Stone Veneers

Many of us are familiar with Exterior Insulated Finishing Systems (EIFS), the stucco look finish applied to homes as a siding material. When it first hit the commercial scene around 1969 it was a cost effective and flexible design with a greater environmental benefit than other claddings. Unfortunately the installation is precise and far too many contractors were installing it incorrectly. Many failures occurred, and when it hit the residential scene homes suffered (and still do) from moisture intrusion which leads to fungi and mold issues. An associate showed us pictures of a home less than a year old that had mushrooms already growing in the walls! Now for the bad news…….

Adhered Concrete Masonry Veneers (ACMV) is the new bad boy on the block. Although it has an appealing look, like that of an old stone house, it should be treated as a stucco finish and all the trouble associated with EIFS will pale in comparison as the clock runs. Mark Parlee says in the Journal of Light Construction magazine, “…ACMV…will make the EIFS problems look like a drop in the bucket.” Again, it’s not that the material is a problem, it’s the installation. When an inspector sees EIFS and now ACMV, it is a red flag and further evaluation is almost the rule of thumb. Mark is an expert in exterior remediation and his well written article delves into the factors contributing to the failures and what can, or should be done. Too often the home is occupied and the occupants may already be suffering from poor air quality issues directly related to the moisture issues caused by ACMV.

Repairs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars if these issues have gotten out of hand. So what can a homeowner do? If you are shopping for a home, pay particular attention to (or insist that your inspector does) the exterior finish. Read up on what to look for. Since curb appeal is such a great seller, it is sometimes hard to look deeper. Most of us like the stone look…classy.

Because the stone itself can hold moisture, a good drainage system between the veneer and the framing is essential as it prevents the moisture from being drawn into the house. Short of a forensic analysis however, you may not be able to tell what the sub finish is, but there are things you can look for. If you are unsure have a qualified ASHI Home Inspector check it out for you.

1- Does the veneer (either EIFS or ACMV) have clearance at the bottom? A minimum of 2” is recommended above hard surfaces and more at an earth grade. It should NOT be below the mulch or the finish grade and an appropriate weep screed needs to be doing its job.
2- Where roofs abut vertical walls an appropriate ‘kick out’ flashing should be installed.
3- Check and maintain caulk and sealing around doors and windows.
4- Tops of walls, inside corners and rake returns are other culprits.
5- Is any lath visible between the stones?

You need not have several faults to have an issue. Even one fault in the siding can have unwanted consequences. Do yourself a huge favor and look/ask before buying and look/fix if you are already an owner.

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Heat loss during the winter months (or the myth of energy efficiency.)

 More and more, builders are promoting Energy Efficient Homes and that’s a good thing except when they cut corners or do things that the average home buyer doesn’t know or understand. I want to discuss a few here.

Many attics are rated as R-38. Depending on the material used that is about 10” to 12” of insulation material. (See http://www.energystar.gov/?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_insulation_table .)  If your attic is 1,000 SF, that’s 20’x50’ of ceiling area and if you have a pull down stair installed that is 10 SF or 2’x5’, you are losing over 25% of your insulation value! It’s even worse if you have blown-in insulation and it is not evenly distributed. Think of being nice and warm under a down quilt and someone pulls the blanket off your feet. The fix is to distribute the insulation evenly, properly cover any ‘high hat’ lighting, and insulate the attic stairs. Look for any other obvious gaps that are not properly covered or insulated.

 In the article Ducts in the Attic? What Were They Thinking?”by David Roberts and Jon Winkler, they discuss the effects of installing ductwork in attics. This, according to their research, is a very poor idea especially in warmer climates. Builders are installing energy efficient Heat Pumps or Air Conditioners, to the ‘wow’ of home buyers but are cutting corners by using the attic as a chase. The builder is saving less than a thousand dollars and costing the consumer much more over the long run, especially if the ducts leak. The unit will have to run harder and longer shortening its life. If you are remodeling make sure your HVAC guy reads this article. If you already have ducts in the attic have a professional check them out for kinks & sharp bends, undersized runners and torn or improper connections. Think 20% to 25% energy loss.

 Then there are the obvious. We all feel the cold air coming through window AC units or just the windows themselves. I wrap all my window units from the outside and cover the inside and there is still a draft. When the temperature is in the single digits it makes a big difference.

 Make sure your heating units are in good shape and serviced. They are running full tilt some nights and you don’t need problems when you’re asleep or you may stay asleep if the CO gets too high. I am not a big fan of the inexpensive CO detectors and have a hand held that I use to check the whole house often. If you do have a ceiling or wall mount CO detector, a remote alarm that will warn you in the bedroom if the basement heater is leaking can save your life.

 I tell clients that having a fireplace is nothing more than building a fire IN your house. The obvious cautions apply. Make sure the flue is cleaned as often as necessary. I usually do ours mid-winter when we get that freak warm spell. Don’t stack firewood too close to the stove and make sure a proper hearth is in place.

 Be safe, enjoy the winter. It only lasts a short while.

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Winter Indoor Air Quality.

All the windows are closed and the doors are shut. We are in the midst of winter and trying to get the most out of our heating systems since to date, no one I know is giving away heating oil. For those of us with wood or coal stoves our problems can run from layers of dust to dry skin, not to mention that we are maintaining a fire in our homes! For homes with boilers, as long as the system was checked you should be in good shape. However, most of the homes I inspect have furnaces and constant air movement can cause its own set of circumstances.

 If the air quality in your home is questionable, recirculating air through a furnace can perpetuate a host of issues. Molds and allergens, if present will not just go away unless you take steps to keep them at bay. While high humidity usually isn’t a problem, improperly vented clothes dryers and bathroom fans can add high levels of moisture. Maintaining humidity levels below 50% can help here. Some furnaces have humidifiers that add moisture to the air as it leaves the furnace. These are often neglected and if there is fungus in the unit or in the ductwork, what you are doing is moving those spores through the home. The same holds true for Heat Pumps which are even more neglected. The same ductwork for the air conditioning is used for heat and since there are usually no service contracts for Heat Pumps they are often left alone until they need repair.

 Air filters need to be changes frequently. If allowed to accumulate dirt, not only does your furnace have to work harder but you are potentially forcing dirt, dust and lint along with spores and allergens through the building over and over. Invariably many people get sicker during the winter months. Add more people and you add more issues. You can of course, tell everyone to not visit during the holidays but most of us enjoy hosting friends and family.

 High humidity not only is a prerequisite for mold growth it can also foster an environment for dust mites. The flip side is not enough humidity. Again, allergy issues in a too dry environment can cause sore throats, sniffles, dry skin and poor sleep. We have to strike a balance for better health.

 Until we can once again open our windows and allow fresh air back in, we need to be aware that our homes can kill us. Change your filters, maintain humidity between 30% and 50% and vacuum often. If your air quality is poor or someone is suffering continually, get you home checked!

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Ahh…..Spring Time.

It’s the time of the year when the daffodils and tulips are blooming.  Thoughts turn to tending to the yard and getting outside!  Of course, for some of us it’s still a bit nippy but our thoughts are outside anyway.  So…what’s it gonna be this year?  Maybe you will plant a new tree, or install a pond out front or a new bird feeder?  Whatever you are planning make a few simple smart decisions first!

Ground services, electric, water, cable, gas, etc. are all supposed to be buried a safe distance underground so that shovel you are using doesn’t hit anything.  Even so, not everything is done right. So if you are planning to plant anything, even a bird feeder, make sure you are not digging over anything that can endanger you.  Check with your township for the phone number of the utility companies’ services that will usually come and locate these service lines for free.  It’s in their best interest to not have you hurt and way cheaper for them to not have to repair anything.

Many of us live in rural locations and often we do know where most things are. Except for the septic and water, the utilities are above ground.  This does NOT mean that we know it all.  Abandoned wells, cisterns or oil tanks may have been waiting all these years to deteriorate and have chosen 2013 to show themselves.  Use caution!

If you live in a development or other building lot where utilities are buried you need to take even more care.  Like I said, in a perfect world utilities are installed correctly….usually.  I have uncovered cable lines only a few inches underground.  They were conveniently installed on the property line or partially in the wooded area and I guess the knuckleheads figured no one would dig there. Wrong!  If it’s my property I may choose to plant bamboo or some other separation along the border.

To make things worse anyone can buy a small backhoe and then things can get even more dangerous.  Newer homes have lawn sprinklers and these will be near the surface. Some retrofitted gas lines for a barbeque may be only inches underground.  Buried propane tanks have a small line often just below the surface.

I visited a local restaurant where they allowed parking on the lawn.  No one thought to protect the top of the buried propane tank and it was damaged TWICE!  Fortunately no one was hurt.

Accidents are just that….accidents.  We don’t plan them (unless you are working for the mob).  So take a little time and use common sense and take advantage of the free services offered by the utilities.  Have your property surveyed.  It may save your life or the life of someone close to you.  And…enjoy the warmer weather!

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Mold & IAQ Part 2

I sat down last night before our show came on and decided to peruse one of the Internet forums on a ‘mold’ discussion.  It’s amazing the controversy around this issue.  Some claim it’s all snake oil and others insist it’s valid.  OK, so the EPA says mold is a potential problem and just because they say it is doesn’t mean the Lemmings get in line and go off a cliff, http://www.epa.gov/mold/ nor does it mean that you put your head in the sand and pretend that it doesn’t affect people.

An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.
Anatole France

So let’s educate ourselves!  The unfortunate truth is some people really do have an issue with the presence of mold and if they do then it needs to be dealt with.  The first thing that should be recommended to a client is, “Have you seen a doctor about your sensitivity to mold?”

Some of the snake charmers will take any money they can talk you out of, taking advantage of the naive or simply jumping on the hype bandwagon and scaring the client, stating the worst possible scenarios.  Simply put, if you see mold then you probably have a mold issue. The most common remediation for mold is to eliminate the source of moisture.  Since mold never really goes away eliminating moisture usually will stop it from growing. Once you stop it from growing then it can be cleaned up or your physical issues may improve.

If you can smell mold or musty air and can’t see anything then you should have the air tested, have a full mold inspection performed, or both.  Avoid companies that test and remediate.  That could be a conflict of interest.  I am a Certified Mold Inspector and a Certified Remediation Contractor. I do NOT do remediation but prefer to only do the testing.  As a Home Inspector I do not offer repairs even though I have been a carpenter for 33 years.  I may give a client several contractors to choose from or refer them to the Chamber of Commerce.

With the rainy season coming and as things thaw, moisture will start to seep in unwanted areas of your home. Be aware of changes in your health or the health of children or seniors.  If mold rears its ugly head be prepared, know what to look for and have someone to call…..me!

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Is that Hot Tub Safe?

When I was a young lad working in construction, the first job I worked on was the Bellevue Stratford right after the first known outbreak of Legionnaires Disease happened and killed 34 people.  In 1977, Dr. Joseph McDade discovered a new bacterium, which was identified as the causative organism.  Named after the American Legion gathering that took place in Philly it has become widely known as Legionella.

‘Legionella’ is a type of aerobic bacteria that causes a potentially fatal infectious disease that affects the respiratory system and can cause fever, pneumonia and acute influenza.  A milder strain of this is called Pontiac Fever. There are at least 40 species that occur naturally in the environment. Typically Legionella can take up to 2 weeks to develop but the milder strain (Pontiac Fever) can show symptoms in just 2 hours.

What you NEED to know is where it can grow and take precautions to prevent exposure and possible infection.   The list of water systems that have been known to harbor the Legionella bacteria is extensive.  However, today we are talking about Hot Tubs, a place where Legionella grows easily.

Warm water provides an ideal environment for the bacteria to thrive.  It’s not necessary to be in the water.  Just standing near moist infected water can cause a person to contract the disease.  The aerated water can make this likely to happen although any water source can become infected, even your house shower.

In Hot Tubs the chemical balance needs to be maintained and as they say, “The more the merrier” can translate to, “The more people the more chances.”  Hot Tubs that are not routinely cleaned and maintained  are potential health threats.   Of course we expect Hotels and Commercial Spas to maintain their equipment properly and we can’t know if they do, but you can keep your own Hot Tub safe.

EMSL Analytical Inc. says, “The unit should not be run using untreated tap water. Proper maintenance includes not only treating the water but also shutting down the unit weekly to scrub away any biofilm deposits on the sides of the unit and cleaning/replacing the filters.  The unit should then be refilled using tap water treated with the correct dosing of water treatment chemicals.”

 It’s not just the water!

 Don’t forget to check and clean the filters on a regular basis too.  Recommendations are to keep several sets of filters available so each set can be thoroughly dried after cleaning.

Higher risk individuals are of course, my age group (over 50), Smokers (current or former), people with chronic lung disease (such as emphysema and chronic asthma) and individuals with weakened immune systems, to name a few.

Testing is available and if you have any question about your Hot Tub, please get it checked and avoid that great deal on a Hot Tub that has been sitting on your neighbor’s lawn all winter that says, “For Sale”

Check out; http://yourhottubandspas.co/running/hot-tub-and-spa-chemicals/

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Mold & Indoor Air Quality – Part 1

A friend of mine enjoys watching termites, says they are fascinating.  I like mold for the same reasons but watching mold isn’t quite as much fun.  I was browsing through the Journal of Light Construction magazine that I subscribe to and they went through a 30 year recap of their publication.  I found “Mold” listed throughout.

In their very first issue in 1982 they say, “NEB (New England Builder, their first official name) takes on energy issues, like moisture problems from increased insulation and the role of roof ventilation.”

In 1983, “Poorly installed vapor barriers spawning mold and lawsuits”

1987, “More moisture problems, this time in tight houses and crawlspaces”

1989, “Builders report more moisture problems as houses get tighter”

1991, “First ‘sick building syndrome’ suit settled out of court”

1997, “Mixed-climate moisture control is complicated, drying potential to the interior/exterior studied”

1998, “Toxic mold plagues homeowners, delights media and litigators”

2001, “Mold lawsuits bankrupt big builder; ‘stachybotrys’ becomes a household word”

2011, “JLC author uses infrared camera to find moisture problems as well as energy leaks”

As you can see, mold is a big issue and one of the foremost magazines is keeping up to date with the developments.  It’s a problem that isn’t going to go away, at least anytime soon.  You can’t just look away. *start scary movie music* Potential health effects and symptoms associated with mold exposures include allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints.  Some people are sensitive to molds. For these people, exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation. Some people, such as those with serious allergies to molds, may have more severe reactions.

If you have any of these symptoms, see or smell mold, it may be a good time to have your Indoor Air Quality tested.  It just so happens I can take care of this for you, I am now a Certified Mold Inspector.  Don’t suffer needlessly.

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Dryer Vent Safety.

There are a lot of things that can be said about safety around the home.  Let’s start with one of the most dangerous.  We’ll work on more over the next few months.

I worked for years as a carpenter and one of my buds was a volunteer fireman.  With plenty of time to talk (as we worked) he would talk of fires he worked on.  He claimed that many were due to dirty clothes dryers.  I believe him, especially now that I’m inspecting homes.  I see crimped, clogged, partially dissembled and too long vent hose runs.

These are typical situations I see almost every home inspection.  Vents are clogged open or closed.  Pipes are crimped and leaking with internal collection points that don’t allow air to flow freely…. And it’s very hot air too!  It’s things people don’t look for, “out of sight”…as the saying goes.  I’ve followed vent pipes through and across basements, up walls and out some 35 feet of more away from the dryer, switching from plastic to hard pipe, back to plastic and flexible metal held together with Duct tape, only to terminate in a screened clogged exterior flap.  At least it went outside!

I started paying serious attention to our clothes dryer.  First I disconnect the power. Then I take every panel off that I can, including the top, and vacuum it out completely.  Metal hoses are cheap insurance so I replace that too.  We never run it when we are going out.  Occasionally I check the exterior flap when it’s running to make sure there is an air flow.  All this takes about an hour.

Owning a home is serious business.  People’s lives can depend on your attitude about maintenance.  Think of it as personal hygiene for your house.  Like brushing your teeth, although not brushing your teeth may not cause death but it may cause someone to barf.

 

 

Some very useful information is in the attached links.  Please, check them out.

http://inspectapedia.com/interiors/Clothes_Dryer_Venting.php

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/laundry-and-cleaning/clothes-dryers/truths-and-myths-of-dryer-fires/overview/index.htm

http://www.dryerbox.com/news_articles/2007_us_fire_admin.pdf


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Just because it’s new, don’t mean its right.

I don’t get many calls to inspect new homes but when I do, I thank the buyer for being savvy enough to think of doing so.  All houses are put together using sub-contractors.  Even if you know the General Contractor and their good reputation, doesn’t mean there isn’t at least one newbie working for a Sub.  Junior workers make entry level wages until they learn their trade.  It may be YOUR house that they are practicing on!  I also recommend the buyer get an 11 month re-inspection before the contractor’s 1 year warranty expires.  It’s smart money.

As Inspectors, our fees are cheap compared to one repair that you may argue over with your contractor.  It’s kind of like sending your steak back to the kitchen to have it cooked more.  You never know what they are going to do to your meat.  It makes good sense to have an experienced pair of eyes go over a new or a used home.  I have received compliments from Realtors for not taking advantage of the fact that a home is only 10 years old and blowing through the inspection.  10 years is a long time.  A lot of things are wearing out by then.  Even so, no home is perfect and if you are expecting it to be, then you are mistaken.

More people are seeing the advantages of having a home inspection and according to Harris Interactive, 88% of home buyers say that a home inspection increases their confidence in a decision about a property.

http://www.harrisinteractive.com/vault/ASHI-Home-Inspections-02-22-11.pdf

Be smart; get an inspection, save yourself some grief.

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May is National Deck Safety Month

I know I talked about this before but it’s important…especially if you have a deck.  Did you check yours last year when I told you about it?  Naughty, naughty……if not then please do it this year and even if you did last year, well… it’s time again.  A year is a long time to be out in the weather.

The North American Deck and Railing Association has a web site with several check lists you can use along with 2 videos showing a simulated deck collapse.  Well worth the watch.  All of this is even more important if your deck is at a second floor (or higher) level.  There are horror stories every year about a deck party that turned ugly.  A simple check can save you a lot of grief. Some things to look at.

  1. Are the posts on footings?  Most of the time they are but sometimes they are sitting on a broken cinder block or worse, right on the ground.
  2. How is it fastened to the house?  There are new requirements now that call for it to be tied back into the structure… I mean way back in the structure.  If it’s just nailed to the siding I wouldn’t go out there.
  3. Flashing.  It may not seem like much but I rarely see flashing against the house.  This allows rain to get behind your siding and the ledger.  Guess what happens?  The wood can rot and green things grow in the wall.
  4. Are the joists properly supported?  This could mean a lot of things form a metal joist hanger to a properly fastened ledger board.  Having them just nailed or screwed to a beam is NOT adequate.
  5. Is there lateral bracing?  If you can make the deck sway by shifting your weight this is a bad thing.
  6. Are the handrails loose?  They should be able to withstand 200 pounds of lateral pressure.  Are there guardrails in place?  So they meet the 4” spacing rule?
  7. Stairs…. They should be secure and have the correct riser height or a landing if there is a long run.

This is just a small sampling of what you should be looking for.  If you are in doubt hire a Home Inspector or a Deck expert for a review.

A good source of information is;

http://nadra.org/consumers/deck_safety_month.html

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