Add Curb Appeal With Landscaping

Landscaping_shutterstock_90858971Whether you’re preparing to sell your home or you just want to improve its look from outside, landscaping can be a valuable tool to add curb appeal. Maybe you just need to spruce up existing landscaping, or maybe you’re starting from scratch. Either way, here are some easy tips for landscape design.

  • First, draw a rough sketch of your yard and designate areas for landscaping, vegetable gardening, play spaces and any other things you’ll use the yard for.
  • If you’re completely at a loss as to what to do in your yard, consider hiring a landscape designer for an hour-long consultation.
  • Understand that landscaping is an ongoing process. Don’t feel like you have to do everything in a weekend. Plan to landscape as your budget permits.
  • Become familiar with the sun and wind patterns in your yard. This will help you determine what types of plants to plant and where.
  • Start small — landscaping is a process. You might start by planting shrubs or flower beds at the front of the house now, and then tackle the design of the side and backyard.
  • Create a focal point, whether it’s a fountain, a sculpture or an unusual and visually appealing plant.
  • Fill in with annuals. If there are areas you’re not ready to tackle or if you’re waiting while your perennials fill in, plant annuals for some color and a more mature look.
  • Add height to your garden or landscaping with planters and baskets.
  • Enjoy color throughout the growing season by researching when certain plants and flowers bloom and then planting for every season.
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National Safety Month: Create a Safe Haven at Home

By Rodney Twyford, NPI Franchise Owner, San Antonio, Texas

Family + HouseWe like to think of our homes as a safe haven where we escape the dangers of the outside world, but it may surprise you to know that in the United States, more than 20,000 deaths, 7 million disabling injuries and 20 million hospital trips are reported to occur around the home front each year.

June is National Safety Month in the United States and Canada, so in light of those staggering statistics, here are the five leading causes of injuries around the home and some things to think about to help keep your family safe and prevent unintentional injuries.

Don’t Let Falls Trip You Up
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 8 million people are injured due to falls every year, and no it’s not the children and elderly. Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injuries in people ages 25 to 54.

Here are some ways to help prevent falls at home:

  • Always use the proper tool in good condition for the job. A chair is not a ladder.
  • Always be aware of your pet, small children and related toys. A good percentage of falls are due to pets – and mainly dogs.
  • Be sure your throw rugs are in good condition and do not slip across the floor.
  • Avoid wearing socks on hardwood or like floor surfaces.
  • Keep rooms well lit, and consider installing motion-sensing switches if the light switch is not in a convenient location.
  • Consider installing grab bars and a nonslip mat inside and outside wet areas, such as showers and porches.
  • Always read the label on medications and how they react when combined with other drugs.
  • Keep your eyeglass prescription updated.

Secure Heavy Items
Another safety concern around the home is items falling and causing injury, such as furniture and mainly television sets. Quite often, TV sets are found to be sitting on top of a dresser or entertainment center that is not secured. If a dresser or other piece of furniture is used, it as well as the TV should be anchored to the wall. The fall typically occurs when a piece of furniture gets bumped during horseplay or as a result of a child’s naturally adventurous nature to climb.

Prevent Accidental Poisoning
The second leading cause of accidental death or injury in the home is poisoning. Nearly 5,000 people die each year from ingesting poisonous substances, overdosing or using prescription medicines improperly. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations for taking medicine, and avoid mixing medications with alcoholic beverages.

All medicine and poisonous substances — such as those for pest control, weed control and household cleaning supplies — should be stored in lockable cabinets for child safety. For more information or if you suspect accidental poisoning, call the Poison Help hotline at 800.222.1222.

Prevent Fires and Burns
Burn injuries are also high on the list, with nearly 3,000 lives claimed annually due to house fires. Fires in the home are typically caused by cooking, electrical circuits, dryer vents and poorly maintained water heaters and furnaces.

Never leave a cooktop unattended, especially when small children are present. If you experience lights flickering, a burning smell or suspect an electrical circuit is not working properly, you should consult a qualified electrician to evaluate the concern and address it as necessary to avoid possible fires. Dryer vents, especially those that run vertically, should be cleaned regularly, and all water heaters and furnaces should be properly serviced annually to be sure they are in good condition.

Your home should also be well-equipped with smoke alarms located inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area and at least one on each story level. Test smoke alarms monthly to be sure they are working properly. Contact a certified inspector at National Property Inspections or Global Property Inspections to be sure your appliances meet all new safety standards.

Keep Kids Safe
Airway obstructions are next on the list with nearly 1,000 people each year suffering from choking, suffocation and strangulation in the home, most involving children. Always place infants in a crib free of stuffed animals and loose blankets. Older children should never sleep with small objects that can be swallowed.

Secure Pool and Spa Areas
The fifth leading cause of accidents around the home is drowning, with nearly 800 fatalities reported each year. The most vulnerable are children and the elderly — they should never be left unattended around pools and even bathtubs. Be sure your pool and spa areas are securely locked with a fence barrier at least 4-feet high. Contact a certified inspector at National Property Inspections or Global Property Inspections for more information regarding proper pool safety. A child can drown in as little as 1 inch of water, so just let the phone ring and don’t run off to answer the door — your child’s life may depend on it.

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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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Monitor Cracks in Your Commercial Building’s Foundation

iStock_000000976238XSmallCracks in poured concrete foundations can appear for many reasons. Cracks that are less than 1/8-inch with both surfaces even are generally caused by the shrinkage that occurs as concrete cures. Most of the time, these cracks will be vertical in nature and occur along the joints where the foundation forms come together. These are common and usually of no concern.

Diagonal cracks, many times starting in a corner or at a window or door opening, or horizontal cracks indicate foundation wall movement. This movement is usually inward. These types of cracks are caused by pressure exerted inward from the soil around the foundation. Water, whether it be rain or groundwater, can cause the soil surrounding the foundation to expand and contract creating a hydraulic ram effect pushing the wall inward.

With diagonal cracks, even cracks less than 1/8-inch should be of concern, as they do indicate movement and should be monitored. Cracks larger than 1/8-inch should also be monitored, especially if there are signs of moisture intrusion. As a rule of thumb, any wall leaning in more than 2 inches from plumb is structurally unsound and should be inspected by a foundation specialist or structural engineer.

A small crack in a newer building is of more concern than a small crack in an older building. NPI commercial property inspectors discuss with commercial building owners and buyers the severity of the crack(s), such as location and type of crack, and advise them not to pass on a building specifically because of cracks. Unless there are structural or moisture issues, most cracks can just be monitored and, if needed, many repairs are not hugely expensive. However, keep in mind that foundation issues come in many forms, and, when in doubt, you should consult a specialist.

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How Can I Determine Energy Loss in My Commercial Building?

RbyEnergy loss in buildings can occur in many areas and through many systems. Our focus will be on the most common areas of energy loss:

  • Hot- and cold-air leaks from a building. Energy is used to create conditioned air that is used to heat or cool a building. A heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is usually one of a building’s largest energy users. In a forced-air HVAC system, the ductwork should be sealed to reduce the air escaping into an unconditioned space. Fans and blowers on these systems — and the motors driving them — must be properly maintained. Overheated and malfunctioning motors indicate mechanical or electrical problems that lead to more energy use. Sealing ductwork and regularly maintaining the motors and HVAC equipment can reduce the amount of energy used.
  • The building envelope. The building envelope separates the outdoor environment from the interior space. Areas of energy loss through the building envelope include the following:
    • Roof. Make sure the roof or attic area has adequate insulation. Penetrations through the roof, if not sealed properly, can enable conditioned air to escape and allow moisture into the building. If roof insulation gets wet, then the insulation value is greatly reduced and more energy is lost.
    • Walls. Walls between conditioned and unconditioned spaces may not have adequate insulation, or insulation may be missing. Installing insulation can reduce energy loss in walls.
    • Doors, window frames and other wall penetrations. Doors and windows should fit properly and have weather-stripping installed to minimize conditioned air escape. All wall penetrations, including door and window frames, should be sealed where the frame meets the exterior wall surface in order to minimize air loss.
  • Electrical systems. Studies have shown that approximately 20 percent of electricity consumption is used in lighting. Commercial buildings account for an estimated 40 percent of that use. Energy consumption can be reduced by replacing older light fixtures with newer, more efficient fixtures and bulbs.

By reducing the amount of energy used in a building, the cost to operate the building is reduced. Moreover, many energy-efficient upgrades can pay for themselves over time.

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New Technology to Repair Settled Driveways and Walkways

By Lawrence Englehart, GPI Franchise Owner, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Driveway_shutterstock_159217487Q) The concrete driveway in front of our garage has settled, which makes it extremely difficult to park our car inside. Even the walkway to the front of the house has settled. Can we just add more concrete until it is level?

A) Might I suggest that before you look at repair options, you should really find out why the driveway has settled in the first place? The extent of the settlement you describe would not be considered normal and is usually directly related to the base soils the driveway had been built on. To that end, it is entirely possible that the gravel base under the concrete slab was not properly prepared or there was poor compaction of base soils prior to the pouring of the driveway, and over time the concrete slab dropped as the gravel base settled.

Regardless of what has caused the driveway and walkway to settle, it is not only inconvenient and unattractive, but it is also now a potential tripping/safety hazard, as it is all too easy to trip on a walkway that has uneven sections. For your own safety, you should get this repaired as soon as possible.

When it comes to repairs of this nature, I grew up in a time when the only available option was to physically remove and replace the entire concrete slab, which was labour-intensive and very expensive. A few years ago I watched a home improvement program where they were able to raise the slab by pumping a type of grout or cement-based slurry under the concrete slab, which effectively pushed it up from below. A newer method is to lift the settled concrete using a high-density, environmentally friendly expanding resin instead of a cement-based fill. The resin expands, firstly filling any voids and then accurately and controllably lifting the settled slab to its proper elevation.

Last year, I had a client who was looking to purchase a home that had a settled concrete slab floor in the basement. In this property, the foundation walls appeared to be fine; however, one side of the basement floor had settled several inches. The company the client brought in to discuss a cost-effective repair option was Poly-Mor Canada, which uses this same unique approach in the use of structural expanding polymer resin systems. The solution discussed involved the strategic drilling of multiple five-eighths-inch holes directly through the concrete slab and then filling these holes with a special high-density expanding polymer resin. As the resin mixture expands, voids under the slab would be filled, and a controlled mould pressure would then be exerted that would lift the concrete floor to the desired height. They use this same slab-lifting technology on airport runways, hockey arenas, patios, driveways, walkways, etc.

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Who Owns the Home Inspection Report?

By Roland Bates, President, NPI/GPI

Inspection Report_shutterstock_79995865Virtually every inspector has received a phone call similar to the following:

About six weeks ago, you inspected the house at 1675 Any Street, for John Smith, and that deal fell through, but now I am buying that house. Can I purchase a copy of that home inspection report?

Sometimes financing falls through, or, for whatever reason, the buyer and seller cannot get together. Therefore, the sale of the property does not happen. It would be easy and tempting for an inspector to charge a few bucks for simply making a photocopy of a report he’s already done.

However, that would be violating the home inspectors’ code of ethics. Although an inspector retains a copy of inspection reports for his records, the report belongs to the person who paid for it — in this case John Smith. Depending on local practices, the seller and both the listing and selling agents might have received a copy of the inspection report. Likewise, any of those parties would be remiss to pass along the report. One of the standard phrases an inspector typically uses in their inspection reports/preinspection agreement is, “This report is intended for the above-named party only and is not to be used by or relied upon by any third party.”

Setting the aforementioned aside for the moment, it simply would not be wise for an inspector to sell a copy and allow a third party to rely upon an inspection report done in the past. This is true even if it’s been a short period of time. For example, air conditioners can cycle from several hundred to over 1,000 times in a single week. Plumbing drains can become plugged or spring a leak at any time. In short, things happen and an inspector should conduct a thorough inspection all over again, even if it’s been a short period of time since the last inspection.

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How Does a Home Inspector Inspect a Gas Forced-air Furnace?

By Kenn Garder, National Accounts Manager and Technical Support, NPI/GPI Corporate

FurnaceIndustry standards of practice state that an inspector should open accessible panels to inspect installed heating equipment. The inspector is supposed to describe the energy source used to create the heat, as well as inspect the heating equipment, venting and distribution systems.

So, how does the inspector meet these standards when he/she is using visual noninvasive inspection techniques? After all, when you order a home inspection, you want to be sure the furnace is operating correctly.

NPI/GPI has high standards for its inspectors, and we recommend the following methods for furnace inspection:

  • Locate the thermostat(s) to operate the system. The thermostat should be centrally located in the house and away from other sources of heat.
  • Examine the exterior of the furnace for rust, corrosion, soot etc.
  • Use a gas sniffer on all visible gas lines joints and connections.
  • Identify the furnace, and note the serial number, age and input BTUs. This information is often found inside the burner panel.
  • Remove the draft shield and examine the burner heads, combustion chamber, and verify that the correct piping is used for gas supply. Replace the shield and panels when complete.
  • Note the color and condition of the flame for a proper burn.
  • Inspect the flue for gas leaks, rust, corrosion and proper clearances from combustibles.
  • Note any unusual noise or vibration from the blower fan.
  • Note any unusual odors.
  • Check the blower fan and filter for cleanliness.
  • Use the gas detector at the nearest supply register to check for any leaks.
  • Make sure the furnace is located in an area that provides ample air supply and has adequate room for service access.
  • While the unit is running, check for air delivery in the rooms.
  • Complete an overall inspection of the ductwork.

As with all elements of a home inspection, the inspection of the furnace inspection is visual and noninvasive; however, normal service panels are removed to inspect the furnace. A thorough inspection of the heat exchanger is not in the scope of work for a home inspection, so don’t be fooled by inspectors who tell you they’ve checked the heat exchanger.

The furnace’s data tag information can be included in the report, as well as the unit’s BTUs, manufacturer and age of the unit. Photo documentation of the furnace also should be included in the report.

If issues are discovered, then the home inspector should recommend further evaluation and repairs as needed by a qualified heating contractor.

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Home Inspector Safety: Wearing Respirators and Personal Protective Equipment

By Randy Yates, Technical Supervisor and Technical Training Administrator, NPI/GPI Corporat

Inspector on LadderSo, you show up onsite with your home inspector for the inspection on a house you plan to buy. The inspector is about to enter the attic or crawl space, and he puts on a respirator before he goes in. About that time, you run out the door because you’re afraid of what might be in the house, since he put on the mask. Talk about killing the deal.

Like Tom Hanks said in the movie Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates; you don’t know what you find until you get inside.”

Truly, your home inspector won’t know what he may find until he gets inside, and there are a lot of possibilities of what could be in those attics and crawl spaces. Maybe mold. Maybe some insulation types that could contain asbestos. In a sense, your inspector is doing safety inspections, so he needs to think about his safety first. A half-mask respirator that has either an N-95 or P-100 filter set should be worn every time the inspector enters an attic or a crawl space. Paper dust masks are worthless and will not filter out certain types of particulates.

Other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
When it comes to inspecting electrical panels, we now recommend that inspectors wear leather- and rubber-glove combos at a minimum, as well as some type of safety glasses when removing a panel cover. Rubber-soled shoes, along with a fire-resistant shirt, are also good ideas. Furthermore, home inspectors should always use an insulated screwdriver to remove the screws on a panel and replace the screwdriver when it is worn out. And they should always keep their hands out of panels.

As for ladders, if your inspector is using an extension ladder, it needs to be rated for his particular weight and it should also be constructed of fiberglass.

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