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When buying a home, know your home’s repair pitfalls.  The little details are what make your house a home. And when it comes to repair, those little details make all the difference. Pay attention to maintenance needs on any home you’re considering buying. High-maintenance home is no free ride A home at a bargain price may be no bargain at all if the maintenance costs are prohibitive. Find out when the house was last painted and re-roofed. Ask the seller to provide you with copies of monthly water, sewer and electricity bills so you can accurately budget ongoing cost of your home purchase. If the house has a large yard, trees, a swimming pool or spa, and you don’t have the time or expertise for pool or yard work, find out what the current owner pays to maintain those amenities. That warm, fuzzy feeling If every other roof has snow on it while the home you are considering is clear, it may indicate inadequate insulation, meaning that heat is escaping and causing snow to melt. Warm hearth, cold pipes More than a quarter-million U.S households suffer damage every winter from water pipes, which can freeze and break if not insulated. It’s not just homes in the snow belt that are the worst risks for pipe damage. Homes in warmer climates, where pipes often run through un-insulated attics or crawl spaces, are also vulnerable. So, don’t forget to wrap any exposed pipes in insulation, seal any leaks, disconnect garden hoses and drain water from pipes if necessary. For homeowners in especially cold climates, let hot and cold faucets drip overnight. Cold feet are better than wet feet Many home maintenance or structural problems are caused by water. Running water can erode gullies, saturate soils and trigger landslides or mudslides. Water also causes clays in expansive soils to swell, damaging foundations. Don’t panic; pull on your boots and look for the source of the problem. Likely candidates are plumbing or sprinkler system leaks, inadequate drainage control or subsurface water or springs. Once you find the problem, fix it as soon as possible. Plugging into a good deal Typically a home should have at least 100-amp electrical service. The amperage of the service is determined by the main circuit breakers and is usually less than the sum of the individual circuit breakers. Be a utility player When the chill is in the air, consider what makes that monthly heating bill go off the charts. Once you do move into the house, here are five hints for keeping the bill utility bill down: ·Lower the thermostat; you can save 2 to 3 percent in fuel for each degree. ·Keep the damper closed when the fireplace is not in use. ·Close off unoccupied space such as closets and bathrooms. ·Close your drapes at night to help keep in heat and seal window drafts. ·Be sure the air registers or radiators aren’t blocked by drapes or furniture. ·Wrap your water heater with insulating blankets. PROS AND CONS OF PRESSURE TREATED LUMBER To ensure structural soundness and long service life for exterior wood structures, all wood must be protected from attack by insects or microorganisms, and decay from fungi. This is especially important in hot and humid climates or wherever wood comes into contact with ground or water. While field applied surface stains and paints offer some protection, elements such as decks are best protected by pressure treatment. In pressure treatment, chemical preservatives are forced deep into the cellular structure of the wood in a closed cylinder under pressure. This process enables the preserved wood to maintain a chemical barrier against insects and decay for long periods of time. Several manufacturers even guarantee their treated wood against such damage for 40 years or longer. There are three basic types of wood preservatives: water-borne, oil borne and creosote. Only the water-borne chemicals are generally used in pressure -treated wood products intended for residential uses. Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA) is the most commonly used water-borne preservative. Oil-borne preservatives, the most common being pentachlorophenol, are primarily used for above ground structural components such as laminated roof beams. Wood treated with creosote is now only used for commercial applications, such as timbers for railroad ties, highway bridges and guardrail posts, and wood used in marine structures – bulkheads, docks, and seawalls. Questions have been raised as to whether direct exposure to products commonly used for pressure treatment cause cancer. To date, no laboratory or experimental investigations of the product have confirmed that treated wood causes cancer in humans. Epidemiology studies of wood-treatment plant workers and carpenters have also indicated there is no increased risk of cancer as a result of exposure to preservative-treated wood. Questions have also been raised by several organizations as to whether indirect exposure, such as chemicals leaching from products used in vegetable garden trellises, planter boxes or edging could be hazardous. But while some studies have show that some surface residue may migrate to the soil, the levels are not elevated substantially above what naturally occurs in any soils. Further, no direct leaching from the product normally occurred.   Incidental contact of treated wood with drinking water, as with piling, docks, piers, or bridges, is acceptable. However, treated wood should not be used where it is likely to become a component of food or mixed directly with foodstuffs. Accordingly, wood should not be used as kitchen countertops of food cutting boards. While the wood treatment industry claims there is no reason to avoid using wood treated with a water-borne preservative in the playground environment, or to avoid touching or walking barefoot on pressure-treated backyard decks, it is generally recommended that a water-repellent or wood sealer be applied periodically to reduce cracking and splitting and thus the likelihood of children getting splinters. On-the-other-hand, creosote and oil-borne treated products should not be used in playground equipment or wherever direct contact is likely. Some studies by environmental have reported elevated levels of arsenic under treated decks, however, it is unclear as to whether these levels are the result of construction residue due to improper control or cleanup of sawdust after deck completion. But, to be on the safe-side, choose wood products that are visibly clean and free of surface residue. Eye protection, dust mask and gloves should be used whenever sawing or cutting any type of building material, including wood products, treated or untreated. Practicing good personal hygiene and a thorough site cleanup at the completion of any construction project are also important. Pressure-treated wood has not been listed as hazardous waste. In most areas, it is acceptable to send treated wood to a landfill space but many industrial users are now selecting recycling of treated wood as their disposal option. In many cases, the wood can be reused in its original form or used in secondary applications such as fence posts, landscaping and other projects. Treated wood should not be burned in fireplaces, stoves, or other non-permitted units because toxic residue may be produced as part of the smoke or ashes. PRESERVING TREATED WOOD Even though lumber may be kiln-dried before treatment to approximately 19% moisture content, using water-borne preservatives increases the moisture content – possible to as much as 75%. This causes the wood to initially swell then shrink as it is exposed to the air and the wood comes into equilibrium with the environment. If this shrinkage is too rapid, as is often the case with full sun exposure, the wood is likely to crack and distort. A water-repellent sealer should be applied at the time of construction, or as otherwise recommended by the wood or sealer manufacturer, to help slow this initial shrinkage and prevent further damage from wetting-drying cycles. Some treated-wood products are now available with water repellency built in through the addition of water repellents to the preservative solution. Too much moisture in the wood, however, may prevent the stain or paint from penetrating the wood sufficiently. It is best to test the wood by painting or staining a scrap piece to see if it applies properly. If not, wait until it reaches moisture equilibrium. While some latex paint products are available for finishing treated wood , semi-transparent, oil-based stains work best. A water repellent should be applied annually. If you do not have time to wait for the wood to equal equilibrium you can purchase wood marked “KDAT” (Kiln-dried after treatment). This wood should be ready for an immediate sealer treatment. But all treated wood should be cleaned and re-sealed yearly to maintain optimum appearance. Unprotected lumber will also begin to change color and darken as a result of the wood’s reaction to ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Sealants with UV inhibitors will protect the finished paint film from deterioration; those with a UV “absorber” are more effective in minimizing changes to the natural wood pigment itself, an important consideration when using clear finishes. DECK RAILINGS Because of the exposed wood, treated lumber is commonly used for deck construction, one home improvement project often undertaken by the homeowner him/herself. In addition to the basic framing sizing and layout requirements for the deck, one other very important aspect requiring specific attention is construction of the railings. All elevated deck structures should have railings around the deck and along the stairs. The specific height at which a rail is required will vary based on local codes but there are several common standards that are often followed. For example, the minimum height at which a guardrail is required ranges between 15 – 30 inches off the ground. The rail itself should be a minimum of 36 – 42 inches above the deck floor. Not only are there standard requirements on the presence and height of the rail, but design features and load bearing capacities must meet minimum criteria. The guardrails can not be constructed with any pattern that would have a “ladder effect”. This limitation is intended to prevent children from climbing up a ladder-type rail and then falling over. Consequently, guardrails now typically have a vertical spindle design. But even then, specific construction features must be considered. The spacing between vertical spindles should not be more than four inches; specifically, they should be spaced so that a sphere 4 inches in diameter can not pass through any part of the rail. The fastening of the guard rail itself must also comply with minimum standards. The rail is not just decorative but must be capable of resisting a force of 200 pounds. Simple nailing of the support posts is usually not sufficient to withstand normal forces that might be applied by someone leading against it. Consequently, bolting of the posts and other key connecting points is often necessary to ensure the ability to resist reasonable forces. In all cases, check on local requirements before beginning any new projects. CHOOSING TREATED WOOD FOR YOUR PROJECT To be certain that that the material for your outdoor project is of a quality to meet its intended use, follow these guidelines when purchasing or specifying treated lumber: Wood products treated with waterborne preservatives should conform to approved treating industry standards. Such approval is indicated by either an ink stamp (in addition to the lumber grade designation) or more commonly by a plastic tag stapled to the end of the lumber. The labeling will include the logo of an accredited inspection agency, the standard utilized in the treating process, the preservative retention level and intended end-use/application. For waterborne preservatives, the following levels of preservative retention applies: 0.25 (lbs./ft³) – this is the minimum level for lowexposure above ground contact elements; .40 – for ground contactelements such as fence posts and deck supports; and, 0.60 – for permanent ground burial such as wood foundations. LIGHTING CONSIDERATIONS     Options and Selection Guidelines U.S. energy conservation legislation passed in the early 1990s has lead to the discontinuation of lamp types that do not meet specified energy standards. The first phase of this changeover called for the discontinuation of some lamps, such as the standard “cool white” fluorescent and reflector type incandescent lamps, and the institution of new packaging and labeling requirements. The second phase of this legislation calls for the phase-out of additional high energy cost lamps by the year 2005. Besides energy savings benefits fostered by the legislation, the consumer now has many more options on the type of lamps available to develop the lighting scheme that meets their functional needs and desired aesthetic appearance. To help with the selection, lamps are labeled with information that will help locate the right combination of function and appearance. Color temperature and color rendering index (CRI) are the primary factors used to quantify light quality. Color temperature or chromacity refers to the color appearance that comes from the light itself. It’s what can create the right “mood”. Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin and indicates the visual “warmth or coolness” of the light given off by the bulb itself. Color temperatures for residential bulbs range from a “warm” red-yellow appearance (starting at 2000o K), to a “neutral” white (at 3500o K) to a “cool” white-blue starting at about 4100o K. The common “cool white” shop light gave off the typical bluish color giving the surfaces illuminated a harsh and distorted appearance. Incandescence, at about 2700oK for the standard residential bulb, are naturally warmer and give a more natural appearance to people and objects. In general, warm light sources should be used at low lighting levels, cool sources at high levels. Color rendering, or CRI, is the ability of a light source to represent colors in objects. It is a relative measurement of how natural or distorted an object appears when illuminated by a particular bulb. CRI is expressed on a scale of 0 – 100; the closer the rating is to 100, the more natural the appearance of the illuminated person or object. Most incandescents have CRIs close to 100. But fluorescents generally range from 40 to 90. For comparison purposes, the old standard cool white fluorescent had a ranking in the low 60s. A ranking in the 70s is considered the lowest acceptable range for general residential purposes. Above 80 is said to be “high quality” lighting, Most of the major improvements in lighting in recent years have been in fluorescent technology. Because fluorescents produce more lighting at a lower cost (lumens per watt) than incandescents, the new energy reduction requirements spurred the development of new lamps that operate at reduced watts and in many cases could be used as a direct substitute for incandescents in existing fixtures or for new lighting situations that only incandescents could solve in the past. Previously, the fluorescents were popular only in office or work settings, primarily because of the type fixture required but also because of the quality of the lighting they provided. Now, fluorescents can fit almost any lighting or mood setting desired. The powdery phosphor coatings used on the inside of the bulb in the older style fluorescents have been replaced by more expensive “rare earth phosphor” that produce a more efficient and visually appealing light. Different blends of rare earth and conventional phosphors can be used to develop a range of lighting levels and quality for a variety of purposes. These bulbs can be used in many fixtures previously only usable with the relatively inefficient incandescents. READING THE LABELS The new packaging information is intended to get consumers to pay more attention to the efficiency – light output per watt – of the bulbs they are buying. Some incandescent bulb manufacturers have been providing this important information for years but since late 1995, it has been required label information. Specifically, the label for all type bulbs must display the light output in lumens, energy usage in watts and the expected hours of service. Such information will also allow better comparison shopping between fluorescent and incandescent bulbs. For example, a standard 60 watt bulb might be listed to produce 800 lumens for 1000 hours. Using this bulb for four hours each day would cost $8.76 per year at .10 per kilowatt-hour. As an alternate, a compact 15-watt fluorescent with greater light output and life (900 lumens and 10,000 hours respectively) would cost only $2.19 a year to operate. Thus, using a fluorescent bulb would save you over $6.00 annually. In addition, the fluorescent bulb would last six years compared to only eight months for the incandescent. Over a six-year period, just the savings from reduced energy usage should make up the difference in the initial bulb cost. Also, giving consideration to the fact that you wouldn’t have to buy any bulbs in that period only increases the savings. WHAT DOES THE GREEN LIGHT LABEL MEAN? Since the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated their “Green Lights Projects” in the early 1990s, many manufacturers have been driven by environmental and energy cost concerns to become partners in this program. This allows participants to use the Green Lights Logo in advertising and packaging. Through the program, companies also receive incentives as “allies” for manufacturing energy efficient products and as “partners” for retrofitting their facilities with energy efficient products. DETECTING INVISIBLE DANGERS IN THE HOME Electrical Deficiencies – Do your wall switches or outlets ever feel warm to the touch? – Have you noticed lights flickering? – Do you use multiple outlet plugs or extension cords frequently? – Do your fuses blow very often or your circuit breakers flip very often? ·  Aluminum wiring, which was installed in houses built from the mid-60’s to the mid-70’s, often experiences connection problems causing sparking and fires. Also, many older houses have undersized electrical systems resulting in a shortage of household circuits and outlets. Overtaxing such a system will result in blown fuses and flipped breakers. Lead-Based Paint How old is your house? Do you have young people or pregnant women in your house often? Is your interior and exterior paint flaking? ·  In 1978, lead-based paint was banned for residential use. Houses built before 1978 probably contain lead-based paint, either on interior or exterior surfaces. Children and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning. Water Heater Does your heater deliver scalding degree water? Does your heater have a properly installed relief valve? Is your heater a source of carbon monoxide? ·  All self-standing water heaters have a thermostat control to set the water temperature. If your household has young children or seniors, a safe setting of 120ºF is recommended. Check your water heater for an effective relief valve to protect against a tank explosion caused by excess pressure or temperatures. Water heaters should be properly vented to prevent a carbon monoxide build-up. Radon Is your house located in a “rocky” area? Have you heard of radon gas problems in your locale? ·  Radon is an odorless gas found naturally in nature, especially in areas of rocky sub-surfaces. A build-up of radon gas can cause cancer over time. Removing (mitigating) radon from a house is accomplished at a minimum of expense and inconvenience. Carbon Monoxide Do members of the family often complain about headaches and nausea for no apparent reason? Is your garage attached to your house? Are vehicles often left idling in the garage? Do you use a gas or kerosene space heater? ·  Carbon monoxide (CO) is another invisible danger. The result of fuel combustion, carbon monoxide can build up in your house if heaters and appliances are not vented properly. Idling vehicles can also produce high levels of CO in a short period of time. Continuous inhalation of carbon monoxide can result in death. Asbestos Does your house have an old boiler heating system? Are your heat pipes insulated with a paper cover material? ·  Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause lung cancer. Asbestos was often used in boiler tank and heat lines insulation. It is also found in ceiling tiles, floor tiles, and roof shingles. Interior asbestos products are particularly hazardous if they are flaking or damaged in any way. Water Quality Does your tap water look clear and taste good? Do you notice blue staining on plumbing fixtures or odors? ·  You can’t tell the quality of water by looking at it or by tasting it. The only valid check of water quality is through laboratory testing. A standard potability test will usually only test for bacteria and pH levels. Laboratories can also test for lead, radon, PCB’s, and other toxic substances. Underground Fuel Tanks Do you notice increased fuel oil consumption? Do you smell fuel odors in the area of your buried fuel tank? ·  Most old fuel tanks were made of metal and are subject to rusting and deterioration over time. To avoid future soil contamination problems, it is recommended that all old tanks be tested for leakage and removed if necessary FIRE SAFETY TIPS Hesitation about whether an alarm is real or what to do next could prove fatal in a home fire. The best way to survive a home fire is to get out fast! That‘s why practicing fire drills is so important. According to the National Fire Protection Association, people can survive even major fires in their homes if they are alerted to the fire in time and know what to do. There is no time to plan during a fire emergency. Please make the time today, to sit down with your family and prepare a step-by-step plan for escaping a fire in your home. Here are some simple steps to get you started: When the smoke alarm sounds, every second counts! INSTALL SMOKE ALARMS Install outside every sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement Keep them in working order Test the alarms monthly Change the batteries twice a year (any alarm that is more that 10 years old should be replaced) MAKE AN EMERGENCY ESCAPE PLAN Draw a floor plan of your home, marking two ways out of every room (include windows as exits!) PRACTICE FIRE DRILLS Conduct fire drills in your home Make your drills realistic – pretend that some exits are blocked and practice using alternative escape routes Conduct exit drills at least twice a year Do Not Race. Get out quickly, but carefully COMMUNICATE Discuss the escape routes and alternatives with every household member Make special arrangements for children, older adults, and people with disabilities Agree on a meeting place outside your home where every household member will gather, after escaping, to await the fire department GET OUT! DO NOT STOP for anything DO NOT try to rescue possessions or pets Go directly to your designated meeting place then call the fire department STAY OUT! Once you are out of your home, DO NOT GO BACK! If others are trapped, firefighters are best equipped and have the best chance of a successful rescue effort HOMEOWNER INSURANCE TIP Don’t be underinsured!  If you don’t maintain enough insurance coverage and your home is damaged, your loss may NOT be covered in full! Obviously, if the full cost of rebuilding your home is $100,000 but you only purchase a policy for $60,000 and your home is completely destroyed you will only receive $60,000. But there is another impact of buying too little insurance.  If you don’t have the proper coverage and only part of your home is damaged (for example, a hail storm damages your roof), you may not receive full insurance reimbursement for repairing that portion of your home.  This is true even though the cost of repairing only that part of your home would be much less than the face value of your policy. So, if the full cost of rebuilding your home is $100,000 but you buy only $60,000 worth of insurance coverage and the cost to replace your roof is $2,000, you would receive less than $2,000 insurance reimbursement.  The actual amount would depend on how underinsured you actually are, or upon the wear-and-tear depreciation of that portion of your dwelling before the loss occurred. To receive full reimbursement for your losses you should buy coverage for 100% of the replacement cost of your home.  The replacement cost is the amount needed to rebuild your home, not necessarily the market value. Consult your insurance broker for more details and to determine if you are underinsured The Associated Press – Home Inspections Are Key Part Of Real Estate Deal With their wet shoes, dirty jeans and sweat dripping down their faces, home inspectors can be called the grunts of the real estate industry. – 3/23/2009 By ADRIAN SAINZ AP Real Estate Writer MIAMI (AP) _ With their wet shoes, dirty jeans and sweat dripping down their faces, home inspectors can be called the grunts of the real estate industry. Home inspectors climb on roofs and squeeze into attics as part of a process that lets buyers and sellers know which repairs are needed on a house for sale. Inspectors help determine a home’s value and give all parties a clear picture of what needs fixing. With home safety and financial costs in mind, inspectors concentrate on the most important elements _ plumbing, air conditioning and heating, roofs, electrical systems, attics and basements, and structural issues. Inspections are a critical piece of a real estate deal. Buyers want a detailed rundown of what needs to be repaired as they decide if the home fits their budget. Sellers interested in the growing trend of pre-listing inspections can catch any problems that could snag negotiations or expose them to liability. And, if the home is a foreclosure, inspectors are in key in evaluating a house that may have been abandoned for months. “People really have to get a home inspection now more than ever because they are concerned about home values, and conditions that could be wrong with a house can certainly reflect negatively on the value of a home,” said Kathleen Kuhn, president of HouseMaster, a national home inspection franchise. “The last thing you want to do is move into a home and find very expensive problems.” There are several ways to find a good home inspector in your area to make the real estate transaction as painless and transparent as possible. There is no national licensing body for inspectors, but they can be certified by a state body or any one of several home inspector organizations, including the American Society of Home Inspectors, the National Association of Home Inspectors and the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. These groups offer training and exams, and their certifications carry significant weight. About 33 states regulate home inspectors in some way, said Brion Grant, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Buyers and sellers should check with the state to find out what requirements home inspectors must meet to get a license or certification, if there are any. The Internet is a good place to start looking _ trade organizations have Web sites that direct consumers to inspectors in their area. Buyers and sellers can ask their real estate agent to recommend a home inspector, but they should do their own investigating as well. Another method is using a home inspection franchise like HouseMaster, Pillar to Post, ProSight Property Inspections or AmeriSpec Home Inspection Service. While the options offered by these companies may differ, most have a network of inspectors who get training from the companies. When vetting an inspector, ask what certifications and experience he or she has. Ask if the inspector has passed the National Home Inspector Examination, which anyone can sign up for and take for about $80, Grant said. Look for a strong base of knowledge, such as inspectors with more than five to seven years on the job, or someone who worked in construction before becoming a home inspector. Ask for proof of the inspector carries general liability and “errors and omissions” insurance, which Kuhn describes as “kind of like malpractice insurance for a home inspector.” Also, make sure to ask how much the inspection will cost and how long it should take. The price usually is based on a home’s square feet, though industry experts say a typical inspection for an average-size single family home should cost around $400 or more. The cost could move higher, depending on whether the inspector is searching for Radon, or inspecting a swimming pool or septic tank. (Inspections for townhomes and condominiums run less than $400 because they tend to be smaller). The inspection should be done in one visit, and the client should be present. Thorough, detailed home inspections should last two to three hours at the minimum, experts say. “When I go into a house, or onto a property, I take the position that nothing works until it proves to me it does,” said Kim Douglas Moore an Orlando, Fla.-based inspector. Once an inspector is found, he or she must have full access to the home. Doors and fences should be unlocked, and the water and electricity must be turned on. Electrical panels, attics and basements, closets and cabinets should be accessible. Inspectors should investigate for what the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors considers “material defects” that would negatively affect the property’s value and safety. When it’s over, the client is given a report that describes the main systems in the home and outlines any defects or repair issues. Good inspectors will turn on air conditioning, heating systems, lights and faucets all over the home. They’ll check power outlets and garage doors, and search for mold in wet areas like bathrooms and behind refrigerators. They will investigate the working ability and longevity of the furnace, water heater, washer and dryer, and kitchen appliances such as refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers and garbage disposals. Sharp inspectors will even see if the stove or oven has shoe that prevents it from tipping over when the door is open, says Moore, who also takes down serial numbers of appliances and water heaters during his inspections. Quality inspectors check electrical wiring and breakers, and whether any light fixtures need replacing. They’ll open and close windows, drawers and cabinets. Outside, they study the quality and age of the roof, telling the client whether roof repairs are needed now or in a few years, or not for a long time. They’ll identify cracks in the structure and check outdoor air conditioning units. Inspections can differ by geography and local building requirements. For example, Miami inspectors check if the roof is braced properly and the wind resistance of windows, with hurricane season in mind. Meanwhile, inspectors up north must deal with things that inspectors down south don’t have to worry about: snow, basements, Radon. Moore says he does not give cost estimates on suggested repairs or maintenance, but inspector Angel Calle and the rest of Pillar to Post’s franchised inspectors do give rough cost estimates. On one inspection, Calle, who takes digital photos, estimated partial roof repair at $12,000 and replacement of missing light fixtures at a total of $600. “They can take that information and either go and renegotiate with the seller or they can say, `Look it, I’m so in love with the house and I think I got a good price, I’ll just take the information and know that in my planning in the coming year I should plan for replacing the air conditioning,” said Dan Steward, president of Pillar to Post. In the past, buyers have been most interested in home inspections. Now, inspections by sellers are gaining popularity as sellers seek to eliminate negotiation snags and make their home stand out, said Nick Gromicko, founder of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. Gromicko does note that buyers and sellers must do their homework to root out inspectors and real estate agents who may engage in “patty-cake inspections.” These inspectors charge a relatively low price and do a more lenient, seller-friendly inspection in return for continued referrals by an agent.< "The most dangerous combination is a real estate agent who is starving and a home inspector who is starving," Gromicko said. Gromicko also offers a tip he has never given anyone else _ except for his sister. Hire an inspector from out of town but within driving distance, offering $50 extra for their trip. That way, you get an inspector who is not concerned about getting future referrals from any of the parties involved, Gromicko said. Consumers have recourse if they find their inspector missed something significant or did a bad job. Consumers can complain to the state regulatory agency, if there is one, or the organization that certified the inspector, who could lose the certification if standards of practice or ethics are found to be breached. Small claims court, and even complaining to the state Attorney General, Grant said, are also options. How Well Does Your Roof Drain? Roof drainage systems have three functions: to remove the water from the roof, to prevent water damage to the building exterior, and to transport water away from the foundation. All the water that lands on a roof should be collected and distributed away from the building. The best time to inspect your roof drainage system is during and just after a heavy rain. The next time it rains, get on your rain gear, grab an umbrella, and go for a tour of your domicile’s exterior. First, look for water flowing over the rain gutter edges. Overflowing gutters may be too small; they may slope down and away from, instead of towards, the downspout (or leader) openings; or the downspouts may be clogged with leaves and debris. Next, look for indications of water flow behind the rain gutters. Leaks behind the gutters can cause decay in the wooden eave boards. Gutter leaks are especially problematic if the eave is small and doesn’t extend out from the wall below, or if there is no eave and the gutters are tight against the siding. Rainwater can actually flow inside the building wall if leaky gutters are tight against the siding. The roofing material should extend sufficiently over the rain gutter to prevent water leaking behind. It may be necessary to install "L" shaped sheet metal flashings to seal the connections between the roof surface and the rain gutters. If you tap on a downspout and get a dull, heavy sound, the downspout is probably clogged with debris. A downspout can be cleaned out by putting a garden hose at the top of the downspout inside the rain gutter. If you do not have the equipment to do this safely, consult a gutter specialist for an annual debris removal. An inexpensive birdcage style screen can be inserted in the gutter at the downspout opening to keep debris out of the downspouts. Uncontrolled rainwater is a primary cause of foundation problems. A concrete or plastic splash block placed at the bottom of each downspout can reduce erosion and direct the water away from the foundation. Ideally, the closest five feet of ground, walkways, and other surfaces to the building should slope downward away from the foundation. Often the best procedure is to provide a subsurface drainage piping system to carry downspout water away from the building. Subdrains are often installed below the sidewalk and emerge at the street gutter. If you have a subsurface drain system, be sure to test it periodically using water from a garden hose. Locate the drain outflows and check them periodically for water flow in wet weather. Steep sites often require a specially designed drainage system. Many older homes have clay tile subsurface drain piping, which often breaks or becomes displaced and may direct roof rainwater to flow beneath the foundation instead of away from it. It may be advisable to disconnect downspouts from old tile drain pipes, especially if water flows under the house in wet weather. Low pitch or low slope roofs often do not have rain gutters and instead have surface-mounted drains or drain openings mounted in the perimeter parapet walls. "Parapets," common in Mediterranean style buildings, are walls that extend above the roofline. Parapet drains must be kept clear of any debris, as blockage could cause deep standing water on the roof. The standard in new construction requires a second drain above the primary drain to prevent deep roof flooding should the primary drain become clogged. All flat or low sloped roofs should be designed to slope downward to the drain openings. Since no roof is perfect, a minor amount of ponding is considered acceptable. The roof surfaces should dry completely within 48 hours. Even minor ponding can cause premature roof surface deterioration. In summary, the roof drain system, rain gutters, and downspouts should be checked periodically to assure they are functioning properly. Periodic inspections are especially important if there are trees or shrubs higher than the roof, which could cause debris blockage in the drains. Don’t use a ladder or climb on a roof unless you are sure you can do so safely. It’s usually best to call a gutter specialist to install, clean, or repair the roof drain system Retrofitting Older Foundations For Seismic Safety Many of the seismic upgrades we see during our inspections are improperly installed. Homeowners are falling victim to contractors who charge excessive fees to install earthquake resistance systems that will perform poorly when the next big earthquake comes. Earthquake retrofit components fall into two primary categories: metal connectors and wood bracing panels. The steel anchor bolt, which is the original seismic component, was used in a few homes in the 1920s and 1930s, and became a standard requirement in the 1940s. Anchor bolts are designed to prevent horizontal movement and are intended to keep the house from sliding off the foundation. Modern construction standards call for bolting at least every six feet, with bolts within the last 12 inches of each piece of sill plate. Buildings with more than one story, or on hillsides, may need anchor bolts every four feet. Anchor bolts can be added to existing foundations if the concrete is strong enough to hold them. Many older foundations have poor quality concrete, which will break apart when bolts are installed or when stressed by an earthquake. Wedge type anchor bolts were the standard retrofit device for many years. Wedge anchors expand against the concrete and may loosen with time and periodic vibration. Most engineers now prefer bolts set into epoxy. Epoxy bolts do not place a strain on the concrete until the actual seismic event and are especially useful if the concrete does not have full strength. Epoxy-set bolts have even been used in some brick foundations. New foundations may also have L-shaped brackets called "hold downs," which are bolted down into the foundation and horizontally to the vertical framing. Hold-downs are designed to prevent vertical upward movement and are especially effective if secured to the framing at plywood bracing panels or "shear panels." The weakest part of the building is usually the short, or "cripple," walls that support the lower floor framing. Most older buildings rely on diagonal blocking or let-in braces to keep these walls vertical. Blocks and braces are no longer considered adequate and the new standard calls for plywood bracing panels, often referred to as "shear panels." Properly installed bracing panels can significantly reduce the potential for structural failure. These panels make the building stiffer, and may actually cause more interior damage, such as plaster cracking and falling furniture, in a well-braced house during a minor or moderate earthquake. Life safety is not considered by some experts to be a primary concern because serious injury or death in single-family, wood-framed residential structures is very rare during an earthquake. The primary purpose of seismic reinforcement is to keep the house from becoming a total loss when the big quake comes. The plywood or OSB (Oriented Strand Board) bracing panels should be properly nailed and supported by framing on all four edges. The nails should be no more than six inches apart and ideally no more than three inches apart. The nails should not be over-driven, which would weaken the connection. Screws should not be used, as they may break off under stress. Metal straps are now available to reinforce the connection between the bracing panels and the floor framing above. These are easy to install and can substantially increase the strength of the system. Simple, single-story structures can usually be significantly reinforced by a qualified earthquake contractor for about $3,000 to $5,000. Two-story buildings and houses on hillsides should be examined by a qualified engineer to determine the most effective use of the seismic upgrade dollar. It may be necessary in some cases to replace old, deteriorated foundations in order to install an effective seismic system. It is not wise to spend too much money on your seismic reinforcements. You may not be able to recoup your expenses when you sell the house. In many cases the best strategy it be to make modest improvements and to buy earthquake insurance. Home buyers today are much more concerned about foundation strength than they were a few years ago and a reasonable amount of bolting and shear bracing is probably a good investment. A Safety Checkup for Your Water Heater Most of us don’t think about our water heater as long as we get hot water when we need it. Home inspectors often find significant safety problems with gas-fired water heaters. An improperly installed water heater can spill toxic fumes, start a fire, or damage your home by leaking water. A gas-fired water heater located in a garage, or in a room that shares the garage floor, should be elevated on a sturdy platform so the flame is at least 18 inches above the floor. Gasoline fumes are heavier than air and will collect near the floor, where they could be ignited if the water heater flame is close to the floor. The water heater should be rigidly secured in place with special heavy-duty straps or braces to keep it from moving in an earthquake. Flexible water supply and gas supply connectors should be used, as they are less likely to break in an earthquake. The water in the tank may be the only supply of water if the water pipes in the street break during an earthquake. All water heaters should be equipped with temperature and pressure relief valves (TPR) to prevent a malfunctioning water heater from overheating and exploding. You should find the TPR valve at the top or on the side of the water heater. This valve should have a drainpipe that extends to the exterior of the building, though some jurisdictions allow this pipe to drain on the garage floor. TPR valve leakage is common and the discharge pipe should terminate where you will easily notice any drips or water flow at the pipe, indicating a leaky valve. Leaking TPR valves should be replaced. Fumes from gas-fired water heaters must be carried safely outdoors by a vent piping system. The bottom portion of this vent, called the draft diverter, is typically located at the top of the water heater. The diverter and vent piping can get very hot and it’s very important to avoid storing any items on or near the water heater. The best systems use double wall "Type B" vents that extend through the roof. Type B vents require one-inch clearance to combustibles and single wall vent pipes need at least six inches clearance. We often find hot vent pipes located too close to discolored or charred wood, which can easily catch fire. Flue gas spillage indicates an obstructed or improperly installed vent. Moisture is a byproduct of natural gas production and will often cause rusting at the piping near the draft diverter on top of the water heater or at the firebox opening at the bottom. Flue gas spillage is a hazardous condition and you should call your plumber or the local utility company if you suspect this condition. Installing carbon monoxide detectors near all gas-fired appliances is a good safety measure. Gas-fired water heaters require a source of fresh air to provide oxygen to the flame. A water heater in a closet, or a confined space such as a laundry room, requires ducts or openings to the outside to assure an adequate air supply. Exhaust fans in laundry rooms can also cause flue gas spillage and an insufficient supply of oxygen can cause the water heater to produce carbon monoxide. Almost all water heaters eventually fail and leak. Water flowing from a leaky water heater can cause substantial damage, especially if it happens while you are away for a few days. New water heaters are usually required to have a catch pan and drain beneath them when installed in areas where leakage could cause damage. Be sure the water from your heater is not so hot that it could scald you, a child, or anyone unable to move quickly out of the way. The preferred temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of us don’t think about our water heater until it stops producing hot water when we need it. Why don’t you take a look at your water heater now and do a safety check of your own. You may be glad you did. HOW TO BUY A NEW ROOF You’ve decided your old roof is beyond repair and it’s time to choose a new one. There are many options. New materials are now available that were not yet invented when your old roof was installed. Roofs can be categorized into two basic types: low slope and steep slope. Low slope roofing varies from level up to a slope of four-in-twelve, which means the roof rises vertically four inches for each twelve inches of horizontal run. Roofing with a four-in-twelve slope or greater is categorized as steep roofing. The main difference between the two roofing categories is that low slope materials have a watertight membrane, whereas steep slope materials are water shedding and will leak unless applied on a slope of sufficient steepness. For low-slope roofs, the homeowner can either go traditional or high tech. The most common low slope roofing is tar and gravel, for which the proper name is gravel-surfaced, built-up roofing. A built-up roof consists of layers of hot asphalt and roofing paper or felt. The top coating may be gravel, a flood coat of hot asphalt, or a rolled roofing cap sheet. Built-up roofs have the advantage of history. Built-up roofing has been the standard low slope roofing for over a hundred years. Most experienced built-up roofers can consistently provide a surface that will last 15 to 20 years. The high-tech alternative is a polymer modified rolled roofing called modified bitumen. The "mod-bit" roof membranes are heat-welded together with a flame to provide a very strong system. Modified roofing materials may last up to 20 or even 40 years, but require skilled and well-trained installers who make relatively few or no mistakes. Steep slope roofing materials include wood shingles and shakes, tile, slate, and composition shingles. Concrete tile, clay tile, and slate are expensive and durable roofing materials. Composition shingles (also called asphalt shingles) are the most common and practical of the steep slope materials. Composition shingle roofing comes in a variety of thicknesses and has a potential life ranging from 20 to 40 years, depending on the quality of the product. Most homeowners do not wish to accept the potential fire hazards related to wood shakes or shingles and these materials are rapidly loosing favor in many areas. If your roof has asphalt composition shingles or wood shingles, you may have the option of installing a second roof over your original roof. If old roofing must be stripped off, it may be necessary to add plywood sheathing on top of the original skipped sheathing, which adds to the cost of reroofing. Many areas do not allow more than two layers of roofing. Multiple layers can overload a roof structure. A second roof cannot be installed over wood shakes (except for some metal tiles that can be placed over existing wood shakes); the wood shakes must be removed before a new roof can be installed. A good way to become familiar with the various roofing products on the market is to visit a roofing showroom. Your local roofing contractor may show you two or three sample materials. A well-stocked showroom on the other hand may have 30 to 40 samples of various roofing materials and should have staff available to help you examine and compare the different products available. Manufacturers’ warrantees often provide little value to the consumer, so it’s very important to select your roofer carefully. The warranty may be valid only if the roof has been installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications and, as any experienced home inspector will tell you, this is rarely the case. Ask your roofer to provide you with the roofing materials manufacturer’s specifications and insist that they be followed. Got Mold? As home inspectors, we see mold growing in all sorts of places. A few years ago our clients started asking if we would collect samples for laboratory analysis to determine if the molds were "toxic." After extensive research into mold-related problems, we decided to help our clients by collecting samples when they want them, but also to help determine the causes of the mold, and to develop effective solutions. The purpose of this article is to provide a background to potential problems relating to molds and excessive moisture, and to offer a few solutions. Historically, mold issues have been addressed primarily in the commercial sector by specially trained industrial hygienists, who use a wide range of skills and techniques to solve indoor air quality (IAQ) problems found in office buildings and other large structures. Molds and problem air quality issues have recently become much more apparent in homes, creating the need for a new approach. First, the Basics A mold is a type of fungus. Molds grow everywhere and can be found in some amount in every room or space. If you can see mold or if you notice an earthy or musty odor, you can assume there is a potential mold problem. Molds need a food source to live and tend to grow on porous cellulose materials such as wood, ceiling tiles, and sheet rock or gypsum board. Molds especially like dry wall or sheet rock because it is porous and contains nutrients the molds can feed on. Molds can also grow on hard surfaces, such as tile or metal window frames-or even glass-by living on the dust that sticks to cool, damp surfaces. These areas are easy to clean with household detergent. There are three primary ways molds can cause harm. Molds can be toxic, infectious, or allergenic. Molds that produce mycotoxins such as Stachybotrys and Trichoderma are considered "toxic molds," and are thought by some to present a greater hazard than common molds such as Cladosporium and Alternaria. Our research shows that Penicillium-Aspergillus molds are most likely to cause allergy or asthma-related problems in homes. The popular term "toxic mold" is considered by many experts to be incorrect or even misleading. Toxicity is based on dosage. Any substance is toxic if ingested in sufficiently large quantities (including coffee, tea, or even pure water). While a specific mold would be toxic if ingested or inhaled in large quantities, such exposures appear to be rare. Mycotoxins are toxic substances produced by molds. Mycotoxins often adhere to surfaces and do not easily become airborne where they can be inhaled in quantities sufficient to create a toxic effect. Some fungi, such as Aspergillus and Fusarium, can cause infectious diseases. Most infectious diseases caused by fungi occur in individuals who are immune-compromised, such as those with severe burns or HIV; those hospitalized for cancer treatment; and individuals who have lung diseases. People with other respiratory illnesses, the elderly, and infants are also vulnerable to infectious molds. The immune system of a healthy person can easily ward off many infectious attacks, although fungi from bird or bat droppings can cause a flu-like illness even in healthy individuals. Allergenic molds are much more likely to cause problems for humans. Mold allergies are not uncommon and are routinely diagnosed by allergy specialists. Mold spores are inhaled into the lungs with almost every breath we take and those of us who are highly sensitive to molds, dust, dust mites, and other minute particles need to take special care to maintain a healthy indoor environment. Mold Sources Significant mold growth does not occur unless there is sufficient moisture, typically caused by excessive air humidity, water entry, or plumbing leaks. Excessive humidity caused by poor ventilation after bathing, showering, boiling water, cooking, and other moisture-producing activities are the primary sources of mold growth in the home. Improperly installed windows, leaky roofs, moist or damp basements, and excessively damp subfloor areas can contribute to high moisture and interior mold growth. There are numerous ways to test for mold, and no single method is effective for each situation. Mold can grow inside walls, in building materials, and in those areas that are not routinely occupied. Mold spores may not show up in air sampling tests if they are not airborne at the time of sampling. Primary Sampling Techniques Outdoor Air Samples establish a base reading. Indoor Air Samples determine relative mold spore concentration in the air. Swab Sample: A swab is wiped on a surface to collect mold samples. Tape Lift:A strip of tape is used to collect the sample. The tape is placed on a glass slide for microscopic examination. Carpet Sample: Tape is used to collect a sample from the carpet surface, or a sample is vacuumed from an area of carpet. Wall Cavity Sample: Air is drawn through small holes drilled in the wall and sampled for spore activity. Duct Test: Dust from furnace ducting or filters is sampled and tested. Ranch House – Renovation Best March 6, 2009 by Ken Compton Filed under HOME MAINTENANCE AND SAFETY What is the common dream which motivates people to boost income? Undoubtedly, to live a comfortable life in a lavish house with an aura of opulence all around. So they aim at furnishing their nest in a manner that would set it apart from the rests. A ranch house could be the ultimate image make-over of a house. A ranch house is simplicity at its best. It is a one-storey building in a picturesque backdrop. This particular type of house serves two purposes at the same time: it adds up to the beauty of the house and looks after the utility aspect as well. But before setting up a house, one needs to know why he or she needs a ranch house and if it is necessary or not. Before going deep into the details, the basic idea of ranch house and its renovation should be apparent enough. The mandatory components of a ranch house are several bedrooms, cooking area, washroom, a drawing area and rooms for guests. Cellar and conjoined parking area with an entrance into kitchen are other basic features of this kind. So, if you want to renovate a ranch house, fence the terrace, add a gallery or erect a partition to divide a big room and you are sorted. Before venturing you must be focused about your demand from this remodeling. Its sole intention should not be only to beautify the house but also to utilize the area properly and enhancing it. A little planning beforehand helps a lot. You can start with tracking down the drawbacks of the prevailing house and correct it as soon as possible. A wooden deck or something unique can be added to complement the rest of the decoration. Even a new and extra structure can be added to the main one. But it must be in accordance with the design of the rest of the house and serve the purpose of spending free time. Even if you are happy with the look, space enhancement could be a necessity. In that case an additional library or bedroom can be spaced out. It will change the exterior look too. It will be good change in favor of the restoration. If the planning does not go down well with the present interior due space scarcity, the cellar can be divided to increase the area. The general use of cellar is that of a storehouse, launderette and hot water reservoir. If you surrounded it with walls with enough room spared, the extra space can be transformed into children’s recreation room or for relaxation of your entire family. So, the ranch house increases the value and utility of the house. Remodeling in a Recession March 6, 2009 by Ken Compton Filed under HOME MAINTENANCE AND SAFETY It’s true that right now may not be the best time to sell your home. With real estate values dropping, many homeowners who want to sell won’t be able to sell their home for what they thought they may have been able to a few years ago. However, if you aren’t trying to sell your home right now, and have been putting off a remodeling job this might just be the best time to tackle the project.  Why you ask? Just as the cost of homes is dropping,  the cost of remodeling is dropping- including building materials and contractor’s fees. And while it may be difficult to think about spending money on your home when the values are falling- taking advantage of lower remodeling costs could be a great investment if you are not planning on selling your home anytime soon. As disclosed in a study by, the number of building permits in the United States has decreased in 2008 by 41% from 2007. This means less people are building, which can be good for a consumer trying to get competitive pricing from a contractor. Not only can your contractor charge less for materials (because they are paying less) but they are also willing to charge less for labor in order to secure more work. Even DIYers can save money on renovations right now just by saving on materials. For example, according to the National Association of  Home Builders (NAHB), framing lumber prices are the lowest they have been in 4 years. The trick, of course, if you do have a home sale anywhere in your future, is to assess the current value of your home  and the value that your remodel will add to your home. When you sell,  you will only recoup some of the value in your resale so you want to make sure you are not investing too much more than what you may get in return. For a good idea of national remodeling costs and recouped costs, visit Remodeling magazine’s cost vs. recoup report. Note: If you do hire a contractor, make sure they have insurance to cover them in case they are injured on your property, otherwise, check your homeowners insurance policy to see if you have enough. Turning Your Home Green March 6, 2009 by Ken Compton Filed under HOME MAINTENANCE AND SAFETY In recent years we can see more and more people switching to buying green homes. This is either because they are getting concern about the environment or that the standards and techniques for building green houses have improved tremendously over the past years. In addition, sellers can also get a higher price for these green homes as they tend to save more on maintenance costs and utility bills. As such, if you are keen in purchasing a green home in Texas, how do you know that it is worth the price that you are paying for the house? This article will give you some tips on how you can get yourself a good deal. Check to see if the following things are found in the house: 1. A passive solar design This is useful for natural heating and cooling of the house. Make sure there are not any skylights or greenhouse rooms in the house because that would mean too much heat gain in the building and will be very hot. 2. Attic spaces ventilation Attic spaces can also accumulate heat, especially in hot climates, thereby causing the house to become very hot. On the other hand, moisture will remain in these attic spaces which are not ventilated, causing the wood to rot and smell. 3. Use of recycled or renewable materials Since you are getting a green home, you should ensure that the materials used to build the house are not damaging to the environment. Some examples are using waste wood to build decks, use materials that are locally produced and can be renewed easily or recycled wood for the flooring of the house. 4. Use of safe materials Products that are water based, non-toxic and biodegradable are more environmentally friendly so these should be used to build the house. Ensure that there are no materials that contain ozone depleting chemicals which are detrimental to the environment. 5. Site protection The surroundings of the house is equally important, thus, ensure that the natural vegetation and animal habitats are protected from any unnecessary harm, especially if you need to do any additional constructions to the estate. [/kc_column_text][/kc_column][/kc_row]