Category Archives: Home Inspection

Honesty

In this election year we have been besieged with troubling allegations of dishonesty and corruption at the highest levels of government. We have become all too familiar and acceptant of the low standards commonly attributed to politicians.

At Independent Home Inspection honesty is job number one. I report things only as they are without the exaggeration we so often encounter.

Even new homes have some defects. All defects can be fixed. My pledge to you is to simply present them honestly for your evaluation. You will then be in a better position to decide how to proceed.

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Garage Door Safety

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You may not have given your garage door much thought lately. You press a button and it opens, another and it closes. Have you ever lost power to your door and had to open it by hand? Do you know how to do that?

Your garage door could be quite heavy. Older overhead doors were made entirely of wood. Newer doors are usually aluminum or fiberglass.

There will be a way to disconnect your overhead door from the opening apparatus so you can open it manually. This is usually a short cord and handle hanging from the track about half way to the door. pulling it disengages the door chain or cable and the door is then free to be raised.

Overhead door remote operation should be checked occasionally to ensure safe operation. The ‘electric eye’ operation to prevent door closure is fairly obvious. Recommended height for this beam is 4-6 inches off the floor. Too low and it may shine under your car and allow operation when you are only partially in the garage.

Less obvious is the automatic reversing feature required of overhead doors. This will reverse the door when it strikes an object while descending. This will not prevent damage or injury but will prevent entrapment of the object or person.

The Garage Door Manufacturers Association recommends testing the reverse function with a 2×4 laid across the door opening. Adjustment is usually a simple operation, consult the manufacturers manual for detailed specific information.
Children should be cautioned or forbidden as necessary to prevent dangerous overhead door operation.

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Smoke Alarms

The idea behind smoke alarms is fairly simple. If you are alerted by the smoke before he flame reaches your location, you will have more time to escape.

Multiple smoke alarms that can signal each other can alert you even before the smoke reaches your location. These new alarms are ‘interconnected.’ This can be done either with an actual wire or with a dedicated RF (radio frequency) signal.

Many of the homes with fatal home fires were found to have smoke alarms with dead batteries. Either the batteries were simply to weak to operate the alarm or had been removed in anticipation of replacement and simply forgotten.

To resolve this problem newer smoke alarms are supplied with ten year batteries and can be hardwired to the homes electrical system.

Hardwiring and interconnection is a code requirement of new construction in most areas. This presents far more time to get your family safely away from the house in the event that becomes necessary.

A licensing requirement for Baltimore County rental properties requires hardwired and interconnected smoke alarms regardless of the age of the property. Since many of these properties will be retrofitted for smoke alarms the wiring requirement becomes much simpler by the use of ‘radio linked’ alarms.

Combination alarms that detect carbon monoxide (CO) gases as well as smoke are available to accommodate homes that require them. Interconnection provides the same advantage of time as do the smoke alarms.

Don’t become a statistic. Install a smoke alarm if your home does not already have one. Become familiar with how it works and how to test and service it.ymf-151

Montgomery County Radon Law

Montgomery County Bill 31-15 will take effect on October 1st of this year requiring radon testing for certain residential Real Estate transactions.

In an article published last fall the ‘Bethesda Beat’ discusses some of the ramifications of this bill.

The article erroneously suggests, however, that radon test kits can be had for as little as $15-25 at hardware and lumber stores. Had the authors taken the time to actually read the instructions with these kits, they would have known that an additional $50-75 fee is necessary to submit these kits to a lab by mail.

For a Real Estate transaction the time required to test and mail the kits may not accommodate the settlement schedule. Radon Testing for a Real Estate transaction will require a minimum two day (48 hour) short term test. A professional Radon Testing company, like myself, can provide results the same day that testing concludes.

Bob Kenney
Independent Home Inspection

Are You Winterized?

My Grandfather and then my father seemed like they wore sweaters pretty much all year as they got older.  You could say they were ‘winterized,’ but that’s not what I’m asking.

As a youngster growing up in a non-air conditioned house, winterized meant the screens were taken off the windows and the storm windows were installed.  The furnace was serviced and the boiler lit.  If you’re a home owner already the term “winterized’ may mean something similar to you.

My concern as a home inspector though deals with those homes that have had their electricity and water turned off to save money during an extended vacancy.  Usually bank owned properties.

On more than one occasion I have scheduled an inspection for a client only to find out that the home has been ‘winterized.’  Hopefully I can find this out before the scheduled time has arrived and the inspection can be postponed until such time as the utilities have been restored.

A Home Inspector simply cannot perform a thorough inspection without running water or electricity.  Toilets can’t be flushed, faucets cannot be operated to check for proper water flow, and with nothing to drain… well you can’t very well check for proper drainage or leaks.

No electricity, no heat, hence the reason the water was turned off to start with; to prevent the pipes from freezing. So now the Home Inspector can’t check outlets, switches, light fixtures, appliances, garage door openers…the list goes on.  Wouldn’t you like to know if your heat or air conditioning actually operates?  We forget how much we depend on the daily convenience of all these things.

Despite all the precautions taken to prevent pipe freezing when the electricity is turned off (typically an anti-freeze is added to the water remaining in the pipes), a house I was contracted to inspect recently suffered broken pipes when the water was restored.  The necessary repairs created over a month of delay before a home inspection could be performed.

Now you know the reason a Home Inspector will not turn on the utilities in a ‘winterized’ home.  It is the seller’s responsibility to insure utilities are turned on at the time of inspection and make any repairs should damage occur.

Inspecting a house without these items, well. . .it’s not really inspecting a house!

Bob

Carbon Monoxide in your home?

Many of us are familiar with the poisonous fumes of automobile exhaust as carbon monoxide. One carbon atom joined to one oxygen atom its molecular abbreviation is easily recognized as the letters CO.

Now before we go too far it’s important to recognize that CO is a colorless, odorless gas. Completely invisible it is not to be confused with the visible water vapor or oil smoke associated with car exhaust. Just as important is the fact that CO is a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Any combustion, so this includes any fuel burning device or appliance in your home.

Fuels that are most often burned inside the home are heating oil, natural gas, propane, wood, and some years ago coal.

The most obvious appliance to burn any fuel is the home furnace or boiler and if you heat your home with wood then a wood stove or fireplace. Gas cooking ranges and ovens can be fueled either by natural gas or propane as can be your water heater which might alternately be fueled by oil.

Did you know that your gas dryer’s combustion exhaust is vented through the same four inch duct as the moist air? It is essential here to use a metal foil duct.

For the most part all of these devices are vented through a chimney in some way to the outdoors. A negative pressure in the home or an equipment malfunction (flue damage) can occur which does not allow the combustion gasses from these appliances to vent properly. Should this happen a working CO detector can save your families’ life.

The place to put your CO detector is in the hallway outside the bedrooms or one in each bedroom. Yes, I know the furnace is not in your bedroom, but the time when you are most susceptible to CO poisoning will be when you are asleep. While you are asleep your air handler will distribute the CO, should any occur, to the various bedrooms. This might happen in either a heating or cooling situation, you will want the earliest possible alarm so you can move your family to fresh air (outside) and call someone to correct the problem.

Take a moment this evening to consider your homes fuel burning appliances. Install a CO detector, readily available at all the lumber outlets, outside of the sleeping areas for your families’ protection.

Visit me at: http://www.IndependentHomeInspectionMD.com for more information on this and other safety items in the home.

Building Codes

Building codes represent minimum safe standards of design and construction required by a local municipality. Differences in code from one location to another reflect the varying needs and demographics of each area.

As a home inspector my concern for building codes is not for their enforcement, but rather the safety standards they represent. As a home buyer you will want to insure that your family is protected by the most current safety standards.

Housing needs have changed over the years as technologies and materials have changed. In the post WWII building boom no one could have anticipated the vast array of electrical appliances we enjoy today. As a result houses built during those years, current in their time, no longer have a sufficient quantity or style of electrical outlets. Heating systems and insulation that was adequate when fuel was cheap are no longer satisfactory today. Building codes change to reflect the changing needs of modern homeowners.

Many of these systems are invisible to the average home-buyer. Investigating and calling out these disparities is what a good home inspection is all about. It provides a benchmark for comfortable and economical ownership.

No, we don’t enforce building codes, but you will want your family to benefit from current accepted safety standards and the local building codes provide just that reference.