by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

When deciding how to go about the process of selling their homes, homeowners should carefully consider the pros and cons of hiring a real estate agent. While most sellers opt to for sell by owner rapid city sdhire an agent to assist them with the sale, a minority of them choose to sell it themselves. In 2006, these “for sale by owner” (or FSBO) sellers totaled 12% in 2006, according to the National Association of Realtors. FSBO sellers stand to save an enormous amount of money, but to do this well, they must be knowledgeable and shrewd in a territory which they may find unfamiliar.
In the U.S., real estate agents typically take 4 – 6% of the price of the home, which many homeowners view as unjustifiably large, considering the agent puts none of their own money into the home and comparatively little of their time. Yet, sellers must consider that this fee is usually split between the the buyer’s agent and seller’s agent, and the brokerage must be paid too. After taxes, the average real estate agent makes a humble living. Although, understandably, the seller doesn’t care about how the commission is split up, as they’d much prefer to pocket the whole amount.

There are also psychological reasons why homeowners choose to sell their homes themselves. Some people enjoy the feeling of being in control of the transaction and unencumbered by the potential mistakes or ulterior motives of professionals. The agent might want to accept a low offer because they’re in a hurry to sell the home, get their commission and move on, even if the seller is in no rush and wants to proceed at their own pace. Moreover, the amount of the commission will be affected little by a change in the final sale price, leaving the agent with little incentive to dicker over a few thousand dollars.

Of course, many sellers will gladly pay a real estate agent a hefty commission, especially in buyers’ markets, when the seller can’t garner sufficient attention to sell the house on their own. Also, the idea of a property transaction – perhaps the most important financial move of someone’s life – without a professional may be unsettling to both the buyer and the seller. Agents know what agreements need to be signed and which laws must be observed (such as disclosure requirements), saving a lot of hassle for the buyer and seller, and keeping them both out of court. A real estate agent will also act as a buffer between the buyer and seller, who might feel uncomfortable dealing with one another directly.
Perhaps the best reason to hire a real estate agent is that they know how to price a home, and, without their assistance, the seller may waste months trying unsuccessfully to sell an overpriced home, or, worse, sell the house for too little. When selling a home without an agent, owners will be responsible not only for paying the fees charged by various professionals, but they will also be responsible for finding these professionals in the first place. A competent real estate agent will know to not skimp on the home inspection, for instance, by exclusively hiring InterNACHI inspectors.

Sellers can save thousands of dollars by avoiding the services of a real estate agent, but to do this well, they are going to have to earn that money. The following tips are a good start for FSBO home sellers:

  • Don’t skimp on house preparation. Your house will be in competition with houses listed by agents who coach their clients on how to prepare their house for showings.
  • Learn about legal requirements for disclosures in your area. If you do not disclose certain information to the buyer, they might be able attack you later in court.
  • Familiarize yourself with the paperwork and contracts required by a real estate transaction. It often pays to hire a lawyer to review the contract.
  • Research advertising and marketing tools available to you on the Internet. There are some sites that will even help you develop a video tour of your home.
  • Hone your negotiating skills and be prepared to turn down some offers. Real estate agents are expert negotiators, and the buyer’s agent might try to take advantage of your inexperience.
  • Hire an InterNACHI inspector to perform a Move In Certified inspection.
In summary, it might make sense to hire a real estate agent to assist with the sale of a home, but savvy, responsible homeowners can save a great deal of money by selling their homes themselves.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/for-sale-by-owner-pros-pitfalls.htm.

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

Fireplaces and wood stoves are designed to burn only one type of fuel. Used as all-purpose incinerators, these devices can pose the following hazards:

  • Harmful vapors can vent into the living space. Even the most efficient fireplaces will vent directly into the living space while they’re opened and closed for cleaning and refueling, exposing everyone in the house to potentially dangerous fumes.Firewood drying out in the sun
  • Harmful vapors will vent to the outdoors. Most newer fireplaces and wood stoves do an excellent job of funneling smoke and fumes to the outdoors, but the problem doesn’t end there; this pollution persists, contaminating household and environmental air.
  • Burning inappropriate fuel can cause mechanical damage. Chimneys can become lined with residue from inappropriate items, which may lead to a dangerous chimney fire. The fumes from certain items will quickly wear out sensitive components, such as catalytic combustors in wood stoves.

Read the following guidelines to better understand what can and cannot be safely burned in a residential fireplace or wood stove.

What can be burned in a fireplace?

  • dried, cut firewood. An adequate fuel supply will consist of a mixture of hardwoods, such as maple and oak, and softwoods, such as fir and pine. Softwoods ignite quickly and are useful in the early stages of the fire, while hardwoods provide a longer-lasting fire, and are best used after preheating the chimney. Despite the different burning characteristics of hardwoods and softwoods, which can be attributed to differences in density, the heat-energy released by burning wood is the same, regardless of species. To dry out wood, it should be stacked in an open area so the sun can warm the pieces and the breezes can carry away the moisture. Poplar, spruce and other softwoods generally dry quickly, as do wood that has been split small. Adequately seasoned wood has a moisture content of less than 20%, which can be checked using the following indicators:
    • The wood has darkened from white or a cream color to yellow or grey.
    • There are cracks or checks in the end grain.
    • A hollow sound is produced when two pieces of wood are banged together.
    • You can split a piece and feel if the new surface is damp or dry.
    • The wood does not hiss while burning.
    • You can check its moisture content with a moisture meter.Used pallets burn efficiently, but you must be sure they are free from chemical treatment
  • pallets. Generally, pallets are safe to burn in fireplaces, although those that are treated with the fumigant methyl bromide (labeled with the initials MB) are unsafe to burn. Also, pallets may have been exposed to a variety of chemicals while they were in use. Aside from these concerns, pallets produce a hot flame because they’re usually very dry and their segments are thin. Be careful to check for nails while cutting pallets, as they may damage a saw blade. You may also wind up with nails in your ash, which should be disposed of far from roads and driveways.
  • fallen tree limbs. These can generally be collected and used for kindling, provided they have been given time to dry.
  • wood collected from housing developments. If it is truly trash and not someone’s property (including the housing contractor’s), using scavenged wood that has been cleared away for housing developments is good for burning.  Try to obtain it before the non-lumber grade wood is pushed into massive piles and burned as a means of disposal by the contractor.
  • fire logs. These artificial logs burn relatively cleanly and release less ash than their natural wood counterparts.

What should never be burned in a fireplace?

  • painted wood. Paint contains heavy metals, such as lead, chromium and titanium, which are used to make the different colors. These metals, especially lead, can be toxic even in small quantities if inhaled. If you’re unsure if your paint has lead, be sure to consult with your InterNACHI inspector during your next scheduled inspection.
  • pressure-treated wood. Wood is commonly made resistant to fungus and insects through the addition of copper, chromate and arsenic, in a process known as CCA treatment. CCA treatment places roughly 27 grams of arsenic in every 12-foot 2×6, which is sufficient to kill about 250 adults, which is why it is illegal in the U.S. to burn pressure-treated wood. Vaporized CCA wood, known as fly ash, is extremely toxic; in one case, as reported by the American Medical Association, a family was stricken with seizures, hair loss, debilitating headaches, blackouts and nosebleeds from fly ash released when they unknowingly used CCA wood to burn in their fireplace. Even the family’s houseplants and fish succumbed to the toxic fumes.
  • plywood, particleboard, chipboard or OSB. These manmade woods release formaldehyde, and potentially hydrochloric acid or dioxin, when burned. Some states have outlawed the incineration of some or all of these artificial wood products.
  • rotted, diseased or moldy wood. This wood will not burn as long as normal wood, may produce bad smells when burned, and could bring insects into the house.
  • damp wood. Wood that has a moisture content higher than 20% will burn inefficiently and will contribute to a greater accumulation of creosote in the chimney, as well as air pollution.
  • allergenic plants.  Urushiol, which is the chemical that induces the typically minor allergic reaction when skin is exposed to poison ivy, poison sumac or poison oak, is far more dangerous when inhaled. Urushiol is not destroyed by fire and can quickly cause life-threatening respiratory distress if any of these plants are burned.
  • dryer lint. While it’s often used effectively as a fire-starter, lint can contain a wide array of dangerous chemicals that come from your clothes and fabric softener.
  • trash. Never burn household garbage, as it contains a range of potentially hazardous materials and chemicals that react in unpredictable ways when burned together. Newspaper ink, plastics, aluminum foil, plastic baggies, and whatever else constitutes your particular trash can create a deadly chemical cocktail.
  • driftwood. Wood found on the beach of an ocean or salty lake will release salt when burned, which will quickly corrode any metal and etch the glass of a wood stove or fireplace. Catalytic converters are especially vulnerable to salt corrosion. In addition to potential damage to the stove or fireplace, the EPA claims that driftwood releases toxic chemicals when burned.
In summary, use only approved and appropriate fuel to burn in your fireplace or wood stove, because certain items should never be burned because they can cause problems ranging from minor irritation to a hazardous health threat to your family.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/fireplace-fuel.htm.
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The Preservation and Repair of Historic Stucco

The term “stucco” is used to describe a type of exterior plaster applied as a two- or three-part coating directly onto masonry, or applied over wood or metal lath to a log or wood frame structure. Stucco is found in many forms on historic structures throughout the United States. It is so common, in fact, that it frequently goes unnoticed, and is often disguised or used to imitate another material. Historic stucco is also sometimes incorrectly viewed as a sacrificial coating, and consequently removed to reveal stone, brick or logs that historically were never intended to be exposed. Age and lack of maintenance hasten the deterioration of many historic stucco buildings. Like most historic building materials, stucco is at the mercy of the elements, and even though it is a protective coating, it is particularly susceptible to water damage. Stucco is a material of deceptive simplicity; in most cases, its repair should not be undertaken by a property owner unfamiliar with the art of plastering. Successful stucco repair requires the skill and experience of a professional plasterer. Although several stucco mixes are representative of different periods, they are provided here for reference.  Each project is unique, with its own set of problems that require individual solutions.

  
Historical Background 

  

The stucco on the early-19th century Richardson-Owens-Thomas House in Savannah, Georgia, is a type of natural cement.

Stucco has been used since ancient times. Still widely used throughout the world, it is one of the most common of traditional building materials. Up until the late 1800s, stucco, like mortar, was primarily lime-based, but the popularization of Portland cement changed the composition of stucco, as well as mortar, to a harder material. Historically, the term “plaster” has often been interchangeable with “stucco”; the term is still favored by many, particularly when referring to the traditional lime-based coating. By the 19th century “stucco,” although originally denoting fine interior ornamental plasterwork, had gained wide acceptance in the United States to describe exterior plastering. “Render” and “rendering” are also terms used to describe stucco, especially in Great Britain. Other historic treatments and coatings related to stucco, in that they consist (at least in part) of a similarly plastic or malleable material, include: parging and pargeting, wattle and daub, “cob” or chalk mud, pise de terre, rammed earth, briquete entre poteaux or bousillage, half-timbering, and adobe. All of these are regional variations on traditional mixtures of mud, clay, lime, chalk, cement, gravel or straw. Many are still used today.

  

The stucco finish on Arlington House, Arlington, Virginia, was marbleized in the 1

Revival Styles Promote the Use of Stucco

The introduction of the many revival styles of architecture around the turn of the 20th century, combined with the improvement and increased availability of Portland cement, resulted in a craze for stucco as a building material in the United States. Beginning about 1890 and gaining momentum into the 1930s and 1940s, stucco was associated with certain historic architectural styles, including: Prairie; Art Deco and Art Moderne; Spanish Colonial, Mission, Pueblo, Mediterranean, English Cotswold Cottage, and Tudor Revival styles; as well as the ubiquitous bungalow and four-square house. The fad for Spanish Colonial Revival, and other variations on this theme, was especially important in furthering stucco as a building material in the United States during this period, since stucco clearly looked like adobe.

Although stucco buildings were especially prevalent in California, the Southwest and Florida, ostensibly because of their Spanish heritage, this period also spawned stucco-coated, revival-style buildings all over the United States and Canada. The popularity of stucco as a cheap and readily available material meant that, by the 1920s, it was used for an increasing variety of building types. Resort hotels, apartment buildings, private mansions and movie theaters, railroad stations, and even gas stations and tourist courts took advantage of the “romance” of period styles, and adopted the stucco construction that had become synonymous with these styles.

  

The damage to this stucco appears to be caused by moisture infiltration.

A Practical Building Material

Stucco has traditionally been popular for a variety of reasons. It was an inexpensive material that could simulate finely dressed stonework, especially when scored or lined, in the European tradition. A stucco coating over a less finished and less costly substrate, such as rubblestone, fieldstone, brick, log or wood frame, gave the building the appearance of being a more expensive and important structure. As a weather-repellent coating, stucco protects the building from wind and rain penetration, and also offers a certain amount of fire protection. While stucco was usually applied during construction as part of the building design, particularly over rubblestone or fieldstone, in some instances, it was added later to protect the structure, or when a rise in the owner’s social status demanded a comparable rise in his standard of living.

Composition of Historic Stucco

Before the mid-to late 19th century, stucco consisted primarily of hydrated or slaked lime, water and sand, with straw or animal hair mixed in as a binder. Natural cements were frequently used in stucco mixes after their discovery in the United States during the 1820s. Portland cement was first manufactured in the United States in 1871, and it gradually replaced natural cement. After about 1900, most stucco was composed primarily of Portland cement, mixed with some lime. With the addition of Portland cement, stucco became even more versatile and durable. No longer used just as a coating for a substantial material like masonry or log, stucco could now be applied over wood or metal lath attached to a light wood frame. With this increased strength, stucco ceased to be just a veneer and became a more integral part of the building structure.

  

Caulking is not an appropriate method for repairing cracks in historic stucco.

Today, gypsum, which is hydrated calcium sulfate or sulfate of lime, has, to a great extent, replaced lime.  Gypsum is preferred because it hardens faster and has less shrinkage than lime. Lime is generally used only in the finish coat in contemporary stucco work.

The composition of stucco depends on local custom and available materials. Stucco often contains substantial amounts of mud or clay, marble or brick dust, or even sawdust, and an array of additives ranging from animal blood or urine, to eggs, keratin or gluesize (animal hooves and horns), varnish, wheat paste, sugar, salt, sodium silicate, alum, tallow, linseed oil, beeswax, and wine, beer or rye whiskey. Waxes, fats and oils were included to introduce water-repellent properties, sugary materials reduced the amount of water needed and slowed down the setting time, and alcohol acted as an air entrainer. All of these additives contribute to the strength and durability of the stucco.

The appearance of much stucco was determined by the color of the sand — or sometimes burnt clay — used in the mix.  Often, stucco was also tinted with natural pigments, or the surface whitewashed or color-washed after stuccoing was completed. Brick dust could provide color, and other coloring materials that were not affected by lime, mostly mineral pigments, could be added to the mix for the final finish coat. Stucco was also marbled or marbleized — stained to look like stone by diluting oil of vitriol (sulfuric acid) with water, and mixing this with a yellow ochre, or another color. As the 20th century progressed, manufactured and synthetic pigments were added at the factory to some prepared stucco mixes.

Methods of Application

Stucco is applied directly, without lath, to masonry substrates, such as brick, stone, concrete or hollow tile. But on wood structures, stucco, like its interior counterpart plaster, must be applied over lath in order to obtain an adequate key to hold the stucco. Thus, when applied over a log structure, stucco is laid on horizontal wood lath that has been nailed on vertical wood furring strips attached to the logs. If it is applied over a wood frame structure, stucco may be applied to wood or metal lath nailed directly to the wood frame; it may also be placed on lath that has been attached to furring strips. The furring strips are themselves laid over building paper covering the wood sheathing.

  

The dry materials must be mixed thoroughly before adding water to make the stucco.
Wood lath was gradually superseded by expanded metal lath introduced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When stuccoing over a stone or brick substrate, it was customary to cut back or rake out the mortar joints, if they were not already recessed, by natural weathering or erosion, and sometimes the bricks themselves were gouged to provide a key for the stucco. This helped provide the necessary bond for the stucco to remain attached to the masonry, much like the key provided by wood or metal lath on frame buildings.

Like interior wall plaster, stucco has traditionally been applied as a multiple-layer process, sometimes consisting of two coats, but more commonly as three. Whether applied directly to a masonry substrate or onto wood or metal lath, this consists of a first “scratch” or “pricking-up” coat, followed by a second scratch coat, sometimes referred to as a “floating” or “brown” coat, followed finally by the “finishing” coat. Up until the late 19th century, the first and the second coats were of much the same composition, generally consisting of lime or natural cement, sand, perhaps clay, and one or more of the additives previously mentioned. Straw or animal hair was usually added to the first coat as a binder. The third, or finishing coat, consisted primarily of a very fine mesh-grade of lime and sand, and sometimes pigment. As already noted, after the 1820s, natural cement was also a common ingredient in stucco, until it was replaced by Portland cement. Both masonry and wood lath must be kept wet or damp to ensure a good bond with the stucco. Wetting these materials helps to prevent them from pulling moisture out of the stucco too rapidly, which results in cracking, loss of bond, and generally poor-quality stucco work.

Traditional Stucco Finishes

Until the early 20th century when a variety of novelty finishes and textures were introduced, the last coat of stucco was commonly given a smooth, troweled finish, and then scored or lined in imitation of ashlar. The illusion of masonry joints was sometimes enhanced by a thin line of white lime putty, graphite, or some other pigment. Some 19th century buildings feature a water table or raised foundation of roughcast stucco that differentiates it from the stucco surface above, which is smooth and scored. Other novelty and textured finishes associated with the “period” or revival styles of the early 20th century include: the English cottage finish, adobe and Spanish, pebble-dashed or dry-dash surface, fan and sponge texture, reticulated and vermiculated, roughcast (or wet dash), and sgraffito.

Regular Maintenance

Although A.J. Downing alluded to stuccoed houses in Pennsylvania that had survived for over a century in relatively good condition, historic stucco is inherently not a particularly permanent or long-lasting building material. Regular maintenance is required to keep it in good condition. Unfortunately, many older and historic buildings are not always accorded this kind of care. An InterNACHI inspector can be consulted for advice regarding stucco maintenance.

Because building owners knew stucco to be a protective, but also somewhat fragile coating, they employed a variety of means to prolong its usefulness. The most common treatment was to whitewash stucco, often annually. The lime in the whitewash offered protection and stability, and helped to harden the stucco. Most importantly, it filled hairline cracks before they could develop into larger cracks and let in moisture. To improve water repellency, stucco buildings were also sometimes coated with paraffin, another type of wax, or other stucco-like coatings, such as oil mastics.

Assessing Damage

Most stucco deterioration is the result of water infiltration into the building’s structure, either through the roof, around chimneys, window and door openings, or excessive ground water or moisture penetrating through, or splashing up from the foundation. Potential causes of deterioration include: ground settlement lintel and door frame settlement; inadequate and leaking gutters and downspouts; intrusive vegetation; moisture migration within walls due to interior condensation and humidity; vapor drive problems caused by furnace, bathroom and kitchen vents; and rising damp resulting from excessive ground water and poor drainage around the foundation. Water infiltration will cause wood lath to rot, and metal lath and nails to rust, which eventually will cause stucco to lose its bond and pull away from its substrate.

  

The deteriorated surface of this catch basin is being re-stuccoed.

After the cause of deterioration has been identified, any necessary repairs to the building should be made first before repairing the stucco. Such work is likely to include repairs designed to keep excessive water away from the stucco, such as roof, gutter, downspout and flashing repairs, improving drainage, and redirecting rainwater runoff and splash-back away from the building. Horizontal areas, such as the tops of parapet walls and chimneys, are particularly vulnerable to water infiltration, and may require modifications to their original design, such as the addition of flashing to correct the problem.

Previous repairs inexpertly carried out may have caused additional deterioration, particularly if executed in Portland cement, which tends to be very rigid and, therefore, incompatible with early, mostly soft lime-based stucco that is more flexible. Incompatible repairs, external vibration caused by traffic and construction, and building settlement can also result in cracks which permit the entrance of water and cause the stucco to fail.

Before beginning any stucco repair, an assessment of the stucco should be undertaken to determine the extent of the damage, and how much must be replaced or repaired. Testing should be carried out systematically on all elevations of the building to determine the overall condition of the stucco. Some areas in need of repair will be clearly evidenced by missing sections of stucco or stucco layers. Bulging or cracked areas are obvious places to begin. Unsound, punky or soft areas that have lost their key will echo with a hollow sound when tapped gently with a wooden or acrylic hammer or mallet.

Identifying the Stucco Type

Analysis of the historic stucco will provide useful information on its primary ingredients and their proportions, and will help to ensure that the new replacement stucco will duplicate the old in strength, composition, color and texture as closely as possible. However, unless authentic, period restoration is required, it may not be worthwhile, nor in many instances even possible, to attempt to duplicate all of the ingredients (particularly some of the additives) in creating the new stucco mortar. Some items are no longer available, and others, notably sand and lime — the major components of traditional stucco — have changed radically over time. For example, most sand used in contemporary masonry work is manufactured sand, because river sand, which was used historically, is difficult to obtain today in many parts of the country. The physical and visual qualities of manufactured sand versus river sand are quite different, and this affects the way stucco works, as well as the way it looks. The same is true of lime, which is frequently replaced by gypsum in modern stucco mixes. And even if identification of all the items in the historic stucco mix were possible, the analysis would still not reveal how the original stucco was mixed and applied.

There are, however, simple tests that can be carried out on a small piece of stucco to determine its basic makeup. A dilute solution of hydrochloric (muriatic) acid will dissolve lime-based stucco, but not Portland cement. Although the use of Portland cement became common after 1900, there are no precise cutoff dates, as stuccoing practices varied among individual plasterers, and from region to region. Some plasterers began using Portland cement in the 1880s, but others may have continued to favor lime stucco well into the early 20th century. While it is safe to assume that a late-18th or early-19th century stucco is lime-based, late-19th or early-20th century stucco may be based on either lime or Portland cement. Another important factor to take into consideration is that an early lime-stucco building is likely to have been repaired many times over the ensuing years, and it is probable that at least some of these patches consist of Portland cement.

Planning the Repair

Once the extent of damage has been determined, a number of repair options may be considered. Small hairline cracks usually are not serious and may be sealed with a thin slurry coat consisting of the finish coat ingredients, or even with a coat of paint or whitewash.

Commercially available caulking compounds are not suitable materials for patching hairline cracks. Because their consistency and texture is unlike that of stucco, they tend to weather differently, and attract more dirt; as a result, repairs made with caulking compounds may be highly visible and unsightly. Larger cracks will have to be cut out in preparation for more extensive repair. Most stucco repairs will require the skill and expertise of a professional plasterer.

  

The stucco will be applied to the wire lath laid over the area to be patched.

In the interest of saving or preserving as much as possible of the historic stucco, patching rather than wholesale replacement is preferable. When repairing heavily textured surfaces, it is not usually necessary to replace an entire wall section, since the textured finish, if well-executed, tends to conceal patches, and helps them to blend in with the existing stucco. However, because of the nature of smooth-finished stucco, patching a number of small areas scattered over one elevation may not be a successful repair approach unless the stucco has been previously painted, or is to be painted following the repair work. On unpainted stucco, such patches are hard to conceal, because they may not match exactly or blend in with the rest of the historic stucco surface. For this reason, it is recommended, if possible, that stucco repair be carried out in a contained or well-defined area, or if the stucco is scored, the repair patch should be “squared-off” in such a way as to follow existing scoring. In some cases, especially in a highly visible location, it may be preferable to re-stucco an entire wall section or feature. In this way, any differences between the patched area and the historic surface will not be so readily apparent.

Repair of historic stucco generally follows most of the same principles used in plaster repair. First, all deteriorated, severely cracked and loose stucco should be removed down to the lath (assuming that the lath is securely attached to the substrate), or down to the masonry if the stucco is directly applied to a masonry substrate. A clean surface is necessary to obtain a good bond between the stucco and substrate. The areas to be patched should be cleaned of all debris with a bristle brush, and all plant growth, dirt, loose paint, oil and grease should be removed. If necessary, brick or stone mortar joints should then be raked out to a depth of approximately 5/8-inches to ensure a good bond between the substrate and the new stucco.

To obtain a neat repair, the area to be patched should be squared-off with a butt joint using a cold chisel, a hatchet, a diamond-blade saw, or a masonry bit. Sometimes, it may be preferable to leave the area to be patched in an irregular shape, which may result in a less conspicuous patch. Proper preparation of the area to be patched requires very sharp tools and extreme caution on the part of the plasterer not to break keys of surrounding good stucco by “over-sounding” when removing deteriorated stucco.

To ensure a firm bond, the new patch must not overlap the old stucco. If the stucco has lost its bond or key from wood lath, or the lath has deteriorated or come loose from the substrate, a decision must be made whether to try to re-attach the old lath, to replace deteriorated lath with new wood lath, or to leave the historic wood lath in place and supplement it with modern expanded metal lath. Unless authenticity is important, it is generally preferable (and easier) to nail new metal lath over the old wood lath to support the patch. Metal lath that is no longer securely fastened to the substrate may be removed and replaced in kind, or left in place and supplemented with new wire lath.

When repairing lime-based stucco applied directly to masonry, the new stucco should be applied in the same manner, directly onto the stone or brick. The stucco will bond onto the masonry itself without the addition of lath because of the irregularities in the masonry or those of its mortar joints, or because its surface has been scratched, scored or otherwise roughened to provide an additional key. Cutting out the old stucco at a diagonal angle may also help secure the bond between the new and the old stucco. For the most part, it is not advisable to insert metal lath when re-stuccoing historic masonry in sound condition, as it can hasten deterioration of the repair work. Not only will attaching the lath damage the masonry, but the slightest moisture penetration can cause metal lath to rust. This will cause metal to expand, eventually resulting in spalling of the stucco, and possibly the masonry substrate, too.

  

The final finish coat will be applied to this scratch coat.

If the area to be patched is properly cleaned and prepared, a bonding agent is usually not necessary. However, a bonding agent may be useful when repairing hairline cracks, or when dealing with substrates that do not offer a good bonding surface. These may include dense stone or brick, previously painted or stuccoed masonry, or spalling brick substrates. A good mechanical bond is always preferable to reliance on bonding agents. Bonding agents should not be used on a wall that is likely to remain damp or where large amounts of salt are present. Many bonding agents do not survive well under such conditions, and their use could jeopardize the longevity of the stucco repair.

A stucco mix compatible with the historic stucco should be selected after analyzing the existing stucco. It can be adapted from a standard traditional mix of the period, or based on one of the mixes included here. Stucco consisting mostly of Portland cement generally will not be physically compatible with the softer, more flexible, lime-rich historic stuccos used throughout the 18th and much of the 19th centuries. The differing expansion and contraction rates of lime stucco and Portland cement stucco will normally cause the stucco to crack. Choosing a stucco mix that is durable and compatible with the historic stucco on the building is likely to involve considerable trial and error, and probably will require a number of test samples, and even more, if it is necessary to match the color. It is best to let the stucco test samples weather as long as possible — ideally, one year, or at least through a change of seasons — in order to study the durability of the mix and its compatibility with the existing stucco, as well as the weathering of the tint, if the building will not be painted and color-match is an important factor.

If the test samples are not executed on the building, they should be placed next to the stucco remaining on the building to compare the color, texture and composition of the samples with the original. The number and thickness of stucco coats used in the repair should also match the original.

After thoroughly dampening the masonry or wood lath, the first scratch coat should be applied to the masonry substrate, or wood or metal lath, in a thickness that corresponds to the original (if extant), or generally about 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch. The scratch coat should be scratched or crosshatched with a comb to provide a key to hold the second coat. It usually takes 24 to 72 hours, and longer in cold weather, for each coat to dry before the next coat can be applied. The second coat should be about the same thickness as the first, and the total thickness of the first two coats should generally not exceed about 5/8-inch. This second or leveling coat should be roughened using a wood float with a nail protruding to provide a key for the final or finish coat. The finish coat, about 1/4-inch thick, is applied after the previous coat has initially set. If this is not feasible, the base coat should be thoroughly dampened when the finish coat is applied later. The finish coat should be worked to match the texture of the original stucco.

Colors and Tints for Historic Stucco Repair

  

The new addition on the right is stucco scored to imitate the limestone of the historic building on the left.

The color of most early stucco was supplied by the aggregate included in the mix — usually, the sand. Sometimes, natural pigments were added to the mix, and 18th- and 19th-century scored stucco was often marbleized or painted in imitation of marble and granite. Stucco was also frequently coated with whitewash or a colorwash. This tradition later evolved into the use of paint, its popularity depending on the vagaries of fashion, as much as a means of concealing repairs. Because most of the early colors were derived from nature, the resultant stucco tints tended to be mostly earth tones. This was true until the advent of brightly colored stucco in the early decades of the 20th century. This was the so-called “Jazz Plaster” developed by O.A. Malone, the “man who put color into California,” and who founded the California Stone Products Corporation in 1927. California stucco was revolutionary for its time as the first stucco/plaster to contain colored pigment in its pre-packaged factory mix.

When patching or repairing an historic stucco surface known to have been tinted, it may be possible to determine through visual or microscopic analysis whether the source of the coloring is sand, cement or pigment. Although some pigments or aggregates used traditionally may no longer be available, a sufficiently close color match can generally be approximated using sand, natural or mineral pigments, or a combination of these. Obtaining such a match will require testing and comparing the color of the dried test samples to the original. Successfully combining pigments in the dry stucco mix prepared for the finish coat requires considerable skill. The amount of pigment must be carefully measured for each batch of stucco. Overworking the mix can make the pigment separate from the lime. Changing the amount of water added to the mix, or using water to apply the tinted finish coat, will also affect the color of the stucco when it dries.

Generally, the color obtained by hand-mixing these ingredients will provide a sufficiently close match to cover an entire wall or an area distinct enough from the rest of the structure that the color differences will not be obvious. However, it may not work for small patches conspicuously located on a primary elevation, where color differences will be especially noticeable. In these instances, it may be necessary to conceal the repairs by painting the entire patched elevation, or even the whole building.

Many stucco buildings have been painted over the years, and will require re-painting after the stucco repairs have been made. Limewash or cement-based paint, latex paint, or oil-based paint are appropriate coatings for stucco buildings. The most important factor to consider when re-painting a previously painted or coated surface is that the new paint be compatible with any coating already on the surface. In preparation for re-painting, all loose and peeling paint, and other coating material not firmly adhered to the stucco, must be removed by hand-scraping or natural bristle brushes. The surface should then be cleaned.

Cement-based paints, most of which now contain some Portland cement and are really a type of limewash, have traditionally been used on stucco buildings. The ingredients were easily obtainable. Furthermore, the lime in such paints actually bonded or joined with the stucco and provided a very durable coating. In many regions, whitewash was applied annually during spring cleaning. Modern, commercially available, pre-mixed masonry and mineral-based paints may also be used on historic stucco buildings.

If the structure must be painted for the first time to conceal repairs, almost any of these coatings may be acceptable, depending on the situation. Latex paint, for example, may be applied to slightly damp walls or where there is an excess of moisture, but latex paint will not stick to chalky or powdery areas. Oil-based or alkyd paints must be applied only to dry walls; new stucco must cure up to a year before it can be painted with oil-based paint.

Contemporary Stucco Products

There are many contemporary stucco products on the market today. Many of them are not compatible, either physically or visually, with historic stucco buildings. Such products should be considered for use only after consulting with a specialist in historic masonry. However, some of these pre-packaged tinted stucco coatings may be suitable for use on stucco buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as long as the color and texture are appropriate for the period and style of the building. While some masonry contractors may, as a matter of course, suggest that a water-repellent coating be applied after repairing old stucco, in most cases, this should not be necessary, since color washes and paints serve the same purpose, and stucco itself is a protective coating.

Cleaning Historic Stucco Surfaces

Historic stucco buildings often exhibit multiple layers of paint or limewash. Although some stucco surfaces may be cleaned by water-washing, the relative success of this procedure depends on two factors: the surface texture of the stucco, and the type of dirt to be removed. If simply removing airborne dirt, smooth unpainted stucco, and heavily-textured painted stucco, may sometimes be cleaned using a low-pressure water wash, supplemented by scrubbing with soft natural bristle brushes, and possibly non-ionic detergents. Organic plant material, such as algae and mold, and metallic stains may be removed from stucco using poultices and appropriate solvents. Although these same methods may be employed to clean unpainted roughcast, pebble-dash, or any stucco surface featuring exposed aggregate, due to the surface irregularities, it may be difficult to remove dirt without also removing portions of the decorative textured surface. Difficulty in cleaning these surfaces may explain why so many of these textured surfaces have been painted.

When Total Replacement is Necessary

Complete replacement of the historic stucco with new stucco of either a traditional or modern mix will probably be necessary only in cases of extreme deterioration — that is, a loss of bond on over 40% to 50% of the stucco surface. Another reason for total removal might be that the physical and visual integrity of the historic stucco has been so compromised by prior incompatible and ill-conceived repairs that patching would not be successful.

When stucco no longer exists on a building, there is more flexibility in choosing a suitable mix for the replacement. Since compatibility of old and new stucco will not be an issue, the most important factors to consider are durability, color, texture and finish. Depending on the construction and substrate of the building, in some instances, it may be acceptable to use a relatively strong cement-based stucco mortar. This is certainly true for many late 19th and early 20th century buildings, and may even be appropriate to use on some stone substrates, even if the original mortar would have been weaker, as long as the historic visual qualities noted above have been replicated. Generally, the best principle to follow for a masonry building is that the stucco mix, whether for repair or replacement of historic stucco, should be somewhat weaker than the masonry to which it is to be applied in order not to damage the substrate.

General Guidance for Historic Stucco Repair

A skilled professional plasterer will be familiar with the properties of materials involved in stucco repair and will be able to avoid some of the pitfalls that would hinder someone less experienced. General suggestions for successful stucco repair parallel those involving restoration and repair of historic mortar and plaster. In addition, the following principles are important to remember:

  • Mix only as much stucco as can be used in one-and-a-half to two hours. This will depend on the weather (mortar will harden faster under hot and dry, or sunny conditions).  Experience is likely to be the best guidance. Any remaining mortar should be discarded; it should not be re-tempered.
  • Stucco mortar should not be over-mixed. (Hand mix it for 10 to 15 minutes after adding water, or machine-mix for three to four minutes after all ingredients are in mixer.) Over-mixing can cause crazing and discoloration, especially in tinted mortars. Over-mixing will also tend to make the mortar set too fast, which will result in cracking and poor bonding or keying to the lath or masonry substrate.
  • Wood lath or a masonry substrate, but not metal lath, must be thoroughly wetted before applying stucco patches so that it does not draw moisture out of the stucco too rapidly. To a certain extent, bonding agents also serve this same purpose. Wetting the substrate helps retard drying.
  • To prevent cracking, it is imperative that stucco not dry too fast. Therefore, the area to be stuccoed should be shaded, or even covered, if possible, particularly in hot weather. It is also a good idea in hot weather to keep the newly stuccoed area damp, at approximately 90% humidity, for a period of 48 to 72 hours.
  • Stucco repairs, like most other exterior masonry work, should not be undertaken in cold weather (below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and preferably warmer), or if there is danger of frost.

Historic Stucco Textures

Most of the oldest stucco in the U.S. dating prior to the late 19th century will generally have a smooth, troweled finish (sometimes called a “sand” or “float” finish), possibly scored to resemble ashlar masonry units. Scoring may be incised to simulate masonry joints, the scored lines may be emphasized by black or white penciling, or the lines may simply be drawn or painted on the surface of the stucco. In some regions, at least as early as the first decades of the 19th century, it was not uncommon to use a roughcast finish on the foundation or base of an otherwise smooth-surfaced building. Roughcast was also used as an overall stucco finish for some out buildings, and other less-important types of structures.

  

This stucco house has a rough cast finish.

A wide variety of decorative surface textures may be found on revival-style stucco buildings, particularly residential architecture. These styles evolved in the late 19th century and peaked in popularity in the early decades of the 20th century. Frank Lloyd Wright favored a smooth-finish stucco, which was imitated on much of the Prairie-style architecture inspired by his work. Some of the more picturesque surface textures include: English Cottage or English Cotswold finish; sponge finish; fan texture; adobe finish; and Spanish or Italian finish. Many of these finishes and countless other regional and personalized variations on them are still in use.

The most common early 20th-century stucco finishes are often found on bungalow-style houses, and include: spatter or spatterdash (sometimes called roughcast, harling or wetdash), and pebble-dash or drydash. The spatterdash finish is applied by throwing the stucco mortar against the wall using a whisk broom or a stiff fiber brush, and it requires considerable skill on the part of the plasterer to achieve a consistently rough wall surface. The mortar used to obtain this texture is usually composed simply of a regular sand, lime and cement mortar, although it may sometimes contain small pebbles or crushed stone aggregate, which replaces half the normal sand content. The pebble-dash or drydash finish is accomplished manually by the plasterer throwing or “dashing” dry pebbles (about 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch in size)onto a coat of stucco freshly applied by another plasterer. The pebbles must be thrown at the wall with a scoop with sufficient force and skill that they will stick to the stuccoed wall. A more even or uniform surface can be achieved by patting the stones down with a wooden float. This finish may also be created using a texturing machine.

Stucco on historic buildings is especially vulnerable not only to the wear of time and exposure to the elements, but also at the hands of well-intentioned “restorers” who may want to remove stucco from 18th and 19th century structures to expose what they believe to be the original or more “historic” brick, stone or log underneath. Historic stucco is a character-defining feature and should be considered an important historic building material, significant in its own right. While many 18th and 19th century buildings were stuccoed at the time of construction, others were stuccoed later for reasons of fashion or practicality. As such, it is likely that this stucco has acquired significance, over time, as part of the history and evolution of a building. Thus, even later, non-historic stucco should be retained, in most instances; and similar logic dictates that new stucco should not be applied to an historic building that was not stuccoed previously. When repairing historic stucco, the new stucco should duplicate the old as closely as possible in strength, composition, color and texture.
This article was sourced from the Unites States National Park Service.

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®, Founder, International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI)

Graphics by InterNACHI’s Lisaira Vega
More than 2 million decks are built and replaced each year in North America.  InterNACHI estimates that of the 45 million existing decks, only 40% are completely safe.
Deck inpection.
Because decks appear to be simple to build, many people do not realize that decks are, in fact, structures that need to be designed to adequately resist certain stresses. Like any other house or building, a deck must be designed to support the weight of people, snow loads, and objects.  A deck must be able to resist lateral and uplift loads that can act on the deck as a result of wind or seismic activity.  Deck stairs must be safe and handrails graspable.  And, finally, deck rails should be safe for children by having proper infill spacing.   
A deck failure is any failure of a deck that could lead to injury, including rail failure, or total deck collapse.  There is no international system that tracks deck failures, and each is treated as an isolated event, rather than a systemic problem.  Very few municipalities perform investigations into the cause of the failure, and the media are generally more concerned with injuries rather than on the causes of collapses.  Rail failure occurs much more frequently than total deck collapses; however, because rail failures are less dramatic than total collapses and normally don’t result in death, injuries from rail failures are rarely reported.  
Here are some interesting facts about deck failure:
  • More decks collapse in the summer than during the rest of the year combined.
  • Almost every deck collapse occurred while the decks were occupied or under a heavy snow load.
  • There is no correlation between deck failure and whether the deck was built with or without a building permit.
  • There is no correlation between deck failure and whether the deck was built by a homeowner or a professional contractor.
  • There is a slight correlation between deck failure and the age of the deck.
  • About 90% of deck collapses occurred as a result of the separation of the house and the deck ledger board, allowing the deck to swing away from the house.  It is very rare for deck floor joists to break mid-span.
  • Many more injuries are the result of rail failure, rather than complete deck collapse.
  • Deck stairs are notorious for lacking graspable handrails.
  • Many do-it-yourself homeowners, and even contractors, don’t believe that rail infill spacing codes apply to decks.

This document does not address specific building codes, balconies, lumber species, grade marks, decks made of plastics or composites, mold, or wood-destroying insects.

This document focuses on single-level residential and commercial wood decks.  Recommendations found within this document exceed the requirements of both InterNACHI’s Residential Standards of Practice and the International Standards of Practice for Inspecting Commercial Properties. 
A proper deck inspection relies heavily on the professional judgments of the inspector.  This document will help improve the accuracy of those judgments.

Required Deck Inspection Tools:

  • flashlight;
  • measuring tape;
  • ladder; 
  • level;
  • plumb bob;
  • probing tool; and
  • hammer.

Optional Inspection Tools:

  • moisture meter;
  • magnet; and
  • calculator.
Deck Loads:
A deck inspection should progress in much the same order as deck construction.  Inspectors should start at the bottom.  If a deck is deemed unsafe from underneath, the inspector should not walk out onto the deck to inspect decking, handrails, etc. The inspector should stop and report the safety issues.

The image above depicts an evenly distributed deck load.  Building codes require decks to be designed to carry a uniformly distributed load over the entire deck.  If evenly distributed, half of the load is carried by the deck-to-house connection, and the other half is carried by the posts.
The image above depicts a typical deck load distribution.  People tend to gather near the railings of a deck, and so more load is likely carried by the posts.
Hot tubs filled with water and people are heavy and can weigh a couple of tons. Most decks are designed for loads of 40 to 60 pounds per square foot. Hot tubs require framing that can support over 100 pounds per square foot.
Footings and Posts:
Required footing depths vary based on local building codes. The depth is normally below the frost line, or 12 inches (where frost lines are not applicable).

The above image depicts the 7-Foot Rule. On steep properties, the slope of the ground around the footing could affect the footing’s stability. The 7-Foot Rule states that there should be a least 7 feet between the bottom of a footing and daylight.
Posts in contact with soil should be pressure-treated and oriented so the cut end is above grade.
The image above depicts a free-standing deck (not attached to the home or building). A footing near a home must be on undisturbed soil.  Some codes consider soil to be “undisturbed” if it hasn’t been disturbed in more than five years.  It may be difficult to find undisturbed soil near the foundation of a new home.
Unattached post.
The image above depicts a post base that is not attached to its footing. Posts should be connected to their footings so that the posts don’t lift or slip off.

Pre-cast concrete pier.

The image above depicts a pre-cast concrete pier. Posts can lift out of pre-cast concrete piers, and piers can slide. Posts should be connected to their footings so that the posts don’t lift or slip off.

The image above depicts a proper post-to-footing connection.  Posts should be connected to their footings so that the posts don’t lift or slip off their footings.
The image above depicts an adjustable post-to-footing connection. Posts should be connected to their footings so that the posts don’t lift or slip off their footings.

The above image depicts a lawn sprinkler keeping a deck post wet.  Lawn sprinkler systems that regularly keep the deck wet contribute to decay.  
 
The image above depicts a downspout contributing to post decay.  Downspouts should not discharge near deck posts.
 
The image above depicts the indentation left over from the footing hole, causing a puddle.  Puddles contribute to post decay.
Wood can decay and degrade over time with exposure to the elements. Decay is a problem that worsens with time. Members within the deck frame that have decayed may no longer be able to perform the function for which they were installed. Paint can hide decay from an inspector and so should be noted in the report.
                                   

The image above depicts a “pick test.” The pick test uses an ice pick, awl or screwdriver to penetrate the wood surface. After penetrating the wood, the tool is leveraged to pry up a splinter, parallel to the grain, away from the surface. The appearance and sound of the action is used to detect decay. The inspector should first try the pick test in an area where the wood is known to be sound to determine a “control” for the rest of the inspection. Decayed wood will break directly over the tool with very few splinters, and less or almost no audible noise compared to sound wood. The pick test cannot detect decay far from the surface of the wood. 
 
The image above depicts a pick test on a deck post. Although deck inspections are visual-only inspections, inspectors may want to dig down around posts and perform pick tests just below grade level to look for decay.
      
The image above depicts a high deck being supported with 4″x 4″ posts.   Tall 4″x 4″ posts twist under load and 4″x 4″ posts, even when treated, decay below grade too quickly.  In all but the lowest of decks, deck posts should be at least 6″x 6″, and be no higher than 12 feet; 14 feet is acceptable if cross-bracing is used. 
Often, the bottoms of the stringer boards for deck stairs have been found to rest on soil, concrete block or rock, as opposed to resting on posts installed below the frost line.  Posts set on soil are subject to rot due to moisture.  Posts that are set in unsound footings may cause movement and make the deck above unstable.
 
Girders and Beams:
 
The image above depicts the minimum distance of untreated support members from grade. Untreated joists should be at least 18 inches away from the ground. Girders should be 12 inches away from the ground. However, in many situations, exceptions are made where the elevation of the home does not provide for these minimum distances and the climate is very dry. 

Girder-post connection.
The image above depicts a girder improperly relying on the sheer strength of lag bolts. Girders should bear directly on posts.
Notched post to beam attachment.
The image above depicts a girder properly resting on a notched post. Girders should bear directly on posts.
 Proper girder to post connection.
The image above depicts a girder properly resting on a post. Girders should bear directly on posts.
Girders supporting joist should not be supported by deck ledgers or band joists.
  
The image above depicts a butt joint improperly located within a girder span. Butt joints in a girder span are generally not permitted unless specially engineered. Butt joints typically must be located above posts.  

The image above depicts notches in a supporting beam. Notches must be less than one-quarter the depth of the member. On the tension and compression faces, the notch depth must be less than one-sixth of the member’s depth, and the notch length must be less than one-third of the member’s depth. Notches are not permitted in the middle third of spans, or on the tension face of members that are greater than 3½ inches thick.
Inspecting for beam sag. 
The image above depicts a level being used to check for beam sag. Even with a carpenter’s level, it can be difficult to see beam sag from the front. 
 
The image above depicts beam sag being eyed-up. Often it is easier to detect beam sag by eye than with a level by looking along the bottom edge of the beam.
Ledger Connection:
 
The most common cause of deck collapse is when a ledgers pulls away from the band joists of homes and buildings. 
The two most common ways to correctly attach a ledger to a structure are with lag screws or through-bolts. The installation of through-bolts requires access to the back-side of the rim joist which, in some cases, is not possible without significant removal of drywall within the structure.
Most building codes state that, where positive connections to the primary building structure cannot be verified during inspection, decks shall be self-supporting (free-standing).
Determining the exact required spacing for the ledger fasteners is based on many factors, including:
  • joist length;
  • type of fastener;
  • diameter of fastener;
  • sheathing thickness;
  • use of stacked washers;
  • type of wood species;
  • moisture content;
  • band joist integrity; and
  • deck loads… 
…and so is beyond the scope of a visual inspection.  However, the spacing of ledger fasteners is primarily determined by the length of the joists.  
InterNACHI’s ledger fastener spacing formula provides inspectors with a rule-of-thumb:
On-center spacing of ledger fasteners in inches = 100 ÷ joist length in feet.
A deck with substantially fewer ledger fasteners than that recommended by InterNACHI’s formula may be unsafe.

The image above shows the minimum distance of fasteners to the edges and ends of a ledger board. Lag screws or bolts should be staggered vertically, placed at least 2 inches from the bottom or top, and 5 inches from the ends of the ledger board. Some codes permit the lag screws or bolts to be as close as 2 inches from the ends of the ledger board; however, avoiding the very ends of the ledger boards minimizes splitting from load stress.
Through-bolts should be a minimum of ½-inch in diameter, and have washers at the bolt head and nut. Lag screws should also be a minimum of ½-inch in diameter and have washers.  Expansion and adhesive anchors should also have washers.
Deck ledgers should be of at least 2’x 8′ pressure-treated wood.
Ledger Board and Band Joist Contact:
  
The image above depicts washers being used as spacers between the ledger board and band joist, which is incorrect.
In some cases, the ledger board and band joist are intentionally kept separated by a stack of washers on the lag screw or bolts to allow water to run between the two boards. In other cases, there is insulation between the two boards. Even worse is when the siding or exterior finish system was not removed prior to the installation of the ledger board. Situations like this, where the ledger board and band joist are not in direct contact, significantly reduce the strength of the ledger connection to the structure and are not recommended by InterNACHI, unless the two members are sandwiching structural sheathing.
 
The image above depicts a ledger board and band joist sandwiching the structural sheathing (correct).
All through-bolts should have washers at the bolt head and nut. 
 
The image above depicts a hold-down tension device. The 2007 IRC Supplement requires hold-down tension devices at no less than two locations per deck. 
Codes in some areas outright forbid attaching a ledger board to an open-web floor truss.
The image above depicts a ledger board attached to a concrete wall. Caulking rather than flashing is used.
The image above depicts a ledger board attached to hollow masonry. When the ledger is attached to a hollow masonry wall, the cell should be grouted.
The image above depicts a ledger board improperly supported brick veneer. Ledger boards should not be supported by stone or brick veneer.
Ledger boards should not be attached directly (surface-mounted) to stucco or EIFS, either. Stucco and EIFS have to be cut back so that ledger boards can be attached directly to band joists; however, cut-back stucco and EIFS are difficult to flash and weather-proof.
Ledger board flashing.
The image above depicts both over and under ledger board flashing. The ledger board should always be flashed even when the home or building has a protective roof overhang.  
 
Aluminum flashing is commonly available but should not be used. Contact with pressure-treated wood or galvinized fasteners can lead to rapid corrosion of aluminum.
 
The image above depicts a deck ledger attached to an overhang.  Decks should not be attached to overhangs. 
 
 
The image above depicts proper framing around chimneys or bay windows that are up to 6 feet wide. Framing around chimneys or bay windows that are more than 6 feet wide requires additional posts.
Maximum cantilever.
The image above depicts a cantilevered deck.  Joists should be cantilevered no more than one-quarter of the joist length and three times the joist width (nominal depth). Both conditions must be true.
Maximum cantilever.
The image above depicts a joist cantilever in the front of the deck and girder cantilevers on both sides of deck posts. Joists should be cantilevered no more than one-quarter the joist length and three times the joist width (nominal depth). Girders can be cantilevered over their posts no more than on-quarter the girder length. 
 
There are three ways a joist can be attached to a ledger: 
 
The first is by resting the joist on a ledger strip. The image above depicts a joist properly resting on a 2″x 2″ ledger strip. 
Joist notched over ledger strip. 
The second is by notching over a ledger strip. The image above depicts a notched joist properly resting a 2″x 2″ ledger strip. 
 
The third is by hanging the joists with joist hangers. The image above depicts joists properly attached to a ledger by way of metal joist hangers. 
The image above depicts a joist cut too short. Joists may rest on 2″x 2″ ledgers like the one above (or in joist hangers), but joists must be cut long enough to reach the ledger or band joist that is supporting them. 
 
The image above depicts joists that are not fully resting in their joist hangers. Joists should be fully resting in their joist hangers. 
 
Bracing: 
The image above depicts a deck with post-to-joist diagonal bracing. Decks greater than 6 feet above grade should have diagonal bracing from posts to girder, and from posts to joists.
The image above depicts a deck with post-to-girder diagonal bracing.  Decks greater than 6 feet above grade should have diagonal bracing from posts to girder, and from posts to joists.
Free-standing decks (not supported by the home or building) should have diagonal bracing on all sides.
The image above depicts underside diagonal bracing of a deck. Decks greater than 6 feet above grade that do not have diagonal decking should have diagonal bracing across the bottoms of the joists to keep the deck square. A deck that is not held square could permit the outer posts to lean to the right or left, parallel to the ledger board, and thus twist the ledger away from the home or building.
 
Cracks: 
As wood ages, it is common for cracks to develop. Large cracks (longer than the depth of the member) or excessive cracking overall can weaken deck framing.  Toe-nailed connections are always at risk for splitting.  Splitting of lumber near connections should be noted by the inspector.
Connectors and Fasteners:
The inspector should note missing connectors or fasteners.  All lag screws and bolts should have washers.
The image above depicts a “hammer test.”  Depending on how the deck was built, vital connections may have degraded over time due to various factors.  Issues such as wobbly railings, loose stairs, and ledgers that appear to be pulling away from the adjacent structure are all causes for concern.  The tightness of fasteners should be checked.  If it is not possible to reach both sides of a bolt, it may be struck with a hammer. The ring will sound hollow with vibration if the fastener is loose.  The ring will sound solid if the connection is tight.  The hammer test is subjective, so the inspector should hammer-test bolts that can be confirmed as tight or loose, and compare the sounds of the rings to develop a control. 
Corrosion of Connectors and Fasteners:
 
All screws, bolts and nails should be hot-dipped galvanized, stainless steel, silicon bronze, copper, zinc-coated or corrosion-resistant.  Metal connectors and fasteners can corrode over time, especially if a product with insufficient corrosion-resistance was originally installed. Corrosion of a fastener affects both the fastener and the wood.  As the fastener corrodes, it causes the wood around it to deteriorate.  As the fastener becomes smaller, the void around it becomes larger.  Inspectors normally do not remove fasteners to check their quality or size, but if the inspector removes a fastener, s/he should make sure that removal doesn’t result in a safety issue.  Fasteners removed should be from areas that have the greatest exposure to weather. Some inspectors carry new fasteners to replace ones they remove at the inspection.   
 
Posts and Rails: 

Missing posts.

The image above shows a guardrail supported solely by balusters. Guardrails should be supported by posts every 6 feet.
The image above depicts a notched-deck guardrail post attachment.  This common notched-type of attachment is permitted by most codes, but could become unsafe, especially as the deck ages. Because of leverage, a 200-pound force pushing the deck’s guardrail outward causes a 1,700-pound force at the upper bolt attaching the post. It is difficult to attach deck guardrail posts in a manner that is strong enough without using deck guardrail post brackets.
Notched guardrail post.
The image above depicts a notched-deck guardrail post attachment. This notched-around-decking type of attachment is permitted by most codes, but could become unsafe, especially as the deck ages. Because of leverage, a 200-pound force pushing the deck’s guardrail outward causes a 1,700-pound force at the upper bolt attaching the post. It is difficult to attach deck guardrail posts in a manner that is strong enough without using deck guardrail post brackets.

The image above depicts a deck guardrail post properly attached with brackets. Because of leverage, a 200-pound force pushing the deck’s guardrail outward causes a 1,700-pound force at the upper bolt attaching the post. It is difficult to attach deck guardrail posts in a manner that is strong enough without using deck guardrail post brackets.
Level cut post and balusters.
The image above depicts a post and balusters cut level and not shedding water. The end-grain of vertical posts and balusters should not be cut level.
Angle cut post and balusters.
The image above depicts a post and balusters properly cut at angles to shed water. The end-grain of vertical posts and balusters should be cut at an angle.
 
Missing Guardrails:
 
Decks that are greater than 12 inches above adjacent areas should have guardrails around the edges. Some codes require guardrails only around the edges of decks 30 inches or higher.
Improper Guardrail Height:
 
Most residential codes require the top of the guardrail to be at least 36 inches from the deck surface. Most commercial code height is 42 inches. 
The image above depicts child-unsafe guardrail infill. Infill should not permit a 4-inch sphere to pass through.
The image above depicts horizontal balustrades. Ladder-type guardrail infill on high decks is prohibited by some local codes because they are easy for children to climb over. 
 
Decking:
Decking overhang <= 6 inches.
The image above depicts deck framing near a chimney or bay window. The ends of decking boards near the chimney or bay window can extend unsupported up to 6 inches.
Improperly spaced decking.  
The above image depicts decking that is laid too tight. Decking should have 1/8-inch gaps between boards so that puddles don’t form.

The above image depicts decking that is properly spaced. Decking should have 1/8-inch gaps between boards so that puddles don’t form. 
The image above depicts decking that isn’t staggered properly. Decking should be staggered so that butt joints don’t land on the same joist side by side.
The image above depicts decking lengths.  Some are too short. Each segment of decking should bear on a minimum of four joists.
Decking should be attached to the floor joists and rim joist, especially in high-wind areas.
Decking Nail Pull-Out:
Inspectors should look for splitting in decking and nail pull-out. Aside from the structural issue, nails that have pulled out or screws that are not driven into the decking fully can cause injury to bare feet.
Stairs:
Deck stair stringer.
The image above depicts a deck stair stringer. Stair stringers shall be made of 2″x 12″ lumber at a minimum, and no less than 5 inches wide at any point.
The image above depicts deck stair stringers. Stringers should be no more than 36 inches apart.
Stair ledger strips.
The image above depicts ledger strips properly located under stair treads. Where solid stringers are used, stair treads should be supported with ledger strips (as depicted), mortised, or supported with metal brackets.
Open stair risers.
The image above depicts a set of stairs with open risers. Most deck stairs have open risers and are not safe for children. Risers may be open but should not allow the passage of a 4-inch diameter sphere.
Uniform riser height.
The image above depicts stair riser height. To minimize tripping, the maximum variation amongst riser heights (difference between the tallest and shortest risers) should be no more than 3/8-inch.
The bottom step of a stairway leading up to a deck is typically at a different height than the rest of the steps. This can present a trip hazard.
Steps with open risers can present a tripping hazard if a user catches his foot by stepping too far into the tread. To mitigate this hazard, the risers can be closed or the treads can be made deeper.
Deck Lighting:
Decks rarely have light sources that cover the entire stairways. Any unlit stairway is a safety issue.
Stair Handrails:
Stairs with four or more risers should have a handrail on at least one side. According to the International Standards of Practice for Inspecting Commercial Properties, ramps longer than 6 feet should have handrails on both sides.
Handrail height.
The image above depicts proper stair handrail height. Handrail height should be between 34 and 38 inches measured vertically from the sloped plane adjoining the tread nosing.
The image above depicts a stair handrail that is not graspable. Many deck handrails improperly consist of 2″x 6″ lumber or decking. Handrails should be graspable, continuous and smooth.
The images above show that handrail ends should be returned or terminate in newel posts.
The next three images depict graspable handrails:
Graspable handrail.

The three images directly above depict graspable handrails. Many deck handrails improperly consist of 2″x 6″ lumber or decking. Handrails should be graspable, continuous and smooth.
Minimum distance between handrail posts.
The image above depicts the minimum distance between stair handrail posts.  Stair handrails should have posts at least every 5 feet.
Stair child safety.
The image above depicts permitted spacing at stairs.  Larger spacing presents a child-safety issue.
Electrical Receptacle:
The image above depicts a deck with an electrical receptacle, but the receptacle does not have a weatherproof cover.  As of 2008, the National Electric Code requires at least one receptacle outlet on decks that are 20 square foot or larger.
Weatherproof receptacle cover. check all outlets during home inspection
The image above depicts a weatherproof receptacle cover.  The deck receptacle should have a weatherproof cover.
Deck Location:
Poor deck location.
The image above depicts a deck located above a septic tank access.  Decks should not be located where they might obstruct septic tank accesses, underground fuel storage tanks, well heads, or buried power lines.
Deck obstructing emergency egress. check during home inspection
The image above depicts a deck obstructing a basement bedroom’s emergency egress window.  Egress openings under decks and porches are acceptable, provided the escape path is at least 36 inches (914 mm) in height, and the path of egress is not obstructed by infill or lattice.
This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at  https://www.nachi.org/deck-inspections.htm.

Welcome to the Homeowner’s February Newsletter!  Each month, you’ll find plenty of useful information for keeping your house in great condition so that you can enjoy it for years to come. Preserve your investment—and keep your family safe and healthy—by maintaining your home using the following tips.

Indoor Air Quality Issues

Indoor air quality is generally worse than most people believe, but there are things you can do about it.

Some Quick Facts:

  • Indoor air quality can be worse than that of outdoor air.
  • Problems can arise from moisture, insects, pets, appliances, radon, materials used in household products and furnishings, smoke, and other sources.
  • Effects range from minor annoyances to major health risks.
  • Remedies include ventilation, cleaning, moisture control, inspections, and following manufacturers’ directions when using appliances and products.

Many homes are built or remodeled more tightly, without regard to the factors that assure fresh and healthy indoor air circulation. Many homes today also contain furnishings, appliances and products that can affect indoor air quality.

Signs of indoor air quality problems include:

  • unusual and noticeable odors;
  • stale or stuffy air and a noticeable lack of air movement;
  • dirty or faulty central heating or air-conditioning equipment;
  • damaged flue pipes and chimneys;
  • unvented combustion air sources for fossil-fuel appliances;
  • excessive humidity;
  • the presence of molds and mildew;
  • adverse health reactions after remodeling, weatherizing, bringing in new furniture, using household and hobby products; and
  • feeling noticeably healthier outside.

Common Sources of Air Quality Problems
Poor indoor air quality can arise from many sources. At least some of the following contaminants can be found in almost any home:

  • moisture and biological pollutants, such as molds, mildew, dust mites, animal dander, and cockroaches;
  • high humidity levels, inadequate ventilation, and poorly maintained humidifiers and air conditioners;
  • combustion products, including carbon monoxide from unvented fossil-fuel space heaters, unvented gas stoves and ovens, and back-drafting from furnaces and water heaters;
  • formaldehyde from durable-press draperies and other textiles, particleboard products, such as cabinets and furniture framing, and adhesives used in composite wood furniture and upholstery;
  • radon, which is a radioactive gas from the soil and rock beneath and around the home’s foundation, groundwater wells, and some building materials;
  • household products, such as paints, solvents, air fresheners, hobby supplies, dry-cleaned clothing, aerosol sprays, adhesives, and fabric additives used in carpeting and furniture, which can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs);
  • asbestos, which is found in most homes more than 20 years old. Sources include deteriorating, damaged and disturbed pipe insulation, fire retardant, acoustical ceiling tiles, and floor tiles;
  • lead from lead-based paint dust, which is created when removing paint by sanding, scraping or burning;
  • particulates from dust and pollen, fireplaces, wood stoves, kerosene heaters, and unvented gas space heaters; and
  • tobacco smoke, which produces particulates, combustion products and formaldehyde.

Tips for Homeowners
•       Ask about formaldehyde content before buying furniture, cabinets and draperies.
•       Promptly clean and dry water-damaged carpet, or remove it altogether.
•       Vacuum regularly, especially if you have pets, and consider using area rugs instead of wall-to-wall carpeting. Rugs are easier to remove and clean, and the floor underneath can also be easily cleaned.
•       Eliminate unwanted moisture intrusion by checking for sources (such as holes and cracks in the basement and other areas, and leaks from appliances), and by using a dehumidifier.
•       Open windows and use fans to maintain fresh air with natural and mechanical air circulation.
•        Always open the flue damper before using the fireplace.  This will also prevent carbon-monoxide poisoning.
•       If your air conditioner has a water tray, empty and clean it often during the cooling season.
•       If you smoke, smoke outdoors and away from any windows and doors.
•       Use the range vent above your stove whenever you cook.
•       Use the bathroom vent whenever you use the bathroom.
•       Don’t leave vehicles or lawn care equipment running in your garage.  Make sure the door leading from the home to the garage has a door sweep to help keep out vapors.

Your InterNACHI inspector can recommend more ways to help you maintain healthy indoor air quality for you and your family.

Dryer Vent Maintenance & Safety

House fires caused by dryers are far more common than are generally believed.  According to 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.

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 that will become airborne water vapor and leave the dryer and home through an exhaust duct, more commonly known as the dryer vent.

A vent that exhausts damp air to the home’s exterior has a number of requirements:
•       It should be connected. The connection is usually behind the dryer but may it be under it. Look carefully to make sure it’s actually connected.
•       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 hardware is available that is designed to turn 90 degrees in a limited space without restricting the flow of exhaust air.  Air flow restrictions are a potential fire hazard.
•       One of the reasons that restrictions pose a 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, wool 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, a subsequent mechanical failure can trigger a spark, which can cause the lint trapped in the dryer vent to burst into flames. This condition can cause the whole house to catch fire.  Fires generally originate within the dryer but spread by escaping through the ventilation duct, incinerating trapped lint, and following its path into the home’s walls.

Problems & Tips
If your dryer vent terminates in the crawlspace or attic, it can deposit moisture there, which can encourage the growth of mold, wood decay, and other structural problems. The vent may also terminate just under the attic ventilators. This is also a defective installation. Make sure your dryer vent terminates at the exterior and away from any doors and windows so that damp, exhausted air won’t re-enter the home. Also, the end of the dryer vent should have a free-moving damper installed to keep out birds and other pests that like to build nests in this warm environment.  If you find a screen, this is a defective installation because a screen can block lint and other debris, causing it to accumulate and leading to a house fire.  If it’s safety accessible, make sure your dryer vent is unobstructed and that the damper works properly.

WDO & Pest Control

Wood-destroying organisms and other pests can cause serious problems in the wooden structural components of a house, and an infestation may go unnoticed until the damage is already extensive. Control measures include preventing insect entry by sealing holes and cracks, and hiring a professional to apply chemicals for remedial treatment.  The most commons types of destructive insects are termites and ants.

Termites
Subterranean termites are the most damaging insects of wood. Their presence is hard to notice, and damage usually is found before the termites are seen. You should take measures to prevent infestations, which may require hiring a pest-control service.
If you see the following signs in your house, you might have termites:
•       frass or sawdust-like droppings, which result from the termites’ tunneling activity;
•       dirt or mud-like tubes or trails on various parts of the home’s structure, such as wooden support members, plumbing pipes, etc.;
•       damaged wood members (such as window sills); and
•       swarming winged insects within the home, especially in the spring or fall.

Ants
Ants are among the most prevalent pests in households, restaurants, hospitals, offices, warehouses, and virtually all buildings where food and water can be found. While mostly harmless to humans, carpenter ants can cause considerable damage.
The following clues are evidence that your home is host to an ant infestation:
•       long trails of ants, perhaps numbering in the hundreds or thousands. Ants assemble in long trails along structural elements, such as wires and pipes, and frequently use them to enter and travel within a structure to their destination;
•       a few straggler ants, which are scouts in search of food and nesting sites;
•       holes or cracks in walls or the foundation, especially where pipes enter the building, and around windows and doors. These can provide entry points for ants and other insects.  The kitchen (where food is stored and prepared) is a particular problem area;
•       frass deposits, which result from the ants carving tunnels or galleries in the wood;
•       a distinctive rustling sound similar to the crinkling of cellophane. Ants are small but their nests are large enough to produce perceptible noise; and
•       nests in mulch and vegetation outdoors next to the foundation. Check under potted plants, patio blocks, stepping stones, in piles of rocks, lumber and firewood.

Other Pests
Snakes, spiders, bees and/or scorpions may be living in your crawlspace, and while they pose little structural danger to the house, they certainly can harm you. Rapid retreat there can be difficult, so if you’re in your crawlspace for any reason (storing items, looking for moisture intrusion or a water leak, etc.), be aware of your escape paths, and carry an extra flashlight in case the one you’re using suddenly stops working.

Your crawlspace is also the most likely area in the house where hantavirus may be found. This is partly due to the fact that rodents that carry the pathogen are attracted to areas that are undisturbed by humans. Also, crawlspaces are generally dark places that lack ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can rapidly inactivate the virus. Exposure to hantavirus may lead to Hantavirus Cardiopulmonary Syndrome (HCS), characterized by headaches, fever, difficulty breathing and, often, death. There is no known cure, vaccine or treatment that specifically targets HCS. However, if the symptoms are recognized early, patients may benefit from oxygen therapy.

The Importance of a WDO Inspection
Regular inspections of your house are an important part of home maintenance. Inspecting for wood-destroying insects can alert you to possible infestations in the wooden structural components of your home—a serious problem that often goes undetected for a long time.

Schedule you home inspection with Red Horse Home Inspection.  Follow us on Facebook.

 

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

A wood-burning stove (also known as a wood stove) is a heating appliance made from iron or steel that is capable of burning wood fuel. Unlike standard fireplaces, wood stoves are typically contained entirely within the living space, rather than inset in the wall.Photo courtesty of Wood-Stoves.org

Wood stoves come in many different sizes, each suited for a different purpose:

  • Small stoves are suitable in single rooms, seasonal cottages or small, energy efficient homes. These models can also be used for zone heating in large homes where supplemental heating is needed.
  • Medium-size stoves are appropriate for heating small houses or mid-size homes that are intended to be energy-efficient and as inexpensive as possible to maintain.
  • Large stoves are used in larger homes or older homes that leak air and are located in colder climate zones.

To ensure safe and efficient use of wood-burning stoves, inspectors can pass along the following tips to their clients:

Never:

  • burn coal. Coal burns significantly hotter than wood, posing a fire hazard;
  • burn materials that will emit toxic chemicals, such as wood that has been pressure-treated or painted, colored paper, gift wrap, plastic, plywood, particleboard, or questionable wood from furniture;
  • burn wet wood. Generally speaking, it takes six months for cut, stored wood to dry out and be ready for use in wood-burning stoves;
  • burn combustible liquids, such as kerosene, gasoline, alcohol or lighter fluid;
  • let small children play near a lit wood-burning stove. Unlike standard fireplaces, the sides of which are mostly inaccessible, all sides of wood stoves are exposed and capable of burning flesh or clothing; or
  • let the fire burn while the fire screen or door is open.

Always:

  • use a grate to hold the logs so that they remain secured in the stove and the air can circulate adequately to keep the fire burning hot;
  • keep the damper open while the stove is lit;
  • dispose of ashes outdoors in a water-filled, metal container;
  • check smoke alarms to make sure they are working properly; and
  • periodically remove the stovepipe between the stove and the chimney so that it can be inspected for creosote. Homeowners may want to hire a professional to perform this service.

Efficiency and Air PollutantsWood-burning stoves account for the smoke pictured in this photo taken in Chico, CA

While federal and state governments crack down on vehicle and industrial emissions, they do relatively little to limit the harmful air pollution emitted from wood stoves. The problem is so bad that, in many areas, such as Chico, Caifornia (pictured at right), the smoke from wood stoves is the largest single contributor to that city’s air pollution.  Smoke from wood stoves can cause a variety of health ailments, from asthma to cancer.

To mitigate these concerns, the EPA sets requirements for wood-stove emissions based on the design of the stove: 4.1 grams of smoke per hour (g/h) for catalytic stoves, and 7.5 g/h for non-catalytic stoves. Some state laws further restrict airborne particulates, and many new models emit as little as 1 g/h. These two approaches — catalytic and non-catalytic combustion — are described briefly as follows:

  • In catalytic stoves, the smoky exhaust passes through a coated, ceramic honeycomb that ignites particulates and smoke gasses. Catalysts degrade over time and must eventually be replaced, but they can last up to six seasons if the stove is used properly. Inadequate maintenance and the use of inappropriate fuel result in an early expiration of the catalyst. These stoves are typically more expensive than non-catalytic models, and they require more maintenance, although these challenges pay off through heightened efficiency.
  • Non-catalytic stoves lack a catalyst but have three characteristics that assist complete, clean combustion:  pre-heated combustion air introduced from above the fuel; firebox insulation; and a large baffle to create hotter, longer air flow in the firebox. The baffle will eventually need to be replaced as it deteriorates from combustion heat.

The following indicators hint that the fire in a wood-burning stove suffers from oxygen deprivation and incomplete combustion, which will increase the emission of particulates into the air:

  • It emits dark, smelly smoke. An efficient stove will produce little smoke.
  • There is a smoky odor in the house.
  • There is soot on the furniture.
  • The stove is burning at less than 300º F. A flue pipe-mounted thermometer should read between 300º F and 400º F.
  • The flames are dull and steady, rather than bright and lively.

To ensure efficiency, practice the following techniques:

  • Purchase a wood-burning stove listed by Underwriters Laboratories. Stoves tested by UL and other laboratories burn cleanly and efficiently.
  • Burn only dry wood. Wood that has a moisture content (MC) of less than 20% burns hotter and cleaner than freshly cut wood, which may contain half of its weight in water.
  • Burn hardwoods, such as oak, hickory and ash once the fire has started. Softwoods, such as pine, ignite quicker and are excellent fire starters.
  • Make sure the stove is properly sized for the space. Stoves that are too large for their area burn inefficiently.
  • Burn smaller wood rather than larger pieces. Smaller pieces of wood have a large surface area, which allows them to burn hotter and cleaner.
In summary, wood-burning stoves, if properly designed and used appropriately for the space, are efficient, clean ways to heat a home.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/wood-burning-stoves.htm.

by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard

Temperature/pressure-relief or TPR valves are safety devices installed on water heating appliances, such as boilers and domestic water supply heaters. TPRs are designed to automatically release water in the event that pressure or temperature in the water tank exceeds safe levels.
If temperature sensors and safety devices such as TPRs malfunction, water in the system may become superheated (exceed the boiling point). Once the tank ruptures and water is exposed to the atmosphere, it will expand into steam almost instantly and occupy approximately 1,600 times its original volume. This process can propel a heating tank like a rocket through multiple floors, causing personal injury and extensive property damage.
Water-heating appliance explosions are rare due to the fact that they require a simultaneous combination of unusual conditions and failure of redundant safety components. These conditions only result from extreme negligence and the use of outdated or malfunctioning equipment.

The TPR valve will activate if either water temperature (measured in degrees Fahrenheit) or pressure (measured in pounds per square inch [PSI]) exceed safe levels. The valve should be connected to a discharge pipe (also called a drain line) that runs down the length of the water heater tank. This pipe is responsible for routing hot water released from the TPR to a proper discharge location.

It is critical that discharge pipes meet the following requirements, which can be found in InterNACHI’s Water Heater Discharge Piping mini-course, at www.nachi.org/education. A discharge pipe should: tpr valve from home inspection rapid city sd
  1. be constructed of an approved material, such as CPVC, copper, polyethylene, galvanized steel, polypropylene, or stainless steel. PVC and other non-approved plastics should not be used since they can easily melt.
  2. not be smaller than the diameter of the outlet of the valve it serves (usually no smaller than 3/4″).
  3. not reduce in size from the valve to the air gap (point of discharge).
  4. be as short and as straight as possible so as to avoid undue stress on the valve.
  5. be installed so as to drain by flow of gravity.
  6. not be trapped, since standing water may become contaminated and backflow into the potable water.
  7. discharge to a floor drain, to an indirect waste receptor, or to the outdoors.
  8. not be directly connected to the drainage system to prevent backflow of potentially contaminating the potable water.
  9. discharge through a visible air gap in the same room as the water-heating appliance.
  10. be first piped to an indirect waste receptor such as a bucket through an air gap located in a heated area when discharging to the outdoors in areas subject to freezing, since freezing water could block the pipe.
  11. not terminate more than 6 inches (152 mm) above the floor or waste receptor.
  12. discharge in a manner that could not cause scalding.
  13. discharge in a manner that could not cause structural or property damage.
  14. discharge to a termination point that is readily observable by occupants, because discharge indicates that something is wrong, and to prevent unobserved termination capping.
  15. be piped independently of other equipment drains, water heater pans, or relief valve discharge piping to the point of discharge.
  16. not have valves anywhere.
  17. not have tee fittings.
  18. not have a threaded connection at the end of the pipe so as to avoid capping.
Leakage and Activation
A properly functioning TPR valve will eject a powerful jet of hot water from the discharge pipe when fully activated, not a gentle leak. A leaky TPR valve is an indication that it needs to be replaced. In the rare case that the TPR valve does activate, the homeowner should immediately shut off the water and contact a qualified plumber for assistance and repair.
Inspectors should recommend that homeowners test TPR valves monthly, although inspectors should never do this themselves. The inspector should demonstrate to the homeowner how the main water supply can be shut off, and explain that it can be located at the home’s main water supply valve, or at the water supply shut-off for the appliance on which the TPR is mounted.
TPR Data Plate Information
  • The pressure at which a TPR valve will activate is printed on a data plate located beneath the test lever. This amount should not exceed the working pressure limit marked on the data plate of the water-heating appliance it serves.
  • The BTU/HR rating marked on the water-heating appliance data plate should not exceed that of the TPR, which is marked on the TPR data plate.
  • TPR valves with missing data plates should be replaced.

Although a TPR valve might never become activated, it is an essential safety component on boilers and domestic water heaters. Guidelines concerning these valves and their discharge pipes reflect real hazards that every homeowner and home inspector should take seriously. This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/tpr-valves-discharge-piping.htm.

by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard

Knob-and-tube (K&T) wiring was an early standardized method of electrical wiring in buildings, in common use in North America from about 1880 to the 1940s. The system is considered obsolete and can be a safety hazard, although some of the fear associated with it is undeserved.

InterNACHI inspectors should always disclaim knob-and-tube wiring during their inspections.

Facts About Knob-and-Tube Wiring:Knob and Tube Wiring might see this type of wiring during a home inspection

  • It is not inherently dangerous. The dangers from this system arise from its age, improper modifications, and situations where building insulation envelops the wires.
  • It has no ground wire and thus cannot service any three-pronged appliances.
  • While it is considered obsolete, there is no code that requires its complete removal.
  • It is treated differently in different jurisdictions. In some areas, it must be removed at all accessible locations, while others don’t, but inspect it for safety reasons.
  • It is not permitted in any new construction.

How Knob-and-Tube Wiring Works:           

K&T wiring consists of insulated copper conductors passing through lumber framing drill-holes via protective porcelain insulating tubes. They are supported along their length by nailed-down porcelain knobs. Where wires enter a wiring device, such as a lamp or switch, or were pulled into a wall, they are protected by flexible cloth or rubber insulation called “loom.”

Advantages of Knob-and-Tube Wiring:

  • K&T wiring has a higher ampacity than wiring systems of the same gauge. The reason for this is that the hot and neutral wires are separated from one another, usually by 4 to 6 inches, which allows the wires to readily dissipate heat into free air.
  • K&T wires are less likely than Romex cables to be punctured by nails because K&T wires are held away from the framing.
  • The porcelain components have an almost unlimited lifespan.
  • The original installation of knob-and-tube wiring is often superior to that of modern Romex wiring. K&T wiring installation requires more skill to install than Romex and, for this reason, unskilled people rarely ever installed it.

Problems Associated with K&T Wiring:

  • Unsafe modifications are far more common with K&T wiring than they are with Romex and other modern wiring systems. Part of the reason for this is that K&T is so old that more opportunity has existed for improper modifications.
  • The insulation that envelopes the wiring is a fire hazard.
  • It tends to stretch and sag over time.
  • It lacks a grounding conductor. Grounding conductors reduce the chance of electrical fire and damage to sensitive equipment.
  • In older systems, wiring is insulated with varnish and fiber materials that are susceptible to deterioration.

Compared with modern wiring insulation, K&T wiring is less resistant to damage.  K&T wiring insulated with cambric and asbestos is not rated for moisture exposure. Older systems contained insulation with additives that may oxidize copper wire. Bending the wires may cause insulation to crack and peel away.

K&T wiring is often spliced with modern wiring incorrectly by amateurs. This is perhaps due to the ease by which K&T wiring is accessed.

Building Insulation:

K&T wiring is designed to dissipate heat into free air, and insulation will disturb this process. Insulation around K&T wires will cause heat to build up, and this creates a fire hazard. The 2008 National Electrical Code (NEC) requires that this wiring system not be covered by insulation. Specifically, it states that this wiring system should not be in…

hollow spaces of walls, ceilings and attics where such spaces are insulated by loose, rolled or foamed-in-place insulating material that envelops the conductors.

Local jurisdictions may or may not adopt the NEC’s requirement. The California Electrical Code, for instance, allows insulation to be in contact with knob-and-tube wiring, provided that certain conditions are met, such as, but not limited to, the following:

  • A licensed electrical contractor must certify that the system is safe.
  • The certification must be filed with the local building department.
  • Accessible areas where insulation covers the wiring must be posted with a warning sign. In some areas, this sign must be in Spanish and English.
  • The insulation must be non-combustible and non-conductive.
  • Normal requirements for insulation must be met.

Modifications:Knob and Tube Wiring on thermal insulation found during a home inspection

When K&T wiring was first introduced, common household electrical appliances were limited to little more than toasters, tea kettles, coffee percolators and
clothes irons. The electrical requirements of mid- to late-20th century homes
could not have been foreseen during the late 18th century, a time during which electricity, to many, was seen as a passing fad. Existing K&T systems are notorious for modifications made in an attempt to match the increasing amperage loads required by televisions, refrigerators, and a plethora of other electric appliances. Many of these attempts were made by insufficiently trained handymen, rather than experienced electricians, whose work made the wiring system vulnerable to overloading.
  • Many homeowners adapted to the inadequate amperage of K&T wiring by installing fuses with resistances that were too high for the wiring. The result of this modification is that the fuses would not blow as often and the wiring would suffer heat damage due to excessive amperage loads.
  • It is not uncommon for inspectors to find connections wrapped with masking tape or Scotch tape instead of electrical tape.

K&T Wiring and Insurance:

Many insurance companies refuse to insure houses that have knob-and-tube wiring due to the risk of fire. Exceptions are sometimes made for houses where an electrical contractor has deemed the system to be safe.

Advice for those with K&T wiring:

  • Have the system evaluated by a qualified electrician. Only an expert can confirm that the system was installed and modified correctly.
  • Do not run an excessive amount of appliances in the home, as this can cause a fire.
  • Where the wiring is brittle or cracked, it should be replaced. Proper maintenance is crucial.
  • K&T wiring should not be used in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms or outdoors. Wiring must be grounded in order to be used safely in these locations.
  • Rewiring a house can take weeks and cost thousands of dollars, but unsafe wiring can cause fires, complicate estate transactions, and make insurers skittish.
  • Homeowners should carefully consider their options before deciding whether to rewire their house.
  • The homeowner or an electrician should carefully remove any insulation that is found surrounding K&T wires.
  • Prospective home buyers should get an estimate of the cost of replacing K&T wiring. They can use this amount to negotiate a cheaper price for the house.

In summary, knob-and-tube wiring is likely to be a safety hazard due to improper modifications and the addition of building insulation. Inspectors need to be wary of this old system and be prepared to inform their clients about its potential dangers. This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/knob-and-tube.htm.

by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Ben Gromicko

Polyurethane spray foam is a versatile insulation material that is sprayed into building cavities where it quickly expands and molds itself to its surroundings. It is available in “closed-cell” and “open-cell” varieties, each of which offers advantages and disadvantages, depending on the requirements of its application. The following guide briefly explains the differences between these insulation options.Contractor installng spray foam insulation near rapid city

Closed-Cell Polyurethane Foam

Closed-cell polyurethane foam (CCPF) is composed of tiny cells with solid, unbroken cell walls that resemble inflated balloons piled tightly together. The cells are inflated with a special gas selected to make the insulation value of the foam as high as possible. Like the inflated tires that hold up an automobile, the gas-filled bubbles, when dried, create a material that is strong enough to walk on without major distortion. Wall-racking strength can by enhanced when CCPF is applied, and its strength makes it preferable for roofing applications. The high thermal resistance of the gas gives CCPF an R-value of approximately R-7 to R-8 per inch, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which is significantly better than its open-cell alternative. It also acts as a vapor barrier, making it the product of choice if the insulation is likely to be exposed to high levels of moisture. Its density is generally 2 lb/ft3 (32 kilograms per cubic meter [kg/m3]).

Over time, the R-value of CCPF can drop as some of the low-conductivity gas escapes and is replaced with ordinary air, a process known as thermal drift. Research performed by the DOE revealed that most thermal drift occurs within the first two years after the insulation material is applied, but then the foam remains relatively unchanged unless it is damaged.
Foam is a Fire Hazard
Semi-permeable rigid foam insulation and spray foam insulation (foam plastic) on the inside of basement foundation walls is often found during an inspection of the full-basement foundation of a house.  Its use could be a good strategy for a moisture-resistant finished basement. However, fire and smoke characteristics of this type of insulation require that it be covered with a fire-resistant layer, such as gypsum wallboard (drywall).
Sometimes this requirement works fine when the basement is being finished. This requirement of having spray foam insulation to be protected by a thermal barrier is found in the International Residential Code (IRC) 2015 Section R316. In most cases where spray polyurethane foam insulation is installed, the foam should be separated from the interior living spaces by an approved thermal barrier of at least 1/2-inch gypsum wallboard (drywall), 23/32-inch wood structural panel, or a material tested to meet the acceptable criteria from NFPA. There are a few exceptions to this requirement, including flame spread index ratings.
If a basement will only be insulated and not finished, a fire-rated foam panel or similar fire-rated covering needs to be used. Because the above-grade portions of the basement wall can dry to the outside, fire-rated insulation on these surfaces may be of an impermeable type. For example, it can have a foil facing.  But insulating approaches that restrict the drying potential of below-grade portions of the foundation wall toward the inside should be avoided.

In attics, a thermal barrier is not required when several conditions exist. Those conditions are listed within the IRC Code 2015 Section R316, and they include the attic access is required, the attic space is entered for only maintenance and when repairs are needed, and the foam insulation has been tested or the foam insulation is protected again ignition using a listed barrier material.

Packages and containers of spray foam insulation (or foam plastic) should be labeled and identified if they are delivered to a building site.

Open-Cell Polyurethane Foam

Open-cell polyurethane foam (OCPF) is a soft, flexible, spongy insulation with broken cell walls that permit air to fill them. They typically have a density of 0.5 lb/ft3 (8 kilograms per cubic meter [kg/m3]), which is significantly less than closed-cell insulation, as well as having a reduced R-value per inch, although OCPF still has excellent thermal-insulating and air-barrier properties. The foam is weaker and less rigid than closed-cell foams, too. It will require trimming and disposal of excess material as it expands to over 100 times its initial liquid size.

Builders often choose open-cell foam for the following advantages it affords, including:

  • its low cost. Where economical yield is important, open-cell foam is generally chosen over its more costly alternative;
  • providing a sound barrier. OCPF forms a more effective sound barrier in normal-frequency ranges than closed-cell foam. For this reason, OCPF is well-suited for installation beneath floors and around theater rooms;
  • its flexibility. Open-cell foam is more flexible than closed-cell foam, which allows it to adjust to weather-induced expansion and contraction of framing members. CCPF, by contrast, may develop hairline fractures because it cannot flex sufficiently; and
  • its permeability to moisture. While often cited as a reason to avoid the use of OCPF, in certain situations, it can be helpful for moisture to pass through insulation. Open-cell foam used in roofs, for instance, will allow a roof leak to make its way to the space below where it is more likely to be discovered. Closed-cell foam used in the same application would trap the moisture, hiding the leak and potentially leading to wood decay. In most situations, however, OCPF should not be used in any place where it might become wet, as moisture will diminish its insulative value. InterNACHI inspectors may call out open-cell insulation discovered in moist areas, such as in external applications or below grade.
In summary, polyurethane foam is available in two varieties that are suited for different applications.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/polyurethane-spray-foam.htm.

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

A pilot light is a small flame that is kept alight constantly in order to serve as an ignition source for a gas burner. They are used on many natural gas and propane appliances, such as water heaters, clothes dryers, central heating systems, fireplaces and stoves. Pilot light from home inspection spearfish sd

The pilot light is fueled by a small amount of gas released from the gas pipe. When the appliance is turned on, a valve releases more gas, which is ignited by the pilot light. The light may need to be re-lit from time to time after being extinguished on purpose or by accident. Modern alternatives to the pilot light include a high-voltage electric arc between two electrodes placed close to the gas flow, and a red-hot surface made from silicon carbide, silicon nitride, or another material that can withstand prolonged heat exposure. While most commercial kitchens still rely on pilot lights for ovens and grills, their residential counterparts typically use electrical ignitions.

Safety

If a pilot light is accidentally extinguished, there exists a danger that the gas used to keep the flame lit will continue to vent, possibly into the living space. If this leak continues, its concentration may reach a point where a spark – such as that from a cigarette lighter, static electricity, or even the pilot light itself as it is re-lit – will cause a fire or even an explosion. As a precaution, the flow of gas to the pilot light is maintained by electrical circuitry that relies on the detection of the flame by a sensor.
Modern appliances that use pilot lights should be equipped with one or more of the following sensors types:
  • a photo-resistor, which detects the light emitted by the pilot light;
  • a thermometer, which detects the heat created by the pilot light; or
  • a voltmeter, which detects the electrical current created by the heat of the flame as it warms a thermocouple.  A thermocouple is a device that creates a voltage related to the temperature difference at the junction of two different metals.

Natural gas and propane can usually be detected by building occupants by their odor, which is added to these naturally odorless fuels specifically to alert people to a lurking danger. Numerous injuries have been reported, however, when homeowners have tried to re-light a pilot light after the appliance’s malfunctioning sensor failed to stop the flow of gas into the room. Thermocouples are degraded by continued exposure to the pilot light’s flame, which increases their electrical resistance and reduces their effectiveness as flame sensors. Periodic testing and replacement of these devices will mitigate the safety hazards posed by pilot light-equipped appliances.

While many inspectors and homeowners may not be aware of the danger, a number of houses are destroyed every year when a pilot light ignites the explosive gasses released from insecticide “bug bombs” and foggers. A fire erupted in a Newburgh, Ohio house after a man placed a roach fumigator under his kitchen sink and the fumes reached his oven’s pilot light. Even worse, when homeowners employ a recklessly large number of these foggers, they can generate enough gas to create a catastrophic explosion, and the determination of homeowners driven mad by cockroaches and fleas is occasionally enough incentive for them to employ such overkill. In one case, 19 foggers were Bug bombs were detonated by a pilot light, destroying this small San Diego homeunleashed in a 470-square foot San Diego home, filling the building with so much gas that the pilot light destroyed the home and launched shrapnel into the street. Fortunately, foggers are typically used in buildings that have been vacated. Three men were hospitalized, however, when an oven’s pilot light in a Thai restaurant in Perth, Australia ignited the gas released from 36 foggers – enough to blow the roof off the building in a massive explosion that rocked the suburban neighborhood, causing $500,000 in damages.

Energy Waste

Pilot lights are not needed for the majority of the time that they’re lit, which is how they waste a large amount of fuel. The exact amount of energy wasted depends on the unit, but various studies report that a pilot light burns $7.50 to $18 per month of natural gas, and even more for propane-fueled appliances. They waste more than 20% of the gas used in the United States, according to Cornell Environmental Health and Safety. A constantly burning pilot light also adds heat to the house, which might be useful in the winter, but adds to the heat load in the summer and places an unnecessarily greater burden on the air-conditioning system. Even in the winter, the appliance may be located in a utility room or other area that doesn’t require heating. Also, a typical pilot light can generate 450 pounds of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas — over a six-month period.

If an appliance isn’t needed for a long period of time, its pilot light may be extinguished to save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the risk of fire or explosion. Concerned homeowners can also purchase appliances equipped with the aforementioned alternatives to the pilot light. If they have any additional issues or concerns related to pilot lights or fuel-burning appliances, they should consult with an InterNACHI inspector during their next scheduled inspection.

In summary, pilot lights are a somewhat antiquated technology plagued by fears concerning fire and energy waste.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/pilot-lights.htm.

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