Preventing Cracks in Masonry Walls and Foundations

Regardless of the type of cladding covering the exterior of homes, most homes’ foundations are built using a reinforcing metal structure covered by some kind of concrete or masonry.  There are many green homes and alternative building methods that use wood and other materials, but masonry foundations are the most popular.  If your home has a masonry foundation (including masonry walls), here are some things to know, especially if you notice the development of any defects, cracks, or moisture intrusion in your crawlspace or basement.

Every homeowner should occasionally check the exterior of their home’s foundation, especially if there have been severe weather or geological events, such as heavy rains, flooding, or seismic activity, or nearby construction or industrial work that creates noticeable vibration, such as roadwork, the installation of oil or gas wells or pipeline, etc.

Before looking at the exterior, it’s useful to know which walls are load-bearing and which are not. Usually, this can be done by examining the beams and joists in the basement, crawlspace or attic. Also, note whether the walls are solid masonry or masonry-cavity, non-structural brick, or stone veneer. The overall quality of the building’s construction, and often that of its neighborhood, will be a good indicator of the condition of your home’s masonry.

All exposed masonry should be inspected for the following:

  • cracking;
  • spalling, which is the chipping or flaking of concrete, bricks or other masonry when improper drainage or venting and freeze-thaw weather cycling exists;
  • bowing, which is the term used to describe vertical bulging;
  • sweeping, which is horizontal bulging;
  • leaning; and
  • mortar deterioration.

Masonry Cracks
Although masonry can deform elastically over long periods of time to accommodate small amounts of movement during freeze-thaw cycles, large movements can cause masonry cracking, which may appear along the mortar joints or through the masonry units.

Cracking can result from a variety of problems:

  • differential settlement of the foundation;
  • drying shrinkage (particularly in a concrete block foundation);
  • expansion and contraction due to ambient thermal and moisture variations;
  • improper support over door and window openings, which is the effect of freeze-thaw cycles;
  • the corrosion of iron and steel wall reinforcement;
  • differential movement between building materials;
  • the expansion of salts in the cement mixture;
  • efflorescence,  which is the white powder that forms on the surface of concrete/masonry walls as a result of water evaporation (and a cosmetic issue only); and
  • the bulging or leaning of walls.

Testing
Most common masonry wall cracks are caused by thermal or moisture expansion. Active cracks can be sealed with a flexible sealant.  Inactive cracks may be pointed, which is the process of filling joints between masonry units or bricks with mortar.  Some of this work should be undertaken by a masonry professional.

If there are evident or suspected problems, two methods of testing are sometimes useful for assessing masonry. This first test should be performed by a qualified masonry contractor.  Probe holes can be drilled through the joints or masonry units with a masonry bit and probed with a stiff wire (or a fiber optic camera) to determine a wall’s thickness and the adequacy of its mortar. The probe holes are then patched after the investigation has been completed.

A hammer test can be used to determine the structural soundness of masonry units and their bond to the mortar. In a hammer test, the masonry is tapped lightly with a hammer, and the resonance of the sound produced is evaluated. Individual bricks can be replaced and the mortar re-pointed, as damaged bricks cannot be repaired.  If re-pointing, the new mortar should be of the same composition as the existing mortar to prevent deterioration.

There may be a substantial difference in the masonry walls in buildings built during the last 40 to 50 years compared to those constructed earlier. Walls became thinner as designers began to more effectively exploit the compressive strength of masonry. This was done by using higher-strength masonry materials and mortars. But this change came at the expense of flexibility; as such, today’s masonry walls and foundations are often more brittle than their massive ancestors and, therefore, particularly susceptible to stress-induced damage.  That’s why homeowners should be vigilant with their homeowner maintenance plan by occasionally checking the condition of their home’s foundation, along with any masonry walls.

Exterior Cladding: Vinyl Siding

There are many different types of cladding or covering for the exterior of homes that give them their particular style and appeal.  Different cladding types have their own particular pros and cons, as well as maintenance issues.  Here are some facts and tips for homeowners whose homes have vinyl siding.

Homeowners, remodeling contractors and builders often choose vinyl siding as an alternative to wood and aluminum because it’s attractive, durable, easy to maintain, and cost-effective.  Vinyl siding is made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and is often textured to resemble wood or stone in a variety of colors.  Vinyl siding came into use as an exterior cladding in the late 1950s.  Today, it’s the most common choice for exterior cladding.

Advantages:

  • Vinyl siding is very durable.
  • It will last for decades when properly installed and maintained.
  • It will not fade.
  • It will not rust.
  • The outer layer contains pigment that adds color to the siding and resists breakdown from UV radiation from sunlight.  If scratched, the siding will reveal the same color as the unscratched exterior, so minor imperfections are not too noticeable.
  • As long as the siding has been properly installed, maintenance is very simple, limited mostly to spray-washing once a year or whenever necessary.

Disadvantages:

  • In extreme weather conditions, vinyl siding is susceptible to damage, as is any other type of siding.
  • In severe cold, vinyl siding can become brittle and more susceptible to cracking.
  • Extreme heat can also cause vinyl to melt or distort.  There are reported cases of sunlight reflected from nearby windows that has caused vinyl siding to warp and melt.
  • Vinyl siding is not a form of insulation—it is simply an exterior cladding.  However, some salespeople misrepresent this fact with claims that new siding will aid energy efficiency.  This is only true for siding that includes special insulating inserts or backings—not to the vinyl siding itself.
  • Vinyl siding is not a watertight covering, so check the inside occasionally for water intrusion if you’ve experienced heavy weather.
  • If a fire occurs, vinyl siding will melt or burn and may release toxic chemicals, making the situation more dangerous for the home’s occupants.  Some green advocates believe that PVC itself can have a negative impact on health, and there is much debate about these claims.

Tips for Homeowners:

  • Properly installed panels and accessories should move freely from side to side.
  • Drainage holes or slots in horizontal vinyl siding allow water behind the siding to drain and should not be covered or caulked.
  • Ripples in the siding can result from stapling or nailing through the face of the siding, which is an incorrect installation.  Distortion and buckling of panels may be caused by fasteners that were not driven straight and level.  If this happens, the homeowner should consult their builder’s warranty.
  • Exterior lights and other features should not be attached directly to the vinyl siding.  They should be secured to mounting blocks instead, since fasteners penetrating the siding will restrict the siding’s natural expansion and contraction.  Always use corrosion-resistant fasteners for any exterior installation.
  • Power-wash the exterior as often as necessary.
  • Check the condition of vinyl gutters and downspouts at least once a year.  While vinyl siding can last for 60 years, gutters and downspouts last around half as long, when properly installed and maintained.

Attic Access Pull-Down Ladders

Attic Access Pull-Down Stairs
An attic pull-down ladder, also called an attic pull-down stairway or stairs, is a collapsible ladder that’s permanently attached to the attic floor. It’s used to access the attic without being required to use a portable ladder, which can be unstable, as well as inconvenient.

Common Defects
It’s typical for the homeowner, rather than the professional builder, to install the attic pull-down stairs, especially if it’s an older home or a newer home that’s been built upward in order to use the attic for living or storage space. That’s why these stairs rarely meet safety standards and are prone to a number of defects.

Some of the more common defective conditions include:

  • Cut bottom cord of structural truss. The homeowner may have cut through a structural member while installing a pull-down ladder, unknowingly weakening the structure. Structural members should not be modified without an engineer’s approval;
  • Fastened with improper nails or screws. Drywall or deck screws may be used instead of the standard 16d penny nails or ¼x3-inch lag screws. Nails and screws that are intended for other purposes may have reduced shear strength and may not support the pull-down ladder;
    fastened with an insufficient number of nails or screws. Manufacturers provide a certain number of nails with instructions that they all be used, and they do this for a good reason;
  • Lack of insulation. The attic hatch or door is not likely to be weatherstripped and/or insulated, which will allow air from the attic to flow freely into the living space of the home, and this will cause the heating or cooling system to run overtime. An attic hatch cover box can be installed to increase energy savings;
  • Loose mounting bolts, which is typically caused by age, although improper installation will hasten the loosening process;
  • Attic pull-down ladders that are cut too short. The stairs should reach the floor;
  • Attic pull-down ladders that are cut too long. This causes pressure at the folding hinge, which can cause breakage;
  • Improper or missing fasteners
  • Compromised fire barrier (when the attic and access are above an attached garage);
  • Attic ladder frame that is not properly secured to the ceiling opening; and
  • Closed ladder that is covered with debris, such as blown insulation or roofing material shed during roof work.
  • Cracked steps. This defect is a problem with wooden ladders.

Safety Tips:
If yours is a sliding pull-down ladder, there is a potential for it to slide down too quickly, which can lead to an injury. Always pull the ladder down slowly and cautiously.
Do not allow children to enter the attic unattended. The lanyard attached to the attic stairs should be short enough that children cannot reach it. Parents can also lock the attic ladder so that a key or combination is required to access it.
If possible, avoid carrying large loads into the attic. While a properly installed stairway will safely support an adult, it might fail if you’re carrying a very heavy load. Many trips can be made to reduce the total weight load, if possible.
Replace an old, rickety wooden ladder with a new one. The newer aluminum models are lightweight, sturdy and easy to install. If you do install a new ladder, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter, and test the ladder’s operation before actually using it.

Scott Price, CPI, #1532
Certified Home Inspector
Home Run Inspections
405-905-9175
homeruninspections@icloud.com
We cover all of the bases!

Serving the Oklahoma City metro and surrounding areas including Edmond, Guthrie, Cashion, Yukon, Moore, Norman, Chickasha, Midwest City/Del City, Bethany, El Reno, Shawnee, Harrah, and more.

Schedule Inspections Online at:
www.Home-RunInspections.com
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Attic Insulation

atticinsulation

Heating and cooling costs can be slashed by up to 30% per year by properly sealing and insulating the home. Insulating the attic should be a top priority for preventing heat loss because as heat rises, a critical amount of heat loss from the living areas of the home occurs through an unfinished attic. During the summer months, heat trapped in the attic can reduce the home’s ability to keep cool, forcing the home’s cooling system to work overtime.

The lack of adequate ventilation in insulated attics is a common problem. Ensuring that there is a free flow of outside air from the soffits to the roof vents is key to a well-functioning insulation system. Look behind the baffles to see if there is any misplaced insulation obstructing the natural air flow, and check the roof vents to make sure that outside air is exhausting properly. Also, look for spots where the insulation is compacted; it may need to be fluffed out. If loose-fill insulation is installed, check for any thinly spread areas that may need topping up. Finally, look for dark spots in the insulation where incoming air is admitting wind-blown dust and moisture into the material. Any unintended openings or holes caused by weathering or pest damage should be repaired first.

Installing Attic Insulation
The objective in an attic insulation project is to insulate the living space of the house while allowing the roof to retain the same temperature as the outdoors. This prevents cold outside air from traveling through the attic and into the living area of the home. In order to accomplish this, an adequate venting system must be in place to vent the roof by allowing air flow to enter through soffit-intake vents and out through ridge vents, gable vents or louver vents.

If there is currently a floor in the attic, it will be necessary to pull up pieces of the floor to install the insulation. In this case, it will be easier to use a blower and loose-fill insulation to effectively fill the spaces between the joists. If you choose to go with blown-in insulation, you can usually get free use of a blower when you purchase a certain amount of insulation.

When installing fiberglass insulation, make sure that you wear personal protective equipment, including a hat, gloves, goggles and a face mask, as stray fiberglass material can become airborne, which can cause irritation to the lungs, eyes and exposed skin.

Before you begin actually installing the insulation, there is some important preparation involved in order to ensure that the insulation is applied properly to prevent hazards and to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Step 1: Install Roof Baffles
In order to maintain the free flow of outside air, it is recommended that polystyrene or plastic roof baffles are installed where the joists meet the rafters. These can be stapled into place.

Step 2: Place Baffles Around Electrical Fixtures
Next, place baffles around any electrical fixtures (lights, electrical receptacles, etc.), since these may become hot while in use. Hold the baffles in place by cross-sectioning the rafters with 2x4s placed at a 3-inch clearance around the fixture. Cut the polystyrene board to fit around the fixture and inside the wood square you have just created.

Step 3: Install a Vapor Barrier
If you are installing insulation with a vapor barrier, make sure it faces the interior of the house. Another option for a vapor barrier is to take sheets of plastic and lay them between the ceiling joists. Then, using a staple gun, tack them to the sides of the joists.

Step 4: Apply the Insulation
Begin by cutting long strips of fiberglass to measure, and lay them in between the joists. Do not bunch or compress the material; this will reduce the insulative effect.
If you’re not planning to put in an attic floor, a second layer of insulation may be laid at a 90-degree angle to the first layer. Do not lay in a second moisture barrier, as moisture could potentially be trapped between the two layers. This second layer of insulation will make it easier to obtain the recommended R-value. In colder climates, an R-value of 49 is recommended for adequate attic insulation. In warmer climates, an R-value of 30 is recommended. Fiberglass insulation has an R-value of roughly R-3 per inch of thickness; cellulose has an R-value of roughly R-4 per inch, but it doesn’t retain its R-value rating as well as fiberglass.

If an attic floor is in place, it will be easier to use a blower to add cellulose insulation into the spaces. The best way to achieve this is to carefully select pieces of the floor and remove them in a manner such that you will have access to all of the spaces in between the joists. Run the blower hose up into the attic. A helper may be needed to control the blower. Blow the insulation into the spaces between the joists, taking care not to blow insulation near electrical fixtures. Replace any flooring pieces that were removed.

Loose-fill insulation, either fiberglass or cellulose, is also a good option in cases where there is no attic floor. In such circumstances, you won’t need a blower; you can simply place the insulation between the joists by hand. You may also wish to even out the spread with a notched leveler.

Scott Price, CPI, #1532
Certified Home Inspector
Home Run Inspections
405-905-9175
homeruninspections@icloud.com
We cover all of the bases!

Serving the Oklahoma City metro and surrounding areas including Edmond, Guthrie, Cashion, Yukon, Moore, Norman, Chickasha, Midwest City/Del City, Bethany, El Reno, Shawnee, Harrah, and more.

Schedule Inspections Online at:
www.Home-RunInspections.com
Like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/homeruninspections
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Roof Maintenance

Roof-Covering Maintenance

Although homeowners aren’t necessarily expected to climb on their roofs every season as part of regular home maintenance, there are some conditions that should be monitored to prevent roof damage and to help you get the longest life out of your roof-covering materials. Certain types of damage can lead to water and pest intrusion, structural deterioration, and the escape costly energy.

Weathering
Hail and storm damage, known as weathering, can weaken a roof’s surface even if you haven’t lost any shingles/shakes/slates following a storm. It’s the most common source of environmental damage for roofs. Strong, sustained winds can cause uplift to the edges of shingles and shakes, which can weaken their points of attachment and allow rainwater and melting snow to reach the roof’s underlayment. Wind can also send projectiles through the air, which can damage every surface of the home’s exterior, including the roof. You should always inspect your roof after a heavy weather event, as far as it is practical to do so without taking any undue risks, to check whether you have lost any roof-covering materials, or if any parts look particularly weathered or damaged. A small fix now could prevent costly repairs later.

Tree Damage
Tree damage results from wind-blown tree branches scraping against shingles and from the impact of falling branches blown by wind and/or because the nearby tree has dead branches that eventually break off and fall. Branches that overhang the roof should always be cut back to avoid damage from both abrasion and impact, and to prevent the accumulation of leaf debris on the roof, its valleys, and in the gutters, which will interfere with proper drainage and lead to pooling of rainwater and snowmelt. Of course, it’s especially important to make sure that tree limbs near the home’s roof and exterior are a safe distance away from utility and power lines. Tree-trimming is a type of homeowner maintenance task should be undertaken by qualified professionals, as it can lead to accidentally cutting off the service or power from an overhead line, being electrocuted by an energized line, being struck by an unsecured tree branch, falling off the roof or a ladder, and any number of similar mishaps that the homeowner is not trained to anticipate and avoid.

Animal Damage
Squirrels and raccoons (and roof rats in coastal regions) will sometimes tear through shingles and roof sheathing when they’re searching for a protected area in which to build nests and raise their young. They often attack the roof’s eaves first, especially on homes that have suffered decay to the roof sheathing due to a lack of drip edges or from problems caused by ice damming, because decayed sheathing is softer and easier to tear through. If you hear any activity of wildlife on your roof, check inside your attic for evidence of pest intrusion, such as damaged insulation, which pests may use for nesting material. Darkened insulation generally indicates that excess air is blowing through some hole in the structure, leading the insulation to become darkened by dirt or moisture.

Biological Growth
Algae, moss and lichen are types of biological growth that may be found on asphalt shingles under certain conditions. Some professionals consider this growth destructive, while others consider it merely a cosmetic problem. Asphalt shingles may become discolored by both algae and moss, which spread by releasing airborne spores.

Almost all biological growth on shingles is related to the long-term presence of excess moisture, which is why these problems are more common in areas with significant rainfall and high relative humidity. But even in dry climates, roofs that are shaded most of the time can develop biological growth.

What we commonly call “algae” is actually not algae, but a type of bacteria capable of photosynthesis. Algae appears as dark streaks, which are actually the dark sheaths produced by the organisms to protect themselves from the ultraviolet radiation of the sun. When environmental conditions are right, the problem can spread quickly across a roof.

Algae can feed on mineral nutrients, such as the calcium carbonate in limestone used as asphalt shingle filler. Calcium carbonate also causes asphalt to retain moisture, which also promotes algae growth, so shingles with excessive filler may be more likely to suffer more algae growth. The rate of filler consumption is slow enough that it’s not generally considered a serious problem.

Algae attach to the shingle by secreting a substance that bonds it tightly to the surface. Growth can be difficult to remove without damaging the roof. The best method is prevention. Algae stains can sometimes be lightened in color by using special cleaners. Power-washing and heavy scrubbing may loosen or dislodge granules. Chemicals used for cleaning shingles may damage landscaping. Also, the cleaning process makes the roof wet and slippery, so such work should be performed by a qualified professional.

Moss is a greenish plant that can grow more thickly than algae. It attaches itself to the roof through a shallow root system that can be freed from shingles fairly easily with a brush. Moss deteriorates shingles by holding moisture against them, but this is a slow process. Moss is mostly a cosmetic issue and, like algae, can create hazardous conditions for those who climb on the roof.

Lichens are composite organisms consisting of a fungus and a photosynthetic partner, such as green or blue-green algae. Lichens bond tightly to the roof, and when they’re removed from asphalt shingles, they may take granules with them. Damage from lichen removal can resemble blistering.

“Tobacco-juicing” is the brownish discoloration that appears on the surface of shingles, under certain weather conditions. It’s often temporary and may have a couple of different causes. After especially long periods of intensely sunny days, damp nights and no rain, water-soluble compounds may leach out of the asphalt from the shingles and be deposited on the surface. Tobacco-juicing may also appear under the same weather conditions if the air is especially polluted. Tobacco-juicing won’t harm asphalt shingles, although it may run down the roof and stain siding. Although it’s more common in the West and Southwest, it can happen anywhere that weather conditions are right. You can spray-wash or paint the exterior of the home to remove tobacco-juicing.

Your InterNACHI inspector should investigate signs of roof damage or deterioration before you call a roofing contractor. That way, you’ll know exactly what types of problems should be addressed before you break out the checkbook for repairs.

Scott Price, CPI, #1532
Certified Home Inspector
Home Run Inspections
405-905-9175
homeruninspections@icloud.com
We cover all of the bases!

Serving the Oklahoma City metro and surrounding areas including Edmond, Guthrie, Cashion, Yukon, Moore, Norman, Chickasha, Midwest City/Del City, Bethany, El Reno, Shawnee, Harrah, and more.

Schedule Inspections Online at:
www.Home-RunInspections.com
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HVAC Filter Maintenance

Part of responsible homeownership includes, of course, regular home maintenance.  And there are some tasks that, if deferred, can lead to a home system that’s inefficient and overworked, which can result in problems and expenses.  One such task is changing the filter of the home’s HVAC system.  It’s simple and inexpensive, and taking care of it at least every three months can mean the difference between optimum comfort and avoidable repairs.

What Can Go Wrong
Most homes have some sort of furnace or heat pump, and many of those homes (especially newer ones) have combined heating, ventilation and air-conditioning or HVAC systems.  Each type uses some type of air filter or screen to prevent larger airborne particles (up to 40 microns) from entering the system and clogging sensitive machinery.  A system that has a dirty filter can suffer from pressure drop, which can lead to reduced air flow, or “blow-out,” resulting in no air infiltration at all.  Any of these conditions can cause the system to work harder to keep the home warm or cool (depending on the season and the setting).  And any mechanical component that has to work harder to run efficiently puts undue stress on the whole system, which can lead to premature failure, resulting in repair or replacement.

Also, a dirty filter that’s exposed to condensation can become damp, which can lead to mold growth that can be spread throughout the home by the HVAC system.  This can lead to serious health consequences, not to mention a compromised unit that will likely require servicing and may require replacement, depending on the severity of the moisture problem.

Types of Filters
Most HVAC and furnace filters are disposable, made of biodegradable paper or similar media, and shaped in cells, screens or fins designed to trap as much airborne debris as possible.  Filters can typically be purchased in economical multi-packs, and there are many types that will fit different models of furnace/HVAC units.  It’s important to use the appropriate filter for your unit; using the wrong filter that doesn’t fit the unit properly can create the same types of problems as having a dirty filter.  Your HVAC installer can show you where the filter goes and how to remove the old one and install a new one.  Your unit may also have an affixed label with directions for easy filter replacement.

How Often?
Your HVAC or furnace technician should service your unit once a year.  Because a furnace/HVAC unit contains moving parts, it’s important that belts are not cracked and dry, ventilation ductwork is not gapped, cracked or rusted, and components, such as coils and fans, are clog-free and adequately lubricated for unimpeded operation.  This sort of evaluation is best left to the professional, unless you’ve had the appropriate training.

The filter of the unit, especially if it’s an HVAC unit that will tend to get nearly year-round use, should be changed by the homeowner at least every three months, but possibly more often.

Check your filter’s condition and change it once a month if:

  • You run your unit six months a year to year-round.
  • You have pets.  Pet dander can become airborne and circulate through the home’s ventilation system just as typical household dust does.
  • You have a large family.  More activity means more household dust, dirt and debris.
  • You smoke indoors.
  • You or someone in your household suffers from allergies or a respiratory condition.
  • You live in a particularly windy area or experience high winds for extended periods, especially if there are no nearby shrubs or trees to provide a natural windbreak.
  • You live in an area prone to or having recently experienced any wildfires.  Airborne ash outdoors will eventually find its way indoors.
  • You have a fireplace that you occasionally use.
  • You live on a working farm or ranch.  Dust and dirt that gets kicked up by outdoor work activity and/or large animals can be pulled into the home’s ventilation system, especially through open windows.
  • You have a large garden.  Depending on its size and how often you work it, tilling soil, planting, pulling weeds, using herbicides and pesticides, and even watering mean that dirt, chemicals and condensation can be pulled into your home’s ventilation system.
  • There is construction taking place around or near the home.  You may be installing a new roof or a pool, or perhaps a neighbor is building a home or addition.  Even if the activity is only temporary, dust and debris from worksites adjacent to or near the home can be sucked into the home’s ventilation system, and this increased activity can tax your HVAC system.

Change the filter immediately if:

  • The filter is damaged.  A damaged filter won’t work as intended.
  • The filter is damp.  A filter affected by moisture intrusion, system condensation, or even high indoor humidity can quickly become moldy and spread airborne mold spores throughout the home via the ventilation system.
  • There is evidence of microbial growth or mold on the filter.  Mold spores already infiltrating the home via the HVAC system are not only bad for the unit itself, but they can pose a health hazard for the family, ranging from an irritated respiratory system to a serious allergic reaction.

Tips on Changing the Filter

  • Turn off the unit before replacing the filter.
  • Use the right filter for your unit and make sure it’s not damaged out of the package.
  • Follow the directions for your unit to make sure you’re installing the filter properly.  For example, many filters use different colors for the front and back (or upstream and downstream flow) so that they’re not installed backwards.
  • Make sure there aren’t any gaps around the filter frame.  If this is the case, you may have the wrong size filter, or the filter itself may be defective or damaged.
  • Use a rag to clean up any residual dust before and after you replace the filter.
  • Securely replace any levers, gaskets and/or seals.
  • Turn the unit on and observe it while it’s operating to make sure the filter stays in place.
  • Note the date of filter replacement in a convenient location for the next time you inspect it.  A filter that becomes dirty enough to change within a short period of time may indicate a problem with the unit or ventilation system, so monitoring how often the filter requires changing is important information for your technician to have.

Call a technician for servicing if:

  • Your unit fails to turn back on.
  • The fan is slow or makes excessive noise, or the fins are bent.
  • The coils are excessively dusty or clogged.
  • You notice moisture intrusion from an unknown source anywhere in the system.

Homeowners who take care of the easy task of changing their HVAC filter can help prevent system downtime and avoidable expenses, as well as keep their families living and breathing comfortably.  Your InterNACHI inspector can provide more useful tips and reminders during your Annual Home Maintenance Inspection.

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Preventing Water Intrusion in Basements and Crawlspaces

The biggest concern for homeowners related to their basement and/or crawlspace area is unwanted moisture intrusion.  This can be the result of several factors, which is why homeowners should occasionally check these areas.

The basement is typically the area of a home most at risk for water damage because it’s located below grade and surrounded by soil.  Soil releases the water it has absorbed during rain or when snow melts, and the water can end up in the basement through cracks.  Water can even migrate through solid concrete walls via capillary action, which is a phenomenon whereby liquid spontaneously rises in a narrow space, such as a thin tube, or via porous materials.  Wet basements can cause problems that include peeling paint, toxic mold contamination, building rot, foundation collapse, and termite damage.  Even interior air quality can be affected if naturally occurring gases released by the soil are being transmitted into the basement.

Properly waterproofing a basement will lessen the risk of damage caused by moisture or water.  Homeowners should be aware of what they can do to keep their basements and crawlspaces dry and safe from damage.

Prevent water entry.
You can help prevent water from entering the basement by ensuring that it’s diverted away from the foundation.  Poor roof drainage and surface runoff due to gutter defects and improper site grading may be the most common causes of a wet basement.

Here are some measures to use to divert water away from the foundation:

  • Install and maintain gutters and downspouts so that they route all rainwater and snow melt at least 10 feet away from the foundation to prevent pooling near the exterior walls.  At the point where water leaves the downspout, it should be able to flow freely away from the foundation instead of back toward it, and it should not be collecting in standing puddles.  A backsplash and diverter can help with this.
  • The finish grade should be sloped away from the building for 10 to 15 feet.  Low spots that may lead to water pooling near the foundation should be re-graded and evened out.
  • Shallow ditches called swales should be dug if one or more sides of the home face an upward slope.  A swale should slope away from the home for 10 to 15 feet, at which point it can empty into another swale that directs water around to the downhill-side of the property, leading it away from the foundation.

Repair all cracks and holes.
There are several causes of cracks and holes that permit moisture intrusion.  Poor workmanship during the home’s construction is one factor.  Water pressure from the outside can also build up, forcing water through the walls.  The house may have settled, causing cracks in the floor or walls.  It’s important to repair all cracks and small holes to prevent leaks and floods.  Any large cracks or holes should be evaluated by a professional after consulting with your InterNACHI home inspector.

Here are some steps to take if you suspect that water is entering the basement through cracks or holes:

  • Examine the basement for holes and cracks and for moisture, leaks and discoloration.
  • A waterproof mixture of epoxy and latex cement can be used to fill small hairline cracks and holes.
  • Any cracks larger than about 1/8-inch should be filled with mortar made from one part cement and two parts fine sand, with just enough water to make a fairly stiff mortar.  It should be pressed firmly into all parts of the larger cracks and holes to be sure that no air bubbles or pockets remain.  As long as water is not being forced through the basement walls due to outside pressure, the application of mortar with a standard trowel will be sufficient if special care is taken to fill all cracks completely.
  • If water is being forced through by outside pressure, a slightly different method of patching can be used, involving chiseling out the mouth the crack along its length and cutting a dovetail groove, which is then filled with mortar.  You may wish to defer this type of repair to a masonry professional.
  • Sodium silicate is a water-based mixture that will actually penetrate the substrate by up to 4 inches.  Concrete, concrete block and masonry include lime as a natural component, which reacts with the sodium silicate to produce a solid, crystalline structure that fills in all the microscopic cracks, holes and pores.  No water vapor or gas will be able penetrate via capillary action because the concrete and masonry have now become harder and denser from the sodium silicate.  It is an alkaline substance and, as such, can burn the skin and eyes on contact.  Inhalation can also cause respiratory irritation.  All surfaces receiving this treatment must be prepared, and the several required applications must be thorough.  These are all reasons that this type of work should be performed by a trained professional.

Always have any large cracks evaluated by your InterNACHI inspector before undertaking any repairs yourself or hiring a professional, and check your basement and crawlspace regularly for moisture intrusion.

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Radon

Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas. You cannot see, smell or taste radon. But it still may be a problem in your home. Although radon is a naturally occurring gas in our environment, it is also the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths in the U.S., according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Nearly one out of every 15 homes is estimated to have elevated radon levels. The Surgeon General and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommend testing all houses. Millions of Americans have already tested their homes for radon, and you should, too.  (And if you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.)

Let your InterNACHI inspector test your home for radon.
You cannot predict radon levels based on state, local or neighborhood radon measurements. Do not rely on radon test results from other homes in the neighborhood to estimate the radon level in your own home. Homes that are next to each other can have different radon levels. Testing is the only way to find out what your home’s radon level is.  Your InterNACHI inspector uses special interference-proof air-canister testing devices that will measure the radon levels in different areas of the home over a limited period of time, which will help determine whether installing a mitigation system is recommended.  A radon mitigation system can aid in continuously and automatically filtering outdoor ground air that enters the home, which will help reduce your home’s radon level.

Radon in Water
If the results of your radon air sampling test show elevated levels and your water comes from a private well, have your inspector test your water, too. The devices and procedures for testing for radon in your home’s water supply are different from those used for measuring radon in indoor air. If your water tests positive for radon, this can add to your risk of exposure because the radon can be released into the air during showering and while performing household tasks using water.

The EPA estimates that radon causes thousands of cancer deaths in the U.S. each year. Testing is the only way to determine your home’s radon levels. Contact your InterNACHI inspector to conduct your radon inspection.

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Bathtubs and Showers

Bathtubs
Bathtubs are made from many different types of materials, including enameled cast-iron, porcelain-enameled steel, and plastic. Plastic tubs are made from materials including ABS, PVC, fiberglass, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, acrylic, and cultured-marble acrylic. Bathtubs that are equipped with shower fixtures should be manufactured with slip-resistant surfaces. Bathtubs should have a drainage outlet (tailpiece) with a minimum diameter of 1-1/2 inches. Every tub should be equipped with a stopper. The bathtub should have an overflow outlet installed. The overflow prevents flooding if the tub is being filled while unattended, and prevents overflow of the water when a person enters a tub that is full.

Fire-Resistance
Bathtubs made of plastic are tested for fire ignition.  They are made with fire-resistant chemicals to reduce their fuel contribution in a house fire, or an accidental exposure to a plumber’s torch.

Large Bathtub Loads
Some bathtubs are so large that they can accommodate more than one person at a time.  These larger bathtubs may need special and additional structural support underneath them to adequately support the load.
A 3×4-foot bathtub may have a capacity to hold 200 gallons or more.  The weight of the bathtub, water, and occupants may total over 1 ton, considering:

200 pounds for the bathtub
+ 1,600 pounds of water
+    350 pounds for two people
= 2,150 pounds

A very large tub may cause structural problems because live-loading for a typical residential home is 40 pounds per square foot.  The live load for a 3×4-foot occupied tub may be assumed to be only 480 pounds, but may weigh over 2,000 pounds while it is in use.

Maintenance Tips
The homeowner should make sure that the tub is free of cracks, rust and other staining, and that all edges, gaps and surrounding tile are adequately caulked to ensure that moisture cannot leach behind the tile work and drywall, which can lead to leaks and structural damage behind walls that won’t be evident until the issue becomes extensive and expensive to fix.

Showers
Plastic, pre-fabricated shower units are constructed of various synthetic materials, including ABS, PVC, gel-coated fiberglass-reinforced plastic, cultured marble, cast-filled fiberglass, polyester, cultured marble acrylic, and acrylic.  These shower units are impregnated with fire-retardant chemicals to reduce the fuel contribution during a fire, and protection against an accidental burn by a plumber’s torch.

The showerhead height is not typically regulated by building codes, but the head is commonly installed 70 to 80 inches above the shower floor.

Shower Water Pipes
Water-supply pipes from the shower valve to the showerhead outlet — referred to as the shower riser pipes — whether exposed or not, must be firmly attached to a structural component to prevent the pipes from leaking caused by stress fractures or joint failures.  Movement of the showerhead may move the riser piping, possibly causing failure of the piping.  The risers must be firmly secured.

The common practice for installing the riser pipe is to place a drop-ear elbow at the top of the riser pipe.  The elbow has two wing connections.  They can be screwed to a structural backing board, such as a 2×4.  A pipe strap can be used instead of a drop-ear elbow.  When the riser is exposed, the manufacturer will typically provide a strap or attachment device to match the finish of the fixture and pipe.  The strap or attachment device should be firmly secured to a structural component.

Shower Outlets
The waste outlet for a shower should have minimum diameter of 1-1/2 inches.  The shower outlet should have a strainer that is at least 3 inches in diameter, with dimensional openings in the strainer of at least a 1/4-inch.  The strainer should be removable.

Shower Area
A shower compartment should have an interior cross-sectional area of at least 900 square inches.  This will allow an average-sized adult to clean the lower body while bending over.  A shower that’s any smaller would be inadequately sized.  Shower compartments should be at least 30 inches in minimum dimension.  This measurement is based on the movement of an adult body inside a shower and measured from the finished     interior dimension of the compartment, excluding fixture valves, showerheads, soap dishes and grab bars.  There are exceptions for showers having fold-down seats, and those with compartments at least 25 inches wide and 1,300 square inches in cross-sectional area.

The exception allows for a shower with one dimension being 25 inches, provided the compartment has at least 1,300 square inches of cross-sectional area.  This is useful to contractors and DIY homeowners who remove an old bathtub and install a standup shower fixture in the same space.

Shower Walls
Showers and bathtubs with installed showerheads should be finished with a non-absorbent surface that shall extend to a height of not less than 6 feet above the floor level of the room, or 70 inches above the shower floor.  It should be constructed of smooth, corrosion-resistant and non-absorbent materials to protect the structural components from moisture damage.  The gypsum or cement wallboard behind ceramic tiles of a shower wall should be water-resistant. The water-resistant material is not required in the rest of the bathroom, although it is a common practice to use water-resistant gypsum wallboard in other areas of the bathroom because of the moisture levels.

Shower Access and Egress Opening
Many injuries in a home are related to accidents in the bathtub or shower.  The minimum opening requirements for access and egress allows an adult enough room to safely step into and exit the shower area without having to twist or turn through a narrow opening.  The shower opening (or access and egress opening) should be at least 22 inches of clear and unobstructed finish-width.  The 22-inch width is based on the approximate shoulder width of an average-sized adult, and provides comfortable access to service the valves, showerheads and drain.  It allows for emergency response and rescue access, and emergency egress.

Shower Floors
The shower floor surface must be watertight with smooth, corrosion-resistant, non-absorbent, waterproof materials.  Joints between the floor and walls of the shower must be sealed or flashed to prevent water penetration.  Ideally, there should be some type of slip-resistant floor surface.  The shower floor structure needs proper support by a smooth and structurally sound base.  The base of the shower floor should be designed to support both dead (structural) and live (people and water) loads.

Shower pans and liners are installed under and around showers to prevent moisture intrusion from getting into the structural supports under and behind the shower enclosure.  They must meet specific standards for material, installation and size in order to support both dead and live loads.

Shower Glazing
Glass doors enclosing the shower should be made of safety glazing.  If a window is installed in the shower, the window should be made of safety glazing to provide protection.  If a person slips or falls inside the shower, s/he may be seriously injured by broken glass if the glass is not made of safety glazing.  The safety glazing should be correctly labeled by being permanently marked in a corner, legible and visible after installation, and indoor applications should be marked “indoor use only.”

Maintenance Tips
Similar to other bathroom fixtures, the homeowner should make sure that the shower is free of cracks, rust and other staining, and that all edges, gaps and surrounding tile are adequately caulked to ensure that moisture cannot leach behind the tile work and drywall, which can lead to leaks and structural damage behind walls that won’t be evident until the issue becomes extensive and expensive to fix.  Additionally, if the glazing for the showers doors is damaged, it should be replaced, as cracked glazing can break without notice and cause serious injuries.

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Bathroom Sinks (Lavatories)

Lavatories
A lavatory is a washbasin or sink located in a bathroom or washroom.  “Lavatory” means washbasin or sink, and is derived from the Latin word lavatorium, which means washing vessel, and the French word laver, meaning “to wash.” Lavatories come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  They are available in enameled cast-iron, vitreous china, stainless steel, porcelain-enameled formed steel, plastic, and non-vitreous ceramic.  They can be wall-mounted, hanger-mounted, under-mounted, pedestal, rimmed, and above-center basin types.
Countertops integrated with lavatories are constructed of a variety of materials, including ABS, PVC, gel-coated fiberglass-reinforced plastic, acrylic, polyester, and cultured marble.  Plastic vanity tops should be impregnated with fire-resistant chemicals to reduce the fuel contribution of the lavatory during a house fire or the accidental fire from a plumber’s torch.  They are also made to resist the effect of a burning cigarette left unattended on the vanity top.

Lavatories should have a waste outlet of at least 1-1/4 inches in diameter.  Each lavatory must have a strainer, a pop-up stopper, a crossbar, or other mechanism to prevent items such as rings, toothbrushes and cosmetic items from dropping into the drain.

Lavatory Overflows
Former standards required lavatories to have an overflow, but that is no longer the case.  The overflow is now an option of the manufacturer.  The reason for not requiring an overflow at a lavatory is because of the lack of use of the overflow, which can cause bacterial and micro-organism growth.

Where a lavatory does have an overflow installed, the cross-sectional area of the overflow should be a minimum of 1-1/8 inches; anything larger can promote bacterial and micro-organism growth.  The overflow should be able to prevent overflowing of the sink for a minimum of five minutes when tested from the onset of water flowing into the overflow’s opening.

Maintenance Tips
There are many different designs of lavatories, including artisanal styles that sit up on the vanity, rather than being dropped into a recessed cavity in the vanity or countertop.  Regardless of the style or whether it includes an overflow opening, the washbasin should be securely attached to the vanity, be free of cracks and other defects, and have gaps that are properly caulked to prevent moisture buildup, which can lead to unsanitary conditions, including mold growth.

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