Tag Archives: All Islands Home Inspections


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 (www.northsoundcommunications.com) 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).


A vent that exhausts moist air to the home’s exterior has a number of requirements:

  1. It should be connected. The connection is usually behind the dryer but may be beneath it. Look carefully to make sure it’s actually connected.
  2. It should not be restricted. Dryer vents are often made from flexible plastic or metal duct, which may be easily kinked or crushed where they exit the dryer and enter the wall or floor. This is often a problem since dryers tend to be tucked away into small areas with little room to work. Vent elbows are available which is designed to turn 90° in a limited space without restricting the flow of exhaust air.  Airflow restrictions are a potential fire hazard.
  3. One of the reasons that restrictions are a potential fire hazard is that, along with water vapor evaporated out of wet clothes, the exhaust stream carries lint – highly flammable particles of clothing made of cotton and polyester. Lint can accumulate in an exhaust duct, reducing the dryer’s ability to expel heated water vapor, which then accumulates as heat energy within the machine. As the dryer overheats, mechanical failures can trigger sparks, which can cause lint trapped in the dryer vent to burst into flames. Fires generally originate within the dryer but spread by escaping through the ventilation duct, incinerating trapped lint, and following its path into the building wall.


Google rating: *****

Positives: Professionalism, Quality, Responsiveness 

“I spoke with Tim about two homes, and he inspected the home we’re buying for us. What a pro! Not only was he able to summarize in person all of the notable things he found requiring attention, but his detailed report contained clear and easy to understand descriptions of the issues with the house. He gave practical, no-nonsense opinions on what to do and how soon it needed to be done, whether something was structural, cosmetic, or code-related. He also shared some tips for ongoing maintenance that will help us keep our home in tip top shape. Tim’s a very kind and generous man, sharing his knowledge and his personal experience without a sense of salesmanship or ulterior motive. I’m confident that Tim gave us a thorough, detail-oriented report on our home, and that he did so with a true interest in us being satisfied and comfortable with our home purchase. I’d strongly recommend Tim and All Islands Home Inspection to anyone and everyone looking to buy, sell, or know more about their home in SJC!”



Some safety tips to remember:

  1. Never use anything but the proper fuse or breaker to protect a circuit. 
  2. Find and correct overloaded circuits. 
  3. Never place extension cords under rugs. 
  4. Outlets near water should be GFCI-type outlets. 
  5. Don’t allow trees near power lines to be climbed. 
  6. Keep ladders, kites, equipment and anything else away from overhead power lines.


Radiant heating systems directly heat the floor or panels in the wall or ceiling of a house, rather than heating the air, as do forced-air heating systems. The technique can be likened to standing in full sun on a chilly day, or feeling the warmth of a distant bonfire even though the air is cold. Despite the name, radiant heating systems also depend on convection — the natural circulation of heat within a room — caused by heat rising from the floor.


  1. Locate your septic tank and drainfield. Keep a drawing of these locations in your records.
  2. Have your septic system inspected at least every three years, or annually if required by local ordinances. 
  3. Pump your septic tank as needed (generally, every three to five years).
  4. Don’t dispose of household hazardous waste in sinks or toilets.
  5. Keep other household items, such as dental floss, feminine hygiene products, diapers, and cat litter out of your system.
  6. Use water efficiently.
  7. Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the system. Also, do not apply manure or fertilizers over the drainfield.
  8. Keep vehicles and livestock off your septic system. The weight can damage the pipes and tank, and your system may not drain properly under compacted soil.
  9. Keep gutters and basement sump pumps from draining into or near your septic system.
  10. Check with your local health department before using additives. Commercial septic tank additives do not eliminate the need for periodic pumping and can be harmful to your system.


Are some of your exterior wood elements being attacked by wood destroying insects?  This is common in the Pacific Northwest, but doesn’t mean you should ignore it.  Insects such as anobiid beetles can work away at damaging the structural integrity of your home leaving exit holes and underlying damage in their wake.   It’s all about moisture; elevated moisture attracts wood destroying insects leading to structural damage of building components.  Keeping exterior elements properly sealed and dry will go a long way towards preventing wood destroying insects from damaging your home. 


Vermin damaged and displaced insulation under homes is commonplace and a frequent discovery during the home inspection process.  Ensuring that insulation is properly attached to the underside of the home will take care of gravity displaced insulation.  Maintaining a proactive pest control regimen will help prevent vermin damaged insulation.  Check with your local utility provider before reinsulating as they may be offering attractive rebate incentives.  

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


Open holes in areas of sheetrock walls or ceilings that connect the home to the garage must be sealed for fire safety reasons.  The sheetrock walls and ceilings separating the home and garage are considered a fire separation barrier, that must be maintained for safety reasons in the instance of a fire.  The fire separation barrier, in case of a fire, would slow down the fire’s progress throughout the home and allow for less damage (before firemen can put it out).  


Although its manufacture was banned in the U.S. by the EPA in 1973, asbestos cement siding is still around, and inspectors are likely to encounter it on their inspections of exterior cladding.  While its hazards are limited if this material is undamaged, proper maintenance is key for avoiding structural issues related to water intrusion, as well as the health risks associated with damage to this type of building product.