Archive for category Safety

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, 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…!

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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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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.

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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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Hey, it’s getting chilly!

It’s nice to enter each season of the year with confidence.  Often we wait until it’s time to bump that thermostat up to take the chill off the room only to realize that something doesn’t smell right or the boiler or furnace doesn’t fire at all.  While some of us have Heat Pumps, many here in the Northeast still rely on Boilers, Furnaces or Wood Stoves for our primary heat.

My primary heat is an Airtight Wood Stove.  I know from experience that our chimney needs to be cleaned twice a year, so I get to it in August and then wait for a warm spell in January to get back on the roof for round #2.  In addition, we burn one tank of oil a year in an aging Weil-McLain boiler. Annual servicing of any oil fired system is recommended. Gas systems should be cleaned every 2 years, especially as they age.  Most all heat exchangers develop cracks that can leak Carbon Monoxide.  Most don’t become a problem especially if there is enough draft, but as they age these cracks become larger and more dangerous.  Unfortunately service technicians only do a quick cleaning since heat exchangers are difficult to inspect.  Asking them to specifically look for cracks shows that you have some knowledge of how the system works and want them to be concerned too.

Debates rage over the effectiveness of Carbon Monoxide detectors but the new Recommendation from the National Fire Protection Association is, CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound. It’s well worth the time to do some research on the different types and recommended placements of these devices.

The bottom line is;

-Don’t wait until the last minute to have your heating system cleaned and services.

-Check all your Smoke and CO detectors and replace as per manufacturer’s instructions.  They may beep when you push the test button but that doesn’t mean they are functioning properly.

-Now, kick your shoes off and enjoy Autumn…. pay that kid next door to rake your leaves.

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AFCI & Electrical Safety.

I used to turn off the Main Breaker to change a light bulb.  Electric just freaked me out.  Now, my clients remark about my bravery when I stick my fingers in open panels.  It’s more like stupidity.  Mind you, I don’t do it to be brave and most inspectors still don’t do it, and quite frankly, there isn’t a good reason to be doing it.  There are certain hazards associated with this and it is not a recommended practice, however sometimes I still do it.  Hard headed Italian comes to mind…

My point is (or started out to be) that electricity, while a wonderful convenience, is still something to be respected.  Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters were one of the great inventions for saving lives.  It’s not like I throw appliances in the sink while I’m washing dishes, but knowing the protection is there is comforting.

Standards for Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI’s) were being developed in the mid 1990’s and in January, 2002, AFCI’s were required in dwelling unit bedrooms.  AFCIs detect dangerous electrical conditions and shut the circuit off before an electrical fire has a chance to ignite.  Now protection is required in other rooms of the house.  It’s a good idea. While GFCIs save your life, AFCIs save your house.

Take for instance you see this nice lamp at a yard sale that would fit perfectly in the foyer or over a workbench in the garage (obviously not the same lamp).  Small lamp cords especially, can break down internally as well as on the outside.  Over a period of time it starts to ‘arc’ and eventually can start a fire.  I’m always telling my family to not walk on the extension cords to the floor fan or the iron.  Ever notice the ceramic holder for the light bulb spin just a little when you change the bulb?  So many things are potential hazards.  Arc fault fires are sleeping monsters.  AFCI breakers prevent the monsters from coming to life.

For more information see;

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