Tag Archives: Snohomish County

Cork Floor Inspection

by Nick Gromicko

While better known for its use as wine stoppers and for bulletin boards, cork is also used for flooring and other building components.

A renewable resource, cork is actually the bark of a species of oak tree, Quercus suberA worker strips the bark from a Quercus suber oak tree that will be used as cork flooring and other building products.that grows in the thin, dry soils of western Spain and Portugal. The trees are harvested periodically throughout their lifetimes in a sustainable fashion that does not harm the tree or result in deforestation.
To prepare the bark for commercial applications, it is first cut and removed, then dried, cleaned, fumigated and straightened. While most cork winds up in wine bottles, a portion of the material is allocated for use in buildings, such as flooring, seals, gaskets, expansion joints, intumescent strips, and even external cladding.

Unique Advantages of Cork Flooring

Air pockets allow cork flooring a unique and easy elasticity compared to other materials, which makes it ideal for installation in kitchens, where standing for long periods is common. These air pockets also protect dropped objects from breaking and keep floors at an even temperature, which contributes to a building’s overall energy efficiency. Proponents of cork flooring claim that it’s also sound-absorbent, anti-vibrational, fire-resistant, anti-static, mildew-resistant, insect-resistant, and anti-microbial.

Some Disadvantages

Despite these strengths, cork is prone to the following defects and forms of misuse:
  • moisture damage. If cork flooring gets wet, it will expand, become uneven, and potentially crack, once dried;
  • surface damage. Heavy, pointed objects, such as high-heeled footwear or dogs’ and cats’ claws, can create permanent dents and scratches in cork floors. These impressions cannot be easily sanded away the way they can in wood flooring;
  • color fading, typically a yellowing, which will occur when the flooring is exposed to sunlight for prolonged periods of time. Area rugs and large furniture will block light exposure and may create uneven discoloration;
  • off-gassing from the binders and adhesives used in cork tiles. Homeowners may purchase solid cork tiles with low-VOC adhesives as a more natural, non-toxic alternative;
  • improper use. Due to moisture concerns, only floating-floor cork designs should be used in basement floors. Floating floors may, however, create problems when installed over radiant heating systems, although homeowners may check with the flooring’s manufacturer for specific installation restrictions.  For instance, bathroom installations may require that the perimeter of the floor be caulked prior to installing the baseboards to avoid moisture penetration; and
  • installation defects that represent trip hazards, as well as cosmetic blemishes, such as:
    • bond failure, in which poor adhesion to the subfloor will result in lifting at the joints of the cork tile. The lifted surface can be forced flat under pressure, but this fix is often only temporary;
    • sliding, where the tiles slide out of alignment with each other. This is caused when tiles are laid on wet adhesive, allowing them to move as the installer stands on top of them. Installers should let the adhesive dry before stepping onto the tiles. A rectangular gap known as a window can be created where adjacent tiles slide vertically and horizontally, revealing the underlying subfloor;
    • waves or undulations, which are unsightly and might cause furniture to sit unevenly; and
    • debris beneath the tile, which causes the tile to lift above any object that was not removed from the subfloor before the tile was installed.
Cork floors are available in glued and glueless forms. Glued floors are made up of tiles that are glued down to the subfloor. They are more appropriate for bathrooms because of the protection offered by their polyurethane coating and the absence of the fiberboard core on glueless planks that can be damaged in wet environments. Glueless cork floors, similar to laminate flooring, are fused to a high-density fiberboard core to form planks that can be snapped together. These are suitable for below-grade applications, such as in basements. Cork flooring products range in thickness from 3/16- to 7/16-inch and tend to have natural color variations but can be purchased in light, medium or dark tones.

Tips for Homeowners

Inspectors can pass on the following care and maintenance tips to their clients:

  • Keep the floor surface free from dirt and grit through regular mopping with a well-wrung mop. Clean up spills quickly and never use harsh, abrasive cleaners.
  • Place entrance mats at doors in order to prevent dirt and moisture from being tracked in and onto the floor. If the mat gets wet, however, remove it from the floor.
  • Furnishings and floor coverings should be moved periodically, and heavy curtains or window shades can be used to prevent discoloration and fading caused by intense sunlight through the windows.
  • Place furniture rests beneath furniture legs to protect the floor from indentations.
  • Periodically apply urethane or polish to eliminate small scratches.
In summary, cork flooring, when installed and maintained properly, is a unique alternative to conventional flooring materials, such as wood and vinyl.

Deck inspections

More than 2 million decks are built and replaced each year in North America.  InterNACHI estimates that of the 45 million existing decks, only 40% are completely safe.
Because decks appear to be simple to build, many people do not realize that decks are, in fact, structures that need to be designed to adequately resist certain stresses. Like any other house or building, a deck must be designed to support the weight of people, snow loads, and objects.  A deck must be able to resist lateral and uplift loads that can act on the deck as a result of wind or seismic activity.  Deck stairs must be safe and handrails graspable.  And, finally, deck rails should be safe for children by having proper infill spacing.  
(read full article on InterNACHI)


A nightlight is a small, low-powered electrical light source placed for comfort or convenience in indoor areas that become dark at night.
Facts and Figures
  • Before they were powered electrically, nightlights were usually long-burning candles placed in fireproof metal cups, known as tealights in some countries. (Tealights in the U.S. refer to very short and wide candles that can be purchased within or without an aluminum tin cup that are commonly used inside a decorative glass holder.  They are also known as votive candles.)
  • There are roughly 90 million nightlights purchased each year in the United States. In 2001 alone, more than 600,000 of them were recalled by manufacturers for safety reasons.
  • Defective nightlights can cause fires, burns and electrocutions.

(read full article on InterNACHI)

Fireplace Fuel: What’s safe to burn?

Fireplaces and wood stoves are designed to burn only one type of fuel. Used as all-purpose incinerators, these devices can pose the following hazards:

  • Harmful vapors can vent into the living space. Even the most efficient fireplaces will vent directly into the living space while they’re opened and closed for cleaning and refueling, exposing everyone in the house to potentially dangerous fumes.
  • Harmful vapors will vent to the outdoors. Most newer fireplaces and wood stoves do an excellent job of funneling smoke and fumes to the outdoors, but the problem doesn’t end there; this pollution persists, contaminating household and environmental air.
  • Burning inappropriate fuel can cause mechanical damage. Chimneys can become lined with residue from inappropriate items, which may lead to a dangerous chimney fire. The fumes from certain items will quickly wear out sensitive components, such as catalytic combustors in wood stoves.

Read the following guidelines to better understand what can and cannot be safely burned in a residential fireplace or wood stove.

(read full article on InterNACHI)

A garage inspection

This is the exterior of a townhome I was asked to inspect. During the inspection, I ran into a neighbor who told me that the roof of another garage, identical to the one pictured above two buildings down, had collapsed the previous winter under a snow load.

So, I decided to keep my eyes wide open as I went through the garage…(read full article on InterNACHI)

Hints to prevent Septic Tank Backups

If you are not on a sewer system, then you are likely on a septic system. As with most things, a little maintenance can go a long way and help prevent potentially expensive (and smelly) problems. A still pertinent ten-year-old article by the National Environmental Services Center  says, “Septic system maintenance is often compared to automobile maintenance because only a little effort on a regular basis can save a lot of money and significantly prolong the life of the system.” See their comprehensive Homeowners Guide to Maintaining Your Septic System.

Fun Facts Friday!

ST MARTIN, ANTILLES - JULY 19, 2013: Boeing 747 aircraft on therunway at Princess Juliana International Airport in Netherlands Antilles in July 19, 2013 in St Martin.

  • There are six million parts in the Boeing 747-400.
  • The Great Pyramids used to be white. They were encased in a bright limestone that has worn off over the years.
  • Percentage of North American men who say they would marry the same woman if they had it to do all over again: 80%.
  • The record for the loudest burp is 118.1 decibels, which is as loud as a chainsaw.
  • The Tonle Sap River in Cambodia flows north for almost half the year and then south for the rest of the year.

Fun Facts Friday!

Boy and Girl raising hands in art class. Horizontally framed shot.

Boy and Girl raising hands in art class. Horizontally framed shot.

It’s Friday! Here are some fun facts that have nothing to do with home inspection:

  • The average four-year-old child asks more than 400 questions per day.
  • Routine traffic stops gone awry kill more bystanders each year than stray bullets.
  •  A baby in the womb develops fingerprints at 18 weeks.
  • The fear of vegetables is called lachanophobia.
  • The sun is 330,330 times larger than the earth.

Front doors: Wood, steel or fiberglass?

White door on a brick wallMichael Franco of bobvila.com says, “You put a great deal of trust in your front door, counting on it to form a good first impression of your home for any visitor or passerby. For that reason alone, the front door is more important than it’s typically given credit for being. But the fact is that your front door needs to be much more than beautiful. It must also be strong enough to keep out would-be intruders, and it must be durable enough to withstand glaring sun, driving rain, and all the other challenges your local climate might bring. So if you’re seeking to give a fast and dramatic facelift to the facade of your home, be certain that you’re choosing a replacement door that’s up to the task.” Read the article.