Category Archives: Industry News

“Updated” wiring?

At an older home inspection in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, the home was advertised with “updated wiring.”  Unfortunately, when I got into the crawl space and attic areas, I noted numerous unprofessional wire splices like that pictured here which are signs of handyman wiring practices and a definite safety issue.  I recommend further evaluation and repair by a qualified electrician.

Lack of safe electrical wiring protection

Electrical wiring needs to be protected where it enters junction boxes for appliances and fixtures.  Pictured here is wiring vulnerable to mechanical damage, a safety issue.  A simple bushing can be installed in this application to protect wiring and keep the house safe.  Wiring practices like these suggest the fixture wasn’t professionally installed and should be further evaluated and repaired by a qualified electrician. This photograph was taken at a recent home inspection on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands.

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.

Gutter downspout extensions

Gutter downspouts should be extended to discharge water away from the home’s building envelope.  In this picture, while it’s great that there’s a downspout extension, it discharges directly adjacent the home which is, frankly, pointless.  Direct water away from your home.  Failure to do so can lead to crawl space water intrusion, wood destroying insect activity and structural issues, so it’s an important simple step you can take to protect your home.  This was discovered at a recent home inspection in Anacortes on Fidalgo Island.

Cement fiber siding

Cement fiber siding products are an excellent, high quality and low maintenance material.  In fact, I’m a big fan of these products; if I build a home again myself, I intend to install cement-fiber siding.  Broken, cracked or otherwise mechanically damaged cement-fiber siding boards should be replaced by a qualified contractor.  If you have a lot of broken siding boards, replacement can be expensive.  If you don’t have the budget to replace broken boards in the near future, I recommend at least caulking cracks and securing broken pieces to prevent water damage while you budget for replacement.  This photograph was taken at a recent home inspection in La Conner.

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.

Sealing “Checks”/Cracks in Logs and Maintaining Exterior Wood Timber Elements

It is imperative to keep characteristic normal “checking,” or cracking, of exterior exposed wood timbers well sealed in the Pacific Northwest. Elevated moisture conditions in wood can lead to WDO (wood destroying organism) activity and damage. Open cracks, or ”checks,” which are normal and typically of no structural concern, allow water to penetrate the inside of log timbers and, in so doing, create wet conducive conditions for WDO activity. WDOs, such as beetles, carpenter ants, rot fungus and termites are literally attracted to elevated moisture; keep it dry and they have no interest in your home. Oftentimes, visible damage in exterior log timber elements doesn’t become readily apparent until the timber is substantially deteriorated. I can give countless examples of this from my experience inspecting thousands of homes.

Of course, home inspectors can’t see the interior of timber logs nor can we invasively inspect. A wise home inspector would- even if “checking”/cracking were noted to a minor extent- recommend further invasive inspection of the affected timbers by a qualified contractor to make sure there isn’t substantial damage within. This is why, when inspecting log homes for instance, I always recommend further evaluation by a qualified log home contractor whenever I see cracks/”checks” in logs or visible evidence of ANY water intrusion, water staining or damage whatsoever. Timber log elements are expensive to replace and are very important to maintain!

If you own a log home, or a home with exposed exterior wood timber elements, here are some tips to help you maintain their beauty and function for a prolonged period of time. It’s all about maintenance!

  1. Keep exterior wood elements well sealed. Untreated wood that gets wet attracts WDOs.
  2. Monitor log timbers for normal “checking”/cracking and properly seal when noted. Use the highest quality elastomeric sealant you can afford for reduced maintenance. A borate treatment should also be considered as a preventative measure.
  3. Monitor exterior caulking and “chinking” details, repair when failed or cracked.
  4. Eliminate Earth-wood contact; keep dirt and debris away from timber elements.
  5. Eliminate vegetative contact with timber elements; keep landscaping elements pruned back from the building exterior so
    the building can remain dry.
  6. Consider top- and edge-flashing exposed vertical and horizontal timber elements. Metal flashing details on the tops and edges of exposed timber elements look great and significantly reduce maintenance.
  7. Keep timber cut ends well sealed; cut timber ends tend to “wick” water quickly, are particularly vulnerable and deteriorate first. Flashing cut ends, as above, virtually eliminates the need to maintain and can create a nice aesthetic finishing detail. Use a high quality “end grain sealer” for cut log ends.

In the end, it’s all about moisture! Keep everything sealed and your home’s beautiful timber elements will last a lifetime. Failure to maintain exposed wood timber elements will inevitably lead to costly repairs. Log home contractors and vendors are a great resource on best maintenance and repair practices.

Here’s a link to a blog about log maintenance that might prove helpful and instructive.