Structure Tech Home Inspections https://structuretech1.com Home Inspections in the Twin Cities Tue, 16 Oct 2018 09:16:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 Fall maintenance checklist for Minnesota homeowners https://structuretech1.com/fall-maintenance-2018/ https://structuretech1.com/fall-maintenance-2018/#comments Tue, 16 Oct 2018 09:13:14 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291694 Fall is officially here and we’ve already had snow. If you’re not yet done with your fall maintenance list, get on it. We post this same fall maintenance list every year, and we modify it just a bit every year with new and updated information. This year, I created three new video clips to accompany the […]

The post Fall maintenance checklist for Minnesota homeowners appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
Fall is officially here and we’ve already had snow. If you’re not yet done with your fall maintenance list, get on it. We post this same fall maintenance list every year, and we modify it just a bit every year with new and updated information. This year, I created three new video clips to accompany the list.

Fall maintenance - frozen faucetWater

  • Disconnect any garden hoses. If they’re left attached, even to a frost-free faucet, you have the potential for a burst pipe.
  • Drain the water out of your faucets. See How to Prevent Your Outside Faucets from Freezing.
  • Remove any pond pumps and store the pump in your basement in a 5-gallon bucket filled with water. This will help to prevent the seals from drying out.
  • If you have a utility sink in your garage, drain the water out of the pipes and dump some RV anti-freeze into the drain.
  • If you have a lawn sprinkler system (aka “irrigation system”) it needs to be drained and blown out with compressed air. Hire a pro to do this.
    • Side note: If you hire a pro and they try to tell you that your existing system also needs to have the backflow preventer tested, please check out what the real requirements are for yourself: New backflow preventer testing requirements for Minnesota. Only new installations must be tested annually.

Here’s a video of me discussing this stuff: https://youtu.be/UGR3uVRzJjU

Fall maintenance - dirty air intakeAir

  • Clean the combustion air or makeup air intake vents.
  • If an air exchange system is present, such as a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV), clean it. Regular maintenance items for an HRV include cleaning the exterior intake, the filters, and the core. See HRV maintenance.
  • Clean the clothes dryer duct. The damper at the exterior should move freely and close properly. See dryer duct maintenance.
  • Check the bathroom and kitchen exhaust dampers for wasp nests. Nests in these terminals will prevent the dampers from openings. See Bath Fan Terminal Inspections.

Roof

  • Clean the soffit vents. These can get clogged up with lint, dust, insulation, and paint. They’re located under the roof overhangs.
  • Check the roof vents for bird nests. They can typically be seen from the ground.
  • Clean the gutters after all the leaves have fallen.
  • If the downspouts or sump pumps drain into an underground system, re-direct them to drain to the ground surface when feasible. See Sump Pump Discharge.

Here’s another video of me discussing this stuff: https://youtu.be/_4iMKedEOvE

Air Conditioner

  • Outdoor covers are NOT necessary. If a cover is used, it should be the type that only covers the top, not a full enclosure.
  • If the furnace or water heater vent blows exhaust gas onto the air conditioner, a plastic cover can be used to shield the air conditioner from the corrosive exhaust gases.
  • Don’t cover heat pumps. Heat pumps are not common in Minnesota.

General Exterior

  • Seal any gaps around the home ‘envelope’; check for loose or dried-out caulking around pipes, ducts, faucets, air conditioner refrigerant lines, etc. While this is the most generic piece of fall maintenance advice, it’s still smart to do this before winter.
  • Replace any damaged or worn weatherstripping around windows and doors.

Smoke and CO Alarms

  • Smoke alarms should be located inside every bedroom, and one in a common area on every level.
  • If you don’t have photoelectric smoke alarms in your home, add them. This is a big deal. If you don’t know what type you have, you probably don’t have photoelectric.
  • CO alarms should be located within ten feet of every sleeping room, but not in furnace rooms, kitchens, or garages.
  • Replace the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms and test them using the built-in test buttons.
  • Check the age of your smoke and CO alarms; smoke alarms are good for up to ten years, CO alarms are good for between five and ten years. If they’re any older, replace them.

Furnace or Boiler

  • Have a professional furnace or boiler tune-up performed annually. See Are Annual Furnace Inspections Really Necessary?
  • Replace the batteries in your thermostat. If your thermostat fails while you’re on vacation, you might come home to a winter wonderland.
  • Clean or replace the furnace filter. This should usually be done every one to three months, depending on the type of filter. The arrow on the filter should point toward the furnace.

Here’s a video of me discussing air conditioners, heating systems, and smoke alarms: https://youtu.be/rv0V2aVDnMo

Fireplaces

  • Have the flues professionally cleaned on any wood burning fireplaces if they get used regularly; every 30 – 50 fires is a good rule of thumb.
  • Clean the dust out of the bottoms of any gas fireplace inserts.
  • If you have a gas log installed in a wood burning fireplace with an adjustable damper, make sure there is a damper stop installed to prevent the damper from getting closed all the way.  See My Beef With Old Gas Log Fireplaces.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

Subscribe button

The post Fall maintenance checklist for Minnesota homeowners appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
https://structuretech1.com/fall-maintenance-2018/feed/ 1
Air admittance valves https://structuretech1.com/air-admittance-valves/ https://structuretech1.com/air-admittance-valves/#comments Tue, 09 Oct 2018 09:18:12 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291648 Air admittance valves are mechanical devices that take the place of plumbing vents. They’re inexpensive, they work, they can reduce the number of plumbing vent penetrations at the roof, they won’t get blocked by frost, they’re listed and approved by several listing agencies, and they cost way less to install than a plumbing vent. Oh, […]

The post Air admittance valves appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
Air admittance valves are mechanical devices that take the place of plumbing vents. They’re inexpensive, they work, they can reduce the number of plumbing vent penetrations at the roof, they won’t get blocked by frost, they’re listed and approved by several listing agencies, and they cost way less to install than a plumbing vent.

Oh, and they’re not legal here in Minnesota.

Minnesota Plumbing Code requirements

Our old home-grown plumbing code used to specifically prohibit the use of air admittance valves (AAVs), but the new plumbing code that was adopted in 2016 is silent on the matter, which means the same thing. AAVs aren’t allowed. If my memory serves me correctly, there was some confusion about this back in 2004 (?), and there was a loophole in the plumbing code which may have made them legal for a month or two, but that didn’t last long. If you’re reading this and you know the exact details, please leave a comment.

At any rate, they’re not legal here in Minnesota.

Air admittance valves replace plumbing vents

As mentioned in last week’s blog post, plumbing vents allow air into drains to replace water. When water leaves through a drain, it has to be replaced by air. To prevent air from pulling through a trap and pushing water out, a plumbing vent provides an easier, alternative path for air to enter the system.

An AAV can take the place of a traditional plumbing vent at individual fixtures because it allows air into the drain without allowing sewer gas to enter the building. The diagram below, provided by Oatey, shows how air admittance valves can take the place of vents.

air admittance valves

Note: these devices are frequently called Studor vents, named after the original inventors of these devices, Sture and Doris. Studor vents completely dominated the market for AAVs for a long time, but today there are several competitors to choose from. AAVs should not be confused with check vents, which are cheap devices that aren’t approved for use outside of manufactured homes. More on the history of Studor vents here: https://studor.net/en/page/about-studor

To help protect plumbing trap seals, plumbing vents also allow pressurized sewer gas to vent to the outdoors. Because of this, every home still needs to have at least one full-sized plumbing vent installed, whether air admittance valves are installed or not.

Home inspection stance

I occasionally run into these during home inspections, and I don’t have an issue with them. If I find an air admittance valve, I let my client know that it’s not allowed in Minnesota. This will probably create an additional expense if someone has licensed plumbing work completed in their home, and that’s the main reason that I mention it.

The concern over air admittance valves is that they rely on a mechanical seal that may eventually fail. Nevertheless, some manufacturers, such as Sioux Chief, offer a lifetime warranty on their air admittance valves. Studor offers a 10-year warranty and claims a 500,000 cycle lifetime.

Another concern with an air admittance valve is that it might leak if there is a sewage backup. That’s a valid concern, so I tried testing a bunch of AAVs to see if I could get them to leak. I set up a sink in my garage and blocked off the drain, and let the water go. No leaks. I even turned the vents upside down, and nothing leaked out.

Air admittance valve testing

While doing this testing, I also did some pressure testing on AAVs, and it didn’t all turn out as planned. I have some crazy-stupid bloopers at the end of this video that you won’t want to miss: https://youtu.be/Q9zhu_9ZdxI

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

Subscribe button

The post Air admittance valves appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
https://structuretech1.com/air-admittance-valves/feed/ 5
Plumbing Vents, Why Houses Need Them (forget the water bottle analogy) https://structuretech1.com/plumbing-vents/ https://structuretech1.com/plumbing-vents/#comments Tue, 02 Oct 2018 09:17:15 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291666 Plumbing vents protect plumbing traps. They don’t make fixtures drain faster; in fact, they do the opposite. When it comes to first time home buyers, one of the least understood components of a home seems to be plumbing vents. They’re those pipes sticking up out of the roof that run through the attic and through […]

The post Plumbing Vents, Why Houses Need Them (forget the water bottle analogy) appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
Plumbing vents protect plumbing traps. They don’t make fixtures drain faster; in fact, they do the opposite. When it comes to first time home buyers, one of the least understood components of a home seems to be plumbing vents. They’re those pipes sticking up out of the roof that run through the attic and through the rest of the house. All residential plumbing fixtures need to be protected by a plumbing vent.  Vents are frequently connected together inside the attic, which allows for fewer penetrations in the roof.

Plumbing vents

Plumbing vents prevent traps from being siphoned.

Let me repeat that: plumbing vents prevent traps from being siphoned. They also prevent back-pressure on traps, but today the focus is on siphoning. You may have heard that plumbing fixtures will drain faster when they’re vented properly, but it’s not true. The common, improper analogy is to talk about dumping a soda bottle upside down. You watch the water glug out while air replaces it, and this makes it drain slowly.  Once you put a hole in the top, water drains out very quickly because air can replace the water as it drains.

This analogy doesn’t hold water because the top side of every plumbing fixture is wide open. The top of a toilet is open. The top of a sink is open. The top of a bathtub is open. If you wanted to re-create the soda bottle analogy, you would need to block off the top of the plumbing fixture and then try to drain the water out. I can’t think of any instance where this could possibly happen.

As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, every plumbing fixture has a trap, which prevents sewer gas from entering the building. When a lot of water drains through a plumbing fixture, it can be enough water to create a siphon effect, which has the potential to pull water right out of the plumbing trap. In my blog about S-traps, I included a quick video clip of an unvented drain having water siphoned out of it, leaving the trap with far less water than it should have had.

To help demonstrate this, I made a video showing the difference between a vented drain and an unvented drain. I used clear tubing for simplicity, but the physics are the same. You’ll notice that the unvented fixture actually drained about 2 seconds faster than the vented drain. This is because the water that had left the fixture was helping to pull water out. With a vented fixture, there’s no pull. The vent allows water to pull air instead. Check it out: https://youtu.be/P8hA6Z1djqo.

If you hear a gurgling noise after water has drained out of a fixture, what you’re hearing is air getting siphoned through the trap. This happens when there is no vent present, the vent is obstructed, or the vent is improperly installed. In next week’s blog post, I’ll discuss air admittance valves; devices that are designed to take the place of individual fixture vents without running pipes through the roof.

Related Posts:

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

Subscribe button

The post Plumbing Vents, Why Houses Need Them (forget the water bottle analogy) appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
https://structuretech1.com/plumbing-vents/feed/ 22
Plumbing Traps https://structuretech1.com/plumbing-traps-2/ https://structuretech1.com/plumbing-traps-2/#comments Tue, 25 Sep 2018 09:20:18 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291654 A plumbing trap prevents sewer gas from entering your home. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to do. Every plumbing fixture needs to be equipped with a trap, which is basically a dip in a pipe that stays filled with water. Here’s a video explaining this whole blog post: https://youtu.be/yB3OiEkCOXg The water that sits in a […]

The post Plumbing Traps appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
A plumbing trap prevents sewer gas from entering your home. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to do. Every plumbing fixture needs to be equipped with a trap, which is basically a dip in a pipe that stays filled with water. Here’s a video explaining this whole blog post: https://youtu.be/yB3OiEkCOXg

The water that sits in a trap is what prevents sewer gases from entering a building. The photo below shows a “P-trap”, which is the type of trap you’ll find below most sinks, showers, and bathtubs.

P-trap explained

Toilets have their own built-in traps, and so do floor drains.  The trap on a floor drain is located below the surface of the floor; the photo below shows a floor drain as seen from the side.

Floor drain trap

Home inspectors often find floor drains and other plumbing fixtures in basements that never have any water flowing to them, so the water in the trap eventually dries out and allows stinky, hazardous sewer gas to enter the home.  Because of this, abandoned or shut off plumbing fixtures are always listed as a hazard or required repair on Truth-In-Sale of Housing evaluation reports in Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and the rest of the surrounding cities.

P-trap with no water

Floor drains are the most frequent offenders.  If a floor drain doesn’t have water flowing to it on a regular basis, the water in the trap will dry out.  A few common things that regularly drain to floor drains and help prevent the traps from drying out are AC condensate drain lines, high-efficiency furnace condensate drain lines, humidifier drain lines, dehumidifier drain lines, HRV drain lines, and water softener discharge lines.  If you don’t have anything draining to your floor drain on a regular basis, the water in the trap may evaporate.

rv antifreezeOne fix is to pour some RV antifreeze into the drain. RV antifreeze is cheap, sold everywhere, safe for the environment, and it won’t evaporate or freeze. It’s made just for this kind of thing. Another option is to periodically pour some water down the drain; you’ll obviously need to do this regularly, but it’s free and easy to do.

Basement toilets are another frequent offender.  These are typically found in old Minneapolis and Saint Paul homes, and it consists of a toilet sitting out in the middle of the basement, with no privacy offered.  These toilets don’t get much use, and the water in the bowl eventually dries out.

Lone Toilet

If you have an old toilet in your basement with no water line connected, have it removed and have the opening to the sewer capped off. If you have a free-standing toilet in your basement that isn’t abandoned, remember to give it a flush every now and then.

Infrequently used bathrooms are the final common offender. In larger homes with guest bathrooms that never get used, the water in the sink, toilet, tub, or shower can evaporate. As with floor drains, the fix is to pour some RV antifreeze into the fixtures or remember to run some water through them every few months. Easy.

Another way for traps to lose their water seal is through siphoning. I’ll discuss that in next week’s blog post about plumbing vents.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

Subscribe button

The post Plumbing Traps appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
https://structuretech1.com/plumbing-traps-2/feed/ 3
Sewer inspections: old homes or all homes? https://structuretech1.com/sewer-inspections-old-new/ https://structuretech1.com/sewer-inspections-old-new/#comments Tue, 18 Sep 2018 09:23:34 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291602 Are sewer inspections a good idea for old houses, or all houses? If you had asked me this question a few years ago, I would have told you old houses. In fact, I told a lot of people that. Today, however, I know better. Sewer inspections are a good idea for all houses. Both old and new. […]

The post Sewer inspections: old homes or all homes? appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
Are sewer inspections a good idea for old houses, or all houses? If you had asked me this question a few years ago, I would have told you old houses. In fact, I told a lot of people that. Today, however, I know better.

Sewer inspections are a good idea for all houses. Both old and new.

As a home ages, the potential for sewer problems increases. I used to believe that problems with building sewers were almost non-existent for newer, plastic drain lines. It’s not true. My sewer inspection guy, Joseph Whitters, aka Sewer Joe, aka Dr. J, has shared a bunch of sewer inspection videos with me over the past year showing failed, relatively newer sewer lines. Each one of these drain lines requires an expensive repair that I would absolutely not want to get stuck with as a home buyer. I put together a short video of these defects, along with some commentary from Sewer Joe. Check it out: https://youtu.be/dz-8HOZPbaM

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

Subscribe button

The post Sewer inspections: old homes or all homes? appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
https://structuretech1.com/sewer-inspections-old-new/feed/ 2
Gas Appliance Connectors https://structuretech1.com/gas-appliance-connectors-2/ https://structuretech1.com/gas-appliance-connectors-2/#comments Tue, 11 Sep 2018 10:00:14 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291626 Gas appliance connectors aren’t the same as gas piping. Gas appliance connectors are devices that connect gas appliances to gas piping, kind of like a cord connects an electrical appliance to an outlet at the wall. Today I’ll discuss the stuff that I look for while inspecting gas appliance connectors. I’ll cover the most common installation defects, […]

The post Gas Appliance Connectors appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
Gas appliance connectors aren’t the same as gas piping. Gas appliance connectors are devices that connect gas appliances to gas piping, kind of like a cord connects an electrical appliance to an outlet at the wall. Today I’ll discuss the stuff that I look for while inspecting gas appliance connectors. I’ll cover the most common installation defects, and I’ll go over the differences between new and old connectors. Here’s a video clip of the same: https://youtu.be/nVz6EXmxHAc

Gas Connectors are not a substitute for gas piping. To start, here’s a photo of a gas connector; it’s that corrugated yellow thingy.

Gas appliance connector

Most newer gas connectors look just like this one. A gas connector is used to get from the gas piping to the appliance, and that’s all. Gas connectors should never be used as a substitute for gas piping. This means that if you ever see two connectors joined together, it’s an improper installation. This material is not a flexible gas line. It’s a gas connector.

Gas Connectors should never disappear into a concealed location.  If a gas connector disappears into a wall, floor, ceiling, or cabinet of an appliance, it’s an improper installation.  Only proper gas piping should be run through walls, floors, cabinets, etc.

Gas Connector Through Floor

Old Gas Connectors should be replaced. The current standard for gas appliance connectors is ANSI Z21.24. I tried to get a copy of those standards so I could say what makes the newer connectors different, but it would have cost me $336 (get out of here), so I did something more interesting. I got my hands on a new gas connector and an old one, and I cut ’em open. Here’s what I found.

Gas Connectors Cut Open

As you can see, they’re made from different materials. The new gas connector, which complies with ASNI Z21.24, is made from stainless steel. The old connector obviously isn’t; it’s made from brass, or so I’ve been told. To quickly spot the difference between the old and new connectors, you can usually just look at the outside jacket. Old connectors will typically have a grey coating, like the one shown above left, a braided stainless steel jacket like the type shown below, or they’ll obviously be made of uncoated brass like the one shown far below.

Braided Jacket Gas Connector

Newer connectors are typically coated with yellow, like the one shown at the beginning of this blog, or will be plain stainless steel, like the one pictured at the bottom of the photo below.  If the connector has a grey coating or is made from uncoated brass, it’s old.

Gas Connector Comparisons

To know for sure, you can look closely at the nut, or sometimes at a ring that has been attached to the connector.  If it meets ANSI Z21.24, it will say so.

ANSI Z21.24

If a gas connector doesn’t meet this standard, it should be replaced. The older gas connectors are much more prone to leakage, making them a latent hazard. The Truth-In-Sale of Housing programs for Minneapolis, Bloomington, and several other cities require replacement of these old connectors. Click the following link for Bloomington’s position on old gas connectors.

Also, the Minnesota code standards for gas appliance connectors can be found in the Minnesota State Fuel Gas Code under section 411.1.3.

Don’t reuse gas connectors. Gas appliance connectors should never be reused.  When a gas appliance is replaced, the connector should be replaced at the same time. Oh, and one other thing – don’t confuse gas connectors with Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST). CSST is a relatively new type of gas piping that looks similar, but it’s not an appliance connector.

CSST vs Gas Connector

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

Subscribe button

The post Gas Appliance Connectors appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
https://structuretech1.com/gas-appliance-connectors-2/feed/ 4
Gas appliance categories https://structuretech1.com/gas-appliance-categories/ https://structuretech1.com/gas-appliance-categories/#comments Tue, 04 Sep 2018 09:54:12 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291594 Do gas appliance categories matter? To anyone installing or inspecting these units, yes. This is important stuff to be aware of. As a home inspector...

The post Gas appliance categories appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
Do gas appliance categories matter? To anyone installing or inspecting these units, yes. This is important stuff to be aware of. As a home inspector, I sometimes run into some goofy-looking gas vents on garage heaters. These appliances often have what appears to be a traditional metal vent that’s pointed down and vented out the side of a building, instead of vented up, the way God intended. Oh, and by the way, a garage heater is properly referred to as a unit heater. While this looks like a goofy, improper installation, this may actually be an acceptable method. It all comes down to the installation instructions for the appliance and the proper vent materials, which is based on the appliance category.

For those who don’t like reading, here’s the info in a video: https://youtu.be/bthbWwz25T0

Gas Appliance Categories

Why does the appliance category even matter? If you ever need to look up code requirements for an appliance, you probably need to know which category of appliance you’re looking up. I’m going to give the code definitions of the different types of categories, and then I’ll explain what this all means in my own words. These definitions come from the International Fuel Gas Code definition for VENTED APPLIANCE CATEGORIES:

VENTED APPLIANCE CATEGORIES. Appliances that
are categorized for the purpose of vent selection are classified
into the following four categories:
Category I. An appliance that operates with a nonpositive
vent static pressure and with a vent gas temperature that
avoids excessive condensate production in the vent.
Category II. An appliance that operates with a nonpositive
vent static pressure and with a vent gas temperature
that is capable of causing excessive condensate production
in the vent.
Category III. An appliance that operates with a positive
vent static pressure and with a vent gas temperature that
avoids excessive condensate production in the vent.
Category IV. An appliance that operates with a positive
vent static pressure and with a vent gas temperature that is
capable of causing excessive condensate production in the
vent.

Category I: The vent relies on gravity to get the flue gases out, and it’s not a condensing appliance. If you poke a hole in the vent, air will go into the vent; flue gas won’t leak out. Because of this, the joints don’t need to be airtight. This makes up most of the older furnaces that home inspectors come across, along with natural draft water heaters. If there’s a metal vent coming up off the top of the appliance, it’s probably a Cat I appliance. While some condensation might occur inside the vent, it shouldn’t be much.

category I appliances

While a Category I appliance might have a draft inducer fan, such as the furnace shown above, the purpose of the fan is not to get the exhaust gases out of the home; the fan is only there to get the exhaust gases out of the appliance. After the exhaust gases have left the appliance, they’re supposed to make their way up and out of the home through gravity.

The instructions for venting these appliances can be found in a codebook. There’s a ton of code-related information on how to properly vent a Category I appliance.

Under normal circumstances, these appliances cannot be sidewall vented, whether there’s a draft inducer fan or not. The vent needs to rise up through the middle of the building and terminate above the roof.

Category II:  I’ve never seen such an appliance, therefore it doesn’t exist.

Category III: The vent relies on a fan to push the flue gases out, and it’s not a condensing appliance. If you poke a hole in the vent, exhaust gas will leak out. Because of this, the joints in the flue must be airtight. The only Category III appliance that I regularly encounter as a home inspector is a garage unit heater, such as the one shown below.

unit heater

It’s acceptable for a Category III appliance to be sidewall vented, and the vent can even pitch downward. Newer UL standards, however, only permit the use of specialized Category III appliance vent material for residential installations that are sidewall vented. This stuff is gastight, stainless steel, and hideously expensive. Check it out, Menards sells a three-foot section for $50, and a 90-degree elbow for $56.

Category III elbow

Category III vent at Menards

The manufacturer of a Category III appliance gives the installation instructions for the venting. They say what the vent should be made from, how long it should be, what the terminal should look like, etc. I’ve seen some unit heater manufacturers mandate the vent pitch up, pitch down, or give the option of either one.

Category IV: The vent relies on a fan to push the flue gases out, and it’s a condensing appliance. Poke a hole in the vent and exhaust gas will leak out. The vents also need to be airtight and watertight. Most Category IV vents are made from PVC, but some older vents may use ABS.

Category IV appliance

These vents are typically sidewall vented, and the manufacturer’s installations instructions are quite specific about how the vent needs to be installed, just like Category III appliances.

Conclusion

To determine if an appliance is properly installed, both the codebook and the manufacturer’s installation instructions must be followed. In general, however, most of the information for a Category I appliance vent comes from a codebook. For a Category III or Category IV appliance, most of the information will come directly from the manufacturer’s installation instructions. A quick Google search of “<model#> installation instructions” will almost always get me what I’m after.

As a home inspector, I certainly don’t make a practice of looking up the installation instructions for every appliance that I see. If the installation looks good, normal, and typical, I move on. If I see something unusual, I take extra photos and I look it up when I get home.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

Subscribe button

The post Gas appliance categories appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
https://structuretech1.com/gas-appliance-categories/feed/ 2
Are re-inspections necessary? https://structuretech1.com/re-inspections-2/ https://structuretech1.com/re-inspections-2/#comments Tue, 28 Aug 2018 11:15:56 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291584 When a home buyer asks a seller to make repairs to a property after a home inspection, how do the repairs get verified? Do they get verified?

The post Are re-inspections necessary? appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
When a home buyer asks a seller to make repairs to a property after a home inspection, how do the repairs get verified? Do they get verified? Do they need to be verified? I discussed this during last week’s blog post, and I had another home inspector ask why we even do re-inspections. I made a video to answer all of this: https://youtu.be/CaaAbDr9FAM

These are all good things to consider. I’ve received a lot of advice from knowledgeable real estate agents over the years, and I’m compiling their advice below.

Try to avoid the need for reinspections. This is done by simply not asking sellers to make repairs. If a seller is going to make repairs, they’re probably going to do the least amount of work possible, use the least amount of money possible, and the repairs will often be sub-par or just plain unacceptable. It’s often better to ask a seller to fund repairs, typically through a price adjustment having the seller pick up closing costs. The downside to adjusting the price of the home, however, is that the buyers will need to come up with cash to make repairs.

When requesting repairs, make sure everyone understands the issue(s). An excellent home inspection report will usually be enough to make everything clear and understandable. If there is any confusion, ask the home inspector for clarification.

A common problem with a repair request is to ask for the wrong thing to be fixed or to specify an improper repair. For instance, if a furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, it would be just plain silly to ask for the crack to be repaired. The furnace, or possibly the heat exchanger, needs to be replaced.

One of the more memorable misunderstandings happened when the buyer asked the seller to address the plumbing vent flashings, which had rubber boots that had dried out and split.

Split boot at plumbing vent

The seller told the buyer that they fixed the dried out boots by applying a lubricant. While this surely made sense to the person doing the work, the appropriate fix was to replace the plumbing vent flashings, or possibly install Perma-Boots.

When requesting repairs, request building permits. Not only does this force the seller to ‘follow the rules’, but it should make the buyer feel better knowing that the work was inspected by an authority, and it puts the cost of the re-inspection in the seller’s lap. If a repair is so minor that it doesn’t require a building permit, then why bother asking for it?

When requesting repairs, be specific. If a purchase agreement amendment is poorly written or isn’t specific, the repairs won’t be completed properly. Or at all. A vague, poorly written amendment might say

Have the leaking laundry sink repaired. 

Leaking Laundry Sink

What are the odds that someone will complete this repair with a tube of caulk, or maybe a can of Flex Seal? A well-written addendum specifies the problem, how the repairs should be completed, who should complete the work, and how the repairs will be verified.

The concrete sink in the laundry room was cracked and leaks profusely when filled with water, creating unsanitary conditions. Have the leaking laundry sink replaced by a Minneapolis licensed plumber, and an appropriate plumbing permit obtained and approved by the Minneapolis plumbing inspector. The seller shall have the corrections completed, inspected, and approved no later than one week prior to the date of closing. Documentation of the repairs, including any applicable receipts, permits, and lien waivers shall be provided to the buyer no later than one week prior to closing.

In this second example, there was very little left to interpretation.  In some cases, however, the exact method of repair doesn’t need to be specified.  For instance, if there are several defects inside an electric panel, it’s probably good enough to specify the defects, request repairs, and request an electric permit.  Leave it up to the electrician to decide how to best repair the defects.

When all of the above happens, a re-inspection by the original inspector probably isn’t necessary, but it may still be worthwhile.  Just as we find countless defects by licensed contractors on new construction inspections, improper repairs frequently happen with real estate transactions, no matter who does the work.  When there is any doubt in the buyer’s mind as to the quality of the work being done, it may be worthwhile to have a re-inspection performed.

My two cents:  I don’t do many re-inspections, mostly because of all the items stated above.  When I do get hired to re-inspect a property, I base my price on how much time I think the re-inspection is going to take.  If the seller is a property flipper who was given a list of twenty things to repair, I know from experience that maybe half of the repairs will be completed properly, and the other half either won’t be done or will be done incorrectly.  I charge a lot for these types of inspections because they become contentious time-sucks. My price for this type of inspection either makes it worth my while or makes people decide not to hire me.

On the other hand, if I’m going out to look at three specific repairs and the buyer or the buyer’s agent has provided me with receipts from licensed contractors, I won’t charge much. In fact, it’ll basically be a trip charge, because the repairs will probably be fine. Those are a breeze.

The bottom line: Re-inspections never hurt. If repairs are being done by licensed contractors, the repair requests are specific,  and appropriate permits are obtained and approved, re-inspections probably aren’t necessary. If the repairs are being done by the seller, I strongly recommend a re-inspection.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

Subscribe button

The post Are re-inspections necessary? appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
https://structuretech1.com/re-inspections-2/feed/ 3
Does the seller need to fix this? https://structuretech1.com/does-seller-need-to-fix-this/ https://structuretech1.com/does-seller-need-to-fix-this/#comments Tue, 21 Aug 2018 10:01:38 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291580 Does the seller need to fix this? This is a common question we're asked when we find defects at houses that we inspect, and the answer is always no.

The post Does the seller need to fix this? appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
“Does the seller need to fix this?” No. Here’s a video discussing the options for what to do with home inspection findings: https://youtu.be/gGFv95cqA2A

For those who prefer the written form, here’s what I said in the video:

This is a common question we’re asked when we find defects at houses that we inspect, and the answer is always no. While we may come up with a big list of required repairs for a seller during a Truth-In-Housing evaluation, home inspections are entirely unregulated in Minnesota. No licensing, no regulation, nothing. Issues that come up during a home inspection may be negotiable, but there are no hard and fast rules about repairs that sellers need to complete as a result of a home inspection. When we find defects during a home inspection, there are four common ways for the buyer to deal with them: pay less for the house, cancel the purchase, have the seller perform repairs, or do nothing.  Today I’m going to give my two cents on these different options.

Lower the price of the house. With this option, the buyer can hire their own contractors to do the work, and they can oversee the whole project after they own the house. This is a common approach, but it’s not always a practical approach because it doesn’t leave the new home buyers with any cash to pay for repairs.

Cancel the purchase. This happens when the buyer decides there are too many problems with the house or when buyers and sellers can’t come to an agreement.

Ask the sellers to make repairs. I’m not a fan of this option. If a seller has performed work at their home and it was done wrong, why would they get it right the second time? When a buyer asks a seller to repair things, they are basically making the seller the general contractor for their new home. The seller has no motivation to do high-quality work, and I know from experience that the work will often be performed incorrectly, or the work will be sub-par and the materials will be the cheapest possible. Often both.

It’s a very frustrating situation for buyers when we go out to verify repairs the day before closing and none of the repairs are right. What happens now? If the seller is going to be responsible for repairs, language should be included in the purchase agreement that requires licensed contractors to do the work, permits pulled and inspected by the authority having jurisdiction (the city), and proof of both given to the buyer well in advance of the closing date. Just about anything related to plumbing, electrical, or HVAC requires a permit, and most work performed by carpenters also requires a permit.  This should be done for projects of any size; if a project is too small to require a permit, why bother asking the seller to do it at all?

Negotiations After The Inspection

Do nothing. This is often the best option for buyers. When buying a used home, buyers shouldn’t expect everything to be perfect; it never is. Walls get damaged, showers leak, appliances age. This doesn’t mean buyers shouldn’t address defects after they’ve bought the house, but it’s unrealistic to expect sellers of used houses to fix every little defect. Asking sellers to address a long list of minor repairs will make the seller feel defensive about their home and make the buyers look petty.  This typically comes from a misunderstanding of what a home inspection is for; home inspections are supposed to help the buyer make an informed decision about their potential purchase, not give the seller a long list of petty repairs.

For a longer discussion of this topic, check out our document on this topic, Negotiations After The Inspection.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

Subscribe button

The post Does the seller need to fix this? appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
https://structuretech1.com/does-seller-need-to-fix-this/feed/ 3
Hot circuit breakers and dimmer switches https://structuretech1.com/hot-circuit-breakers/ https://structuretech1.com/hot-circuit-breakers/#comments Tue, 14 Aug 2018 09:49:41 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291556 I recently had a home inspector ask me how hot is too hot when it comes to circuit breakers and switches.

The post Hot circuit breakers and dimmer switches appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
I recently had a home inspector ask me how hot is too hot when it comes to circuit breakers and switches. Many home inspectors, including all of the inspectors here at Structure Tech, use infrared cameras during home inspections. These cameras can’t see through walls, but can often alert us to problems with a house that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

We frequently come across warm circuit breakers, warm dimmer switches, and even warm electrical panels during our home inspections. So how warm is too warm? It depends. I know, it’s kind of a blowhard answer, but there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

I don’t use my infrared camera as a quantitative tool; I use it as a qualitative tool. Yeah, I know, more blowhard words. Put simply, I’m not too concerned with the exact temperatures that are displayed on my infrared camera. As a home inspector, what I’m concerned with and what I dig into are the meanings behind unexpected temperature differences, aka anomalies.

If I scan a ceiling and I find a cold spot that doesn’t make any sense, I dig into it. Maybe it’s a plumbing leak from above, or maybe it’s just a cold water line that’s touching the ceiling. That’s where a moisture meter comes in handy. Ok, I’m getting sidetracked. Let’s discuss some electrical examples.

Dimmer Switches

A properly wired, properly functioning dimmer switch can get hot to the touch. I’ve found that a 65-degree temperature rise is normal for a maxed-out dimmer. If the ambient temperature is 71 degrees and a dimmer switch is at 136 degrees, I’d be concerned, but I wouldn’t report the temperature as a problem. I would, however, take an extra minute or two to figure out how many watts the dimmer is rated for. I’d then make sure there wasn’t too much being controlled by the dimmer.

Hot dimmer switch

I wrote a whole blog post dedicated to this topic, titled Hot Dimmer Switches. Check out that post for more info on this topic. If I were to write up a problem with an overloaded dimmer switch, my report comment would say something like this:

The dimmer switch for the kitchen lights was rated for up to 600 watts, but the wattage at the lights was more than this; there were ten 65-watt bulbs on this circuit. This caused the front of the switch to get extremely hot, and creates a potential fire hazard. Have this corrected.

You’ll notice that I didn’t explain exactly how to correct this. I do this intentionally because I’m not going to do the work. This situation could be easily fixed by replacing the dimmer switch with a simple toggle switch, by installing a dimmer rated for a higher wattage, or by installing bulbs with a lower wattage. Any of those would be fine, but as the home inspector, I don’t design the repairs.

Toggle Switches

I can’t think of any good reason for a toggle switch to get hot. If I ever found a hot toggle switch, I’d call that a fire hazard and recommend repair.

Circuit breakers

When a circuit breaker has a lot of current flowing through it, it will get warm. The warm 15-amp circuit breaker shown below had a 15.6-amp hair dryer running for about 20 minutes, and it warmed up to about 17 degrees over ambient. It wasn’t especially hot, but it was definitely overloaded.

Warm circuit breaker overloaded

I’d like to say that if a circuit breaker is X-degrees over ambient, it’s a problem… but there’s just no hard and fast rule for this. I can’t say this.

If I find a warm circuit breaker, I take a logical approach. First, is there a good reason for the circuit breaker to be warm? A 240-volt appliance like an air conditioner will definitely warm up a circuit breaker while it’s operating. No problem there. The image below shows a warm circuit AC circuit, but in this case, I do care about the temperature readings. This circuit is only about 8 degrees warmer than anything else in the image. This is not a significant difference, and it makes sense.

Warm AC circuit normal

You’ll notice that there’s a single general lighting circuit that’s warmer than the other breakers in this panel; again, it’s only a small increase in temperature, so I’m not concerned. If it were much warmer, I might question why.

To take it a step further, I’d take the time to measure the amperage on the circuit. I wrote a blog post dedicated to that topic, titled Using an infrared camera to find an overloaded circuit. Many home inspectors are opposed to doing this type of test, and I say those home inspectors shouldn’t bother scanning an electrical panel. If a home inspector isn’t going to measure amperage, I don’t know how they could report on an overloaded circuit.

AFCI Circuit Breakers

Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) circuit breakers run warm. This is normal, there’s nothing to report here.

Warm AFCI Breakers normal

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

Subscribe button

The post Hot circuit breakers and dimmer switches appeared first on Structure Tech Home Inspections.

]]>
https://structuretech1.com/hot-circuit-breakers/feed/ 2