What’s Your Grading Grade?

By Scott Ward, NPI Franchise Owner, Southern Johnson County, Kansas

Grading_shutterstock_135142733Spring is a great time to grade the grading of your house. Give yourself an “A” if the soil around your foundation is sloped away from the house at least 6 inches in the first 10 feet, with 3 to 4 inches in the first 5 feet on all sides.

Give yourself a “B” if you have any low spots at all around the foundation. These low spots many times are near inside foundation corners and near where utilities enter the house. Make sure to look under bushes and other landscaping, too.

Give yourself a “C” if the grading is at or near level around a significant portion of the foundation. If you have a yard that slopes toward the house and water pools at or near the foundation with wet, spongy ground in the vicinity of the foundation, give yourself a “D.” If you have moisture in your basement or crawl space, especially during rainstorms, and water stains on the interior side of the foundation walls, then you get an “F.”

Any time excess moisture is present around a foundation, the potential for foundation problems increases. The water itself creates what is called hydraulic pressure, which presses the foundation walls inward and can lead to cracks, settlement and shifting of the foundation. If left unchecked, this can ultimately cause structural failure and cost many thousands of dollars to repair. If you live in area with expansive soils, such as the Midwest, the effects tend to happen much faster. Ongoing moisture issues can also lead to mold, insect infestation and rot within the structure — all of which are expensive to repair.

In many cases, the proper grade can be achieved by simply adding soil around the foundation to slope the grade away from the house. Forty-pound bags of topsoil can be purchased at home improvement centers for about $1.50 for small projects, or you can have a truck load of topsoil delivered. Be advised that both soils are pulverized and will settle and compact a significant amount, so be sure to by extra. On large jobs or jobs that require extensive regrading, it may be best to hire professional. In the long run, this will be less expensive than repairing a foundation.

Remember to leave at least 2 to 3 inches of space between the soil and the top of the foundation or the bottom of the siding. This will prevent moisture from wicking into the siding and help limit insects from entering the structure. Adding downspout extensions and/or splash blocks is also a good idea to help move water away from the foundation. If you have a sump pump, make sure that it, too, is discharged well away from the foundation.

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Prevent Injuries by Practicing Ladder Safety

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

Inspector on LadderA Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report on ladder safety showed some startling statistics concerning the frequency and severity of ladder-related accidents in the United States. Every year thousands of people are injured and hundreds are killed. By understanding the causes of ladder accidents the vast majority could be prevented.

  • More than 90,000 people receive emergency room treatment from ladder-related injuries every year
  • Elevated falls account for almost 700 occupational deaths annually
  • These deaths account for 15 percent of all occupational deaths
  • OSHA believes that 100 percent of all ladder accidents could be prevented if proper attention to equipment and climber training were provided
  • Over the last 10 years, the number of ladder-related injuries has increased 50 percent
  • According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50 percent of all ladder-related accidents were due to individuals carrying items as they climbed
  • The most common type of ladder-related injury, with 32 percen, is fractures

Ladder accidents are extremely common even though they are entirely preventable. Ladder accidents can occur as a result of a wide variety of issues, but the following four causes account for the vast majority. If these simple loss-prevention tips for each cause are followed, then ladder accidents could almost be eliminated.

1. Selecting the Wrong Type of Ladder
Each ladder is designed to support a maximum weight limit, and if the climber exceeds that limit, the ladder could break and cause the user to fall or become injured. There are three basic types of ladders:

  • Type III — Household, light duty, load capacity of 200 lbs.
  • Type II — Commercial, medium duty, load capacity of 225 lbs.
  • Type I — Industrial, heavy-duty, load capacity of 250 lbs.
  • For extra-heavy duty work, such as roofing and construction, there is the Type IA with a 300-lb. rating. The strongest type of ladder is the Type IIA (holding 375 lbs.) for special duty, such as heavy industrial construction work.

2. Using Worn or Damaged Ladders
Another common contributing factor to ladder accidents is the use of old, worn or damaged ladders. Thoroughly inspect each ladder before using it. If any damage is found, do not use the ladder until it has been safely repaired to the manufacturer’s specifications or it has been replaced.

3. Incorrect Use of Ladders
Human error is by far the leading cause of ladder accidents. Never use a ladder in any other way than what the manufacturer intended it to be used for. Important use tips include the following:

  • Do not lengthen or alter a ladder in any way.
  • Maintain three points of contact (feet and hands) at all times.
  • Wear slip-resistant shoes.
  • Do not carry anything while climbing a ladder.
  • No more than one person on ladder at a time.
  • Always face the ladder when ascending or descending.
  • Do not climb higher than the third rung on extension ladders or the second rung on stepladders.
  • Never try to move a ladder while standing on it.

4. Incorrect Placement of Ladders
Follow these tips for correct placement of ladders.

  • Place the ladder on level and firm ground.
  • Ladders should never be placed in front of a door that is not locked, blocked or guarded.
  • If possible, have a helper support the base while using a ladder.
  • The feet of the ladder can be staked if you are using a ladder outside and no one is available to support the feet of the ladder.
  • Do not use a ladder that is too short for the necessary height.
  • Do not place the ladder on something to extend its reach.
  • Use a 1:4 ratio in placement of the ladder: Place the ladder base 1 ft away from the surface it is leaning against for every 4 ft of height to the point where the ladder contacts at the top.
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Dirty Ducts? Here’s Your Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Diving Into Summer Safety

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

Pool_shutterstock_190087664Playing outside is a great way for kids to exercise and have fun. However, backyards can be full of potential dangers. Almost all tragic accidents that occur during summer fun with family and friends are a result of unsafe property conditions and lack of adult supervision. Nothing harms a relationship more than an injury or death while enjoying the festivities at your property. This article is intended to help identify unsafe conditions and equipment failure, and improve the overall safety of your guests.

As I am certain you have already guessed, swimming pools are a common safety risk that attracts kids like a magnet. According to the National Safety Council, drowning is the leading cause of death and injury of children under 5 years of age. So, if you or somebody you know has a swimming pool, below are some “quick safety tips” to prevent unintentional injuries.

  • Always practice constant adult supervision around any body of water, including pools, spas and, yes, even that little inflatable pool. Kids can drown in less than 2 inches of water in a matter of minutes.
  • All openings, including doors and windows, to the pool or spa area should be outfitted with an alarm to alert parents or guardians of children accessing hazardous areas.
  • All pools holding more than 24 inches of water are required to be surrounded by a proper barrier with self-closing and self-latching gates opening outward, as well as meeting all other current standards, to guard against unauthorized entry.
  • Be sure no rocks, furniture or other items are located around the outside barrier that kids could climb on to gain access to pool area. If you have an above-ground pool, the ladder should be removed and access to all decks around pool locked when not in use.
  • Have a designated and visible place near the pool for life-saving devices to include a through float, life-hook and portable telephone.
  • Twyford BlogMake sure drain covers are properly fitted and free of fractures. If the pool was built prior to 2007 and has a single bottom drain, then it may not have an anti-entrapment drain cover or other suction-release device installed. This is currently only regulated with public pools that are required to be in compliance with ANSI/ASME A112.19.8 2007; however, all necessary precautions should be taken to help prevent accidental entrapments.
  • Maintain a clean pool and adjust water chemistry as necessary for safe, healthy use. Improperly balanced water and chemical levels could cause eye and skin irritations. Spa water temperatures should be set to 104 degrees Fahrenheit or lower to avoid elevated body temperature, which could lead to drowsiness, unconsciousness, heat stroke or even death.
  • Check all tiles, coping and other features around the pool for hazards. All components should be secure and free of sharp edges that could cause injury.
  • Be sure that all metal components, likely to become energized in the event of lightening and/or an electrical short, are properly bonded. Often, bonds can become loose or corroded and need to be repaired.
  • Set up all furniture out from around the pool edge to help prevent trips and falls that could result in liability risk to the property owner.
  • If you are grilling, have a designated grilling area as a “No Play Zone,” and keep youngsters and pets well away until grill equipment is entirely cool.
  • Do not allow any electrical cord devices or glass containers to be used around water. Be sure that all exterior electrical outlets are GFCI-protected.
  • It is always a good idea to post a “Pool Rules” sign for your guests to acknowledge and hopefully avoid any awkward enforcements.

Please understand this is not a pool inspection checklist and does not even begin to scratch the surface of all areas inspected by National Property Inspections and Global Property Inspections. To contact your local inspector, click here in the United States or click here in Canada.

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What’s Wrong With This Photo?

Snapshot From the FieldA. This is better than no downspout.
B. This downspout is probably not large enough to adequately disperse water out of the gutter.
C. This is large enough to handle any amount of water collected in the gutter.
D. This pipe makes it easy to connect any size downspout to the gutter.

 Correct Answer:B. This downspout is probably not large enough to adequately disperse water out of the gutter.



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What You Can Do About Air Pollution in Your Home

Family at Home_shutterstock_98814359According to WebMD.com, you don’t only have to worry about air pollution outdoors; it’s in your home, too. The air inside your home can be polluted by “lead (in house dust), formaldehyde, fire retardants, radon, even volatile chemicals from fragrances used in conventional cleaners.” You’ll also find dust mites, molds and pet dander, even if you don’t live with pets. Some pollutants are tracked into the home; others arrive via things you bring into the home, such as new furniture or cleaning products.

What can you do to reduce the pollution in your home? Here are five tips:

  1. Keep your floors clean. Vacuuming with a HEPA filter and mopping your floors helps reduce lead, toxins and allergens from your home. According to WebMD.com, you can skip the cleaners when you mop and just use water. Also, put a mat in front of every door to catch contaminants before they are tracked into the home.
  2. Maintain a healthy level of humidity. Dust mites and molds love moisture, which means that high humidity levels contribute to their procreation. Healthy humidity levels are in the 30 to 50 percent range. To maintain this level, use a dehumidifier in the summer months and a humidifier in the winter months. Click here for more tips for dehumidifying your home.
  3. Just say “no” to smoking indoors. Cigarette smoke, the No. 1 cause of lung cancer in North America, is a major culprit of indoor air pollution. If you, a friend or a relative smokes, then take it outdoors. Contact your doctor or health insurance company for information about smoking cessation programs.
  4. Get your home tested for radon. Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas resulting from the breaking down of uranium in the soil. It is the No. 2 cause of lung cancer in North America. The only way to know whether your home has a high radon level is to have your home tested. Contact your local NPI or GPI inspector to have your home tested.
  5. Go fragrance-free: Cleaners, aerosols, air fresheners (solid, spray, oil), laundry detergents and fabric softeners all release unhealthy chemicals into the air. To add clean fresh scents to your home, consider adding house plants (which act as nature’s air purifiers) or using fresh lemons and baking soda to get a clean scent in the kitchen.

For more information or to read the full article, click here.

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What You Should Know About Home Siding Materials

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

Stucco siding

Stucco siding

Inspecting the siding is an important part of the home inspection because the siding, along with the roof, protects the interior of the house from the elements. During the inspection of the home’s exterior, your home inspector will examine the following.

First, the home inspector looks for damaged siding, and, just as importantly, the underlying reason for the damage, which is overridingly improper installation.

Brick, stone, wood and stucco are still used as siding material, but often in new ways. There are also new materials. Some siding materials have come and gone, and still others are here to stay. The traditional materials — wood, stone and bricks — were typically sourced locally, so you’ll find distinct regional styles in siding.

Vinyl siding is the most prevalent material used in the United States today, especially in the northeast and Midwest. Vinyl siding must be installed loosely, to allow for expansion and contraction. Buckling and warping will occur if it is installed too tightly.

Brick is next, and it is particularly popular in the south. It was traditionally built to be a bearing wall, with brick on the outside and brick or block on the inside. Since the 1970s, most brick houses have actually been brick veneer, with the wood framing the veneer is attached to carrying the load of the structure. Some things an inspector will look for in these homes are whether the brick veneer is detaching from the framing, deteriorating mortar, cracks in brick or mortar indicating foundation movement, failing lentils, spalling brick, and lack of weep holes.

Stucco over a frame wall is the dominant material in the southwest. While there will always be some minor cracks caused by framing that shrunk or when the stucco cured, the inspector looks to see if there are more cracks than normal or larger cracks than normal. Cracks caused by a continuing moisture problem, defective installation or foundation settling are more serious problems.

Fiber cement has become increasingly popular, in the form of vertical and horizontal boards, and in panels for a contemporary look.

Cultured stone, and, to a much lesser extent, natural stone veneer, are used often these days. These are more likely to be accent materials than whole-house covering because of the high cost.

Two materials that came and went are asphalt composition siding, big in the 1930s through 1950s, and asbestos cement siding, popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Steel siding rusted and was largely replaced by aluminum siding, which has mostly been replaced by vinyl siding.

Composite wood siding, made of wood fibers and chips held together by glues and resins, was popular in the 1980s through the mid-1990s as a low-cost alternative. It is prone to rot, buckle and warp, but defects can be lessened if it was properly installed.

Exterior insulated finished systems (EIFS) — basically synthetic stucco over a mesh attached to insulating board — have had problems trapping moisture, leading to very expensive repairs for wood rot damage. With the combination of moisture and wood, termites do not have to return to soil. Nearly all EIFS homes inspected are found to have been installed incorrectly. A properly conducted EIFS inspection is an invasive inspection and should only be performed by an inspector specially trained for it.

If the siding material has been painted, then the inspector should look for peeling, which normally indicates a moisture problem, often caused by improper installation.

There are still distinct regional siding preferences today, but homeowners have more choices than ever. They can mix and match materials, or use one as an accent. However, leaks or other problems are more likely to occur where two materials meet. Once again, proper installation is the key.

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Proper Length of Downspout Extensions

What is the proper length for downspout extensions? The short answer is, “as long as it needs to be to divert the water away from the home’s foundation.” But how long is that?

It really depends on the grading around the foundation. If your yard slopes toward the house, then your downspout extensions are going to need to be longer than if your yard slopes away from the house. Typically the rule of thumb for downspout extensions is a minimum of 2 to 3 feet; however if your grading is sloped toward the house, the extension may need to be 4 feet or longer to prevent water from accumulating around the foundation.

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Why Didn’t My Inspector Do a ‘Code Inspection’?

By Roland Bates, President, NPI/GPI

Inspector + Deck4This can take some explaining, so pull up a chair. Because an inspector did not use the words code inspection does not mean that he/she is not knowledgeable in the code or did not do a good and thorough inspection. It’s just best that they not use the word “code.”

First, a little background. Code applies to all of the building trades: structure, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, etc. Thus, there are literally thousands of pages of code involved in the building process. It would be a daunting task indeed for anyone to stay abreast of all that and to say they applied all of that to a particular inspection. The big things, like the proper grounding of an electrical system, of course they check. But applying every single code on a particular inspection is not practical or likely.

The following is not intended to be defensive on the part of home inspectors or critical of code officials, it’s just explaining. When you look up something in the code, it oftentimes refers you to another section, which refers you to another section, which refers you to yet another section … you get the point. Thus, even though it’s in black and white, this can lead to confusion and disagreement as to what a particular section of the code actually says.

We also see different interpretations of the code from individuals working for the same authority having jurisdiction (AHJ — city, county, municipality, etc.). For example, we had one city code official working in a large city tell us that is was OK for a bathroom exhaust fan to terminate directly below a static roof vent. His immediate supervisor later told me that that was not correct, that a bathroom exhaust fan had to vent directly to and through the roof. So, where does that leave an inspector on this particular issue and in this particular city? We don’t know because I could never get either of them on the phone again.

If a gas pipe is going to leak, that leak would likely occur in a union — where two pipes adjoin. The code does not generally permit a union inside an enclosed space. Thus, you should not have a union inside a furnace cabinet. However, I had the chief code enforcement official in a major city tell me that they did allow unions inside a furnace cabinet; since the door of the furnace cabinet could be removed by hand, he did not consider that a confined space. I would submit that there are many other code officials who would disagree with him, but in this particular city, it’s his call to make.

A quick word about the selective enforcement of the code: The code will generally allow for no more than two layers of composition shingles on a roof. Frequently we see three layers unofficially permitted. This is probably because no one wants to deal with all those old shingles going to a landfill (or hopefully getting recycled).

A particular city or county can also adapt all or only parts of the code, while a city nearby does something different still. Thus, for a quick recap, there is not a consistent interpretation, enforcement or adaptation of the code.

It’s not unusual for a home inspector to work in a number of cities, towns, counties and municipalities, or to cross state lines or work in different provinces. So, for all of the reasons listed above, most inspectors make it clear that they do not do code inspections.

Nevertheless, an inspector can indeed do a good and thorough inspection without doing a code inspection.

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