Galvanic corrosion (also known as bimetallic corrosion or dissimilar-metal corrosion) is an electrochemical disintegration that occurs when dissimilar metals come in contact with each other while immersed in an electrolyte. Galvanic corrosion is of major concern anywhere moisture can reach metal building components. Corrosion as
a broader category is defined as the disintegration of a material into its constituent parts, which may be caused by crevice corrosion, microbial corrosion, and high-temperature corrosion.
There are three conditions that must exist for galvanic corrosion to occur:
- Two electrochemically dissimilar metals must contact one another. They are dissimilar in the sense that they are far apart on the anodic index, which rates metals based on their electrode potentials. Metals that are more active (such as magnesium and zinc) will corrode in the presence of metals that are less active (such as gold and platinum).
- There must be an electrically conductive path between the two metals. Any non-metal, liquid substance that can conduct an electric current (such as saltwater or rainwater) can function as an electrolyte. Common examples are ordinary seawater, citric acid, and bases.
- An electrical path must exist to allow metal ions to move from the active metal to the less active metal. Typically, the metals merely touch one another.
The Statue of Liberty is perhaps the most famous case of galvanic corrosion. Contact between the wrought-iron support and the outer copper skin amidst rainwater exposure has allowed the structure to gradually corrode. The famous icon’s builder anticipated this problem and installed asbestos cloth soaked in shellac insulation in the 1880s. This worked for some time until it dried up and became porous, acting as a sponge that held saltwater close to the contact points between the two metals. An inspection in 1981 revealed severe galvanic corrosion of the iron supports, causing them to swell and push saddle rivets through the copper skin. This rapidly worsening situation was the main drive to restore the statue in 1986, when the iron was replaced with a variety of corrosion-resistant steel. The solution has held up, and native New Yorkers and visitors alike have been able to enjoy a landmark free from corrosion that will last long into the 21st century.
Examples in Houses
- ACQ (alkaline copper quaternary) lumber includes copper, which can corrode when it comes in contact with common aluminum building nails. With this type of lumber, it’s best to use G185 galvanized steel or stainless steel fasteners, as they will resist corrosion.
- Aluminum wiring can become compromised. In the presence of moisture, aluminum will undergo galvanic corrosion when it comes into contact with certain dissimilar metals.
- Piping commonly rusts and corrodes, especially at joints. The failure of pipe thread is commonly caused by corrosion where carbon steel pipe directly meets a brass valve, or where it transitions to copper pipe. Dielectric unions may be installed to separate these metals to resist damaging corrosion in pipe connections.
|Galvanic Corrosion on water heater piping|
- The elements of an electric water heater often rust and fail. The copper sheathe and steel base, if they become wet, may corrode. Installing galvanized unions with plastic nipples on the top of the water heater can prevent corrosion.
Galvanic Corrosion Can be Prevented in the Following Ways
- Electrically insulate the dissimilar metals. Plastic can be used to separate steel water pipes from copper-based fittings. A coat of grease can be used to insulate steel and aluminum parts.
- Shield the metal from ionic compounds. This is often accomplished by encasing the metal in epoxy or plastic, or painting it. Coating or protection should be applied to the more noble of the two metals, if it is impossible to coat both. Otherwise, greatly accelerated corrosion may occur at points of imperfection in the less noble (more active or anodic) metal.
- Choose metals that have similar potentials. Closely matched metals have less potential difference and, hence, less galvanic current. The best such solution is to build with only one type of metal.
- Electroplate the metals.
- Avoid threaded connections, as they are most severely weakened by galvanic corrosion.
In summary, galvanic corrosion is the disintegration of metals in the presence of an electrolyte. It can occur in homes wherever dissimilar, joined metals become damp.
To have your home inspected by a Certified Master Inspector, visit www.vhillc.com or call 210-202-1974.
Veteran Home Inspections was asked to contribute to this article on Redfin:
What to Look for When Buying a House
If you’ve ever been to an open house or toured a home then you’ve most likely marveled at different home layouts, lamented over beautifully designed kitchens or critiqued the color choice in the bathrooms. But beyond the veneer that makes a house shine to potential home buyers, have you ever wondered what could be lying below the surface?
Is the home you’re touring actually in good shape or are there hidden issues that only a trained eye can spot? Here’s your chance to learn what to look for when buying a house so you too can begin touring homes like a professional home inspector.
Inspecting the driveway
All parts of the home need to work in unison and that includes your driveway. When entering a driveway you’ll want to look at its surface conditions, levelness, and the areas around the driveway.
Walk the entire driveway, noting any deterioration, cracking, heaving or settling. Driveways are known to crack over time but the reasons behind these cracks can vary, such as:
- Improper compaction of the soil prior to pouring the concrete.
- Trees near the driveway can cause heaving if their roots grow underneath the concrete.
- A slope in the driveway can cause rainwater to settle, causing it to erode the supporting dirt below.
- Deterioration of any wood used in the pouring of the driveway may leave a gap that can both become a tripping hazard and a means of moisture entering the fissure, causing more damage.
Inspecting the living room
When inspecting the living room, use three passes to look at everything.
On the first pass, walk the floor in a circle and look for any signs of the floor moving or shifting, water damage, or any damage to the floor itself.
During the second pass, check out the ceiling by walking around the room again. Check for water stains and any cracks that could indicate a structural problem. Also, check out any air conditioning vents to see if they are clean, as dust or other debris around these vents may signal a lack of maintenance.
On your third pass, look only at the walls, keeping an eye out for cracks or separations between the walls, the ceiling, or the fireplace that could be another indication of a structural problem. Look at the electrical outlets to make sure they are clean (not painted) and don’t show any indications of smoke or burn marks. And don’t forget to check all of the light switches and ceiling fans to make sure they work.
Inspecting the fireplace
Fireplaces can be an attractive focal point in many homes. It’s a place where family and friends get together to relax and warm themselves during the cold winter months. That’s why when touring a home you’ll want to know if that fireplace with a great mantle is a winner, or if it will be in need of repair.
First, you’ll want to inspect the exterior of the chimney by looking for any structural issues around the foundation, as well as the chimney case, crown, flue and cap (if installed). Whether it’s around the foundation, firebox area, or chimney case you should make a note of any signs of cracks as these indicate some deterioration. These cracks could have occurred from normal settling of a home, movement from past earthquakes, or the deterioration could have been caused by years of moisture seeping into these cracks, resulting in more damage. Most of the time these areas can be repaired by a mason.
Inspection of the chimney crown, flue and cap usually means a trip up to the roof, which during a home tour you most likely won’t do. If you decide to make an offer on the house, your home inspector will look for any damage to these areas to make sure dangerous carbon monoxide or moisture is not reentering the home.
Inside the home, you’ll want to inspect the fireplace for signs of cracked or damaged mortar and brickwork. Your home inspector will go one step further by inspecting the fireplace throat and determine if it has a proper sized hearth and that the mantel is secured properly.
Inspecting fire and carbon monoxide detectors
In a newly constructed home, smoke detectors should be installed inside each bedroom and in the adjoining area outside the bedroom door (such as a hallway). Newer homes are required to have smoke detectors wired into the electrical system with battery back-ups. They should be interconnected so that activation of one alarm sets off all alarms. In older homes, at least one smoke detector is required per floor, including basements, and should be within 21 feet of each bedroom.
Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are highly recommended for homes with gas appliances such as stoves, hot water heaters, furnaces, and when the home has an attached garage. They should be installed on each floor of the home and within 15 feet of all bedrooms.
After you buy a home, it is a good idea to test the smoke and CO detectors every 2-3 months to ensure functionality. You’ll also want to replace your batteries regularly and it is recommended that you replace your devices after 10 years.
Inspecting the kitchen
A good idea for prospective homeowners attending an open house or touring a home privately is to look under the kitchen sink, which can actually tell you a lot about the overall condition of a house.
If you see a well-kept cabinet under the sink, it’s usually a good reflection about the upkeep of the rest of the home. In fact, if you see water damage or possible mold under the kitchen sink, it usually means the rest of the house is in disrepair. Of course, this doesn’t always hold true but more often than not, it’s a great barometer of the house as a whole.
When touring a home like a home inspector, the kitchen is obviously a major component since they are unique in regards to the volume of items that can have issues.
During a typical inspection, home inspectors usually operate all installed appliances such as the dishwasher, range/oven, microwave, vent hood, disposal, and sink. They also note issues with the countertops, cabinets and drawers, R/O systems, compactors, and built-in refrigerators (if any).
In each bathroom, you will want to turn on all the lights and the bathroom fan. If there isn’t a fan, make sure you take note because if you end up buying the house you’ll need to open a window every time you shower. Also, you’ll want to check and make sure there is a heat/air conditioning vent.
Next, look for water stains around the toilet, the bathtub/shower, and especially under the sink. You’ll also want to make sure the toilet is secure. Start by straddling it and then using your knees see if the toilet rocks or moves.
Look at any glass within five feet of the shower or bath and make sure there is a tempered stamp etched in the corner. Do the same for the shower doors as well if they are glass. You’ll also want to check for water damage around windows of the shower enclosure. Then make sure the shower head pipes and faucets don’t wiggle.
Check for an electrical outlet within thirty inches of each sink and that they are 3-prong (grounded). One of the bathrooms should have a GFCI electrical outlet. You can easily spot it as it’s the outlet with the two buttons in the middle.
Finally, look at the ceiling, walls, and floors to make sure there isn’t any damage. If the bathrooms are on an upper level, go downstairs and look for water stains or patches on the ceiling under the bathrooms.
Houses with bedrooms that are too small, too few or on the wrong floor can make a great house dysfunctional for your needs. Luckily, when it comes to inspecting, bedrooms are easy for most homebuyers to evaluate for themselves.
You’ll want to note the number of windows each bedroom has. Something that most people do not realize is that building codes do not require a bedroom to have a closet, so make sure to see if each bedroom has one.
Bedrooms also require several important features and security measures, such as a smoke alarm, an emergency escape/rescue opening (such as a window or door), heat, and some means of light and ventilation. The condition of the bedroom will often be indicative of the overall condition of the house as damaged and scratched doors, stained walls and carpets, and dirty ductwork can indicate a poorly maintained home. Consider the heating and cooling system for each room and note any bedrooms above garages as with older houses these can be less comfortable.
Inspecting the basement
The basement may not be the place you seek out first on a home tour. However, basements can offer great extra space in a home that you can potentially use as extra bedrooms, a family room or playroom, or storage area.
If the basement is unfinished and insulation is not covering the foundation walls, then you have a great opportunity to view the foundation wall for signs of structural concerns. While minor concrete cracking is somewhat typical, larger cracks and, in particular, horizontal cracks, can be an indication of structural movement.
A white powder-like substance called efflorescence, can be an indication of poor drainage around the home and possibly a grading or gutter issue. Your nose is one of the best tools for inspecting a basement. If things smell musty or damp, this can also be an indication of moisture concerns.
Lastly, look around for signs of any unwanted insects or rodents who tend to make their way into a home through the basement. Droppings could indicate a pest concern.
Inspecting the garage
When entering the garage make sure all light switches work. Though you most likely won’t check electrical outlets during a home tour, your home inspector will do it for you during the home inspection and report any that are not working.
You’ll want to check the walls and ceiling to see if they are fully sheetrocked. Sheetrock provides a fire barrier to your home when properly installed.Also, make sure that the access point to the attic also has a sheetrock cover; if it’s just plywood this would be a breach in the fire barrier.
Test the garage doors and the wall mounted remote as well. Look at the condition of the springs, tracks, and rollers of the garage door. Do they appear to be in good condition? Your home inspector will go further by testing all remotes, the laser eye barrier, and reverse sensor to make sure it meets minimal resistance.
Look at the garage floor, also known as the garage slab. Slight cracks are pretty common, but you should take note if you see excessive cracks or settlement.
Below are things you won’t typically see during a home tour. However, your home inspector will certainly look into these areas of the house during a home inspection.
Inspecting the HVAC
One of the largest systems in the home, the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems (HVAC), require periodic maintenance to ensure they run properly for years. Neglected and dirty HVAC equipment is the main reason for system failures. Though you most likely won’t inspect these systems, here’s an overview of what’s involved during an inspection:
- Visual inspection of each component of the system if it is accessible.
- Check for loose connections, leaking gas lines, worn out components, and damaged coolant lines.
- Inspect the heat exchanger and evaporator coils to ensure they are clean and in good condition.
- Listen for hard starts, irregular combustion, and worn out bearings.
- Check for clogs in the condensate line and verify there is a proper discharge location.
- Check the filter to ensure it has been changed regularly.
The average gas furnace lasts 15-25 years, the heat pump about 12-20 years, and standalone AC 12-15 years. An annual inspection is a small investment to protect your HVAC system. It’s a good idea to maintain your HVAC system biannually in the spring for air-conditioning units and the fall for furnaces. To improve efficiency, use a small portable vacuum to remove any dust buildup on the system and the air-conditioning coils.
Inspecting water heater
You probably won’t personally inspect the water heater during an open house, however, you can count on your home inspector to:
- Visually inspect the surfaces of the tank and plumbing lines for signs of leakage and overall condition.
- Verify proper earthquake strapping—one strap on the top third of the tank, one strap on the lower third.
- If it’s a gas water heater, the home inspector will inspect the fuel supply piping, ensure a proper sediment trap is present, check the length and type of the flexible fuel supply hose, and look at the burner and venting from the water heater.
- If it’s an electric water heater, they will ensure the electrical supply is protected in the conduit, check for a ground wire attachment on top of the tank, and ensure the element covers are present and properly secured.
- Inspect the Temperature Pressure Relief (TPR) valve and ensure proper material, routing, and termination of the discharge piping.
- Evaluate for vehicle impact if in a garage – typically, a bollard (post) should be present in case the water heater is in the path of a vehicle.
- Look at the area around the tank checking for past leaks, ensure the tank is sitting on a stable base.
- Refer to the manufacturer’s identification label for size, age, and capacity of the tank.
Inspecting the home’s exterior
When approaching the home, take a look at the roof ridge to make sure it is level and not sagging. This will give you a clue that the house itself is not sinking and the walls are not spreading. It can also give you a feel for the solidity of the roof support.
Look at the grounds around the home and make sure the soil is sloped away from the home and that gutters, downspouts, and downspout extensions are present and in good shape. This is especially important if the home has a basement as it helps prevent water intrusion into the basement and to protect the integrity of the foundation.
Walk around the home observing the condition of the siding, eaves, fascia, and soffits. Look for wood rot, termite damage, and water staining, as well as carefully examine caulking and flashings. Look for deteriorated or missing caulk and flashings especially around windows, doors, butt joints, and siding transitions. These simple observations can save some huge expenses down the road.
Inspecting the Landscape Irrigation (sprinkler) System
On a home tour, take note if the property has an irrigation sprinkler system, as many homes have these types of systems to water the lawn. Though you probably won’t be able to test it, your home inspector will inspect the irrigation system controller along with each sprinkler zone.
Any broken sprinkler heads and leaks found will be noted, and the backflow valve will be visually inspected for damage. The findings of the inspection will be included in your home inspection report along with photos of each zone during operation.
Inspecting the fence of a residence is extremely important as it provides for the safety and security of a home. During a home tour, you’ll first want to note what material the fence is made of (most commonly treated wood) and then see if there is any indication of rot, damage, and other signs of deterioration.
The home inspector will also look for those same things but then test the amount of resistance the fence can withstand and what type of code may need to be applied. Once those items have been identified, the inspector is notified about the property line to ensure they are inspecting the proper fencing for the specific property. Next, the inspector will then assess whether the standard expectations associated with the fence have been applied, including:
- 4×4 posts should be at least 2 feet in the ground and they should be 6 to 8 feet from each other depending upon the crossbar and planks being used.
- Concrete used to hold each post in place should be 3 times the width of the 4×4 posts.
- The crossbar should be a 2×4 if being used with the standard 4×4 posts.
- Each post should be perfectly vertical or plumb.
- The proper industry standard brackets need to be used to secure the cross beams to the posts.
- Any insect damage will be carefully identified.
Only if all of these standards are identified with the fence in mind can the inspector be sure that the fence is meeting code and will provide safety and security for the homeowners.
James Beck JR
Decks can be a great asset, especially during the summertime, but also they may have hidden hazards. Often times, they were added to a home by do-it-yourselfers who had good intentions but may not have used safe construction methods.
During a home tour, pay particular attention to how decks attach to the home, which is usually done with a ledger or starter board. A pro will use ½” lag bolts with washers in a staggered pattern to attach this board. They also will protect the ledger with flashing to stop water infiltration. If there is no flashing water will weaken and rot the ledger over time, possibly finding its way into the home and causing hidden pockets of rot and mold.
Railings also get extra scrutiny at inspection. Did you know that railings need to resist 200 pounds of force at any point along their length? Always look at a deck with safety in mind. If someone stumbles at your next BBQ, the railing needs to prevent them from going over the edge.
There are many considerations when it comes to deck construction and all decks should be professionally inspected and regularly maintained.
Inspecting retaining walls
Retaining walls are used to hold back earth and landscaping and are typically made of poured-in-place concrete and then backfilled. You want to make sure these walls are perfectly plumb (vertical) without any leaning away from the retained earth.
This rule also applies to basement foundation walls as well. Besides the retaining wall being plumb, there should not be any significant cracks. Small fractures are typical but any differential movement on either side of the crack may be of concern.
If there is a crack, see if it is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, which would indicate one portion of the wall is sinking in relation to the other. If one part of the wall is sticking out in relation to the other side of the crack, that is a concern as well. Sometimes these walls can be lifted back into position or pulled back towards the earth but this generally requires excavation and added structural support.
Inspecting the roof
Each type of roofing has a different life expectancy. However, the variables of installation, exposure, attic venting, and maintenance are what determine the actual life of each roof.
Roof inspection begins in the attic by checking for water staining, leaks, damaged roof members, and evaluating the available venting. Heat and moisture build up quickly in improperly vented attics and shorten the lifespan of the roof.
An accurate assessment of the roof condition can only be determined from closely examining the surface of the roofing. Inspectors will look to determine the number of roof layers, such as multiple layers of roofing hold more heat which causes more wear. Once on the roof, we evaluate the surface of the roofing, flashing, and roof transitions. We also evaluate roof penetrations (skylights, vents, chimneys) and note conditions like overhanging trees that can damage the roofing.
Inspecting the foundation
The most important part of any home, foundations are primarily built with stone, brick, concrete or block. A home inspector will inspect the foundation for any damage that can affect the integrity of the house.
When inspecting the foundation the inspector looks at both the exterior and interior for cracks, deterioration, and other environmental factors. Most foundation damage is the result of water infiltration such as a missing gutter system, which can result in water entering cracks and crevices of the foundation and then, in the colder winter months, freezing, resulting in damage due to hydrostatic pressure.
Type, size, and location of cracks in the foundation are very important to note. Any cracks in the foundation should be monitored over time for movement and water penetration. Shrinkage and settlement cracks are common in most homes, as are hairline cracks in foundations. V-Shape cracks are something to be concerned about as these could be evidence of structural settlement. Depending upon the size and location, these cracks generally require further evaluation, especially those greater than 3/16 of an inch.
Inspecting crawl spaces
Every part of the country has their own unwanted pests, so when inspecting the crawl space be aware that you might not be alone. As such, a strong flashlight and keen eyesight are required.
The most important system in the crawl space is the foundation. There are several types of foundations, each with their own unique components and possible problems. Regardless of which type of foundation the home has, look for loose material (stone, bricks, etc..), bulging walls, excessive settling, sagging, moisture intrusion, and how the building structure is secured.
Ventilation and moisture control are another key factor. Is a vapor barrier required in your area? Is there sufficient vent area for outside air to displace the moisture? Dryer vents should never end in the crawl space, and HVAC ducts should be supported and insulated. In colder climates, the floor should be well insulated from underneath.
Plumbing components in the crawl space should not only be inspected for leaks but also for proper supports, hangers, and insulation. Some crawl spaces have a sump pump to remove excess water and these should be inspected as well.
Electrical connections and terminations must be contained in sealed junction boxes and often, mechanical systems are found in the crawl space and require inspection.
Steven Von Ehrenkrook
I’d like everyone to take a minute to think about two potentially very dangerous situations. Both of them have to do with your garage. If your garage is attached to your house, you should have a door between them. The door needs to be able to withstand a fire in the garage, as well as help keep deadly gasses from seeping through (like Carbon Monoxide). Because of these threats, the door must meet some very specific requirements. These are addressed in the International Residential Code:
“R302.5.1 Opening protection. Openings from a private garage directly into a room used for sleeping purposes shall not be permitted. Other openings between the garage and residence shall be equipped with solid wood doors not less than 1-3/8 inches (35 mm) in thickness, solid or honeycomb-core steel doors not less than 1-3/8 inches (35 mm) thick, or 20-minute fire-rated doors, equipped with a selfclosing device.”
Fire resistance: The door must be able to withstand a fire in the garage long enough for you to get out of the house. Preferably long enough for the fire department to get there and extinguish the fire. One of the most common defects I find in my area is that the door isn’t thick enough. The common practice here is to use a solid wood door, which would normally be fine. However, a flat panel door doesn’t seem to fit in the decor of all the houses here, so most often I see 6-panel doors. These doors are about 1-5/8″ – 1-3/4″ thick, but if you measure the thickness at the recesses in the door, it’s less than 1-3/8″. These doors do not meet the stated requirement, and should be replaced with a door that does.
Self-Closing: This requirement is there for one purpose, to make sure the door is fully closed so that it can do its job. It can’t keep fire and carbon monoxide out of the house if it’s open. The way the requirement is written, a lot of people read it that a self-closing device is only required on 20-minute fire-rated doors. The confusion comes about because of the oxford comma before the last requirement. I reached out to the International Code Council (the group that writes the International Residential Code) for clarification, and they replied: “The self-closing device is a requirement for all the types of doors mentioned in Section R302.5.1”
So, please take a minute and go check the door to your garage. If it looks like the door in this picture, you probably have an improper door. Also make sure that the self-closing devices reliably close the door to the point the latch catches. If not, have them adjusted. Your safety could depend on it.
Improper Fire Door
Of course this is just one of the many things we inspect during our comprehensive home inspection. To book your inspection, call 210-202-1974, or click here
to book online.
We frequently get asked what the difference is between AFCI and GFCI protection is. Here is a short post about AFCIs, describing their function, as well as their importance.
Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are special types of electrical receptacles or outlets and circuit breakers designed to detect and respond to potentially dangerous electrical arcs in home branch wiring.
How do they work?
AFCIs function by monitoring the electrical waveform and promptly opening (interrupting) the circuit they serve if they detect changes in the wave pattern that are characteristic of a dangerous arc. They also must be capable of distinguishing safe, normal arcs, such as those created when a switch is turned on or a plug is pulled from a receptacle, from arcs that can cause fires. An AFCI can detect, recognize, and respond to very small changes in wave pattern.
What is an arc?
When an electric current crosses an air gap from an energized component to a grounded component, it produces a glowing plasma discharge known as an arc. For example, a bolt of lightening is a very large, powerful arc that crosses an atmospheric gap from an electrically charged cloud to the ground or another cloud. Just as lightning can cause fires, arcs produced by domestic wiring are capable of producing high levels of heat that can ignite their surroundings and lead to structure fires.
According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency for the year 2005, electrical fires damaged approximately 20,900 homes, killed 500 people, and cost $862 million in property damage. Although short-circuits and overloads account for many of these fires, arcs are responsible for the majority and are undetectable by traditional (non-AFCI) circuit breakers.
Where are arcs likely to form?
Arcs can form where wires are improperly installed or when insulation becomes damaged. In older homes, wire insulation tends to crystallize as it ages, becoming brittle and prone to cracking and chipping. Damaged insulation exposes the current-carrying wire to its surroundings, increasing the chances that an arc may occur.
Situations in which arcs may be created:
- electrical cords damaged by vacuum cleaners or trapped beneath furniture or doors.
- damage to wire insulation from nails or screws driven through walls.
- appliance cords damaged by heat, natural aging, kinking, impact or over-extension.
- spillage of liquid.
- loose connections in outlets, switches and light fixtures.
Where are AFCIs required?
Locations in which AFCIs are required depend on the building codes adopted by their jurisdiction.
The 2006 International Residential Code (IRC) requires that AFCIs be installed within bedrooms in the following manner:
E3802.12 Arc-Fault Protection of Bedroom Outlets. All branch circuits that supply120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-amp outlets installed in bedrooms shall be protected by a combination-type or branch/feeder-type arc-fault circuit interrupter installed to provide protection of the entire branch circuit.
Exception: The location of the arc-fault circuit interrupter shall be permitted to be at other than the origination of the branch circuit, provided that:
- The arc-fault circuit interrupter is installed within 6 feet of the branch circuit overcurrent device as measured along the branch circuit conductors, and
- The circuit conductors between the branch circuit overcurrent device and the arc-fault circuit interrupter are installed in a metal raceway or a cable with metallic sheath.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) offers the following guidelines concerning AFCI placement within bedrooms:
Dwelling Units. All 120-volt, single phase, 15- and 20-ampere branch circuits supplying outlets installed in dwelling unit in family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, sun rooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, or similar rooms or areas shall be protected by a listed arc-fault circuit interrupter, combination-type installed to provide protection of the branch circuit.
What types of AFCIs are available?
AFCIs are available as circuit breakers for installation in the electrical distribution panel, as well as replacement receptacles to add protection on household circuits.. Nuisance Tripping
An AFCI might activate in situations that are not dangerous and create needless power shortages. This can be particularly annoying when an AFCI stalls power to a freezer or refrigerator, allowing its contents to spoil. There are a few procedures an electrical contractor can perform in order to reduce potential “nuisance tripping," such as:
- Check that the load power wire, panel neutral wire and load neutral wire are properly connected.
- Check wiring to ensure that there are no shared neutral connections.
- Check the junction box and fixture connections to ensure that the neutral conductor does not contact a grounded conductor.
Arc Faults vs. Ground Faults
It is important to distinguish AFCI devices from Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) devices. GFCIs detect ground faults, which occur when current leaks from a hot (ungrounded) conductor to a grounded object as a result of a short-circuit. This situation can be hazardous when a person unintentionally becomes the current’s path to the ground. GFCIs function by constantly monitoring the current flow between hot and neutral (grounding) conductors, and activate when they sense a difference of 5 milliamps or more. Thus, GFCIs are intended to prevent personal injury due to electric shock, while AFCIs prevent personal injury and property damage due to structure fires.
In summary, AFCIs are designed to detect small arcs of electricity before they have a chance to lead to a structure fire.
Now, before you go further, go to your electric panel, and make sure you have AFCI breakers. Push the test button on each one, and make sure it trips and you can reset it. If it doesn't trip, or you can't reset it, call an electrician to have it replaced. Make sure you test these breakers monthly.
To schedule your comprehensive home inspection (which of course includes an electrical inspection) either on a new home, or a home you already own, call 210-202-1974 or click here.
by Nick Gromicko, Mike Marlow and Kenton Shepard
Garage doors are large, spring-supported doors. Garage door openers control the opening and closing of garage doors, either through a wall-mounted switch or a radio transmitter. Due to the strain that garage door components and openers regularly endure, they may become defective over time and need to be fixed or replaced. Defective components may create safety hazards as well as functional deficiencies to the garage door assembly.
The following facts demonstrate the dangers posed by garage doors:
- Garage doors are typically among the heaviest moving objects in the home and are held under high tension.
- Injuries caused by garage doors account for approximately 20,000 emergency room visits annually, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
- The majority of the injuries caused by garage doors are the result of pinched fingers, although severe injuries and deaths due to entrapment occur as well. Sixty children have been killed since 1982 as a result of garage doors that did not automatically reverse upon contact.
Home owners should not attempt to fix any garage door defects they may encounter. They should have the door examined and repaired by a trained garage door technician. The following components should be present and devoid of defects:
- manual (emergency) release handle. All garage doors should be equipped with this device, which will detach the door from the door opener when activated. It is vital during emergency situations, such as when a person becomes trapped beneath the door or when a power outage cuts electricity to the door opener. Periodically activate the handle to make sure that it works, although they will have to reset the handle if it does not reset automatically. In order for the handle to be accessible and obvious, it must be…
- colored red;
- easily distinguishable from rest of the garage opener system; and
- no more than 6 feet above the standing surface.
- door panels. Both sides of the door should be examined for the following:
- cracking and dents. Aluminum doors are especially vulnerable to denting; and
- separation of materials.
- warning labels. The following four warning labels should be present on or around garage door assemblies:
- a spring warning label, attached to the spring assembly;
- a general warning label, attached to the back of the door panel;
- a warning label attached to the wall in the vicinity of the wall control button, and;
- a tension warning label, attached to garage door’s bottom bracket.
- brackets and roller shafts.
- Brackets. The garage door opener is connected to the garage door by a bracket that is essential to the function of the door opener system. Placement of the bracket where it attaches to the door is crucial to the operation of its safety features. It should attach 3 to 6 inches from the top of the door. This bracket, as well as all other brackets, should be securely attached to their surfaces.
- Roller shafts. Roller shafts should be longer on the top and bottom rollers. The top rollers are the most important. Without longer shafts, if one side of the door hangs up, the door may fall out of the opening.
- door operation. The door’s operation can be tested by raising the door manually, grasping the door’s handles if it has them. You can then make sure that the door:
- moves freely;
- does not open or close too quickly; and
- opens and closes without difficulty.
Note: Do not operate the door until you have inspected the track mounts and bracing. Doors have been known to fall on people and cars when they were operated with tracks that were not securely attached and supported.
- extension spring containment cables. Older garage doors may use extension springs to counter-balance the weight of the door. These require a containment cable inside the spring to prevent broken parts from being propelled around the garage if the spring snaps. Most new garages use shaft-mounted torsion springs that do not require containment cables.
- wall-mounted switch. This device must be present and positioned as high as is practical above the standing surface (at least five feet as measured from the bottom of the switch) so that children do not gain access.
In addition, the button must:
- be mounted in clear view of the garage door; and
- be mounted away from moving parts.
Important note: You should always make sure to disable the manual lock on the garage door before activating the switch.
- automatic reverse system. As of 1991, garage doors are required to be equipped with a mechanism that automatically reverses the door if it comes in contact with an object. It is important that the door reverses direction and opens completely, rather than merely halting. If a garage door fails this test, get it repaired. A dial on the garage door opener controls the amount of pressure required to trigger the door to reverse. This dial can be adjusted by a qualified garage door technician if necessary.
Methods for testing the automatic reverse system:
- This safety feature can be tested by grasping the base of the garage door as it closes and applying upward resistance. Use caution while performing this test because you may accidentally damage its components if the door does not reverse course.
- Some sources recommend placing a 2x4 piece of wood on the ground beneath the door, although there have been instances where this testing method has damaged the door or door opener components.
- supplemental automatic reverse system. Garage doors manufactured in the U.S. after 1992 must be equipped with photoelectric sensors or a door edge sensor.
- Photoelectric eyes. These eyes (also known as photoelectric sensors) are located at the base of each side of the garage door and emit and detect beams of light. If this beam is broken, it will cause the door to immediately reverse direction and open. For safety reasons, photo sensors must be installed a maximum of 6 inches above the standing surface.
- Door edge sensors. This device is a pressure-sensitive strip installed at the base of the garage door. If it senses pressure from an object while the door is closing, it will cause the door to reverse. Door edge sensors are not as common in garage door systems as photoelectric eyes.
Safety Advice for Home Owners:
- Homeowners should not attempt to adjust or repair springs themselves. The springs are held under extremely high tension and can snap suddenly and forcefully, causing serious or fatal injury.
- No one should stand or walk beneath a garage door while it is in motion. Adults should set an example for children and teach them about garage door safety. Children should not be permitted to operate the garage door opener push button and should be warned against touching any of the door’s moving parts.
- Fingers and hands should be kept away from pulleys, hinges and springs, and the intersection points between door panels. Closing doors can very easily crush body parts that get between them.
- The automatic reversal system may need to be adjusted for cold temperatures, since the flexibility of the springs is affected by temperature. This adjustment can be made from a dial on the garage door opener, which should be changed only by a trained garage door technician.
In summary, garage doors and their openers can be hazardous if certain components are missing or defective. Inspectors should understand these dangers and be prepared to offer useful safety tips to their clients.
Inspecting the garage door and installed openers is just one of the many things we inspect during a Veteran Home Inspection. To schedule your inspection, call 210-202-1974 or book online at www.vhillc.com
One of the most common issues we note during home inspections is with dryer ducts. For what appears to be a simple system, there are some very important intricacies that have to be followed to make sure they are safe.
Clothes dryers evaporate the water from wet clothing by blowing hot air past them while they tumble inside a spinning drum. Heat is provided by an electrical heating element or gas burner. Some heavy garment loads can contain more than a gallon of water which, during the drying process, will become airborne water vapor and leave the dryer and home through an exhaust duct (more commonly known as a dryer vent).
A vent that exhausts moist air to the home's exterior has a number of requirements:
- It should be connected. The connection is usually behind the dryer but may be beneath it. Look carefully to make sure it’s actually connected.
- It should not be restricted. Dryer vents are often made from flexible plastic or metal duct, which may be easily kinked or crushed where they exit the dryer and enter the wall or floor. This is often a problem since dryers tend to be tucked away into small areas with little room to work. Vent elbows are available which is designed to turn 90° in a limited space without restricting the flow of exhaust air. Restrictions should be noted in the inspector's report. Airflow restrictions are a potential fire hazard.
- One of the reasons that restrictions are a potential fire hazard is that, along with water vapor evaporated out of wet clothes, the exhaust stream carries lint – highly flammable particles of clothing made of cotton and polyester. Lint can accumulate in an exhaust duct, reducing the dryer’s ability to expel heated water vapor, which then accumulates as heat energy within the machine. As the dryer overheats, mechanical failures can trigger sparks, which can cause lint trapped in the dryer vent to burst into flames. This condition can cause the whole house to burst into flames. Fires generally originate within the dryer but spread by escaping through the ventilation duct, incinerating trapped lint, and following its path into the building wall.
InterNACHI believes that house fires caused by dryers are far more common than are generally believed, a fact that can be appreciated upon reviewing statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency. Fires caused by dryers in 2005 were responsible for approximately 13,775 house fires, 418 injuries, 15 deaths, and $196 million in property damage. Most of these incidents occur in residences and are the result of improper lint cleanup and maintenance. Fortunately, these fires are very easy to prevent.
The recommendations outlined below reflect International Residential Code (IRC) SECTION M1502 CLOTHES DRYER EXHAUST guidelines:
M1502.5 Duct construction.
Exhaust ducts shall be constructed of minimum 0.016-inch-thick (0.4 mm) rigid metal ducts, having smooth interior surfaces, with joints running in the direction of air flow. Exhaust ducts shall not be connected with sheet-metal screws or fastening means which extend into the duct.
This means that the flexible, ribbed vents used in the past should no longer be used. They should be noted as a potential fire hazard if observed during an inspection.
M1502.6 Duct length.
The maximum length of a clothes dryer exhaust duct shall not exceed 25 feet (7,620 mm) from the dryer location to the wall or roof termination. The maximum length of the duct shall be reduced 2.5 feet (762 mm) for each 45-degree (0.8 rad) bend, and 5 feet (1,524 mm) for each 90-degree (1.6 rad) bend. The maximum length of the exhaust duct does not include the transition duct.
This means that vents should also be as straight as possible and cannot be longer than 25 feet. Any 90-degree turns in the vent reduce this 25-foot number by 5 feet, since these turns restrict airflow.
A couple of exceptions exist:
- The IRC will defer to the manufacturer’s instruction, so if the manufacturer’s recommendation permits a longer exhaust vent, that’s acceptable. An inspector probably won’t have the manufacturer’s recommendations, and even if they do, confirming compliance with them exceeds the scope of a General Home Inspection.
- The IRC will allow large radius bends to be installed to reduce restrictions at turns, but confirming compliance requires performing engineering calculation in accordance with the ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook, which definitely lies beyond the scope of a General Home Inspection.
M1502.2 Duct termination.
Exhaust ducts shall terminate on the outside of the building or shall be in accordance with the dryer manufacturer’s installation instructions. Exhaust ducts shall terminate not less than 3 feet (914 mm) in any direction from openings into buildings. Exhaust duct terminations shall be equipped with a backdraft damper. Screens shall not be installed at the duct termination.
We see many dryer vents terminate in crawlspaces or attics where they deposit moisture, which can encourage the growth of mold, wood decay, or other material problems. Sometimes they will terminate just beneath attic ventilators. This is a defective installation. They must terminate at the exterior and away from a door or window. Also, screens may be present at the duct termination and can accumulate lint and will be noted as improper.
M1502.3 Duct size.
The diameter of the exhaust duct shall be as required by the clothes dryer’s listing and the manufacturer’s installation instructions.
Look for the exhaust duct size on the data plate.
M1502.4 Transition ducts.
Transition ducts shall not be concealed within construction. Flexible transition ducts used to connect the dryer to the exhaust duct system shall be limited to single lengths not to exceed 8 feet (2438 mm), and shall be listed and labeled in accordance with UL 2158A.
Required support for lengthy ducts is covered by the following section:
M1502.4.2 Duct installation.Exhaust ducts shall be supported at intervals not to exceed 12 feet (3,658 mm) and shall be secured in place. The insert end of the duct shall extend into the adjoining duct or fitting in the direction of airflow. Exhaust duct joints shall be sealed in accordance with Section M1601.4.1 and shall be mechanically fastened. Ducts shall not be joined with screws or similar fasteners that protrude more than 1/8-inch (3.2 mm) into the inside of the duct.
In general, we may not know specific manufacturer’s recommendations or local applicable codes and will not be able to confirm the dryer vent's compliance to them, but will be able to point out issues that may need to be corrected.
To schedule your home inspection, visit www.vhillc.com
or call 210-202-1974
by Nick Gromicko, Mike Marlow, and Kenton Shepard
by Nick Gromicko and Mike Marlow
Here in Texas, every time we get a hail storm through the area, the shady contractors show up offering to replace your roof. Additionally, contractors don’t have to be licensed except in the larger cities, so anyone can call themselves a contractor. It’s truly buyer beware around here, so read on to learn more about some of the schemes that are pulled.
Homeowners have more to worry about than being ripped off by shady contractors in this lagging economy, but such a climate brings desperation — and with it, sadly, fraud. Of course, the majority of tradesmen are generally honest professionals, but there is a large number of unscrupulous contractors who will fix items that don’t need fixing, or grossly overcharge you for services or parts. Worse, there are plenty of con artists posing as tradesmen who will simply take your money and run. Inspectors are often the first ones to uncover such fraud, so they too need to be familiar with its common forms in order to best serve their clients.
Some common home repair scams include:
- roof work. Con artists are known to travel from state to state following natural disasters and looking for victims of storms. Beware of people who suddenly arrive in your neighborhood, offering to fix your roof at a discount. Also, don’t trust a roofer who makes an assessment of a leaky roof from the ground without examining it. Very often, the flashing is all that needs to be replaced, even when the tradesman tries to convince you that you need a whole new roof.
- driveway sealers. This time-honored grift has a tradesmen pulling up to your home in his truck and offering to re-seal your driveway using leftover “sealant” from a job “just down the block.” The low price is unbelievable, and so is the job. Generally, the sealant is paint or some other cheap, black spray media that will quickly wash away with the next rain.
- termites. Myths that exaggerate the dangers of termites abound, and homeowners can be easily duped into unnecessary treatment. Ask for prices from more than one company and compare their services. Make sure to get a guarantee that covers you in case termites return within a given period of time. Read the guarantee and the rest of the contract carefully before you sign! Be on guard for the following ruses:
- The exterminator shows you termites on a fence or woodpile that is not connected to your house. If he were competent and honest, he would know that these termites pose no threat to your home.
- He (but not you) witnesses “evidence.” Make the exterminator show you the alleged evidence of the infestation. Termite-damaged wood is hollowed out along the grain, with bits of soil or mud lining the galleries.
- He offers a free termite inspection, and his motives are questionable to begin with. He may bring the evidence to your house with him.
- chimney sweeps. Beware of any chimney sweep who arrives at your door unannounced, offering to perform his services for a low price. He might say that he’s just worked on your neighbor’s chimney, and offer you a suspiciously low price for a sweep. The inspection will uncover “problems” that quickly balloon the price.
- HVAC specialists. The most common HVAC rip-offs are replacing parts that work fine and substituting used parts for new ones. If you get suspicious, ask to see the alleged broken parts before they’re replaced, and look at the packaging and documentation for the new parts before they’re installed. If possible, have HVAC work performed in the off-season, as it may be significantly cheaper.
- plumbers. Parts cost plumbers only a tiny fraction of the total charge for their services, but some plumbers will still cut corners to boost their profit. They may use plastic or low-grade metal, for instance, or 1/2-inch pipe instead of 3/4-inch pipe. Ask what they are installing and how long the parts will last.
- painters. Some painters agree to use a specific brand of high-quality paint, then pour cheap paint into name-brand cans. Most of the cans the painter brings with him should be sealed when the job is started. If not, ask why. Other painters skimp on the prep work.
Homeowners should heed the following advice whenever they hire a contractor:
- Go to OverSeeIt.com to find an InterNACHI inspector who will stop by and make sure your construction project is done right.
- If you are calling a contractor for an estimate and you live in an affluent neighborhood, don’t mention your address or phone number until you get the estimate. You can even call a tradesman in a less wealthy town or neighborhood that’s nearby, as their price will likely be lower than the going rate in your area.
- Try to negotiate a flat rate if the tradesman has no idea how much the job is going to cost. This is especially helpful in plumbing work, as almost all pipes are hidden behind walls and the job can easily become more complicated than originally planned.
- Ask if the tradesman charges for travel time. If he does, it may be cheaper to choose someone who is closer. Also ask if he charges for time spent traveling to supply stores.
- Know your contractor. Be sure he is licensed, and get a written agreement stating the cost and the work to be performed.
- Beware of any contractor who shows up at your door unannounced or calls you on the phone. Con artists must move every so often to frustrate law enforcement, so they have no fixed address and rely on door-to-door or phone solicitation. For the same reason, their invoices may contain only a P.O. box rather than a street address.
- Always be wary of a contractor who recommends a particular company or individual after “discovering” a problem, as he will probably receive a kickback for the referral, so you cannot trust his advice.
- Beware of a contractor who tries to unnecessarily increase the scope of a project. Also known as an upseller, these people will do the following:
- not offer you a range of options, including cheaper alternatives or work that is different than what you had anticipated; or
- use scare tactics to persuade you to take his recommendations.
- Beware of contractors who insist that they are charging you only for what they paid for the materials, if they are, in fact, making a profit on the materials. Material over-charging is unethical if the contractor lies about it.
- Beware of material-swapping, in which the contractor will buy premium products and make you reimburse him, but then he returns the product for something cheaper and of lower quality, and pockets the difference. If you suspect material-swapping, you can uncover the farce at the end of the job by comparing the packaging with the products listed on the receipt.
- Do not give a large down-payment. It may be appropriate to pay a small percentage of the total estimate up front, but if the contractor asks for most (or all) of the money up front, he may be a con artist. Even if he does return to perform the work, he may botch the job or leave it unfinished, leaving you with little power to contest. And, of course, never pay in cash.
- If you are elderly, be on heightened alert for scammers because you will be targeted more often than your children.
In summary, homeowners and inspectors alike should be wise to the plethora of ways that home repair contractors, or those posing as such, rip off their clients. Don’t be afraid to call Veteran Home Inspections at 210-202-1974 to have us inspect your home for needed repairs, or to check up on your contractor’s work. We do not work on houses we inspect, so we are completely impartial. You can also check us out online at www.vhillc.com
So, you want to buy a house cheap, and you look to the foreclosure market. Considering the over-abundance of these properties and just how little many of them are going for, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon and buy up. And it may pay off as a long-term investment. But, like any other major purchase, you should know as much as you can about a property before you buy it, which is why home inspections, performed by certified InterNACHI inspectors, are necessary.
Unfortunately, many real estate agents, who don’t like bargaining with banks, are advising clients that home inspections are of no value as a bargaining tool, since banks don’t negotiate on “as is” properties. As an added disincentive, banks selling properties “as is” have no legal responsibility for any lurking defects. While the agent's advice to forgo an inspection as a means to negotiate on the price may be logical, it is startlingly counter-intuitive, and possibly even negligent. Would you buy a car without knowing whether it has a transmission? The same premise holds true for a house, regardless of whether you intend to live in it, or fix it and flip it. The Realtor may be trying to salvage a deal that could possibly be scrapped if an inspector uncovers damage that the bank is unwilling to pay for, and you, as the buyer, have to realize that the agent's advice is not in your best interest. In this case, they’re putting you at risk in order to ensure they get their commission.
Any Realtor advising against an inspection on a foreclosure (or neglecting to recommend that one be performed) is ignoring the likelihood that, long before the previous owners stopped making mortgage payments, they deferred required maintenance tasks. Moisture intrusion leading to leaks and mold are just a few of the major problems commonly found by inspectors in foreclosed properties. Tales abound of bizarre discoveries in abandoned properties, from wild boars to colossal bees nests. Former owners may loot their own properties, taking with them anything they can pry up or unscrew, and leave behind trash and junk that you have to pay for to have removed.
There are also stories of foreclosed properties that have been intentionally vandalized by their former owners in acts of retaliation against their banks. In one infamous case in early 2010, an Ohioan bulldozed his $250,000 home after the IRS placed liens on his carpet store, and then threatened to take his house. The damage done by the owner was apparent, but there are probably less extreme situations where the damage isn’t as obvious, making a home inspection of utmost priority.
You should always get a home inspection before buying a property, especially when you’re buying a bank-owned foreclosure. In such cases, it may be impossible to find out how well the home was cared for, or whether major damage was done right before the past owners left the property. Ask the bank how much time you have after your initial offer to have an inspection performed, and schedule one immediately. If it goes well, you’ll enter into the deal with peace of mind and a better idea of what repairs you’ll have to deal with. That alone is worth the price of an inspection. If the inspection reveals a costly disaster, you can back out of the deal and save tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
by Nick Gromicko, Mike Marlow, and Kate Tarasenko
We were recently asked to contribute to an article about what we wished our clients knew about the home inspection process. Here is the final article: http://bit.ly/2oRYkv0 and there is some great information from some very experienced home inspectors.
While the terms “modular home” and “manufactured home” refer to two very different things, they are sometimes used interchangeably. Perhaps some of this confusion stems from the fact that modular homes are, in fact, manufactured (“manufactured” might be an unfortunate label.) Also, traditional “site-built” homes are not necessarily better than modular homes, despite the stigma associated with their assembly-line origin. There have been cases where Realtors and builders of manufactured homes have misrepresented manufactured homes as modular homes, and buyers were not informed enough to know the difference. Everyone (especially inspectors, who make their living examining residences) should understand the distinguishing features of these two types of houses.
Modular homes are residences constructed entirely in factories and transported to their sites on flatbed trucks. They are built under controlled conditions, and must meet strict quality-control requirements before they are delivered. They arrive as block segments and are neatly assembled, using cranes, into homes that are almost indistinguishable from comparable ones built on-site. Wind and rain do not cause construction delays or warp building materials. In addition, modular homes:
- must conform to the same local, state and regional building codes as homes built on-site;
- are treated the same by banks as homes built on-site. They are easily refinanced, for example;
- follow the same market trends as site-built houses;
- must be structurally approved by inspectors;
- can be of any size, although the block sections from which they are assembled are uniformly sized;
- are often more basic than homes built on-site, but they tend to be sturdier;
- are highly customizable. Design is usually decided by the buyer before construction has begun; and
- generally take eight to 14 weeks to construct. Differing from a site-built home, the foundation can be dug at the same time that the house is being constructed.
Proponents of modular homes claim that their indoor, environmentally controlled construction affords them greater strength and resilience than homes built on-site. They also tend to be constructed using more precise building techniques and with more building material than comparable site-built residences. One reason for this is that they must be able to withstand the stress of highway transport. A study by FEMA found that modular homes withstood the wind and water from Hurricane Andrew better than most other homes in the area. They take less time to construct than site-built homes, are more energy-efficient, and generally cost less.
The term “manufactured home” is the most recent label for what were once called “mobile homes” or “trailers.” They are relatively inexpensive, small, and are held to less stringent standards than modular and site-built homes. Their obvious advantages are their mobility and affordability, factors that allow buyers to make home purchases without a serious monetary or geographical commitment. They are available in three sizes that escalate as follows: “single-wide,” “double-wide” and “triple-wide.” In addition, manufactured homes:
- conform only to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) code. Some homes contain a red tag that confirms that the unit was manufactured in compliance with this code;
- are inspected, but do not have to be structurally approved by an inspector;
- are manufactured in sections at factories;
- are never more than one story;
- do not have a permanent or conventional foundation;
- tend to lose value over time because they are difficult to expand or improve;
- are transported to the site on their own wheels;
- are transported on steel chassis that are never removed;
- are often placed on property owned by others, such as public land that is leased by the homeowner;
- are treated as a separate lending category from modular and on-site built homes; and
- are rarely custom-designed. The buyer can choose from homes that have already been built and receive it within days.
Despite their manufacturing process, modular homes are essentially the same as homes that are built on-site. They are treated the same under the law, and their basic structural features are almost indistinguishable from site-built homes, once assembled. Manufactured homes are relatively small, inexpensive, mobile residences that require a smaller commitment than is required by modular and site-built homes. It is important to understand the differences between these home types in order to reduce the influence of stigmas, misrepresentation and ignorance.
Many lenders will also ask for a foundation certification from an engineer to certify that the foundation is proper. Through our partnership with an engineering firm, we can handle this requirement at the same time as the home inspection.
To have your modular or manufactured home inspected, call Veteran Home Inspections at 210-202-1974 or visit www.vhillc.com
to book online.
The spring and summer months are the busiest time of year for the real estate market. Whether you are building your dream home or purchasing an older home that has been listed on the market, indoor air quality should be a major priority during your search. Learn about how you can make sure your future home’s air is safe and healthy by addressing these concerns BEFORE you buy.
Indoor air concerns when building new construction:
Opting to build a new home will provide you with the greatest opportunity to ensure your indoor air quality is healthy. During the past decade, home builders have documented a sharp increase in the number of buyers looking for eco-friendly building materials. From cabinets to flooring, buyers want to purchase materials that are sustainable for the environment and free of dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde.
Builders that are able to address a buyer’s health concerns about toxic building materials and indoor air quality have a higher perceived home value and positive brand impact when compared to other builders. Buyers are willing to spend more money in order to select from eco-friendly building materials that are not only better for the environment but that are also better for your family.
Indoor air concerns when buying an existing home:
It will require more diligence on your part when you are buying an existing home and want to ensure you and your family will be breathing clean, healthy air. A home inspection by the highly trained professionals at Veteran Home Inspections can alert you to the presence of organic threats such as mold but you will need to go the extra mile in making sure the home does not contain dangerously high amounts of other chemical toxins.
The recent media coverage concerning high formaldehyde levels found in laminate flooring purchased through Lumber Liquidators has increased consumer awareness in regards to the number of household items and building materials that contain toxic levels of chemicals. As more consumers become aware of the chemical hazards found in flooring, common furniture and cabinet adhesives, particleboard furniture, and dozens of other building materials, consumer demand for safer building materials is on the increase.
The only way you can be certain the air you and your family are breathing is healthy is by performing an IAQ Home Survey test to alert you to the presence of indoor air pollutants. This test will provide you with an extensive and accurate assessment of a home’s air before you move in.
Veteran Home Inspections can provide you with high quality air testing for Volatile Organic Compounds, Formaldehyde, and even Tobacco Smoke Compounds. Call 210-202-1974 today to schedule your IAQ Home Survey. You can also schedule online at www.vhillc.com
In short, YES!
With the amount of new construction going on in this area, an inspection on new construction is critical. First and foremost, outside of the major cities, there isn’t any code enforcement. In other words, the city or county doesn’t inspect the builders work. Some builders will hire their own inspectors to check up on their work, but this is really not sufficient. I have seen these inspectors on site, and to be honest, I was not impressed. They work for the builder, and therefore, are beholden to them. Some have even outright lied and tried to tell buyers that the city inspected it, when they are outside city limits.
Most new construction contracts allow for 2-3 inspections throughout the building process. The most common are pre-drywall and pre-closing (or final) inspection. Some will also allow for slab inspections. Make sure you get an inspector in at every opportunity, as we always find issues. If you are presented with a contract that limits inspections to less than these, don’t sign it. Also, beware of clauses that may restrict the inspector. One large builder recently tried to prevent inspectors from things like inspecting the roof, opening the electric panel, and running appliances. I think they were publicly shamed into changing their stance on that though (but if you get something like this, let me know). Also, make sure you can pick your inspector. Some will try to steer you to the blind inspector that never finds anything major. We’ve had a couple builders try to blacklist us because we found too much, but thankfully (for our customers) they didn’t succeed.
So, what do we find on new construction? Just over the last few months we’ve found issues with just about every major component. Missing rebar in the foundation, damaged and improperly installed roofs, framing deficiencies, improper gas lines, electrical issues galore, heat registers that weren’t hooked up, plumbing leaks too numerous to count, missing insulation, and dangerous decks.
Another inspection that people are starting to get more frequently, is the 11-month warranty inspection. Almost every new home comes with a 1-year warranty. Make sure you get an inspection at the 11 month mark, so that we can not only find hidden issues that may have popped up, but we can also document that they were there before the warranty expired.
We know that you are spending a lot of money for your new home, and an inspection is just one more expense. I can honestly say though, that we have never found less in needed repairs than our fee. We do offer discounted packages for more than one inspection on a new construction house.
To schedule your new construction home inspection, call 210-202-1974 or visit www.vhillc.com
to schedule online.
Septic systems treat and disperse relatively small volumes of wastewater from individual and small numbers of homes and commercial buildings. Septic system regulation is usually a state and local responsibility. The EPA provides information to homeowners and assistance to state and local governments to improve the management of septic systems to prevent failures that could harm human health and water quality.
Information for Homeowners
If your septic tank failed, or you know someone whose did, you are not alone. As a homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining your septic system. Proper septic system maintenance will help keep your system from failing and will help maintain your investment in your home. Failing septic systems can contaminate the ground water that you and your neighbors drink and can pollute nearby rivers, lakes and coastal waters.
Ten simple steps you can take to keep your septic system working properly:
- Locate your septic tank and drainfield. Keep a drawing of these locations in your records.
- Have your septic system inspected at least every three years. Hire an inspector (like Veteran Home Inspections) trained in septic inspections.
- Pump your septic tank as needed (generally, every three to five years).
- Don’t dispose of household hazardous waste in sinks or toilets.
- Keep other household items, such as dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, and cat litter out of your system.
- Use water efficiently.
- Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the system. Also, do not apply manure or fertilizers over the drainfield.
- Keep vehicles and livestock off your septic system. The weight can damage the pipes and tank, and your system may not drain properly under compacted soil.
- Keep gutters and basement sump pumps from draining into or near your septic system.
- Check with your local health department before using additives. Commercial septic tank additives do not eliminate the need for periodic pumping and can be harmful to your system.
How does it work?
A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drainfield, and
the soil. Microbes in the soil digest and remove most contaminants from wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater. The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming sludge), and oil and grease to float to the surface (as scum). It also allows partial decomposition of the solid materials. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the septic tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drainfield area. Screens are also recommended to keep solids from entering the drainfield. The wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drainfield for further treatment by the soil. Micro-organisms in the soil provide final treatment by removing harmful bacteria, viruses and nutrients.
Your septic system is your responsibility!
Did you know that, as a homeowner, you’re responsible for maintaining your septic system? Did you know that maintaining your septic system protects your investment in your home? Did you know that you should periodically inspect your system and pump out your septic tank? If properly designed, constructed and maintained, your septic system can provide long-term, effective treatment of household wastewater. If your septic system isn’t maintained, you might need to replace it, costing you thousands of dollars. A malfunctioning system can contaminate groundwater that might be a source of drinking water. And if you sell your home, your septic system must be in good working order.
You should have your septic system inspected at least every three years by a professional, and have your tank pumped as necessary (generally every three to five years).
Use water efficiently…
Average indoor water use in the typical single-family home is almost 70 gallons per person per day. Dripping faucets can waste about 2,000 gallons of water each year. Leaky toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons each day. The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system.
Dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, and other kitchen and bathroom waste can clog and potentially damage septic system components. Flushing household chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, anti-freeze and paint can stress or destroy the biological treatment taking place in the system, as well as contaminate surface waters and groundwater.
How do I maintain my septic system?
- Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the drainfield.
- Don’t drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system. Doing so can compact the soil in your drainfield or damage the pipes, the tank or other septic system components.
- Keep roof drains, basement sump pump drains, and other rainwater and surface water drainage systems away from the drainfield. Flooding the drainfield with excessive water slows down or stops treatment processes and can cause plumbing fixtures to back up.
Why should I maintain my septic system?
A key reason to maintain your septic system is to save money! Failing septic systems are expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is often the culprit. Having your septic system inspected (at least every three years) is a bargain when you consider the cost of replacing the entire system. Your system will need pumping every three to five years, depending on how many people live in the house and the size of the system. An unusable septic system or one in disrepair will lower your property’s value and could pose a legal liability. Other good reasons for safe treatment of sewage include preventing the spread of infection and disease, and protecting water resources. Typical pollutants in household wastewater are nitrogen, phosphorus, and disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Nitrogen and phosphorus are aquatic plant nutrients that can cause unsightly algae blooms. Excessive nitrate-nitrogen in drinking water can cause pregnancy complications, as well as methemoglobinemia (also known as “blue baby syndrome”) in infancy. Pathogens can cause communicable diseases through direct or indirect body contact, or ingestion of contaminated water or shellfish. If a septic system is working properly, it will effectively remove most of these pollutants.
Veteran Home Inspections will be adding septic inspections to our available services in March 2018. In the interim, we can also coordinate a septic inspection for you. To schedule, call 210-202-1974 or visit www.vhillc.com
to schedule online.
What is a home inspection?
A home inspection is a visual examination of the home’s major structure, systems and components that are visible and safely accessible. The inspector should substantially adhere to a standards of practice that outlines what should be covered during a general home inspection, as well as what is excluded. Some inspectors may strictly follow the standards of practice, while others, like Veteran Home Inspections, may exceed the standards and inspect other items, or perform a more detailed inspection. Whatever the inspector includes in his or her inspection should be discussed prior to the inspection – this is known as the scope of work. The inspector should be able to provide you with a copy or online link to the standards of practice they follow. The inspector should provide you with a written report, which may include photos and/or recommendations, of his or her findings of the inspection. Read InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice
to find out what is typically included and excluded in a home inspection. For Texas Specific Standards of Practice, click here
Why should I get a home inspection?
Buying a home is typically the biggest investment you will ever make, so it’s important to get a home inspection because the inspector should be able to discover and document defects that may or may not be obvious to you as a prospective buyer. Such defects can range from simple replacements or repairs, to severe damage or safety and health concerns. Additionally, most mortgage companies require a home inspection on a property before approving the home loan. Read InterNACHI’s Top 10 Reasons to Get a Home Inspection
Where can I find a home inspector in my area?
There are several ways to find a home inspector. You may be able to find one online or in local ads. You may also find inspectors’ brochures by visiting a real estate office. There is no single method that is superior when it comes to finding an inspector who’s right for your inspection needs. If you are in the greater San Antonio, TX and Hill Country area, click here
to schedule your home inspection, or call 210-202-1974.
If you are outside of our service area, here are some online resources for finding a home inspector near you:
How can I be sure that a home inspector is qualified?
It is important to choose a home inspector who is qualified and holds a license or certification in the field. Many jurisdictions do not regulate home inspections, meaning that anyone could call themselves a home inspector. However, just because someone performs home inspections doesn’t mean that they’re actually qualified to do so. If you are buying or selling a home in an unregulated jurisdiction, make sure to look for a home inspector with the proper certifications. If you are located in a state or province that does require licensing of home inspectors, you should hire only a licensed professional. Texas does license Home Inspectors.
Contact your state by phone or online to find out whether they license home inspectors, and what qualifications they’re required to have. License numbers in licensing states may vary in appearance, but you should be able to independently verify it. If your state doesn’t require licensing, find out what qualifications and certifications your home inspector has. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors – InterNACHI®
– is the largest and most trusted home inspector association in the world. Its members undergo rigorous training to become Certified Professional Inspectors (CPIs)®. They also follow a Standards of Practice and adhere to a Code of Ethics. Also, the Master Inspector Certification Board grants qualified inspectors the title of Certified Master Inspector® (CMI®)
, which is the highest professional designation in the inspection industry. Find out if your inspector is licensed and/or a CPI or CMI® before you hire him or her. This will ensure that you are hiring only an individual who has received the best training to become a home inspector. Veteran Home Inspections is led by a Certified Master Inspector.
How much does a home inspection cost?
There is no set cost for a home inspection. The cost will vary based on the inspector, the local market, the geographic region, the scope of the inspection to be performed, and more. Before the inspection, you should find out what will be included in the inspection and what won’t, and these details should also be outlined in the inspection agreement that you will need to sign prior to the inspection.
How long does a home inspection take?
Depending on the home’s age, size, and location, as well as the home inspector’s own work protocols and ethic, your home inspection may take up to three hours. Adding square footage, outbuildings, and/or ancillary services (such as mold or lead paint testing) will increase that time. It may be necessary for your inspector to bring in a helper for a very large property. If your general home inspection takes significantly less than two to three hours, it may indicate that the inspector was not thorough enough.
At what point in the real estate transaction should I schedule a home inspection?
A home inspection is usually scheduled after an offer has been made and accepted, but before the closing date. That way, the inspector can rule out any major defects that could be dangerous or costly. In rare cases—due to timing or contractual issues—the inspection can be scheduled after the closing date. If this is the case, the home buyer should schedule the inspection for the earliest possible date after closing.
Should I be present for the inspection?
You should attend the inspection, and you should reconsider hiring an inspector who doesn’t allow this. You can learn a lot by following an inspector through the home. You will certainly gain a better understanding of the home’s condition, which will give you insight into its potential sale points and defects. Additionally, you will likely learn information about the home’s maintenance, systems and components that may provide useful for the transaction and ongoing maintenance of your home.
Can the home inspector also repair any defects he or she finds?
What if your home inspector is also a licensed contractor? Sounds great, right? Not always. Although it may seem convenient to have an inspector who is also a contractor, it poses a conflict of interest. According to InterNACHI’s Code of Ethics
The InterNACHI member shall not perform or offer to perform, for an additional fee, any repairs or associated services to the structure for which the member or member’s company has prepared a home inspection report for a period of 12 months. This provision shall not include services to components and/or systems that are not included in the InterNACHI Standards of Practice.
If an inspector financially benefits from finding any defects, this can impact the accuracy of the report (whether intentional or not). Make sure the inspector you hire abides by a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.
What happens if the inspection reveals problems?
If your home inspection reveals any problems, it is important to understand the severity of the defect. For example, a missing shingle or dirty air filter can be easily fixed at a low cost. However, if the defect is more extreme, such as a major foundation crack, wood-destroying organism infestation, or evidence of mold, you should find out how these problems can be addressed, and whether you can negotiate their cost with the seller. If it is determined after you move in that your home has a severe defect that wasn’t reported by your InterNACHI® Certified Master Inspector®, you should check to see if he or she participates in InterNACHI’s “We’ll Buy Your Home Back” Guarantee.
Veteran Home Inspections offers this on all home inspections.
What is the Buy-Back Guarantee and how does it work?
If your InterNACHI® Certified Professional Inspector® participates in the Buy-Back Guarantee
, InterNACHI® will buy your home back if the inspector misses something on your inspection.
Here’s how this program works:
- It’s valid for home inspections performed for home buyers only by participating InterNACHI® members.
- The home must be listed for sale with a licensed real estate agent.
- The Guarantee excludes homes with material defects not present at the time of the inspection, or not required to be inspected, per InterNACHI’s Residential Standards of Practice.
- The Guarantee will be honored for 90 days after closing.
- InterNACHI will pay you whatever price you paid for the home.
What about warranties?
A normal home inspection is just a snapshot in time, and there is no warranty of future conditions or issues that will arise. Some home inspection companies, like Veteran Home Inspections, offer a full package of warranties that provide some protection to you for stuff that pops up within 90 days of the inspection. The best home inspection companies will also offer an extended home warranty at an additional cost that can cover you for 18 months after purchase. For information on our 90 day warranties, click here
. To check out the best 18-month home warranty in the industry, click here
. If you are shopping around, make sure the inspector will actually stand behind their inspection.
Formaldehyde is a colorless, pungent-smelling chemical widely used in industries that manufacture building materials and numerous household products. Thus, it may be present in substantial concentrations in indoor environments.
Where indoors may formaldehyde be found?
- pressed-wood products (such as hardwood plywood wall paneling, particle board and fiberboard), and furniture made with these pressed-wood products. Mobile homes are especially at risk for indoor formaldehyde pollution because of their abundance of composite wood in construction, and relatively compact interior space;
- carpet backing and urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI). In the 1970s, many homes were insulated with UFFI as an energy-conservation measure before it was discovered that UFFI contained dangerously high levels of formaldehyde. Fortunately, formaldehyde emissions in this product decline over time, so older houses with UFFI are unlikely to have high levels of formaldehyde now. This insulation is not very common in modern housing;
- tobacco smoke;
- durable-press drapes and other textiles;
- un-vented, fuel-burning appliances, such gas stoves and kerosene space heaters; and
Is it dangerous?
Several years after concern arose over high levels of formaldehyde found in some FEMA trailers, there is still a great deal of confusion regarding permissible levels of airborne formaldehyde in indoor environments. Additional attention was drawn to formaldehyde when elevated levels were found in laminate flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators.
Formaldehyde is known to cause the following conditions:
- watery eyes;
- burning sensations in the eyes and throat;
- wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing;
- asthma attacks;
- skin rash;
- severe allergic reactions; and
- cancer. Uncertainty remains as to how to compare measured air concentrations of formaldehyde to cancer incidence. No definitive “high risk” level can be drawn because many other factors besides formaldehyde exposure play a role in the development of cancer. In general, however, the lower the level and shorter the duration of exposure, the less risk of cancer and other health effects there are.
In 1992, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) declared formaldehyde a “toxic air contaminant,” meaning that there is no safe level of exposure. In June 2004, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified formaldehyde from “probably carcinogenic to humans” to “carcinogenic to humans,” specifically concerning nasopharyngeal (upper throat) cancer, while the National Toxicology Program (NTP) continues to classify formaldehyde as “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen in humans” for nasopharyngeal cancer.
Steps to Reduce Exposure
- Use exterior-grade pressed-wood products (lower-emitting, because they contain phenol resins, not urea resins).
- Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain a moderate temperature and reduce humidity levels.
- Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde indoors.
- Seal non-laminated surfaces of products containing formaldehyde with paints, varnish or polyurethane-like materials.
In summary, formaldehyde is an irritating and potentially dangerous gas that may accumulate in indoor environments. Now, for the good news! We can do non-destructive testing to determine if your home has elevated formaldehyde levels. We offer this service either with a home inspection, or as a stand-alone service. Contact us today at 210-202-1974 or www.vhillc.com
to schedule your formaldehyde testing.
Attention Texas Real Estate Agents! Like you, I understand the chore of having to do continuing education. What's even worse is having to pay someone else to take these courses just to maintain your license. Because of this, I'm happy to be able to offer you a free course for 2 approved CE credits. This course, Home Energy Score for Real Estate Professionals, is a great course that will teach you about the Home Energy Score program, and how you can use it to help your clients.
To access the course, go to www.nachi.org/agentce
and select Texas. When it asks you for the ID of the NACHI inspector that referred you, enter NACHI14020415.
Once you've learned about the Home Energy Score program, contact Veteran Home Inspections
to get your clients their score. Not only can it help them save money on energy costs, it can help them get stretch FHA debt-to-income limits or get a larger Fannie Mae HomeStyle Energy loan!
Are you buying a home built before 1978? Maybe you live in one currently. If so, please read on.
Lead was a common additive to paint up until it was banned from use in residential housing. As a paint additive, it worked great. Unfortunately, the health effects were ignored, so there is a lot of it still in housing today. There are a lot of rumors going around about lead paint, so this post will address several of them and also provide you with information on what to do next.
Rumor 1: "My kids don't eat paint chips!" Paint Chips are only one source of lead poisoning. The most common source is actually dust from lead paint. Some of us older folks remember "self-cleaning paint." This was nothing more than the lead in paint seeping out, and chalking on the surface. After it rained, the dirt (and lead) would be washed off and the paint would look great. The same dust is created by all lead paints, and the lead dust accumulates in your house. The most common surfaces are the floor, window sills, and window wells. Young kids, especially those crawling or playing on the floor a lot, pick up the dust on their clothes, hands, pacifiers, toys, etc. and put them in their mouths. As for the paint chips, they are still a hazard. One of the properties of lead is that it has a sweet taste. This encourages kids to eat it.
Rumor 2: "If it's been painted over, it's not a risk" Painting over lead paint is not an accepted method of remediation. It may help mitigate, but it doesn't eliminate the risk of lead poisoning. Additionally, the biggest sources of lead dust (window tracks, door jambs, painted floors, and other friction surfaces) can quickly wear down exposing the lead paint again).
Rumor 3: "It only affects kids." While children under 6 years old are at the greatest risk to lead poisoning, lead will affect all ages. In adults, lead can cause cardiovascular, neurological, kidney, and reproductive issues. Lead can also pass from mother to child while pregnant and through breast milk.
Rumor 4: "They pretty much stopped using it around 1950." I have personally inspected homes built in 1977 that had lead paint in them, some of them massive amounts. On the flip side, I have inspected homes built in the early 1900's that had no lead paint at all. Bottom line, the only way to know is to do a full surface-by-surface inspection to see if there is lead paint in the house. For a report on the prevalence of lead in housing, click here.
Rumor 5: "I'll just use the test kits I can buy at the hardware store" These tests are not 100%, and they have a standard set at 1.0mg/cm2 (small concentrations are ignored). Additionally, proper use requires damaging the paint to ensure all layers are tested.The price of these swabs run about $5 each, and you need a new swab for each location. In a typical 1500 square foot house, a lead inspector will test over 100 locations.
I'm sure by now you realized that not only is lead a hazard to your entire family, but there has to be an easy way to find out your risk.
We are Texas certified lead risk assessors and inspectors. We can easily check your house for lead paint and help you determine the risk that it has on your family. We'll also help you build an action plan to mitigate that risk. We use a combination of methods to find and assess lead paint, including an XRF machine that conducts instant non-destructive testing of painted surfaces. The great thing is that it can see through all the layers of the paint, so even if there was only one layer of lead-based paint covered by several layers of non-lead-based paint, we will know. Because it's fast and non-destructive, we can test all the painted surfaces in your home in a reasonable amount of time. An average house of 1500 square feet takes about 60-90 minutes to test. We can also do this inspection at the same time we do your home inspection. If we do find lead paint, we can take dust wipe samples to determine if there is lead dust present and the concentrations. These wipes have to be sent to a lab for analysis, but the turnaround time fairly quick. Armed with this information, you can make an educated decision on how best to manage the risk to your family.
If you own rental properties that were built before 1978, you should also get them tested for lead paint. This can help manage your risk as a landlord.
If your child has been found to have an elevated blood level, we can also perform EBL Investigations to help you find the source of the lead poisoning. Hopefully your local health department will provide this, but if not, we are available to assist.
Are you doing renovations on a home built prior to 1978? Make sure you know if and where there is lead paint. We can do an inspection of the area to be renovated to let you know if you need to take lead paint RRP precautions.
What are the different types of inspections:
A Lead Inspection is an inspection to determine and report the presence of lead-based paint.
If lead paint is found, you should do a full Risk Assessment, which determines the existence, nature, severity, and location of lead-based paint hazards.
If you are buying a pre-1978 house, you have the right to conduct a lead paint inspection. Don't waive this right in your contract, and have the house inspected.
To schedule a lead paint inspection or full risk assessment, contact Veteran Home Inspections at 210-202-1974 or schedule online at www.vhillc.com. Based in Bandera, TX, we cover the San Antonio, TX and Hill Country area.
by Nick Gromicko & Mike Marlow
Home and business owners should be prepared to protect themselves and their family members from the unique challenges posed by flood-damaged buildings.
Hazards in and around flood-damaged buildings include the risks of:
- growth of large mold colonies;
- septic system collapse;
- trip-and-fall injuries;
- structural collapse;
- fire and explosions;
- toxic sludge and materials containing waterborne bacteria; and
- electrical shock hazards.
- Inspect the building exterior for downed power lines and gas leaks. Gas leaks will smell like rotten eggs. If you suspect a gas leak, contact the utility company immediately.
- While entering the building, see if the door sticks at the top. If it does, this could mean that the ceiling is ready to collapse. After you open the door, stand outside the doorway, clear of any falling debris.
- Wear sturdy, treaded boots. According to the American Red Cross, the most common injury following a disaster is cut feet. Broken bottles, nails, glass, and other dangerous debris may litter the floor, and stairs may be very slippery.
- Once you are inside the home, check for gas leaks again. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve, if you can, and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, a professional must turn it back on. Never use an open flame inside of a flood-damaged house unless you know that the gas has been turned off and the house is ventilated. To inspect for damage, use a battery-powered lantern or flashlight, and not an open flame or electrical fixture in the house.
- Do not use appliances that may have gotten wet unless you know they have been dismantled, cleaned and dried.
- Do not work by yourself. If you are injured, it might take a long time before you receive assistance. If you must work alone, bring a cell phone or radio so you may call for assistance, if the need arises.
- Bring a HEPA-rated respirator to use in case you detect extensive mold. If you are asthmatic or otherwise at heightened risk to mold exposure, leave the building. Other personal safety equipment, such as gloves and coveralls, may also prevent contact with mold and other contaminants.
- Examine doors, walls, windows, floors and staircases to make sure that the building shows no signs of potential collapse. Inspect for loose plaster, drywall, and ceilings that may fall. Also, inspect the foundation for evidence of cracks and other structural damage that may render the building uninhabitable.
- Inspect for fire hazards, such as broken and leaking gas lines, flooded electrical circuits, and submerged furnaces and electrical appliances. Flammable and explosive materials may travel from upstream. Be aware that fire is the most frequent hazard in homes following floods.
- Inspect for electrical system damage, such as broken and frayed wires, and burned insulation. You can turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice. Electrical equipment should be inspected by a qualified professional and dried before being returned to service. Salt water and brackish water can cause even more damage very quickly.
- Inspect for sewage and water supply-line damage. If you suspect sewage lines have been damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water utility company and avoid operating the tap.
- Use caution while inspecting crawlspaces for a variety of reasons, such as the presence of mold, sewage, asbestos, chemicals, rodents, and the risk of structural collapse.
- Watch out for animals, especially poisonous snakes, which may have been washed into the building during the flood. You can use a stick to poke through debris to check for dangerous critters.
- Food that has come into contact with floodwater may be contaminated and it must be thrown away. Canned food may be salvageable if the can is not dented or damaged.
- Sterilize water if it is of questionable purity. One easy way to do this is to boil it for at least five minutes. Water wells that may have been affected by floodwater should be pumped out and the water tested for purity before drinking.
- Have exposed wires replaced by a qualified professional.
- As much as possible, remove the mud and silt that has entered the home, both by shoveling and hosing the house down. Mud and silt contain sewage and chemicals from farms, factories, roads and buildings. Discard items, such as mattresses and wallboard, that may be contaminated by mud or silt.
- Turn off the house’s electricity. Do this even if the power company has turned off electricity to the area.
- Take pictures of the building and its contents for insurance purposes.
We here at Veteran Home Inspections wish everyone in the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey the best. Take care and be safe.
Mike & Jamie Marlow
Veteran Home Inspections, PLLC
With the predicted rainfalls coming from the hurricane headed towards the Texas coast, now is a good time to take a look around your property to see where your vulnerabilities to water are. A little maintenance and repair now can keep you dry and keep your home or business safe.
Water may be essential to life, but, as a destructive force, water can diminish the value of your home or building. Homes as well as commercial buildings can suffer water damage that results in increased maintenance costs, a decrease in the value of the property, lowered productivity, and potential liability associated with a decline in indoor air quality. The best way to protect against this potential loss is to ensure that the building components which enclose the structure, known as the building envelope, are water-resistant. Also, you will want to ensure that manufacturing processes, if present, do not allow excess water to accumulate. Finally, make sure that the plumbing and ventilation systems, which can be quite complicated in buildings, operate efficiently and are well-maintained. This article provides some basic steps for identifying and eliminating potentially damaging excess moisture.
Identify and Repair All Leaks and Cracks
The following are common building-related sources of water intrusion:
- windows and doors: Check for leaks around your windows, storefront systems and doors.
- roof: Improper drainage systems and roof sloping reduce roof life and become a primary source of moisture intrusion. Leaks are also common around vents for exhaust or plumbing, rooftop air-conditioning units, or other specialized equipment.
- foundation and exterior walls: Seal any cracks and holes in exterior walls, joints and foundations. These often develop as a naturally occurring byproduct of differential soil settlement.
- plumbing: Check for leaking plumbing fixtures, dripping pipes (including fire sprinkler systems), clogged drains (both interior and exterior), defective water drainage systems and damaged manufacturing equipment.
- ventilation, heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems: Numerous types, some very sophisticated, are a crucial component to maintaining a healthy, comfortable work environment. They are comprised of a number of components (including chilled water piping and condensation drains) that can directly contribute to excessive moisture in the work environment. In addition, in humid climates, one of the functions of the system is to reduce the ambient air moisture level (relative humidity) throughout the building. An improperly operating HVAC system will not perform this function.
Prevent Water Intrusion Through Good Inspection and Maintenance Programs
Hire a qualified InterNACHI inspector to perform an inspection of the following elements of your building to ensure that they remain in good condition:
- flashings and sealants: Flashing, which is typically a thin metal strip found around doors, windows and roofs, are designed to prevent water intrusion in spaces where two building materials come together. Sealants and caulking are specifically applied to prevent moisture intrusion at building joints. Both must be maintained and in good condition.
- vents: All vents should have appropriate hoods, exhaust to the exterior, and be in good working order.
- Review the use of manufacturing equipment that may include water for processing or cooling. Ensure wastewater drains adequately away, with no spillage. Check for condensation around hot or cold materials or heat-transfer equipment.
- HVAC systems are much more complicated in commercial buildings. Check for leakage in supply and return water lines, pumps, air handlers and other components. Drain lines should be clean and clear of obstructions. Ductwork should be insulated to prevent condensation on exterior surfaces.
- humidity: Except in specialized facilities, the relative humidity in your building should be between 30% and 50%. Condensation on windows, wet stains on walls and ceilings, and musty smells are signs that relative humidity may be high. If you are concerned about the humidity level in your building, consult with a mechanical engineer, contractor or air-conditioning repair company to determine if your HVAC system is properly sized and in good working order. A mechanical engineer should be consulted when renovations to interior spaces take place.
- moist areas: Regularly clean off, then dry all surfaces where moisture frequently collects.
- expansion joints: Expansion joints are materials between bricks, pipes and other building materials that absorb movement. If expansion joints are not in good condition, water intrusion can occur.
Protection From Water Damage
- interior finish materials: Replace drywall, plaster, carpet and stained or water-damaged ceiling tiles. These are not only good evidence of a moisture intrusion problem, but can lead to deterioration of the work environment, if they remain over time.
- exterior walls: Exterior walls are generally comprised of a number of materials combined into a wall assembly. When properly designed and constructed, the assembly is the first line of defense between water and the interior of your building. It is essential that they be maintained properly (including regular refinishing and/or resealing with the correct materials).
- storage areas: Storage areas should be kept clean. Allow air to circulate to prevent potential moisture accumulation.
Act Quickly if Water Intrusion Occurs
Label shut-off valves so that the water supply can be easily closed in the event of a plumbing leak. If water intrusion does occur, you can minimize the damage by addressing the problem quickly and thoroughly. Immediately remove standing water and all moist materials, and consult with a building professional. Should your building become damaged by a catastrophic event, such as fire, flood or storm, take appropriate action to prevent further water damage, once it is safe to do so. This may include boarding up damaged windows, covering a damaged roof with plastic sheeting, and/or removing wet materials and supplies. Fast action on your part will help minimize the time and expense for repairs, resulting in a faster recovery.
For water intrusion and mold inspections, call Veteran Home Inspections at 210-202-1974. You can also book online at www.vhillc.com
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas that forms from incomplete combustion of fuels, such as natural or liquefied petroleum gas, oil, wood or coal.
Facts and Figures
- 480 U.S. residents died between 2001 and 2003 from non-fire-related carbon-monoxide poisoning.
- Most CO exposures occur during the winter months, especially in December (including 56 deaths, and 2,157 non-fatal exposures), and in January (including 69 deaths and 2,511 non-fatal exposures). The peak time of day for CO exposure is between 6 and 10 p.m.
- Many experts believe that CO poisoning statistics understate the problem. Because the symptoms of CO poisoning mimic a range of common health ailments, it is likely that a large number of mild to mid-level exposures are never identified, diagnosed, or accounted for in any way in carbon monoxide statistics.
- Out of all reported non-fire carbon-monoxide incidents, 89% or almost nine out of 10 of them take place in a home.
Physiology of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
When CO is inhaled, it displaces the oxygen that would ordinarily bind with hemoglobin, a process the effectively suffocates the body. CO can poison slowly over a period of several hours, even in low concentrations. Sensitive organs, such as the brain, heart and lungs, suffer the most from a lack of oxygen.
High concentrations of carbon monoxide can kill in less than five minutes. At low concentrations, it will require a longer period of time to affect the body. Exceeding the EPA concentration of 9 parts per million (ppm) for more than eight hours may have adverse health affects. The limit of CO exposure for healthy workers, as prescribed by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, is 50 ppm.
Potential Sources of Carbon Monoxide
Any fuel-burning appliances which are malfunctioning or improperly installed can be a source of CO, such as:
- stoves and ovens;
- water heaters;
- room and space heaters;
- fireplaces and wood stoves;
- charcoal grills;
- clogged chimneys or flues;
- space heaters;
- power tools that run on fuel;
- gas and charcoal grills;
- certain types of swimming pool heaters; and
- boat engines.
Health Effects in Healthy Adults
no effects; this is the normal level in a properly operating heating appliance
maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift
slight headache, fatigue, shortness of breath,
errors in judgment
workplace alarm must sound (OSHA)
severe headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, confusion; can be life-threatening after three hours of exposure evacuate area immediately
convulsions, loss of consciousness;
death within three hours
evacuate area immediately
CO Detector Placement
CO detectors can monitor exposure levels, but do not place them:
- directly above or beside fuel-burning appliances, as appliances may emit a small amount of carbon monoxide upon start-up;
- within 15 feet of heating and cooking appliances, or in or near very humid areas, such as bathrooms;
- within 5 feet of kitchen stoves and ovens, or near areas locations where household chemicals and bleach are stored (store such chemicals away from bathrooms and kitchens, whenever possible);
- in garages, kitchens, furnace rooms, or in any extremely dusty, dirty, humid, or greasy areas;
- in direct sunlight, or in areas subjected to temperature extremes. These include unconditioned crawlspaces, unfinished attics, un-insulated or poorly insulated ceilings, and porches;
- in turbulent air near ceiling fans, heat vents, air conditioners, fresh-air returns, or open windows. Blowing air may prevent carbon monoxide from reaching the CO sensors.
Do place CO detectors:
- within 10 feet of each bedroom door and near all sleeping areas, where it can wake sleepers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) recommend that every home have at least one carbon monoxide detector for each floor of the home, and within hearing range of each sleeping area;
- on every floor of your home, including the basement (source: International Association of Fire Chiefs/IAFC);
- near or over any attached garage. Carbon monoxide detectors are affected by excessive humidity and by close proximity to gas stoves (source: City of New York);
- near, but not directly above, combustion appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, and fireplaces, and in the garage (source: UL); and
- on the ceiling in the same room as permanently installed fuel-burning appliances, and centrally located on every habitable level, and in every HVAC zone of the building (source: National Fire Protection Association 720). This rule applies to commercial buildings.
In North America, some national, state and local municipalities require installation of CO detectors in new and existing homes, as well as commercial businesses, among them: Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont and New York City, and the Canadian province of Ontario. Installers are encouraged to check with their local municipality to determine what specific requirements have been enacted in their jurisdiction.
How can I prevent CO poisoning?
- Purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors with labels showing that they meet the requirements of the new UL standard 2034 or Comprehensive Safety Analysis 6.19 safety standards.
- Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer's instructions and local building codes. Have the heating system professionally inspected by an InterNACHI inspector and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
- Never service fuel-burning appliances without the proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owner's manual when performing minor adjustments and when servicing fuel-burning equipment.
- Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space, such as a garage, house or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
- Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
- Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.
- Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
- Never use gas appliances, such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers to heat your home.
- Never operate un-vented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
- During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.
- Do not place generators in the garage or close to the home. People lose power in their homes and get so excited about using their gas-powered generator that they don't pay attention to where it is placed. The owner's manual should explain how far the generator should be from the home.
- Clean the chimney. Open the hatch at the bottom of the chimney to remove the ashes. Hire a chimney sweep annually.
- Check vents. Regularly inspect your home's external vents to ensure they are not obscured by debris, dirt or snow.
In summary, carbon monoxide is a dangerous poison that can be created by various household appliances. CO detectors must be placed strategically throughout the home or business in order to alert occupants of high levels of the gas.
To schedule your home inspection in San Antonio, TX, call 210-202-1974 or book online at www.vhillc.com
With tomorrow kicking off the summer, most of us will break out the BBQ sometime soon. When you do, make sure you keep safety in mind. And for tomorrow, take a moment to give thanks to the military men and women that gave their lives to allow us to live ours in freedom.
With barbecue season already here, homeowners should heed the following safety precautions in order to keep their families and property safe:
- Propane grills present an enormous fire hazard, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is aware of more than 500 fires that result annually from their misuse or malfunction. The following precautions are recommended specifically when using propane grills:
- Store propane tanks outdoors and never near the grill or any other heat source. In addition, never store or transport them in your car’s trunk.
- Make sure to completely turn off the gas after you have finished, or when you are changing the tank. Even a small gas leak can cause a deadly explosion.
- Check for damage to a tank before refilling it, and only buy propane from reputable suppliers.
- Never use a propane barbecue grill on a terrace, balcony or roof, as this is dangerous and illegal.
- No more than two 20-pound propane tanks are allowed on the property of a one- or two-family home.
- To inspect for a leak, spray a soapy solution over the connections and watch for bubbles. If you see evidence of a leak, reconnect the components and try again. If bubbles persist, replace the leaking parts before using the grill.
- Make sure connections are secure before turning on the gas, especially if the grill hasn’t been used in months. The most dangerous time to use a propane grill is at the beginning of the barbecue season.
- Ignite a propane grill with the lid open, not closed. Propane can accumulate beneath a closed lid and explode.
- When finished, turn off the gas first, and then the controls. This way, residual gas in the pipe will be used up.
- Charcoal grills pose a serious poisoning threat due to the venting of carbon monoxide (CO). The CPSC estimates that 20 people die annually from accidentally ingesting CO from charcoal grills. These grills can also be a potential fire hazard. Follow these precautions when using charcoal grills:
- Never use a charcoal grill indoors, even if the area is ventilated. CO is colorless and odorless, and you will not know you are in danger until it is too late.
- Use only barbecue starter fluid to start the grill, and don’t add the fluid to an open flame. It is possible for the flame to follow the fluid’s path back to the container as you're holding it.
- Let the fluid soak into the coals for a minute before igniting them to allow explosive vapors to dissipate.
- Charcoal grills are permitted on terraces and balconies only if there is at least 10 feet of clearance from the building, and a water source immediately nearby, such as a hose (or 4 gallons of water).
- Be careful not to spill any fluid on yourself, and stand back when igniting the grill. Keep the charcoal lighter fluid container at a safe distance from the grill.
- When cleaning the grill, dispose of the ashes in a metal container with a tight lid, and add water. Do not remove the ashes until they have fully cooled.
- Fill the base of the grill with charcoal to a depth of no more than 2 inches.
- Electric grills are probably safer than propane and charcoal grills, but safety precautions need to be used with them as well. Follow these tips when using electric grills:
- Do not use lighter fluid or any other combustible materials.
- When using an extension cord, make sure it is rated for the amperage required by the grill. The cord should be unplugged when not in use, and out of a busy foot path to prevent tripping.
- As always, follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Safety Recommendations for General Grill Use
- Always make sure that the grill is used in a safe place, where kids and pets won't touch or bump into it. Keep in mind that the grill will still be hot after you finish cooking, and anyone coming into contact with it could be burned.
- If you use a grill lighter, make sure you don't leave it lying around where children can reach it. They will quickly learn how to use it.
- Never leave the grill unattended, as this is generally when accidents happen.
- Keep a fire extinguisher or garden hose nearby.
- Ensure that the grill is completely cooled before moving it or placing it back in storage.
- Ensure that the grill is only used on a flat surface that cannot burn, and well away from any shed, trees or shrubs.
- Clean out the grease and other debris in the grill periodically. Be sure to look for rust or other signs of deterioration.
- Don't wear loose clothing that might catch fire while you're cooking.
- Use long-handled barbecue tools and flame-resistant oven mitts.
- Keep alcoholic beverages away from the grill; they are flammable!
In summary, homeowners should exercise caution when using any kind of grill, as they can harm life and property in numerous ways.
Remember, you can schedule your home inspection by calling 210-202-1974 or book online at www.vhillc.com
To continue the information on garage fire safety, if the worst should happen, how can the fire be contained to the garage?
An attached garage is a garage that is physically attached to a house. Fires that begin in attached garages are more likely to spread to living areas than fires that originate in detached garages. For this reason, combined with the multitude of flammable materials commonly found in garages, attached garages should be adequately sealed from living areas. A properly sealed attached garage will ideally restrict the potential spread of fire long enough to allow the occupants time to escape the home or building.
Why are garages (both attached and detached) fire hazards?
- Oil or gasoline can drip from cars. These fluids may collect unnoticed and eventually ignite.
- Flammable liquids, such as gasoline, oil and paint, are commonly stored in garages. Some other examples are brake fluid, degreaser, motor oil, varnish, lighter fluid, and fluids containing solvents, such as paint thinner. These chemicals are flammable in their fluid form, and some may create explosive vapors.
- Heaters and boilers, which are frequently installed in garages, create sparks that can ignite fumes or fluids. Car batteries, too, will spark under certain conditions.
- Mechanical or electrical building projects are often undertaken in the garage. Fires can easily start while a careless occupant is welding near flammable materials.
The 2006 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) states the following concerning doors that separate garages from living areas:
R309.1 Opening Penetration
Openings from a private garage directly into a room used for sleeping purposes shall not be permitted. Other openings between the garage and the residence shall be equipped with solid wood doors not less than 1-3/8” (35 mm) in thickness, solid- or honeycomb-core steel doors not less than 1-3/8” (35 mm) thick, or 20-minute fire-rated doors.
In addition, Veteran Home Inspections can check for the following while inspecting doors that separate garages from living areas:
- While not required by the IRC, it is helpful if there is at least one step leading up to the door from the garage. Gasoline fumes and other explosive gases are heavier than air, and they will accumulate at ground level. Their entry beneath a door will be slowed by an elevation increase.
- Doors should have tight seals around their joints to prevent seepage of fumes into the living areas of the house. Carbon monoxide, with the same approximate density as air (and often warmer than surrounding air), will easily rise above the base of an elevated door and leak through unsealed joints.
- Doors should be self-closing. Many homeowners find these doors inconvenient, but they are safer than doors that can be left ajar. While this requirement is no longer listed in the IRC, it is still a valuable recommendation.
- If doors have windows, the glass should be fire-rated.
- Pet doors should not be installed in fire-rated doors. Pet doors will violate the integrity of a fire barrier.
Walls and Ceilings
The 2006 edition of the IRC states the following concerning garage walls and ceilings:
R309.2 Separation Required
The garage shall be separated from the residence and its attic area by not less than 1/2-inch (12.7 mm) gypsum board applied to the garage side. Garages beneath habitable rooms shall be separated from all habitable rooms above by not less than 5/8-inch (15.9 mm) Type X gypsum board or equivalent. Where the separation is a floor-ceiling assembly, the structure supporting the separation shall also be protected by not less than 1/2-inch (12.7 mm) gypsum board or equivalent. Garages located less than 3 feet (914 mm) from a dwelling unit on the same lot shall be protected with not less than 1/2–inch (12.7 mm) gypsum board applied to the interior side of exterior walls that are within this area. Openings in these walls shall be regulated by Section 309.1. This provision does not apply to garage walls that are perpendicular to the adjacent dwelling unit wall.
In addition, inspectors can check for the following while inspecting walls and ceilings:
- In garages that have access to the attic, a hatch cover made from an approved, fire-rated material should protect this access at all times. Missing or opened covers should be called out, as should covers made from flammable materials, such as thin plywood. Garage attic door must be constructed such that the 45-minute rating is maintained; any drywall edges on both the hatch and the surrounding area exposed to physical damage should be protected. The cover or door should be installed so that it is permanent (non-removable), with latching hardware to maintain it in a closed position. This could be accomplished by the use of spring-loaded hinges, a door closer, or hardware that will not allow it to be left in an open position when not in use. A single bolt-type or hook-and-eye hardware does not provide a positive closure, since these would allow the door to be left open. Likewise, drywall screws are fasteners--not hardware--so they cannot be used as the only means of keeping access doors closed.
- The living space should be separated from the garage by a firewall that extends from the floor to the roof. If the ceiling material is fire-rated, the firewall can terminate at the ceiling.
- Drywall joints shall be taped or sealed. Joints shall be fitted so that the gap is no more than 1/20-inch, with joints backed by either solid wood or another layer of drywall such that the joints are staggered.
The 2006 edition of the IRC states the following concerning ducts that penetrate garage walls and ceilings:
R309.1.1 Duct Penetration
Ducts in the garage and ducts penetrating the walls or ceilings separating the dwelling from the garage shall be constructed of a minimum No. 26-gauge (0.48 mm) steel sheet or other approved material, and shall have no openings in the garage.
Dryer exhaust ducts that penetrate garage walls are serious fire hazards. These ducts are generally made from plastic and will easily melt during a fire, creating a large breach in the firewall.
The 2006 edition of the IRC states the following concerning floors in garages:
R309.3 Floor Surface
Garage floor surfaces shall be of approved, non-combustible material. The area of the floor used for parking of automobiles or other vehicles shall be sloped to facilitate the movement of liquids to a drain or toward the main vehicle entry doorway.
Inspectors should also check for the following:
- A curb should be present along the perimeter of the garage floor. This curb should be designed to prevent fluids from entering the living areas of the house. Curbs are often useful barriers for melted snow carried into the garage by automobiles, but curbs can also keep chemical spills contained in the garage.
- Water heaters should be elevated above the floor by at least 18 inches. A pilot light may ignite spilled fluid or floor-level flammable fumes if the water heater is placed at floor level.
Concerning items placed on the floor, inspectors should check for the following:
- All flammable liquids should be stored in clearly labeled, self-closing containers, and in small amounts. They should be stored away from heaters, appliances, pilot lights, and other sources of heat and flame.
- Propane tanks should never be stored indoors. If they catch fire, a serious explosion may result. Propane tanks are sturdy enough to be stored outdoors.
- The floor should be clear of clutter. Loose papers, matches, oily rags, and other flammable items are dangerous if they are strewn about the garage floor.
General safety tips that inspectors can pass onto their clients:
- Use light bulbs with the proper wattage.
- Do not overload electrical outlets.
- Tape down all cords and wires so that they are not twisted or accidentally yanked.
In summary, attached garages should be sealed off from the living space so that fire may be contained.
To schedule your home inspection, call Veteran Home Inspections at 210-202-1974 or schedule online at www.vhillc.com
The purpose of this article is twofold. First, at Veteran Home Inspections, we’d like you to take measures to keep your garage free from fire. Fortunately, there are ways this can be done, some of which are described below. Secondly, garage fires do happen, and we’d like you to make sure that a fire cannot not easily spread to the rest of your house. While you can perform many of the recommendations in this article yourself, it is a good idea to hire Veteran Home Inspections to make sure your home is safe from a garage fire.
Why do many garages pose a fire hazard?
- Where are you most likely to do any welding, or any work on your car? These activities require working with all sorts of flammable materials.
- Water heaters and boilers are usually stored in garages, and they can create sparks that may ignite fumes or fluids. Car batteries, too, will spark under certain conditions.
- Oil and gasoline can drip from cars. These fluids may collect unnoticed and eventually ignite, given the proper conditions.
- Flammable liquids, such as gasoline, motor oil and paint are commonly stored in garages. Some other examples are brake fluid, varnish, paint thinner and lighter fluid.
The following tips can help prevent garage fires and their spread:
- If the garage allows access to the attic, make sure a hatch covers this access.
- The walls and ceiling should be fire-rated. Unfortunately, it will be difficult for untrained homeowners to tell if their walls are Type X fire-rated gypsum. Our Certified Master Inspector can examine the walls and ceiling to make sure they are adequate fire barriers.
- The floor should be clear of clutter. Loose papers, matches, oily rags, and other potentially flammable items are extremely dangerous if they are strewn about the garage floor.
- Use light bulbs with the proper wattage, and do not overload electrical outlets.
- Tape down all cords and wires so they are not twisted or accidentally yanked.
If there is a door that connects the garage to the living area, consider the following:
- Do not install a pet door in the door! Flames can more easily spread into the living area through a pet door, especially if it’s made of plastic.
- Does the door have a window? We can inspect the window to tell if it's fire-rated.
- The door should be self-closing. While it may be inconvenient, especially while carrying groceries into the house from the car, doors should be self-closing. You never know when a fire will happen, and it would be unfortunate to accidentally leave the door open while a fire is starting in the garage.
- Check the joints and open spaces around the door. Are they tightly sealed? Any openings at all can allow dangerous fumes, such as carbon monoxide or gasoline vapor, to enter the living area. We inspector can recommend ways to seal the door so that fumes cannot enter the living area.
Concerning items placed on the floor, you should check for the following:
- Store your flammable liquids in clearly labeled, self-closing containers, and only in small amounts. Keep them away from heaters, appliances, pilot lights and other sources of heat or flame.
Never store propane tanks indoors. If they catch fire, they can explode. Propane tanks are sturdy enough to be stored outdoors.
Never bring charcoal grills (or ashes) inside the home or garage. Even though you may think the coals are out, they can continue to smolder for days. One of my neighbors almost lost his home when he threw coals in his garbage can 3 days after he grilled out. The next morning the garbage can ignited and burned the side of his house. Only an observant neighbor and a quick response from the San Antonio Fire Department saved his home.
In summary, there are plenty of things that you can do to prevent garage fires from spreading to the rest of the house, or to keep them from starting in the first place. However, it is highly recommended that you have your garage periodically examined by an inspector.
To schedule your home inspection, call Veteran Home Inspections at 210-202-1974 or schedule online at www.vhillc.com
Since we are now certified to do mold testing, here is a quick article on the benefits and issues with doing air samples for mold testing. Veteran Home Inspections can provide you with air sampling, tape lift sampling, and a complete mold inspection, which helps identify the causes of indoor mold.
Taking air samples during a mold inspection is important for several reasons. Mold spores are not visible to the naked eye, and the types of mold present can often be determin
ed through laboratory analysis of the air samples. Having samples analyzed can also help provide evidence of the scope and severity of a mold problem, as well as aid in assessing human exposure to mold spores. After remediation, new samples are typically taken to help ensure that all mold has been successfully removed.
Air samples can be used to gather data about mold spores present in the interior of a house. These samples are taken by using a pump that forces air through a collection device which catches mold spores. The sample is then sent off to a laboratory to be analyzed. InterNACHI inspectors who perform mold inspections often utilize air sampling to collect data, which has become commonplace.
There are several types of devices used to collect air samples that can be analyzed for mold. Some common examples include:
- impaction samplers that use a calibrated air pump to impact spores onto a prepared microscope slide;
- cassette samplers, which may be of the disposable or one-time-use type, and also employ forced air to impact spores onto a collection media; and
- airborne-particle collectors that trap spores directly on a culture dish. These may be utilized to identify the species of mold that has been found.
When and When Not to Sample
Samples are generally best taken if visual, non-invasive examination reveals apparent mold growth or conditions that could lead to growth, such as moisture intrusion or water damage. Musty odors can also be a sign of mold growth. If no sign of mold or potential for mold is apparent, one or two indoor air samples can still be taken, at the discretion of the inspector and client, in the most lived-in room of the house and at the HVAC unit.
Outdoor air samples are also typically taken as a control for comparison to indoor samples. Two samples -- one from the windward side and one from the leeward side of the house -- will help provide a more complete picture of what is in the air that may be entering the house through windows and doors at times when they are open. It is best to take the outdoor samples as close together in time as possible to the indoor samples that they will be compared with.
InterNACHI inspectors should avoid taking samples if a resident of the house is under a physician’s care for mold exposure, if there is litigation in progress related to mold on the premises, or if the inspector’s health or safety could be compromised in obtaining the sample. Residential home inspectors also should not take samples in a commercial or public building.
Where to Sample and Ideal Conditions
In any areas of a house suspected or confirmed to have mold growth, air samples can be taken to help verify and gather more information. Moisture intrusion, water damage, musty odors, apparent mold growth, or conditions conducive to mold growth are all common reasons to gather an air sample. Samples should be taken near the center of the room, with the collection device positioned 3 to 6 feet off the ground.
Ten minutes is an adequate amount of time for the air pump to run while taking samples, but this can be reduced to around five minutes if there is a concern that air movement from a lot of indoor activity could alter the results. The sampling time can be reduced further if there is an active source of dust, such as from ongoing construction.
Sampling should take place in livable spaces within the house under closed conditions in order to help stabilize the air and allow for reproducibility of the sampling and measurement. While the sample is being collected, windows and exterior doors should be kept shut other than for normal entry and exit from the home. It is best to have air exchangers (other than a furnace) or fans that exchange indoor-outdoor air switched off during sampling.
Weather conditions can be an important factor in gathering accurate data. Severe thunderstorms or unusually high winds can affect the sampling and analysis results. High winds or rapid changes in barometric pressure increase the difference in air pressure between the interior and exterior, which can increase the variability of airborne mold-spore concentration. Large differences in air pressure between the interior and exterior can cause more airborne spores to be sucked inside, skewing the results of the sample.
Difficulties and Practicality of Air Sampling
It is helpful to think of air sampling as just one tool in the tool belt when inspecting a house for mold problems. An air sample alone is not enough to confirm or refute the existence of a problem, and such testing needs to be accompanied by visual inspection and other methods of data collection, such as a surface sample. Indoor airborne spore levels can vary according to several factors, and this can lead to skewed results if care is not taken to set up the sampling correctly. Also, since only spores are collected with an air sample and may actually be damaged during collection, identification of the mold type can be more difficult than with a sample collected with tape or a cultured sample.
Air samples are good for use as a background screen to ensure that there isn’t a large source of mold not yet found somewhere in a home. This is because they can detect long chains of spores that are still intact. These chains normally break apart quickly as they travel through the air, so a sample that reveals intact chains can indicate that there is mold nearby, possibly undiscovered during other tests and visual examination.
In summary, when taken under controlled conditions and properly analyzed, air samples for mold are helpful in comparing relative particle levels between a problem and a control area. They can also be crucial for comparing particle levels and air quality in an area before and after mold remediation.
To schedule your complete mold inspection and testing appointment, call 210-202-1974 or visit www.vhillc.com.
by Nick Gromicko and Ethan Ward
used with permission from: https://www.nachi.org/air-sampling-mold-inspection.htm
Veteran Home Inspections provides Wood Destroying Insect inspections for the San Antonio, TX and Hill Country area.
The following is an article from our professional organization about termites and how to best control them in your home:
Wood-destroying insects and other organisms can cause serious problems in the wooden structural components of a house, and may go undetected for a long period of time.
All chemical soil treatments, bait systems, and chemical wood treatment must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and applied in accordance with the EPA label's instructions. In some cases, it is not feasible for a builder to arrange for soil treatment. In this regard, the International Residential Code (IRC) by the International Code Council allows a builder to utilize pressure-treated wood as a measure of termite protection. If pressure-treated wood is used, however, it must be used in all framing members up to and including the top plate of the first floor's level wall. This includes the sub-floor and floor joists of the first floor. The use of pressure-treated wood in only the sill plate is not acceptable. In such cases, the builder must provide the lender with a letter stating that the house is protected from termites by the use of pressure-treated wood. The builder must also provide the home buyer with a one-year warranty against termites. The use of post-construction soil treatment where the chemicals are applied only around the perimeter of the foundation is NOT acceptable in new construction.
Appraisers are to observe all areas of the house and other structures/areas within the legal boundaries of the property that have potential for infestation by termites and other wood-destroying organisms, including the bottoms of exterior doors and frames, wood siding in contact with the ground, and crawlspaces. Mud tunnels running from the ground up the side of the house may indicate termite infestation. Observe the eaves and gable vents and wood window sills for indication of the entrance of swarming termites, and note excessive dampness or large areas where the vegetation is dead. Evidence of active termite infestation must be noted.
Subterranean termites are the most damaging insects of wood. Their presence is hard to notice, and damage usually is found before the termites are seen. Prevent infestations because if they occur, they will almost always need professional pest-control service.
Hire a qualified InterNACHI inspector to inspect for termites or other wood-destroying organisms. Generally, the first sign of infestation is the presence of swarming termites on the window or near indoor light. If they are found inside the house, it almost always means that they have infested. Other signs that may be found are termite wings on window sills or in cobwebs, and shelter tubes, which are tunnels constructed by the termites from soil or wood and debris. Usually, wood damage is not found at first, but when it is found, it definitely reveals a termite infestation. Anywhere wood touches soil is a possible entry into a home for termites. Examine wood which sounds dull or hollow when struck by a screwdriver or hammer. Inspect suspected areas with a sharp, pointed tool, such as an ice pick, to find termite galleries or their damage.
Control measures include reducing the potential infestation, preventing termite entry, and applying chemicals for remedial treatment.
Inspect thoroughly to determine if there is an infestation, damage, and/or conditions that could invite a termite attack, or the need for remedial control measures. The tools and equipment needed for an inspection include a flashlight, ice pick or sharp-pointed screwdriver, ladder, and protective clothing. Always hire an InterNACHI inspector for your inspection needs, as they are trained by the highest standards in the inspection industry.
Check the foundation of the house, garage and other buildings for shelter tubes coming from the soil. Look closely around porches, connecting patios, sidewalks, areas near kitchens and bathrooms, and hard-to-see places. Check window and door frames, and where utility services enter the house for termite infestation or wood decay. Also, look behind shrubbery and plants near walls. Pay special attention to areas where earth and wood meet, such as fences, stair carriages and trellises. Open and check any exterior electrical meter or fuse box set into the wall, a common point of infestation.
Carefully check all doors, window facings, baseboards, and hardwood flooring. Discoloration or stains on walls or ceilings may mean that water is leaking and can decay wood, and this can aid termite infestation. It is very important to inspect where plumbing and utility pipes enter the foundation and flooring. Also, examine the attic for shelter tubes, water leakage, and wood damage.
Many termite problems can be prevented. The most important thing to do is to deny termites access to food (wood), moisture and shelter. Follow these suggestions:
- have at least a 2-inch clearance between the house and planter boxes, or soil-filled porches;
- eliminate all wood-to-soil contact, such as trellises, fence posts, stair casings and door facings (they can be put on masonry blocks or on treated wood);
- separate shrubbery from the house to help make it easier to inspect the foundation line;
- use wolmanized wood (pressure-treated wood) so that rain will not rot it;
- seal openings through the foundation;
- remove wood scraps and stumps from around the foundation;
- have at least 12 to 18 inches of clearance between floor beams and the soil underneath.
Termite treatment often requires specialized equipment. Therefore, it is recommended that you always use the services of a pest control operator because he is familiar with construction principles and practices, has the necessary equipment, and knows about subterranean termites.
If you think you have a termite infestation in your house, you need to call a structural pest control company to conduct a professional inspection. To find a company, ask friends or coworkers for recommendations, or check the Yellow Pages. If the inspection finds evidence of drywood termites, you have several options, depending on the degree of infestation. Fumigation and heating of the entire house are the only options that ensure eradication in the entire structure. If the infestation is contained in a small area, local or spot control may be effective. However, hidden infestations in other parts of the structure will not be eradicated.
Total (Whole-House) Eradication
For the heat method, pets, plants, and other items that might be damaged by high temperatures must be removed. The house is then covered with tarps, and hot air is blown into the tarp until the inside temperature reaches 140° F to 150° F, and the temperature of the structural timbers reaches 120° F. The time to complete this procedure varies greatly from one structure to another, depending on factors such as the building's construction and the weather conditions. The procedure may not be practical for structures that cannot be heated evenly.
Local or Spot Control
Local or spot-control methods include the use of pesticides, electric current, extreme cold, localized heat, microwave energy, or any combination of these methods. Local or spot control also includes the removal and replacement of infested structural timber. These methods are intended to remove or kill termites only within the specific targeted area, leaving open the possibility of other undetected infestations within the structure. These treatments are NOT designed for whole-house eradication. Any pest control company that claims whole-house results with local or spot control methods is guilty of false advertising and should be reported.
Local or spot treatment with pesticides involves drilling and injecting pesticides into infested timbers, as well as the topical application of toxic chemicals. The electric-current method involves delivering electric energy to targeted infestations. For the extreme cold method, liquid nitrogen is pumped into wall voids adjacent to suspected infestation sites, reducing the area to -20° F. The localized heat method involves heating infested structural timbers to 120° F. The microwave method kills termites by directing microwaves into termite-infested wood.
If you see the following signs in your house, you might have termites:
• sawdust-like droppings;
• dirt or mud-like tubes or trails on the structure;
• damaged wood members (like window sills); and
• swarming winged insects within the structure, especially in the spring or fall.
To schedule your home inspection with a wood destroying insect inspection, please call 210-202-1974 or schedule online at www.vhillc.com