Taking a Hard Look at Your Water

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

showerheadAn overwhelming 85 percent of the United States has hard water, and the cities with the hardest water are Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Phoenix, San Antonio and Tampa. In Canada, Yorkton, Laval des Rapids, Beaconsfield and Kitchener are among the cities with the hardest water.

What is hard water, and why is it a concern? The elements that make up water, hydrogen and oxygen, do not account for the foreign ingredients found in every drop of the water we use every day. Most of these other ingredients are considered safe to consume, through municipal sources, but they can be damaging to appliances and the plumbing that distributes water.

The most damaging ingredients found in most hard water are calcium and magnesium. Water picks up high levels of hardness minerals as it trickles through the ground (about seven grains or more per gallon). These hard minerals can cause scaling on metal components, resulting in water-flow restriction, poor fixture operation that can cause damage, leaks and increased energy costs. The more mineral deposits that form around heating elements, the more energy is required to heat the water, which eventually results in high energy costs and equipment failure.

How to Soften Hard Water
While there are many theories on how best to soften water, the most common and widely recognized method is to remove the calcium from the water with technology known as ion exchange. The basics of how this works is with a water softener consisting of a media/resin tank and a salt/brine tank. A common myth is that salt softens water; in fact, it is the resin, charged with sodium or potassium, that does the work. Hard water flows through the resin tank where the sodium-coated resin beads exchange the hardness ions in the water for the sodium or potassium ions they are holding. The result is soft water.

After the resin beads are coated with calcium and magnesium, it’s time to regenerate or clean the beads so they can continue to capture more hard water minerals. This is where the salt tank is needed. The salt creates a brine solution that is pumped into the resin tank to remove the hard minerals from the beads and recharge them with sodium. The used brine solution and hard minerals are drained from the softener, allowing the cycle to start again.

What to Know When Shopping for a Water Softener
The main differences in water softeners are how the equipment accomplishes the process of ion exchange and the cost of the equipment. The two main types of water softeners are demand-initiated regeneration (DIR) and timer-based regeneration.

A timer-based softener will regenerate at a preset time regardless of water use and is not the most efficient type of water softener. The DIR softener is the best model and is required by some municipalities because of its efficiencies. A DIR system meters water use and only regenerates when it needs to, requiring less water, salt and energy to operate.

It is important to only regenerate at a time when water will not be used, typically around 2 a.m., so the time of day will need to be fairly accurately set so the equipment knows when to regenerate. Some systems have dual media tanks where one regenerates while the other softens water. This type of system does not rely on a clock setting or electricity, but it will have more gears constantly moving and may increase the possibility for failures to occur. With that said, don’t let the use of electricity be a deciding factor in your selection, as it is typically equivalent to that of a clock radio. All systems have their pros and cons, so do your research.

As for the cost of a water softener, prices are all over the place, but it is important to know that all ion exchange water softeners basically work the same way to soften the water. So, when shopping, focus on the quality of the equipment and its warranties.

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Tips for Indoor Lighting

living room house luxuryIndoor lighting serves both functional and ambient purposes. Some people prefer bright, overhead lighting while others are more at home in dimmer, lamp-lit settings. Regardless of your preference, you can certainly save money on your monthly electric bills by changing the way you light your home. Here, we offer several tips that will keep your home lit and inviting, as well as reduce energy use and costs:

  • Turn off the lights when you’re not in a room, or consider installing occupancy sensors to reduce the amount of time your lights are on.
  • Instead of those bright, overhead lights, use task lighting — focus the light where you need it by using lamps and under-cabinet lights.
  • Three-way lamps and bulbs allow you to set light bright when you need and save energy by setting the bulb for less light when you don’t need it.
  • Replace conventional light fixtures with 4-foot fluorescent fixtures in your garage, workshop, unfinished basement and laundry area.
  • Switch from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) in all of your light fixtures and lamps. If you dislike the harshness of fluorescent light, look for CFLs marked “soft white.”
  • Maximize the sun’s light by choosing window coverings that allow light inside. Consider blinds that open and close, and try using light-colored, loose-weave curtains.
  • Compact fluorescent torchieres use 60 to 80 percent less energy than halogen torchieres. They also can produce more light and the bulbs stay cooler than halogen.
  • When you purchase light fixtures and lamps, look for the ENERGY STAR®
Tagged: , , , ,

Caring for Your Countertops

Integrated oven & hob in new kitchen

Integrated oven & hob in new kitchen

You might not give your kitchen countertops much thought, but they do require some maintenance to keep to keep them in good condition. Depending on the material, your countertops may even require a little extra maintenance. Here’s what you need to know about caring for your countertops.

Basic Maintenance Tips
Every countertop requires the following, regardless of the material it is made from:

  • Prevent scratches to the surface by wiping countertops daily.
  • Wipe up spills when they happen to prevent staining or discoloration.
  • Make sure that any cleaners used are approved for your countertops. For example, vinegar is fine to use on laminate countertops but not on marble.
  • Be careful about putting hot pans on your countertops.
  • Keep countertops dry, as water can cause a film that can dull countertop materials such as Corian.
  • Use a cutting board when using a knife to chop or cut food.

Caring for Stone Countertops
Granite, quartz, marble, travertine and other stone materials often need special care:

  • Some stone countertops, such as some types of granite, require periodic sealing. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for when to reseal your countertops.
  • Use trivets under hot pans — even stone countertops can be adversely affected by heat.
  • Use trivets or mats under ceramic objects, which can scratch some types of stone countertops.
  • Do not use strong chemicals, such as bleach, on stone countertops.
Tagged: , , , , , ,

Tips for Outdoor Lighting

New House at Night_shutterstock_139225259Outdoor lighting can serve both decorative and safety purposes. Visit the lighting department at your favorite home improvement store, and you’ll find endless options. Here are some tips to keep your grounds well-lit:

  • Use solar or photovoltaic (PV) lighting to illuminate pathways and walkways and for decorative purposes. These are handy to light areas that are not close to a power supply.
  • Save energy by choosing outdoor lights and floodlights with a photocell or timer, so they will turn off during daylight hours.
  • Consider floodlights with a motion detector to save energy. The lights will turn on when the motion detector senses movement within range.
  • Make sure to turn off decorative outdoor gas lamps. Just eight gas lamps burning year-round use as much natural gas as an average-size home during an entire winter.
  • Use compact fluorescent (CFL) or LED light bulbs — which use less energy and last longer than other types of bulbs — for outdoor lights.
  • Consider battery-operated LED light fixtures for areas where you need good light but have no power supply.
Tagged: , , , , ,

How Can I Tell if the Shingles on My Roof Need to Be Repaired or Replaced?

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

Roof Shingles_shutterstock_154579022The roof helps to protect the building and its contents from the effects of weather. You should think of your roof as your home’s protective covering, and as such, its care and upkeep should be an important part of your regular maintenance to-do list. Depending of the type of shingles installed on your roof, you should be able to expect shingles to last upward of 20 years, or even longer.

However, many factors can negatively affect the life expectancy of shingles. These can include improper installation methods, insufficient attic ventilation, adverse weather conditions and trees.

An outdoor roof inspection can be performed safely from your driveway or backyard with a set of binoculars or a good digital camera that has a high-optical zoom.

Look for telltale signs of cupping or curling of the shingles; excessive granular loss; split, cracked or missing shingles; or areas with organic growth (e.g., algae, moss, fungus, staining).

An indoor roof inspection can be performed easily with a ladder and a flashlight from your attic access. Look for signs of damaged, split or sagging wood framing, dark areas that look wet, or significant discolouration on the underside of the roof sheathing. When excessive humidity is allowed to build up in the attic space, it is not unusual for mould to grow, and this will quickly deteriorate the sheathing and can have an adverse effect on the indoor air quality of the home.

Ventilation is extremely important to the health of your entire roofing/attic system.

If you do notice any of these deficiencies, you should first contact a trusted roofing professional for a more thorough examination of your roofing system. Sometimes the solution may be only a minor repair or “tune-up” versus replacing the entire roof.

Tagged: , , , , ,

Do I Really Need to Have This Brand-new Million-dollar House Inspected?

By Roland Bates, President, NPI/GPI

Mansion_iStock_000005688377SmallHere’s the story of a new, large and very expensive house. The couple who were having the house built divorced while in the middle of building the house. They both walked away from it, so the builder was forced to finish the house on his own and then try to sell it as a spec house, which he did not want to do. When we inspected the house, we surmised that a decision was made to significantly increase the square footage of the home but that information was never communicated to the electrical or HVAC contractors, who probably worked off of the original plans.

When we inspected the house, we found several major problems:

  • The heating and cooling systems were both significantly undersized for the house, considering its floor plan, square footage, ceiling height, double-paned glass, etc.
  • The electrical service was also significantly undersized. And, although a driven ground rod was in place, the electrical service was not grounded.
  • Two sides of the house’s exterior were unpainted.
  • A first-level deck, although hidden by lattice work, had no proper vertical support. In fact, the deck was resting on top of several inverted five-gallon paint cans.

There were other lesser issues, too — common construction defects that we find in most newly built houses. But to answer the question many home buyers ask: Yes, you should absolutely order a home inspection for a brand-new house, regardless of how expensive it is.

Tagged: , , , ,

Historical Houses Often Reveal Hidden Treasures

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

Photo A

Photo A – Click to enlarge

Home inspectors come across unique items in the course of a home inspection. Photo A is of a main service panel found in use in a house built in the early 1900s. Keep in mind that at the time it was built, very few houses had an electrical system, and if they did it was small — typically two circuits. So, while this panel was certainly state-of-the-art, it could also be considered a piece of art in its design and functionality. Nevertheless, it does not meet today’s safety standards, and the home inspector recommended upgrading the panel.

Below is some information from the manufacturer’s specification document for a similar product, from the “Descriptive Catalog and Price List” of the Bossert Electric Construction Company, published in 1896:

DISTRIBUTING

Box is intended to be used for “concealed” work, and arranged for 12 branch circuits. It is entirely made of iron, and contains main and branch circuit terminals, also binding posts for main and branch wires, all conveniently arranged.

All fuse terminals are calculated to receive standard fuse links. The box is also provided with a specially designed 100-amp double-pole knife switch; the operation of same does not interfere with closing and locking of door, whether circuit is thrown “on” or “off.” As will be seen from cut, the box is provided with ornamental iron door and lock. Box can be furnished from 6 to 12 circuits, with or without main switch, for either brass or iron armored conduit work.

IMG_9509

Photo B – Click to enlarge

PRICE

12-circuit Box, without switch, plain slate, metal work dipped, $15.00

12-circuit Box, without switch, enameled slate, metal work dipped, 16.50

12-circuit Box, without switch, enameled slate, metal work polished, 20.00

12-circuit Box, with 100-amp double-pole knife switch, enameled slate, metal work polished and lacquered 25.00

I guess the moral of the story is to be on the lookout for treasures in historical houses!

Tagged: , , , , ,

Home Inspection 101: Electrical Panel Inspection

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

Wire BoxWhen you’re buying a house, you want to know it’s safe. One of the main safety concerns is a home’s electrical system. Old wiring, improper outlets and an outdated service panel are problems often found in houses. Although older houses are at more risk for these issues, even newer houses can have electrical problems. This is just one more reason a home inspection is a good idea before you buy your dream home. Your home inspector will check all visible aspects of a home’s electrical system.

Inspection of the electrical panel should be performed only by either a licensed electrician or a trained property inspector — don’t try to inspect the panel yourself. Removal of the outer panel cover, and even removal of the panel-cover screws, poses a potential risk for electrocution. Your home inspector will approach the panel and first use either the back of their hand or a static electrical tester to check whether the service panel is energized — meaning there’s potential risk of electrocution from improperly installed interior panel wiring or the wrong type of screws to hold the panel cover in place.

(Flat-tipped screws should be used to hold the panel cover in place, not pointed-tip screws. The reason for flat-tip screws is that they reduce the risk of potential penetration into the insulation or sheathing that protects the wires inside the panel, which may not have been appropriately placed or safely tucked into the panel.)

Once the inspector removes the panel cover, he or she begins a visual inspection of the interior of the panel box. The inspector checks for and determines the size of the service coming into the house — how much power is coming in from the utility. The following are some other items an inspector checks for:

  • Whether the panel has fuses or circuit breakers
  • Properly sized wires coordinate to appropriately sized breakers
  • Presence of double-taps — when more than one wire is connected to a breaker (unless the equipment is rated for such use)
  • Dark, rusty or smoky residue on the panel
  • Age and wear of the panel
  • Improperly wired subpanels
  • Wires run in a neat and orderly manner
  • Presence of open splices or nicks in wires
  • All connections are tight

A common finding is open knock-outs — holes or knock-outs that wires may have been passed through at one time but which are no longer in use. These holes should be closed or plugged so that in the event of an arc or spark in the panel, the occurrence can be contained within the panel.

If your home inspector finds problems with the electrical panel, he or she will recommend that the panel be evaluated and repaired by a professional electrician. Don’t skip this important step before you purchase a house; your safety depends on it.

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Why Should I Get a New-construction Home Inspection?

By Wes Grant, NPI Franchise Owner, Indian Trail, North Carolina

I hear this question often from folks buying a newly built home, and it has compelled me to explain the virtues of having a new-construction home properly inspected by a professional and qualified home inspector.

Firstly, I am not writing this to bash home builders, per se. For the most part, I know many custom home builders who do a fine job. Unfortunately, I also know many home builders who do a mediocre to poor job and who are only concerned with their bottom line regardless of the marketing propaganda they feed new-home shoppers. I have been labeled “Deal Killer” by some of these builders because I point out the flaws and poor workmanship they try to pass on to their buyers.

Home inspectors are the one — and often only — party who has no skin in the game. What does it benefit us to be a deal killer? The builder makes money selling the house; inspectors are the only objective party involved in the transaction because we are paid to inspect the home whether or not a buyer goes through with the purchase. Buyers of new-construction homes are often inexperienced in the new-construction home buying process. They mistakenly assume that because a home has passed all local code inspections, it must be OK.

My short answer is this: Don’t assume your builder, or the subcontractors they use, did a good job just because the home passed code inspections. A professional home inspector is your last line of defense against major and minor defects that could literally cost you thousands of dollars and cause you many a restless night.

At National Property Inspections, we work with many professional Realtors, and they know us and understand that we are here to help our mutual clients and keep them from being fleeced by parties who choose to ignore poor quality or simply don’t care.

OK, I’m getting off my soap box. Here, I outline the most severe issues I regularly find during new-construction home inspections.

Improperly Installed Cement Fiber Plank Siding
Most frequently, I find multiple issues with improperly installed cement fiber planks. Major manufacturers of this product are James Hardie and Certainteed. I’m not going into the class-action lawsuits that are currently in process with some cement fiber plank manufacturers — that’s for a later discussion. I’m simply pointing out that many new-construction homes I have inspected have siding that has been installed improperly.

I find that nails are often overdriven or multiple nails are driven into small areas. Nails that are overdriven no longer have holding strength and/or crack the corners of the siding. In either case, the individual planks will begin to fail over time, and some fall completely off the house, many times within just a few weeks after construction.

Per the Certainteed installation specs: “Do not over-drive the fasteners. Seating them below the surface of the siding reduces their holding power and creates an entryway for moisture. Do not place fasteners in the center, unsupported area of the siding.”

Another issue is siding planks and boards that have large gaps between the ends of the siding. The butt ends of siding should be in moderate contact and should have joint flashing, joint caps or sealant at each joint connection. (Depending on local code, many manufacturers recommend against using any joint sealants.) Open gaps between the butt ends allows easy access for water intrusion behind the siding.

Problems With Stone Veneer Siding Installation
Improperly installed manufactured stone veneer siding is also a common defect. Failure to follow the manufacturer’s installation procedures can lead to water intrusion inside the wall cavity behind the siding. At a recent 11-month builder’s warranty inspection, we discovered very high moisture readings on the interior walls of the home using a Tramex encounter plus noninvasive moisture meter. The manufactured stone veneer, commonly referred to by builders as “lick and stick” was installed with no visible weep system at the base of the wood frame walls or horizontal transitions. We found other problems, too:

  • No visible weep system at the tops of windows and/or doors
  • No visible sealants along seams between the stone cladding and siding, trim, windows and/or doors
  • No indication of a flashing and/or weep system where the stone cladding is in contact with roofing materials or along head flashings
  • Metal lath was visible, indicating that the proper base coats of mortar were not applied prior to installation of the stone cladding

The lack of proper detailing and flashing is conducive to water penetration behind the stone cladding and possible hidden damage. The home owner contacted the builder after receiving our report that night (we always deliver same-day reports). The builder started removing stone, and multiple areas of the interior wall had water-soaked insulation and mold growth. We saved the customer thousands of dollars for which she repaid us by referring at least six of her neighbors in this new-home community, all for 11-month builder’s warranty inspections.

Rayn Properties Architectural Images

Unprotected Roof Penetrations
We frequently discover improperly installed flashing and boot vents at roof penetrations, as well as missing kick-out flashing at the end of sidewalls. We were inspecting a brand-new home on the same day our customer was doing the walkthrough with the builder. It was raining on the day of inspection, and as we made our way into the attic, I noticed a large puddle on the OSB plywood just in front of the furnace. Upon further inspection I determined that the subcontractor who cut the hole penetration in the roof to extend the furnace flue had cut the hole much too large allowing water to pour into the attic area.

This is a brand-new house — even after the roofers, HVAC technicians and who knows who else had been in or around this roof and attic, nobody noticed the light coming in around the furnace flue penetration, and no one saw the gaps around the flue penetration on the exterior roof while they were putting on the shingles? Had the customer not had a home inspection, how much damage would this leak have caused before it would be discovered?

On a 10-year-old brick home we inspected, kickout flashing was missing over a window at the front porch, and visible staining was noted on the exterior brick veneer. On the interior walls, we found moisture intrusion, and the window sill area was very soft. At the band sill (viewed during the crawl space inspection), our inspector noted rot and severe water damage directly under the area missing the kick-outs. If the missing kick-outs had been noted at the time of construction (regardless of code), these home owners would not have been looking at spending thousands of dollars in repairs 10 years later.

Plumbing Fails
During the crawl space inspection of a new-construction home just this year, I noted water leaking from under the master bathroom toilet area. It appeared that the plumber forgot to install a wax seal! I have actually caught this three times in new-home construction.

Funny story: My Daddy was a plumber, so from the time I was able to walk, I was required to be a plumber’s helper. I can clearly remember Daddy having me finish installing some copper supply lines in a bathroom of a new-construction home when I was about 14 years old, while Daddy went back to the supply house to pick up some elbows. I was fluxing my heart out and connecting pipes and was so proud of the job I did. I remember when Daddy was testing the water pressure all the joints blew at the bathroom I completed — seems I forgot one important task: soldering the joints. Not my best moment! Point being, everybody makes mistakes or forgets things sometimes. A home inspection will catch many of these lapses.

Improperly Flashed Window and Door Openings
This defect is normally only discovered if the customer is having a pre-drywall inspection (a very good idea for new-home-construction buyers). We got a call to do an inspection on a 4-year-old house in a new home development that stalled in 2009 during the economic crash after several houses had already been constructed.

In the interior of the home, around the back-door threshold area, the floor was very soft and “giving” when stepped on. During the crawl space inspection, we noted evidence of water intrusion, wood rot and mold growth in the subflooring components under the back-door threshold. The sellers agreed to repair the problem, and the contractor doing the repair work started demolition. They discovered that there was absolutely no flashing around the door threshold, which could have been caught with a pre-drywall inspection.

This year, we have done several new-construction inspections and pre-drywall inspections in that same neighborhood (building resumed full force in 2014), and we are finding that this particular builder is routinely failing to install flashing at some areas of windows and doors, or not using any type of rubber tape adhesive flashing at some of the corners (bowtie cuts) and just using caulk sealant. This is sloppy work by a subcontractor, which will lead to expensive damage in the future.

These are just a few of the major issues we have discovered during new-construction home inspections that have saved our customers thousands of dollars and more than justify the cost of a home inspection. All of these issues have been identified by a qualified professional home inspector.

A new home will be the largest financial investment most of us make in our lifetimes. For the cost of pennies on the dollar, you can buy peace of mind that your purchase is a sound financial investment with an objective home inspection. Call National Property Inspections today to book your next home inspection. We will save you money in the long run.

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,