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Venting for Gas Appliances is a Major Safety Concern

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During a home inspection I conducted in Denver Colorado in September 2013, I discovered this hot water heater and the loose vent connection which is pictured here.  Hot water heaters, gas fireplace inserts and gas forced air furnaces all produce carbon monoxide as a by-product of the combustion process involved in burning natural gas to produce heat. It is essential that these appliances be vented correctly in order to have the hazardous gasses emitted from them exit the home. If the venting is not installed and attached properly, a condition known as back-draft can occur, in which the carbon monoxide gasses flowing from the combustion chamber of an appliance do not flow effectively into the exhaust ductwork and outside. A home inspection should involve checking for this condition around any gas appliance, and as a homeowner, or tenant, it is important to have properly installed and functional carbon monoxide detectors in your home. It is also a good idea to inspect the gas appliances periodically to make sure a situation like this is not present. If you discover something which causes concern regarding any gas appliance, contact a licensed contractor to inspect and advise you regarding any needed repair to ensure its use is safe.

Treated Air Boosters Can Improve Heating or Cooling

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On a recent home inspection in Aurora Colorado, I 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 case, a duct booster’s size limits its use to individual rooms, not the main supply or “truck” line dust. They can normally be mounted on round or flat ducts. It is frequently installed on a warm air duct of a gravity warm air furnace to provide heating for a basement area. It 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.

Water Heater Temperature Pressure Relief Piping

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This water heater is an example of an important safety issue that homeowners and home buyers should check out. This home in Lakewood Colorado has an almost new hot water heater with a major defect in the installation. It was discovered during a recent home inspection. The tank wall section pictured shows the TPR valve (Temperature Pressure Relief Valve) which is required on all gas or electric hot water heaters. These valves will allow the hot water to release and escape from the tank at approximately 160 pounds per square inch of pressure ensuring the tank will not explode in the event of a malfunction in the heating and storage process. Attached to each TPR valve should be a 3/4 inch (usually copper) pipe which directs any pressurized water to the floor. The pipe should terminate approximately 6 inches from the floor like the one in the second picture. This prevents hot pressurized water from spraying outward from he unit and possibly scalding people or pets who might be in an area adjacent to the tank or damaging property.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fall Gutter Cleaning

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This home I inspected in Aurora Colorado has a problem many of us will need to address this fall. Clogged gutters are a common concern as leaves begin to fall or are blown onto the roofs and gutters of houses. Clogged gutters can cause a number of problems including back-up or drainage into the interior of homes through the roof decking, improper gutter drainage effecting ground water drainage from basements and damage to the gutters themselves from the weight of water accumulating within the system. Gutters will wear far more quickly if the water sits in the system and does not allow immediate drying after a rain or snow storm. Having a clean well functioning gutter system is an important way to keep home well maintained and something that should be documented in a home inspection provided the roof and guttering is accessible.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Normal Concrete Cracking

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This is an example of a normal crack in a basement wall I inspected in Parker Colorado. Virtually all concrete surfaces will eventually incur some cracking. Walls and slabs should contain reinforcement bars or wire to prevent the concrete from separating, but it will not keep the cured material from cracking to some degree. If a surface has numerous cracks in a small area or chips and flakes, it is a sign that the cement/sand mixture may not have been correct, or that it may have been poured when the temperature was too low for properly installing concrete

The garage floor pictured below contains normal hairline cracks that one would expect to see, and these are not a concern when inspecting a home in Colorado. .OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.