Best of 2016 – A collection of Home Inspection Blunders

Home Inspection Highlights 2016

Ah yes, another year has come and gone.  Let’s take a look at my annual top pictures from 2016!  I typically do top a 10, but this year I’m expanding it to 12; there is just too much good stuff not to share it.

12. DIY Plumbing Drains


DIY Plumbing Drain

These flex-drains that you can buy at the big box stores are terrible.  They clog up really easily, and because of the ribs on the walls, they drain slow too.  This homeowner didn’t think his sink was draining slow enough with one, so he added a second one for good measure.  *Note – I say “he,” because clearly no woman would do something so stupid, right ladies? 


11. My Personal Hell – One Nasty Crawlspace


Nasty Crawlspace

I understand that if you have a crawlspace under your house, you’re probably not going to crawl through it. They are dark, dank, have lots of bugs in them, a spider or two, and maybe even a snake hanging out. But this crawlspace was special. I mean, I was pretty sure I was going to find Jimmy Hoffa under there. If you happen to live in a home built on a crawlspace, do yourself a favor and pop that door open every decade or so and make sure your house is not rotting out from under you.


10. Termite Damage in the Attic


Termite Damage in Attic Framing

Here in Louisville (well, all of Kentucky) we have termites.  It’s pretty common for me to come across a house that has a bit of damage along the floor structure. What is not so common is to see damage in the attic.  You see, we have subterranean termites here (they come up from the ground) to munch on your house.  They build these small hollow mud tubes to travel through called shelter tubes (that is what you see circled in red in the picture).  If you see them 20 feet in the air on the attic framing, then it’s a pretty safe bet they have eaten their way through the house and there is damage concealed in the wall as well.


9. Leaking Custom Tile Shower


Leaking Tile Shower

Let me let you in on a little secret.  Tiles, mortar, and grout are not waterproof.  If whomever is building your new custom “dream shower” doesn’t know what they are doing, it will leak.  I see about 100 a year that do.  This poor seller had just paid a small fortune for a bath remodel and there was one of those nifty niches in the shower wall to hold shampoo and soap.  The installer didn’t use a liner insert and instead decided to save the $38 bucks by trying to simply frame it out and tile over it.  The shower leaked in the crawlspace for about a year, and now all the wood is rotten.  That savings of $38 bucks just cost someone $10,000 in repairs.  Oops.


8. New Construction – Missing Flashing on the Roof


Missing Flashing New Roof

“New construction homes don’t need an inspection, they were checked by the city.”  LOL! – If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that line. This house is a perfect example.  The roofer decided not to flash any of the vertical walls.  None of them.  If you are naive enough to believe that many builders and their sub-contractors aren’t cutting every corner they can on your new home, I have some swamp land in Arizona that you may be interested in.


7. Go Home Deck – You’re drunk!


Poorly buit deck

This…thing.  It really sucks the life out of me.  I was scared to walk on it, and was even more uneasy when my client/buyer let her kids play on it.  I’ve seen a bunch of crappy decks before, but this thing takes the prize.  Pro Tip – While shopping for your new house, if you need to tilt your head to make your deck look level, you’re in trouble.


7. Brown Recluse Spiders


Brown-Recluse-Spider

These dudes blend in to their surroundings a bit too much for my liking.  I took this shot inside a sump pump crock I was reaching down into to test the sump pump.  I typically see a couple of houses a year that are infested with Brown Recluse Spiders in Louisville, KY.  You can see why your grandpa called them “fiddlers.”  The marking on their backs is very clear if you know what you are looking for.


6. Electrical Connections in the Gutter


Electrical disconnect in gutters

Some fool thought it was a good idea to leave these 3 A/C disconnects in the gutter on a 3 story home in Old Louisville.  It’s OK though; the rest of the house was just as bad as this.  Everything in life is all about perspective.


5. Mold in the Crawlspace


Mold In Crawlspace

The mold growth was so bad under this house I wrote my initials in the mold on the side of the floor joist.  Looking back on it I should have went all Shawshank on it and wrote ‘Ben Was Here.’  You can also see the water dripping from the ductwork from the humidity under this house.


4. Dirty Undies in the Crawlspace Sump Pump


Sump Pump Install

You know, not much makes me cringe.  But I draw the line at someone’s old soiled dirty tighty whities hanging on a sump pump in an old nasty crawlspace.  Who the heck does this?  And how did they get here? No clue.  Gross.


3. Frosty Nails in the Attic


Frost Covered Nails

Most folks’ first reaction to this issue is that it is the result of a lack of ventilation.  That’s not it.  This is caused by the air inside the living space (conditioned air) that is full of moisture, clashing with the cold roof decking in the attic. It can cause mold to grow and your wood to rot. It’s vital that you keep a super tight air seal around things like recessed lights and ceiling fans so that this doesn’t happen.


2. Garage Door Death Trap


Garage Door Spring

People do stupid things.  That is a fact.  This picture illustrates something that happens to be at the top of the stupid scale. Garage door springs have a crazy amount of tension on them.  So much so, that if the spring were to break and hit you, it could kill you.  This dummy though it would be OK to clip this all together with a cheap key-chain carabiner. Wow…


1. The Best Door Mat Ever



My wife would disagree, but I think most people would side with this door mat.

Once again I wish to say a heartfelt Thank You to all who chose me to have your back during the stress of buying a house. It’s a responsibility and an honor that I do not take lightly, and I can’t thank you enough.  To those of you who didn’t choose me….shame on you.  Really, shame on you.  

Happy New Year! Here’s to making 2017 the best yet!

If you missed my Best of 2015, click the button and check it out now.

Are Ungrounded Electrical Outlets Safe

The following info explains how part of your electrical system in your home works. It is not meant to be a guide for DIY repairs. Do not touch any part of your electrical system if you are not qualified to do so. You CAN DIE FROM THIS STUFF. Please do not be dumb. Call a pro and let them handle it.

It never fails. At least once a week I inspect a house that has an ungrounded electrical system.  These are older homes with receptacles (or outlets, as everyone in my neck of the woods calls them) that only have two slots, and are missing the ‘3rd hole.’  That hole is for the ground conductor of the circuit.  The grounding conductor wasn’t introduced until ~1962 in Louisville, KY.  So if you live in an older home, that hasn’t been upgraded to modern electrical safety standards, chances are your system is ungrounded too – or at least part of it is.  This could be true even if you have modern 3-hole outlets installed.  I get a lot of deer-in-headlights looks when I start to talk about this stuff at my home inspections, so let me break things down for you here, and explain what all this means.

Determining if you have ungrounded outlets

Most of the time, you can simply look at your outlets and see if you still have the old ungrounded style or not.  If you only see two vertical slots, they are ungrounded.  However, I see lots of older houses where folks will replace their outlets with new (modern, 3-hole) outlets to make it easier to plug grounded cords in.  Of course, this doesn’t make things “grounded,” you simply lose the frustration of having to use one of those cheater adapters that have the ground pin missing.  If you are unsure if your receptacles are grounded, you can pick up a cheap outlet tester and it will tell you if you have a ground connected at the outlet.  My receptacle tester that I use during home inspections is way more sophisticated as a circuit analyzer, but in this case essentially reports the same info: is there a ground present at the outlet.  You can see an example of this in the picture below. I’m plugged into a 3-hole outlet in a 90 yr old house, but the ground icon (center light) is not lit up.  This is an ungrounded 3 hole outlet.

ungrounded-3-hole-outlet

OK, my outlets are ungrounded – Why should I care?

First, let’s briefly run through how electricity in your home works; more specifically, how the outlets work when something is plugged into them.  The most important thing to remember is that electricity flows in a circuit, and it’s always trying to get back to the source.  The electrons flow from the hot side of an outlet, through the device that is plugged into it (toaster/vacuum/hair dryer/etc), and back through the neutral wire to the panel (or the source.)  The device you plug into the outlet completes the circuit between the hot and the neutral wires, and electricity flows through the device to run a motor, heat some coils, or whatever is needed.  That is a basic 120v circuit.  Pretty simple.  Notice I did not bring up the use of a ground wire at all…

 The hot wire is connected to the electric panel via a circuit breaker (or fuse, if your system is really old).  The breaker is in place to trip (kill the power) if it senses the current flow is too high in the circuit. (This is why it’s important that your breakers be sized correctly for the wire it’s protecting.)  If the breaker sees an abnormal amount of current flowing through it, it trips and shuts down the power.  When a breaker trips it is known as a fault.  The fault must be found and “cleared” before things can return to normal, and you can turn the power back on.

basic-circuit-example

As you can see from the above example, a ground wire is not needed for a 120v circuit to function.  In fact, there are lots of things you plug into your electrical system that don’t use the 3rd pin at all.  Lamps, cell phone chargers and toasters only have two prongs on their cords.  However, there are lots of other items in your home that do utilize the ground as a safety measure.  Things like refrigerators, washing machines, computers, and TVs have grounded cords.  The grounded cords typically show up on items that have a metal case, or have sensitive electronics inside them.

Having a fully grounded electrical system is all about safety.  It’s a safety measure put in place for you, your house,  and your stuff that is plugged into/connected to your house.  In fact, the “ground” we are talking about is technically known as an equipment ground.  There are system grounds (power company side of things), and equipment grounds (your house side of things). Everyone around here (and I would image many other places) just calls it a ground, so we’ll stick with that.

Grounding is in place to protect us from faults (bad things within an electrical circuit) and damage from lightening strikes. Faults just happen.  Electrical motors go bad, wires break, etc.  Lightening strikes also get filed under “it happens.”  According to NOAA, there are 25,000,000 cloud to ground lightening strikes every year.  Let’s break down some examples of why equipment grounding and grounded outlets are important to you and the safety of your family.

While not perfect, this video does a good job of explaining the history and progression of the electrical system in homes in the U.S. 

When things go wrong

The ground wire in an electric system is in place to send rogue current safely back to the electric panel (or the source).  In the event of a problem within the circuit, the ground wire provides a path for the current to safely make it back to the panel to trip the breaker or blow the fuse.

The following are some examples of what can happen when dealing with an ungrounded electrical system – especially ungrounded outlets. What you want to keep in mind is that these things occur when bad things happen.  Grounding is not needed when life is good and things are rolling on as they should be. Think of it like an air bag in your car.  You can drive all day everyday and never need your airbag.  It’s when bad things (like a wreck) happen that you sure are happy to have that safety device.

  • Electrical Faults

    When something goes wrong in an electrical circuit, we call that a fault.  We now use grounded circuits to help protect us from these faults.  Example: Let’s say we have a refrigerator plugged into an ungrounded outlet.  If a wire inside the unit where to touch the metal case of the fridge- the case is now conducting the current.  It’s very possible the resistance will be low enough that the breaker will not trip.  You come along to grab a cold beer after a hard day of crawling through attics and crawlspaces,  you could get electrocuted.   No one should have to choose from getting shocked, or getting a beer, btw.  

  • Surge Protectors

    Surge protectors when used in an ungrounded house are nothing more than really cool looking extension cords.  They can not protect your equipment from surges without the ground wire.   That is how they work- they use the ground wire to safely remove the spike or surge in voltage.  The warranty on your stuff they brag about when using their product goes out the window too when used on an ungrounded outlet.

  • Lightening Strikes

    1 out of every 200 houses will be struck by lightening.  This is according to the National Lightening Safety Institute.  Lightening is a extremely powerful, high frequency blast of DC voltage, which is capable of devastating damage when you get hit by a direct strike.  However, you do not have to suffer a direct hit to have bad things happen.  When lightening hits the ground it pushes electrons in all directions.  If your house happens to be close enough to this strike, the voltage can jump to the building.  This is known as side flash.  Now that stray voltage is in the building (on the plumbing pipes, in the wires, etc.)  We ground the house to help this voltage get to where it wants to go….the earth (or ground).  In other words, we connect all the conductive materials in the house, and terminate them to a single point- the ground rod near the electrical panel, or other means (like a water pipes that runs through the yard.)

  • Side Flash - Electrocution

    Side flash is what happens when an indirect lightening strike happens and the stray voltage from the strike jumps to conductive things inside the house (like plumbing parts and wiring).  If you happen to be standing close to one of these things like an ungrounded outlet, or a steel post in your basement, it could jump over to you and cause you to become electrocuted.

  • Side Flash - House Fire

    Take the same concept as above with side flash, but you place a combustible material in the mix and you could have a house fire.  Even worse, you get electrocuted, you burst into flames, and it sets your house on fire.  Hey…it could happen.

  • Mike Holt

    Watch this video for a couple of minutes.  Mike does a great job of explaining things equipment grounding in a building.

Grounding can save your bacon if things go south one day.  There is a good reason the process has been required in homes since 1962.  I know some of this sounds scary to folks, and while I don’t want to promote fear, I do like to promote education and respect for something that can kill you in the blink of an eye.  But all is not lost.  When it comes to getting this issue taken care of, there are options.  In future posts, I’ll break down those for you, and explain how all that works.  Check back soon…

System Grounding is NOT a protective measure against a direct lighting strike on your home. If you suffer a direct strike, that small bare copper wire will not save you. Grounding of an electrical system should not be confused with lighting protection. The bottom line with a direct lightning strike near or on the house—you simply have to fix whatever gets broken or bury whoever dies.

Should you test for Radon Gas in Louisville?

At least a few times a week I ask a client if they want a Radon test performed on their new house.  Most give a sharp “yes” without hesitation.  Some folks, however, don’t know what to say, or may be confused from the all the different opinions they have gotten from their realtor, dad, cousin, neighbor, etc… Let’s see if we can clear things up a bit.

If you are buying a home in Louisville (all of KY really) you should have it tested for Radon Gas.  Every home should be tested for Radon gas.  No exceptions; especially in homes that already have a Radon mitigation system installed in the home.  We’ll get into the “why?” of that in more detail later.   There are only two types of houses that don’t have some form of Radon Gas around here.  Houseboats and tree houses.  Unless your house falls in one of those categories, you need to get it tested.  Here is an EPA map of Jefferson County KY.  Notice how nearly every part of the county is in the red; Zone-1.

Jefferson Co Radon Map

What is Radon Gas?

Radon is an odorless, colorless, radioactive gas that comes from the earth. It forms naturally from the decay of radioactive elements in the ground, such as uranium.  Some locations have much higher levels of these elements than others.  This is why some areas have high levels of Radon gas, and others only have trace amounts.  We just happen to drawn the short straw here in Louisville and have some of the highest amounts found in the U.S.

Radon is found both indoor and outdoors.  Outdoor levels are typically very low, while the measurements in indoor buildings can range from very low to extremely high.  As the Radon breaks down in the ground, it seeps in through the cracks and holes in the foundation of your home.  If enough Radon gas makes it through, the house will test high for Radon.

How Radon Enters

Radon enters the home through lots of different paths.

How to test for Radon in your home.

There are several different ways to test for Radon, but the easiest way is to have a CRM (continuous radon monitor) placed in the home for several days.  EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) testing protocol says the machine should be left undisturbed in the home for a minimum of 48 hours, up to 7 days.  Placement of the CRM is always on the “lowest potential living space.”  This means if you have an unfinished basement, but may one day finish it out, you run the test from that area.
If the home has a crawlspace or concrete slab (since no one will ever live under the house) the CRM monitor is placed as close to the center of the house as possible on the first floor.  You also want to keep the machine away from exterior doors and windows (that is to simply keep as much fresh air away from it as possible, which can dilute the radon gas and affect the test).  Once the machine is in place and running the test, it will take an air sample once an hour, every hour, until the test has been stopped.  Those numbers are then averaged to give you your test results in picocuries per liter or pCi/L.

Radon Test in Progress

Here is a Radon CRM monitor in place running a test in an unfinished basement.

The house doesn’t have a basement, do I really need a Radon test?

Yes, you do.  A home is not required to have a basement to have high levels of Radon gas.  Somehow, a nasty lie got started years ago that a home that was built on a concrete slab, or a crawlspace “won’t have Radon, only houses with basement do.”  This is 100% completely false.  Some of the highest numbers I’ve ever seen came from homes that were built on slabs and crawlspaces.  I’ve also heard it said that walkout basements don’t have Radon.  Again, this is simply not true.  There is no building style that is Radon proof, or Radon resistant.  All homes have the potential for elevated Radon gas, so all homes need to be tested.

The house already has a mitigation system installed, why waste the money on a test?

I hear this all the time, and the answer is quite simple.  There are lots of systems that don’t work properly.  More than you would think.  Oh, they’re in place, and the fan is running, yet the Radon levels are still elevated when I test the home.  That is because anyone with a truck, a cheap fan, and some PVC pipe can call themselves a Radon mitigation company. There are no laws or rules currently enforced in Kentucky for Radon mitigators; it’s the “Wild West,” and it shows in the quality of work that I see. 

Look at it like this. If a home has a mitigation system, that means the levels were once high enough to warrant the install to begin with. It is in your best interest to double check to see that the system is working properly, and is actually lowering the Radon gas levels. Over the course of the past year, I tracked my data on testing Radon in houses where Mitigation systems were already installed. My results: One in every five systems were not working properly.  In several homes, the mitigation fans didn’t work at all.

Test completed.  Now what? EPA vs WHO

Now that you have your numbers, let us talk about what all this means, and what you need to do next.

There are two sources that folks look to for guidance when it comes to Radon gas and their home.  The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the WHO (World Health Organization).  The EPA says that homes with 4.0pCi/L or more should have a Radon mitigation system installed in the home.  However, in 2009 the WHO released a study that stated they are  lowering their recommended action level to 2.7pCi/L.   Most people in the real estate world won’t tell you about the newer WHO study though.  Sometimes its just plain ignorance (you’d be shocked at the amount of people I run into every week that have never heard of the WHO), but other times it’s just not convenient to the transaction at hand.  You see, lots of homes fall in between the 2.7 and 3.9 levels,  and when home buyers want the sellers to foot the bill for a Radon mitigation system, well, the higher the action level numbers are, the better…. for the transaction.  So who’s right?  Which organization do you listen to; who do you go by?  I don’t know. In fact, I don’t know if there is a right answer.

In my mind, it is simply not worth the risk.  Radon mitigation systems are not extremely difficult, or expensive to install.

Mitigating the problem-

So you’ve had your Radon test completed, and the home came back elevated.  It’s time to get a Radon mitigation system installed. Radon mitigation systems are simple creatures by nature, but not just any jack-leg can install them (although they try).  Just like choosing your home inspector, you need to be picky and smart about who you choose to install your Radon mitigation system.  I’ll get into mitigation systems, and what problems can come up from them in a later post.

Brown Recluse Spiders and Your Home

They are the things nightmares are made of.  Some folks freeze in fear at the sight of one.  They can make you produce blood curdling screams and throw shoes at a wall.  Spiders.  Eight Legged Freaks.  Demons from Hell.  Call them what you will, but most spiders are harmless to you and your family.  But some are not….

The Brown Recluse, aka “The Fiddler,”which sounds more like a villain from Batman than a spider in your home, is one of the top venomous spiders in the United States.  Loxosceles reclusa (if you want to geek out on the name) is found in the central Midwest.  From Nebraska to Kentucky, from Iowa to Texas, and everywhere in between.

Perhaps I am more aware of these guys than other people, but I find dozens of homes every year with Brown Recluses during home inspections.  A few of these have been serious infestations…I’m talking hundreds of them found by me in one home, and I’m not really looking that hard for spiders.

Map of Brown Recluse Spiders


How to identify a Brown Recluse Spider 

The Brown Recluse is small. It is usually no bigger than a quarter, including the legs.  The legs are long and skinny, and most times I have found them, they are sticking straight out.  But as their nickname implies, the simplest way to identify them is to look for the marking on the cephalothorax (fancy name for their back).  The “fiddle” or “violin” is easy to spot.  There are several other species that get mistaken for the Brown Recluse quite often.  That is why most experts look for this marking.

Brown Recluse Spider

Here you can clearly see the “fiddle” on the back of a Brown Recluse.

Where are they hiding?

As the name implies these guys are usually in dark places. They build irregular webs that frequently include a shelter consisting of random threads. They often build their webs in woodpiles and sheds, closets, garages, attics, basements and crawlspaces. During home inspections,  I see them in the top of closets near the ceiling quite often, in basements around the rim joist, and attics. They are more common than most people think. In fact, one of the largest infestation ever recorded was in Kansas 2001.  Over 2,000 brown recluse spiders were removed from a home where the people lived for years.  Not one bite occurred in that house.

Brown Recluse Spiders hiding in the bathtub

Here are a few that were in a bathtub in a house I was inspecting. This place was loaded with them. I stopped counting around 200 live ones.

 

Brown Recluse Size

Next to a penny for scale.  I’ve seen some larger than a  quarter too.

What to do if you find them?  

Call a pest control company.  This is one of those times you don’t want to get all DIY.  Most pro’s will want to set sticky traps in the areas the spiders are most active. Give it a few days and then check the traps. This can help gauge how bad a problem you have.  Then you can develop a play of attack on the hell spawns.  You can also break out the biological warfare if needed.

Arachnophobia

What’s a post about spiders without a image of from Arachnophobia?

 

 

Aluminum Wire in Branch Circuits

When I’m performing a home inspection on a house built around 1970, I usually get the question, “Does it have aluminum wire?” Let’s talk about what the issue is, and what your options are if you are looking to buy a house that has aluminum branch wiring in it.

What are branch circuits? 

Branch circuits are circuits that power the “small” stuff like your lights, outlets, and small machines (think dishwasher, disposal, etc.) Aluminum wiring was first used as branch circuits around 1965 during a copper shortage, and was used in homes until the mid 1970’s.  It’s the small 15 and 20 amp breakers in your electrical panel.  The larger wires (usually 240v stuff) and the main power lines coming into the home are typically aluminum but do not have any issues.  

Facts about Aluminum Wiring

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a “Repairing Aluminum Wiring” pamphlet that you can download here.  Don’t be foolish and try to use it as a how-to guide.  It’s meant to explain what can be done by an electrician who knows what he or she is doing.  Here are some interesting facts for you:

  • There are an estimated 2 million homes wired with aluminum wire.
  • The problem is the connection points and splices at junction boxes, outlets, switches, etc.
  • A national survey conducted by Franklin Research Institute for CPSC showed that homes built before 1972, and wired with aluminum, are 55 times more likely to have one or more wire connections at outlets reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than homes wired with copper.
  • On April 28, 1974, two people died in a home in Hampton Bays, N.Y. Fire officials determined that the fire was caused by an overheated aluminum wire connection at a wall receptacle.

When I find aluminum wiring, it seems I always get the question, “Do you think it will be a problem?”  Another popular thing I hear is “If it hasn’t been an issue in 40 years, it probably won’t ever be one.”  Wait….what?  People downplay the issue in their minds because of the scope of the potential problem.  It’s not convenient for them to have to deal with this right now.  But it is real, and it can’t be ignored.

Aluminum and Copper Wire

Here you can see what aluminum wire looks like next to copper wire.

What are the issues anyway?

Aluminum wiring has several unique traits that its copper counterpart does not.  All of these add up to the reason it’s no longer used.

  • Aluminum is Soft – When you tighten the set screw down on an outlet or switch, the aluminum wire will actually continue to flatten out a bit over time – even after you stop torquing the screw.  This will cause a loose connection.  Loose connections cause arcing.  Arcing causes fires.
  • Thermal Movement – Everything moves with temperature.  Aluminum wire is no different.  When the wire has electrical current flowing through it, it heats up. When it heats up it expands.  The issue is that aluminum expands more than copper. Over time this swelling and shrinking can cause a loose connections.  Again, arcing and fire.
  • Oxidation – When aluminum wire is exposed to oxygen it oxidizes. This byproduct is called aluminum oxide.  This stuff can deteriorate the connection.
  • Corrosion –  When moisture is added to the mix of aluminum wire, you get galvanic corrosion at the connections.
    Damaged Outlets

    Fire damaged receptacles from aluminum connections.

    Aluminum Wire Burned Outlet

    Here is an outlet that Home Inspector Charles Buell of Seattle Discovered.

I have aluminum wire. Now what?

The first thing you do is get an electrician experienced with aluminum wiring to come check every connection they can possibly get to in the house.  Will they be able to check them all?  Doubtful.  Most houses have junctions behind drywall or in the attic we can’t see or know they are even there.  According to the rulesthere should never be concealed junctions, but the reality is that people don’t always obey the rules.  Having ol’ sparky come check things out can be pricey, but his house call is much cheaper than a house fire.

What can be done to minimize the risk?

There are several products on the market designed to help minimize the risk when dealing with aluminum wiring.

1.  One of the more popular products I find people know  something about are the specially rated outlets and switches made for aluminum and copper wires. These are marked with a CO/ALR on them.   CO=copper – ALR=Aluminum. Would you know to get these for your house if you had aluminum wire?

Here is a scenario for you: 

Being the hip, young couple that you are, you’re ready to tackle some DIYing this Saturday.  So your normal Friday movie date is replaced with a shopping trip to Lowe’s.  You get your paint, brushes, tape, flooring and so on.  Your better half proclaims those ugly almond outlets have got to go in lieu of some nice new white ones.  No worries, right?

You stroll to the electrical aisle and reach for those shiny white outlets.  You need 5 for the living room.  Better get 6, just in case.  How much?  $.68 cents.  No sweat.

You grab your 6 outlets and start to walk away.  Out of the corner of your eye you see another receptacle that looks identical to the one in your hand, except it’s almost $4 bucks.  What?  $4 for one!  I don’t think so.  Let’s roll babe.

2.  There are special connectors called AlumiConn available.  These are approved  by the CPSC, but at nearly $4 each, they are not a cheap option.  Understand that is $4 per wire; per connection.

AlumiConn Connector

AlumiConn Connectors are an option, but they can get expensive.

3.  Another product is the COPALUM connector.  This system uses a special clamp, crimping tool, and heat-shrink to create a copper pigtail off the aluminum wiring.  You must be certified to use this system.  Some areas don’t have anyone available who is certified in using the COPALUM system.

COPALUM Connections

COPALUM Connections splice onto the old aluminum wire

4.  Total Replacement of the aluminum wire itself.  This is, of course, the safest of all options.  It is also the most expensive.  Cost will vary, as every house is different in the process used to replace the wire.  You’ll need to speak with an electrician to get an idea of what you can expect.  Keep in mind this is typically thousands of dollars.  It’s not a cheap process.

If you have aluminum wiring in your home, you need to get that electrician out there ASAP.  If you are not sure if you have aluminum wiring or not, a reputable home inspector in your area should be able to come out and  take a look for you.  You shouldn’t take the cover off of your electrical panel yourself unless you know what you are doing.  There are things in there that will kill you.

You have options in what can do.  You can repair or replace.  Either is better than nothing at all.  And when it comes to situations like this; it’s never a problem until it becomes one.

Best of 2014 Part 2

I’m a bit later than I wanted to be getting this written, but hey, better late than never. If you missed the first part of this post you can see it here: Best of Home Inspections 2014.  So without further ado, the second half of the Best of the Worst pictures of 2014.

 

A waterfall in the crawlspace – This house was about 15 years old.  This was the 3rd person selling it.  What you are looking at is the master shower that was NEVER connected to the home’s plumbing.  It has been dumping shower water under the house since the day it was built.  How many other inspectors missed this little gem because it was in a tight spot that took a bit of extra effort to get to?  And do you know what I had to craw through to see it? Go on…tell me you’ve never peed in the shower.

Leaking Shower in Crawlspace

NEW Insulation in the Attic –  That is what the listing boasted.  In fact, the buyer even commented to me on how this flipper (not the dolphin) did everything just right.  I may be a bit cynical, but I have never seen a flipped house “done right.” When I climbed through the tiny hole in the ceiling to get into the attic I saw this pile of batt insulation (the worst possible choice for attic insulation, mind you).  Well…in the sellers defense, there was new insulation in the attic, it just hasn’t been installed yet.

Attic Insulation

 

 

Leaning Crawlspace Tower of Pisa – Truth be told, I could make one of these post every week with the crap I find in crawlspaces alone.  This beauty was in an old house, circa 1900.  There were probably a dozen or so of these wonderfully crafted modern marvels scattered throughout. What do you say other than “Um…no.”

Crawlspace Pier

 

 

Air filters are important – Who doesn’t like clean, fresh air?  The people who owned this house, that’s who.  This was a 10yr old gas furnace that I don’t think has ever had a filter installed it.  I was getting very little air flow out of it and when I took the unit apart I found this fan so clogged with crud it could barely draw the air through it.

Dirty Furnace Fan

Casting a shadow –  It doesn’t hurt to turn off your ceiling fans every few years and wipe them down.  The dust on the edge of this fan blade was nearly 3/4 inch thick.  So fellas, the next time you start to catch heat about not pulling your weight in the house cleaning department, just show the them this pic and point out how it could always be worse.

Dirty Ceiling Fan

 

My last and final picture is not of a house, but of a fortune cookie message I received a few weeks ago.  It only took 30 years to get one that actually made sense.

 

Fortune Cookie

 

 

I’ve got enough pictures to write a novel of funny, awful, and scary things I’ve found during my home inspections, and I’ve already started compiling my list for next time. I had record numbers in 2014 because of you and the trust you put in me. I love what I do, and I love helping people. Thank you for choosing ABI.

Best Of 2014 Part 1

Another year older, one or two more gray hairs found, and a stack of pictures to choose from.  It’s hard to whittle it down to just a handful, but I selected the top 10 problems found during home inspections this year.

A Cold Fireplace – This is a picture from a one year old home.  The owners paid extra to have a vented gas fireplace insert installed.  What they didn’t realize is they would be paying extra on their heat bill forever because of it.  You can see through the eye of my thermal imaging camera that the lower section of the insert was not insulated or air sealed.  It’s constantly letting cold in air.  The room temp was 68, the outside air was 17.  This is why thermal imaging home inspections are awesome.  It put visual reasoning to a problem you can feel.   This problem is fixable, but it would requiring removing the mantle and fireplace to air seal/insulate the back wall.

No Insulation Around Fireplace

You can clearly see the cold air pouring in around the base of the fireplace.

 

Structural Window – Ok, there is no such thing, but this window in this custom garage is acting as one.  The owners of this two month old custom built garage called me when they started to have trouble with water leaking in.  I came out to find what the water problem was.  I did, and found this beauty as well.  Whenever we have masonry spanning the top of a window or door or opening, there should be a piece of steel installed above the window, called a lintel.  This L shaped support is what holds everything up in the air.  These concrete blocks are resting on the window frame only.  No steel. Only water leakage.

Missing Window Lintel

Windows must have a lintel installed to support the wall.

 

Flooded Crawlspace – There is not much I won’t do for my clients.   I have been bitten and stung. I have crawled through dead animals, piles of poop, puddles of pee, and everything you can imagine to get the low down on a house.  But I drew the line with this crawlspace.  I took one look in there with the exposed and flooded electrical lines and “noped it.”  The buyer just laughed and said “I don’t blame you.”

Flooded Crawlspace

Nothing like a lake under your house.

 

Rotting Creatures – In keeping with the creepy, nasty crawlspace theme; one day I turned the corner and stumbled across this guy.  I think it used to be a possum at one time.  It may not seem too bad now, but imagine yourself in a dark, wet crawlspace.  You’re crawling on your belly, turn the corner and find this dude 6 inches from your face. It’s a bit startling. Oh, and wet, decomposing hair smelled great!

Crawlspace Animal

It fun crawling up on this guy in the dark.

 

See Through Drain –  Ever wondered what your bathroom sink drain looks like?  Yeah, me neither.  But if by some chance you do….wonder no more.  This thing is flat out gross.  It was almost like a lava lamp for hair and dead skin cells.

Clogged Sink Drain

This guy is on to something with a see through drain.

So there is the first five.  It’s tough picking a top ten with thousands of pictures to choose from for sure, but you can see part two here- ABI Home Inspection – Best of 2014 Part 2

Our Newest Inspector…ED-E.

For years, really tall chimneys and hidden valleys on big roofs have been a thorn in my side.  I really do try to get to every square inch of the roof with my own two eyes, but sometimes it’s not feasible.   I am as close to Spiderman on a roof as it comes, but I am no Superman.  On more than one occasion I have climbed to the summit, only then to have to figure out how to get down.  When inspecting a house with a roof like this, I joke to everyone I am no good to them dead.  But there is a bit of truth to that.  If I fall from a three story roof…cancel Christmas. 

Say Hi ED-E

ED-E  is Phantom Vision Drone.  He boast GPS Flight Mode that makes it quite simple to use.  He has hands-free hovering, which means you can let go of the sticks, and he stays put.  This helps the pilot/videographer (that would be me) film what he needs to without concentrating on keeping the robot in the air.  With a maximum range of over 1000 feet and 30 minutes of flight time on a battery, he is more than well-equipped to check out your roof, chimney, or anything else that is just too high for a person to reach safely.  Wifi and Blu-tooth help link his HD camera to my phone, so I can see what the camera is seeing in real time.

A cool shot from high above a clients neighborhood.

A cool shot from high above a clients neighborhood.

On The Job

ED-E has only been on the job for about a month.  While I do not need his help on every home inspection, when he has been called in, he has proven himself invaluable.  Here is a short video shot during a recent inspection where the chimney was too tall to reach with a ladder. It was really windy that day, so please forgive the jerky footage.

I have been asked several times about a cost of using ED-E when looking at houses. I do not charge extra to use any tool I own.  I invest in the tech to the be the best possible inspector I can be.  For me to  look at a client and say for extra money I can use this really great tool and find more problems for you is just not fair.  There is no extra cost for using ED-E, or any other tool I carry.  We all come as a package.

The low down on Mold.

Nasty stuff.  Nasty stuff indeed.  But what classifies a person to be considered a “Mold Professional.”  This is where marketing spins start to twist like a F5 tornado.

I do not advertise mold inspection, I never will.  Why?  Because it would not be honest for me to do so.

The first thing I do when I come across mold in home is advise my clients to check out the EPA’s website about mold.

After they review the stuff on the EPA site, and they think it’s bad enough to need to hire a specialist, I tell them: Don’t hire any home inspector claiming to be a mold specialist. None of us really knows anything about mold, regardless of what we claim our qualifications are, and you’ll just be blowing your money.  If it’s bad, instead of someone with a two-day crash course and a certificate of authenticity (that they picked up in the lobby of a Holiday Inn), you will want to hire a real indoor air quality firm, with a real scientist on staff who actually knows something about mold.  End of story. An Industrial Hygienist is a really good place to start.

I can give you one piece of advice. Bleach is not an acceptable remediation technique.   Now of course, if you have a “little mold” growing on grout in your bathroom, then bleach will certainly help get rid of the discoloration, but the growth will return.

 

Only you can prevent fores…clothes dryer fires

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are an estimated 15,500 fires, 10 deaths and 10 injuries every year due to clothes dryer fires.  Several hundred people a year are also subjected to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from improper dryer vents. The total damages come to nearly $100,000,000 yearly.  That’s one hundred million dollars a year. Sometimes, it’s a faulty dryer that’s the problem…but more times than not, it’s the vent.

You know the vent…that  pipe that NEVER gets seen once the dryer is smashed up against it.  THAT my friends, is the problem. 

You probably have one of those flexible vents.  These things are HORRIBLE for venting.  The ridges in the wall of the vent really cut down on the velocity of the air.  Ve·loc·i·ty: Rapidity or speed of motion; swiftness.

When you dry your clothes, only a portion of the lint is captured by the trap and the rest of it gets funnelled out the vent pipe with the hot humid air.  When you have one of these flexible vent pipes, the inner wall of the pipe is nothing more than a place for the traveling lint to get stuck.  And just like your arteries after 25 years of cheeseburgers and fries,  they get clogged up!

Over time, this clog gets so bad it can back up into the dryer.  This can happen even if you clean your lint trap every time you run a load (which you do, of course). And just like that.  Dryer heart attack.  Dryer fire.

There are a few signs that might indicate you have an issue:

1. The clothes are taking a long time to dry.

2. The clothes come out hotter than usual.

3. The flaps on your vent cover (you know, outside of your house where the dryer vents to the outdoors) don’t move while your dryer is running (this could mean your have 100% blockage and it’s time to get it fixed–NOW.)

But how do I know for sure if my vent is clogged?

I have a very easy, fool-proof secret for you…..look at it.  You must take the vent pipe loose from the dryer and visually inspect it.

This is not a hard task.  If you can turn a screwdriver, you can do it.  It just might save your life.

P.S. – NEVER leave your dryer running while you’re not home, or especially when you’re asleep…you just might wake up dead.