Having Safer Holidays

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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

About your home from Jameson at Another Level Home Inspection LLC

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 https://anotherlevelinspection.com/2021/09/14/shopping-for-a-home-five-things-that-may-come-up-on-your-inspection/. 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.

Shopping for a home? Five things that may come up on your inspection

Photo by Jameson Malgeri

About your home from Jameson at Another Level Home Inspection LLC

If you’re in the market for a new home, you may very well know it’s very competitive right now. Things move fast and you need to be very strategic in order to get an offer accepted on a home. The last thing you want is to spend your time on a property that will not work out in the long term, nor do you want to spend your money on inspections that will not go well. Here are some things to consider that anyone can look for when house shopping.

Obvious Structural Problems – When you stand back and look at a home, there are many times obvious structural issues are noticeable. This happens on inspections all the time and many clients are more focused on the benefits of a home while shopping. Take the time to look for obvious clues. From across the street look at the home and look for any obvious structural settlement. Look for cracking walls, racked window or door openings, and sloped floors on the interior. Look for rotted, damaged, or altered framing in any unfinished areas. You would be surprised how obvious a structural issue can be.

Check Mechanicals – You don’t have to understand many mechanical components to get an idea of the condition. If the electrical system has messy unorganized wires or looks like it is all old it probably is. If the boiler or water heater looks ancient, they probably are. If the plumbing system has corrosion, alterations, and leakage, there are probably problems. Many clients can look at some really tidy wiring and get an overall feel for how things have been kept.

Consider Age – Buying an old home? Old homes have their advantages, but there are also things that are likely to come up that you should be aware of. Homes before 1978 have a high likelihood of lead paint or lead materials unless they have been deleaded. Homes before 1990 may have asbestos in various materials. While many asbestos products were used drastically less in the 80s, asbestos was used for practically anything that wasn’t wood, metal, or glass. Outdated wiring, outdated plumbing, and numerous other components are also typically present. The homes were also not designed to have dry basements or high-quality insulation so there are numerous concerns for moisture with modern use.

Look for Moisture Issues – Moisture problems often are visible by staining, mold, unusual coloring, or other identifiable cues. Check around windows, on exterior walls, on ceilings (particularly on the top floor). Look at staining and drainage on the exterior as they may show areas of significant moisture damage. In basements and crawlspaces use your senses. Do you smell moisture? Do you see mold staining, a flood line, dampness or staining on the floor and walls, or even efflorescence and other indications of moisture? Most homes in New England have indications of moisture and many are obvious.

What is the Design of the House? – This one is a little trickier but some design flaws are also obvious. The biggest one that comes to mind is when your house is built in a hole. If all the land slopes toward the home and all of the wood siding is in contact with the soil mother nature will take its course. Other things like complicated rooflines, roof surfaces going toward each other or toward sidewalls can also create problems. Homes built on complicated terrain often have obvious signs of related problems. The more interesting the home looks and the location is, there are usually more problems that are created. You can build any type of home properly, but a simple home is often less challenging. With poor design comes inevitable moisture problems, insect problems, building science challenges, and other problems.

With all that said, you still need a home inspection. A trained eye can catch less obvious problems, like the potential for a UST (underground oil storage tank), termite activity, electrical issues in the panel, problems that have been made less obvious. These problems can present huge costs and are missed by most. The purpose of this article is to help you spot obvious issues. It really all comes down to one thing. Putting your home inspector hat on while you tour homes and spending even just a short time looking specifically for issues is going to help you get a better feel for the overall condition of the home. Take some time to focus on just the problems and it will help you focus on the homes that are best for you and your family.

Video version https://youtu.be/s5k_iUh76bk

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Water Damage – Preventing A Leakage Disaster

About your home from Jameson at Another Level Home Inspection LLC

Most homes we inspect have minimal to no forms of water damage protection from components on the interior and leakage. To think about preventing leakage from interior components it makes the most sense to think about where the moisture is and preventing as many of the potential issues with these components as possible.

Washer Machine – A washer machine is a common source of water damage. They are often installed in upper areas of the home in or above finished spaces where leakage would result in significant damage. We recommend installing a pan under every washer. A pan alone offers minimal leak prevention, and the key is adding an automatic water shutoff in the pan. If the pan starts to fill with water, it is detected, and the water shutoff is automatically activated. Another more basic upgrade is changing out low-quality rubber hoses with stainless-steel high-quality water lines. The rubber ones often are not rated to be under constant pressure and the average person does not shut off the water after each use.

Water Heater – Just like the washer machine, a pan can be added under your water heater. Again, an automatic shutoff is the key component to prevent damage. When water heaters fail, in some cases it is in the form of leakage and may result in significant damage. We rarely see pans and shutoffs under tankless units, but I have seen them fabricated several times and they offer similar protection.

Heating Devices – Boiler systems rarely have any form of leak prevention, and a minimum of a moisture alarm is recommended. Furnace systems create moisture in the form of condensate from the exhaust system and an A/C system creates moisture from condensation created from the cooling process. Furnaces are often installed in attics and other finished areas of the home where leakage would pose a significant hazard. A pan and an automatic shutoff are required in these installations to prevent damage. These systems are often accompanied with a condensate pump to handle these forms of moisture. You want to make sure a pan is present; a float switch is present in the pan and functioning, and the pan is installed in a way where leakage would be caught. Additionally, the condensate pump should be in this pan or hardwired to the furnace to automatically shut it down if an issue occurs.

Water Supply Piping – There are obvious checks you can do to look for leakage or bad connections in your supply piping, but there are also better options. There are a variety of whole house shutoffs that will turn off all the water in the home if leakage occurs. They work in various ways, such as monitoring flow, moisture detectors you can put in various areas, and other ways. They can also prevent the need for secondary measures; for example, leakage at the laundry, although redundancy isn’t a bad thing.

Waste Piping – While waste piping is a source of leakage, you cannot automatically stop the flow for obvious reasons. You should regularly inspect waste piping for leakage. Common areas where leakage is identified is in the basement/crawlspace or ceilings below bathrooms and other areas.

Other Appliances – Appliances like the refrigerator or dishwasher may also have potential for leakage. While there is no commonly installed failsafe, best practice is to install per the manufacturers recommendation and inspect regularly. They have seals and piping connections that may leak and, in some cases, removing the kickplate and inspecting for leaks under the units can prevent a large leak by catching a small leak.

While this is not an all-inclusive list, most of these leak prevention tips are relatively easy to do and can prevent significant damage. They are also not done in many homes we inspect, so in most cases improvements can be made. Consulting a plumber is a good starting point as they are the professionals that could install much of this equipment.

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Knob & Tube – Should I Worry It’s In My Home?

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Knob & Tube

Knob & Tube is an old wiring we find in homes. It was generally installed from the 1880’s to the 1940’s. Many people have heard about this wiring, and maybe have even seen it, but may not fully understand what it is or what it means to be present in your home. The wiring was ungrounded and had a hot and neutral wire running independently. The knobs were used to change direction and the tubes would insulate the wires when going through wood and other building materials. It may seem like it’s not too dangerous, the wires are separated, and it has been in your home for typically at least a hundred years right! So, what makes it something you should worry about?

  1. It’s probably been altered. Originally the connections were soldered together. Your home has gone through many changes over the years. While the original installer may have taken great care, we often see modern Romex wiring spliced into the wiring and other very poor connections. This is not a safe practice and may lead to a fire in your home.
  2. Insulation. We love tight homes and energy efficiency in today’s world. Knob & Tube is an open-air system, meaning it is designed to dissipate heat by having space and air movement around the wires. While insulation installers typically know this, they can’t see into the walls and we constantly find Knob & Tube covered in insulation. This can lead to overheating and again fire.
  3. It’s ungrounded. A ground serves multiple purposes; it can help protect the user against shock and help trip a breaker if a fault is occurring. An ungrounded circuit poses a shock and fire hazard, especially with the larger demand we put on wiring today.
  4. It is often associated with Asbestos. Some wiring had Asbestos used in the wiring materials and we also see Knob & Tube fuse panels insulated with Asbestos. Asbestos presents its own hazards but is just another downside to this aged wiring system.
  5. IT’S VERY OLD. Typically, 100 years or older wiring can’t last forever. Yes, it’s been around a long time, but it is getting more brittle and more susceptible to fire as time goes on. It expands, contracts, gets hot, and dries out over time. I think it’s pretty fair to say it has lasted long enough and should really be replaced.

In summary, I personally don’t think this should be much of a debate. If you want one system of your home in really good shape, it’s your electrical system in my opinion. For whatever reason, aged wiring is one of the more overlooked issues with homes today and many people choose to ignore these issues. I understand it’s expensive to update or replace your electrical system but having Knob & Tube wiring can even make it difficult or not possible to get insurance from many insurance companies these days. That alone is reason enough because insurance companies do this because they know it poses a large risk.

Don’t put your family at risk by putting off the replacement of this old wiring.

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