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Home Buyer’s Guide to Home Inspection

You have invested your time and energy and found the new home of your dreams. You have plunked down hand money and told your best friends about the house. You have already invested a little bit of your heart into the home. At this point, you don’t want problems. The seller and the Realtor who has spent the last eight weekends with you in their car don’t want any problems. Then enters the home inspector and you are overwhelmed with a primal fear that your dreams are about to be crushed.

The term “Deal Killer” is unfortunately alive and well when discussing good home inspectors. This may surprise you, but most home inspectors don’t want your heart broken. What they do want is you and your family safe and your investment protected. You want an inspector able and willing to recognize and identify issues head on. After all, you still get to decide what you do with the information from the inspection. Even if someone complains that your inspector “too picky,” as Fox News says: “We report, you decide.”

What to Expect From an Inspection

In formal language, home inspection is “an objective visual examination of the physical structure and systems of a house.” It is a bonus to have an inspector who can discuss preventive maintenance and explain how the systems in a home operate. The goal of an inspection is to find accessible, visible conditions that a buyer should not be expected to know or have knowledge about before the inspection

What Not to Expect From Your Inspection

It is also good to know what is not included in an inspection. Access panels are permitted to be removed, and ceiling tiles lifted, but inspecting anything nailed or sealed in place is off limits.

The cosmetic features are also off limits for the purpose of the inspection. Torn carpets, nicks in walls and cabinets are not considered. All homes will have those things, but they do not affect your health, safety or investment. By the way, ugly or worn doesn’t count either.

Inspectors Widely Differ On Inspection Inclusions

The scope of an individual inspection can vary widely. The level of service varies as much as the level of service can vary from one restaurant to another. As examples, some inspectors only check to see if the furnace turns on, others also check for important items such as venting and gas leaks. Some inspectors will lift ceiling tiles, others will not. Some inspectors check every electrical outlet and appliances for recalls, others don't.

Fireplaces are a Major Cause of Residential Fires.

You can pretty much count on seeing house fires caused by fireplaces the first cold weather snap. Many of the fires are the result of minor defects that go one day too many without repair. Metal fireboxes and flues can develop holes from rust. Masonry fireplaces can have loose mortar and bricks from repetitive heating and cooling. Heat rolling out of the firebox can first char and then ignite mantles, flammable trim, flooring or decorations sitting too close to the firebox.

· Have fireplaces and chimneys cleaned and then checked with a camera. Have any needed repairs made before the first use each season. An opening in mortar the size of your little finger can be the cause of your home burning down.

· Install a spark screen and cap on fireplace chimneys. The cap should prevent water from leaking back into the chimney to cause damage.

· Check for combustible materials too close to the firebox. Look under the mantle for charring.

Electrical hazards are too easy to ignore. “If it turns on, it must be OK” could not be further from the truth.

 A common electric fire hazard is improper or damaged extension cords. Never, ever run extension cords under carpets. Do not use damaged cords. Make sure that any extension cord is rated to carry the electrical load you are putting through the cord. Old extension cords do wear out and then become fire hazards. If any electrical item is charred or causes a shock, replace it NOW!

· Loose connections at switches and outlets are top causes of electrical fires. If you see melted switches or plugs or smell melting plastic or fire, shut off the power and locate the cause.

· If a motor stops working, hums loudly or gets hot, disconnect or unplug the device. Attic fans, paddle fans, overhead garage door motors and damaged garbage disposal motors are a few examples of this problem.

· Circuit breakers are not intended to be used as switches. They are designed to shut off power before the house wiring turns into a “toaster wire”. If you have repetitive tripping, the circuit breaker can wear out. Repetitive tripping is your warning that there is a problem that needs immediately repaired.

· Incandescent light bulbs above closet shelves and too high wattage light bulbs in low wattage fixtures are major fire risks. Check the label on the fixture for proper sizing. Use florescent bulbs above shelves.

No basic fire safety article would be complete without mention of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. You may be surprised to know that CO detectors may not sound the alarm to protect you at the toxic level of 100 parts per million, and smoke detectors vary in effectiveness. For more information manufacturers will not tell you about detectors and other links go to www.envirospect.info/FireSafety

Fireplaces are a major cause of residential fires.

You can pretty much count on seeing house fires caused by fireplaces the first cold weather snap. Many of the fires are the result of minor defects that go one day too many without repair. Metal fireboxes and flues can develop holes from rust. Masonry fireplaces can have loose mortar and bricks from repetitive heating and cooling. Heat rolling out of the firebox can first char and then ignite mantles, flammable trim, flooring or decorations sitting too close to the firebox.

· Have fireplaces and chimneys cleaned and then checked with a camera. Have any needed repairs made before the first use each season. An opening in mortar the size of your little finger can be the cause of your home burning down

· Install a spark screen and cap on fireplace chimneys. The cap should prevent water from leaking back into the chimney to cause damage.

· Check for combustible materials too close to the firebox. Look under the mantle for charring.

Homeowners, landlords and parents: We are entering the peak season for house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. It is time to talk about some safety risks that you may have never heard or thought about

According to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), heating equipment is the second leading cause of home fire fatalities after smoking. It is also the major cause of carbon monoxide in the home. There are some simple safety precautions you should take.

You already know that you should have your furnace serviced each year. The operation and venting of furnaces needs checked. Complex new furnaces can be put out of commission by failure of a simple part. Maintenance can avoid that “ice cube for a house feeling”. As a bonus, you will probably save fuel costs with a properly adjusted furnace.

Coast to Coast Freezing Weather Makes Frozen Pipes a Reality

Record cold temperatures have stretched across the country from one end to the other. We are just hitting the first official weekend of winter and have already had “way too much” record breaking freezing weather.

Now, for those that have never had the experience of frozen pipes, be thankful for the lack of familiarity! You have missed out on a big mess usually accompanied by heartache and thousands of dollars in damage.

Power outages can turn the best furnace into a hunk of useless metal and your home into an oversized freezer. Newer furnaces are sized to barely keep up with heating a home as a way to save energy. They are not sized for unusually cold weather and the time between a furnace failing and pipes freezing can be very short. Crawl spaces and garage areas are at very high risk for freeze damage even when the furnace is operating properly.

A new or a well-insulated house is not a guarantee against frozen pipes if we have extreme cold, particularly if it is coupled with a high wind. Keep in mind that we do not get warning of extreme cold ahead of time making advance preparation the best defense. Even in a house that is well insulated, a hole in a wall, a loose board, or a missing piece of insulation in a wall can result in freezing pipes.

All of us have seen a plastic milk jug bulge when the milk has frozen. No force on earth can prevent water from expanding 10% when it freezes. If the expansion occurs in an enclosed area such as plumbing pipes, a hot water heating system, toilet bowl or sink drain trap, they will burst.

Understanding Homeowners Insurance and Frozen Water Pipes

Photograph and document the damage. It will make the insurance claims easier to process. It may also provide additional information that can be used to avoid the recurrence of the problem.

Promptly notify your insurance agent of a claim. In times of severe cold, you will not be alone in having this problem and you will be better off at the front of the line to receive service than instead of the end.

Take reasonable action to minimize the claim. You have a duty to perform whatever is within your power to protect the property from additional damage.

Understand this important fact: Homeowners insurance is not required to make corrections to avoid recurrence of the claim. They will correct the damage, but not solve underlying problems. The homeowners that had gutter leak issues two years in a row learned that lesson the hard way.

Though you may take solace in the fact that the damage is covered by homeowners insurance, I have yet to meet the person believing that the claims process was good entertainment. Having the cause of the problem corrected is the very best plan.

Go to www.Envirospect.info/FrozenPipes for more information and links to important references and information sources

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Prevention is the Best Protection from Frozen Pipes

· Open faucets in areas that pipes have previously frozen. Warmer water from the water system moving through pipes will not freeze as fast as standing water.

· Disconnect your exterior garden hoses from outside spigots. Garden hoses hold water in the hose and the valve. The pipes connected to a hose will split with even a moderate freeze.\

· Open the doors to vanities, kitchen sinks and other plumbing access panels. Plumbing near outside walls and over crawl spaces and garages is most likely to freeze. Adding warm room air to cold plumbing inside of sink and closet areas can only help.

· Cut access panels and cover with a door or vent in areas of plumbing that have previously been freezing problems. A grill installed into a wall to allow the convection of warm air can prevent freezing pipes.

· Add heat tapes covered with insulation to exposed pipes. The warmth of the tapes can prevent freezing. Place the heat tapes on a switch with a pilot light. Only turn on heat tapes in times of cold weather to extend the life of the tapes. Check the tapes for warmth every season because heat tapes only have a life expectancy of one to 5 year.

· Add insulation in the right areas. Look at both the objects you are insulating and the heat source. Do not place insulation between the heat source and the protected area. Improperly placed insulation resists the flow of heat from the inside of the home to the plumbing that is “past” the insulation.

· Purchase a simple thermometer to leave in garages or crawl spaces. For under $25.00 you can purchase a thermometer that is designed with a remote sensor to tell you outside temperatures. Put the outside sensor in the area that may freeze in severe cold weather. Move it back outside for the rest of the year.

The First Step to Winter Preparation is to Assemble Your “Cold Weather Team.”

One of the first members of the team should be a good furnace company that will service “no heat” calls for their regular customers. The most important part of that sentence is the “regular customer” part. You do not want your first contact with a furnace company to begin with the sentence: ”You do not know me, but I don’t have any heat.”  The story here is to call a reputable company, have them service the furnace for winter and become a part of their customer list. Your bonus is that with proper service and adjustment fuel costs go down and the safety and life expectancy of a furnace go up.


If you have a fireplace you plan to use, have it cleaned and checked with a camera system before you use it.  There will be house fires started with fireplace use and you do not want the picture of your burning home to be on the 11:00 PM News.

Find a “house buddy” for your Cold Weather Team.  This can be friend, relative or neighbor. This is a simple concept. You are away from home on a winter vacation, the power goes off.  You want your house looked in on.  You call your house buddy and they make sure everything is Okey dokey, or they call in the cavalry, whichever is appropriate. You do the same for them. With today’s digital doorknobs, you don’t even need to swap keys. The door combination is all that is needed.       

 

Toughen security in the home

Install door and jamb reinforcement plates such as the ones manufactured by Armor Concepts or Rebar Security Device. These metal plates are easy to install and make it very difficult to break into a door. These are available starting at $ 30.00, which is much less than the cost of replacing a door.    

 

Install an alarm system for the home. www.Simplisafe.com offers a wireless security system including motion sensors, alarm, cellular monitors and electronic notification of events. The easy to install system is available for $ 250.00 in equipment and from $15.00 to $ 25.00 a month for monitoring. This product does not require any contract and can be cancelled when the home sells. It can also be moved to another home. You may want to add a freeze alarm in cold weather at a cost of $30.00

 

Install exterior floodlights on sensors.  Light is a criminal’s enemy. If you want to make a lasting impression on a thief, use a strobe or rotating light such as on emergency vehicles instead of using a regular floodlight,  
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Install a video camera system. If you do not want the expense of a functional system, install a fake system with lights such as made by UniqueExceptional. These are available for less than $20.00

Leave sound on in the home. A loud source of music or television robs the thieves of the ability to tell if someone is at home in another area of the house. That uncertainty can end a criminal attempt.   

 

For additional information and links to the vendors mentioned in the story, go to: www.envirospect.info/stolenpipes     

 

Finding and Correcting Lead in the Home

Lead can be found in stain, varnish, shellac, batteries, pipe solder, lead water supply pipes, and lead solder in copper pipes.   Imported cookware, toys, crayons,  cosmetics and food crops can be a source of lead exposure. Lead acetate is added to many foreign paints and is used as an insecticide on crops.  The evil  of  lead acetate is that it tastes very sweet. It was used as a  wine sweetener in the Roman Empire and is  credited with being the source of the physical and mental decline of the empire.  Paint on a lead acetate painted  toy  with  will taste good.

            Paint, dust in the home, water in the home, and any bare soil outside the home are all items you may need to have surveyed for lead. The problem still remains that  the exposure that raises a child’s lead level could be  caused by  contaminated toys at a day care center or other source.  Without proof of that fact, the owner of an apartment  may still be required to pay for alternative housing, testing and remediation of the living space. 

            Lead based residential  paint in the United States was banned in 1978 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. This was done after the  failure to control lead dust from paint in housing.

            The initial efforts at dealing with lead based paint in the home relied upon  paint removal as a way to eliminate contamination. Unfortunately, the process of stripping, sanding and removing lead paint usually put more lead into the home. Sealing  contaminated surfaces,  dust removal, and  protection of high friction  surfaces such as windows, and  good housekeeping  were the most effective means of reducing lead exposure. Cleaning floor, wall and window  surfaces will reduce lead levels.

What to do about avoiding “Touch Points”

First and foremost, you will not be able to completely avoid touch points. The message in this is to carry hand sanitizer. One person who put his hand out to me thereby putting me in the position of feeling like a dufus if I did not shake his hand told me: “ Don’t worry, I only have a cold, not the flu.”

Good manners kept me from saying “Darn it ! What on earth makes you think it is OK for you to give me a cold?” I have better manners than he has and just shook his hand. However, I did pull out the hand sanitizer. Let me share with you what I say when someone puts out their hand to shake when I have the cold:” I have a cold…and I will gladly shake your hand twice when I am not giving one to you.” I do not think that has ever offending anyone, and you should see those hands shoot back away from me…..just like they are attached to a rubber band.

When we go on a trip we carry foil wipes. We love cruises and really do not want one of those viruses. The same applies when we go to a hotel. One brand we like is “Wet Ones”. We wipe the door knobs, faucet handles, phones, spigots, TV remote, lamp switches, light switches, tables where we would place things, where we touch on chairs….if you can touch it, we wipe it. We start in opposite sides of the room. It takes us less than 15 minutes. Let’s see the math here. Trade 15 minute of time for staying healthy on a trip….Good deal !

When we get up in the morning at home, we wipe the kitchen table and counters. Then we hit random touch points since we have the wipe I tour hands anyway. It’s a habit, and takes minutes.

Here’s the trick in public restrooms. Wash your hands and grab a paper towel. If you need to touch something other than the towel, pull the towel out before washing your hands. Open the door with the paper towel in hand combined with a good old fashioned butt push, turn around and throw the towel into the waste basket, get out of Dodge, do not pass GO and do not touch somebody’s flu germs.

Touch screens, keyboards, doorknobs, microwave handles…..especially when you are around sick people….. grab one of the small foil wrapped wipes before touching food or your face. Let me tell you, breaking that “touch your face” habit is tough.

As a final thought: I noticed people wearing masks In Japanese crowd scenes. I figured that what was happening was it was socially OK for people to protect themselves from ot


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