Altadonna Inspection Service
Home Inspections
for Buyers and Sellers

Altadonna Inspection Service

Click here to edit subtitle

Blog

view:  full / summary

Central Air Facts

Posted on November 18, 2018 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Central Air-Conditioning Systems    

A building's central air-conditioning system must be periodically inspected and maintained in order to function properly. While an annual inspection performed by a trained professional is recommended, homeowners can do a lot of the work themselves by following the tips offered in this guide.  

Clean the Exterior Condenser Unit and Components  

The exterior condenser unit is the large box located on the side of the building that is designed to push heat from the inside of the building to the outdoors. Inside of the box are coils of pipe that are surrounded by thousands of thin metal "fins" that allow the coils more surface area to exchange heat.

Follow these tips when cleaning the exterior condenser unit and its inner components -- after turning off power to the unit!

• Remove any leaves, spider webs and other debris from the unit's exterior. Trim foliage back several feet from the unit to ensure proper air flow.

• Remove the cover grille to clean any debris from the unit's interior. A garden hose can be helpful for this task. • Straighten any bent fins with a tool called a fin comb.

• Add lubricating oil to the motor. Check your owner’s manual for specific instructions.

• Clean the evaporator coil and condenser coil at least once a year.  When they collect dirt, they may not function properly. Inspect the Condensate Drain Line   Condensate drain lines collect condensed water and drain it away from the unit.  They are located on the side of the inside fan unit. Sometimes there are two drain lines—a primary drain line that’s built into the unit, and a secondary drain line that can drain if the first line becomes blocked.

Homeowners can inspect the drain line by using the following tips, which take very little time and require no specialized tools:

• Inspect the drain line for obstructions, such as algae and debris. If the line becomes blocked, water will back up into the drain pan and overflow, potentially causing a safety hazard or water damage to your home.

• Make sure the hoses are secured and fit properly.

Clean the Air Filter  

Air filters remove pollen, dust and other particles that would otherwise circulate indoors. Most filters are typically rectangular in shape and about 20 inches by 16 inches, and about 1 inch thick. They slide into the main ductwork near the inside fan unit. The filter should be periodically washed or replaced, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. A dirty air filter will not only degrade indoor air quality, but it will also strain the motor to work harder to move air through it, increasing energy costs and reducing energy efficiency. The filter should be replaced monthly during heavy use during the cooling seasons. You may need to change the filter more often if the air conditioner is in constant use, if building occupants have respiratory problems,if  you have pets with fur, or if dusty conditions are present.   

Cover the Exterior Unit   When the cooling season is over, you should cover the exterior condenser unit in preparation for winter. If it isn’t being used, why expose it to the elements? This measure will prevent ice, leaves and dirt from entering the unit, which can harm components and require additional maintenance in the spring. A cover can be purchased, or you can make one yourself by taping together plastic trash bags. Be sure to turn the unit off before covering it.

In addition, homeowners should practice the following strategies in order to keep their central air conditioning systems running properly:

• Have the air-conditioning system inspected by a professional each year before the start of the cooling season.

• Reduce stress on the air conditioning system by enhancing your home’s energy efficiency. Switch from incandescent lights to compact fluorescents, for instance, which produce less heat.  

In summary, any homeowner can perform periodic inspections and maintenance to their home's central air-conditioning system.

Ceiling Fans

Posted on October 8, 2018 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Ceiling Fans    

By Internachi

A fan attached to a room’s ceiling is known as a ceiling fan. Like other fans, it is used to provide comfort for building occupants by circulating air within a room.  

Fun Facts About Ceiling Fans

• An adult human cannot be decapitated by a ceiling fan, according to the TV show "MythBusters."  A powerful, industrial-strength fan might be able to damage a skull or slice a person’s neck, however.

• Ceiling fans were first used in the United States in the 1860s. They were powered by a system of belts driven by a stream of running water.

• Unlike air conditioners, fans do not actually cool the air, which is why they merely waste electricity when they circulate air in an unoccupied room.

Ceiling Fan Components

A ceiling fan is comprised of the following parts:

• electric motor:  varies with the size of the fan and its application;

• blades:  typically, two to six spinning, precision-weighted blades made from metal, wood or plastic; industrial fans typically have three blades, while residential models have four or five;

• blade irons:  connect the blades to the motor;

• safety cable: on heavy fans, these are required to hold the fan in place in case the support housing fails;

• flywheel:  connects the blade irons to the motor;

• ceiling mount:  designs include ball-in-socket and J-hook;

• downrod:  used where ceiling fans are suspended from high ceilings;

• motor housing:  protects the fan motor from dust and its surroundings; may also be decorative; and

• lamps: may be installed above, below or inside the motor housing.

Common Fan Defects

• The fan falls. A ceiling fan that breaks free from its ceiling mount can be deadly. Fans must be supported by an electrical junction box listed for that use, according to the National Electric Code, and a fan brace box will need to be installed. While a particular junction box might support a fully assembled fan, during operation, it will exert additional forces (notably, torsion) that can cause the support to fail. Homeowners often overlook this distinction by carelessly replacing light fixtures with ceiling fans without upgrading the junction box, which should clearly state whether it’s rated to hold a ceiling fan.

• The fan wobbles. This is a common and distracting defect that is usually caused when fan blades are misaligned from one another. Specific problems stem from minute differences in the size or weight of individual blades, warping, bent blade irons, or blades or blade irons that are not screwed in tightly enough. The ceiling mount may also be loose. Wobbling is not caused by the ceiling or the particular way that the fan was mounted. Wobbling will not cause the fan to fall, and there have been no such reports. Wobbling can, however, cause light fixture covers or shades to loosen and potentially fall. These items should be securely attached, with all screws tightly set in place. An easy way to tell if the blades are not on the same plane is to hold a yardstick or ruler against the ceiling and measure the distance that the tip of each blade is from the ceiling by manually pushing the blades. A homeowner can carefully bend the misaligned blade back into place. Blades can also be corrected in this way if measurement reveals that they are not equidistant from one another. 

• There is inadequate floor-to-ceiling blade clearance. No part of the fan blades of a residential ceiling fan (usually having four or more blades) should be closer than 7 feet from the floor in order to prevent inadvertent contact with the blades. Downward air movement is maximized when the fan blades are around 8 or 9 feet from the floor. For high ceilings, the fan may be hung to a desired height. Low-profile fan models are available for ceilings that are lower than 8 feet from the floor. Also, fan blades should be at least 18 inches from walls. For commercial ceiling fans (usually having three blades), no part of the fan blades should be closer than 10 feet from the floor in order to prevent inadvertent contact with the blades.  Underwriters Laboratories UL 507 Section 70.2.1 says: "The blades of a ceiling-suspended fan shall be located at least 3.05 m (10 feet) above the floor when the fan is installed as intended." Underwriters Laboratories makes exceptions if the fan blade edges are thick and the fan is turning slowly.

• Blades are turning in the wrong direction. In the winter months, the leading edge of the fan's blades should be lower than the trailing edge in order to produce a gentle updraft, which forces warm air near the ceiling down into the occupied space below. In the summer, the leading edge of the fan's blades should be higher as the fan spins counter-clockwise to cool occupants with a wind-chill effect. On most models, the fan direction can be reversed with an electric switch located on the outside of the metal housing, but the same effect can be achieved on other models by unscrewing and remounting the fan blades.

• An indoor fan is not designed for exterior use. Ordinary indoor ceiling fans are unsafe to use outdoors or in humid environments, such as bathrooms.  They will wear out quickly. Fans that are rated “damp” are safe for humid environments, but they, too, should never be used where they might come into contact with liquid water. Only fans that are rated “wet” are safe for such use, as they incorporate features such as all-weather, UV-resistant blades, sealed motors, rust-resistant housing, and stainless steel hardware.

In summary, properly installed and maintained ceiling fans can inexpensively cool or warm building occupants.  

Bathroom Carpeting

Posted on September 12, 2018 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Carpeted Bathrooms    

Carpeted bathrooms are bathrooms that have carpeted floors instead of traditional floor surfaces, such as tile or vinyl. Despite their tendency to foster mold and bacteria, carpets are sometimes installed in residential bathrooms for aesthetic purposes. Carpets should never be installed in bathrooms in commercial buildings.  

Advantages of Carpets in Bathrooms

• They make bathrooms appear more warm and inviting.

• They are softer than tile and many people find them comfortable on bare feet.

• Bathroom slip hazards are reduced. It is easier to slip on hard bathroom surfaces, such as tile, than on carpet.

• Installation is generally quick and inexpensive. Disadvantages of Carpets in Bathrooms   The pad beneath the carpet may soak up large amounts of moisture. 

Some of the common ways that carpets may come into contact with moisture in bathrooms include:

• Steam from the shower will condense on the carpet.

• Water splashes from the tub or shower. • Water sheds from shower/tub occupants as they step onto the carpet.

• Water splashes out of the sink.

• Water drips from the vanity.

• Water leaks from the toilet.

The presence of moisture in the pad will lead to the growth of decay fungi on the wood or oriented strand board (OSB) sub-floor. The sub-floor will be decayed and weakened by mold. Mold also releases spores that can cause respiratory ailments, especially for those with certain health problems. Inspectors can use moisture meters to determine if there is excess moisture beneath a carpet.   In addition to potential mold growth beneath the carpet, bacteria can accumulate in carpeting that surrounds the toilet. Bacteria are contained in urine, which can be accidentally deflected onto the carpet.  

Carpeted Bathrooms in Commercial Buildings  

It is against code to install carpet in commercial bathrooms. The 2007 edition of the International Building Code (IBC) states the following concerning carpeted bathrooms in commercial buildings: In other than dwelling units, toilet, bathing and shower room floor finish materials shall have a smooth, hard, nonabsorbent surface. The intersections of such floors with walls shall have a smooth, hard, nonabsorbent vertical base that extends upward onto the walls at least 4 inches (102 mm).

Recommendations for Clients  

The following are recommendations that InterNACHI inspectors can pass on to clients who are experiencing urine- or moisture-related problems with their bathroom carpet:

• Clean the carpet regularly to remove any mold or urine that may be present.

• Keep the carpet as dry as possible. Various devices exist that prevent water from bypassing the shower curtain.

• Install a bathroom fan, if one is not installed already. If a fan is installed, operate it more often.

• Inspectors can inform their clients about why they are experiencing problems. In summary, carpets installed in bathrooms can trap moisture and urine, substances that can cause structural damage and health problems.

Carpet Mold Identification, Prevention, & Removal

Posted on August 20, 2018 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Carpet Mold: Identification, Prevention and Removal

by Nick Gromicko and Ethan Ward    


The Dangers of Mold  


Molds produce allergens, which are substances that can cause allergic reactions, as well as irritants and, in some cases, potentially toxic substances known as mycotoxins.  Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.  Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis).   Allergic reactions to mold are common.  They can be immediate or delayed.  Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.  In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people.  Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold, but can also occur.


Carpet at Risk

Carpeting is an area of the home that can be at high risk for mold growth.  In order to grow, mold needs moisture, oxygen, a food source, and a surface to grow on.  Mold spores are commonly found naturally in the air.  If spores land on a wet or damp spot indoors that contains dust for them to feed on, mold growth will soon follow. Wall-to-wall carpeting, as well as area rugs, can provide an ample breeding ground for mold if conditions are right.  At especially high risk for mold growth are carpeting located below ground level in basements, carpet in commonly moist or damp climates, and carpet that has been wet for any period of time. 


Identifying Mold in Carpeting

Just because mold is not immediately apparent or visible on a carpet's surface does not mean that mold growth is not in progress.  In fact, mold will probably only be visible on the surface of carpets in unusually severe cases of growth, such as carpet damaged in flooding that has remained wet for some time. 

The following are some examples of identifiable instances where mold growth has occurred or is likely to occur:

• visible mold growth:  As stated above, this can be a rare case, but sometimes it may be obvious from visual inspection that mold growth is occurring.  Carpet in this condition is most likely not salvageable and should be disposed of and replaced.  Often, even if mold growth is not visible on the top of carpeting, it may be occurring underneath the carpet where it can't be easily seen.  Carpet suspected of containing mold should always be examined on both sides.

• carpet mildew:  Any discoloration or odor on carpeting that might be described as mildew is probably a case of mold.

• wet or water-damaged carpet:  Any carpet that has been subjected to water damage from flooding or standing water will most likely need to be disposed of.  Conditions are ripe for mold growth, in this case.  Even if visibly apparent mold growth has not yet begun, it is highly likely to happen unless the carpet is completely removed, cleaned and dried within 24 to 48 hours.  Even then, removal and cleaning are not guaranteed to prevent mold growth.  It is more likely that the carpet will need to be replaced.

• wet padding beneath carpet:  If padding beneath the carpet has become wet for any reason, or has become moist from condensation, the padding as well as the carpet on top are at risk for mold growth.  The padding may need to be replaced, as will the carpet, in some cases.

• basement carpet:  Carpeting in basements below grade level is especially at risk in areas where humidity is high, or where wide temperature swings can produce condensation.

• odors and stains:  There is a wide range of things that can cause odors and stains on carpets.  If mold is suspected, samples can be taken and sent for analysis to determine if mold growth has occurred.

Preventing Mold Growth in Carpeting

The best method for combating mold is to not allow mold growth in the first place.  The best way to do so is by ensuring that conditions conducive to growth do not exist.  Below are some ways to prevent mold growth in carpets.

• Reduce indoor humidity.  The use of dehumidifiers will help control moisture in the air, depriving mold spores of the water they need to grow into mold.  A range of 30% to 60% humidity is acceptable for interiors.

• Install intelligently.  Do not install carpeting in areas that are likely to be subject to frequent, high moisture.  Carpet in a bathroom, for example, will quickly turn to a breeding ground for mold growth due to the high humidity from constant water use in that area.

• Choose high-quality carpet padding.  Solid, rubber-slab carpet padding with anti-microbial properties is available.  It is slightly more expensive than other types of padding but can be helpful for preventing the growth of mold, especially in climates prone to periods of high humidity.

• Never allow standing water.  Carpet exposed to standing water will quickly be ruined.  If standing water ever occurs because of a leak or a spill, all carpeting exposed must be immediately cleaned and dried.  The top and bottom surfaces of the carpet, any padding, and the floor underneath must be cleaned and completely dried within a short period of time after exposure to standing water if the carpet is to be saved.  If a large flood has occurred, or if standing water has been present for any extended period of time, the carpet will probably need to be replaced.

• Clean smart.  When carpeting needs to be cleaned, try to use a dry form of cleaning, when possible.  If any water, liquid, or other moisture has come in contact with the carpet during cleaning, be sure it is dried thoroughly afterward.   Removing Mold From Carpet In many cases, if mold has grown on carpet, cleaning will not be possible.  If growth has occurred on more than one area of the carpet, or if there is a large area of growth, the carpet will probably need to be replaced.  Small areas of growth that have been quickly identified can sometimes be dealt with.  Detergent and water used with a steam-cleaning machine may be enough to clean the carpet thoroughly.  It is then important to ensure that the carpet dries completely after cleaning to prevent the growth from recurring.  Stronger cleaning agents can be substituted if detergent does not work.  Anything stronger than detergent or common rug-cleaning products should first be tested on an inconspicuous area of the carpet to ensure that the rug will not be damaged during cleaning.  About 24 hours is a reasonable amount of time to wait after testing to be sure that wider cleaning will not discolor or damage the carpet.


Another option in instances where mold growth is not widespread is to remove the ruined section of the carpet.  If cleaning has been attempted unsuccessfully, the area of mold growth may be removed and replaced with a patch of similar carpet.  Of course, this will only work in situations where aesthetics are not a big concern, since exactly matching the patch to the original carpet may be difficult and the seam may be visible.  If mold has grown in more than one area of the carpet, or if the area of growth is larger than a couple of feet, this will probably not be an effective method of mold removal.  


As with all areas of the interior at risk for mold growth, prevention is the best method of control for carpet mold.  Eliminating high-moisture conditions and preventing the risk of flooding or standing water will reduce the possibility of growth.  Inspectors will want to know where to look for and how to identify mold growth in carpeting.  It is also helpful to know how to determine if carpet should be replaced, or whether there is a possibility of cleaning and saving it.

Carbon Monoxide Detection

Posted on August 3, 2018 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Detectors

by Nick Gromicko of Internachi     

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:

• furnaces;

• stoves and ovens;

• water heaters;

• dryers; room and space heaters

• fireplaces and wood stoves;

• charcoal grills;

• automobiles;

• 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.        

PPM % CO  in air Health Effects in Healthy Adults Source/Comments

0 0% no effects; this is the normal level in a properly operating heating appliance  

35 0.0035% maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

50 0.005% maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift             

100 0.01% slight headache, fatigue, shortness of breath,  errors in judgment

125 0.0125%   workplace alarm must sound (OSHA)

200 0.02% headache, fatigue,  nausea, dizziness

400 0.04% severe headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, confusion; can be life-threatening after three hours of exposure evacuate area immediately 800 0.08% convulsions, loss of consciousness; death within three hours evacuate area immediately

12,000 1.2% nearly instant death    

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.

Buying a Foreclosure Property

Posted on July 19, 2018 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Buying a Foreclosure Property

By Internachi

Purchasing foreclosed homes in desirable areas at below-market values can be a sound investment strategy. Appreciation on their original prices may be tax-free.  Buying foreclosed rental properties can provide positive cash flow, as well as valuable tax deductions. On the other hand, buying a foreclosure involves homework, patience, and a certain amount of luck. For those wishing to get a bargain house through the foreclosure process, it’s best to learn the basics.  

Four Ways to Buy a Foreclosed Home

• A presale is when the prospective buyer negotiates with the current owner before the house is foreclosed upon. Presale discounts can be considerable, but communicating and reasoning with the owner isn’t always easy; they might have legal problems, lost their phone service or electricity, or greet you with suspicion, having already been hounded and threatened by creditors. And after time and energy have been invested, the deal can fall through if the owner comes up with the money to repay their debt, or for any number of unexpected reasons. With persistence, however, the seasoned real estate investor can profit from presales. To find out about presales, you can try one of the following avenues: o Ask your local county court how to search new notices of default. o Find out if the County Recorder has data available online. o Look in the "legal notices" section of the newspaper for properties that are coming up for sale at public auction. Take note of the address, the property owner’s name, the tax ID, and whatever other information is contained in the ad.

• A foreclosed home may be sold at a public auction, in which buyers can expect a discount of 10% to 25% of market value. Interested bidders are generally required to show proof of financing, and must have a minimum cash deposit before they are qualified to bid. It might be impossible to gain entry to inspect the interior, too, which makes this type of purchase risky. The local building department may have permit records that can clue you in to the building’s layout and appearance.

• A real estate-owned (REO) sale is a transaction where a foreclosed house is purchased directly from the bank. These properties typically wound up in the bank’s portfolio after failing to sell at auction. REO investments are relatively safe, as there are no tenants to evict or hidden liens and, unlike properties sold at public auction, buyers can usually receive a mortgage to pay for them. And purchasers might even get an unused house; the slow economy has left many builders at the end of their construction-loan periods without finding buyers for the homes, in which case the bank will foreclose on the brand new homes. Unfortunately, REOs are usually offered at near-market prices to recoup the costs of property taxes, maintenance and legal fees. To find REOs, try the following: o Check lenders’ websites, as they may have a list of their REOs, along with contact information for the appropriate real estate agent. o Call lenders and ask to speak to someone who handles their foreclosures. o Check newspapers.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has tens of thousands of HUD homes whose previous owners defaulted on federally issued loans. After a period during which local governments gain exclusive buying privileges, they become available to individual buyers who pledge to live in the property. After another 10 days, investors may bid on the property. It’s difficult to make a profit on these houses, as HUD releases them at near-market values.

Tips for Foreclosure Purchases

• Invest time in research and preparation. Those new to the field should spend some time learning the variables of foreclosure investing before making any purchases.

• Budget carefully to prepare for the unexpected. The house may require unforeseen repairs, such as a leaky roof or unstable deck. The price tag of the home itself is often just the first of a series of fees. What if you planned on rental cash flow to cover the mortgage, but you can’t find a tenant?

• Avoid buying a foreclosure sight-unseen. Try to see the house yourself before buying it, or hire someone to evaluate at it in your absence. Distant investors are buying up properties unseen in bulk, and they’re often unpleasantly surprised at how much they’ve been misled.

• Evaluate the neighborhood. If the foreclosure is rife with problems, but it’s in a desirable area with high property resale values, it may still be worth it to make a low offer. An area with several foreclosures or a high crime rate can undermine an otherwise good deal, however.

• Consider how long the house has been vacant. Building damage – and the costs required to make the house livable - generally increases with the time that has lapsed since the last tenant vacated. Pests are a particular issue in houses that have been empty for a long time, and plumbing defects and leaks increase in likelihood in such homes, as well.

• Examine the landscaping. Left unchecked, trees can send their roots into the foundation, and vines can creep into the windows.

• Has the house been professionally inspected by an InterNACHI inspector? Foreclosures can be notorious for damage suffered at the hands of past tenants, through both inadvertent and intentional vandalism and theft.

In summary, there are a number of ways to go about buying a foreclosed home, and buyers should exercise patience, persistence and careful planning before buying foreclosed properties.

Building Orientation

Posted on June 28, 2018 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Building Orientation for Optimum Energy

Provided by INTERNACHI  

Building orientation is the practice of facing a building so as to maximize certain aspects of its surroundings, such as street appeal, to capture a scenic view, for drainage considerations, etc. With rising energy costs, it’s becoming increasingly important for builders to orient buildings to capitalize on the Sun’s free energy. For developers and builders,  orienting a new home to take advantage of the warmth of the Sun will increase the home's appeal and marketability.  For homeowners, it will increase their indoor comfort and reduce their energy bills.   Thus, building orientation, along with daylighting and thermal mass, are crucial considerations of passive solar construction that can be incorporated into virtually any new home design. 

InterNACHI inspectors who consult with new homeowners can pass along this valuable information to help their clients reap long-term energy benefits and savings.  

Facts and Figures

• Many older homes’ designs were oriented through the use of a heliodon, which is a moveable light source used to mimic the Sun’s path that hovered over a small-scale model of a proposed building. Today, mathematical computer models calculate location-specific solar gain and seasonal thermal performance with precision, and have the added ability to rotate and animate a 3D color graphic model of a proposed building design in relation to the Sun’s path.

• Homeowners may now tap into a specialty market of homes designed to spin on their axis in order to follow the hourly and seasonal path of the Sun. These UFO-shaped homes can spin a full 360 degrees in minutes and are built with unusually tall ceilings and windows for maximum efficiency in powering their solar energy system.

• While some passive solar features are relatively recent innovations, the practice of orienting a home to the path of the Sun is as old as civilization itself. Examples are numerous, from south-facing doors on Neolithic and ancient Ming Dynasty houses, to the astonishing Pueblo ruins in southwestern Colorado. The Sun’s True Position Schoolchildren (and most homeowners) will tell you that the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and, if this were true, building orientation would be a fairly simple matter. In reality, the sun rises and sets in the east and west only on the autumnal and vernal equinoxes, and something very different happens during the remaining 363 days of the year. The Earth’s tilt causes the Sun to rise and set slightly south of east and west in the winter, and slightly north of east and west in the summer.  This slight angle depends on the time of year and the observer’s distance from the equator. As a result, the winter sun spends all of its time in the southern sky, and the summer sun spends much of its time in the northern sky (the sun crosses over into the southern sky during part of the day, depending on latitude). In the Southern Hemisphere, all of these directions are reversed, so the winter sun rises and sets in the northeast and northwest, respectively, and the summer sun rises and sets in the southeast and southwest, respectively. How the Sun’s Variations in Position Can Affect Building Design The relative position of the Sun is a major factor in heat gain in buildings, which makes accurate orientation of the building a fundamental consideration in passive solar construction. Most importantly, a rectangular house’s ridgeline should run east-west to maximize the length of the southern side, which should also incorporate several windows in its design. For this reason, fewer windows should be located on the northern side of the house, where the summer sun can be intense. A deep roof overhang can shade the few windows in this area, as can different types of shade trees and bushes. Research supports an east-west ridgeline.  Homes re-oriented toward the Sun without any additional solar features save between 10% and 20% and some can save up to 40% on home heating, according to the Bonneville Power Administration and the City of San Jose, California. Builders should note that these directions are given in reference to the Sun and not magnetic north, which can vary significantly from the Sun’s actual position. Magnetic north, as read from a compass, can still be used as a reference if the builder adjusts the figure based on the location-specific magnetic variation, which can be found in publicly available maps.

Building Tips for New Construction

The following tips will also assist homeowners and builders in maximizing heat gain through building orientation:

• Orient the floor plan – not merely the building’s profile – toward the Sun. Design the home so that frequently used rooms, such as the kitchen and living room, are on the southern side. Occupants will appreciate the sunrays in the winter and relief from the sun in the summer. Patios and decks should be built on the south side of the house, where direct sunlight will permit their use for more hours during the day and more days during the year. Likewise, the garage, laundry room and other areas that are less frequently used should be situated at the northern part of the house, where they will act as buffers against cold winter winds.  

• Beware of mountains. The north/south sun differential is exaggerated in hilly and mountainous regions, where significant climatic differences can be seen over comparatively small areas. A passive solar house should be constructed on the south-facing slope of a mountain to avoid the extreme shading created where the low-angled sun is blocked by the mountain on the north side. Halfway up the slope is ideal, as the mountain’s peak is exposed to strong winds, while cold night-time air flows into the underlying valley, which is also a natural drainage point.

• Plan for tree shade. Trees are an important factor in passive solar design because they can both provide needed shade on a balmy summer day and starve the house of natural light when it is needed most. Deciduous trees planted on the south side will lose their leaves in the winter and allow natural light to enter the house, while evergreen trees planted on the north side will provide shade from the summer sun. Builders should carefully consider the age, species, growth rate and mature canopy cover of existing trees before deciding where to orient a structure on a building lot. Trees also pose unique dangers, which are covered in InterNACHI’s article on Tree Dangers.

• Install as many windows as possible, but not too many! The exact number of windows required is different for each house because it’s based on – among other considerations – the local climate.  A “sun-tempered” house should include enough glazing to equal 5% of the conditioned square footage of the house. Remember, though, that windows allow heat transfer more easily than walls, so too many windows can actually drain heat from the house during the cold winter months. Read InterNACHI’s article on Window Gas Fills and Window Films to learn how to insulate a house’s glazing.

• Stray from the rule on east-west orientation, if needed. The east-west orientation of the ridgeline may be adjusted to accommodate other factors by up to 20 degrees with only a minimal impact on heat gain.

• Driveways can get hot! Driveways and parking lots are made using gravel and asphalt – materials that heat up faster and reach higher temperatures than the rest of the yard. Excessive heat there can spill over to the adjacent house, which is why placement of the driveway or parking lot to the south or east of the building can reduce summer heat buildup in southern climates. During the cold winter months in northern climates, a south- or west-oriented driveway will melt snow faster and provide the home with greater warmth.

• Glass need not be vertical. Custom glass is available that may be tilted to match the angle of the sun and minimize reflection. Angling glass away from the vertical makes it less insulative, however, so builders should balance potential gains in sun exposure with loss of heat to the outdoors.

• Another environmental factor that should be considered in the equation of building orientation and positioning is prevailing winds, which are the winds that blow predominantly from a single, general direction over a particular point. Data for these winds can be used to design a building that can take advantage of summer breezes for passive cooling, as well as shield against adverse winds that can further chill the interior on an already cold winter day, or even prevent snow from piling up against windows and doors. Detailed information about prevailing winds for specific locations are plotted in a graphic tool called a wind rose, which is usually available from airports, larger libraries, Internet sources, and county agricultural extension offices. As a general rule of thumb, cold winter winds generally come from the north and west, which can be limited by using insulating glazing on these sides of the house. Also, remember that coastal areas typically experience breezes from an onshore direction, while cool breezes flow down valleys from mountain slopes.

Ultimately, factors such as street appeal and the property’s lot dimensions may restrict a builder’s ability to orient a building in strict accordance with passive solar techniques. Even while working under these constraints, however, a builder can still create an energy-efficient home through the implementation of energy-saving features, such as low-E windows, adequate insulation, air sealing, and cool roofs.  Read more about these energy investment features in InterNACHI’s Green Resources for Inspectors and Consumers. In summary, homes oriented to the path of the Sun with require less energy for heating and cooling, resulting in lower energy bills and increased indoor comfort.  Homeowners who are considering new builds should consult an InterNACHI inspector who can meet with them and their builder to discuss ways to maximize low-cost and no-cost energy strategies.

Biological Pollutants in the Home

Posted on June 21, 2018 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Biological Pollutants in the Home

Courtesy of INTERNACHI

Outdoor air pollution in cities is a major health problem. Much effort and money continue to be spent cleaning up pollution in the outdoor air. But air pollution can be a problem where you least expect it, in the place you may have thought was safest -- your home. Many ordinary activities, such as cooking, heating, cooling, cleaning and redecorating, can cause the release and spread of indoor pollutants at home. Studies have shown that the air in our homes can be even more polluted than outdoor air. Many Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors, often at home. Therefore, breathing clean indoor air can have an important impact on health. People who are inside a great deal may be at greater risk of developing health problems, or having problems made worse by indoor air pollutants. These people include infants, young children, the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. Many factors determine whether pollutants in your home will affect your health. They include the presence, use and condition of pollutant sources, the level of pollutants both indoors and out, the amount of ventilation in your home, and your overall health.  

What are Biological Pollutants?   Biological pollutants are or were living organisms. They promote poor indoor air quality and may be a major cause of days lost from work and school, and of doctor and hospital visits. Some can even damage surfaces inside and outside your house. Biological pollutants can travel through the air and are often invisible.

Some common indoor biological pollutants are:

• animal dander (minute scales from hair, feathers, or skin);

• dust mite and cockroach parts;

• infectious agents (bacteria and viruses); and 

• pollen.

Some of these substances are in every home. It is impossible to get rid of them all. Even a spotless home may permit the growth of biological pollutants. Two conditions are essential to support biological growth:  nutrients and moisture. These conditions can be found in many locations, such as bathrooms, damp or flooded basements, wet appliances (such as humidifiers and air conditioners), and even some carpets and furniture. Modern materials and construction techniques may reduce the amount of outside air brought into buildings, which may result in high moisture levels inside. Using humidifiers, unvented heaters, and air conditioners in our homes has increased the chances of moisture forming on interior surfaces. This encourages the growth of certain biological pollutants.   The Scope of the Problem   Most information about sources and health effects of biological pollutants is based on studies of large office buildings and surveys of homes in the northern U.S. and Canada. These surveys show that 30% to 50% of all structures have damp conditions which may encourage the growth and buildup of biological pollutants. This percentage is likely to be higher in warm, moist climates. Some diseases and illnesses have been linked with biological pollutants in the indoor environment. However, many of them also have causes unrelated to the indoor environment. Therefore, we do not know how many health problems relate only to poor indoor air.   Health Effects of Biological Pollutants   All of us are exposed to biological pollutants. However, the effects on our health depend on the type and amount of biological pollution and the individual person.

Some people do not experience health reactions from certain biological pollutants, while others may experience one or more of the following reactions:

• allergic;

• infectious; and/or 

• toxic.

Except for the spread of infections indoors, allergic reactions may be the most common health problem with indoor air quality in homes. They are often connected with animal dander (mostly from cats and dogs), with house dust mites (microscopic animals living in household dust), and with pollen. Allergic reactions can range from mildly uncomfortable to life-threatening, as in a severe asthma attack. Some common signs and symptoms are:

• watery eyes;

• runny nose and sneezing;

• nasal congestion;

• itching;

• coughing;

• wheezing and difficulty breathing;

• headache; and 

• fatigue.

Health experts are especially concerned about people with asthma. These people have very sensitive airways that can react to various irritants, making breathing difficult. The number of people who have asthma has greatly increased in recent years. The number of people with asthma has gone up by 59% since 1970, to a total of 9.6 million people. Asthma in children under 15 years of age has increased 41% in the same period, to a total of 2.6 million children. The number of deaths from asthma is up by 68% since 1979, to a total of almost 4,400 deaths per year.  

Talking to Your Doctor  

Are you concerned about the effects on your health that may be related to biological pollutants in your home? Before you discuss your concerns with your doctor, you should know the answers to the following questions. This information can help the doctor determine whether your health problems may be related to biological pollution.

• Does anyone in the family have frequent headaches, fevers, itchy and watery eyes, a stuffy nose, dry throat, or a cough?  Does anyone complain of feeling tired or dizzy all the time? Is anyone wheezing or having difficulties breathing on a regular basis?

• Did these symptoms appear after you moved into a new or different home?

• Do the symptoms disappear when you go to school or the office or go away on a trip, and return when you come back?

• Have you recently remodeled your home or done any energy-conservation work, such as installing insulation, storm windows, or weather stripping? Did your symptoms occur during or after these activities?

Does your home feel humid? Can you see moisture on the windows or on other surfaces, such as walls and ceilings?

• What is the usual temperature in your home? Is it very hot or cold?

• Have you recently had water damage?

• Is your basement wet or damp?

• Is there any obvious mold or mildew?

• Does any part of your home have a musty or moldy odor?

• Is the air stale?

• Do you have pets?

• Do your house plants show signs of mold?

• Do you have air conditioners or humidifiers that have not been properly cleaned?

• Does your home have cockroaches or rodents? Infectious diseases caused by bacteria and viruses, such as the flu, measles, chicken pox, and tuberculosis, may be spread indoors. Most infectious diseases pass from person to person through physical contact. Crowded conditions with poor air circulation can promote this spread. Some bacteria and viruses thrive in buildings and circulate through indoor ventilation systems. For example, the bacterium causing Legionnaire's Disease, a serious and sometimes lethal infection, and Pontiac Fever, a flu-like illness, have circulated in some large buildings.   Toxic reactions are the least studied or understood health problem caused by some biological air pollutants in the home. Toxins can damage a variety of organs and tissues in the body, including the liver, the central nervous system, the digestive tract, and the immune system.   Checking Your Home   There is no simple or cheap way to sample the air in your home to determine the level of all biological pollutants. Experts suggest that sampling for biological pollutants is not a useful problem-solving tool. Even if you had your home tested, it is almost impossible to know which biological pollutant(s) cause various symptoms or health problems. The amount of most biological substances required to cause disease is unknown and varies from one person to the next.

Does this make the problem sound hopeless? On the contrary, you can take several simple, practical actions to help remove sources of biological pollutants, to help get rid of pollutants, and to prevent their return.  

Self-Inspection: A Walk Through Your Home   Begin by touring your household. Follow your nose, and use your eyes. Two major factors help create conditions for biological pollutants to grow:  nutrients and constant moisture with poor air circulation.

1. Dust and construction materials, such as wood, wallboard and insulation, contain nutrients that allow biological pollutants to grow. Firewood also is a source of moisture, fungi and bugs.

2. Appliances, such as humidifiers, kerosene and gas heaters, washers and clothes dryers, dishwashers and gas stoves, add moisture to the air.

A musty odor, moisture on hard surfaces, and even water stains, may be caused by:

air-conditioning units;

• basements, attics and crawlspaces;

• bathrooms;

• carpets;

• heating and air-conditioning ducts;

• humidifiers and dehumidifiers; and

• refrigerator drip pans.

What You Can Do About Biological Pollutants  

Before you give away the family pet or move, there are less drastic steps you can take to reduce potential problems. Properly cleaning and maintaining your home can help reduce the problem and may avoid interrupting your normal routine. People who have health problems, such as asthma, or who are allergic, may need to do this and more. Discuss this with your doctor.   Moisture Control   Water in your home can come from many sources. Water can enter your home by leaking or by seeping through basement floors. Showers and even cooking can add moisture to the air in your home. The amount of moisture that the air in your home can hold depends on the temperature of the air. As the temperature goes down, the air is able to hold less moisture. This is why, in cold weather, moisture condenses on cold surfaces (for example, drops of water form on the inside of a window). This moisture can encourage biological pollutants to grow.  

There are many ways to control moisture in your home:

• Fix leaks and seepage. If water is entering the house from the outside, your options range from simple landscaping to extensive excavation and waterproofing. (The ground should slope away from the house.) Water in the basement can result from the lack of gutters or a water flow toward the house. Water leaks in pipes and around tubs and sinks can provide a place for biological pollutants to grow.

• Put a plastic cover over dirt crawlspaces to prevent moisture from coming in from the ground. Be sure crawlspaces are well-ventilated.

• Use exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens to remove moisture to the outside (not into the attic). Vent your clothes dryer to the outside.

• Turn off certain appliances (such as humidifiers and kerosene heaters) if you notice moisture on windows and other surfaces.

• Use dehumidifiers and air conditioners, especially in hot, humid climates, to reduce moisture in the air, but be sure that the appliances themselves don't become sources of biological pollutants.

• Raise the temperature of cold surfaces where moisture condenses. Use insulation and storm windows. (A storm window installed on the inside works better than one installed on the outside) Open doors between rooms (especially doors to closets which may be colder than the rooms) to increase circulation. Circulation carries heat to the cold surfaces Increase air circulation by using fans and by moving furniture from wall corners to promote air and heat circulation. Be sure that your house has a source of fresh air and can expel excessive moisture from the home.

• Pay special attention to carpet on concrete floors. Carpet can absorb moisture and serve as a place for biological pollutants to grow. Use area rugs, which can be taken up and washed often. In certain climates, if carpet is to be installed over a concrete floor, it maybe necessary to use a vapor barrier (plastic sheeting) over the concrete and cover that with sub-flooring (insulation covered with plywood) to prevent a moisture problem.

• Moisture problems and their solutions differ from one climate to another. The Northeast is cold and wet, the Southwest is hot and dry, the South is hot and wet, and the Western Mountain states are cold and dry. All of these regions can have moisture problems. For example, evaporative coolers used in the Southwest can encourage the growth of biological pollutants. In other hot regions, the use of air conditioners which cool the air too quickly may not be left running long enough to remove excess moisture from the air. The types of construction and weather for the different climates can lead to different problems and solutions.

Where Biological Pollutants May Be Found in the Home

• dirty air conditioners;

• dirty humidifiers and/or dehumidifiers;

• bathroom without vents or windows;

• kitchen without vents or windows;

• dirty refrigerator drip pans;

• laundry room with an unvented dryer;

• an unventilated attic;

• carpet on damp basement floor;

• bedding;

• closet on outside wall;

• dirty heating/air-conditioning system;

• pets; and 

• water damage (around windows, the roof, the basement).

Maintain and Clean All Appliances that Come in Contact with Water

• Have major appliances, such as furnaces, heat pumps and central air conditioners, inspected regularly by a professional InterNACHI inspector. Change filters on heating and cooling systems according to manufacturer's directions. (In general, change filters monthly during use.) When first turning on the heating or air conditioner at the start of the season, consider leaving your home until it airs out.

• Have window and wall air-conditioning units cleaned and serviced regularly by a professional, especially before the cooling season. Air conditioners can help reduce the entry of allergy-causing pollen. But they may also become a source of biological pollutants if not properly maintained. Clean the coils and rinse the drain pans, according to the manufacturer's instructions, so water cannot collect in pools.

• Have furnace-attached humidifiers cleaned and serviced regularly by a professional, especially before the heating season.

• Follow the manufacturer's instructions when using any type of humidifier. Experts differ on the benefits of using humidifiers. If you do use a portable humidifier (approximately 1- to 2-gallon tanks), be sure to empty its tank every day and refill it with distilled or demineralized water, or even fresh tap water, if the other types of water are unavailable.  For larger portable humidifiers, change the water as recommended by the manufacturer. Unplug the appliance before cleaning. Every third day, clean all surfaces coming in contact with water with a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide, using a brush to loosen deposits.  Some manufacturers recommend using diluted household bleach for cleaning and maintenance, generally in a solution of one-half cup bleach to 1 gallon of water. With any household chemical, rinse well to remove all traces of chemical before refilling the humidifier.

• Empty dehumidifiers daily and clean often. If possible, have the appliance drip directly into a drain. Follow manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and maintenance. Always disconnect the appliance before cleaning.

• Clean refrigerator drip pans regularly, according to manufacturer's instructions. If refrigerator and freezer doors don't seal properly, moisture may build up and mold can grow. Remove any mold on door gaskets, and replace faulty gaskets. Clean Surfaces

• Clean moist surfaces, such as showers and kitchen counters.

• Remove mold from walls, ceilings, floors and paneling. Do not simply cover mold with paint, stain, varnish, or a moisture-proof sealer, as the mold may resurface.

• Replace moldy shower curtains, or remove them and scrub them well with a household cleaner, and rinse them before rehanging them.

Dust Control  

Controlling dust is very important for people who are allergic to animal dander and mites. You cannot see mites, but you can either remove their favorite breeding grounds or keep these areas dry and clean. Dust mites can thrive in sofas, stuffed chairs, carpets and bedding. Open shelves, fabric wallpaper, knickknacks, and venetian blinds are also sources of dust mites. Dust mites live deep in the carpet and are not removed by vacuuming. Many doctors suggest that their mite-allergic patients use washable area rugs rather than wall-to-wall carpet.

• Always wash bedding in hot water (at least 130° F) to kill dust mites. Cold water won't do the job. Launder bedding at least every seven to 10 days.

• Use synthetic or foam rubber mattress pads and pillows, and plastic mattress covers, if you are allergic. Do not use fuzzy wool blankets, feather or wool-stuffed comforters, and feather pillows.

• Clean rooms and closets well.  Dust and vacuum often to remove surface dust. Vacuuming and other cleaning may not remove all animal dander, dust mite material, and other biological pollutants. Some particles are so small, they can pass through vacuum bags and remain in the air. If you are allergic to dust, wear a mask when vacuuming and dusting. People who are highly allergy-prone should not perform these tasks. They may even need to leave the house when someone else is cleaning. Before You Move   Protect yourself by hiring an InterNACHI inspector to inspect your potential new home. If you identify problems, have the landlord or seller correct them before you move in, or even consider moving elsewhere.

• Have professionals check the heating and cooling system, including humidifiers and vents. Have duct lining and insulation checked for growth.

• Check for exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens. If there are no vents, do the kitchen and bathrooms have at least one window in each room? Does the stovetop have a hood vented outside? Does the clothes dryer vent outside? Do all vents exhaust to the outside of the building, and not in attics or crawlspaces?

• Look for obvious mold growth throughout the house, including attics, basements and crawlspaces, and around the foundation outside. See if there are many plants close to the house, particularly if they are damp and rotting. They are a potential source of biological pollutants. Downspouts from roof gutters should route water away from the building.

• Look for stains on the walls, floor or carpet (including any carpet over concrete floors) as evidence of previous flooding or moisture problems. Is there moisture on windows and surfaces? Are there signs of leaks or seepage in the basement?

• Look for rotted building materials, which may suggest moisture or water damage.

• If you or anyone else in the family has a pet allergy, ask if any pets have lived in the home.

• Examine the design of the building. Remember that in cold climates, overhanging areas, rooms over unheated garages, and closets on outside walls may be prone to problems with biological pollutants.

• Look for signs of cockroaches. (Carefully read instructions for use and any cautionary labeling on cleaning products before beginning cleaning procedures.)

• Do not mix any chemical products. Especially, never mix cleaners containing bleach with any product (such as ammonia) which does not have instructions for such mixing.  When chemicals are combined, a dangerous gas can sometimes be formed.

• Household chemicals may cause burning or irritation to skin and eyes.

• Household chemicals may be harmful if swallowed or inhaled. • Avoid contact with skin, eyes, mucous membranes, and clothing.

• Avoid breathing vapor. Open all windows and doors, and use an exhaust fan that sends the air outside.

• Keep household chemicals out of reach of children.

• Rinse treated surface areas well to remove all traces of chemicals.  Correcting Water Damage   What if damage is already done? Follow these guidelines for correcting water damage:

• Throw out mattresses, wicker furniture, straw baskets and the like that have been water damaged or contain mold. These cannot be recovered.

• Discard any water-damaged furnishings, such as carpets, drapes, stuffed toys, upholstered furniture, and ceiling tiles, unless they can be recovered by steam cleaning or hot-water washing and thorough drying.

• Remove and replace wet insulation to prevent conditions where biological pollutants can grow.

Reducing Exposure to Biological Contaminants  

General good housekeeping, and maintenance of heating and air-conditioning equipment, are very important. Adequate ventilation and good air distribution also help. The key to mold control is moisture control. If mold is a problem, clean up the mold and get rid of excess water and moisture. Maintaining the relative humidity between 30% to 60% will help control mold, dust mites and cockroaches. Employ integrated pest management to control insect and animal allergens. Cooling-tower treatment procedures exist to reduce levels of Legionella and other organisms.   Install and use exhaust fans that are vented to the outdoors in kitchens and bathrooms, and vent clothes dryers outdoors. These actions can eliminate much of the moisture that builds up from everyday activities. There are exhaust fans on the market that produce little noise, an important consideration for some people. Another benefit to using kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans is that they can reduce levels of organic pollutants that vaporize from hot water used in showers and dishwashers. Ventilate the attic and crawlspaces to prevent moisture build-up. Keeping humidity levels in these areas below 50% can prevent water condensation on building materials.   If using cool mist or ultrasonic humidifiers, clean appliances according to the manufacturer's instructions and refill with fresh water daily. Because these humidifiers can become breeding grounds for biological contaminants, they have the potential for causing diseases such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis and humidifier fever. Evaporation trays in air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and refrigerators should also be cleaned frequently.   Thoroughly clean and dry water-damaged carpets and building materials (within 24 hours, if possible), or consider removal and replacement. Water-damaged carpets and building materials can harbor mold and bacteria. It is very difficult to completely rid such materials of biological contaminants.   Keep the house clean. House dust mites, pollens, animal dander, and other allergy-causing agents can be reduced, although not eliminated, through regular cleaning. People who are allergic to these pollutants should use allergen-proof mattress encasements, wash bedding in hot water (130° F), and avoid room furnishings that accumulate dust, especially if they cannot be washed in hot water. Allergic individuals should also leave the house while it is being vacuumed because vacuuming can actually increase airborne levels of mite allergens and other biological contaminants. Using central vacuum systems that are vented to the outdoors, or vacuums with high efficiency filters may also be of help.   Take steps to minimize biological pollutants in basements. Clean and disinfect the basement floor drain regularly. Do not finish a basement below ground level unless all water leaks are patched and outdoor ventilation and adequate heat to prevent condensation are provided. Operate a dehumidifier in the basement, if needed, to keep relative humidity levels between 30% to 50%. Health Effects From Biological Contaminants   Some biological contaminants trigger allergic reactions, including hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic rhinitis, and some types of asthma. Infectious illnesses, such as influenza, measles and chicken pox, are transmitted through the air. Molds and mildews release disease-causing toxins. Symptoms of health problems caused by biological pollutants include sneezing, watery eyes, coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, lethargy, fever and digestive problems.   Allergic reactions occur only after repeated exposure to a specific biological allergen. However, that reaction may occur immediately upon re-exposure, or after multiple exposures over time. As a result, people who have noticed only mild allergic reactions, or no reactions at all, may suddenly find themselves very sensitive to particular allergens. Some diseases, such as humidifier fever, are associated with exposure to toxins from microorganisms that can grow in large buildings' ventilation systems. However, these diseases can also be traced to micro-organisms that grow in home heating and cooling systems and humidifiers. Children, elderly people, and people with breathing problems, allergies, and lung diseases are particularly susceptible to disease-causing biological agents in the indoor air. Mold, dust mites, pet dander, and pest droppings or body parts can trigger asthma. Biological contaminants, including molds and pollens, can cause allergic reactions for a significant portion of the population. Tuberculosis, measles, staphylococcus infections, Legionella and influenza are known to be transmitted by air.  

Combustion Pollutants  

Combustion appliances are those which burn fuels for warmth, cooking or decorative purposes. Typical fuels are gas, both natural and liquefied petroleum (LP), kerosene, oil, coal and wood. Examples of the appliances are space heaters, ranges, ovens, stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters, and clothes dryers. These appliances are usually safe. However, under certain conditions, these appliances can produce combustion pollutants that can damage your health, or even kill you.   What are Combustion Pollutants?   Combustion pollutants are gases and particles that come from burning materials. The combustion pollutants come from burning fuels in appliances. The types and amounts of pollutants produced depend on the type of appliance, how well the appliance is installed, maintained and vented, and the kind of fuel it uses. Some of the common pollutants produced from burning these fuels are carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particles, and sulfur dioxide. Particles can have hazardous chemicals attached to them. Other pollutants that can be produced by some appliances are unburned hydrocarbons and aldehydes. Combustion always produces water vapor. Water vapor is not usually considered a pollutant, but it can act as one. It can result in high humidity and wet surfaces.   Where do Combustion Pollutants Come From?   Combustion pollutants found indoors include outdoor air, tobacco smoke, exhaust from car and lawn mower internal combustion engines, and some hobby activities, such as welding, woodburning and soldering. Combustion pollutants can also come from vented or unvented combustion appliances. These appliances include space heaters, gas ranges and ovens, furnaces, gas water heaters, gas clothes dryers, wood and coal-burning stoves, and fireplaces. As a group, these are called "combustion appliances."   Appliances Vented appliances are appliances designed to be used with a duct, chimney, pipe, or other device that carries the combustion pollutants outside the home. These appliances can release large amounts of pollutants directly into your home if a vent is not properly installed, or is blocked or leaking. Unvented appliances do not vent to the outside, so they release combustion pollutants directly into the home. Many of these problems are hard for a homeowner to identify. A professional is needed. What are the Health Effects of Combustion Pollutants?   The health effects of combustion pollutants range from headaches and breathing difficulties to death. The health effects may show up immediately after exposure, or occur after being exposed to the pollutants for a long time. The effects depend on the type and amount of pollutants, and the length of time of exposure to them. They also depend upon several factors related to the exposed person. These include the age and any existing health problems. There are still some questions about the level of pollutants or the period of exposure needed to produce specific health effects. Further studies to better define the release of pollutants from combustion appliances and their health effects are needed.   The sections below discuss health problems associated with some common combustion pollutants. These pollutants include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particles, and sulfur dioxide. Even if you are healthy, high levels of carbon monoxide can kill you within a short time. The health effects of the other pollutants are generally more subtle and are more likely to affect susceptible people. It is always a good idea to reduce exposure to combustion pollutants by using and maintaining combustion appliances properly.   Carbon Monoxide: Each year, according to CPSC, there are more than 200 carbon monoxide deaths related to the use of all types of combustion appliances in the home. Exposure to carbon monoxide reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen. Often, a person or an entire family may not recognize that carbon monoxide is poisoning them. The chemical is odorless, and some of the symptoms are similar to common illnesses. This is particularly dangerous because carbon monoxide's deadly effects will not be recognized until it is too late to take action against them. Carbon monoxide exposures especially affect unborn babies, infants, and people with anemia or a history of heart disease. Breathing low levels of the chemical can cause fatigue and increase chest pain in people with chronic heart disease. Breathing higher levels of carbon monoxide causes symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and weakness in healthy people. Carbon monoxide also causes sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and disorientation. At very high levels, it causes loss of consciousness and death.   Nitrogen Dioxide: Breathing high levels of nitrogen dioxide causes irritation of the respiratory tract and causes shortness of breath. Compared to healthy people, children, and individuals with respiratory illnesses such as asthma, may be more susceptible to the effects of nitrogen dioxide. Some studies have shown that children may have more colds and flu when exposed to low levels of nitrogen dioxide. When people with asthma inhale low levels of nitrogen dioxide while exercising, their lung airways can narrow and react more to inhaled materials.  

Particles:

Particles suspended in the air can cause eye, nose, throat and lung irritation. They can increase respiratory symptoms, especially in people with chronic lung disease or heart problems. Certain chemicals attached to particles may cause lung cancer, if they are inhaled. The risk of lung cancer increases with the amount and length of exposure. The health effects from inhaling particles depend upon many factors, including the size of the particle and its chemical make-up.   Sulfur Dioxide: Sulfur dioxide at low levels of exposure can cause eye, nose, and respiratory tract irritation. At high exposure levels, it causes the lung airways to narrow. This causes wheezing, chest tightness, and breathing problems. People with asthma are particularly susceptible to the effects of sulfur dioxide. They may have symptoms at levels that are much lower than the rest of the population.   Other Pollutants:  Combustion may release other pollutants. They include unburned hydrocarbons and aldehydes. Little is known about the levels of these pollutants in indoor air and the resulting health effects.   What do I do if I suspect that combustion pollutants are affecting my health?   If you suspect you are being subjected to carbon monoxide poisoning, get fresh air immediately. Open windows and doors for more ventilation, turn off any combustion appliances, and leave the house. You could lose consciousness and die from carbon monoxide poisoning if you do nothing. It is also important to contact a doctor immediately for a proper diagnosis. Remember to tell your doctor that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning is causing your problems. Prompt medical attention is important. Some symptoms from combustion pollutants -- including headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, coughing, and watery eyes -- may also occur because of common medical problems. These medical problems include colds, the flu, and allergies. Similar symptoms may also occur because of other indoor air pollutants. Contact your doctor for a proper diagnosis. How can I reduce my exposure to combustion pollutants?   Proper selection, installation, inspection and maintenance of your appliances are extremely important in reducing your exposure to these pollutants. Providing good ventilation in your home and correctly using your appliance can also reduce your exposure to these pollutants. Additionally, there are several different residential carbon monoxide detectors for sale. These detectors alert consumers to harmful carbon monoxide levels in the home. They may soon be widely available to reduce deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning.

  Appliance Selection

• Choose vented appliances whenever possible.

• Buy only combustion appliances that have been tested and certified to meet current safety standards. Examples of certifying organizations are Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the American Gas Association (AGA) Laboratories. Look for a label that clearly shows the certification.

All currently manufactured vented gas heaters are required by industry safety standards to have a safety shut-off device. This device helps protect you from carbon monoxide poisoning by shutting off an improperly vented heater.

• Check your local and state building codes and fire ordinances to see if you can use an unvented space heater, if you are considering purchasing one. They are not allowed to be used in some communities, dwellings, and certain rooms in the house.

• If you must replace an unvented gas space heater with another, make it a new one. Heaters made after 1982 have a pilot light safety system called an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS). This system shuts off the heater when there is not enough fresh air, before the heater begins producing large amounts of carbon monoxide. Look for the label that tells you that the appliance has this safety system. Older heaters will not have this protection system.

• Consider buying gas appliances that have electronic ignitions rather than pilot lights. These appliances are usually more energy-efficient and eliminate the continuous low-level pollutants from pilot lights.

• Buy appliances that are the correct size for the area you want to heat. Using the wrong size heater may produce more pollutants in your home and is not an efficient use of energy.

• All new wood stoves are EPA-certified to limit the amounts of pollutants released into the outdoor air.

For more information on selecting, installing, operating, and maintaining wood-burning stoves, write to the EPA Wood Heater Program. Before buying a wood stove, check your local laws about the installation and use of wood stoves. Ventilation  

To reduce indoor air pollution, a good supply of fresh, outdoor air is needed. The movement of air into and out of your home is very important. Normally, air comes in through cracks around doors and windows. This air helps reduce the level of pollutants indoors. This supply of fresh air is also important to help carry pollutants up the chimney, stovepipe or flue to the outside.

• Keep doors open to the rest of the house from the room where you are using an unvented gas space heater or kerosene heater, and crack open a window. This allows enough air for proper combustion, and reduces the level of pollutants, especially carbon monoxide.

Use a hood fan if you are using a range. They reduce the level of pollutants you breathe if they exhaust to the outside. Make sure that enough air is coming into the house when you use an exhaust fan. If needed, open a door or window slightly, especially if other appliances are in use. For proper operation of most combustion appliances and their venting systems, the air pressure in the house should be greater than that outside. If not, the vented appliances could release combustion pollutants into the house rather than outdoors.

If you suspect that you have this problem, you may need the help of a qualified person to solve it.

• Make sure that your vented appliance has the vent connected and that nothing is blocking it. Make sure there are no holes or cracks in the vent. Do not vent gas clothes dryers or water heaters into the house for heating. This is unsafe.

• Open the stove's damper when adding wood. This allows more air into the stove. More air helps the wood burn properly, and prevents pollutants from being drawn back into the house instead of going up the chimney. If there is isible smoke or a constant smoky odor inside the home while using a wood-burning stove, this is a sign that the stove is not working properly. Soot on furniture in the rooms where you are using the stove also tells this. Smoke and soot are signs that the stove is releasing pollutants into the indoor air. Correct Use of Appliances

• Read and follow the instructions for all appliances so that you understand how they work. Keep the owner's manual in a convenient place to refer to when needed. Also, read and follow the warning labels because they tell you important safety information that you need to know. Reading and following the instructions and warning labels could save your life.

• Always use the correct fuel for the appliance.

• Use only water-clear ASTM 1-K kerosene for kerosene heaters. The use of kerosene other than 1-K could lead to a release of more pollutants in your home. Never use gasoline in a kerosene heater because it can cause a fire or an explosion. Using even small amounts of gasoline could cause a fire.

• Use seasoned hardwoods (elm, maple, oak) instead of softwoods (cedar, fir, pine) in wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. Hardwoods are better because they burn hotter and form less creosote, an oily, black tar that sticks to chimneys and stove pipes. Do not use green or wet woods as the primary wood because they make more creosote and smoke. Never burn painted scrap wood or wood treated with preservatives, because they could release highly toxic pollutants, such as arsenic or lead. Plastics, charcoal, and colored paper, such as comics and wrapping paper, also produce pollutants. Never burn anything that the stove or fireplace manufacturer does not recommend.

• Never use a range, oven or dryer to heat your home. When you misuse gas appliances in this way, they can produce fatal amounts of carbon monoxide. They can produce high levels of nitrogen dioxide, too.

• Never use an unvented combustion heater overnight or in a room where you are sleeping. Carbon monoxide from combustion heaters can reach dangerous levels.

• Never ignore a safety device when it shuts off an appliance. It means that something is wrong. Read your appliance instructions to find out what you should do, or have a professional check out the problem.

• Never ignore the smell of fuel. This usually indicates that the appliance is not operating properly or is leaking fuel. Leaking fuel will not always be detectable by smell. If you suspect that you have a fuel leak, have it fixed as soon as possible. In most cases, you should shut off the appliance, extinguish any other flames or pilot lights, shut off other appliances in the area, open windows and doors, call for help, and leave the area. Inspection and Maintenance   Have your combustion appliance regularly inspected and maintained to reduce your exposure to pollutants. Appliances that are not working properly can release harmful and even  fatal amounts of pollutants, especially carbon monoxide. Have chimneys and vents inspected when installing or changing vented heating appliances. Some modifications may be required. For example, if a change was made in your heating system from oil to natural gas, the flue gas produced by the gas system could be hot enough to melt accumulated oil-combustion debris in the chimney or vent. This debris could block the vent, forcing pollutants into the house. It is important to clean your chimney and vents, especially when changing heating systems. Always hire an InterNACHI inspector to perform your home inspections, as they all must pass the most comprehensive, rigorous training program available.    What are the Inspection and Maintenance Procedures?   The best advice is to follow the recommendations of the manufacturer. The same combustion appliance may have different inspection and maintenance requirements, depending on where you live. In general, check the flame in the furnace combustion chamber at the beginning of the heating season. Natural gas furnaces should have a blue flame with perhaps only a slight yellow tip. Call your appliance service representative to adjust the burner if there is a lot of yellow in the flame, or call your local utility company for this service. LP units should have a flame with a bright blue center that may have a light yellow tip. Pilot lights on gas water heaters and gas cooking appliances should also have a blue flame. Have a trained service representative adjust the pilot light if it is yellow or orange. Before each heating season, have flues and chimneys inspected before each heating season for leakage and for blockage by creosote or debris. Creosote buildup or leakage could cause black stains on the outside of the chimney or flue. These stains can mean that pollutants are leaking into the house.  

Attached Garage Fire Hazards

Posted on June 13, 2018 at 8:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Attached Garage Fire Hazards  

The purpose of this article is twofold. First, at InterNACHI, 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 an InterNACHI inspector 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 often 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. An InterNACHI 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.

f 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? An InterNACHI inspector 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. An InterNACHI 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.

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 InterNACHI inspector.

15 Tools Every Homeowner Should Own

Posted on June 7, 2018 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (0)

15 Tools Every Homeowner Should Own  

The following items are essential tools, but this list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to ask an InterNACHI inspector during your next inspection about other tools that you might find useful.   

1.  Plunger A clogged sink or toilet is one of the most inconvenient household problems that you will face. With a plunger on hand, however, you can usually remedy these plumbing issues relatively quickly. It is best to have two plungers -- one for the sink and one for the toilet.  

2.  Combination Wrench Set One end of a combination wrench set is open and the other end is a closed loop. Nuts and bolts are manufactured in standard and metric sizes, and because both varieties are widely used, you’ll need both sets of wrenches. For the most control and leverage, always pull the wrench toward you, instead of pushing on it. Also, avoid over-tightening.

3.  Slip-Joint Pliers Use slip-joint pliers to grab hold of a nail, a nut, a bolt, and much more. These types of pliers are versatile because of the jaws, which feature both flat and curved areas for gripping many types of objects. There is also a built-in slip-joint, which allows the user to quickly adjust the jaw size to suit most tasks.

4.  Adjustable Wrench Adjustable wrenches are somewhat awkward to use and can damage a bolt or nut if they are not handled properly. However, adjustable wrenches are ideal for situations where you need two wrenches of the same size. Screw the jaws all the way closed to avoid damaging the bolt or nut.

5.  Caulking Gun Caulking is the process of sealing up cracks and gaps in various structures and certain types of piping. Caulking can provide noise mitigation and thermal insulation, and control water penetration. Caulk should be applied only to areas that are clean and dry.  

6.  Flashlight None of the tools in this list is of any use if you cannot visually inspect the situation. The problem, and solution, are apparent only with a good flashlight. A traditional two-battery flashlight is usually sufficient, as larger flashlights may be too unwieldy.  

7.  Tape Measure Measuring house projects requires a tape measure -- not a ruler or a yardstick. Tape measures come in many lengths, although 25 feet is best.  Measure everything at least twice to ensure accuracy.   

8.  Hacksaw A hacksaw is useful for cutting metal objects, such as pipes, bolts and brackets.  Hacksaws look thin and flimsy, but they’ll easily cut through even the hardest of metals. Blades are replaceable, so focus your purchase on a quality hacksaw frame.  

9. Torpedo Level Only a level can be used to determine if something, such as a shelf, appliance or picture, is correctly oriented. The torpedo-style level is unique because it not only shows when an object is perfectly horizontal or vertical, but it also has a gauge that shows when an object is at a 45-degree angle. The bubble in the viewfinder must be exactly in the middle -- not merely close.

10.  Safety Glasses / Goggles For all tasks involving a hammer or a power tool, you should always wear safety glasses or goggles. They should also be worn while you mix chemicals.

11.  Claw Hammer A good hammer is one of the most important tools you can own.  Use it to drive and remove nails, to pry wood loose from the house, and in combination with other tools. They come in a variety of sizes, although a 16-ounce hammer is the best all-purpose choice.

12.  Screwdriver Set It is best to have four screwdrivers: a small and large version of both a flathead and a Phillips-head screwdriver. Electrical screwdrivers are  sometimes convenient, but they're no substitute.  Manual screwdrivers can reach into more places and they are less likely to damage the screw. 

13.  Wire Cutters Wire cutters are pliers designed to cut wires and small nails. The side-cutting style (unlike the stronger end-cutting style) is handy, but not strong enough to cut small nails.

14.  Respirator / Safety Mask While paints and other coatings are now manufactured to be less toxic (and lead-free) than in previous decades, most still contain dangerous chemicals, which is why you should wear a mask to avoid accidentally inhaling. A mask should also be worn when working in dusty and dirty environments. Disposable masks usually come in packs of 10 and should be thrown away after use. Full and half-face respirators can be used to prevent the inhalation of very fine particles that ordinary facemasks will not stop. 

15.  Duct Tape This tape is extremely strong and adaptable. Originally, it was widely used to make temporary repairs to many types of military equipment. Today, it’s one of the key items specified for home emergency kits because it is water-resistant and extremely sticky.


Courtesy of INTERNACHI


Rss_feed