Trash Compactors

Why Use a Trash Compactor?
Permanently installed residential trash compactors run on electricity and use a small hydraulic system to crush trash down to a fraction of its original volume (sometimes down to 25%) in order to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable waste regularly generated by a household.  Smaller and narrower than a dishwasher, they are a standard kitchen appliance in new-construction homes.

How They Work
Trash compactors have three main components:  the motor; the ram; and the trash container drawer.  The motor runs using household electricity, which activates the ram that is operated using hydraulics.  Units vary by size, quality and cost.  The loading capacity for the average home unit is generally around 25 gallons, and the compacting force can range between 2,000 pounds to 5,000 pounds, depending on type and quality.

Most units must be at least half full in order to work properly.  To use the unit, non-food refuse should be placed or stacked neatly at the bottom of the drawer.  When it is at least half full, the unit can be activated so that the ram compacts the drawer’s contents.

Safely Disposing of Household Trash
Generally, bottles, cans, cardboard, paper and plastic items and the like can be conveniently disposed of in a trash compactor.  In order to minimize odors, containers that once held food and beverages should be rinsed before being placed in the drawer.

Trash compactors require the use of specially-fitted bags that, once filled, easily lift out of the unit for disposal or trash pickup.

Perishable food items can stain the unit’s interior and create unnecessary mess and foul odors, which is why they should not be disposed of in a trash compactor.  These types of items should be discarded using a garbage disposal or food grinder, or recycled as compost waste.

Additionally, hazardous materials should never be placed in a trash compactor, as crushing them can have unintended consequences that can damage the unit, create an unsafe environment, and/or cause negative health effects.  These include batteries, cigarette butts (which may not be fully extinguished), household rags used with toxic substances, cans and containers that held hazardous liquids and chemicals (as residue can spill out and cause damage or negative health effects), and similar items.  These should be wrapped and disposed of separately, or recycled according to local guidelines or ordinances.

Safety Precautions and Sensors
As a safety precaution, trash must never be stuffed down into the bottom of the drawer with one’s hands or feet, as this can dent or offset the drawer and its rollers, as well as damage the hydraulics. Rough use and frequent misuse can lead to chronic problems with the unit and its components.

Caution should be used when removing filled bags, as items that have been crushed may create sharp protrusions.  Many people wear gloves while removing bags for disposal.

The unit should always be locked, even when not in use.  Curious children may wish to pull open the drawer and hide inside, or activate the unit, which is why they should never be left unattended around an unlocked trash compactor.

Spills around the unit should be immediately cleaned up for safety as well as hygienic reasons.  Because trash compactors use electricity, spilled water or other liquids can cause the unit to short out or create an unsafe hazard for users.

Trash compactors have built-in safeguards, such as locks, misload sensors, tilt sensors, and drawer-monitor switches, which are designed to help prevent injury, over-filling and under-filling, as well as detect when trash has been accidentally placed within the unit but outside the drawer (such as behind the drawer where the ram and hydraulics are located).  However, because they are constructed of many mechanical parts and electrical wiring, trash compactors can malfunction and chronically break down if not used and maintained properly.
Repairs and replacing parts should be performed by a qualified professional.

Garbage Disposals/Food-Waste Disposers

What Are Food-Waste Disposers?
Garbage disposals, also called food-waste disposers, are residential appliances designed to shred food waste so that it can fit through plumbing. They are usually electrically powered (although occasionally powered by water pressure) and are installed beneath sinks.

Why Use a Garbage Disposal?
When food waste is discarded into the trash, it places an enormous burden on waste-management systems. Garbage disposals reduce the severity of these problems by routing food waste into septic systems or sewers instead of landfills.

Garbage Disposals and Septic Systems
If a garbage disposal discharges into a septic tank, it can place significant strain on the septic system. The amount of waste that enters the tank, particularly grease and suspended solids, will increase considerably. This load increase requires that the septic tank be pumped more often than would otherwise be required. The additional strain will also reduce the lifespan of the septic system. Septic systems can be designed to accommodate food waste, but, in general, they are not.

Electrical Wiring Requirements

  • The National Electrical Code (NEC) does not require a garbage disposal to have GFCI protection.
  • The vibration caused by the operation of a garbage disposal can cause electrical connections to separate. Check for any loose connections in the wire compartment box at the base of the disposal.
  • Garbage disposals should be either hardwired or connected to an outlet through a grounded electrical outlet.
  • A dedicated circuit is generally recommended, although a circuit that is shared with a dishwasher is sometimes appropriate. The disposal’s user or installation manual should be consulted.

Precautions for Testing Garbage Disposals:

  • To test a garbage disposal for leaks, turn it on and run water through it. The water load should be great enough so that any leaks will become apparent. A good way to do this is to close the drain and fill the sink with water before releasing the stopper.
  • While testing a garbage disposal, never put anything other than water through it. Before turning it on, check to make sure there are no objects already in the disposal.
  • If a dishwasher is connected to the disposal, make sure that the line that connects them is securely attached.
  • Check to make sure that the garbage disposal is connected to a drain that is 1½ inches or greater in diameter.
  • Check to make sure that the disposal is provided with an adequate water supply.
  • If the home has a double sink, check to make sure the waste pipe from the disposal has a trap installed.

Maintenance and Operation Suggestions:

  • Put only small quantities of food into the disposal at a time. Large food scraps should be cut into smaller pieces before entering the disposal.
  • Never put anything down the disposal that is not food or water. Bottle caps, aluminum foil, and other non-food items can damage the disposal or get stuck in the plumbing piping.
  • Run water while using the disposal and for approximately 30 seconds after you turn it off. Food scraps will flow through the piping more easily if they are pushed along by water. Cold water is better than warm water for this purpose because it will force fats and grease to congeal and harden, allowing them to move more easily through pipes. Warm water can be run through the disposal while it is not in operation.
  • Ice can be used to clear off solidified grease and other debris from the blades in a garbage disposal.

The garbage disposal should be used to grind only non-fibrous, leftover food. If in doubt as to whether something can be put in the disposal, err on the side of caution and put it in the trash instead.
The following items should never be put in a disposal:

  • items that are hard enough to dull the blades, such as shells from shellfish or bones;
  • food that is highly fibrous, such as corn husks, artichokes, pineapples, potato peels, asparagus, or celery, which should enter a disposal only in small quantities or disposed of in the trash. These foods take a long time to grind and can clog the disposal or the plumbing;
  • grease and household oils; or
  • chemicals.

Garbage disposals have the potential to limit the amount of household trash that must be taken away to waste management facilities. They can also place additional strain on septic systems and, for this reason, they should be used infrequently.

Dishwashers

How Does a Dishwasher Work?
Dishwashers are labor-saving and water-conserving appliances that were first invented in the U.S. in the 1850s.  There are both portable units and permanently installed units that are found in most homes today.
Permanently installed dishwashers rely on the home’s electrical and plumbing systems, which is why their proper operation and maintenance are critical to household safety and trouble-free use.

A dishwasher operates with sprayed water using multiple cycles of washing and rinsing, followed by drying, using hot, forced circulated air.  These cycles may be further distinguished according to length of cycle, power and temperature.

Dishwashers are plugged into a dedicated electrical receptacle at the back of the unit, and usually plumbed into the home’s hot water supply, although the cold water supply is also an option.  This assures that the dishwasher’s load is optimally washed and rinsed using the maximum recommended temperature range of between 130°  F and 170° F.

The dimensions of an average unit are 24×24 inches, although deluxe models may be wider and/or deeper to accommodate larger loads.  Its interior components are typically made of stainless steel and/or plastic, and the exterior door may be metal, enamel-covered metal, or having a wood or wood-like veneer to match the decor of the kitchen cabinets.

Use, Maintenance and Precautions
Dishwasher-safe glasses, cups, plates, bowls, pots, pans and utensils, as well as some ceramic-ware and cutlery, are loaded into pull-out racks and baskets.  They can be safely washed and rinsed in cycles that vary in intensity and length.

Many users rinse, soak or pre-treat cookware to remove solids and excess food waste before loading it in the dishwasher; this is a matter of personal preference, as well as how well the unit works on everyday and heavy-duty loads, although waste that cannot be adequately drained should be removed from dishware before the soiled items are loaded into the unit.

Dishwashers can also be used to effectively disinfect toothbrushes, infants’ plastic toys, formula bottles and synthetic nipples, and teething rings, as well as other household and personal hygiene items. However, extremely soiled items that come into contact with potentially hazardous or toxic materials, such as tools, gardening implements and the like, should not be washed in a dishwasher, as the toxic residue may not fully rinse out of the interior, which can contaminate future loads of dishware and utensils, as well as clog plumbing lines.

Soaps, pre-treaters and rinsing agents to prevent or eliminate water spots are available in a variety of costs, quality and effectiveness.  They also come in both powder and liquid form.  Regardless of the type of detergent used, it should be specifically for dishwasher use only, as other soaps can leave behind residue, as well as create excess foam and leaks.

Maintenance is relatively easy and can be done by running the unit through a hot-water cycle while it is empty, but this is only suggested following an especially dirty load where residue has not fully washed and drained for some reason.

Dishwashers should never be overloaded.  Loads should be distributed and racked such that cleaning will be effective.  It is recommended that plastic items be loaded into the unit’s top rack to avoid their coming into contact with hot elements in the unit’s bottom and then melting, or being jostled by the power of the sprayers and subsequently blocking them, which may prevent the water from reaching the unit’s entire load.

It is important to monitor the unit for failure to fully drain, as well as for leaks, excessive noise and movement, and burning smells, which can indicate a burned-out motor, an issue with the plumbing connected to the unit, or a problem with its original installation.  A qualified professional should evaluate a malfunctioning unit and perform any repairs.

Under-Sink Plumbing

Sinks are a category of plumbing fixtures that includes kitchen sinks, service sinks, bar sinks, mop sinks and wash sinks. A sink is considered a different item than a lavatory (or a bathroom sink), although the terms are often used interchangeably. Sinks can be made of enameled cast-iron, vitreous china, stainless steel, porcelain-enameled formed steel, non-vitreous ceramic, and plastic materials.

Sink waste outlets should have a minimum diameter of 1-1/2 inches. Most kitchen sinks have an opening of 3-1/2 inches in diameter. A food-waste grinder has a standard opening of 3-1/2 inches, and so do most kitchen sink basket strainers. A strainer or crossbar should be provided to restrict the clear opening of the waste outlet.

Plumbing Requirements for Garbage Disposals
Food-waste grinders (also known as garbage disposals and disposers) are designed to grind foods, including bones, into small-sized bits that can flow through the drain line. Using them to dispose of fibrous and stringy foods, such as corn husks, celery, banana skins and onions, is not recommended because fibers tend to pass by the grinder teeth, move into the drain pipe, and cause drains to clog.

Water must be supplied to the grinder to assist during its operation in transporting waste. The water flushes the grinder chamber and carries the waste down the drainpipe. Blockage may result if the grinder is used without running the water during operation. Grinders should be connected to a drain of not less than 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Food-waste grinders are supplied with water from the sink faucet. They do not add to the load used to compute drainage pipe sizing. The drain size required for a grinder is consistent with that for a kitchen sink.

Plumbing Requirements for Dishwashers
The water supply to a residential dishwasher should be protected against backflow by an air gap or backflow preventer. The machine must be equipped with an integral backflow mechanism, or the potable water supply must have either a backflow preventer or an air gap. The discharge pipe from the dishwasher should be increased to a minimum of 3/4-inch in diameter. It should be connected with a wye fitting to the sink tailpiece. Before connecting to the sink tailpiece, the dishwasher waste line should rise and be securely fastened to the underside of the counter. The combined discharge from a sink, dishwasher, and waste grinder is allowed to discharge through a single 1-1/2-inch trap.

Maintenance Tips
Homeowners should take care not to overload the garbage disposal or the dishwasher, as this can lead to leaks and backups in the sink and the plumbing system.  A backup at the kitchen sink may mean that the garbage disposal is clogged, or the plumbing line has some obstruction that prevents proper drainage.  It’s important that homeowners understand the cause of the problem, as well as the proper way to repair it, before dismantling pipes under the sink.  The right size of fittings and replacement parts, as well as proper drainage (including slope and traps) will ensure that the sink will work as it should following a repair, which is why most maintenance issues are best left to professionals, unless the homeowner has the proper instruction, parts and tools available.

Roof Penetrations: Vents

Homeowners don’t generally want to climb on their roofs to check its condition unless they’ve experienced a major storm or other issue that prompts them to investigate.  This is smart because, as untrained non-professionals, homeowners are at greater risk for accidents and injuries than pros.

But it’s useful for homeowners to know what they’re likely to find if they do climb their roof—or have someone else climb it, such as an insurance adjuster or roofing contractor—so that they have some idea of what the components are and what they do, as well as when those components are damaged and creating problems down below.

The proper term for anything that pokes out of the surface of the roof is known as a roof penetration.  Whether it’s a chimney, skylight or vent pipe, it falls under that category.  As such, there are important elements related to the installation of all roof penetrations that prevent their premature deterioration, which means that your roof and the structure under it will stay dry and problem-free.

Vents
The most common type of roof penetration are vents. Every home has them. Vents are installed to expel gas or moisture of some sort from an appliance or area inside the house.  Vents are also called flues.

Here are the most common types and their functions:

  • Exhaust vents or mechanical ventilation allow the escape of damp air and odors from a bathroom, clothes dryer, and from the range above a stove in order to prevent the buildup of condensation.
  • Each plumbing drainpipe in the home is connected to a plumbing stack vent, which helps ensure the appliance’s proper drainage by preventing back-siphoning, which can pull noxious vapors and sewer gases back into the home.  One important aspect of their installation is that they should not be located with 3 feet of an openable window so that these gases don’t get sucked back into the home.
  • Vents installed in the attic space are known as roof vents or turtle vents, which release hot air that can build up inside the attic as a result of heat rising from the living space below.  Venting this hot air is important to prevent the premature deterioration of the roofing materials, which can overheat and lose adhesion or delaminate, as well as form condensation, under the right conditions, which can also affect wooden structural members and insulation.
  • Combustion vents are installed for fuel-burning appliances, such as a furnace, boiler, water heater, gas range, fireplace—any appliance that burns fuel for its operation, such as gas, propane, oil, wood, etc. They exhaust the toxic byproducts of combustion to the outdoors.

Vents can be made of galvanized steel, such as a dryer vent.  PVC is appropriate to use as plumbing stack vents, depending on the appliance, as long as there is no chance of the exhausted air being too warm, which can cause the PVC to melt. Some vents may have caps or hoods to prevent rainwater from entering them (such as a dryer vent), and others don’t, such as plumbing stacks. There are also vent-like roof penetrations that are actually air intakes, such as for a furnace, which aid proper combustion.

Vents can be double-walled or single-wall, depending on their purpose.  Combustion vents tend to be double-walled.  Some vents serve multiple items or appliances, but they tend to be of the same type.  A vent that serves more than one plumbing fixture needs to be larger in order to move the gas at an appropriate rate.

Problems with Combustion Vents
If installed properly, vents tend to operate problem-free, but poor installation or materials can lead to issues, such as leaks, corrosion, and insufficient ventilation.  That’s when the problems can affect the living space and appliances below.  The most common issues occur with combustion vents.

To work effectively, a combustion vent has to draw adequately, which is the natural process that moves hot exhaust gases up and out the exhaust flue or vent. Another way to say it is that the vent needs to have a good draft. The effectiveness of the draft is influenced by several factors.

These factors include:

  • thermal buoyancy, which is the tendency of hot air to rise. The hotter the gas is, the faster it will rise;
  • unrestricted flow, which means that the exhaust flue can’t be too small or have too many bends, since these two things slow the flow; and
  • proper length. If a flue is too long, the gases will cool and condensation will form. Condensation can cause corrosion of the sheet metal exhaust flue, as well as the furnace’s components.

An important factor in the quality of the draft is adequate clearance above the roof.  This generally means that the vent should follow either the manufacturer’s installation recommendations or the “2-10 Rule” required by most building code regulations for chimney terminations.  The 2-10 Rule states that combustion vents should terminate at least 2 feet above any part of the highest part of the roof, including the roof itself, within 10 feet.  For example, if a combustion vent is 3 feet away from a dryer vent on a flat roof, the combustion vent should be two feet higher than the dryer vent.  If a combustion vent is on the low part of a sloping roof, the vent must be 2 feet higher than the nearest point of the sloped roof that’s within 10 feet.  So, if you see a vent that doesn’t meet the 2-10 Rule, a qualified HVAC contractor may need to re-install a vent of the proper height.

White deposits on combustion vents or on the roof below them are evidence that excessive condensation has been forming. This can be caused by a vent that:

  • is too long;
  • has too many bends; or
  • has poorly sloped sections that slow the flow of exhaust gases.

If you see this condition on a roof, you should look for similar white deposits on the combustion appliance served by the vent. Poor venting can cause corrosion that may shorten the lifespan of that appliance.

Flashing for Vents
The critical installation that keeps moisture and the elements from entering the roof surface down the side of the vent is called flashing.  Different types of vents require flashing that is appropriate for the type of vent installation, as well as of a compatible material so that it doesn’t cause galvanic corrosion or other issues that will cause the vent or flashing to deteriorate prematurely.  Flashing may need to be on top of roof shingles or below stone tiles; a good roofing contractor who specializes in your roof’s material will know what type of flashing is required and how it should be installed.

Of course, a leak in the attic, or any signs of rust or staining on the vent, flashing or roof is a sign of a problem.  If you do suspect a problem, your first call should be to your home inspector so that he can investigate it before you call a contractor.  Most contractors are honest, but since the contractor has something to sell, and it’s in his best interests to find a problem that he can charge you to fix.  Call your InterNACHI home inspector first; it’s his job to find the problem, not fix it.

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.

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
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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
Follow us on Twitter: www.Twitter.com/HomeRunInspect2

http://www.home-runinspections.com/

 

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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
Like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/homeruninspections
Follow us on Twitter: www.Twitter.com/HomeRunInspect2

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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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