Monthly Archives: January 2008

How Often Should I Have My Chimney Cleaned?

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Obviously before this happens!

Unfortunately, this resulted in a fatality from a flue fire. The National Fire Protection Association, Standard 211, says, “Chimneys, fireplaces, and vents shall be inspected at least once a year for soundness, freedom from deposits, and correct clearances. Cleaning, maintenance, and repairs shall be done if necessary”. This is the national safety standard for chimneys and vents. It takes into account the fact that even if you don’t use your chimney much, animals may build nest in the flue or there be other types of deterioration that could make the chimney unsafe to use.

The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends that open masonry fireplaces should be cleaned at 1/4″ of sooty buildup, and sooner if there is any glaze present in the system. Factory-built fireplaces should be cleaned when any appreciable build up occurs. This is considered to be enough fuel buildup to cause a chimney fire capable of damaging the chimney or spreading to the home.

HOW TO: Safely Use Your Fireplace: Proper use is critical to safe and efficient operation of any fireplace. When you light a fire, keep in mind the following considerations:

  • The damper must be fully open before starting a fire and left open until the fire is out. If a source for outside air for combustion exists be sure that it is open before you light the fire.
  • Don’t overload the fireplace. If you do, burning logs could roll out. Never use wet or green wood.
  • The fireplace will emit more radiant heat with the glass doors open. Be sure to close the screen to prevent sparks from flying out into your living room. Close the glass doors to reduce heat loss from the room into the chimney only when your fire is dying down. Glass doors on a factory-built fireplace must be tested and listed for that particular fireplace. It can be dangerous to use the wrong set of glass doors on your fireplace.
  • Do not burn Christmas trees or a lot of paper in your fireplace. These types of fires, which get very hot very quickly, are extremely dangerous to the area surrounding your fireplace and can warp the doors or break the glass.
  • Annual inspection and cleaning as required of your factory-built fireplace and chimney is recommended by the National Fire Protection Association and the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

With attention to these details, fireplaces can allow homeowners to add the warmth and glow of a fireplace to almost any part of their house for a minimal investment. (Provided by the Chimney Safety Institute of America)

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Who Turned Out The Lights?

I’d estimate that 30-40% of the houses I have inspected for buyers in the last 6 months have been foreclosures. That number is staggering. But it means there are some great deals out there for those that are willing to take the chance. Obviously, we believe you can minimize the risks with a proper inspection.

Foreclosed houses are generally owned by a bank and have been winterized. The gas service is turned off, the water is off, the electric service is off. Pilot lights have been extinguished, and plumbing system has been emptied.

In order to complete a thorough inspection, you need to make sure the utilities have all been restored prior to the inspection. The systems should be properly de-winterized, and any pilot lights should be re-lit. Ideally, the electric service will have been turned on for a minimum of 24 hours prior to the inspection. The water service should be turned on at the meter AND should be turned-on inside the home. Systems that have not had the utilities turned on cannot be properly inspected.

We recommend never taking the chance of turning on the water service yourself. If the water has been off in a home, especially during the winter months, its impossible to tell the reason for the service disconnect. A good assumption is that the service is off because of the foreclosure, but it may be off because of broken pipes in concealed areas. I’ve inspected at several houses where the water service was off at the time but someone decided to turn it on. Even with good intentions, things go wrong, and the next thing everyone saw was water coming out of ceilings, walls, and exterior siding. Don’t let this happen to you, and don’t take the liability of causing damage to a property that is not yet yours.

Is it any wonder that gas companies generally take the meter with them?

Flashing: Its Not Just Something Ray Stevens Sang About

Ethel may not have looked, but good home inspectors do.

Flashing is intended to keep water out of the structure of your home and will undoubtedly be the subject of many future articles on this website.

All too often, homes are built without flashing in needed areas. Flashing is intended to make the exterior building envelope weather-tight to protect the interior from weather. Anywhere water can enter the structure should have flashing.

Lack of flashing above window trim, door trim, any projecting wood trim, wall and roof intersections (and so on) can and will lead to moisture problems later. Wood rot and mold are the most common results of missing flashing. Many home owners try to compensate for the lack of flashing by using caulk and exterior sealants, but unless those are maintained on a regular basis, will fail sooner or later. Often, those sealants even fail in spite of proper maintenance.

Flashing can be inexpensive to install while a house is being constructed, but is much more costly to install at a later date, depending on the location. Damage caused by the lack of flashing can be extensive and much more expensive than the flashing repairs themselves. If you’re building a new home, take the time to talk with your builder to make sure flashings are installed in all the appropriate locations. Some of those locations are shown in the photos below.

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As I said, lack of proper flashing on the exterior of a home is a common problem in the Kansas City area, and will be the subject of many articles in the future.

If Something Looks Wrong … It Probably Is

For the handyman in the house: Just because Home Depot sells it, that doesn’t mean the product should be used.

Ever have a hard time lining up those sink drain pipes and a P-Trap? An easy solution to this problem is to use the flexible drain pipe that is readily available at many hardware and home improvment stores. They’re easy and quick to install. The problem is that they’re not listed or approved for use as plumbing materials in homes.jgg-004.jpg

Current building standards require “Drainage fittings shall have a smooth interior waterway” and “Drainage fittings shall have no ledges, shoulders or reductions which can retard or obstruct drainage flow in the piping.”

Flexible drain fittings can clog up easily as they trap grease, oils, hair, etc. in the folds, which leads to a bigger mess down the road. Home Inspectors see these fittings all the time, especially in re-hab homes.

The nice thing about Home Depot – they also sell the right parts for the job.

“It Was Just A Little Fire”

Burnt TrussOn a recent inspection, I noticed in the basement framing some charred framing members. I asked the real estate agent if they had any history on a previous fire in the home. I was informed that a fire had happened a couple years ago and the repairs had been completed. From the basement level, I could see that the fire had started around the fireplace. After probing some of the floor joists, the bottom level did not appear to be to badly damaged. To the eyes of the buyer and agent in the visible areas this could have been, and was, easily over looked as minor damage.

However, as I started inspecting the attic, beyond the scuttle opening, it was then evident that there was major structural damage.

The point of all of this is that, unless you have a good thorough inspection, the apparent minor issues may be overlooked and not be so minor. The framing members in this case were severely damaged trusses and should have been replaced.

BRRR!!! Its Cold Outside!

Wow! Its cold outside today! Randy and John just got back from the national ASHI convention in New Orleans and were not to pleased to come back to the snow! Not that it was much warmer in New Orleans – mid 30’s for the 1st weekend of Mardi Gras.

 The cold weather is a good time to talk about insulation in houses. The International Residential Code (IRC) 2006 defines the Kansas City area to be in Climate Zone 4. This means that the requirement for attic insulation in buildings that are being constructed to current standards is R-38. This is the MINIMUM standard for energy efficiency in a home.

There are various types of insulation, and each insulation has a different R-value / inch. But generally speaking, the R-value for blown-in cellulose is roughly 3.7 / inch. And the R-value for fiberglass batt insulation is 3.14 / inch. Both types of fb-008.jpginsulation are very common in the greater Kansas City area. This means that the blown-in cellulose should be at least 10-11 inches deep. Fiberglass batt insulation should be at least 12 inches deep.

For the most part, more insulation means better energy efficiency. If you look inside your attic and see the tops of the rafters, you don’t have enough insulation! Meeting or exceeding these standards can cut your utility costs significantly and can make your home a more attractive investment for someone looking to buy.

A good calculator for R-values can be found at the ColoradoENERGY website.  

What Qualifies a Home Inspector?

In Kansas and Missouri? NOTHING!

Sad, but true.

In these two states, there are no licensing requirements for home inspectors. So anyone with a flashlight and screw driver can go into business as a home inspector. That makes things scary for home buyers and sellers (and anyone involved in the transaction, for that matter)!

So its important to do your homework before hiring an inspector! Simply calling a list of inspectors and asking for their prices can lead to a lot of trouble down the road (more on this in a future article).

 What should you look for in a home inspector?

  • Education. Make sure your home inspector has been through some type of training or certification program. There are many different schools around the country, including Inspection Training Associates (ITA) and the American Home Inspection Training Institute (AHIT).  Your inspector should also keep up their education by attending continuing education on a regular basis. The more your inspector knows about current building standards, the better for you.
  • Certification. As I’ve mentioned, there are no licensing requirements for home inspectors in Kansas and Missouri. And there is no requirement for any type of 3rd Party certification either. So anyone that wants to, can pay a fee on the internet and become a “certified” inspector. Fortunately for you, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) has a certification program that you can trust: ASHI Certified Inspectors have actually passed a proctored examination for home inspections, have actually performed 250+ inspections, and are required to maintain a high level of continuing education each year. 
  • Insurance. We all make mistakes. Its bound to happen in any industry. Home Inspectors are no different, and should carry Errors and Omissions Insurance (E & O) for your protection. Errors and Omissions insurance is not cheap, and is one of the factors that will drive home inspectors prices higher. So when you’re price shopping, the cheapest inspectors usually do not carry this type of insurance. If your inspector makes a mistake that costs you later, you’ll want an inspector that can stand by his work.
  • Services. The most popular types of real estate inspections in the Kansas City area are Whole House Inspections (Mechanical and Structural), Termite Inspections, and Radon Measurements. Finding a home inspector that provides all these services can make things easier for you.

There are many more things that can help you to find a qualified inspector. Don’t be afraid to talk to your inspector and ask questions. Make sure you understand what his process is, and what you’re getting for your money. Like anything else – cheaper is not always better.