Consider a Prelisting Inspection to Smooth the Home-Selling Process

Large NPI PreinspectedSelling your home can be rewarding. It can also be a stressful. One of the pitfalls of the selling process is the buyer’s home inspection. It can result in closing delays, price renegotiations, unpleasant surprises, and dealing with contractor repair estimates at the eleventh hour. Because nearly eight out of 10 homebuyers nationwide obtain a home inspection, sellers often encounter these problems.

You can make the selling process go more smoothly by having your home inspected before you place it on the market. It will help avoid those last-minute, unpleasant surprises, renegotiations and delays, and it will make the selling process less stressful for you and everyone involved.

Here are some of the benefits of a prelisting inspection for homeowners:

  • Learn what repairs you might want to complete before placing your home on the market.
  • Making repairs early, rather than during the busy closing period, can reduce closing delays due to obtaining bids for repairs that are often required after a buyer’s inspection.
  • Eases price negotiations and eliminates last-minute renegotiations, so you get top dollar for your house.
  • Reduces stress, as you won’t worry and fret about the results of buyer’s inspections.
  • An inspection from an unbiased third party will help you set a reasonable price for your home.
  • Buyers know what’s good with the house up front.
  • Prelisting inspection reports posted online entice buyers to look at your house.
  •  A hard copy of your inspection report can be placed in the home to help market to buyers who tour your home.
  • “Preinspected by NPI” yard signs attract more buyers

So, if you’re considering listing your home for sale, also consider a prelisting inspection. In the long run, it’s worth the cost to make the process of selling your home smoother.

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Why Get a New Programmable Thermostat if the Old One Still Works?

Submitted by Rodney Twyford, NPI Franchise Owner, San Antonio, Texas

Thermostat_shutterstock_174184994Improving the efficiency of your home’s heating or cooling system may not require replacing the entire furnace and/or air conditioning system. One of the easiest and most effective changes you can make to your overall energy cost is replacing the one thing most people never think about as an effective means of conserving energy: your thermostat.

Thermostats are the one thing that control the temperature in your home, and the better they can do it, the more efficiently your HVAC system will run and the lower your monthly bills will be. However, your basic thermostats are not sophisticated enough to respond to your individual needs, such as adjusting temperatures at preset times during the day and night, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Newer thermostats have the ability to control themselves.

With an old dial-style thermostat, or even an older digital model, you have to manually set the temperature every time you want to adjust it. But newer, programmable thermostats remember what temperature you want your home to be at different times of the day and automatically adjust the temperature accordingly.

There are different types of programmable thermostats designed to fit a variety of preferences. The most common have two settings: weekday and weekend. Others are programmed for weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Some may have a unique setting for each day of the week, and some are can be controlled over a network using a portable device such as a smartphone. Almost all allow you to set a heating and cooling temperature and a start time for morning, day, evening and night, providing you with a comfortable house no matter what your schedule is.

The benefit of these new models over older thermostats is that you won’t have to pay for heating or cooling while you are not home. No forgetting to turn off the heat at night and racking up your bills, and no more struggling to cool your house all the way down after turning your AC off for the day. And, because a sophisticated thermostat will correct your temperature quickly, you really won’t ever notice the difference.

TemperaturesFor the greatest energy savings, you want to lower your heat setting and raise your cooling setting by at least 5 degrees during “off” periods. Changing your nighttime settings alone can significantly reduce your monthly energy use. This is something that’s outright impossible on old dial thermostats, and while there are older clock-style thermostats that do have programmable “zones,” there’s usually only a single “hot” and “cold” setting, which can actually lead to more discomfort, as they’re not designed to fit your schedule.

On the other hand, a newer programmable thermostat is designed to keep your home comfortable year round, through all portions of the day, with only a single programming. Some high-end thermostats don’t just give you control over time and temperature, but they also let you choose where that heating or cooling is going, with multiple temperature sensors in several areas of your home. These sophisticated thermostats allow you manage the temperature on a room-by-room basis. Modern thermostats are also much better about controlling the humidity in your home, and many can actually be specifically programmed to attain and maintain a specific humidity level, either throughout your entire home or in a specific area.

One of the most significant differences between an old thermostat and a new one is that the high-end thermostats do a lot more than control your home’s climate. They’re linked directly to your heating and cooling system and can actually help you maintain your whole system by checking for air quality and giving you periodic maintenance reminders. Some of them can even be linked to your smartphone, allowing you to receive maintenance updates directly and allowing you to control your thermostat remotely.

Even if your old thermostat still seems to be working just fine, a programmable thermostat can help you reduce energy consumption and lower utility costs while improving comfort.

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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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What You Need to Know About Underground Oil Tanks

Submitted by Paul Duffau, NPI Franchise Owner, Asotin, Wash.

USTIn the last month or so, I’ve run into a ton of misinformation regarding underground oil tanks. Early in the month, at the ASHI-WW training session, I got involved in a conversation with inspectors from western Washington. Apparently, there are companies on the west side that will remove the tanks and perform mitigation, for $5,000 to $10,000. Discovery of an oil tank on a property there often kills the deal in a dispute about who mitigates the problem. By the way, keep in mind the size of those tanks. It’s actually an important number.

The second occurrence was on the Idaho side of the line. Similar deal: an oil tank was present (and in use with a converted coal-burner now acting as the oil-fired boiler). The agent was concerned because, in her investigation, she had contacted the City of Moscow, which referred her to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and said that there were the people who managed the decommissioning of underground oil tanks. Folks, any time the DEQ gets involved the price tag goes up. It’s the nature of what they do. In this case, though, the City of Moscow gave bad advice, the same bad advice that the Washington home inspectors have been getting.

First, a little history  . . .

Above-Ground and Underground Oil Tanks
These tanks store the oil that is — or was — used to fire the furnace in the house. Depending on the region, these tanks could be above or below ground. Above-ground tanks made for easier monitoring, but the home heating oil has a tendency to “jell” in extreme cold, so a means of keeping the oil liquid and flowing was a necessity. The above-ground tanks were easy to deal with when the homeowner eventually converted from oil to gas or electric heating. Just empty them out and haul them away.

Underground oil tanks pose separate issues.

There are thousands of unused underground residential heating oil tanks in existence, and many still contain heating oil. These tanks are typically 300 to 500 gallons in size and made of 12-gauge steel (about 1/8 inch thick). They average about 30 years before corrosion makes them prone to leaking, but the life of individual tanks varies widely depending on the properties of the surrounding soil.

These tanks were often just abandoned in place — the only clues that they still exist are a copper feed line or a breather vent or the fill cap. Most of the tank, ranging in size from 200 to 500 gallons, is hidden from view. Even the pieces above the ground on the exterior — the fill  pipe and breather vent — might be obscured by vegetation. In short, they can be really difficult to identify.

Under Washington State regulations, the home inspector is required to, “Report any evidence that indicates the possible presence of an underground storage tank.”

Myths
Myth 1: The EPA regulates underground storage tanks, so homeowners need to follow their regulations.
This is the source of most of the confusion. Remember when I said to keep the tank sizes in mind above? Yep, they’re important. The EPA regulates fuel storage tanks that are larger than 1100 gallons. Home heating oil tanks are specifically excluded statutorily from EPA regulation (with a large caveat that, once the tank leaks and reaches a body of water, you’ve got a huge problem.) The EPA site has this statement : “Tanks used for the storage of heating oil for consumptive use on the premises where stored are excluded from federal UST regulations. However, state or local regulatory agencies may regulate these tanks.”

Myth 2: Washington State, Idaho State, regulate underground storage tanks.
They do — in exactly the same way the EPA does. Again, the threshold for both states for regulating USTs is 1,100 gallons. The State of Washington has a handy little flier that will lead you through the process. Quoting Washington State, “Neither the federal government nor Washington State regulates the use or operation of residential heating oil tanks.”

Since I live on the border between two states, I get to check everything twice. Sure enough, Idaho has a similar flier, a little longer (head for page 6, as that’s where you’ll find the stuff for homeowners) that expressly states, “Some kinds of USTs are not covered by these regulations: Farm and residential tanks of 1,100 gallons or less capacity holding motor fuel used for noncommercial purposes.”

Myth 3: A leaking oil tank is a huge liability to the homeowner.
This one is partially true but only under certain circumstances. I’m going to use the Washington State Department of Ecology answer for this one, as it is the most straightforward. You are not required to report minor spills or leaks. They specifically defined a minor spill as  “… those that affect only the soil near the tank.”

The point where liability becomes a major concern is when one of two events occur: First, the spill contaminates a water source, whether it is a natural body of water such as a stream, river, lake, or well; and, second, the spill impacts a neighboring property and contaminates it. There are ways to manage these risks if you have underground oil tanks on your property. Both states maintain programs to assist home owners with insurance that would likely be impossible to obtain otherwise.

Washington State has an insurance program for homeowners —  it’s free but not transferable. Go to the Pollution Liability Insurance Agency to get the details. Idaho has a similar program but it’s not free. There is a $25 annual fee to access the services at the Idaho Petroleum Storage Tank Fund.

Myth 4: My underground oil tank is not in use. I have to remove it.
Maybe, but probably not.

The places to check on exactly how you are obligated to handle a tank decommissioning are the local building department or the fire marshal’s office. I’d contact the fire marshal first, as they usually have a better idea of the local regulations than the building departments, especially in smaller locales.

You are required, if the tank has been out of use for more than one year, to decommission it.

You have two options for decommissioning. The first is removal, and this is by far the most expensive option. The second is to fill and abandon in place. Let’s look at both.

Removing the Tank
First, understand that this is generally not required by law. Most municipalities realize the expense involved. Also, tanks that were accessible in the past may be hard to reach with the necessary heavy equipment now that the neighborhood has filled in and the landscaping has matured.

Both state environmental departments — DEQ in Idaho, ecology in Washington — recommend this option. Their argument is that it is easier to identify leaks this way (which they will then likely make you mitigate at your cost!) and that some mortgage lenders or insurers will want the potential hazard addressed.  On the first point, they have a vested interest in the cleanup process.

The second is a case-by-case process. A properly decommissioned tank that has been fully documented to meet the applicable regulations probably will not trigger a problem for you in the loan process. The key is the documentation.

Leaving the Tank in Place
This is a popular method to handling oil tank issues due to the reduced cost.

First, a warning. You can’t just leave the tank and not do anything. Old tanks will rust, and they are subject to floating out of the ground in areas with high water tables and to collapsing from rust. Usually that collapsing is encouraged by an unsuspecting soon-to-be emergency room visitor when they walk or play above it.

Decommissioning underground oil tanks requires a few steps. The early steps are the same for removing the tank.

  1. Pump all remaining oil from the tank
  2. Clean out any sludge in the bottom of the tank.
  3. Remove or cap all lines.

Here things separate. With removal, you uncover, lift out, and check for contamination before backfilling. Abandoning in place requires a noncompressible, leak-proof fill material. Commonly, we’ll see a weak cement slurry, sand or foam. Personally, I favor the weak sand slurry. It’s the same material that many utilities use to backfill trenches for gas line, fiber optics, etc.

Before You Begin
Whichever option you choose, make sure you check with the local jurisdictions first. You will almost certainly need to obtain a permit in a larger city. Smaller cities and towns may not require it, but check anyway. You may discover that they have useful information regarding soil structures and local hazards that will be helpful in making a rational decision.

Hire a company that specializes in underground oil tanks. Bob the local handyman is probably not your best option for this project. Check to make sure they carry the appropriate licenses and that they are insured, both for the tank services they are providing and also for general liability for any damage they might accidently cause.

After You’re Done
Maintain a paper trail of all the work that was done and by whom in a file. To document decommissioning of the tank, the property owner should retain a copy of the any reporting forms used by the local municipality, any permits, as well as all receipts, certifications (including those of the contractor that you wisely verified) and written materials associated with the project.

Make a copy of the file for yourself, and when you place the home on the market, a copy for your Realtor.

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How’s Your Furnace Filter?

Submitted by Roland Bates, President, NPI/GPI

FurnaceQuestion: Can I save a few bucks by doing away with my furnace filter?

Answer: Yes you can. However, your NPI/GPI inspector would advise against it.

Let’s start at the beginning. Let’s suppose you have a forced-air gas furnace. The supply duct carries warm air to the bedrooms, etc., to keep your little feet warm at night. The return duct brings air back to the furnace to be reheated and, once again, returned to the bedrooms, etc. OK, but what does this have to do with furnace filters?

Furnace filters typically reside in the return duct. They should remove dirt, pollen, pet dander and the like. Collectively, these can be referred to as “particulates.” Removing particulates makes the air more healthy and enjoyable to breathe. If there is no filter, then, of course, that does not happen. Additionally, having no filter can allow the furnace and ducts to become quite dirty, which can lead to different issues.

You should have a filter in your furnace — and preferably one with a high efficiency rating. An efficiency rating pertains to the number and size of particulates it lets pass through. Some of the less expensive filters are only 17 percent efficient. This means that 83 percent of the particulates pass through the filter and are redistributed throughout the house. This is not a good scenario, especially if you are an allergy sufferer. Good filters cost more but are well worth the cost in the long run.

Doing what it’s supposed to do, a furnace filter gets dirty. The irony is as it gets dirty the more efficient it becomes in trapping particulates. As this happens, it allows less air pass through the furnace. Thus, there could be less air flow to the respective rooms and the furnace has to work longer and harder to satisfy the thermostat. And because a furnace is designed for a certain amount of air to pass through it each minute, any reduction in that air flow can cause the furnace to overheat. Over time, this can shorten the life of the heat exchanger (a very important component of the furnace).

Thus, good furnace filters, replaced on a frequent basis, add to your personal comfort and can help prolong the life of your furnace.

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What Standards Should My New Deck Meet to Be Safe and Properly Installed?

Submitted by Lawrence Englehart, GPI Franchise Owner, Nova Scotia, Canada

DeckFirst, if we were to assume a building permit had been issued for the construction of your new deck, and it was followed up with inspections from your local building official, then there should be no reason to doubt if it is safe or if it has been properly installed.

However, even a safely built deck still needs to be regularly maintained. Our weather in Canada can be rather harsh on our decks, so it is important that the wood is properly sealed, any loose boards are securely attached, and any protruding nail is repaired or replaced.

Unfortunately, not all decks have been professionally built or even properly maintained, and with the shocking news of a deck collapse last year, it had many of us seriously thinking about the safety of our own decks. Inadequate deck construction is a topic of concern that I and my fellow home inspectors come across way too frequently. I’ve personally come across too many decks that are a serious safety hazard and should not be used.

Ironically, deck construction that was acceptable 10 years ago may not be compliant today. The good news is there have been building code revisions that have significantly improved residential deck construction. As a home owner, if you are still concerned about the safety of your deck, I would recommend contacting your local municipal planning office. A resource that I use is the Halifax municipal government deck construction guidelines found at www.halifax.ca/building-renovating/documents/Decks2013_ScrRes.pdf or try the Nova Scotia Building Officials Association at www.nsboa.ca/PDF/membernotices/BasicDeck.pdf.

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Why Won’t Your Inspector Give You Repair Estimates?

Submitted by Roland Bates, President, NPI/GPI

Inspector + Client8Inspection industry standards do not require an inspector to provide estimates to repair or replace items he/she might find. And there is a valid reason for that: Although most inspectors have the knowledge and experience to provide ballpark estimates, they are assuming a certain risk if they do.

In some cases, you simply don’t know what’s involved until you tear into things. Thus, it is appropriate to pay a contractor on a time-and-materials basis. In practice, this should protect the contractor and property owner; it only works against the property owner if the contractor, deliberately or not, works very, very slowly.

If an inspector goes out on a limb and says, “You need a new roof, and a similar one should cost approximately $27,000,” the property owner just might replace it with an even better roof that costs $35,000. Guess what, the inspector just might get a bill for the $8,000 difference. If you have lived it, you know it to be true.

I know of inspectors who have tried to be helpful and provided ballpark estimates to replace windows, and the aforementioned scenario played out time and time again. Windows can be fairly inexpensive or very high-end. You can’t blame salesmen for doing their jobs, but they earn more commission off the expensive windows.

That explains the reluctance of an inspector to provide ballpark estimates. But a good inspector should provide enough information to put things in perspective. Imagine an out-of-town buyer who receives an inspection report that simply says, “There is negative grading at the southeast corner of the foundation.” A reasonably informed buyer might infer this simply requires a couple wheelbarrows of dirt and $75. The inspector might be thinking it requires a backhoe and $7,500. That is a big difference.

At a minimum, some inspectors will state in their reports “Obtain firm bids before closing” — “before closing” being the operative words. Imagine a first-time homeowner being told they need to replace numerous windows. They might think this will only cost $1,000 and wait until they take possession of the house only to be shocked by an estimate that exceeds $20,000. Again, if you have lived it, you know it to be true.

Talk to your inspector. They want to be helpful, let them explain their reports and put things in perspective. Just don’t expect them to provide firm bids for repairs.

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What You Need to Know About Radon

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

Family in living roomRadon is a radioactive gas that is formed during the breakdown of uranium in rock, water and soil. This constant breakdown happens naturally, and usually the gas mixes with and dissipates into the air.

In an enclosed space, such as a house or building, radon can build up into high concentrations and become a health risk. When air containing higher concentrations of radon is breathed into the lungs, the gas particles break down further and emit “alpha particles” that can be absorbed into the tissue of the lungs, creating damage to the cells in the lungs. When lung cells are damaged, they have a potential to result in cancer when they reproduce. The most recognized health risk associated with long-term exposure to high levels of radon in the air is an increased lifetime risk of developing lung cancer.

To detect radon in the air, a continuous electronic monitor or charcoal canisters can be placed in the lowest living area of the building in accordance with the testing instructions, for either a short-term or long-term period of time, depending on the type of detector used. Radon is measured in becquerels per cubic meter in Canada and in picocuries per liter in the United States.

In Canada, the Federal Provincial Territorial Radiation Protection Committee set a guideline, or reference level, of 200 becquerels per cubic meter for annual radon concentrations. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set as a guideline of 4 picocuries per liter for annual radon concentrations. If average annual levels exceed these amounts, it is recommended that the radon be remediated from the structure and exhausted to the exterior. The most common method is to use a pipe that is installed into the ground below the floor with an inline fan that pulls the radon gas from under the floor. The cost of the remediation system varies but can range from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the contractor and the style of building.

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It’s Time for an A/C Check and Cleaning

Inspector + AC2The heat of summer is on the way — and already full blast in some regions — so it’s time to think about having your air conditioning unit serviced. You’ll probably need to call an HVAC specialist for this job. A typical A/C check and cleaning service involves the following:

  • Clean the condenser
  • Clean and check the A-coil
  • Ensure that the condensate drain is open
  • Check the temperature differential
  • Check the refrigerant level and fill if needed

Keeping your A/C in tip-top shape will ensure that it lasts for summers to come.

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Condo Inspections Should Include Building Common Areas

Submitted by Doug Kendall, Global Property Inspections Franchise Owner, Kanata, Ontario, Canada

Condo BuildingPeople wonder if they should have a condo inspection and what the inspector should look at and report on. Condo associations and insurance companies tend to think inspectors should only look at the inside walls of the condo, as that is what the occupant owns. However, based on owning a condo, I believe my neighbors and I own the whole building, and we all help pay for the upkeep of the facility through the condo fees.

In performing a condo inspection, the inspector should look at the common areas, parking garages, exits, etc., as the new buyer may through our eyes and report find something the condo reserve has not seen, as condos usually do a building inspection about every three years.

Things you might find:

The wall and balcony photos below show brick joints that have been repaired and are starting to fail. There are balcony repairs made and balconies yet to be repaired in the attached photos. Does the reserve fund account for this?

Balcony deterioration

Balcony deterioration

 

Balcony deterioration2

Balcony deterioration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parapet damage

Parapet damage

 

Water intrusion due to exterior brick issues

Water intrusion due to exterior brick issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OutletIn this unit, the panel cover was painted so heavily we would have damaged the wall to open the panel. In opening an outlet (left) we found insulation packed inside the outlets as well as aluminum wiring installed on outlets and switches designed only for copper. This is a fire hazard.

The bottom line: Inspectors can provide important information to buyers that can help the condo association, as well as protect our customers from unknown costs and future grief.

As long as the reserve fund accounts for these things, we have done our job of protecting our client.

As a note, the previous condo inspected for my client had two unsettled lawsuits and there was water intrusion into the ground floor, which was known by the condo corporation, but it had no plan to do repairs and no reserve fund in place to resolve the issue.

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