When Do You Need a Permit for Home Improvement Projects?

Improving the design and condition of your home is always exciting, but a home improvement project can turn into negative if you try to sell your house and the necessary permits weren’t issued for a project. As a home owner, it can be difficult to determine which projects require a permit and which don’t, so we have created a handy guide for you.

Permit Chart

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Hanging Holiday Decorations? Remember Ladder Safety

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

NPI Franchise Owner/Inspector Jon McCreath performing a roof inspection.

NPI Franchise Owner/Inspector Jon McCreath performing a roof inspection.

As we come into the holiday season, and bring out our ladders to hang decorations, it’s a good time to review some ladder safety tips. Take it from me, ladder accidents can happen to even the most seasoned ladder users. I took a tumble earlier this year, and the photo below shows what happened to my arm.

A Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report on ladder safety revealed some startling statistics concerning the frequency and severity of ladder-related accidents. 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 by 50 percent.
  • According the U.S. 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 percent, is fractures.

Ladder accidents are extremely common even though they are entirely preventable. Ladder accidents can stem from a wide variety of issues, but the following four causes account for the majority. If these simple safety tips for each cause are followed, ladder accidents could almost be eliminated.

1. Selecting the Wrong Type of Ladder
Each ladder is designed to support a maximum weight limit; 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 (which can support 375 lbs.) for special-duty jobs, such as heavy industrial construction work.
Ouch! Injuries can be painful when you fall off a ladder.

Ouch! Injuries can be painful when you fall off a ladder.

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 that in which the manufacturer intended it to be used. 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 second rung on step ladders.
  • 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 a ladder is being used.
  • The feet of the ladder can be staked if you are using a ladder outside and no one is available to support the base.
  • Do not use a ladder that is too short for the job.
  • Do not place the ladder on anything to extend its reach.
  • Use a 1:4 ratio in placement of the ladder: Place the ladder base 1 foot away from the surface it is leaning against for every 4 feet of height to the point where the ladder contacts at the top.

Have a happy — and safe — holiday season!

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Prepare for Cold Weather: Caulk, Seal and Weather-strip

Winter House_shutterstock_128124284As you prepare your home for the cold weather, you’ll want to be sure to eliminate drafts, which can cause cold spots in your home and waste energy. Caulking, sealing and weather-stripping windows and doors is the way to stop drafts in their tracks.

In addition to saving money and eliminated cold spots near doors and windows, sealing drafts can help prevent unwanted visitors like rodents from entering your home.

Regardless of the season, sealing cracks around doors and windows offers a number benefits and is wise for any home owner:

  • Saves money by preventing cold air from entering your house in the winter or hot air entering in the summer.
  • Eliminates easy entry points for insects such as ants, roaches, spiders, flies and crickets.
  • Requires no special skills to apply caulk, sealant or weather-stripping.
  • Offers an inexpensive solution. You can purchase any type of weather stripping, caulk or sealer from your local hardware store, and it will be worth the investment.
  • Provides an accent to the paint around the trim of the doors and windows inside your home and can be appealing to the eye. A paint job or stain can look unfinished and appear to have unattractive gaps or spacing without proper caulk or sealant.
  • Prevents rain and snow from entering your house. If the existing doors or windows in your home are wood, then weather stripping prevents water from damaging the wood.
  • Dampens some of the outdoor noise levels (animals, mowers, children, vehicles).
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Proper Fireplace Venting: A Complex Issue

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

Fireplace_shutterstock_172698602One of the biggest controversial issues with home construction has been proper fireplace ventilation. In an effort to prevent indoor air contamination and improve overall efficiencies within modern homes, the home envelopes have become tighter — meaning little to no air leaks between interior and exterior spaces. While the intentions were good, constructing a tight home has caused some other issues, such as poor air change ratios and controlling pressures between interior and exterior spaces. This has resulted in new technologies to provide controlled mechanical ventilation systems.

Since the topic of building ventilation is vast and involves many different systems and components, this article will focus on exterior air supply, specifically for factory-built and masonry-built fireplaces.

This is a subject that is often misunderstood and which has resulted in improper installation of exterior air supply vents. The current International Residential Code (IRC) Section R1006.1 says, “Factory-built or masonry fireplaces … shall be equipped with an exterior air supply to assure proper fuel combustion unless the room is mechanically ventilated and controlled so that the indoor pressure is neutral or positive.”

Most masonry fireplaces are not constructed with an exterior air supply, and factory-built fireplaces are designed to incorporate exterior air supply vents but are often not connected or are installed improperly. During home inspections, we typically find the exterior air vent to be installed in areas that are specifically prohibited by current code — such as on the side of chimney structure or in the attic area above the firebox.

IRC Section R1006.2 states, The exterior air intake shall be capable of supplying all combustion air from the exterior of the dwelling or from spaces within the dwelling ventilated with outside air such as non-mechanically ventilated crawl or attic spaces. The exterior air intake shall not be located within the garage or basement of the dwelling, nor shall the air intake be located at an elevation higher than the firebox.”

So, while the intake vent is allowed to be located in an attic, the IRC prohibits it from being located higher than the firebox.

However, one manufacturer of a factory-built fireplace allows and actually instructs the installer to locate the exterior air supply vent at least 3 feet from the top of the chimney. Knowing that these instructions are contradictory to current IRC provisions, I contacted the manufacturer about this issue and was quickly informed that the local codes governing your municipality shall take precedent over the manufacturer’s installation instructions.

Fireplace3So, why is it even important where the vent is located? Because pressure differentials between interior and exterior spaces can fluctuate depending on installed equipment, weather conditions and where the home is located. This difference in atmospheric pressure could prevent the chimney from drafting or exhausting properly, or it could cause the exterior air supply vent to function as an exhaust vent for which it is not designed for.

Some inappropriate vent locations are in garage and basements, where combustible materials are often stored. Be sure not to locate an exterior air intake in a mechanically ventilated attic or crawl space. Attic and/or crawl space mechanical ventilating systems are primarily used to remove air from those areas by exhausting unwanted air or creating a negative pressure in those areas. If an air intake for a fireplace terminates in a crawl or attic space that has a mechanical ventilation system, then there is potential for the air intake to perform exactly opposite of its designed intent.

Oftentimes, the exterior air vent is properly installed in a non-mechanically ventilated attic as is permitted by code. However, later down the road, an attic fan is installed and thus causes a problem. Also, where combustion air openings are located inside the firebox, the air intake opening on the outside of the dwelling cannot be located higher than the firebox. Such an installation could create a chimney effect, drawing the products of combustion up through the combustion air ducts, which are not generally constructed of materials that can withstand the heat and sparks that could be drawn through them.

So what do you do if your fireplace is located in the center of your home and not on an exterior wall? This is often an issue, and home inspectors will discuss it with the builder or installer. There are actually two ways to address this issue.

First, in the foundation phase, an exterior air supply vent could be installed through the foundation prior to pouring concrete. This would meet the requirements of not being located higher than the firebox.

However, if the foundation has already been poured, then there is a provision in current code at the end of Section R1006.1 that says, “Unless the room is mechanically ventilated and controlled so that the indoor pressure is neutral or positive.” This provision seems to allow elimination of the exterior air vent altogether if the room is “mechanically ventilated and controlled so that the indoor pressure is neutral or positive.” With that said, new air conditioning systems are becoming more sophisticated in their technologies to provide for this controlled mechanical ventilation.

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What You Need to Know About Sandblasting

Peeling PaintSandblasting is the process of sanding a surface to remove rough edges or foreign materials. Sandblasting makes sanding much easier, as it is pressure-driven and easily reaches hard-to-sand areas like nooks and crannies. The “blasting” is done using compressed air to blow sand through a nozzle for a smooth, clean finish. Depending on the project, you can use abrasive materials other than sand to prepare a surface for repainting, staining or refinishing.

What Materials Can Be Sandblasted?

  • Wood: Wood sometimes has several layers of paint, which may be peeling. Porch swings, picnic tables and gazebos are items you may consider having sandblasted.
  • Concrete: Commercial building owners may want to remove parking lines and reconfigure a parking lot, so they can sandblast the old parking lines for a clean surface to work with. Home owners may sandblast their driveways to remove paint or oil spills.
  • Cast Iron: If a cast iron railing or other detail has been painted, you may want to sandblast it to remove peeling and chipping paint.
  • Brick: Sandblasting can make painted or dirty bricks look clean and new.
  • Automobiles: Sandblasting can remove the rust on that fixer-upper in your garage before you paint it.

Costs for Sandblasting

Sandblasting can be performed on a variety of material and is preferable when sandpaper or hand-held sanders are just not appropriate for the task at hand. Sandblasting can save you time, strenuous work and the demanding physical labor of bending, sitting, squatting and reaching.

If you have never sandblasted before, you may want to contact a professional. Using a blaster without experience could potentially cause injury if correct measures are not taken or followed. In addition, keep the following in mind:

  • Some cities may require a permit for sandblasting, so check your local requirements before beginning. If hiring a professional, they may apply for the permit for you.
  • Although rare, accidental damages could occur to your property or neighboring property during the sandblasting process, so consider that additional expenses could arise.
  • The average cost to sandblast an exterior surface is between $664 and $1,116. The average cost per square foot:
    • Brush blast (1/32 inch deep): $1.35 to $2.70
    • Light blast (1/16 inch deep): $2.25 to $4.50
    • Medium blast (1/4 inch deep): $4.50 to $7.20
    • Heavy blast (3/8 inch deep or more): $6.75 to $15.75.
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First-time Home Buyers: 6 Questions to Ask Your Home Inspector

By Hunter Newell, NPI Property Inspector, Milledgeville, Georgia

Inspector + Client + Plumbing3When you have an inspection done on your first home, it may seem a little overwhelming. You will get a report that sometimes could be up to 60 pages long and may contain a plethora of technical terms. Your home inspector should be more than happy to answer any questions you have regarding the contents of the report. However, it may be necessary to ask questions that may not relate to the condition of your house. Below are some important things you should know about your new home that may not be included in the report. Make sure you use the walkthrough portion of your home inspection to find out this information from your inspector.

  • “Where is the main breaker?” The main breaker is the primary electrical box going into a home. This is important to know its location if you need to shut off some or all of the power to your house. Be sure to ask your inspector where it is located.
  • “Where is the water shut-off valve?” The water shut-off valve is very important to locate. Most appliances, such as sinks and toilets, have an individual shut-off valve in case they leak or overflow uncontrollably. These shut-off valves are normally located within immediate reach of the appliance. However, your home will most likely have a main water shut-off. It is important to locate this for use in an emergency.
  • “Where is the gas shut-off?” This is extremely important to know in case your home develops a gas leak. Gasses that are used to operate appliances can be extremely hazardous to your health and pose a substantial explosion hazard. A home inspector will be more than happy to point out this shut-off.
  • “How do I adjust water temperature?” The water heater controls the temperature of water used in plumbing fixtures, such as showers and sinks. The temperature may need adjusting up or down, depending on your personal preference. Normally, this is done by turning a dial located on or near the water heater.
  • “How do I use my sprinkler system?” If your home has a sprinkler system, then they inspector may have checked the system. Regardless if it was reported on, the home inspector may be able to show you how to use it.
  • “Are there any other health risks associated with the area I live in that were not inspected?” Depending on the part of the country you live in, you may be exposed to health risks not included in your home inspection report. These could anything from radon gas to excess pollen infiltration. If these were not inspected or commented on in the report, then it may be necessary to ask your inspector the risk of these detriments in your area.

All of these questions are important to know when buying your first home, but don’t limit your inquiries to this list. If you have any other questions about general maintenance, areas to focus your attention on, or even what to expect with your home, ask your inspector. Any good home inspector will be happy to help you out in any way they can.

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Make Your Home More Comfortable: Improve Its Insulation

Insulation in Attic_shutterstock_95608564Did you know that most homes don’t have enough insulation? Insufficient insulation may be caused by uncompleted rooms or areas of the house, incorrect type of insulation, or improperly installed insulation. Regardless of the cause, the result will be that heat will escape your home in the winter and enter during the summer. If your home is properly insulated, you can save up to 10 percent on your annual energy bill.

Signs of Inadequate or Missing Insulation

  • Drafts: Air drafts coming in around doors, floors, windows and through outlets could be a sign that your home needs more insulation.
  • Icicles: Icicles hanging frozen from the roof edges and gutters could indicate that the home’s insulation is insufficient. Icicles mean that heat is escaping through the attic and melting rooftop snow, causing a freezing drip.
  • Leaky roof: A roof that has been leaking could have allowed water to soak insulation. If insulation has been wet, it needs replacing, as it will no longer be as effective and will most likely grow mold.
  • Excessively hot areas: In a two- or three-story house, you may have an upstairs floor that is excessively warm in the summer, which could be an indication that hot air is seeping through to the inside of the home.
  • Wall sweat: Walls will appear to “sweat” when there is no or insufficient insulation.

Types of Insulation
Insulation comes in a variety of types. Choose the one that works best for your home and the area you are insulating.

  • Foam board: Comes in sheets like a drywall sheet and can vary in thickness that range from one-half to 2 inches. Foam board allows moisture to escape, so it is used outside or under and between concrete — like basement walls and floors.
  • Blown-in insulation: This type comes in blocks, and a machine is used to spray it into areas, such as an attic. The machine breaks the insulation into small pieces so it is distributed evenly and accurately. You can hire an insulation company to blow insulation into your home, or you can purchase the insulation and rent the machine from a home improvement store and do it yourself.
  • Spray foam insulation: This insulation is available in smaller spray cans and typically used around windows or doors to seal small areas where air may leak through. You can also find larger quantities of spray foam to spray entire walls if you choose. Spray foam insulation has one of the higher R-values compared to some other types of insulation.
  • Rolls or batts of insulation: Typically made of fiberglass, this insulation is similar to blankets. To install, you cut off the length you need and lay it where you need insulation. Some people use a staple gun to affix the edges of the paper to wall studs. To insulate a floor, you can basically cut pieces to fit and drop or roll them into place.

Got Some Time This Weekend? Insulation Is an Easy DIY Project
Installing insulation is a simple weekend project you can do yourself. You may only need to measure, cut and stuff or roll the insulation between joists, but spraying or nailing insulation in place can be just as simple.

If you don’t have the time or the desire to attempt the project, hiring a professional to install insulation costs between $1.50 and $3.50 per square foot, depending on the size of the area, location in the home and type of insulation used.

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Ask the Inspector: Winterizing Outdoor Faucets

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

Water PipesQ. My neighbor just had a basement leak caused by her outside tap freezing, which busted a pipe. I’m concerned this might happen to us. Is there a proper way to winterize our outside water faucets?

A. This is a really good question, but the answer may depend on the age of the home or the type of exterior faucet in use. In older homes, the exterior faucet is a simple compression faucet that has a type of in-line shutoff valve inside the home, which should also have a small brass drain cap located on the side of the valve. As well, the copper pipes for this older configuration should slope toward the exterior faucet.

The proper procedure to winterize this older exterior faucet is to first shut off the inside valve by turning the handle clockwise, then proceed to the exterior faucet and open the faucet by turning that handle counter-clockwise. The homeowner should then proceed back to the inside shut-off valve and open up the small brass bleeder drain cap, which would then allow all of the water to drain out of that section of copper pipe. The reason the water needs to be drained out of the exterior faucet is the risk that any water left inside the exterior faucet may cause damage to the water pipe if the temperature outside were to go below the point that water freezes.

The newer type of exterior faucet is called a frost-proof faucet, or freeze-proof faucet. As the name implies, these are designed to minimize the risk of water freezing inside the unit and possibly rupturing the water pipe. However, just like the older configuration, these units need to be installed with the pipe sloping toward the exterior of the home. This unit is also a type of compression faucet, but the physical shut-off valve is actually up to 12 inches away from the exterior tap and located inside an insulated wall or rim joist area.

If you’re not sure if your exterior faucet is an older style or a frost-proof type, the general rule of thumb is that the handle for the frost-proof faucets tend to be perpendicular to the home.

Unfortunately, although most home owners may be familiar with this quick overview of a winterizing process, some may not understand that the garden hose must be disconnected before winter or there is a very real risk that the garden hose would keep water inside the faucet, which could potentially freeze and possibly rupture the water pipe.

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What Makes Our Home Inspections Better?

By Roland Bates, President, NPI/GPI

Inspector + Client + ReportWhether you’re buying your first home or your dream home, the home inspection is a crucial part of the home-buying process. The quality of your home inspection starts with the inspector. For National Property Inspections and Global Property Inspections, it starts with who we select to become a franchise owner. Not everyone who has wanted to become an NPI/GPI franchise owner/property inspector has been offered a franchise. Those who are accepted, as well as any inspectors they may hire and train, must show an aptitude and appreciation for what we do. After all, we pride ourselves on providing the industry’s best, most thorough home inspections.

In addition to the technical aspects of property inspection, we understand that this is a service business. Inspectors who show up on time and are easy to reach are two examples of that, and our franchise owners/inspectors make every effort to accommodate their clients and provide outstanding customer service.

Our franchise owners/inspectors undergo rigorous training so that they understand the technical aspects of a property from roof to foundation. Our inspections are thorough and cover all of the major systems of a property, and our computer-generated inspection reports exceed industry standards. The inspection information is presented in a professional and easy-to-read report, along with appropriate photographs. In fact, our inspectors take hundreds of photos during every inspection.

One example in comparing our inspectors to the majority of the other home and commercial building inspectors: Most inspectors know to turn on the thermostat to see if the HVAC system responds, but few understand what the components of an air conditioner are actually doing. Our inspectors are professionally trained to understand what the compressor, evaporator and other components actually do; what direction the refrigerant is flowing; and signs that indicate the unit is in need of servicing or not performing within industry standards. Not every home inspector is equipped with that knowledge.

When interviewing home inspectors, ask whether you can attend the full inspection. NPI and GPI inspectors invite clients along on the inspection, which allows our inspectors to show them firsthand any issues they discover. In the case of first-time home buyers, our inspectors will show them how to shut off the main water, change a furnace filter, turn on the sprinkler system and anything else they need to know about the house.

There is a difference in home inspectors, and there is a difference in inspection companies. NPI and GPI have trained hundreds of inspectors, and our inspectors have performed more than 2 million inspections. If you’re looking for a professional home inspector you can trust, turn to NPI or GPI.

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