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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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.

Foreclosure Home Inspections – Trust Your Gut

So, you want to buy a house cheap, and you look to the foreclosure market. Considering the over-abundance of these properties and just how little many of them are going for, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon and buy up. And it may pay off as a long-term investment.  But, like any other major purchase, you should know as much as you can about a property before you buy it, which is why home inspections, performed by certified InterNACHI inspectors, are necessary.
Unfortunately, many real estate agents, who don’t like bargaining with banks, are advising clients that home inspections are of no value as a bargaining tool, since banks don’t negotiate on “as is” properties. As an added disincentive, banks selling properties “as is” have no legal responsibility for any lurking defects. While the agent’s advice to forgo an inspection as a means to negotiate on the price may be logical, it is startlingly counter-intuitive, and possibly even negligent. Would you buy a car without knowing whether it has a transmission?  The same premise holds true for a house, regardless of whether you intend to live in it, or fix it and flip it. The Realtor may be trying to salvage a deal that could possibly be scrapped if an inspector uncovers damage that the bank is unwilling to pay for, and you, as the buyer, have to realize that the agent’s advice is not in your best interest. In this case, they’re putting you at risk in order to ensure they get their commission.
Any Realtor advising against an inspection on a foreclosure (or neglecting to recommend that one be performed) is ignoring the likelihood that, long before the previous owners stopped making mortgage payments, they deferred required maintenance tasks. Moisture intrusion leading to leaks and mold are just a few of the major problems commonly found by inspectors in foreclosed properties.  Tales abound of bizarre discoveries in abandoned properties, from wild boars to colossal bees nests. Former owners may loot their own properties, taking with them anything they can pry up or unscrew, and leave behind trash and junk that you have to pay for to have removed.
There are also stories of foreclosed properties that have been intentionally vandalized by their former owners in acts of retaliation against their banks. In one infamous case in early 2010, an Ohioan bulldozed his $250,000 home after the IRS placed liens on his carpet store, and then threatened to take his house. The damage done by the owner was apparent, but there are probably less extreme situations where the damage isn’t as obvious, making a home inspection of utmost priority.
You should always get a home inspection before buying a property, especially when you’re buying a bank-owned foreclosure.  In such cases, it may be impossible to find out how well the home was cared for, or whether major damage was done right before the past owners left the property. Ask the bank how much time you have after your initial offer to have an inspection performed, and schedule one immediately. If it goes well, you’ll enter into the deal with peace of mind and a better idea of what repairs you’ll have to deal with. That alone is worth the price of an inspection. If the inspection reveals a costly disaster, you can back out of the deal and save tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
To schedule your home inspection, call 210-202-1974, or visit www.vhillc.com/request-inspection to schedule online.
by Nick Gromicko, Mike Marlow, and Kate Tarasenko

Modular vs. Manufactured Homes

While the terms “modular home” and “manufactured home” refer to two very different things, they are sometimes used interchangeably. Perhaps some of this confusion stems from the fact that modular homes are, in fact, manufactured (“manufactured” might be an unfortunate label.) Also, traditional “site-built” homes are not necessarily better than modular homes, despite the stigma associated with their assembly-line origin. There have been cases where Realtors and builders of manufactured homes have misrepresented manufactured homes as modular homes, and buyers were not informed enough to know the difference. Everyone (especially inspectors, who make their living examining residences) should understand the distinguishing features of these two types of houses.

Modular Homes
Modular homes are residences constructed entirely in factories and transported to their sites on flatbed trucks. They are built under controlled conditions, and must meet strict quality-control requirements before they are delivered. They arrive as block segments and are neatly assembled, using cranes, into homes that are almost indistinguishable from comparable ones built on-site. Wind and rain do not cause construction delays or warp building materials. In addition, modular homes:
  • must conform to the same local, state and regional building codes as homes built on-site;
  • are treated the same by banks as homes built on-site. They are easily refinanced, for example;
  • follow the same market trends as site-built houses;
  • must be structurally approved by inspectors;
  • can be of any size, although the block sections from which they are assembled are uniformly sized;
  • are often more basic than homes built on-site, but they tend to be sturdier;
  • are highly customizable. Design is usually decided by the buyer before construction has begun; and
  • generally take eight to 14 weeks to construct. Differing from a site-built home, the foundation can be dug at the same time that the house is being constructed.

Proponents of modular homes claim that their indoor, environmentally controlled construction affords them greater strength and resilience than homes built on-site. They also tend to be constructed using more precise building techniques and with more building material than comparable site-built residences. One reason for this is that they must be able to withstand the stress of highway transport. A study by FEMA found that modular homes withstood the wind and water from Hurricane Andrew better than most other homes in the area. They take less time to construct than site-built homes, are more energy-efficient, and generally cost less.


Manufactured Homes
 
The term “manufactured home” is the most recent label for what were once called “mobile homes” or “trailers.” They are relatively inexpensive, small, and are held to less stringent standards than modular and site-built homes. Their obvious advantages are their mobility and affordability, factors that allow buyers to make home purchases without a serious monetary or geographical commitment. They are available in three sizes that escalate as follows: “single-wide,” “double-wide” and “triple-wide.” In addition, manufactured homes:
  • conform only to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) code. Some homes contain a red tag that confirms that the unit was manufactured in compliance with this code;
  • are inspected, but do not have to be structurally approved by an inspector;
  • are manufactured in sections at factories;
  • are never more than one story;
  • do not have a permanent or conventional foundation;
  • tend to lose value over time because they are difficult to expand or improve;
  • are transported to the site on their own wheels;
  • are transported on steel chassis that are never removed;
  • are often placed on property owned by others, such as public land that is leased by the homeowner;
  • are treated as a separate lending category from modular and on-site built homes; and
  • are rarely custom-designed. The buyer can choose from homes that have already been built and receive it within days.
Despite their manufacturing process, modular homes are essentially the same as homes that are built on-site. They are treated the same under the law, and their basic structural features are almost indistinguishable from site-built homes, once assembled. Manufactured homes are relatively small, inexpensive, mobile residences that require a smaller commitment than is required by modular and site-built homes. It is important to understand the differences between these home types in order to reduce the influence of stigmas, misrepresentation and ignorance.
Many lenders will also ask for a foundation certification from an engineer to certify that the foundation is proper.  Through our partnership with an engineering firm, we can handle this requirement at the same time as the home inspection.
To have your modular or manufactured home inspected, call Veteran Home Inspections at 210-202-1974 or visit www.vhillc.com to book online.

Formaldehyde in Homes

Formaldehyde is a colorless, pungent-smelling chemical widely used in industries that manufacture building materials and numerous household products. Thus, it may be present in substantial concentrations in indoor environments.

Where indoors may formaldehyde be found?International Association of Certified Indoor Air Consultants

  • pressed-wood products (such as hardwood plywood wall paneling, particle board and fiberboard), and furniture made with these pressed-wood products. Mobile homes are especially at risk for indoor formaldehyde pollution because of their abundance of composite wood in construction, and relatively compact interior space;
  • carpet backing and urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI).  In the 1970s, many homes were insulated with UFFI as an energy-conservation measure before it was discovered that UFFI contained dangerously high levels of formaldehyde.  Fortunately, formaldehyde emissions in this product decline over time, so older houses with UFFI are unlikely to have high levels of formaldehyde now. This insulation is not very common in modern housing;
  • tobacco smoke;
  • durable-press drapes and other textiles;
  • un-vented, fuel-burning appliances, such gas stoves and kerosene space heaters; and
  • glues.

Is it dangerous?

Several years after concern arose over high levels of formaldehyde found in some FEMA trailers, there is still a great deal of confusion regarding permissible levels of airborne formaldehyde in indoor environments.  Additional attention was drawn to formaldehyde when elevated levels were found in laminate flooring sold by Lumber Liquidators.

Formaldehyde is known to cause the following conditions:
  • watery eyes;
  • burning sensations in the eyes and throat;
  • nausea;
  • wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing;
  • asthma attacks;
  • fatigue;
  • skin rash;
  • severe allergic reactions; and
  • cancer. Uncertainty remains as to how to compare measured air concentrations of formaldehyde to cancer incidence.  No definitive “high risk” level can be drawn because many other factors besides formaldehyde exposure play a role in the development of cancer. In general, however, the lower the level and shorter the duration of exposure, the less risk of cancer and other health effects there are.

In 1992, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) declared formaldehyde a “toxic air contaminant,” meaning that there is no safe level of exposure. In June 2004, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified formaldehyde from “probably carcinogenic to humans” to “carcinogenic to humans,” specifically concerning nasopharyngeal (upper throat) cancer, while the National Toxicology Program (NTP) continues to classify formaldehyde as “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen in humans” for nasopharyngeal cancer.

Steps to Reduce Exposure

  • Use exterior-grade pressed-wood products (lower-emitting, because they contain phenol resins, not urea resins).
  • Use air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain a moderate temperature and reduce humidity levels.
  • Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde indoors.
  • Seal non-laminated surfaces of products containing formaldehyde with paints, varnish or polyurethane-like materials.
In summary, formaldehyde is an irritating and potentially dangerous gas that may accumulate in indoor environments.  Now, for the good news!  We can do non-destructive testing to determine if your home has elevated formaldehyde levels.  We offer this service either with a home inspection, or as a stand-alone service.  Contact us today to schedule your formaldehyde testing.

Galvanic Corrosion

Galvanic corrosion (also known as bimetallic corrosion or dissimilar-metal corrosion) is an electrochemical disintegration that occurs when dissimilar metals come in contact with each other while immersed in an electrolyte. Galvanic corrosion is of major concern anywhere moisture can reach metal building components. Corrosion asGalvanic Corrosion a broader category is defined as the disintegration of a material into its constituent parts, which may be caused by crevice corrosion, microbial corrosion, and high-temperature corrosion.

There are three conditions that must exist for galvanic corrosion to occur:

  • Two electrochemically dissimilar metals must contact one another. They are dissimilar in the sense that they are far apart on the anodic index, which rates metals based on their electrode potentials. Metals that are more active (such as magnesium and zinc) will corrode in the presence of metals that are less active (such as gold and platinum).
  • There must be an electrically conductive path between the two metals. Any non-metal, liquid substance that can conduct an electric current (such as saltwater or rainwater) can function as an electrolyte. Common examples are ordinary seawater, citric acid, and bases.
  • An electrical path must exist to allow metal ions to move from the active metal to the less active metal. Typically, the metals merely touch one another.

The Statue of Liberty is perhaps the most famous case of galvanic corrosion. Contact between the wrought-iron support and the outer copper skin amidst rainwater exposure has allowed the structure to gradually corrode. The famous icon’s builder anticipated this problem and installed asbestos cloth soaked in shellac insulation in the 1880s.  This worked for some time until it dried up and became porous, acting as a sponge that held saltwater close to the contact points between the two metals. An inspection in 1981 revealed severe galvanic corrosion of the iron supports, causing them to swell and push saddle rivets through the copper skin. This rapidly worsening situation was the main drive to restore the statue in 1986, when the iron was replaced with a variety of corrosion-resistant steel. The solution has held up, and native New Yorkers and visitors alike have been able to enjoy a landmark free from corrosion that will last long into the 21st century.

Examples in Houses

  • ACQ (alkaline copper quaternary) lumber includes copper, which can corrode when it comes in contact with common aluminum building nails. With this type of lumber, it’s best to use G185 galvanized steel or stainless steel fasteners, as they will resist corrosion.
  • Aluminum wiring can become compromised. In the presence of moisture, aluminum will undergo galvanic corrosion when it comes into contact with certain dissimilar metals.
  • Piping commonly rusts and corrodes, especially at joints. The failure of pipe thread is commonly caused by corrosion where carbon steel pipe directly meets a brass valve, or where it transitions to copper pipe. Dielectric unions may be installed to separate these metals to resist damaging corrosion in pipe connections.
  • The elements of an electric water heater often rust and fail. The copper sheathe and steel base, if they become wet, may corrode. Installing galvanized unions with plastic nipples on the top of the water heater can prevent corrosion.

Galvanic Corrosion Can be Prevented in the Following Ways

  • Electrically insulate the dissimilar metals. Plastic can be used to separate steel water pipes from copper-based fittings.  A coat of grease can be used to insulate steel and aluminum parts.
  • Shield the metal from ionic compounds. This is often accomplished by encasing the metal in epoxy or plastic, or painting it. Coating or protection should be applied to the more noble of the two metals, if it is impossible to coat both. Otherwise, greatly accelerated corrosion may occur at points of imperfection in the less noble (more active or anodic) metal.
  • Choose metals that have similar potentials. Closely matched metals have less potential difference and, hence, less galvanic current. The best such solution is to build with only one type of metal.
  • Electroplate the metals.
  • Avoid threaded connections, as they are most severely weakened by galvanic corrosion.
In summary, galvanic corrosion is the disintegration of metals in the presence of an electrolyte. It can occur in homes wherever dissimilar, joined metals become damp.

FAQs about Home Inspections

What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a visual examination of the home’s major structure, systems and components that are visible and safely accessible.  The inspector should substantially adhere to a standards of practice that outlines what should be covered during a general home inspection, as well as what is excluded. Some inspectors may strictly follow the standards of practice, while others, like Veteran Home Inspections, may exceed the standards and inspect other items, or perform a more detailed inspection. Whatever the inspector includes in his or her inspection should be discussed prior to the inspection – this is known as the scope of work. The inspector should be able to provide you with a copy or online link to the standards of practice they follow.  The inspector should provide you with a written report, which may include photos and/or recommendations, of his or her findings of the inspection.  Read InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice to find out what is typically included and excluded in a home inspection.  For Texas Specific Standards of Practice, click here.

 

Why should I get a home inspection?

Buying a home is typically the biggest investment you will ever make, so it’s important to get a home inspection because the inspector should be able to discover and document defects that may or may not be obvious to you as a prospective buyer.  Such defects can range from simple replacements or repairs, to severe damage or safety and health concerns. Additionally, most mortgage companies require a home inspection on a property before approving the home loan. Read InterNACHI’s Top 10 Reasons to Get a Home Inspection.

 

Where can I find a home inspector in my area?

There are several ways to find a home inspector. You may be able to find one online or in local ads. You may also find inspectors’ brochures by visiting a real estate office. There is no single method that is superior when it comes to finding an inspector who’s right for your inspection needs.  If you are in the greater San Antonio, TX and Hill Country area, click here to schedule your home inspection, or call 210-202-1974.

If you are outside of our service area, here are some online resources for finding a home inspector near you:

How can I be sure that a home inspector is qualified?

It is important to choose a home inspector who is qualified and holds a license or certification in the field. Many jurisdictions do not regulate home inspections, meaning that anyone could call themselves a home inspector. However, just because someone performs home inspections doesn’t mean that they’re actually qualified to do so. If you are buying or selling a home in an unregulated jurisdiction, make sure to look for a home inspector with the proper certifications. If you are located in a state or province that does require licensing of home inspectors, you should hire only a licensed professional.  Texas does license Home Inspectors.

Contact your state by phone or online to find out whether they license home inspectors, and what qualifications they’re required to have.  License numbers in licensing states may vary in appearance, but you should be able to independently verify it. If your state doesn’t require licensing, find out what qualifications and certifications your home inspector has. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors – InterNACHI® – is the largest and most trusted home inspector association in the world.  Its members undergo rigorous training to become Certified Professional Inspectors (CPIs)®.  They also follow a Standards of Practice and adhere to a Code of Ethics.  Also, the Master Inspector Certification Board grants qualified inspectors the title of Certified Master Inspector® (CMI®), which is the highest professional designation in the inspection industry.  Find out if your inspector is licensed and/or a CPI or CMI® before you hire him or her. This will ensure that you are hiring only an individual who has received the best training to become a home inspector. Veteran Home Inspections is led by a Certified Master Inspector.

How much does a home inspection cost?

There is no set cost for a home inspection. The cost will vary based on the inspector, the local market, the geographic region, the scope of the inspection to be performed, and more. Before the inspection, you should find out what will be included in the inspection and what won’t, and these details should also be outlined in the inspection agreement that you will need to sign prior to the inspection.

 

How long does a home inspection take?

Depending on the home’s age, size, and location, as well as the home inspector’s own work protocols and ethic, your home inspection may take up to three hours. Adding square footage, outbuildings, and/or ancillary services (such as mold or lead paint testing) will increase that time. It may be necessary for your inspector to bring in a helper for a very large property. If your general home inspection takes significantly less than two to three hours, it may indicate that the inspector was not thorough enough.

 

At what point in the real estate transaction should I schedule a home inspection?

A home inspection is usually scheduled after an offer has been made and accepted, but before the closing date. That way, the inspector can rule out any major defects that could be dangerous or costly. In rare cases—due to timing or contractual issues—the inspection can be scheduled after the closing date. If this is the case, the home buyer should schedule the inspection for the earliest possible date after closing.

 

Should I be present for the inspection?

You should attend the inspection, and you should reconsider hiring an inspector who doesn’t allow this. You can learn a lot by following an inspector through the home. You will certainly gain a better understanding of the home’s condition, which will give you insight into its potential sale points and defects. Additionally, you will likely learn information about the home’s maintenance, systems and components that may provide useful for the transaction and ongoing maintenance of your home.

 

Can the home inspector also repair any defects he or she finds?

What if your home inspector is also a licensed contractor? Sounds great, right? Not always. Although it may seem convenient to have an inspector who is also a contractor, it poses a conflict of interest. According to InterNACHI’s Code of Ethics:

The InterNACHI member shall not perform or offer to perform, for an additional fee, any repairs or associated services to the structure for which the member or member’s company has prepared a home inspection report for a period of 12 months. This provision shall not include services to components and/or systems that are not included in the InterNACHI Standards of Practice.

If an inspector financially benefits from finding any defects, this can impact the accuracy of the report (whether intentional or not). Make sure the inspector you hire abides by a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.

 

What happens if the inspection reveals problems?

If your home inspection reveals any problems, it is important to understand the severity of the defect. For example, a missing shingle or dirty air filter can be easily fixed at a low cost. However, if the defect is more extreme, such as a major foundation crack, wood-destroying organism infestation, or evidence of mold, you should find out how these problems can be addressed, and whether you can negotiate their cost with the seller. If it is determined after you move in that your home has a severe defect that wasn’t reported by your InterNACHI® Certified Master Inspector®, you should check to see if he or she participates in InterNACHI’s “We’ll Buy Your Home Back” Guarantee.  Veteran Home Inspections offers this on all home inspections.

 

What is the Buy-Back Guarantee and how does it work?

If your InterNACHI® Certified Professional Inspector® participates in the Buy-Back Guarantee, InterNACHI® will buy your home back if the inspector misses something on your inspection.

Here’s how this program works:

  • It’s valid for home inspections performed for home buyers only by participating InterNACHI® members.
  • The home must be listed for sale with a licensed real estate agent.
  • The Guarantee excludes homes with material defects not present at the time of the inspection, or not required to be inspected, per InterNACHI’s Residential Standards of Practice.
  • The Guarantee will be honored for 90 days after closing.
  • InterNACHI will pay you whatever price you paid for the home.

 

What about warranties?

A normal home inspection is just a snapshot in time, and there is no warranty of future conditions or issues that will arise.  Some home inspection companies, like Veteran Home Inspections, offer a full package of warranties that provide some protection to you for stuff that pops up within 90 days of the inspection.  The best home inspection companies will also offer an extended home warranty at an additional cost that can cover you for 18 months after purchase.  For information on our 90 day warranties, click here.  To check out the best 18-month home warranty in the industry, click here.  If you are shopping around, make sure the inspector will actually stand behind their inspection.

Defensible Space to Protect Against Wildfires

Defensible space refers to the area surrounding a building that is mitigated to protect it from wildfires. Along with the quality of a building’s roofing material, adequate defensible space is one of the most important factors in determining a building’s ability to survive a wildfire. Inspectors should know enough about defensible space to educate their clients, particularly in fire-prone regions.
Defensible space performs the following functions:

  1. Ideally, a carefully maintained defensible space will not contain enough fuel to allow a wildfire to reach a house. Even if the space is breached, the fire will have been slowed and weakened, helping firefighters to defend the house.
  2. A defensible space provides an accessible area for fire trucks to park and firefighters to work during a structure fire.
  3. If there is a pond near a burning house, it can be used to replenish a fire truck’s water supply. The perimeter of the pond should be thinned of trees and brush sufficiently so that firefighters can access it.
The size requirements for defensible space vary by jurisdiction because the potential for wildfires varies by region. Buildings in forested areas of the Southwest need a much larger protective space than in New Jersey, for instance. As of 2006, California state law mandates a minimum of 100 feet of defensible space for houses in rural locations. Trees and shrubs surrounding a house should be trimmed and spaced apart a safe distance from one another. Chainsaws can be used to remove trees and branches, pruning shears to trim plants, and rakes for removing pine needles and other ground-level combustibles. Trees that are very close to the house should be removed because this is where fire-prevention is most critical. Vegetation can be plentiful towards the perimeter of the space if it is green and pruned.

Colorado State University divides defensible space into three categories in the following manner:

Zone 1:  The first 15 feet from a home should be devoid of all flammable vegetation. Firewood and other flammable materials should not be stored in this region.

Zone 2:  This area of fuel reduction should extend from Zone 1 outward to between 75 to 125 feet from the structure. Trees and large shrubs should be no less than 10 feet apart, especially in steep terrain. Trees must also be pruned to a height of 10 feet from the ground, and any “ladder fuels” (vegetation with vertical continuity) removed from the base of the trees. Grass, trees and shrubs in this region should be green and adequately spaced. Pine needles, dead leaves, branches, dead or dying vegetation and other flammable debris on the ground should be removed whenever they appear.

Zone 3:  This region of traditional forest management is of no particular size, although it normally extends to the property limits. More trees are permitted here than in Zone 2, although their health and vigor should be maintained.

Precautions That Inspectors Can Pass on to Their Clients
  • Homeowners should obey all environmental protection laws while creating and maintaining defensible spaces. In particular, removal of vegetation should not interfere with the well-being of endangered species, air and water quality, or archaeologically significant resources. Homeowners may need to obtain a permit to cut down trees over a certain size, depending on local jurisdictions.
  • Vegetation removal can cause soil erosion, especially in steep terrain. InterNACHI advises that in areas that are prone to wildfire and soil erosion, it can be helpful to replace highly flammable plants and trees with less-flammable alternatives.
In summary, buildings can be spared from wildfire damage through the removal of surrounding flammable vegetation. Defensible spaces are critical in hot, dry, forested regions, although their presence is recommended everywhere.
by Nick Gromicko, Mike Marlow, and Kenton Shepard

Septic Systems

Septic systems treat and disperse relatively small volumes of wastewater from individual and small numbers of homes and commercial buildings. Septic system regulation is usually a state and local responsibility. The EPA provides information to homeowners and assistance to state and local governments to improve the management of septic systems to prevent failures that could harm human health and water quality. 
 
Information for Homeowners

If your septic tank failed, or you know someone whose did, you are not alone. As a homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining your septic system. Proper septic system maintenance will help keep your system from failing and will help maintain your investment in your home. Failing septic systems can contaminate the ground water that you and your neighbors drink and can pollute nearby rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

 Ten simple steps you can take to keep your septic system working properly:
  1. Locate your septic tank and drainfield. Keep a drawing of these locations in your records.
  2. Have your septic system inspected at least every three years. Hire an inspector (like Veteran Home Inspections) trained in septic inspections.
  3. Pump your septic tank as needed (generally, every three to five years).
  4. Don’t dispose of household hazardous waste in sinks or toilets.
  5. Keep other household items, such as dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, and cat litter out of your system.
  6. Use water efficiently.
  7. Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the system. Also, do not apply manure or fertilizers over the drainfield.
  8. Keep vehicles and livestock off your septic system. The weight can damage the pipes and tank, and your system may not drain properly under compacted soil.
  9. Keep gutters and basement sump pumps from draining into or near your septic system.
  10. Check with your local health department before using additives. Commercial septic tank additives do not eliminate the need for periodic pumping and can be harmful to your system.
How does it work? 
A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a  drainfield, and the soil. Microbes in the soil digest and remove most contaminants from wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater. The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming sludge), and oil and grease to float to the surface (as scum). It also allows partial decomposition of the solid materials. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the septic tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drainfield area. Screens are also recommended to keep solids from entering the drainfield. The wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drainfield for further treatment by the soil. Micro-organisms in the soil provide final treatment by removing harmful bacteria, viruses and nutrients.

Your septic system is your responsibility!

Did you know that, as a homeowner, you’re responsible for maintaining your septic system? Did you know that maintaining your septic system protects your investment in your home? Did you know that you should periodically inspect your system and pump out your septic tank? If properly designed, constructed and maintained, your septic system can provide long-term, effective treatment of household wastewater. If your septic system isn’t maintained, you might need to replace it, costing you thousands of dollars. A malfunctioning system can contaminate groundwater that might be a source of drinking water. And if you sell your home, your septic system must be in good working order.
Pump frequently…
You should have your septic system inspected at least every three years by a professional, and have your tank pumped as necessary (generally every three to five years).
Use water efficiently…
Average indoor water use in the typical single-family home is almost 70 gallons per person per day. Dripping faucets can waste about 2,000 gallons of water each year. Leaky toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons each day. The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system.
Flush responsibly… 
Dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, and other kitchen and bathroom waste can clog and potentially damage septic system components. Flushing household chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, anti-freeze and paint can stress or destroy the biological treatment taking place in the system, as well as contaminate surface waters and groundwater.
 
How do I maintain my septic system?
  • Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the drainfield.
  • Don’t drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system. Doing so can compact the soil in your drainfield or damage the pipes, the tank or other septic system components.
  • Keep roof drains, basement sump pump drains, and other rainwater and surface water drainage systems away from the drainfield. Flooding the drainfield with excessive water slows down or stops treatment processes and can cause plumbing fixtures to back up.
Why should I maintain my septic system?
 
A key reason to maintain your septic system is to save money! Failing septic systems are expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is often the culprit. Having your septic system inspected (at least every three years) is a bargain when you consider the cost of replacing the entire system. Your system will need pumping every three to five years, depending on how many people live in the house and the size of the system. An unusable septic system or one in disrepair will lower your property’s value and could pose a legal liability. Other good reasons for safe treatment of sewage include preventing the spread of infection and disease, and protecting water resources. Typical pollutants in household wastewater are nitrogen, phosphorus, and disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Nitrogen and phosphorus are aquatic plant nutrients that can cause unsightly algae blooms. Excessive nitrate-nitrogen in drinking water can cause pregnancy complications, as well as methemoglobinemia (also known as “blue baby syndrome”) in infancy. Pathogens can cause communicable diseases through direct or indirect body contact, or ingestion of contaminated water or shellfish. If a septic system is working properly, it will effectively remove most of these pollutants.
Veteran Home Inspections will be adding septic inspections to our available services in March 2018.  In the interim, we can also coordinate a septic inspection for you.