Saturday, February 21, 2015

Natural Gas Appliance Vents During Heavy Snow

As the snow piles up outside, keep an eye on those natural gas appliance vents.  You want to make sure that the vent's are blocked.  This mainly applies to high efficiency PVC furnace vents, gas dryer vents that are low to the ground and those through the wall vents for gas insert type fireplaces.  Blockage of a vent by snow could allow carbon monoxide to enter your home.

When snow blowing or shoveling, be sure to not to cover the PVC vents from you high efficiency furnace.  Most furnaces will shut off automatically without combustion air, but you may be able to save a service call if you know your vent got blocked by snow.

I often see dryer vents too close to deck surfaces; the vent was 3' off the ground before the deck was built, but then the deck was added and nobody thought about the dryer vent in the winter.  This goes or electric dryers too, but you won't get carbon monoxide buildup with an electric dryer, just damp clothes after a full cycle.

Here's a vent that looks ok in summer but can easily be covered by snow.
Here's a high efficiency furnace PVC vent in danger of being covered by snow.

Stay warm and safe everyone!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Proper Venting for Dryers

As a home inspector, one of the most common problems I encounter in homes is improper dryer venting.  Seems simple, what can go wrong?  Well, a few simple things done wrong can have the potential to burn your house down, cause thousands of dollars of mold damage, or just waste energy and take longer to dry your clothes.

Length: The shortest run is the best run.  25' max is the gold standard.  There is a reduction in length of 5' for each 90 degree turn, ie. if you have 2 90 degree turns, then your maximum length should be 15'.

Materials: Dryer vent should NOT be plastic.  This has the potential to melt and catch fire.  This includes the foil looking mylar type vents.  Vent pipe should be metal pipe or flexible metal dryer vent material, which is a heavy aluminum tube that can be bent.  White PVC pipe should never be used as it can build a static charge that can ignite lint buildup.

Correct vent materials
Incorrect plastic vent also showing how lint can block air flow.

Securing sections: Screws should not protrude into the air pathway.  Use foil tape (not duct tape) and clamps to connect sections.

So, the fire hazard should be obvious, but what about the other things I mentioned.  Dryer vents not ducted to the exterior can be a major contributor to mold/mildew in attic or other spaces.  I've inspected houses where major mold remediation was needed based on the dryer vent ducting into an attic or more commonly a crawlspace.  Think about how much water is in those heavy clothes when you put them into the dryer.  If not ducted to the exterior, this goes right into your enclosed space, and moisture is one of the building blocks for mold growth.

Cleaning: It is recommended that dryer vents be cleaned annually or semi-annually.  Sometimes, if it's in your basement and accessible, it's easiest to just replace the metal vent pipe.  In some houses, there are long fixed runs of metal vent duct that need cleaning with a vacuum/brush etc.  Some homeowners choose to do this themselves, others contract duct cleaning companies.  Hint; when a professional company is on site, have them clean your bath exhaust vents as well (they can also make sure your bath vents are ducted to the exterior as well).

This amount of blockage is very common.

Lastly, be sure you're not using a ventless type lint collector.  Although the home centers sell them, they put large amounts of moisture into your house.  I can't tell you how many moldy basements I've been in due to a ventless lint collector being installed.  The homeowner saved a few pennies on their heating bill but paid thousands in mold remediation not to mention creating and living in an unhealthy environment for years. 

Ventless lint collector installed with incorrect vent duct.

Hope this basic info helps you.  Correct materials, correct lengths and regular cleaning can make your house safer and the faster drying times will save energy.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Vintage Electric Fireplace

Occasionally on inspections I come across old electric fireplaces.  This one was in a Cleveland OH double circa 1920's.  

Both living rooms had these electric fireplaces installed but thankfully disconnected.  They used resistor coils similar to current electric heaters to provide heat.  If you have one of these, keep it as a conversation starter only.  Wiring is almost certain to be original knob and tube type and wire gauges were often undersized when compared with current standards.  

If you wish to have a new electric fireplace installed, consult with a fireplace shop that sells them.  Expect that you will need to install a new dedicated electric cable and that depending on the age and capacity of your service panel, additional electric upgrades may be necessary.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Adding Stone Stairs Against Siding; What to Avoid

Lots of people want to upgrade those builder grade temporary steps or perhaps upgrade what is already existing to stone or paver stones.  One of the improper installations that I see quite often is when the landscape contractors who install this type of stair just slap it up against the side of the house.  In the photo above, you can see how the steps overlap the siding.

So here's the inside view.  Not too unusual.  But as a home inspector, whenever I can access the rim joist beneath a sliding door, I remove the insulation to have a look.  Most sliding doors leak and cause unseen moisture damage.  

Here's what's behind that rim joist insulation.  Wet wood.  This is still in the early stages, the seller of this house had these stairs recently installed.  Remember that we're looking at the good side of the wood.  The exterior side will have more moisture.  With the moisture comes rot, mold and wood destroying insects attracted to damp wood.  

The vinyl siding doesn't serve as protection for the wood.  The siding should have been removed and proper flashing material rated for contact with masonry installed (common aluminum flashing will corrode when in contact with masonry due to the lime content).  

So what happened here?   The seller requested that the buyer make repairs.  The buyer had the original contractor come out (why would you want the guys who didn't know how to do it right the first time fix it?) and they took some blocks out at the area of the dampness and stapled some tyvek house wrap over the wood.  Not a proper repair, and they didn't address the other areas where the pavers were in contact with the siding.  

Work of this nature takes more than a landscape contractor to install.  A skilled carpenter familiar with drainage planes or a roofer who does chimney work should be able to properly prep the siding, and even then there should be barriers between the stone and the flashing to prevent the above mentioned deterioration from lime content.  Have a look online, there are some excellent drawings of how this type of installation is properly done.  If you're not doing the work yourself, be sure your contractor is doing it right.  If you do some reading online, you may be far more knowledgeable than you contractor.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Junk Drawer Dangers?

I saw a facebook post from a friend regarding a house fire started by a 9v battery.  I thought that's something I'd like to share, but it was on facebook, after all, so I did some looking into it.  The only real information I located was a news story where they spoke with a NH fire dept. about it.  For me, the fire dept. gave it some credibility.  I'm inquiring with a friend who is a fire marshal in the meantime and will share his thoughts when I hear back from him.  Here's a link to a youtube video.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

What To Do About Loose Outlets

Something that I see often on inspections are worn outlets (receptacles in electrician jargon) and loose outlets.

If you have worn outlets that won't hold a plug, you should have them replaces.  This is can be a dangerous situation, the loose connection creates resistance which in turn creates heat.  If you're handy and use a circuit tester (a radio works well also, plug it in and listen for it to shut off as you flip breakers) to determine if the circuit is off it's an easy repair.  Youtube is full of instructional videos.

Just remember, this is electricity, if you're not sure of what you're doing, make sure you have the work done by an electrician.  Besides getting shocked, which is never good, if wired incorrectly, when you turn the circuit on a spark can ignite combustible material and I don't have to tell you what that can lead to.

On to outlet shimming.  I see a lot of loose outlets.  Often, the junction box is recessed due to tiling, paneling being installed etc.  There is a great little plastic shim made just for the purpose of making those outlets secure.  You can buy it in the electrical dept at home centers, they'r emade by several companies.  See the photo below.  You simply stack the desired number of these together and the outlet is secure, the cover plate will fit properly and when you plug a cord in it won't wobble from side to side.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Transite – Bill Stone ACI

Transite is a a trade name for a product manufactured by Johns-Manville and was introduced to the building industry as early as the late 1920’s.  Johns Manville is not the only company that manufactured rigid panels and pipe using asbestos content.  The addition of Transite asbestos to Portland cement allowed the manufacture of strong and thin sheet products, typically the amount of asbestos content was somewhere between 12-50%.  Due to its fire retardant nature, Transite was widely used in residential construction and is often found in siding, flue pipes and in sheet form lining the areas around furnaces and hot water tanks but it was also widely used in siding. 

When used in siding it often mimicked cedar shingle siding but unlike cedar, which is a natural and imperfect product, Transite shingle siding will be uniform in nature.  When painted, the asbestos is contained, but when paint fails, weathering can release asbestos fibers to the air.  In addition, paint prep work such as scraping can release the fibers as can peeling paint itself.

Transite siding.
Transite is easily identified; it is very rigid and has a gray cement color to it.  Since one of its leading benefits was its fireproof nature, it will be often found lining utility rooms or in flues.    Leading producer Johns Manville’ materials typically have a cloth like pattern to it.  Remember that without lab testing, there is no way of knowing the asbestos content.  Asbestos in Transite was phased out by the 1980s, the asbestos content being replaced with crystalline silica which has its own list of health concerns.

Transite ductwork.

Due to its rigidity, the presence of Transite does not necessarily mean asbestos fibers are airborne.  Unlike boiler insulation wrapping, Transite boards require force to damage them, but crumbling or broken pieces of Transite board are a problem and if Transite is subject to continued moisture, it can delaminate.  Areas where this may occur are in slab ductwork and when used as appliance venting.  Sometimes the Transite extends above the roofline, in other cases it can be subject to high moisture in flue pipe from condensation etc.

What to do if you find Transite?  I recently inspected a slab home with Transite ductwork and followed the progress as the potential buyers attempted to determine the potential health risk.  My clients first contacted several duct cleaning services and asked if they ever clean ducts in these homes.  The answer was no, but I believe if they weren’t informed of the Transite first, they would have cleaned the ducts without any questions/concerns.  Several asbestos abatement contractors were called out.  All agreed that the product was Transite and it would most certainly contain asbestos based on the year of construction, which was the late 1960’s.  All advised against any lab work as they firmly believed it would have asbestos in it.  One contractor said he could apply a coating to the ductwork, but could not guarantee full coverage.  None of the contractors had camera snakes to determine existing condition or to inspect after duct coatings were applied.  It seems that it is difficult to get competent abatement contractors at the residential level as the leading companies are working in the more lucrative commercial arena.

As home inspectors, per the ASHI standards, we are not required to even identify items such as Transite, but I feel it is a disservice to not inform our clients about these risks.  Unfortunately, the list of solutions to the problem you’ve identified will be short and your clients may find it impossible to mitigate the risks to their satisfaction.