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 Outdated (galvanized) or problematic systems (polybutylene) can develop leaks more frequently.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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Tips for Proper Furnace Maintenance

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

Furnace_shutterstock_132626027A gas furnace is a key piece of equipment in a home. Most furnaces are installed centrally in the house but often are tucked away in a closet, up in the attic, or in the basement or crawl space. In other words, they may not be the easy to access. To help your home’s heating equipment live a good, long life, regular maintenance is strongly recommended. Just because the furnace is out of sight doesn’t mean it should be out of mind.

Many HVAC companies offer service agreements that include a regular scheduled maintenance program. Or maybe you’re a handy do-it-yourselfer who wants to get their hands dirty and take care of things themselves. If that’s you,  here are a few furnace maintenance tips.

  1. Change the filter regularly. The filter prevents dirt from entering the furnace. Dirt and debris can build up on the blower fan and in the ductwork, which can also reduce air flow, wasting fuel and drastically lowering the unit’s efficiency. The filter may be changed monthly, quarterly or annually, depending on the type of filter and the conditions the furnace is operating under. Generally, we recommend changing the filter monthly. Make sure to use the proper size filter.
  2. Remember safety first. When maintaining your furnace, follow some basic safety practices. Most furnaces have a service switch that can be shut off so the unit won’t turn on during maintenance. Check for gas leaks and loose wires before you begin cleaning the furnace. If you smell gas smell or notice a loose wire, contact an HVAC professional.
  3. Clean the blower and ducts. The blower assembly is usually next to the filter, so the dust and dirt that penetrates or goes around the air filter goes to the blower. Use a damp cloth or vacuum to clean the blower, belts and pulleys to remove any accumulated dirt.
  4. Inspect the fan. After the dirt has been removed, make sure the fan spins smoothly and is properly secured. The bearings on the fan and motor may need lubricating, and if the fan is belt-driven, then the fan belt should be checked for proper tension.

Cleaning and maintaining a furnace is not a daunting task and is fairly inexpensive to complete. Proper maintenance will extend the service life of your equipment and help your furnace stay energy efficient.

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How Does a Home Inspector Inspect a Gas Forced-air Furnace?

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

FurnaceIndustry standards of practice state that an inspector should open accessible panels to inspect installed heating equipment. The inspector is supposed to describe the energy source used to create the heat, as well as inspect the heating equipment, venting and distribution systems.

So, how does the inspector meet these standards when he/she is using visual noninvasive inspection techniques? After all, when you order a home inspection, you want to be sure the furnace is operating correctly.

NPI/GPI has high standards for its inspectors, and we recommend the following methods for furnace inspection:

  • Locate the thermostat(s) to operate the system. The thermostat should be centrally located in the house and away from other sources of heat.
  • Examine the exterior of the furnace for rust, corrosion, soot etc.
  • Use a gas sniffer on all visible gas lines joints and connections.
  • Identify the furnace, and note the serial number, age and input BTUs. This information is often found inside the burner panel.
  • Remove the draft shield and examine the burner heads, combustion chamber, and verify that the correct piping is used for gas supply. Replace the shield and panels when complete.
  • Note the color and condition of the flame for a proper burn.
  • Inspect the flue for gas leaks, rust, corrosion and proper clearances from combustibles.
  • Note any unusual noise or vibration from the blower fan.
  • Note any unusual odors.
  • Check the blower fan and filter for cleanliness.
  • Use the gas detector at the nearest supply register to check for any leaks.
  • Make sure the furnace is located in an area that provides ample air supply and has adequate room for service access.
  • While the unit is running, check for air delivery in the rooms.
  • Complete an overall inspection of the ductwork.

As with all elements of a home inspection, the inspection of the furnace inspection is visual and noninvasive; however, normal service panels are removed to inspect the furnace. A thorough inspection of the heat exchanger is not in the scope of work for a home inspection, so don’t be fooled by inspectors who tell you they’ve checked the heat exchanger.

The furnace’s data tag information can be included in the report, as well as the unit’s BTUs, manufacturer and age of the unit. Photo documentation of the furnace also should be included in the report.

If issues are discovered, then the home inspector should recommend further evaluation and repairs as needed by a qualified heating contractor.

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Dirty Ducts? Here’s Your Solution

Furnace_shutterstock_132626027Q. Should I have my ducts cleaned? What are the benefits of doing this?

A. The short answer is yes, and the reason and frequency of having them cleaned depends on a variety of factors.

Let’s look at the reasons why you should have your ducts cleaned. Ductwork in a home, especially if the HVAC system has not been maintained by regular annual servicing or simple monthly filter changes, can create a harboring zone for accumulative dust and dirt, as well as the possibility of harboring mold and bacteria. If any member of your family is susceptible to allergies or respiratory problems, then this information could be extremely important.

Dust and dirt is common in any home or building. We, as occupants, bring it indoors, and it can be more problematic if you live on or near dirt or gravel roads in rural areas. Once inside the home, dust and dirt can be circulated by the HVAC system, and without an efficient system, it can circulate throughout and often settle into the HVAC ductwork. When large amounts of dust and dirt settle, it can create the possibilities of a mold and bacteria breeding ground.

So, how often do you need to have them cleaned? The EPA recommends at least every three to five years depending on where you live. If you have members of the family with allergies and respiratory problems, you may need to have them cleaned more often.

At a minimum, you should change your furnace filter monthly. There are different types of filters, depending on the amount of dust and dirt they with trap. Lower, less expensive fiberglass filters will trap fewer particles than more expensive pleated filters.

With annual maintenance of your HVAC system and a scheduled monthly (maybe more often) filter change, you can reduce the amount of dust and dirt accumulation in the ductwork system of your home.

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What’s Wrong With This Photo?

Furnace ventingA. Duct tape can be used to seal joints for PVC connections on condensing furnaces.

B. This installation passed city inspections.

C. PVC vent pipe connections must  be glued together and not duct-taped together.

D. Foil tape is a better choice for sealing these types on connections.

Correct Answer: C. PVC vent pipe connections must  be glued together and not duct-taped together. True story, an elderly lady died from carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of a negligent HVAC contractor.

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What Will My Inspector Check on the Furnace?

FurnaceThere are a lot of different ways to heat our homes: solar, hot water circulating, steam, wood-burning, oil furnace, gas furnace and heat pumps, just to name a few. There are pros and cons to each, and geography plays a role. For example, electric radiant heat in the ceiling is probably not the best choice for northern Michigan, but might be a reasonable choice for a temperate climate like Tennessee. Most of us think of heating our homes with a furnace. (Collectively, some people refer to furnaces as “air-handlers.”) A good inspector will first identify the type of furnace and then will focus on specific things relative to that type of furnace.

A gas furnace is one of the most common and, although there are numerous things an inspector will look for, three of the most common are the following:

  1. Is there enough combustion air and where is it coming from?
  2. The condition of the furnace flue and whether the burned gases are venting properly to the outside.
  3. Are there any gas leaks?

One of the most important components of a gas furnace is the heat exchanger. In short, this is a sealed chamber where combustion takes place and the burned gases are directed to the furnace flue, to be safely vented to the outdoors. Inspecting a heat exchanger is difficult because it’s mostly hidden/enclosed inside the furnace cabinet. Determining whether there is a crack in the heat exchanger is a difficult task, but it can be done using certain gas detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and chemical tests.

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Updated Furnace With Old Flue Ducting? It Could Be a CO Hazard

Submitted by Scott Ward, NPI Franchise Owner, Southern Johnson County, Kansas

Wounded Warrior 16601 W 147 Terr. Olathe KS 7-19-13 027Over the past several years, I have performed inspections on numerous 20- to 30-year-old homes where a new, more efficient furnace has been installed but the original flue piping was retained. In at least six of these homes, flue piping running through an attic space has had significant corrosion present, which could allow a large amount of carbon monoxide (CO) to potentially enter the living areas. In some cases the flue pipe was so severely corroded that the piping had actually fallen and was venting directly into the attic. Remember, gas water heaters typically are vented in the furnace flue pipe, adding to the potential of CO poisoning.

The Problem
The flue pipe corrosion is caused by a combination of flue gasses condensing inside of the flue pipe and low exhaust temperatures common on newer high efficiency gas furnaces. Old furnaces have efficiencies of less than 50 percent while new ones are typically over 90 percent. This means that flue gas temperatures are significantly lower now than in years past.

One of the byproducts of burning natural gas as a fuel is water vapor. When this water vapor comes in contact with the wall of the flue, it condenses into water droplets. The droplets, called condensate, have a very low pH and are corrosive to metals.

Wounded Warrior 16601 W 147 Terr. Olathe KS 7-19-13 026Over a period of time, the flue pipe can corrode from the inside out and begin leaking CO. This usually occurs in piping that has a low slope. Vertical flue runs usually have fewer issues, but look for a white, powdery residue at joints and elbows or inside the furnace cabinet. This is also an indication of low flue temperatures and corrosion potential.

The Solution
First and foremost, install a quality CO detector. It can be a lifesaving device. Every year people die from CO poisoning.

Second, while homeowners can visually inspect the flue piping, many times it is routed through difficult-to-access areas, such as behind walls, in ceilings and in attic spaces. Look for any signs of corrosion or white, powdery deposits on the flue piping. Both are good indications of a potential problem.

If you are concerned about this flue pipe problem in your home, it is best to hire a professional such as a home inspector or an HVAC contractor, as they will have the knowledge, experience and equipment to inspect the flue system.

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