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Blog: Weekly Inspection Information and Updates

HVAC Duct Boosters

On a recent home inspection in Aurora Colorado, my company, Magpie Property Inspections inspected a home that was equipped with a Duct Booster like this one.  A unit like this is designed to increase the flow of heated air in warm heating systems, or cooled air in air conditioning systems. In most cases, a duct booster’s size limits its use to individual rooms, not the main supply line. They can normally be mounted on round or flat ducts. They are frequently installed on a warm air duct of a gravity warm air furnace to provide heating for a basement area, or may also be helpful in moving treated air to a remote room or through long spans of ductwork. If you have a room or area of your home which is difficult to heat or cool, this might be a solution for you.

Mini Split Air Conditioning Systems.

Pictured above is a mini split AC system which was inspected during a home inspection conducted by my company, Magpie Property Inspections, in Aurora Colorado. A mini split AC system is a ductless system for indoor climate control. Each mini split system features an outdoor unit and at least one indoor unit as these photos illustrate. A system like this allows a homeowner to provide conditioned air to a room which does not heat or cool very well with the current system, or to additions or basements which do not contain ductwork or connection system to a current system.

Mini split units are connected with copper tubing and electrical wire. In most cases these systems are intended primarily to provide air conditioning. The outdoor unit pumps refrigerant through the tubing into indoor units. A fan dispenses the resultant cold air across the inner unit’s evaporator coil, cooling the room or area to the desired temperature.

The mini split is, however, a versatile climate control system that cools during the summer and heats during the winter. This system is ideal for addressing homes not outfitted with ducting, such as homes heated by boilers. It is also commonly used in new homes that can’t readily accommodate traditional AC due to space constraints. Mini split installation only requires drilling 3 to 4 inch holes in floors or ceilings to connect indoor and outdoor components.

 Mini splits operate quietly and are also expandable.  Another advantage to these systems is that reducing ductwork can improve energy efficiency. In addition, mini splits are relatively small and are easy to integrate into interior designs and exterior smaller areas. A qualified HVAC company can provide an evaluation on adding a system to your home if this might provide a solution to solving a problem to your heating and cooling needs.

Hazardous In Ground Electrical Outlets

These photographs were taken during a home inspection by my company, Magpie Property Inspections, during and home inspection in Denver Colorado. As you can see, live electrical wiring and outlets are improperly installed and exposed to moisture which presents a serious safety and fire hazard. They are in Contact with the ground; one was partially buried. Neither responded when tested to see if the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter outlets were functional which is a must for safe operation.

Exterior electrical outlets should be installed in weather proof approved cases with covers that can be closed and placed well above grade. In this case, the outlets are partially buried and moisture has penetrated the casing which could cause a shock to anyone in contact with the outlet or moisture adjacent to the outlet. A qualified electrician should install approved GFCI outlets appropriately to make these units safe for outdoor use.

 

Structural Distress – Exterior Signs

During a home inspection in Aurora Colorado conducted by my company, Magpie Property Inspections, these photos were taken of signs of significant movement and distress to this structure. The window and door frames are out of square in several places. The face brick has cracked along vertical lines from foundation to eave and improper repairs have been made which do not address likely movement and cracking to the foundation. This home was built in the mid 1950’s on a slab, and it was not possible to inspect the stem walls or footings under the house to look for major cracking and deflection of the walls and slabs. Given that this has occurred on all the exterior walls, it is very likely this has occurred. A situation like this calls for a  full evaluation of the structure by a qualified structural engineer to conduct the needed examination of the outside and hidden supportcomponents to determine the appropriate remedy to make the home structurally sound.

Improper Electrical Exterior Wiring

These photos show improperly installed exterior wiring at a home in Aurora Colorado. They were taken during a home inspection by my company, Magpie property inspections. Someone has routed interior rated Romex (NM) wiring along the surface of the ground outside to power lighting and electrical to a storage shed. This type of wiring should never be used outside along the ground surface and/or without being installed in approved exterior conduit. Wiring runs outside should be buried at least 18 inches deep underground between the origin and termination of the lateral run and installed in PVC schedule 40 type piping below ground, and schedule 80 type piping above ground, with approved connections and fittings, to protect the wiring and prevent damage and contact with moisture.

Direct burial of type “UF” cable under soil is probably the most common and least expensive method to run electrical lines outside. UF cable provides for hot, neutral and grounding conductors all inside a durable, sunlight and moisture resistant encasement. UF type cable looks very similar to  Romex (NM) cable, but differs in that the individual conductors are encased with the jacket material found on NM cable to provide a solid weatherproof material that will resist damage and moisture penetration to a much greater degree. It too, should be buried at least 18 inches underground from origin to termination.

Any electrical work outside should be done using the appropriate materials by a qualified electrician in accordance with prevailing building codes.

Basement Window Safety

These photos of basement windows were taken of a home inspected by my company, Magpie Property Inspections, in Aurora Colorado. In most older homes, ingress/egress windows in basements do not the meet current standard, but were likely OK when the home was built. If this type of basement were to be updated or finished, at least one window would need to lowered and enlarged to allow for quick exit in the event of an emergency, particularly in a basement bedroom. If you are looking to purchase an older home with a finished basement with original windows, we suggest checking for building permits on the work completed to see if it was inspected and approved by the local building department. If not, this should be done in order to meet current building standards.

In older homes, be aware that in order to finish a basement properly there may be an additional cost to update at least one window to make it safe for the occupants.  A basement egress window should not be over 44 inches off finished flooring, have an opening which is at least 24 inches high, 20 inches wide and have at least 5.7 square feet.

Unsafe Room Addition Construction

This is a room addition which was photographed during a home inspection conducted by my company, Magpie Property Inspections, of a home located in Littleton Colorado. During the home inspection, it became clear that there were a number of concerns with the condition of the room addition and the way in which is was constructed.

We found holes in the flooring inside which revealed that 2×4 joists were laying over a 4 inch deep concrete slab to support the interior floor structure with no support or attachment to the existing building. An examination of the perimeter indicated that the whole structure was built on top of this patio slab and it was very unlikely that there are stem walls and footings underneath to support the walls and roofing properly as is required with standard home construction. This has allowed the walls to move and separate away from the house inside. A flat roof was installed which appears to allow water to pool and not drain effectively. In short, it was clear this added room was done without regard to building codes and standards and could not have been inspected and approved by the local building authority.

Room additions, finished basements and remodeling projects should always be done by qualified people using approved materials and in compliance with the current building standards which are in force in the locality in which the work is completed. This will prevent having a situation like this from becoming a safety concern for the occupants of the home. In this case, our clients have correctly decided to have the room addition removed.

 

Sprinkler Back Flow Preventers

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This is a photo of a damaged back flow preventer taken during a home inspection in Aurora Colorado by my company, Magpie Property Inspections. It appears it is worn. likely has has frozen and become damaged due to a lack of proper maintenance or winterization. It needs repair or replacement by a qualified technician.

The backflow preventer is a device that prevents your water system from becoming contaminated from water flowing backwards into your supply lines. If you have a sprinkler system which is fed by fresh water lines from your home, one should be installed where the sprinkler line feeds into the sprinkler valves located in the valve box underground.

The backflow preventer,  works by  having the water  siphoned through a branch line in the unit. Water flows in one direction freely through the line but is not allowed to move in the opposite direction. If water is allowed to back up in the lines after routing to the sprinkler system the water brings with it whatever is in the line which might include weed killer, fertilizer, and other contaminants in the grass and soil.  Without a properly functioning backflow preventer on the sprinkler system cut-in, your water system can inadvertently draw those toxins into your water supply and present a major health hazard.

It is important to check your system and back flow preventer regularly and to have the system checked each fall during winterization and in the spring when it is activated to make sure it is in good working order.

Headroom

This picture was taken during a home inspection conducted by my company, Magpie Property Inspections,  in the Denver Colorado Metro Area. I was performing an 11 month inspection for a client who was about to have their one year warranty expire on a new home. They wanted to have the house inspected as part of presenting their final list of repairs to the builder, and for peace of mind. In this case, the builder finished the basement but did not provide the required headroom above the stairs. They had to cut this notch in the ceiling above the stairs in order to provide for safe movement to the basement. In this home, the builder also neglected to provide a heat vent in a bathroom and cold air return venting in the basement as required.  It is always important to carefully review your new home during the first year of ownership and to make sure to have any concerns or questions reviewed before the first year expires.

Common Electrical Concerns Found During Home Inspections

 

When performing home inspections for my company, Magpie Property Inspections,  there are a number of  electrical issues we look for to address potential safety and performance problems which might be found in the subject property. Here are three items which are commonly found; these were noted in homes inspected in Parker Colorado and Denver Colorado.

The first photo was taken in a garage. Some one has added an additional outlet to the ceiling to power a garage door opener. In this case, the outlet is not secured properly, and the wiring hangs loose and is not secured properly. In addition, in most applications, depending on jurisdiction, wiring installed in garages should be covered in an acceptable covering called conduit to prevent the wring cover from being damaged exposing live wiring. This should be corrected by having a qualified electrician address the wiring and outlet as needed to meet current standard and practice.

The second photo illustrates a junction box which was installed connecting wiring runs in a basement. All junction boxes which house live wiring must have a secure cover in place to prevent exposing occupants from contact with wiring and prevent loose ungrounded conductors from contacting anyone.  The correct size and type of cover should be installed on this box.

The third photo was taken of an outlet which is damaged and was live when tested during the inspection. This is obviously dangerous as exposed  wiring is visible and could  cause as shock by casual contact. The romex wiring to the outlet is also kinked at the bottom which can restrict the electrical flow and cause the wire to heat and become a hazard. Electrical outlets should never be loose, have missing covers, and should have wiring installed corrected by qualified electricians. Electrical work is not the place for unskilled amateurs or lax maintenance.