Author Archives: Sara Radka

Greening Your Inspection Business

by Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko, InterNACHI
Most small business owners have their hands full just trying to stay on top of their current workload, as well as marketing themselves for more work, and inspectors are no exception.  But everyone can make some simple and painless improvements to their workplace and work habits that will minimize their carbon footprint, save money, and even appeal to prospective customers as marketing tools.

Here are some tactics that you can start using today:

•  Use recycled paper for your inspection reports and marketing materials, and make sure you use a logo that tells your customers so.  “Printed on 90% post-consumer waste” (or whatever applies) can provide your prospective clients with a positive heads-up that you’re environmentally conscious.  Recycled paper and cardstock are also generally cheaper, which can lower your costs for office supplies.  Also, if you must print out something and it’s for internal use only, use the reverse side of paper that you would otherwise throw away.

•  Recycle your printer cartridges.  Most printer service and retail outlets will accept these and reward you with a discount on your next purchase.

•  Get organized.  Maximize your time by minimizing your driving trips around town.  Shop online, when possible.  You’ll save wear and tear on your vehicle, and you’ll spare the air of your emissions.

•  Pay your bills online.  This decreases what you spend on postage, and cuts down on the mail you receive, much of which winds up in the trash anyway, such as promotional inserts and window envelopes.

•  If it’s cold in your office, add a layer of clothing, rather than turn up the heat.  Likewise, if it’s warm, open a window instead of turning on the A/C.  If ventilation to the outdoors is not practical, consider running the A/C intermittently rather than continuously throughout the day.  Be sure to use fans to assist with air movement, as well as shades to block the sunlight through windows.

•  If you don’t already have a low-flow toilet at your office, place a brick in the tank of your toilet to save on water used for flushes.

•  Find ways to let natural light into your workspace to cut down on the use of electric lights.  Where practical, change your incandescent bulbs to energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and T8 fluorescent bulbs, which can reduce your lighting energy costs by up to 75%.

•  Use cups, plates and silverware in your office kitchen, rather than paper products.  If you buy disposable products, consider purchasing the newer biodegradable plastics made of corn.   Also, purchase paper supplies in bulk, which will reduce your shopping trips, as well as your expenses.

•  When upgrading tools and equipment, donate what you no longer use, if selling is impractical.  Many thrift stores, including outlets run by Habitat for Humanity, will gladly accept a worn tape measure, flashlight, and even work boots.  Just make sure that items such as ladders are safe before passing them along.

•  Many office supply stores that sell tech, such as Staples, OfficeMax and Kinko’s, will accept your outmoded cell phones, computers and printers to dispose of at bulk savings to them, or they will refurbish them for resale or donation.  Tech hardware disposed of in landfills is among the most toxic sources of soil and groundwater contamination today because of the chemicals contained in their components, and the results of the biochemical breakdown of their materials.  If you don’t want to pay a fee to dispose of these items responsibly, take them to a recycling center or retail outlet that will gladly take them off your hands.

•  Before hauling something out to the Dumpster, consider re-purposing it.  An old door can be converted into a work table, and cork and foamboard can be used as a message board.  Old t-shirts make handy rags for the office and work truck.

•  Make sure your computers, printers and copiers are set to energy-saving or sleep mode when not in use for extended periods.  Also, consider routinely unplugging electrical items at the end of the day, since coffee makers, lamps and power strips that are turned off but remain plugged in continue to draw current.

•  Before making a purchase, look online at websites such as Craigslist and Freecycle to see if you can find what you need for less than new, or even free.  Several different categories on such sites offer building supplies and materials, tools, and office equipment and products at second-hand prices for sometimes brand new items, which can save you money that you can put toward more meaningful purchases.

•  If you must buy new office furniture, consider buying chairs, desks, tables and bookcases made from wood that has been reclaimed or that originates from sustainably harvested forests.  Look for certifications on wood products from the Forestry Stewardship Council and the Rainforest Alliance.  In addition to sparing living trees, reclaimed and sustainably harvested wood has the advantage of being free of formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which is better for your health, as well as the planet’s.

•  Make your inspection website robust.  Take advantage of InterNACHI’s many marketing tips and tools so that your prospective clients can find the information they need about you and your services online.  This will save them time (and aggravation), and will impress them with your technological savvy.  For many people, using technology to its fullest potential is equivalent to being green, and this method of marketing yourself can set you apart from your competition.  Consider producing your own online video commercial through NACHI.TV to give your prospective customers a genuine sense of yourself and your (green) business ethic.

Gardening to-do list for August

About.com Gardening says, “For many gardeners the month of August begins the downhill slide into off season. Warm climate gardeners have a second chance, but some don’t have a second wind after summer’s heat. Your garden is hardier than you think and there are plenty of gardening tasks for August that will keep your flower and vegetable gardens going longer, as well as opportunities to get a head start on next year’s garden plans.” Here’s a Garden To-Do List for the sultry month of August.

Open wires

Open wires, like those pictured here, need to be secured and properly terminated/enclosed in a covered junction box or have the appropriate fixture installed for obvious safety reasons.  This is called out frequently at home inspections and with real estate appraisals.  It’s a simple, straightforward repair.  These pictures were taken at a recent home inspection in Anacortes on Fidalgo Island. 

AFCI Breakers

AFCI breakers, common to newer homes, provide added protection to homes in the event of an arc-fault. AFCI stands for “Arc Fault Circuit Interruptor.” If there’s an arc fault, the AFCI breaker “trips” the circuit, turning off power to help prevent the possibility of an electrical event or fire. The video above explains how to best test AFCI breakers to ensure they’re working properly. Technically, manufacturers typically recommend testing these breakers every thirty (30) days. If they don’t “trip,” replacement by a qualified electrician is advised.

Anacortes Home Inspection Discovers Hose Bib Draining into Crawl Space!

At a recent Anacortes Home Inspection, I discovered an oddly situated exterior hose bib located directly above a crawl space foundation vent. Running the bib, as you can see in the video below, completely filled the vent well which eventually would run water into the crawl space. Evidence of historic water intrusion was noted in the crawl space, this being the likely historic contributing factor. Standing water in crawl spaces puts the building at risk of structural settlement, moisture related issues and WDO (wood destroying insect) activity and damage. If you see standing water in your crawl space, deal with it sooner than later.

Detecting water damage with moisture meters

With modern technology- moisture meters and infrared thermography- home inspectors can find water issues that aren’t visible with the naked eye.  This photograph shows underlying saturation adjacent a toilet that needs to be reset with a new wax ring.  Hopefully there isn’t underlying damage; they’ll find out when the toilet is pulled.  I use moisture meters to probe around toilets, showers, sinks, dishwashers, and any suspicious areas to confirm elevated moisture conditions.  It’s a valuable tool for sure.  This photograph was taken at a recent home inspection in Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island.

Anti-scald valves

Anti-scald valves, also known as tempering valves and mixing valves, mix cold water in with outgoing hot water so that the hot water that leaves a fixture is not hot enough to scald a person.

Facts and Figures

  • Scalds account for 20% of all burns.
  • More than 2,000 American children are scalded each year, mostly in the bathroom and kitchen.
  • Scalding and other types of burns require costly and expensive hospital stays, often involving skin grafts and plastic surgery.
  • Scalding may lead to additional injuries, such as falls and heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
  • Water that is 160º F can cause scalding in 0.5 seconds.

Unwanted temperature fluctuations are an annoyance and a safety hazard. When a toilet is flushed, for instance, cold water flows into the toilet’s tank and lowers the pressure in the cold-water pipes. If someone is taking a shower, they will suddenly feel the water become hotter as less cold water is available to the shower valve. By the same principle, the shower water will become colder when someone in the house uses the hot-water faucet. This condition is exacerbated by plumbing that’s clogged, narrow, or installed in showers equipped with low-flow or multiple showerheads. A sudden burst of hot water can cause serious burns, particularly in young children, who have thinner skin than adults. Also, a startling thermal shock – hot or cold – may cause a person to fall in the shower as he or she scrambles on the slippery surface to adjust the water temperature. The elderly and physically challenged are at particular risk.

Anti-scald valves mitigate this danger by maintaining water temperature at a safe level, even as pressures fluctuate in water supply lines. They look similar to ordinary shower and tub valves and are equipped with a special diaphragm or piston mechanism that immediately balances the pressure of the hot- and cold-water inputs, limiting one or the other to keep the temperature within a range of several degrees. As a side effect, the use of an anti-scald valve increases the amount of available hot water, as it is drawn more slowly from the water heater. Inspectors and homeowners may want to check with the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to see if these safety measures are required in new construction in their area.

Installation of anti-scald valves is typically simple and inexpensive. Most models are installed in the hot-water line and require a cold-water feed. They also require a swing check valve on the cold-water feed line to prevent hot water from entering the cold-water system. They may be installed at the water heater to safeguard the plumbing for the whole building, or only at specific fixtures.

The actual temperature of the water that comes out of the fixture may be somewhat different than the target temperature set on the anti-scald valve. Such irregularities may be due to long, uninsulated plumbing lines or defects in the valve itself. Users may fine-tune the valve with a rotating mechanism that will allow the water to become hotter or colder, depending on which way it’s turned. Homeowners may contact an InterNACHI inspector or a qualified plumber if they have further questions or concerns.

In summary, anti-scald valves are used to reduce water temperature fluctuations that may otherwise inconvenience or harm unsuspecting building occupants.

by Nick Gromicko, InterNACHI

VIDEO: Oak Harbor Home Inspection Discovers ROT at Deck/Siding Interface

At a recent Oak Harbor home inspection, I discovered deterioration, rot and water damage at the interface between the deck and exterior siding. This interface really should be flashed with a metal flashing detail to prevent water intrusion which can lead to WDO (wood destroying insect) activity and water damage. When deterioration is presenting at this interface, there’s always the possibility of underlying structural damage not visible without invasive inspection. A qualified contractor should further evaluate, invasively, to determine the extent of deterioration and make necessary repairs.

Adjustable Steel Columns

by by Nick Gromicko and Kenton Shepard, InterNACHI
Adjustable steel columns, also known as screw jacks and beam jacks, are hollow steel posts designed to provide structural support. An attached threaded adjustment mechanism is used to adjust the height of the post.

A few facts about adjustable steel columns:

  • They are usually found in basements.
  • In some parts of North America, adjustable steel columns are called lally columns, although this term sometimes applies to columns that are concrete-filled and non-adjustable.
  • They can be manufactured as multi-part assembles, sometimes called telescopic steel columns, or as single-piece columns.

The following are potentially defective conditions:

  • The post is less than 3 inches in diameter. According to the 2012 International Residential Code (IRC), Section R407.3, columns (including adjustable steel columns) “shall not be less than 3-inch diameter standard pipe.”  Poles smaller than 3 inches violate the IRC, although they are not necessarily defective. A 2½-inch post may be adequate to support the load above it, while a 4-inch post can buckle if the load exceeds the structural capacity of the post. Structural engineers — not inspectors — decide whether adjustable steel posts are of adequate size.
  • The post is not protected by rust-inhibitive paint. The IRC Section R407.2 states: “All surfaces (inside and outside) of steel columns shall be given a shop coat of rust-inhibitive paint, except for corrosion-resistant steel and steel treated with coatings to provide corrosion resistance.”

Inspectors will not be able to identify paint as rust-inhibitive. In dry climates where rust is not as much of a problem, rust-inhibitive paint may not be necessary. Visible signs of rust constitute a potential defect.

  • The post is not straight. According to some sources, the maximum lateral displacement between the top and bottom of the post should not exceed 1 inch. However, tolerable lateral displacement is affected by many factors, such as the height and diameter of the post. The post should also not bend at its mid-point. Bending is an indication that the column cannot bear the weight of the house.
  • The column is not mechanically connected to the floor. An inspector may not be able to confirm whether a connection between the post and the floor exists if this connection has been covered by concrete.
  • The column is not connected to the beam. The post should be mechanically connected to the beam above to provide additional resistance against lateral displacement.
  • More than 3 inches of the screw thread are exposed.
  • There are cracks in upstairs walls. This condition may indicate a failure of the columns.
In summary, InterNACHI inspectors may want to inspect adjustable steel columns for problems, although a structural engineer may be required to confirm serious issues.

VIDEO: Deteriorating Metal Roof Coverings

At a recent home inspection in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, I discovered a substantial amount of corrosion presenting at standing seam metal roof coverings. Of course, rust and corrosion will only worsen over time with exposure to the elements, so I advised further evaluation by a qualified roofing contractor to make necessary repairs. Fortunately, there was no evidence (yet) of water intrusion to the interior at the time of inspection, but this is another great reason that it’s important to annually inspect and maintain your roof, even a metal roof.