Preparing For The Spring Market

What To Know About Home Inspections Before You Shop

Spring is just around the corner and once the weather gets nice a real estate shift typically happens fast. Buying a home is an emotional process and many experienced agents will tell you to make as many decisions upfront as possible. Make sure you have a plan and are not making judgment calls in the heat of the moment. I would argue selecting an experienced real estate agent who really cares for your best interest is the most important first step you can take. That being said I am a home inspector so for this article I am going to focus on understanding more about how inspections and your personal plan for the inspection process.

Expect Pressure

One thing that will happen for sure is there will be some level of pressure to sweeten your offer by going no inspection. Today’s market is competitive, and your realtor is going to mention your options. Of course, one of them will be to remove or limit contingencies. Even if your realtor is not necessarily recommending it, they will likely discuss it, and in many situations, it will be accompanied by information about other offers and them potentially waiving as well. I can tell you that we see situations when people waived inspection and it worked out ok, and other situations where it went badly. I am heavily biased so I won’t offer advice on waiving or not, but I will say every buyer in today’s market should expect some level of pressure to make that decision.

Pre-Offer/Walkthrough Inspection

Many people have heard about inspections happening before their offer is made. Most people like the idea of having a home inspector just check things out so they can feel better about waiving their inspections. This is a complicated topic. According to the Massachusetts Board of Licensed Home inspectors, any type of consultation like this “pursuant to the sale” of a property constitutes a home inspection. Therefore, the standards of practice for a home inspector need to be followed. There are home inspectors doing 45-minute “walk and talks” without any reports which in my opinion is a clear violation of the standards of practice. If your home inspector doesn’t follow the regs you have to ask,” will their insurance still apply?”, and “how will I prove he missed something?”, “Should I feel reassured from this inspection?”. I think these are valid questions and I and other inspectors offer an alternative. We simply do a proper inspection prior to the offer being made. You still get an actual inspection and all we need is a little longer access to the property. Some sellers don’t want to know about additional issues because they don’t want to have to disclose them. Realtors often have to agree not to share the findings to get sellers to agree to these types of inspections.

Traditional Inspections

A traditional inspection is still the best option and due to the rise in rates is becoming more frequent again. A traditional inspection is a home inspection prior to purchasing a property conforming to the standards of practice for a home inspection. Typically, there is a week or so window to have an inspection completed and after the inspection you may bring in additional experts, negotiate, or take other actions based on the results. Every situation is different so you should understand the terms of your inspection contingency prior to submitting an offer by talking to your attorney, real estate agent, and preferably your home inspector of choice. There is a lot more to understand about your home inspection so you should research it prior to getting into the process.

“As is”/Informational Only Inspections

This is like a traditional home inspection, in that, it happens after an accepted offer, but before the purchase. The primary distinction is that there would be no negotiation after this inspection and depending on how it is submitted you may not have the grounds to walk away from the property based on the findings. Ultimately, negotiating over the price is not the most important part of a home inspection. The seller typically undervalues issues and if they complete repairs, they are likely to complete them as inexpensively as possible. The main purpose of a home inspection in my mind is to understand what you’re buying. If you can decide “do I want this property or not” after the inspection I am all for it. Information-only inspections are great in my mind if you can assess if the house is right for you and if you can decide if the property is right for you.

Post Sale Inspections

If you don’t get an inspection prior to buying a home, you should consider a post-sale inspection. You may be taking a financial risk by waiving your inspection, but you don’t have to live in an unsafe home. Most people would rather buy new furniture than get an inspection after purchasing, but you need to know the home is safe for your family. Time and time again clients express they wish they had known earlier and in the grand scheme of things an inspection fee is a small price to pay for piece of mind. If you are going to waive your inspection, commit to getting one immediately post-sale.

To recap,

  1. Get a great team (realtor, attorney, lender, home inspector)
  2. Make your decisions in advance
  3. Expect pressure
  4. Understand your options
  5. Stick to your plan

Call your home inspector to understand the process prior to finding a home and vet your home inspector independently. Don’t rely on whomever your agent recommends, compare and contrast all your options. Don’t stress and having seen many buyers through the process I can tell you it rarely happens fast and typically works out for the best in the long run despite all the ups and downs. Good luck!!

Jameson Malgeri

Another Level Inspection LLC

Why you don’t want a contractor doing your home inspection

If you are under the impression that this article is going to be a discussion about what knowledge a home inspector has in contrast with a contractor or builder, that will not be the focus. There are good and bad home inspectors out there, and there are good and bad contractors, but quality varies greatly on an individual basis in both cases, and I am sure many builders or contractors will have an extensive knowledge base about the many systems in a home. The construction industry has been around in some form since the beginning of time and the home inspection profession is an extremely young industry. This article is not to diminish either profession but merely to discuss some of the trends going on in the market. As a home inspector in this current market, I have seen fewer and fewer traditional inspections being performed. One of the many alternatives that I have seen on the rise is contractors being consulted about the condition of different properties sometimes as a substitute for a home inspection. When you have gone through the process of getting a home inspection business off the ground you fully realize how many moving parts and different aspects of our job there really are. These are things your average client or agent has probably given very little thought to, but in reality, are hugely important to the process.

A contractor has no clear or specific inspection agreement. One of the advantages of hiring a home inspector is they will typically have a clear inspection agreement. Most insurance companies for home inspectors require they have an agreement in writing to make the scope of the inspection clear. This is really important for the consumer because it forces everyone involved to get on the same page about what’s being inspected PRIOR to when the inspection happens. There is no fully exhaustive inspection and doing such on a home would be impossible. If we accept the fact that all inspections are limited then it’s important information for the client to understand what’s not being inspected. A home inspector has the benefit of following the standards of practice required by the state. In Massachusetts for example, inspectors inspect what the state essentially outlines in the standards of practice. This is more of a tried and true scope for the inspection that has been refined over many years. In other words, home inspectors have a general set focus and put all their training and effort into that focus. In contrast, a contractor may or may not inspect numerous components in the home. Additionally, they may not directly mention what’s NOT being inspected and they may assume the client understands they are not looking at numerous aspects of the home. This type of ambiguity is a recipe for miscommunication and missed findings.

Another thing that a contractor likely isn’t well protected from is a potential claim. The standards of practice for home inspectors specifically state you should be properly licensed to perform a consultation on a property regarding a potential purchase any time you are looking at a home pursuant to its sale. For the majority of insurance policies, you are not covered for completing acts such as performing a job without the proper license as it is illegal. It is a reasonable concern to therefore question if your contractor did miss something, would they have the insurance to cover such an error? People have bad days in the office and just in case a worst-case scenario becomes a reality, so for your protection as a home buyer, you want your inspector to be insured.

When a home inspector walks into a property, they have a routine they have likely performed hundreds of times and regardless of their knowledge level, they have an inspection process. They routinely go through homes systematically and have some sort of process for when to look, when to talk, when to take notes, and what areas to do when. A contractor, even with a significant knowledge base, has likely not done hundreds of inspections and while they may try to have a process for inspecting, it has not been fine-tuned over the years. One way newer inspectors miss things is by not having a consistent process. It doesn’t matter how much you know, if you don’t inspect an area of the home because you don’t know it’s there you are going to miss issues.

Another important part of a home inspection is the inspection report. A document answering all the questions outlined in the standards of practice helps ensure consistency in inspection quality. In Massachusetts, the report is required by law for a home inspection. You may think to yourself, “do I really need a report?” many people ask themselves this very question and often lean toward thinking they don’t actually need a report. The problem here is that it’s very short-sighted. Maybe you don’t need a report today, but what if your inspector misses something? Well fast forward a year when you live in the property and have a big issue that should have been caught, now you have no report to tell you a. what was inspected and b. what issues were found. One person’s word vs another is difficult to prove down the road and most inspections without reports are done under the understanding that there will be no future action or consequences. What’s the point in doing an inspection if the inspector has no accountability later? They have less motivation to do a fantastic job for you. I recommend only considering services with a proper report being provided. Whether it’s a contractor or even a “quickie” home inspector inspection it is not advisable without a report.

While contractors have a lot of knowledge that home inspectors don’t, home inspectors specialize in knowing a little about a lot of subjects. The variety of their knowledge is one of their best assets. Builders and contractors often know a lot about framing, structure, and other similar components, but seldom have hands-on experience with electrical, HVAC, plumbing, or some of the trades. A builder likely has more knowledge in some aspects of the home but may have little knowledge elsewhere. Home inspectors specialize in problems. They train in knowing what are the things most commonly done wrong. With a focus on problems, and always getting the perspective of how things perform over time, a home inspector specializes in this type of analysis. Home inspectors likely have less overall experience in home construction, but they spend all their time training on doing one specific task. As a comparison, if the builder brought his crew for home building, it would likely be the contractor and his electrician, his plumber, his HVAC contractor, his roofer, and potentially other tradesmen.

When you start a business as a home inspector you don’t just need technical knowledge. You need to know the issues, you need to know how to talk about them, how to handle scheduling, how to use software to write a report, how to build relationships and market yourself, how to create an inspection process to go through a property, how to communicate through the process with an agreement, phone calls, a report and a follow up with the client, what insurance to have, how to follow the laws and standards of practice for a home inspector and how not to miss anything….its a lot. While a contractor will likely give insights and great information there are many reasons they should not replace your home inspector. Many contractors attend home inspections and I always find they add value to the inspection and offer insight that home inspectors may not, such as specific costs of issues. That being said your builder can work with your home inspector but really shouldn’t be your home inspector. It’s likely illegal and generally not a great idea for you as the client.

Common Kitchen Problems – If you’re renovating your kitchen read this first

Anti Tip Bracket Warning Label From Range

About your home from Jameson at Another Level Home Inspection LLC

Kitchens are an area of the home we spend a lot of time in. As a result, they are frequently updated and with most renovations the kitchen is part of changes that take place in a home. As a home inspector, I see some areas of the home that homeowners and non-professionals are more comfortable getting involved in and the kitchen falls into this category. It is with this in mind I thought it would be a good area of the home to write an article about the things I see installed wrong routinely. Every appliance and home certainly have their own nuances and I will not cover everything. There are also some exceptions to the items discussed, but I will just focus on most homes and average appliances.

Refrigerators– Besides the obvious issues we typically come across, installation of a saddle valve is something that we see done routinely and is incorrect. If you’re not familiar with them, a saddle valve is a self-tapping valve that many stores like the big box stores provide you when you get a refrigerator with an ice maker or water dispenser. They work by boring a hole into a water pipe like driving a sharp screw into the side of the pipe. This crude connection is prone to leakage and not considered a proper plumbing connection. I made a video explaining more about these connections that can be found here:

Dishwashers – The primary thing you are installing with a dishwasher is the drain. Installation of a high loop is an important part of installing the drain and is rarely completed properly. A high loop is when you take the slack of the waste pipe from the dishwasher that typically connects to the garbage disposal or waste pipe, and you secure that slack to the underside of the counter as high as possible, so it goes above the sink and grazes the counter. We typically see the pipe just go directly into the drain connection with the slack unsupported. The problem with this design is in the event of a backup, wastewater will enter the dishwasher prior to the sink, and this can cause various issues. I also have a video explaining this issue and a proper installation shown here: A couple other issues are when dishwashers not secured properly or when the door has counterweight issues.

Garbage Disposals – Garbage disposals can be installed in a few different ways. The garbage disposal typically has a cord going into a plug or is hardwired directly. The most common issue I see, and one of the more serious concerns with appliances is, poor electrical connections. If any wire enters the cabinet that is rated for an in-wall installation, it should be protected by a conduit. I see very regularly a non-metallic Romex type wire feeding the disposer directly. This is subject to wear and is unsafe. I also see very regularly a poor connection with the disposer. There should be a clamp securing whatever wire is feeding the unit and not a wire that is unsupported and can rub against the metal edge of the disposal. You certainly don’t want a splice made outside of the disposal either. Another frequent issue is seeing a wire that is connected to a switch and live that was there for a disposal that no longer exists. Regardless of which arrangement you want, best practice is for a qualified and licensed electrician make sure it’s done right. Debris in the disposal is also common from a recent renovation, especially when a new backsplash was put in.

Oven/Ranges – While the oven and range can have various issues, the most common one is being improperly secured. More specifically an issue we run into constantly is no Anti – Tip Bracket being installed. An Anti-Tip bracket is an L shaped metal bracket that typically comes with most ranges. It is secured to the wall or floor and when the range is slid into place one of the back feet slides into the bracket. This prevents the foot from rising and in tern prevents the range from tipping forward. If you have small children like me, you know they want to climb on everything. This simple device can prevent something on the stove top from landing on them. Wall ovens are also frequently loose and pose their own hazard for falling out. Lastly, from an electrical standpoint, electric units require a 240v feed and they go to either a three or four wire feed. The four wire feed is modern and safer for reasons I won’t get into, so upgrading the feed with the kitchen is a good idea if you have an old three wire feed.

Range Hoods/Microwaves: I am going to categorize these into one category because of the common venting issues I see. There is a fan in each of these units that can typically be directed up, back or forward. We often see it pointed in the wrong direction and the air is being blown into an unintended area. Ideally you want it to vent to the exterior, rather than recirculate the air. In some cases, it’s blown into the wall or cabinet when there is no vent to the outside and in other cases it is recirculating, even when a vent to the exterior is present. You also do not want to reduce the size of the vent pipe. I see this frequently when the vent hood is undersized. One problem I run across is a vent hood was removed and replaced with a microwave. While this helps you gain counterspace, it often results in the microwave being at the wrong height. A microwave too low obstructs the range and too high is unsafe when removing hot items.

Cabinets – We see all sorts of cabinet issues, but for this article we are really focused on installation. The most common installation problem is poorly secured cabinets. Most homes have drywall screws used to secure the cabinets and they are often not properly located. Ideally you would use a structural screw that is intended to secure a cabinet and has an appropriately wider head. When properly installed there are screws in the proper locations for mounting the cabinet and they are driven into areas of the wall where studs or framing is present. Another common problem is poorly laid out cabinets that cause issues when multiple things are opened at the same time. Proper design and installation can prevent damage to these components.

While there are many problems that can occur in the kitchen area, many real estate professionals will agree these issues we see often. Keep in mind I didn’t discuss any of the finishes like floors, ceilings or walls. I also didn’t discuss plumbing issues such as fixtures or traps under the sink. While I discussed some electrical components, I could have discussed outlets, GFCI’s and AFCI’s. Frankly, there are many things I omitted, but I did so to focus on the items a homeowner may install themselves because they’re at a higher frequency of having a problem. Hopefully this will help future DIYers reduce these issues.

Do New Homes Need a Home Inspection?

The image above is a new construction home with a leaking Air Handler (with an improper pan setup) that has overflowed and buckled the flooring from the utility closet to the bedroom.

About your home from Jameson at Another Level Home Inspection LLC

A common question I get from clients is “do new homes even need to be inspected?” While the North Shore and Cape Ann have less than some areas of new homes being built, there are plenty of people who purchase newer homes. Some clients don’t even consider having a newer home inspected and many don’t even consider what issues could be identified during an inspection on a newer home. When purchasing a new home there are numerous issues that you would see on most older homes you don’t have to worry about. In addition to this many builders offer a 1-year warranty (or something similar) which does offer some level of protection. While there should be significantly less issues in a new home, we inspect new homes regularly and find all sorts of problems.

Most of the issues we find on new construction are somewhat routine. We see items that are yet to be completed, items that are optional, minor/cosmetic issues, or items that have been neglected to be considered. While there is some benefit to organizing and recording all these items this is not the primary reason for doing a new construction inspection. We typically create a punch list type list of all the issues that come up and many clients find this very helpful to have a punch list of anything they need to confirm gets completed or discuss with their builder. I see this type of information as an added benefit to having a home inspected but not the core reason.

Reason One: Structural Issues
The first reason I recommend a new construction inspection is for structural problems. While a home inspector is not an engineer they will go through a new home and look for obvious issues. Some examples of things that have come up during my own inspections are missing columns, cut/altered framing as contractors are roughing plumbing, heating and electrical, failed/defective framing, foundation issues and other problems. Take the example of the missing column, It was identified due to large gaps opening above kitchen cabinetry and investigating the potential cause. In some cases, it takes someone viewing the building holistically to identify these issues.

Reason Two: Moisture Issues
New homes are not immune to moisture problems, and I would argue that if a moisture issue does occur a tight home is much less resilient to dealing with these types of issues. I have identified numerous moisture issues in new homes and in addition to active moisture issues, water damage prevention should also be considered. Checking for pans, shutoffs and float switches under heating systems, water heaters, laundry units and other areas can help to avoid a big disaster. If this is not done when the home is constructed it is often never considered. Additionally, I have seen brand new roof, chimneys and other components fail to keep out water. Water penetration can occur when the exterior envelope is not properly constructed. In some cases, water piping or waste piping can leak when not properly installed or something gets missed. I have done inspections with brand new homes where massive water issues have already occurred and resulted in significant issues and damage. While rare, it does happen and has even stopped some clients from moving forward with their transaction.

Reason Three: Safety Issues
One benefit to an older home is people have lived in it over time and that gives the opportunity to identify problems. A new home has not been lived in and there is the potential for significant safety concerns to be present. I have inspected heating systems that are brand new, and the exhaust was never installed even thought it was in use. I have seen new electrical systems with components that were very poorly installed or partially installed leaving exposed shock hazards. I have seen new gas piping leak and even missing components allowing gas to flow openly into buildings. The best part of these safety issues is most of them are simple oversight. They are easy to fix in many cases and merely take someone to identify them to improve the safety of the home.

Reason Four: Poor Design
Some new homes are poorly designed. There could be a poorly designed section of the roof where water is being pitched toward the building, heating systems that will not keep the home evenly comfortable, missing or poorly designed drainage systems, plumbing components that will not perform as intended, flashings that may not work and numerous other similar issues. Fact is, regardless of if a home is old or new, many issues we see are simply things that were not designed or installed properly. As home inspectors we have the advantage of seeing how things are done in newer homes and inspecting similar components 10-20 or more years later and seeing how they held up over time. A contractor may do things consistently wrong and without a complaint from a client or municipal inspector, not even really know its an issue. A home inspection can help identify these issues prior to them causing damage.
In Conclusion: There are advantages to inspecting a new home.

While we discussed some of the things we find, I assure you there are many more. While I have an obvious bias on the subject, I think clients are frequently surprised how much comes up on a new construction inspection. They go in expecting to find virtually nothing and there is always a list of things. An inspection offers you protection, safety, and an understanding of your new home. If you get an inspection prior to purchase, it gives you more leverage in making sure you can deal with any issues that come up and could even prevent you from purchasing a home with significant problems. If you get an inspection just before your 12-month warranty runs out, you can identify issues that took some time to arise while you still have the opportunity to ask the builder to resolve them. I recommend doing both to my clients, but as always, something is better than nothing.



About your home from Jameson at Another Level Home
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.