How to Avoid a Chimney Fire This Winter

While curling up by the fire is always great when the weather gets cold, there are a few things you should do first to make sure your fireplace is safe to use. Chimney fires occur more often than you’d think and can cause real damage to your home, but they’re easily preventable with some simple maintenance.

What is a chimney fire?

Chimney fires occur when your fireplace ignites a buildup of flammable material in your chimney. The most common culprit is a substance called creosote, which is really a residue of smoke and vapor from burning wood. This residue accumulates in your chimney as you use your fireplace, and if it isn’t cleaned regularly, it can build up in layers to form an incredibly flammable glaze.

What’s worse is that you may not even know you’re having chimney fires until you’ve had several of them. Chimney fires usually burn themselves out before they become noticeable, but they can burn at temperatures of up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to crack mortar and affect the structural integrity of your chimney. If a fire starts in an already-damaged chimney flue, that fire can spread to the home’s wooden structures and cause catastrophic damage.

What causes chimney fires?

Simply put, chimney fires are caused by a lack of proper maintenance. If you don’t have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned regularly, you’re giving soot and creosote the chance to build up. The more flammable creosote buildup you have in your chimney, the higher the chance of combustion when you use your fireplace.

There are a few things you can do to slow the buildup of creosote in your chimney. First, burn only seasoned wood in your fireplace. Seasoned wood has been left to dry and age outside for at least six months to a year. Using “green,” or unseasoned, wood in your fireplace leads to more water vapor, inefficient burning and higher levels of creosote.

You can also lessen creosote buildup by ensuring proper air flow through your chimney. This means keeping the glass doors on your fireplace open, and making sure that the damper is all the way open before starting your fire.

How can you prevent chimney fires?

Regular inspections are the only way to be sure that your fireplace and chimney are in proper working order. An inspector can determine whether your chimney has suffered any structural damage from past fires and knows the signs of dangerous creosote buildup.

Even if you don’t use your fireplace very often, having it inspected regularly is important because creosote isn’t the only flammable substance in your chimney you have to worry about. Branches, bird nests and other debris can become lodged in your chimney (we’ve found even weirder things like footballs and raccoons, too—yeah, it happens). These can either obstruct air flow, causing an accumulation of carbon monoxide, or they can combust. Neither option is good news.

Call Your Local NPI Inspector for a Safe Chimney

National Property Inspections has the tools and expertise you need to keep your fireplace safe for your family this winter. Find your local NPI inspector today and schedule an appointment.

6 Ways to Prevent a Christmas Tree Fire

Christmas tree fire

With the holidays just around the corner, we’re guessing things are hectic around your home. You’re getting ready for company and putting the finishing touches on your decorations. Without adding undue stress, we’re here to give you tips on something that may have fallen to the back of your mind: Christmas tree fire safety. Here are some ways to stop a burning Christmas tree from ruining your holiday.

1. Pick a tree that’s green.

Fresh Christmas trees are much less likely to catch on fire than those that are already starting to dry out. Dry trees can ignite in a second and become a raging fire in less than a minute. When picking out your tree, pay attention to how the needles look and feel. If they look brown, come off the branches easily and snap between your fingers, the tree is too dry. Instead, look for vibrant green needles that look waxy and don’t break easily.

2. Place your tree strategically.

Being aware of heat sources in your home is the next step in preventing a Christmas tree fire. You should always maintain a distance of at least three feet between your tree and any sources of heat. This includes fireplaces, candles, space heaters and radiators. Remember, it only takes one spark on a dry tree to create an out-of-control flame.

3. Keep your tree watered.

How much should you water your Christmas tree? If you said a gallon a day, you’re right! Trees need even more water the first few days and may need more in general depending on their size, so make sure not to skimp. Once you notice needles beginning to fall, your tree is a fire hazard and should be removed from your home.

4. Use appropriate types of lights.

Only use UL-listed Christmas lights for your tree (check the manufacturer’s directions) and be sure you’re not overloading your outlets by connecting too many light strings together. We recommend connecting a maximum of three traditional light strings together. You can also switch to energy-efficient LED lights instead, which produce much less heat, and flameless candles, which can look and feel like the real thing without the danger of an open flame.

5. Turn off the lights when you leave.

Any time you leave the room, you should turn off your Christmas lights and extinguish any candles or other sources of heat, like fireplaces. This is especially important when you’re leaving the house or going to bed. Enjoy the cozy firelight when you’re relaxing at home with your family, but when you go to bed, make sure it’s lights out.

6. Know when to take down your tree.

We know it’s hard to say goodbye, but listen to this—half of all Christmas tree fires occur in the 20 days AFTER the holiday, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Even a well-watered tree begins to show signs of drying out after four weeks. That means if you put your tree up around Thanksgiving, you should take it down right after Christmas.

Have a Safe Holiday with National Property Inspections

National Property Inspections is your partner for a safe and festive holiday season. Your local NPI inspector provides many services to help you keep your home’s most important components in tip top shape this winter. Locate your nearest inspector and make an appointment today.

Chimney Maintenance

Like any home appliance, chimneys need their share of maintenance. Inspecting and cleaning your chimney annually is essential to fire prevention, as well as your ventilation system. This can include the chimney itself, the flue liners that keep it protected, as well as the vents that encompass the entire home. Vents, like chimney flues, are used to transfer exhaust from appliances and some furnaces to ensure your family’s safety from day to day. In high efficiency furnaces, vents may be plastic as well as metal.

Inside a chimney, the conditions are bleak. Burning wood creates creosote, an oily black substance that coats the lining of your flue, which over time can become thick enough to ignite. If this happens, and the resulting creosote fire is intense enough, it can crack the liner of the chimney itself, risking weakening it and surrounding flammable materials which can include wood framing. If this happens, a comforting evening by the hearth can turn into a full-blown house fire, which is why it is so essential to have your National Property Inspections team member visit annually for prevention. The Chimney Safety Institute recommends a cleaning once the creosote gets to ¼ inch or thicker, so if you live with the fire burning, be wary of your creosotes. However, once your chimney sweep has finished, feel free to use the leftover creosote residue in flowerbeds. It is a great source of calcium and other nutrients!

During cleaning, your chimneysweep should check the damper to ensure correct positioning, as this helps with energy efficiency. Along with the flue itself, the damper ledge must always be cleaned, while the outside should be checked for obstructions as well as normal wear and tear. A chimney cap, which serves an important function, should be in place if it is not already, because it keeps animals, rainwater, leaves and debris out, while keeping the flames held in. If you decide a wood fire is best for you, remember never to burn green wood, but to make sure it is seasoned enough to crackle.

Between inspections, it is always good to keep an eye out for rust, discoloration, or cracking, especially the areas around joints. To prevent damage should there ever be a fire, always be sure to install smoke detectors in every level of the home to properly detect and alert everyone to the hazard. It goes without saying, never forget to check the smoke detectors each month for functionality.

Clothes Dryer Safety

By Jon McCreath, NPI Property Inspector, Emerson, Georgia

Clogged Dry VentAccording to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 15,000 fires are sparked every year by clothes dryers.  Lint and other debris can build up in your dryer vent, reducing air flow to the dryer, backing up dryer exhaust gases, creating a fire hazard.

Here are some of the signs that it’s time to clean your vent:

  • Clothing does not dry completely after a normal drying cycle.
  • Drying time for clothing takes longer than 35 to 40 minutes in duration.
  • A musty odor is noticed in the clothing following the drying cycle.
  • Clothing seems unusually hot to the touch after a complete drying cycle.
  • The dryer vent hood flap does not properly open as it is designed to do during the operation of the dryer.
  • Debris is noticed within the outside dryer vent opening.
  • Excessive heat is noticed within the room in which the dryer is being operated.
  • Large amounts of lint accumulate in the lint trap for the dryer during operation.
  • A visible sign of lint and debris is noticed around the lint filter for the dryer.
  • Excessive odor is noticed from dryer sheets that are used during the drying cycle.

Tips to decrease debris

  • Limit the use of dryer sheets used when drying clothing.  Instead of dryer sheets, use liquid fabric softener.
  • Only operate clothing dryers for intervals of 30 to 40 minutes per batch of laundry.  This allows more air circulation within the dryer and less lint build up from occurring.
  • When possible hang clothing such as heavy bedding, pillows and other large articles outside to line dry.McCreath PhotoJon McCreath is a professional National Property Inspections home inspector in northwest Georgia.
    If you live in the area, call 404.426.3661 to schedule your home inspection with Jon.
    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.

    Canada: gpiweb.ca/FindAnInspector
    United States: npiweb.com/FindAnInspector

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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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Everybody’s an Electrician (Evidently)

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

Fire HazzardMaybe it’s because so many of us were encouraged to learn about electricity by experimenting with batteries, wire, light bulbs, small motors, etc. during our youth.  (And I certainly don’t discourage this experimentation, since that provides critical learning opportunities.)  But it sure does seem that a lot of folks missed the lesson that some additional precautions and rules apply to the electrical system in a home.

A couple of the most common electrical findings (especially in attics and crawl spaces) during home inspections are splices not enclosed in electrical boxes and electrical boxes without proper covers installed.  The National Electric Code requires splices to be made inside enclosed electrical boxes and that electrical boxes have covers installed.  The drivers behind these requirements are fire safety and shock hazard prevention.  Since we see this so often, one might wonder how important this really is, since the houses obviously haven’t burned down and we typically don’t observe any electrocuted bodies near these installations.  (In case you didn’t know, the NEC is published by the National Fire Protection Association.  This fact should allow some of the old brain cells to conclude that not following the NEC rules just might result in a fire.)

Of course, there are many other electrical deficiencies that are discovered by home inspectors.  A significant percentage of these deficiencies were obviously created by a well-meaning DIY-er or handyman with an ultimate goal in mind.  Unfortunately, the “how to do it correctly” knowledge seems to be based largely on the discoveries made by playing with batteries and wires many years prior.  The scary part is how much stuff may be hidden in walls and other areas inaccessible for observation during an inspection.

Although preferred, I’m not necessarily a stickler that all electrical work in a home must be performed by a licensed electrician, but it would seem to be reasonable that such work be done in a manner that provides a safe result for the occupants of the home.  If folks are not going to hire a professional to make modifications to an electrical system, then they should put forth some effort to gain an understanding of how to do it correctly.

Now, how many other areas in the home and in life could we say this about?

 

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.

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Bringing Electricity Home

Electricity_shutterstock_103755371Do you know where your home’s electricity comes from? The electrical connections powering today’s homes start at a transformer on a pole or somewhere on the ground near the house. Transformers on the ground signify buried electrical lines. Transformers on a utility pole mean the electrical lines come into the house via overhead wires.

If your electrical lines are buried, they won’t be visible outside your home. However, if you have overhead electrical wires, you should regularly take a look at them for safety reasons. Damage to the wire or insulation around the wire can cause electrocution, so look for those things. You can likely check the overhead wires from the ground, and you should never touch the electrical lines.

Height regulations for electrical lines vary from one city to another. For general purposes, all electrical lines should be out of reach of people, vehicles, ladders and other equipment. This includes areas above pools, decks, porches and balconies. Electrical wires also should be clear of trees or other obstructions, including the corner of the house or the edge of a gutter, which could cause abrasion and expose bare wires. Finally, electrical lines should not touch other utility lines entering the home, such as the telephone or cable line.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home from roof to foundation. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for your next home inspection. To find your local inspector, visit one of the links below.

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AFCI and GFCI Outlets Improve Electrical Safety in Your Home

Electrical OutletAdvancements in electrical protection devices help keep homes and businesses safe. These devices include ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). Both help prevent electrical shock and fires caused by erratic surges in electrical current.

GFCI outlets are designed to trip when they sense even a minor imbalance in current between the hot (black) and neutral (white) legs of an electrical circuit. They cut off power to the receptacle in a fraction of a second — fast enough to avoid a potentially fatal shock. Although requirements vary by location, GFCIs are generally found in kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages and other areas where water may be present, such as a workshop. GFCI outlets have test and reset buttons, and it’s a good idea to test them monthly to make sure they are operating properly.

AFCI outlets are designed to help prevent fires caused by arcing faults — erratic current flows that get hot enough fast enough to start a fire without ever tripping the breakers. In many areas, AFCIs are required on branch circuits that serve residential bedrooms in newly constructed homes. Existing structures are not required to have AFCIs, but it may be a good idea to look into having them installed in your home. A home inspector can help pinpoint areas where added safety measures such as AFCI or GFCI outlets could help protect your family.

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 and its electrical system.

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Top Five Problems Revealed During a Home Inspection

By Kenn Garder, National Accounts Manager and Technical Support, NPI/GPI

Purchasing a house is a major decision, and a home inspection report can be used to assist in the decision-making process. Here are some of the more common issues found during a home inspection.

Poor Grading and Drainage
Water should run away from any structure to help prevent moisture intrusion. If the soil around a house slopes toward the house, or if water pools around the perimeter of the foundation, that moisture can create hydronic pressure in the soil that can move the foundation, causing cracks and leaks that can lead to extensive damage and expensive repairs. If water wicks into the wood framing members, the wood will rot over time. This moisture also provides a haven for wood-destroying organisms (WDO) because it provides a water and food source.

Erosion around the perimeter of a house may be caused by water spilling over gutters due to clogged downspouts or downspouts that terminate near the foundation. Downspout extensions or spill ways can be installed to keep water away from the foundation.

Roof Coverings
The roof of a house is designed to withstand most of what Mother Nature can dish out, whether it be rain, wind or sun. If installed properly, the roof should keep water out of the home.

The life expectancy for roof coverings varies depending on the material. Asphalt composite shingles, for instance, typically have a life expectancy of 15 to 25 years. As the roof covering ages, it can become more susceptible to water infiltration and leaking.

Plumbing Problems
Notice a theme here? Controlling water is one of the most important issues in home maintenance.

Leaking supply water and drain lines can cause damage to walls and floors, or they can become the water source for mold and mildew. Outdated (galvanized) or problematic systems (polybutylene) can develop leaks more frequently. Wax rings under toilets can develop leaks and damage the floor around the toilet or the ceiling below.

Electrical Issues
House fires caused by faulty wiring and overloading circuits are common. It is not unusual for a home inspector find evidence of DIY additions to a home’s electrical system. Many times these additions work but were not done properly, causing safety issues.

Exposed wire connections and double taps in the panel are also common problems. If your home inspector finds these or other electrical issues, he/she will recommend that you have the system evaluated and repaired by a qualified licensed electrician

HVAC Havoc
Inadequate maintenance of the HVAC equipment is common. Dirty condenser coils on the air conditioner condenser unit and dirty furnace filters can lead to major repairs. The equipment may be at or near its life expectancy and need to be replaced. Gas-fired furnaces may not burn properly.

With proper maintenance, an HVAC system can continue to heat and cool the house, but many times heating and cooling systems are “out of sight out of mind.”

This is a sampling of typical issues found during a home inspection. These items may vary depending on the geographical location of the property and the overall maintenance of the property.

Looking for a professional, qualified home inspector in your area? In the United States, visit http://npiweb.com/FindAnInspector. In Canada, visit http://gpiweb.ca/FindAnInspector.

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Common Defects in Newly Built Homes

By Randy Yates, Training Consultant Administrator, NPI/GPI Corporate

Home under construction uid 1When it comes to new-home construction, there really is no limit as to what can go wrong or not be done correctly during building. Defects are common; in fact, it has been said that a home inspector can sometimes find more things wrong with a newly constructed home than an existing home. This is why it’s important to always have a home inspection when buying a house — even if the house is newly built.

You might wonder what kinds of defects a new house could possibly have. Here is a list of problems home inspectors at National Property Inspections and Global Property Inspections often find:

Structural Defects
Premature cracking and settlement in foundation walls can be caused when builders don’t allow the proper amount of curing time for concrete in poured and block foundation walls and slabs. In addition, improper framing techniques — which may not be apparent at first — can cause cracks to develop in drywall. These are typically hairline in nature.

HVAC Problems
Our inspectors occasionally discover that the vent pipe from a gas-fired furnace has not been connected and has come loose during the initial operation. This is a major safety hazard, as carbon monoxide may enter the residence. In one situation, the PVC pipes used to vent a gas-fired furnace were not properly glued together. In addition, our inspectors sometimes find thermostats that do not respond to normal functions. Another common problem is missing drip legs on condensate lines.

Electrical Errors
The list is long for typical electrical problems, and most would not be obvious to the average home buyer or owner. The problem with defects in your home’s electrical system is that most are a fire and/or safety hazard. Here are the most common electrical problems our inspectors find in new houses:

  • Missing switch plates or receptacle covers
  • Improperly wired outlets
  • Open grounds — ground wire is not connected properly
  • Reversed polarity
  • Open knock-outs in the main electrical panel
  • Improper wire sizes on breakers
  • Double-taps on breakers in main panels — when two wires connect to a single breaker
    Jumpers ahead of the main lugs (double-tapping) — when two wires connect to a single lug

Plumbing Blunders
Plumbing problems are something you certainly don’t want in a new house. Leaks can cause major damage and mold issues, while other defects are more of a nuisance. But shouldn’t your brand-new home be free of nuisances? Here are some of the most common plumbing issues:

  • Unglued or improperly glued PVC pipe connections frequently develop leaks — you may never know about the weak joint until standing water begins to seep through
  • Hot/cold reversed faucets and fixtures
  • Bathroom sink drain stoppers that were not connected
  • Improperly vented plumbing systems may be noisy and/or smelly
  • Drain pipes that were not connected (One of our inspectors really did find a drain pipe in a crawl space that was never connected)

Miscellaneous Mistakes
Believe it or not, our inspectors have found all of the following problems in newly constructed houses:

  • Incomplete door hardware on closet doors, cabinetry and entrance doors
  • Improper fire-rated assemblies for pull-down attic stairs
  • Missing handrails on stairs
  • Missing or insufficient insulation
  • Leaky windows
  • Siding defects
  • Improper grading, which could lead to water intrusion and foundation damage

What these defects tell us is that if you are moving into a newly built house, don’t skip the home inspection. Even the best builders in your area use subcontractors, so you can’t assume that everything in your house is top-quality just because you builder is. Plus, you have to allow for human error, which is how many of the problems mentioned here happen. So, even if you just had your house built, it’s worth the cost of a home inspection to ensure that everything was done correctly, and that your new home will be safe and worry-free.

To find an NPI home inspector in your area in the United States, please visit www.npiweb.com/FindAnInspector. To find a GPI inspector in your area in Canada, please visit www.gpiweb.ca/FindAnInspector.

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