Category: Home Inspection


Tamper Resistant Receptacles

Tamper-Resistant Receptacles

by Nick Gromicko, Thomas Zachar and Kate Tarasenko

 

It is estimated that approximately 2,400 children suffer from electrical shock and burns in the home each year when they force foreign objects into unprotected electrical outlets.  Installing tamper-resistant receptacles (TRRs), also called tamper-resistant outlets, are one way to safeguard young ones in the home to prevent serious injury.

 

 

Other forms of outlet protection are available, such as plastic coverings, but they can be easily removed by children and are therefore not labeled as tamper-resistant.  A TRR is a type of electrical outlet that requires double-prong entry in order for a plug to enter. These devices were designed to prevent the accidental insertion of hairpins, keys, knives, paper clips, nails, screws, and other small objects, which can pose an electrical shock hazard. Home inspectors and homeowners can identify these outlets by looking for the letters “TR” or the words “tamper-resistant” imprinted on the receptacle’s surface, which means that they’re tamper-resistant and have been tested to sustain periods of extended use and some forms of physical damage.

How TRRs Work

Inside the TRR outlet is a spring-loaded shutter mechanism that blocks single-prong entry.  When using a grounded or ungrounded plug, (2- or 3-prong), the blades of the plug press both shutters against the spring.  This combined force slides the shutters and opens the slots for electrical contact.  When the plug is removed, the shutters close and re-cover the openings.

With a TRR, be sure that the stems of the plug are not bent and that the plug is inserted as straight as possible.  Slight maneuvering may be required, depending on the quality of the outlet.  If there is an issue, the TRR may be defective and should be replaced.

The Code

Here is what the 2011 NEC says about TRRs in dwelling units, along with general installation requirements:

406.12 Tamper-Resistant Receptacles in Dwelling Units. All non-locking type 15A and 20A, 125V receptacles in the following areas of a dwelling unit [210.52] must be listed as tamper-resistant.

    • Wall Space — 210.52(A)
    • Small-Appliance Circuit — 210.52(B)
    • Countertop Space — 210.52(C)
    • Bathroom Area — 210.52(D)
    • Outdoors — 210.52(E)
    • Laundry Area — 210.52(F)
    • Garage and Outbuildings — 210.52(G)
    • Hallways — 210.52(H)

Ex.: Receptacles in the following locations aren’t required to be tamper-resistant:

(1) Receptacles located more than 5½ feet above the floor.

(2) Receptacles that are part of a luminaire or appliance.

(3) A receptacle located within dedicated space for an appliance that, in normal use, isn’t easily moved from one place to another.

(4) Non-grounding receptacles used for replacements as permitted in 406.4(D)(2)(a).

 

For guest rooms and guest suites, the 2011 NEC adds:

406.13 Tamper-Resistant Receptacles in Guest Rooms and Guest Suites. Non-locking-type 15A and 20A, 125V receptacles in guest rooms and guest suites must be listed as tamper-resistant.

 

And in childcare facilities:

406.14 Tamper-Resistant Receptacles in Child Care Facilities. Non-locking-type 15A and 20A, 125V receptacles in child care facilities must be listed as tamper-resistant.

 

Here are the installations requirements, per the NEC:

406.4 General Installation Requirements.

(D) Receptacle Replacement.

(4) Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters. Effective Jan. 1, 2014, where a receptacle outlet is supplied by a branch circuit that requires arc-fault circuit-interrupter protection [210.12(A)], a replacement receptacle at this outlet must be one of the following.

(1) A listed (receptacle) outlet branch-circuit type arc-fault circuit-interrupter receptacle.

(2) A receptacle protected by a listed (receptacle) outlet branch-circuit type arc-fault circuit-interrupter type receptacle.

(3) A receptacle protected by a listed combination type arc-fault circuit interrupter type circuit breaker.

(5) Tamper-Resistant Receptacles. Listed tamper-resistant receptacles must be provided where replacements are made at receptacle outlets that are required to be tamper-resistant elsewhere in this Code.

(6) Weather-Resistant Receptacles. Weather-resistant receptacles must be provided where replacements are made at receptacle outlets that are required to be so protected elsewhere in the Code.

 

In summary, tamper-resistant receptacles are among the best ways to prevent electrical injuries from outlets.  Be sure to have your InterNACHI-Certified Professional Inspector® visit your home to perform an Annual Home Maintenance Inspection so that s/he can check electrical and other potential safety issues, especially if you have young children.

 

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Tankless Water Heaters

by Joseph Truini for The Home Depot

 

There is perhaps no more appropriately named plumbing fixture in the whole world than the tankless water heater. No deception, no confusion: It’s a water heater that has no hot-water storage tank. So, where does the hot water come from? Good question!

Tankless water heaters, while relatively new, are growing in popularity with both plumbing contractors and homeowners. These compact units are designed to provide hot water for the entire house—not just a single faucet—and are often called instantaneous, continuous-flow, or on-demand water heaters. Before getting into the specifics of tankless water heaters, let’s first take a look at standard water heaters.

Storage-Tank Water Heaters

Most homes have a standard water heater, which consists of a large cylindrical storage tank. Cold water is piped into the tank and electrical elements, or a gas-fired burner located inside the tank heats the water. An electronic thermostat allows you to control the water temperature. The heated water is stored in the tank until someone turns on a hot-water faucet or shower, or runs the dishwasher. Then, hot water is pumped out of the tank and through the home’s hot-water supply pipes.

Tank-style water heaters are popular because they’re affordable, readily available from several manufacturers, quick and easy to install, and available in a wide range of sizes. However, they do have a few drawbacks.

First, as mentioned earlier, hot water is stored in the tank. When the water temperature cools slightly, the heater kicks on to warm the water back to the pre-set temperature. That means the heater is working—and burning energy—regardless of whether you’re using hot water.

Also, because there’s a storage tank, that means there’s a limited supply of hot water available at any one time.  So, while modern tank-style heaters do an adequate job of keeping up with demand most of the time, if there are multiple hot-water users at the same time (such as someone taking a shower while the dishwasher or washing machine is running), then the heater will struggle to supply enough hot water.

Another drawback is that the large storage tank takes up quite a bit of space. That might not be a problem in a spacious basement, but it’s often difficult to squeeze one into a utility closet, laundry room, or crowded garage.

Tankless Water Heaters

Tankless water heaters have a few distinct advantages over standard water heaters, but before discussing those benefits, let’s take a look at how a tankless water heater works.

First, a tankless water heater sits idle until a hot-water tap is opened in the house. Then, cold water is drawn into the unit and a flow sensor activates an electric heating element or gas-fired burner, which warms an internal heat exchanger. As the cold water passes over the heat exchanger, it’s warmed to the pre-set temperature. The hot water then exits the heater and travels directly to the faucet or appliance—not to a storage tank. Combustion gases, which are produced by gas-fired units, are exhausted through a dedicated, sealed vent pipe.

 

Tankless water heater

This compact, gas-fired tankless unit measures just 14 inches wide x 26 inches tall,
yet it produces 199,999 BTU of heat and 9.5 gallons of hot water per minute.

When the hot-water tap is turned off, the water heater shuts down. Therein lies the beauty of the tankless water heater: Since there’s no storage tank to keep filled with hot water, tankless models only heat water when it’s called for. As a result, tankless water heaters are much more energy-efficient than standard water heaters. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average household, which uses approximately 40 gallons of hot water per day, may consume up to 34% less energy than a home that relies on a standard water heater.

For even greater energy efficiency, consider the condensing tankless water heater. These premium units extract heat from the combustion gases and then use it to help heat the water. As a result, condensing heaters operate with an efficiency rating between 90 and 98%, as opposed to non-condensing tankless units, which operate at a still-impressive 80% or so.

Finally, because there’s no storage tank, tankless water heaters provide an unlimited supply of hot water, which is a real bonus for families with teenagers who routinely take 30-minute showers!

Here are a few other advantages of tankless water heaters:

  • They’re designed to be space-saving and compact. They can even be hung on a wall.
  • Multiple tankless units can be installed in larger homes.
  • They have low operating costs.
  • There is no storage tank to maintain.
  • There are no standby heat losses, as is common with tank-style heaters.
  • They allow for precise and consistent water-temperature control.
  • Tankless heaters have a service life of up to 20 years, which is nearly twice as long as standard water heaters.
  • Some tankless models can be installed outdoors, simplifying the venting of combustion gases.

It should be noted that tankless water heaters require greater upfront costs.  They’re more expensive, on average, than standard water heaters, and it also costs more to have one installed. They’re also typically costlier to repair. But despite these issues, a tankless water heater is simply the smartest, most energy-efficient way to produce domestic hot water for most households.

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Joe Truini is a home improvement expert who writes about a variety of topics related to carpentry and plumbing. He is also the author of numerous DIY books, including the best-selling “Building a Shed.” To learn more about tankless water heaters, please visit the Home Depot website.

 

Water Quality

Drinking Water
 
The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world. However, national statistics don’t tell you specifically about the quality and safety of the water coming out of your tap. That’s because drinking water quality varies from place to place, depending on the condition of the source water from which it is drawn, and the treatment it receives. Now you have a new way to find information about your drinking water if it comes from a public water supplier (The EPA doesn’t regulate private wells, but recommends that well.  owners have their water tested annually.) Starting in 1999, every community water supplier must provide an annual report (sometimes called a “consumer confidence report”) to its customers. The report provides information on your local drinking water quality, including the water’s source, the contaminants found in the water, and how consumers can get involved in protecting drinking water. You may want more information, or you may have more questions. One place you can go is to your water supplier, who is best equipped to answer questions about your specific water supply. 
 
What contaminants may be found in drinking water?
 
There is no such thing as naturally pure water. In nature, all water contains some impurities. As water flows in streams, sits in lakes, and filters through layers of soil and rock in the ground, it dissolves or absorbs the substances that it touches. Some of these substances are harmless. In fact, some people prefer mineral water precisely because minerals give it an appealing taste. However, at certain levels, minerals, just like man-made chemicals, are considered contaminants that can make water unpalatable or even unsafe. Some contaminants come from the erosion of natural rock formations. Other contaminants are substances discharged from factories, applied to farmlands, or used by consumers in their homes and yards. Sources of contaminants might be in your neighborhood or might be many miles away. Your local water quality report tells which contaminants are in your drinking water, the levels at which they were found, and the actual or likely source of each contaminant. Some ground water systems have established wellhead protection programs to prevent substances from contaminating their wells. Similarly, some surface-water systems protect the watershed around their reservoir to prevent contamination. Right now, states and water suppliers are working systematically to assess every source of drinking water, and to identify potential sources of contaminants. This process will help communities to protect their drinking water supplies from contamination. 
 
Where does drinking water come from?
A clean, constant supply of drinking water is essential to every community. People in large cities frequently drink water that comes from surface-water sources, such as lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Sometimes, these sources are close to the community. Other times, drinking water suppliers get their water from sources many miles away. In either case, when you think about where your drinking water comes from, it’s important to consider not just the part of the river or lake that you can see, but the entire watershed. The watershed is the land area over which water flows into the river, lake or reservoir. In rural areas, people are more likely to drink ground water that was pumped from a well. These wells tap into aquifers, the natural reservoirs under the earth’s surface, that may be only a few miles wide, or may span the borders of many states. As with surface water, it is important to remember that activities many miles away from you may affect the quality of ground water. Your annual drinking water quality report will tell you where your water supplier gets your water.
How is drinking water treated?
When a water supplier takes untreated water from a river or reservoir, the water often contains dirt and tiny pieces of leaves and other organic matter, as well as trace amounts of certain contaminants. When it gets to the treatment plant, water suppliers often add chemicals, called coagulants, to the water. These act on the water as it flows very slowly through tanks so that the dirt and other contaminants form clumps that settle to the bottom. Usually, this water then flows through a filter for removal of the smallest contaminants, such as viruses and Giardia. Most ground water is naturally filtered as it passes through layers of the earth into underground reservoirs known as aquifers. Water that suppliers pump from wells generally contains less organic material than surface water, and may not need to go through any or all of these treatments. The imageThe quality of the water will depend on local conditions. The most common drinking water treatment, considered by many to be one of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century, is disinfection. Most water suppliers add chlorine or another disinfectant to kill bacteria and other germs. Water suppliers use other treatments as needed, according to the quality of their source water. For example, systems whose water is contaminated with organic chemicals can treat their water with activated carbon, which adsorbs or attracts the chemicals dissolved in the water.
 
What if I have special health needs?
People who have HIV/AIDS, are undergoing chemotherapy, take steroids, or for another reason have a weakened immune system may be more susceptible to microbial contaminants, including Cryptosporidium, in drinking water. If you or someone you know fall into one of these categories, talk to your healthcare provider to find out if you need to take special precautions, such as boiling your water. Young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of high levels of certain contaminants, including nitrate and lead. To avoid exposure to lead, use water from the cold tap for making baby formula, drinking and cooking, and let the water run for a minute or more if the water hasn’t been turned on for six or more hours. If your water supplier alerts you that your water does not meet the EPA’s standard for nitrates, and you have children under 6 months old, consult your healthcare provider. You may want to find an alternate source of water that contains lower levels of nitrates for your child.
 
What are the health effects of contaminants in drinking water?
The EPA has set standards for more than 80 contaminants that may be present in drinking water and pose a risk to human health. The EPA sets these standards to protect the health of everybody, including vulnerable groups like children. The contaminants fall into two groups, according to the health effects that they cause. Your local water supplier will alert you through the local media, direct mail, or other means if there is a potential acute or chronic health effect from compounds in the drinking water. You may want to contact them for additional information specific to your area. Acute effects occur within hours or days of the time that a person consumes a contaminant. People can suffer acute health effects from almost any contaminant if they are exposed to extraordinarily high levels (as in the case of a spill). In drinking water,microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, are the contaminants with the greatest chance of reaching levels high enough to cause acute health effects. Most people’s bodies can fight off these microbial contaminants the way they fight off germs, and these acute contaminants typically don’t have permanent effects. Nonetheless, when high-enough levels occur, they can make people ill, and can be dangerous or deadly for a person whose immune system is already weak due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, steroid use, or another reason. Chronic effects occur after people consume a contaminant at levels over the EPA’s safety standards for many years. The drinking water contaminants that can have chronic effects are chemicals (such as disinfection byproducts, solvents, and pesticides), radionuclides (such as radium), and minerals (such as arsenic). Examples of these chronic effects include cancer, liver and kidney problems, and reproductive difficulties.
 
Who is responsible for drinking water quality?
The Safe Drinking Water Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the responsibility for setting national drinking water standards that protect the health of the 250 million people who get their water from public water systems. Other people get their water from private wells which are not subject to federal regulations. Since 1974, the EPA has set national standards for over 80 contaminants that may occur in drinking water. While the EPA and state governments set and enforce standards, local governments and private water suppliers have direct responsibility for the quality of the water that flows to your tap. Water systems test and treat their water, maintain the distribution systems that deliver water to consumers, and report on their water quality to the state. States and the EPA provide technical assistance to water suppliers and can take legal action against systems that fail to provide water that meets state and EPA standards.
 What is a violation of a drinking water standard?
Drinking water suppliers are required to monitor and test their water many times, for many things, before sending it to consumers. These tests determine whether and how the water needs to be treated, as well as the effectiveness of the treatment process. If a water system consistently sends to consumers water that contains a contaminant at a level higher than EPA or state health standards regulate, or if the system fails to monitor for a contaminant, the system is violating regulations, and is subject to fines and other penalties. When a water system violates a drinking water regulation, it must notify the people who drink its water about the violation, what it means, and how they should respond. In cases where the water presents an immediate health threat, such as when people need to boil water before drinking it, the system must use television, radio and newspapers to get the word out as quickly as possible. Other notices may be sent by mail, or delivered with the water bill. Each water suppliers’ annual water quality report must include a summary of all the violations that occurred during the previous year.
How can I help protect my drinking water?
Using the new information that is now available about drinking water, citizens can be aware of the challenges of keeping drinking water safe and take an active role in protecting drinking water. There are lots of ways that individuals can get involved. Some people will help clean up the watershed that is the source of their community’s water. Other people might get involved in wellhead protection activities to prevent the contamination of the ground water source that provides water to their community. These people will be able to make use of the information that states and water systems are gathering as they assess their sources of water.  Concerned citizens may want to attend public meetings to ensure that their community’s need for safe drinking water is considered in making decisions about land use. You may wish to participate when your state and water system make funding decisions. And all consumers can do their part to conserve water and to dispose properly of household chemical

Wind Mitigation

by Nick Gromicko and Kenton Shepard

 

Wind mitigation techniques

Wind mitigation is the implementation of certain building techniques in order to limit damage caused by intense wind.

A Few Facts About Windstorms and Wind Insurance

  • In 2006, Citizens Insurance, one of the largest property insurers in Florida, requested a 45% rate increase for wind insurance. Other insurers took similar actions.
  • In Florida, the portion of a homeowner’s premium covering wind damage can be up to 70% of the total, depending on location.
  • Wind mitigation benefits homeowners, private insurers, and all levels of government.

Incentives for Wind Mitigation

  • In some states, homeowners can benefit from reduced insurance premiums. The Gulf Coast states, which are most prone to windstorm damage from hurricanes, have each considered mandating incentives to mitigate damage due to wind. Mississippi and Texas currently do not have such legislation, although Florida has been successful. Following Hurricane Andrew, Florida passed a law requiring insurance companies to offer their customers discounts and credits for existing building features and home improvements that reduce damage and loss from wind. In order to qualify for this discount, homes must undergo a certified home wind inspection. However, many Floridians do not know of this law.
  • Those with windstorm insurance can avoid a costly deductible. Deductibles for homes in hurricane-prone areas can exceed $20,000, meaning that mild to moderate wind damage might not be covered by insurance at all. If proper wind mitigation techniques have been used, these expenses can be avoided altogether.
  • Wind mitigation helps protect the home from damage. Even if a home is insured, it is always costly when a house is damaged, both for the homeowner and the insurer. Repairs can take months, especially during material shortages that follow massive destruction to entire communities, as was the case after Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana.
  • Lenders in Florida require homeowners to carry windstorm insurance in order to be approved for a mortgage. Insurers may not provide windstorm insurance to homes that are vulnerable to wind damage.

Checklist for Wind Mitigation Techniques:

  • garage doors:  These commonly fail during windstorms due to:
    • inadequate door-track strength and mounting systems; and
    • flimsy metal panels.

The following features can protect a garage door from wind damage:

    • no windows;
    • the tracks for the door that have six to nine mounting brackets, or continuous mounting;
    • track brackets that are securely attached to the wall; and
    • horizontal and/or vertical reinforcementAreas of high and low pressure can cause roof failure on all panels.
  • opening protection:  Glass doors and windows should be replaced with impact-resistant glass. They should be structurally attached to the building in order to prevent the entire window from popping out of its frame. Sliding glass doors are especially vulnerable to flying debris due to their large expanse. Once an opening is created during a windstorm, the pressure within the house can rise high enough to cause the roof to fail in areas of low pressure. The picture to the right demonstrates how these areas of low pressure can form.
  • roof covering: There are many kinds of roof covering materials, and some resist wind damage better than others. The most common roof covering materials in Florida are composition shingles and tiles. A key factor in roof covering performance is the method of attachment of the roof covering material to the roof deck. Nails, not staples, should be used to fasten these materials.
  • roof shape:  “Roof shape” refers to the geometry of the roof, rather than the type of roof covering. The end-walls of gable roofs extend vertically to the sloping roofline. These gable end-walls, if not properly built or braced, have been known to fail outward due to the negative suctions on the wall. Additionally, field testing has shown that hip roofs receive up to 40% less pressure from wind than gable roofs.
  • roof deck attachment:  According to insurance claim data, a house becomes a major loss once the roof deck fails, even partially. The most common roof deck types are plywood and OSB. The most important feature of the roof deck by far is the attachment to the framing compared to the deck’s thickness. The following building techniques can help prevent wind damage:
    • roof coverings using shingles that meet the FBC requirements;            
    • roof decks that have been installed with large nails and close spacing;
    • hurricane clips/straps that hold the roof structure to the walls; and
    • protection of windows and glass doors with impact-resistant glazing or other protection systems.
  • roof-to-wall connections:  This connection is a critical safeguard that keeps the roof attached to the building and acts to transfer the uplift loads into the vertical walls. This connection is crucial to the performance of the building due to the large negative pressures acting on the roof. Proper installation is essential to connector performance.
  • secondary water resistance: This is a layer of protection that shields the home in the event that the roof covering fails. It will reduce leakage if the shingles are blown off. A secondary water barrier is relatively rare in homes. The two most common types are:
    • self-adhering modified bitumen underlayment, which is applied to the exterior of all joints; and
    • foam seal, which is sprayed onto the underside of the decking.
In 2009, InterNACHI developed an online, video wind mitigation course for inspectors.  The course is approved by most insurance companies and the Florida Construction Industry Licensing Board.
In summary, wind mitigation is a strategy designed to limit the amount of wind damage inflicted on a structure. Various incentives are in place to motivate homeowners to implement these enhancements, and qualified inspectors can determine which improvements are necessary.

Inspection in West Central Florida Can Save You Money.

Home Inspections

 – West Central Florida is surrounded by water which can have a multitude of adverse effects on construction. Prior to purchasing a home you should hire a qualified home inspector who will provide a report to you on the condition of your house.  A home inspection may be the single most important investment you will make, and can help a buyer to identify costly future repairs and allow current homeowners to take preventative measures that can help them avoid the same.

VA Home Inspections –

– If you need a West Central Florida VA Home Inspector, Wayne Collier Home Inspections has the experience, training and integrity you can depend on. Learn More About Our VA Home Inspection Services


Cost of Home Inspections in Florida

Affordable Home Inspections

–  “Do not let cost be a factor in deciding whether or not to have a home inspection or in the selection of your home inspector. The sense of security and knowledge gained from an inspection is well worth the cost, and the lowest-priced inspection is not necessarily a bargain. Use the inspector’s qualifications, including experience, training, compliance with your state’s regulations, if any, and professional affiliations as a guide.” Source:http://www.ashi.org/customers/faq.asp

Florida Consumer Awareness

Home Repair Rip-Offs

by Nick Gromicko

Homeowners have more to worry about than being ripped off by shady contractors in this lagging economy, but such a climate brings desperation — and with it, sadly, fraud. Of course, the majority of tradesmen are generally honest professionals, but there is a large number of unscrupulous contractors who will fix items that don’t need fixing, or grossly overcharge you for services or parts. Worse, there are plenty of con artists posing as tradesmen who will simply take your money and run. Inspectors are often the first ones to uncover such fraud, so they too need to be familiar with its common forms in order to best serve their clients.Yes, this fortress was made by thousands of termites, but it is not evidence that any of them have entered your house.

Some common home repair scams include:

  • roof work. Con artists are known to travel from state to state following natural disasters and looking for victims of storms. Beware of people who suddenly arrive in your neighborhood, offering to fix your roof at a discount. Also, don’t trust a roofer who makes an assessment of a leaky roof from the ground without examining it. Very often, the flashing is all that needs to be replaced, even when the tradesman tries to convince you that you need a whole new roof.
  • driveway sealers.  This time-honored grift has a tradesmen pulling up to your home in his truck and offering to re-seal your driveway using leftover “sealant” from a job “just down the block.”  The low price is unbelievable, and so is the job.  Generally, the sealant is paint or some other cheap, black spray media that will quickly wash away with the next rain.
  • termites. Myths that exaggerate the dangers of termites abound, and homeowners can be easily duped into unnecessary treatment. Ask for prices from more than one company and compare their services. Make sure to get a guarantee that covers you in case termites return within a given period of time. Read the guarantee and the rest of the contract carefully before you sign! Be on guard for the following ruses:
    • The exterminator shows you termites on a fence or woodpile that is not connected to your house. If he were competent and honest, he would know that these termites pose no threat to your home.
    • He (but not you) witnesses “evidence.” Make the exterminator show you the alleged evidence of the infestation. Termite-damaged wood is hollowed out along the grain, with bits of soil or mud lining the galleries.
    • He offers a free termite inspection, and his motives are questionable to begin with. He may bring the evidence to your house with him.
  • chimney sweeps. Beware of any chimney sweep who arrives at your door unannounced, offering to perform his services for a low price. He might say that he’s just worked on your neighbor’s chimney, and offer you a suspiciously low price for a sweep. The inspection will uncover “problems” that quickly balloon the price.
  • HVAC specialists. The most common HVAC rip-offs are replacing parts that work fine and substituting used parts for new ones. If you get suspicious, ask to see the alleged broken parts before they’re replaced, and look at the packaging and documentation for the new parts before they’re installed. If possible, have HVAC work performed in the off-season, as it may be significantly cheaper.
  • plumbers. Parts cost plumbers only a tiny fraction of the total charge for their services, but some plumbers will still cut corners to boost their profit. They may use plastic or low-grade metal, for instance, or 1/2-inch pipe instead of 3/4-inch pipe. Ask what they are installing and how long the parts will last.
  • painters. Some painters agree to use a specific brand of high-quality paint, then pour cheap paint into name-brand cans. Most of the cans the painter brings with him should be sealed when the job is started. If not, ask why. Other painters skimp on the prep work.

Homeowners should heed the following advice whenever they hire a contractor:

  • Go to OverSeeIt.com to find an InterNACHI inspector who will stop by and make sure your construction project is done right.
  • If you are calling a contractor for an estimate and you live in an affluent neighborhood, don’t mention your address or phone number until you get the estimate. You can even call a tradesman in a less wealthy town or neighborhood that’s nearby, as their price will likely be lower than the going rate in your area.
  • Try to negotiate a flat rate if the tradesman has no idea how much the job is going to cost. This is especially helpful in plumbing work, as almost all pipes are hidden behind walls and the job can easily become more complicated than originally planned.
  • Ask if the tradesman charges for travel time. If he does, it may be cheaper to choose someone who is closer. Also ask if he charges for time spent traveling to supply stores.
  • Know your contractor. Be sure he is licensed, and get a written agreement stating the cost and the work to be performed.
  • Beware of any contractor who shows up at your door unannounced or calls you on the phone. Con artists must move every so often to frustrate law enforcement, so they have no fixed address and rely on door-to-door or phone solicitation. For the same reason, their invoices may contain only a P.O. box rather than a street address.
  • Always be wary of a contractor who recommends a particular company or individual after “discovering” a problem, as he will probably receive a kickback for the referral, so you cannot trust his advice.
  • Beware of a contractor who tries to unnecessarily increase the scope of a project. Also known as an upseller, these people will do the following:
    • not offer you a range of options, including cheaper alternatives or work that is different than what you had anticipated; or
    • use scare tactics to persuade you to take his recommendations.
  • Beware of contractors who insist that they are  charging you only for what they paid for the materials, if they are, in fact, making a profit on the materials. Material over-charging is unethical if the contractor lies about it.
  • Beware of material-swapping, in which the contractor will buy premium products and make you reimburse him, but then he returns the product for something cheaper and of lower quality, and pockets the difference. If you suspect material-swapping, you can uncover the farce at the end of the job by comparing the packaging with the products listed on the receipt.
  • Do not give a large down-payment. It may be appropriate to pay a small percentage of the total estimate up front, but if the contractor asks for most (or all) of the money up front, he may be a con artist. Even if he does return to perform the work, he may botch the job or leave it unfinished, leaving you with little power to contest. And, of course, never pay in cash.
  • If you are elderly, be on heightened alert for scammers because you will be targeted more often than your children.
In summary, homeowners and inspectors alike should be wise to the plethora of ways that home repair contractors, or those posing as such, rip off their clients.

Free Negligent Referral Protection for Real Estate Agents

Why all real estate agents should only recommend InterNACHI inspectors 
InterNACHI is so sure of its inspectors that it will indemnify any licensed real estate agent in an amount up to $10,000 if a third party successfully sues the agent for negligent referral of an InterNACHI inspector.  This protection is offered at no cost to agents who register.
This is how the program works:
  1. The agent must be a licensed real estate agent or broker in the relevant jurisdiction at the time of the referral.
  2. The referral must be made to an inspector who is a member in good standing of InterNACHI at the time of the referral.
  3. The program is only available for residential inspections; it does not apply to inspections of commercial properties.
  4. The InterNACHI member must have a written inspection agreement with the customer at the time of the inspection.
  5. The agent is not required to refer potential customers only to InterNACHI inspectors.  The agent may provide the names of more than one inspector, but the program will still apply if the potential customer selects an InterNACHI inspector as a result of the referral and the agent otherwise qualifies.
  6. The agent must admit to having made the referral.
  7. The agent must register for the program prior to making the referral.  Agents may register here.  After registering, the agent will be sent a registration-verification code which shows that he or she has registered.
  8. By registering for the program, the agent (on behalf of himself, his heirs, successors and assigns, and on behalf of the company that employs the agent) represents and agrees as follows:
    a.  Agent is authorized by agent’s employer to register for the program.
    b.  The exclusive venue for any litigation arising against InterNACHI or its officers as a result of the agent’s participation in the program shall be in the County or District Court of Boulder County, Colorado. Agent and agent’s employer must submit to the exercise of personal jurisdiction over them by those courts.  In any such action, the parties waive trial by jury.  If InterNACHI prevails in any such action, the agent shall pay InterNACHI’s attorney’s fees, expert witness fees, and costs.  Colorado law will govern any such action.
    c.  There are no other promises or representations of InterNACHI that are not set forth here.
    d.  The terms of this program cannot be modified except in a written document signed by an authorized officer of InterNACHI.
  9. The agent must promptly notify InterNACHI in writing when he or she first becomes aware that a person is claiming that the agent was negligent in referring the person to an InterNACHI inspector.  The notice must include the name of the claimant and a summary of the relevant facts.  The agent must send the notice by certified mail to InterNACHI, 1750 30th Street, Suite 301, Boulder, CO  80301.
  10. The agent must provide InterNACHI with a certified copy of the judgment entered against the agent, which must be the result of a lawsuit against the agent for negligent referral to an InterNACHI inspector.
  11. Upon receiving a certified copy of the judgment and satisfactory proof that the judgment resulted from an action against the agent for negligent referral to an InterNACHI inspector, InterNACHI will pay the agent the amount of the judgment up to $10,000, but only to the extent that the agent does not have insurance coverage to pay the judgment.  The agent must provide all relevant insurance and other information to InterNACHI sufficient for InterNACHI to determine that the agent qualifies for payment.
  12. The limit is $10,000 per incident.  If the plaintiff sues and prevails against more than one agent and/or a company that employs or has a relationship with an agent, InterNACHI will pay only once.  If a court enters judgment against more than one agent or against an agent and the agent’s employer, InterNACHI will pay a prorated share of the $10,000 to each such person or entity.
  13. The agent must use the money to pay the judgment.

Electrical Service Panels

by Nick Gromicko
Electrical panels are boxes that house circuit breakers, which are are safety devices that stop the electrical current if it exceeds the safe level for some portion of the home electrical system.
 An unfortunate snake entered this serice panel and was electrocuted. The resulting mess may make the components defective.
Safety 

Many people, even experienced electricians, have been killed or seriously injured while opening electrical panels. In 1991, an Atlanta electrician was killed while attempting to inspect a panel that had a faulty spring-loaded bus-bar assembly. Apparently, the bus-bar was moved while the electrician was opening the panel, causing an arc and a lethal electrical explosion. Generally, two factors contribute to these situations:  defective components and complacency.

Inspectors must be aware that all forms of electrical inspections, especially electrical panel inspections, are inherently dangerous. Practice calm, steady movements and learn to avoid distractions. A sudden flash, shout or movement could cause an inspector to lunge and touch an electrically live and dangerous component. Advise your client that they should never remove an electrical panel cover themselves, as they should leave this duty to InterNACHI inspectors or qualified electricians. Before touching the electrical panel, inspectors should ask themselves the following questions:
  • Do I have an escape path? Make sure that you know where you can safely turn or step if you must safely escape a dangerous surprise, such as bees or sparks. An unfortunately placed shovel or extension cord, for instance, can turn a quick jerk into a dangerous fall.
  • Are the floors wet? Never touch any electrical equipment while standing on a wet surface!
  • Does the panel appear to be wet? Check overhead for dripping water that has condensed on a cold water pipe. Moisture can arrive in more ways than you can imagine.
  • Is the panel rusty? Rust is an indication of previous wet conditions that may still exist.

As an optional safety measure, use a voltage ticker to make sure the box is safe to touch. If the alarm sounds on the device, have the box examined by a qualified electrician. Also, safety glasses and other personal protective equipment may be used to protect against burns and electric shock.

While removing the panel cover, inspectors should:

  • Stand a little back while removing the cover, which makes it easier to remain in a blocking position.
  • Stand so as to block your client from touching the panel and its components.
  • inform the client that opening the panel is a dangerous step, and that if sparks fly, the client should not touch the inspector.

Service Panel Inspection

Inspectors can check for the following defective conditions during an electrical panel inspection:

  • insufficient clearance. According to the 2008 National Electrical Code, most residential electrical panels require at least a 3-foot clearance or working space in front, 30 inches of width, and a minimum headroom clearance of 6 feet, or the height of the equipment, Zinsco panels are believed by many experts to be defectivewhichever is greater. If obstacles would make it unsafe for you to inspect the service panel, you have the right to disclaim it.
  • aluminum branch wiring.
  • sharp-tipped panel box screws or wires damaged by these screws. Panel box cover screws must have blunt ends so they do not pierce the wires inside the box. Look for wires that pass too closely to the screw openings inside the electrical panel.
  • circuit breakers that are not properly sized.
  • oxidation or corrosion to any of the parts. Oxidized or corroded wires will increase the resistance of conductors and create the potential for arcing.
  • damage caused by rodents. Rodents have been known to chew through wire insulation in electrical panels (and other areas), creating an unsafe condition. Rodents have been electrocuted this way, leaving an unsightly mess inside the panel.
  • evidence of electrical failures, such as burned or overheated components.
  • evidence of water entry inside the electrical panel. Moisture can corrode circuit breakers so that they won’t trip, make connections less reliable, and make the equipment unsafe to touch.
  • evidence of missing or improper bonding.  This may indicate improper wiring, damaged equipment or unsafe conditions.
  • the physical contact points of the overcurrent protection device to the contact point of the buss are not making good contact. The sounds of arcing (a cracking or popping sound) may indicate this condition.
  • panel manufactured by Zinsco or Federal Pacific Electric (FPE). These panels have a reputation for being problematic and further evaluation by a qualified electrician is recommended. Zinsco panels can generally be identified by a blue and silver “Zinsco” label inside the panel, and an embossed “Magnetrip” label at the top of the panel face. FPE panels should include, if they were not removed, one of the following identifying labels:
    • Federal Electric
    • Federal Pacific Electric
    • Federal NOARC
    • Federal Pioneer
    • FPE
    • FPE-Stab-Lok
    • Stab-Lok

Chinese Drywall

by Nick Gromicko and Kenton Shepard
Amidst a wave of Chinese import scares, ranging from toxic toys to tainted pet food, reports of contaminated drywall from that country have been popping up across the American Southeast. Chinese companies use unrefined “fly ash,” a coal residue found in smokestacks in coal-fired power plants in their manufacturing process. Fly ash contains strontium sulfide, a toxic substance commonly found in fireworks. In hot and wet environments, this substance can offgas into hydrogen sulfide, carbon disulfide, and carbonyl sulfide and contaminate a home’s air supply. 

The bulk of these incidents have been reported in Florida and other southern states, likely due to the high levels of heat and humidity in that region. Most of the affected homes were built during the housing boom between 2004 and 2007, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina when domestic building materials were in short supply. An estimated 250,000 tons of drywall were imported from China during that time period because it was cheap and plentiful. This material was used in the construction of approximately 100,000 homes in the United States, and many believe this has lead to serious health and property damage.

Although not believed to be life- threatening, exposure to high levels of airborne hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur compounds from contaminated drywall can result in the following physical ailments:

  • sore throat;
  • sinus irritation;
  • coughing;
  • wheezing;
  • headache;
  • dry or burning eyes; and/or
  • respiratory infections.
Due to this problem’s recent nature, there are currently no government or industry standards for inspecting contaminated drywall in homes. Professionals who have handled contaminated drywall in the past may know how to inspect for sulfur compounds but there are no agencies that offer certification in this form of inspection. Homeowners should beware of con artists attempting to make quick money off of this widespread scare by claiming to be licensed or certified drywall inspectors. InterNACHI has assembled the following tips that inspectors can use to identify if a home’s drywall is contaminated:
  • The house has a strong sulfur smell reminiscent of rotten eggs.
  • Exposed copper wiring appears dark and corroded. Silver jewelry and silverware can become similarly corroded and discolored after several months of exposure.
  • A manufacturer’s label on the back of the drywall can be used to link it with manufacturers that are known to have used contaminated materials. One way to look for this is to enter the attic and remove some of the insulation.
  • Drywall samples can be sent to a lab to be tested for dangerous levels of sulfur. This is the best testing method but also the most expensive.
Contaminated Chinese drywall cannot be repaired. Affected homeowners are being forced to either suffer bad health and failing appliances due to wire corrosion or replace the drywall entirely, a procedure which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. This contamination further reduces home values in a real estate environment already plagued by crisis. Some insurance companies are refusing to pay for drywall replacement and many of their clients are facing financial ruin. Class-action lawsuits have been filed against homebuilders, suppliers, and importers of contaminated Chinese drywall. Some large manufacturers named in these lawsuits are Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, Knauf Gips, and Taishan Gypsum.
The Florida Department of Health recently tested drywall from three Chinese manufacturers and a domestic sample and published their findings. They found “a distinct difference in drywall that was manufactured in the United States and those that were manufactured in China.” The Chinese samples contained traces of strontium sulfide and emitted a sulfur odor when exposed to moisture and intense heat, while the American sample did not. The U.S. Consumer Safety Commission is currently performing similar tests. Other tests performed by Lennar, a builder that used Chinese drywall in 80 Florida homes, and Knauf Plasterboard, a manufacturer of the drywall, came to different conclusions than the Florida Department of Health. Both found safe levels of sulfur compounds in the samples that they tested. There is currently no scientific proof that Chinese drywall is responsible for the allegations against it.
Regardless of its source, contamination of some sort is damaging property and health in the southern U.S. The media, who have publicized the issue, almost unanimously report that the blame lies with imported Chinese drywall that contains corrosive sulfur compounds originating from ash produced by Chinese coal-fired power plants. Homes affected by this contamination can suffer serious damage to the metal parts of appliances and piping and lead, potentially leading to considerable health issues. While no governing body has issued regulations regarding contaminated drywall, it is advisable that home inspectors be aware of the danger it poses and learn how to identify it.

10 Easy Ways to Save Money & Energy in Your Home

by Nick Gromicko, Ben Gromicko, and Kenton Shepard 

Most people don’t know how easy it is to make their homes run on less energy, and here at InterNACHI, we want to change that.

Drastic reductions in heating, cooling and electricity costs can be accomplished through very simple changes, most of which homeowners can do themselves. Of course, for homeowners who want to take advantage of the most up-to-date knowledge and systems in home energy efficiency, InterNACHI energy auditors can perform in-depth testing to find the best energy solutions for your particular home.

Why make your home more energy efficient? Here are a few good reasons:

  • Federal, state, utility and local jurisdictions’ financial incentives, such as tax breaks, are very advantageous for homeowners in most parts of the U.S.
  • It saves money. It costs less to power a home that has been converted to be more energy-efficient.
  • It increases the comfort level indoors.
  • It reduces our impact on climate change. Many scientists now believe that excessive energy consumption contributes significantly to global warming.
  • It reduces pollution. Conventional power production introduces pollutants that find their way into the air, soil and water supplies.

1. Find better ways to heat and cool your house. 

As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that energy bills can be reduced through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:

  • Install a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can be used in place of air conditioners, which require a large amount of energy.
  • Periodically replace air filters in air conditioners and heaters.
  • Set thermostats to an appropriate temperature. Specifically, they should be turned down at night and when no one is home. In most homes, about 2% of the heating bill will be saved for each degree that the thermostat is lowered for at least eight hours each day. Turning down the thermostat from 75° F to 70° F, for example, saves about 10% on heating costs.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves money by allowing heating and cooling appliances to be automatically turned down during times that no one is home and at night. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and, in some climate zones, can save up to $150 per year in energy costs.
  • Install a wood stove or a pellet stove. These are more efficient sources of heat than furnaces.
  • At night, curtains drawn over windows will better insulate the room.

2. Install a tankless water heater.

Demand-type water heaters (tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don’t produce the standby energy losses associated with traditional storage water heaters, which will save on energy costs. Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. A gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don’t need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.

3. Replace incandescent lights.

The average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights convert approximately only 10% of the energy they consume into light, while the rest becomes heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), can reduce the energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer further energy savings by reducing the amount of time that lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:

  • CFLs use 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • LEDs last even longer than CFLs and consume less energy.
  • LEDs have no moving parts and, unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.

4. Seal and insulate your home.

Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy-efficient, and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home can improve comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills. An InterNACHI energy auditor can assess  leakage in the building envelope and recommend fixes that will dramatically increase comfort and energy savings.

The following are some common places where leakage may occur:

  • electrical receptacles/outlets;
  • mail slots;
  • around pipes and wires;
  • wall- or window-mounted air conditioners;
  • attic hatches;
  • fireplace dampers;
  • inadequate weatherstripping around doors;
  • baseboards;
  • window frames; and
  • switch plates.

Because hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that save them money on cooling and heating, such as:

  • Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas.
  • Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry.
  • Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foamboard insulation in the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.

5. Install efficient showerheads and toilets.

The following systems can be installed to conserve water usage in homes:

  • low-flow showerheads. They are available in different flow rates, and some have a pause button which shuts off the water while the bather lathers up;
  • low-flow toilets. Toilets consume 30% to 40% of the total water used in homes, making them the biggest water users. Replacing an older 3.5-gallon toilet with a modern, low-flow 1.6-gallon toilet can reduce usage an average of 2 gallons-per-flush (GPF), saving 12,000 gallons of water per year. Low-flow toilets usually have “1.6 GPF” marked on the bowl behind the seat or inside the tank;
  • vacuum-assist toilets. This type of toilet has a vacuum chamber that uses a siphon action to suck air from the trap beneath the bowl, allowing it to quickly fill with water to clear waste. Vacuum-assist toilets are relatively quiet; and
  • dual-flush toilets. Dual-flush toilets have been used in Europe and Australia for years and are now gaining in popularity in the U.S. Dual-flush toilets let you choose between a 1-gallon (or less) flush for liquid waste, and a 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste. Dual-flush 1.6-GPF toilets reduce water consumption by an additional 30%.

6. Use appliances and electronics responsibly.

Appliances and electronics account for about 20% of household energy bills in a typical U.S. home. The following are tips that will reduce the required energy of electronics and appliances:

  • Refrigerators and freezers should not be located near the stove, dishwasher or heat vents, or exposed to direct sunlight. Exposure to warm areas will force them to use more energy to remain cool.
  • Computers should be shut off when not in use. If unattended computers must be left on, their monitors should be shut off. According to some studies, computers account for approximately 3% of all energy consumption in the United States.
  • Use efficient ENERGY STAR-rated appliances and electronics. These devices, approved by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Program, include TVs, home theater systems, DVD players, CD players, receivers, speakers, and more. According to the EPA, if just 10% of homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees.
  • Chargers, such as those used for laptops and cell phones, consume energy when they are plugged in. When they are not connected to electronics, chargers should be unplugged.
  • Laptop computers consume considerably less electricity than desktop computers.

7. Install daylighting as an alternative to electrical lighting.

Daylighting is the practice of using natural light to illuminate the home’s interior. It can be achieved using the following approaches:

  • skylights. It’s important that they be double-pane or they may not be cost-effective. Flashing skylights correctly is key to avoiding leaks;
  • light shelves. Light shelves are passive devices designed to bounce light deep into a building. They may be interior or exterior. Light shelves can introduce light into a space up to 2½ times the distance from the floor to the top of the window, and advanced light shelves may introduce four times that amount;
  • clerestory windows.  Clerestory windows are short, wide windows set high on the wall. Protected from the summer sun by the roof overhang, they allow winter sun to shine through for natural lighting and warmth; and
  • light tubes.  Light tubes use a special lens designed to amplify low-level light and reduce light intensity from the midday sun. Sunlight is channeled through a tube coated with a highly reflective material, and then enters the living space through a diffuser designed to distribute light evenly.

8. Insulate windows and doors.

About one-third of the home’s total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. The following are ways to reduce energy lost through windows and doors:

  • Seal all window edges and cracks with rope caulk. This is the cheapest and simplest option.
  • Windows can be weatherstripped with a special lining that is inserted between the window and the frame. For doors, apply weatherstripping around the whole perimeter to ensure a tight seal when they’re closed. Install quality door sweeps on the bottom of the doors, if they aren’t already in place.
  • Install storm windows at windows with only single panes. A removable glass frame can be installed over an existing window.
  • If existing windows have rotted or damaged wood, cracked glass, missing putty, poorly fitting sashes, or locks that don’t work, they should be repaired or replaced.

9. Cook smart.

An enormous amount of energy is wasted while cooking. The following recommendations and statistics illustrate less wasteful ways of cooking:

  • Convection ovens are more efficient that conventional ovens. They use fans to force hot air to circulate more evenly, thereby allowing food to be cooked at a lower temperature. Convection ovens use approximately 20% less electricity than conventional ovens.
  • Microwave ovens consume approximately 80% less energy than conventional ovens.
  • Pans should be placed on the matching size heating element or flame.
  • Using lids on pots and pans will heat food more quickly than cooking in uncovered pots and pans.
  • Pressure cookers reduce cooking time dramatically.
  • When using conventional ovens, food should be placed on the top rack. The top rack is hotter and will cook food faster.

10. Change the way you do laundry.

  • Do not use the medium setting on your washer. Wait until you have a full load of clothes, as the medium setting saves less than half of the water and energy used for a full load.
  • Avoid using high-temperature settings when clothes are not very soiled. Water that is 140° F uses far more energy than 103° F for the warm-water setting, but 140° F isn’t that much more effective for getting clothes clean.
  • Clean the lint trap every time before you use the dryer. Not only is excess lint a fire hazard, but it will prolong the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
  • If possible, air-dry your clothes on lines and racks.
  • Spin-dry or wring clothes out before putting them into a dryer.
Homeowners who take the initiative to make these changes usually discover that the energy savings are more than worth the effort. InterNACHI home inspectors can make this process much easier because they can perform a more comprehensive assessment of energy-savings potential than the average homeowner can.