs between $1.50 and $3.50 per square foot, depending on the size of the area, location in the home and type of insulation used.

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Home Inspector Safety: Wearing Respirators and Personal Protective Equipment

By Randy Yates, Technical Supervisor and Technical Training Administrator, NPI/GPI Corporat

Inspector on LadderSo, you show up onsite with your home inspector for the inspection on a house you plan to buy. The inspector is about to enter the attic or crawl space, and he puts on a respirator before he goes in. About that time, you run out the door because you’re afraid of what might be in the house, since he put on the mask. Talk about killing the deal.

Like Tom Hanks said in the movie Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates; you don’t know what you find until you get inside.”

Truly, your home inspector won’t know what he may find until he gets inside, and there are a lot of possibilities of what could be in those attics and crawl spaces. Maybe mold. Maybe some insulation types that could contain asbestos. In a sense, your inspector is doing safety inspections, so he needs to think about his safety first. A half-mask respirator that has either an N-95 or P-100 filter set should be worn every time the inspector enters an attic or a crawl space. Paper dust masks are worthless and will not filter out certain types of particulates.

Other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
When it comes to inspecting electrical panels, we now recommend that inspectors wear leather- and rubber-glove combos at a minimum, as well as some type of safety glasses when removing a panel cover. Rubber-soled shoes, along with a fire-resistant shirt, are also good ideas. Furthermore, home inspectors should always use an insulated screwdriver to remove the screws on a panel and replace the screwdriver when it is worn out. And they should always keep their hands out of panels.

As for ladders, if your inspector is using an extension ladder, it needs to be rated for his particular weight and it should also be constructed of fiberglass.

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Before You Buy, Find out if House Is Well-insulated

Submitted by Ken Roleke, NPI Franchise Owner, Tucson, Arizona

AtticBefore World War II, energy costs were low, and homes were usually built without insulation. Some houses were built without insulation as late as the early 1970s. As the fuel most commonly used for home heating went from wood to coal to oil and natural gas, it changed from locally sourced to an internationally traded commodity. Prices spiked with the OPEC oil embargo in 1973, leading to increased awareness and energy conservation.

There are U.S. Department of Energy codes and International Code Council codes that serve as guidelines, but energy codes are regulated at the state and local level. One exception is manufactured housing, which is subject to federal energy standards. The guidelines create climate zones, with higher R-value wall and attic insulation stipulated in the colder northern zones.

A home inspector inspecting an older house will check if, indeed, the house is insulated. The attics of most older houses have been insulated or had extra insulation added over time because the attics are usually accessible. Insulating the walls is more complicated and expensive. And, if there is no vapor barrier, moisture could get trapped in the wall cavities. It is easier to make sure there is a proper vapor barrier, insulating the exterior wall at the same time the exterior cladding is replaced, as opposed to blowing in insulation to stud cavities. An inspector will look for signs of moisture, mold, peeling paint and even rotting wood where the wall insulation retrofit was not done properly.

One insulation material seldom used now that an inspector may run across is vermiculite. Vermiculite mined before 1990 could contain asbestos and should not be disturbed. Sometimes foil was installed to reflect heat back into the house. Other older materials an inspector might see are slag wool, mineral wool, and even straw and old newspaper.

Today, a variety of insulation materials are used. Rigid insulation is made in a variety of sizes and materials and most often installed on the exterior wall side. There are SIPs, structural insulated panels, which are structural building panels made of boards with foam insulation sandwiched inside. There are spray foams that go in stud cavities, in the form of open-cell and closed-cell foams. There are ICF, insulated concrete forms, where rigid insulation serves as the stay-in-place forms for poured concrete walls. But those materials are more likely to be used in commercial, specialty and custom home construction, as they are more expensive than the two insulation materials that dominate house insulation.

Fiberglass is used in the form of plain batts and blankets, or faced with kraft paper or foil as a vapor barrier, and as loose fill. Cellulose is usually blown in as loose fill. Fiberglass has a higher R-value per inch than cellulose.

Home inspections are normally noninvasive, so an inspector will not always be able to identify the insulating material, although sometimes there will be an open wall cavity or hole that will allow him to do so. More often than not, there will be either visual or actual attic access, in which case the inspector will check the type of insulation used and check for proper installation. A common problem he will see is insulation missing or not evenly distributed. Using an infrared camera during the inspection can identify gaps and missing insulation that might not otherwise be detected in the walls and inaccessible areas of the attic.

With everything going on in the home-buying process, insulation is something the home buyer is probably not thinking about. A home inspector can determine whether a home is properly insulated, another facet of the home inspection that can save the home buyer from unexpected future expenses.

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Insulation Tips

AtticMaking sure you have the proper amount of insulation in your attic can save you money on energy bills. Energy.gov has some great tips for insulating:

  • Consider factors such as your climate, home design, and budget when selecting insulation for your home.
  • Use higher R-value insulation, such as spray foam, on exterior walls and in cathedral ceilings to get more insulation with less thickness.
  • Install attic air barriers such as wind baffles along the entire attic eave to help ensure proper airflow from the soffit to the attic. Ventilation helps with moisture control and reducing summer cooling bills, but don’t ventilate your attic if you have insulation on the underside of the roof. Ask a qualified contractor for recommendations.
  • Be careful how close you place insulation next to a recessed light fixture—unless it is insulation contact (IC) rated—to avoid a fire hazard. See the Lighting section for more information about recessed lights.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions, and wear the proper protective gear when installing insulation.

For more information about the type and amount of insulation recommended for your area, visit http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/tips-insulation in the United States and http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/grho/grho_010.cfm in Canada.

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