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Inspection LLC

While the market continues to reach new levels of competitiveness and desperation, buyers continue to make compromises to purchase a home. Waiving financing, inspection, and other contingencies, and even using escalation clauses or other measures to secure a home has become the norm. Many people would never dream of waiving an inspection, and others are set on doing so. This article is for all the people in between. Home inspectors have been discussing this phenomenon and why its happening and we all have our own opinions of the cause and potential consequences of this trend. It has always been my opinion that the reason for this trend is from lack of experience. The market is filled with newer buyers, inexperienced agents, and sellers that are in a position of dominance at an all-time high. I work with many experienced agents, some of which have been through hundreds of inspections and can tell you several the reasons a home inspection can go bad. If an agent has only been selling real estate for a few years, there is typically a low number of transactions they have been through and as of late an even lower number of actual inspections. When you put a new buyer in a position where they are desperate for a house, they are likely to consider waiving an inspection and many agents don’t feel it’s appropriate or don’t have the experience to forcibly talk them out of waiving their inspections.  The purpose of this article is to bring up some of the reasons to not skip out on your inspection.

               Reason One: The house has a huge problem. I start with this, because I think many people see this as the only risk of waiving an inspection, so it makes sense to start with the most obvious. It is no surprise to many that a home can have problems that result in significant expense. A home inspector may identify an issue like a significant foundation problem, history of a fire, active knob and tube throughout a home, indications of an underground oil tank contaminating soil, aluminum wiring throughout a home, polybutylene piping throughout a home, a large-scale termite issue, extensive renovations that are subpar, and so on and so on. I could name many singular problems that I have stories of that result in costs of over 100k in repairs. I would say more commonly found in older homes, but any house could have a problem that is a big deal and is expensive to fix. We all know this happens, but I find myself surprised how frequently it does happens. In any case, it makes the list and can certainly be a game changer for a new buyer.

               Reason Two: The house is generally in disrepair. The distinction here is there is no need for any one singular issue. Many old homes may involve an older person passing away or a house that became unaffordable for its owner and in situations like these it seems to take time to hit a breaking point. Many old homes go through years and years of neglect prior to being sold. Many homes are in general disrepair meaning they have a long list of repairs needed, many of them substantial. For example, a typical home that needs a lot of work may need a roof, all new decks, windows and skylights, a new heating system, a new water heater, all new insulation, all new electrical, all new plumbing, new exterior landscaping, a new kitchen, bathroom renovations and so on. These are common problems but will add up to well over 100k worth of expense and when pointed out during an inspection may change a buyer’s view of a property.

Reason Three: There are conditions that are significantly unsafe. Most people don’t really spend much time looking at their home and thinking about safety. If people did have safety in mind, they may also lack the understanding of how all the home’s systems work together and can create unsafe conditions. When I think of safety, I think of the obvious stuff. For example, unsafe electrical work, deck and stair issues, chimney and venting issues, heating or water heating systems, gas leaks and other problems. There are also many less obvious things like mold issues, combustion air issues, high radon levels, or even plumbing related problems that can be just as dangerous but much harder to detect. In a perfect world everyone would have their house fully inspected by a professional annually…but that never happens. The bare minimum in my mind is having a professional inspector in to review your house when you purchase and its pretty horrifying to think about that being skipped entirely. Many inspection reports have 50+ safety concerns that get identified and the good news is even if you waive your inspection, you can at least address this one with a home inspection after you buy.

Reason Four: You need some general home knowledge. Many new buyers know little about their home. As the new generation becomes less and less DIY, the knowledge of maintaining a home by yourself disappears. The trades groups are shrinking, and most millennials understand the importance of hiring a competent contractor and are less likely to fix things themselves. A home inspection can be a fantastic way to get to know your house. This is hugely important in my mind because of several reasons. You should know what systems are in your home and generally a little about how they work. For example, understanding how to shut something off in an emergency can save your life. Additionally, many contractors out there are going to do things substandard. A little knowledge can help you identify someone who is doing things right or wrong even if you’re not an expert. The relationship with a home inspector should be a life long one and it never hurts to have your own expert to reach out to as you tackle homeownership. Getting general knowledge can also be solved with a post purchase inspection even if you can’t get an inspection prior to owning a home.

Reason Five: because some areas of the home will never be otherwise entered. A home inspection that was recently completed uncovered the fact that nobody even knew there was a crawlspace. Part of a home inspection is to document limitations and go where nobody else will go. Opening electrical panel covers, going in crawlspaces, climbing into tight attic spaces, or even saying what we are not doing provides clients with important information. I try and get wherever I can because areas like inside the electrical panel or hard to get into locations tend to be where most of the problems are. Walking through finished rooms and places people spend most of their time gives you very little insight into the condition of a property. Home Inspectors recommending sewer scope inspections, lead inspections, air quality investigations, asbestos testing and other limitations also results in significant insights into a property. Some who make the decision to waive an inspection don’t even realize the depth of what they are not looking into, and a home inspector can help with that.  

These are just a few obvious thoughts that came to mind. There are numerous other considerations like negotiation or when you go to sell what repercussions will come up from overlooked items, but we can’t discuss all the potential risks. These are what I consider the most obvious and they are a good starting point for an inexperienced buyer. As always, talking to a home inspector about the potential risks is often the most prudent approach.

Thermal Imaging – How It Can Help You Understand Your Home

About your home from Jameson at Another Level Home
Inspection LLC

If you have a thermal camera, you can see what others can’t.
Thermal imaging is an emerging technology for numerous professions. While the
technology has been around for a long time, it is only in recent history that
it became affordable for many professionals. In my industry, many home
inspectors are adopting thermal cameras as part of their normal practice. While
becoming more prevalent, it is important for everyone to understand the
advantages and limitations of this technology.

Let’s start by talking about how thermal can help. Thermal
cameras see heat. More specifically, radiation heat is the only type of heat
they can see. Visually seeing the temperature of surfaces can help to identify
abnormal temperatures. Abnormal temperatures can be caused by all sorts of
things including moisture issues, insulation issues, electrical problems, pest
issues, and heating system issues to name a few. There are also various other
applications in almost every industry. The main benefit is that you can see
temperature and therefore can identify things not visible to the naked eye.

Before we get too excited, there are some things to be aware
of when it comes to thermal imaging. Infrared cameras CANNOT see through walls.
Infrared cameras also don’t see air or measure air temperature. They can’t see
through glass or water. They do not need any light to function. If you are in a
pitch-black room, pointing your camera at the wall, the only thing you can see
is the temperature of the paint on that wall. This is important to understand
because the function of a thermal camera is limited by these abilities.

So, we have gone into this subject technically, but what
does it all mean? First off, the technology has numerous applications and can
have an amazing benefit. If you have a unique moisture problem or want to check
your house to identify unknown issues this is a great technology. Secondly,
this technology is complicated, and you hear many stories about walls being opened
to repair issues that are not there. If you want any thermal scanning done on
your home, it’s important to hire a certified professional. If you are
considering using this technology, I highly recommend you learn about it prior
to picking up a thermal camera. I am a Certified Residential Thermographer, a
great option if you are thinking about learning thermal for applications in
residential homes. There are other certifications like a Level 1 or Level 2
thermographer which may be better for commercial applications as they focus
more on the scientific applications of thermal imaging.

As always, I am happy to discuss how and where to get
thermal training or assist with any thermal investigations or thermal scanning
of residential properties. When applied correctly this technology is a great
resource to identify more issues and do so more efficiently.



Three reasons why winter is the best time to test your home for radon.

Photo By Jameson Malgeri

About your home from Jameson at Another Level Home Inspection LLC

Did you know that regardless of what type of home you have or if you already have a radon mitigation system, the EPA suggests testing the radon level every two years? If you are like most people, you considered a test when purchasing a property and haven’t thought about it since. The EPA suggests testing EVERY home for radon. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US with an EPA predicted result of 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year. Testing for radon has recently become more popular in the US and people who have been in their homes for a long time may never have tested. One in four homes in Massachusetts has an unsafe level of radon and from my experience in testing many homes on Cape Ann there is a much higher percentage in this area. If you haven’t tested your home, it’s an easy choice to have a test completed to keep you family safe and prevent having to find out later when selling your home and paying for a system then. This begs the question, when is the best time to complete a test? The answer is now during winter! Let’s discuss some of the reasons why.

First off, the winter is the time that the EPA and other environmental authorities recommend testing. Heat plays a role in the radon level of your home and several factors impact how your home behaves. Radon enters the home because your house is like a vacuum. We are venting out of kitchens and baths; the stack effect and other related building science principles result in different pressure zones. A neutral pressure is typically in the middle of the house while a positive pressure is in the attic and negative pressure in the basement. In other words, your basement pulls in air from the soils, ground water, and gasses and this is how much of the radon enters the home. So, what does this all mean for testing? It means the highest level of a pressure difference is going to be in the winter due to heat rising. In fact, the EPA suggests retesting if your initial test was completed during the summer. “Test between November 1 and March 31. Radon levels are typically higher in the winter. Re-test your home if your first test was in summer.”* Testing now saves the cost of a second test if completed during the summer.

Beyond accuracy, another advantage to doing a radon test now is the availability of Radon professionals. As previously stated most testing occurs because of a real estate transaction. The winter happens to be a slower time of year for real estate so that means Radon testing contractors and Radon mitigation contractors are more responsive, more available and may offer reduced pricing. On a side note, we offer testing services but do not do mitigation. It is our feeling that the people who do the testing should remain independent of the mitigation contractors.

The last reason to test during the winter is because following testing protocols are much easier for the occupants. When testing for radon we want all the doors and windows closed leading up to and throughout the test. This is challenging on a hot breezy day, but you are probably doing this anyhow during the winter. Normal coming and going is fine so you can still use your home as you normally would in the winter. The only time this seems to be a hardship is at times of the year that you would love to have you windows open because houses can get very stuffy keeping everything buttoned up for 60 hours minimum under some circumstances.

When you add all these factors up it makes sense to test this time of year. The only drawback is the potential for winter storms which can typically be scheduled around easily. My recommendation is don’t wait. If not now, when? The last thing I want for my clients is for them to skip out on a test. If the radon is high, they may end up being exposed to it for years and not saving any money when they end up buying a system for the future owner when they go to sell.


Having Safer Holidays

About your home from Jameson at Another Level Home Inspection LLC

Boiler with significant backdrafting/rollout

The holidays bring many exciting events and things to look forward to with family and friends. As a home inspector, this is also the time of year that certain issues tend to be at their greatest frequency. Weather is getting colder, systems for heating are getting their first use of the season, and appliances for cooking are getting the most use of the year. We run across more venting, exhaust, and gas leakage issues now than any other time of year. There are many aspects of these systems that can result in an issue, but here are a couple tips to improve safety.

               Get your heating system and any combustion appliances serviced: We come across improperly vented boilers, furnaces, water heaters, and all other appliances regularly. I find it alarming the frequency I find improperly installed equipment. We also find birds’ nests or other obstructions that cause improper drafting when the units are first utilized again. Prior to use, having the equipment serviced to ensure proper function is a great way to be proactive. You should also have chimneys and flues swept and inspected annually.

               Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors: You probably don’t test them enough, but consider this the perfect time to evaluate them. You can get information from your town on the requirements for your smoke and CO system. Keep in mind that this is the minimum requirement, and you can consider other appropriate locations and/or make upgrades – like adding hardwired smoke alarms and upgrading the sensor type. I would recommend doing some research about what type of smoke alarms are the safest. There is some startling information on the difference between photoelectric and ionization alarms and the deaths related to each type. Both are allowed, but the performance is drastically different.  You should check batteries, age of the detector, and anything else that will impact performance.

               Know what you’re venting: With impending snow, you should evaluate and take note of anything venting out of your house. Make a checklist of all your appliances that are vented on the interior and note every vent and chimney visible on the exterior. First off, this will help you confirm everything is vented to the outside, secondly you can see if there are any obvious issues with vents – such as damage or obstruction(s).  As a rule, every vent should be 12 inches above the expected snowfall height, if not more. Keep any low vents clear of snow and check regularly throughout the winter. I recommend evaluating every vent and making sure it is installed per manufacturer’s recommendations and repairing any issues now. Some appliances like gas dryers may not be on your radar for potential safety concerns and these units are frequently improperly installed and blocked by snow.

               Trust your senses and investigate any potential issues: Natural gas typically has a chemical called mercaptan to give it a distinctive odor. The smell has rotten egg or hydrogen sulfide like odor. A perfectly performing gas appliance exhaust has no smell, however there is a detectable odor for many appliances, and I often experience a headache with most considerable venting issues I come across. One advantage to oil is the exhaust is detectable and you will typically smell the exhaust if an issue is present. If you smell gas or detect a potential combustion issue don’t dismiss it. I run across numerous gas leaks every year. I have heard many times a homeowner say they’ve noticed an odor, but their heating technician didn’t find an issue. If you think there is a leak or issue, there probably is and you should take immediate action. National Grid has information on their website on what to do in the event of a gas leak.

Ventilation cooking areas: If your stove is running all day, ventilate the area. Many homes do not have hood vents, even with gas appliances present. Your gas stove is a combustion appliance and even though it has less exhaust, it still creates a byproduct. Find a way to ensure your lungs are not the only thing venting the appliance.

There are many more components we could talk about – as getting the exhaust out of your home is a complex issue. The main goal is to be aware of these potential issues and to be as proactive as possible. Unfortunately, these appliances will result in deaths every year and these problems will always be around. Make sure your home is safe and spend a little extra time getting ready for winter.

Aftermath of high winds – Checking your home

About your home from Jameson at Another Level Home Inspection LLC

Chimney Drone Photo

*Picture from drone of missing rain cap and resulting damage

Given the recent weather we have had on Cape Ann, I thought it would be an appropriate time to discuss some of the things you can look for around your home. Whenever an unusually powerful storm comes through it’s a great time to check areas you may not normally pay attention to and make sure no repairs are needed. Here are some general areas to focus on.

Roofing – It’s not often you spend a few minutes really looking at your roof. You should check roof shingles, flashings, skylights and pay particular attention to where roofing starts, stops, and changes directions. Many roofs, even newer roofs are installed in a way where shingles do not properly adhere to one another or even lift making them very vulnerable to damage.

Gutters and Downspouts – Check for obvious issues like separation and pulling away. You should also visually check the gutters during the next heavy rain to check for leaking seams or other drainage issues. Most issues are obvious, but even a minor issue can cause water to end up around the foundation risking seepage into your basement.

Electrical Service – You may not be an electrical expert but visually looking at the electrical service is still a good idea. There is an attachment point with the home that can pull away, a splice connection where wires can separate, and tree branches often contact the service and need to be removed or pruned away. If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t, and you can have a professional look at it.

Siding and Trim – We see many homes with siding and trim coverings missing, hanging off, or on the ground. Wind-driven rain can also help you identify leaks that only occur under certain circumstances.

Chimneys – Regardless of chimney type a visual check is a great idea after a storm. If your home has a rain cap to keep water and birds out (hopefully it does) this is typically the first thing to come off with high winds. Checking for missing bricks or damage to your chimney crown is also a good idea. Check flashings at the base of the chimney to see if they are lifting, damaged, or loose.

Attic\Interior Of Exterior Walls – A little confusing to write, but essentially you want to check all areas of the exterior envelope from the inside for leakage or damage. If you haven’t been up in the attic in a while after a storm is a great time.

Windows and Skylights – Check for leakage, broken glass, and other damage. Staining between the layers of glass may indicate thermal seal failures. Windows that are noisy during a storm may be drafty and high winds are a good time to check windows from the interior.

Trees and Branches – It may not seem obvious but many times a tree will lose a branch and it will be trapped in the other branches temporarily. Best to remove this debris prior to the next storm.

There are many more areas depending on the home, but this is a great starting list. Many homes in this area can all be observed visually from the ground. If any of these areas are out of your comfort zone to look at, consider hiring a professional. We recommend hiring a professional for anything posing a safety risk or involving a ladder. While we walk some roof surfaces during a home inspection there are other options like flying a drone for roof surfaces that are unsafe to walk. We use drones frequently and they are great at identifying problems. If you have any questions about damage to your home or how to look for it, we are happy to help!

Polybutylene Piping – What is it?

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Polybutylene piping (PB) is plastic piping that was used as a plumbing supply pipe from 1978 to 1995. The supply piping in the home is used to bring water into the house and supply the various fixtures such as water heaters and other appliances that utilize potable water. We still use plastic piping today, most commonly in the form of cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) or chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC). So why haven’t you heard about PB? It was used in up to 10 million homes, primarily in the sunbelt area of the country, and manufacturing was ceased in 1996 after numerous claims of failure.

So why would I want to know more about it? Home inspectors rarely come across PB in our area, but we do find it occasionally. PB piping can be identified in a few ways. It is typically grey in color and used for supply piping or heat piping and is not part of the drain/waste/vent system. It is often labeled “PB2110”. Many more common issues like lead water mains are frequently discussed because they were present much more often. PB piping on the other hand is rarely found and when we do identify it in homes, the parties involved frequently have little or no knowledge about its presence or potential for failure. While rare, I have personally found it present in the north shore area, so it has been used here.

So, what if I do find it? If you do own a home with it present, you should be concerned. The problem is a failure, and it is notorious for failures at pipe connections and even in the piping itself in some areas. The other issue is when it is used, it’s often used in large portions of the home. If all the water piping present is PB piping you can have a large potential for failure. While some inspectors claim that failure typically would have happened already if it was going to happen, I have only seen this material with numerous poor connections and corroded areas and failure has appeared imminent. My recommendation is to replace all PB piping present. The cost of replacement is a better option than the high risk of expense if a failure did occur.

Fall Foliage Videos and Photos

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Taking a week off from posting about Home Inspections to appreciate the beauty of fall. When I am not doing home inspections I enjoy photography and videography with my drone. Here is some footage from this fall. Enjoy!

Here is a link to the video! (only work on some platforms)

Easy Fixes Around Your Home That Are Frequent Problems

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As a home inspector in Gloucester, I spend a lot of time looking for things that are wrong. Some things that come up on a home inspection are strange, alarming, or unusual, but most issues are simple. Here are just a few small things that are almost always wrong and are easy to correct.

Gutter Issues – Most homes have gutters, but it seems the majority of houses gather the water and dump it out right next to the foundation. Downspouts should terminate at least 6 feet away from the foundation. Making simple repairs like extending downspouts away from the foundation can reduce the moisture level in the basement. A 1000 sq ft roof can result in 623 gallons of water with 1” or rain, so about 150 gallons will end up next to the foundation per downspout if it terminates next to it.

Missing GFCI’s – a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) measures electrical current and will turn off the power when “leakage” of current occurs. A GFCI will trip and the risk of being severely shocked or electrocuted is greatly reduced. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), electrocutions are down 83 percent since the 1970s when GFCIs were introduced, so they significantly improve the safety of a home and are a small job for an electrician to install.

Grading Issues – You may not think too much about your mulch beds or the soil around your house, but it can create big issues. Soil in contact with the siding or trim of your home is a very conducive condition to having pest problems. When we see siding buried in soil, we make a note to check these areas on the interior for insect activity and rot. Termites, for example, live in the ground and eat the wood, so this is low-hanging fruit for termite activity. Improperly sloped grading is also a problem as it can result in significant moisture issues in the basement.

Insulation/Ventilation/Air Sealing – Air leaks get very little attention in most homes and insulation and ventilation are often present but poorly designed. The more heat you have in your attic in winter conditions, the higher likelihood of ice damming, mold, and other moisture issues your home will have. While contractors will often recommend replacing the roof which has an ice damming issue, the underlying cause is easier to deal with. You can also call Mass Save for a free energy audit and if eligible you may be able to have these problems resolved at a reduced cost.

Dryer Venting – Clothes dryers are a large source of fires every year and there are many common installation issues. The vent hoods are often found low to the exterior grade where they can be blocked by snow, clogged, or stuck in the open position. Vent piping is often poor material and not installed/supported properly. These issues can pose a safety concern, particularly if you have a gas appliance as it is also venting combustion products. These issues are usually easy to fix.

These are just a few examples; there are many others including my last blog about preventing water damage and all the suggested improvement there If you wonder if these ideas apply to you, chances are they probably do. The vast majority of homes have improvements that could be made in these areas.