Cleaning with Vinegar to Avoid Nasty Fumes

No one wants to do the heinous chore of scrubbing dirty grime and buildup from inside the oven and around the house. Cleaning with vinegar is becoming a more and more popular choice as a cleaning product because of its simple, natural ingredients and effectiveness at getting the job done. With all the allergens in chemical cleaners and so many brands to choose from, it is no wonder cleaning with white vinegar has become even more common.

It may be easier to reach for a convenient spray cleaner, but noxious gases and proper ventilation can be cause for concern. Using natural ingredients gets the job done while also keeping your family safe from the toxic fumes coming from the oven and other dirty appliances around the home. Follow these helpful tips to have your home spotless just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Cleaning the Oven & Stovetop with Vinegar

When cleaning with natural ingredients such as vinegar and baking soda, you can have your whole kitchen spotless by the time your first guest arrives. The two mixed together create an effective cleansing paste, which when left to soak leaves your surfaces looking brand new. First, be sure to scrape off the top layers of built up grime and apply the mixture. Leave it to bubble for a while, perhaps 30 minutes, and use a rough scrubbing brush to easily wipe away the leftover residue. You can also use this same method on the stovetop for baked-on messes. Simply sprinkle the baking soda onto the stove where it is particularly dirty, and spray with vinegar. Again, wait for 15-30 minutes to allow it to do its work. When it’s finished, your surfaces will thank you by looking brand new.

Cleaning with Vinegar in the Kitchen

Living with a clogged kitchen drain? Cleaning with vinegar and baking soda are once again here to the rescue. A half cup of both baking soda and vinegar, poured separately, bubble and fizz in the drain to clear away any unwanted debris that can clog up your pipes. This method is not only effective, but it does far less damage in the long-term to your pipes than harsh drain chemicals that wear it away. However, if this method doesn’t seem to make a dent in the problem, you may want to consider calling one of the professionals at National Property Inspections, who have the tools to get a better look and see what the real culprit could be. Call them today for an in-depth inspection of your drains and sinks.

The refrigerator is another culprit in the kitchen that can hide germs, but is sensitive to tough chemicals. Vinegar is the perfect choice for this situation, especially because it is non-toxic and will not contaminate any food being stored in the open.

Cleaning with Vinegar in the Bathroom

Bathtub film doesn’t stand a chance against a swipe of distilled vinegar followed by baking soda. This breaks down even the toughest layers to be simply rinsed away. If you have a glass shower door, prevent the buildup of scum by wiping glass shower doors with a sponge soaked in white vinegar. This leaves a protective film on the glass against watermarks, so there is no need to rinse afterwards. If your showerhead itself is running slowly, remove any mineral deposit buildup by pouring about one cup of vinegar into a plastic bag and attaching it with a rubber band to the shower head. Allow it to soak overnight, and in the morning the pressure should be good as new!

Having such versatility, cleaning with vinegar is the ultimate in natural home cleaning products. Refrigerators, drains, cutting boards, microwaves, and much more can be sanitized with less odor and risk to your family’s health. For more ideas on how to care for your home, visit National Property Inspections website here.

Did any of these tips and tricks work for you? Leave us a comment below!

How to Prevent Your Pipes from Bursting

It seems like there are so many things to remember going into the winter season: holiday shopping, school breaks, family get-togethers, and countless other distractions. Remembering to make sure your pipes don’t freeze yearly is not just a cost-saving measure, but a preventative one as well. Prevent your pipes from bursting this holiday season by following these helpful tips from National Property Inspections.

The Issue

When the temperature drops, pipes are likely to freeze if they are not properly insulated. This eventually ends up slowing the flow of water, gradually expanding and causing the pipe to burst. If you don’t want a flood on your hands, it is important to have your pipes inspected regularly by a professional to ensure they are being insulated properly. National Property Inspections can easily detect and help prevent these incidents from happening well before the cold season sets in.

The most common pipes that burst in the cold are exposed to severe temperatures such as outdoor hoses, swimming pool supply lines, and sprinkler lines. While these may seem like the only culprits to tackle, it is also important to remember the indoor pipes as well. Pipes that are susceptible to freezing include basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages, kitchen cabinets and any others that may run along an exterior wall. Since interior pipes are often located in cabinets, it is generally a good idea to leave their doors open during winter months to allow warm air to circulate.

Prevention

Before the first big freeze, remove and bring all outdoor hoses inside to prevent any water damage. Although it would seem unlikely, the amount water expands can cause irreparable damage to hoses and pipelines if they are not properly stored and insulated. Be sure to drain them of any excess water so as not to bring any mess indoors. To prevent pipes from bursting, a pipe sleeve or heating cable can help to insulate any exposed water pipes. Heating cables are particularly efficient because they automatically adjust to the appropriate heat as temperatures change. Another option is to relocate any exposed pipes entirely, which would increase heat flow and prevent pipes from bursting entirely. If you are unsure as to which option is right for you, call a National Property Inspections near you for a helping hand.

Although conservation is key to saving on utilities, sometimes allowing a bit of water to drip from the faucet can make a world of difference when the temperature drops. If any faucet is connected to freezing pipes, this slight trickle can help control the expansion and damage of pipes if they are at all at risk. If you go away on vacation during the winter, resist the urge to turn the heater off completely. To prevent coming home to a flood, keep the thermostat no lower than 55 degrees.

What If they Freeze?

If your pipes do happen to freeze, don’t panic. You may be able to tell if this is happening if you turn on a faucet and it only drips. Keep the tap open and continue running water through the pipe to help it thaw, and if there are exposed pipes, try to heat them with towels soaked in hot water, a portable space heater, or a dryer. NEVER use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, or any other open flame.

National Property Inspections is always a great resource to help make sure your pipes don’t freeze during the winter. Contact your local inspector for more information on how you can prepare your particular home for the cold.

3 Reasons Why Winter is the Perfect Time to Renovate Your Home

When we think of the phrase, “Out with the old, in with the new,” spring always comes to mind. But it turns out that winter might actually be the ideal season to make some impactful changes in your home. Here are three reasons not to wait till April for your next big project.

Wait Times Decrease Significantly

Winter is considered a slow season for contractors, and often, they’re actively looking for work. Without tight schedules to work around, you can hire smarter and book the most qualified professionals for your needs. There will also be more time to hash out the important details and really talk though the changes you’re hoping to make without jumping in headfirst. Your contractors will be able to accomplish more, faster, so you can complete bigger projects more efficiently.

Government agencies are also slow during the colder months, so your wait time for necessary building permits might be cut in half.

Materials and Services May Be Less Expensive

The end of the year is a prime time to receive steep discounts on home appliances, cabinets and more since stores and warehouses are clearing out old stock to make way for new. Building materials naturally go up in spring as well. Renovating in winter can help you purchase everything you need for your project at the best possible price, allowing you to really get the most from your budget.

Another way to cut costs is to order seasonal repairs and services during the off-season. For example, winter is a great time to have your air conditioning system inspected and fine-tuned. Waiting till May when the vast majority are concerned about staying cool means heading to the back of the line.

You’ll Already Be Prepared to Usher in Warm Weather

No one wants to cut into warm weather fun by scheduling renovation projects. If you get it all out of the way in winter, you can book that vacation without missing a beat.

The Best Home Renovations for December through March

Believe it or not, some projects are better accomplished in winter, particularly home additions. The frozen ground and dry air are optimal for jobs like digging foundations and pouring concrete. Builders can also avoid the rainy season and get the job accomplished quicker.

The dryness that accompanies cold weather can even help you achieve faster results with interior paint. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to open every window in the house to vent paint fumes. You can work around the issue by choosing an environmentally friendly, waterborne paint. Wallpaper is also making a comeback and you can easily hang it in the winter to take bare walls to the next level.

Other excellent winter renovation projects include adding a kitchen backsplash, installing new lighting or replacing interior doors. The point is that what’s going on outside never has to interfere with the dream home you’re building for your family on the inside. The sky is truly the limit when it comes to winter projects.

National Property Inspections inspectors are highly trained and qualified to give your residential or commercial property a pre-renovation look-over. Visit npiweb.com today to find an inspector near you.

Your 10-Step Winter Checklist: Home Edition

With this simple winter checklist, your house won’t take a backseat to holiday planning. Keep reading to find out the steps you can take to ensure that you and your home are ready to face the elements when the weather gets tough.

1. Make sure your furnace is in great working order.

Your very first to-do for the winter checklist is to call an inspector to look over your HVAC system. They’ll test its efficiency, check for carbon monoxide leaks and let you know about replacing any filters or parts. No one wants to be without working heat when temperatures dip down below freezing!

2. Take a closer look at your roof.

A strong, resilient roof becomes more important than ever when there’s a winter storm warning. Carefully check your roof for any loose flashings, missing or damaged shingles and debris from nearby trees. You may need to replace these flashings and shingles and add rubber underlayments to prevent ice dams.

3. Shut off all exterior water supply.

Forgetting to shut off the water supply to your irrigation system can result in disaster when water expands inside. Turning the valve to “off” and winterizing your system can help you avoid cracked pipes, leaky seals and broken valves in the spring. See our handy guide to get started on this aspect of the winter checklist.

4. Stock up on salt and other essentials.

It isn’t unheard of for stores to run out of cold weather essentials in the face of an impending storm. Stock up now on salt, sand and pet-safe ice melt so you aren’t caught off-guard when you need them most.

5. Have your chimney cleaned.

Don’t light that cozy fire yet. Your chimney or wood burning stove needs cleaned, inspected and tested yearly. Have a professional check the vents and be sure everything is in good working order to avoid fatal chimney fires and carbon monoxide leaks.

6. Feel for drafts.

Drafts can come in from surprising sources, like electrical outlets. Check all windows and doors and winterize the areas as needed with film or seals. You may need to caulk the exterior of your home if there are large gaps between siding and window or door frames.

7. Check the attic.

Attic ventilation and insulation problems account for the majority of damage to your home’s roof during winter. This is because warm air escaping the home can cause ice and snow at the peak of the house to melt, flow downward and collect under the shingles and gutters as ice dams. A poorly insulated attic also means a chillier home, an overworked furnace and a higher bill. Call a professional to add or replace insulation and check that your attic is properly ventilated.

8. Clean the gutters.

Clogged gutters can prevent water from flowing away from the house and lead to ice dams, severe roof damage and the formation of dangerous icicles. Remove all leaves and dirt from gutters to extend the life of your roof and keep your home safe.

9. Protect pipes from freezing.

Plumbing is especially susceptible to freezing in cold winter weather. Insulate any exposed pipe in the attic, crawlspace or exterior walls with materials like electrical heating tape and foam. Results can vary, so be sure to check which materials are recommended for the pipes in your home before beginning.

10. Cover, store and winterize outdoor accessories and additions.

Winter can do a number on your deck and patio. You’ll want to cover any patio furniture, and if you have room to store it in a garage or shed, even better. You should also consider adding a fresh coat of sealant to your deck to prevent precipitation damage and fluctuating temperatures. All outdoor pools, fountains and ponds will need their pumps unplugged, and it’s best to drain them and start fresh in the spring.

When in doubt about the winter-readiness of your home, call a National Property Inspections inspector near you. We can help you get your home ready for winter, stay safe and avoid costly repairs come spring. Call 1-800-333-9807 today to schedule an inspection.

Do you have a question about how to get your home ready for winter? Let us know in the comments below or share with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

5 Solutions for Common Winter Roof Problems

Harsh winter weather conditions, along with constant freezing and thawing can cause major roof problems. Be ready with these five common roof issues and the steps you can take to prevent them.

Problem 1: Ice Dams

Ice dams occur when snow at the warmer peak of a roof melts, flowing downward. Water accumulates under shingles and around lower gutters and forms a dam as it refreezes into ice. The water that gets trapped behind an ice dam can seep into cracks and joints and cause significant damage.

Solution: Ice dams aren’t preventable altogether, but making sure your attic is properly insulated and ventilated is a great start. You can also purchase rubber underlayments at your local home improvement store and have them installed.

Problem 2: Gunky Gutters

Fall debris in your gutters could come back to haunt you this winter. Leaves, twigs and dirt can clog gutters and prevent water from flowing away from your home as ice and snow melt. This can cause water to pool on your roof and cause leaks and water damage.

Solution: The solution for this issue is simple—just be sure to keep your gutters clear. We recommend giving them a look-over once surrounding trees have lost the majority of their leaves. Cleaning your gutters will also help prevent dangerous icicles from forming.

Problem 3: Tree Limbs

Harsh winter weather might just do in the branches of that tree that’s barely hanging on. Even healthy tree branches can freeze and fall or be blown off when temperatures hit an all-time low. Any branches that are too close to your roof can also scrape the shingles and cause damage.

Solution: You’ll want to trim any questionably close or dying branches to within six feet of your home to be sure your family stays safe and warm.

Problem 4: Condensation

Condensation occurs when warm air meets a cold surface. It can form on your roof if your attic is not well-insulated and heat is escaping through the top of the house. This leads to interior mold and mildew, a costly cleanup and a roof that won’t last. It also leads to ice dams.

Solution: To prevent condensation, make sure your attic is well ventilated. To tackle this project, t’s best to first order an inspection for your attic. Your inspector can compile a comprehensive report and discuss the steps you need to take to get your attic and roof winter-ready.

Problem 5: Leaky Flashings

Flashings are thin metal strips placed along the edges of the roof, chimney and skylights to help them stay waterproof. If flashings aren’t installed properly or if harsh weather loosens them, they can become detached from the roof.

Solution: Loose flashings are a leading cause of leaks. It’s important to inspect them at least once a year, preferably in late summer or fall, and replace any that appear to be damaged.

With franchises in 49 states, National Property Inspections inspectors have the knowledge and expertise to get your home winter-ready. Visit our website today to find an inspector near you and rest easy knowing you’re prepared to get through the coldest months.

Do you have a question about getting your roof ready for winter? We can help! Leave a comment below.

How to Winterize Your Sprinkler System: Our Best Tips

The first frost has come and gone and the last of the leaves are raked. If you live in a freezing climate, you’re probably wondering how to winterize your sprinkler system. Here’s what you need to know to do the job right.

Be Sure You Know Your Sprinkler System

If you’re not familiar with your sprinkler system, stop right there. The main purpose of winterizing your sprinkler is to remove any water so that nothing remains in the pipes. Water leftover in the system can expand when temperatures reach freezing, causing burst pipes, cracked seals and broken valves. Systems vary significantly, and missing a minor detail could mean a costly repair or even necessitate a replacement. That’s why it’s important to locate your manual and get acquainted with your sprinkler before you begin.

Shut off the Water Supply Before You Winterize Your Sprinkler

First things first: no matter what type of sprinkler system you own, you’ll need to make sure to shut off its water supply before you begin the winterization process. The main shut-off point for most underground systems is located in a basement or crawlspace. It may also be buried underground in a valve box with a green or black top. Valve boxes often require keys to open them. If you don’t have the key, you’ll need to contact the manufacturer or installer for assistance.
Make sure the valve is turned to the “off” position. It should turn easily. If the system operates with a pump, drain it and store it indoors for the winter.

If Your Sprinkler Has Manual Valves:

A manual drainage feature lets you empty the leftover water in your sprinkler system by opening valves located at the low points of the piping. If you system has check valves, water can only flow one way. Raising the sprinkler heads lets the water drain out. Once the water stops flowing, you can simply close all the valves and be ready for winter.

If Your Sprinkler Has Automatic Valves:

Some sprinklers have automatic valves, or valves that automatically drain water out of pipes if pressure falls below a certain number. You can activate automatic valves by first making sure the water supply is off, then running one of the sprinkler heads to relieve any pressure. Check valves will need to be emptied separately, and you may still need to drain water between the shut-off point and backflow device.

Do Not Attempt the Blowout Method

The blowout method for winterizing sprinklers involves using an air compressor to force air through the system so that any remaining water is pushed out the heads. This method is potentially dangerous: you could easily get injured or ruin your irrigation system beyond repair. If you suspect that the blowout method is your only option, call an irrigation specialist for help.

Make sure your home is ready for winter with a complete property inspection. Visit npiweb.com to find a licensed home inspector in your state. Have a question about winterizing your sprinkler? Let us know in the comments below.

The 5 Best Ways to Save on Heating Bills

With fall winding down and the days getting colder, now is the perfect time to weatherproof your home and save on heating bills. Here are the five steps you can take to stay warm while keeping costs down:

1). Call your inspector for a checkup.

When was the last time your home and furnace were inspected by a professional? If you can’t remember, it’s time to give your local NPI inspector a call. They’ll be able to pinpoint any HVAC or insulation issues and recommend next steps for getting the most from your heating unit.

2). Save on heating with a programmable thermostat.

A programmable thermostat allows you to control and lower the temperature in your home, even while away or sleeping, using customizable settings. This upfront investment could save you up to 10% on your utility bill for years to come. You may not be able to control the weather, but you’ll have complete control over your home!

3). Replace old weather-stripping around windows and doors.

According to Black Hills Energy, seven to 12% of a home’s heat is lost around windows and doors, prompting homeowners to turn up the dial. Consider replacing any old weather-stripping around windows and doors, a simple DIY fix that could save you hundreds of dollars.

Covering windows in clear plastic can also reduce heat loss. Insulation film is inexpensive, easy to mount, and won’t harm the trim when applied correctly. Simply peel it off when spring comes to welcome in the breeze!

4). Check electrical outlets, the hidden culprits for winter drafts.

Electrical outlets aren’t always insulated properly, and with homes including more and more of them per square foot, they can be a surprising source of drafts. A small amount of foam sealant in and around the electrical box can make a world of difference for the longevity of your home. Adding sealant around pipes, gas lines, and electrical cables that enter the house can also help hold in warmth.

5). Form warm new habits.

Did you know?

For every degree below 70 F, you can save three percent in heating costs. Turning down the thermostat and placing a space heater in a common area where your family gathers can cut down on house-wide heating costs.

You should change your HVAC system’s air filter every three months. Not only will your system run more efficiently, a clean filter free of dirt and residue keeps your family healthier, too.

You can generate warmth with everyday activities. Cooking on the stovetop or taking a hot shower with the door open can allow warm air (and much-needed moisture) to spread through several rooms. During the day, use the sun’s natural warmth by leaving curtains open to allow light to shine inside. Trimming any branches blocking the windows can amplify this effect, maximizing the ambient heat gained.

Our highly trained inspectors have the skills, experience and expertise to help you protect your most important investment: your home. Visit National Property Inspections to find a certified inspector near you in the United States or Canada.

Have a question about heating bills and home insulation? Share with us in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out our newsletter for monthly maintenance tips!

How to Grow Ivy Without Damaging Your Home

We’ve all driven past that charming country cottage or elegant estate. Frozen in time, they have a single striking accent in common: ivy. The ivy on mortar look is quaint and classic, but while pleasing to the eye, is it actually good for your home? If you’re wondering how to grow ivy, there are several important factors to consider before planting those seeds.

Planting Ivy Might Have Legal Repercussions

Certain cities, states and homeowner associations have banned the planting of creeping vines due to their rapid growth and negative effect on local agriculture. Oregon, for example, has banned English ivy. It’s also important to note that insurance companies have been known to refuse coverage on ivy-covered homes due to increased liability. Do your research to be sure that planting ivy won’t have unexpected consequences for you, your community or your home.

Ivy Thrives in Certain Conditions

The best walls for ivy are typically solid masonry. These thick walls are the ideal host, allowing creeping vines to work their way up and around. Just be sure to check for any cracks or loose bricks beforehand so you don’t risk damage to your home.

You should avoid growing ivy on your home altogether if it has:

Weakened brick: Any crumbling mortar, cracks, or loose bricks can be invaded by ivy roots, widening existing holes and allowing moisture to seep in.
Dry-stacked walls: Mortar-less stone walls naturally have additional nooks and crannies that are easily entered by ivy roots, which then become part of the wall itself. If you were ever to pull on the ivy, you would risk pulling out pieces of the wall itself.
Old brick: Mortar quality has improved over the years, so the older the brick, the more likely it is to be weakened by the elements. Homes built before 1930 are especially tricky because their lime-based mortar is softer than the more modern cement-based mortar.
Siding: Anything with a seam is vulnerable to probing ivy roots, and can cause damage both as it is growing and as it is being pulled off.
Stucco/Painted Surfaces: The primary issue with both surfaces is when the ivy is pulled off, it can cause chunks of paint or stucco to come along with it, as well as permanently discoloring the surface of the wall.

Type of Ivy Matters

There are two main types of ivy found on homes: Virginia creeper and Boston ivy. An alternative to ivy that is less aggressive is climbing roses, which add the greenery and texture without the high-maintenance upkeep. Avoid English ivy, a particularly invasive type that can quickly take over your house, yard and surrounding areas.

How to Actually Grow Ivy? Start Small, Trim Often

So you’ve decided that growing ivy is right for you and your home. We strongly recommend starting with just one plant and following its care directions precisely. You might be surprised how fast it will grow! If you do decide to plant more than one, make sure they are at least six feet apart. Vines will typically climb on their own, but if you’d like to help them along, you can gently lean them against the side of your house.

To protect your home from damage, remember to keep ivy away from wooden trim work, windows and gutters. Always prioritize your safety and seek a professional’s help when dealing with substantial heights and unfamiliar tools.

Call National Property Inspections for Advice

National Property Inspections’ trained experts can inspect your home and help you decide whether growing ivy is right for you. If you suspect damage from ivy and other creeping vines, our inspectors can provide you a detailed structural report and recommend next best steps. Find a home inspector near you by calling 1-800-333-9807.

Do you have a question about how to grow ivy? Let us know in the comments and visit National Property Inspections for more great resources!