Proper Construction and Maintenance of Your Deck

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

McCreath BlogDepending on your geographic location, your deck may be one of the most popular areas of your home. Just like the rest of your home, decks require ongoing maintenance and inspection to make sure that all components are functioning as intended. A well-maintained deck adds both form and function to your home. Over time, however, several factors contribute to wear and tear, giving home owners a choice between replacing the deck or attempting deck repair.

Deck Maintenance
Cleaning and treatment of the deck boards is often overlooked. Decking is exposed to the elements and over time may show signs of water damage, fading color, and deterioration or rotting.

Decks require cleaning and treatment every couple of years, and this may include applying paint or sealant. Cleaners can restore some of the original color. Power washing the deck is an option for cleaning, but care is required in not using too much force or too narrow of a spray pattern. This is also a good way of removing algae, that unsightly green coating that you may see.

Once the deck is cleaned, and prior to treatment with paint or stain, examine the condition of the deck boards and replace any that may be deteriorated or rotting. If you are experiencing wood rot, it is important to determine why. There may be an issue with the gutters or flashing that is directing water onto a particular area of the deck. There are a number of restoring deck paints that are thick and able to fill in some cracks, but if the wood is too deteriorated, then rotting may continue under the paint.

The most common material used for decking is pressure-treated wood. Cedar and redwood are also used, but may require more frequent maintenance. Composite decking is now becoming more popular, as it requires less maintenance. Certain types of wood will shrink over time and may create gaps, and you may also find that the deck boards are cracking or splitting. It is best to replace any deck boards that show evidence of these issues.

Proper Deck Construction
Too often, decks are installed by inexperienced home owners and the structural integrity may be compromised. Ledger boards, fasteners, posts, footings and railings are all critical components of the deck. If any structural compromise is suspected, it is best to have the deck examined by a qualified contractor.

Decks should be attached to the house using ledger boards and lag bolts, and this is one of the most critical aspects of deck construction. Deck joists should be attached to the ledger board, either by joist hangers or setting atop a ledger strip. If using joist hangers, attention must be given to the manufacturer’s instructions, and you must use approved nails. If using a ledger strip, it should be a minimum 2 in. x 2 in. that is fastened to the bottom of the ledger board with three nails under each joist. The joists are then toe-nailed into the ledger board. Toe-nailing of the joists alone, without hangers or ledger strip, is not recommended.

Beams should be secured to the top of the posts, not to the side of the posts. Beam attachment to the posts should be done with either a bracket or by notching the post and securing the beam with bolts. The exception to this would be only for a low-level deck that has short-spanning joists and beams and a number of support posts.

Deck footings should generally be set below the frost line. In regions where the frost line is not an issue, it is common to see precast foundation blocks on top of the exposed grade. At a minimum, regardless of frost line, the footings should be set 12 inches into the soil. In colder climates, the minimum depth may be much higher, up to 36 inches in some cases.

Finally, your deck’s guardrails should be 36 inches minimum height, with balusters not exceeding 4 inches separation, and there should be a graspable handrail with four or more risers.

Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

Smoke Alarms Save Lives, Reduce Fatalities

Smoke Detector2According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there have been 1,370 civilian fire fatalities in the United States this year. Based on the information reported, either a smoke alarm was not installed or was not working correctly in more than half of the incidents. While some catastrophic fire fatality events cannot be prevented, others can. Fatalities caused by fires often can be reduced with the use of properly working smoke alarms.

The National Fire Protection Association states that all smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years — this is 10 years from the date when the alarm was manufactured. In addition, home owners should test each device once a month, although smoke alarms normally will chirp if the battery is low and needs to be replaced. A battery for a smoke alarm lasts about a year.

Where’s the Fire?
Information collected by the U.S. Fire Administration reveals that the states with the highest fatalities are California, Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

North Dakota is the only state that has zero fire fatalities reported so far this year.

Free Help Purchasing and Installing Smoke Detectors
Elderly, disabled or financially burdened families or individuals may not be able to afford or install smoke detectors. Many local fire departments and the Red Cross are able and willing to assist with providing or installing the devices. They can also provide you with valuable information regarding ways to escape and safeguard a residence. For more information about these programs, contact your local fire department or visit http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family/prevent-home-fires.

Tagged: , , , ,

Should You Do Your Home Inspection Yourself?

By Dale Senkow, GPI Franchise Owner, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

Everything in the house you’re planning to buy may look great from a distance; however, a home inspector is a trained professional with vast knowledge and an arsenal of tools. You can’t imagine some of the things our inspectors run into. Sometimes home owners ev en take the advice or word of the seller — sure, they may have lived there for some time, but what if they’re moving because the house has a hidden danger or major problem that only a home inspector can identify? It’s a pretty big risk to skip a professional inspection and rely on what you see yourself.

You can hire a home inspector for a fraction of the home’s purchase price. It’s money well spent when you have the assurance of knowing that your investment is the home you need it to be.

Here, we share some of the problems we recently discovered during home inspections.

Senkow 1

 

 

Wow if that floor wasn’t so clean we wouldn’t have noticed the filled-in window. The pipe insulation in the far right corner isn’t helping much, either.

 

 

 

 

 

Senkow 2

 

 

The smoke detector has a disconnected wire. Since this is a room in a condo, it not only puts the home owner in danger but it also puts others in danger. Home inspectors know where smoke detectors should be strategically placed and that they should be wired into the home’s panel box and have a battery backup for power outages. Remember to test your smoke detectors regularly and replace them every five years.

 

 

Senkow 2

 

 

Never have your barbecue or grill beside your house. This photo shows what happens to a house’s siding when a grill is too close. You’ll only make that mistake once.

 

 

 

 

 

Senkow 2

 

 

 

Home inspectors have rules to follow. They’re not supposed to move belongings. In this room, the clutter is also a safety issue and a possible fire hazard. Furthermore, the attic hatch is located in this room and cannot be safely accessed by the inspector.

 

 

 

Senkow 2

 

 

 

The reserve tank on the toilet is leaking. The foam seal needs to be replaced and is squished too tight. Every time the toilet flushes, water flows out.

Tagged: , , ,

Slab, Basement or Crawl Space?

By Ken Roleke, NPI Franchise Owner, Tucson, Arizona

Basement_shutterstock_99750089Why are slab foundations prevalent in some areas, while basements or crawl spaces are more common in others, and in some areas you find a mix? Cost, comfort and practicality are all factors.

Basements are the most expensive part of the house to construct. They take a long time to build, and they require more labor and materials. Furthermore, basements are often home to flooding, moisture and radon gas issues.

But basements offer all that extra space. In densely populated areas, where land is expensive, basements are the norm because they offer extra square footage on the same size building lot. Normally, a house built on a slope will have a basement so that the builder doesn’t have to do the extensive excavation to make a level site needed for a crawl space or slab. However, basements may not be practical in high water table areas and where rock would have to be blasted or otherwise removed to excavate the site.

Building a crawl space involves no more excavation than a slab and could be comparable to slab cost depending on concrete and lumber pricing at the time. Often, HVAC equipment fits inside a crawl space, and they offer easy access to all utilities for repair or remodeling.

Slabs can be the cheapest and fastest to build. There will be few if any stairs in a one-story house. The biggest disadvantages of a slab foundation are that the HVAC equipment and hot water heater are either installed in the attic, or they take away from living space (and wires and pipes are not as accessible).

Cost of land, frost line, high water tables and unstable soil all are factors to weigh. Even if you want a basement, you have to consider whether it is worth the extra cost when everything else in the area is on slab. Personal preferences also factor into the decision — walking on hard concrete versus a softer, framed floor; finished floor options; and the absence of stairs all could be factors.

Tagged: , , , , ,

Take Care When Growing Vines on Your House

English Cottage Door_shutterstock_162916304To some people, ivies and flowering vines crawling up a house add beauty and sense of nostalgia. But at what price to the home’s structure?

Some vines, like wisteria and climbing hydrangea, are woody vines, which can become heavy on your home’s siding, fence or other lightweight structures. Others have growths like suction cups that attach to the house, trapping moisture and causing rot conditions for wood siding. The problem with growing vines on stucco siding is that when the vines are pulled off, they’ll take paint and chunks of stucco with them. And, on houses with aluminum or vinyl siding, vines can grow up under the siding, creating openings for moisture and pests. Furthermore, the invasive roots of ivy and other types of creeping plants can cause considerable damage to a house.

Brick siding in good condition will likely handle ivy, but for weakened brick, creeping vines can widen existing cracks and allow water inside. If you’ve decided you definitely want to grow vines on your brick home, be careful what type of vine you choose. English ivy and others are so invasive that they are banned in some areas. Do some research and choose vines that are less invasive and won’t threaten neighboring trees and houses.

Tagged: , , , , ,

Protect Vacant Properties from Vandalism

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

Modern Building + Landscaping_HorizontalMost rental and leased commercial properties will likely be vacant at some point between tenants. Not only are vacant properties losing income for landlords, but they also become a target for vandals. According to the FBI, an estimated loss of $15.5 billion in 2012 resulted from crimes related to vandalism. Real estate property and vacant property attracts vandalism like a magnet. There are, however a variety of ways that commercial building owners can deter vandals and protect their vacant property.

Maintain good curb appeal. Vacant property should be well maintained to not only attract new tenants, but also give the appearance of activity and security so vandals think the property is being watched. This should include lawn and landscaping maintenance, as well as the keeping gutters clean, clearing sidewalks and removing fliers stuck inside doors. A new welcome mat and seasonal decorations can also help the property appear inhabited.

Don’t advertise the vacancy. Understandably, a sign advertising the availability of a vacant commercial space is typical and expected from most real estate agents; however, people passing by do not need to see that the entire property is vacant. Blinds should be installed on all windows and closed to prevent exposing vacant interior spaces.

Neighbors can help. Neighbors living or working near a vacant property can help by parking one or more vehicles in the parking lot, randomly switching parking spaces on different days. Switching a few interior and exterior lights on two to three times a week is also a great deterrent and lets people know there is activity in the building. This can either be done by the landlord, a trusted neighbor or even a timer. Installing motion-activated exterior flood lights is also a great way to prevent vandalism.

Monitor the property. The best security is always a nosey neighbor or diligent landlord who visits the property at random times during each day. It is important for the time of your visits to be unpredictable, as crimes often occur after the property has been watched for routine activity.

Install a security system. Security systems can get expensive, but they are never more costly than the damage from vandalism or burglary. Security systems have become more sophisticated, with video monitoring that could help identify the intruders. These added features will not only help protect your property from vandalism, but they will also increase the overall value of the property and give you or the leasing agent additional features to promote.

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Grow-ops: Out of Sight Should Not Mean Out of Mind

Marijuana PlantsIndoor marijuana grow-ops are more common than some people may realize. With more legalization across the world, individual cultivating may increase. Droughts, little sunlight, flooding, legalization, poor economic situations and a host of other factors can lead to individuals choosing to grow marijuana plants inside their home or commercial building. These operations result in property damages that may be minute or extreme based on the size and length of time that the indoor growing is active.

Not Your Everyday Houseplants
Marijuana plants differ from houseplants mostly due to the size and the number of plants people keep. Most indoor operations have enough plants to make up a small outdoor garden. The next difference is the massive quantities of certain growing tools needed for survival and growth of the plants. Grow-op owners need equipment such as water hoses for watering and chemicals, which are dispersed to the plants to provide the nutrients they require or enhance their normal growth. Some growers might reroute water lines to make it easier to water marijuana plants.

In a grow-op, marijuana’s needs for sunlight and humidity are mimicked by using high-voltage grow lights that are expensive to operate. Moreover, some utility companies report suspiciously high electrical use to police. For these reasons, grow-op owners often illegally bypass the building’s electrical meter to steal electricity. Such modifications to an electrical system can make the system unsafe.

The high levels of humidity that result from growing marijuana in turn create excessive moisture inside the house or building. According to Home Heroes Inc., attics in marijuana grow-ops have average humidity levels of 80 percent. A residential home with normal humidity will have a level around 55 percent. When moisture becomes prevalent inside a grow-op building, mold and wood rot can soon begin to form, causing structural damage and expensive cleanup and repair.

The plants need to breathe, though, and high humidity makes that difficult. Venting becomes necessary, and growers often cut holes in floors, walls and ceilings to help circulate air. Many people will try to paint and patch holes to hide the existence of an indoor grow-op, which can mislead an unsuspecting home buyer into purchasing a severely damaged home.

A house or building that has been used as a grow-op can become a home buyer’s nightmare. Your home inspector knows the signs to look for and will be able to let you know if he/she suspects a house has been used as a grow-op. This is just one more reason to always have a home inspected before you buy.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the necessary qualifications to recognize the signs of a grow-op in a home or commercial building. To find your local inspector, contact National Property Inspections in the United States and Global Property Inspections in Canada.

Tagged: , , ,

Home Inspection: Inspecting the Water Supply Pipe

By Ken Roleke, NPI Franchise Owner, Tucson, Arizona

Water PipesYour home inspector should identify the water supply pipe used in the house and point out any deficiencies associated with it. It is not always easy to identify the type of pipe used in plumbing a house. Quite often, one material (often copper) may be used where the plumbing is visible, as well as on the exterior, at the hot water heater connection and at turn-off valves, and another piping material might be used inside the walls and is not visible to the inspector. Keep in mind that a home inspection is a visual, noninvasive inspection of the property, so  your home inspector won’t be able to see the piping inside walls.

Water supply pipe materials have each had their time as the most widely used —galvanized, copper, polybutylene and PEX.

Galvanized steel pipe was prevalent in the 1950s to the mid-1960s. It has an estimated lifespan of 40 to 75 years, depending on the volume of use and the chemicals in the water. Over time, galvanized pipe corrodes from the inside, becoming clogged and reducing water volume and flow. For this reason, homes originally plumbed with galvanized pipe often have repairs made with other pipe material.

Something to watch out for is when a repair is made by connecting galvanized pipe directly to copper pipe. Connecting two dissimilar metals will lead to galvanic corrosion unless a dielectric fitting, which isolates the two metals with a rubber or plastic washer, is used. The most common area of the home where an inspector will encounter this problem is at the hot water heater.

Copper has also been used extensively for home water supply since the 1950s and is still used today. It was the dominant material from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. Copper’s price fluctuates, and it has increased substantially over the years relative to other materials. One problem to be aware of with copper pipe is repairs done with thin-wall Type M copper instead of the thicker walled Type L.

Later, polybutylene came to the forefront for pipe material — until it was determined to be defective and was discontinued. Polybutylene was used in several million homes from 1970 to the mid-1990s. A class action lawsuit and settlement paid for home owners to replace polybutylene pipes; however, many home owners did not take advantage of this, so there are still many homes with polybutylene today.

PEX, properly known as cross-linked polyethylene pipe, is the dominant water supply pipe used in houses built today. The material is lower cost and less labor-intensive to install than copper.

So how will your inspector determine what type of pipes your house has? Sometimes pipes are visible in the crawl space or attic. Other times, an inspector’s knowledge of the builder or subdivision, the age of the house, or what was and is allowed in a municipality will make him fairly certain of the pipe material used. Finally, older houses, due to repairs and additions, are much more likely to have more than one type of pipe.

Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Ask the Home Inspector: Roof Inspections

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

Roof_shutterstock_145024390Q. What does a roof inspection entail?

A. One of the largest areas of concern to a home buyer is the roof. After all, it covers and protects the home, and replacing it can be a big investment.

First and foremost in a roof inspection is the question of accessibility: Can the inspector physically walk the roof, or will they need to conduct the inspection from the ground with binoculars or by placing a ladder at the eave at various locations? Limitations to consider are the roof’s height and its pitch or steepness. Many home inspectors are not comfortable climbing up on a roof that is taller than two stories, and a 4 to 5/12 pitch (steepness) is about the comfort zone for most inspectors. Weather is also a consideration, as a home inspector should only walk on a roof in dry conditions. And finally, there are certain types of roof materials that an inspector cannot and must not walk on. Regardless, an inspector must disclose in the report how the roof was inspected.

Perform an Overall Roof Inspection
Another big question that comes up during a home inspection is, “How old is the roof?” Sellers are typically the best source, as home owners usually know how old their roof is. If the home owners are unavailable or don’t know the age of the roof, then a home inspector should give a ballpark estimate as to the roof’s age. In general, composite aggregate shingles have more definitions that provide visible indications as to age.

Design life expectancies for roofing materials are determined by the National Home Builders Association (NHBA) and can be used as a guideline for life expectancy. Each type of roof covering system can vary, with most lasting anywhere from 20 to 25 years all the way up to what some manufacturers call “lifetime.”

A home inspector will also report the roof’s overall condition: Are the shingles or materials cracked, curled, cupped or split? Are there any missing shingles? Are any/all penetrations sealed or properly flashed? Penetrations are anything from plumbing vent pipes, furnace and water heater flues, skylights or fireplace chimneys that actually penetrate thorough the roofing system. Any penetration can be a potential leak source for water intrusion. Your home inspector will visually inspect the flashings and penetrations for proper installation and signs of leakage.

Finally, the inspector will check whether the roof system was installed correctly according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Describe the Roof Material
Inspectors should report the type of material covering the home’s roof, which can be the following:

  • Asphalt/fiberglass three-tab or architectural
  • Stone aggregate composite shingles, which are most common
  • Man-made (synthetic) slate
  • Clay or concrete tile
  • Cedar shingle or shake, which in some states are no longer allowed to be installed, according to state laws and guidelines
  • Metal, which is becoming more popular for residential roofing systems, as well as commercial applications
  • Different types of rubber and PVC membrane systems for flat roof systems

Record the Number of Layers
How many layers are present? In certain jurisdictions, multiple layers of roofing material are only acceptable with asphalt/fiberglass three-tab or architectural, or with stone aggregate composite shingles. Usually, no more than two layers are allowed.

It is an industry-known fact that the life expectancy of this type of roofing system does not meet the normal expected life expectancy when it becomes a layered roof, thus National Property Inspections and Global Property Inspections always recommend that home inspectors check with the local authority having jurisdiction.

Tagged: , ,