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Jet Tubs and GFCI Protection

During a recent home inspection conducted in Parker Colorado by my company, Magpie Property Inspections LLC , these photos were taken. The home has an older jet tub installed which was operational during the inspection.  The installation, while older, was OK overall. The pump motor and electrical components were protected by an outlet which was GFCI protected. Jet tubs are required to have their own, separate GFCI outlet which is not connected to other bath outlets.

As discussed in a previous blog,  a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is an electrical outlet with a device that shuts off an electric power circuit when it detects that current is flowing along an unintended path, and/or in an unbalanced level. A GFCI works by monitoring the current which leaves a power source, such as the ungrounded or live wire and checks it against the current which returns to the neutral wire in the electrical system. If they become unequal due to a fault in the system, or an unusual demand on the system, or the current is somehow leaking in an unwanted way, the GFCI shuts the power off. The outlet will keep shutting off until the source of the problem is corrected. They are now required to be installed in these areas:

Bathrooms

Kitchens

Outside outlets

Garages

Basements

Laundry rooms

And a separate outlet is required for a jet tub as discussed.

Built up – Tar and Gravel Roofing vs EPDM Roofing Systems.

These photos were taken during  two home inspections conducted by my company, Magpie Property Inspections LLC in Denver Colorado. The photos above are of an mid century home with a low pitched  roof which has an older tar and gravel type roof installed. This type of roofing was typically used on flat and low slope roofing and on commercial installations. It is comprised of several layers of asphalt saturated felt which are layered in opposite directions, then covered with hot asphalt roof coating. While the asphalt is still hot, gravel is typically spread over the roof  to deflect heat and light and to protect the felt and asphalt which provides the actual water proofing.

This example shows the problems that may develop with this type of roofing. Cracking and wear around exposed areas of felt have occurred which may be allowing moisture penetration. The gravel layer has worn loose and the saturated felt is “Alligatoring” from heat and drying of the materials. Vent and stack openings have developed cracks which can leak.

The photo below is of a more modern, improved roofing type used on low slope and flat roofs. It is called EPDM, (ethylene propylene diene terpolymer) roofing.  It is a type of rubber material. As with most construction choices, there are good points as well as drawbacks to a rubber roof.  Low relative cost and the ability to patch and repair areas of roofing are a plus. The vast majority of EPDM roofs are black, but EPDM can also come with a white coating that can aid in heat reflection and thereby reduce energy costs.  EPDM roofs are also fully compatible with solar panels and even support rooftop gardens and decks well.  Another advantage is the material’s relatively light weight. It adapts to any shape or style of roof (not just flat roofs) with all of the same advantages.

As with any roofing system, there are also drawbacks to EPDM roofing. These roofs generally cannot be installed by the homeowner. Some professional installers who claim familiarity with the roofs may not have enough experience with it to install it correctly. Obviously this problem can be solved by using the trained and certified installers with a track record of experience successfully installing EPDM roofing.

It is also possible for small leaks to develop around vent pipes and other openings on a roof, especially if the installers are not as familiar with rubber roofs as they should be.  Punctures can also occur in a rubber roof, but all of these defects can be easily repaired by a roofer skilled in EPDM roofs.

If you are considering replacing an old tar and gravel roof, make sure to consult a qualified roofing contractor to explore your best options.

 

Connecting Galvanized and Copper Pipes in Older Homes

This photo was taken during a home inspection conducted by my Company, Magpie Property Inspections LLC in Aurora Colorado. Many older homes like this one built in the 1960’s and earlier were originally plumbed with galvanized pipes as illustrated above. The typical lifespan of galvanized steel is anywhere from 25 to 40 years. Steel pipes are galvanized when they are dipped into molten zinc. This coating helps prevent deterioration inside and outside the piping, but after decades of use, corrosion and rust will normally build up on the inside of these pipes, which can cause problems. To determine what type of pipes you have, there are a few ways you can tell. One easy way is to find the area where pipes enter your home and carefully scratch the pipe with a metal object. If the surface of the pipe is the color of a penny, then the pipe is probably made from copper. Galvanized steel pipes, on the other hand, are a steel-gray color.

In many older homes, some of the old galvanized plumbing may be partially replaced with copper plumbing. When combining metal pipes of different types, it is important to install proper connections. Dielectric unions stop corrosion between different types of metal caused by electrolysis by using a rubber or plastic washer and sleeve to keep the metals from touching. In the illustration above, copper and galvanized plumbing has been improperly joined without the appropriate connectors. The image next to the older plumbing is a standard dielectric connector. If you have concerns about your older plumbing, make sure to have it evaluated by a qualified licensed plumber to make the appropriate repair.

 

 

Mold – Bio Growth Remediation.

The photos above were taken during a home inspection in Aurora Colorado by my company, Magpie Property Inspections. They were taken in a basement wall area where there was a prior issue with moisture intrusion and it looked like the dark material on the drywall might be mold or some type of bio-growth. In this case, we reported the situation to our client and a qualified professional environmental testing expert was brought in to take samples and evaluate the material. It turned out to be a common but serious type of indoor mold,  Stachybotrys chartarum, which can be a health concern and cause allergic symptoms in many people and more severe reactions for some people. A remediation company was brought in to remove the affected material and clean the area. The source of the moisture which caused the growth of the Stachybotrys chartarum, was a slightly leaking washer hose on the wall on the other side which had seeped moisture onto the floor and walls over a period of  time.

If you see the type of material pictured above, or something like example below of bio growth growing behind a shower wall, it is important  to bring in a qualified remediation contractor for the appropriate testing and clean up of all affected areas for the health of  the occupants of your home.

Interior Signs of Structural Movement / Distress in Residential Construction.

In an earlier post, we looked at some exterior signs of structural distress on a house inspected by my company, Magpie Property Inspections in Aurora, Colorado. That home had a brick exterior. This home, located in Denver Colorado, was also inspected by Magpie Property Inspections. It also shows clear evidence of  structural distress to exterior lap siding. The foundation walls and slab under an addition show evidence of significant cracking and movement as pictured below.

I thought this inspection provided some good examples of what type interior cracking is found when there is significant structural distress or movement in a structure which needs to be evaluated and repaired by qualified professionals. Almost every home has some hairline cracking to the drywall or plaster in places, particularly near window and door openings. These occur from the expected settlement and minor movement of the home and seasonal temperature variations. You have likely seen that type of cracking in your home.

The examples pictured below, however,  indicate that the structure has moved or settled more than what is commonly expected. The drywall surfaces have sheared and separated. Some cracks are 1/8 inch in width with multiple tears in close proximity. Cracking like this is indicative of likely structural damage which should be addressed by a qualified contractor under the direction of a structural engineer.  If you see this kind of damage in your home, or a home you are interested in, we strongly recommend you have it fully checked out.

 

Some General Safety Guidelines on Stairs and Hand Railing.

Here are some general rules regarding stair and handrail safety in residential construction. The Photo on the left was taken of a home built in 1978  in Aurora Colorado during a home inspection by my company, Magpie Property Inspections. It shows spacing between the railing spindles well over four inches which presents a safety hazard, particularly for small children.  The photo on the right was taken in Parker Colorado during a home inspection of a new home with stairs and railing built to be consistent current requirements.

By today’s standards, balusters (spindles) at decks and steps should be spaced no more than 4″ apart. Standards and rails should be configured so that a hand may easily grasp around a rail for safety. Handrail should be installed at a height of no less than 34″ and no higher than 38″. Stair riser height should not be over 7 3/4 inches , but at least 4 inches. Treads should be at least 8 inches deep. Railing missing at interior and exterior steps should be installed for safety where three or more steps are present.

For outside decks, railings are not required with drop-offs less than 30 inches above grade but we recommend considering your own personal needs and those of your family and guests, and install railing as needed to ensure their safety.

Fire Protection in Your Home’s Garage.

The photo on the left is a photo of an older home in Aurora Colorado inspected by my company, Magpie Property Inspections. The home has an attached garage which does not have proper fire prevention in place between the garage and habitable areas inside the home. The photo on the right was taken from the garage in a new home constructed in Denver, Colorado.

Because garages contain a number of potential fire causing items like cars, motorcycles, lawnmowers, gas cans etc., it is required that a fire retardant barrier be in stalled between the garage and house to protect the interior of the home. Current practice involves installing Type X Fire rated drywall. It should be installed between the walls and ceiling immediately adjacent to interior areas of the home.  It is also important that any holes or damage in these areas be repaired and sealed properly to maintain fire protection as required by most building codes.

Fire-rated drywall,  can stand up to one hour of fire in laboratory conditions without combusting or burning through. Standard drywall can withstand up to 30 minutes of fire under the same conditions.

Type X drywall contains gypsum strengthened with a fiberglass core. While standard drywall is  1/2-inch thick, fire-rated drywall is generally 5/8-inch thick and much denser than standard sheetrock. Most building codes require that fire-rated drywall be used in areas near furnaces, wood-burning stoves and garages. Fire-rated drywall is commonly available, and contractors and homeowners can purchase it from most retailers that sell drywall.

This is something that should be checked carefully during a home inspection. It is a very important safety issue to make sure garages have the correct type of drywall in place and that it completely seals all areas which adjoin livable spaces of the homes interior.

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.