Don’t Let Dirty Windows Dull Your Home

Empty RoomNow is the perfect time to clean the winter grime off your windows and let the sunshine into your home. Here are some tips to help you get gleaming windows.

  1. Remove the window screens. Lay them on a flat surface. Wet the screens thoroughly and scrub lightly, being careful not to bend the material in the screen. Repair any holes in the screens.
  2. Clean windows from the inside of your house using window cleaner and a soft towel or newspaper. Did you know that newsprint works wonders for a streak-free shine? It does, so put those old newspapers to good use. To clean the exterior side of windows, you may need a ladder. If you have second-story windows or very high windows, you may opt to use a window cleaner that attaches to your garden hose. These cleaners are available at any home improvement store and offer an easy, affordable way to clean hard-to-reach windows.
  3. You should also open any weep holes that are clogged by sealant, dirt or paint. This will help pull moist air out of your home and prevent mold and mildew.
  4. Reapply weather stripping or sealant around the window. Vacuum any debris from inside the sill and then replace the screens. You can use a fine steel wool to clean the window tracks to prevent sticking.
  5. Reassemble the windows and enjoy the terrific natural light.

If you can, clean and repair windows on cool, cloudy days. Warm, sunny days tend to cause windows to dry too fast, leaving behind streaks and spots.

If you are using a ladder to reach exterior windows, it might be a good time to check the gutters and downspouts for build-up, debris or damage. Clean out any leaves, twigs or other items that may be clogging gutters. Be sure to follow proper ladder safety guidelines at all times.

Did you know that your local NPI or GPI home inspector can provide you with a copy of our seasonal home maintenance guide? Call or email your local inspector if you’d like one.

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What’s Wrong With This Photo?

By Randy Yates, Training Consultant Administrator, NPI/GPI

Snapshots From the FieldLook closely at the photo on the left and see if you can figure out what is wrong in the picture. Is it the fireplace? No, it seems to have an adequate hearth. Is it the throw rug? Well, that probably won’t stay after the sale of the house.

Check out that big, beautiful window in the background. If you look closely, you’ll notice it goes all the way to the floor. But what could be wrong with that? Here’s what: With a window that big, the glass needs to be safety glass — something the average home buyer would never look for, but your home inspector would.

In the case of the window pictured, the original sliding glass patio door had been removed and replaced with single-pane glass that showed no indication that it was safety glass. Just think of the catastrophe if someone tripped and fell into this window or if a child was playing and crashed into it.

According to the International Residential Code (IRC), if a window meets the following four criteria, it must be made of safety glass:

  • The glass size must be larger than 9 square feet, or 3 ft. x 3 ft.
  • The sill height (bottom of the window) must be lower than 18 inches.
  • The upper edge (top of the window) must be greater than 36 inches above a walking surface.
  • The window must be within 36 inches horizontal of walking surface.

Although difficult to tell in this picture, the size of the window is 36 square feet. The sill height is zero, as the window goes to the floor. it was originally a patio door, so it is within 36 inches horizontal both inside and outside. In short, this window needs to be made of safety glass.

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Why Should I Get a New-construction Home Inspection?

By Wes Grant, NPI Franchise Owner, Indian Trail, North Carolina

I hear this question often from folks buying a newly built home, and it has compelled me to explain the virtues of having a new-construction home properly inspected by a professional and qualified home inspector.

Firstly, I am not writing this to bash home builders, per se. For the most part, I know many custom home builders who do a fine job. Unfortunately, I also know many home builders who do a mediocre to poor job and who are only concerned with their bottom line regardless of the marketing propaganda they feed new-home shoppers. I have been labeled “Deal Killer” by some of these builders because I point out the flaws and poor workmanship they try to pass on to their buyers.

Home inspectors are the one — and often only — party who has no skin in the game. What does it benefit us to be a deal killer? The builder makes money selling the house; inspectors are the only objective party involved in the transaction because we are paid to inspect the home whether or not a buyer goes through with the purchase. Buyers of new-construction homes are often inexperienced in the new-construction home buying process. They mistakenly assume that because a home has passed all local code inspections, it must be OK.

My short answer is this: Don’t assume your builder, or the subcontractors they use, did a good job just because the home passed code inspections. A professional home inspector is your last line of defense against major and minor defects that could literally cost you thousands of dollars and cause you many a restless night.

At National Property Inspections, we work with many professional Realtors, and they know us and understand that we are here to help our mutual clients and keep them from being fleeced by parties who choose to ignore poor quality or simply don’t care.

OK, I’m getting off my soap box. Here, I outline the most severe issues I regularly find during new-construction home inspections.

Improperly Installed Cement Fiber Plank Siding
Most frequently, I find multiple issues with improperly installed cement fiber planks. Major manufacturers of this product are James Hardie and Certainteed. I’m not going into the class-action lawsuits that are currently in process with some cement fiber plank manufacturers — that’s for a later discussion. I’m simply pointing out that many new-construction homes I have inspected have siding that has been installed improperly.

I find that nails are often overdriven or multiple nails are driven into small areas. Nails that are overdriven no longer have holding strength and/or crack the corners of the siding. In either case, the individual planks will begin to fail over time, and some fall completely off the house, many times within just a few weeks after construction.

Per the Certainteed installation specs: “Do not over-drive the fasteners. Seating them below the surface of the siding reduces their holding power and creates an entryway for moisture. Do not place fasteners in the center, unsupported area of the siding.”

Another issue is siding planks and boards that have large gaps between the ends of the siding. The butt ends of siding should be in moderate contact and should have joint flashing, joint caps or sealant at each joint connection. (Depending on local code, many manufacturers recommend against using any joint sealants.) Open gaps between the butt ends allows easy access for water intrusion behind the siding.

Problems With Stone Veneer Siding Installation
Improperly installed manufactured stone veneer siding is also a common defect. Failure to follow the manufacturer’s installation procedures can lead to water intrusion inside the wall cavity behind the siding. At a recent 11-month builder’s warranty inspection, we discovered very high moisture readings on the interior walls of the home using a Tramex encounter plus noninvasive moisture meter. The manufactured stone veneer, commonly referred to by builders as “lick and stick” was installed with no visible weep system at the base of the wood frame walls or horizontal transitions. We found other problems, too:

  • No visible weep system at the tops of windows and/or doors
  • No visible sealants along seams between the stone cladding and siding, trim, windows and/or doors
  • No indication of a flashing and/or weep system where the stone cladding is in contact with roofing materials or along head flashings
  • Metal lath was visible, indicating that the proper base coats of mortar were not applied prior to installation of the stone cladding

The lack of proper detailing and flashing is conducive to water penetration behind the stone cladding and possible hidden damage. The home owner contacted the builder after receiving our report that night (we always deliver same-day reports). The builder started removing stone, and multiple areas of the interior wall had water-soaked insulation and mold growth. We saved the customer thousands of dollars for which she repaid us by referring at least six of her neighbors in this new-home community, all for 11-month builder’s warranty inspections.

Rayn Properties Architectural Images

Unprotected Roof Penetrations
We frequently discover improperly installed flashing and boot vents at roof penetrations, as well as missing kick-out flashing at the end of sidewalls. We were inspecting a brand-new home on the same day our customer was doing the walkthrough with the builder. It was raining on the day of inspection, and as we made our way into the attic, I noticed a large puddle on the OSB plywood just in front of the furnace. Upon further inspection I determined that the subcontractor who cut the hole penetration in the roof to extend the furnace flue had cut the hole much too large allowing water to pour into the attic area.

This is a brand-new house — even after the roofers, HVAC technicians and who knows who else had been in or around this roof and attic, nobody noticed the light coming in around the furnace flue penetration, and no one saw the gaps around the flue penetration on the exterior roof while they were putting on the shingles? Had the customer not had a home inspection, how much damage would this leak have caused before it would be discovered?

On a 10-year-old brick home we inspected, kickout flashing was missing over a window at the front porch, and visible staining was noted on the exterior brick veneer. On the interior walls, we found moisture intrusion, and the window sill area was very soft. At the band sill (viewed during the crawl space inspection), our inspector noted rot and severe water damage directly under the area missing the kick-outs. If the missing kick-outs had been noted at the time of construction (regardless of code), these home owners would not have been looking at spending thousands of dollars in repairs 10 years later.

Plumbing Fails
During the crawl space inspection of a new-construction home just this year, I noted water leaking from under the master bathroom toilet area. It appeared that the plumber forgot to install a wax seal! I have actually caught this three times in new-home construction.

Funny story: My Daddy was a plumber, so from the time I was able to walk, I was required to be a plumber’s helper. I can clearly remember Daddy having me finish installing some copper supply lines in a bathroom of a new-construction home when I was about 14 years old, while Daddy went back to the supply house to pick up some elbows. I was fluxing my heart out and connecting pipes and was so proud of the job I did. I remember when Daddy was testing the water pressure all the joints blew at the bathroom I completed — seems I forgot one important task: soldering the joints. Not my best moment! Point being, everybody makes mistakes or forgets things sometimes. A home inspection will catch many of these lapses.

Improperly Flashed Window and Door Openings
This defect is normally only discovered if the customer is having a pre-drywall inspection (a very good idea for new-home-construction buyers). We got a call to do an inspection on a 4-year-old house in a new home development that stalled in 2009 during the economic crash after several houses had already been constructed.

In the interior of the home, around the back-door threshold area, the floor was very soft and “giving” when stepped on. During the crawl space inspection, we noted evidence of water intrusion, wood rot and mold growth in the subflooring components under the back-door threshold. The sellers agreed to repair the problem, and the contractor doing the repair work started demolition. They discovered that there was absolutely no flashing around the door threshold, which could have been caught with a pre-drywall inspection.

This year, we have done several new-construction inspections and pre-drywall inspections in that same neighborhood (building resumed full force in 2014), and we are finding that this particular builder is routinely failing to install flashing at some areas of windows and doors, or not using any type of rubber tape adhesive flashing at some of the corners (bowtie cuts) and just using caulk sealant. This is sloppy work by a subcontractor, which will lead to expensive damage in the future.

These are just a few of the major issues we have discovered during new-construction home inspections that have saved our customers thousands of dollars and more than justify the cost of a home inspection. All of these issues have been identified by a qualified professional home inspector.

A new home will be the largest financial investment most of us make in our lifetimes. For the cost of pennies on the dollar, you can buy peace of mind that your purchase is a sound financial investment with an objective home inspection. Call National Property Inspections today to book your next home inspection. We will save you money in the long run.

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Is It Time for New Windows? Here Are Some Shopping Tips

Empty RoomOne of the best ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency — as well as to give it a facelift — is to install new windows. But once you start shopping for new windows, all of the latest technologies available may seem overwhelming: Glazing materials now come with a variety of coatings and feature options; you can buy frames in aluminum, wood, vinyl, fiberglass or a combination of materials. And, each glazing or frame option has its own pros and cons. How are you to know what to choose for your home and your budget?

Here, we’ve collected some tips for window shopping:

  • Look for the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label to ensure that the window’s performance is certified.
  • The lower the U-value, the better the window’s insulation. In colder climates, a U-value of .35 or lower is recommended because these windows have double glazing and a low-e coating.
  • In warmer climates, where summertime heat coming through windows is the main concern, look for windows with double glazing and spectrally selective coatings to reduce heat gain.
  • Select windows with air leakage ratings of 0.3 cubic feet per minute or less.
  • To maximize the seasonal energy benefits in temperate climates, choose windows with both low U-values and low solar heat gain coefficiency (SHGC).
  • Look for the ENERGY STAR® AND EnergyGuide labels on the windows.
  • Vinyl windows are a low-cost durable option — it’s virtually indestructible, impervious to moisture and insect- and rot-proof.
  • Fiberglass windows won’t warp, rot or crack, but they also cost about twice as much as vinyl windows.
  • Although aluminum windows are extremely strong, aluminum has many downsides: It doesn’t insulate well against heat and cold; expands and contracts rapidly relative to glass, putting stress on seals; and is susceptible to the corrosive effects of salt air, so it’s not a great choice for coastal climates
  • Wood windows have a certain charm, but they aren’t as durable, are susceptible to rot and insect attack, require vigilant maintenance and cost more.
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Drafty Windows? We Have Help

Submitted by Kenn Garder, Technical Support, NPI/GPI Corporate

iStock_000000197663SmallThere is a chill in the air, the North Wind has an extra bite and a draft is coming through the windows. What can you do?

First, open and close the window and look for any torn or missing weather-stripping on the sash. Make sure the window lock is adjusted properly to close the window tight against the weather-stripping. If there are storm windows, make sure they are shut and latched properly.

Next try to determine where the air is coming in. Make sure all of the windows are closed. Make sure window coverings are held away from the glass and will not ignite. Light a candle and hold the flame near each window, fairly close to the window at the seam between the widow frame and the sash. Move the candlestick slowly around the frame and the sash, pausing to allow the flame to steady. If the flame bends or flickers while in the pause mode, then there is probably a leak, mark the area with a piece of tape or a sticky note and continue around that window and the others in the home and mark any suspect area.

Once you have identified the problem areas and drafts, you need to seal them up. Some methods can be completed by the homeowner; other, more complicated methods of repairs may be best left to a contractor.

  • Weather-stripping can be purchased at a hardware store or home center. Different products are available, most commonly plastic, felt, foam or metal. These materials can be cut and pressed into the gaps between the frame and the sash, or installed on the frame and pressed against the sash to create a good seal.
  • Caulking is usually installed on the exterior, so this is a task for warmer weather. Caulking can be applied where the trim meets the window frame and where the trim meets the wall covering. If old, deteriorating caulking is in place, remove it by scoring the caulk where it meets the trim and the frame, and remove it with a putty knife or chisel. Make sure to clean the area well with a brush before applying new caulking. A good exterior latex caulk may be preferred for ease of application and cleanup, this type of caulking is usually paintable if the caulk does not match the window or if you wish to paint the window in the future. Be sure to follow the installation instructions on the tube of caulking for proper installation.
  • Insulating film. If the window will not be opened during the winter months, then a layer of shrink film can be applied to the window. The film is usually applied to the window using double-sided tape. The window trim should be clean so the tape will stick properly, then apply the tape and film as directed in the instructions. This film is usually removed in the spring and summer months so the windows can be opened.
  • Replacement windows. This is usually an expensive venture, but in most cases the cost of the replacement is at least partially recouped in the sale of the home. Until the home is sold, you still have the benefit of fewer or no drafts and lower energy bills. Proper installation and insulation is important when replacing windows.

Several options are available to reduce drafts, and your local utility companies may offer energy audits and recommendations for weatherization contractors to help limit the amount of energy lost by drafty windows.

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Ask the Inspector: Proper Egress Windows

Submitted by Lawrence Englehart, GPI franchise owner, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Empty RoomQ. Recently, a home inspector reported that we have a bedroom window that is not a proper egress window. What does this mean, and is it important?

A. This is a great question to ask. The issue with an incorrectly sized egress window is one that I and my fellow home inspectors come across way too frequently. Sadly, this issue tends to occur with older homes that have had their windows upgraded. The replacement windows are now the problem.

Ironically, the requirement for a properly sized bedroom window has been around since 1980, and subsequent code changes since then have made it even easier to understand how a bedroom egress window is defined.

Having said that, I simply can’t understand why the wrong type of bedroom window could have been installed within the past 30 years.

Unfortunately, very few of us think of a bedroom window as a “life-saving” feature. However, if there was ever an emergency situation, like a house fire, then having the properly sized egress window in the bedroom could be the difference between life and death.

That is why the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) has very clear requirements as it relates to bedroom windows and how a bedroom window can serve three distinct purposes in the home:

  1. Light (at least 5 percent of the floor area served)
  2. Ventilation (at least 0.28m2 or 3 ft2 or an adequate year-round mechanical ventilation)
  3. Emergency Escape: (Article & An emergency escape requires that each bedroom must have a door that leads directly to the exterior of the building or have a properly sized egress window that can be opened from the inside without the use of keys, tools, hardware or special knowledge* (unless this bedroom has a sprinkler system installed).

The size of an egress window is not based on the physical size of the window frame, but on what the unobstructed clear opening is (once the window has been fully opened).

For a bedroom window to be compliant, it must provide an unobstructed opening with a minimum area of 0.35m² (3.77ft²) and at the same time no horizontal or vertical dimension/opening can be less than 380 mm (15”).

It is further recommended that the bottom of any egress window opening or sill not be higher than 1.5m (5ft) above the floor. Now, this can be somewhat challenging for any bedroom in a basement, so they recommend installing some means of built-in furniture below the window to assist in the event of an emergency.

However, if a bedroom window opens into a window well, then the window well must allow at least 550mm (21.7”) in front of the window. This is to ensure that the window well does not obstruct or block the ability to use the window as a means of emergency escape. Where a casement-type window is used, the window well must also project out enough to allow for the full 90o swing of the window opening.

Unfortunately, an out-swing awning window is usually not permitted for egress when it opens into a window well, as it tends to fully block all means of escape.

Now, I’ve come across many examples of single-hung windows that simply won’t stay open. In other words, when I slide the lower window up, the window immediately slides back down. This would be an example of when egress is restricted by a defective opening mechanism — and that would be considered a safety hazard.

Regardless, the assessment of the bedroom windows in the home is part of a typical home inspection.

So, if you are contemplating replacing an existing bedroom window, or adding a bedroom to your basement, you need to ensure each bedroom window meets the minimum egress window requirements.

You can find great information on egress windows by visiting the Halifax Regional Municipality website or contact any of the window and door specialists in our area, or even your local hardware store.

If you are hiring a contractor to do this work, then you must make certain to tell them the window in question is for a bedroom, and they should be able to provide you with various window options that you can use that will safely comply with bedroom egress requirements.

*Note: It is important to note that the term “special knowledge” is interpreted as one simple motion to unlock the window and one simple motion to open the window, without the use of special tools, keys or knowledge.

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‘Foggy’ Dual-pane Windows? It May Be Time to Replace Them

Submitted by Mike Hunger, NPI Franchise Owner, Winston-Salem, N.C.

iStock_000001241220SmallThe first house my wife and I purchased was in a brand-new neighborhood in Savannah, Georgia. It was 1985. We had finally saved enough money, and we were excited to have our own place that we could paint, decorate and landscape to our own tastes. Our three children were excited, too. This was a big step for us.

The house was typical of new construction in that area for the time: single level, all electric, on a concrete slab. Three bedrooms, two baths, with vaulted ceilings in the living room and kitchen. Our lot was what we referred to as a “postage stamp” — it was small, but it was ours.

So we went work. I built a screened porch over the patio, and a fancy “shadowbox” fence made of cypress around the rear yard. The whole neighborhood was busy putting their own touches on their new abodes. It was a fun time.

About the insulated windows. The windows on our new home were what is called “dual pane”: Two glass panes with a dead air space between them. They were new technology at the time, and they were in wood frames, not vinyl.

Savannah can get very warm in the summer, and any technology that saves on air conditioning operation is great. I was born and raised in the South, so opening windows when the outside temperature was 80 was no problem for me. But my wife is from California, so opening the windows during most of the year was out of the question. The curtains remained closed most of the time to keep the heat down.

About three years into our new home, I began to notice that the windows were looking kind of hazy. I thought maybe it was water stains on the outside glass, and tried to clean them. It didn’t work; they were still hazy.

Sometime after four years of living at our new home, I was caught in a major layoff at the manufacturing company where I was employed. I tried to find work locally, but the market was tough. I ended up taking a position with a company in North Carolina, and moved ahead of my family to get started. My wife contacted a real estate agent and got the house on the market. We had several showings, but one item that consistently had negative feedback was the windows — they were “fogged.” I mean really fogged; you could hardly see through them. I contacted the builder, but hey, the warranty was over. My wife and I both tried to find a solution, but all the replies were “replace them,” which was expensive. In the end, we finally sold our house to an investor for a slight — and I mean very slight — profit.

Many moves and several houses later, we’re back to a small house not much larger than our first. The windows are dual pane, but the frames are vinyl. Not a single one of them is hazy, and the house is 18 years old.

The lesson of this true story is that technologies evolve, and I’ve seen the benefits of it. I spent more than 25 years in the manufacturing world and have seen immense changes as a result of new technological applications. I’ve also seen that happen in the building sector, having moved many times, and bought and sold homes of various ages.

Homes built during major advances in efficiency evolved tremendously, but it’s not always obvious to the casual observer. Much of the advances happened in areas that are not normally seen, such as attics and crawl spaces, insulation and other products. HVAC systems have really advanced. Electronic applications have changed our kitchens and bathrooms enormously.

Much has changed over the last 30 years, and if you’re buying a new or existing home, it’s a good idea to have it inspected, and find out as much as you can about it. I had our latest home inspected when we bought it eight years ago, and I’m a home inspector myself.

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