Hardwood Flooring

By Kenn Garder, Corporate Accounts Manager, NPI/GPI Corporate Office

Empty RoomHardwood flooring has been used for years; the flooring, if properly maintained, can last the lifetime of the building.  The most common issues with hardwood flooring stem from moisture.  Wood is a natural product and is considered hygroscopic; It gains and loses moisture as the relative humidity and temperature of the air around it changes.

To minimize moisture issues the hardwood floor manufacturer usually dries the lumber so it has a moisture content of 6 to 9 percent before milling into the flooring.  The flooring should not be installed in rooms that are exposed to high moisture.  It is recommended that the flooring be delivered to the site of installation and allowed to acclimate for up to 4 days in an area that has been climate controlled for at least 48 hours and the sub floor is dry.  Following these recommendations is important to help minimize the amount of movement, but it’s not a guarantee that there won’t be issues caused by the changes in relative humidity.

Months and sometimes years after the floor has been installed and finished, moisture can still cause some visible issues.

Cracks and separation:  When the room is heated in the winter the relative humidity decreases, shrinking the wood. This can cause the wood to separate resulting in cracks.  To minimize these cracks moisture can be added to the air during the heating months.

Cupping:  Wood flooring can cup or curl at the edges leaving the center lower, resulting in an uneven surface. The wood expands when the relative humidity is higher or if water is spilled on the wood’s surface and absorbed.  As the wood expands, compression can result as the boards are crushed together deforming the edge of the boards. Humidity control will help the floor dry out and improve over time.

 

Crowning:  This is the opposite of Cupping. The center of the board is higher than the edges.  Crowning can occur if the wood is left exposed to high humidity or water for an extended period of time.  Another cause is sanding a cupping floor before it is dry; as the cupped wood continues to dry the edges will shrink more than the center of the board.

 

Buckling:   Because of excessive moisture, the flooring pulls up from the sub floor, lifting several inches from the sub floor.  When the floor is flooded with water for an extended period of time, buckling can occur.  A floor that has buckled will probably require more than drying out, typically, after drying out sections of the floor will need to be evaluated to determine if repairs can be made.

 

When these conditions are present in a hard wood floor, determine the water or moisture source and control or stop the moisture exposure to the wood.  In hot humid weather using air conditioning and possibly a dehumidifier to control the relative humidity will help to reduce the movement in the floor.

 

Garder PhotoWith 10 years of experience in his current position, Kenn Garder is the central point of contact for NPI/GPI’s national accounts. He also provides technical support to our franchise owners/inspectors and teaches the commercial segment of our training program.

To find an NPI or GPI inspector in your area, click one of the links below:

 

 

Tagged: , , , , , ,

U.S. Energy Standards for Air Conditioning Equipment

By Kenn Garder, Corporate Accounts Manager, NPI/GPI Corporate Office

Inspector + ACThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) implemented the Appliance and Equipment Standards Program in the 1980s. In 2015, U.S. consumers saved an estimated $63 billion on utility bills, largely due to the increased efficiency of appliances and equipment.

It is estimated that that 60 percent of U.S. houses have a central cooling system, and most new homes are designed and built with central air systems. About 19 percent of those units are heat pumps. Many other technologies can improve the efficiency of these systems. For example, variable speed motors, advanced compressing methods, and a greater area of heat distribution from the coils of the condenser all can reduce energy consumption.

Residential central air conditioners and heat pumps use electric motors and compressors usually housed in a cabinet installed outside the house. A unit’s Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) is the cooling output during a typical cooling season divided by the total electric energy input during the same period. In short, the higher the unit’s SEER rating the more energy efficient it is. In 2006, the United States increased the national standards for central air conditioners and heat pumps from 10 SEER to 13 SEER.

New efficiency standards from the DOE went into effect in January 2015. Unlike previous standards, the 2015 standards create minimum-efficiency standards that vary by region. There are three regions established using population-weighted heating degree days (HDD). The lower 48 states are divided into these regions: Northern — states with an HDD greater than or equal to 5,000; Southern — states with an HDD less than 5,000; and Southwestern.  Click here to see a map of the regions and the SEER requirements.

Federal energy efficiency standards benefit the environment, reducing carbon dioxide created to produce the electricity. They also benefit consumers by reducing energy use and bills. And finally, these standards also benefit manufacturers, as they reduce the potential patchwork of state standards with a single federal standard, streamlining the design and production process.

Garder PhotoWith 10 years of experience in his current position, Kenn Garder is the central point of contact for NPI/GPI’s national accounts. He also provides technical support to our franchise owners/inspectors and teaches the commercial segment of our training program.

To find an NPI or GPI inspector in your area, click one of the links below:

Tagged: , , , , , ,

Top Five Problems Revealed During a Home Inspection

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

Purchasing a house is a major decision, and a home inspection report can be used to assist in the decision-making process. Here are some of the more common issues found during a home inspection.

Poor Grading and Drainage
Water should run away from any structure to help prevent moisture intrusion. If the soil around a house slopes toward the house, or if water pools around the perimeter of the foundation, that moisture can create hydronic pressure in the soil that can move the foundation, causing cracks and leaks that can lead to extensive damage and expensive repairs. If water wicks into the wood framing members, the wood will rot over time. This moisture also provides a haven for wood-destroying organisms (WDO) because it provides a water and food source.

Erosion around the perimeter of a house may be caused by water spilling over gutters due to clogged downspouts or downspouts that terminate near the foundation. Downspout extensions or spill ways can be installed to keep water away from the foundation.

Roof Coverings
The roof of a house is designed to withstand most of what Mother Nature can dish out, whether it be rain, wind or sun. If installed properly, the roof should keep water out of the home.

The life expectancy for roof coverings varies depending on the material. Asphalt composite shingles, for instance, typically have a life expectancy of 15 to 25 years. As the roof covering ages, it can become more susceptible to water infiltration and leaking.

Plumbing Problems
Notice a theme here? Controlling water is one of the most important issues in home maintenance.

Leaking supply water and drain lines can cause damage to walls and floors, or they can become the water source for mold and mildew. Outdated (galvanized) or problematic systems (polybutylene) can develop leaks more frequently. Wax rings under toilets can develop leaks and damage the floor around the toilet or the ceiling below.

Electrical Issues
House fires caused by faulty wiring and overloading circuits are common. It is not unusual for a home inspector find evidence of DIY additions to a home’s electrical system. Many times these additions work but were not done properly, causing safety issues.

Exposed wire connections and double taps in the panel are also common problems. If your home inspector finds these or other electrical issues, he/she will recommend that you have the system evaluated and repaired by a qualified licensed electrician

HVAC Havoc
Inadequate maintenance of the HVAC equipment is common. Dirty condenser coils on the air conditioner condenser unit and dirty furnace filters can lead to major repairs. The equipment may be at or near its life expectancy and need to be replaced. Gas-fired furnaces may not burn properly.

With proper maintenance, an HVAC system can continue to heat and cool the house, but many times heating and cooling systems are “out of sight out of mind.”

This is a sampling of typical issues found during a home inspection. These items may vary depending on the geographical location of the property and the overall maintenance of the property.

Looking for a professional, qualified home inspector in your area? In the United States, visit http://npiweb.com/FindAnInspector. In Canada, visit http://gpiweb.ca/FindAnInspector.

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged: , , , , ,

What You Need to Know About Radon Mitigation

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

IMG_0620Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Because air pressure inside a house is usually lower than pressure in the soil around the foundation, a house acts as a vacuum, drawing radon in through foundation cracks and other openings. Once inside the house, radon gas is diluted somewhat by fresh air that is naturally pulled in around windows and doors. The radon gas is then distributed throughout the house by the heating and cooling system. When a house is tested for radon and elevated radon levels — 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/l) or higher — are discovered, the EPA recommends a radon mitigation system be installed.

Reliable techniques are available to reduce radon in houses. Research conducted by public and private agencies has formed a strong knowledge base of proven mitigation systems for homes, schools and commercial buildings.

Design of a radon mitigation system is determined by the construction of the house, not the concentration of radon in the house. A state or nationally qualified contractor should be hired to design and install the system in accordance with the local, state or national standards used in the area where the house is located.

Radon mitigation or reduction requires more than just sealing cracks in the foundation. Active soil depressurization has proven to be cost-effective and reliable for reducing radon gas in a building. A depressurization system draws air and radon gas from beneath the foundation and exhausts it outside the building. The termination point of the exhaust should be far enough away from windows and door openings so it will not re-enter. A common design for the system is a plastic pipe connected to the soil through a hole in a slab floor, through a sump lid connection, or beneath a plastic sheet in a crawl space. Attached to the pipe is a quiet, continuously operating fan that discharges the radon outdoors.

Additional parts of a house or building may need special attention when designing the radon mitigation system:

  • If the return-air ductwork for a forced-air HVAC system is located beneath a concrete slab floor, then the vacuum created by the blower fan can pull radon into the system if the duct is not sealed.
  • Soil air drawn from beneath a floor or in a crawl space is commonly high in moisture. If the system is not designed and installed properly, this moisture will condense and pool inside the ventilation pipe.
  • Local building codes may require the piping for a radon mitigation system be installed during construction of the house to allow for future mitigation needs.

The cost to install a radon mitigation system can range from $800 to $1,500, with a national average of $1,200. For more information about radon and mitigation systems, visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website in the United States, or visit the Health Canada website in Canada.

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Historical Houses Often Reveal Hidden Treasures

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

Photo A

Photo A – Click to enlarge

Home inspectors come across unique items in the course of a home inspection. Photo A is of a main service panel found in use in a house built in the early 1900s. Keep in mind that at the time it was built, very few houses had an electrical system, and if they did it was small — typically two circuits. So, while this panel was certainly state-of-the-art, it could also be considered a piece of art in its design and functionality. Nevertheless, it does not meet today’s safety standards, and the home inspector recommended upgrading the panel.

Below is some information from the manufacturer’s specification document for a similar product, from the “Descriptive Catalog and Price List” of the Bossert Electric Construction Company, published in 1896:

DISTRIBUTING

Box is intended to be used for “concealed” work, and arranged for 12 branch circuits. It is entirely made of iron, and contains main and branch circuit terminals, also binding posts for main and branch wires, all conveniently arranged.

All fuse terminals are calculated to receive standard fuse links. The box is also provided with a specially designed 100-amp double-pole knife switch; the operation of same does not interfere with closing and locking of door, whether circuit is thrown “on” or “off.” As will be seen from cut, the box is provided with ornamental iron door and lock. Box can be furnished from 6 to 12 circuits, with or without main switch, for either brass or iron armored conduit work.

IMG_9509

Photo B – Click to enlarge

PRICE

12-circuit Box, without switch, plain slate, metal work dipped, $15.00

12-circuit Box, without switch, enameled slate, metal work dipped, 16.50

12-circuit Box, without switch, enameled slate, metal work polished, 20.00

12-circuit Box, with 100-amp double-pole knife switch, enameled slate, metal work polished and lacquered 25.00

I guess the moral of the story is to be on the lookout for treasures in historical houses!

Tagged: , , , , ,

What You Need to Know About Structural Damage in a House

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

RE0057When a home inspector notes structural damage or defects in a house, home buyers often panic — and with good reason. Structural problems can be costly to repair. But how can you tell whether structural problems are minor or normal for the home’s age, or major and problematic? Houses settle over time, and a slightly sloping floor or unevenness should not cause alarm. However, if other changes are noted, and the sloping floor becomes more prominent, then this raises a red flag.

When you are having a home inspected, your inspector will check for signs of structural problems. Structural movement in a house may be caused by poor design, poor workmanship during the construction process, unstable soil, foundation issues, substandard materials, or a new driver mistakenly accelerating instead of braking and hitting the house.

Movement of the foundation is one of the most common structural issues. Recognizing early warning signs that may point to foundation issues and having these signs or problems verified and repaired in a timely manner can reduce the cost of repairs significantly.

There are four basic interior warning signs of structural problems in a house:

  • Cracks open in vinyl or ceramic tile.
  • Doors rub or do not latch properly.
  • Windows begin to stick or do not open or close properly.
  • Cracks appear in walls, usually over door openings or windows.

Inspecting the Foundation
On the exterior of the house, your home inspector will look down the walls to see whether the foundation or the framed walls are straight. A curve in the foundation could be evidence of foundation wall movement. The inspector will check for cracks in the foundation wall, as well as determine whether water is draining away from the foundation, as excessive water against the foundation can put more pressure on the walls and cause them to bow.

A foundation system includes the perimeter wall but may also include posts, beams and concrete pier supports. Posts should be straight, as well as secured at the base, the top and under the beams they support.

If concrete foundation walls are visible, the home inspector will check the walls for cracks. Concrete and block foundations usually have a few cracks, and not every crack is cause for concern. (Click here to read more about foundation cracks.) When concrete cures, it shrinks. If it does not shrink evenly, then it tends to crack. Minor hairline cracks in the mortar of a block foundation are not usually a concern. They should, however, be monitored for additional movement and addressed if they become larger.

  • Vertical cracks in foundation walls that are small and generally even in width are usually a low risk. A vertical crack that is larger at the top or the bottom is evidence of structural movement, either settlement or uplift.
  • Diagonal, or step cracks, are usually signs of movement. If these cracks are slight and consistent in width, then there may not be need for alarm. But if the cracks are larger at the top or bottom, or if they change over time, there may be significant movement occurring, which will need to be addressed.
  • Horizontal foundation cracks located in the upper third of a wall, if most of the wall is below grade, are usually caused by moisture freezing and thawing, creating pressure on the wall that can cause the wall to fail.

If a home inspector suspects major structural or foundation problems in a house, he/she should recommend an inspection by a foundation specialist or structural engineer to help determine whether there is structural damage that needs to be addressed or just normal settlement that should be monitored. Most foundation and structural movement can be stabilized and repaired if addressed before considerable damage occurs.

Tagged: , , , , , ,

How Does a Home Inspector Inspect a Gas Forced-air Furnace?

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

FurnaceIndustry standards of practice state that an inspector should open accessible panels to inspect installed heating equipment. The inspector is supposed to describe the energy source used to create the heat, as well as inspect the heating equipment, venting and distribution systems.

So, how does the inspector meet these standards when he/she is using visual noninvasive inspection techniques? After all, when you order a home inspection, you want to be sure the furnace is operating correctly.

NPI/GPI has high standards for its inspectors, and we recommend the following methods for furnace inspection:

  • Locate the thermostat(s) to operate the system. The thermostat should be centrally located in the house and away from other sources of heat.
  • Examine the exterior of the furnace for rust, corrosion, soot etc.
  • Use a gas sniffer on all visible gas lines joints and connections.
  • Identify the furnace, and note the serial number, age and input BTUs. This information is often found inside the burner panel.
  • Remove the draft shield and examine the burner heads, combustion chamber, and verify that the correct piping is used for gas supply. Replace the shield and panels when complete.
  • Note the color and condition of the flame for a proper burn.
  • Inspect the flue for gas leaks, rust, corrosion and proper clearances from combustibles.
  • Note any unusual noise or vibration from the blower fan.
  • Note any unusual odors.
  • Check the blower fan and filter for cleanliness.
  • Use the gas detector at the nearest supply register to check for any leaks.
  • Make sure the furnace is located in an area that provides ample air supply and has adequate room for service access.
  • While the unit is running, check for air delivery in the rooms.
  • Complete an overall inspection of the ductwork.

As with all elements of a home inspection, the inspection of the furnace inspection is visual and noninvasive; however, normal service panels are removed to inspect the furnace. A thorough inspection of the heat exchanger is not in the scope of work for a home inspection, so don’t be fooled by inspectors who tell you they’ve checked the heat exchanger.

The furnace’s data tag information can be included in the report, as well as the unit’s BTUs, manufacturer and age of the unit. Photo documentation of the furnace also should be included in the report.

If issues are discovered, then the home inspector should recommend further evaluation and repairs as needed by a qualified heating contractor.

Tagged: , , , , ,

Drafty Windows? We Have Help

Submitted by Kenn Garder, Technical Support, NPI/GPI Corporate

iStock_000000197663SmallThere is a chill in the air, the North Wind has an extra bite and a draft is coming through the windows. What can you do?

First, open and close the window and look for any torn or missing weather-stripping on the sash. Make sure the window lock is adjusted properly to close the window tight against the weather-stripping. If there are storm windows, make sure they are shut and latched properly.

Next try to determine where the air is coming in. Make sure all of the windows are closed. Make sure window coverings are held away from the glass and will not ignite. Light a candle and hold the flame near each window, fairly close to the window at the seam between the widow frame and the sash. Move the candlestick slowly around the frame and the sash, pausing to allow the flame to steady. If the flame bends or flickers while in the pause mode, then there is probably a leak, mark the area with a piece of tape or a sticky note and continue around that window and the others in the home and mark any suspect area.

Once you have identified the problem areas and drafts, you need to seal them up. Some methods can be completed by the homeowner; other, more complicated methods of repairs may be best left to a contractor.

  • Weather-stripping can be purchased at a hardware store or home center. Different products are available, most commonly plastic, felt, foam or metal. These materials can be cut and pressed into the gaps between the frame and the sash, or installed on the frame and pressed against the sash to create a good seal.
  • Caulking is usually installed on the exterior, so this is a task for warmer weather. Caulking can be applied where the trim meets the window frame and where the trim meets the wall covering. If old, deteriorating caulking is in place, remove it by scoring the caulk where it meets the trim and the frame, and remove it with a putty knife or chisel. Make sure to clean the area well with a brush before applying new caulking. A good exterior latex caulk may be preferred for ease of application and cleanup, this type of caulking is usually paintable if the caulk does not match the window or if you wish to paint the window in the future. Be sure to follow the installation instructions on the tube of caulking for proper installation.
  • Insulating film. If the window will not be opened during the winter months, then a layer of shrink film can be applied to the window. The film is usually applied to the window using double-sided tape. The window trim should be clean so the tape will stick properly, then apply the tape and film as directed in the instructions. This film is usually removed in the spring and summer months so the windows can be opened.
  • Replacement windows. This is usually an expensive venture, but in most cases the cost of the replacement is at least partially recouped in the sale of the home. Until the home is sold, you still have the benefit of fewer or no drafts and lower energy bills. Proper installation and insulation is important when replacing windows.

Several options are available to reduce drafts, and your local utility companies may offer energy audits and recommendations for weatherization contractors to help limit the amount of energy lost by drafty windows.

Tagged: , , , , ,

Is Your Family at Risk for Lead Poisoning?

Submitted by Kenn Garder, Technical Support, NPI/GPI Corporate

Family watching television together uidLead is a highly toxic substance that is suspected to cause several health problems, typically in young children. When lead is absorbed into the body it can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs.

Lead can be found in all parts of our environment: in air, soil, water and inside houses. While lead can enter the house in a variety of ways, if the house was built before 1978, there is a good chance that the house contains lead-based paint on the walls or the trim. When the paint peels and cracks, it creates a lead dust, and children can be poisoned when they swallow or breathe in this dust. Furthermore, some water supply systems may use lead pipe to supply water to the building, or the materials used to join pipes together may contain lead. This can contaminate the water supply.

Lead is particularly dangerous in children, as their growing bodies tend to absorb more lead that adults, and their brains and nervous systems seem to be more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Babies and young children tend to chew on items or put their hands in their mouth more often than adults.

Exposure to lead can be minimized by doing the following:

  • Inspect and maintain all painted surfaces to prevent paint deterioration.
  • Keep the house clean and fee of dust
  • Clean around painted areas where friction can generate dust. Wipe these areas with a damp cloth.
  • Use only cold water to prepare food or drinks
  • Flush water outlets used for drinking or food preparation, open the faucet allowing the water to run for a time.
  • Clean debris out of faucet screens on a regular basis.
  • Eat well-balanced meals. Children with a healthy diet absorb less lead.
  • Home renovators should be Lead-Safe Certified to perform renovations in a home.

Local health departments are a good resource for the proper protocol for testing for lead in a house, and you can click here to visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s section on lead.

Tagged: , , , , , ,