Category Archives: Home Safety

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.

Baltimore City Rental Licensing

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Baltimore City Rental Inspections

The long awaited Baltimore City Rental Inspection form has arrived. Along with it have been constant phone calls and endless emails as landlords and inspectors alike try to determine the easiest path through this inspection mess.

It’s obvious to me, and I’m sure my colleagues will agree, that no Home Inspectors were consulted when the Baltimore City Rental Inspection criteria was finalized.

I’m not going to waste any words about what’s right with the inspection sheet. It’s been long overdue, but the three pages of inspection items show that the City took little notice of its County neighbor whose successful inspection program has been running for the last 10 years with a single page.

One of the first oversights made by the city is simply that the properties involved are mostly occupied. Furnished homes provide obstacles to any Home Inspection as many areas are obscured by furnishings. Home Inspectors do not move furniture and tenants will have a legitimate concern that their property may be damaged during the inspection should that be necessary.

Some of the inspection items are vague and do not provide a standard. Home Inspectors are not ‘Code’ inspectors nor are they supposed to be. The City needs to specify the requirements for a ‘pass’ when needed.

All told the inspection sheet is a big ‘FAIL’ by itself.  A landlord with no inspection background should be able to decipher what’s needed and make his/her property ready for inspection.  Otherwise a great many landlords will be paying for TWO inspections.

The ultimate cost of inspections will be borne by the renter. While the intent may be to make Baltimore housing healthier and safer, the poor, who can barely make ends meet now, may just find themselves poorer as a result of these inspections.

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.

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

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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

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Danger of CSST

¬¬¬¬There has been a good deal of concern lately about a material called CSST. The letters stand for Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing. The name accurately describes what it is, but its use for natural gas (or propane) lines in your home may not be so obvious.

Gas is traditionally piped through the house with ‘black pipe.’ This is a steel pipe that is not galvanized and must be threaded to accommodate junctions and elbows. The threading is an arduous time consuming process done on the job site.

CSST was developed to be flexible and can be run to appliances throughout the house without multiple threaded junctions. Ends are terminated with suitable threaded connectors that are easily installed. The product greatly simplifies gas plumbing in new homes.

The ‘danger’ occurs when lightning energizes a CSST line and arcs to an adjacent grounded metal surface. The arc readily punctures the thin walls of the CSST and ignites the gas now leaking out of the puncture.

Bear in mind that direct lightning strikes can severely damage a home with or without CSST. Certain geographical areas of the US are more prone to lightning storms, and seasonal prevalence of lightning varies across the country.

Proper installation of CSST requires ‘bonding’ (create an electrical path) the CSST to the homes electrical ground. The intended purpose of bonding is to prevent the CSST from becoming the lightnings electrical path by diverting the energy to ground.

Maryland law requires a statement in a home inspection report to suggest that only a licensed Master Electrician can verify a properly bonded CSST system.

While this is certainly good advice, it bears mentioning that proven fires caused by CSST represent a fraction of one percent of all the current installations. To date no class action lawsuits against CSST manufacturers have been successful in proving their case.

One reputable law firm on the internet advises that, “Since August 2011, it has been reported that at least 140 fires involving lightning and CSST have occurred across the United States.” Continued reading on this site reveals that there are more than six million homes across the United States that are equipped with CSST. You do the math.

There is no question that CSST should be properly installed and bonded, but don’t let its presence scare you away from a perfectly good home.

Independent Home Inspection 410-504-3751

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.

Water Heaters

We expect hot water when we turn the tap handle and have become so accustomed to it that we rarely think about it. In essence it is just another convenience readily taken for granted.

Many of us have seen a recent television commercial depicting a water heater explosion. Although humorous in content and oriented towards loss recovery rather than prevention few of us have considered the real threat of a water heater explosion. It does happen!

The physics of such an event are easy enough to understand. When water is heated it expands. When it is contained pressure increases proportionately with heat. When pressure exceeds the containment vessel ratings; BOOM!

The optimum temperature of a water heater is 120 degrees. This temperature has been tested and recommended to prevent scalding. When properly adjusted a water heater will regulate the heating element to maintain this desired temperature. Note: Water heaters that supply home heat may have higher temperatures and should be supplied with tempering valves to prevent scalding at fixtures.

The first clue you may have to a water heater problem may be a noticeable increase in the temperature of the water. A higher temperature means higher water pressure inside the water heater tank and should be corrected.

An essential safety component of your water heater is the temperature pressure relief valve (TPR). Located at the top of your water heater, where the water is hottest, it is designed to release the hot water in the event that the temperature or pressure exceeds a predetermined safe level (typically 150 psi and 210 degrees F). Proper installation requires that the TPR discharge be directed through a pipe toward the floor and no more than 6 inches from the floor to prevent hazardous discharge.

By now you can see that a number of things must happen together to create an explosion. This can and does happen however, and your awareness should give you a new understanding of the need for qualified service when problems arise.

Independent Home Inspection examines water heater components, age and installation during your Home Inspection. Call for more information. 410-504-3751

visit me at http://www.IndependentHomeInspectionMD.com