Category Archives: Advice

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.

Bathroom sink draining slow?

We ask a lot of our bathroom sink drains. We pour toothpaste, soap, shaving cream, makeup and stray hair into them and expect them to work. Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t. A serious clog usually requires a chemical drain cleaner or a plumber’s snake. For a slow-moving drain, you might first try a plunger to dislodge the clog. It’s easy to use; be sure to use it carefully and avoid splashes. Before you begin, put a few inches of water in the sink to provide a good seal around the plunger. Next, stuff a wet rag into the overflow opening of the sink and seal it well. This air block greatly increases the effectiveness of the plunger. Then plunge away! You may have to refill the basin with water a few times to free a very stubborn clog.

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.

How to deal with mice

Eek! There’s a mouse in the house!

Mice have been cohabiting with humans as long as humans have been cohabiting. They figured out millennia ago that our homes are a good place for them to live. Warm, dry, plenty of food – all a mouse (and hence mice) could want. Popular Mechanics says, “There are plenty more ways beyond the traditional mousetrap to get the rodents infesting your house.” Here is their survey of the best ways homeowners and exterminators can solve a mouse problem.

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Could occupancy sensors save you money?

Indoor lighting occupancy sensors detect activity within an area. They turn lights on automatically when someone enters a room. They reduce lighting energy use by turning lights off soon after the last occupant has left the room. The sensors must be located where they will detect occupants or activity in all parts of the room.

There are two types of occupancy sensors: Ultrasonic sensors detect sound, while infrared sensors detect heat and motion. In addition to controlling ambient lighting in a room, they are useful for task lighting applications, such as over kitchen counters. In such applications, task lights are turned on by the motion of a person washing dishes, for instance, and automatically turn off a few minutes after the person stops.

Both are readily available online and at retail stores.

Is your chimney leaking?

One thing that brick chimneys, stone chimneys and fireplaces have in common is that eventually most will require some type of maintenance to keep a water tight seal. Leaks into a chimney can cause unsafe heating equipment as well as costly damage to the chimney, the appliances connected to it, and to the building itself. Is your chimney leaking? Are you experiencing water marks on the ceiling or walls near your chimney? Is there water appearing in the firebox? Similarly, are you experiencing cracks on the exterior of the chimney which seem to keep getting bigger or are bricks actually flaking off from your chimney? Water is the common thread between all of these problems (for the most part) and following this checklist should help you to be able to arrest water infiltration or prevent further damage.

January fireplace safety

Keep your family safe with these fireplace safety tips. Build the right size fire, and baby proof the fireplace. Heed safety concerns when cleaning a fireplace and chimney. Learn about fireplace inspection and proper disposal of fireplace ashes. Not sure if you need a chimney sweep to come out to your house? Or, concerned about getting your home dirty? And, what is the difference between having your chimney inspected and having it swept? Chimney Safety Institute of America offers two short online tutorials that walk you through the basics on chimney sweeping and inspections

January home tips

January is a good time to inspect furniture, cabinets and vanities for loose knobs, pulls and hinges. Tighten or repair as necessary.

Tighten screws on drawers, doors, and furniture.

Lubricate squeaky door hinges with lightweight machine oil.

Free sticky doors by trimming edges or shimming hinges with thin pieces of cardboard.

Check the house and make a list of minor household repairs needed.

Make a list of broken electrical face plates, missing pulls or knobs, locks that need lubrication, and spots that need caulking around sinks and tubs. Go to the home improvement store and buy everything you need to make all of your repairs at once.

Post holidays floor care

After all the holiday traffic your hardwood floors and carpets may be looking a little worse for the wear. Maintaining good hardwood floor care is not an easy task, but with these tips, you will be able to remove stains, polish, and keep your hardwood floor looking new. The site also has a good carpet cleaning article to help you clean, remove stains and extend the life of your carpets.