Just about everyone knows how important smoke alarms are for home safety, but this information is just a part of what you need to know! For example, do you know how old your smoke detectors are? Why, you’re probably thinking, why would that be important? The best smoke sensors available today only work properly for 10-years. Question 2, Do you know what the test buttons checks? That blaring noise you endure when you push that test button only checks the battery and speaker condition. Please do not take a chance on whether you’re homes alarms will work when you need them. Check those manufacture dates. These date codes are either on the back of the alarm or inside where the battery is located. If the alarm has no date code, it is very old! When it is time to replace your alarms, check product reviews to get the best available.
What else should you know about smoke alarms. There are three types available: ionization sensing, photelectric, and a combination of the two. The ionization type is best to detect flaming fires and photoelectric are best to detect smoke. So, with that added knowledge, which one is best? Recent studies overwhelmingly recommend the combination of the two sensors in a single alarm. And yes, these are more expensive. In this case, you get what you pay for. Check out this excellent video demonstration of the three smoke alarm types in action. https://youtu.be/J9zEi1otL88
Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts Require Annual Cleaning
House fires caused by dryers are far more common than are generally believed. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, fires caused by dryers in 2005 were responsible for approximately 13,775 house fires, 418 injuries, 15 deaths, and $196 million in property damage. Most of these incidents occur in residences and are the result of improper lint cleanup and maintenance. Fortunately, these fires are very easy to prevent.
Clothes dryers evaporate the water from wet clothing by blowing hot air past them while they tumble inside a spinning drum. Heat is provided by an electrical heating element or gas burner. Some heavy garment loads can contain more than a gallon of water that will become airborne water vapor and leave the dryer and home through an exhaust duct, more commonly known as the dryer vent.
A vent that exhausts damp air to the home's exterior has a number of requirements:
If you’re a new homeowner, then you may not have a lot of experience with water heaters. maintenance. Knowing how to care for your new water heater, and how to recognize the signs of a water heater problem, can help you take care of your new property.
Storage Tank Water Heaters
Water heaters are usually priced by the length of the warranty period. The longer the warranty, the more it will cost. The warranty period is a good indication of how long the unit will last. If the home has a water softener, the water heater will last longer due to reduced minerals in the water. Over time, most water heaters will develop a layer of sediment in the bottom of the tank from minerals in the water..
Control the Water Temperature
Many water heaters are designed to be kept at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Raising the water temperature over the recommended 120 degrees can force the water heater tank to work harder than necessary just to do its job. The higher the temperature will also increase the chances of scalding. Check with the manufacturer to determine what the recommended setting is for your water heater, then make sure that the water heater is not set higher than that recommended temperature.
Inspect the Tank Regularly
Inspecting your water heater tank on a regular basis can help you keep tabs on your water heater’s health and can also give you a heads up when water heater failure is imminent. When inspecting your water heater, look for signs of problems or potential failure. Some water heater tanks won’t display symptoms of failure before they break, but others will. Some of the problems to look for include:
Know When to Replace Your Water Heater
Water heaters are sold by warranty length or quality level. Generally, water heaters last around eight to twelve years. Knowing how old your water heater is can help you decide when it’s time to replace your unit. If you’re not sure how old your water heater is, look for a serial number on the side of the unit.
This serial number will contain a date code that shows when your water heater was produced. Date codes can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. If you can’t tell when the water heater was produced based on the date code, contact the manufacturer.
Once you know how old your water heater is, you can modify your maintenance habits based on its age. When your water heater reaches around eight years old, start having it inspected by a professional plumber at least once a year. Your plumber can give you a good idea of the health of your water heater and can help you decide when the heater is close to failure.
Find a Plumber You Can Trust
As a new homeowner, you’re going to need a good plumber that you trust to take care of your home’s water heater. Having the phone number of a professional plumber at the ready can help you take care of your home in an emergency and also gives you a resource in the event that you have questions or concerns.
Heat recovery ventilators (HRV) started showing up in new homes since about 2008. HRVs bring fresh air into the house and reclaim or recover about 80 percent of the heat from the stale air that is being drawn out of the house. The need for these systems started when building codes began requiring homes be built tighter and more energy efficient. Homes in the past leaked enough fresh air into the home that a special ventilation system was not needed.
These systems have air filters that need cleaning regularly depending on how much they run. I have not yet found a single HRV that had been serviced and cleaned during a home inspection. On average, they need cleaning at least twice per year. The cleaning task is not difficult when the instructions are followed in the owner’s manual. People are just not told what the systems do and they need regular cleaning. HRVs are about a foot tall and two feet long and are found mounted close to the furnace and hung from the ceiling. Now that you are aware they need cleaning, it is time to find that manual and get started cleaning your unit.
Here is a good HRV YouTube video to get you started on cleaning your system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxjwM_P_J14
WHY ARE MY WINDOWS SWEATING
If you are having trouble with water collecting on the inside of your windows during cold weather, you are not alone. This can cause water stains, wood damage, mildew and even mold. If you are looking for a way to stop this water problem, we need to understand what is causing the water to form in the first place.
When air warms, it expands which allows it to hold more moisture. As it cools down, it contracts until it reaches the saturation point and releases this excess water in the form of condensation.
Everyday activities in your home, such as; cooking, showering, using unvented gas heat, and even breathing add moisture to the air. When this warm humid air comes in contact with cold window glass, it cools and condenses. To reduce this problem, you need to reduce the amount of moisture in the air. The homes moisture level is measured by humidity gauge. Below are some suggestions that will help:
For most people, the purchase of a home is the largest investment you will ever make. Getting an independent, expert opinion on the condition of the structure is vital. But not all home inspectors have the same training, experience, or certifications. There are currently no federal or Iowa state regulations governing home inspectors. So how do you make sure you’ve hired the right person for the job?
When shopping for a home inspector, it’s vital that you do your homework and select your inspector based on the guide below.
The thought of adding a solar panel system to your home is appealing. After all, who does not want lower utility bills and protecting our environment. If the installation is done right, these systems are advertised to last 30 – 40 years. It sounds good, but you will want to see the cost payback, right. Absolutely, but is this all there is to it, the installation cost versus the payback.
What happens when you need a new roof? I have owned my own home for the last 40 years. In this time, I have not had an asphalt shingle roof that has lasted more than 8 years. My roofs have needed replacing due to bad shingles from the manufacturer, hail damage, wind damage, or poor shingle installation. Today’s technology will require the solar system to disassembled to replace the roof and then reassembled. This cost has been estimated to cost between $1,000 - $2,000? Should a person budget this cost every 8 – 10 years?
Another cost to consider is the annual maintenance cost. Solar systems need direct sunshine to work efficiently and these panel surfaces get dirty and block some of the suns energy. The panels will need routine cleaning to remain efficient. The other part of the annual maintenance will be to prevent any shading over the panels from trees, antennas and power lines. It would be simple to manage your own trees, but what happens when a neighbor’s trees start shading your panels?
The last item to consider is whether a solar roof panel system will help or hurt the resell value of your home. This depends on the buyer. Consider the case of a person selling a home with a swimming pool. Most homebuyers do not want a home with a pool due to the associated work and cost of maintaining a pool. It greatly limits the number of prospective buyers who will consider a home with a pool. I believe the same thing would apply to a home with a solar panel, especially when the solar system has a monthly cost associated with it, such as, a monthly lease payment or a buyer assuming a long-term contract.
Capturing the free energy provided by the sun appears to be the right thing to do for our environment, but the total cost is not making the decision simple. It costs money to convert light energy to electricity. Today’s technology and costs make the proposition close to breakeven endeavor.
It is that time of year again and we need to winterize our homes. One of the tasks should be to disconnect any hoses and splitters attached to the outside faucets. By removing all connections from the faucet, all of the water in the pipe can drain to prevent it from freezing and damaging the faucet and water pipes.
Most homes that will see freezing weather have a freeze proof faucet installed. These faucets are designed to drain water from any external part of the faucet. Water is actually shutoff inside the home where the temperature is warmer to prevent freezing. If you are not familiar with the difference between the two types of faucets, look at the photos below. The Lower left photo shows a freeze proof faucet. The handle turns a long straight stem to shutoff water at the end of the pipe. The lower right photo shows a non-freeze proof faucet and notice the angle of the knob. It is not horizontal does not have a pipe attached. The lower right photo shows a non-freeze proof and notice the handle is at an angle and NOT horizontal. This is the quickest way to identify the type of faucet you have. If you do not have a freeze proof type, you will need to shut-off the water to the faucet from inside the home.
The copper pipe, in the photo to the right, shows an enlarged crack inside the home (arrow). A water hose was left connected to a freeze proof faucet all winter and did not allow the faucet to drain the water away. The water in the faucet and the copper froze and burst the pipe. In the spring, when the faucet will be used again, water will flow through the burst copper pipe and into the home.
My wife kept hearing a noise in our bedroom wall or ceiling. I looked outside several times trying to figure out what creator was making the noise. There were several birds setting on the roofs edge, but I could not understand how they were making so much noise. A little later, it sounded like something was in the attic, so I looked again. No holes were visible for a critter to get in. I decided to watch that side of the house from a longer distance and after about 5 minutes, it became clear. A couple of birds were entering the bathroom exhaust vent on the side of the house. They opened the plastic louvers and scooted right into the exhaust vent. Wow, those birds are pretty smart. I decided to get the ladder out and remove the louvers so I could get a view of the nest. There was just a little straw in the plastic flexible duct. After removing the louvers, the duct was a standard 4" diameter size making it perfect for a standard shop vacuum cleaner flexible hose. After putting on safety goggles, I lifted the vacuum cleaner with a short rope and was able to vacuum out the small nest. I researched online for some kind of cage that could be placed over the louvered flaps and found a perfect plastic mesh cover. The cage was white and my vinyl siding is gray, so I painted the plastic cage to match. I selected a couple of stainless steel screws that would work. Those birds looked so disappointed they needed to find a new nest. I was talking with a neighbor a few days later and saw more birds building a new nest in the vents on the other side of our home. I know that I am not the only person with birds using these style vents. Birds are known to carry disease and mites. You may want to pay close attention to noises in your home?
The Consumer Product Safety Commission says more than 6,000 people are injured each year in incidents involving the structural failure or collapse of a deck or porch. The most common cause of total deck collapse involves the deck “pulling away” from the house. This type of failure typically occurs because the ledger board was not properly attached to the house. Many decks I inspect use only nails to attach the deck to the side of the home and this is dangerous. Decks should be attached to the home using deck quality lag screws. These lag screws should be at least ½” diameter, be made from corrosion resistant material, and must be the proper length. Home inspectors can visually verify that lag screws are used, can verify the size and amount of screws, but cannot verify their length and whether they are secured to structural members of the home. Check out this news report of a deck collapse in Columbus, OH on a condominium. http://abc6onyourside.com/investigators/condo-balcony-collapse-prompts-150-decks-deemed-unsafe.
Summer is a great time to test your automatic garage door opener for safe operation. Automatic openers are a great convenience, but they also pose a danger. Garage doors are heavy and the automatic openers exert a lot of force to move them. Garage door opener companies started building-in safety devices into their openers in about 1984. So, what are these safety devices? You have probably observed them in action, but did not give it much thought. If the openers were made after 1984, a door will not close if something is left underneath the door. Also, a door will automatically reverse when the door closes on top of something; like a toy or broom.
There are two safety systems that work independently of each other. One is the opener motor. It can sense an increased load if it hits something while closing. The sensor will quickly cause the opener to reverse to prevent crushing an object. The other safety system is a photo-eye sees when something has been left under the door (see photo). It can also reverse the door if something moves under the door while it is closing. Older garage door openers may not have either safety system. You should consider upgrading your garage door opener if it does not have these safety systems.
You Should Test Your Openers Annually
The first step in testing your garage door opener is start with the garage door fully open. Then activate the opener to close the door. While the door is closing, carefully break the light beam with your foot or an object. The door should quickly reverse and open fully. If the door continues to close, hire a garage door company to repair/replace the door opener.
The next step is to check whether the door will also automatically reverses when it encounters an obstacle while closing. With the door fully open, place a full roll of paper towels directly under the door and centered left to right (make sure the paper towels are not breaking the light beam sensor). Now, activate the opener to close the door and observe what happens when the door contacts the paper towel roll. If the door crushes the paper towels, the door opener closing sensor needs adjustment. Some garage door openers can be adjusted easily with a screw driver. Other, are more difficult. Follow the owner's manual for adjusting the closing sensitivity. If the adjustment appears too difficult for you, hire a qualified garage door opener company to make the adjustments. Enjoy your summer!
In the past, the only solution for sinking sidewalks, patios, steps, or uneven foundations, was to remove the damaged pavement and pour new concrete. This cost a great deal of money and time. There is an alternative available called mudjacking or concrete leveling. This alternative can save money and time by pumping a slurry beneath the uneven concrete section in order to raise it back into place.
Details on the Mudjacking Process.
Small holes are drilled into the uneven concrete and a slurry is pumped through these small holes. The slurry may be composed of various materials, including: sand, cement, soil, limestone, bentonite clay, water, or expanding polymers. The small holes are then filled and finished to match the old slab. The type of slurry used is based on the application, as well, as the company’s preference. The slurry fills-in empty spaces underneath the section and levels it. The slurry solidifies and stabilizes the subsoil over the next 24-hours making it solid and stable again. Prior to a mudjacking process, drain pipes, sewers, and utilities must be located and avoided.
Advantages of Mudjacking Compared to Pouring New Slabs
Limitations to Mudjacking
I inspected a home last week that had carbon monoxide (CO) pouring into the home when the furnace was running. Fortunately, the home had carbon monoxide detectors installed on each level of the home. Unfortunately, the detectors did not work due to their age. Fortunately, the home was vacant while it was being sold. Unfortunately, I had been inspecting the home for two hours before finding the large hole in the gas furnace exhaust vent. Fortunately, it was a warm day and the heat was not running.
Carbon monoxide detectors are only reliable for 7 years! You did not read the owner's manual did you. This home's CO detectors looked good, but they were made in 1977. They did not warn me when I ran a test of the gas furnace. The water heater also used the same air vent to exhaust its CO poison. Please check the date on your CO detectors and replace them when they exceed 7-years of age!
Most house fires occur during the winter months, especially around the holidays with Christmas lights, the use of candles, and lots of cooking. All fires are preventable if you stay vigilant and practice safety. The problem is we let our guard down when we are busy and tired. Below, is a summary of the causes of the majority of home fires to help you keep them in mind and stay vigilant.
1. Cooking - The number one source of house fires is due to cooking. Forty percent of all house fires are caused by people leaving the stove unattended, for a quick minute elsewhere or while they make a quick run to the store. Grease gets overheated and catches fire. Most injuries occur when people try to put out the fire.
2. Electrical – Electrical fires can be caused by many different things, such as, incandescent light bulbs, space heaters, washers, dryers, and other similar equipment. The U.S. had averages over 40,000 structure fires caused by an electrical problem and caused over 400 deaths.
3. Dryer Vents – More than 15,000 fires occur annually from clothes dryers. The largest cause for dryer fires were lint and clothes. Dryers account for more than 90% of these fires.
4. Smoking – Although the number of fires caused by smoking is trending lower due to fewer smokers, we still average more than 15,000 fires annually and over 400 deaths.
5. Candles – Everyone loves the romantic glow of candlelight. There are an average of 10,600 fires started by candles every year resulting in over 900 injuries. About 1/3 of the fires start in bedrooms due to candles left too close to flammable items. Candles should be kept a minimum of 12 inches away from anything that can burn.
6. Children – Children playing with fire account for more than 7,000 per year on average. Children under the age of 6 start most fires indoors using matches or a lighter.
People don’t often think about the fire risks posed by the light in their clothes closet, but it’s one of the few places in the house where a source of high heat can get too close to flammable materials. Lighting must be installed safely, with adequate separation from clothes, boxes and other flammables stored in the closet. Additionally, the quality of the light, as well as bulb efficiency, will influence your lighting choices.
The rules for new home construction are updated frequently based on experience and accident prevention. The newest rules for closet lighting provide a good model for evaluating your home for safety improvements. Lights in closets and similar storage areas should have enclosed bulbs due to the heat bulbs can generate, especially incandescent lamps. Globes can protect the bulb and keep objects away from the high surface temperatures. This applies to fluorescent lighting as well. Partially enclosed bulbs and pull-chain lights should be replaced. Surface mounted light fixtures, ceilings and walls, should maintain a 12” clearance from any object; clothes, boxes, etc. Recessed lighting should be located where a minimum clearance of 6” is maintained at all times.
If you are like me, every time I think of applying salt or an ice melt product on my concrete driveway, I ask myself if it will hurt the concrete. After some research and years of experience, my answer to this question is not an easy yes or no. It depends on the age of the concrete, the quality of the concrete, the installation of the concrete, the ice melt used, and whether the driveway has been sealed. Concrete is naturally very porous and readily absorbs water. When water soaks into the concrete and it freezes, it expands and tries to expand and crack the concrete. When the concrete is of a low quality and has a low amount of cement, the surface can crack and pop off. Also, some of the ice melts are more harsh than others on concrete. Some ice melting chemicals, over time, will break the bond between the cement, sand, and gravel. Without going into all of the detail and chemistry for each ice melt, I will provide my recommendation on using ice melts.
To start, prevent as much moisture as possible from soaking into your concrete surface by applying a good quality concrete sealer. This has to be done when the temperature of the concrete is 65F or above. Sealers are sold at local hardware stores. A concrete sealer will prevent much of the water and ice melt chemical from soaking into your driveway/walk. The best overall ice melt product to use is calcium chloride. It melts ice well, is less harmful to plant life, and is less corrosive to concrete. Try to use the calcium chloride as sparingly as possible and still get the job done. Ice melts are intended to break the bond between the ice and the concrete surface so it can be removed easily. It is not meant to be applied and reapplied to melt and dry the surface all by itself. Calcium chloride is more expensive than most of the other products, but when you think of the cost to replace a concrete driveway, ice melt is very cheap.
Tankless water heater manufacturers advertise instantaneous hot water, endless showers, and energy savings. Are these advertisements accurate? Not 100%. Before making the decision to switch to the tankless design, consider the following points:
A tankless water heater actually takes 10-15 seconds longer to get hot water to a faucet, no matter how far the faucet is from the unit. After water starts flowing through a tankless unit, the unit senses water flow, starts the combustion process, and then begins heating the water. In contrast, a tank water heater stores hot water continuously and provides hot water immediately when water starts flowing.
A tankless unit may prevent you from running out of hot water if they are sized properly. It all depends on how much water will be used at the same time. These units are sized by flow rate (gallons per minute). If the flow rate is calculated correctly, it will provide your demand.
According to the Department of Energy, a tankless water heater can cost $100 less per year to operate compared to a conventional gas 40-gallon tank heater. Most of the savings come from not having to maintain hot water in a tank. With a projected service life of 20-years, the savings over the 20-year period are expected to total $2,000.
The replacement installation cost for a gas 40-gallon conventional water heater averages $900 according to Angie’s List. A tankless unit costs approximately $3,000 ($2,100 more) due to the high energy requirements of the units. These unit need approximately 160,000 BTUs versus 40,000 BTUs for a conventional tank water heater. Tankless units have to heat the water in a very short period of time and need the high heat requirement. This means your gas piping and probably your exhaust line may need to be upgraded. Tank water heaters last between 10-15 years and tankless units are expected to last 20-years if maintained properly. This is an estimate since they are fairly new in the U.S. They also require more maintenance to operate well.
In summary, the bottom line on replacing a conventional water heater with a tankless model are:
Radon is a radioactive gas or vapor that enters a home by seeping up from the ground. Radon gas comes from naturally decaying soil and is present everywhere. The reason radon in a home is a hazard is due to the concentration level. Outside, radon mixes with air and dissipates and is diluted to very low levels. In the home, it is not diluted with air and wind and can get concentrated to high levels. Radon levels in a home are highest where the house meets the ground, such as in a basement. Because it’s a gas, it is constantly in motion, pooling in different areas in the house and in greater or smaller quantities depending on seasonality, ventilation and a variety of other factors.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is often called the “invisible killer”. It is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that is near impossible to identify without a proper detector. It is caused by fuels not burning completely, including wood, gasoline, coal, propane, natural gas, gasoline, and heating oil. Vehicles or generators running in an attached garage can also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized. A person can be poisoned by a small amount of CO over a longer period of time or by a large amount of CO over a shorter amount of time.
CO enters the body through breathing. CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light headedness or headaches. High levels of CO can be fatal, causing death within minutes.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
CO alarms should be installed according to the manufacturer's instructions. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that one CO alarm be installed in the hallway outside the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area of the home. CO alarms may be installed into a plug-in receptacle or high on the wall. Hard wired or plug-in CO alarms should have battery backup. Avoid locations that are near heating vents or that can be covered by furniture or draperies. CPSC does not recommend installing CO alarms in kitchens or above fuel-burning appliances.
CO detectors do not last forever! Typically, if a detector is over 2-years old, it should be replaced every 5-7 years. Some new hardwired units now have batteries that last the life of the detector (10-years). On these units, you do not replace the battery, you replace the unit. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation. Date codes can be found on the back of the unit.
About 2.5 million children are injured or killed each year by hazards in the home. The good news is that many of these incidents can be prevented by using simple child-safety devices available today. Any safety device you buy should be sturdy enough to prevent injury to your child, yet easy for you to use. It's important to follow installation instructions carefully.
In addition, if you have older children in the house, be sure they re-secure safety devices. Remember, too, that no device is completely childproof; determined youngsters have been known to disable them. You can child-proof your home for a fraction of what it would cost to have a professional do it. And safety devices are easy to find. You can buy them at hardware stores, baby equipment shops, supermarkets, drug stores, home and linen stores, and through online and mail-order catalogues.
Here are some child-safety devices that can help prevent many injuries to young children.
Chuck retired from an engineering management career to start a home inspection business