Veteran Home Inspections, PLLC

Veteran Home Inspections, PLLC

Highlights from our home inspections and news you can use as you buy or sell a home.

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Specialist Home Inspectors for the Inspection of Older Homes

Are you considering getting a home inspection for an older home? A general home inspector could very well do the job. But there might be instances or cases when there is a need to hire specialists to make sure inspections of specific areas would be accurate. You could also hire an experienced home inspector like Veteran Home Inspections to take care of most of the issues.

The home inspector is a certified and experienced professional in carrying out home inspections. However, they might not be able to cover all aspects and parts of the home. A regular inspector might be able to tell if there is something wrong with an air conditioning and heating system, for example, but he could not exactly identify malfunctions and faulty linings. Therefore, when you are looking for a home inspector for an older home, look for an experienced home inspector that understands the systems and materials used in older construction, and knows how to inspect them.

Inspections Veteran Home Inspections can perform:

Mold – You know molds are fungi, microorganisms that might trigger several health problems to inhabitants. However, there are many types of molds. A mold inspection should be conducted to ensure good and healthy air quality inside the house.

Formaldehyde – Old homes could have been constructed using building materials that may contain chemicals like formaldehyde, a flammable gas that has also been proven to cause specific cancers in rats.

Well water quality– If the home has a well, you should have a water quality analysis done to ensure the water is healthy to drink.

Plumbing systems – Older plumbing systems can include materials like lead, galvanized, and cast iron pipes. All of these materials are well past their expected service life, so a thorough inspection is essential to help prevent problems after you move in. We also recommend having Veteran Home Inspections perform a sewer camera inspection to examine the integrity of the main sewer line.

Lead-based paint – It was only in 1978 that lead-based paint was banned in the United States. Thus, old homes constructed before 1978 should be tested for presence of lead-based paint. Veteran Home Inspections has the equipment to quickly and accurately test the painted surfaces in your home for lead based paint. The testing is non-destructive, and results are instant. If lead-based paint is found, lead abatement contractors should be hired to remove such paint.

Septic Systems – If you are buying a home with a septic system, you should definitely have that system inspected. Unfortunately, many home owners neglect their septic systems, and we frequently find systems that have not been pumped or maintained in decades. This neglect can lead to the entire system needing to be replaced.

Roof – Home inspectors generally inspect roofs. However, for old homes, there are sometimes specialized roofing systems that an inexperienced home inspector may not be familiar with. While we can inspect any roofing type, some roofs that are especially steep or high may still require a specialist.

Electrical System – When we inspect older homes, the electrical system can sometimes be like walking through a museum showing all the various types of wiring that were used through the ages. From fuse panels to knob-and-tube wiring, some of these systems may not have aged as well as the rest of the house, and it takes extra experience to find the issues associated with older electrical systems. Make sure your inspector is well educated on them, so you don’t get an unwelcome surprise down the road.

Wood Destroying Insects – Termites, carpenter ants, powder post beetles, and more love to infest older homes.  While a wood destroying insect inspection is recommended on all homes, it’s essential on an older home.  Most home inspectors are not licensed to inspect for these insects, in fact the home inspection laws specifically exclude them from the home inspection process.  Veteran Home Inspections is licensed to inspect for them, so we can do this inspection at the same time as your home inspection.

Inspections where you will need a specialist:

Trees around the house – An arborist is a specialist in trees. Home inspections should not miss trees and plants in the surroundings, which might affect the structure and security of the home.

Easements and encroachments – Title policies basically disclose easements. However, before buying any home, especially old ones, you may have to hire a surveyor. You may ask the title company about actual easement records and documents from public records.

Square footage – You may hire an appraiser instead if you aim to verify square footage of the house. Public records are basically input by people, making them susceptible to human error.

Well Equipment – While we can inspect the above-ground components of the well, if you are concerned about the water supply and underground equipment, a well specialist would need to be hired.

As you consider hiring a home inspector, first look at the age of the house. Newer homes may not require tedious and specialized inspections. Older houses certainly do.

How to Sell Your Home Faster, with Less Stress

Are you planning to sell a home? If you are, be reminded that home buyers are almost certain to hire a professional home inspector before purchasing your home. The idea is to take a closer look at the house before buying, so that they can be sure the home is in good condition. Who in his right mind would want to buy a house that has major issues?

What if I told you that you could speed the process up, and even avoid possible problems that may affect or hinder your potential home sale. Did you know you could hire a qualified home inspector before listing your house, so you could make the necessary repairs long before you put the house up for sale. Of course, the home inspector is supposed to cover a number of important systems and parts of the home. However, there are ‘hot spots’ or usual areas of the house that most buyers worry a lot about.

First, mold and mildew stains with accompanying odors almost always scare prospective home buyers. Mold and mildew presence may pose health risks because the fungi may be carried by ventilation and the air to be breathed by inhabitants. Mildew odors also automatically point to a very moist basement or crawlspace. Take note that constant moisture deteriorates materials in buildings, and can also attract insects like termites and carpenter ants. Moisture may also lead to suspicions about the drainage system, the roofing, the water flow, and even to possible foundation problems.

Roofs and chimneys are of course main concerns. Roofs function as natural protection of the entire house against harsh sunlight and torrential rains. Home inspectors naturally complete a thorough inspection of the roofing system because doing so is very important. As for the chimneys, the base’s flashing system should be watertight. The bricks and mortar should always be in excellent condition, the flue clean, and a spark arrestor/rain cap should be installed.

The plumbing system is an important area because no home buyer would want to encounter any problem with it. The home inspector will check water pressure by flushing toilets and turning on different faucets at the same time. Several inspectors may go as far as checking the septic system. However, in most cases, septic and sewerage inspections would have to be referred to specialists who know more about them. At Veteran Home Inspections, we can check both the septic system and the underground drain lines in addition to a regular home inspection.

The electrical system is always a cause of alarm. Many home fires occur because of faulty electrical wiring. Inspectors should be able to identify such faulty and troublesome wiring. Circuit breakers and panels should be configured appropriately to run adequately and cater to the house needs. They will also check the quality and safety of receptacles, outlets, lighting systems, and electrical box. Professional electricians are needed to do a more thorough and more accurate electrical system check.

Other hot spots for home inspections include cooling and heating systems, foundation and structure, and appliances. Security alarms like smoke and burglar detectors should also be functional. Overall, you should hire a home inspector with the aim to make the necessary repairs so your home sale process runs smoothly.

Of course home buyers always have the option to hire their own home inspection, but wouldn’t it be nice to know that there won’t be any surprises?

We have a dedicated program built specifically for pre-listing inspections, that will not only help you sell your home faster, but also for more money. For more information about the program, visit http://vhillc.com/move-in-certified/ and give us a call today at 210-202-1974 to schedule your pre-listing inspection.

Useful Tips To Ensure A Storm Safe Home

With the arrival of spring comes the threat of storms. Storm safety and maintenance measures need to be taken before you head into the seasons where they are more likely. There are certain safety measures, which should be taken by you for your as well as your family member’s safety.

Storms can quickly pop up and become very dangerous, so make sure that every one in the family is familiar with safe routes from school, home, work or wherever they are. Make sure that your vehicles are in good condition. Always keep an emergency kit in your vehicle. Make a list and buy all the necessary items, which you and your family will need, in case you are not able to get out of the home for a few days due to dangerous conditions.

Your storm safety and maintenance plan should include a weather radio for your home. Most modern cell phones also have an emergency alert feature, but this relies on the cell networks being operational. Make sure that you are familiar with the frequency of radio stations that provide weather details, so that you can tune in to your radio easily when required.

Make a backup plan for all family members. In case people are separated during a storm, which is quite possible during a daytime storm, then you must know about a safe destination, where all of you will get together. Teach your children about emergency numbers and how to dial them. This is very important for their safety, especially if they will be home alone. Keep flashlights and candles in easy to find places. You should also have a supply of batteries for the flashlights that is not used for other purposes, such as toys.

Storm safety and maintenance is also important for your home. If you have roof leaks then get them repaired. Clean rain gutters. Make sure you have weather proof doors, windows and shutters. Take a look around outside to make sure you don’t have any trees or tree limbs that could fall and damage your house when high winds hit. You should also keep an eye out for items in the yard that can easily be blown around by the wind. We’ve all seen the pictures of trampolines blown into interesting locations by a storm.

Taking a few minutes now to prepare can help you get through a storm with much less stress and danger. It can also help reduce potential damage to your home or injury to you and your family.

Preventive Maintenance can Save You Big Money

Home repairs can be expensive and some are unavoidable, however they can be even more expensive when they have to be done unexpectedly, such as when a water heater bursts and ruins your carpet and possibly other items. Or maybe you have a leaky roof you’ve been meaning to get to until one day a heavy rain comes and part of the roof collapses into your home. Now you have an expensive roofing job to do and you have to clean up the mess in the home. What’s more, you’ll likely have water damage or other types of damage to the inside of your home if this happens to you.

Not only is emergency home repair more expensive; the event that leads up to you having to do emergency home repair could be dangerous. There’s just no better solution than preventive maintenance to keep your home and family safe and to avoid unexpected and costly repairs. Get organized so you will know which tasks you should do on a monthly or yearly basis. Keep receipts of all items you buy that have to do with home repair and maintenance and keep warranties together. Some people like to use a filing system while a binder works well for others. It really doesn’t matter what kind of system you use as long as you keep careful and current records of the home maintenance tasks you perform.

There are quite a few preventive maintenance tasks you should do to keep your home running smoothly. Although we won’t go over all of them here, we will touch on just a few. Keep your water heater running smoothly by checking the pressure relief valve twice a year. This is a preventive device that could keep your water heater from exploding and it is important that the valve be in good working condition. This valve is present on all water heaters, both gas and electric and when checking it you should hear water escape through the valve. If this doesn’t, you should have a plumber replace the valve. Also, check for rust around the base and replace the water heater if any is spotted.

Something as simple as changing your filter on your home heating and air conditioning system can make the unit run more efficiently, make your home more comfortable, and save on costly repairs down the road. Thinner, 1″ filters should be changed monthly, while the thicker 4-5″ filters may be able to go 3-4 months. If you have pets or live in a dusty area, you will need to change the filters more often. Also, inspect dryer hoses at least once a year and check for lint around the vent area and in the hose. Built-up dryer lint can cause a fire and reduce the efficiency of your dryer so it is important to ensure that the vent tubing is clear of lint. It’s also very important to clean the lint filter after every load of laundry.

There are many more preventive home maintenance tasks you will need to do each year. Many of them are quite simple and all of them are far easier than cleaning up the mess after a disaster strikes.

Are Home Warranties Worth It?

We are frequently asked to contribute to national press articles on issues about homes and home inspection.  Here is the link to an article we contributed to about Home Warranties.  Of course they couldn’t name names in the article, but I can here.  The company that only offered me $700 to replace the HVAC their technicians screwed up was American Home Shield.  The Home Warranty we now offer, and carry on our own home, is the Residential Warranty Services Simple Home Warranty, and you can order it nationwide at this link.  As a bonus, if we do your home inspection, you will get an 18-month warranty for the price of 12!

Fire Separation Doors from the House to the Garage

I’d like everyone to take a minute to think about two potentially very dangerous situations.  Both of them have to do with your garage.  If your garage is attached to your house, you should have a door between them.  The door needs to be able to withstand a fire in the garage, as well as help keep deadly gasses from seeping through (like Carbon Monoxide).  Because of these threats, the door must meet some very specific requirements.  These are addressed in the International Residential Code:

“R302.5.1 Opening protection. Openings from a private garage directly into a room used for sleeping purposes shall not be permitted. Other openings between the garage and residence shall be equipped with solid wood doors not less than 1-3/8 inches (35 mm) in thickness, solid or honeycomb-core steel doors not less than 1-3/8 inches (35 mm) thick, or 20-minute fire-rated doors, equipped with a selfclosing device.”

Fire resistance:  The door must be able to withstand a fire in the garage long enough for you to get out of the house.  Preferably long enough for the fire department to get there and extinguish the fire.  One of the most common defects I find in my area is that the door isn’t thick enough.  The common practice here is to use a solid wood door, which would normally be fine.  However, a flat panel door doesn’t seem to fit in the decor of all the houses here, so most often I see 6-panel doors.  These doors are about 1-5/8″ – 1-3/4″ thick, but if you measure the thickness at the recesses in the door, it’s less than 1-3/8″.  These doors do not meet the stated requirement, and should be replaced with a door that does.

Self-Closing:  This requirement is there for one purpose, to make sure the door is fully closed so that it can do its job.  It can’t keep fire and carbon monoxide out of the house if it’s open.  The way the requirement is written, a lot of people read it that a self-closing device is only required on 20-minute fire-rated doors.  The confusion comes about because of the oxford comma before the last requirement.  I reached out to the International Code Council (the group that writes the International Residential Code) for clarification, and they replied: “The self-closing device is a requirement for all the types of doors mentioned in Section R302.5.1”

So, please take a minute and go check the door to your garage.  If it looks like the door in this picture, you probably have an improper door.  Also make sure that the self-closing devices reliably close the door to the point the latch catches.  If not, have them adjusted.  Your safety could depend on it.

Improper Fire Door

Improper Fire Door

Of course this is just one of the many things we inspect during our comprehensive home inspection.  To book your inspection, call 210-202-1974, or click here to book online.

 

 

 

 

Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs)

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

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


How do they work?

 

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


What is an arc?

 

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


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


Where are arcs likely to form?

 

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


Situations in which arcs may be created:

  • electrical cords damaged by vacuum cleaners or trapped beneath furniture or doors.
  • damage to wire insulation from nails or screws driven through walls.
  • appliance cords damaged by heat, natural aging, kinking, impact or over-extension.
  • spillage of liquid.
  • loose connections in outlets, switches and light fixtures.

Where are AFCIs required?

 

Locations in which AFCIs are required depend on the building codes adopted by their jurisdiction.


The 2006 International Residential Code (IRC) requires that AFCIs be installed within bedrooms in the following manner:

E3802.12 Arc-Fault Protection of Bedroom Outlets. All branch circuits that supply120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-amp outlets installed in bedrooms shall be protected by a combination-type or branch/feeder-type arc-fault circuit interrupter installed to provide protection of the entire branch circuit.

Exception: The location of the arc-fault circuit interrupter shall be permitted to be at other than the origination of the branch circuit, provided that:

  1. The arc-fault circuit interrupter is installed within 6 feet of the branch circuit overcurrent device as measured along the branch circuit conductors, and
  2. The circuit conductors between the branch circuit overcurrent device and the arc-fault circuit interrupter are installed in a metal raceway or a cable with metallic sheath.

The National Electrical Code (NEC) offers the following guidelines concerning AFCI placement within bedrooms:

Dwelling Units. All 120-volt, single phase, 15- and 20-ampere branch circuits supplying outlets installed in dwelling unit in family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, sun rooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, or similar rooms or areas shall be protected by a listed arc-fault circuit interrupter, combination-type installed to provide protection of the branch circuit.

 

What types of AFCIs are available?

 

AFCIs are available as circuit breakers for installation in the electrical distribution panel, as well as replacement receptacles to add protection on household circuits.. 

 

Nuisance Tripping

 

An AFCI might activate in situations that are not dangerous and create needless power shortages. This can be particularly annoying when an AFCI stalls power to a freezer or refrigerator, allowing its contents to spoil. There are a few procedures an electrical contractor can perform in order to reduce potential “nuisance tripping,” such as:

  • Check that the load power wire, panel neutral wire and load neutral wire are properly connected.
  • Check wiring to ensure that there are no shared neutral connections.
  • Check the junction box and fixture connections to ensure that the neutral conductor does not contact a grounded conductor.

Arc Faults vs. Ground Faults

 

It is important to distinguish AFCI devices from Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) devices. GFCIs detect ground faults, which occur when current leaks from a hot (ungrounded) conductor to a grounded object as a result of a short-circuit. This situation can be hazardous when a person unintentionally becomes the current’s path to the ground. GFCIs function by constantly monitoring the current flow between hot and neutral (grounding) conductors, and activate when they sense a difference of 5 milliamps or more. Thus, GFCIs are intended to prevent personal injury due to electric shock, while AFCIs prevent personal injury and property damage due to structure fires.

 

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

 

In summary, AFCIs are designed to detect small arcs of electricity before they have a chance to lead to a structure fire. 

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

by Nick Gromicko, Mike Marlow and Kenton Shepard

Garage Doors

Garage doors are large, spring-supported doors. Garage door openers control the opening and closing of garage doors, either through a wall-mounted switch or a radio transmitter. Due to the strain that garage door components and openers regularly endure, they may become defective over time and need to be fixed or replaced. Defective components may create safety hazards as well as functional deficiencies to the garage door assembly.
The following facts demonstrate the dangers posed by garage doors:
  • Garage doors are typically among the heaviest moving objects in the home and are held under high tension.
  • Injuries caused by garage doors account for approximately 20,000 emergency room visits annually, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • The majority of the injuries caused by garage doors are the result of pinched fingers, although severe injuries and deaths due to entrapment occur as well. Sixty children have been killed since 1982 as a result of garage doors that did not automatically reverse upon contact.

Home owners should not attempt to fix any garage door defects they may encounter. They should have the door examined and repaired by a trained garage door technician. The following components should be present and devoid of defects:

  • manual (emergency) release handle. All garage doors should be equipped with this device, which will detach the door from the door opener when activated. It is vital during emergency situations, such as when a person becomes trapped beneath the door or when a power outage cuts electricity to the door opener. Periodically activate the handle to make sure that it works, although they will have to reset the handle if it does not reset automatically. In order for the handle to be accessible and obvious, it must be…
  1. colored red;
  2. easily distinguishable from rest of the garage opener system; and
  3. no more than 6 feet above the standing surface.
  • door panels. Both sides of the door should be examined for the following:
  1. fatigue;
  2. cracking and dents. Aluminum doors are especially vulnerable to denting; and
  3. separation of materials.
  • warning labels. The following four warning labels should be present on or around garage door assemblies:
  1. a spring warning label, attached to the spring assembly;
  2. a general warning label, attached to the back of the door panel;
  3. a warning label attached to the wall in the vicinity of the wall control button, and;
  4. a tension warning label, attached to garage door’s bottom bracket.
  • brackets and roller shafts.
    1. Brackets. The garage door opener is connected to the garage door by a bracket that is essential to the function of the door opener system. Placement of the bracket where it attaches to the door is crucial to the operation of its safety features. It should attach 3 to 6 inches from the top of the door. This bracket, as well as all other brackets, should be securely attached to their surfaces.
    2. Roller shafts. Roller shafts should be longer on the top and bottom rollers. The top rollers are the most important. Without longer shafts, if one side of the door hangs up, the door may fall out of the opening.
  • door operation. The door’s operation can be tested by raising the door manually, grasping the door’s handles if it has them. You can then make sure that the door:
    1. moves freely;
    2. does not open or close too quickly; and
    3. opens and closes without difficulty.

Note:  Do not operate the door until you have inspected the track mounts and bracing. Doors have been known to fall on people and cars when they were operated with tracks that were not securely attached and supported.

  • extension spring containment cables. Older garage doors may use extension springs to counter-balance the weight of the door. These require a containment cable inside the spring to prevent broken parts from being propelled around the garage if the spring snaps. Most new garages use shaft-mounted torsion springs that do not require containment cables.
  • wall-mounted switch. This device must be present and positioned as high as is practical above the standing surface (at least five feet as measured from the bottom of the switch) so that children do not gain access.

In addition, the button must:

  1.    be mounted in clear view of the garage door; and
  2.    be mounted away from moving parts.

Important note:  You should always make sure to disable the manual lock on the garage door before activating the switch.

  • automatic reverse system. As of 1991, garage doors are required to be equipped with a mechanism that automatically reverses the door if it comes in contact with an object. It is important that the door reverses direction and opens completely, rather than merely halting. If a garage door fails this test, get it repaired. A dial on the garage door opener controls the amount of pressure required to trigger the door to reverse. This dial can be adjusted by a qualified garage door technician if necessary.

Methods for testing the automatic reverse system:

  1. This safety feature can be tested by grasping the base of the garage door as it closes and applying upward resistance. Use caution while performing this test because you may accidentally damage its components if the door does not reverse course.
  2. Some sources recommend placing a 2×4 piece of wood on the ground beneath the door, although there have been instances where this testing method has damaged the door or door opener components.
  • supplemental automatic reverse system. Garage doors manufactured in the U.S. after 1992 must be equipped with photoelectric sensors or a door edge sensor.
    1. Photoelectric eyes. These eyes (also known as photoelectric sensors) are located at the base of each side of the garage door and emit and detect beams of light. If this beam is broken, it will cause the door to immediately reverse direction and open. For safety reasons, photo sensors must be installed a maximum of 6 inches above the standing surface.
    2. Door edge sensors. This device is a pressure-sensitive strip installed at the base of the garage door. If it senses pressure from an object while the door is closing, it will cause the door to reverse. Door edge sensors are not as common in garage door systems as photoelectric eyes.
 
Safety Advice for Home Owners:
  • Homeowners should not attempt to adjust or repair springs themselves. The springs are held under extremely high tension and can snap suddenly and forcefully, causing serious or fatal injury.
  • No one should stand or walk beneath a garage door while it is in motion. Adults should set an example for children and teach them about garage door safety. Children should not be permitted to operate the garage door opener push button and should be warned against touching any of the door’s moving parts.
  • Fingers and hands should be kept away from pulleys, hinges and springs, and the intersection points between door panels. Closing doors can very easily crush body parts that get between them.
  • The automatic reversal system may need to be adjusted for cold temperatures, since the flexibility of the springs is affected by temperature. This adjustment can be made from a dial on the garage door opener, which should be changed only by a trained garage door technician.
In summary, garage doors and their openers can be hazardous if certain components are missing or defective. Inspectors should understand these dangers and be prepared to offer useful safety tips to their clients.
Inspecting the garage door and installed openers is just one of the many things we inspect during a Veteran Home Inspection.  To schedule your inspection, call 210-202-1974 or book online at www.vhillc.com.

Dryer Vent Safety

One of the most common issues we note during home inspections is with dryer ducts.  For what appears to be a simple system, there are some very important intricacies that have to be followed to make sure they are safe.
Clothes dryers evaporate the water from wet clothing by blowing hot air past them while they tumble inside a spinning drum. Heat is provided by an electrical heating element or gas burner. Some heavy garment loads can contain more than a gallon of water which, during the drying process, will become airborne water vapor and leave the dryer and home through an exhaust duct (more commonly known as a dryer vent).
A vent that exhausts moist air to the home’s exterior has a number of requirements:
  1. It should be connected. The connection is usually behind the dryer but may be beneath it. Look carefully to make sure it’s actually connected.
  2. It should not be restricted. Dryer vents are often made from flexible plastic or metal duct, which may be easily kinked or crushed where they exit the dryer and enter the wall or floor. This is often a problem since dryers tend to be tucked away into small areas with little room to work. Vent elbows are available which is designed to turn 90° in a limited space without restricting the flow of exhaust air. Restrictions should be noted in the inspector’s report. Airflow restrictions are a potential fire hazard.
  3. One of the reasons that restrictions are a potential fire hazard is that, along with water vapor evaporated out of wet clothes, the exhaust stream carries lint – highly flammable particles of clothing made of cotton and polyester. Lint can accumulate in an exhaust duct, reducing the dryer’s ability to expel heated water vapor, which then accumulates as heat energy within the machine. As the dryer overheats, mechanical failures can trigger sparks, which can cause lint trapped in the dryer vent to burst into flames. This condition can cause the whole house to burst into flames. Fires generally originate within the dryer but spread by escaping through the ventilation duct, incinerating trapped lint, and following its path into the building wall.
InterNACHI believes that house fires caused by dryers are far more common than are generally believed, a fact that can be appreciated upon reviewing statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency. Fires caused by dryers in 2005 were responsible for approximately 13,775 house fires, 418 injuries, 15 deaths, and $196 million in property damage. Most of these incidents occur in residences and are the result of improper lint cleanup and maintenance. Fortunately, these fires are very easy to prevent.
The recommendations outlined below reflect International Residential Code (IRC) SECTION M1502 CLOTHES DRYER EXHAUST guidelines:

M1502.5 Duct construction.
Exhaust ducts shall be constructed of minimum 0.016-inch-thick (0.4 mm) rigid metal ducts, having smooth interior surfaces, with joints running in the direction of air flow. Exhaust ducts shall not be connected with sheet-metal screws or fastening means which extend into the duct.

This means that the flexible, ribbed vents used in the past should no longer be used. They should be noted as a potential fire hazard if observed during an inspection.
M1502.6 Duct length.
The maximum length of a clothes dryer exhaust duct shall not exceed 25 feet (7,620 mm) from the dryer location to the wall or roof termination. The maximum length of the duct shall be reduced 2.5 feet (762 mm) for each 45-degree (0.8 rad) bend, and 5 feet (1,524 mm) for each 90-degree (1.6 rad) bend. The maximum length of the exhaust duct does not include the transition duct.
This means that vents should also be as straight as possible and cannot be longer than 25 feet. Any 90-degree turns in the vent reduce this 25-foot number by 5 feet, since these turns restrict airflow.
A couple of exceptions exist:
  1. The IRC will defer to the manufacturer’s instruction, so if the manufacturer’s recommendation permits a longer exhaust vent, that’s acceptable. An inspector probably won’t have the manufacturer’s recommendations, and even if they do, confirming compliance with them exceeds the scope of a General Home Inspection.
  2. The IRC will allow large radius bends to be installed to reduce restrictions at turns, but confirming compliance requires performing engineering calculation in accordance with the ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook, which definitely lies beyond the scope of a General Home Inspection.
M1502.2 Duct termination.
Exhaust ducts shall terminate on the outside of the building or shall be in accordance with the dryer manufacturer’s installation instructions. Exhaust ducts shall terminate not less than 3 feet (914 mm) in any direction from openings into buildings. Exhaust duct terminations shall be equipped with a backdraft damper. Screens shall not be installed at the duct termination.
We see many dryer vents terminate in crawlspaces or attics where they deposit moisture, which can encourage the growth of mold, wood decay, or other material problems. Sometimes they will terminate just beneath attic ventilators. This is a defective installation. They must terminate at the exterior and away from a door or window. Also, screens may be present at the duct termination and can accumulate lint and will be noted as improper.
M1502.3 Duct size.
The diameter of the exhaust duct shall be as required by the clothes dryer’s listing and the manufacturer’s installation instructions.
Look for the exhaust duct size on the data plate.
M1502.4 Transition ducts.
Transition ducts shall not be concealed within construction. Flexible transition ducts used to connect the dryer to the exhaust duct system shall be limited to single lengths not to exceed 8 feet (2438 mm), and shall be listed and labeled in accordance with UL 2158A.
Required support for lengthy ducts is covered by the following section:

M1502.4.2 Duct installation.
Exhaust ducts shall be supported at intervals not to exceed 12 feet (3,658 mm) and shall be secured in place. The insert end of the duct shall extend into the adjoining duct or fitting in the direction of airflow. Exhaust duct joints shall be sealed in accordance with Section M1601.4.1 and shall be mechanically fastened. Ducts shall not be joined with screws or similar fasteners that protrude more than 1/8-inch (3.2 mm) into the inside of the duct.

In general, we may not know specific manufacturer’s recommendations or local applicable codes and will not be able to confirm the dryer vent’s compliance to them, but will be able to point out issues that may need to be corrected.
To schedule your home inspection, call 210-202-1974 or click the Request an Inspection link above.
by Nick Gromicko, Mike Marlow, and Kenton Shepard

Home Repair Rip-Offs

by Nick Gromicko and Mike Marlow
 Here in Texas, every time we get a hail storm through the area, the shady contractors show up offering to replace your roof.  Additionally, contractors don’t have to be licensed except in the larger cities, so anyone can call themselves a contractor.  It’s truly buyer beware around here, so read on to learn more about some of the schemes that are pulled.

Homeowners have more to worry about than being ripped off by shady contractors in this lagging economy, but such a climate brings desperation — and with it, sadly, fraud. Of course, the majority of tradesmen are generally honest professionals, but there is a large number of unscrupulous contractors who will fix items that don’t need fixing, or grossly overcharge you for services or parts. Worse, there are plenty of con artists posing as tradesmen who will simply take your money and run. Inspectors are often the first ones to uncover such fraud, so they too need to be familiar with its common forms in order to best serve their clients.Yes, this fortress was made by thousands of termites, but it is not evidence that any of them have entered your house.

Some common home repair scams include:

  • roof work. Con artists are known to travel from state to state following natural disasters and looking for victims of storms. Beware of people who suddenly arrive in your neighborhood, offering to fix your roof at a discount. Also, don’t trust a roofer who makes an assessment of a leaky roof from the ground without examining it. Very often, the flashing is all that needs to be replaced, even when the tradesman tries to convince you that you need a whole new roof.
  • driveway sealers.  This time-honored grift has a tradesmen pulling up to your home in his truck and offering to re-seal your driveway using leftover “sealant” from a job “just down the block.”  The low price is unbelievable, and so is the job.  Generally, the sealant is paint or some other cheap, black spray media that will quickly wash away with the next rain.
  • termites. Myths that exaggerate the dangers of termites abound, and homeowners can be easily duped into unnecessary treatment. Ask for prices from more than one company and compare their services. Make sure to get a guarantee that covers you in case termites return within a given period of time. Read the guarantee and the rest of the contract carefully before you sign! Be on guard for the following ruses:
    • The exterminator shows you termites on a fence or woodpile that is not connected to your house. If he were competent and honest, he would know that these termites pose no threat to your home.
    • He (but not you) witnesses “evidence.” Make the exterminator show you the alleged evidence of the infestation. Termite-damaged wood is hollowed out along the grain, with bits of soil or mud lining the galleries.
    • He offers a free termite inspection, and his motives are questionable to begin with. He may bring the evidence to your house with him.
  • chimney sweeps. Beware of any chimney sweep who arrives at your door unannounced, offering to perform his services for a low price. He might say that he’s just worked on your neighbor’s chimney, and offer you a suspiciously low price for a sweep. The inspection will uncover “problems” that quickly balloon the price.
  • HVAC specialists. The most common HVAC rip-offs are replacing parts that work fine and substituting used parts for new ones. If you get suspicious, ask to see the alleged broken parts before they’re replaced, and look at the packaging and documentation for the new parts before they’re installed. If possible, have HVAC work performed in the off-season, as it may be significantly cheaper.
  • plumbers. Parts cost plumbers only a tiny fraction of the total charge for their services, but some plumbers will still cut corners to boost their profit. They may use plastic or low-grade metal, for instance, or 1/2-inch pipe instead of 3/4-inch pipe. Ask what they are installing and how long the parts will last.
  • painters. Some painters agree to use a specific brand of high-quality paint, then pour cheap paint into name-brand cans. Most of the cans the painter brings with him should be sealed when the job is started. If not, ask why. Other painters skimp on the prep work.

Homeowners should heed the following advice whenever they hire a contractor:

  • Go to OverSeeIt.com to find an InterNACHI inspector who will stop by and make sure your construction project is done right.
  • If you are calling a contractor for an estimate and you live in an affluent neighborhood, don’t mention your address or phone number until you get the estimate. You can even call a tradesman in a less wealthy town or neighborhood that’s nearby, as their price will likely be lower than the going rate in your area.
  • Try to negotiate a flat rate if the tradesman has no idea how much the job is going to cost. This is especially helpful in plumbing work, as almost all pipes are hidden behind walls and the job can easily become more complicated than originally planned.
  • Ask if the tradesman charges for travel time. If he does, it may be cheaper to choose someone who is closer. Also ask if he charges for time spent traveling to supply stores.
  • Know your contractor. Be sure he is licensed, and get a written agreement stating the cost and the work to be performed.
  • Beware of any contractor who shows up at your door unannounced or calls you on the phone. Con artists must move every so often to frustrate law enforcement, so they have no fixed address and rely on door-to-door or phone solicitation. For the same reason, their invoices may contain only a P.O. box rather than a street address.
  • Always be wary of a contractor who recommends a particular company or individual after “discovering” a problem, as he will probably receive a kickback for the referral, so you cannot trust his advice.
  • Beware of a contractor who tries to unnecessarily increase the scope of a project. Also known as an upseller, these people will do the following:
    • not offer you a range of options, including cheaper alternatives or work that is different than what you had anticipated; or
    • use scare tactics to persuade you to take his recommendations.
  • Beware of contractors who insist that they are  charging you only for what they paid for the materials, if they are, in fact, making a profit on the materials. Material over-charging is unethical if the contractor lies about it.
  • Beware of material-swapping, in which the contractor will buy premium products and make you reimburse him, but then he returns the product for something cheaper and of lower quality, and pockets the difference. If you suspect material-swapping, you can uncover the farce at the end of the job by comparing the packaging with the products listed on the receipt.
  • Do not give a large down-payment. It may be appropriate to pay a small percentage of the total estimate up front, but if the contractor asks for most (or all) of the money up front, he may be a con artist. Even if he does return to perform the work, he may botch the job or leave it unfinished, leaving you with little power to contest. And, of course, never pay in cash.
  • If you are elderly, be on heightened alert for scammers because you will be targeted more often than your children.
In summary, homeowners and inspectors alike should be wise to the plethora of ways that home repair contractors, or those posing as such, rip off their clients.  Don’t be afraid to call Veteran Home Inspections at 210-202-1974 to have us inspect your home for needed repairs, or to check up on your contractor’s work.  We do not work on houses we inspect, so we are completely impartial.