Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Properly Advising Your Client About Asbestos

 


Just about every week I get asked that question. Home inspectors are fully aware that the “A” word could create confusion and fear in our clients. Most standards of practice & code of ethics we follow do not recommend or allow us to note that Asbestos is present without first testing for it. Of course those of us that have been doing this for any length of time know what Asbestos looks like and where it is commonly found. Many people think that Asbestos is no longer in any products on the market. If you think asbestos is banned in the U.S., that is not the case. From 1973 to 1978, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did ban everything from asbestos pipe and block insulation to the use of asbestos in artificial fireplace embers and wall patching compounds. In 1989, the EPA issued a final rule under Section 6 of Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) banning most asbestos-containing products. However, just a few years later, the rule was vacated and remanded by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. As a result, most of the original ban on the manufacture, importation, processing, and distribution in commerce for the majority of the asbestos-containing products originally covered in the 1989 final rule was overturned. Today, asbestos is still used in dozens of products, and the public might not be aware of just how close to home these products are. Asbestos is the only cause of mesothelioma, so it is important to be aware of the products that still contain this deadly mineral. We know that Asbestos can be found in insulation of boiler / stem pipes, around forced air ducts, insulation, siding materials, roofing materials, & inside or around old fuse boxes. It still is used in the following areas:

Construction Materials - Many homes built before 1980 already have asbestos in their flooring, insulation, plaster, and paint. Today, it is still legal to manufacture, import, process and distribute asbestos-containing construction materials such as cement corrugated sheet, flat sheet, pipe, and shingle, non-roof coatings, pipeline wrap, roof coatings, roofing felt, and vinyl tile floor.

Car Parts  - Asbestos can still be found in automatic transmission components, brake blocks, clutch facings, disk brake pads, drum brake linings, friction materials, and gaskets.

Fertilizer and Potting Soil -  According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), vermiculite (which may contain a type of naturally occurring asbestos called tremolite-actinolite) has been used in some potting soil and fertilizer. The IDPH says the mineral is used in potting soil for plant growth, and it appears as bright gold or silver flakes.

Talc -  Although talc isn’t made with asbestos today, Consumer Safety says, “in nature, talc deposits occur together with asbestos, and mined talc can easily become contaminated with asbestos.” Some companies have been sued over talc products that have been found to contain asbestos.

How should a home inspector properly advise their clients and a link to A Homeowners Guide To Asbestos & Removal and a Vermiculite removal program that will financially assist your clients when Asbestos is suspected:

·       When you suspect Asbestos recommend your client have the material in question tested for hazardous materials including Asbestos. Make sure this recommendation is in your written report

·       Explain to them that products containing Asbestos may not pose a risk if it has been properly encapsulated. Refer them to a professional who can further evaluate and advise them

·       Do not disturb the material. Leave that to the professionals

·       We do not recommend a home inspector test for Asbestos unless specifically trained because it would have to be disturbed which could cause a problem

·       Advise the homeowner if they plan to perform any construction work in the area where the Asbestos is contained to contact a professional first to ensure it is safe

·       If the Asbestos is not friable, and in areas where it will not come into contact with individuals, it may not pose a risk to the occupants. Recommend further evaluation and testing.

·       Any friable Asbestos should be removed by a trained abatement company

·       For Vermiculite suspected in insulation contact: Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust by CLICKING HERE. They have a program that will financially assist your clients in removing and re-insulating their attic

·       CLICK HERE for a Homeowners Guide to Asbestos & Removal you can share with your clients

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Inspecting Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

 Inspecting Electric Vehicle Charging Stations



As electric vehicle’s become more popular we are seeing more charging systems in garages and mounted outside. Some charging stations are supplied by a 240 Volt AC single-phase electricity source or 120 Volt AC to provide electricity to the vehicle’s charging system. There are three types of charging options: Level 1, Level 2, & Level 3. Level 1 chargers employ a standard AC current at 120 Volts and is supplied to the vehicle using a portable cord that plugs into standard 20 amp three prong outlet. Level 1 chargers provide 2-5 miles of electric range for each hour of charging. Level 2 chargers are a higher voltage at 240 volts and is supplied as AC current to the vehicle using a standard connector that works with most vehicles. (Tesla provides an adapter). Level 2 chargers provide about 20 miles of range in an hour. 3-6 hours usually provides a full charge. Level 3 charging is a bit different. First these 2 fundamentals of electric vehicle charging. 1. Power from the utility company is always alternating current (AC). 2. Electric vehicle batteries only accept direct current (DC). In level 1 & 2 charging the AC to DC conversion takes place in the vehicle in an onboard charger. With level 3 charging, the conversion takes place before the power reaches the vehicle inside the charging station. This bypasses the slower onboard charger and instead charges the battery directly. Normally you can charge a battery to 80% in 30 minutes. Level 3 charging stations are not currently available for home use as they use a 480 volt system.

  Most charging stations are designed with a permanent grounding system to provide safety to the user. The charging station is wired similar to a sub panel. They are also GFCI equipped and will shut down if a fault is detected. This connection is typically at the utility entry power distribution panel. Most charging stations are designed to control and monitor energy delivery from the residence’s electrical service wiring to the electric vehicle. The vehicle monitors current and battery state of charge. What should a home inspector be looking for:

 

  • The charging enclosure should be completely insulated with no exposed parts
  • Check the charging cable for damage.
  • The charging cable should not be in contact with the ground
  • The charging station should be on a dedicated circuit
  • The charging station should be connected to a grounded, metal, permanent wiring system
  • An equipment-grounding conductor is to be run with the power circuit conductors and connected to an equipment grounding terminal or lead on the charging stations ground strip
  • Corrosion  / arcing / damage on the inside of the charging station
  • The mounting plate and face unit must be used and securely fastened to the wall
  • Most home charging stations are rated for 40 amps, however check with the manufacture
  • The two phases must each measure 120 Volts AC to Neutral.
  • There should be no exposed wires
  • Earth ground must be connected to neutral at only one point.
  • A service disconnect should be near the unit if it is not in close proximity to the service panel housing the service disconnect for the station (check local requirements)
  • Four conductors should be used to supply the charging station (2-hot, 1-neutral, 1 ground)

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Inspecting Ungrounded Branch Circuits

 Inspecting Ungrounded Branch Circuits

                                                                            

Many times home inspectors are told that the “electric service was updated.” Automatically people think that the house was rewired. In reality the main service, and possibly sub-panels were replaced and updated with modern circuit breakers. However many two wire ungrounded branch circuits remain. Often times knob & tube wiring is still being used. As can be seen in the picture, many of the branch circuits are older 2 conductor and do not have a ground. Many of these are cloth covered. Some are metal sheathed or BX / AC cable. Using the metal sheath is not considered a ground, however may show as one if the metal components are bonded. This was addressed in another newsletter. Even though the receptacles have been changed to 3 prong receptacles, they are not grounded. We can tell by looking in the electric panel just how many branch circuits are not grounded. When I am inspecting the electric panel, I inform my clients that the service panel has been upgraded, however many branch circuits are not grounded. I explain to them that a ground protects you. The circuit will still work, however it is not considered safe without a proper ground. My clients always ask me; “what do you recommend”. I inform them that all circuits should be grounded. Grounds protect people and appliances / devices, however there are things they can do to provide some degree of protection for ungrounded branch circuits. Of course the best and most expensive thing they could do is to rewire the ungrounded branch circuits with grounded branch circuits. Here is some more information and some other ways you can advise your client:

  •  Install a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter receptacle or circuit breaker at the beginning of the circuit. It should be labeled; “No Equipment Ground”
  • A tamper resistant GFCI would be a better option
  • Knob & Tube wiring can nuisance trip a GFCI because of shared neutrals
  • GFCI test buttons apply current between the hot and neutral. GFCI testers you may use, apply current between the hot and equipment ground. So if there is no equipment ground, the tester will not trip the GFCI receptacle
  • The receptacle can be individually grounded if connected to the equipment ground rod or on a metal water pipe within 5 feet of entering the house
  • Installing a Combination Arc Fault Circuit Breaker or receptacle may also provide protection from older wiring that could be prone to the type of failure these devices are able to detect
  • A Combination Arc Fault / Ground Fault dual function circuit breaker with a  tamper resistant receptacle might be the best option if rewiring the entire branch circuit is not possible
  • It is important to note that fire resistant materials are required for anything combustible

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Inspecting Mini-Split Heat Pumps

 

Inspecting Mini-Split Heat Pumps


As more people want air conditioning in homes heated by hydronic or steam heat, we are seeing more ductless mini-split systems. Basically mini-split systems transfer heat / cool through the same refrigerant cycle as a conventional heat pump. The advantage is that each room or area has its own “mini” air handler and thermostat. This allows the homeowner to individually control the thermostat for that zone. Mini-Split systems also are more efficient and ensure less energy loss because the conditioned air is not traveling long distances through duct work. Also unused or underserved areas of the home can be eliminated or turned off. Mini-Split systems have an inverter driven compressor that allows the system to adjust capacity and operated down to 30% of their full rated capacity saving a considerable amount of energy and cost to the homeowner. A ductless heat pump’s indoor units are connected to the outdoor unit by conduits that contain the refrigerant tubing, electrical wiring, and condensate drain tubing. The conduits go through the home’s exterior wall. While most mini-split installations feature wall-mounted or ceiling-mounted air handlers, an alternative option that most manufacturers offer for homeowners who do not want to see the heads is a ducted mini-split that employ short runs of ductwork to one or multiple rooms. Also self contained air handlers that are ceiling or wall mounted that have exposed grills. This eliminates the large air handling units that some find unsightly. Inspecting these units is different in some ways to inspecting a conventional heat pump. Like any other heat pump, you should be looking at the age of the unit, proper leveling, adequate electrical supply, proper startup and cycling, leaks, & compressor noise. So what are some other things a home inspector should be looking for:

 

  • Ensure all penetrations in the house are properly sealed
  • One thermostat should be provided for every “zone”
  • Any supply or return duct in unconditioned space should be insulated with a minimum of R-8 where 3 inches in diameter and greater. R-6 where less than 3 inches in diameter.
  • Supply ducts in other areas of the home shall be insulated to a minimum of R-6 where 3 inches in diameter or greater and R-4.2 where less than 3 inches in diameter.
  • Stud / joist or other framing cavities should not be used as ducts for distribution
  •  The outdoor unit should be raised at least 3 inches above the ground
  • Condensate discharge from all evaporator coils should be discharged in an area as not to come in contact with humans or animals. It should also not discharge into a street, alley, or other areas where it could create a nuisance. 
  • Condensate discharge pipe shall maintain a minimum horizontal slope of at least a 1 percent slope.
  • Insulation on refrigerant suction pipe should be R-4
  • Refrigerant circuit access ports located outdoors shall be fitted with locking type tamper resistant caps or shall be otherwise secured to prevent unauthorized access
  • Insulation in exterior walls shall be fit properly around plumbing and wiring

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Proper Air Sealing

                                                            Proper Air Sealing

                                                      


Although I do not personally perform infrared testing, I have been involved in many energy assessments. I have seen excessive heat from electric service panels and other electric devices which can be really dangerous especially if the homeowners are not aware of the issue. I would say the primary use for infrared equipment is for heat loss. It never ceases to amaze me how homeowners say their house if “fully insulated” yet we find large amounts of heat loss from small breaches. Of course if the house is “to tight,” that could cause other issues including insufficient combustion air. That information can also be found in a previous Tech Tip. Most of these tests include a blower door installed on an exterior door. Exterior walls that have air leakage in cold weather will allow the heat in the living space to move through the wall by convection and conduction to the outside. The cold exterior air enters the wall through various leaks. Warm inside air, forces its way into the wall because it is at a higher pressure. Air leaks in the ceiling will also create a vacuum due to natural chimney effect. Warm air holds more water vapor than cold air. If a vapor barrier does not exist, moisture can form on surfaces inside a wall, in the attic space, and below the floor, especially if there is no basement. All this can cause deteriorated structural members over time. So if the house is considered properly insulated, what areas & materials can be used to properly seal & ensure air leakage is kept to a minimum?

 

  • Plumbing / pipe openings (non-flammable) - Polyurethane caulk can be used to seal 3/16” openings. Polyurethane foam can be used for larger openings up to 2 inches.
  • Electric receptacles - Pre-formed foam gaskets can be used for electrical receptacles.
  • Recessed lights - Be sure to check recessed lights very carefully. Only Insulation Contact (IC) lights can have insulation in direct contact with the housing. All other recessed lights should have a space around the light and insulation (check the manufacture). Seeing this would be considered a major defect and should be reported as such.
  • Attic pull-down stairs - A rubber gasket should be used around the opening along with an insulated cover that folds over when accessing the attic space
  • Bathroom ventilation fans – Seal the area around the box housing and drywall with caulk or polyurethane foam
  • HVAC ducts in the ceiling – seal the area between the duct and the drywall
  • Attic hatches – At least 2 inches of rigid foam on top of the hatch and a rubber gasket around the perimeter
  • Crawl space floor should have a minimum of 6 mil polyethylene covering and sealed to the foundation walls
  • Crawl space sidewalls should be insulated with spray foam. I never recommend fiberglass insulation is used in a crawl space
  • Rim joists should also be insulated with spray foam
  • All exterior wall penetrations should be sealed including; heat pump lines, electrical cables / boxes, vents & light fixtures
  • It is important to note that fire resistant materials are required for anything combustible

Friday, January 28, 2022

Bridging, Blocking, & Bolting: Inspecting Some Floor Structure Components

 Bridging, Blocking, & Bolting: Inspecting Some Floor Structure Components

                                                              


Al

Also called Solid Bridging and Diagonal Bridging; these floor components are important for many reasons. Bolting the floor structure to the foundation along the sill plate is also very important; however I have seen both of these components missing, even on new construction. I have heard builders and home inspectors say: “where is it going to go; you do not need to bolt the floor structure to the foundation.” I take issue with that statement. I have personally seen wall or floor movement when sill bolts are not used or not used properly. I have also seen foundation walls move after being backfilled due to missing sill bolts. Many builders will not backfill around the foundation until the floor structure is built and properly bolted. Sill bolts should be a minimum of 7” long and a minimum of ½ in diameter. Solid blocking / diagonal bridging is also required for most construction. I know many individuals think that blocking or bridging is to prevent twisting of the floor joists; however doing this also ties the entire floor structure together making it stronger as a unit instead of individual “free floating” components. This will also help prevent “floor bounce.” I have heard some confusion regarding blocking / bridging and bolting. Here is what a home inspector should be looking for:

·       Sill plate bolts should be spaced a maximum of 6 feet

·       Bolts should have a washer and nut

·       A sill bolt should be located within 12 inches of each corner

·       Sill bolts should also be within 12 inches of the edge of each plate section

·       Sill bolts should not be less than 3 ½ inches to a plate edge

·       Sill bolts should be installed in the middle third of the plate

·       Bridging / blocking should be installed in the center of the span between every joist

·       Full depth blocking, not bridging should be installed on cantilevered areas directly over the foundation or support wall

·       Solid blocking should be installed under weight bearing walls

·       Plywood sub-flooring edges, if not tongue and grove, should be supported by solid blocking

·       HVAC / Plumbing installers sometimes remove blocking / bridging. Blocking / bridging should be relocated as close as possible to the area where it was removed

·       Joists should extend past the beam / girder a minimum of 3 inches and should be secured to each other

·       Any floor openings, including stairways and chimney chases should include two joists connected together on each side of the opening. Two additional joists should be installed between the trimmer joists if the opening is larger than 4 feet. Joist hangers could be used to provide more strength.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

ADA Standards & The Home Inspector

                                         ADA Standards & The Home Inspector

                                                                


I still remember inspecting my first ADA compliant house. I was in the attached garage and saw that there was no height difference at the entrance door to the living space. I started filling out my report and noticed the door pulls. I stepped into the house and immediately realized that this was an ADA compliant home. Most municipalities require a 4 inch drop of the attached garage floor, however this standard has been removed in many municipalities. The reason for the 4 inch drop is gas vapors will hover in this area and not enter the house. A self closing fire rated door that is properly sealed at the threshold is required. Also, a slope of the garage floor is standard on most new construction.

There are also some other differences. Smoke detectors should have audible and visual alarms. Normally home inspectors recommend attached decks should be 1 step below the door threshold. However this would not be the case for ADA construction. Throughout the interior of the house, changes in level should be no more than ¼ inch high or ½ inch high if beveled with a slope no greater than 1:2. You should closely check the flashing in this area and the rim joist / sill plate for decay. ADA construction is something that also is relevant to older people. We inspect many homes for older couples, and having a working knowledge of some factors that may make their home safe is a great service we can provide to them. So how can a home inspector properly advise their clients regarding ADA construction, and what are other things to look for (there is quite a bit of material here. It may prove to be a useful checklist):

  

  • Changes in the house that are greater than ½ inch must be ramped with a slope no greater than 1:12
  • Accessible doors should have a clear opening of at least 32 inches between the face of the door and the stop, when the door is open 90 degrees
  • Door hardware should be operable with one hand and does not require grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist
  • Operable parts of the door hardware are mounted between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor
  • Doors with closers take no less than 5 seconds to close from an open position of 90 degrees to a position of 12 degrees from the latch
  • Interior hinged doors take no more than 5 lbs of pressure to push or pull open
  • All secondary doors that provide passage onto exterior areas of the house (decks, patios, balconies, etc.) have a nominal 32-inch clear width
  • Controls, outlets, and switches are mounted no lower than 15 inches and no higher than 48 inches above floor and there should be a 30 x 48 clear space in front for easy access
  • There is wall reinforcement for a grab bar of at least 6 inches wide by 24 inches long provided centered behind the toilet and at least 6 inches wide by 24 inches long provided adjacent to the toilet. The reinforced area is positioned between 32 inches maximum above floor at the bottom edge and 38 inches minimum above floor at the top edge
  • For bathtubs: Grab bars should be positioned between 32 inches maximum above floor at the bottom edge and 38 inches minimum above floor at the top edge and there is 30 x 48 inch clear floor space outside the swing of the door that provides a forward approach to the tub and a minimum of 30 x 48 inches of clear floor space adjacent to the tub
  • For stand alone showers: Grab bars should be positioned between 32 inches maximum above floor at the bottom edge and 38 inches minimum above floor at the top edge. In instances where the shower stall is 36 x 36 inches; 30 x 48 inches of required clear floor space is positioned flush with the control wall and 12 inches offset behind the wall opposite the control wall. In instances where the shower stall is 36 x 48 inches; 30 x 48 inches of clear floor space should be positioned parallel with the fixture and flush with the control wall
  • The centerline of the toilet should be 18 inches from the adjacent side wall and at least 15 inches from a wall-hung lavatory or vanity
  •  There is a minimum of 60 x 56 inches of clear floor space in the bathroom, excluding the toilet
  • There is 30 x 48 inches of clear floor space centered on the sink and most appliances to allow for a parallel approach
  • Kitchens islands should maintain a 40-inch minimum clearance around all edges
  • The sink or cook top has a removable base cabinet that allows for proper knee clearance. This also applies to bathroom vanities
  • Electrical outlets and switches are mounted at least 36 inches from any corner to allow for a parallel approach & no higher than 46 inches above floor
  • Grates or other openings should have a space no larger than ½ inch
  • Wall mounted objects located between 27 and 80 inches above the finished floor  have leading edges that do not protrude more than 4 inches from the wall
  • The front approach to the pull side of the door has at least 18 inches of maneuvering clearance beyond the latch side and at least 60 inches of space perpendicular to the door wall

Ramp Requirements

  • Any ramp maintains a running slope no greater than 1:12 and a cross slope no greater than 1:48
  • The total rise of each ramp run does not exceed 30 inches
  • The landings are at least 60 inches long and at least as wide as the ramp
  • There is a level landing at the top and bottom of the ramp with a slope no greater than 1:48
  • There is a level landing (slope no greater than 2% in all directions) where the ramp changes direction that is at least 60 x 60 inches
  • When the ramp has a rise greater than 6 inches, there are continuous handrails on both sides of the ramp
  • Handrails do not encroach into the ramp width or into the clear space at landings
  • The top of the handrail gripping surface is located between 34 and 38 inches above the ramp surface
  • Ramp handrails extend at least 12 inches beyond the run of the ramp
  • All handrail extensions are parallel with the level landing and do not ‘extend’ over the ramp run