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The Central Kentucky Home Inspector
B4U Close Home Tips Blog
Saturday, 20 August 2011
Poisonous Critters in the Crawl Space
Topic: Home Inspector Life

I've been fortunate that in all the crawl spaces in all the world (that I've been into) I hadn't yet found any of those nasty poisonous critters that tend to inhabit those dark nether regions of a house.

Until TODAY that is.  Inspecting a brand new (one year, never been occupied) home in a subdivisiion north of Georgetown, Kentucky

Fortunately I saw her before she saw me.

Black Widow Spider by Erby the Central Kentucky Home Inspector

 

Pretty as she was, there was still an audible "pop" as gloved hands sent her to Heaven.  Along with a short note in the buyer's report about treating the crawl space for spiders.

Worst I've ever ran into before (and still) was a snarling possum behind a piece of plywood in the dirt floored cellar of an older home during a Georgetown, KY Home Inspection.


Posted by B4U Close at 7:17 PM EDT
Do YOU provide Preventive Maintenance for YOUR home?
Topic: Home Maintenance

Prevention Is The Best Approach

Although we've heard it many times, nothing could be truer than the old cliche "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Preventive maintenance is the best way to keep your house in great shape. It also reduces the risk of unexpected repairs and improves the odds of selling your house at fair market value, when the time comes.   Remember to conduct regular preventive maintenance checks to extend the longevity of your home and the installed systems and components.

REGULAR PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE TASKS

EVERY MONTH :

  • Check that fire extinguisher(s) are fully charged. Re-charge if necessary.
  • Examine heating/cooling air filters and replace or clean as necessary.
  • Inspect and clean humidifiers and electronic air cleaners.
  • If the house has hot water heating, bleed radiator valves.
  • Clean gutters and downspouts. Ensure that downspouts are secure, and that the discharge of the downspouts is appropriate. Remove debris from window wells.
  • Carefully inspect the condition of shower enclosures. Repair or replace deteriorated grout and caulk. Ensure that water is not escaping the enclosure during showering. Check below all plumbing fixtures for evidence of leakage.
  • Repair or replace leaking faucets or shower heads.
  • Secure loose toilets, or repair flush mechanisms that become troublesome.

 

SPRING & FALL:

  • Examine the roof for evidence of damage to roof coverings, flashings and chimneys.
  • Look in the attic (if accessible) to ensure that roof vents are not obstructed. Check for evidence of leakage, condensation or vermin activity. Level out insulation if needed.
  • Trim back tree branches and shrubs to ensure that they are not in contact with the house.
  • Inspect the exterior walls and foundation for evidence of damage, cracking or movement. Watch for bird nests or other vermin or insect activity.
  • Survey the basement and/or crawl space walls for evidence of moisture seepage.
  • Look at overhead wires coming to the house. They should be secure and clear of trees or other obstructions.
  • Ensure that the grade of the land around the house encourages water to flow away from the foundation.
  • Inspect all driveways, walkways, decks, porches, and landscape components for evidence of deterioration, movement or safety hazards.
  • Clean windows and test their operation. Improve caulking and weather-stripping as necessary. Watch for evidence of rot in wood window frames. Paint and repair window sills and frames as necessary.
  • Test all ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) devices, as identified in the inspection report.
  • Shut off isolating valves for exterior hose bibs in the fall, if below freezing temperatures are anticipated.
  • Test the Temperature and Pressure Relief (TPR) Valve on water heaters.
  • Inspect for evidence of wood boring insect activity. Eliminate any wood/soil contact around the perimeter of the home.
  • Test the overhead garage door opener, to ensure that the auto-reverse mechanism is responding properly. Clean and lubricate hinges, rollers and tracks on overhead doors.
  • Replace or clean exhaust hood filters.
  • Clean, inspect and/or service all appliances as per the manufacturer's recommendations.

 

ANNUALLY:

  • Replace smoke detector batteries.
  • Have the heating, cooling and water heater systems cleaned and serviced.
  • Have chimneys inspected and cleaned. Ensure that rain caps and vermin screens are secure.
  • Examine the electrical panels, wiring and electrical components for evidence of overheating. Ensure that all components are secure. Flip the breakers on and off to ensure that they are not sticky.
  • If the house utilizes a well, check and service the pump and holding tank. Have the water quality tested. If the property has a septic system, have the tank inspected (and pumped as needed).
  • If your home is in an area prone to wood destroying insects (termites, carpenter ants, etc.), have the home inspected by a licensed specialist. Preventive treatments may be recommended in some cases.

 


Posted by B4U Close at 7:12 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 12 September 2011 8:56 PM EDT
Did you play with Mercury in Grade School?
Topic: Home Safety

I finally figured out what happened to me in grade school.  It was the mercury, in the broken thermometers, that we played with.

Remember those little silver balls that would roll around, break apart and come back together.  Roll them from hand to hand.  Everybody thought it was pretty cool stuff back then.  Did the teacher give it to us or did we break the thermometers on our own.  Heck, I don't remember.  I just remember how cool it was to play with the little balls of mercury.

While surfing around today, I ran into this article about a lady who had chosen to seal off her daughter's bedroom while she tries to come up with the $2000.00 an environmental company wants to charge her for cleaning up the remnants of a Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL)  that broke in the room.

Though the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Snopes.com (Urban Legend Reference Website)  now say that was a serious over reaction and overkill.

I didn't even know that CFLs contained mercury.  Now, I find we need to recycle them as hazardous waste.  Are CFLs worth all the hassle.  It seems we don't have a choice.  Congress passed an energy bill, on December 18th, 2007, that calls for regular tungsten filament light bulbs to be banned by the year 2014.

I hope that Georgetown, Kentucky soon develops a hazardous waste recylcing center for the bulbs as this ole Home Inspector has already changed all the bulbs in the house to CFLs and those few that stopped working have been put in the regular trash.

And if you didn't click on the links above to see how to clean one up when it breaks, here's a short summary of

What the Environmental Protection Agency says you should do when a Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) breaks:

The following steps can be performed by the general public:

 

1. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.

2. Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a sealed plastic bag.

  • Use disposable rubber gloves, if available (i.e., do not use bare hands). Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the plastic bag.
  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

3. Place all cleanup materials in a second sealed plastic bag.

  • Place the first bag in a second sealed plastic bag and put it in the outdoor trash container or in another outdoor protected area for the next normal trash disposal.
  • Note: some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken lamps be taken to a local recycling center.
  • Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.

4. If a fluorescent bulb breaks on a rug or carpet:

  • First, remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner, following the steps above. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.
  • If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag or vacuum debris in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

Dang, I guess popping those long fluorescent bulbs in the trash can is a no-no too now!  Guess I should have popped them and ran from the dust cloud it created.  But no, I'd just fling another one.  Oh well, I've survived this long.  Guess I'll go a few more years!


Posted by B4U Close at 7:06 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, 12 September 2011 9:06 PM EDT
How long will "it" LAST??
Topic: Home Maintenance

Early on, I had agents complaining about my statements regarding home appliances (water heaters, furnaces, AC, etc) being at their end of design or useful life.  

Well, I think it's important for people to know how old these things are and how much longer they could reasonably expect them to last.  Apparently my clients felt it was important too as they kept asking me how much longer "it" would last or how old "it" was.

As support for my statements, I've been passing out the Freddie Mac "Schedule of Normal Appliance Life" chart from 1995 as part of my report support documents.  It's the newest I could find at the time I developed it.

Lately I wondered if anyone else had anything newer I could provide my customers as support for my statement.

That was a week or so ago.  Having an easy day today and running back into that post and finding no newer answer got me thinking, "Hey, I have a few minutes.  I can do my own research."

Well, here's the answer.

The NAHB, sponsored by Bank of America Home Equity published a NEW STUDY in 2007 based on the results of a 2006 survey.  Here's the introduction to the Study.

=========================
THE STUDY

In the summer of 2006, NAHB conducted a comprehensive telephone survey of manufacturers, trade associations and researchers to develop information about the longevity of housing components.  Many of the people interviewed emphasized that the life expectancy of housing components is greatly affected by the quality of maintenance. They also noted that changing consumer preferences can result in products being replaced long before -- or after -- the end of their practical life expectancy.
=========================

I've had personal experience with the "changing consumer preferences can result in products being replaced long before the end of their practical life expectancy."  The decorator of my house (yeah, you know who it is) decided that the two year old dishwasher of the house we bought when we moved to Kentucky was the wrong "color" for the kitchen as she wanted to paint it.  Old dishwasher to the Habitat for Humanity "ReStore".  New dishwasher, of the right color, in. 

She's happy and, if she's happy, so am I.  If she's not happy.... well, I'm sure most of you know the rest of that story.

Anyway, the chart is not easily copied to put here and NAHB should get something out of it so here's the link where you can download the 2007 study for yourself from the NAHB website.

          

National Association of Home Builders / Bank of America Home Equity

Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components

Just remember (as the foot note to the study says)

"This report should be used as a general guideline only."

We've all seen water heaters, furnaces, etc that are well beyond their life expectancy functioning just fine, (though probably not as energy efficient as newer models).  We've also seen those newer models fail in just a couple of years.

Get Educated B4U Close!


Posted by B4U Close at 7:02 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 20 August 2011 7:03 PM EDT
Haunted Houses & Carbon Monoxide!
Topic: Home Safety

Is your house haunted or are you being poisoned by carbon monoxide?

or

More Stuff I didn't know I didn't know!! 

Back in June of 2007, when I first joined Active Rain, I posted an article I'd written some time back titled

"Is it the Flu or Carbon Monoxide"

based on research I had done when I had time to do such things.

A few minutes ago, while flitting around one of the inspector message boards, I responded to a light hearted post about funny things said one of which was "paranormal home inspections.

Surprisingly, there are people who advertise as paranormal home inspectors and have written self published books on it.  Anyway that isn't what this blog is about.  Just some background on how I got inspired to write this blog.

From this website:  http://www.insightparanormal.org/index2.htm

Comes this interesting information.

"Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include listlessness, depression, dementia, emotional disturbances, and hallucinations. Many of the phenomena generally associated with haunted houses, including strange visions and sounds, feelings of dread, illness, and the sudden, apparently inexplicable death of all the occupants, can be attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning.Read more on the above website.

I thought, Huh!

But the everpresent Google brings us these  search results when searching for "carbon monoxide and house hauntings"

After reviewing several of those Google search results, I think it is at least a possibility.

If you know someone living in a haunted house, help them out and make them aware of the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.

It may just be a haunted house.

You may just save their life, if it's carbon monoxide poisoning.

A simple carbon monoxide detector can help with this.

Life Safety First.


Posted by B4U Close at 6:43 PM EDT
The Flu versus Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Topic: Home Safety

The flu and carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning share many symptoms: headache, dizziness, nausea, weakness, confusion and fatigue.  However,  while CO poisoning does not come with a fever, the flu does.

If you have flu symptoms, but no fever, remind your physician about the possibility of CO poisoning.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that over 200 people a year die, while thousands more are treated for CO poisoning by hospital emergency rooms and private physicians.  Other organizations place these estimates even higher.

How can you prevent becoming an annual statistic from CO poisoning?

  • Have all gas burning appliances inspected and serviced annually by a professional technician.
  • Have all chimneys and flues checked annually for loose connections, blockage, corrosion, etc. Also make sure you properly open the flue on any wood burning appliance or fireplace when using them.  (To avoid fire danger, make sure you have the chimney flue inspected and cleaned, each year, by a chimney sweep certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America (www.csia.org).
  • Make sure your heating systems have an adequate intake of outside air.
  • Never use appliances such as a clothes dryer, range, or oven to heat your home.
  • Don't leave cars running in garages, even with the door open.  If you must preheat your car, back it out of the garage and close the garage door.
  • Never, never burn charcoal in a confined space.
  • Finally, install CO detector/alarms in your home.  These detector/alarms are similar in concept to the smoke alarms that are prevalent in today's homes. 

There are two types of CO detector/alarms available: hardwired, (using household current); and battery powered.

  • Hardwired sensors usually purge themselves and resample for CO at a preset period of time.
  • Battery powered sensors usually react to prolonged exposure to CO.

Whichever kind you purchase, make sure the CO detector/alarm meets the requirements of Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) 2034.  (This can usually be determined by reading the manufacturer's label or installation instructions.)

I recommend installation of ceiling mounted detector/alarms in the following areas:

  • One on each floor of the residence (On floors used for sleeping, the detector/alarm should be placed in the hallway near each sleeping area);
  • One in the vicinity of  each major fuel burning appliance (not within five feet);
  • And one in the garage.

Consult the manufacturer's installation instructions to ensure the right placement of the detector/alarm in each area.

Flu shots help protect against the flu.

A CO detector/alarm helps protect against Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

Save your health -- Get both.


Posted by B4U Close at 6:37 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 20 August 2011 6:40 PM EDT
Home Fire Safety
Now Playing: Home Fire Safety
Topic: Home Safety

Is your home as Fire Safe as you can make it?

The answers to these questions will help determine if your home is as safe as you can make it.

  • Do you have the right kind of Fire & Smoke Detectors?
  • If your house has natural gas, propane or oil service, or a fireplace/wood stove, do you have Carbon Monoxide Detectors?
  • Are the detectors in the right places?
  • Did you replace the detectors when you moved into your home and at least every 10 years thereafter?
  • Do you test the detectors on a monthly basis?
  • Have you replaced the detector batteries recently?
  • Do you have the right kind of Fire Extinguishers in the right places?
  • Do you have a fire escape plan and practice it with your children?
  • Do you have a fireproof container for all your really important documents?
    (Birth Certificates, Stocks, Wills, that precious drawing from grade school, etc)
  • Do you have a residential fire sprinkler system in your house?
    (These are mostly found in newer homes.  They typically cost $0.60 to $1.00 a square foot in new homes (about the same as a carpet replacement) and can greatly reduce both fire and water damage.  Only heads exposed to the fire start spraying water. The 15-18 gallons a minute from the sprinkler system are significantly less than the 75-250 gallons from the firefighter's high pressure hose!  Costs to retrofit a home with a sprinkler system will be higher.)

Smoke Detectors:

There are three basic types of residential smoke detectors, all with different means for detecting smoke and fire, different types of fires they detect best, and different replacement reasons & needs.

            Ionization Smoke Detectors powered by batteries are the most common kind and economically available at most local hardware and discount stores.  They can be mounted easily in just about any location.  They use a small radioactive source (not harmful to humans) to cause the air inside the detector to be capable of carrying electric current.  As particles of smoke enter the detector they block the flow of electricity.  Low electrical current causes the alarm to sound.  These detectors work best on flaming type fires (wood, paper, etc) and react a little slower on smoldering fires (mattresses, couches, etc).  Batteries need to be replaced occasionally.  If your detector starts making a chirping sound every so often, you need to change the battery.  A general recommendation is to change these batteries every six months, usually timed to a major event like springing forward to daylight savings time or falling back to normal time.  (Some newer smoke detectors come with a 10 year Lithium battery that eliminates the need to change batteries.)  Remember battery powered detectors operate even during power failures.

            Photoelectric Smoke Detectors use a light sensitive photocell to detect smoke inside the detector.  They usually require a connection to an electrical supply but are also available with a battery backup.   A light bulb puts out a beam of light.  The photocell is hidden from direct exposure to the light beam.  Smoke entering the detector causes the light beam to be reflected in several directions.  The photo cell detects the reflected light and causes the alarm to go off.  These detectors work best on smoldering fires and react a little slower on flaming type fires.  The light bulbs need replacement every few years.   

            Thermal Detectors usually requiring a connection to an electrical supply, react to heat rather than smoke.  A fire must raise the heat level near the detector to cause the alarm to go off.  This type of detector is mostly used in dusty, dirty environments usually found in industrial and commercial applications.  This is the type of detector that most fire sprinkler heads use to detect heat, pop, and start spraying water.  This detector would be good near a cooking stove where an ionization or photoelectric smoke detector might cause false alarms.      

Where Should You Put Smoke Detectors?

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends smoke detectors in every room; unfortunately that doesn't fit everyone's budget abilities.

In a hallway near several bedrooms, or even in each bedroom, is the most important placement as most fires occur during sleeping hours.

In the basement, preferably on the ceiling near the basement stairs.

In the garage, over the door to the house, is a needed location because of all the combustible materials we store there.

If your house has more than one level, there should be at least one detector on each level.

Put the detectors on the ceiling or on the wall with the top of the detector between six to twelve inches from the ceiling. 

DO NOT put detectors on walls or ceilings within six inches of the ceiling/wall corner.  There is very little circulation within this dead area.

DO NOT put them near heating and air conditioning supply & return vents.

Why should you replace your smoke detectors every 10 years?

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends, and some cities Fire Codes require, that smoke detectors be tested at least monthly and replaced when they fail to respond or every 10 years maximum.  In addition, most manufacturers now mark their detectors for a maximum life of 10 years. 

Why do they need to be replaced every 10 years?  

10 years is a somewhat arbitrary figure, developed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) but, as with any equipment you buy (TVs, VCRs, etc), parts start breaking and failing as the equipment ages.  This includes smoke detectors.  Sometimes stuff just breaks without us noticing (in the case of smoke detectors, it's sometimes to late).  The detection chamber gets clogged with dust & other airborne debris.  In addition, as detectors age the sensitivity settings tend to drift toward being more sensitive causing more false alarms and people tend to disconnect the power supply on those detectors.   A 1994 CPSC study found that sixty percent of detector failures were caused by the power supply (electricity or batteries) intentionally being removed due to problems with false alarms.  Fifty percent of the failed detectors were more than 10 years old.   The fact that some older detectors were made to be more sensitive also resulted in their disconnection from power.

Always replace your detectors whenever any of the following occur.

  • The detector fails to respond to the monthly test and it has power.
  • The detector has gotten wet, been painted, or has other physical damage.
  • The detector has been exposed to a fire or large amounts of grease (kitchens!)
  • The detector causes several false alarms without apparent cause.

 

When you move into a used home, you have no way of knowing how old the detectors are. 

                                      B Safe-B Sure-B4U Close.  Replace them when you move in.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors

Carbon Monoxide (CO) kills silently and sneakily.  It is a colorless, odorless gas that is a byproduct of fossil fuel burning.  It can be generated by wood stoves, fireplaces, appliances that use natural gas, propane or oil such as furnaces, space heaters, dryers, kitchen ranges, or other open flame appliances.  Normally the gases generated by burning are vented safely outside the house, however blocked vents or not enough oxygen to the burners can quickly cause elevated levels of CO.

The best defense is a good offense.

  • Check your fireplaces & wood stoves for closed or blocked flues.
  • Have a qualified chimney sweep (find one at http://www.csia.org/) inspect chimneys and vents yearly for cracks, blockages (e.g., bird's nests, twigs, old mortar), corrosion or holes.
  • If you want to enclose a furnace or water heater in a smaller room make sure there is plenty of combustion air available.
  • Have a Heating & Air Conditioning contractor check your fuel burning appliances, before cold weather sets in.  Make sure they are in working order.
  • If you have a downdraft cooktop, such as a Jenn-Aire, or a powerful kitchen ventilation fan over the stove, make sure it doesn't pull fumes back down your wood stove flue or chimney.
  • Don't use gas or propane cooking stoves or ovens to heat your home.
  • Don't use barbecue grills inside the garage or house. Not even charcoal grills.
  • Open your garage door before starting the car in the garage.  Back the car out of the garage right away and close the door.  Not doing so can draw fumes into the house.  Nor should you use a remote starter if the car is in the garage.
  • Don't run gasoline engines in a garage or house.
  • Don't use a kerosene fueled space heater in a garage or house.  If you absolutely have to, make sure there is plenty of ventilation and combustion air by opening windows or doors.  When you have to put more fuel in the heater, cool it down first and take it outside to refuel.
  • Clean the ductwork for the gas clothes dryer regularly.  Also check it for blockage by snow, plants or lint.

CO is sneaky.  CO hurts you by rapidly accumulating in the blood stream which depletes the bloods ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.  Even at low levels, carbon monoxide can cause serious health problems.

Some of the symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to those of the flu, i.e. headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizzy spells, etc.  If you may have been exposed to CO and feel like the flu bug bit you, you should also ask your doctor to check you for CO poisoning. 

Battery powered and electrically connected CO detectors are available that can detect CO at levels as low as .01 percent.

Follow the manufacturer's recommendations in placing & testing CO detectors.  They are generally placed near sleeping areas and the home's furnace.

Most manufacturers recommend testing CO Detectors weekly and replacing them every five years.  Just like smoke detectors, they wear out and fail.

How Should You Respond to a CO Alarm?

DO NOT IGNORE the CO Detector's alarm if it sounds.  CO Detectors should sound an alarm before a healthy adult feels any effects from CO.  Treat each alarm seriously.

Get everyone, including pets, out of the house.  Count heads to make sure everyone is out.

If flu like symptoms are present, call 911.  If there are no health problems call your heating contractor, gas company or fire department to have your house tested.

DO NOT ventilate your home, reset the CO detector, or turn off fuel burning appliances unless it s an apartment, duplex or other multifamily type home.  If it is, the safety of your neighbors is more important than finding the CO source.  (Many CO alarms have been designated false alarms because the homeowner ventilated the home and turned off the fuel burning equipment before the source could be traced.)

DO NOT go back in the home until the testing technician tells you that it is safe to do so.

If you need a CO Detector and you have it, you'll be glad you had it.

If you need a CO Detector and don't have it, you may never know the difference, but your relatives will!

Fire Extinguishers

Neither one extinguisher nor one type of extinguisher is adequate to protect your home.  In a three bedroom home with a basement and a garage, I recommend that you have at least four extinguishers. 

  • One Class B extinguisher (meant for grease, gas & other flammable liquids) in the kitchen.
    Don't keep it to close to the stove.  You don't want to reach into a fire to get the extinguisher.
  • One Class A extinguisher (meant for wood, cloth, paper, plastics, etc) in the garage.
  • One Class A extinguisher near the bedrooms.
  • One Class A extinguisher in the basement.

Only try to fight minor blazes.  If it becomes a serious fire, GET OUT! Call 911 from a neighbor's house.

Fire Escape Plan

Draw your homes floor plan being sure to include all doors and windows.

Determine at least two exits from every room.

Make sure every person living in the home is familiar with the fire escape plan.

Designate a meeting place outside the house so you can easily determine that everybody made it out.  (Some mommies, daddies & firefighters have been seriously injured or killed trying to get back in to a house to get a child who was already out of the house.)

Place fire ladders in rooms that are to far above ground to jump. 

Practice your fire escape plan at least once a year.

     B Safe-B Sure-B4U Close.  Plan for your family's fire safety.


Posted by B4U Close at 5:06 PM EDT

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