First-time Home Buyers: 6 Questions to Ask Your Home Inspector

By Hunter Newell, NPI Property Inspector, Milledgeville, Georgia

Inspector + Client + Plumbing3When you have an inspection done on your first home, it may seem a little overwhelming. You will get a report that sometimes could be up to 60 pages long and may contain a plethora of technical terms. Your home inspector should be more than happy to answer any questions you have regarding the contents of the report. However, it may be necessary to ask questions that may not relate to the condition of your house. Below are some important things you should know about your new home that may not be included in the report. Make sure you use the walkthrough portion of your home inspection to find out this information from your inspector.

  • “Where is the main breaker?” The main breaker is the primary electrical box going into a home. This is important to know its location if you need to shut off some or all of the power to your house. Be sure to ask your inspector where it is located.
  • “Where is the water shut-off valve?” The water shut-off valve is very important to locate. Most appliances, such as sinks and toilets, have an individual shut-off valve in case they leak or overflow uncontrollably. These shut-off valves are normally located within immediate reach of the appliance. However, your home will most likely have a main water shut-off. It is important to locate this for use in an emergency.
  • “Where is the gas shut-off?” This is extremely important to know in case your home develops a gas leak. Gasses that are used to operate appliances can be extremely hazardous to your health and pose a substantial explosion hazard. A home inspector will be more than happy to point out this shut-off.
  • “How do I adjust water temperature?” The water heater controls the temperature of water used in plumbing fixtures, such as showers and sinks. The temperature may need adjusting up or down, depending on your personal preference. Normally, this is done by turning a dial located on or near the water heater.
  • “How do I use my sprinkler system?” If your home has a sprinkler system, then they inspector may have checked the system. Regardless if it was reported on, the home inspector may be able to show you how to use it.
  • “Are there any other health risks associated with the area I live in that were not inspected?” Depending on the part of the country you live in, you may be exposed to health risks not included in your home inspection report. These could anything from radon gas to excess pollen infiltration. If these were not inspected or commented on in the report, then it may be necessary to ask your inspector the risk of these detriments in your area.

All of these questions are important to know when buying your first home, but don’t limit your inquiries to this list. If you have any other questions about general maintenance, areas to focus your attention on, or even what to expect with your home, ask your inspector. Any good home inspector will be happy to help you out in any way they can.

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High Water Pressure? That’s a Problem

Submitted by Paul Duffau, NPI Franchise Owner, Asotin, Washington

Water PressureWhen I bought my current home, the water came out of the shower head like a fire hose tackling a four-alarm torch job.

It was a mite high.

This was OK with most of the family, as they were female and had long hair. For those who have not raised daughters, a moment of education: Long hair requires lots of water to get all the shampoo out, preferably at decent pressure so the hair rinses clean all the way to the roots.

It was also something I was aware of as I tested it as part of my inspection prior to purchasing the house. I do this for most houses I inspect, provided the water is on, and I can test without making an enormous mess inside. Usually, I use a hose bib on the exterior of the home. As you might imagine, this is not one of my favorite tests in the middle of winter.

Unfortunately, no matter how popular the fire hose effect is with my kids, it’s not good for the plumbing system. The plumbing is actually a highly engineered system, as are all the fittings, fixtures and appliances attached to the supply plumbing.

To give you an idea of the potential for trouble, think about your plumbing lines and connections as balloons. What happens to the balloon if you put too much air into it? Yep, it pops. The plumbing does as well, though probably (but not certainly) as catastrophically.

You have hundreds of fittings within the home — not just on the pipes, but also on appliances such as the water heater, the dishwasher and the clothes washer. You also have a multitude of O-rings, valve fittings and the like on your faucets, their valves and the shower heads.

That’s a lot of spots with the potential to leak.

High water pressure also causes early degradation of the appliances. Dish and clothes washers are designed to operate at specific pressures, usually 15 to 80 PSI. Increasing this pressure also increases the wear and tear on the equipment, reducing their service lives.

So, How Do You Know if Your Water Pressure Is Too High?
Well, a pressure washer effect in the shower is a good clue, but testing is the easiest way to know exactly what the static pressure is. You can buy a standard water pressure gauge for about $10 at your local hardware store, or even online from Amazon.com. Simply screw it onto a hose bib outside and read the pressure. You can also test indoors at the washer hose connection, but have a small bucket or pan ready to catch the drips.

A word of warning: We do have some municipalities in our region that have separate water supplies for the indoor and irrigation water systems. Make sure that you are testing the potable water supply. The washer supply will be part of the potable system.

What to Do if You Have High Water Pressure
Ideally, you would like to see the water pressure between 40 and 80 PSI (pounds per square inch) when you test it. This is considered the normal range, although if I tested once during the middle of the day and hit 82 PSI, I would be inclined to retest, especially during the peak usage hours to see what kind of pressure drop occurs when everyone is home and using water for showers, cooking and doing dishes.

If you measure the pressure and you do have high water pressure, correction of the problem is as simple as installing a pressure reducing valve near the main valve where the primary water supply enters the building.

Now, I did say “as simple as ,” but that doesn’t mean I recommend that you do it. I recommend that this work be done by a licensed plumber, especially in older homes that may have supply lines that are degrading. It is not an expensive repair, and I feel it is worth having a person with the training and proper tools tackle a job that, done incorrectly, could have a geyser spraying across the house.

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What Does an Inspector Check on a Sprinkler System?

Sprinkler_shutterstock_133096526Inspecting a sprinkler system, like all other types of inspections, is conducted as a visual, noninvasive inspection. One first of all must be familiar with all of the components, like the controllers, sprinkler heads, rain gauges, and, most importantly, a backflow preventer. Not all home inspectors perform sprinkler inspections, so check with your home inspector to see whether he/she will do this for you.

Controllers (Timers): Timers can be mechanical with an actual moving dial and limitations, or more commonly used digital timers. Mechanical timers have a dial with pins that you can set the time (time each zone will run and provide coverage) but may be more limited as to how many watering schedules may be set. Typically, these only allow for one set time per day. Digital timers, on the other hand, have the capability to allow multiple watering schedules and more than one watering schedule per day. When conducting an inspection, timers are inspected in manual mode only.

Zones: Zones can include the areas for the pop-up heads throughout the yard, as well as soaker hoses for perimeter zones and flower beds that are close to the building or home. Note: A close look at the timer in most cases can determine how many zones there are.

The number of zones needed is determined by the size of the yard and how much coverage is needed. The number of sprinkler heads and coverage within the zone also determines the size and coverage of each zone. A zone can include soaker hoses that are typically placed around the perimeter of the house or building. It is important to remember that in some areas, such as Texas, it is required to have a watering system around the perimeter of a house to keep the moisture content consistent to provide structural stability of the home. Too much water can cause problems, though.

Sprinkler Heads: Sprinkler heads can provide one-quarter size, one-half size, three-quarters size and full spray patterns for the pop-up type and the oscillating pop-up type, sometimes called Rain Birds — which is actually a brand-specific name— and can spray a pattern up to 35 ft. Again, the size of the zone (coverage) will determine how many sprinkler heads and what type will be needed. Note: Pop-up heads should fully extend when in operation and fully close when not. There also should not be any excessive leakage while the sprinkler head is in operation.

Rain Gauges or Sensors: These devices can be located in a gutter, or they can be a moisture-type meter stuck into the ground. Note: It is important to remember that a rain gauge may have to be bypassed in order to run the system in manual mode to conduct an inspection. Rain gauges prevent the system from operating when there is enough moisture in the ground.

Backflow Preventers: All sprinkler systems require a backflow preventer when the sprinkler system is being supplied from the potable water (water service) coming into the home, whether public utility or private well system. In most cases, a sprinkler system takes the water as it enters the home where the water pressure is the most strongest before it supplies the home or building. A typical sprinkler system requires a minimum of 35 pounds of pressure to operate. A backflow preventer prevents the water that is supplying the sprinkler system from re-entering the potable water supply that is feeding the house or building to prevent contamination of the water supply. Sprinkler systems that draw their water from lakes, ponds or streams require a filter to prevent large pieces of debris from entering and clogging up the system.

Inspecting a Sprinkler System
The inspector will determine number of zones. He/she will operate the system in manual mode, checking each zone for adequate coverage. The inspector will also look for and confirm location of a backflow preventer, as well as look for signs of excessive leakage at the heads , cracked heads or corrosion of the system. Finally, he/she will visually check the water pressure and flow of the system.

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Winterizing and De-winterizing a Sprinkler System

Submitted by Roland Bates, President, National Property Inspections/Global Property Inspections

Picture A

Picture A – Click to enlarge

There are different methods for installing a sprinkler system and “back-flow prevention.” Picture A incorporated herein depicts one of those methods. The number of zones and sprinkler heads can vary depending on the size of the lot, and, of course, zones and sprinkler heads are buried below grade. The timers/controls could be located in the garage, a basement, etc.

Specifically, Picture A represents the water source coming from the house and supplies the water used to sprinkle the lawn. This picture also shows applicable backflow prevention. Briefly, under the right circumstance it is possible for contaminated water (think lawn fertilizer) to find its way back and into the “potable” water. That could be hazardous to the health of the homeowner. Backflow prevention is what keeps this from happening.

Picture B - Click to Enlarge

Picture B – Click to enlarge

Note in Picture A the positioning of the two green handles (red arrows) and the two screws (green arrows). This tells us this system has been winterized. Keeping it simple, the water to the sprinkler system was shut off inside the house. The two handles and the two screws were then positioned as seen in this picture. This positioning allows the system to drain. (With self-draining sprinkler heads and a little luck, this might be enough to keep the system from freezing.) However, playing it safe and using a compressor to push/blow any remaining water through the zones is the preferred method.

To de-winterize the system, and again keeping it simple, the two green handles would be positioned where they are in direct alignment with the pipe in which they are located. The two screws would be positioned (where the flathead screwdriver fits) perpendicular to the handle it is closest to. Then, of course, the water would be turned on from inside the house and the timers reset per the homeowner’s wishes.

Picture C - Click to enlarge

Picture C – Click to enlarge

Picture B depicts the fact that the homeowner did not unscrew/detach the water hose from the exterior hose bib. When this happens, this leaves a certain amount of water in the hose and the hose bib going back into the house. If it gets cold enough, the hose bib can freeze and split as depicted in photo C. Most homeowners will not realize this has happened until the spring when they use the hose for the first time. A flooded basement or other damage is the likely result.

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