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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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.

Do I need an inspection for new construction homes?

In short, YES!

With the amount of new construction going on in this area, an inspection on new construction is critical.  First and foremost, outside of the major cities, there isn’t any code enforcement.  In other words, the city or county doesn’t inspect the builders work.  Some builders will hire their own inspectors to check up on their work, but this is really not sufficient.  I have seen these inspectors on site, and to be honest, I was not impressed.  They work for the builder, and therefore, are beholden to them.  Some have even outright lied and tried to tell buyers that the city inspected it, when they are outside city limits.

Most new construction contracts allow for 2-3 inspections throughout the building process.  The most common are pre-drywall and pre-closing (or final) inspection.  Some will also allow for slab inspections.  Make sure you get an inspector in at every opportunity, as we always find issues.  If you are presented with a contract that limits inspections to less than these, don’t sign it.  Also, beware of clauses that may restrict the inspector.  One large builder recently tried to prevent inspectors from things like inspecting the roof, opening the electric panel, and running appliances.  I think they were publicly shamed into changing their stance on that though (but if you get something like this, let me know).  Also, make sure you can pick your inspector.  Some will try to steer you to the blind inspector that never finds anything major.  We’ve had a couple builders try to blacklist us because we found too much, but thankfully (for our customers) they didn’t succeed.

So, what do we find on new construction?  Just over the last few months we’ve found issues with just about every major component.  Missing rebar in the foundation, damaged and improperly installed roofs, framing deficiencies, improper gas lines, electrical issues galore, heat registers that weren’t hooked up, plumbing leaks too numerous to count, missing insulation, and dangerous decks.

Another inspection that people are starting to get more frequently, is the 11-month warranty inspection.  Almost every new home comes with a 1-year warranty.  Make sure you get an inspection at the 11 month mark, so that we can not only find hidden issues that may have popped up, but we can also document that they were there before the warranty expired.

We know that you are spending a lot of money for your new home, and an inspection is just one more expense.  I can honestly say though, that we have never found less in needed repairs than our fee.  We do offer discounted packages for more than one inspection on a new construction house.

To schedule your new construction home inspection, call 210-202-1974 or click the link to request an inspection at the top of this page.

Improve Indoor Air Quality at Home in 4 Easy Steps

Did you know indoor air can be up to 2-5 times more polluted than the air outdoors?

Step #1 Let Fresh Air In.

Fresh air and adequate air circulation will significantly improve your home air quality. When weather permits, open your windows and patio doors to allow the fresh air to circulate throughout your home. Turn on the ceiling fans to circulate airflow when opening windows isn’t an option. Purchase an air purifier for your home during winter months and for basements without windows. Make sure your exhaust fans are cleaned regularly and that exhaust systems from your appliances are checked regularly for sufficient performance.

Step #2 Purchase Houseplants.

Plants emit oxygen and they also absorb carbon dioxide. NASA’s Clean Air Study researched how effective plants can be in purifying indoor air. Their studies generated a list of which plants were most effective in filtering benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia, xylene, toluene and trichloroethylene from the air inside of your home. The plants capable of filtering the most toxic chemicals from indoor air are: English ivy, peace lily, chrysanthemums, red-edged dracaena, and the variegated snake plant. Purchase several houseplants and place them throughout your home. It is suggested to have at least one plant per 100 square feet for maximum effect. These are common house plants and can be purchased from a local nursery. You can also order these plants from online retailers. Make sure to watch how much you water them since over watering can lead to mold growth.

Step #3 Perform a Thorough Cleaning.

Dust, pollen, pet dander, and particles settle on the surfaces of objects and flooring in your home. If you want to breathe healthier air you will need to thoroughly clean your home in order to get rid of these irritants. Vacuum carpeting with a HEPA filtered unit. Dust surfaces and clean hard wood and tile flooring with a microfiber cloth that will trap these irritants and particles rather than just moving them around. Pay attention to areas where dust and other particles may accumulate such as the tops of ceiling fan blades, the tops of doors and windows, and taller appliances.

Step #4 Limit use of Chemical Cleaners and Air Fresheners.

Chemical cleaners contain dozens of toxic materials contaminating your home air. Many cleaning products contain over 100 chemicals including: formaldehyde, benzene, chloroform and toluene. Use natural cleaning products such as vinegar and baking soda as a healthier alternative. Air fresheners and fragrance sprays contain toxic chemicals. Many popular brands of air fresheners contain phthalates, which have been proven to cause birth defects, reproductive problems, and hormonal abnormalities. They also may contain cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde. Get rid of these and any other household products you use containing hazardous chemicals or limit their use and store them in an airtight container.

To schedule your Indoor Air Quality testing, including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Formaldehyde, and Mold, contact Veteran Home Inspections at 210-202-1974, or click the link above!

Air Fresheners and Indoor Air Quality

A fresh & clean smelling home is desired by all. This desire drives consumers to purchase air fresheners, sprays, and plug-ins regularly. What we must consider however, is how the air fresheners affect your health, your pets, and the home environment.

What are Air Fresheners Composed of?

The type of air freshener you choose will determine the level of chemical impact it has on the indoor air. Scented items and fresheners that use flame, such as candles and incense, can add micro-particulates and formaldehyde to the air in addition to the unregulated fragrance chemicals. Spritzing or spray fresheners can introduce additional chemicals such as alcohols, propylene glycol, glycerin and many others to your air. A number of chemicals such as propane or butane, ethers, carbon dioxide, or Freons™ may also be present, acting as the propellant in aerosol cans or carrier liquid in standard pump spray bottles. Gel and potpourri style fresheners are the least intrusive and may also be perceived as less effective. Used in moderation, scented air fresheners can be pleasant. Which should you choose to ensure the comfort of your family and guests?

5 questions to explore when purchasing an Air Freshener:

1. What ingredients are in the air freshener? Check labels but also know that certain toxins may not be listed such as the specific chemicals used to produce the fragrance itself.

2. Are there pregnant people in the house? Pregnant women, elderly, and children are more susceptible to adverse health effects that are a result of the added chemicals from the air fresheners.

3. Do people have allergies in the house? Those with allergies may experience adverse reactions or heightened symptoms with the use of aerosol/spray fresheners in addition to fresheners that add particulates to the air.

4. Is there a smell you are trying to mask? If there is a specific smell you can’t seem to get rid of, you may want to have your home’s indoor air quality tested. You may have an active mold growth problem.

5. How often will you use the freshener and can it be sealed while not in use? Moderate use of air fresheners should not have a lasting effect on the indoor air quality as long as they can be properly sealed and stored when not in use. Long term use of air fresheners can add significantly to the Total Volatile Organic Compounds in the air. In many cases, additional units may be purchased as you become accustomed to the smell, compounding the ill effects.

Alternative ways to keep you home smelling fresh:

There are ways to freshen stale air in the home without harsh chemicals. Never underestimate the use of open windows when the weather permits. Keep up on cleaning duties such as the garbage, dishes, and vacuuming. Remember to use vent fans and allow for fresh air exchange during deep cleaning with harsh cleaners. Opt for the use of natural fresheners such as flowers and baking soda, and use indoor air quality purifiers with VOC trapping filters when needed. If you suspect a more serious odor problem such as mold growth, an indoor air quality test can help to determine the source.

Indoor Air Quality is a Rising Concern for Home Buyers

The spring and summer months are the busiest time of year for the real estate market. Whether you are building your dream home or purchasing an older home that has been listed on the market, indoor air quality should be a major priority during your search. Learn about how you can make sure your future home’s air is safe and healthy by addressing these concerns BEFORE you buy.

Indoor air concerns when building new construction:

Opting to build a new home will provide you with the greatest opportunity to ensure your indoor air quality is healthy. During the past decade, home builders have documented a sharp increase in the number of buyers looking for eco-friendly building materials. From cabinets to flooring, buyers want to purchase materials that are sustainable for the environment and free of dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde.

Builders that are able to address a buyer’s health concerns about toxic building materials and indoor air quality have a higher perceived home value and positive brand impact when compared to other builders. Buyers are willing to spend more money in order to select from eco-friendly building materials that are not only better for the environment but that are also better for your family.

Indoor air concerns when buying an existing home:

It will require more diligence on your part when you are buying an existing home and want to ensure you and your family will be breathing clean, healthy air. A home inspection by the highly trained professionals at Veteran Home Inspections can alert you to the presence of organic threats such as mold but you will need to go the extra mile in making sure the home does not contain dangerously high amounts of other chemical toxins.

The recent media coverage concerning high formaldehyde levels found in laminate flooring purchased through Lumber Liquidators has increased consumer awareness in regards to the number of household items and building materials that contain toxic levels of chemicals. As more consumers become aware of the chemical hazards found in flooring, common furniture and cabinet adhesives, particleboard furniture, and dozens of other building materials, consumer demand for safer building materials is on the increase.

The only way you can be certain the air you and your family are breathing is healthy is by performing an IAQ Home Survey test to alert you to the presence of indoor air pollutants. This test will provide you with an extensive and accurate assessment of a home’s air before you move in.

Veteran Home Inspections can provide you with high quality air testing for Volatile Organic Compounds, Formaldehyde, and even Tobacco Smoke Compounds.  Call 210-202-1974 today to schedule your IAQ Home Survey.

Wells and Well Water Testing

In the Texas Hill Country, the vast majority of us rely on a private well for our drinking water.  You may also rely on a community well if you live in a rural development.  If your family gets drinking water from a private well, do you know if your water is safe to drink? What health risks could you and your family face? Where can you go for help or advice? The EPA regulates public water systems; it does not have the authority to regulate private drinking water wells. Approximately 15% of Americans rely on their own private drinking water supplies, and these supplies are not subject to EPA standards, although some state and local governments do set rules to protect users of these wells. Unlike public drinking water systems serving many people, they do not have experts regularly checking the water’s source and its quality before it is sent to the tap. These households must take special precautions to ensure the protection and maintenance of their drinking water supplies.
 
Basic Information
There are three types of private drinking water wells: dug, driven, and drilled. Proper well construction and continued maintenance are keys to the safety of your water supply. Your state water-well contractor licensing agency, local health department, or local water system professional can provide information on well construction. The well should be located so rainwater flows away from it. Rainwater can pick up harmful bacteria and chemicals on the land’s surface. If this water pools near your well, it can seep into it, potentially causing health problems. Water-well drillers and pump-well installers are listed in your local phone directory. The contractor should be bonded and insured. Make certain your ground water contractor is registered or licensed in your state, if required. If your state does not have a licensing/registration program, contact the National Ground Water Association.
To keep your well safe, you must be sure that possible sources of contamination are not close by. Experts suggest the following distances as a minimum for protection — further is better(see graphic on the right):

  • septic tanks:  50 feet;
  • livestock yards, silos, septic leach fields:  50 feet;
  • petroleum tanks, liquid-tight manure storage and fertilizer storage and handling:  100 feet; and
  • manure stacks:  250 feet.

Many homeowners tend to forget the value of good maintenance until problems reach crisis-levels. That can be expensive. It’s better to maintain your well, find problems early, and correct them to protect your well’s performance. Keep up-to-date records of well installation and repairs, plus pumping and water tests. Such records can help spot changes and possible problems with your water system. If you have problems, ask a local expert to check your well construction and maintenance records. He or she can see if your system is okay or needs work.

Protect your own well area. Be careful about storage and disposal of household and lawn-care chemicals and wastes. Good farmers and gardeners minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Take steps to reduce erosion and prevent surface water runoff. Regularly check underground storage tanks that hold home heating oil, diesel, or gasoline. Make sure your well is protected from the wastes of livestock, pets and wildlife.

 
Dug Wells
 

Dug wells are holes in the ground dug by shovel or backhoe. Historically, a dug well was excavated below the ground water table until incoming water exceeded the digger’s bailing rate. The well was then lined (cased) with stones, brick, tile, or other material to prevent collapse. It was covered with a cap of wood, stone or concrete. Since it is so difficult to dig beneath the ground water table, dug wells are not very deep. Typically, they are only 10 to 30 feet deep. Being so shallow, dug wells have the highest risk of becoming contaminated.To minimize the likelihood of contamination, your dug well should have certain features. These features help to prevent contaminants from traveling along the outside of the casing, or through the casing and into the well.

Dug Well Construction Features
  • The well should be cased with a watertight material (for example, tongue-and-groove pre-cast concrete), and a cement grout or bentonite clay sealant poured along the outside of the casing to the top of the well.
  • The well should be covered by a concrete curb and cap that stands about a foot above the ground.
  • The land surface around the well should be mounded so that surface water runs away from the well and is not allowed to pond around the outside of the wellhead.
  • Ideally, the pump for your well should be inside your home or in a separate pump house, rather than in a pit next to the well.

Land activities around a dug well can also contaminate it. While dug wells have been used as a household water supply source for many years, most are relics of older homes, dug before drilling equipment was readily available, or when drilling was considered too expensive. If you have a dug well on your property and are using it for drinking water, check to make sure it is properly covered and sealed. Another problem relating to the shallowness of a dug well is that it may go dry during a drought when the ground water table drops.

Driven Wells

Like dug wells, driven wells pull water from the water-saturated zone above the bedrock. Driven wells can be deeper than dug wells. They are typically 30 to 50 feet deep and are usually located in areas with thick sand and gravel deposits where the ground water table is within 15 feet of the ground’s surface. In the proper geologic setting, driven wells can be easy and relatively inexpensive to install. Although deeper than dug wells, driven wells are still relatively shallow and have a moderate-to-high risk of contamination from nearby land activities.

Driven Well Construction Features
  • Assembled lengths of 2- to 3-inch diameter metal pipes are driven into the ground. A screened “well point” located at the end of the pipe helps drive the pipe through the sand and gravel. The screen allows water to enter the well and filters out sediment.
  • The pump for the well is in one of two places: on top of the well, or in the house. An access pit is usually dug around the well down to the frost line, and a water discharge pipe to the house is joined to the well pipe with a fitting.
  • The well and pit are capped with the same kind of large-diameter concrete tile used for a dug well. The access pit may be cased with pre-cast concrete.

To minimize this risk, the well cover should be a tight-fitting concrete curb and cap with no cracks, and should sit about a foot above the ground. Slope the ground away from the well so that surface water will not pond around the well. If there’s a pit above the well, either to hold the pump or to access the fitting, you may also be able to pour a grout sealant along the outside of the well pipe. Protecting the water quality requires that you maintain proper well construction and monitor your activities around the well. It is also important to follow the same land-use precautions around the driven well as described under dug wells.

Drilled Wells

Drilled wells penetrate about 100 to 400 feet into the bedrock. Where you find bedrock at the surface, it is commonly called ledge. To serve as a water supply, a drilled well must intersect bedrock fractures containing ground water.
Drilled Well Construction Features
  • The casing is usually metal or plastic pipe, 6 inches in diameter, that extends into the bedrock to prevent shallow ground water from entering the well. By law, the casing has to extend at least 18 feet into the ground, with at least 5 feet extending into the bedrock. The casing should also extend a foot or two above the ground’s surface. A sealant, such as cement grout or bentonite clay, should be poured along the outside of the casing to the top of the well. The well should be capped to prevent surface water from entering the well.
  • Submersible pumps, located near the bottom of the well, are most commonly used in drilled wells. Wells with a shallow water table may feature a jet pump located inside the home. Pumps require special wiring and electrical service. Well pumps should be installed and serviced by a qualified professional registered with your state.
  • Most modern drilled wells incorporate a pitless adapter designed to provide a sanitary seal at the point where the discharge water line leaves the well to enter your home. The device attaches directly to the casing below the frost line, and provides a watertight sub-surface connection, protecting the well from frost and contamination.
  • Older drilled wells may lack some of these sanitary features. The well pipe used was often 8, 10 or 12 inches in diameter, and covered with a concrete well cap either at or below the ground’s surface. This outmoded type of construction does not provide the same degree of protection from surface contamination. Also, older wells may not have a pitless adapter to provide a seal at the point of discharge from the well.
Hydrofracting a Drilled Well

Hydrofracting is a process that applies water or air under pressure into your well to open up existing fractures near your well, and can even create new ones. Often, this can increase the yield of your well. This process can be applied to new wells with insufficient yield and to improve the quantity of older wells.

How can I test the quality of my private drinking water supply? 
Consider testing your well for pesticides, organic chemicals, and heavy metals before you use it for the first time. Test private water supplies annually for nitrate and coliform bacteria to detect contamination problems early. Test them more frequently if you suspect a problem. Be aware of activities in your watershed that may affect the water quality of your well, especially if you live in an unsewered area.
 
Human Health
The first step to protect your health and the health of your family is learning about what may pollute your source of drinking water. Potential contamination may occur naturally, or as a result of human activity.

What are some naturally occurring sources of pollution?
  • micro-organisms:  Bacteria, viruses, parasites and other microorganisms are sometimes found in water. Shallow wells — those with water close to ground level — are at most risk. Runoff, or water flowing over the land surface, may pick up these pollutants from wildlife and soils. This is often the case after flooding. Some of these organisms can cause a variety of illnesses. Symptoms include nausea and diarrhea. These can occur shortly after drinking contaminated water. The effects could be short-term yet severe (similar to food poisoning), or might recur frequently or develop slowly over a long time.
  • radionuclides: Radionuclides are radioactive elements, such as uranium and radium. They may be present in underlying rock and ground water.
  • radon: Radon is a gas that is a natural product of the breakdown of uranium in the soil and can also pose a threat. Radon is most dangerous when inhaled, and contributes to lung cancer. Although soil is the primary source, using household water containing radon contributes to elevated indoor radon levels. Radon is less dangerous when consumed in water, but remains a risk to health.
  • nitrates and nitrites: Although high nitrate levels are usually due to human activities (see below), they may be found naturally in ground water. They come from the breakdown of nitrogen compounds in the soil. Flowing ground water picks them up from the soil. Drinking large amounts of nitrates and nitrites is particularly threatening to infants (for example, when mixed in formula).
  • heavy metals: Underground rocks and soils may contain arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and selenium. However, these contaminants are not often found in household wells at dangerous levels from natural sources.
  • fluoride: Fluoride is helpful in dental health, so many water systems add small amounts to drinking water. However, excessive consumption of naturally occurring fluoride can damage bone tissue. High levels of fluoride occur naturally in some areas. It may discolor teeth, but this is not a health risk.

What human activities can pollute ground water?

  • Septic tanks are designed to have a leach field around them, which is an area where wastewater flows out of the tank. This wastewater can also move into the ground water.

    bacteria and nitrates: These pollutants are found in human and animal wastes. Septic tanks can cause bacterial and nitrate pollution. So can large numbers of farm animals. Both septic systems and animal manure must be carefully managed to prevent pollution. Sanitary landfills and garbage dumps are also sources. Children and some adults are at higher risk when exposed to waterborne bacteria. These include the elderly and people whose immune systems are weak due to AIDS or treatments for cancer. Fertilizers can add to nitrate problems. Nitrates cause a health threat in very young infants called “blue baby syndrome.” This condition disrupts oxygen flow in the blood.

  • concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs): The number of CAFOs, often called “factory farms,” is growing. On these farms, thousands of animals are raised in a small space. The large amounts of animal waste/manure from these farms can threaten water supplies. Strict and careful manure management is needed to prevent pathogen and nutrient problems. Salts from high levels of manure can also pollute ground water.
  • heavy metals: Activities such as mining and construction can release large amounts of heavy metals into nearby ground water sources. Some older fruit orchards may contain high levels of arsenic, once used as a pesticide. At high levels, these metals pose a health risk.
  • fertilizers and pesticides: Farmers use fertilizers and pesticides to promote growth and reduce insect damage. These products are also used on golf courses and suburban lawns and gardens. The chemicals in these products may end up in ground water. Such pollution depends on the types and amounts of chemicals used and how they are applied. Local environmental conditions (soil types, seasonal snow and rainfall) also affect this pollution. Many fertilizers contain forms of nitrogen that can break down into harmful nitrates. This could add to other sources of nitrates mentioned above. Some underground agricultural drainage systems collect fertilizers and pesticides. This polluted water can pose problems to ground water and local streams and rivers. In addition, chemicals used to treat buildings and homes for termites and other pests may also pose a threat. Again, the possibility of problems depends on the amount and kind of chemicals. The types of soil and the amount of water moving through the soil also play a role.
  • industrial products and waste: Many harmful chemicals are used widely in local business and industry. These can pollute drinking water if not well-managed. The most common sources of such problems are:
    • local businesses: These include nearby factories, industrial plants, and even small businesses such as gas stations and dry cleaners. All handle a variety of hazardous chemicals that need careful management. Spills and improper disposal of these chemicals and other industrial wastes can threaten ground water supplies.
    • leaking underground tanks and piping: Petroleum products, chemicals and waste stored in underground storage tanks and pipes may end up in the ground water. Tanks and piping leak if they are constructed or installed improperly. Steel tanks and piping corrode with age. Tanks are often found on farms. The possibility of leaking tanks is great on old, abandoned farm sites. Farm tanks are exempt from the EPA rules for petroleum and chemical tanks.
    • landfills and waste dumps: Modern landfills are designed to contain any leaking liquids. But floods can carry them over the barriers. Older dumpsites may have a wide variety of pollutants that can seep into ground water.
  • household waste: Improper disposal of many common products can pollute ground water. These include cleaning solvents, used motor oil, paints, and paint thinners. Even soaps and detergents can harm drinking water. These are often a problem from faulty septic tanks and septic leaching fields.
  • lead and copper: Household plumbing materials are the most common source of lead and copper found in home drinking water. Corrosive water may cause metals in pipes or soldered joints to leach into your tap water. Your water’s acidity or alkalinity (often measured as pH) greatly affects corrosion. Temperature and mineral content also affect how corrosive it is. They are often used in pipes, solder and plumbing fixtures. Lead can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cells. The age of plumbing materials — in particular, copper pipes soldered with lead — is also important. Even in relatively low amounts, these metals can be harmful. The EPA rules under the Safe Drinking Water Act limit lead in drinking water to 15 parts per billion. Since 1988, the Act allows only lead-free pipe, solder and flux in drinking water systems. The law covers both new installations and repairs of plumbing.

What You Can Do…

Private, individual wells are the responsibility of the homeowner. To help protect your well, here are some steps you can take:

Have your water tested periodically. It is recommended that water be tested every year for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels. If you suspect other contaminants, test for those. Always use a state-certified laboratory that conducts drinking water tests. Since these can be expensive, spend some time identifying potential problems. Consult Veteran Home Inspections for information about how to go about water testing.

Testing more than once a year may be warranted in special situations if:

  • someone in your household is pregnant or nursing;
  • there are unexplained illnesses in the family;
  • your neighbors find a dangerous contaminant in their water;
  • you note a change in your water’s taste, odor, color or clarity;
  • there is a spill of chemicals or fuels into or near your well; or
  • you replace or repair any part of your well system.

Identify potential problems as the first step to safe-guarding your drinking water. The best way to start is to consult a local expert — someone who knows your area, such as the local health department, agricultural extension agent, a nearby public water system, or a geologist at a local university.

Be aware of your surroundings. As you drive around your community, take note of new construction. Check the local newspaper for articles about new construction in your area.

Check the paper or call your local planning and zoning commission for announcements about hearings or zoning appeals on development or industrial projects that could possibly affect your water.

Attend these hearings, ask questions about how your water source is being protected, and don’t be satisfied with general answers.  Ask questions, such as:  “If you build this landfill, what will you do to ensure that my water will be protected?” See how quickly they answer and provide specifics about what plans have been made to specifically address that issue.

Identify Potential Problem Sources

To start your search for potential problems, begin close to home. Do a survey around your well to discover:

  • Is there livestock nearby?
  • Are pesticides being used on nearby agricultural crops or nurseries?
  • Do you use lawn fertilizers near the well?
  • Is your well downstream from your own or a neighbor’s septic system?
  • Is your well located near a road that is frequently salted or sprayed with de-icers during winter months?
  • Do you or your neighbors dispose of household waste or used motor oil in the backyard, even in small amounts?

If any of these items apply, it may be best to have your water tested and talk to your local public health department or agricultural extension agent to find ways to change some of the practices which can affect your private well.

In addition to the immediate area around your well, you should be aware of other possible sources of contamination that may already be part of your community or may be moving into your area. Attend any local planning or appeals hearings to find out more about the construction of facilities that may pollute your drinking water. Ask to see the environmental impact statement on the project. See if the issue of underground drinking water sources has been addressed. If not, ask why.

Common Sources of Ground Water Contamination

 

Category        Contaminant Source
Agricultural
  • animal burial areas
  • drainage fields/wells
  • animal feedlots
  • irrigation sites
  • fertilizer storage/use
  • manure spreading areas/pits, lagoons
  • pesticide storage/use
Commercial
  • airports
  • jewelry/metal plating
  • auto repair shops
  • laundromats
  • boat yards
  • medical institutions
  • car washes
  • paint shops
  • construction areas
  • photography establishments
  • cemeteries
  • process waste-water drainage
  • dry cleaners fields/wells
  • gas stations
  • railroad tracks and yards
  • golf courses
  • research laboratories
  • scrap and junkyards
  • storage tanks
Industrial
  • asphalt plants
  • petroleum production/storage
  • chemical manufacture/storage
  • pipelines
  • electronic manufacture
  • process waste-water drainage
  • electroplaters fields/wells
  • foundries/metal fabricators
  • septage lagoons and sludge
  • machine/metalworking shops
  • storage tanks
  • mining and mine drainage
  • toxic and hazardous spills
  • wood-preserving facilities
Residential
  • fuel oil
  • septic systems, cesspools
  • furniture stripping/refinishing
  • sewer lines
  • household hazardous products
  • swimming pools (chemicals)
  • household lawns
Other
  • hazardous waste landfills
  • recycling/reduction facilities
  • municipal incinerators
  • road de-icing operations
  • municipal landfills
  • road maintenance depots
  • municipal sewer lines
  • Storm water drains/basins/wells
  • open burning sites
  • transfer stations

Veteran Home Inspections is able to provide you with laboratory water quality testing for pretty much any contaminant you could think of.  At a minimum, we recommend testing for Bacteria, Nitrates, Nitrites, and Lead.  To schedule your well water quality testing, or your full home inspection, call 210-202-1974 or book online at the link above.

Carbon Monoxide

With the cold weather hitting South Texas and the Hill Country, I figured it was a good time to provide a little information about Carbon Monoxide and how to protect your family from its deadly effects.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas that forms from incomplete combustion of fuels, such as natural or liquefied petroleum gas, oil, wood or coal.

Facts and Figures

  • 480 U.S. residents died between 2001 and 2003 from non-fire-related carbon-monoxide poisoning.
  • Most CO exposures occur during the winter months, especially in December (including 56 deaths, and 2,157 non-fatal exposures), and in January (including 69 deaths and 2,511 non-fatal exposures). The peak time of day for CO exposure is between 6 and 10 p.m.
  • Many experts believe that CO poisoning statistics understate the problem. Because the symptoms of CO poisoning mimic a range of common health ailments, it is likely that a large number of mild to mid-level exposures are never identified, diagnosed, or accounted for in any way in carbon monoxide statistics.
  • Out of all reported non-fire carbon-monoxide incidents, 89% or almost nine out of 10 of them take place in a home.

Physiology of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

When CO is inhaled, it displaces the oxygen that would ordinarily bind with hemoglobin, a process the effectively suffocates the body. CO can poison slowly over a period of several hours, even in low concentrations. Sensitive organs, such as the brain, heart and lungs, suffer the most from a lack of oxygen.

High concentrations of carbon monoxide can kill in less than five minutes. At low concentrations, it will require a longer period of time to affect the body. Exceeding the EPA concentration of 9 parts per million (ppm) for more than eight hours may have adverse health affects. The limit of CO exposure for healthy workers, as prescribed by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, is 50 ppm.

Potential Sources of Carbon Monoxide


Any fuel-burning appliances which are malfunctioning or improperly installed can be a source of CO, such as:

  • furnaces;
  • stoves and ovens;
  • water heaters;
  • dryers;
  • room and space heaters;
  • fireplaces and wood stoves;
  • charcoal grills;
  • automobiles;
  • clogged chimneys or flues;
  • space heaters;
  • power tools that run on fuel;
  • gas and charcoal grills;
  • certain types of swimming pool heaters; and
  • boat engines.

PPM % CO
in air
Health Effects in Healthy Adults Source/Comments
0 0% no effects; this is the normal level in a properly operating heating appliance  
35 0.0035% maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
50 0.005% maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift               OSHA
100 0.01% slight headache, fatigue, shortness of breath,
errors in judgment
125 0.0125%   workplace alarm must sound (OSHA)
200 0.02% headache, fatigue,
nausea, dizziness
400 0.04% severe headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, confusion; can be life-threatening after three hours of exposure evacuate area immediately
800 0.08% convulsions, loss of consciousness;
death within three hours
evacuate area immediately
12,000 1.2% nearly instant death

CO Detector Placement

CO detectors can monitor exposure levels, but do not place them:

  • directly above or beside fuel-burning appliances, as appliances may emit a small amount of carbon monoxide upon start-up;
  • within 15 feet of heating and cooking appliances, or in or near very humid areas, such as bathrooms;
  • within 5 feet of kitchen stoves and ovens, or near areas locations where household chemicals and bleach are stored (store such chemicals away from bathrooms and kitchens, whenever possible);
  • in garages, kitchens, furnace rooms, or in any extremely dusty, dirty, humid, or greasy areas;
  • in direct sunlight, or in areas subjected to temperature extremes. These include unconditioned crawlspaces, unfinished attics, un-insulated or poorly insulated ceilings, and porches;
  • in turbulent air near ceiling fans, heat vents, air conditioners, fresh-air returns, or open windows. Blowing air may prevent carbon monoxide from reaching the CO sensors.

Do place CO detectors:

  • within 10 feet of each bedroom door and near all sleeping areas, where it can wake sleepers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) recommend that every home have at least one carbon monoxide detector for each floor of the home, and within hearing range of each sleeping area;
  • on every floor of your home, including the basement (source:  International Association of Fire Chiefs/IAFC);
  • near or over any attached garage. Carbon monoxide detectors are affected by excessive humidity and by close proximity to gas stoves (source:  City of New York);
  • near, but not directly above, combustion appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, and fireplaces, and in the garage (source:  UL); and
  • on the ceiling in the same room as permanently installed fuel-burning appliances, and centrally located on every habitable level, and in every HVAC zone of the building (source:  National Fire Protection Association 720). This rule applies to commercial buildings.

In North America, some national, state and local municipalities require installation of CO detectors in new and existing homes, as well as commercial businesses, among them:  Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont and New York City, and the Canadian province of Ontario. Installers are encouraged to check with their local municipality to determine what specific requirements have been enacted in their jurisdiction.

How can I prevent CO poisoning?

  • Purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors with labels showing that they meet the requirements of the new UL standard 2034 or Comprehensive Safety Analysis 6.19 safety standards.
  • Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes. Have the heating system professionally inspected by an InterNACHI inspector and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
  • Never service fuel-burning appliances without the proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owner’s manual when performing minor adjustments and when servicing fuel-burning equipment.
  • Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space, such as a garage, house or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never use gas appliances, such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Never operate un-vented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
  • During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.
  • Do not place generators in the garage or close to the home. People lose power in their homes and get so excited about using their gas-powered generator that they don’t pay attention to where it is placed. The owner’s manual should explain how far the generator should be from the home.
  • Clean the chimney. Open the hatch at the bottom of the chimney to remove the ashes.  Hire a chimney sweep annually.
  • Check vents. Regularly inspect your home’s external vents to ensure they are not obscured by debris, dirt or snow.

In summary, carbon monoxide is a dangerous poison that can be created by various household appliances. CO detectors must be placed strategically throughout the home or business in order to alert occupants of high levels of the gas.

By Mike Marlow & Nick Gromicko

To schedule your home inspection, call 210-202-1974 or click the “Request an Inspection” button.

Ungrounded Electrical Receptacles

Grounding of electrical receptacles (which some laypeople refer to as outlets) is an important safety feature that has been required in new construction since 1962, as it minimizes the risk of electric shock and protects electrical equipment from damage. Modern, grounded 120-volt receptacles in the United States have a small, round ground slot centered below two vertical hot and neutral slots, and it provides an alternate path for electricity that may stray from an appliance. Older homes often have ungrounded, two-slot receptacles that are outdated and potentially dangerous. Homeowners sometimes attempt to perform the following dangerous modifications to ungrounded receptacles:
  • the use of an adapter, also known as a “cheater plug.” Adapters permit the ungrounded operation of appliances that are designed for grounded operation. These are a cheaper alternative to replacing ungrounded receptacles, but are less safe than properly grounding the connected appliance;
  • replacing a two-slot receptacle with a three-slot receptacle without re-wiring the electrical system so that a path to ground is provided to the receptacle. While this measure may serve as a seemingly proper receptacle for three-pronged appliances, this “upgrade” is potentially more dangerous than the use of an adapter because the receptacle will appear to be grounded and future owners might never be aware that their system is not grounded. If a building still uses knob-and-tube wiring, it is likely than any three-slot receptacles are ungrounded. To be sure, our inspectors may test suspicious receptacles for grounding;
  • wiring a three-slot receptacle with a false (or bootleg) ground.  By running a short length of wire from the ground screw to the neutral screw on the receptacle, the receptacle may appear to be grounded when tested with cheap 3-light testers.  Since this wiring still doesn’t have an independent path for electricity to go to ground, it only creates a false sense of security.  Our circuit analyzers can detect this incorrect wiring; and
  • removal of the ground pin from an appliance. This common procedure not only prevents grounding but also bypasses the appliance’s polarizing feature, since a de-pinned plug can be inserted into the receptacle upside-down.
While homeowners may be made aware of the limitations of ungrounded electrical receptacles, upgrades are not necessarily required. Many small electrical appliances, such as alarm clocks and coffee makers, are two-pronged and are thus unaffected by a lack of grounding in the building’s electrical system.
Upgrading the system will bring it closer to modern safety standards, however, and this may be accomplished in the following ways:
  • Install three-slot receptacles and wire them so that they’re correctly grounded.
  • Install ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). These can be installed upstream or at the receptacle itself. GFCIs are an accepted replacement because they will protect against electric shocks even in the absence of grounding, but they may not protect the powered appliance. Also, GFCI-protected ungrounded receptacles may not work effectively with surge protectors. Ungrounded GFCI-protected receptacles should be identified with labels that come with the new receptacles that state:  “No Equipment Ground.”
  • Replace three-slot receptacles with two-slot receptacles. Two-slot receptacles correctly represent that the system is ungrounded, lessening the chance that they will be used improperly.

Homeowners and non-qualified professionals should never attempt to modify a building’s electrical components. Misguided attempts to ground receptacles to a metallic water line or ground rod may be dangerous. Depending on what we find, we may recommend that a qualified electrician evaluate electrical receptacles and wiring.

In summary, adjustments should be made by qualified electricians — not homeowners — to an electrical system to upgrade ungrounded receptacles to meet modern safety standards and the requirements of today’s typical household appliances.
To schedule your home inspection, call 210-202-1974 or click the “Request an Inspection” link above.
by Nick Gromicko and Mike Marlow

House Numbers

Introduction and back-story:

The other day, while I was looking for the house I was set to inspect, I came across an issue that could make a critical difference in an emergency.  The house did not have an address displayed.  Now normally it’s pretty easy to find the houses I’m going to inspect, since the Realtors put a nice sign in front of the house to at least let me know I’m in the right area.  This one though, had two similar houses next to each other, both for sale by the same agent.  I was able to pull up the listing online and see pictures of the house to figure out which one I was supposed to inspect though, so all was good.

For several years I was a volunteer Firefighter and EMT.  Imagine if I had been coming to this house in a different capacity, while someone inside was in desperate need of help?  A firefighter wouldn’t have the benefit of looking up the listing online, and it may also be in the dead of night.  Make sure that your house number is clearly displayed, and visible from the street.  For those of you that live in the country, make sure that the number is also displayed at the end of your driveway or on the gate.  It might just save your life some day.

Now, on to the rest of the story:

Ever wonder about your house number? Often, the previous owner installed the number and the new owner never had to think about it, leaving them clueless as to why it was placed where it is or why a particular color or size was chosen. These numbers are more important than you probably realize, and a lot of thought goes into making sure they are visible.

House numbers should be clear enough so that police, the fire department, paramedics, etc., can quickly locate properties in an emergency. Numbers are often the only way that first-responders can identify their intended destinations. Your city might even have laws requiring your house number to be of a certain size or color. Also, think of the poor pizza delivery guy who runs late because he can’t find your house, or frustrated party guests who have to knock on neighbors’ doors before they find yours.

Consider the following recommendations:

  • The numbers should be large, within reason. Try to make them at least 5 or 6 inches tall. Smaller numbers may not be visible from the street if you have a large front yard. Replacement house numbers can be purchased from hardware stores and online.
  • The numbers should be of a color that contrasts with their background. Reflective numbers are great because they are easier to see at night. Brown on black or white on yellow may look swanky but are bad choices for the purpose.
  • Try not to put house numbers behind any trees, shrubs, or anything else that may obscure their view from the street.
  • Make sure that the number faces the street that is listed in the house’s address. It does emergency workers no good if the house number faces a different street than the one the workers are traveling on.
  • Is your house not visible from the road? Then the number should be placed at the driveway’s entrance.
  • When we inspect your home we’ll advise you if your numbers are adequate (Normally upon arrival when I tell you I had a hard time finding the house).

Keep in mind that you may need to make adjustments.

Even if your house number is currently adequate, we believe that it might need adjustment in the future. The following are common reasons why you may need to adjust your number in the future:

  • The addresses assigned to houses by the city occasionally change, and you must adjust your numbers accordingly.
  • The trees or shrubs in front of your house have grown so much that the number is no longer visible.
  • House numbers installed in the winter may be visible during that season, but become blocked by budding vegetation by spring or summer.

Maintain your house numbers, along with the rest of your home’s exterior.

  • Keep your numbers clean. They may not be reflective or contrasting if they are covered in mud.
  • Trim back vegetation as needed.
  • Don’t let piles of snow obscure the numbers. If this happens, raise the number so this situation does not happen again.
 Just in case you were wondering, there is actually code requiring all of this:
From section R319 of the 2015 International Residential Code:
Buildings shall be provided with approved address identification. The address identification shall be legible and placed in a position that is visible from the street or road fronting the property. Address identification characters shall contrast with their background. Address numbers shall be Arabic numbers or alphabetical letters. Numbers shall not be spelled out. Each character shall be not less than 4 inches (102 mm) in height with a stroke width of not less than 0.5 inch (12.7 mm). Where required by the fire code official, address identification shall be provided in additional approved locations to facilitate emergency response. Where access is by means of a private road and the building address cannot be viewed from the public way, a monument, pole or other sign or means shall be used to identify the structure. Address identification shall be maintained.
In summary, house numbers serve a critical function for emergency personnel and should be clearly displayed.
To have your house numbers (and the rest of your house) inspected, contact Veteran Home Inspections at 210-202-1974
by Nick Gromicko, Mike Marlow and Kenton Shepard