Because your home can’t Stop Drop and Roll

Home on fireHouse fires are terrifying.  Possibly the most traumatic event that can happen to a material possession that we own.  Forgetting for a second that our home provides us protection, and to lose that in-and-of-itself is terrible, our homes also hold our families, our memories, our valuables, and many irreplaceables.  Even if a fire does not destroy the entire home and its contents, chances are the water used to to put the fire out will.  House fires are preventable!  But once again it requires some work and maintenance from the home owner.  Good ole’ Smokey The Bear wasn’t kidding, but his motto extends beyond wildfires.  In the next blog we will discuss the main causes of house fires and what to do to reduce the chances of experiencing this horrific event.

.Smokey House FireWe are working our way backward here, last blog we discussed measures that will alert you after a fire has already started; proper placement of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and replacing the batteries regularly.  Now we will briefly discuss fire extinguisher.  We will file this under, what to do as soon as a small fire starts to prevent further damage and if your lucky/fast you will extinguish the fire before a detector goes off.  Of course if a fire is large get out of the house and once you are safe call 911.

It is vitally important to have fire extinguishers near each common area of ignition.  Common sources of home fires are the main electrical panel, the dryer, the garage, the furnace, any kind of fireplace whether it be gas, electric or wood fueled, the stove/oven, etc.  One type of fire extinguisher is not enough, different types of fires require different extinguisher material.  For instance you don’t want to put a water extinguisher near your electrical box, or a dry powder extinguisher near your stove in the kitchen.

Fire Extinguisher Chart

So step one:  Go see if you have extinguishers near possible sources of fire: stove, fireplaces, dryer, furnace, electrical equipment, etc.

Step two: If you had to go check that means you are not familiar with your extinguishers so go into the bathroom look at the nearest mirror and slap yourself on the face…..hard. In an emergency you might not have time to look and scramble for an extinguisher and you should know exactly where it is.

Step three:  Ensure that each extinguisher is appropriate for the style of fire that is likely to occur in this area.

Step four:  Regularly check the charge/date on each extinguisher.  Different extinguishers have different meters and if they are too old or have a bad charge they may not help you put out the fire, and that’s a risk that shouldn’t be taken.

Step five:  Regularly test yourself and all inhabitants of the home to know where each extinguisher is which kind to use on which fire.

Step six:  If you think that a fire will never start in your home so you don’t plan on doing any of this…..go back into the bathroom look at the mirror and slap yourself again on the face.  Few things can rock your world as fast and as hard as a home fire and they should not be taken lightly.

In the next blog we will go over regular maintenance to some of these components that, if left unattended, can eventually cause a fire.  Stay safe my friends.

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Your house has feelings too, don’t neglect it.

Happy Home Inspected

Your home is a continually growing, shrinking, aging, breathing thing.  Too many homeowners buy a house, fix anything that is broken and forget about it.  Living in it everyday taking advantage of everything the home has to offer without ever giving back.  Our homes offer us protection, water, heat, cold, comfort and many memories, and what do we do in return?  Most of us, nothing!  That’s right, think how long any personal relationship would last if all you did was take take take, and give nothing in return.  Chances are you wouldn’t be getting any calls or texts any more asking to hang out.  In comparison our homes are very patient and forgiving with us, and when eventually something does break (because we didn’t maintain it properly) we curse out the house.  How self-centered can we be?

Okay enough personifying an inanimate object, but the facts still remain, without proper maintenance a home and its components will age faster and die earlier.  Most homeowner are like the majority of husbands out there, we only know we did something wrong (or didn’t do something) when our wife has to point it out to us.  Lets be better at addressing issues before our home wakes us up in the middle of the night crying about how we neglect its feelings or needs.  If you have ever had ice dams form on your house, then you are well aware that yes, your house can cry.  But when your house cries on the inside (in the form of water leaking, dripping and in certain circumstances, pouring into the house) it can damage more than your emotional well being, and possibly cost you thousands of dollars.  Comparable to if not more than several sessions with a psychologist.

Best Roof RakeIn the past few weeks, people in New England were quickly figuring out the importance of raking off the lower sections of their roofs.  My personal favorite is the Avalanche roof rake, http://avalanche-snow.com/product/premium-package/   But roof rakes are a mere drop in the bucket as far as home maintenance.

We just entered into the “Spring ahead” daylight  savings time, which of course means we need to change the batteries in our smoke detectors.  Did you also know that smoke detectors have a suggested life span of 10 years.  Most smoke detectors should have manufactured dates on them, if yours doesn’t, do yourself a favor and spend the few dollars to get a new one.  Also, a new law just passed in Connecticut that requires a home sold to have Carbon Monoxide detectors on each floor of the house.  Although local regulations are different from area to area, here is my suggestions for smoke and CO detectors.  A smoke detector in each bedroom, a smoke/CO combo outside  of bedrooms in a shared hallway, a smoke detector in the living room, and a smoke/CO combo in a common area in the main living area, a smoke/CO combo in the basement.  But please check with your local authority as your requirements may be different.

Carbon and smoke detector location

These are only two of many maintenance procedures that should be practiced so as to not ignore your home and maybe it will hit you up with a text asking if want to have coffee sometime soon.  Over the next few segments we will discuss how to go from a passing acquaintance relationship with your home to a intimate and knowledgeable love for your home, and if you’re lucky it will love you back.

Are Radon inspections a scam? No! It could be a matter of life and death.

In the next 30 minutes someone in America will die of lung cancer cause by Radon. I know its rather morbid, but its true and it could be prevented by a proper home inspection. “What?”, you ask, “my home inspector can be dangerously good looking and save my life and the lives of my family too?” Yes! I am still baffled every time someone refuses to get a radon inspection with their home inspection. They want to know when insulation is improperly installed in between roof rafters and can cause a mold problem, but they don’t want to know that a radioactive gas is seeping into their house that causes 21,000 deaths a year in America alone.  21,000, that’s higher than the amount of deaths caused by drunk drivers and house fires combined!

National Radon Awareness Month

January is Radon Awareness Month, it is also one of the best times to check for Radon. Since there is minimal air flow with our windows and doors being closed most of the time and any small leaks generally being sealed to keep the cold out of our homes; it is an ideal environment to test for Radon giving more accurate readings.  An estimated 1 in 15 homes have elevated Radon levels, elevated levels means 4.0 pCi/L (picocuries per liter of air).  However, even with levels of 2.7 pCi/L the risk of lung cancer increases 16%. And yes, people still refuse to have Radon levels not checked because it’s too expensive. As a home inspector I charge $95 for a Radon inspection, that is the industry standard and almost all inspectors I know charge the same amount. I think $95 is a fair price to pay to not have lung cancer and die, just saying….

Radon Awareness Picture

When potential home buyers wisely choose to have the house tested for Radon, they must now make one more important decision. 1) Go with an inspector who uses canister testing methods, or 2) go with one who uses a Continuous Radon Monitor system. They most likely cost the same but the results can be drastically different.

A canister test is just that, the inspector places one or two canisters of activated charcoal or similar substance in the basement and then leave for 2 days, he comes back and picks it up. That canister is then sent to a laboratory, and in a few more days the inspector gives you one number, lets say 1.3 pCi/L, looks good to you so you do nothing about it, or don’t ask the seller to install a radon mitigation system.  There are two big problems with this kind of test, the first of which is tampering. Lets say the seller knows they have high levels of radon, or just wants to be safe, so they bring the canister out doors for the majority of the test then bring it back to the same spot for the inspector to pick up and be none the wiser. The second issue is that all you get is one number, an average of the level of radon, there can be swells and droughts of radon due to air flow or nature fluctuation of radon levels. So in that basement there could have been levels over the hazardous 4.0 and then back down to 1.0 when windows were left open or if there was an abundant amount of traffic from the basement to the first floor giving higher air circulation than normal. So with this test there could possibly be very hazardous levels of Radon in the basement but all you see is 1.3 pCi/L.

Charcoal Radon Kit Report1

 

This is all you get when you use a canister test.

 

 

 

Now a Continuous Radon Monitor, or CRM, runs continually for the two days it is in the basement. This type of Radon detection system is more accurate and addresses the concerns with the canister kits.  It can give continual readings of the radon level so you can see the variation in levels of radon, or if someone “accidentally” brought it outside during the test. To aid in preventing any tampering with data by a dishonest seller, many CRM’s have anti tamper devices, keys, sensors or the like. So not only do you have a more accurate reading of Radon levels, you also get the whole story on the variations of Radon levels, possibly some juicy gossip to spread about a seller who tried to cheat their way past a Radon inspection, and you get the report the day the inspection picks up the device. Canister kits have to be sent to a laboratory and it could take up to a week to get the results back, a CRM can be read that day and the report sent to you as soon as the inspector gets back to his office.

Continuous Radon Monitor Reporta

 

I know the image quality is poor, but you see an average level of radon with the CRM at 1.4 pCi/L.  But you also see a spike in levels above the hazardous 4.0 pCi/L as well as levels above the 2.7 pCi/L which is known to increase the risk of lung cancer by 16%.

 

 

 

 

 

In conclusion……get the radon test, and get it done with a CRM, that is all.

Kicking the tires of your next house.

Home Inspection on TiresSo Mike walks on to a car lot and endures some painful small talk with the salesman so he can “earn” the right to test drive his possible next car.  The salesman gets the keys and they drive the car together in mostly awkward silence until Mike asks about the turbo and if this model had the old diverter valve which was prone to malfunction (because that is what Google told him to ask), the salesman fumbles for a ambiguously phrased response that doesn’t even make sense to himself because honestly he doesn’t know, after all he is not a mechanic, he is a salesman.  They get back to the lot after a 5 minute drive, Mike steps out of the car really excited about it but he can’t show the salesman because if movies have taught us anything they are all evil venomous vipers who pounce at the smell of a potential car buyer (I jest of course I actually wanted to be a car salesman for a large part of my life).  So Mike hems and haws loud enough for the salesman to hear but quiet enough so it sounds like he is just talking to himself.  He kicks the tires (even though he doesn’t know what he is supposed to tell from that)and slides his hands across the car, a la Nicholas Cage and a ’67 Mustang, Elanor, in Gone in 60 Seconds.  He opens the hood to look at something that he barely understands and gets down on ground to look under the car to inspect something he definitely doesn’t understand.  So after enduring awkward small talk, even more awkward silence, clumsily half answered questions, a short 5 minute test drive and borderline molestation and voyeurism of an inanimate object; Mike drops twenty thousand dollars at an interest rate that makes him pay almost double that over the term of the loan on a car and he still knows next to nothing about other than the radio display looks high tech.

What if Mike was able to take this car to a qualified mechanic who was able to really inspect the car, he would feel much more confident in his investment in the vehicle that will be transporting him and his loved ones almost every day.

Purchasing a home is almost the same thing but with much larger numbers and even greater effect on the home buyers life and family.  I have seen too many homeowners purchase a home because it was in the location they wanted and it was decorated with the hip and trendy style found on HGTV.  If you have seen an episode of “Flip or Flop” chances are the seller did too and is merely copying highly trained realtors, to the best of their ability, to fool you into buying the house.  So how do go from walking into the basement and looking at the boiler, or furnace, or heat pump, or “whatever that thing is” and judging its potential life span based on how shiny it looks, to buying with confidence that all systems have been inspected and explained to you.  I’ll give you a hint, it’s what I do for a living.  I’ll give you another hint, it’s by getting a qualified Home Inspector to inspect your potential home…..that’s my last hint.

Hiring a qualified Home Inspector is one of the best things you can do to ensure your investment in a house.

A properly trained one can identify the age of system components; possible, if not already present, failure of components as well as educate the home buyer of recommended maintenance that will aid in extending the life span of a component.  I was just at a home with another inspector who looked at a Brock brand (very nice oil water heater manufacturer) water heater that looked very clean and shiny.  He informed the homeowner it was a great brand and he should have nothing to worry about.  I looked even closer at the unit and discovered it was a model from 2001, almost 14 years old, which is beyond the life expectancy of a standard water heater.  I informed the potential buyer and he had the homeowner replace the water heater with a new one of same quality, to the tune of almost $2000.

Now a properly trained and thorough home inspector will look at things other home inspectors will not.  At another inspection the outside temperature was well below 65 degrees, which means you cannot adequately or safely inspect the air conditioning system for the house.   The A/C condenser unit was covered with its winter jacket (which is a good practice) as well as many other outdoor objects being stored for the winter, i.e. chairs, a table, an umbrella and some outdoor games.  Now it is not required that an inspector move these objects, but in my opinion I would be doing my client a disservice if I did not at least put my eyes on the unit.  So after moving all the items and the jacket it was clear the seller was trying to hide that an entire corner of the unit was completely destroyed, meaning that A/C would not work at all in the house.  The potential buyer then was able to ask that this A/C unit be replaced before purchase saving her thousands.

And the best kind of properly trained and thorough home inspector is one who used to be a contractor.  As you would guess it, that is me.  I was a contractor before entering into the home inspection field.  This arms me with the unique ability to intimately know the entirety of a home beyond what is taught in classrooms.  I have had experience tearing down walls and finding hidden “gems” of homeowner handy work which was terribly dangerous, fixing previous mistakes, retro fitting new fixtures into old systems as well as building homes and commercial building from the footing up.  It is this distinct knowledge that helps me to see oddities in a home and explore beyond to find out why and what it means to the potential buyer.  For instance, modern air conditioning systems have air exchanges or air handlers that encompass a coil that the refrigerant passes through that the air is forced around, cooling the air that cools the house.  If an air exchange is in the attic it requires a fault drain, or pan drain.  This is a drain that should be easily seen so if it begins to leak the homeowner can see it and realize there is a leak in the system.  A house I was just at did not have one, so I inspected further.  I climbed into the attic and the air handler seemed in fine condition at first inspection.  I started to look for the drain and discovered the homeowner had run a new flex drain line into the main vent stack of the house, so the leak in the handler was not able to be discovered by the homeowner if the A/C system was turned on.  Ignoring the possible infiltration of water and sewer gas into the attic, the potential home buyer wouldn’t have discovered there was a serious problem with the A/C until it was too late.

So, when buying a car, get a mechanic to look at it first.  When buying a home, get a qualified, thorough home inspector who has real hands on experience in whole home construction.

Don’t harm your cash flow by ignoring your airflow.

Furnace air filterI understand the the need to save money, especially in times like this.  Unfortunately though, by not putting some small amount of money into the right things, we may be forced to put large amounts of money into things you don’t want to, or can’t even pay for.  For instance, furnace/air conditioning  air filters, one of the many unsung heroes of proper home operation.

I cannot tell you how many homes I have walked through and the air filters have not been changed in years.  Similarly a lot of these houses will have black soot looking material around all their vents.  Also to the untrained possible buyer, the forced air system is still working properly, so it must be fine.  There are a myriad of reasons to replace air filters and I will discuss these in further blogs, for now we will only touch upon some financial reasons.

Most manufacturers suggest that a filter should be changed every three months, do you know why?   Because it should.  Most home owners wont notice any difference in the operation of their forced air system if they wait 4 months to change the filter, or 5 or 6, etc.  The problem is that you wont really notice much of a difference at all, that is until the coil in your A/C system malfunctions prematurely on a humid 105 degree day, or your forced air motor dies and you have no heat flowing through your house on that one day that the daytime high is 7 degrees.  The cost to fix these problems can vary between several hundred dollars, or if you have an older system that will need replacing it could be in the several of thousands, and could have been prevented by buying a filter for $20 (for a good one) every 3 months.

Another money saving aspect of replacing the air filter frequently is found in the actual cost of operation.  We all complain, and rightfully so, about the cost of energy, whether it be oil, propane, natural gas or even electricity.  One of the easiest ways to increase efficiency in your home heating and cooling system is by replacing air filters every three months.  According to the Department of Energy the average household spends $2,200 on energy costs, by replacing the air filter frequently you could save between 5%-15% on that cost.  That is a savings of between $110-$330.  Minus the cost of 4 high quality filters over the year and your forced air system is paying you back a dividend between $30-$250.  So go out and grab your self a steak dinner from between Outback to Ruth’s Chris, and thank your genius self for replacing the air filter.  Or thank me and we can get two steaks at Texas Roadhouse, thanks.