Structure Tech Home Inspections https://structuretech1.com Home Inspections in the Twin Cities Fri, 17 Aug 2018 19:48:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 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.

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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

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How to replace a shutoff valve the easy way: use a SharkBite® https://structuretech1.com/how-to-replace-a-shutoff-valve-the-easy-way-use-a-sharkbite/ https://structuretech1.com/how-to-replace-a-shutoff-valve-the-easy-way-use-a-sharkbite/#comments Mon, 06 Aug 2018 11:00:27 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291546 Got a leaking shutoff valve at your sink or toilet? The repair can sometimes be a quick and easy process, thanks to SharkBite® fittings and other brands of push-fit fittings. SharkBite® isn’t the only brand, but it’s certainly the most well-known. I made a video to show the process, assuming the water piping is copper, […]

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Got a leaking shutoff valve at your sink or toilet? The repair can sometimes be a quick and easy process, thanks to SharkBite® fittings and other brands of push-fit fittings. SharkBite® isn’t the only brand, but it’s certainly the most well-known.

I made a video to show the process, assuming the water piping is copper, and the flexible supply line has already been disconnected. The process is almost identical for PEX and CPVC, but not galvanized steel pipes. Please check out the video below: https://youtu.be/GSdXAuZAO0g

If you’re not into video, here are the steps:

1. Turn the water off at the main valve for the home.

2. Open a few faucets to drain water out of the lines.

3. Cut the water line just before the shut-off valve.

4. Ream and de-bur the cut pipe end.

5. Mark the pipe for the correct depth.

6. Push the new fitting into place.

7. Turn the water back on.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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Fire separation between the garage and house; don’t say firewall https://structuretech1.com/houses-dont-have-firewalls/ https://structuretech1.com/houses-dont-have-firewalls/#respond Tue, 31 Jul 2018 10:35:25 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291500 The separation between a garage and a house is commonly referred to as a firewall, but that’s not accurate. I hear the term firewall thrown around a lot, and it’s always used incorrectly when it comes to residential construction. If you turn to the Uniform Building Code, you can find the definition of a firewall (actually, […]

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The separation between a garage and a house is commonly referred to as a firewall, but that’s not accurate. I hear the term firewall thrown around a lot, and it’s always used incorrectly when it comes to residential construction. If you turn to the Uniform Building Code, you can find the definition of a firewall (actually, it says ‘fire wall’):

FIRE WALL. A fire-resistance-rated wall having protected openings, which restricts the spread of fire and extends continuously from the foundation to or through the roof, with sufficient structural stability under fire conditions to allow collapse of construction on either side without collapse of the wall.

Make sense? That means one side of a building can collapse while the other remains standing, thanks to the firewall. There is nothing like this in residential construction. The closest thing you’ll find in residential construction is a one-hour fire-resistance-rated wall. This is needed between townhomes and two-family dwellings, with a lot of fine print and special requirements. There are also some special requirements when a home is within 5′ of a lot line. Check out section R302 of the MN State Building Code for details.

What about the wall between the house and garage?

The wall between the house and garage is not a firewall, nor is it a fire-resistance-rated wall. The wall between a house and an attached garage does have some special requirements, however. These are listed under section 302.5 of the current MN State Building Code. As always, turn to the code for the exact language and the full set of rules, but here are today’s rules in my own words:

R302.5.1 Opening Protection: No doors allowed from a garage to a bedroom. Doors between a house and a garage can be one of three types, take your pick:

  1. Solid wood, at least 1-3/8″ thick
  2. Solid or honeycomb-core steel, at least 1-3/8″ thick
  3. 20-minute fire-rated

While the six-panel door shown below gets awfully thin at the panels, this is still a 20-minute fire-rated door, so there’s nothing wrong with it being used between the house and garage.

Six-Panel Fire-Door

The International Residential Code (IRC) requires a self-closing device on this door, but we have no such requirement here in Minnesota. We used to, but we’ve since amended that requirement out of our code.

R302.5.2 Duct penetrations: Ducts running through the garage must be made of No. 26 gage sheet metal or another approved material. They also can’t open to the garage.

Improper duct through garage

R302.5.3 Other penetrations: Openings around vents, pipes, ducts, cables, and wires need to be sealed with a material that meets the requirements of ASTM E 136. I don’t own that standard and I don’t know what it says. From what I’ve gathered on this topic, however, small openings are supposed to be sealed with special materials, such as 3M Fire-Block Sealant. Larger openings like radon vent pipes need intumescent firestop collars, such as the one shown below.

Intumescent fire collar

R302.6 Dwelling/garage fire separation: The wall between a house and garage must be separated by 1/2″ drywall. This also applies to structural members, and this extends to the attic in a common-sense type of way; the garage needs to be separated from the house. If there are habitable rooms above the garage, 5/8″ type X (fire-rated) drywall must be used at the ceiling. The image below, courtesy of the fine folks at CodeCheck, illustrates this.

B03-Fire_Separtion_from_Garage

This is all covered under Table R306.6, which I’ve included below because there is so much info here.

SEPARATION MATERIAL
From the residence and attics Not less than 1/2-inch gypsum board or equivalent applied to the garage side. Vertical separation between the garage and the residence attic shall extend to the roof sheathing or rafter blocking.
From all habitable rooms above the garage Not less than 5/8-inch type X gypsum board or equivalent.
Structural members supporting floor/ceiling assemblies or garage ceiling used for separation required by this section Not less than 1/2-inch gypsum board or equivalent applied to the garage side of structural members supporting the floor/ceiling assemblies or garage ceiling. Structural members include, but are not limited to: walls, columns, beams, girders, and trusses.
Garages located less than 3 feet from a dwelling unit on the same lot Not less than 1/2-inch gypsum board or equivalent applied to the interior side of exterior walls that are within this area. This provision does not apply to garage walls that are perpendicular to the adjacent dwelling unit wall.

What’s not covered by this section is any mention of mudding and taping of joints. The building code is silent on this matter. It’s up to the Authority Having Jurisdiction to decide whether or not the joints in drywall need to be mudded and taped.

Conclusion

In short, the garage needs to be separated from the house in case of fire, but this isn’t a fire-rated assembly, nor is it a firewall. The best term for this required separation is a fire-separation wall.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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The Structure Tech training process https://structuretech1.com/home-inspector-training-process/ https://structuretech1.com/home-inspector-training-process/#respond Tue, 24 Jul 2018 10:42:05 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291451 I get a lot of training questions from aspiring home inspectors about how to get into this business and how to get trained. I have some advice for people who don’t get hired by a company with an established training process, but first, I’d like to share our internal process here at Structure Tech. We’ve […]

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I get a lot of training questions from aspiring home inspectors about how to get into this business and how to get trained. I have some advice for people who don’t get hired by a company with an established training process, but first, I’d like to share our internal process here at Structure Tech. We’ve worked hard at developing a repeatable training process, largely by following advice found in The E-Myth.

Home inspection training

The Structure Tech training process for home inspectors

In the interest of transparency and to help give advice to any other multi-inspector company owners out there, I’m sharing the Structure Tech training timeline, omitting a bunch of steps that are specific to my company.

Pre-hire

Background check completed. First reading assignment given, which is all blog posts tagged with ‘!Study Guide’. These can be found at https://structuretech1.com/category/study-guide/ . Subscribe to this blog and read every new post going forward.

Week 1:

Read the ASHI Standard of Practice. This is the minimum acceptable standard for an ASHI home inspection. This should be read and re-read regularly.

Begin attending two inspections per day with other Structure Tech Inspectors.

Week 2:

A ton of reading related to internal home inspection policies and procedures, as well as the entire library of our internal company knowledge base. Here’s an example of one of those knowledge base articles: Attic woes: My latest boo-boo. #schadenfreude

Weeks 3 – 12:

Read the following:

2 – 6 Months

Start attending one inspection per day, and start typing reports. The final report is then sent to the primary inspector, and the report is reviewed for accuracy, corrected as needed, and then sent to the client. The process of learning how to properly write reports will take a long time. This process has never gone quickly for anyone.

The Structure Tech Home Inspection Report Writing Style Guide must be followed.

Not only must the new inspector not miss anything during their inspections, but their reports must also be consistently error-free before they start inspecting on their own. This is a very challenging task.

Lastly, they need to pass the National Home Inspector Exam, which is one of the requirements to getting full certification with the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), ASHI Certified Inspector.

I’ve found it’s nice if my home inspectors have had some formal training, like a one- or two-week school, but it’s not necessary. The most important part of this job is on-site training and learning how to write reports properly, which only comes from intense peer review.

By the time our inspectors start inspecting on their own, they’ll have conducted between 120 and 160 home inspections, on average. They don’t go on their own until I’m confident in their ability to recognize problems, and their ability to communicate those findings verbally and in writing. If I wouldn’t trust one of my inspectors to inspect a house for a close friend or family member, they’re not ready to go out on their own.

Training for everyone else

So how are solo home inspectors supposed to get the needed training to go out on their own? They need to train with experienced home inspectors. That’s it, that’s all. There’s no school that will give this type of training. Sure, some schools might send home inspectors along on a handful of real-life, group inspections, but that’s just the first rung on the 28-foot training ladder.

There is currently no formal training or apprenticeship program for home inspectors here in Minnesota, but I think there ought to be. ASHI has something called Parallel Inspections, which is the closest you’ll find to a formal process at the national level. It’s a pretty loose program, but I’m hoping to help make the program better. Here at Structure Tech, we began offering a formal hands-on training process to aspiring home inspectors last year, and we’ve received very good feedback on the program. More on that topic here: Home Inspector Training.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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A short interview with Reuben about becoming a home inspector https://structuretech1.com/interview/ https://structuretech1.com/interview/#comments Tue, 17 Jul 2018 10:54:02 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1290202 I recently typed out answers to several interview questions for a book that will be part of a series titled Careers in the Building Trades-A Growing Demand.

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I recently typed out answers to several interview questions for a book that will be part of a series titled Careers in the Building Trades-A Growing Demand. The interview was all about getting into this profession and was meant as advice for people interested in becoming home inspectors. Because I took the time to type all of this out, I thought it would make a good “bloggy” type of blog post.

Interview

How long have you worked as an inspector? What inspired you to get into this field?

I started training to be a home inspector when I was six. My dad was a carpenter, and I got to go along with him and help him on the job a lot. I was homeschooled until 5th grade, so I ended up spending a lot of full days doing demolition and carpentry. Up until I was old enough to get my first real job at the age of 16, I spent my summers working with my dad doing carpentry.

When I got my first real job at a hardware store, I couldn’t believe that I was getting paid to just stand there and cashier or stock shelves. It was the easiest job in world… at least compared to carpentry. Every job I’ve ever had has been far less physically demanding than carpentry.

I digress. Getting back to the question, my real desire was always to be a teacher. All throughout junior high and high school, I wanted to be a teacher. I enjoy teaching others and I’m good at it. I always thought I’d grow up to be a teacher, and as it turns out, I was kind of right.

I graduated high-school in 1997, and my dad purchased Structure Tech that same year. He had been doing home inspections part-time for many years, but this purchase pushed him into full-time home inspector status. I started with Structure Tech that year, answering the phone and writing reports. I worked full-time at first, then part-time, then a few hours a month while working full-time at Home Depot.

In 2004, my dad convinced me that I could satisfy my desire to teach by becoming a home inspector, and he was right. I’ve been a home inspector ever since.

Can you please tell me about a day in your life on the job?

These days, I spend most of my time managing Structure Tech. I don’t do a whole lot of home inspections anymore; maybe one per week. For the rest of the inspectors in my company, however, their day begins with their morning commute. We perform one or two inspections per day. We arrive at our inspection about 15 minutes before the scheduled time to help make sure we’re the first ones there.

We typically meet our clients right at the beginning of the inspection, and we encourage our clients to follow us around during the inspection. We explain how the house works, and we explain our findings as we go through the house. If it’s a two-inspection day, we eat lunch on the road in-between inspections. If we’re lucky, we type up a good portion of our morning report before the afternoon inspection. We do not type reports on-site; we find that doing so takes away from our time with our clients.

At the end of the day, we head home and type the reports. Most reports can be typed up in one to two hours… but not all of them. Some take three to four hours. This can make for long days, but we charge accordingly for our services.

What surprised you the most when you first became an inspector?

What surprised me most after becoming a home inspector were the fearful attitudes of so many other home inspectors. My dad taught me to inspect houses as thoroughly as possible; use the best tools available, walk roofs, crawl to the farthest reaches of attics… all that jazz. I learned that many home inspectors have quite the opposite attitude. Many inspectors feel that the more they do and the more tools that they use, the more likely they are to get sued. Many home inspectors are terrified of being sued. They use a strong contract and their Standard of Practice as a shield to protect themselves from lawsuits, rather than doing more thorough inspections.

I know that this sounds crazy, but it’s true.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is finding those hidden defects that I think most other inspectors would not have found. I think of this as an Easter Egg hunt. Most homes have hidden problems, and it’s my job to find them. When I find concealed defects, and especially defects that appear to have been covered up, I’m invigorated. I always feel justified in going the extra mile.

That, and seeing online reviews come in for my employees too. I take a lot of pride in seeing my employees succeed.

What kind of personal traits do you think are important for inspectors?

Hands down, without a doubt, the most important personal trait for a home inspector is excellent communication skills. Our job is not to simply identify defects with a home; our job is to convey that information to our clients and explain the significance of these defects. We need to make a big deal about the big stuff and a little deal about the little stuff. If we inspect a house and give the same level of importance to everything, we’re doing a huge disservice to our clients. This ability to communicate must come through in-person and in our reports.

This means that home inspectors must be personable, good at reading people, good listeners, and calm. We need to be able to tailor our messages to different types of clients, and this is all about being able to read people.

Home inspectors should also have good spelling and grammar skills. A large portion of this job involves writing reports.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career as an inspector?

For anyone who is considering a career in home inspections, I recommend first going along on some inspections with an experienced home inspector to get a better idea of what’s involved. Next, you’ll need to decide if you’d rather work for a home inspection company or you’d rather be self-employed. This profession has traditionally been dominated by one-man shops, but that dynamic is beginning to change. I believe that more women are entering this profession, and the number of multi-inspector companies is increasing.

For anyone interested in working for someone else, get in contact with some multi-inspector company owners and ask them questions. They probably get asked these questions a lot, and they’ll probably have some well-thought-out answers. I get asked these questions so often that I’ve blogged about it: http://structuretech1.com/updated-home-inspector-training-advice/

For anyone looking to be a solo-operator, be aware that the technical training to become a home inspector will be the easiest part of the job… not to say it’s easy. The hardest part will be running a business and generating business. 

For next week’s blog post, I’m going to pick up where I left off this interview; technical training to be a home inspector.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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Egress requirements and the two-opening myth https://structuretech1.com/egress-requirements/ https://structuretech1.com/egress-requirements/#comments Thu, 05 Jul 2018 16:27:20 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291111 There has to be a large group of home inspector trainers who tell home inspectors that every bedroom needs two methods of egress. I’ve heard this repeated by home inspectors in online discussions more times than I can count, and it’s based on nothing. This is a total myth. A bedroom needs one method of egress. More […]

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There has to be a large group of home inspector trainers who tell home inspectors that every bedroom needs two methods of egress. I’ve heard this repeated by home inspectors in online discussions more times than I can count, and it’s based on nothing. This is a total myth. A bedroom needs one method of egress. More is fine, but not required.

While section R311 of the building code discusses Means of Egress at length, this section is all about people having a clear path to get out of a building, not about openings in bedrooms. If someone wanted to build a home and have no pathway from a bedroom to the rest of the home, they could. I’ve never seen this done and I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to do this, but it would not be a code violation.

What is egress?

Egress is not defined in the building code. Usually, when people say egress they’re referring to the Emergency Escape and Rescue Opening. This term makes it clear that this required opening in the building isn’t just for getting out (egress). It’s also there to allow for emergency rescues. I’ve heard people call this “ingress”, but I refuse to use that word because it sounds made-up.

The building code definition for an Emergency Escape and Rescue Opening is “an operable exterior window, door or similar device that provides for a means of escape and access for rescue in the event of an emergency.”  I think this term is already pretty self-explanatory, but I included the definition to make it clear that the opening doesn’t need to be a window. It just needs to be something big enough to get people in and out. A door would be just fine.

So now that I’ve covered the proper terminology for any online trolls/word sticklers, I’m going to go back to calling it egress. I prefer layman’s terms.

Egress requirements

If you’re in Minnesota, check out section R310 of the Minnesota State Building Code for all of the requirements. I’m not going to explain all of these requirements, but I’ll list the basics:

  • Basements, habitable attics, and sleeping rooms need to have an egress opening
  • The bottom of the required opening must be within 44″ of the floor.
  • The width of the opening must be at least 20″.
  • The height of the opening must be at least 24″.
  • The net clear opening must be at least 5.7 square feet unless the bottom of the opening is within 44″ of the ground at the exterior. In those cases, the opening can be reduced to 5 square feet.
  • Window wells must be at least 3′ x 3′, and they must allow the window to open fully. If the window well is more than 44″ deep, it needs a ladder.
  • If there’s a deck or porch above the basement window well, at least 36″ of headroom is needed.

The City of Bloomington has a nice handout on Egress Requirements explaining these requirements. This handout also has some nice diagrams, which I’ve copied below.

Egress window diagramEgress window well diagram

Here are some exceptions that are special to Minnesota:

  • If the home is fully protected by an automatic sprinkler system, no egress opening is required in basement bedrooms.
  • Replacement windows are allowed to reduce the window opening to less than the requirements listed above. The replacement window basically needs to be the same type as the original, and it needs to be the largest window that will fit in the existing opening. I’ve heard many people refer to this allowance as the ‘Renewal by Andersen exception’.

What should a home inspector say about egress?

In my humble opinion, a home inspector doesn’t need to measure a window to decide if it’s safe or not. We can look at a window and decide whether or not most people could get out. In fact, most people can do this. I see no need for a home inspector to measure windows to justify recommendations for added safety.

If a window is small and someone would have a hard time getting out of the home, it’s obvious. A home inspector should call this a safety hazard and recommend correction of this condition, or recommend not using the room as a bedroom. There’s no need to measure the window to prove this; anyone can tell just by looking at it.

Update 7/11/18: the sizes listed above aren’t just about getting out of a building; they’re also about allowing a firefighter to get into the building while wearing a big oxygen tank. I’m not as concerned about this part of the equation. If a building is on fire, a firefighter won’t worry about delicately unlocking a window and cranking it open; they’re going to knock the whole thing out of the frame.

The images below show a nice example of such a room. The seller of this home was using the room as an office, not a bedroom. Nevertheless, I added a comment in my report mentioning that the windows in the first-floor office were much too high for proper egress, and the room should not be used as a bedroom.

Not egress windows

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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Water in sub-slab ductwork https://structuretech1.com/water-sub-slab-ductwork/ https://structuretech1.com/water-sub-slab-ductwork/#comments Tue, 03 Jul 2018 11:02:16 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291185 In last week's blog post on transite heat, I explained that most sub-slab ductwork is not transite. If it really is transite, it contains asbestos.

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In last week’s blog post on transite heat, I explained that most sub-slab ductwork is not transite. It’s not transite heat, it’s not transite ductwork, and it should not be labeled as such unless the ductwork is actually made from transite. If it is, that means it contains asbestos. The downside to transite heat is that it can’t be cleaned without the risk of releasing asbestos fibers into the air.

The biggest concern with all sub-slab ductwork is the potential for water to enter the ducts, which is what today’s blog post is all about.

Side note: sub-slab ductwork is ductwork installed below the concrete floor.

Water is bad news

Regardless of what type of sub-slab ductwork is present, water is the main concern. If water finds its way into sub-slab ductwork, mold can follow. This leads to poor indoor air quality and health concerns. That stuff at the top of the duct in the picture below sure looks like mold, doesn’t it?

moldy transite ductwork

If you’re buying a home with sub-slab ductwork, make sure that your home inspector checks the sub-slab ductwork for any signs of past water intrusion. Signs of water intrusion are a major concern because it’s usually not a simple repair. The image below shows a modern PVC duct with clear signs of chronic water problems.

water stains on sub-slab ductwork

Here’s another duct with a similar situation, but not as bad.

transite duct with water stains

The rest of these images show sub-slab ductwork with standing water.

water in sub-slab duct

water in sub-slab duct

water in duct

We’ve inspected a handful of homes with such serious ductwork problems that the homeowners have resorted to installing sump pumps inside of their return plenums. No joke. We’ve seen this done many times.

sump pump in furnace return plenum

What to do

There are two basic methods for dealing with water in sub-slab ductwork; abandonment or repair.

If sub-slab ducts are going to be abandoned, they need to be sealed off and new overhead ductwork needs to be installed. This is an expensive option because the new ductwork typically needs to be installed in an already-finished space.

The other option, repair, consists of two steps. First, the source of the water needs to be corrected. This will probably require the services of a basement waterproofing company. Most importantly, the obvious stuff like exterior water management would need to be addressed first. If that has already been addressed but hasn’t solved the problem, the home might need to have an unusually deep drain tile system installed. It must be deeper than the sub-slab ductwork.

The second step requires encapsulation or lining of the ductwork. This is a service that I learned about through my ASHI chapter last year. We had a guest speaker come out to talk to us about duct lining, which is apparently a good option for homes with problematic sub-slab ductwork. It won’t fix water intrusion, but it should eliminate any air quality concerns, and it’s far less expensive than abandonment.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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ps – we’ve also found dead mice in sub-slab ductwork, we once found a pipe, and we’ve even seen severely rusted metal ductwork used below the slab more than once.

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Transite vs. sub-slab ducts https://structuretech1.com/transite-vs-sub-slab-ducts/ https://structuretech1.com/transite-vs-sub-slab-ducts/#comments Tue, 26 Jun 2018 10:48:56 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291122 Most sub-slab ductwork installed in Minnesota is not transite ductwork, and shouldn't be labeled as such. Transite contains asbestos.

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If you mention the word transite to about 90% of the population, they either think of HVAC ductwork installed below the concrete floor in a basement, or they assume you added an “e” onto the word transit. This ought to change.

The vast majority of sub-slab ductwork is not transite, and shouldn’t be labeled as such. Also, there’s no such thing as “transit” heat. Some spell-checker created this word by chopping off the letter e. It’s transite.

I’m no historian, but I’ve always been taught that transite was a cement-asbestos product. Wikipedia agrees, describing Transite as a brand created by Johns-Manville in 1929 for cement-asbestos products. At some point, the product transitioned from Transite to transite, just like Romex became romex and Sheetrock became sheetrock. At least in everyone’s minds.

The two components in a home that are most appropriately called transite are cement-asbestos gas vents and cement-asbestos sub-slab ducts.

Most sub-slab ducts are not transite

That’s right, most sub-slab ductwork here in Minnesota is not made from transite. It’s mostly PVC. When this ductwork is called transite, it’s implied that the ductwork contains asbestos. Don’t call it transite if the ductwork is not made from cement-asbestos. This creates confusion and unnecessary concern. Call it sub-slab ductwork. Transite ductwork was used in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Concerns with transite

So what’s the concern with actual transite sub-slab ductwork? Asbestos. The cut edges of this material are often rough and have the potential to release microscopic asbestos particles into the air if disturbed. The term for this condition is “friable”. This means that the ductwork probably shouldn’t be cleaned, for risk of creating an environmental hazard. Don’t expect your duct cleaner to know this, however. If you hire them to clean your ducts, they’ll clean your ducts.

Home buyers generally don’t like the idea of not being able to have their ducts safely cleaned. If you buy a home with transite heat, this is what you’re getting. It’s not the end of the world, but there’s also no simple fix. The images below show some examples of what this looks like.

The first image shows a rare view of the outside of a transite heat duct. In most homes, this portion of the duct is buried below the slab. It’s only visible in this case because it was in a split-level home.

transite heat duct exterior

The image below shows a floor register cover removed so we could look inside the duct with our furnace inspection mirror. I mentioned this mirror in my home inspection tool list. Every home inspector ought to have one. The rough, fibrous edges of the ductwork indicated by the arrow are the telltale sign that this is transite.

transite ductwork edge

Here’s a view of a transite duct from the inside. Click on the image for a larger, more detailed version. Note the spiral, and note the rough fiber. This is transite.

transite duct with water stains

Also, make note of the obvious water staining in the ductwork. This ductwork has surely been flooded in the past, and that brings me to my next topic, which is water in sub-slab ductwork. That’s a topic all on its own, so please come back next week for my blog post on water in sub-slab ductwork.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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Consumers’ Checkbook response https://structuretech1.com/consumers-checkbook-response/ https://structuretech1.com/consumers-checkbook-response/#comments Tue, 19 Jun 2018 11:36:04 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1291134 We’ve seen the exact same concerning article from Consumers' Checkbook pop up in seven different areas of the country.

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This is a joint post from Reuben Saltzman, Charles Buell, and Barry Stone.

We’ve seen the exact same concerning article from Consumers’ Checkbook pop up in seven different areas of the country. These areas include the Twin Cities, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Puget Sound, Delaware Valley, and Washington, DC.

The basis of each article is that Consumers’ Checkbook rented a three-bedroom house, hired 12 home inspectors to inspect the home, and the inspectors did a poor job of inspecting to a standard that doesn’t exist. The inspections were labeled superficial and the inspectors were called lazy, sloppy, and ding-dongs. Each one of these articles gives the impression that the story takes place in that particular city.

Disingenuous

We have two problems with this article. First, the premise of the article is not candid. The location of the test house is not told, but it’s clearly implied that the test house was in the city that the story takes place in.

This didn’t ring true, so Reuben put in a call to Consumers’ Checkbook to ask about this. They claimed that there were indeed seven identical houses rented in seven cities. Reuben pressed for more details, asking how the results from every house could have been identical, and they got back to him a few days later with a different story. On the second round, they said that there was actually only one test house, located in the Washington, D.C. area.

The Star Tribune ran the same story on their website, first stating that the home was rented by “Undercover shoppers from Twin Cities Consumer’s Checkbook.” This was later changed to the current version that appears in the Star Tribune, which states that the house was located in the suburbs of Washington, DC.

No Standards

The article says that Checkbook’s research staff identified 28 “too obvious to miss” items. They also state the focus was to find “soon to be needed expensive repairs.” This included things like loose hinges to a vanity door, cut cords at window blinds, dirty filters at window AC units, trees and landscaping in need of care and trimming, and a doorbell that wasn’t working. These items are not included in home inspection Standards of Practice (SoP), and in our humble opinion, are not “soon to be needed expensive repairs”.

Would you ding a medical doctor for not checking your teeth for cavities?

We call this reporting below the belt. They made these inspectors look bad for not doing things that fall outside of home inspection Standards of Practice, and even home inspection standards of care. At least one excellent home inspector, preferably several, should have helped to determine what should and shouldn’t have been included as “too obvious to miss”. This would have helped to give legitimacy to the article.

The Good

While we’re extremely disappointed with this article, the main message is still a good one: not all home inspectors are equal. We applaud the basis of this article; it’s important to inspect your inspector.

Another article published by Consumers’ Checkbook, titled How to Inspect Your Home Inspector, gives some good advice on how to find an excellent home inspector. It’s worth reading.

For Reuben’s advice on how to hire an excellent home inspector, please see http://structuretech1.com/how-to-find-a-great-home-inspector/

For Charles’ advice, please see http://www.buellinspections.com/how-do-i-find-a-good-home-inspector/

For Barry’s advice, please see http://housedetective.com/2018/06/18/how-to-choose-a-home-inspector/

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Guards that make a ladder https://structuretech1.com/ladder-guard/ https://structuretech1.com/ladder-guard/#comments Tue, 12 Jun 2018 11:06:37 +0000 https://structuretech1.com/?p=1290986 Is it wrong to have a stairway or deck guardrail constructed with horizontal balusters or cables that could be climbed like a ladder? This topic came up in a discussion on a private Facebook group for home inspectors a few weeks ago. Shortly after I had shared a photo of a beautiful stairway, another home […]

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Is it wrong to have a stairway or deck guardrail constructed with horizontal balusters or cables that could be climbed like a ladder? This topic came up in a discussion on a private Facebook group for home inspectors a few weeks ago. Shortly after I had shared a photo of a beautiful stairway, another home inspector piped in saying that while the stairway looked cool, it didn’t meet code.

beautiful stairway

Side note: technically, they’re not called guardrails; just guards.

The inspector’s concern with this stairway was that the guards had horizontal cables that a child could climb like a ladder. That’s a valid concern, and at one point in time, the building code actually prohibited this practice. The 2000 version of the International Residential Code (IRC) says the following under section R316.2: Required guards shall not be constructed with horizontal rails or other ornamental pattern that results in a ladder effect.

I don’t own a copy of the 2003 IRC, but the 2006 IRC and subsequent editions contain no such language about guards. In short, there is nothing in the code that says you can’t do this. It doesn’t matter whether it’s inside or outside the house. I don’t know what prompted the change, but I suspect it was people’s desire to install cable-rail guards like the type shown in the photo above.

What should a home inspector say?

As I’ve said countless times before, home inspectors are not code inspectors. Just because something doesn’t meet “code” doesn’t mean we report on it, and we often make recommendations for added safety that fall outside of the code. For example, I always recommend upgrading to photoelectric smoke alarms despite the fact that they’re not required by code.

If a home inspector feels that this type of guard is unsafe, they can report it as such. They could say that this type of guard could be climbed like a ladder and may create a safety hazard for children. There’s nothing wrong with a home inspector pointing this out, provided they don’t call it a code violation. Personally, I don’t report on this type of detail because I feel that the hazard level created by the ladder-effect is quite low.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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