Would a Female Home Inspector Surprise You?

By Shaela Kendall, Home & Commercial Property Inspector, National Property Inspections, Cheyenne Wyoming

Property Inspector Shaela Kendall of National Property Inspections in Cheyenne, Wyoming

Property Inspector Shaela Kendall of National Property Inspections in Cheyenne, Wyoming

I‘m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This has echoed in my head many times during my career as a property inspector. You see, I know that I am often judged by clients because I am a female property inspector. And, like most people, I, too, am guilty of making judgements — sometimes about the property I am about to inspect before I even arrive on site. So, to combat this tendency, I try to present a respectable appearance to others, remember that everyone lives differently, and understand that everyone’s home is their sanctuary.

As one of only a handful of female inspectors in the property inspection industry, I find that many people are surprised to see a woman show up. Some may assume that a man would be more qualified to do the job. Some clients are pleased and feel more comfortable asking me questions they wouldn’t feel comfortable asking a male inspector. Many are worried for my safety, as the job requires that I climb on roofs and in attics, and others are glad I’m there so they don’t have to go into the crawl space themselves.

Most people I have met on inspections receive me well as a reliable inspector, but a few still insist on testing my knowledge and prerequisites. I am confident enough in my training and expertise to reassure any uneasy clients by calmly answering all of their questions. I have more than just the basic knowledge I learned during the NPI training, and, fortunately, NPI has an excellent reputation in the inspection industry.  A few people, however, have tested me beyond my comfort level, and I can only defer to experts when I don’t know the answer. Fortunately, every inspector at National Property Inspections has been through intensive training at NPI headquarters before being cast out into the field, and we all have continued support from the NPI home office if those “hard” questions arise.

So, when I show up for your home or commercial building inspection, don’t be worried. I am well-qualified to do the job, and I will do my best to give you the best inspection in the industry.

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Mold: Friend or Foe?

By Todd Newhook, GPI Franchise Owner, Markham, Ontario

Newhook 1Mold in general is an important part of our ecosystem. It is all around us! Is it really harmful? Why does media treat mold as a bad thing? Is it a bad thing? Should you be concerned?

Good questions. When it comes to living in a home — an enclosed environment, so to speak — the most important issue is ensuring that you manage the environment you live in to help reduce the risk of high levels of harmful or toxic molds. Mold in general needs a food source (e.g., water or elevated moisture levels) to grow and spread.

The good: Molds eat garbage and turn it into soil. They break down dead plant and animal matter. Some of them are also beneficial to our health — do you bake/cook with yeast and mushrooms (fungi)?

The potentially bad: Many home owners don’t understand building science, the importance of managing relative humidity levels in the home, and maintaining proper room temperatures. The majority of excessive or toxic mold growth in homes is due to this lack of understanding and poor housekeeping.

Newhook 2Relative humidity levels should be maintained between 30 percent and 50 percent, with a target of 40 percent. Low levels of humidity contribute to dry air and possible respiratory problems. During dry winters, a humidifier will help to add moisture to the air inside your home — just make sure to keep the humidity level around 40 percent to avoid excess moisture in your home.

Excessive levels of humidity contribute to excessive moisture levels and may contribute to harmful mold growth and respiratory problems. Often when we inspect basements during the summertime, the insulation at the exterior walls is wet due to high humidity. In the summer, when there are higher levels of humidity, a portable dehumidifier will help to control humidity levels. Always follow manufacturer setup and operation procedures for using humidifiers.

Another common source of mold is poor maintenance of heating and cooling systems. The cooling system typically has an A-coil and an evaporator pan enclosed above the heating system. If not maintained on a regular basis, the evaporator pan that captures and drains condensation can sometimes clog. Standing water in a stale and dark environment contributes to mold growth. If you turn on your heating/cooling system you may be blowing potentially harmful mold around your house.

Leaks due to aged roofs, deteriorated caulking/seals, etc., can also contribute to excessive or harmful mold growth. Home maintenance is key to preventing leaks and the opportunity for mold to grow.

Older homes did not require ventilation as mandated today. For example, todays’ standards require that bathrooms and kitchens include properly vented systems. But if you live in an older house, you may not have a ventilation system, and that can contribute to mold growth on bathroom walls.

Newhook 3How is the insulation in your walls and attic? Ensuring that your home has proper insulation levels will help reduce the risk of heat loss and excessive condensation and mold growth.

To-do List

  1. Ensure your home includes a humidifier and dehumidifier to help manage humidity levels depending on the season.
  2. Set up an annual maintenance program with a qualified HVAC company to properly maintain your heating and cooling systems.
  3. Ensure that the exterior of your home is properly maintained to help reduce leaks (e.g., roofing, caulking/seals, siding).
  4. Run exhaust fans during, and for a minimum of 30 minutes after, cooking or showering. In bathrooms, consider installing an automatic switch that runs the exhaust fan to control humidity levels.
  5. Ensure that insulation in walls and attics is properly installed and evenly distributed.

Your local NPI or GP inspector has the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI/GPI Inspector to do an assessment of your home to help reduce elevated levels of harmful mold in your home.

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A Special Message From NPI and GPI

Happy Holidays

Handy Tips for Handrails

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

Deck4I was brought up to identify the railing around a deck as a “handrail,” but I’ve since discovered that the difference between a handrail and a guardrail is simply a set of stairs. As they relate to municipal building regulations, handrails are placed along the sides of steps to assist people in going up or down a flight of stairs. Guardrails, on the other hand, are a safety requirement to keep people from falling off a deck and injuring themselves. Guardrails are located around the sides of a deck and next to the edge of a stair, but we know they can also serve as a handrail.

The construction requirement for a guardrail is clearly defined: For a deck that is less than 24 inches above finished grade, a guardrail is not required. For a deck that is between 24 inches and 70 inches, a guardrail is required and should not be less than 36 inches. Once a deck exceeds 70 inches above finished grade, the guardrail must be at least 42 inches in height. Any installed handrail or guardrail must not have any opening that exceeds 4 inches. This is a necessary safety precaution to prevent young children from getting their heads stuck in the guard.

The structural design of a guardrail should include 4×4-inch posts securely fastened at every corner (or opening), but not more than 8 feet apart. The guardrail must be able to withstand a force (i.e., human body) applied horizontally to any section of the guard with a concentrated load of at least 225 lbs.

Another necessary safety requirement is that the design of the guardrail must not facilitate climbing. In other words, only vertical rails, balusters or spindles can be used, and, other than the very top of the guardrail, no horizontal components is allowed above 4 inches, as it could be used as a means to climb over the guardrail.

Every deck degrades over time, so regular deck maintenance is important; if neglected, it can also become a matter of safety. If any portion of your deck is loose or wobbly, you may need to tighten up existing screws or bolts, or maybe add more fasteners to ensure affected areas are securely attached to the deck framing. For your own safety, do not attempt repairs that are beyond your DIY skillset. If in doubt, hire a qualified contractor to address your concerns.

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Should You Worry About Cracks in Your Foundation Walls?

By Roland Bates, President, NPI/GPI

Photo courtesy of Gustty via EveryStockPhoto

Photo courtesy of Gustty via EveryStockPhoto.com

It’s a good idea to walk around your basement and the exterior of your house every once in a while to examine the walls of your foundation for cracks. Cracks in foundation walls are generally horizontal, vertical or diagonal. There are always exceptions to the rule, but the following generally applies foundation wall cracks and are the things NPI and GPI inspectors consider when assessing foundation cracks:

  • A horizontal crack might be caused by too much hydrostatic pressure or too much backfill pushing against the wall. Think of it like this: If someone whacked you in the back of the knees, they would push forward. It’s the same effect on your foundation walls.
  • A vertical crack could have more causes: A part of the foundation may be lifting or settling, or the foundation footer may be too small, too shallow or resting on unstable soil.
  • A diagonal crack could be caused by some of the above factors, but as a rule of thumb, if you draw a diagonal line through a horizontal crack it will point to the source of the problem.
  • A good home inspector will consider where the cracks are within the wall and whether they are above or below grade. The inspector will also consider how long, how wide and how deep a crack is, and if a crack is out of plane — if you pass your hand across the crack, is it smooth or is it uneven? Furthermore, the inspector will consider whether the home’s floors are uneven or have deflected and if the doors and windows are out-of-square, which can be signs of foundation issues.

Taking all of the above into consideration, your home inspector will typically determine whether foundation cracks are minor, moderate or severe:

  • Minor is generally not an issue; monitor the crack to determine whether it worsens.
  • Moderate means the crack is not an issue now, but will likely need to be repaired in the near Monitor the crack monthly and call in a professional soon.
  • Severe typically means the crack needs to be repaired immediately.

There are numerous and effective ways to repair and or stabilize foundations, and a professional foundation repair company can offer solutions to any problem.

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Tips for Proper Furnace Maintenance

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

Furnace_shutterstock_132626027A gas furnace is a key piece of equipment in a home. Most furnaces are installed centrally in the house but often are tucked away in a closet, up in the attic, or in the basement or crawl space. In other words, they may not be the easy to access. To help your home’s heating equipment live a good, long life, regular maintenance is strongly recommended. Just because the furnace is out of sight doesn’t mean it should be out of mind.

Many HVAC companies offer service agreements that include a regular scheduled maintenance program. Or maybe you’re a handy do-it-yourselfer who wants to get their hands dirty and take care of things themselves. If that’s you,  here are a few furnace maintenance tips.

  1. Change the filter regularly. The filter prevents dirt from entering the furnace. Dirt and debris can build up on the blower fan and in the ductwork, which can also reduce air flow, wasting fuel and drastically lowering the unit’s efficiency. The filter may be changed monthly, quarterly or annually, depending on the type of filter and the conditions the furnace is operating under. Generally, we recommend changing the filter monthly. Make sure to use the proper size filter.
  2. Remember safety first. When maintaining your furnace, follow some basic safety practices. Most furnaces have a service switch that can be shut off so the unit won’t turn on during maintenance. Check for gas leaks and loose wires before you begin cleaning the furnace. If you smell gas smell or notice a loose wire, contact an HVAC professional.
  3. Clean the blower and ducts. The blower assembly is usually next to the filter, so the dust and dirt that penetrates or goes around the air filter goes to the blower. Use a damp cloth or vacuum to clean the blower, belts and pulleys to remove any accumulated dirt.
  4. Inspect the fan. After the dirt has been removed, make sure the fan spins smoothly and is properly secured. The bearings on the fan and motor may need lubricating, and if the fan is belt-driven, then the fan belt should be checked for proper tension.

Cleaning and maintaining a furnace is not a daunting task and is fairly inexpensive to complete. Proper maintenance will extend the service life of your equipment and help your furnace stay energy efficient.

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Home Inspection Red Flags

By Randy Yates, Training Consultant Administrator, NPI/GPI

“Buyer beware” is the catchphrase that often may not be given as advice to a home buyer or even to a property inspector. Certain problems that could be revealed during a home inspection would make the faintest of heart run away from a deal, but when you major issues are discovered, any buyer may run away fast. Here are some examples of red flags that could be discovered during a home inspection:

Too Many Roof Layers
Some areas now allow only one layer of asphalt or fiberglass composition shingles. Other areas allow two, but it’s rare for more than two layers to be considered acceptable. So, if you find a house that has three layers and the third layer looks like it was just installed, you may ask, “Why do I have to tear off a brand new roof?” It’s all about the weight factor, and the third layer will tip the scale and add too much weight to the home’s structure.

Foundation Issues
If your home inspector discovers a foundation that has anchoring plates installed on the inside and notes that they “may require frequent torqueing with seasonal changes,” you should know that this is not part of normal maintenance.

Electrical Issues
You inspect a home built prior to 1950-ish. Knob-and-tube (KNT) wiring all over the place. Although the National Electrical Code (NEC) may still recognize it, few insurance companies will provide coverage for houses with KNT because of the potential fire hazards.

These are just a few of the potential pitfalls to be aware of when buying a house. The good news is that every problem can be fixed, so don’t walk away just because a house has some issues. Whether major issues like those mentioned here and others are deal killers depends on a couple of things:

  • Will the seller repair the problems?
  • If the seller won’t repair the problems, will they discount the price so you can have the issues repaired?
  • If the seller won’t repair and won’t discount the price, do you have the time and money to repair the problems yourself?

If the seller is unwilling to work with you and you don’t have the money to fix the problems, then your best option may be to walk away from the deal.

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Winter Home Maintenance Checklist

Winter-House_shutterstock_93938941Winter officially begins this month, although some of you may feel like it’s already been in full swing for a few weeks. Here are the tasks and projects around your house that you should work on during the next couple of months:

  • Make sure any firewood is stored at least 30 feet away from your house so it doesn’t attract wood-destroying organisms to your home’s structure.
  • Note the location of any roof damage and/or icicles that develop over the winter. Icicles could indicate ice damming.
  • Check the caulk around your bathroom fixtures and make sure it is in good condition and adequate.
  • Check wall and floor tiles for any cracked or missing grout and repair.
  • Check your basement for leaks and seepage during thaws throughout the winter.
  • Going on a ski trip for a week? Open the cabinets below sinks to avoid frozen pipes while your house is unoccupied.
  • Test smoke alarms and replace batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Check water hoses on clothes washer, fridge, icemaker and dishwasher for cracks and bubbles.
  • Check all your plumbing shut-off valves to ensure that they work properly.
  • Check the base of your water heater for leakage, rusting and proper venting.
  • Check extension cords and replace any that are brittle, worn or damaged.
  • Check electrical outlets for loose-fitting plugs and replace any outlets where this is a problem.
  • Test your ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets and arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) breakers to be sure they are working properly.
  • Check multi-pane windows for fogginess, which indicates broken seals.
  • If you didn’t have your chimney cleaned in the fall, it’s time to have it cleaned to remove creosote buildup, which can become a fire hazard.
  • Have your heating system cleaned and inspected. This usually costs between $75 and $100.
  • Test your sump pump by slowly pouring several gallons of water into the sump pit to see whether the pump turns on.
  • Wash and change seasonal bedding.
  • Clean out junk drawers, catch-all closets, medicine cabinets and other areas where you stash “stuff.” This is sure to reveal treasures you forgot you had.
  • Use the time indoors to clean all of your windows.
  • Make sure to sweep snow off any wooden porches or decks.
  • Replace or clean your furnace filter monthly.
  • Make sure the hinges and springs on your garage door are adequately lubricated.
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Reverse Polarity: What it Is and Why You Should Be Concerned

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

Outlet_shutterstock_67938619Quite simply, reverse polarity means that the wires in an electrical receptacle were installed incorrectly. A receptacle with reverse polarity will have the white (neutral) wire screwed to the hot side (copper screw) and the black (hot) wire screwed to the neutral side (silver screw). The bare or green wire should be connected to the green ground screw on the receptacle.

A home inspector will flag any outlets that are reversed polarity. Why should you be concerned about reversed polarity? Most electrical appliances and devices are designed so that the on/off switch interrupts electrical power at the point of entry into the appliance, device circuitry or components. If the hot and neutral wires are reversed, then it is possible that the device could be energized even if the switch is turned off. Reversed polarity on an electrical outlet should be considered an unsafe condition, as the risks include damage to the appliance, short circuit, shock or fire.

How Can I Tell if My Receptacles Have Reverse Polarity?
You can purchase a plug-in type voltage tester at your local hardware store. These are generally inexpensive. The tester will include a chart that will tell you which lights should illuminate when you plug it in to a properly wired outlet. The chart will also indicate what the other lighting combinations mean, such as an open ground condition.

How Do I Fix Reverse Polarity?
Once you find a receptacle with reversed polarity, leave the plug-in tester plugged into the receptacle and find the circuit breaker that is delivering the voltage to that line. Turn the breaker OFF. When you return to the receptacle there should be no lights lit up on the tester. If there are, then you turned off the wrong breaker. Try again.

With the power to that circuit OFF, remove the cover plate and the two screws holding the receptacle to the wall box. Gently pull the receptacle out of the box. If there are any other wires inside the box, use a touch-style voltage tester to ensure that they are also OFF. If they are hot, find the circuit breaker feeding them and turn it OFF as well.

Inspect your receptacle. A receptacle with reversed polarity will have the white (neutral) wire screwed to the hot side (copper screw) and the black (hot) wire screwed to the neutral side (silver screw). The bare or green wire should be connected to the green ground screw on the receptacle. Simply remove the white and black wires and connect them to their properly intended sides of the receptacle. To wire it properly, the black gets connected to the dark or copper-colored screw and the white wire gets connected to the silver screw. If the wire looks brittle or damaged, use wire strippers to cut the old wire away and strip off a 3/4-inch fresh section of insulation. Wrap a strip of electrical tape around the screw terminals for added safety, resecure the receptacle to the wall box and attach the cover plate.

Finally, plug the voltage tester in to the receptacle and then turn the circuit breakers back on. When you get back to the receptacle, the tester should indicate proper wiring. If, for whatever reason it still reads reverse polarity, then the problem may be in another receptacle or in a junction box somewhere. In that case, your best bet would then be to call a licensed electrician.

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What to Make of Polybutylene Piping

By Patrick Riley, NPI Home Inspector, Savannah, Georgia

We often are asked whether our clients should be scared of polybutylene piping in their houses. Perhaps. After all, the manufacturers of polybutylene piping have paid almost US$1 billion in class-action lawsuits (though they have never admitted there is anything wrong with their product). Polybutylene piping was installed from the late ’70s until the mid-’90s, and it is estimated that up to 10 million homes were built with polybutylene pipes. In other words, if you are buying a home built during the polybutylene era, then there is a good chance your home inspector will find polybutylene.

What is so bad about polybutylene piping? Simple answer: It leaks. Although, in defense of polybutylene, so does every other pipe that has ever been made. The difference is that we think we know why polybutylene leaks. Research leads us to believe that chlorine and possibly other oxidants in the public water supply break down polybutylene piping, ultimately causing it to leak.

Is polybutylene piping dangerous? Only in that a leak from polybutylene could cause issues such as mold or damage to the structure of a home. However, the material doesn’t cause cancer and won’t steal your identity or anything like that. It just leaks — again like every other pipe.

When a home inspector discusses polybutylene piping with a client, it can be tricky because polybutylene carries such a negative stigma. However, many home buyers no longer remember what polybutylene piping even is. Therefore, most are not preconditioned to be wary of polybutylene. Furthermore, with PEX piping hitting the market, home owners no longer have to replace polybutylene piping with copper piping. The price of PEX is a fraction of the cost of copper, and the installation is generally easier and cheaper.

In closing, do your homework on polybutylene. I guarantee you’ll find some horror stories as well as some information that may lead you to believe that polybutylene piping is no worse than any other plumbing pipe on the market.

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