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Every month, we seek to bring our readers insight from the worlds of home construction, home repair, and home maintenance straight from local Northwest Washington contractors in a segment we call “3 Questions.” Yep, you guessed it: we ask three questions, and the contractors answer them.
This month, we learn about electrical issues with Andy Nichols, owner of North Sound Communications & Electric on Lopez Island. 
Q1: There are so many light bulb options available….CFL, LED, Xenon, incandescent, dimmable/not- dimmable, plus there’s even mention of a Kelvin temperature scale!?! Where’s a homeowner to start, and do you have any personal rules-of-thumb or pet peeves for light bulb selection?

First off, let me say that in the electrical industry we call light bulbs “lamps.” Of all of these options, I would recommend LED the most and CFL the least. CFL is great if you have an existing fixture that only takes a certain CFL lamp, but CFLs are difficult to dim, slow to turn on, and do not provide a high quality of light. LED technology is still developing but has come a long way. For residential applications, I look for LED lamps with a high CRI value. CRI (or color rendering index) gives a value to how the LED light is going to portray the color of the objects it illuminates.

I look for an LED with a 90 or higher CRI value. Kelvin temperature relates to what color of light the LED is emitting; the range is typically 2700K-5000K. 2700K looks like traditional incandescent light (more orange) and 5000K looking more like daylight. For residential applications, I like using lamps that are no higher than 3000K, and I have found that 2700K looks better to highlight wood finishes. For garages or workshops, 5000K is great because it makes everything clear (just like if you were out on a nice, sunny day). I could go on and on about this subject, but, to summarize, I usually choose 2700K or 3000K lamps with a CRI rating of 90 or higher.  

Q2: Advances in circuit breaker technology have made new construction homes safer, e.g., GFCI, AFCI, and dual-function GFCI/AFCI breakers are now available. My house isn’t that “old,” but it doesn’t have any of these “special” breakers now required by code for new construction. Do you recommend upgrading older breakers as a logical safety improvement

GFCI or ground fault circuit interrupters have been around for a long time in the form of GFCI receptacles commonly found at bathroom counters or sinks. The electrical code has expanded their use to protect dishwasher circuits, washing machine circuits, and any receptacle within 6’ of a sink. This type of protection prevents people from receiving a lethal electric shock, and YES, this is very important. These should be used on any 120-volt receptacle near water or any appliance with a water connection or exterior receptacles. AFCI (or arc fault circuit interrupters) were developed to detect arcing which can cause fire.

Obviously, fire prevention is essential, and I would not discourage anybody from adding AFCI protection to an existing electrical system. However, they can be complicated to add later as existing electrical systems can cause nuisance tripping for reasons I will not get into here. The best thing people can do to protect themselves from causing a fire is to avoid using extension cords inside, particularly if they are being used to plug in a portable heater. Also, look around the house and make sure outlets are not overloaded or loose. Loose connections are a common cause of electrical fires. GFCI/AFCI combine both forms of protection on a single circuit breaker and, in new construction, are frequently used for kitchen appliance circuits and the like.

Q3: During the winter season, generators are frequently contemplated by homeowners. Can any home be upgraded to accommodate a generator in the event of a power failure?

Yes, any home can be upgraded to accommodate a generator. The degree of difficulty can vary greatly depending on what type of generator or transfer switch is used. The easiest way to integrate a generator is to set up a power inlet on the exterior of the house for a portable generator to plug into. We wire this to a back-fed circuit breaker in the main panel and use a generator interlock bracket to disconnect the utility power while the generator is feeding the house. This is critical as it protects your generator from back-feeding power onto the utility (grid) and possibly injuring a utility lineman. 

BONUS: Any electrical alterations, additions, or repairs require a permit through the Department of Labor & Industries, regardless of who does the work. Is this a “scary” process or pretty straightforward?

The Department of Labor & Industries is not-at-all scary, and they do a great job of making sure an electrical installation is safe. It is very important to get all electrical work inspected. Legally, everyone is required to purchase a permit when performing electrical work. Simply go to the electrical tab on the website to purchase a permit. It only takes a few minutes, and you’ll feel like a professional.

When the L & I inspector comes out to inspect your work, they will make sure that the work is done safely and will not injure anyone or cause a fire. It is up to the person performing the work to make sure the installation is safe as an inspector may not be able to catch every issue. Sometimes it’s best to hire a certified and licensed electrical contractor.

About North Sound Communications 

North Sound Communications ( provides professional, residential, and commercial electricians that handle electrical and communication services across all of the San Juan Islands—including Lopez Island, Shaw Island, Orcas Island, and San Juan Island. North Sound Communications provides a full range of commercial and residential electrical repair, maintenance, and installation services—including electrical, TV and antennas, phone, internet, and data communications. The company guarantees every aspect of its workmanship with a commitment to service and price. 

A big “thanks” to Andy for his responses!

If you have questions or comments about structural issues or home inspections in general, tweet me (@AIHomeInspect).

Fun Fact Friday

With the invention of the pendulum clock in 1656, Christiaan Huygens increased the best accuracy of clocks from 15 minutes deviation a day to around 15 seconds a day.

Benjamin Banneker

Black History Fact: Benjamin Banneker (1731–1806) was a self-taught mathematician and surveyor. When he was 21, Banneker was shown a pocket watch. He was so fascinated by the watch that its owner lent it to Banneker. He spent time studying pocket watches before deciding to build his own timepiece. A year later, Banneker invented a clock out of wood that struck a gong on the hour and kept time to the second. Banneker’s wooden clock kept time for more than 40 years.


On Saturdays throughout the year, I hope to give you a peek of what I see as a home inspector traveling around San Juan, Island, Whatcom, and Skagit counties through photos and videos I’ve taken along the way.

I’m sure if you know or live in Northwest Washington, you probably feel the same about how special it is here. That’s why I invite you to share your Northwest Washington imagery! Simply take your picture or video showing why you appreciate the region, and tag it with #AllIslandsLife on Twitter or Facebook.

If you have questions or comments about home inspections in general, tweet me (@AIHomeInspect).


Share your Northwest Washington imagery with the All Islands Home Inspections community. Simply take your photo and/or videos, and tag it with #AllIslandsLife on Twitter or Facebook.

Throughout the year, those who tag with #AllIslandsLife will have a chance to win some fun prizes, such as a $20 gift card to Starbucks (which happens to be this month’s prize)!

To be eligible for this first contest and a chance to win a whole lot of caffeine, please tag your imagery by Feb. 25, 2019. We’ll announce the winner in our new, shiny newsletter, so make sure to subscribe using the signup form below.

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Do you have questions or comments about island living or home inspections in general? Go “All” in and tweet us (@AIHomeInspect).


Share your Northwest Washington imagery with the All Islands Home Inspections community. Simply take your photo and/or videos, and tag it with #AllIslandsLife on Twitter or Facebook. 

Throughout the year, those who tag their photos will have a chance to win some fun prizes. 

Do you have questions or comments about Island living or home inspections in general? Go “All” in and let us know at @AIHomeInspect

Incorrectly attached metal deck joist hangers

Metal deck joist hangers should NOT be fastened directly to exterior siding, as pictured here.  It’s important to fasten deck joist hangers to a bolted ledger for safety reasons.  Amazingly, this is discovered quite frequently.   The easiest “fix” for this is to install a bolted ledger directly underneath the deck joists.  This photograph was taken at a recent home inspection in Bellingham.

Fun Fact Friday!

If you lift a kangaroo’s tail off the ground it can’t hop.

Pteronophobia is the fear of being tickled by feathers.

When hippos are upset, their sweat turns red.

A toaster uses almost half as much energy as a full-sized oven.

The total number of steps in the Eiffel Tower are 1665.

Installing Attic Insulation

by Nick Gromicko and Barry Fowler
According to the EnergyStar™ Program, heating and cooling costs can be slashed by up to 20% per year by properly sealing and insulating the home. Insulating the attic should be a top priority for preventing heat loss because as heat rises, a critical amount of heat loss from the living areas of the home occurs through an unfinished attic. During the summer months, heat trapped in the attic can reduce a home’s ability to keep cool, forcing occupants to further tax the home’s cooling system.

The aim should be to insulate the living space of the house while allowing the roof to remain the same temperature as the outside. This prevents cold outside air from traveling through the attic and into the living area of the home. In order to accomplish this, an adequate venting system must be in place to vent the roof by allowing air flow to enter through soffit-intake vents and out through ridge vents, gable vents or louver vents.

If there is currently a floor in the attic, it will be necessary to pull up pieces of the floor to install the insulation. In this case, it will be easier to use a blower and loose-fill insulation to effectively fill the spaces between the joists. If you choose to go with blown-in insulation, you can usually get free use of a blower when you purchase a certain amount of insulation.

When installing fiberglass insulation, make sure that you wear personal protective equipment, including a hat, gloves, and a face mask, as stray fiberglass material can be inhaled and cause irritation to the lungs, eyes and exposed skin.

Before you begin actually installing the insulation, there is some important preparation involved in order to ensure that the insulation is applied properly to prevent hazards and to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Step 1: Install Roof Baffles

In order to maintain the free flow of outside air, it is recommended that polystyrene or plastic roof baffles are installed where the joists meet the rafters. These can be stapled into place. 
Step 2: Place Baffles Around Electrical Fixtures
Next, place baffles around any electrical fixtures (lights, receptacles, etc.), since these may become hot while in use. Hold the baffles in place by cross-sectioning the rafters with 2x4s placed at a 3-inch clearance around the fixture. Cut the polystyrene board to fit around the fixture and inside the wood square you have just created.

Step 3: Install a Vapor Barrier

If you are installing insulation with a vapor barrier, make sure it faces the interior of the house. Another option for a vapor barrier is to take sheets of plastic and lay them between the ceiling joists. Then, using a staple gun, tack them to the sides of the joists.
Step 4: Apply the Insulation
Begin by cutting long strips of fiberglass to measure, and lay them in between the joists. Do not bunch or compress the material; this will reduce the insulative effect.
If you are not planning to put in an attic floor, a second layer of insulation may be laid at 90º to the first layer. Do not lay in a second moisture barrier, as moisture could potentially be trapped between the two layers. This second layer of insulation will make it easier to obtain the recommended R-value. In colder climates, an R-value of 49 is recommended for adequate attic insulation. In warmer climates, an R-value of 30 is recommended. Fiberglass insulation has an R-value of roughly 3 per inch of thickness; cellulose has an R-value of roughly 4 per inch, but it doesn’t retain its R-value rating as well as fiberglass.

If an attic floor is in place, it will be easier to use a blower to insert cellulose insulation into the spaces. The best way to achieve this is to carefully select pieces of the floor and remove them in such a manner that you will have access to all of the spaces in between the joists. Run the blower hose up into the attic. A helper may be needed to control the blower. Blow the insulation into the spaces between the joists, taking care not to blow insulation near electrical fixtures. Replace any flooring pieces that were removed.

Loose-fill insulation, either fiberglass or cellulose, is also a good option in cases where there is no attic floor. In such circumstances, you won’t need a blower, and can simply place the insulation between the joists by hand. You may also wish to even out the spread with a notched leveler.

When inspecting an attic, ensuring that there is a free flow of outside air from the soffits to the roof vents is key to a well-functioning insulation system. The lack of adequate ventilation in insulated attics is a common defect. When inspecting the attic, look behind the baffles to see if there is any misplaced insulation obstructing the natural air flow, and check the roof vents to make sure that outside air is exhausting properly. Check for a moisture barrier under the insulation. Also, look for spots where the insulation is compacted; it may need to be fluffed out. In the case of loose-fill insulation, check for any thinly spread areas that may need topping up. Finally, look for dirty spots in the insulation where incoming air is admitting dust into the material.


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.

Ant Behavior

Ants are social insects that live in colonies divided into three castes: queens, males and workers. Most of the ants you may observe, which are responsible for gathering food, are sterile female workers. Winged males and females will leave the nest to mate, and to find suitable locations for new colonies. After mating, the males die and the impregnated females (queens) shed their wings and lay eggs that will hatch into the legless, grub-like larvae. The queen takes care of these larvae as they develop until they finally become pupae. Within a few weeks, adult worker ants emerge from these pupae and take over the job of tending the young.

Distinguishing Ants from Termites

Winged ants are often mistaken for winged termites, which also leave their nests to mate. These insects can be distinguished from one another by three main characteristics:

  • The ant’s body is constricted, giving it the appearance of having a thin waist, while the termite’s body is not constricted.
  • The ant’s hind wings are smaller than its front wings, while the termite’s front and hind wings are about the same size. Wings might not always be present, however, as both species eventually lose them.
  • Winged female and worker ants have elbowed antennae, while the termite’s antennae are not elbowed.

Termites and ants both construct nests in moist wood, but ant nests are typically smoother and lack mud structures commonly found in termite nests. Also, termites actually subsist on wood, so the structural damage they leave it their wake is generally more severe than that caused by ants, which merely tunnel through wood. (read full article on InterNACHI)

Drones and Inspections

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, are legal for people to fly for recreational use.  Mounted with cameras, drones are also being used for surveillance, emergency rescue, fire safety, disaster management, and even filmmaking.  The applications for home and commercial property inspections are numerous, such as for inspecting roofs (especially those with several pitches), as well as getting a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding property.  Some home inspectors have said that they’re currently experimenting with low-flying drones mounted with video cameras.

(read full article on InterNACHI)