Friday, June 28, 2019

Are Fire Sprinklers Required Everywhere?

Are Fire Sprinklers Required Everywhere?




As the debate continues for the use and implementation of fire sprinkler systems, there are some things that home inspectors should know. Currently only the entire state of California require sprinkler systems in all single family and larger residences. Many individual municipalities are requiring residential sprinkler systems. Multiple units and commercial buildings already have the requirement in place in most areas. Some materials approved are steel pipe, black iron, PEX, copper, and CPVC (orange in color). I see mostly orange CPVC. Probably due to cost and ease of installation, however there are some issues associated with its use. Some products may degrade CPVC and must be considered before employing it. Some types of caulk, fire stopping products, mold / antimicrobial products, certain types of pipe tape, certain thread sealants, some leak detector fluids, coated pipe hangers, and one type of waterproofing. Any of these products may degrade CPVC and should not come in contact with it. Fire sprinkler pipes need to be secured to ensure they do not uplift under pressure. Where are the areas that fire sprinklers are not required according to NFPA 13 – 903.3.1.1.1 & 2;

903.3.1.1.1 Exempt Locations

Automatic sprinklers shall not be required in the following rooms or areas where such rooms or areas are protected with an approved automatic fire detection system in accordance with Section 907.2 that will respond to visible or invisible particles of combustion. Sprinklers shall not be omitted from a room merely because it is damp, of fire-resistance-rated construction or contains electrical equipment. 
1.                      A room where the application of water, or flame and water, constitutes a serious life or fire hazard. 
2.                      A room or space where sprinklers are considered undesirable because of the nature of the contents, where approved by the fire code official. 
3.                      Generator and transformer rooms separated from the remainder of the building by wallsand floor/ceiling or roof/ceiling assemblies having a fire-resistance rating of not less than 2 hours.
4.                      Rooms or areas that are of noncombustible construction with wholly noncombustible contents.
5.                      Fire service access elevator machine rooms and machinery spaces.
6.                      Machine rooms, machinery spaces, control rooms and control spaces associated with occupant evacuation elevators designed in accordance with Section 3008.

903.3.1.1.2 Bathrooms

In Group R occupancies, other than Group R-4occupancies, sprinklers shall not be required in bathrooms that do not exceed 55 square feet (5 m2) in area and are located within individual dwelling units or sleeping units, provided that walls and ceilings, including the wallsand ceilings behind a shower enclosure or tub, are of noncombustible or limited-combustible materials with a 15-minute thermal barrier rating.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Importance of Rake & Drip Edge





The Importance of Rake & Drip Edge

Many homes that I have inspected lack Rake / Drip edge. As a renovator, I have seen the damage caused by missing rake / drip edge. Whenever we stripped an asphalt roof covering, there was always moisture damage to the decking approximately 1 foot out from the edge when rake / drip was missing. This is caused by either water being driven under the shingle or by the water tracking under the shingle and on the roof deck. Some roofers who opt not to use rake / drip edge justify it by extending the shingles at least 2 inches past the leading edge of the deck. I always recommend to my clients that it is installed. It is very frustrating when seeing a new roof covering without rake / drip edge. Do we note satisfactory? I don’t because I feel that the roof may leak or deteriorate because of this missing flashing. Rake / drip edge is flashing. If flashing were missing anywhere else, we would consider it a major defect. In 2012 the International Residential Code (IRC) requires that rake and drip edge shall be provided at eaves and rake edges of single roofs. It also must be installed properly in order for the intended purpose. Here is what a home inspector should be looking for:

  • Rake / Drip edge shall be overlapped at least 2 inches
  • Rake / Drip edge shall extend not less than ¼ inch below the roof sheathing
  • Rake / Drip edge shall extend back onto the roof deck not less than 2 inches
  • Rake / Drip edge shall be mechanically fastened to the roof deck at not more than 12 inches on center
  • Rake / Drip edge shall be fastened with a minimum 12 gauge shank and 3/8” diameter head
  • Underlayment shall be installed over the drip edge along the eaves and under the drip edge along the rakes
  • Rake / Drip edge should be corrosion resistant
  • Rake edge should be installed along the eave from the bottom upward. The top sections should overlap the bottom section to prevent water getting in at the joints

Monday, April 29, 2019

Proper Air Sealing & Moisture Control






Some home inspectors also perform Energy Star ratings or Energy Score evaluations. Some states are requiring more than just Energy Star. They are adopting a score evaluation for all homes. Soon these “scores” will be part of the properties profile, and used when the house is listed for sale. Most home inspectors do not do this type of testing which is above the requirements of a visual home inspection. However air loss and moisture intrusion can become a very important part of a home inspection. Moisture entering a house, whether as a leak or because of condensation creates issues that are detrimental to the building. Mold, wet / dry rot, Sick Building Syndrome, and other serious issues can occur. We are starting to see this in newer homes as we do with homes constructed in the 70’s and 80’s. These homes are designed to be “tight” and energy efficient. Many older homes do not experience these types of moisture issues because of the air loss resulting in the areas in question drying out before the moisture becomes a problem. It is not trapped and air (leaks) will dry it out. There are issues that we may not be able to see during a visual home inspection. Some of these are: air barrier, which should be continuous, insulation installed properly, vapor barrier in the proper place / orientation, flashing, etc. So many things that effect air sealing / loss and moisture intrusion that we cannot see. Energy Star has a checklist that inspectors use when performing an inspection. This is also good information for a home inspector. You can find this list by clicking on this link: CLICK HERE
Without being able to see some of the areas where these problems may have originated, what can a home inspector look for:

  • Garage band joist
  • Floor above garage
  • Attic knee walls
  • Skylight shaft walls
  • Wall adjoining porch roof
  • Basement / crawl space band joists
  • Crawl space walls (foam is the best choice for this application)
  • Slab – edge insulation
  • Look for thermal bridging in attic space
  • Insulation should not have gaps
  • Cantilevered areas are properly insulated with vapor barrier
  • At least a 6 mil vapor barrier on dirt craw space floors
  • Openings to unconditioned spaces are fully sealed
  • Attic access panel is insulated
  • Attic drop down stairs are fully insulated
  • Recessed lighting properly sealed (must be IC rated)
  • Whole house fan cover is insulated
  • Common wall between dwelling units is insulated and fire rated
  • Pipe / shaft penetrations are properly sealed (fire caulk / sealant if necessary)

Friday, March 29, 2019

Inspecting Single Ply Beams


Inspecting Single Ply Beams


Although a visual home inspection is not a code or engineering inspection, many home inspectors would require that beams and wood support members are multi-ply or built up beams. Commonly 2 – 2 by’s and a ½” piece of plywood sandwiched in the middle. Single ply beams would not be appropriate for door and window headers, or for spans supporting a second story or roof structure. Currently single ply beams are only acceptable for decks, porches and landings where no additional support is required. In the 2018 IRC, there is now a span table specifically for decks (Deck Beam Span Length’s for Single Ply Beams), the table is above. The table specifically addresses 2x6 – 2x12 single ply beams for deck joist spans. Using the table we can see a single ply 4’ 11” 2x6 can support spans up to 6’. A single ply 5’1”  2x8 can support spans of up to 8’. So what should a home inspector look for:

·         These spans also apply to stair landings not supporting a second floor or roof structure
·         This table applies to decks / porches and landings not supporting a second story
·         Roof structures that are being supported by a deck will require a larger beam / support member
·         Single ply beams are used for small spans
·         It is acceptable to use a single-ply beam in place of multi-ply beams as long as the size is appropriate
·         Single ply beams can be used for space requirements are an issue
·         Single ply beams will also save money

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Masonry Fireplace Inspection


Masonry Fireplace Inspection




Many real estate listings when describing the fireplace put an acronym: NRTC (Not Represented To Code). The reason for this is that wood burning fireplaces are not technically “grandfathered” in many areas. So if a chimney or other fire occurs, it may not be covered by insurance. Some home inspectors are certified for fireplace inspections. Many are not, however I am always asked by my clients; “can I burn wood in it?”  I know many home inspectors inform their client that the fireplace inspection is based on “component” condition, not on functionality. Although this is the correct answer, it does not answer the question they asked. There are things we can look for that will indicate if the unit should be safe for operation. Even if this is the case, if your client is planning on using the fireplace for wood burning, it would be advantageous for them to get something in writing from a certified fireplace inspector. This documentation may be necessary for insurance purposes. Here is what a home inspector should look for regarding masonry fireplaces:

·         The fireplace hearth should also be masonry and be at least 4 inches thick and 20 inches deep.
·         Any hearth extension should be masonry and  be at leas t 2 inches thick, extend at least 16” in front, and 8” to each side of the fireplace opening if the fireplace has an area of less than 6 square feet
·         If the area of the firebox is more than 6 square feet, the hearth extension should extend at least 20” in front and 12” to each side of the fireplace opening
·         There should not be a gap between the hearth and the hearth extension
·         No combustible materials should be below the hearth extension
·         Firebox masonry walls should be at least 8 inches thick and lined with 2” firebrick. If firebrick is not used the masonry walls should be 10” thick
·         The bricks / masonry should not be cracked or damaged. Mortar joints should be in good condition with no gaps
·         Mortar joints should be no larger than  ¼ “ thick
·         Steel fireboxes should not be damaged or separated in any areas
·         Look for metal tags on newer units, indicating code compliance and proper clearances
·         If a lintel is installed over the firebox, it should be in good condition and extend approximately 4 inches on each side
·         The damper should operate freely and close / open completely
·         Use caution and open first before looking up the flue pipe
·         Extreme caution should be used when opening a damper that is located at the chimney top. I do not recommend pulling the chain on these types of dampers.
·         The firebox surround should also be constructed of non-combustible material (brick, tile, slate, concrete, etc..)
·         Look for an ash clean-out door within 6 inches of the flue base

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Inspecting Pushmatic Circuit Breakers


Inspecting Pushmatic Circuit Breakers




Pushmatic circuit breakers were introduced to the market in the 1950’s. The original Pushmatic breakers were manufactured until the late 1960’s. The Pushmatic breakers are more of a large “button” style instead of the more modern handle style circuit breakers.  Before we address the actual inspection of Pushmatic breakers, let’s examine the way the Pushmatic operates and is constructed. Modern circuit breakers utilize a combination of a magnetic and thermal mechanism to interrupt the circuit. This is a “belt & suspender” fail safe for the circuit. Early Pushmatic breakers only had a thermal mechanism, providing only one method to interrupt the circuit. I am unaware of any fires caused by these early breakers. When inspecting an electric panel employing Pushmatic circuit breakers, here are some of the items we should be looking for:

In addition to everything else we look for in an electric panel, pay close attention to the position of the Pushmatic breaker. Pushmatic breakers are bolted into the Main Service Panel not “snapped in” like modern lever type breakers. Visually ensure that the breaker is not loose and pushed completely down (if in the on position) or is completely up (if in the off position). The early Pushmatic breakers may not be fully engaged because they were lubricated and may be difficult to operate after several years. If you look at the breaker when it is in the on position or pushed fully down, you will see word “on”. If disengaged, or if the breaker is in the up position, the words “off” will be visible. One of the other problems with the early Pushmatic breakers is that they became stuck between off and on. This would pose a quandary and safety issue for the homeowner or electrician working on a circuit. Another problem experienced by the early Pushmatic’s is the ability to reset. The breaker will not stay down or in the “on” position. If you see any of these issues, the breaker should be replaced. Always recommend a qualified electrician evaluate and upgrade as necessary. Newer Pushmatic replacements do not have these problems and are safe. It also should be noted that replacement Pushmatic breakers must be properly matched for the electric panel. Not all replacements will fit all panels.  Newer Pushmatic replacements are quite expensive and it may be wise recommending that your client upgrade the Main Service Panel with new modern style circuit breakers.

Inspecting Expansion Tanks on Hot Water Tanks


Inspecting Expansion Tanks on Hot Water Tanks



Most of the newer hot water tanks I see have expansion tanks installed. In past years it was rare to see one on a residential hot water tank. This Tech Tip will outline the reasons for installing an expansion tank, how to properly install one, and finally how to inspect them. Expansion tanks are being installed and in some instances required on hot water tanks because many municipalities are now installing back flow preventer valves after (house side) the main shut-off valve. Back flow valves prevent house water from backing up into the municipal water supply, possibly contaminating it. There may also be a pressure reducing valve installed. This valve will act as a back flow valve because it is a one way valve. Water expands 2% or more in a hot water tank when heated. If the pressure inside the tank does not exceed the capacity of the Pressure Temperature Relief Valve (PTRV), water will be backed up into the water supply pipe possibly contaminating the fresh water supply. A back flow preventer valve will not allow this to happen. This however will cause considerable pressure in the hot water tank and water pipe. The expansion tank will absorb the water and reduce the pressure in the tank and water line. It will also ensure the PTRV does not continually open when this condition is present. Also, if the water pressure coming into the house is near 80 PSI, an expansion tank will protect the tank and water pipes from excessive pressure. It will also prevent the PTRV from opening. When inspecting a hot water tank, here are some tips;

·         If a back flow preventer valve, or pressure reducing valve is installed, ensure an expansion tank is installed
·         If the water pressure to the house is near 80 PSI an expansion tank should be installed
·         The preferred method of installation is to install the expansion tank vertically, however it can be installed horizontally (see drawing)
·         The house water supply should be distributed, if possible, before the expansion tank
·         The expansion tank should be installed on the cold water supply pipe
·         Ensure the expansion tank and connections are not leaking
·         Ensure the expansion tank is properly supported, especially if installed