“Ants are among the most prevalent pests in households, restaurants, hospitals, offices, warehouses, and virtually all buildings where food and water can be found. While mostly harmless to humans, ants (especially carpenter ants) can cause considerable building damage. Inspectors can expand their knowledge base by being able to identify some of the telltale signs of ant infestation.”
Tim Hance discovered deteriorated OSB eave (soffit) sheathing at a recent inspection in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. In this case, the lack of a metal drip-edge flashing detail at the edge of OSB sheathing (under the gutter) appears to be the contributing factor. Amazingly, installing such a drip-edge flashing detail isn’t required. If you intend to re-roof your home, I recommend having the roofing contractor install drip edge flashing everywhere, e.g., at all edges of the roof. This will help prevent potential water damage. Here, this owner will need to replace a fairly significant amount of sheathing, together with some roof work, which might prove expensive.
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.
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.
Tim Hance of All Islands Home Inspections discovered two (2) or more vapor barriers in a crawl space filled with water at a recent Anacortes, WA home inspection. The reason that two (2) or more vapor barriers is frowned upon is because water, if it enters the crawl space, can become entrapped between vapor barriers, prolonging evaporation time and leading to stagnant water conditions. Here in the Pacific NW, water intrusion into a crawl space or basement should be dealt with promptly as it can lead to structural damage/settling and insect activity (e.g., carpenter ants, anobiid beetles and Pacific Dampwood termites are attracted to moist areas). In this particular case, the installation of a perimeter curtain drain was recommended to the clients by a licensed contractor.
Water stains were noted at a wood ceiling, immediately adjacent a skylight, at a recent home inspection in Roche Harbor on San Juan Island. Probed with a moisture meter, the underlying ceiling cavity was dry at the time of inspection, but there obviously was water intrusion at some point in time. The skylight flashing detail appeared to be in excellent condition, suggesting the water intrusion could have been from wind-driven rain, or that it predated the skylight installation when the roof was replaced a decade ago. In any event, I recommended the client monitor for recurrence into the future and repair if noted. It’s important to monitor all roof penetrations (e.g., skylights, stove flues, vent pipes, solar tubes, etc.) for water intrusion and repair immediately when/if noted.
Tim Hance with All Islands Home Inspections recently discovered unconventionally constructed trusses in a garage that have been cut at a home inspection on Orcas Island. Cutting trusses is expressly NOT ALLOWED as it can, and likely will, lead to structural settling and failure over time. In this case, the roof plane showed clear evidence of settling/sagging when viewed from the exterior; when I went inside, it was clear why the roof was settling. With an appropriate snow load, or with time, some of these trusses will likely crack and fail. In this particular situation, repair was difficult because the trusses were cut to accommodate large garage doors; the recommended interim solution was to install intermediate posts and beams, in the middle of the garage, to properly support the roof and allow for vehicle access and egress.
“Fogged” windows, or windows with condensation between glass panes, are commonly discovered at home inspections. From my perspective, it’s a cosmetic issue because the condensation between panes isn’t a water intrusion issue for the home’s health itself. Sure, you’ll lose some thermal efficiency when the window panes lose their seals, but it’s somewhat negligible in the grand scheme of things. In my experience, Realtors are about 50% successful in negotiating replacement of “fogged” windows in real estate transactions. The Seller typically takes the stance that the “fogged” windows were obvious when the offer was made. The Buyer, on the other hand, may take the position that (a) they didn’t notice the “fogged” windows or (b) they had no idea what it would cost to replace. If you have a significant number of fogged windows, replacement adds up quickly. Standard “fogged” windows typically cost $300-$500 each to replace; contractors can usually pop-out the old glass pane and install a new one, without having to encumber trim and siding elements. These pictures were taken at a recent home inspection on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands.
Tim Hance with All Islands Home Inspections discovered completely deteriorated OSB eave sheathing at a recent home inspection in Anacortes, WA. If your soffit sheathing is discolored, particularly adjacent the gutters, you may very well have water and insect damage requiring your attention and repair. Left unchecked, deterioration will continue and become more expensive with time. Keeping gutters clean and installing a metal drip-edge flashing detail will help prevent recurrence into the future.
Wood gutters are cool, but they definitely require maintenance and are, from my perspective, a bit impractical. Pictured here are substantially deteriorated wood gutters requiring replacement. Many homeowners with wooden gutter systems will flash the interiors of the gutters (sometimes even with copper!) to help prevent water damage and extend serviceable life. But the reality is that wood gutters are generally not painted/sealed (e.g., to maintain that cool wood look) so they will deteriorate over time from moisture which leads to WDO (wood destroying organism) damage. Most gutter systems today are constructed with aluminum, metal, copper or plastic. Gutters aren’t just to keep rain off your head as you enter your house! They’re important to divert rain/storm water away from the building envelope. This was discovered at a recent home inspection in Anacortes on Fidalgo Island.