Keep Your Wood-burning Fireplace Clean and Safe

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

Fireplace-Brick_shutterstock_120704617Now that winter has arrived, it is a great time to refresh your maintenance plan for your fireplace. The following tips can ensure that your wood-burning fireplace operates safely and at peak efficiency.

  1. It is important to set a maintenance schedule and stick to it.
  2. Dispose of ashes as they accumulate. Never use a regular household vacuum for cleaning of the fireplace; purchase an ash vacuum designed specifically for this function. It is also a good idea to keep an ash bucket near your fireplace. Remember to make sure that the ashes have cooled before you dispose of them.
  3. Cleaning any glass or other exposed surfaces is easier when done on a regular basis, so add this task to your weekly cleaning list during months when the fireplace is in use.
  4. Examine how the smoke is traveling through the chimney. Make sure all chimney joints are tightly sealed and the ventilation system is not clogged. If you find leaks in the chimney, call a qualified contractor to make the repairs.
  5. Check for creosote buildup and clean with a creosote remover if necessary.

Once you have gotten through the colder season, it is a good idea to conduct a “spring cleaning” on your fireplace. Clean the fire box thoroughly (refer to your owner’s manual for any specific guidelines). Generally, chimneys should be cleaned annually by a qualified chimney professional.

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Should You Refinish Your Bathtub or Replace It?

Bathtub_shutterstock_148016765Over time, a bathtub can begin to show its age from stains, scratches or even chips in the finish. No matter how much you clean it, the damage is still visible because it cannot be removed by cleaning.

One option is to purchase and install a new tub, but new tubs can be expensive. In addition, the plumbing may have to be replaced or readjusted to fit the new tub. Another option may be to have your tub refinished, resurfaced or reglazed.

Benefits of Bathtub Refinishing

Cost. On average, it will cost somewhere between $350 and $500 to have a bathtub professionally refinished, whereas a new basic bathtub and installation costs between $700 and $1400.

Time. It takes around three to five hours to refinish a bathtub, and you can use it within 24 hours. Installing a new bathtub can take days, depending on a number of factors that may or may not surface during the installation process. Plumbing issues could have to be corrected, or door frames or doors could be damaged by moving the tubs in and out, and other complications could arise.

Ease. Refinishing a tub is much easier than tearing out an old tub and installing a new one. Refinishing is similar to any other painting job and involves preparing the area and the surface, applying the paint, and allowing it to dry.

Should You Refinish Your Tub Yourself?
Refinishing your tub yourself is an option and could save money. The following are some things to consider before you choose to tackle the project by yourself:

  • Expense: How much will the project cost if you purchase the materials and do it on your own versus having a professional do the job? How much could you potentially save?
  • Inconvenience: How much time do you have to devote to the project? Do you have a second bathroom that can be used while the tub is being refinished?
  • Experience: How much experience do you have with do-it-yourself projects like plumbing, dry walling or carpentry? Do you have an experienced friend or family member who is willing to help?

Whether you decide to replace or refinish your tub, contact three professional companies for quotes. In addition, you should inquire about completion times, warranty on the work, and the potential for unforeseen damage.

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Fireplace Safety Can Prevent Potential Accidents

Fireplace-Stone_shutterstock_164472098Cold winter evenings are certainly an invitation to light a cozy fire in the fireplace after a long day. Here we offer a few basic safety tips to help you enjoy the fire and avoid fire-related accidents and injuries:

  • Be aware of children. Children should never be left unattended while a burning fire or hot coals are active in the fireplace.
  • Use fireplace tools. Fireplace tools are specifically designed for use with your fireplace. Using your hands or other objects, such as sticks, to reach inside and poke around the fire can be very dangerous. Serious burns can occur, or a foreign object can ignite, possibly creating a contact fire.
  • Ensure proper venting. When using the fireplace, consider opening a window as well as the damper to ventilate the room and allow smoke to escape. This can prevent possible damage from smoke inhalation or build-up.
  • Close Doors. Close the doors of the fireplace after the fire is lit. Hot coals could crackle and jump from the fireplace, causing injury or a contact fire.
  • Clean the chimney. A properly maintained chimney should be cleaned and inspected once a year by a chimney professional. The inspection will be for soundness, buildup, and overall safety conditions and corrections needed. Creosote is buildup from smoke that is extremely flammable and can cause a chimney fire, which could devastate your home. Creosote is also corrosive and can deteriorate the chimney. Furthermore, creosote exposure poses health threats to individuals exposed to this harmful toxin.
  • Keep flammable material away from the fireplace. Never store or place flammable materials near your fireplace. Fire-proof mats or rugs should be used in front of or near the fireplace. Do not dash flammable liquids onto hot coals or a flame, as this can cause an explosion or severe burns.

Many resources are available for additional information regarding fireplace safety. Professional chimney cleaning companies, fire departments, yellow pages and Internet resources are readily available if you have further questions or concerns.

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DIY Home Owner Mistakes

By Ken Roleke, NPI Franchise Owner, Tucson, Arizona

Roleke Blog

As a home inspector, I regularly see improper work done by do-it-yourself home owners and house flippers. Some of it is cosmetic, which my home-buying clients are more likely to notice on their own, but much of it involves improper building system repairs, which can have dire consequences

Some home owners get pretty ambitious in an effort to save money, and the results bring to mind the old saying, “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.”

For instance, in the cosmetic realm, a home owner may know how to properly space the grout joint between tiles, but he starts the layout with a full-size tile on one side of a room instead of the center, leaving a sliver-sized piece on the other side. Or, he may install the baseboard first, and then the tile, leaving a grout joint all around the perimeter. If a home owner goes so far as to change a kitchen or bathroom layout, then it is common to see cabinet drawers that do not open fully because they hit the door trim. We also see bathroom doors that do not open fully because they hit the toilet.

Of course, my main concerns during the home inspection are the building systems. Most weeks, I find plenty of electrical, plumbing, HVAC and roofing mistakes.

Upside-down outlets and switches and miswired three-way switches are common do-it-yourselfer mistakes. Three-prong outlets installed without a ground wire are more serious problems, giving the impression an outlet is grounded when it is not. Other things I run across are missing outlet covers, indoor outlet plates on exterior outlets, extension cords used for permanent wiring, and light fixtures that are not moisture-resistant installed in or above showers.

I always run each faucet in a house until hot water comes out, and I do this for two reasons: first, to see that the left side controls the hot and the right side controls the cold, as a do-it-yourselfer could switch the supply lines; second, just to make sure that hot water runs to that fixture.

Home owners doing DIY plumbing repairs often do something else you wouldn’t expect a professional to do — they connect dissimilar metals. This will lead to galvanic corrosion. You often see this corrosion at hot water heaters, with galvanized pipe connected to copper pipe without a dielectric union or other method to isolate the dissimilar metals from each other.

Hot water heaters, in fact, may be the most likely place to find DIY mistakes. Not connecting a tube to the temperature/pressure-relief valve or connecting a plastic tube instead of a metal tube happens all the time. Other things to look out for are no drip leg on the gas line, lack of or improper fresh air feed, and improper flue pipe or flue pipe connection.

There is a list of mistakes I have run across with dishwasher installations: Often the dishwasher is not secured to the countertop above because the original countertop has been replaced with granite, which is not easy to drill into. Sometimes a dishwasher is installed in the process of getting the house ready for sale but is never run until the home inspection, which is when I find leaks. And often, the knockout in the disposal is not removed, so water will not drain.

DIY home improvement projects are great — just know the limitations of your skills and don’t be afraid to call in a professional to help.

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Did You Know: Common Causes of House Fires

burn-baby-burn-1229975-1600x1200Believe it or not, house fires frequently share common causes. Knowing the common causes of house fires should help prevent such potential fires through education. Reader’s Digest recently posted a slideshow of the top 11 causes of house fires and how to avoid them:

  • Cooking: Grease fires can start in just two to three seconds. Never leave the kitchen while cooking.
  • Heating equipment: Too often fires start when people are just trying to stay warm. To avoid a hazard, have furnaces and fireplaces inspected annually. Keep portable heaters away from other flammable items, such as clothing.
  • Smoking: If you’re a smoker, don’t smoke in bed or in any position that you could fall asleep. Smoking outdoors is a safer, keeps your home smoke-free and reduces the risk of falling asleep.
  • Electrical equipment: Don’t overload electrical outlets or extension cords. Check regularly for frayed or worn wires, and don’t run cords under rugs or heavy furniture.
  • Candles: Don’t leave burning candles unattended around pets or children. Burn candles in fire-safe holders and place them on level surfaces. Extinguish all candles when you leave the room.
  • Children: Prevent children from accessing lighters or matches in the home.
  • Inadequate wiring: Warning signs that your electrical wiring may be insufficient and/or unsafe are dimming lights, frequently tripping breakers or blowing fuses, and having to unplug an appliance to use another.
  • Flammable liquids: Don’t store flammable liquids near an open heat source or hot temperatures. Store them outside in a cool environment, in proper containers.
  • Live Christmas trees: Keep live trees watered and away from heat sources and televisions. Check light strands for frayed wires.
  • Barbecues: Clean your grill with soapy water and always use it outdoors. Make sure to place the grill so that flames are away from decks, trees, flammables, etc.
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Ask the Inspector: What Fire Safety Items Will My Home Inspector Check For?

Smoke detectorYour inspector may comment on any number of fire safety issues, as a key component of a home inspection is safety. Here are 12 of the more common fire safety items your home inspector should note:

  • The presence of smoke detectors. Depending on the circumstances, the inspector may not press the “test” button on smoke detectors. If detectors are wired together or to a security company, then pressing the test button (without having the system deactivation code) could cause the fire department to be called.
  • If the inspector has access to and can peer into dryer vents, then he may note that buildup of lint could be a potential fire hazard
  • The inspector should check the chimney flue for creosote buildup, which would warrant concern.
  • An exposed incandescent light bulb inside a closet (near clothing/shelving, etc.) is considered a fire hazard.
  • Curtains or draperies blocking heat registers can pose a fire hazard.
  • Any over-fusing in an electrical panel is a fire hazard. An over-fused circuit is a one that is protected from over-current by a fuse or circuit breaker that is oversized for the capacity of the circuit conductors.
  • Too many appliances or cords plugged in to an electrical outlet.
  • Single-stranded aluminum branch wiring — whenever this is discovered, the inspector should recommend that the system be fully inspected by a qualified, licensed electrician.
  • A door leading from the garage to the house should be fire-rated and perhaps self-closing.
  • Most inspectors use gas detectors during the inspection, and any indication of a gas leak would be a concern.
  • If there is a vantage point, the inspector would hope to find a “fire stop” in the space that fireplace flue occupies and the next floor above.
  • Any hole or breech in wall of a garage and next to the living space is a potential fire hazard.
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What’s Wrong With This Photo?

By Randy Yates, Training Consultant Administrator, NPI/GPI

Snapshots From the FieldLook closely at the photo on the left and see if you can figure out what is wrong in the picture. Is it the fireplace? No, it seems to have an adequate hearth. Is it the throw rug? Well, that probably won’t stay after the sale of the house.

Check out that big, beautiful window in the background. If you look closely, you’ll notice it goes all the way to the floor. But what could be wrong with that? Here’s what: With a window that big, the glass needs to be safety glass — something the average home buyer would never look for, but your home inspector would.

In the case of the window pictured, the original sliding glass patio door had been removed and replaced with single-pane glass that showed no indication that it was safety glass. Just think of the catastrophe if someone tripped and fell into this window or if a child was playing and crashed into it.

According to the International Residential Code (IRC), if a window meets the following four criteria, it must be made of safety glass:

  • The glass size must be larger than 9 square feet, or 3 ft. x 3 ft.
  • The sill height (bottom of the window) must be lower than 18 inches.
  • The upper edge (top of the window) must be greater than 36 inches above a walking surface.
  • The window must be within 36 inches horizontal of walking surface.

Although difficult to tell in this picture, the size of the window is 36 square feet. The sill height is zero, as the window goes to the floor. it was originally a patio door, so it is within 36 inches horizontal both inside and outside. In short, this window needs to be made of safety glass.

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What’s Wrong With These Photos?

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

Englehart-BlogI came across this on a home inspection. This property is only 12 years old. The seller did not have a home inspection when he purchased the house because it was brand new.

The roof was too high to safely climb, so I took a picture from below (Photo 1). The first picture shows the exterior depression in the roof, and Photo 2 shows the top of the drain-waste-vent (DWV) stack inside the attic space — which shows that the sewer vent had not been extended above the roof line. As a result, the warm, moist sewer gases have been deteriorating the sheathing in this area for more than 12 years!

The dry-rot of the oriented strand board (OSB), shown in Photos 3 and 4, is so severe that anyone who would have walked on the roof might have fallen through this rotted area. In fact, it looks like last winter’s snow load may have caused the depression, which now leaks when it rains.

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Happy New Year From NPI and GPI!

New Year