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Know Where Your Water Main Shutoff is Located

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Each home has a water main shut-off like the one pictured above. Homes which are attached to a city or municipal water supplier receive water through an main water line which is normally a 3/4 inch copper pipe which enters the building through a wall in the basement or the lowest level. The water is maintained in the system under pressure. This pressure is usually controlled by a water pressure regulator and kept at a level of between 40 and 80 pounds per square inch. This allows water to flow to faucets and appliances when they are opened or utilized. Should an appliance or water line rupture, water will flow freely through the system causing a great deal of damage to the structure and contents of the home until the system is shut down. It is critical that as a homeowner, you know where the water main shut-off valve is located in your home and that you are able to turn off the water should a breech in the system occur. In addition, you may need to repair a pipe or appliance and need to temporarily turn off the system in order to do so.
If you don’t know where your water main shut off is located, start in the basement or utility area in your home and look for the fresh water pipes, which in most cases are either copper, flexible PEX piping, or CPVC white plastic pipes. Trace the piping to an exterior wall and look for the point at which it enters the building. If you have found the right place, a valve like this one, or similar to this one pictured, will be located just adjacent to the point at which the pipe enters from the wall. That is the water main. You can test to see if it is the main valve by turning it to the closed position and then running the water in a sink or faucet. If the water slows and stops, it is very likely the water main.
If you are not able to determine the location of your water main valve, a qualified plumber or expert can help you locate it. This is an important bit of information to have in the event of a plumbing emergency.

Electrical Outlets

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Its a basic safety issue, but one that should always be followed. During a recent home inspection in Parker Colorado, I found this outlet in a garage uncovered. Within each electrical outlet is an ungrounded (live or hot) wire connection. Outlet covers prevent anything from contacting the wiring inside. In this case, children or pets could easily come in contact with this outlet which is located less than two feet from the floor and be injured. Always make sure to keep covers in place and secure.

Damage from Expansive Soils

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Swelling Soil

Note the heaving of soil under this driveway located in the Denver Metro Area.

Source Material for this Presentation Courtesy of the Colorado Geological Survey Publication 43

Swelling soil contains clay minerals that attract and absorb water. It swells in volume when it gets wet and shrinks when it dries.
Other names for this geologic hazard include “shrink – swell soil” and “expansive soil.” These terms may refer to both soil and bed-rock that contain swelling clay.
Swelling soil may be found throughout Colorado with the general exception of the highest mountain areas.
The swell potential of soil beneath a particular property  depends upon the local geography. Subsurface sampling and laboratory testing are required to evaluate the swell potential of soil or bedrock layers at different locations.
SidewalkDoor DamageExamples of damage from heaving soils include doors out of alignment and street and sidewalks becoming cracked and uneven.

Spalling: Concrete Driveway and Walk Damage

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Damage to driveways like the one pictured here in Castle Rock, Colorado, can be caused by several factors. This condition, commonly referred to spalling, is as a result of the finished layer of concrete separating from the core layer of cement, exposing the interior  elements with large stones and concrete mix.
Generally, spalling is more prevalent where moisture collects the most. While walkways are often cleared of snow and ice during the winter, it may not be cleared off other surfaces. This can lead to additional damage on those areas. With respect to concrete sidewalks, patios, stairways, and similar outdoor concrete, spalling is most commonly caused by two factors:

Moisture and Temperature Changes

Concrete is a porous, absorbent material. Water will be absorbed within the material. During cold weather, this moisture will collect between the finished top surface of concrete and the rough material underneath.

Water expands as it freezes. As the water expands within the concrete, it pushes up against this smooth concrete surface. Over time, this will cause the surface to come off exposing the core material inside which is rough in texture as noted.

Improper or Excessive Use of Concrete De-Icer

De-icers and rock salts should be spread lightly on icy concrete surfaces, so they can loosen the concrete and make it easier to remove. It’s expected that the de-icer will be removed along with the snow and ice it helps to melt.

When this doesn’t occur after application, the de-icer may seep into the concrete along with the moisture. It then lowers the freezing point of water and can lead to additional freeze/thaw cycles when the temperature drops. Additionally, rock salt will remain as the water evaporates, crystallizing beneath the surface. As these rock salt crystals build up, they can push up on the concrete surface as well, contributing to spalling.

Always make sure to keep concrete surfaces clean, and using a sealer will help prevent this water penetration. Making sure to remove salt or de-icers after application is a must.

Radon Mitigation Exhaust Vent

 

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Many homes in Colorado have been equipped with radon mitigation systems in the last 20 to 25 years. Radon is potentially hazardous gas emitted from soils into the interior of homes normally through basements and crawl spaces where open exposure to the soil allow the invisible, radioactive gas (a by product of the breakdown or uranium and radium) to enter. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has determined that levels of radon in the air, in OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAexcess of 4.0 pCi/L present a risk to the health of the occupants as it has been linked to lung cancer. Homes that contain this level or greater exposure are required to have mitigation systems installed to reduce the levels of radon to 4.0 pCi/L or less.
Systems like the one pictured above are highly effective and when installed properly and maintained. One recent development is of concern to those who have current systems in place. Pictured above is an older installation with the exhaust vent located at close to ground level. The Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment now requires that all radon vent pipes to the exterior be installed with the exhaust exit pipe higher than the upper level roof line. Installations like the one pictured here, will need to be updated with the vent pipe extended above the upper level of the home to prevent the exhaust gasses from re entering the building or contacting people adjacent to the home outside. For more information regarding the current requirements for radon mitigation equipment, Contact the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment at www.coloradoradon.info or their radon hotline at 1-800-846-3986.

Sump Pump Basics

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A recent inspection in Parker Colorado brought this issue to mind.
Sump pumps are self activating electrical pumps that protect homes from moisture intrusion. They are usually installed below basement or crawlspace floors to remove rising ground water and surface water runoff before it can enter a building. Pumps should be maintained and equipped with all necessary components in order o ensure their reliability.
A pit, known as a sump pit or sump trench, is dug at the lowest part of the basement floor to capture and contain any water within the ground adjacent to the structure. A sump pump normally sits at the bottom of, or beside the sump pit, and expels water through pipes that carry the water outside and away form the building. The exit pipe opening should be at least 5 feet from the foundation.
Some maintenance tips:
In Colorado where there is not a great deal of moisture or high ground water tables, a sump pump may sit inoperable for a length of time. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
*The pump should be kept clean and free of debris
*Make sure the float is not jammed and can move freely up and down.
*The pump can be tested, if dry like the one pictured, by pouring water into the pit to see if it activates.
*Maintenance should be done annually or when the home is sold. An inspector will not normally test a dry system. It may be advisable to request a seller to have a plumber check the system if it has not been used regularly should there be a concern. The fact that the pit is dry does not necessarily indicate a problem with the operation of the pump or system.

Unwanted Intruders

These are some examples of intrusions into buildings I have found during inspections in Denver and Aurora Colorado. The first image shows an active bird’s nest in the soffit of the home, and the second is an apparent entry and exit point for squirrels. It is very important to monitor the outside of your home to prevent this type of activity, and to make and take immediate steps to seal any opening which may be used by birds or rodents. When animals set up shop in the attic or walls of a home or building, they can cause damage to the building components such as the rafters, joists and stud-walls. Squirrels and mice have been known to chew through wiring and pipes presenting any number of problems for the owner. An infestation like one of these also presents obvious health risks from droppings deposited in the internal cavities of the building. Rodents and birds do not need to create an obvious breach in the structure like those illustrated here. They can enter through gaps in the siding and soffit area, fascia, and roof vents. If you become aware of the possibility of an intrusion of animals, a professional exterminator can be retained to both remove the birds or rodents, and seal the points of entry into the home to correct the problem. Our family experienced a squirrel attack to our attic this spring, and the professionals were able to remove the squirrels humanely, relocating them to open space away from our home, while I sealed up the siding and vents to prevent any further intrusion.

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Open Ground in Electrical Outlet

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During a recent inspection in Parker Colorado, I discovered that the electrical system had an issue with an outlet not being wired properly. The photo above illustrates how the issue was discovered.

During an inspection, I use a plug-in circuit tester that will test the circuit via three neon lights. I use the Sure-test brand tester which is highly respected in the industry. It will test for an open neutral, lack of a ground, wires on the wrong terminals, and no power. A typical outlet has three holes built into it. The shorter straight slot is the “hot” lead. The longer straight slot is the “neutral” lead. The slot that looks like a small circle hole is the ground. If the outlet is wired properly, both green lights on the Sure-test will light. In this case, only the green light on the left lit when the outlet was tested. This indicated the grounding wire was not connected properly.

Grounding is extremely important to both the safety of the occupants and protecting the property in the event of a fault or lightening strike. The grounding wiring in the system carry current to the grounding rod outside. If any of the outlets or the panel is not grounded properly, this important safety system is breached. In this case, it was recommended that the electrical system by inspected by a qualified licensed electrician to be evaluated.

Furnace Inspection

On a recent inspection in Highlands Ranch Colorado, I was impressed with this furnace. The home is 10 years old, and this was the original unit. As you can see in the photos, it was recently serviced in OctoberOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA of 2012. The unit is immaculate, and the burners work correctly as the flames are bright blue with little yellow color in the flame. This indicates that there is the appropriate gas/ air mixture during operation. It is clear that this owner has kept up yearly maintenance and the technician involved has done quality work. Its important to check the furnace unit for regular service and to check it during operation whenever possible.

Window Wells: Covering and Egress

This is  photo of a typical window well in an area home recently inspected in Castle Rock Colorado. It has a safety cover over it which is very important, and is of sufficient size to allow egress from the basement area in the event of a fire or other emergency. Window wells at a depth of 44 inches or greater, should be fitted with a ladder which is at least 12″ wide, to provide easy escape for anyone needing to use the window to exit the home. In this case, the depth of the window well is approximately 40 inches, so a ladder is not required. This is a good thing to check in your home, to make sure your family can use a basement window to exit the building if a situation arises in which it becomes necessary.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA