by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Margaret Aey

A window well is semi-circular excavation that surrounds a basement window. It is typically constructed from a solid barrier made from corrugated galvanized metal, masonry, plastic or pressure-treated wood.

Window wells are usually installed for the following purposes:
  • emergency egress. If the window serves a living area — as opposed to an unfinished basement with exposed utilities (see our article on Non-Conforming Bedrooms) — emergency escape at a minimum of two locations is required. Window wells allow windows to be used by escaping occupants and emergency crews attempting to enter the house;
  • to prevent moisture damage to basement windows that are at or below grade. The window wells keep the soil away from openings in the foundation walls while still allowing proper grading and drainage away from the house; and
  • to allow sunlight into a below-grade room that would otherwise require artificial lighting.

Window Well Covers

Window wells are often covered to prevent injuries and falls, as well as to discourage small children,pets and wild animals from entering the wells and becoming injured and trapped. For instance, a deer fawn made news in Bountiful, Utah, after it was recovered safely after falling down a 12-foot-deep uncovered window well.   Although not required, window well covers are especially important if the space around the ground level opening is along a walkway or near a children’s play area.

Regarding their strength and operability, the 2007 edition of the International Code Council (ICC), Section 3.4, states that window well covers shall support “a minimum live load of 40 pounds per square foot. The cover shall be operable from within the window well without the use of tools or special knowledge, and shall require no more than 30 pounds of force to fully open.” These requirements ensure that an average-size adult would be able to pass through the window well safely during an emergency evacuation.

window well from home inspection near spearfish sd

Covers (like the ones pictured above and built by the author out of polycarbonate sheets and Unistrut®) also prevent the accumulation of twigs, grass, mulch and blowing snow that would obscure sunlight and complicate emergency escape through the well. Covers may be locked from the inside to prevent unwanted intrusion.  However, locks and fasteners must be fully functional to be certain that the cover can be easily lifted from the inside.

window well from home inspection near spearfish sd

Window well covers, however, can block sunlight, ventilation and emergency egress, especially if they become covered in snow and ice. It is the homeowner’s responsibility to make sure that the cover is cleared of snow and has not been frozen shut from ice. No items, such as garden hoses, potted plants or tools, should be placed on top of window well covers. Note that covers that are locked from the inside to prevent unlawful entry will be inaccessible to fire crews and first responders.
Construction 
Window well covers should be constructed from sturdy, high-quality material, such as plastic or metal. A window well cover that is made from metal (typically, aluminum or steel) is referred to as a grate and is implemented to protect against intrusion. Since metal grate covers have small openings, sometimes a plastic cover is installed over the metal grate to further prevent leakage and debris from entering the window well. In either case, the cover must fit over the entire opening, so it’s common for them to be custom-fitted.
Additional safety concerns include the following:
  • size. According to the 2006 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC), Section R310:The minimum horizontal area of the window well shall be 9 square feet, with a minimum horizontal projection and width of 36 inches.Even if the well seems large enough for members of a particular household, it might be a tight fit for a fully equipped firefighter;
  • structural damage to the barrier. Hydrostatic pressure and freeze-thaw cycles can exert a great deal of pressure on window wells and, over time, cause masonry to bend or crack. Check for:
    • spalling, bowing, cracking or leaning in concrete; window well full of snow from home inspection near spearfish sd
    • cracking or bowing in plastic;
    • rust, bowing or rupture in metal; and
    • insect damage or cracks in wood.
  • improper drainage. Waterlogged window wells can easily leak through a window into the basement, especially following a heavy rain. Water intrusion can cause a variety of undesirable conditions, such as mold growth, wood decay, corrosion and insect damage. Check for a lack of sufficient cleaning and maintenance both in the window well and elsewhere. Homeowners should first make sure that gutters and downspouts are clear of debris, which can force water to overflow from the gutters and collect in the window well and other low areas. Dirt and debris should also be collected from the well. A qualified professional may be required to correct structural sources of drainage issues, such as soil erosion, insufficient or settled drainage stone, or the pulling away from the foundation of the barrier; and
  • lack of a ladder. The 2006 IRC, Section 310.2, states:Window wells with a vertical depth greater than 44 inches shall be equipped with a permanently affixed ladder or steps usable with the window in the fully open position.
    bent window well from home inspection near spearfish sd

Additional Tips for Homeowners

  • Window well covers can be screened or barred to provide pest-free ventilation.
  • Teach children to avoid window wells, even if they are covered and appear sturdy.
  • Practice exiting the window, window well and window cover so that any previously unnoticed obstacles can be removed. Repair or replace any equipment that does not function properly.
  • Speak with your local building department if you are unsure whether a window well is required in your home. Your jurisdiction may mandate special size restrictions.
  • Metal window wells can have rolled edges for safety against cuts.
  • Consult with your InterNACHI® inspector if you have additional concerns surrounding window wells, covers, moisture problems and emergency egress.
In summary, window wells are installed to allow emergency egress and to protect windows from damp soil, but improper installation and maintenance can lead to moisture damage and safety hazards, especially in an emergency.  Additionally, window well covers can be installed over window well openings to eliminate the risk of children, animals, and pedestrians from falling into the window well excavation.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/window-well-inspection.htm.

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

 

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

Facts and Figures

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

Physiology of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

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

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

Potential Sources of Carbon Monoxide

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

  • furnaces;
  • stoves and ovens;
  • water heaters;
  • dryers;
  • room and space heaters;
  • fireplaces and wood stoves;
  • charcoal grills;
  • automobiles;
  • clogged chimneys or flues;
  • space heaters;
  • power tools that run on fuel;
  • gas and charcoal grills;
  • certain types of swimming pool heaters; and
  • boat engines.
PPM   % CO
in air 
Health Effects in Healthy Adults  Source/Comments 
0 0% no effects; this is the normal level in a properly operating heating appliance
35 0.0035% maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
50 0.005% maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift               OSHA
100 0.01% slight headache, fatigue, shortness of breath,
errors in judgment
125 0.0125% workplace alarm must sound (OSHA)
200 0.02% headache, fatigue,
nausea, dizziness
400 0.04% severe headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, confusion; can be life-threatening after three hours of exposure evacuate area immediately
800 0.08% convulsions, loss of consciousness;
death within three hours
evacuate area immediately
12,000 1.2% nearly instant death

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

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

Do place CO detectors:

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

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

How can I prevent CO poisoning?

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

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

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

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

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

Identifying Aluminum Wiring

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

Options for Correction

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

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

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

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

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

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by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

 

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

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

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

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

  • EMERGENCY ESCAPE AND RESCUE REQUIRED SECTION: R 310.1 Basements and every sleeping room shall have at least one operable emergency and rescue opening. Such opening shall open directly into a public street, public alley, yard or court. Where basements contain one or more sleeping rooms, emergency egress and rescue openings shall be required in each sleeping room, but shall not be required in adjoining areas of the basement. Where emergency escape and rescue openings are provided, they shall have a sill height of not more than 44 inches (1,118mm) above the floor. Where a door opening having a threshold below the adjacent ground elevation serves as an emergency escape and rescue opening and is provided with a bulkhead enclosure, the bulkhead enclosure shall comply with SECTION R310.3. The net clear opening dimensions required by this section shall be obtained by the normal operation of the emergency escape and rescue opening from the inside. Emergency escape and rescue openings with a finished sill height below the adjacent ground elevation shall be provided with a window well, in accordance with SECTION R310.2.  
    • MINIMUM OPENING AREA: SECTION: R 310.1.1 All emergency escape and rescue openings shall have a minimum net clear opening of 5.7 square feet (0.530 m2). Exception: Grade floor openings shall have a minimum net clear opening of 5 square feet (0.465 m2).
    • MINIMUM OPENING HEIGHT: R 310.1.2 The minimum net clear opening height shall be 24 inches (610mm).
    • MINIMUM OPENING WIDTH: R 310.1.3 The minimum net clear opening width shall be 20 inches (508mm).
    • OPERATIONAL CONSTRAINTS: R 310.1.4 Emergency escape and rescue openings shall be operational from the inside of the room without the use of keys or tools or special knowledge.
  • WINDOW WELLS: SECTION: R310.2 The minimum horizontal area of the window well shall be 9 square feet (0.9 m2), with a minimum horizontal projection and width of 36 inches (914mm). The area of the window well shall allow the emergency escape and rescue opening to be fully opened. Exception: The ladder or steps required by SECTION R 310.2.1 shall be permitted to encroach a maximum of 6 inches (152mm) into the required dimensions of the window well.
  • LADDER AND STEPS: SECTION: R 310.2.1 Window wells with a vertical depth greater than 44 inches (1,118mm) shall be equipped with a permanently affixed ladder or steps usable with the window in the fully open position. Ladders or steps required by this section shall not be required to comply with SECTIONS R311.5 and R311.6. Ladders or rungs shall have an inside width of at least 12 inches (305 mm), shall project at least 3 inches (76mm) from the wall, and shall be spaced not more than 18 inches (457mm) on-center vertically for the full height of the window well.
  • BULKHEAD ENCLOSURES: SECTION: R 310.3 Bulkhead enclosures shall provide direct access to the basement. The bulkhead enclosure with the door panels in the fully open position shall provide the minimum net clear opening required by SECTION R 310.1.1. Bulkhead enclosures shall also comply with SECTION R 311.5.8.2.
  • BARS, GRILLS, COVERS, AND SCREENS: SECTION: R 310.3 Bars, grilles, covers, screens or similar devices are permitted to be placed over emergency escape and rescue openings, bulkhead enclosures, or window wells that serve such openings, provided the minimum net clear opening size complies with SECTIONS R 310.1.1 to R 310.1.3, and such devices shall be releasable or removable from the inside without the use of a key, tool, special knowledge, or force greater than that which is required for normal operation of the escape and rescue opening.
  • EMERGENCY ESCAPE WINDOWS UNDER DECKS AND PORCHES: SECTION: R 310.5 Emergency escape windows are allowed to be installed under decks and porches, provided the location of the deck allows the emergency escape window to be fully opened and provides a path not less than 36 inches (914 mm) in height to a yard or court.
In summary, non-conforming bedrooms are rooms that unlawfully serve as bedrooms, as the occupant would lack an easy escape in case of emergency.  This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at
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by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

There was a time when the only remedy for sinking sidewalks or uneven foundations was to tear out the old pavement slab and pour a new one, and spend a great deal of time and money in the process. Today, a less intensive alternative known as mudjacking (also called concrete leveling, pressure grouting or slabjacking) pumps A sunken concrete sidewalk in desperate need of repair found during a home inspection near rapid city sdslurry beneath a sunken concrete slab in order to raise it back into place.

Concrete sinks because its underlying support, for various reasons, gives way. The original concrete may have been installed on dirt that hadn’t been compacted sufficiently, for instance, or soil erosion may be responsible. And some soil simply settles naturally over many years. Regardless of the cause, sunken concrete can lead to many structural defects, including failed retaining walls, foundation settling, uneven junctions of concrete, sunken sidewalks, uneven concrete pads, cracked foundations, and bowed basement walls. If left uncorrected, these defects can lead to unwanted water runoff and major structural problems.

And, aside from the shabby appearance and decreased functionality of an uneven sidewalk, steps or walkway, sunken concrete can create major trip hazards for which the building owner is liable. If a building owner notices any of these conditions, they should consult with their InterNACHI inspector during their next scheduled inspection.

Process
First, small holes are drilled into the concrete, through which is pumped a slurry that may be composed of various materials, such as sand, cement, soil, limestone, bentonite clay, water or expanding polymers. The particular mixture is based on the type of application and the mudjacker’s preference. The slurry then fills any gaps and forces the concrete to rise back into place before the drilled holes are plugged up with cement, leaving the only visible evidence of the repair. Over the next day, the slurry solidifies and stabilizes the subsoil, making further sinking unlikely.

While this is not a complicated procedure, it should be performed only by a trained professional, as amateur workmanship may cause even more extensive damage. Drain pipes, sewers and utilities must be located and avoided, and the area must be evaluated as to whether it can survive the mudjacking process.

Some advantages of mudjacking over re-pouring cement include:The only evidence left of mudjacking is the patched hole through which the slurry was pumped. from a home inspection
  • efficiency. Mudjacking requires less equipment and fewer workers. Adjacent plants and landscaping are also disturbed less, as are neighbors, tenants and passersby by the loud noise, dust and cumbersome equipment;
  • price. Mudjacking typically costs roughly half as much as concrete replacement because there is little need for new cement or the removal of old concrete. The overall cost is based on the area of concrete that must be lifted, which may be as little as $5 per foot. Thus, for a 5×4-foot job, it might cost just $60, although the mudjacker may charge more if the area is in a hard-to-reach location;
  • speed. Mudjacking takes hours, while certain concrete pours may take days; and
  • environmentally friendly. Mudjacking makes use of perfectly good concrete, which would otherwise be sent to a landfill.
Limitations of Mudjacking
Mudjacking may be an ineffective waste of resources in the following situations:
  • The concrete surface is spalling or otherwise damaged. The mudjacking process might further damage the surface, which will still be defective even after it’s raised back into place.
  • The concrete has risen, caused by expansive soil. The only solution for this defect is to re-pour the cement.
  • The cause of the settling is not addressed. If the soil has settled due to some external factor, the problem must be fixed or the soil will sink again in the future. For instance, a gutter downspout that drains onto a concrete edge must be corrected in order to avoid the need for future repair.
  • The underlying soil is swampy.
  • There is a sinkhole beneath the concrete.
In summary, mudjacking is an inexpensive, fast and clean way to level a sunken concrete slab. This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/mudjacking.htm.
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What is a home inspection?

A home inspection is a visual examination of the home’s major structure, systems and components that are visible and safely accessible.  The inspector should substantially adhere to a standards of practice that outlines what should be covered during a general home inspection, as well as what is excluded. Some inspectors may strictly follow the standards of practice, while others may exceed the standards and inspect other items, or perform a more detailed inspection. Whatever the inspector includes in his or her inspection should be discussed prior to the inspection – this is known as the scope of work. The inspector should be able to provide you with a copy or online link to the standards of practice they follow.  The inspector should provide you with a written report, which may include photos and/or recommendations, of his or her findings of the inspection.  Read InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice to find out what is typically included and excluded in a home inspection.

Why should I get a home inspection?

home inspector inspecting furnace rapid city sd spearfishBuying a home is typically the biggest investment you will ever make, so it’s important to get a home inspection because the inspector should be able to discover and document defects that may or may not be obvious to you as a prospective buyer.  Such defects can range from simple replacements or repairs, to severe damage or safety and health concerns. Additionally, most mortgage companies require a home inspection on a property before approving the home loan. Read InterNACHI’s Top 10 Reasons to Get a Home Inspection.

Where can I find a home inspector in my area?

There are several ways to find a home inspector. You may be able to find one online or in local ads. You may also find inspectors’ brochures by visiting a real estate office. There is no single method that is superior when it comes to finding an inspector who’s right for your inspection needs.

Below are some online resources for finding a home inspector near you:

How can I be sure that a home inspector is qualified?

It is important to choose a home inspector who is qualified and holds a license or certification in the field. Many jurisdictions do not regulate home inspections, meaning that anyone could call themselves a home inspector. However, just because someone performs home inspections doesn’t mean that they’re actually qualified to do so. If you are buying or selling a home in an unregulated jurisdiction, make sure to look for a home inspector with the proper certifications. If you are located in a state or province that does require licensing of home inspectors, you should hire only a licensed professional.

Contact your state by phone or online to find out whether they license home inspectors, and what qualifications they’re required to have.  License numbers in licensing states may vary in appearance, but you should be able to independently verify it. If your state doesn’t require licensing, find out what qualifications and certifications your home inspector has. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors – InterNACHI® – is the largest and most trusted home inspector association in the world.  Its members undergo rigorous training to become Certified Professional Inspectors (CPIs)®.  They also follow a Standards of Practice and adhere to a Code of Ethics.  Also, the Master Inspector Certification Board grants qualified inspectors the title of Certified Master Inspector® (CMI®), which is the highest professional designation in the inspection industry.  Find out if your inspector is licensed and/or a CPI or CMI® before you hire him or her. This will ensure that you are hiring only an individual who has received the best training to become a home inspector.

How much does a home inspection cost?

There is no set cost for a home inspection. The cost will vary based on the inspector, the local market, the geographic region, the scope of the inspection to be performed, and more. Before the inspection, you should find out what will be included in the inspection and what won’t, and these details should also be outlined in the inspection agreement that you will need to sign prior to the inspection.

How long does a home inspection take?

Depending on the home’s age, size, and location, as well as the home inspector’s own work protocols and ethic, your home inspection may take up to three hours. Adding square footage, outbuildings, and/or ancillary services (such as mold or radon testing) will increase that time. It may be necessary for your inspector to bring in a helper for a very large property. If your general home inspection takes significantly less than two to three hours, it may indicate that the inspector was not thorough enough.

At what point in the real estate transaction should I schedule a home inspection?

A home inspection is usually scheduled after an offer has been made and accepted, but before the closing date. That way, the inspector can rule out any major defects that could be dangerous or costly. In rare cases—due to timing or contractual issues—the inspection can be scheduled after the closing date. If this is the case, the home buyer should schedule the inspection for the earliest possible date after closing.

Should I be present for the inspection?

You should attend the inspection, and you should reconsider hiring an inspector who doesn’t allow this. You can learn a lot by following an inspector through the home. You will certainly gain a better understanding of the home’s condition, which will give you insight into its potential sale points and defects. Additionally, you will likely learn information about the home’s maintenance, systems and components that may provide useful for the transaction.

Can the home inspector also repair any defects he or she finds?

What if your home inspector is also a licensed contractor? Sounds great, right? Not always. Although it may seem convenient to have an inspector who is also a contractor, it poses a conflict of interest. According to InterNACHI’s Code of Ethics:

The InterNACHI member shall not perform or offer to perform, for an additional fee, any repairs or associated services to the structure for which the member or member’s company has prepared a home inspection report for a period of 12 months. This provision shall not include services to components and/or systems that are not included in the InterNACHI Standards of Practice.

If an inspector financially benefits from finding any defects, this can impact the accuracy of the report (whether intentional or not). Make sure the inspector you hire abides by a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.
What happens if the inspection reveals problems?

If your home inspection reveals any problems, it is important to understand the severity of the defect. For example, a missing shingle or dirty air filter can be easily fixed at a low cost. However, if the defect is more extreme, such as a major foundation crack, wood-destroying organism infestation, or evidence of mold, you should find out how these problems can be addressed, and whether you can negotiate their cost with the seller. If it is determined after you move in that your home has a severe defect that wasn’t reported by your InterNACHI® Certified Professional Inspector®, you should check to see if he or she participates in InterNACHI’s “We’ll Buy Your Home Back” Guarantee.

What is the Buy-Back Guarantee and how does it work?

If your InterNACHI® Certified Professional Inspector® participates in the Buy-Back Guarantee, InterNACHI® will buy your home back if the inspector misses something on your inspection.

Here’s how this program works:

  • It’s valid for home inspections performed for home buyers only by participating InterNACHI® members.
  • The home must be listed for sale with a licensed real estate agent.
  • The Guarantee excludes homes with material defects not present at the time of the inspection, or not required to be inspected, per InterNACHI’s Residential Standards of Practice.
  • The Guarantee will be honored for 90 days after closing.
  • InterNACHI will pay you whatever price you paid for the home.

This article is from InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/home-inspection-faq-buyers-sellers.htm.

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by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Ben Gromicko

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

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

Porous Building Materials

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

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

Capillary Action

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

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

Destructive Pressures

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

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

Here are some examples of how that pressure translates:

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

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

Spalling

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

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

Identifying Efflorescence

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

Prevention

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

Removal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Nick Gromicko, CMI®

Vermiculite insulation found during a home inspection

 Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral composed of shiny flakes that resemble mica. When heated rapidly to a high temperature, this crystalline mineral expands into low-density, accordion-like strands. In this form, vermiculite is a lightweight, odorless and fire-resistant material that has been used in numerous applications, such as insulation for attics and walls.

Asbestos Contamination

Vermiculite forms over millions of years due to weathering of the mineral biotite. Unfortunately, biotite deposits are often in close proximity to deposits of diopside, which transform into asbestos due to the same weathering processes that create vermiculite. Asbestos can be easily inhaled because it tends to separate into microscopic particles that become airborne. Exposure to asbestos can result in lung cancer, mesothelioma, inflammation of the chest cavity, and a scarring disease of the lungs known as asbestosis. The risk of contracting these diseases generally increases with the duration and intensity of exposure to asbestos, and smokers may face an even greater risk of lung cancer.

The largest and oldest vermiculite mine in the United States was started in the 1920s near Libby, Montana. Although it was known that the vermiculite there was contaminated with tremolite, a highly toxic form of asbestos, the mine continued to operate until stiffer environmental controls finally forced it to close in 1990. Sadly, by this time, the damage had already been done; the asbestos-infused insulator had been installed in tens of millions of homes in the United States alone. As over 70% of all vermiculite sold in the U.S. from 1919 to 1990 originated from the Libby mine, it is safe to assume that all vermiculite insulation found in buildings is toxic.

IdentificationZonolite brand vermiculite is likely contaminated by asbestos found during a home inspection

Vermiculite insulation is a pebble-like or rectangular, chunky product about the size of a pencil eraser, and usually gray-brown or silver-gold in color. Inspectors should be on guard for empty bags in the attic that bear the name Zonolite®, as this was the commercial name for vermiculite mined in the notorious Libby mine.

What should be done about asbestos found in homes?

Inspectors should advise their clients to never disturb vermiculite or any asbestos insulation. These products must be airborne to cause a health risk through inhalation, which most likely happens when they are removed or handled. The following are some additional tips that inspectors can pass on to clients with vermiculite issues:

  • Consider that contractors may track vermiculite into the house if they have to enter the attic.
  • Dispose of waste and debris contaminated with asbestos in tight containers.
  • Do not allow children to play in an attic.
  • Do not launder clothing exposed to vermiculite with family clothing.
  • Do not overreact. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA), asbestos-related illnesses are usually the result of high levels of exposure for long periods of time. Left undisturbed in the attic, asbestos is generally not a life-threatening situation. Furthermore, air generally flows into the attic from the house, and not the other way around.
  • Do not use the attic as a storage area.
  • Hire a professional asbestos contractor before remodeling or renovating if these processes may disturb the vermiculite.
  • Never use compressed air for cleaning around vermiculite. Avoid dry-sweeping, vacuuming, shoveling, or other dry clean-up methods. Wet methods are best.
  • Seal cracks and holes in attics, such as around light fixtures and ceiling fans, where insulation may pass through.
  • Use proper respiratory protection. Disposable respirators or dust masks are not appropriate for avoiding asbestos exposure.
In summary, vermiculite is a potentially hazardous mineral used as an insulator in buildings, but its dangers can be mitigated with some simple precautions. This article is courtesy of InterNACHI and can be found at https://www.nachi.org/vermiculite.htm. Click on Mesothelioma Types
for information on mesothelioma.