Contractor Scammers

Starting a new home improvement project can be as exciting as a new puppy, but with far more decisions to be made in the process. Anyone who has even thought about this has experienced the confusion of trying to find a reputable contractor. With so many options, it can be easy to fall prey to one of the many unfortunate scams that are active today. Read more for National Property Inspections’ tips to stay on solid ground during your renovation.

Project estimates can vary wildly, so even if a contractor comes with a bid that seems reasonable, make sure to get more than one. Some scammers will low-ball prices for services, and for good reason: their services turn out to be little or nothing more than what the homeowner could have achieved themselves with a bit of effort. So if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Another red flag to watch out for is a contractor requesting payment up-front. This is one of this biggest cautionary tales, as some scammers will take money upfront from consumers and perform little to no work that has been requested. A reputable contractor may ask for a small deposit, but most will only demand payment upon satisfied completion of a job. Remember, protect yourself and your wallet.

When hiring any professional to work on the home, ALWAYS make sure to check that their licenses and permits are valid and up to date. A lot of “gypsy” contractors will travel city to city, going door to door looking for work but may not mention that they don’t have the permits or skills to get the job done. If – and when – something goes wrong with the work, it is you, not the contractor, that is left responsible.

The left-over product scam is another to be aware of. This is most used by driveway sealers, who claim that they have just finished a job and have “left-over” product that cannot be stored once mixed and therefore offer services at a discounted rate. Be especially aware of this, because the product they use will usually either be a black paint or some shoddy material that washes off in the next storm. Honest contractors would never knock on your door to sell used materials. 

The final and most common scam out there is the bait and switch. Consumers are drawn in by an often ridiculously low price on a service, which they call the company to schedule, for example, window washing. However, once the technician arrives on the property consumers are informed that their windows are much dirtier than average, and then quote a price that is hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars more than the original.

Those looking to invest in remodeling their home need to be wary of scammers looking to steal every cent they can. Along with references, the Better Business Bureau is always a good place to look when searching for a new contractor. Remember to always have a signed contract with clear expectations as to price and completion dates, and if there are ever any issues, National Property Inspections is always here to help.

Water Heaters

Second only to the cost of heating and cooling a home, hot water can be a most costly expense. It is used in almost every appliance and consumed at an astounding rate. In fact, hot water heating alone makes up approximately a quarter of every dollar spent in the home! Therefore, it is absolutely worth taking the time to explore some money saving techniques. Having an annual maintenance inspection by a certified plumbing technician is a sure way to keep costs as low as possible, and is one of the numerous services offered by National Property Inspections.

Other than lifestyle and the amount of use, you can reduce the amount of water used by testing to see if your showers and tubs are “low-flow.” To be considered low-flow, a shower head must produce water at a rate of less than 2.5 gallons per minute. You can test this at home with your own bucket and faucet; if it takes anything less than 20 seconds to fill to the 1-gallon mark, your energy bills may benefit from a low-flow shower head.

To begin your transformation into efficiency, fix any water leaks right away to keep your pennies from dripping down the drain. Install low-flow fixtures in sinks, bathtubs and showers that keep water running efficiently without breaking the bank. Once you are ready for a bigger step, try energy-efficient dishwashers and clothes washers, which use less water in the long haul with a better pay-off for both you and the environment. If you decide to go away for more than a few days, be sure to turn down the temperature on the water heater to save on those costly utilities.

When it comes to water heaters, there are two kinds: those with tanks or without, or “instantaneous” heaters. Waterless tanks are 34% more efficient than tank water heaters, which must constantly heat and reheat a tank of hot water, whereas a tankless water heater only heats it as needed. On any given day households waste 6.35 gallons of water a day waiting for water to heat. With tankless water heaters, this problem is moot, heating in as little as five seconds compared to thirty. Costing between $650-$3,000 initially, the reduced energy and water costs make up for it in the long term, especially when serviced regularly.

Before purchasing a tankless water heater, there are some things to learn first. For example, it is extremely helpful to find out the groundwater temperature of your home. Since tankless water heaters draw directly from the underground supply lines, it helps to know the number of degrees the water will need to be heated as it migrates from the ground to your sink or shower. Second, the desired flow rate must be calculated at peak time to ensure you can run all appliances at the same time. Do this by considering what and how many appliances may be running at the same time, add up the number of gallons, and buy a heater that will be able to handle your needs.

With the help and knowledge of a trained National Property Inspections professional, it is simple to maintain an energy and budget efficient home. With the proper preparation, planning, and maintenance, your home can be the best of both worlds. Call today to talk about your next inspection and save money in the long-term.

Chimney Maintenance

Like any home appliance, chimneys need their share of maintenance. Inspecting and cleaning your chimney annually is essential to fire prevention, as well as your ventilation system. This can include the chimney itself, the flue liners that keep it protected, as well as the vents that encompass the entire home. Vents, like chimney flues, are used to transfer exhaust from appliances and some furnaces to ensure your family’s safety from day to day. In high efficiency furnaces, vents may be plastic as well as metal.

Inside a chimney, the conditions are bleak. Burning wood creates creosote, an oily black substance that coats the lining of your flue, which over time can become thick enough to ignite. If this happens, and the resulting creosote fire is intense enough, it can crack the liner of the chimney itself, risking weakening it and surrounding flammable materials which can include wood framing. If this happens, a comforting evening by the hearth can turn into a full-blown house fire, which is why it is so essential to have your National Property Inspections team member visit annually for prevention. The Chimney Safety Institute recommends a cleaning once the creosote gets to ¼ inch or thicker, so if you live with the fire burning, be wary of your creosotes. However, once your chimney sweep has finished, feel free to use the leftover creosote residue in flowerbeds. It is a great source of calcium and other nutrients!

During cleaning, your chimneysweep should check the damper to ensure correct positioning, as this helps with energy efficiency. Along with the flue itself, the damper ledge must always be cleaned, while the outside should be checked for obstructions as well as normal wear and tear. A chimney cap, which serves an important function, should be in place if it is not already, because it keeps animals, rainwater, leaves and debris out, while keeping the flames held in. If you decide a wood fire is best for you, remember never to burn green wood, but to make sure it is seasoned enough to crackle.

Between inspections, it is always good to keep an eye out for rust, discoloration, or cracking, especially the areas around joints. To prevent damage should there ever be a fire, always be sure to install smoke detectors in every level of the home to properly detect and alert everyone to the hazard. It goes without saying, never forget to check the smoke detectors each month for functionality.

Carbon Monoxide

As the days grow colder and windows begin to close, we turn to our trusted appliances to keep us warm through the long winter nights. However, it is important to keep informed of their condition because of a silent but deadly killer that effects hundreds of Americans every year: Carbon Monoxide Gas. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct from gas and wood-fired appliances such as water heaters, furnaces, stoves, and fireplaces that can cause flu-like symptoms including shortness of breath, dizziness, light-headedness or headaches. If allowed to build indoors, the gas can cause severe injury or even death, so it is essential to service and maintain appliances on a regular basis. If you suspect carbon monoxide gas present, evacuate immediately and contact your emergency care provider.

During an emergency, thank goodness for gas-powered generators. However, be advised that these, like your other appliances, omit CO and must be kept a safe distance from doors and windows. According to the CDC, half of the non-fatal carbon monoxide poisoning events in 2004 and 2005 were caused by generators being placed within seven feet of the house. While some companies recommend generators stay 10 feet away from any open windows or doors, it is safest to maintain at least 15-20 feet of space to keep carbon monoxide at bay.

Applied safely, a well-maintained ventilation system safely removes the gas from the home, but it is essential to schedule regular inspections with your National Property Inspections Professional. He or she will examine the home for any leaks caused by backdrafting, a problem that occurs when insufficient air is available to carry carbon byproducts out of the vents and is dumped back into the home. This can be caused by installation error, certain weather conditions and location of certain appliances. They will also evaluate the state of any heating equipment, fireplace and built-in appliances to ensure another season of safety and warmth for you and your loved ones.

This season ensure the safety and comfort of your family by keeping all appliances properly adjusted by professionals, keep at least one CO alarm in the home, remember to open flues when the fireplace is in use, and remember to regularly hire a trained professional to inspect, clean and tune-up your heating system. National Property Inspections is ready and willing to be your safe energy partner for the seasons to come.