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.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Galvanized Pipes Rusting From Within.

Here are two great examples of galvanized drain pipes rusting from within.  In the top photo, you can see how these become blocked over time.  The pipe looks ok on the outside, but inside it's a different story.  Eventually the rust reaches the outside of the pipe and you have pipes that look like the ones in the lower photo.  These leaks start as pinholes that often self seal with more rust.  anytime you see what looks like a rusty scab on a pipe it's an indication that the pipe is failing from within.  Another test is to knock it with something metal.  The more metal on metal sound the better.  If what you hear is nothing more than a dull sounding thud, then you know the pipe has got some serious corrosion inside.  

Depending on access, this sort of problem can be solved relatively easy with PVC piping and rubber couplings.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mold in Your Home

I'll go deeper into this subject, but a quick word about mold in the home.  First, understand that mold is everywhere; under leaves in your yard, your car is a rolling mold factory, think about all that water that sloshes around your foot wells all winter long.  If you've got mold issues, you'll know it in a pretty big way, and some people do have serious allergies to mold- for them, the topic is very, very serious, but this is just a quick overview post.

If you think you've got a mold problem in your house, the only way to know is to have testing done.  Know that there are no "licensed" mold testers.  Testers get some training, typically from the company that provides the lab work for their tests and into the field they go.  This doesn't mean they're scam artists, but they're not scientists either.   That said, a lot of folks know the value of fear of mold and exploit it to their advantage.  This is more common among testing/inspection companies that mitigate mold, as they reap the real dollars from the results of the tests.

Just know that only a lab can truly identify mold, there are no gadgets that can be used in the field.  A good inspector can probably know with a lot of certainty they're looking at mold, but they will always call for a test.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Refrigerator and Room Air Conditioner Recycling by First Energy

I always like to post information regarding offers from the utilities for appliance hauling etc.  I just received a notice in my electric bill that First Energy has an offer to pick up older refrigerators and room air conditioners and as a bonus offer you up to $50 for recycling them.  If you've ever had to get rid of an appliance like this when you weren't purchasing a new one you know how difficult this can be.  These offers are usually for a limited time.

There are some limits on size, quantity per household etc, so make sure that this offer will work for you by visiting or calling for a pickup at 1 877-545-4112.