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.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Keep Pipes From Freezing

In Cleveland as I write this, the temperature is about 8 degrees below zero and predicted to drop even more overnight.  Its a night to give a moment's thought to your plumbing.  I inspect a number of houses each year where there are poorly thought out plumbing runs, through unheated attics or crawlspaces or beneath kitchen sinks that overhang the foundation.  Water pipes can freeze and burst during periods of extreme cold.  So, what can you do?

Insulation is your best defense.  Be sure that pipes and/or the spaces they inhabit are heated or at minimum insulated.  There are a variety of pipe wraps available at home centers.  You may also need to add specifically made heat cables.  Some come with thermostat controls so you don't need to worry about turning them on and off.

Also pay attention to gaps that may allow wind to enter the house near interior plumbing, around spigots etc.  Wind can contribute to frozen pipes.  Even frost proof faucets can be susceptible on bitter cold nights.  Styrofoam covers are available that attach over the exterior faucet.  A piece of tape over the spigot can help prevent wind from traveling the 12" or so to the washer in the valve.

So it's 8PM, the temperature is -10 degrees F and you're not heading out to Home Depot.

Stop gap methods include opening cabinets beneath sinks on outside walls for better warm air circulation.  You want to keep warm air circulating around the pipes, so keep basement doors between rooms open etc.  Beneath a sink, for example, sometimes a lamp with an old style incandescent bulb will aid in keeping the temperature above freezing, but use caution if there is hanging insulation or other flammable material present.  You don't want to burn your house down on the coldest night of the year!

A trickle of water, although wasteful, can prevent a much larger loss of water due to a burst pipe.  Be sure that the trickle is from both the hot and cold lines.

Lastly, know where that main water shut off is located at and be able to get to it fast, if necessary.  Most homes on a municipal water supply will have a main shut off at the water meter.  If you have a well, there is usually a shut off at your pump or pressure tank.

Stay warm and keep those pipes from freezing!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Home Inspection for Sellers #1

You've sold your home!  Congratulations.  Now the buyer has scheduled an inspection.  What can you, as the seller do to make the inspection go smoothly?

1. Don't be there.  This may seem obvious, but often sellers just can't seem to pull themselves away from the inspection process.  It makes for an uncomfortable situation for all involved, so don't do it.  You've worked hard on the house, but it's a house and all houses have things wrong with them.   The inspector is being paid by the buyers to point out flaws, so there is no way you'll enjoy hearing this.  I often have to call buyers to have a private conversation with them because I couldn't when I was at the house.  This does not play well in the scenario of their comfort; many times they believe the seller is trying to "hide" something from them.  Prepare the house as best you can and let things take their course.

I'll follow this post up with more things to make the inspection go smoothly.