Friday, April 5, 2019

What to Look for When Buying a House

Veteran Home Inspections was asked to contribute to this article on Redfin:
What to Look for When Buying a House
If you’ve ever been to an open house or toured a home then you’ve most likely marveled at different home layouts, lamented over beautifully designed kitchens or critiqued the color choice in the bathrooms. But beyond the veneer that makes a house shine to potential home buyers, have you ever wondered what could be lying below the surface?
Is the home you’re touring actually in good shape or are there hidden issues that only a trained eye can spot? Here’s your chance to learn what to look for when buying a house so you too can begin touring homes like a professional home inspector.
Inspecting the driveway
All parts of the home need to work in unison and that includes your driveway. When entering a driveway you’ll want to look at its surface conditions, levelness, and the areas around the driveway.
Walk the entire driveway, noting any deterioration, cracking, heaving or settling. Driveways are known to crack over time but the reasons behind these cracks can vary, such as:
  • Improper compaction of the soil prior to pouring the concrete.
  • Trees near the driveway can cause heaving if their roots grow underneath the concrete.
  • A slope in the driveway can cause rainwater to settle, causing it to erode the supporting dirt below.
  • Deterioration of any wood used in the pouring of the driveway may leave a gap that can both become a tripping hazard and a means of moisture entering the fissure, causing more damage.
Scot Baker
Inspecting the living room
When inspecting the living room, use three passes to look at everything.
On the first pass, walk the floor in a circle and look for any signs of the floor moving or shifting, water damage, or any damage to the floor itself.
During the second pass, check out the ceiling by walking around the room again. Check for water stains and any cracks that could indicate a structural problem. Also, check out any air conditioning vents to see if they are clean, as dust or other debris around these vents may signal a lack of maintenance.
On your third pass, look only at the walls, keeping an eye out for cracks or separations between the walls, the ceiling, or the fireplace that could be another indication of a structural problem. Look at the electrical outlets to make sure they are clean (not painted) and don’t show any indications of smoke or burn marks. And don’t forget to check all of the light switches and ceiling fans to make sure they work.
David Selman
Inspecting the fireplace
Fireplaces can be an attractive focal point in many homes. It’s a place where family and friends get together to relax and warm themselves during the cold winter months. That’s why when touring a home you’ll want to know if that fireplace with a great mantle is a winner, or if it will be in need of repair.
First, you’ll want to inspect the exterior of the chimney by looking for any structural issues around the foundation, as well as the chimney case, crown, flue and cap (if installed). Whether it’s around the foundation, firebox area, or chimney case you should make a note of any signs of cracks as these indicate some deterioration. These cracks could have occurred from normal settling of a home, movement from past earthquakes, or the deterioration could have been caused by years of moisture seeping into these cracks, resulting in more damage. Most of the time these areas can be repaired by a mason.
Inspection of the chimney crown, flue and cap usually means a trip up to the roof, which during a home tour you most likely won’t do. If you decide to make an offer on the house, your home inspector will look for any damage to these areas to make sure dangerous carbon monoxide or moisture is not reentering the home.
Inside the home, you’ll want to inspect the fireplace for signs of cracked or damaged mortar and brickwork. Your home inspector will go one step further by inspecting the fireplace throat and determine if it has a proper sized hearth and that the mantel is secured properly.
Mike Phegley
Inspecting fire and carbon monoxide detectors
In a newly constructed home, smoke detectors should be installed inside each bedroom and in the adjoining area outside the bedroom door (such as a hallway). Newer homes are required to have smoke detectors wired into the electrical system with battery back-ups. They should be interconnected so that activation of one alarm sets off all alarms. In older homes, at least one smoke detector is required per floor, including basements, and should be within 21 feet of each bedroom.
Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are highly recommended for homes with gas appliances such as stoves, hot water heaters, furnaces, and when the home has an attached garage. They should be installed on each floor of the home and within 15 feet of all bedrooms.
After you buy a home, it is a good idea to test the smoke and CO detectors every 2-3 months to ensure functionality. You’ll also want to replace your batteries regularly and it is recommended that you replace your devices after 10 years.
Ryan Sorensen
Inspecting the kitchen
A good idea for prospective homeowners attending an open house or touring a home privately is to look under the kitchen sink, which can actually tell you a lot about the overall condition of a house.
If you see a well-kept cabinet under the sink, it’s usually a good reflection about the upkeep of the rest of the home. In fact, if you see water damage or possible mold under the kitchen sink, it usually means the rest of the house is in disrepair. Of course, this doesn’t always hold true but more often than not, it’s a great barometer of the house as a whole.
When touring a home like a home inspector, the kitchen is obviously a major component since they are unique in regards to the volume of items that can have issues.
During a typical inspection, home inspectors usually operate all installed appliances such as the dishwasher, range/oven, microwave, vent hood, disposal, and sink. They also note issues with the countertops, cabinets and drawers, R/O systems, compactors, and built-in refrigerators (if any).
Liz O’Neall
Inspecting bathrooms
In each bathroom, you will want to turn on all the lights and the bathroom fan. If there isn’t a fan, make sure you take note because if you end up buying the house you’ll need to open a window every time you shower. Also, you’ll want to check and make sure there is a heat/air conditioning vent.
Next, look for water stains around the toilet, the bathtub/shower, and especially under the sink. You’ll also want to make sure the toilet is secure. Start by straddling it and then using your knees see if the toilet rocks or moves.
Look at any glass within five feet of the shower or bath and make sure there is a tempered stamp etched in the corner. Do the same for the shower doors as well if they are glass. You’ll also want to check for water damage around windows of the shower enclosure. Then make sure the shower head pipes and faucets don’t wiggle.
Check for an electrical outlet within thirty inches of each sink and that they are 3-prong (grounded). One of the bathrooms should have a GFCI electrical outlet. You can easily spot it as it’s the outlet with the two buttons in the middle.
Finally, look at the ceiling, walls, and floors to make sure there isn’t any damage. If the bathrooms are on an upper level, go downstairs and look for water stains or patches on the ceiling under the bathrooms.
Michael Marlow
Inspecting bedrooms
Houses with bedrooms that are too small, too few or on the wrong floor can make a great house dysfunctional for your needs. Luckily, when it comes to inspecting, bedrooms are easy for most homebuyers to evaluate for themselves.
You’ll want to note the number of windows each bedroom has. Something that most people do not realize is that building codes do not require a bedroom to have a closet, so make sure to see if each bedroom has one.
Bedrooms also require several important features and security measures, such as a smoke alarm, an emergency escape/rescue opening (such as a window or door), heat, and some means of light and ventilation. The condition of the bedroom will often be indicative of the overall condition of the house as damaged and scratched doors, stained walls and carpets, and dirty ductwork can indicate a poorly maintained home. Consider the heating and cooling system for each room and note any bedrooms above garages as with older houses these can be less comfortable.
Dylan Chalk
Inspecting the basement
The basement may not be the place you seek out first on a home tour. However, basements can offer great extra space in a home that you can potentially use as extra bedrooms, a family room or playroom, or storage area.
If the basement is unfinished and insulation is not covering the foundation walls, then you have a great opportunity to view the foundation wall for signs of structural concerns.  While minor concrete cracking is somewhat typical, larger cracks and, in particular, horizontal cracks, can be an indication of structural movement.
A white powder-like substance called efflorescence, can be an indication of poor drainage around the home and possibly a grading or gutter issue. Your nose is one of the best tools for inspecting a basement. If things smell musty or damp, this can also be an indication of moisture concerns.
Lastly, look around for signs of any unwanted insects or rodents who tend to make their way into a home through the basement. Droppings could indicate a pest concern.
George Scott
Inspecting the garage
When entering the garage make sure all light switches work. Though you most likely won’t check electrical outlets during a home tour, your home inspector will do it for you during the home inspection and report any that are not working.
You’ll want to check the walls and ceiling to see if they are fully sheetrocked. Sheetrock provides a fire barrier to your home when properly installed.Also, make sure that the access point to the attic also has a sheetrock cover; if it’s just plywood this would be a breach in the fire barrier.
Test the garage doors and the wall mounted remote as well. Look at the condition of the springs, tracks, and rollers of the garage door. Do they appear to be in good condition? Your home inspector will go further by testing all remotes, the laser eye barrier, and reverse sensor to make sure it meets minimal resistance.
Look at the garage floor, also known as the garage slab. Slight cracks are pretty common, but you should take note if you see excessive cracks or settlement.
Clinton Betchan
Below are things you won’t typically see during a home tour. However, your home inspector will certainly look into these areas of the house during a home inspection.
Inspecting the HVAC
One of the largest systems in the home, the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems (HVAC), require periodic maintenance to ensure they run properly for years. Neglected and dirty HVAC equipment is the main reason for system failures. Though you most likely won’t inspect these systems, here’s an overview of what’s involved during an inspection:
  • Visual inspection of each component of the system if it is accessible.
  • Check for loose connections, leaking gas lines, worn out components, and damaged coolant lines.
  • Inspect the heat exchanger and evaporator coils to ensure they are clean and in good condition.
  • Listen for hard starts, irregular combustion, and worn out bearings.
  • Check for clogs in the condensate line and verify there is a proper discharge location.
  • Check the filter to ensure it has been changed regularly.
The average gas furnace lasts 15-25 years, the heat pump about 12-20 years, and standalone AC 12-15 years. An annual inspection is a small investment to protect your HVAC system. It’s a good idea to maintain your HVAC system biannually in the spring for air-conditioning units and the fall for furnaces. To improve efficiency, use a small portable vacuum to remove any dust buildup on the system and the air-conditioning coils.
Grant Waller
Inspecting water heater
You probably won’t personally inspect the water heater during an open house, however, you can count on your home inspector to:
  • Visually inspect the surfaces of the tank and plumbing lines for signs of leakage and overall condition.
  • Verify proper earthquake strapping—one strap on the top third of the tank, one strap on the lower third.
  • If it’s a gas water heater, the home inspector will inspect the fuel supply piping, ensure a proper sediment trap is present, check the length and type of the flexible fuel supply hose, and look at the burner and venting from the water heater.
  • If it’s an electric water heater, they will ensure the electrical supply is protected in the conduit, check for a ground wire attachment on top of the tank, and ensure the element covers are present and properly secured.
  • Inspect the Temperature Pressure Relief (TPR) valve and ensure proper material, routing, and termination of the discharge piping.
  • Evaluate for vehicle impact if in a garage – typically, a bollard (post) should be present in case the water heater is in the path of a vehicle.
  • Look at the area around the tank checking for past leaks, ensure the tank is sitting on a stable base.
  • Refer to the manufacturer’s identification label for size, age, and capacity of the tank.
 Matt Fellman
Inspecting the home’s exterior
When approaching the home, take a look at the roof ridge to make sure it is level and not sagging. This will give you a clue that the house itself is not sinking and the walls are not spreading. It can also give you a feel for the solidity of the roof support.
Look at the grounds around the home and make sure the soil is sloped away from the home and that gutters, downspouts, and downspout extensions are present and in good shape. This is especially important if the home has a basement as it helps prevent water intrusion into the basement and to protect the integrity of the foundation.
Walk around the home observing the condition of the siding, eaves, fascia, and soffits.  Look for wood rot, termite damage, and water staining, as well as carefully examine caulking and flashings.  Look for deteriorated or missing caulk and flashings especially around windows, doors, butt joints, and siding transitions.  These simple observations can save some huge expenses down the road.
Michael Stanford
Inspecting the Landscape Irrigation (sprinkler) System
On a home tour, take note if the property has an irrigation sprinkler system, as many homes have these types of systems to water the lawn. Though you probably won’t be able to test it, your home inspector will inspect the irrigation system controller along with each sprinkler zone.
Any broken sprinkler heads and leaks found will be noted, and the backflow valve will be visually inspected for damage.  The findings of the inspection will be included in your home inspection report along with photos of each zone during operation.
Danny Smith
Inspecting fences
Inspecting the fence of a residence is extremely important as it provides for the safety and security of a home. During a home tour, you’ll first want to note what material the fence is made of (most commonly treated wood) and then see if there is any indication of rot, damage, and other signs of deterioration.
The home inspector will also look for those same things but then test the amount of resistance the fence can withstand and what type of code may need to be applied. Once those items have been identified, the inspector is notified about the property line to ensure they are inspecting the proper fencing for the specific property. Next, the inspector will then assess whether the standard expectations associated with the fence have been applied, including:
  • 4×4 posts should be at least 2 feet in the ground and they should be 6 to 8 feet from each other depending upon the crossbar and planks being used.
  • Concrete used to hold each post in place should be 3 times the width of the 4×4 posts.
  • The crossbar should be a 2×4 if being used with the standard 4×4 posts.
  • Each post should be perfectly vertical or plumb.
  • The proper industry standard brackets need to be used to secure the cross beams to the posts.
  • Any insect damage will be carefully identified.
Only if all of these standards are identified with the fence in mind can the inspector be sure that the fence is meeting code and will provide safety and security for the homeowners.
James Beck JR
Inspecting decks
Decks can be a great asset, especially during the summertime, but also they may have hidden hazards. Often times, they were added to a home by do-it-yourselfers who had good intentions but may not have used safe construction methods.
During a home tour, pay particular attention to how decks attach to the home, which is usually done with a ledger or starter board. A pro will use ½” lag bolts with washers in a staggered pattern to attach this board. They also will protect the ledger with flashing to stop water infiltration. If there is no flashing water will weaken and rot the ledger over time, possibly finding its way into the home and causing hidden pockets of rot and mold.
Railings also get extra scrutiny at inspection.  Did you know that railings need to resist 200 pounds of force at any point along their length? Always look at a deck with safety in mind. If someone stumbles at your next BBQ, the railing needs to prevent them from going over the edge.
There are many considerations when it comes to deck construction and all decks should be professionally inspected and regularly maintained.
Steve Nadeau
Inspecting retaining walls
Retaining walls are used to hold back earth and landscaping and are typically made of poured-in-place concrete and then backfilled. You want to make sure these walls are perfectly plumb (vertical) without any leaning away from the retained earth.
This rule also applies to basement foundation walls as well. Besides the retaining wall being plumb, there should not be any significant cracks. Small fractures are typical but any differential movement on either side of the crack may be of concern.
If there is a crack, see if it is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, which would indicate one portion of the wall is sinking in relation to the other. If one part of the wall is sticking out in relation to the other side of the crack, that is a concern as well. Sometimes these walls can be lifted back into position or pulled back towards the earth but this generally requires excavation and added structural support.
Joe Konopacki
Inspecting the roof
Each type of roofing has a different life expectancy. However, the variables of installation, exposure, attic venting, and maintenance are what determine the actual life of each roof.
Roof inspection begins in the attic by checking for water staining, leaks, damaged roof members, and evaluating the available venting. Heat and moisture build up quickly in improperly vented attics and shorten the lifespan of the roof.
An accurate assessment of the roof condition can only be determined from closely examining the surface of the roofing. Inspectors will look to determine the number of roof layers, such as multiple layers of roofing hold more heat which causes more wear. Once on the roof, we evaluate the surface of the roofing, flashing, and roof transitions. We also evaluate roof penetrations (skylights, vents, chimneys) and note conditions like overhanging trees that can damage the roofing.
Chad Sulloway
Inspecting the foundation
The most important part of any home, foundations are primarily built with stone, brick, concrete or block. A home inspector will inspect the foundation for any damage that can affect the integrity of the house.
When inspecting the foundation the inspector looks at both the exterior and interior for cracks, deterioration, and other environmental factors. Most foundation damage is the result of water infiltration such as a missing gutter system, which can result in water entering cracks and crevices of the foundation and then, in the colder winter months, freezing, resulting in damage due to hydrostatic pressure.
Type, size, and location of cracks in the foundation are very important to note. Any cracks in the foundation should be monitored over time for movement and water penetration. Shrinkage and settlement cracks are common in most homes, as are hairline cracks in foundations. V-Shape cracks are something to be concerned about as these could be evidence of structural settlement. Depending upon the size and location, these cracks generally require further evaluation, especially those greater than 3/16 of an inch.
Thomas Herbst
Inspecting crawl spaces
Every part of the country has their own unwanted pests, so when inspecting the crawl space be aware that you might not be alone. As such, a strong flashlight and keen eyesight are required.
The most important system in the crawl space is the foundation. There are several types of foundations, each with their own unique components and possible problems. Regardless of which type of foundation the home has, look for loose material (stone, bricks, etc..), bulging walls, excessive settling, sagging, moisture intrusion, and how the building structure is secured.
Ventilation and moisture control are another key factor. Is a vapor barrier required in your area? Is there sufficient vent area for outside air to displace the moisture? Dryer vents should never end in the crawl space, and HVAC ducts should be supported and insulated. In colder climates, the floor should be well insulated from underneath.
Plumbing components in the crawl space should not only be inspected for leaks but also for proper supports, hangers, and insulation. Some crawl spaces have a sump pump to remove excess water and these should be inspected as well.
Electrical connections and terminations must be contained in sealed junction boxes and often, mechanical systems are found in the crawl space and require inspection.
Steven Von Ehrenkrook
Source: Redfin

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Fire Separation Doors from the House to the Garage

I’d like everyone to take a minute to think about two potentially very dangerous situations.  Both of them have to do with your garage.  If your garage is attached to your house, you should have a door between them.  The door needs to be able to withstand a fire in the garage, as well as help keep deadly gasses from seeping through (like Carbon Monoxide).  Because of these threats, the door must meet some very specific requirements.  These are addressed in the International Residential Code:
“R302.5.1 Opening protection. Openings from a private garage directly into a room used for sleeping purposes shall not be permitted. Other openings between the garage and residence shall be equipped with solid wood doors not less than 1-3/8 inches (35 mm) in thickness, solid or honeycomb-core steel doors not less than 1-3/8 inches (35 mm) thick, or 20-minute fire-rated doors, equipped with a selfclosing device.”
Fire resistance:  The door must be able to withstand a fire in the garage long enough for you to get out of the house.  Preferably long enough for the fire department to get there and extinguish the fire.  One of the most common defects I find in my area is that the door isn’t thick enough.  The common practice here is to use a solid wood door, which would normally be fine.  However, a flat panel door doesn’t seem to fit in the decor of all the houses here, so most often I see 6-panel doors.  These doors are about 1-5/8″ – 1-3/4″ thick, but if you measure the thickness at the recesses in the door, it’s less than 1-3/8″.  These doors do not meet the stated requirement, and should be replaced with a door that does.
Self-Closing:  This requirement is there for one purpose, to make sure the door is fully closed so that it can do its job.  It can’t keep fire and carbon monoxide out of the house if it’s open.  The way the requirement is written, a lot of people read it that a self-closing device is only required on 20-minute fire-rated doors.  The confusion comes about because of the oxford comma before the last requirement.  I reached out to the International Code Council (the group that writes the International Residential Code) for clarification, and they replied: “The self-closing device is a requirement for all the types of doors mentioned in Section R302.5.1”
So, please take a minute and go check the door to your garage.  If it looks like the door in this picture, you probably have an improper door.  Also make sure that the self-closing devices reliably close the door to the point the latch catches.  If not, have them adjusted.  Your safety could depend on it.
Improper Fire Door
Improper Fire Door
Of course this is just one of the many things we inspect during our comprehensive home inspection.  To book your inspection, call 210-202-1974, or click here to book online.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI)

We frequently get asked what the difference is between AFCI and GFCI protection is.  Here is a short post about AFCIs, describing their function, as well as their importance.

Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are special types of electrical receptacles or outlets and circuit breakers designed to detect and respond to potentially dangerous electrical arcs in home branch wiring.

How do they work?
AFCIs function by monitoring the electrical waveform and promptly opening (interrupting) the circuit they serve if they detect changes in the wave pattern that are characteristic of a dangerous arc. They also must be capable of distinguishing safe, normal arcs, such as those created when a switch is turned on or a plug is pulled from a receptacle, from arcs that can cause fires. An AFCI can detect, recognize, and respond to very small changes in wave pattern.

What is an arc?
When an electric current crosses an air gap from an energized component to a grounded component, it produces a glowing plasma discharge known as an arc. For example, a bolt of lightening is a very large, powerful arc that crosses an atmospheric gap from an electrically charged cloud to the ground or another cloud. Just as lightning can cause fires, arcs produced by domestic wiring are capable of producing high levels of heat that can ignite their surroundings and lead to structure fires.

According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency for the year 2005, electrical fires damaged approximately 20,900 homes, killed 500 people, and cost $862 million in property damage. Although short-circuits and overloads account for many of these fires, arcs are responsible for the majority and are undetectable by traditional (non-AFCI) circuit breakers.

Where are arcs likely to form?
Arcs can form where wires are improperly installed or when insulation becomes damaged. In older homes, wire insulation tends to crystallize as it ages, becoming brittle and prone to cracking and chipping. Damaged insulation exposes the current-carrying wire to its surroundings, increasing the chances that an arc may occur.

Situations in which arcs may be created:

  • electrical cords damaged by vacuum cleaners or trapped beneath furniture or doors.
  • damage to wire insulation from nails or screws driven through walls.
  • appliance cords damaged by heat, natural aging, kinking, impact or over-extension.
  • spillage of liquid.
  • loose connections in outlets, switches and light fixtures.
Where are AFCIs required?
Locations in which AFCIs are required depend on the building codes adopted by their jurisdiction.

The 2006 International Residential Code (IRC) requires that AFCIs be installed within bedrooms in the following manner:
E3802.12 Arc-Fault Protection of Bedroom Outlets. All branch circuits that supply120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-amp outlets installed in bedrooms shall be protected by a combination-type or branch/feeder-type arc-fault circuit interrupter installed to provide protection of the entire branch circuit.
Exception: The location of the arc-fault circuit interrupter shall be permitted to be at other than the origination of the branch circuit, provided that:
  1. The arc-fault circuit interrupter is installed within 6 feet of the branch circuit overcurrent device as measured along the branch circuit conductors, and
  2. The circuit conductors between the branch circuit overcurrent device and the arc-fault circuit interrupter are installed in a metal raceway or a cable with metallic sheath.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) offers the following guidelines concerning AFCI placement within bedrooms:
Dwelling Units. All 120-volt, single phase, 15- and 20-ampere branch circuits supplying outlets installed in dwelling unit in family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, sun rooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, or similar rooms or areas shall be protected by a listed arc-fault circuit interrupter, combination-type installed to provide protection of the branch circuit.
What types of AFCIs are available?
AFCIs are available as circuit breakers for installation in the electrical distribution panel, as well as replacement receptacles to add protection on household circuits.. 
Nuisance Tripping
An AFCI might activate in situations that are not dangerous and create needless power shortages. This can be particularly annoying when an AFCI stalls power to a freezer or refrigerator, allowing its contents to spoil. There are a few procedures an electrical contractor can perform in order to reduce potential “nuisance tripping," such as:
  • Check that the load power wire, panel neutral wire and load neutral wire are properly connected.
  • Check wiring to ensure that there are no shared neutral connections.
  • Check the junction box and fixture connections to ensure that the neutral conductor does not contact a grounded conductor.
Arc Faults vs. Ground Faults
It is important to distinguish AFCI devices from Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) devices. GFCIs detect ground faults, which occur when current leaks from a hot (ungrounded) conductor to a grounded object as a result of a short-circuit. This situation can be hazardous when a person unintentionally becomes the current’s path to the ground. GFCIs function by constantly monitoring the current flow between hot and neutral (grounding) conductors, and activate when they sense a difference of 5 milliamps or more. Thus, GFCIs are intended to prevent personal injury due to electric shock, while AFCIs prevent personal injury and property damage due to structure fires.
 
In summary, AFCIs are designed to detect small arcs of electricity before they have a chance to lead to a structure fire. 


Now, before you go further, go to your electric panel, and make sure you have AFCI breakers.  Push the test button on each one, and make sure it trips and you can reset it.  If it doesn't trip, or you can't reset it, call an electrician to have it replaced.  Make sure you test these breakers monthly.

To schedule your comprehensive home inspection (which of course includes an electrical inspection) either on a new home, or a home you already own, call 210-202-1974 or click here.

by Nick Gromicko, Mike Marlow and Kenton Shepard

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Garage Doors

Garage doors are large, spring-supported doors. Garage door openers control the opening and closing of garage doors, either through a wall-mounted switch or a radio transmitter. Due to the strain that garage door components and openers regularly endure, they may become defective over time and need to be fixed or replaced. Defective components may create safety hazards as well as functional deficiencies to the garage door assembly.
 
The following facts demonstrate the dangers posed by garage doors:
  • Garage doors are typically among the heaviest moving objects in the home and are held under high tension.
  • Injuries caused by garage doors account for approximately 20,000 emergency room visits annually, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • The majority of the injuries caused by garage doors are the result of pinched fingers, although severe injuries and deaths due to entrapment occur as well. Sixty children have been killed since 1982 as a result of garage doors that did not automatically reverse upon contact.
Home owners should not attempt to fix any garage door defects they may encounter. They should have the door examined and repaired by a trained garage door technician. The following components should be present and devoid of defects:
 
  • manual (emergency) release handle. All garage doors should be equipped with this device, which will detach the door from the door opener when activated. It is vital during emergency situations, such as when a person becomes trapped beneath the door or when a power outage cuts electricity to the door opener. Periodically activate the handle to make sure that it works, although they will have to reset the handle if it does not reset automatically. In order for the handle to be accessible and obvious, it must be…
  1. colored red;
  2. easily distinguishable from rest of the garage opener system; and
  3. no more than 6 feet above the standing surface.
  • door panels. Both sides of the door should be examined for the following:
  1. fatigue;
  2. cracking and dents. Aluminum doors are especially vulnerable to denting; and
  3. separation of materials.
  • warning labels. The following four warning labels should be present on or around garage door assemblies:
  1. a spring warning label, attached to the spring assembly;
  2. a general warning label, attached to the back of the door panel;
  3. a warning label attached to the wall in the vicinity of the wall control button, and;
  4. a tension warning label, attached to garage door’s bottom bracket.
  • brackets and roller shafts.
    1. Brackets. The garage door opener is connected to the garage door by a bracket that is essential to the function of the door opener system. Placement of the bracket where it attaches to the door is crucial to the operation of its safety features. It should attach 3 to 6 inches from the top of the door. This bracket, as well as all other brackets, should be securely attached to their surfaces.
    2. Roller shafts. Roller shafts should be longer on the top and bottom rollers. The top rollers are the most important. Without longer shafts, if one side of the door hangs up, the door may fall out of the opening.
  • door operation. The door’s operation can be tested by raising the door manually, grasping the door’s handles if it has them. You can then make sure that the door:
    1. moves freely;
    2. does not open or close too quickly; and
    3. opens and closes without difficulty.
Note:  Do not operate the door until you have inspected the track mounts and bracing. Doors have been known to fall on people and cars when they were operated with tracks that were not securely attached and supported.
  • extension spring containment cables. Older garage doors may use extension springs to counter-balance the weight of the door. These require a containment cable inside the spring to prevent broken parts from being propelled around the garage if the spring snaps. Most new garages use shaft-mounted torsion springs that do not require containment cables.
  • wall-mounted switch. This device must be present and positioned as high as is practical above the standing surface (at least five feet as measured from the bottom of the switch) so that children do not gain access.
In addition, the button must:
  1.    be mounted in clear view of the garage door; and
  2.    be mounted away from moving parts.
Important note:  You should always make sure to disable the manual lock on the garage door before activating the switch.
  • automatic reverse system. As of 1991, garage doors are required to be equipped with a mechanism that automatically reverses the door if it comes in contact with an object. It is important that the door reverses direction and opens completely, rather than merely halting. If a garage door fails this test, get it repaired. A dial on the garage door opener controls the amount of pressure required to trigger the door to reverse. This dial can be adjusted by a qualified garage door technician if necessary.
Methods for testing the automatic reverse system:
  1. This safety feature can be tested by grasping the base of the garage door as it closes and applying upward resistance. Use caution while performing this test because you may accidentally damage its components if the door does not reverse course.
  2. Some sources recommend placing a 2x4 piece of wood on the ground beneath the door, although there have been instances where this testing method has damaged the door or door opener components.
  • supplemental automatic reverse system. Garage doors manufactured in the U.S. after 1992 must be equipped with photoelectric sensors or a door edge sensor.
    1. Photoelectric eyes. These eyes (also known as photoelectric sensors) are located at the base of each side of the garage door and emit and detect beams of light. If this beam is broken, it will cause the door to immediately reverse direction and open. For safety reasons, photo sensors must be installed a maximum of 6 inches above the standing surface.
    2. Door edge sensors. This device is a pressure-sensitive strip installed at the base of the garage door. If it senses pressure from an object while the door is closing, it will cause the door to reverse. Door edge sensors are not as common in garage door systems as photoelectric eyes.
 
Safety Advice for Home Owners:
  • Homeowners should not attempt to adjust or repair springs themselves. The springs are held under extremely high tension and can snap suddenly and forcefully, causing serious or fatal injury.
  • No one should stand or walk beneath a garage door while it is in motion. Adults should set an example for children and teach them about garage door safety. Children should not be permitted to operate the garage door opener push button and should be warned against touching any of the door’s moving parts.
  • Fingers and hands should be kept away from pulleys, hinges and springs, and the intersection points between door panels. Closing doors can very easily crush body parts that get between them.
  • The automatic reversal system may need to be adjusted for cold temperatures, since the flexibility of the springs is affected by temperature. This adjustment can be made from a dial on the garage door opener, which should be changed only by a trained garage door technician.
In summary, garage doors and their openers can be hazardous if certain components are missing or defective. Inspectors should understand these dangers and be prepared to offer useful safety tips to their clients.
Inspecting the garage door and installed openers is just one of the many things we inspect during a Veteran Home Inspection.  To schedule your inspection, call 210-202-1974 or book online at www.vhillc.com.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Dryer Vent Safety

One of the most common issues we note during home inspections is with dryer ducts.  For what appears to be a simple system, there are some very important intricacies that have to be followed to make sure they are safe.
Clothes dryers evaporate the water from wet clothing by blowing hot air past them while they tumble inside a spinning drum. Heat is provided by an electrical heating element or gas burner. Some heavy garment loads can contain more than a gallon of water which, during the drying process, will become airborne water vapor and leave the dryer and home through an exhaust duct (more commonly known as a dryer vent).
A vent that exhausts moist air to the home's exterior has a number of requirements:
  1. It should be connected. The connection is usually behind the dryer but may be beneath it. Look carefully to make sure it’s actually connected.
  2. It should not be restricted. Dryer vents are often made from flexible plastic or metal duct, which may be easily kinked or crushed where they exit the dryer and enter the wall or floor. This is often a problem since dryers tend to be tucked away into small areas with little room to work. Vent elbows are available which is designed to turn 90° in a limited space without restricting the flow of exhaust air. Restrictions should be noted in the inspector's report. Airflow restrictions are a potential fire hazard.
  3. One of the reasons that restrictions are a potential fire hazard is that, along with water vapor evaporated out of wet clothes, the exhaust stream carries lint – highly flammable particles of clothing made of cotton and polyester. Lint can accumulate in an exhaust duct, reducing the dryer’s ability to expel heated water vapor, which then accumulates as heat energy within the machine. As the dryer overheats, mechanical failures can trigger sparks, which can cause lint trapped in the dryer vent to burst into flames. This condition can cause the whole house to burst into flames. Fires generally originate within the dryer but spread by escaping through the ventilation duct, incinerating trapped lint, and following its path into the building wall.
InterNACHI believes that house fires caused by dryers are far more common than are generally believed, a fact that can be appreciated upon reviewing statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency. Fires caused by dryers in 2005 were responsible for approximately 13,775 house fires, 418 injuries, 15 deaths, and $196 million in property damage. Most of these incidents occur in residences and are the result of improper lint cleanup and maintenance. Fortunately, these fires are very easy to prevent.
The recommendations outlined below reflect International Residential Code (IRC) SECTION M1502 CLOTHES DRYER EXHAUST guidelines:
M1502.5 Duct construction.
Exhaust ducts shall be constructed of minimum 0.016-inch-thick (0.4 mm) rigid metal ducts, having smooth interior surfaces, with joints running in the direction of air flow. Exhaust ducts shall not be connected with sheet-metal screws or fastening means which extend into the duct.
This means that the flexible, ribbed vents used in the past should no longer be used. They should be noted as a potential fire hazard if observed during an inspection.
M1502.6 Duct length.
The maximum length of a clothes dryer exhaust duct shall not exceed 25 feet (7,620 mm) from the dryer location to the wall or roof termination. The maximum length of the duct shall be reduced 2.5 feet (762 mm) for each 45-degree (0.8 rad) bend, and 5 feet (1,524 mm) for each 90-degree (1.6 rad) bend. The maximum length of the exhaust duct does not include the transition duct.
This means that vents should also be as straight as possible and cannot be longer than 25 feet. Any 90-degree turns in the vent reduce this 25-foot number by 5 feet, since these turns restrict airflow.
A couple of exceptions exist:
  1. The IRC will defer to the manufacturer’s instruction, so if the manufacturer’s recommendation permits a longer exhaust vent, that’s acceptable. An inspector probably won’t have the manufacturer’s recommendations, and even if they do, confirming compliance with them exceeds the scope of a General Home Inspection.
  2. The IRC will allow large radius bends to be installed to reduce restrictions at turns, but confirming compliance requires performing engineering calculation in accordance with the ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook, which definitely lies beyond the scope of a General Home Inspection.
M1502.2 Duct termination.
Exhaust ducts shall terminate on the outside of the building or shall be in accordance with the dryer manufacturer’s installation instructions. Exhaust ducts shall terminate not less than 3 feet (914 mm) in any direction from openings into buildings. Exhaust duct terminations shall be equipped with a backdraft damper. Screens shall not be installed at the duct termination.
We see many dryer vents terminate in crawlspaces or attics where they deposit moisture, which can encourage the growth of mold, wood decay, or other material problems. Sometimes they will terminate just beneath attic ventilators. This is a defective installation. They must terminate at the exterior and away from a door or window. Also, screens may be present at the duct termination and can accumulate lint and will be noted as improper.
M1502.3 Duct size.
The diameter of the exhaust duct shall be as required by the clothes dryer’s listing and the manufacturer’s installation instructions.
Look for the exhaust duct size on the data plate.
M1502.4 Transition ducts.
Transition ducts shall not be concealed within construction. Flexible transition ducts used to connect the dryer to the exhaust duct system shall be limited to single lengths not to exceed 8 feet (2438 mm), and shall be listed and labeled in accordance with UL 2158A.
Required support for lengthy ducts is covered by the following section:
M1502.4.2 Duct installation.Exhaust ducts shall be supported at intervals not to exceed 12 feet (3,658 mm) and shall be secured in place. The insert end of the duct shall extend into the adjoining duct or fitting in the direction of airflow. Exhaust duct joints shall be sealed in accordance with Section M1601.4.1 and shall be mechanically fastened. Ducts shall not be joined with screws or similar fasteners that protrude more than 1/8-inch (3.2 mm) into the inside of the duct.
In general, we may not know specific manufacturer’s recommendations or local applicable codes and will not be able to confirm the dryer vent's compliance to them, but will be able to point out issues that may need to be corrected.

To schedule your home inspection, visit www.vhillc.com or call 210-202-1974
by Nick Gromicko, Mike Marlow, and Kenton Shepard