Category Archives: Advice

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.

Asset Protection for Inspectors

by Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko, InterNACHI

An asset is anything of value in your name, such as a house, a vehicle, your business, and even your bank account.  Unfortunately, if you are successfully sued by someone who is unhappy with the results of home inspection that you performed — regardless of whether the lawsuit has merit — attempts will likely be made to tap some of your assets as compensation if you wind up on the losing side.  In order to protect your home and personal property from being exposed to such liability, along with your business assets beyond your E&O insurance, it’s important to safeguard all your assets through a collection of techniques known as asset protection. Taking some of these urgent precautions will ensure that, in the event that you lose a lawsuit brought against you and your inspection business, your home, personal vehicle and other personal property will be exempt from garnishment, repossession or seizure.  It will also provide you with the opportunity to rebuild your business.

Approximately 50,000 lawsuits are filed daily in the United States, which equals one lawsuit for every 17 Americans, annually. In professions that are predisposed to litigation, such as home inspection, medicine, law and business, the chances of being sued are considerably higher, although unscrupulous opportunists may target anyone who they perceive as having deep pockets. And there are plenty of ways besides litigation that unprotected assets can be taken away, such as through identity theft, divorce, death, healthcare costs, probate, auto accidents, home fires, floods and bankruptcy, to name a few. Any of these events can ruin someone’s finances if they lack proper asset protection.

The first things every new small business owner should consider include the following:

  • Incorporate. Incorporating a business limits the owner’s personal liability in lawsuits filed against the business because a corporation or LLC is considered under the law to be a separate legal entity from its owners. However, the “corporate veil” can be pierced in certain circumstances, such as when it can be proven that the business owners did not obey corporate formalities.
  • Use a family limited partnership (FLP). Family limited partnerships are specially designed partnerships that consist of general and limited partners. The FLP allows an individual to maintain full control and enjoyment of their property while separating themselves from actual legal ownership. A creditor of a single partner cannot reach the assets owned by the partnership because the partnership, as an entity, owns the asset.  This does not prevent the partnership from being sued, but it will keep certain assets separate and unexposed to legal liability or claim.
  • Purchase professional liability insurance (E&O). The costs of insurance premiums are generally small compared to defending a lawsuit.
  • Keep major assets encumbered.  If you own property free and clear, you can imagine how attractive that is to a judgment creditor.  Many home inspectors lease their company vehicles to prevent them from becoming a target.
  • Check your state’s homestead exemption. Homestead property protection laws help protect your home from creditors (as well as help provide survivors with a home after the death of the primary wage earner).

To be effective, asset protection should be performed years before you find yourself in financial trouble. Any transfer of ownership of property after the emergence of a significant claim may be deemed fraudulent, which can result not only in seizure of the asset anyway, but significant civil penalties. After a claim arises, you need debtor and possibly pre-bankruptcy planning, as asset protection becomes more difficult as legal proceedings progress. Most importantly, have an attorney and an accountant guide you through the process of asset protection. You need these experts to make sure that asset protection planning is performed competently and, even more importantly, within the parameters of the law. Professionals will make sure that you use appropriate legal structures to safeguard your assets without deliberately defrauding creditors.

In summary, inspectors should invest in legal asset protection strategies to keep their business assets separate from their personal assets, and also to ensure that, should they face a tough legal battle, they will be able to re-establish themselves when the dust settles.  CLICK HERE to read about ways to avoid lawsuits altogether.

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.

Save money by insulating your attic hatch

Did you know that insulating and weather-stripping your attic access hatch, like that pictured here, can be one of the most cost-effective strategies for significantly improving the thermal efficiency of your home?  In fact, I understand that you can lose 30-40% of heated air through hatches that are neither insulated or weather-stripped.  Think about that, 30-40%, it’s a HUGE number!  For a small investment (less than $20), you can save hundreds of dollars annually.  It’s a no brainer.  This picture was taken at a recent home inspection in Burlington, Washington.

Textured “popcorn” ceilings and asbestos

Textured “popcorn” ceilings, like that pictured here, could contain asbestos, especially in homes constructed prior to 1978.  Because some sheetrock and painting contractors kept stores of this material into the early 1980s, it’s possible that textured “popcorn” ceilings in the 1980s could contain asbestos as well.  Provided the material is in good condition and not delaminating from the ceiling, this isn’t a health concern because it’s not considered “friable,” e.g., you can’t breathe it.  But if you intend to remodel (or scrape) “popcorn” ceilings, or it they’re in poor condition, testing is advised.  Asbestos can only be confirmed by laboratory testing.  This was discovered at a recent home inspection in Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island.

Checking soffit vent screens

It’s important to periodically (annually is good) check your soffit vent screens around the perimeter of your home to make sure the metal screening is in good condition.  Oftentimes, birds will damage screening, attempting to gain access to the (warm, protected) attic area.  Replacement of damaged screening should be undertaken as soon as practical.  Don’t just cover and block the vents as this can compromise attic ventilation which can lead to mold growth in the attic, a costly problem.  This was discovered at a recent home inspection on Samish Island.

Active water intrusion

Pictured here is active water intrusion (wet spot) and historic water intrusion (water stains) discovered within a side attic at a recent home inspection in Anacortes on Fidalgo Island.  Obviously, a roofing contractor will need to further evaluate and make necessary repairs.  The issue at this home, unfortunately, is that the ceilings were vaulted (e.g., no attic access) so without invasive inspection, one really doesn’t know what’s going on behind ceiling finishes.  With water intrusion, water related issues like mold, deterioration and insect activity should be suspected.  Ultimately, I’m not sure if this client heeded my advice to invasive inspect, but I’m hopeful he did.

Proper wiring for hot tubs

So, you’ve decided it’s time to finally get a hot tub!  It’s important to install wiring serving the hot tub properly for obvious safety reasons.  Pictured here is wiring simply run in the grass to the hot tub appliance. Hopefully it doesn’t get hit by a lawn mower or someone doesn’t trip over it!  Wiring should be sleeved in conduit, run underground to the hot tub and have a GFCI-protected subpanel installed within sight of the hot tub and readily accessible.  Also, any and all wiring modifications or additions at a home require a permit and inspection through the Department of Labor & Industries.  This was discovered at a recent home inspection in Mount Vernon.

Dealing with rusting metal flashing

Rusting metal flashing details can often be painted with a high quality, exterior-rated metal paint to extend serviceable life and prevent further deterioration.  If you see rusting flashing details atop your roof or around your chimney, I highly recommend painting to prevent further damage; replacement of deteriorated flashing details- especially around masonry fireplaces- can be costly.  These pictures show rust presenting at one flashing detail, corrosion- and due for replacement- at another.  This was discovered at a recent home inspection on Camano Island.

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.