by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard

Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are special types of electrical receptacles or outlets and circuit breakers designed to detect and respond to potentially dangerous electrical arcs in home branch wiring.
How do they work?
AFCIs function by monitoring the electrical waveform and promptly opening (interrupting) the circuit they serve if they detect changes in the wave pattern that are characteristic of a dangerous arc. They also must be capable of distinguishing safe, normal arcs, such as those created when a switch is turned on or a plug is pulled from a receptacle, from arcs that can cause fires. An AFCI can detect, recognize, and respond to very small changes in wave pattern.
What is an arc?
When an electric current crosses an air gap from an energized component to a grounded component, it produces a glowing plasma discharge known as an arc. For example, a bolt of lightening is a very large, powerful arc that crosses an atmospheric gap from an electrically charged cloud to the ground or another cloud. Just as lightning can cause fires, arcs produced by domestic wiring are capable of producing high levels of heat that can ignite their surroundings and lead to structure fires.
According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency for the year 2005, electrical fires damaged approximately 20,900 homes, killed 500 people, and cost $862 million in property damage. Although short-circuits and overloads account for many of these fires, arcs are responsible for the majority and are undetectable by traditional (non-AFCI) circuit breakers.
Where are arcs likely to form?
Arcs can form where wires are improperly installed or when insulation becomes damaged. In older homes, wire insulation tends to crystallize as it ages, becoming brittle and prone to cracking and chipping. Damaged insulation exposes the current-carrying wire to its surroundings, increasing the chances that an arc may occur.
Situations in which arcs may be created:

  • electrical cords damaged by vacuum cleaners or trapped beneath furniture or doors.
  • damage to wire insulation from nails or screws driven through walls.
  • appliance cords damaged by heat, natural aging, kinking, impact or over-extension.
  • spillage of liquid.
  • loose connections in outlets, switches and light fixtures.
Where are AFCIs required?
Locations in which AFCIs are required depend on the building codes adopted by their jurisdiction.
The 2006 International Residential Code (IRC) requires that AFCIs be installed within bedrooms in the following manner:

E3802.12 Arc-Fault Protection of Bedroom Outlets. All branch circuits that supply120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-amp outlets installed in bedrooms shall be protected by a combination-type or branch/feeder-type arc-fault circuit interrupter installed to provide protection of the entire branch circuit.

Exception: The location of the arc-fault circuit interrupter shall be permitted to be at other than the origination of the branch circuit, provided that:
  1. The arc-fault circuit interrupter is installed within 6 feet of the branch circuit overcurrent device as measured along the branch circuit conductors, and
  2. The circuit conductors between the branch circuit overcurrent device and the arc-fault circuit interrupter are installed in a metal raceway or a cable with metallic sheath.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) offers the following guidelines concerning AFCI placement within bedrooms:
Dwelling Units. All 120-volt, single phase, 15- and 20-ampere branch circuits supplying outlets installed in dwelling unit in family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, sun rooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, or similar rooms or areas shall be protected by a listed arc-fault circuit interrupter, combination-type installed to provide protection of the branch circuit.
Home inspectors should refrain from quoting exact code in their reports. A plaintiff’s attorney might suggest that code quotation means that the inspector was performing a code inspection and is therefore responsible for identifying all code violations in the home.  Some jurisdictions do not yet require their implementation in locations where they can be helpful.
What types of AFCIs are available?
AFCIs are available as circuit breakers for installation in the electrical distribution panel.

Nuisance Tripping

An AFCI might activate in situations that are not dangerous and create needless power shortages. This can be particularly annoying when an AFCI stalls power to a freezer or refrigerator, allowing its contents to spoil. There are a few procedures an electrical contractor can perform in order to reduce potential “nuisance tripping,” such as:
  • Check that the load power wire, panel neutral wire and load neutral wire are properly connected.
  • Check wiring to ensure that there are no shared neutral connections.
  • Check the junction box and fixture connections to ensure that the neutral conductor does not contact a grounded conductor.
Arc Faults vs. Ground Faults
It is important to distinguish AFCI devices from Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) devices. GFCIs detect ground faults, which occur when current leaks from a hot (ungrounded) conductor to a grounded object as a result of a short-circuit. This situation can be hazardous when a person unintentionally becomes the current’s path to the ground. GFCIs function by constantly monitoring the current flow between hot and neutral (grounding) conductors, and activate when they sense a difference of 5 milliamps or more. Thus, GFCIs are intended to prevent personal injury due to electric shock, while AFCIs prevent personal injury and property damage due to structure fires.
In summary, AFCIs are designed to detect small arcs of electricity before they have a chance to lead to a structure fire.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/arc-fault-circuit-interrupters.htm.

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

 

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas that forms from incomplete combustion of fuels, such as natural or liquefied petroleum gas, oil, wood or coal.

Facts and Figures

  • 480 U.S. residents died between 2001 and 2003 from non-fire-related carbon-monoxide poisoning.
  • Most CO exposures occur during the winter months, especially in December (including 56 deaths, and 2,157 non-fatal exposures), and in January (including 69 deaths and 2,511 non-fatal exposures). The peak time of day for CO exposure is between 6 and 10 p.m.
  • Many experts believe that CO poisoning statistics understate the problem. Because the symptoms of CO poisoning mimic a range of common health ailments, it is likely that a large number of mild to mid-level exposures are never identified, diagnosed, or accounted for in any way in carbon monoxide statistics.
  • Out of all reported non-fire carbon-monoxide incidents, 89% or almost nine out of 10 of them take place in a home.

Physiology of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

When CO is inhaled, it displaces the oxygen that would ordinarily bind with hemoglobin, a process the effectively suffocates the body. CO can poison slowly over a period of several hours, even in low concentrations. Sensitive organs, such as the brain, heart and lungs, suffer the most from a lack of oxygen.

High concentrations of carbon monoxide can kill in less than five minutes. At low concentrations, it will require a longer period of time to affect the body. Exceeding the EPA concentration of 9 parts per million (ppm) for more than eight hours may have adverse health affects. The limit of CO exposure for healthy workers, as prescribed by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, is 50 ppm.

Potential Sources of Carbon Monoxide

Any fuel-burning appliances which are malfunctioning or improperly installed can be a source of CO, such as:

  • furnaces;
  • stoves and ovens;
  • water heaters;
  • dryers;
  • room and space heaters;
  • fireplaces and wood stoves;
  • charcoal grills;
  • automobiles;
  • clogged chimneys or flues;
  • space heaters;
  • power tools that run on fuel;
  • gas and charcoal grills;
  • certain types of swimming pool heaters; and
  • boat engines.

PPM   % CO
in air 
Health Effects in Healthy Adults  Source/Comments 
0 0% no effects; this is the normal level in a properly operating heating appliance  
35 0.0035% maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
50 0.005% maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift               OSHA
100 0.01% slight headache, fatigue, shortness of breath,
errors in judgment
125 0.0125%   workplace alarm must sound (OSHA)
200 0.02% headache, fatigue,
nausea, dizziness
400 0.04% severe headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, confusion; can be life-threatening after three hours of exposure evacuate area immediately
800 0.08% convulsions, loss of consciousness;
death within three hours
evacuate area immediately
12,000 1.2% nearly instant death

CO Detector Placement
CO detectors can monitor exposure levels, but do not place them:

  • directly above or beside fuel-burning appliances, as appliances may emit a small amount of carbon monoxide upon start-up;
  • within 15 feet of heating and cooking appliances, or in or near very humid areas, such as bathrooms;
  • within 5 feet of kitchen stoves and ovens, or near areas locations where household chemicals and bleach are stored (store such chemicals away from bathrooms and kitchens, whenever possible);
  • in garages, kitchens, furnace rooms, or in any extremely dusty, dirty, humid, or greasy areas;
  • in direct sunlight, or in areas subjected to temperature extremes. These include unconditioned crawlspaces, unfinished attics, un-insulated or poorly insulated ceilings, and porches;
  • in turbulent air near ceiling fans, heat vents, air conditioners, fresh-air returns, or open windows. Blowing air may prevent carbon monoxide from reaching the CO sensors.

Do place CO detectors:

  • within 10 feet of each bedroom door and near all sleeping areas, where it can wake sleepers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) recommend that every home have at least one carbon monoxide detector for each floor of the home, and within hearing range of each sleeping area;
  • on every floor of your home, including the basement (source:  International Association of Fire Chiefs/IAFC);
  • near or over any attached garage. Carbon monoxide detectors are affected by excessive humidity and by close proximity to gas stoves (source:  City of New York);
  • near, but not directly above, combustion appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, and fireplaces, and in the garage (source:  UL); and
  • on the ceiling in the same room as permanently installed fuel-burning appliances, and centrally located on every habitable level, and in every HVAC zone of the building (source:  National Fire Protection Association 720). This rule applies to commercial buildings.

In North America, some national, state and local municipalities require installation of CO detectors in new and existing homes, as well as commercial businesses, among them:  Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont and New York City, and the Canadian province of Ontario. Installers are encouraged to check with their local municipality to determine what specific requirements have been enacted in their jurisdiction.

How can I prevent CO poisoning?

  • Purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors with labels showing that they meet the requirements of the new UL standard 2034 or Comprehensive Safety Analysis 6.19 safety standards.
  • Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes. Have the heating system professionally inspected by an InterNACHI inspector and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
  • Never service fuel-burning appliances without the proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owner’s manual when performing minor adjustments and when servicing fuel-burning equipment.
  • Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space, such as a garage, house or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never use gas appliances, such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Never operate un-vented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
  • During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.
  • Do not place generators in the garage or close to the home. People lose power in their homes and get so excited about using their gas-powered generator that they don’t pay attention to where it is placed. The owner’s manual should explain how far the generator should be from the home.
  • Clean the chimney. Open the hatch at the bottom of the chimney to remove the ashes.  Hire a chimney sweep annually.
  • Check vents. Regularly inspect your home’s external vents to ensure they are not obscured by debris, dirt or snow.

In summary, carbon monoxide is a dangerous poison that can be created by various household appliances. CO detectors must be placed strategically throughout the home or business in order to alert occupants of high levels of the gas.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/carbon-monoxide.htm.

Schedule your home inspection with Red Horse Home Inspection.  Follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard
Between approximately 1965 and 1973, single-strand (solid) aluminum wiring was sometimes substituted for copper branch-circuit wiring in residential electrical systemsAluminum and copper wiring, with each metal clearly identifiable by its color due to the sudden escalating price of copper. After a decade of use by homeowners and electricians, inherent weaknesses were discovered in the metal that lead to its disuse as a branch wiring material. Aluminum will become defective faster than copper due to certain qualities inherent in the metal. Neglected connections in outlets, switches and light fixtures containing aluminum wiring become increasingly dangerous over time. Poor connections cause wiring to overheat, creating a potential fire hazard. In addition, the presence of single-strand aluminum wiring may void a home’s insurance policies. Inspectors may instruct their clients to talk with their insurance agents about whether the presence of aluminum wiring in their home is a hazard, a defect, and a problem that requires changes to their policy language.
According to the InterNACHI Home Inspection Standards of Practice, a home inspector is required to report upon single-strand, solid conductor aluminum branch-circuit wiring, if observed by the home inspector.
Facts and Figures 
 
  • On April, 28, 1974, two people were killed in a house fire in Hampton Bays, New York. Fire officials determined that the fire was caused by a faulty aluminum wire connection at an outlet.
  • According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), “Homes wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1972 [‘old technology’ aluminum wire] are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than is a home wired with copper.”
Aluminum as a Metal

Aluminum possesses certain qualities that, compared with copper, make it an undesirable material as an electrical conductor. These qualities all lead to loose connections, where fire hazards become likely. These qualities are as follows:

  • higher electrical resistance. Aluminum has a high resistance to electrical current flow, which means that, given the same amperage, aluminum conductors must be of a larger diameter than would be required by copper conductors.
  • less ductile. Aluminum will fatigue and break down more readily when subjected to bending and other forms of abuse than copper, which is more ductile. Fatigue will cause the wire to break down internally and will increasingly resist electrical current, leading to a buildup of excessive heat.
  • galvanic corrosion.  In the presence of moisture, aluminum will undergo galvanic corrosion when it comes into contact with certain dissimilar metals.
  • oxidation. Exposure to oxygen in the air causes deterioration to the outer surface of the wire. This process is called oxidation. Aluminum wire is more easily oxidized than copper wire, and the compound formed by this process – aluminum oxide – is less conductive than copper oxide. As time passes, oxidation can deteriorate connections and present a fire hazard.
  • greater malleability. Aluminum is soft and malleable, meaning it is highly sensitive to compression. After a screw has been over-tightened on aluminum wiring, for instance, the wire will continue to deform or “flow” even after the tightening has ceased. This deformation will create a loose connection and increase electrical resistance in that location.
  • greater thermal expansion and contraction. Even more than copper, aluminum expands and contracts with changes in temperature. Over time, this process will cause connections between the wire and the device to degrade. For this reason, aluminum wires should never be inserted into the “stab,” “bayonet” or “push-in” type terminations found on the back of many light switches and outlets.
  • excessive vibration. Electrical current vibrates as it passes through wiring. This vibration is more extreme in aluminum than it is in copper, and, as time passes, it can cause connections to loosen.

Identifying Aluminum Wiring

  • Aluminum wires are the color of aluminum and are easily discernible from copper and other metals.
  • Since the early 1970s, wiring-device binding terminals for use with aluminum wire have been marked CO/ALR, which stands for “copper/aluminum revised.”
  • Look for the word “aluminum” or the initials “AL” on the plastic wire jacket. Where wiring is visible, such as in the attic or electrical panel, inspectors can look for printed or embossed letters on the plastic wire jacket. Aluminum wire may have the word “aluminum,” or a specific brand name, such as “Kaiser Aluminum,” marked on the wire jacket. Where labels are hard to read, a light can be shined along the length of the wire.
  • When was the house built? Homes built or expanded between 1965 and 1973 are more likely to have aluminum wiring than houses built before or after those years.

Options for Correction

Aluminum wiring should be evaluated by a qualified electrician who is experienced in evaluating and correcting aluminum wiring problems. Not all licensed electricians are properly trained to deal with defective aluminum wiring. The CPSC recommends the following two methods for correction for aluminum wiring:

  • Rewire the home with copper wire. While this is the most effective method, rewiring is expensive and impractical, in most cases.
  • Use copalum crimps. The crimp connector repair consists of attaching a piece of copper wire to the existing aluminum wire branch circuit with a specially designed metal sleeve and powered crimping tool. This special connector can be properly installed only with the matching AMP tool. An insulating sleeve is placed around the crimp connector to complete the repair. Although effective, they are expensive (typically around $50 per outlet, switch or light fixture).

Although not recommended by the CPSC as methods of permanent repair for defective aluminum wiring, the following methods may be considered:

  • application of anti-oxidant paste. This method can be used for wires that are multi-stranded or wires that are too large to be effectively crimped.
  • pigtailing. This method involves attaching a short piece of copper wire to the aluminum wire with a twist-on connector. the copper wire is connected to the switch, wall outlet or other termination device. This method is only effective if the connections between the aluminum wires and the copper pigtails are extremely reliable. Pigtailing with some types of connectors, even though Underwriters Laboratories might presently list them for the application, can lead to increasing the hazard. Also, beware that pigtailing will increase the number of connections, all of which must be maintained. Aluminum Wiring Repair (AWR), Inc., of Aurora, Colorado, advises that pigtailing can be useful as a temporary repair or in isolated applications, such as the installation of a ceiling fan.
  • CO/ALR connections. According to the CPSC, these devices cannot be used for all parts of the wiring system, such as ceiling-mounted light fixtures or permanently wired appliances and, as such, CO/ALR connections cannot constitute a complete repair. Also, according to AWR, these connections often loosen over time.
  • alumiconn. Although AWR believes this method may be an effective temporary fix, they are wary that it has little history, and that they are larger than copper crimps and are often incorrectly applied.
  • Replace certain failure-prone types of devices and connections with others that are more compatible with aluminum wire.
  • Remove the ignitable materials from the vicinity of the connections.

In summary, aluminum wiring can be a fire hazard due to inherent qualities of the metal. Inspectors should be capable of identifying this type of wiring. This article in from InterNACHI and can be found athttps://www.nachi.org/aluminum-wiring.htm.

Schedule your home inspection with Red Horse Home Inspection. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Log homes may be site-built or pre-cut in a factory for delivery to the site. Some log home manufacturers can also customize their designs. Before designing or purchasing a manufactured log

home, you need to consider the following factors for energy efficiency.

The R-Value of Wood
In a log home, the wood helps provide some insulation. Wood’s thermal resistance (or resistance to heat flow) is measured by its R-value. The higher the R-value, the more thermal resistance.
The R-value for wood ranges between 1.41 per inch (2.54 cm) for most softwoods, and 0.71 for most hardwoods. Ignoring the benefits of the thermal mass, a 6-inch (15.24 cm) thick log wall would have a clear-wall (a wall without windows or doors) R-value of just over 8.

Compared to a conventional wood stud wall (31 D2 inches [8.89 cm] insulation, sheathing, wallboard, a total of about R-14), the log wall is apparently a vastly inferior insulation system. Based only on this, log walls do not satisfy most building codes’ energy standards. However, to what extent a log building interacts with its surroundings depends greatly on the climate. Because of the log’s heat-storage capability, its large mass may cause the walls to behave considerably better in some climates than in others. Logs act like “thermal batteries” and can, under the right circumstances, store heat during the day and gradually release it at night. This generally increases the apparent R-value of a log by 0.1 per inch of thickness in mild, sunny climates that have a substantial temperature swing from day to night. Such climates generally exist in the Earth’s temperate zones between the 15th and 40th parallels.

Minimizing Air Leakage in Log Homes
Log homes are susceptible to developing air leaks. Air-dried logs are still about 15% to 20% water when the house is assembled or constructed. As the logs dry over the next few years, the logs shrink. The contraction and expansion of the logs open gaps between the logs, creating air leaks, which cause drafts and high heating requirements. To minimize air leakage, logs should be seasoned (dried in a protected space) for at least six months before construction begins. These are the best woods to use to avoid this problem, in order of effectiveness:

  • cedar;
  • spruce;
  • pine;
  • fir; and
  • larch.

Since most manufacturers and experienced builders know of these shrinkage and resulting air leakage problems, many will kiln-dry the logs prior to finish-shaping and installation. Some also recommend using plastic gaskets and caulking compounds to seal gaps. These seals require regular inspection and re-sealing when necessary. To be safe, always hire an InterNACHI inspector.

Controlling Moisture in Log Homes
Since trees absorb large amounts of water as they grow, the tree cells are also able to absorb water very readily after the wood has dried. For this reason, a log home is very hydroscopic—it can absorb water quickly. This promotes wood rot and insect infestation. It is strongly recommended that you protect the logs from any contact with any water or moisture. One moisture-control method is to use only waterproofed and insecticide-treated logs. Re-apply these treatments every few years for the life of the house. Generous roof overhangs, properly sized gutters and downspouts, and drainage plains around the house are also critical for moisture control.
Building Energy-Code Compliance for Log Homes
Because log homes don’t have conventional wood-stud walls and insulation, they often don’t satisfy most building codes’ energy standards—usually those involving required insulation R-values. However, several states—including Pennsylvania, Maine and South Carolina—have exempted log-walled homes from normal energy compliance regulations. Others states, such as Washington, have approved “prescriptive packages” for various sizes of logs, but these may or may not make sense in terms of energy efficiency. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ (ASHRAE) 90.2 standard contains a thermal mass provision that may make it easier to get approval in those states that base their codes on this standard. To find out the log building code standards for your state, contact your city or county building code officials. Your state energy office may be able to provide information on energy codes recommended or enforced in your state.
Building and Restoration of Log Cabins
 
Foundation 
The foundation of a log cabin is made of stone pillars. The stones provide a sturdy base to support the cabin and act as a barrier between the cabin and the earth. The stones may settle over time, and the foundation is carefully examined for damage and wear, and subsequently repaired during restoration.
Wall Construction
 

 The walls are made of logs, placed either vertically or horizontally, depending on the style and size of the cabin. The logs are notched at the corners to allow them to fit together. Corner-notching is a notable characteristic of log cabin construction because it provides stability by locking the log ends in place, enabling the logs to fit together in a secure manner. Many different methods of corner-notching exist, ranging from simple “saddle”-notching, to the common “V”-notching or “steeple”- notching, which get their name from the shape of the notch cut into the wood. These notching methods are marked by a cut into the wood that allows another cut piece of wood to fit together like a puzzle piece. Another commonly used technique, “square”-notching, differs in that the logs are secured with the addition of pegs or spikes.

The number of logs used per wall varies with the size of the cabin. The spaces between the logs are usually filled with a combination of materials in a process known as “chinking” and “daubing.” This process seals the exterior walls, protecting them from weather and animal damage.

Roof
Log cabin roofs are often gabled and are comprised of hand-split wood shingles. The roofs often develop damage and leaks over the years and are commonly included in restoration.
Doors
Many log cabins have both front and rear doors. Due to the many times the doors are opened and closed over the years, the doors are often not in good working order and require repair during restoration. Both doors on the cabin can be comprised of hand-dressed boards which open inward and are fastened to the log structure with pegs.
Windows
Most cabins feature two windows, located on either side of the chimney. The windows hold glass panes, which most likely will need to be replaced during the restoration of the cabin.
Chimney
The cabin generally has a chimney.  A common problem is that it will sink and deteriorate into many different pieces over the years. 

 

Glossary of Terms:
  • butt joints:  occur when two logs are placed end-to-end.
  • checking:  the natural cracking of logs as they shrink.
  • chinking:  the mixture used to fill the gaps between logs; can be natural materials or synthetic.
  • handcrafted log home:  a
  • home that is constructed of logs that are individually fit together.
  • insulated log home:  constructed with half-logs attached to a standard 2×6 frame structure.
  • log course:  one layer of logs placed atop the entire foundation of the home.
  • milled log home:  constructed of machine-lathed logs, and is also used to describe a log home built from a kit.
  • settlement:  the downward movement of log courses as the logs shrink.
  • shrinking:  the normal loss of diameter in logs as they lose moisture.

Inspecting a Log Home

Log Wall Exterior
The inspector shall inspect exterior surfaces of log walls, when such surfaces are visible, looking for:
  • the presence of mold, mildew or fungus;
  • cracks located at tops of logs and facing up;
  • discoloration, graying, bleaching or staining of logs;
  • loose or missing caulking;
  • separation of joints;
  • the condition of chinking, to include cracking, tears, holes or separation of log courses; and
  • the condition of log ends.
Other Exterior Concerns
In addition to the items specified in InterNACHI Standards of Practice 2.1 and 2.2, the inspector shall inspect:

  • downspout extensions;
  • grading and water flow away from log walls; and
  • vertical support posts under and on all porches.
Log Wall Interior
The inspector shall inspect interior surfaces of log walls, when such surfaces are visible, looking for:
  • separation between logs, including light or air penetration from outdoors;
  • separation between exterior log wall and interior partition walls; and
  • separation between log walls and interior ceilings.
Other Interior Concerns
In addition to the items specified in InterNACHI Standards of Practice 2.4 and 2.6, the inspector shall inspect:
  • dlip joints, adjustable sleeves, looped water supply lines, flexible hose sections, and flexible ductwork that are visible as part of the standard heating and plumbing inspections.
Exclusions
The inspector is not required to:
  • inspect or predict the condition of the interiors of logs.
  • predict the life expectancy of logs.
  • climb onto log walls. However, the inspector may inspect log walls by use of a ladder, if this procedure may be done safely and without damaging the walls.
  • inspect components of the porch support system, or of the plumbing or heating systems, that are not readily visible and accessible.
  • This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/loghomes.htm.
  • Schedule your home inspection with Red Horse Home Inspection.
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by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

 
A room must conform to specific requirements in order for it to be considered a bedroom or sleeping room. The reason for this law is that the inhabitant must be able to quickly escape in case of fire or another emergency.

Why would a homeowner use a non-conforming room as a bedroom?Non-conforming window  Some of the reasons include:
  • to earn money from it as a rental. While they run the risk of being discovered by the city, landlords will profit by renting out rooms that are not legally bedrooms;
  • to increase the value of the home. All other considerations being equal, a four-bedroom house will usually sell for more than a three-bedroom house; and
  • lack of knowledge of code requirements. To the untrained eye, there is little obvious difference between a conforming bedroom and non-conforming bedroom. When an emergency happens, however, the difference will be more apparent. If you have any questions about safety requirements, ask your InterNACHI inspector during your next scheduled inspection.

Homeowners run serious risks when they use a non-conforming room as a bedroom. An embittered tenant, for instance, may bring their landlord to court, especially if the tenant was forced out when the faux bedroom was exposed. The landlord, upon being exposed, might choose to adjust the bedroom to make it code-compliant, but this can cost thousands of dollars. Landlords can also be sued if they sell the home after having advertised it as having more bedrooms than it actually has. And the owner might pay more than they should be paying in property tax if they incorrectly list a non-conforming bedroom as a bedroom. Perhaps the greatest risk posed by rooms that unlawfully serve as bedrooms stems from the reason these laws exist in the first place:  rooms lacking egress can be deadly in case of an emergency. For instance, on January 5, 2002, four family members sleeping in the basement of a Gaithersburg, Maryland, townhome were killed by a blaze when they had no easy escape.

The following requirements are taken from the 2006 International Residential Code (IRC), and they can be used as a general guide, but bear in mind that the local municipality determines the legal definition of a bedroom. Such local regulations can vary widely among municipalities, and what qualifies as a bedroom in one city might be more properly called a den in a nearby city. In some municipalities, the room must be above grade, be equipped with an AFCI or smoke alarm to be considered a conforming bedroom, for instance. Ceiling height and natural lighting might also be factors. The issue can be extremely complex, so it’s best to learn the code requirements for your area. Nevertheless, the IRC can be useful, and it reads as follows:

  • EMERGENCY ESCAPE AND RESCUE REQUIRED SECTION: R 310.1 Basements and every sleeping room shall have at least one operable emergency and rescue opening. Such opening shall open directly into a public street, public alley, yard or court. Where basements contain one or more sleeping rooms, emergency egress and rescue openings shall be required in each sleeping room, but shall not be required in adjoining areas of the basement. Where emergency escape and rescue openings are provided, they shall have a sill height of not more than 44 inches (1,118mm) above the floor. Where a door opening having a threshold below the adjacent ground elevation serves as an emergency escape and rescue opening and is provided with a bulkhead enclosure, the bulkhead enclosure shall comply with SECTION R310.3. The net clear opening dimensions required by this section shall be obtained by the normal operation of the emergency escape and rescue opening from the inside. Emergency escape and rescue openings with a finished sill height below the adjacent ground elevation shall be provided with a window well, in accordance with SECTION R310.2.  
    • MINIMUM OPENING AREA: SECTION: R 310.1.1 All emergency escape and rescue openings shall have a minimum net clear opening of 5.7 square feet (0.530 m2). Exception: Grade floor openings shall have a minimum net clear opening of 5 square feet (0.465 m2).
    • MINIMUM OPENING HEIGHT: R 310.1.2 The minimum net clear opening height shall be 24 inches (610mm).
    • MINIMUM OPENING WIDTH: R 310.1.3 The minimum net clear opening width shall be 20 inches (508mm).
    • OPERATIONAL CONSTRAINTS: R 310.1.4 Emergency escape and rescue openings shall be operational from the inside of the room without the use of keys or tools or special knowledge.

  • WINDOW WELLS: SECTION: R310.2 The minimum horizontal area of the window well shall be 9 square feet (0.9 m2), with a minimum horizontal projection and width of 36 inches (914mm). The area of the window well shall allow the emergency escape and rescue opening to be fully opened. Exception: The ladder or steps required by SECTION R 310.2.1 shall be permitted to encroach a maximum of 6 inches (152mm) into the required dimensions of the window well.
  • LADDER AND STEPS: SECTION: R 310.2.1 Window wells with a vertical depth greater than 44 inches (1,118mm) shall be equipped with a permanently affixed ladder or steps usable with the window in the fully open position. Ladders or steps required by this section shall not be required to comply with SECTIONS R311.5 and R311.6. Ladders or rungs shall have an inside width of at least 12 inches (305 mm), shall project at least 3 inches (76mm) from the wall, and shall be spaced not more than 18 inches (457mm) on-center vertically for the full height of the window well.
  • BULKHEAD ENCLOSURES: SECTION: R 310.3 Bulkhead enclosures shall provide direct access to the basement. The bulkhead enclosure with the door panels in the fully open position shall provide the minimum net clear opening required by SECTION R 310.1.1. Bulkhead enclosures shall also comply with SECTION R 311.5.8.2.
  • BARS, GRILLS, COVERS, AND SCREENS: SECTION: R 310.3 Bars, grilles, covers, screens or similar devices are permitted to be placed over emergency escape and rescue openings, bulkhead enclosures, or window wells that serve such openings, provided the minimum net clear opening size complies with SECTIONS R 310.1.1 to R 310.1.3, and such devices shall be releasable or removable from the inside without the use of a key, tool, special knowledge, or force greater than that which is required for normal operation of the escape and rescue opening.
  • EMERGENCY ESCAPE WINDOWS UNDER DECKS AND PORCHES: SECTION: R 310.5 Emergency escape windows are allowed to be installed under decks and porches, provided the location of the deck allows the emergency escape window to be fully opened and provides a path not less than 36 inches (914 mm) in height to a yard or court.
In summary, non-conforming bedrooms are rooms that unlawfully serve as bedrooms, as the occupant would lack an easy escape in case of emergency.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at
https://www.nachi.org/non-conforming-bedrooms.htm.
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by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Ben Gromicko

Efflorescence is the white chalky powder that you might find on the surface of a concrete or brick wall. It can be a cosmetic issue, or it can be an indication of moisture intrusion that could lead to major structural and indoor air quality issues. A home inspector should understand what efflorescence is in order to recognize potential moisture problems.
Indications of Moisture

Efflorescence (which means “to flower out” in French) is the dissolved salts deposited on the surface of a porous material (such as concrete or brick) that are visible after the evaporation of the water in which it was transported. The moisture that creates efflorescence often comes from groundwater, but rainwater can also be the source. Efflorescence alone does not pose a major problem, but it can be an indication of moisture intrusion, which may compromise the structural material.

Porous Building Materials

Building materials, such as concrete, wood, brick and stone, are porous materials. Porous materials can absorb or wick water by a process called capillary action. As water moves through the porous material, salts can be drawn with it.

Concrete, wood, brick, stone and mortar are porous materials that contain salts. The ground in which these materials can come into contact also contain salts. Capillary action can literally suck water and transport it through porous building materials.

Capillary Action

Porous building materials are capable of wicking water for large distances due to capillary action with a theoretical limit of capillary rise of about 6 miles. That’s 6 miles directly up. Think of a tree and how a tree can transport water from its roots to its leaves. That’s capillary action. And it’s very powerful. When you add salt to that capillary process, it can be destructive.

Salts dissolved by groundwater can be transported by capillary action through porous soil. Building materials in contact with soil will naturally wick the water inward and upward. Take concrete footings — they are typically poured directly onto soil without any capillary break. Sometimes this is called rising damp. This is the beginning of how water can wick upward into a structure.

Destructive Pressures

When the capillary flow of water reaches the surface of a building material, evaporation occurs. As the water evaporates, salt is left behind. As this evaporation of capillary flow continues, the salt concentration increases, which creates an imbalance, and nature abhors imbalance and always wants to put things back into equilibrium. This is process is called osmosis. To re-establish equilibrium through osmosis, water rushes toward the salt deposit to dilute the concentration. This rush of water creates massive hydrostatic pressures within the porous material, and these pressures are destructive.

The pressure from osmosis can create incredibly strong hydrostatic pressure that can exceed the strength of building materials, including concrete.

Here are some examples of how that pressure translates:

  • diffusion vapor pressure: 0.3 to 0.5 psi
  • capillary pressure: 300 to 500 psi
  • osmotic pressure: 3,000 to 5,000 psi

As you can see from the list above, osmosis can create pressure that is greater than the structural strength of concrete, which can be from 2,000 psi to 3,000 psi. The action of water rushing to the surface due to capillary action creates incredible forces that can cause materials to crack, flake and break apart.

Spalling

When efflorescence leads to strong osmotic pressures—greater than the strength of the building material—and the material literally breaks apart, the resulting damage is called spalling. Hydrostatic pressure can cause spalling, but spalling can also be caused by freeze-thaw cycles in building materials that have a high moisture content.

Both efflorescence and spalling can be prevented with capillary breaks, such as by installing a polyethylene sheeting under a concrete slab.

Identifying Efflorescence

InterNACHI inspectors should already know how to distinguish between mold and efflorescence, but it is possible for homeowners to confuse the two. The expense of a mold test can be avoided if the substance in question can be identified as efflorescence.
Here are a few tips that inspectors can offer their clients so that they understand the differences:
  • Pinched between the fingers, efflorescence will turn into a powder, while mold will not.
  • Efflorescence forms on inorganic building materials, while mold forms on organic substances. However, it is possible for mold to consume dirt on brick or cement.
  • Efflorescence will dissolve in water, while mold will not.
  • Efflorescence is almost always white, yellow or brown, while mold can be any color imaginable. If the substance in question is purple, pink or black, it is not efflorescence.
Aside from mold, the following conditions can result from excess moisture in a residence:
  • fungi that rot wood;
  • water damage to sheetrock; and
  • reduced effectiveness of insulation.
    White mold.
Inspectors should note the presence of efflorescence in their inspection reports because it generally occurs where there is excess moisture, a condition that also encourages the growth of mold.
Prevention and Removal of Efflorescence

Prevention

  • An impregnating hydrophobic sealant can be applied to a surface to prevent the intrusion of water. It will also prevent water from traveling to the surface from within. In cold climates, this sealant can cause material to break during freeze/thaw cycles.
  • During home construction, bricks left out overnight should be kept on pallets and be covered. Moisture from damp soil and rain can be absorbed into the brick.
  • Install capillary breaks, including polyethelene sheeting between the soil and the building material, such as concrete.

Removal

  • Pressurized water can sometimes be used to remove or dissolve efflorescence.
  • An acid, such as diluted muriatic acid, can be used to dissolve efflorescence. Water should be applied first so that the acid does not discolor the brick. Following application, baking soda can be used to neutralize the acid and prevent any additional damage to the masonry. Muriatic acid is toxic, and contact with skin or eyes should be avoided.
  • A strong brush can be used to simply scrub the efflorescence off.
NOTE:  The use of water to remove efflorescence may result in the re-absorption of crystals into the host material, and they may later reappear as more efflorescence. It is advisable that if water is used in the removal process that the masonry is dried off very quickly.
In summary, efflorescence is a cosmetic issue, but it indicates a potential moisture problem. Inspectors should know the how capillary forces can cause structural damage to building materials and educate their clients about efflorescence and the potential problems it may cause. This article is courtesy of InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/efflorescence.htm.

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

Carpet at Risk

Carpeting is an area of the home that can be at high risk for mold growth.  In order to grow, mold needs moisture, oxygen, a food source, and a surface to grow on.  Mold spores are commonly found naturally in the air.  If spores land on a wet or damp spot indoors that contains dust for them to feed on, mold growth will soon follow. Wall-to-wall carpeting, as well as area rugs, can provide an ample breeding ground for mold if conditions are right.  At especially high risk for mold growth are carpeting located below ground level in basements, carpet in commonly moist or damp climates, and carpet that has been wet for any period of time.

The Dangers of Mold

Molds produce allergens, which are substances that can cause allergic reactions, as well as irritants and, in some cases, potentially toxic substances known as mycotoxins.  Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.  Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis).  Allergic reactions to mold are common.  They can be immediate or delayed.  Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.  In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people.  Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold, but can also occur.

 

Identifying Mold in Carpeting

Just because mold is not immediately apparent or visible on a carpet’s surface does not mean that mold growth is not in progress.  In fact, mold will probably only be visible on the surface of carpets in unusually severe cases of growth, such as carpet damaged in flooding that has remained wet for some time.  The following are some examples of identifiable instances where mold growth has occurred or is likely to occur:

  • visible mold growth:  As stated above, this can be a rare case, but sometimes it may be obvious from visual inspection that mold growth is occurring. Carpet in this condition is most likely not salvageable and should be disposed of and replaced. Often, even if mold growth is not visible on the top of carpeting, it may be occurring underneath the carpet where it can’t be easily seen. Carpet suspected of containing mold should always be examined on both sides.
  • carpet mildew:  Any discoloration or odor on carpeting that might be described as mildew is probably a case of mold.
  • wet or water-damaged carpet:  Any carpet that has been subjected to water damage from flooding or standing water will most likely need to be disposed of. Conditions are ripe for mold growth, in this case. Even if visibly apparent mold growth has not yet begun, it is highly likely to happen unless the carpet is completely removed, cleaned and dried within 24 to 48 hours. Even then, removal and cleaning are not guaranteed to prevent mold growth. It is more likely that the carpet will need to be replaced.
  • wet padding beneath carpet:  If padding beneath the carpet has become wet for any reason, or has become moist from condensation, the padding as well as the carpet on top are at risk for mold growth. The padding may need to be replaced, as will the carpet, in some cases.
  • basement carpet:  Carpeting in basements below grade level is especially at risk in areas where humidity is high, or where wide temperature swings can produce condensation.
  • odors and stains:  There is a wide range of things that can cause odors and stains on carpets.  If mold is suspected, samples can be taken and sent for analysis to determine if mold growth has occurred.

Preventing Mold Growth in Carpeting

The best method for combating mold is to not allow mold growth in the first place.  The best way to do so is by ensuring that conditions conducive to growth do not exist.  Below are some ways to prevent mold growth in carpets.

  • Reduce indoor humidity.  The use of dehumidifiers will help control moisture in the air, depriving mold spores of the water they need to grow into mold. A range of 30% to 60% humidity is acceptable for interiors.
  • Install intelligently.  Do not install carpeting in areas that are likely to be subject to frequent, high moisture. Carpet in a bathroom, for example, will quickly turn to a breeding ground for mold growth due to the high humidity from constant water use in that area.
  • Choose high-quality carpet padding.  Solid, rubber-slab carpet padding with anti-microbial properties is available. It is slightly more expensive than other types of padding but can be helpful for preventing the growth of mold, especially in climates prone to periods of high humidity.
  • Never allow standing water.  Carpet exposed to standing water will quickly be ruined. If standing water ever occurs because of a leak or a spill, all carpeting exposed must be immediately cleaned and dried. The top and bottom surfaces of the carpet, any padding, and the floor underneath must be cleaned and completely dried within a short period of time after exposure to standing water if the carpet is to be saved. If a large flood has occurred, or if standing water has been present for any extended period of time, the carpet will probably need to be replaced.
  • Clean smart.  When carpeting needs to be cleaned, try to use a dry form of cleaning, when possible. If any water, liquid, or other moisture has come in contact with the carpet during cleaning, be sure it is dried thoroughly afterward.

Removing Mold From Carpet

In many cases, if mold has grown on carpet, cleaning will not be possible.  If growth has occurred on more than one area of the carpet, or if there is a large area of growth, the carpet will probably need to be replaced.  

Small areas of growth that have been quickly identified can sometimes be dealt with.  Detergent and water used with a steam-cleaning machine may be enough to clean the carpet thoroughly.  It is then important to ensure that the carpet dries completely after cleaning to prevent the growth from recurring.  Stronger cleaning agents can be substituted if detergent does not work.  Anything stronger than detergent or common rug-cleaning products should first be tested on an inconspicuous area of the carpet to ensure that the rug will not be damaged during cleaning.  About 24 hours is a reasonable amount of time to wait after testing to be sure that wider cleaning will not discolor or damage the carpet.

Another option in instances where mold growth is not widespread is to remove the ruined section of the carpet.  If cleaning has been attempted unsuccessfully, the area of mold growth may be removed and replaced with a patch of similar carpet.  Of course, this will only work in situations where aesthetics are not a big concern, since exactly matching the patch to the original carpet may be difficult and the seam may be visible.  If mold has grown in more than one area of the carpet, or if the area of growth is larger than a couple of feet, this will probably not be an effective method of mold removal.
As with all areas of the interior at risk for mold growth, prevention is the best method of control for carpet mold.  Eliminating high-moisture conditions and preventing the risk of flooding or standing water will reduce the possibility of growth.  Inspectors will want to know where to look for and how to identify mold growth in carpeting.  It is also helpful to know how to determine if carpet should be replaced, or whether there is a possibility of cleaning and saving it.  This article in from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/carpet-mold.htm.
by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard

Clothes dryers evaporate the water from wet clothing by blowing hot air past them while they tumble inside a spinning drum. Heat is provided by an electrical heating element or gas burner. Some heavy garment loads can contain more than a gallon of water which, during the drying process, will become airborne water vapor and leave the dryer and home through an exhaust duct (more commonly known as a dryer vent).

A vent that exhausts moist air to the home’s exterior has a number of requirements:
  1. It should be connected. The connection is usually behind the dryer but may be beneath it. Look carefully to make sure it’s actually connected.
  2. It should not be restricted. Dryer vents are often made from flexible plastic or metal duct, which may be easily kinked or crushed where they exit the dryer and enter the wall or floor. This is often a problem since dryers tend to be tucked away into small areas with little room to work. Vent elbows are available which is designed to turn 90° in a limited space without restricting the flow of exhaust air. Restrictions should be noted in the inspector’s report. Airflow restrictions are a potential fire hazard.
  3. One of the reasons that restrictions are a potential fire hazard is that, along with water vapor evaporated out of wet clothes, the exhaust stream carries lint – highly flammable particles of clothing made of cotton and polyester. Lint can accumulate in an exhaust duct, reducing the dryer’s ability to expel heated water vapor, which then accumulates as heat energy within the machine. As the dryer overheats, mechanical failures can trigger sparks, which can cause lint trapped in the dryer vent to burst into flames. This condition can cause the whole house to burst into flames. Fires generally originate within the dryer but spread by escaping through the ventilation duct, incinerating trapped lint, and following its path into the building wall.
InterNACHI believes that house fires caused by dryers are far more common than are generally believed, a fact that can be appreciated upon reviewing statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency. Fires caused by dryers in 2005 were responsible for approximately 13,775 house fires, 418 injuries, 15 deaths, and $196 million in property damage. Most of these incidents occur in residences and are the result of improper lint cleanup and maintenance. Fortunately, these fires are very easy to prevent.
The recommendations outlined below reflect International Residential Code (IRC) SECTION M1502 CLOTHES DRYER EXHAUST guidelines:

M1502.5 Duct construction.
Exhaust ducts shall be constructed of minimum 0.016-inch-thick (0.4 mm) rigid metal ducts, having smooth interior surfaces, with joints running in the direction of air flow. Exhaust ducts shall not be connected with sheet-metal screws or fastening means which extend into the duct.

This means that the flexible, ribbed vents used in the past should no longer be used. They should be noted as a potential fire hazard if observed during an inspection.
M1502.6 Duct length.
The maximum developed length of a clothes dryer exhaust duct shall not exceed 35 feet from the dryer location to the wall or roof termination. The maximum length of the duct shall be reduced 2.5 feet for each 45-degree (0.8 rad) bend, and 5 feet for each 90-degree (1.6 rad) bend. The maximum length of the exhaust duct does not include the transition duct.
This means that vents should also be as straight as possible and cannot be longer than 35 feet. Any 90-degree turns in the vent reduce this 35-foot number by 5 feet, since these turns restrict airflow.
A couple of exceptions exist:
  1. The IRC will defer to the manufacturer’s instruction, so if the manufacturer’s recommendation permits a longer exhaust vent, that’s acceptable. An inspector probably won’t have the manufacturer’s recommendations, and even if they do, confirming compliance with them exceeds the scope of a General Home Inspection.
  2. The IRC will allow large radius bends to be installed to reduce restrictions at turns, but confirming compliance requires performing engineering calculation in accordance with the ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook, which definitely lies beyond the scope of a General Home Inspection.
M1502.2 Duct termination.
Exhaust ducts shall terminate on the outside of the building or shall be in accordance with the dryer manufacturer’s installation instructions. Exhaust ducts shall terminate not less than 3 feet in any direction from openings into buildings. Exhaust duct terminations shall be equipped with a backdraft damper. Screens shall not be installed at the duct termination.

Inspectors will see many dryer vents terminate in crawlspaces or attics where they deposit moisture, which can encourage the growth of mold, wood decay, or other material problems. Sometimes they will terminate just beneath attic ventilators. This is a defective installation. They must terminate at the exterior and away from a door or window. Also, screens may be present at the duct termination and can accumulate lint and should be noted as improper.

M1502.3 Duct size.
The diameter of the exhaust duct shall be as required by the clothes dryer’s listing and the manufacturer’s installation instructions.
Look for the exhaust duct size on the data plate.
M1502.4 Transition ducts.
Transition ducts shall not be concealed within construction. Flexible transition ducts used to connect the dryer to the exhaust duct system shall be limited to single lengths not to exceed 8 feet, and shall be listed and labeled in accordance with UL 2158A.
Required support for lengthy ducts is covered by the following section:

M1502.4.2 Duct installation.
Exhaust ducts shall be supported at intervals not to exceed 12 feet and shall be secured in place. The insert end of the duct shall extend into the adjoining duct or fitting in the direction of airflow. Exhaust duct joints shall be sealed in accordance with Section M1601.4.1 and shall be mechanically fastened. Ducts shall not be joined with screws or similar fasteners that protrude more than 1/8-inch into the inside of the duct.

Additionally, makeup air for the laundry room in an amount equal to the sum – in cubic feet per minute (CFM) – of the dryer vent fan, and of any laundry room fans, must be supplied when both fans are operating. Depending on the laundry room’s size, this may approach 300 CFM. Makeup air would need to be supplied from some source. If the door is closed and there is no window, this may present a problem, including extended drying times and reduced dryer vent flow that can cause an excess accumulation of lint in the exhaust vent, which is a potential fire hazard.
In general, an inspector will not know specific manufacturer’s recommendations or local applicable codes and will not be able to confirm the dryer vent’s compliance to them, but will be able to point out issues that may need to be corrected. This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/dryer-vent-safety.htm.
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by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard 

Bathroom ventilation systems are designed to exhaust odors and moist air to the home’s exterior. Typical systems consist of a ceiling fan unit connected to a duct that terminates at the roof.
Fan Function  
 The fan may be controlled in one of several ways:
  • Most are controlled by a conventional wall switch.
  • A timer switch may be mounted on the wall.
  • A wall-mounted humidistat can be pre-set to turn the fan on and off based on different levels of relative humidity.

Newer fans may be very quiet but work just fine. Older fans may be very noisy or very quiet. If an older fan is quiet, it may not be working well. Inspectors can test for adequate fan airflow with a chemical smoke pencil or a powder puff bottle, but such tests exceed InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice.

Bathroom ventilation fans should be inspected for dust buildup that can impede air flow. Particles of moisture-laden animal dander and lint are attracted to the fan because of its static charge. Inspectors should comment on dirty fan covers.

Ventilation systems should be installed in all bathrooms. This includes bathrooms with windows, since windows will not be opened during the winter in cold climates.
Defects
The following conditions indicate insufficient bathroom ventilation:
  • moisture stains on walls or ceilings;
  • corrosion of metal;
  • visible mold on walls or ceilings;
  • peeling paint or wallpaper;
  • frost on windows; and
  • high levels of humidity.
The most common defect related to bathroom ventilation systems is improper termination of the duct. Vents must terminate at the home exterior.
The most common improper terminations locations are:
  • mid-level in the attic. These are easy to spot;
  • beneath the insulation. You need to remember to look. The duct may terminate beneath the insulation or there may be no duct installed; and
  • under attic vents. The duct must terminate at the home exterior, not just under it.
Improperly terminated ventilation systems may appear to work fine from inside the bathroom, so the inspector may have to look in the attic or on the roof. Sometimes, poorly installed ducts will loosen or become disconnected at joints or connections.
Ducts that leak or terminate in attics can cause problems from condensation. Warm, moist air will condense on cold attic framing, insulation and other materials. This condition has the potential to cause health and/or decay problems from mold, or damage to building materials, such as drywall. Moisture also reduces the effectiveness of thermal insulation.
Mold
Perhaps the most serious consequence of an improper ventilation setup is the potential accumulation of mold in attics or crawlspaces. Mold may appear as a fuzzy, thread-like, cobwebby fungus, although it can never be identified with certainty without being lab-tested. Health problems caused by mold are related to high concentrations of spores in indoor air.  Spores are like microscopic seeds, released by mold fungi when they reproduce. Every home has mold. Moisture levels of about 20% in materials will cause mold colonies to grow. Inhaling mold spores can cause health problems in those with asthma or allergies, and can cause serious or fatal fungal infections in those with lung disease or compromised immune systems.
Mold is impossible to identify visually and must be tested by a lab in order to be confidently labeled. Inspectors should refrain from calling anything “mold” but should refer to anything that appears as mold as a material that “appears to be microbial growth.” Inspectors should include in their report, and in the inspection agreement signed by the client, a disclaimer clearly stating that the General Home Inspection is an inspection for safety and system defects, not a mold inspection.
Decay, which is rot, is also caused by fungi. Incipient or early decay cannot be seen. By the time decay becomes visible, affected wood may have lost up to 50% of its strength.
In order to grow, mold fungi require the following conditions to be present:
  • oxygen;
  • temperatures between approximately 45° F and 85° F;
  • food. This includes a wider variety of materials found in homes; and
  • moisture.
If insufficient levels of any of these requirements exist, all mold growth will stop and fungi will go dormant. Most are difficult to actually kill.
Even though mold growth may take place in the attic, mold spores can be sucked into the living areas of a residence by low air pressure. Low air pressure is usually created by the expulsion of household air from exhaust fans in bathrooms, dryers, kitchens and heating equipment.
Improper Ventilation 
Ventilation ducts must be made from appropriate materials and oriented effectively in order to ensure that stale air is properly exhausted.
Ventilation ducts must:
  • terminate outdoors. Ducts should never terminate within the building envelope;
  • contain a screen or louvered (angled) slats at its termination to prevent bird, rodent and insect entry;
  • be as short and straight as possible and avoid turns. Longer ducts allow more time for vapor to condense and also force the exhaust fan to work harder;
  • be insulated, especially in cooler climates. Cold ducts encourage condensation;
  • protrude at least several inches from the roof;
  • be equipped with a roof termination cap that protects the duct from the elements; and
  • be installed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
The following tips are helpful, although not required. Ventilation ducts should:
  • be made from inflexible metal, PVC, or other rigid material. Unlike dryer exhaust vents, they should not droop; and
  • have smooth interiors. Ridges will encourage vapor to condense, allowing water to back-flow into the exhaust fan or leak through joints onto vulnerable surfaces.

Above all else, a bathroom ventilation fan should be connected to a duct capable of venting water vapor and odors into the outdoors. Mold growth within the bathroom or attic is a clear indication of improper ventilation that must be corrected in order to avoid structural decay and respiratory health issues. This article is courtesy of InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/bathroom-ventilation-ducts-fans.htm.

Red Horse Home Inspection services Rapid City, Summerset, Sturgis, Spearfish, Belle Fourche, Lead, Deadwood, Custer, Hot Springs, Hill City, Keystone, Hermosa, Box Elder, and surrounding area.  Schedule your home inspection with us online or give us a call at 605-490-2916.

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

With barbecue season already here, homeowners should heed the following barbecue safety precautions in order to keep their families and property safe. Here are a few barbecue safety tips courtesy of InterNACHI.
  • Propane grills present an enormous fire hazard, as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is aware of more than 500 fires that result annually from their misuse or malfunction. The following precautions are recommended specifically when using propane grills:
    • Store propane tanks outdoors and never near the grill or any other heat source. In addition, never store or transport them in your car’s trunk.
    • Make sure to completely turn off the gas after you have finished, or when you are changing the tank. Even a small gas leak can cause a deadly explosion.
    • Check for damage to a tank before refilling it, and only buy propane from reputable suppliers.
    • Never use a propane barbecue grill on a terrace, balcony or roof, as this is dangerous and illegal.
    • No more than two 20-pound propane tanks are allowed on the property of a one- or two-family home.
    • To inspect for a leak, spray a soapy solution over the connections and watch for bubbles. If you see evidence of a leak, reconnect the components and try again. If bubbles persist, replace the leaking parts before using the grill.
    • Make sure connections are secure before turning on the gas, especially if the grill hasn’t been used in months. The most dangerous time to use a propane grill is at the beginning of the barbecue season.
    • Ignite a propane grill with the lid open, not closed. Propane can accumulate beneath a closed lid and explode.
    • When finished, turn off the gas first, and then the controls. This way, residual gas in the pipe will be used up.
  • Charcoal grills pose a serious poisoning threat due to the venting of carbon monoxide (CO). The CPSC estimates that 20 people die annually from accidentally ingesting CO from charcoal grills. These grills can also be a potential fire hazard. Follow these precautions when using charcoal grills:
    • Never use a charcoal grill indoors, even if the area is ventilated. CO is colorless and odorless, and you will not know you are in danger until it is too late.
    • Use only barbecue starter fluid to start the grill, and don’t add the fluid to an open flame. It is possible for the flame to follow the fluid’s path back to the container as you’re holding it.
    • Let the fluid soak into the coals for a minute before igniting them to allow explosive vapors to dissipate.
    • Charcoal grills are permitted on terraces and balconies only if there is at least 10 feet of clearance from the building, and a water source immediately nearby, such as a hose (or 4 gallons of water).
    • Be careful not to spill any fluid on yourself, and stand back when igniting the grill. Keep the charcoal lighter fluid container at a safe distance from the grill.
    • When cleaning the grill, dispose of the ashes in a metal container with a tight lid, and add water. Do not remove the ashes until they have fully cooled.
    • Fill the base of the grill with charcoal to a depth of no more than 2 inches.
  • Electric grills are probably safer than propane and charcoal grills, but safety precautions need to be used with them as well. Follow these tips when using electric grills:
    • Do not use lighter fluid or any other combustible materials.
    • When using an extension cord, make sure it is rated for the amperage required by the grill. The cord should be unplugged when not in use, and out of a busy foot path to prevent tripping.
    • As always, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Safety Recommendations for General Grill Use
  • Always make sure that the grill is used in a safe place, where kids and pets won’t touch or bump into it. Keep in mind that the grill will still be hot after you finish cooking, and anyone coming into contact with it could be burned.
  • If you use a grill lighter, make sure you don’t leave it lying around where children can reach it. They will quickly learn how to use it.
  • Never leave the grill unattended, as this is generally when accidents happen.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher or garden hose nearby.
  • Ensure that the grill is completely cooled before moving it or placing it back in storage.
  • Ensure that the grill is only used on a flat surface that cannot burn, and well away from any shed, trees or shrubs.
  • Clean out the grease and other debris in the grill periodically. Be sure to look for rust or other signs of deterioration.
  • Don’t wear loose clothing that might catch fire while you’re cooking.
  • Use long-handled barbecue tools and flame-resistant oven mitts.
  • Keep alcoholic beverages away from the grill; they are flammable!
In summary, homeowners should exercise caution when using any kind of grill, as they can harm life and property in numerous ways.  This article can be found at https://www.nachi.org/barbeque-safety.htm.
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