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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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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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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More often than not, when I check water temperatures during a home inspection, the temperature is set too high.  If you own the home it’s easy to get ‘used’ to a setting and you compensate. However a visitor that isn’t familiar with your home may get a surprise.  It’s not uncommon for me to find temperatures in excess of 140 degrees… that’s just TOO hot!  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urges all users to lower their water heaters to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  In addition to preventing accidents, this decrease in temperature will conserve energy and save money.

If you have a standalone water heater there is usually a dial on it where you can set the temperature, or if it’s not marked clearly, at least adjust it until the water is the right temp.  Here in Pennsylvania, boilers are common and with a Summer/Winter hookup, domestic water runs through a coil in the boiler and will always be too hot unless a tempering valve is installed.  About half of the homes I inspect have working tempering valves.

You can use a candy or cooking thermometer to check your water heater temperature. Go to the faucet nearest the water heater. Run the hot water for one full minute (this will heat the water pipes and give you a more accurate reading ). Fill a coffee cup from the faucet and read the thermometer.

This easy to do tip can save someone from getting burned.  Ask your Inspector to check this for you.

Helpful Links.

Water Heater Repair Guide.

U.S. Department of Energy.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Decisions to move, relocate or upgrade are being put off in this current economy.  Starter homes are becoming permanent homes.  Many are choosing to renovate, adding that room or upgrading others, but where should your priorities be?

Often overlooked are Air Conditioning units or roofs.  Even the Water Heater (some call it a Hot Water Heater others a Cold Water Heater), which is relatively inexpensive unless it fails, often get put off until it’s too late.  So… when you are budgeting for renovations you need to prioritize.

Home Inspections are not just for Buyers or Sellers, they are appropriate for those that are choosing to stay at home.  For less than the cost of a new water heater you can have a full Home Inspection, assess the condition of your whole home, and make choices on what needs to be done BEFORE the loan money is spent and you can’t get more!

Inspections can reveal moisture issues, mold, leaks, age and life expectancy of major components, and a host of other potential problems.  Sure a new kitchen will look nice, but if you have moisture issues that are affecting your foundation then the better choice is to fix what you have.  On the other hand, finding out everything is fine or in good condition can make moving ahead with a renovation the right call.

Wouldn’t a little piece of mind be nice?  Get your home inspected!

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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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Deck Safety.

It’s generally agreed that exterior decks have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years.  It seems like that is the rule for many appliances, so I guess decks wanted to get in the picture.  Unlike a failed air conditioner that will cause discomfort, a fail deck can cause injury or death.  Every year there are horror stories about a deck collapse.  What can you do to help insure safety?

If you are purchasing a home, your Home Inspector should include a snapshot of your deck’s condition and point out the usual failure points.  Over 50% of the decks I see have some issues either with connections to the building, improperly fastened joist hangers to rotten wood and bad railings.  However, you may not be buying a home every Spring, and having a Home Inspector hanging around your house can be kind of creepy.  There are other things you can do.

The North American Deck and Railing Association has a Deck Evaluation Form and a Consumer Checklist that you can download and do your own evaluation.  Simpson Strong Tie has good information also.  If anything looks wrong, or if you’re just not quite sure, please call a professional and have them check it out.  Don’t ruin your Summer with a poor choice when it comes to deck safety…. Check it out!

North American Deck & Railing Association.

Simpson Strong-Tie.

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If you have to go in your attic for something this time of year, the heat is unforgiving.  Besides trying to get out as soon as possible you should be thinking about ventilation and, “Do I have enough?”

Minimum recommended attic ventilation is 1 Sq Foot for every 300 Sq Feet of attic area.  Multiplying the length by the width of your home should give you the area.  You should have as much intake ventilation as exhaust ventilation.  Truth is you can’t have too much ventilation if you stick to the 50/50 rule.  50% intake under the eaves and 50% exhaust at or near the roof peak.  However, most homes have too little.  So what’s the big deal?

When I do a home inspection I’m on the warpath for moisture.  We often think of moisture in the form of rain or groundwater and these are culprits but moisture in the form of humidity can be just as evil.  Moisture in improperly ventilated attics can cause mold, mildew and rot.  Higher temperatures can shorten the life span of building materials like your roof.  Ventilation is just as important in the cold months too, but the hot weather can bring it to the forefront of our thinking, especially if you have to go “up there.”

Gable roofs are the easiest to ventilate because they have the longest ridges.  Hip roofs are more of a challenge as are Mansard roofs. Dormers create their own set of challenges.  Surprisingly many builders don’t understand proper ventilation and sometimes opt for the cheapest way to “Git-R-Done.”

A good Home Inspector should be looking at the attic ventilation as part of the overall picture.  If you are not planning on a home inspection in the near future, pick a cooler day and take a good look at your attic ventilation.  You can save money and costly repairs by simply increasing it.

A source of good information on ventilation is Lomanco.

Stay cool!

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Homeowners Agree Their Home Inspection Helped Them Avoid Potential Problems

A New Poll from ASHI Reports More Than 70 Percent of Homeowners Agree Their Home Inspection Helped Them Avoid Potential Problems

DES PLAINES, Ill.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI):

“It is important for consumers to do their homework before hiring an inspector”

  • Nearly 90 percent of all U.S. homeowners surveyed believe home inspections are a necessity, not a luxury.
  • A home inspection conducted by an ASHI Certified Inspector examines the physical structure and systems of a house.
  • ASHI is the only professional organization of home inspectors that has completed NCCA certification process.

Nearly three in four (72 percent) U.S. homeowners agree the home inspection they had when they purchased their current primary residence helped them avoid potential problems with their home, according to a survey released today by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Also, almost two in three (64 percent) noted, in the long run, they saved a lot of money as result of their home inspection. As the housing market begins to recover, ASHI encourages homeowners and buyers to hire a certified home inspector and to get a home inspection to help further protect their investment.

Complete Story.

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