Gas Pipe Awareness

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

TwyfordFor decades, rigid schedule 40 black iron pipe was the most popular choice for natural gas distribution to appliances such as furnaces and water heaters in both residential and commercial buildings. Iron pipe is known for its durability; however, due to the numerous threaded joints that occur at each intersection during installation, it is also prone to leaks as a result of poor installation or failed joint compound. The rigid iron pipe has also been known to break and/or become distorted as a result of structural movement in the event of an earthquake or other significant damage to structures.

Corrugated stainless steel tubing (CSST) is a flexible gas pipe that was first developed in Japan and used to supply and distribute natural gas or propane gas in residential and commercial buildings. According to some manufacturers, it was developed to solve the dangers of broken rigid gas piping in earthquakes, and then brought to the United States by American Gas Association and the Gas Research Institute as an alternative gas piping solution to eliminate the difficulties and dangers of rigid gas piping. The cost of CSST is higher than iron pipe; however, due to the ease of installation, the labor cost is much lower, making it more cost effective to install.

The yellow version of CSST was introduced to the United States around 1988 and has become the preferred and most widely used gas piping product among construction trades. However, due to its inability to effectively resist or withstand the electrical charge produced by a direct or indirect lightning strike, it could be pierced by an arc during electrical storms, causing stimulated fires to occur.

Yellow CSST has been blamed for causing stimulated fires in more than 140 homes involving lightning strikes, some of which have resulted in death, and has been banned by local authorities in some areas. The CSST is approximately 10 times thinner than the traditional black iron gas pipe used for many years. Studies have shown that high voltage produced by lightning strikes can cause metal components to arc, resulting in perforation of the thin CSST wall and therefore cause gas to leak, resulting in fuel-fed fires.

Whether you are building a new home or buying an existing property, it is recommended to consult a licensed electrician who is familiar with CSST piping and the current codes governing the proper installation, including specific bonding requirements. Code enforcement organizations, such as the National Fuel Gas Code, National Fire Protection Association and National Electric Code are constantly improving the standards for proper installation of building materials, but even when CSST is properly installed per current code requirements, it is not guaranteed to resist damage caused by a direct or indirect lightning strike.

A new type of CSST has hit the market and can be recognized by a black coating and branded as Counter Strike, Omega Flex, Trace Pipe or Flash Shield. The black CSST product is constructed with a continuous bond between the tubing and a black jacket that helps protect the product. Studies have shown black-jacketed CSST to be more resistant to the effects of an indirect lightning strike; however, due to the unpredictable, violent nature of lightning, there are no guarantees that it will be unharmed in the event of an electrical storm. Some manufacturers of the black-jacketed CSST products claim that no additional bonding is required. However, local and/or international codes governing building construction are controlling and may differ from the manufacturer’s requirements.

To learn more about CSST visit, http://www.CSSTSafety.com.

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What You Should Know About Water Damage Restoration and Mold Remediation

Submitted by Dale and Tiffany Senkow, GPI Franchise Owners, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

Mold-FloorWall_shutterstock_177235112Q. Who do you recommend when there’s a flood in part of my home, and do they have any rules to follow?

A. To answer this question, we turn to the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification, or IICRC. Think of ANSI/IICRC S500 and BSR-IICRC S520 as the most important professional water damage restoration and mold remediation standards for the industry, respectively.

S500 and S520 set the standards within water damage restoration and mold remediation. When water is discovered in a basement and noticeable water is present, you want a water restoration technician (WRT) as a contractor. A WRT is a trained professional who must practice continuing education and has proper training for just these types of scenarios. Water must be dried and cleaned up as soon as possible to prevent water loss to the structure and building materials.

IICRC Categories of Water Damage
Water loss is categorized into four stages of damage, which are basically determined by the amount of water, and anything that may have absorbed the water is also taken into consideration.

Category 1
This is water that has originated from a source that does not pose substantial harmful to humans. It is also known as “clear water.”

Category 2
This is best described as water containing a significant amount of chemical, biological and/or physical contamination. There is a risk of causing potential harm and discomfort. It can also cause sickness if consumed by or exposed to humans. It is referred to as “grey water.”

Category 3
This is grossly unsanitary water, containing pathogenic agents arising from sewage, or other contaminated water sources. It has the likelihood of causing discomfort and/or sickness if consumed by or exposed to humans. It is also referred to as “black water.”

Category 4 or Special Situations
These are situations that require other professionals, such as for the following:

  • Arsenic
  • Asbestos
  • Caustic chemicals
  • Fuels
  • Fertilizer
  • Glycol
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Mold
  • Pesticides
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Radiological residues and solvents

IICRC Classes of Water Loss
Senkow1In the photograph at the right, we can see an interior weeping tile system (often found on the exterior) that a contractor has installed. Along with waterproofing the exterior, this is a great method to capture water that has made its way underneath the wall, above the footing and into the building.

The S500 offers descriptions of four classes of water loss that designate environments by the relative degree of saturation, which is then used to determine the initial dehumidification equipment required to create an effective drying system.

Class 1 water loss is defined as the least amount of area, water absorption and evaporation. These water losses only affect a small part of the area or room containing materials that have absorbed minimal moisture. There is little or no carpet and/or cushion present.

Class 2 water loss is described as a large amount of water, absorption and evaporation. These water losses affect at least an entire room of carpet and cushion. Water has wicked up the walls less than 24 inches, which means you can physically see water saturation and the drywall. This class of water loss also sees moisture remaining in structure materials.

Senkow2Class 3 water loss is the greatest amount of water, saturation and absorption. The water may have come from overhead. The ceilings, walls, insulation, carpet, cushion and subfloor in the entire area are saturated.

Class 4 water loss is best described as a specialty drying situation. These are situations that consist of wet materials with very low permeation/porosity, such as brick, concrete, plaster, hardwood and ground soil. There are deep pockets of saturation that require a very low humidity ratio. These require longer drying times and special methods. For the WRT, this means high-temperature/high-performance devices — and more money. A very low vapor differential makes the area harder to dry.

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Two-prong Outlets Vs. Three-prong Outlets: Does It Matter?

Submitted by Ken Roleke, NPI Franchise Owner, Tucson, Arizona

Outlet_shutterstock_116694235Ever wonder why the older electrical receptacles have only two slots, and don’t have the hole below the slots to allow three prongs? Think they can just be switched out? Sometimes they can, but other times that would be a potentially dangerous mistake.

Understanding the implications of two prongs or three can be one of the more bewildering situations a home buyer has to deal with.

Let’s review a little of the history of residential wiring to see how this came about. Knob-and-tube (KNT) wiring was phased out in the 1930s, as both nonmetallic sheathed cable (NM for short, commonly referred to as Romex) and armored cable (AC, commonly referred to as BX) became prevalent. Until the early 1960s, most NM and AC cable for residential use did not have a grounding conductor. The two-prong receptacles normally used until this time have only a “neutral” slot, and a smaller “hot” slot, without the additional hole below for the ground. As houses were wired with the grounding conductor starting in the early 1960s, three-prong receptacles were generally installed.

Why should an electrical receptacle be grounded? The lack of a ground path could lead to getting an electrical shock. If there were a short circuit, then an ungrounded metal object could become energized, and the circuit breaker would not trip. The ground protects you from getting a shock, as it directs a large amount of current back to the circuit breaker, causing the breaker to trip.

A properly wired three-prong receptacle is both more convenient and safer than an ungrounded two-prong, so how and when can they be switched? If a house is wired with BX without the ground wire but metal boxes, then the metal armor and box will still generally be grounded. A three-prong receptacle can be grounded to the box with a grounding wire.

It is more complicated, and normally not worth the trouble to install a three prong receptacle when the wiring is Romex cable without the ground wire. That would require running a separate ground wire or a completely new cable with ground wire.

Often the solution is to install GFCI circuit breakers and three-prong receptacles, or, what is more commonly done, to replace the two prong receptacles with GFCI receptacles. The receptacles should be labeled “No Equipment Ground”. These labels come in the box when purchasing GFCI.

The GFCI function is not the same as grounding, but in most cases, it is even safer. GFCI outlets and breakers trip, disconnecting the circuit when it detects leakage current that the electric current is not balanced between the energized conductor and the return neutral conductor. And it trips quicker than a regular circuit breaker.

Unfortunately, too many homeowners and contractors, either through ignorance or to save money, have taken the easy solution, by simply replacing the two-prong receptacle with the three-prong. And some have even gone a step further: They create a “bootleg” or false ground by making a connection between the ground and neutral on a receptacle. This is not detectable with a simple receptacle tester used by most inspectors. If it is suspected, then there is more sophisticated equipment, although the simple solution is to remove the electric plate and check whether the wire was added between the neutral and ground screws on the receptacle.

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A Water Heater Quandary

Submitted by Mike Hunger, NPI Franchise Owner, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Water Heater_shutterstock_113790454During the past couple of months, we have noticed that the hot water in our house is not lasting as long and is not as hot as it used to be. The water heater unit is located under the house in the crawl space, and it is original to the house — 18 years old. From the exterior, the heater doesn’t look that old; it’s not rusted or discolored. And, I’ve only had to change one element in the last eight years we have lived here. Not bad.

But it’s time for a new water heater — or least that’s what the better half tells me. So, I just have to analyze this situation. I can’t just replace it.

Our house is a single-level ranch with four places that use hot water: two bathrooms, a kitchen, and the laundry. It just so happens that the two bathrooms are at one end of the house, and the kitchen and laundry are at the other end, near the garage. In my mind, that means I have two hot water zones. It’s just the way I think. The current water heater is located at the end of the house where the two bathrooms are located. It typically takes about a full minute of full flow for the water at the kitchen sink to get hot. This is unacceptable to my wife. By now, you can probably see where I’m going with this.

Option 1: Just replace the old water heater with a new one.
This is the easiest option. No messing with the electrical or plumbing. But it doesn’t address the long wait for hot water at the kitchen.

Option 2: Relocate the water heater to a central location.
I like this one; it just seems to make sense. But it involves some electrical and plumbing work. I’m also not sure that there will be enough clearance near the center of the crawl space. Our house sits on a slope, so the crawl space height is higher on one end than the other.

Option 3: Replace the original water heater, and add another “point-of-use” unit.
I also like this one, but now we are getting into some serious added cost — and work. Adding the “point-of-use” unit near the kitchen and laundry will definitely reduce the water waste, but how long will it take to make up the costs in savings? Based on the cost of water vs. the additional electricity cost, I’m of the opinion that it may end up about even — a wash.

Of the three options listed — and there are certainly more beyond these — I think the choice is going to be No. 3. My wife likes that one. To be completely honest, I like it too; although, I may decide to see if a point-of-use unit will also work for the bathrooms at the other end of the house.

How Should a Seller Prepare for a Home Inspection?

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

Inspector + Cabinet4This is an excellent question to ask, as I’ve actually seen too many houses that were not ready for a home inspection, and unfortunately, this did have a negative effect on the sale of those properties. Most Realtors will advise you that preparing for a home inspection is very similar to when you prepared your home for its first viewing or for an open house. It is best to have the property neat and tidy, and if necessary, with keys labelled and available for any locked access. It is also advisable to provide a safe place for your pets. This may mean a sturdy, appropriately sized kennel in the home, or it can mean taking the pet to a friend or relative they are comfortable with until things are more settled. Please remember, a home inspector will need to view both the interior and exterior of the home, so simply putting pets in an open yard is not enough.

As a seller, you should be aware that most professional home inspectors tend to arrive about 15 to 30 minutes earlier than the scheduled home inspection appointment. This gives the home inspector the opportunity to inspect the exterior of the home, while waiting for the client and the Realtor to arrive. To that end, I’d suggest leaving the home at least 30 minutes prior to the booked time.

Having everything ready on the day of inspection can prevent unnecessary delays. Unfortunately, for liability reasons, the home inspector is not required, nor advised, to move items blocking access to areas that need to be inspected. Additionally, for liability reason, they are not required to operate any system or component that has been shut down, and this may include any shut-off valves or even tripped breakers in the electrical panel. The home inspector does not have enough information to know why a particular system has been shut down and if they were to reactivate it, it could potentially put your house, the component or a system at risk.

If possible, you should consider leaving a written list, plus receipts that could answer typical maintenance-related questions from the buyer and the home inspector. As an example, can you provide information about the age of the roof, heating system, recent upgrades, etc. and are there any transferrable warranties?

To make the process as smooth as possible, you should verify the following:

  • All utilities are on.
  • Attic access doors are clear of clothing or stored items. Access may be in a closet, hallway or garage.
  • Crawl-space entrances are not blocked or nailed in place.
  • Water meter and main water line are accessible.
  • Water heater and surrounding area are accessible.
  • Furnace and surrounding area are accessible.
  • Air conditioning/heat pump units and surrounding area are accessible.
  • Electrical panels are accessible and not locked.
  • Electrical subpanels are accessible.
  • Decorative items from doors and windows are removed (including sun catchers, plants, etc.).
  • Kitchen countertops are clear.
  • Foundation walls, especially the corners of the basement are clear of stored items.
  • The garage overhead and service doors are clear of items.
  • Be sure all exterior doors are accessible
  • Remove any locks on outside gates, which prevent full access to the exterior.

As a general rule of thumb, the home inspector will need at about three feet of workspace in order to safely access electrical panels, heating systems, HRV, etc. So, please remove boxes, stored items and debris from these areas.

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What You Need to Know About Home Generators

Submitted by Roland Bates, President, NPI/GPI

Family in living roomBy and large utility companies do a great job supplying our homes with electricity. Therefore, we tend to take electricity for granted. However, windstorms, lightning strikes, falling tree branches and the like do happen and we occasionally lose power to our homes. If it’s only for a few minutes even a few hours, it’s mostly just an inconvenience. However, if it’s for a longer period of time, then it becomes a lot bigger issue. It doesn’t take long for the food in a refrigerator or freezer to spoil.

Generators to the rescue: Generators can be fueled by gasoline, diesel fuel, propane or natural gas. Each fuel type has its own special considerations, and homeowners can best decide which fuel type is best for them. Solar- and wind-powered residential generators are also possibilities but are pretty rare at this point.

What Type of Fuel Should You Choose?
Generators may use a variety of types of fuel, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Gasoline, when stored for a period of time, may need a stabilizer added. Diesel fuel needs to be kept warm enough so it doesn’t gel. Propane has a long shelf life and is an excellent choice if it’s available, but it might require a special storage permit if a large enough tank is used. Natural gas is also an excellent choice, assuming the gas meter/service is large enough to accommodate the additional need.

Generators and Safety
It’s not much of an issue to run an extension cord from an appliance to a generator. However, using a generator to run power through the electrical panel and into the house creates an important distinction. Suffice it to say, it’s very dangerous to “reverse feed” an electrical panel. In this case, you must use a “transfer switch”.

Portable Generators
Portable generators have a number of advantages:

  • They are fairly inexpensive.
  • They are convenient: Grab it out of storage and wheel it outside.
  • It’s easy to fill up the fuel tank and manually start it.
  • Run an extension cord from the refrigerator, etc., and that’s it.

There are drawbacks to portable generators, too:

  • Gasoline or diesel: You might have to refill the tank several times throughout the day.
  • They can be loud, which can strain relationships with neighbors.
  • Small ones won’t power much more than one or two things at a time.
  • Sitting outside, it could always be stolen.
  • If the power goes out while you are away, there would be no one at the house to physically start the generator.

Stationary Generators
Stationary generators (permanently installed) have a lot of advantages:

  • High-end models sense a power outage and within seconds auto-start.
  • High-end models sense when power has been restored and shut themselves off.
  • High-end models have an automatic “transfer switch” as mentioned above, to both engage and disengage from the electrical panel.
  • They can have a lot more capacity, thus power much more of your house.
  • And they are designed to run much longer than portable units.

Stationary units don’t have a lot of disadvantages, other than they can be fairly expensive, and they might require changing the oil in the motor every 50 to 100 hours of use. But that is a minor inconvenience compared to having no electricity.

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National Property Inspections Welcomes New Franchise Owners in December

National Property Inspections, Inc., parent company of National Property Inspections in the United States and Global Property Inspections in Canada, is excited to announce two new franchise owners who will take the NPI brand to new areas.

Rich Segal is from Plantsville, Connecticut, and his franchise territory will cover Hartford, Haven and Middlesex counties in Connecticut. Ray Vetrano is from Ossining, New York, and his franchise territory will cover Westchester County in New York. Segal and Vetrano completed NPI’s rigorous training academy and are now working toward their state licenses.

Roland Bates, president of National Property Inspections, Inc., said, “We had a great class in December and we wish Ray and Rich the very best as they work to get their state licenses and start their franchises. They are bringing NPI to new areas, and that’s a great thing.”

Segal and Vetrano completed the 120-hour intensive training program in December 2014 at the National Property Inspections, Inc., headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, and are now undergoing field training with experienced NPI franchise owners in their regions and studying for their state licensing exams.

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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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Inspecting Older Homes Compared to Newer Homes

Submitted by Randy Yates, Technical Supervisor and Technical Training Administrator, NPI/GPI Corporate

Classic House + Landscaping_shutterstock_188253557Is there any real difference between inspecting an older home and a newer home? As far as basic components, there’s no difference.  There could possibly be some differences in the components or materials used, which could make differences between inspecting an older home compared to a newer home.

Every home, no matter how old, will have HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems. Yes, an inspector has to consider the structure. What you have to take into consideration with an older home is whether it could contain asbestos-based products (pre-1973). Does it have knob-and-tube (KNT) wiring (pre-1950)?  Lead-based paint, anyone (pre-1975)?

Older homes built before the dates listed above could POSSIBLY contain those materials unless the home has been updated.  As long as the home is in good condition, square foot per square foot, I don’t see that there is that much difference between older homes and new homes.

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