Category Archives: Home Inspection

The Truth About Referrals

How can third party referrals that advertise as free afford those TV commercials?  Good question.

The truth is that those referral  companies charge the vendor!  That means that the plumber, carpenter or handyman that you hired from a referral company paid for your referral and will charge you more to cover his costs.

“I got several referrals at the same time and only chose one,” you say.  Well the dirty little secret is that the referral company charged each of those vendors,  whether they were chosen or not.  That means that the vendor you chose not only had to increase his rates for your referral but also for each referral he wasn’t chosen for.

Why would you want a nationally advertised company to refer a tradesman  that will need to be local to provide you service and reasonable rates?   It is just a numbers game to them.  They have no more interest in your needs than the man in the moon.  The tradesmen they refer to you will only be the ones who agreed to pay for your referral.

So now you have several  names.  Each of whom has paid for your number.  Each of whom could be reached just as easily on the internet without the middle man referral company.  Other than generate income for the referral company, what have you accomplished?  You still have to choose.

You say the referral company has ‘vetted’ each of these companies.   Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?  The truth is there is no incentive to the referral company to limit vendor participation by excluding anyone, regardless of their performance or reputation.  The more vendors that pay them the more they profit.

Several of these referral companies are engaged in class action suits with either vendors or consumers for fairly obvious performance and ethics violations.

I was taught there are no free lunches.  All costs will trickle down to the consumer.

Smoke Alarms Re-visited

There are four distinct requirements for Baltimore County Rental Inspection smoke detectors. This continues to be a topic of confusion for owners who are trying to comply with the law. Maryland code for residential properties has never been retro-active. This means that new code only applies to new construction. However, because you are re-purposing the property for rent the licensing laws in Baltimore County are in addition to and supersede the current code.

Section A of the inspection sheet details the specific requirements for smoke alarms. The first paragraph applies to all properties, while the subsequent categories define the locations for various property configurations.

The first requirement is that ALL smoke alarms in a rental property must be hardwired. That is, they are powered by the house wiring with a battery backup in case of a power failure. There are no exceptions!

The second requirement is interconnection of multiple smoke alarms. This is not to be confused with hardwiring. Interconnection of smoke alarms allows them to all respond simultaneously to smoke at a single location. Smoke that originates in the basement will set off all the alarms to alert you no matter where in the home you are. This has the advantage of allowing you more time to exit the property.

Interconnection of smoke alarms can be accomplished in two different ways. One is to simply connect a physical wire between each of the smoke alarms. This may not be practical in situations where the wire must traverse multiple floors such as a town house.

A newer method of interconnection is by radio signal. A coded signal is transmitted between smoke alarm stations by radio waves when a smoke alert is needed. Wiring is greatly simplified by this method and transmitted signals do not interfere with other devices in the home. Note that this method only accomplishes interconnection and does not replace the need to hardwire the smoke alarms for power.

The third requirement for smoke alarms in Baltimore County Rental properties is that they be less than ten years old. Testing has been done by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that shows that smoke alarm sensitivity is significantly reduced after ten years. Diminished sensitivity of smoke alarms will reduce the time you have to exit the premises and increase the risk of harmful smoke exposure or death. Smoke alarms ten years or older must be replaced.

Hardwired smoke alarms, as required by Baltimore County Rental licensing, can never be replaced by battery only alarms.

The final requirement for rental properties in Baltimore County is that all installed smoke alarms be from the same manufacturer to insure proper interconnectivity.

I hope this clarifies the Baltimore County Smoke alarm requirements. I have run into a few situations where the installer has complied with the new smoke alarm law, but not with the Baltimore County Rental regulations. Feel free to call Independent Home Inspection if you have any questions.

Maryland Smoke Alarm Law

A recent Home Inspection revealed what seems to be continuing confusion about Maryland’s new smoke alarm law. The law, passed in 2013, only took effect in January of this year. It strengthens the previous law and follows NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 72 guidelines.

Since 1975 new home construction code required installation of hardwired smoke alarms and in 1990 this was amended to require battery back-up.

The current law requires ten year batteries for installations that only require batteries (pre-1975) but require hard wired alarms be replaced with the same for hardwired installations.

The photo above shows a hard wired location and the battery only alarm that was installed as a replacement.  The new law requires replacement for ten year old alarms and the date indicates this alarm as current.  Lack of an electrical connector and the wording “SINGLE STATION” indicates that this alarm is battery operated only and not intended for interconnection which makes it unsuitable for this location.

In short you can never replace a hard-wired interconnected smoke alarm in Maryland with a battery only device.

Realtors should be aware of this and caution their clients.  It is an item that is checked on every Independent Home Inspection.

Radon Measurement

The only thing Continuous Radon Monitors (CRM) do continuously is power their timers. “Why is that?”, you say. CRM timers tell the machines when to sample for Radon. Yes, that’s right, I said, “sample.”

Some popular machines only sample once every hour, others once every half-hour. Either way the most readings your getting over a 48 hour period is 96! The average of these samples is your result.

Everyone knows that the more samples you have the better their average represents the actual quantity.

The only way to get a truly continuous result is if you have a chemical reagent that changes over time. Film and photo papers are good examples of this. Exposure to light changes them over time.

Two Radon Measurement technologies exist that do just this. Each gradually changes over time when exposed to Radon continuously. The sample is the entire 48 hour time commonly allowed of Radon measurement for Real Estate transactions.

The most consistently accurate of these two are charged electrets. An electrical charge is placed on two electrets and measured before exposure to Radon. After the exposure time is complete (48 hrs.) they are measured again. Because the charge decays in the presence of Radon, the difference in readings will accurately measure the quantity of Radon in the home.

Radon equipment should be calibrated annually. Measurement should be done in the lowest livable level of the home. If the buyer intends to finish the basement it should be done there.

Your report should tell you where in the home the measurement was taken, the final result, and the equipment calibration date. The equipment calibration date should never be more than one year from the test date. This assures you that equipment maintenance is up to date.

New Rental Requirements for Baltimore County

  Baltimore County has new regulations regarding safety equipment for your rental property. Beginning in February of this year changes have been made to the smoke alarm requirements and in April changes will take effect for the Carbon Monoxide alarms.

Hardwired interconnected smoke alarms are now required on every level of your dwelling excluding unoccupied spaces (attic, crawl, garage). This will still include basements if your home has one. Smoke alarms must all be from the same manufacturer to ensure proper operation and alarms 10 years or older must be replaced.

Beginning in April of this year Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms are now required on each level of your home if you have fuel burning devices or an attached garage. They must be audible from the sleeping areas and must have a 10 year battery.

While not required of the CO alarms, Interconnected alarms still provide the most safety by allowing more time to exit the home should that be necessary. This is easily demonstrated by CO occurring in the basement and setting off all alarms on each floor before the gasses have left the basement. Smoke and CO gasses that reach the upper floor sleeping areas before the alarm sounds may not provide adequate time to exit the premises before a fatality occurs.

Independent Home Inspection will check your alarms during inspection to make sure they comply with the new rules. As before re-inspections will be performed for no charge after the proper repairs have been made.

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National Radon Action Month – January

January is National Action Month for Radon Awareness.  Do you know the Radon levels in your home?  Do you know the effects of long term exposure to you and your children.

Independent Home Inspection is offering a 20% reduction in our fee for Radon tests with or without a home inspection.  This includes testing those homes that already have a Radon mitigation system.  Testing homes with mitigation systems installed insures their continued effectiveness at reducing Radon to safe levels.

You’re wise to check your new home for Radon before you buy. The EPA says all homes can have Radon. This includes new homes as well as older homes. No mitigation systems installed in your neighborhood may simply mean those homes haven’t been tested.

So, what results do you need to make a decision about Radon levels. The answer is simply the average concentration over the testing period. This includes short term tests, as in a Real Estate transaction, or long term tests that might be done to monitor the effectiveness of an installed mitigation system. The EPA has set 4.0 piCul as the action level for a single family home. At or above that level requires a mitigation system to reduce harmful Radon levels.

Independent Home Inspection uses an electret based Radon monitoring system to measure your homes Radon level. Electrets have an initial electrical charge that decays at a known rate in the presence of Radon. I use annually calibrated equipment to measure the electret charge before and after exposure and a computer generates the result on the basis of the measured differences.

Electret systems advantages are many. They require no power source during testing. They continuously respond to Radon exposure rather than sampling (other methods sample hourly or ½ hourly). Results do not require a lab and accurately indicate the Radon average over the testing period. In fact this method of Radon testing has been determined to be the most accurate system available today.

Independent Home Inspection is available to test your homes Radon either with a home inspection or alone. Call or text today for availability and cost: 410-504-3751

www.IndependentHomeInspectionMD.com

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.