Archive for category General Information

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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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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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;

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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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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;

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Moisture, moisture, moisture…

You’ve heard it before right here, unless you’re taking a shower or getting a drink of water you don’t need any extra moisture around the house.

Its spring and we venture out doors now to enjoy our yards and gardens and whatever else you like.

As an aside you may glance back and up at your house in one of those routine look-a-bouts to see how the house fared during the winter.  Small trees are growing out of your gutters and there is black soot and staining on the siding.  You remember saying to yourself in the fall that you were going to clean the gutters but something happened…. Oh yeah…. It was football season.  So now it needs desperate attention.  Off to the shed…

First thing is be careful… well first thing is to dig through the shed and find the ladder.  If you liked ladders it would have been done already, so don’t get sidetracked yet, the mower can wait.

Whatever type of ladder you use, an extension, “A” frame or if the gutters are low enough maybe a pair of saw horses and a plank just be careful.  Figure on needing a few heavy contractor bags for the debris depending on what’s growing around the house.  Don’t figure because you don’t have trees that there is no junk in the gutters.  Granules from the shingles accumulate and birds, squirrels and even that kid down the street that lost his tennis ball can affect your special place.  Scoop out what you can before you hose them out.  If you system empties into an underground system you have more work to do.  Disconnect the downspout and clean them, THEN make sure the underground system is clean.  Run a hose through it and check the discharge point.



 Actual photo – not a dramatization!

Usually you can lean the ladder against the gutters themselves but use caution.  I know… I’m starting to sound like you mom… sorry.  The point is that gutters should be cleaned twice a year or more depending on your particular layout.  Neglecting this WILL mean that moisture will end up too close to the building and bigger issues will develop.

Get it done now before baseball get rolling.  I’ll remind you again in the fall.

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Got Mold?

As a Home Inspector I see mold all the time.  In fact, most of us see it and know what it is.  However not every home owner crawls around under stairs or in crawlspaces, so when you hire a home inspector you expect us to do that for you.  That is what we do… inspect!

Currently I’m not ‘certified’ to tell you what is and isn’t mold so my insurance carrier says I have to say something like, “There is a substance that appears to be mold or mildew noted” or, “there is an unidentified organic growth…” “This inspection does not include testing for mold type or toxicity….” Yada, yada, yada.

The truth is, mold is everywhere.  Given the correct conditions it will grow, remove the conditions and it will usually stop growing.  Moisture is the problem for so many home issues. I’ve gotten on my soapbox before about moisture.  Keeping humidity between 30% and 50% will help slow mold growth.  The sooner you eliminate moisture the better.

I feel it’s my responsibility to tell the home owner what I see regardless of my certifications.  It’s not rocket science when you see a green, black or white fuzzy substance to assume it doesn’t belong there unless it’s part of a Halloween decoration.  I will always recommend having it tested.  With so many different types of mold there is always a possibility that you may be exposed to serious health hazards.

The EPA has some good information and a booklet that will answer many of your questions and then some.

If I was a lawn inspector and wasn’t certified in trees I would have to say something like, “I was looking at your front yard and there is a big wooden thing with oak leaves on it.”  “It appears to be an organic growth.” “I recommend further evaluation.”  One of my mentors told me to not be a ‘girlie man’ and say what it is, not that it appears to be, or seems to be or could possibly be…………………………  OK………………… On your lawn is an Oak Tree.  There, I said it!

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Many are still dealing with the effects Hurricane Irene.  You can make all the preparations you want and sometimes our best efforts don’t help.  So what can you do “after the flood?”  The National Center for Healthy Housing has a Clean-up guide on their web-site that is full of good and often overlooked information on how to clean up after a flood.  It was developed after Katrina and revised since.  If not done correctly the air quality in your home can be compromised.

I won’t chat it up too much this time but I want you to know about this booklet that is available.  You may be able to help someone.

Prayers and blessings to all.

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About Lead-Based Paint

Lead is a highly toxic metal that may cause a range of health problems, especially in young children. When lead is absorbed into the body, it can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs, like the kidneys, nerves and blood.

Lead may also cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures and in extreme cases, death. Some symptoms of lead poisoning may include headaches, stomachaches, nausea, tiredness and irritability. Children who are lead poisoned may show no symptoms.

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