Table of contents
1. Benefits of a Home Inspection
2. Verify your inspector
3. Asbestos: Facts and Tips for Homeowners
4. Central Air-Conditioning System Inspection
5. Child-Proofing Your Home: 12 Safety Devices to Protect Your Children
6. Choosing a Manufactured Home
7. Electrical Safety
8. Three Deadly Mistakes Every Home Buyer Should Avoid
9. Home Inspection Reports: What to Expect
10. Home Insurance Tips
11. House Numbers
12. Lead Facts
13. Mold, Moisture and Your Home
15. Plumbing Terms
16. Safety Guidelines for Home Pools
17. Private Water Wells
19. Seller’s Pre-Listing Inspection
20. Septic Systems
21. Settlement Information
23. Ten Tips to Speed Up Your Home Inspection
24. Termite Control in the Home
25. USDA Loans
26. VA Loan Basics
27. Protect Your Property From Water Damage
28. Water Quality
29. Why Get a Home Inspection If You’re Buying “As Is”?
1. Benefits of a Home Inspection
A home inspection is a non-invasive, visual examination of the accessible areas of a residential property (as delineated below), performed for a fee, which is designed to identify defects within specific systems and components defined by these Standards that are both observed and deemed material by the inspector. The scope of work may be modified by the Client and Inspector prior to the inspection process.
The home inspection is based on the observations made on the date of the inspection, and not a prediction of future conditions.
The home inspection will not reveal every issue that exists or ever could exist, but only those material defects observed on the date of the inspection.
A material defect is a specific issue with a system or component of a residential property that may have a significant, adverse impact on the value of the property, or that poses an unreasonable risk to people. The fact that a system or component is near, at, or beyond the end of its normal, useful life is not, in itself, a material defect.
A home inspection report shall identify, in written format, defects within specific systems and components defined by these Standards that are both observed and deemed material by the inspector. Inspection reports may include additional comments and recommendations.
- Basement, Foundation, Crawlspace & Structure
- Attic, Insulation & Ventilation
- Doors, Windows & Interior
2. Verify your inspector
Make sure the inspector you choose if licensed, insured and certified.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) requires individuals to complete 120 hours of state-approved training, pass a state exam, and submit an application to the state. Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) requires home inspectors to take Continuing Education to renew their license. Licensed Home Inspectors must maintain the continuing education requirements in order to remain active with DBPR.
DBPR License Application Requirements:
EXAMINATION: Individuals seeking licensure as a Home Inspector must first take and pass a department approved exam for home inspection. The applicant must also submit proof of passing the department approved examination for home inspection licensure.
EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: The applicant must demonstrate proof of completing a course of study approved by the department of not less than 120 hours that covers the 8 components of a home. This is not a complete listing of educational and experience requirements.
FINGERPRINTS: An applicant must have a background check as part of the licensing process.
License Verification. You can verify a DBPR license here https://www.myfloridalicense.com/wl11.asp?mode=0&SID=
You can search by name or license number.
INSURANCE: Applicants are required to attest that they have obtained a minimum commercial general liability insurance in the amount of $300,000. You will need to request this information from the inspector.
2020InspectionSolutions.com carries $100,000 E&O, $1,000,000/$2,000,000 general liability, $1,000,000 workmans compensation, and FAA Drone insurance. To request our certificate of insurance, Accord Certificate, email Jay@2020inspectionSolutions.com or call 321-877-6247
InterNACHI and Master Inspector Certification Board Certified
Verify that the inspector you choose is certified by InterNACHI or MICB. InterNACHI is the worlds leading association for home inspectors. The State of Florida does not require home inspectors to be certified by InterNACHI or MICB in order to perform home inspections, however, Certified home inspectors are the most qualified inspectors. There are two inspector certification designations, CPI Certified Professional Inspector and CMI Certified Master Inspector. CMI is the superior designation.
You can verify an inspector is certified by InterNACHI by clicking here https://www.nachi.org/verify and entering the InterNACHI ID number. If you do not know the InterNACHI inspector ID you can look up any inspector by name here https://www.nachi.org/verify/lookup
3. Asbestos: Facts and Tips for Homeowners
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers. In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance. InterNACHI inspectors can supplement their knowledge with the information offered in this guide.
How Can Asbestos Affect Human Health?
From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer in the forms of mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity, and asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increase with the number of fibers inhaled. The risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers is also greater if you smoke. People who get asbestosis have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.
Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard.
Where Would Asbestos Be Found, and When Can it Be a Problem?
Most products made today do not contain asbestos. Those few products made which still contain asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos.
Common products that might have contained asbestos in the past, and conditions which may release fibers, include:
steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape. These materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged, repaired, or removed improperly;
resilient floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile. Sanding tiles can release fibers, and so may scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring during removal;
cement sheet, millboard and paper used as insulation around furnaces and wood-burning stoves. Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibers, and so may cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling, or sawing insulation;
door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves and coal stoves. Worn seals can release asbestos fibers during use;
soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings. Loose, crumbly or water-damaged material may release fibers, and so will sanding, drilling or scraping the material;
patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings, and textured paints. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos fibers;
asbestos cement roofing, shingles and siding. These products are not likely to release asbestos fibers unless sawed, dilled or cut;
artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces, and other older household products, such as fireproof gloves, stove-top pads, ironing board covers and certain hairdryers; and
automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings and gaskets.
Where Asbestos Hazards May Be Found in a Home
Some roofing and siding shingles are made of asbestos cement.
Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos as insulation.
Asbestos may be present in textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints. Their use was banned in 1977.
Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos.
Older products, such as stove-top pads, may have some asbestos compounds.
Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard or cement sheets.
Asbestos is found in some vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives.
Hot water and steam pipes in older houses may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape.
Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.
What Should Be Done About Asbestos in the Home?
If you think asbestos may be in your home, don’t panic. Usually, the best thing to do is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. There is no danger unless the asbestos is disturbed and fibers are released and then inhaled into the lungs. Check material regularly if you suspect it may contain asbestos. Don’t touch it, but look for signs of wear or damage, such as tears, abrasions or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibers. This is particularly true if you often disturb it by hitting, rubbing or handling it, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow. Sometimes, the best way to deal with slightly damaged material is to limit access to the area and not touch or disturb it. Discard damaged or worn asbestos gloves, stove-top pads and ironing board covers. Check with local health, environmental or other appropriate agencies to find out proper handling and disposal procedures. If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed. Before you have your house remodeled, find out whether asbestos materials are present.
How to Identify Materials That Contain Asbestos
You can’t tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos, or have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional. A professional should take samples for analysis, since a professional knows what to look for, and because there may be an increased health risk if fibers are released. In fact, if done incorrectly, sampling can be more hazardous than leaving the material alone. Taking samples yourself is not recommended. If you nevertheless choose to take the samples yourself, take care not to release asbestos fibers into the air or onto yourself. Material that is in good condition and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) should be left alone. Only material that is damaged or will be disturbed should be sampled.
Anyone who samples asbestos-containing materials should have as much information as possible on the handling of asbestos before sampling and, at a minimum, should observe the following procedures:
Make sure no one else is in the room when sampling is done.
Wear disposable gloves or wash hands after sampling.
Shut down any heating or cooling systems to minimize the spread of any released fibers.
Do not disturb the material any more than is needed to take a small sample.
Place a plastic sheet on the floor below the area to be sampled.
Wet the material using a fine mist of water containing a few drops of detergent before taking the sample. The water/detergent mist will reduce the release of asbestos fibers.
Carefully cut a piece from the entire depth of the material using a small knife, corer or other sharp object. Place the small piece into a clean container (a 35-mm film canister, small glass or plastic vial, or high-quality resealable plastic bag).
Tightly seal the container after the sample is in it.
Carefully dispose of the plastic sheet. Use a damp paper towel to clean up any material on the outside of the container or around the area sampled. Dispose of asbestos materials according to state and local procedures.
Label the container with an identification number and clearly state when and where the sample was taken.
Patch the sampled area with the smallest possible piece of duct tape to prevent fiber release.
Send the sample to an asbestos analysis laboratory accredited by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Your state or local health department may also be able to help.
How to Manage an Asbestos Problem
If the asbestos material is in good shape and will not be disturbed, do nothing! If it is a problem, there are two types of corrections: repair and removal. Repair usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material. Sealing (encapsulation) involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the asbestos fibers together or coats the material so that fibers are not released. Pipe, furnace and boiler insulation can sometimes be repaired this way. This should be done only by a professional trained to handle asbestos safely. Covering (enclosure) involves placing something over or around the material that contains asbestos to prevent the release of fibers. Exposed insulated piping may be covered with a protective wrap or jacket. With any type of repair, the asbestos remains in place. Repair is usually cheaper than removal, but it may make removal of asbestos later (if found to be necessary) more difficult and costly. Repairs can either be major or minor. Major repairs must be done only by a professional trained in methods for safely handling asbestos. Minor repairs should also be done by professionals, since there is always a risk of exposure to fibers when asbestos is disturbed.
Doing minor repairs yourself is not recommended, since improper handling of asbestos materials can create a hazard where none existed. If you nevertheless choose to do minor repairs, you should have as much information as possible on the handling of asbestos before doing anything. Contact your state or local health department or regional EPA office for information about asbestos training programs in your area. Your local school district may also have information about asbestos professionals and training programs for school buildings. Even if you have completed a training program, do not try anything more than minor repairs. Before undertaking minor repairs, carefully examine the area around the damage to make sure it is stable. As a general rule, any damaged area which is bigger than the size of your hand is not considered a minor repair.
Before undertaking minor repairs, be sure to follow all the precautions described previously for sampling asbestos material. Always wet the asbestos material using a fine mist of water containing a few drops of detergent. Commercial products designed to fill holes and seal damaged areas are available. Small areas of material, such as pipe insulation, can be covered by wrapping a special fabric, such as re-wettable glass cloth, around it. These products are available from stores (listed in the telephone directory under “Safety Equipment and Clothing”) which specialize in asbestos materials and safety items.
Removal is usually the most expensive method and, unless required by state or local regulations, should be the last option considered in most situations. This is because removal poses the greatest risk of fiber release. However, removal may be required when remodeling or making major changes to your home that will disturb asbestos material. Also, removal may be called for if asbestos material is damaged extensively and cannot be otherwise repaired. Removal is complex and must be done only by a contractor with special training. Improper removal may actually increase the health risks to you and your family.
Asbestos Professionals: Who Are They and What Can They Do?
Asbestos professionals are trained in handling asbestos material. The type of professional will depend on the type of product and what needs to be done to correct the problem. You may hire a general asbestos contractor or, in some cases, a professional trained to handle specific products containing asbestos.
Asbestos professionals can conduct inspections, take samples of suspected material, assess its condition, and advise on the corrections that are needed, as well as who is qualified to make these corrections. Once again, material in good condition need not be sampled unless it is likely to be disturbed. Professional correction or abatement contractors repair and remove asbestos materials.
Some firms offer combinations of testing, assessment and correction. A professional hired to assess the need for corrective action should not be connected with an asbestos-correction firm. It is better to use two different firms so that there is no conflict of interest. Services vary from one area to another around the country.
The federal government offers training courses for asbestos professionals around the country. Some state and local governments also offer or require training or certification courses. Ask asbestos professionals to document their completion of federal or state-approved training. Each person performing work in your home should provide proof of training and licensing in asbestos work, such as completion of EPA-approved training. State and local health departments or EPA regional offices may have listings of licensed professionals in your area.
If you have a problem that requires the services of asbestos professionals, check their credentials carefully. Hire professionals who are trained, experienced, reputable and accredited — especially if accreditation is required by state or local laws. Before hiring a professional, ask for references from previous clients. Find out if they were satisfied. Ask whether the professional has handled similar situations. Get cost estimates from several professionals, as the charges for these services can vary.
Though private homes are usually not covered by the asbestos regulations that apply to schools and public buildings, professionals should still use procedures described in federal or state-approved training. Homeowners should be alert to the chance of misleading claims by asbestos consultants and contractors. There have been reports of firms incorrectly claiming that asbestos materials in homes must be replaced. In other cases, firms have encouraged unnecessary removal or performed it improperly. Unnecessary removal is a waste of money. Improper removal may actually increase the health risks to you and your family. To guard against this, know what services are available and what procedures and precautions are needed to do the job properly.
In addition to general asbestos contractors, you may select a roofing, flooring or plumbing contractor trained to handle asbestos when it is necessary to remove and replace roofing, flooring, siding or asbestos-cement pipe that is part of a water system. Normally, roofing and flooring contractors are exempt from state and local licensing requirements because they do not perform any other asbestos-correction work.
Asbestos-containing automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings and gaskets should be repaired and replaced only by a professional using special protective equipment. Many of these products are now available without asbestos.
If you hire an InterNACHI® inspector who is trained in asbestos inspection:
Make sure that the inspection will include a complete visual examination, and the careful collection and lab analysis of samples. If asbestos is present, the inspector should provide a written evaluation describing its location and extent of damage, and give recommendations for correction or prevention.
Make sure an inspecting firm makes frequent site visits if it is hired to assure that a contractor follows proper procedures and requirements. The inspector may recommend and perform checks after the correction to assure that the area has been properly cleaned.
If you hire a corrective-action contractor:
Check with your local air pollution control board, the local agency responsible for worker safety, and the Better Business Bureau. Ask if the firm has had any safety violations. Find out if there are legal actions filed against it.
Insist that the contractor use the proper equipment to do the job. The workers must wear approved respirators, gloves and other protective clothing.
Before work begins, get a written contract specifying the work plan, cleanup, and the applicable federal, state and local regulations which the contractor must follow (such as notification requirements and asbestos disposal procedures). Contact your state and local health departments, EPA regional office, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s regional office to find out what the regulations are. Be sure the contractor follows local asbestos removal and disposal laws. At the end of the job, get written assurance from the contractor that all procedures have been followed.
Assure that the contractor avoids spreading or tracking asbestos dust into other areas of your home. They should seal off the work area from the rest of the house using plastic sheeting and duct tape, and also turn off the heating and air conditioning system. For some repairs, such as pipe insulation removal, plastic bags may be adequate. They must be sealed with tape and properly disposed of when the job is complete.
Make sure the work site is clearly marked as a hazardous area. Do not allow household members or pets into the area until work is completed.
Insist that the contractor apply a wetting agent to the asbestos material with a hand sprayer that creates a fine mist before removal. Wet fibers do not float in the air as easily as dry fibers and will be easier to clean up.
Make sure the contractor does not break removed material into smaller pieces. This could release asbestos fibers into the air. Pipe insulation was usually installed in pre-formed blocks and should be removed in complete pieces.
Upon completion, assure that the contractor cleans the area well with wet mops, wet rags, sponges and/or HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) vacuum cleaners. A regular vacuum cleaner must never be used. Wetting helps reduce the chance of spreading asbestos fibers in the air. All asbestos materials and disposable equipment and clothing used in the job must be placed in sealed, leakproof, and labeled plastic bags. The work site should be visually free of dust and debris. Air monitoring (to make sure there is no increase of asbestos fibers in the air) may be necessary to assure that the contractor’s job is done properly. This should be done by someone not connected with the contractor.
Do not dust, sweep or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos. These actions will disturb tiny asbestos fibers and may release them into the air. Remove dust by wet-mopping or with a special HEPA vacuum cleaner used by trained asbestos contractors.
4. Central Air-Conditioning System Inspection
A building’s central air-conditioning system must be periodically inspected and maintained in order to function properly. While an annual inspection performed by a trained professional is recommended, homeowners can do a lot of the work themselves by following the tips offered in this guide.
Clean the Exterior Condenser Unit and Components
The exterior condenser unit is the large box located on the side of the building that is designed to push heat from the inside of the building to the outdoors. Inside of the box are coils of pipe that are surrounded by thousands of thin metal “fins” that allow the coils more surface area to exchange heat. Follow these tips when cleaning the exterior condenser unit and its inner components — after turning off power to the unit!
- Remove any leaves, spider webs and other debris from the unit’s exterior. Trim foliage back several feet from the unit to ensure proper air flow.
- Remove the cover grille to clean any debris from the unit’s interior. A garden hose can be helpful for this task.
- Straighten any bent fins with a tool called a fin comb.
- Clean the evaporator coil and condenser coil at least once a year. When they collect dirt, they may not function properly.
Inspect the Condensate Drain Line
Condensate drain lines collect condensed water and drain it away from the unit. They are located on the side of the inside fan unit. Sometimes there are two drain lines—a primary drain line that’s built into the unit, and a secondary drain line that can drain if the first line becomes blocked. Homeowners can inspect the drain line by using the following tips, which take very little time and require no specialized tools:
- Inspect the drain line for obstructions, such as algae and debris. If the line becomes blocked, water will back up into the drain pan and overflow, potentially causing a safety hazard or water damage to your home.
- Make sure the hoses are secured and fit properly.
Clean the Air Filter
The air filter slides out for easy replacement
Air filters remove pollen, dust and other particles that would otherwise circulate indoors. Most filters are typically rectangular in shape and about 20 inches by 16 inches, and about 1 inch thick. They slide into the main ductwork near the inside fan unit. The filter should be periodically washed or replaced, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. A dirty air filter will not only degrade indoor air quality, but it will also strain the motor to work harder to move air through it, increasing energy costs and reducing energy efficiency. The filter should be replaced monthly during heavy use during the cooling seasons. You may need to change the filter more often if the air conditioner is in constant use, if building occupants have respiratory problems, if you have pets with fur, or if dusty conditions are present.
Cover the Exterior Unit
When the cooling season is over, you should cover the exterior condenser unit in preparation for winter. If it isn’t being used, why expose it to the elements? This measure will prevent ice, leaves and dirt from entering the unit, which can harm components and require additional maintenance in the spring. A cover can be purchased, or you can make one yourself by taping together plastic trash bags. Be sure to turn the unit off before covering it.
Close the Air-Distribution Registers
Air-distribution registers are duct openings in ceilings, walls and floors where cold air enters the room. They should be closed after the cooling season ends in order to keep warm air from back-flowing out of the room during the warming season. Pests and dust will also be unable to enter the ducts during the winter if the registers are closed. These vents typically can be opened or closed with an adjacent lever or wheel. Remember to open the registers in the spring before the cooling season starts. Also, make sure they are not blocked by drapes, carpeting or furniture.
In addition, homeowners should practice the following strategies in order to keep their central air conditioning systems running properly:
Have the air-conditioning system inspected by a professional each year before the start of the cooling season.
Reduce stress on the air conditioning system by enhancing your home’s energy efficiency. Switch from incandescent lights to compact fluorescents, for instance, which produce less heat.
In summary, any homeowner can perform periodic inspections and maintenance to their home’s central air-conditioning system.
5. Child-Proofing Your Home: 12 Safety Devices to Protect Your Children
by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kate Tarasenko
About 2.5 million children are injured or killed by hazards in the home each year. The good news is that many of these incidents can be prevented by using simple child-safety devices on the market today. Any safety device you buy should be sturdy enough to prevent injury to your child, yet easy for you to use. It’s important to follow installation instructions carefully.
In addition, if you have older children in the house, be sure they re-secure safety devices. Remember, too, that no device is completely childproof; determined youngsters have been known to disable them. You can childproof your home for a fraction of what it would cost to have a professional do it. And safety devices are easy to find. You can buy them at hardware stores, baby equipment shops, supermarkets, drug stores, home and linen stores, and through online and mail-order catalogues.
InterNACHI inspectors, too, should know what to tell clients who are concerned about the safety of their children. Here are some child-safety devices that can help prevent many injuries to young children.
- Use safety latches and locks for cabinets and drawers in kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas to help prevent poisonings and other injuries. Safety latches and locks on cabinets and drawers can help prevent children from gaining access to medicines and household cleaners, as well as knives and other sharp objects.
Look for safety latches and locks that adults can easily install and use, but that are sturdy enough to withstand pulls and tugs from children. Safety latches are not a guarantee of protection, but they can make it more difficult for children to reach dangerous substances. Even products with child-resistant packaging should be locked away out of reach; this packaging is not childproof.
But, according to Colleen Driscoll, executive director of the International Association for Child Safety (IAFCS), “Installing an ineffective latch on a cabinet is not an answer for helping parents with safety. It is important to understand parental habits and behavior. While a latch that loops around cabinet knob covers is not expensive and easy to install, most parents do not consistently re-latch it.”
Parents should be sure to purchase and install safety products that they will actually adapt to and use.
- Use safety gates to help prevent falls down stairs and to keep children away from dangerous areas. Look for safety gates that children cannot dislodge easily, but that adults can open and close without difficulty. For the top of stairs, gates that screw into the wall are more secure than “pressure gates.”
New safety gates that meet safety standards display a certification seal from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). If you have an older safety gate, be sure it doesn’t have “V” shapes that are large enough for a child’s head and neck to fit into.
- Use door locks to help prevent children from entering rooms and other areas with possible dangers, including swimming pools.
To prevent access to swimming pools, door locks on safety gates should be placed high, out of reach of young children. Locks should be used in addition to fences and alarms. Sliding glass doors with locks that must be re-secured after each use are often not an effective barrier to pool access.
Door knob covers, while inexpensive and recommended by some, are generally not effective for children who are tall enough to reach the doorknob; a child’s ingenuity and persistence can usually trump the cover’s effectiveness.
- Use anti-scald devices for faucets and shower heads, and set your water heater temperature to 120° F to help prevent burns from hot water. A plumber may need to install these.
- Use smoke detectors on every level of your home and near bedrooms to alert you to fires. Smoke detectors are essential safety devices for protection against fire deaths and injuries. Check smoke detectors once a month to make sure they’re working. If detectors are battery-operated, change batteries at least once a year, or consider using 10-year batteries.
- Use window guards and safety netting to help prevent falls from windows, balconies, decks and landings. Window guards and safety netting for balconies and decks can help prevent serious falls. Check these safety devices frequently to make sure they are secure and properly installed and maintained. There should be no more than 4 inches between the bars of the window guard. If you have window guards, be sure at least one window in each room can be easily used for escape in a fire. Window screens are not effective for preventing children from falling out of windows.
- Use corner and edge bumpers to help prevent injuries from falls against sharp edges of furniture and fireplaces. Corner and edge bumpers can be used with furniture and fireplace hearths to help prevent injuries from falls, and to soften falls against sharp and rough edges.
Be sure to look for bumpers that stay securely on furniture and hearth edges.
- Use receptacle or outlet covers and plates to help prevent children from electrical shock and possible electrocution.
Be sure the outlet protectors cannot be easily removed by children and are large enough so that children cannot choke on them.
- Use a carbon monoxide (CO) detector outside bedrooms to help prevent CO poisoning. Consumers should install CO detectors near sleeping areas in their homes. Households that should use CO detectors include those with gas or oil heat or with attached garages.
- Cut window blind cords to help prevent children from strangling in blind-cord loops. Window blind cord safety tassels on mini blinds and tension devices on vertical blinds and drapery cords can help prevent deaths and injuries from strangulation in the loops of cords. Inner cord stops can help prevent strangulation in the inner cords of window blinds.
However, the IAFCS’s Ms. Driscoll states, “Cordless is best. Although not all families are able to replace all products, it is important that parents understand that any corded blind or window treatment can still be a hazard. Unfortunately, children are still becoming entrapped in dangerous blind cords despite advances in safety in recent years.”
For older mini blinds, cut the cord loop, remove the buckle, and put safety tassels on each cord. Be sure that older vertical blinds and drapery cords have tension or tie-down devices to hold the cords tight. When buying new mini blinds, vertical blinds and draperies, ask for safety features to prevent child strangulation.
- Use door stops and door holders to help prevent injuries to fingers and hands. Door stops and door holders on doors and door hinges can help prevent small fingers and hands from being pinched or crushed in doors and door hinges.
Be sure any safety device for doors is easy to use and is not likely to break into small parts, which could be a choking hazard for young children.
- Use a cell or cordless phone to make it easier to continuously watch young children, especially when they’re in bathtubs, swimming pools, or other potentially dangerous areas. Cordless phones help you watch your child continuously without leaving the vicinity to answer a phone call. Cordless phones are especially helpful when children are in or near water, whether it’s the bathtub, the swimming pool, or the beach.7777
In summary, there are a number of different safety devices that can be purchased to ensure the safety of children in the home. Homeowners can ask an InterNACHI inspector about these and other safety measures during their next inspection. Parents should be sure to do their own consumer research to find the most effective safety devices for their home that are age-appropriate for their children’s protection, as well as affordable and compatible with their household habits and lifestyles.
6. Choosing a Manufactured Home
Manufactured homes no longer have to be the simple, rectangular, boxy trailer homes of the past. Depending on the size of your home site, you can choose from single-section or multi-section designs. Homes range in size from 900 to 2,500 square feet and can be customized to meet your needs and preferences.
Here are some important questions to consider when choosing your manufactured home.
What features are available?
The interior design of your home can include many of the custom features available in a conventional home. Because most manufacturers use computer-assisted design, you’ll have flexibility in choosing variations of floor plans and décor. You can also choose from a variety of exterior designs, depending on your taste and budget. Exterior siding comes in an array of colors and materials, including metal, vinyl, wood and cementitious sidings, which are virtually fireproof. Awnings, enclosures around the crawlspace, patio covers, decks and steps also are available.
How much can I expect to pay for a home?
Depending on the size, floor plans and any custom features, a new home can cost anywhere from $15,000 to more than $100,000. This price doesn’t include the property on which it sits. Depending on the site, you may be purchasing it, leasing it or renting it.
What financing options are available?
Your retailer usually can provide information about financing. You can also check with lenders in your area. Just as there are choices when you buy a site-built home, there are a variety of financing options when you buy a manufactured home. Down payments and loan terms are similar to conventional loans (5% to 10% of the manufactured home’s sales price), and loan terms from 15 to 30 years. Most lenders offer fixed- and variable-rate loans, and most have programs that allow you to “buy the rate down.” If you own or plan to purchase the land where you will place your home, traditional mortgage financing can often be arranged.
What other costs can I expect to pay?
While your mortgage payment may be your biggest expense, you’ll have other regular and periodic payments which will vary with your circumstances. Regular expenses may include utilities, property taxes, land rental fees, insurance, routine maintenance, and other service fees, such as water and sewer. Today’s manufactured homes are built to meet new national energy standards set by HUD. The energy-conserving features found in manufactured homes help reduce monthly energy costs.
How much maintenance will my home need?
Your homeowner’s manual outlines maintenance requirements, and it’s important that you follow them. Failure to follow them could void your warranty, as well as erode the value and shorten the lifespan of your home. Additional maintenance, systems and safety information can be provided by an InterNACHI inspector during your next scheduled inspection.
What warranty coverage is offered on the home, its transportation, and its installation?
All manufacturers offer a written warranty that should cover:
factory-installed plumbing, heating and electrical systems;
factory-installed appliances, which also may be covered by separate warranty; and
appliance manufacturer warranties.
There are important differences among warranties. For example, manufacturer warranties usually do not cover installation (also called “set-up”) and transportation of the home, although you may be able to get this coverage through the retailer or installation contractor. Although you may never need such warranty services, it’s a good idea to check the coverage on any warranties offered before you buy.
InterNACHI-certified home inspectors know where to look for defective work. Whether you’re buying an existing home or considering a new home, allow the inspector to use his/her special knowledge to help protect you by finding defects while the home is still under warranty, and before they cause damage or injury to you or your family.
Where can I locate my home?
Many homes are placed on privately-owned property. If this option appeals to you, find out about zoning laws, restrictive covenants, and utility connections. Your retailer can give you more information. Another option is to place your home in a land-lease community specifically designed for manufactured homes. Here, you own the home but lease the land. Placing your home in a land-lease community involves fewer siting considerations, such as utility connections. A third option is buying the home and land together in a planned subdivision where siting issues are handled by the developer.
May I move my home?
Yes, but it’s not a common scenario. The transportation of a home can place considerable stress on its structure and components. Nevertheless, if you do plan to move your home in the future, make sure you check with the appropriate state authorities about transportation and zoning regulations. States have restrictions on weight, size and width that may prevent you from moving your home. If you relocate, make sure you use a professional transporter; never try to move the home yourself. It’s also important to check the climate zone maps for your home. These maps tell you the wind, snow and thermal zones for which your home was constructed. Use them to determine whether your home is suitable for the new location you’re considering.
The actual overall costs connected with moving are another consideration. In addition to transport expenses, which include licensing fees to take your home through a state, you’ll have to pay for a new foundation, installation, and utility hook-ups.
7. Electrical Safety
Electricity is an essential part of our lives. However, it has the potential to cause great harm. Electrical systems will function almost indefinitely, if properly installed and not overloaded or physically abused. Electrical fires in our homes claim the lives of 485 Americans each year and injure 2,305 more. Some of these fires are caused by electrical system failures and appliance defects, but many more are caused by the misuse and poor maintenance of electrical appliances, incorrectly installed wiring, and overloaded circuits and extension cords.
Some safety tips to remember:
- Never use anything but the proper fuse to protect a circuit.
- Find and correct overloaded circuits.
- Never place extension cords under rugs.
- Outlets near water should be GFCI-type outlets.
- Don’t allow trees near power lines to be climbed.
- Keep ladders, kites, equipment and anything else away from overhead power lines.
Electricity enters the home through a control panel and a main switch where one can shut off all the power in an emergency. These panels are usually located in the basement. Control panels use either fuses or circuit breakers. Install the correct fuses for the panel. Never use a higher-numbered fuse or a metallic item, such as a penny. If fuses are used and there is a stoppage in power, look for the broken metal strip in the top of a blown fuse. Replace the fuse with a new one marked with the correct amperage. Reset circuit breakers from “off” to “on.” Be sure to investigate why the fuse or circuit blew. Possible causes include frayed wires, overloaded outlets, or defective appliances. Never overload a circuit with high-wattage appliances. Check the wattage on appliance labels. If there is frayed insulation or a broken wire, a dangerous short circuit may result and cause a fire. If power stoppages continue or if a frayed or broken wire is found, contact an electrician.
Outlets and Extension Cords
Make sure all electrical receptacles or outlets are three-hole, grounded outlets. If there is water in the area, there should be a GFCI or ground-fault circuit interrupter outlet. All outdoor outlets should be GFCIs. There should be ample electrical capacity to run equipment without tripping circuit breakers or blowing fuses. Minimize extension cord use. Never place them under rugs. Use extension cords sparingly and check them periodically. Use the proper electrical cord for the job, and put safety plugs in unused outlets.
Appliances need to be treated with respect and care. They need room to breathe. Avoid enclosing them in a cabinet without proper openings, and do not store papers around them. Level appliances so they do not tip. Washers and dryers should be checked often. Their movement can put undue stress on electrical connections. If any appliance or device gives off a tingling shock, turn it off, unplug it, and have a qualified person correct the problem. Shocks can be fatal. Never insert metal objects into appliances without unplugging them. Check appliances periodically to spot worn or cracked insulation, loose terminals, corroded wires, defective parts and any other components that might not work correctly. Replace these appliances or have them repaired by a person qualified to do so.
Electrical Heating Equipment
Portable electrical heating equipment may be used in the home as a supplement to the home heating system. Caution must be taken when using these heating supplements. Keep them away from combustibles, and make sure they cannot be tipped over. Keep electrical heating equipment in good working condition. Do not use them in bathrooms because of the risk of contact with water and electrocution. Many people use electric blankets in their homes. They will work well if they are kept in good condition. Look for cracks and breaks in the wiring, plugs and connectors. Look for charred spots on both sides. Many things can cause electric blankets to overheat. They include other bedding placed on top of them, pets sleeping on top of them, and putting things on top of the blanket when it is in use. Folding the blankets can also bend the coils and cause overheating.
Electricity is important to the workings of the home, but can be dangerous, especially to children. Electrical safety needs to be taught to children early on. Safety plugs should be inserted in unused outlets when toddlers are in the home. Make sure all outlets in the home have face plates. Teach children not to put things into electrical outlets and not to chew on electrical cords. Keep electrical wiring boxes locked. Do not allow children to come in contact with power lines outside. Never allow them to climb trees near power lines, utility poles or high tension towers.
Electricity and Water
A body can act like a lightning rod and carry the current to the ground. People are good conductors of electricity, particularly when standing in water or on a damp floor. Never use any electrical appliance in the tub or shower. Never touch an electric cord or appliance with wet hands. Do not use electrical appliances in damp areas or while standing on damp floors. In areas where water is present, use outlets with GFCIs. Shocks can be fatal.
Mice and other rodents can chew on electrical wires and damage them. If rodents are suspected or known to be in the home, be aware of the damage they may cause, and take measures to get rid of them.
There are several electrical hazards outside the home. Be aware of overhead and underground power lines. People have been electrocuted when an object they are moving has come in contact with the overhead power lines. Keep ladders, antennae, kites and poles away from power lines leading to the house and other buildings. Do not plant trees, shrubs or bushes under power lines or near underground power lines. Never build a swimming pool or other structure under the power line leading to your house. Before digging, learn the location of underground power lines.
Do not climb power poles or transmission towers. Never let anyone shoot or throw stones at insulators. If you have an animal trapped in a tree or on the roof near electric lines, phone your utility company. Do not take a chance of electrocuting yourself. Be aware of weather conditions when installing and working with electrical appliances. Never use electrical power tools or appliances with rain overhead or water underfoot. Use only outdoor lights, fixtures and extension cords. Plug into outlets with a GFCI. Downed power lines are extremely dangerous. If you see a downed power line, call the electric company, and warn others to stay away. If a power line hits your car while you are in it, stay inside unless the car catches fire. If the car catches fire, jump clear without touching metal and the ground at the same time.
MORE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS :
- Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring.
- Hire an InterNACHI inspector. InterNACHI inspectors must pass rigorous safety training and are knowledgeable in the ways to reduce the likelihood of electrocution.
- Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old and damaged appliance cords immediately.
- Use electrical extension cords wisely and don’t overload them.
- Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters; pay special care to electrical appliances in the bathroom and kitchen.
- Don’t allow children to play with or around electrical appliances, such as space heaters, irons and hair dryers.
- Keep clothes, curtains and other potentially combustible items at least 3 feet from all heaters.
- If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
- Never overload extension cords or wall sockets. Immediately shut off, then professionally replace, light switches that are hot to the touch, as well as lights that flicker. Use safety closures to childproof electrical outlets.
- Check your electrical tools regularly for signs of wear. If the cords are frayed or cracked, replace them. Replace any tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out or gives off smoke or sparks.
In summary, household electrocution can be prevented by following the tips offered in this guide and by hiring an InterNACHI inspector.
8. Three Deadly Mistakes Every Home Buyer Should Avoid
Deadly Mistake #1: Thinking you can’t afford it.
Many people who thought that buying the home they wanted was simply out of their reach are now enjoying a new lifestyle in their very own homes.
Buying a home is the smartest financial decision you will ever make. In fact, most homeowners would be broke at retirement if it wasn’t for one saving grace — the equity in their homes. Furthermore, tax allowances favor home ownership.
Real estate values have always risen steadily. Of course, there are peaks and valleys, but the long-term trend is a consistent increase. This means that every month when you make a mortgage payment, the amount that you owe on the home goes down and the value typically increases. This “owe less, worth more” situation is called equity build-up and is the reason you can’t afford not to buy.
Even if you have little money for a down payment or credit problems, chances are that you can still buy that new home. It just comes down to knowing the right strategies, and working with the right people. See below.
Deadly Mistake #2: Not hiring a buyer’s agent to represent you.
Buying property is a complex and stressful task. In fact, it is often the biggest, single investment you will make in your lifetime. At the same time, real estate transactions have become increasingly complicated. New technology, laws, procedures, and competition from other buyers require buyer agents to perform at an ever-increasing level of competence and professionalism. In addition, making the wrong decisions can end up costing you thousands of dollars. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Work with a buyer’s agent who has a keen understanding of the real estate business and the local market. A buyer’s agent has a fiduciary duty to you. That means that he or she is loyal only to you and is obligated to look out for your best interests. A buyer’s agent can help you find the best home, the best lender, and the best home inspector in your area. That inspector should be an InterNACHI-certified home inspector because InterNACHI inspectors are the most qualified and best-trained inspectors in the world.
Trying to buy a home without an agent or a qualified inspector is, well… unthinkable.
Deadly Mistake #3: Getting a cheap inspection.
Buying a home is probably the most expensive purchase you will ever make. This is no time to shop for a cheap inspection. The cost of a home inspection is small relative to the value of the home being inspected. The additional cost of hiring a certified inspector is almost insignificant by comparison. As a home buyer, you have recently been crunching the numbers, negotiating offers, adding up closing costs, shopping for mortgages, and trying to get the best deals. Don’t stop now! Don’t let your real estate agent, a “patty-cake” inspector, or anyone else talk you into skimping here.
InterNACHI front-ends its membership requirements. InterNACHI turns down more than half the inspectors who want to join because they can’t fulfill the membership requirements.
InterNACHI-certified inspectors perform the best inspections, by far. InterNACHI-certified inspectors earn their fees many times over. They do more, they deserve more and — yes — they generally charge a little more. Do yourself a favor…and pay a little more for the quality inspection you deserve.
9. Home Inspection Reports: What to Expect
by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard
Influenced by the changes in the economic and legal environments over the past 30 years, home inspection reports have changed to accommodate increased consumer expectations, and to provide more extensive information and protection to both inspectors and their clients.
Development of Standards
Prior to the mid-1970s, inspection reports followed no standard guidelines and, for the most part, there was little or no oversight or licensure. As might be imagined, without minimum standards to follow, the quality of inspection reports varied widely, and the home inspection industry was viewed with some suspicion.
With the founding of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) in 1976, home inspection guidelines governing inspection report content became available in the form of a Standards of Practice. Over time, a second, larger trade association, the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), came into existence, and developed its own standards.
InterNACHI has grown to dominate the inspection industry and, in addition to its Residential Standards of Practice, it has developed a comprehensive Standards of Practice for the Inspection of Commercial Properties. Today, most types of inspections from mold to fire door inspections are performed in accordance with one of InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice.
As a consumer, you should take the time to examine the Standards of Practice followed by your inspector. If he is unaffiliated with any professional inspection organization, and his reports follow no particular standards, find another inspector.
Generally speaking, reports should describe the major home systems, their crucial components, and their operability, especially the ones in which failure can result in dangerous or expensive-to-correct conditions. Defects should be adequately described, and the report should include recommendations.
Reports should also disclaim portions of the home not inspected. Since home inspections are visual inspections, the parts of the home hidden behind floor, wall and ceiling coverings should be disclaimed.
Home inspectors are not experts in every system of the home, but are trained to recognize conditions that require a specialist inspection.
Home inspections are not technically exhaustive, so the inspector will not disassemble a furnace to examine the heat exchanger closely, for example.
Standards of Practice are designed to identify both the requirements of a home inspection and the limitations of an inspection.
Checklist and Narrative Reports
In the early years of the home inspection industry, home inspection reports consisted of a simple checklist, or a one- or two-page narrative report.
Checklist reports are just that; very little is actually written. The report is a series of boxes with short descriptions after them. Descriptions are often abbreviated, and might consist of only two or three words, such as “peeling paint.” The entire checklist might only be four or five pages long. Today, some inspection legal agreements are almost that long!
Because of the lack of detailed information, checklist reports leave a lot open to interpretation, so that buyers, sellers, agents, contractors, attorneys and judges may each interpret the information differently, depending on their motives.
In the inspection business, phrases that describe conditions found during an inspection are called “narratives.” Narrative reports use reporting language that more completely describes each condition. Descriptions are not abbreviated.
Both checklist and narrative reports are still in use today, although many jurisdictions are now beginning to ban checklist reports because the limited information they offer has resulted in legal problems.
From the standpoint of liability, narrative reports are widely considered safer, since they provide more information and state it more clearly.
Many liability issues and problems with the inspection process are due to misunderstandings about what was to be included in the report, or about what the report says.
For example, in 2002, an investor bought a 14-unit hotel in California. The six-page narrative report mentioned that flashing where the second-story concrete walkway met the building was improperly installed, and the condition could result in wood decay. Four years later, the investor paid out almost $100,000 to demolish and replace the entire upper walkway. In some places, it was possible to push a pencil through support beams.
Although the inspector’s report had mentioned the problem, it hadn’t made clear the seriousness of the condition, or the possible consequences of ignoring it. Today, a six-page report would be considered short for a small house.
Development of Reporting Software
Years ago, when computers were expensive to buy and difficult to operate, inspection reports were written by hand. As computers became simpler to operate and more affordable, inspection software began to appear on the market.
Today, using this software, an inspector can chose from a large number of organized boilerplate narratives that s/he can edit or add to in order to accommodate local conditions, since inspectors in a hot, humid city like Tampa Bay, Florida, are likely to find types of problems different from those found by inspectors in a cold, dry climate, like Salt Lake City, Utah.
Using narrative software and checking boxes in categories that represent the home systems, an inspector can produce a very detailed report in a relatively short time.
For example, using a checklist report, an inspector finding a number of inoperable lights in a home would check a box in the “INTERIOR” section labeled something like “some lights inoperable,” and that would be the limit of the information passed on to the client.
Using inspection software, in the “INTERIOR” section of the program, an inspector might check a box labeled “some lights inoperable.” This would cause the following narrative to appear in the “INTERIOR” section of the inspection report:
“Some light fixtures in the home appeared to be inoperable. The bulbs may be burned out, or a problem may exist with the fixtures, wiring or switches.
If after the bulbs are replaced, these lights still fail to respond to the switch, this condition may represent a potential fire hazard, and the Inspector recommends that an evaluation and any necessary repairs be performed by a qualified electrical contractor.”
Standard disclaimers and other information can be pre-checked to automatically appear in each report.
Narratives typically consists of three parts:
a description of a condition of concern;
a sentence or paragraph describing how serious the condition is, and the potential ramifications, answering questions such as, “Is it now stable, or will the problem continue?” or “Will it burn down the house?” and “When?”; and
a recommendation. Recommendations may be for specific actions to be taken, or for further evaluation, but they should address problems in such a way that the reader of the report will understand how to proceed.
“Typically” is a key word here. Some narratives may simply give the ampacity of the main electrical disconnect. There is no need for more than one sentence. Different inspectors would include what they think is necessary.
Inspection reports often begin with an informational section which gives general information about the home, such as the client’s name, the square footage, and the year the home was built.
Other information often listed outside the main body of the report, either near the beginning or near the end, are disclaimers, and sometimes a copy of the inspection agreement, and sometimes a copy of the Standards of Practice. A page showing the inspector’s professional credentials, designations, affiliations and memberships is also often included. And it is a good idea to include InterNACHI’s Now That You’ve Had a Home Inspection book.
Inspection reports often include a summary report listing major problems to ensure that important issues are not missed by the reader. It’s important that the reader be aware of safety issues or conditions which will be expensive to correct. With this in mind, some inspectors color-code report narratives, although many feel that color-coding exposes them to increased liability and don’t do this.
Software often gives inspectors the choice of including photographs in the main body of the report, near the narrative that describes them, or photographs may be grouped together toward the beginning or end of the report.
A table of contents is usually provided.
The main body of the report may be broken down into sections according to home systems, such as “ELECTRICAL,” “PLUMBING,” “HEATING,” etc., or it may be broken down by area of the home: “EXTERIOR,” “INTERIOR,” “KITCHEN,” “BEDROOMS,” etc.
It often depends on how the inspector likes to work.
Many inspectors have websites which include sample inspection reports for prospective clients to view. Take the time to look at them. Also often included is a page explaining the scope of the inspection. The inspection contract is usually included on the website, and it should give you a good idea of what will be included in the report.
In conclusion, for consumers to have realistic expectations about what information will be included in the home inspection report, follow these tips:
- read the Standards of Practice;
- read the Contract;
- view a sample Inspection Report; and
- talk with the inspector.
10. Home Insurance Tips
Why You Need Homeowner’s Insurance
The largest, single investment most consumers make is in their homes. The consumer can protect their home, possessions, and liability with a homeowner’s insurance policy. The homeowner’s insurance policy is a package policy that combines more than one type of insurance coverage in a single policy. There are four types of coverages that are contained in the homeowner’s policy: dwelling and personal property; personal liability; medical payment; and additional living expenses.
Four Point Inspection
Florida insurance companies typically require a 4 Point Inspection for all homeowner, dwelling and mobile home applications for property insurance (homeowners insurance). A Florida-licensed inspector will check the home’s electrical system, plumbing, heating/cooling system (HVAC) and roof. The inspector must provide the age, type and condition of the wiring, heating and plumbing systems, and roof. These are the four points of inspection. Any serious hazards or deficiencies (such as exposed wiring, active leaks or evidence of leaks) should be repaired before an application for coverage is submitted. This type of inspection helps to qualify the home for insurance.
Wind-Damage Mitigation Discounts
Many homes in Florida are built with wind-damage mitigation features that help protect them from the heavy wind and rain experienced in a hurricane or tropical storm. Homes with such features may qualify for insurance policy premium discounts by documenting any approved features through a wind mitigation inspection. Wind mitigation inspections Identify and document mitigation features including the roof to wall connection types, roof age, roof geometry, and opening protections. While a wind mitigation inspection is generally not required to obtain insurance, it is highly recommended in order to save on insurance premiums.
Property Damage Coverage
Property damage coverage helps pay for damage to your home and personal property. Other structures, such as a detached garage, a tool shed, and any other building on your property are usually covered for 10% of the amount of coverage on your house.
Personal property coverage will pay for personal property, including household furniture, clothing, and other personal belongings. The amount of insurance coverage is usually 50% of the policy limit on your dwelling. The coverage is also limited by the types of loss listed in the policy. The coverage only pays the current cash value of the item destroyed, unless you purchase “replacement cost” coverage. Your homeowner’s policy also provides off-premises coverage. This means that the policy covers your belongings against theft even when they are not inside your home.
Personal Liability Coverage
Homeowners’ policies provide personal liability coverage that applies to non-auto accidents on and off your property if the injury or damage is caused by you, a member of your family, or your pet. The liability coverage in your policy pays both for the cost of defending you and paying for any damages that a court rules you must pay. Liability insurance does not have a deductible that you must meet before your insurer begins to pay losses. The basic liability coverage is usually $100,000 for each occurence. You can request higher limits that are available for an additional cost.
Medical Payment Coverage
Medical payment coverage pays if someone outside your family is injured at your home, regardless of fault. This includes payment for reasonable medical expenses incurred within one year from the date of loss for a person who is injured in an accident in your home. The coverage does not apply to you and members of your household. The medical-payments portion of your homeowner’s policy will also pay if you are involved in the injury of another person away from your home in some limited circumstances. Medical payments coverage limits are generally $1,000 for each person.
Additional Living Expenses
If it is necessary for you to move into a motel or apartment temporarily because of damage caused by a peril covered in your policy, your insurance company will pay an amount up to 20% of the policy limit on your dwelling for these expenses. If you move in temporarily with a friend or relative and do not have any extra expenses, you will not be paid any addditional living expenses by your insurance company.
If you operate a home business full- or part-time, you might be uninsured and not realize it. Many home business owners believe that their homeowner’s insurance policy covers all of their home business needs. You should not assume that your homeowner’s insurance policy will cover your home business. Your homeowner’s policy may provide coverage, but probably only a maximum of $2,500 for business equipment in the home, and $250 away from the premises.
The price you pay for your homeowner’s insurance can vary by hundreds of dollars, depending on the insurance company you buy your policy from. Here are some things to consider when buying homeowner’s insurance.
Tips when shopping for home owners insurance
- Shop around.
It will take some time, but could save you a good sum of money. Ask your friends, check the Yellow Pages, and contact your state insurance commission. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has information to help you choose an insurer in your state, including complaints that are filed by consumers. States often make information available on typical rates charged by major insurers, and many states provide the frequency of consumer complaints by company. Also check consumer guides, insurance agents, companies, and online insurance quote services. This will give you an idea of price ranges and tell you which companies have the lowest prices. But don’t consider price alone. The insurer you select should offer a fair price and deliver the quality of service you would expect if you needed assistance in filing a claim. So, in assessing service quality, use the complaint information from state regulatory agencies and talk to a number of insurers to get a feeling for the type of service they provide. Ask them what they would do to lower your costs. When you’ve narrowed the field to three insurers, get price quotes.
- Raise your deductible.
Deductibles are the amount of money you have to pay toward a loss before your insurance company starts to pay a claim, according to the terms of your policy. The higher your deductible, the more money you can save on your premiums. Nowadays, most insurance companies recommend a deductible of at least $500. If you can afford to raise your deductible to $1,000, you may save as much as 25%. Remember, if you live in a disaster-prone area, your insurance policy may have a separate deductible for certain kinds of damage. If you live near the coast in the East, you may have a separate windstorm deductible; if you live in a state vulnerable to hailstorms, you may have a separate deductible for hail; and if you live in an earthquake-prone area, your earthquake policy has a deductible.
- Don’t confuse what you paid for your house with rebuilding costs.
The land under your house isn’t at risk from theft, windstorm, fire and the other perils covered in your homeowner’s policy. So don’t include its value in deciding how much homeowner’s insurance to buy. If you do, you will pay a higher premium than you should.
- Buy your home and auto policies from the same insurer.
Some companies that sell homeowner’s, auto and liability coverage will take 5% to 15% off your premium if you buy two or more policies from them. But make certain this combined price is lower than buying the different coverages from different companies.
- Make your home more disaster-resistant.
Find out from your insurance agent or company representative what steps you can take to make your home more resistant to windstorms and other natural disasters. You may be able to save on your premiums by adding storm shutters, reinforcing your roof, and buying stronger roofing materials. Older homes can be retrofitted to make them better able to withstand earthquakes. In addition, consider modernizing your heating, plumbing and electrical systems to reduce the risk of fire and water damage. Even small measures, such as keeping a fire extinguisher in your kitchen, will often qualify you for a discount on your premiums and save you money in the long run.
- Improve your home security.
You can usually get discounts of at least 5% for a smoke detector, burglar alarm and dead-bolt locks. Some companies offer to cut your premium by as much as 15% to 20% if you install a sophisticated sprinkler system and a fire and burglar alarm that rings at the police, fire or other monitoring stations. These systems aren’t cheap, and not every system qualifies for a discount. Before you buy such a system, find out what kind your insurer recommends, how much the device would cost, and how much you’d save on premiums.
- Seek out other discounts.
Companies offer several types of discounts, but they don’t all offer the same discount or the same amount of discount in all states. For example, since retired people are at home more than working people, they are less likely to be burglarized and may spot fires sooner, too. Retired people also have more time for maintaining their homes. If you’re at least 55 years old and retired, you may qualify for a discount of up to 10% at some companies. Some employers and professional associations administer group insurance programs that may offer a better deal than you can get elsewhere.
- Maintain a good credit record.
Establishing a solid credit history can cut your insurance costs. Insurers are increasingly using credit information to price homeowners’ insurance policies. In most states, your insurer must advise you of any adverse action, such as a higher rate, at which time you should verify the accuracy of the information on which the insurer relied. To protect your credit standing, pay your bills on time, don’t obtain more credit than you need, and keep your credit balances as low as possible. Check your credit record on a regular basis, and rectify any errors promptly so that your record remains accurate.
- Stay with the same insurer.
If you’ve kept your coverage with a company for several years, you may receive a special discount for being a long-term policyholder. Some insurers will reduce their premiums by 5% if you stay with them for three to five years, and by 10% if you remain a policyholder for six years or more. But make certain to periodically compare this price with that of other policies.
- Review the limits in your policy and the value of your possessions at least once a year.
You want your policy to cover any major purchases or additions to your home. But you don’t want to spend money for coverage you don’t need. If your five-year-old fur coat is no longer worth the $5,000 you paid for it, you’ll want to reduce or cancel your floater — defined as extra insurance for items whose full value is not covered by standard homeowners’ policies, such as expensive jewelry, high-end computers and valuable art work — and pocket the difference.
- If you are in a government plan, look for private insurance.
If you live in a high-risk area — say, one that is especially vulnerable to coastal storms, fires or crime — and have been buying your homeowner’s insurance through a government plan, you should check with an insurance agent or company representative, or contact your state commission of insurance for the names of companies that might be interested in your business. You may find that there are steps you can take that would allow you to buy insurance at a lower price in the private market.
- When you’re buying a home, consider the cost of homeowner’s insurance.
You may pay less for insurance if you buy a house close to a fire hydrant or in a community that has a professional rather than a volunteer fire department. It may also be cheaper if your home’s electrical, heating and plumbing systems are less than 10 years old. If you live in the East, consider a brick home because it’s more wind-resistant. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, look for a wooden frame house because it is more likely to withstand this type of disaster. Choosing wisely could cut your premiums by 5% to 15%.
Check the CLUE (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange) report of the home you are thinking of buying. These reports contain the insurance-claim history of the property and can help you judge some of the problems the house may have. Remember that flood insurance and earthquake damage are not covered by a standard homeowner’s policy. If you buy a house in a flood-prone area, you’ll have to pay for a flood insurance policy that costs an average of $400 a year. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides useful information on flood insurance on its Web site at www.fema.gov/nfip. A separate earthquake policy is available from most insurance companies. The cost of the coverage will depend on the likelihood of earthquakes in your area.
If you have questions about insurance for any of your possessions, be sure to ask your agent or company representative when you’re shopping around for a policy. For example, if you run a business out of your home, be sure to discuss coverage for that business. Most homeowners’ policies cover business equipment in the home, but only up to $2,500, and they offer no business liability coverage. Although you want to lower your homeowner’s insurance cost, you also want to make certain you have all the coverage you need.
Common Questions Asked by Homeowners About Insurance
If a fire, flood, earthquake, or some other natural disaster were to damage or destroy your home, would you have the right insurance coverage to rebuild your house? Based on the questions consumers ask most frequently, this list explains what is and is not covered in a standard homeowner’s policy. Where gaps in coverage exist, it tells you how to fill them. To simplify explanations, assume that you have a policy known as Homeowners-3 (HO-3), the most common type of homeowner’s policy in the United States. Find out what type of homeowner’s policy you have. If you have a different policy, you should review your options in question #17.
- Am I covered for direct losses due to fire, lightning, tornadoes, windstorms, hail, explosions, smoke, vandalism and theft?
Yes. The HO-3 provides broad coverage for these and other disasters or “perils,” as they are called in the policy, including all those listed in the question. You should check the dollar limits of insurance in your policy, and make sure you are comfortable with the amount of insurance you have for specific items. Also, if you live near the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts, there may be some restrictions on your coverage for wind damage. Ask your agent about windstorm/hurricane deductibles. In areas prone to hailstorms, you may have a specific hail-damage deductible.
- Are my jewelry and other valuables covered?
The standard policy provides only from $1,000 to $2,000 for theft of jewelry. If your jewelry is worth a lot more, you should purchase higher limits. You may wish to add a floater to your policy to cover specific pieces of jewelry and other expensive possessions, such as paintings, electronic equipment, stamp collections and silverware, for example. The floater will provide both higher limits and protect you from additional risks not covered in your standard policy.
- If my house is totally destroyed in a fire and I have $150,000 worth of insurance to cover the structure, will this be enough to rebuild my home?
If the cost of rebuilding your home is less than or equal to $150,000, you would have enough coverage. The HO-3 policy pays for structural damage on a replacement-cost basis. If the cost of replacing your home is, say, $120,000, then that is all the insurance you need. On the other hand, if the cost of rebuilding your home is $180,000, then you will be short $30,000.
If you live in an area that is frequently hit by major storms, ask your insurance company about an extended or guaranteed replacement-cost policy. This will provide a certain amount over the policy limit to rebuild your home, so that if building costs go up unexpectedly due to high demand for contractors and materials, you will have the extra funds to cover the bill.
If you choose not to rebuild your home, you will receive the replacement cost of your home, less depreciation. This is called “actual cash value.” You should make sure that the amount of insurance you have will cover the cost of rebuilding your house. You can find out what this cost is by talking to your real estate agent or builders in your area.
Do not use the price of your house as the basis for the amount of insurance you purchase. The market price of your house includes the value of the land on which the house sits. In almost all cases, the land will still be there after a disaster, so you do not need to insure it. You only need to insure the structure.
- Am I automatically covered for flood damage?
No. If you live in a flood-prone area, it may be wise to purchase flood insurance. Flood insurance is provided by the federal government under a program run by the Federal Insurance Administration. In some parts of the country, homes can be damaged or destroyed by mudslides. This risk is also covered under flood policies. Contact your agent or company representative to get this insurance, or call the FEMA at 1-800-427-4661 or visit www.fema.gov.
- If a pipe bursts and water flows all over my floors, am I covered?
Yes. The HO-3 covers you for accidental discharge of water from a plumbing system. You should check your plumbing and heating systems once a year. While you are covered for damage, who needs the mess and hassle?
- What if water seeps into my basement from the ground — am I still covered?
No. Water seepage is excluded under the HO-3. And if the water seepage is not due to a flood, you will not be covered under a flood policy. Seepage is viewed as a maintenance issue and is not covered by insurance. You should see a contractor about waterproofing your basement.
- Am I automatically covered for earthquake damage?
No. Earthquake coverage is sold as additional coverage to the homeowner’s policy. To find out whether you should buy this insurance, talk to your agent or company representative. The cost of this coverage can vary significantly from one area to another, depending on the likelihood of a major earthquake.
- A neighbor slips on my sidewalk or falls down my porch steps and threatens to take me to court for damages. Does my policy protect me?
Yes. The policy will pay for damages if a fall or other accident on your property is the result of your negligence. It will also pay for the legal costs of defending you against a claim. Also, the medical-payments part of your homeowner’s policy will cover medical expenses if a neighbor or guest is injured on your property. You should check to see how much liability protection you have. The standard amount is $100,000. If you feel you need more, consider purchasing higher limits.
- A tree falls and damages my roof during a storm. Am I covered?
Yes. You are covered for the damage to your roof. You are also covered for the removal of the tree, generally up to a limit of $500. You should cut down dead or dying trees close to your house and prune branches that are near your house. It’s true that your insurance covers damage, but falling trees and branches can also injure your family. Ask your InterNACHI inspector about problem trees during your next inspection.
- During a storm, a tree falls but does no damage to my property. Am I covered for the cost of removing the tree?
Your trees and shrubs are covered for losses due to risks such as vandalism, theft and fire, but not wind damage. However, if a fallen tree blocks access to your home, you may be covered for its removal. Decide if you need extra insurance for the trees, plants and shrubs on your property. You may be able to purchase extra insurance which will not only cover the cost of removing fallen trees, but will also cover the cost of replacing trees and other plants.
- If a storm causes a power outage and all the food in my refrigerator and freezer is spoiled and must be thrown out, can I make a claim?
The general answer is no. However, there are a number of exceptions. In some states, food spoilage is covered under the homeowner’s policy. In addition, if the power loss is due to a break in a power line on or close to your property, you may be covered. You should check with your agent to find out whether you are covered for food spoilage in your state. If not, you can add food-spoilage coverage to your policy for an additional premium.
- My children are away at college. Are they covered by my homeowner’s insurance?
If they’re full-time college students and part of your household, your insurance generally provides some coverage in a dorm, typically 10% of the contents’ limit. If they live off-campus, some companies may not provide this limited coverage if the apartment is rented in the student’s name.
- My golf clubs were stolen from the trunk of my car. Does my homeowner’s policy cover the loss?
Yes. The HO-3 covers your personal property while it is anywhere in the world. However, if your golf clubs are old, you will get only their current value, which may not be enough to purchase a new set. Consider buying a replacement-cost endorsement for your personal property. This way, you will get what it costs to replace the golf clubs, less your deductible.
- I have a small power boat. If it is stolen, am I covered? What if there is a boating accident and I get sued? Am I covered for that?
Whether or not you are covered for either theft or liability depends on the size of the boat, the horsepower of the engine, and your insurance company. Coverage for small boats under homeowners’ policies varies significantly. Ask your insurance representative whether you need a boat owner’s policy.
- My house is close to the ocean. I’ve heard that if it is destroyed by the wind, the town’s new building code requires me to rebuild the house on stilts. This will add $30,000 to the cost of rebuilding my house. Am I covered for this extra cost?
No. The HO-3 excludes costs mandated by ordinances and laws that regulate the construction of buildings. You can purchase an ordinance or law endorsement. This will cover the extra costs involved in meeting new building codes.
- Am I covered for “acts of God”?
Sometimes. The term “acts of God” is not specifically mentioned in homeowners’ insurance policies. It usually refers to natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, as opposed to man-made acts, such as theft and auto accidents. Some natural disasters, such as damage from windstorms, hail, lightning, and volcanic eruptions, are covered under homeowner’s insurance. Damage from floods and earthquakes is not.
- What should I do if my policy provides less coverage than the HO-3?
Review your coverage with your agent. Some older policies provide less coverage than the HO-3. They may not provide coverage for water damage, theft or liability. They may also provide coverage for the house on an actual cash-value basis, rather than a replacement-cost basis.
“Actual cash value” means replacement cost less depreciation. For example, if your roof is destroyed in a storm, the insurance will pay only for the cost of a new roof less the amount of depreciation of the old roof. If your roof was in great shape, this deduction will not be large. However, if the roof was old and worn out, the deduction for depreciation may be significant. You should try to get an HO-3.
11. House Numbers
by Nick Gromicko, CMI® and Kenton Shepard
Ever wonder about your house number? Often, the previous owner installed the number and the new owner never had to think about it, leaving them clueless as to why it was placed where it is or why a particular color or size was chosen. These numbers are more important than you probably realize, and a lot of thought goes into making sure they are visible.
House numbers should be clear enough so that police, the fire department, paramedics, etc., can quickly locate properties in an emergency. Numbers are often the only way that first-responders can identify their intended destinations. Your city might even have laws requiring your house number to be of a certain size or color. Also, think of the poor pizza delivery guy who runs late because he can’t find your house, or frustrated party guests who have to knock on neighbors’ doors before they find yours.
Consider the following recommendations:
- The numbers should be large, within reason. Try to make them at least 5 or 6 inches tall. Smaller numbers may not be visible from the street if you have a large front yard. Replacement house numbers can be purchased from hardware stores and online.
- The numbers should be of a color that contrasts with their background. Reflective numbers are great because they are easier to see at night. Brown on black or white on yellow may look swanky but are bad choices for the purpose.
- Try not to put house numbers behind any trees, shrubs, or anything else that may obscure their view from the street.
- Make sure that the number faces the street that is listed in the house’s address. It does emergency workers no good if the house number faces a different street than the one the workers are traveling on.
- Is your house not visible from the road? Then the number should be placed at the driveway’s entrance.
- The next time you hire an InterNACHI inspector, ask him whether your numbers are adequate. Inspectors should know the laws in your area and be able to offer you a professional opinion.
Keep in mind that you may need to make adjustments.
Even if your house number is currently adequate, InterNACHI believes that it might need adjustment in the future. The following are common reasons why you may need to adjust your number in the future:
- The addresses assigned to houses by the city occasionally change, and you must adjust your numbers accordingly.
- The trees or shrubs in front of your house have grown so much that the number is no longer visible.
- House numbers installed in the winter may be visible during that season, but become blocked by budding vegetation by spring or summer.
Maintain your house numbers, along with the rest of your home’s exterior.
- Keep your numbers clean. They may not be reflective or contrasting if they are covered in mud.
- Trim back vegetation as needed.
- Don’t let piles of snow obscure the numbers. If this happens, raise the number so this situation does not happen again.
In summary, house numbers serve a critical function for emergency personnel and should be clearly displayed.
12. Lead Facts
Did you know the following facts about lead?
FACT: Lead exposure can harm young children and babies even before they are born.
FACT: Even children who seem healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies.
FACT: You can get lead in your body by breathing or swallowing lead dust, or by eating soil or paint chips containing lead.
FACT: You have many options for reducing lead hazards. In most cases, lead-based paint that is in good condition is not a hazard.
FACT: Removing lead-based paint improperly can increase the danger to your family.
If you think your home might have lead hazards, read on to learn about lead and some simple steps to protect your family.
Health Effects of Lead
Childhood lead poisoning remains a major environmental health problem in the U.S.
Even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies.
People can get lead in their body if they:
- put their hands or other objects covered with lead dust in their mouths;
- eat paint chips or soil that contains lead; or
- breathe in lead dust, especially during renovations that disturb painted surfaces.
Lead is even more dangerous to children than adults because:
- babies and young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths. These objects can have lead dust on them;
- children’s growing bodies can absorb more lead; and
- children’s brains and central nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.
If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from:
- damage to the brain and nervous system;
- behavioral and learning problems (such as hyperactivity);
- slowed growth;
- hearing problems; and
Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from:
- difficulties during pregnancy;
- other reproductive problems (in both men and women);
- high blood pressure;
- digestive problems;
- nerve disorders;
- memory and concentration problems; and
- muscle and joint pain
Where is Lead Found?
In general, the older your home, the more likely it has lead-based paint.
Many homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. The federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978. Some states stopped its use even earlier. Lead can be found:
- in homes in the city, country and suburbs;
- on apartments, single-family homes, and both private and public housing complexes;
- on the interior and exterior of the house;
- in the soil around a home. Soil can pick up lead from exterior paint and other sources, such as past use of leaded gas in cars;
- in household dust. Dust can pick up lead from deteriorating lead-based paint and from soil tracked into a home;
- in drinking water. Your home might have plumbing that uses lead pipes or lead solder. Call your local health department or water supplier to find out about testing your water. You cannot see, smell or taste lead, and boiling your water will not get rid of lead.
If you think your plumbing might have lead in it:
- Use only cold water for drinking and cooking.
- Run water for 15 to 30 seconds before drinking it, especially if you have not used your water for a few hours.
- on the job. If you work with lead, you could bring it home on your hands or clothes. Shower and change clothes before coming home. Launder your work clothes separately from the rest of your family’s clothes;
- in old (vintage or antique) painted toys and furniture;
- in food and liquids stored in lead crystal, lead-glazed pottery and porcelain;
- from lead smelters and other industries that release lead into the air;
- with hobbies that use lead, such as making pottery or stained glass, or refinishing furniture.
- in folk remedies that contain lead, such as “greta” and “azarcon” used to treat an upset stomach.
Where is Lead Likely to be a Hazard?
Lead from paint chips, which you can see, and lead dust, which you can’t always see, can be serious hazards.
Peeling, chipping, chalking and cracking lead-based paint is a hazard and needs immediate attention.
Lead-based paint may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear-and-tear. These areas include:
- windows and window sills;
- doors and door frames;
- stairs, railings and banisters; and
- porches and fences.
Note: Lead-based paint that is in good condition is usually not a hazard.
- Lead dust can form when lead-based paint is dry-scraped, dry-sanded, or heated. Dust also forms when painted surfaces bump or rub together. Lead chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch. Settled lead dust can re-enter the air when people vacuum, sweep or walk through it.
- Lead in soil can be a hazard when children play in bare soil, or when people bring soil into the house on their shoes.
Checking Your Family and Home for Lead
- Have your children and home tested if you think your home has high levels of lead.
- Just knowing that a home has lead-based paint may not tell you if there is a hazard.
To reduce your child’s exposure to lead, get your child checked, have your home tested (especially if your home has paint in poor condition and was built before 1978), and fix any hazards you may have.
Children’s blood lead levels tend to increase rapidly from 6 to 12 months of age, and tend to peak at 18 to 24 months of age.
Consult your doctor for advice on testing your children. A simple blood test can detect high levels of lead. Blood tests are important for:
- children at ages 1 to 2;
- children and other family members who have been exposed to high levels of lead; and
- children who should be tested under your state or local health screening plan.
Your doctor can explain what the test results mean and if more testing will be needed.
You can get your home checked in one of two ways (or both):
- A paint inspection tells you the lead content of every different type of painted surface in your home. It won’t tell you whether the paint is a hazard or how you should deal with it.
- A risk assessment tells you if there are any sources of serious lead exposure, such as peeling paint and lead dust. It also tells you what actions to take to address these hazards.
Have qualified professionals do the work. There are standards in place for certifying lead-based paint professionals to ensure that the work is done safely, reliably and effectively. Be sure to ask your InterNACHI inspector about lead paint during your next inspection. Trained professionals use a range of methods when checking your home, including:
- a visual inspection of paint condition and location;
- a portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) machine;
- lab tests of paint samples; and
- surface-dust tests.
Note: Home test kits for lead are available, but studies suggest that they are not always accurate. Consumers should not rely on these tests before doing renovations or to assure safety.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Family
If you suspect that your house has lead hazards, you can take some immediate steps to reduce your family’s risk:
- If you rent, notify your landlord of peeling or chipping paint.
- Clean up paint chips immediately.
- Clean floors, window frames, window sills, and other surfaces weekly. Use a mop, sponge or paper towel with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner, or a cleaner made specifically for lead.
REMEMBER: NEVER MIX AMMONIA AND BLEACH PRODUCTS TOGETHER, SINCE THEY CAN FORM A DANGEROUS GAS.
- Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning dirty and dusty areas.
- Wash children’s hands often, especially before they eat, and before nap time and bed time.
- Keep play areas clean. Wash bottles, pacifiers, toys and stuffed animals regularly.
- Keep children from chewing window sills and other painted surfaces.
- Clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil.
- Make sure children eat nutritious, low-fat meals high in iron and calcium, such as spinach and dairy products. Children with good diets absorb less lead.
In addition to day-to-day cleaning and good nutrition, you can temporarily reduce lead hazards by taking actions such as repairing damaged amd painted surfaces, and by planting grass to cover soil with high lead levels. These actions, called “interim controls,” are not permanent solutions and will need ongoing attention. To permanently remove lead hazards, you must hire a certified lead-abatement contractor. Abatement (or permanent hazard elimination) methods include removing, sealing or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials. Just painting over the hazard with regular paint is not enough. Always hire a person with special training for correcting lead problems — someone who knows how to do this work safely and has the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly. Certified contractors will employ qualified workers and follow strict safety rules set by their state or the federal government. To be safe, hire an InterNACHI inspector trained in lead detection for your next inspection.
Are You Planning to Buy or Rent a Home Built Before 1978?
Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint that contains lead (called lead-based paint). Lead from paint, chips and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly. Federal law requires that individuals receive certain information before renting or buying pre-1978 housing.
Residential Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Program
- LANDLORDS have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before leases take effect. Leases must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint.
- SELLERS have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint. Buyers have up to 10 days to check for lead hazards.
If not conducted properly, certain types of renovations can release lead from paint and dust into the air.
Pre-Renovation Education Program (PRE)
- RENOVATORS have to give you a pamphlet titled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” before starting work.
Take precautions before your contractor or you begin remodeling or renovations that disturb painted surfaces (such as scraping off paint or tearing out walls).
- Have the area tested for lead-based paint.
- Do not use a belt-sander, propane torch, heat gun, dry scraper or dry sandpaper to remove lead-based paint. These actions create large amounts of lead dust and fumes.
- Lead dust can remain in your home long after the work is done.
- Temporarily move your family (especially children and pregnant women) out of the apartment or house until the work is done and the area is properly cleaned. If you can’t move your family, at least completely seal off the work area.
- If you have already completed renovations or remodeling that could have released lead-based paint or dust, get your young children tested and follow the steps outlined to protect your family.
13. Mold, Moisture and Your Home
- The key to mold control is moisture control.
- If mold is a problem in your home, you should clean up the mold promptly and fix the water problem.
- It is important to dry water-damaged areas and items within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth.
Why is mold growing in my home?
Molds are part of the natural environment. Outdoors, molds play a part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter, such as fallen leaves and dead trees. But indoors, mold growth should be avoided. Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores; the spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through outdoor and indoor air. Mold may begin growing indoors when mold spores land on surfaces that are wet. There are many types of mold, and none of them will grow without water or moisture.
Can mold cause health problems?
Molds are usually not a problem indoors, unless mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing. Molds have the potential to cause health problems. Molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants and, in some cases, potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins). Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis). Allergic reactions to mold are common. They can be immediate or delayed. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold. In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people. Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold. Research on mold and health effects is ongoing. This article provides a brief overview; it does not describe all potential health effects related to mold exposure. For more detailed information, consult a health professional. You may also wish to consult your state or local health department.
How do I get rid of mold?
It is impossible to get rid of all mold and mold spores indoors. Some mold spores will be found floating through the air and in house dust. Mold spores will not grow if moisture is not present. Indoor mold growth can and should be prevented or controlled by controlling moisture indoors. If there is mold growth in your home, you must clean up the mold and fix the water problem. If you clean up the mold but don’t fix the water problem, then, most likely, the mold problem will recur.
Who should do the cleanup?
This depends on a number of factors. One consideration is the size of the mold problem. If the moldy area is less than about 10 square feet (less than roughly a 3-foot by 3-foot patch), in most cases, you can handle the job yourself, following the guidelines below.
- If there has been a lot of water damage, and/or mold growth covers more than 10 square feet, consult with an InterNACHI inspector.
- If you choose to hire a contractor (or other professional service provider) to do the cleanup, make sure the contractor has experience cleaning up mold. Check references and ask the contractor to follow the recommendations of the EPA, the guidelines of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygenists (ACGIH), or other guidelines from professional or government organizations.
- Do not run the HVAC system if you know or suspect that it is contaminated with mold. This could spread mold throughout the building.
- If the water and/or mold damage was caused by sewage or other contaminated water, then call in a professional who has experience cleaning and fixing buildings damaged by contaminated water.
- If you have health concerns, consult a health professional before starting cleanup.
Tips and Techniques
The tips and techniques presented in this section will help you clean up your mold problem. Professional cleaners or remediators may use methods not covered here. Please note that mold may cause staining and cosmetic damage. It may not be possible to clean an item so that its original appearance is restored.
- Fix plumbing leaks and other water problems as soon as possible. Dry all items completely.
- Scrub mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.
- Absorbent or porous materials, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, may have to be thrown away if they become moldy. Mold can grow on or fill in the empty spaces and crevices of porous materials, so the mold may be difficult or impossible to remove completely.
- Avoid exposing yourself or others to mold.
- Do not paint or caulk moldy surfaces.
- Clean up the mold and dry the surfaces before painting. Paint applied over moldy surfaces is likely to peel. If you are unsure about how to clean an item, or if the item is expensive or of sentimental value, you may wish to consult a specialist. Specialists in furniture repair and restoration, painting and art restoration and conservation, carpet and rug cleaning, water damage, and fire or water restoration are commonly listed in phone books. Be sure to ask for and check references. Look for specialists who are affiliated with professional organizations.
What to Wear When Cleaning Moldy Areas:
Avoid breathing in mold or mold spores. In order to limit your exposure to airborne mold, you may want to wear an N-95 respirator, available at many hardware stores and from companies that advertise on the Internet. (They cost about $12 to $25.) Some N-95 respirators resemble a paper dust mask with a nozzle on the front, and others are made primarily of plastic or rubber and have removable cartridges that trap and prevent most of the mold spores from entering. In order to be effective, the respirator or mask must fit properly, so carefully follow the instructions supplied with the respirator. Please note that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that respirators fit properly (via fit testing) when used in an occupational setting.
Wear gloves. Long gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm are recommended. When working with water and a mild detergent, ordinary household rubber gloves may be used. If you are using a disinfectant, a biocide such as chlorine bleach, or a strong cleaning solution, you should select gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane or PVC. Avoid touching mold or moldy items with your bare hands.
Wear goggles. Goggles that do not have ventilation holes are recommended. Avoid getting mold or mold spores in your eyes.
How do I know when the remediation or cleanup is finished?
You must have completely fixed the water or moisture problem before the cleanup or remediation can be considered finished, based on the following guidelines:
- You should have completed the mold removal. Visible mold and moldy odors should not be present. Please note that mold may cause staining and cosmetic damage.
- You should have revisited the site(s) shortly after cleanup, and it should show no signs of water damage or mold growth.
- People should have been able to occupy or re-occupy the area without health complaints or physical symptoms.
- Ultimately, this is a judgment call; there is no easy answer. If you have concerns or questions, be sure to ask your InterNACHI inspector during your next scheduled inspection.
Moisture and Mold Prevention and Control Tips
- Moisture control is the key to mold control, so when water leaks or spills occur indoors, ACT QUICKLY. If wet or damp materials or areas are dried within 24 to 48 hours after a leak or spill happens, in most cases, mold will not grow.
- Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.
- Make sure the ground slopes away from the building’s foundation so that water does not enter or collect around the foundation.
- Keep air-conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly.
- Keep indoor humidity low. If possible, keep indoor humidity below 60% relative humidity (ideally, between 30% to 50%). Relative humidity can be measured with a moisture or humidity meter, which is a small, inexpensive instrument (from $10 to $50) that is available at many hardware stores.
- If you see condensation or moisture collecting on windows, walls or pipes, ACT QUICKLY to dry the wet surface and reduce the moisture/water source. Condensation can be a sign of high humidity.
Actions that will help to reduce humidity:
- Vent appliances that produce moisture, such as clothes dryers, stoves, and kerosene heaters, to the outdoors, where possible. (Combustion appliances, such as stoves and kerosene heaters, produce water vapor and will increase the humidity unless vented to the outside.)
- Use air conditioners and/or de-humidifiers when needed.
- Run the bathroom fan or open the window when showering. Use exhaust fans or open windows whenever cooking, running the dishwasher or dishwashing, etc.
Actions that will help prevent condensation:
- Reduce the humidity (see above).
- Increase ventilation and air movement by opening doors and/or windows, when practical. Use fans as needed.
- Cover cold surfaces, such as cold water pipes, with insulation.
- Increase air temperature.
Testing or Sampling for Mold
Is sampling for mold needed? In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with federal mold standards. Surface sampling may be useful to determine if an area has been adequately cleaned or remediated. Sampling for mold should be conducted by professionals who have specific experience in designing mold sampling protocols, sampling methods, and interpreting results. Sample analysis should follow analytical methods recommended by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), or other professional organizations.
Suspicion of Hidden Mold
You may suspect hidden mold if a building smells moldy but you cannot see the source, or if you know there has been water damage and residents are reporting health problems. Mold may be hidden in places such as the backside of dry wall, wallpaper or paneling, the top-side of ceiling tiles, or the underside of carpets and pads, etc. Other possible locations of hidden mold include areas inside walls around pipes (with leaking or condensing pipes), the surface of walls behind furniture (where condensation forms), inside ductwork, and in roof materials above ceiling tiles (due to roof leaks or insufficient insulation).
Investigating Hidden Mold Problems
Investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when the investigation involves disturbing potential sites of mold growth. For example, removal of wallpaper can lead to a massive release of spores if there is mold growing on the underside of the paper. If you believe that you may have a hidden mold problem, consider hiring an experienced professional.
Cleanup and Biocides
Biocides are substances that can destroy living organisms. The use of a chemical or biocide that kills organisms such as mold (chlorine bleach, for example) is not recommended as a routine practice during mold cleanup. There may be instances, however, when professional judgment may indicate its use (for example, when immune-compromised individuals are present). In most cases, it is not possible or desirable to sterilize an area; a background level of mold spores will remain, and these spores will not grow if the moisture problem has been resolved. If you choose to use disinfectants or biocides, always ventilate the area and exhaust the air to the outdoors. Never mix chlorine bleach with other cleaning solutions or detergents that contain ammonia because toxic fumes could be produced.
Please note: Dead mold may still cause allergic reactions in some people, so it is not enough to simply kill the mold; it must also be removed.
Ten Things You Should Know About Mold
- Potential health effects and symptoms associated with mold exposure include allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints.
- There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture.
- If mold is a problem in your home, you must clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture.
- Fix the source of the water problem or leak to prevent mold growth.
- Reduce indoor humidity (to 30% to 60%) to decrease mold growth by:
- venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating sources to the outside;
- using air conditioners and de-humidifiers;
- increasing ventilation; and
- using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.
- Clean and dry any damp or wet building materials and furnishings within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth.
- Clean mold off hard surfaces with water and detergent, and dry completely. Absorbent materials that are moldy (such as carpeting and ceiling tiles) may need to be replaced.
- Prevent condensation. Reduce the potential for condensation on cold surfaces (i.e., windows, piping, exterior walls, roof and floors) by adding insulation.
- In areas where there is a perpetual moisture problem, do not install carpeting.
- Molds can be found almost anywhere; they can grow on virtually any substance, provided moisture is present. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods.
by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
Pesticides are poisons designed to kill a variety of plants and animals, such as insects (insecticides), weeds (herbicides), and mold or fungus (fungicides). They are each composed of an inert carrier and a pest-specific active ingredient, both of which are toxic to humans and pets.
Pesticides may enter the body in one of the following three ways, which are ordered from least to most dangerous:
- absorbed through the skin. People can get pesticide on their skin because it is likely to splash or mist while mixing, loading or applying the chemicals. Skin contact may also occur while touching protective clothing, a piece of equipment, or any other surface that was exposed to pesticides;
- Numerous reports exist of people accidentally drinking or eating a pesticide that had been placed in an unlabeled container, or by children whose access was not adequately child-proofed. Toxic substances can also be ingested when eating or smoking near those who have handled the chemicals; and
- Powders, airborne droplets and vapors can easily be inhaled. Low-pressure applications present a relatively limited hazard because most of the droplets are too large and heavy to remain in the air. High-pressure applications, however, are particularly dangerous because the droplets are small enough that they can be carried by winds for considerable distances. Pesticides with a high inhalation hazard should have a label that instructs the user to use a respirator.
Health Effects and Symptoms of Pesticide Exposure
The health effects of pesticides are specific to their ingredients. Organophosphates and carbamates, for instance, affect the nervous system, while others may irritate the skin and eyes, influence the body’s hormone or endocrine system, and even cause cancer. Symptoms of pesticide exposure may appear immediately and disappear soon after exposure has ceased, or they may take a long time — even years — to develop. Specific symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following.
Acute symptoms include:
- mild poisoning: irritation of the nose, throat, eyes or skin, headache, dizziness, loss of appetite, thirst, nausea, diarrhea, sweating, weakness or fatigue, restlessness, nervousness, changes in mood, and/or insomnia;
- moderate poisoning: vomiting, excessive salivation, coughing, constriction of the throat and chest, abdominal cramps, blurred vision, rapid pulse, excessive perspiration, profound weakness, trembling, lack of muscular coordination, and/or mental confusion;
- severe poisoning: inability to breathe, small or pinpoint pupils, chemical burns, uncontrollable muscular twitching, unconsciousness, and/or death.
Long-term health effects include:
- cancers (lung, brain, testicular, lymphoma, leukemia);
- spontaneous abortions and stillbirths;
- genetic damage;
- infertility, including lowered sperm count;
- liver and pancreatic damage;
- neuropathy; and
- disturbances to immune systems (including minor ones, such as asthma and allergies).
Only a small percentage of insecticides and herbicides actually reach their intended destinations. The bulk of the chemicals find their way to other places, such as the air, water, food sources, and non-targeted insect/animal species. People and pets track pesticide residue into the house where it may settle on laundry, furniture, toys, and virtually anyplace else. Most runs off into water or dissipates in the air, where it may endanger the environment. This incidental or unintended travel is known as “drift.”
Fumigant pesticides used outdoors have the potential to travel many miles from their intended targets, drifting through the air into schools, homes, parks and playgrounds. Pesticide drift has resulted in cases of mass hospitalizations, such as in 2007 when 121 workers in Nevada were rushed to the hospital after fumigant pesticide traveled ¼-mile from its intended target. Home gardens usually require significantly less pesticide than large-scale agriculture, although the latter is usually held to safety standards that gardeners are more likely to ignore.
Warning Labels on Pesticides
Manufacturers of pesticides create warning labels for their products by considering how harmful the chemical would be through each route of entry into the body. The signal word that applies to the most dangerous route of entry is the one that goes on the label. Any one of the following signal words should appear on pesticide warning labels:
- CAUTION: slightly hazardous by any of the routes of entry.
- WARNING: moderately hazardous by at least one route of entry.
- DANGER: highly hazardous by at least one route of entry. The word “DANGER” alone means that the pesticide’s greatest hazard is that it can severely irritate your skin or your eyes, or both. If the pesticide has the word “DANGER” plus a skull-and-crossbones symbol, it means that the pesticide is highly toxic through one or more routes of entry. Funginex®, for instance, has the signal word “DANGER” on its label because it is a severe eye irritant. If it were highly toxic through oral, dermal or inhalation exposure, it would have the word “POISON” and the skull-and-crossbones symbol.
Labels should also contain a “hazard to humans” section and a “personal protective equipment” section, in which users can learn which kinds of exposures the signal word for that particular pesticide refers to.
- Limit termite infestation — and the necessity for pesticide use — by building with steel, concrete or brick. Borate-treated lumber will repel carpenter ants and termites.
- Plant disease-resistant plants around the home.
- Always keep these chemicals away from children.
- If you must handle pesticides, wear gloves and long sleeves, and avoid breathing the vapors.
- Carefully follow directions with regard to concentration, protective gear, and restricting access to areas that have been treated.
- Always ventilate the area well after use.
- Mix or dilute chemicals outdoors, if possible.
- Dispose of unwanted pesticides safely, and store partially-used containers outside the living space.
- Leather items contaminated with pesticides should be discarded. According to Montana State University, when leather watch bands, boots and gloves are worn and become damp, the person will again be exposed to the pesticide.
- Address any additional concerns with your InterNACHI inspector during your next scheduled inspection.
15. Plumbing Terms
Plumbing may be defined as the practice, materials and fixtures used in the installation, maintenance and alteration of all piping, fixtures, appliances and appurtenances in connection with sanitary and storm drainage facilities, the venting system, and public and private water supply systems. Plumbing does not include the trade of drilling water wells, installing water-softening equipment, or the business of manufacturing or selling plumbing fixtures, appliances, equipment or hardware. A plumbing system consists of three separate parts: an adequate potable water supply system; a safe, adequate drainage system; and ample fixtures and equipment.
The generalized inspection of a home is concerned with a safe water supply system, an adequate drainage system, and ample and proper fixtures and equipment. This article explains features of a residential plumbing system, and the basic plumbing terms the inspector must know and understand to properly identify housing code violations involving plumbing and the more complicated defects that s/he will refer to the appropriate agencies. Only InterNACHI inspectors are sufficiently trained to spot complicated defects that others will overlook.
Pressure absorbing devices that eliminate water hammer. They should be installed as close as possible to the valves or faucet and at the end of long runs of pipe.
Air Gap (Drainage System)
The unobstructed vertical distance through the free atmosphere between the outlet of a water pipe and the flood level rim of the receptacle into which it is discharging.
Air Gap (Water Distribution System)
The unobstructed vertical distance through the free atmosphere between the lowest opening from any pipe or faucet supplying water to a tank, plumbing fixture, or other device and the flood level rim of the receptacle.
An air lock is a bubble of air which restricts the flow of water in a pipe.
The flow of water or other liquids, mixtures, or substances into the distributing pipes of a potable water supply from any source or sources other than the intended source. Back siphonage is one type of backflow.
The flowing back of used, contaminated, or polluted water from a plumbing fixture or vessel into a potable water supply due to a negative pressure in the pipe.
Any part of the piping system other than the main, riser, or stack.
A vent connecting one or more individual vents with a vent stack.
The part of the lowest piping of a drainage system that receives the discharge from soil, waste, or other drainage pipes inside the walls of the building (house) and conveys it to the building sewer beginning 3 feet outside the building wall.
Any physical connection or arrangement between two otherwise separate piping systems, one of which contains potable water and the other either water of unknown or questionable safety or steam, gas, or chemical whereby there may be a flow from one system to the other, the direction of flow depending on the pressure differential between the two systems. (See Backflow and Back siphonage.)
An area containing a series of one or more trenches lined with coarse aggregate and conveying the effluent from the septic tank through vitrified clay Pine or perforated, non-metallic pipe, laid in such a manner that the flow will be distributed with reasonable uniformity into natural soil.
Any pipe that carries waste water or water-borne waste in a building (house) drainage system.
Flood Level Rim
The top edge of a receptacle from which water overflows.
A device that discharges a predetermined quantity of water to fixtures for flushing purposes and is closed by direct water pressures.
A device located at the bottom of the tank for flushing water closets and similar fixtures.
Potable water that is heated to at least 120°F and used for cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, and bathing.
Contrary to sanitary principles injurious to health.
A device designed and installed so as to separate and retain deleterious, hazardous, or undesirable matter from normal wastes and permit normal sewage or liquid wastes to discharge into the drainage system by gravity.
An exterior drainage pipe for conveying storm water from roof or gutter drains to the building storm drain, combined building sewer, or other means of disposal.
The principal artery of the venting system, to which vent branches may be connected.
See Public Sewer.
The word pertains to devices making use of compressed air as in pressure tanks boosted by pumps.
Water having no impurities present in amounts sufficient to cause disease or harmful physiological effects and conforming in its bacteriological and chemical quality to the requirements of the Public Health Service drinking water standards or meeting the regulations of the public health authority having jurisdiction.
P & T (Pressure and Temperature) Relief Valve
A safety valve installed on a hot water storage tank to limit temperature and pressure of the water.
A trap with a vertical inlet and a horizontal outlet.
A common sewer directly controlled by public authority.
An auxiliary vent that permits additional circulation of air in or between drainage and vent systems.
A watertight receptacle that receives the discharge of a building’s sanitary drain system or part thereof and is designed and constructed so as to separate solid from the liquid, digest organic matter through a period of detention, and allow the liquids to discharge into the soil outside of the tank through a system of open-joint or perforated piping, or through a seepage pit.
A sewerage system comprises all piping, appurtenances, and treatment facilities used for the collection and disposal of sewage, except plumbing inside and in connection with buildings served and the building drain.
The pipe that directs the sewage of a house to the receiving sewer, building drain, or building sewer.
The vertical piping that terminates in a roof vent and carries off the vapors of a plumbing system.
An extension of a solid or waste stack above the highest horizontal drain connected to the stack. Sometimes called a waste vent or a soil vent.
A sewer used for conveying rain water, surface water, condensate. cooling water, or similar liquid waste.
A trap is a fitting or device that provides a liquid seal to prevent the emission of sewer gases without materially affecting the flow of sewage or waste water through it.
A device to prevent backflow (back siphonage) by means of an opening through which air may be drawn to relieve negative pressure (vacuum).
The vertical vent pipe installed to provide air circulation to and from the drainage system and that extends through one or more stories.
The loud thump of water in a pipe when a valve or faucet is suddenly closed.
Water Service Pipe
The pipe from the water main or other sources of potable water supply to the water-distributing system of the building served.
Water Supply System
The water supply system consists of the water service pipe, the water-distributing pipes, the necessary connecting pipes, fittings, control valves, and all appurtenances in or adjacent to the building or premises.
A vent that receives the discharge of waste other than from water closets.
A pipe connecting upward from a soil or waste stack to a vent stack for the purpose of preventing pressure changes in the stacks.
Main Features of an Indoor Plumbing System
The primary functions of the plumbing system within the house are as follows:
- To bring an adequate and potable supply of hot and cold water to the users of the dwelling.
- To drain all waste water and sewage discharged from these fixtures into the public sewer, or private disposal system.
It is, therefore, very important that the housing inspector familiarize himself fully with all elements of these systems so that he may recognize inadequacies of the structure’s plumbing as well as other code violations.
Elements of a Plumbing System
Water Service: The piping of a house service line should be as short as possible. Elbows and bends should be kept to a minimum since these reduce the pressure and therefore the supply of water to fixtures in the house. The house service line should also be protected from freezing. The burying of the line under 4 feet of soil is a commonly accepted depth to prevent freezing. This depth varies, however, across the country from north to south. The local or state plumbing code should be consulted for the recommended depth in your area of the country.
The materials used for a house service may be copper, cast iron, steel or wrought iron. The connections used should be compatible with the type of pipe used.
- Corporation stop: The corporation stop is connected to the water main. This connection is usually made of brass and can be connected to the main by use of a special tool without shutting off the municipal supply. The valve incorporated in the corporation stop permits the pressure to be maintained in the main while the service to the building is completed.
- Curb stop: The curb stop is a similar valve used to isolate the building from the main for repairs, nonpayment of water bills, or flooded basements. Since the corporation stop is usually under the street and would necessitate breaking the pavement to reach the valve, the curb stop is used as the isolation valve.
- Curb stop box: The curb stop box is an access box to the curb stop for opening and closing the valve. A long-handled wrench is used to reach the valve.
- Meter stop: The meter stop is a valve placed on the street side of the water meter to isolate the meter for installation or maintenance. Many codes require a gate valve on the house side of the meter to shut off water for house plumbing repairs. The curb and meter stops are not to be used frequently and can be ruined in a short time if used very frequently.
- Water meter: The water meter is a device used to measure the amount of water used in the house. It is usually the property of the city and is a very delicate instrument that should not be abused. Since the electric system is usually grounded to the water line, a grounding loop-device should be installed around the meter. Many meters come with a yoke that maintains electrical continuity even though the meter is removed.
Hot and Cold Water Main Lines: The hot and cold water main lines are usually hung from the basement ceiling and are attached to the water meter and hot-water tank on one side and the fixture supply risers on the other. These pipes should be installed in a neat manner and should be supported by pipe hangers or straps of sufficient strength and number to prevent sagging. Hot and cold water lines should be approximately 6 inches apart unless the hot water line is insulated. This is to insure that the cold water line does not pick up heat from the hot water line. The supply mains should have a drain valve or stop and waste valve in order to remove water from the system for repairs. These valves should be on the low end of the line or on the end of each fixture riser.
The fixture risers start at the basement main and rise vertically to the fixtures on the upper floors. In a one-family dwelling, riser branches will usually proceed from the main riser to each fixture grouping. In any event the fixture risers should not depend on the branch risers for support but should be supported with a pipe bracket. Each fixture is then connected to the branch riser by a separate line. The last fixture on a line is usually connected directly to the branch riser.
Hot Water Heaters: Hot water heaters are usually powered by electricity, fuel oil, gas, or in rare cases, coal or wood. They consist of a space for heating the water and a storage tank for providing hot water over a limited period of time. All hot water heaters should be fitted with a temperature-pressure relief valve no matter what fuel is used. This valve will operate when either the temperature or the pressure becomes too high due to an interruption of the water supply or a faulty thermostat.
Pipe Sizes: The size of basement mains and risers depends on the number of fixtures supplied. However, a 3/4-inch pipe is usually the minimum size used. This allows for deposits on the pipe due to hardness in the water and will usually give satisfactory volume and pressure.
The water supply brought into the house and used is discharged through the drainage system. This system is either a sanitary drainage system carrying just interior waste water or a combined system carrying interior waste and roof runoff.
Sanitary Drainage System: The proper sizing of the sanitary drain or house drain depends on the number of fixtures it serves. The usual minimum size is 6 inches in dial diameter. The materials used are usually cast iron, vitrified clay, plastic, and in rare cases, lead. For proper flow in the drain the pipe should be sized so that it flows approximately one-half full. This ensures proper scouring action so that the solids contained in the waste will not be deposited in the pipe.
- Sizing of house drain – The Uniform Plumbing Code Committee has developed a method of sizing of house drains in terms of “fixture units.” One ”fixture unit” equals approximately 71 D2 gallons of water per minute. This is the surge flow-rate of water discharged from a wash basin in 1 minute. All other fixtures have been related to this unit.
Sanitary Drain Sizes
- Grade of house drain – A house drain or building sewer should be sloped toward the sewer to ensure scouring of the drain. The usual pitch of a house or building sewer is 1 D4 inch fall in 1 foot of length.
- Fixture and branch drains – A branch drain is a waste pipe that collects the waste from two or more fixtures and conveys it to the building or house sewer. It is sized in the same way as the house sewer, taking into account that all water closets must have a minimum 3-inch diameter drain, and only two water closets may connect into one 3-inch drain.
All branch drains must join the house drain with a “Y” -type fitting. The same is true for fixture drains joining branch drains. The “Y” fitting is used to eliminate, as much as possible, the deposit of solids in or near the connection. A build-up of these solids will cause a blockage in the drain.
Traps – A plumbing trap is a device used in a waste system to prevent the passage of sewer gas into the structure and yet not hinder the fixture’s discharge to any great extent. All fixtures connected to a household plumbing system should have a trap installed in the line.
The effect of sewer gases on the human body are known; many are extremely harmful. Additionally, certain sewer gases are explosive. A trap will prevent these gases from passing into the structure. The depth of the seal in a trap is usually 2 inches. A deep seal trap has a 4-inch seal.
The purpose of a trap is to seal out sewer gases from the structure. Since a plumbing system is subject to wide variations in flow, and this flow originates in many different sections of the system, there is a wide variation in pressures in the waste lines. These pressure differences tend to destroy the water seal in the trap. To counteract this problem mechanical traps were introduced. It has been found, however, that the corrosive liquids flowing in the system corrode or jam these mechanical traps. It is for this reason that most plumbing codes prohibit mechanical traps.
There are many manufacturers of traps, and all have varied the design somewhat. The “P” trap is usually found in lavatories, sinks, urinals, drinking fountains, showers, and other installations that do not discharge a great deal of water.
The drum trap is another water seal-type trap. They are usually used in the 4×5-inch or 4×8-inch sizes. These traps have a greater sealing capacity than the “P” trap and pass large amounts of water quickly. Drum traps are commonly connected to bathtubs, foot baths, sitz baths, and modified shower baths.
The “S” 1 and the 3h “S” trap should not be us in plumbing installations. They are almost impossible to ventilate properly, and the 3h “S” trap forms a perfect siphon.
The bag trap, an extreme form of “S” trap, is seldom found.
Any trap that depends on a moving part for its effectiveness is usually inadequate and has been prohibited by the local plumbing codes. These traps work, but their design usually results in their being higher priced than the “P” or drum traps. It should be remembered that traps are used only to prevent the escape of sewer gas into the structure. They do not compensate for pressure variations. Only proper venting will eliminate pressure problems.
A plumbing system is ventilated to prevent trap seal loss, material deterioration. and flow retardation.
Trap Seal Loss
The seal in a plumbing trap may be lost due to siphonage (direct and indirect or momentum), back pressure, evaporation, capillary attraction, or wind effect. The first two named are probably the most common causes of loss. If a waste pipe is placed vertically after the fixture trap, as in an “S” trap, the waste water continues to flow after the fixture is emptied and clears the trap. This is caused by the pressure of air on the fixture water’s being greater than the pressure of air in the waste pipe. The action of the water discharging into the waste pipe removes the air from that pipe and thereby causes a negative pressure in the waste line. In the case of indirect or momentum siphonage, the flow of water past the entrance to a fixture drain in the waste pipe removes air from the fixture drain. This reduces the air pressure in the fixture drain, and the entire assembly acts as an aspirator such as the physician uses to spray an infected throat.
The flow of water in a soil pipe varies according to the fixtures being used. A lavatory gives a small flow and a water closet a large flow. Small flows tend to cling to the sides of the pipe, but large ones form a slug of waste as they drop. As this slug of water falls down the pipe the air in front of it becomes pressurized. As the pressure builds it seeks an escape point. This point is either a vent or a fixture outlet. If the vent is plugged or there is no vent, the only escape for this air is the fixture outlet. The air pressure forces the trap seal up the pipe into the fixture. If the pressure is great enough the seal is blown out of the fixture entirely. Figures 6-17 and 6-18 illustrate this type of problem.
Vent pipe installation is similar to that of soil and waste pipe. The same fixture unit criteria are used. Vent pipes of less than 11 D4 inches in diameter should not be used. Vents smaller than this diameter tend to clog and do not perform their function.
- Individual fixture ventilation: This type of ventilation is generally used for sinks, lavatories, drinking fountains, and so forth
- Unit venting: The unit venting system is commonly used in apartment buildings. This type of system saves a great deal of money and space when fixtures are placed back to back in separate apartments.
- Wet venting: Wet venting of a plumbing system is common in household bathroom fixture grouping. It is exactly what the name implies: the vent pipe is used as a waste line.
Total Drainage System
Up to now we have covered the drain, soil waste, and vent systems of a plumbing system separately. For a working system, however, they must all be connected.
16. Safety Guidelines for Home Pools
Swimming pools should always be happy places. Unfortunately, each year thousands of American families confront swimming pool tragedies, drownings and near-drownings of young children. At InterNACHI, we want to prevent these tragedies. These are guidelines for pool barriers that can help prevent most submersion incidents involving young children. These guidelines are not intended as the sole method to minimize pool drowning of young children, but include helpful safety tips for safer pools.
Each year, hundreds of young children die and thousands come close to death due to submersion in residential swimming pools. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has estimated that each year, about 300 children under the age of 5 drown in swimming pools. Hospital emergency-room treatment is required for more than 2,000 children under 5 who were submerged in residential pools. The CPSC did an extensive study of swimming pool accidents, both fatal drownings and near-fatal submersions, in California, Arizona and Florida — states in which home swimming pools are very popular and used during much of the year.
- In California, Arizona and Florida, drowning was the leading cause of accidental death in and around the home for children under the age of 5.
- Seventy-five percent of the children involved in swimming pool submersion or drowning accidents were between 1 and 3 years old.
- Boys between 1 and 3 were the most likely victims of fatal drownings and near-fatal submersions in residential swimming pools.
- Most of the victims were in the presence of one or both parents when the swimming pool accident occurred.
- Nearly half of the child victims were last seen in the house before the pool accident occurred. In addition, 23% of the accident victims were last seen on the porch or patio, or in the yard.
- This means that 69% of the children who became victims in swimming pool accidents were not expected to be in or at the pool, but were found drowned or submerged in the water.
- Sixty-five percent of the accidents occurred in a pool owned by the victim’s immediate family, and 33% of the accidents occurred in pools owned by relatives or friends.
- Fewer than 2% of the pool accidents were the result of children trespassing on property where they didn’t live or belong.
- Seventy-seven percent of the swimming pool accident victims had been missing for five minutes or less when they were found in the pool, drowned or submerged.
The speed with which swimming pool drownings and submersions can occur is a special concern: by the time a child’s absence is noted, the child may have drowned. Anyone who has cared for a toddler knows how fast young children can move. Toddlers are inquisitive and impulsive, and lack a realistic sense of danger. These behaviors, coupled with a child’s ability to move quickly and unpredictably, make swimming pools particularly hazardous for households with young children.
Swimming pool drownings of young children have another particularly insidious feature: these are silent deaths. It is unlikely that splashing or screaming will occur to alert a parent or caregiver that a child is in trouble. The best way to reduce child drownings in residential pools is for pool owners to construct and maintain barriers that prevent young children from gaining access to pools. However, there are no substitutes for diligent supervision.
Why the Swimming Pool Guidelines Were Developed
Young child can get over a pool barrier if the barrier is too low, or if the barrier has handholds or footholds for a child to use for climbing. The guidelines recommend that the top of a pool barrier be at least 48 inches above grade, measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. Eliminating handholds and footholds, and minimizing the size of openings in a barrier’s construction, can prevent inquisitive children from climbing pool barriers.
For a solid barrier, no indentations or protrusions should be present, other than normal construction tolerances and masonry joints. For a barrier (fence) made up of horizontal and vertical members, if the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is less than 45 inches, the horizontal members should be on the swimming pool-side of the fence. The spacing of the vertical members should not exceed 1-3/4 inches. This size is based on the foot-width of a young child, and is intended to reduce the potential for a child to gain a foothold. If there are any decorative cutouts in the fence, the space within the cutouts should not exceed 1-3/4 inches.
The definition of pool includes spas and hot tubs. The swimming pool-barrier guidelines, therefore, apply to these structures, as well as to conventional swimming pools.
How to Prevent a Child from Getting OVER a Pool Barrier
A successful pool barrier prevents a child from getting OVER, UNDER or THROUGH, and keeps the child from gaining access to the pool except when supervising adults are present.
The Swimming Pool-Barrier Guidelines
If the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is more than 45 inches, the horizontal members can be on the side of the fence facing away from the pool. The spacing between vertical members should not exceed 4 inches. This size is based on the head-breadth and chest depth of a young child, and is intended to prevent a child from passing through an opening. Again, if there are any decorative cutouts in the fence, the space within the cutouts should not exceed 1-3/4 inches.
For a chain-link fence, the mesh size should not exceed 1-1/4 inches square, unless slats fastened at the top or bottom of the fence are used to reduce mesh openings to no more than 1-3/4 inches.
For a fence made up of diagonal members (lattice work), the maximum opening in the lattice should not exceed 1-3/4 inches.
Above-ground pools should have barriers. The pool structure itself can sometimes serves as a barrier, or a barrier can be mounted on top of the pool structure. Then, there are two possible ways to prevent young children from climbing up into an above-ground pool. The steps or ladder can be designed to be secured, locked or removed to prevent access, or the steps or ladder can be surrounded by a barrier, such as those described above. For any pool barrier, the maximum clearance at the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches above grade, when the measurement is done on the side of the barrier facing away from the pool.
If an above-ground pool has a barrier on the top of the pool, the maximum vertical clearance between the top of the pool and the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches. Preventing a child from getting through a pool barrier can be done by restricting the sizes of openings in a barrier, and by using self-closing and self-latching gates.
To prevent a young child from getting through a fence or other barrier, all openings should be small enough so that a 4-inch diameter sphere cannot pass through. This size is based on the head- breadth and chest-depth of a young child.
There are two kinds of gates which might be found on a residential property. Both can play a part in the design of a swimming pool barrier.
Pedestrian gates are the gates people walk through. Swimming pool barriers should be equipped with a gate or gates which restrict access to the pool. A locking device should be included in the gate’s design. Gates should open out from the pool and should be self-closing and self-latching. If a gate is properly designed, even if the gate is not completely latched, a young child pushing on the gate in order to enter the pool area will at least close the gate and may actually engage the latch. When the release mechanism of the self-latching device is less than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate, the release mechanism for the gate should be at least 3 inches below the top of the gate on the side facing the pool. Placing the release mechanism at this height prevents a young child from reaching over the top of a gate and releasing the latch. Also, the gate and barrier should have no opening greater than 1/2-inch within 18 inches of the latch release mechanism. This prevents a young child from reaching through the gate and releasing the latch.
Other gates should be equipped with self-latching devices. The self-latching devices should be installed as described for pedestrian gates.
How to Prevent a Child from Getting UNDER or THROUGH a Pool Barrier
In many homes, doors open directly onto the pool area or onto a patio which leads to the pool. In such cases, the wall of the house is an important part of the pool barrier, and passage through any doors in the house wall should be controlled by security measures. The importance of controlling a young child’s movement from the house to the pool is demonstrated by the statistics obtained during the CPSC’s study of pool incidents in California, Arizona and Florida. Almost half (46%) of the children who became victims of pool accidents were last seen in the house just before they were found in the pool.
All doors which give access to a swimming pool should be equipped with an audible alarm which sounds when the door and/or screen are opened. The alarm should sound for 30 seconds or more within seven seconds after the door is opened. It should also be loud, at least 85 decibels, when measured 10 feet away from the alarm mechanism. The alarm sound should be distinct from other sounds in the house, such as the telephone, doorbell and smoke alarm. The alarm should have an automatic re-set feature. Because adults will want to pass through house doors in the pool barrier without setting off the alarm, the alarm should have a switch that allows adults to temporarily de-activate the alarm for up to 15 seconds. The de-activation switch could be a touch pad (keypad) or a manual switch, and should be located at least 54 inches above the threshold of the door covered by the alarm. This height was selected based on the reaching ability of young children.
Power safety covers can be installed on pools to serve as security barriers. Power safety covers should conform to the specifications in ASTM F 1346-91. This standard specifies safety performance requirements for pool covers to protect young children from drowning. Self-closing doors with self-latching devices could also be used to safeguard doors which give ready access to a swimming pool.
When a pool is located completely within a house, the walls that surround the pool should be equipped to serve as pool safety barriers. Measures recommended above where a house wall serves as part of a safety barrier also apply for all the walls surrounding an indoor pool.
An outdoor swimming pool, including an in-ground, above-ground, or on-ground pool, hot tub, or spa, should be provided with a barrier which complies with the following:
- The top of the barrier should be at least 48 inches above grade, measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. The maximum vertical clearance between grade and the bottom of the barrier should be 4 inches measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. Where the top of the pool structure is above grade, such as an above-ground pool, the barrier may be at ground level, such as the pool structure, or mounted on top of the pool structure. Where the barrier is mounted on top of the pool structure, the maximum vertical clearance between the top of the pool structure and the bottom of the barrier should be 4 inches.
- Openings in the barrier should not allow passage of a 4-inch diameter sphere.
- Solid barriers, which do not have openings, such as a masonry and stone wall, should not contain indentations or protrusions, except for normal construction tolerances and tooled masonry joints.
- Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members, and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is less than 45 inches, the horizontal members should be located on the swimming pool-side of the fence. Spacing between vertical members should not exceed 1-3/4 inches in width. Where there are decorative cutouts, spacing within the cutouts should not exceed 1-3/4 inches in width.
- Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members, and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is 45 inches or more, spacing between vertical members should not exceed 4 inches. Where there are decorative cutouts, spacing within the cutouts should not exceed 1-3/4 inches in width.
- The maximum mesh size for chain-link fences should not exceed 1-3/4 inch square, unless the fence is provided with slats fastened at the top or the bottom which reduce the openings to no more than 1-3/4 inches.
- Where the barrier is composed of diagonal members, such as a lattice fence, the maximum opening formed by the diagonal members should be no more than 1-3/4 inches.
- Access gates to the pool should be equipped to accommodate a locking device. Pedestrian access gates should open outward, away from the pool, and should be self-closing and have a self-latching device. Gates other than pedestrian access gates should have a self-latching device, where the release mechanism of the self-latching device is located less than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate.
- The release mechanism should be located on the pool-side of the gate at least 3 inches below the top of the gate.
- The gate and barrier should have no opening greater than 1/2-inch within 18 inches of the release mechanism.
- Where a wall of a dwelling serves as part of the barrier, one of the following should apply:
- All doors with direct access to the pool through that wall should be equipped with an alarm which produces an audible warning when the door and its screen, if present, are opened. The alarm should sound continuously for a minimum of 30 seconds within seven seconds after the door is opened. The alarm should have a minimum sound pressure rating of 85 dBA at 10 feet, and the sound of the alarm should be distinctive from other household sounds, such as smoke alarms, telephones and doorbells. The alarm should automatically re-set under all conditions. The alarm should be equipped with manual means, such as touchpads or switches, to temporarily de-activate the alarm for a single opening of the door from either direction. Such de-activation should last for no more than 15 seconds. The de-activation touch pads or switches should be located at least 54 inches above the threshold of the door.
- The pool should be equipped with a power safety cover which complies with ASTM F1346-91.
- Other means of protection, such as self-closing doors with self-latching devices, are acceptable as long as the degree of protection afforded is not less than the protection afforded by the above.
- Where an above-ground pool structure is used as a barrier, or where the barrier is mounted on top of the pool structure, and the means of access is a ladder or steps, then:
- The ladder to the pool or steps should be capable of being secured, locked or removed to prevent access.
- The ladder or steps should be surrounded by a barrier. When the ladder or steps are secured, locked, or removed, any opening created should not allow the passage of a 4-inch diameter sphere.
These guidelines are intended to provide a means of protection against potential drownings of children under 5 years of age by restricting access to residential swimming pools, spas and hot tubs.
A portable spa with a safety cover which complies with ASTM F1346-91 should be exempt from the guidelines presented here. Swimming pools, hot tubs, and non-portable spas with safety covers should not be exempt from these provisions.
17. Private Water Wells
If your family gets drinking water from a private well, do you know if your water is safe to drink? What health risks could you and your family face? Where can you go for help or advice? The EPA regulates public water systems; it does not have the authority to regulate private drinking water wells. Approximately 15% of Americans rely on their own private drinking water supplies, and these supplies are not subject to EPA standards, although some state and local governments do set rules to protect users of these wells. Unlike public drinking water systems serving many people, they do not have experts regularly checking the water’s source and its quality before it is sent to the tap. These households must take special precautions to ensure the protection and maintenance of their drinking water supplies.
There are three types of private drinking water wells: dug, driven, and drilled. Proper well construction and continued maintenance are keys to the safety of your water supply. Your state water-well contractor licensing agency, local health department, or local water system professional can provide information on well construction. The well should be located so rainwater flows away from it. Rainwater can pick up harmful bacteria and chemicals on the land’s surface. If this water pools near your well, it can seep into it, potentially causing health problems. Water-well drillers and pump-well installers are listed in your local phone directory. The contractor should be bonded and insured. Make certain your ground water contractor is registered or licensed in your state, if required. If your state does not have a licensing/registration program, contact the National Ground Water Association.
To keep your well safe, you must be sure that possible sources of contamination are not close by. Experts suggest the following distances as a minimum for protection — farther is better (see graphic on the right):
- septic tanks: 50 feet;
- livestock yards, silos, septic leach fields: 50 feet;
- petroleum tanks, liquid-tight manure storage and fertilizer storage and handling: 100 feet; and
- manure stacks: 250 feet.
Many homeowners tend to forget the value of good maintenance until problems reach crisis-levels. That can be expensive. It’s better to maintain your well, find problems early, and correct them to protect your well’s performance. Keep up-to-date records of well installation and repairs, plus pumping and water tests. Such records can help spot changes and possible problems with your water system. If you have problems, ask a local expert to check your well construction and maintenance records. He or she can see if your system is okay or needs work.
Protect your own well area. Be careful about storage and disposal of household and lawn-care chemicals and wastes. Good farmers and gardeners minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Take steps to reduce erosion and prevent surface water runoff. Regularly check underground storage tanks that hold home heating oil, diesel, or gasoline. Make sure your well is protected from the wastes of livestock, pets and wildlife.
Dug wells are holes in the ground dug by shovel or backhoe. Historically, a dug well was excavated below the ground water table until incoming water exceeded the digger’s bailing rate. The well was then lined (cased) with stones, brick, tile, or other material to prevent collapse. It was covered with a cap of wood, stone or concrete. Since it is so difficult to dig beneath the ground water table, dug wells are not very deep. Typically, they are only 10 to 30 feet deep. Being so shallow, dug wells have the highest risk of becoming contaminated.To minimize the likelihood of contamination, your dug well should have certain features. These features help to prevent contaminants from traveling along the outside of the casing, or through the casing and into the well.
Dug Well Construction Features
- The well should be cased with a watertight material (for example, tongue-and-groove pre-cast concrete), and a cement grout or bentonite clay sealant poured along the outside of the casing to the top of the well.
- The well should be covered by a concrete curb and cap that stands about a foot above the ground.
- The land surface around the well should be mounded so that surface water runs away from the well and is not allowed to pond around the outside of the wellhead.
- Ideally, the pump for your well should be inside your home or in a separate pump house, rather than in a pit next to the well.
Land activities around a dug well can also contaminate it. While dug wells have been used as a household water supply source for many years, most are relics of older homes, dug before drilling equipment was readily available, or when drilling was considered too expensive. If you have a dug well on your property and are using it for drinking water, check to make sure it is properly covered and sealed. Another problem relating to the shallowness of a dug well is that it may go dry during a drought when the ground water table drops.
Like dug wells, driven wells pull water from the water-saturated zone above the bedrock. Driven wells can be deeper than dug wells. They are typically 30 to 50 feet deep and are usually located in areas with thick sand and gravel deposits where the ground water table is within 15 feet of the ground’s surface. In the proper geologic setting, driven wells can be easy and relatively inexpensive to install. Although deeper than dug wells, driven wells are still relatively shallow and have a moderate-to-high risk of contamination from nearby land activities.
Driven Well Construction Features
- Assembled lengths of 2- to 3-inch diameter metal pipes are driven into the ground. A screened “well point” located at the end of the pipe helps drive the pipe through the sand and gravel. The screen allows water to enter the well and filters out sediment.
- The pump for the well is in one of two places: on top of the well, or in the house. An access pit is usually dug around the well down to the frost line, and a water discharge pipe to the house is joined to the well pipe with a fitting.
- The well and pit are capped with the same kind of large-diameter concrete tile used for a dug well. The access pit may be cased with pre-cast concrete.
To minimize this risk, the well cover should be a tight-fitting concrete curb and cap with no cracks, and should sit about a foot above the ground. Slope the ground away from the well so that surface water will not pond around the well. If there’s a pit above the well, either to hold the pump or to access the fitting, you may also be able to pour a grout sealant along the outside of the well pipe. Protecting the water quality requires that you maintain proper well construction and monitor your activities around the well. It is also important to follow the same land-use precautions around the driven well as described under dug wells.
Drilled wells penetrate about 100 to 400 feet into the bedrock. Where you find bedrock at the surface, it is commonly called ledge. To serve as a water supply, a drilled well must intersect bedrock fractures containing ground water.
Drilled Well Construction Features
- The casing is usually metal or plastic pipe, 6 inches in diameter, that extends into the bedrock to prevent shallow ground water from entering the well. By law, the casing has to extend at least 18 feet into the ground, with at least 5 feet extending into the bedrock. The casing should also extend a foot or two above the ground’s surface. A sealant, such as cement grout or bentonite clay, should be poured along the outside of the casing to the top of the well. The well should be capped to prevent surface water from entering the well.
- Submersible pumps, located near the bottom of the well, are most commonly used in drilled wells. Wells with a shallow water table may feature a jet pump located inside the home. Pumps require special wiring and electrical service. Well pumps should be installed and serviced by a qualified professional registered with your state.
- Most modern drilled wells incorporate a pitless adapter designed to provide a sanitary seal at the point where the discharge water line leaves the well to enter your home. The device attaches directly to the casing below the frost line, and provides a watertight sub-surface connection, protecting the well from frost and contamination.
- Older drilled wells may lack some of these sanitary features. The well pipe used was often 8, 10 or 12 inches in diameter, and covered with a concrete well cap either at or below the ground’s surface. This outmoded type of construction does not provide the same degree of protection from surface contamination. Also, older wells may not have a pitless adapter to provide a seal at the point of discharge from the well.
Hydrofracting a Drilled Well
Hydrofracting is a process that applies water or air under pressure into your well to open up existing fractures near your well, and can even create new ones. Often, this can increase the yield of your well. This process can be applied to new wells with insufficient yield and to improve the quantity of older wells.
How can I test the quality of my private drinking water supply?
Consider testing your well for pesticides, organic chemicals, and heavy metals before you use it for the first time. Test private water supplies annually for nitrate and coliform bacteria to detect contamination problems early. Test them more frequently if you suspect a problem. Be aware of activities in your watershed that may affect the water quality of your well, especially if you live in an unsewered area.
The first step to protect your health and the health of your family is learning about what may pollute your source of drinking water. Potential contamination may occur naturally, or as a result of human activity.
What are some naturally occurring sources of pollution?
- micro-organisms: Bacteria, viruses, parasites and other microorganisms are sometimes found in water. Shallow wells — those with water close to ground level — are at most risk. Runoff, or water flowing over the land surface, may pick up these pollutants from wildlife and soils. This is often the case after flooding. Some of these organisms can cause a variety of illnesses. Symptoms include nausea and diarrhea. These can occur shortly after drinking contaminated water. The effects could be short-term yet severe (similar to food poisoning), or might recur frequently or develop slowly over a long time.
- radionuclides: Radionuclides are radioactive elements, such as uranium and radium. They may be present in underlying rock and ground water.
- radon: Radon is a gas that is a natural product of the breakdown of uranium in the soil and can also pose a threat. Radon is most dangerous when inhaled, and contributes to lung cancer. Although soil is the primary source, using household water containing radon contributes to elevated indoor radon levels. Radon is less dangerous when consumed in water, but remains a risk to health.
- nitrates and nitrites: Although high nitrate levels are usually due to human activities (see below), they may be found naturally in ground water. They come from the breakdown of nitrogen compounds in the soil. Flowing ground water picks them up from the soil. Drinking large amounts of nitrates and nitrites is particularly threatening to infants (for example, when mixed in formula).
- heavy metals: Underground rocks and soils may contain arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and selenium. However, these contaminants are not often found in household wells at dangerous levels from natural sources.
- fluoride: Fluoride is helpful in dental health, so many water systems add small amounts to drinking water. However, excessive consumption of naturally occurring fluoride can damage bone tissue. High levels of fluoride occur naturally in some areas. It may discolor teeth, but this is not a health risk.
What human activities can pollute ground water?
Septic tanks are designed to have a leach field around them, which is an area where wastewater flows out of the tank. This wastewater can also move into the ground water.
- bacteria and nitrates: These pollutants are found in human and animal wastes. Septic tanks can cause bacterial and nitrate pollution. So can large numbers of farm animals. Both septic systems and animal manure must be carefully managed to prevent pollution. Sanitary landfills and garbage dumps are also sources. Children and some adults are at higher risk when exposed to waterborne bacteria. These include the elderly and people whose immune systems are weak due to AIDS or treatments for cancer. Fertilizers can add to nitrate problems. Nitrates cause a health threat in very young infants called “blue baby syndrome.” This condition disrupts oxygen flow in the blood.
- concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs): The number of CAFOs, often called “factory farms,” is growing. On these farms, thousands of animals are raised in a small space. The large amounts of animal waste/manure from these farms can threaten water supplies. Strict and careful manure management is needed to prevent pathogen and nutrient problems. Salts from high levels of manure can also pollute ground water.
- heavy metals: Activities such as mining and construction can release large amounts of heavy metals into nearby ground water sources. Some older fruit orchards may contain high levels of arsenic, once used as a pesticide. At high levels, these metals pose a health risk.
- fertilizers and pesticides: Farmers use fertilizers and pesticides to promote growth and reduce insect damage. These products are also used on golf courses and suburban lawns and gardens. The chemicals in these products may end up in ground water. Such pollution depends on the types and amounts of chemicals used and how they are applied. Local environmental conditions (soil types, seasonal snow and rainfall) also affect this pollution. Many fertilizers contain forms of nitrogen that can break down into harmful nitrates. This could add to other sources of nitrates mentioned above. Some underground agricultural drainage systems collect fertilizers and pesticides. This polluted water can pose problems to ground water and local streams and rivers. In addition, chemicals used to treat buildings and homes for termites and other pests may also pose a threat. Again, the possibility of problems depends on the amount and kind of chemicals. The types of soil and the amount of water moving through the soil also play a role.
- industrial products and waste: Many harmful chemicals are used widely in local business and industry. These can pollute drinking water if not well-managed. The most common sources of such problems are:
- local businesses: These include nearby factories, industrial plants, and even small businesses such as gas stations and dry cleaners. All handle a variety of hazardous chemicals that need careful management. Spills and improper disposal of these chemicals and other industrial wastes can threaten ground water supplies.
- leaking underground tanks and piping: Petroleum products, chemicals and waste stored in underground storage tanks and pipes may end up in the ground water. Tanks and piping leak if they are constructed or installed improperly. Steel tanks and piping corrode with age. Tanks are often found on farms. The possibility of leaking tanks is great on old, abandoned farm sites. Farm tanks are exempt from the EPA rules for petroleum and chemical tanks.
- landfills and waste dumps: Modern landfills are designed to contain any leaking liquids. But floods can carry them over the barriers. Older dumpsites may have a wide variety of pollutants that can seep into ground water.
- household waste: Improper disposal of many common products can pollute ground water. These include cleaning solvents, used motor oil, paints, and paint thinners. Even soaps and detergents can harm drinking water. These are often a problem from faulty septic tanks and septic leaching fields.
- lead and copper: Household plumbing materials are the most common source of lead and copper found in home drinking water. Corrosive water may cause metals in pipes or soldered joints to leach into your tap water. Your water’s acidity or alkalinity (often measured as pH) greatly affects corrosion. Temperature and mineral content also affect how corrosive it is. They are often used in pipes, solder and plumbing fixtures. Lead can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cells. The age of plumbing materials — in particular, copper pipes soldered with lead — is also important. Even in relatively low amounts, these metals can be harmful. The EPA rules under the Safe Drinking Water Act limit lead in drinking water to 15 parts per billion. Since 1988, the Act allows only lead-free pipe, solder and flux in drinking water systems. The law covers both new installations and repairs of plumbing.
What You Can Do…
Private, individual wells are the responsibility of the homeowner. To help protect your well, here are some steps you can take:
Have your water tested periodically. It is recommended that water be tested every year for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels. If you suspect other contaminants, test for those. Always use a state-certified laboratory that conducts drinking water tests. Since these can be expensive, spend some time identifying potential problems. Consult your InterNACHI inspector for information about how to go about water testing.
Testing more than once a year may be warranted in special situations if:
- someone in your household is pregnant or nursing;
- there are unexplained illnesses in the family;
- your neighbors find a dangerous contaminant in their water;
- you note a change in your water’s taste, odor, color or clarity;
- there is a spill of chemicals or fuels into or near your well; or
- you replace or repair any part of your well system.
Identify potential problems as the first step to safe-guarding your drinking water. The best way to start is to consult a local expert — someone who knows your area, such as the local health department, agricultural extension agent, a nearby public water system, or a geologist at a local university.
Be aware of your surroundings. As you drive around your community, take note of new construction. Check the local newspaper for articles about new construction in your area.
Check the paper or call your local planning and zoning commission for announcements about hearings or zoning appeals on development or industrial projects that could possibly affect your water.
Attend these hearings, ask questions about how your water source is being protected, and don’t be satisfied with general answers. Ask questions, such as: “If you build this landfill, what will you do to ensure that my water will be protected?” See how quickly they answer and provide specifics about what plans have been made to specifically address that issue.
Identify Potential Problem Sources
To start your search for potential problems, begin close to home. Do a survey around your well to discover:
- Is there livestock nearby?
- Are pesticides being used on nearby agricultural crops or nurseries?
- Do you use lawn fertilizers near the well?
- Is your well downstream from your own or a neighbor’s septic system?
- Is your well located near a road that is frequently salted or sprayed with de-icers during winter months?
- Do you or your neighbors dispose of household waste or used motor oil in the backyard, even in small amounts?
If any of these items apply, it may be best to have your water tested and talk to your local public health department or agricultural extension agent to find ways to change some of the practices which can affect your private well.
In addition to the immediate area around your well, you should be aware of other possible sources of contamination that may already be part of your community or may be moving into your area. Attend any local planning or appeals hearings to find out more about the construction of facilities that may pollute your drinking water. Ask to see the environmental impact statement on the project. See if the issue of underground drinking water sources has been addressed. If not, ask why.
Common Sources of Ground Water Contamination
Category Contaminant Source
- animal burial areas
- drainage fields/wells
- animal feedlots
- irrigation sites
- fertilizer storage/use
- manure spreading areas/pits, lagoons
- pesticide storage/use
- jewelry/metal plating
- auto repair shops
- boat yards
- medical institutions
- car washes
- paint shops
- construction areas
- photography establishments
- process waste-water drainage
- dry cleaners fields/wells
- gas stations
- railroad tracks and yards
- golf courses
- research laboratories
- scrap and junkyards
- storage tanks
- asphalt plants
- petroleum production/storage
- chemical manufacture/storage
- electronic manufacture
- process waste-water drainage
- electroplaters fields/wells
- foundries/metal fabricators
- septage lagoons and sludge
- machine/metalworking shops
- storage tanks
- mining and mine drainage
- toxic and hazardous spills
- wood-preserving facilities
- fuel oil
- septic systems, cesspools
- furniture stripping/refinishing
- sewer lines
- household hazardous products
- swimming pools (chemicals)
- household lawns
- hazardous waste landfills
- recycling/reduction facilities
- municipal incinerators
- road de-icing operations
- municipal landfills
- road maintenance depots
- municipal sewer lines
- Storm water drains/basins/wells
- open burning sites
Roofs play a key role in protecting building occupants and interiors from outside weather conditions, primarily moisture. The roof, insulation and ventilation must all work together to keep the building free of moisture. Roofs also provide protection from the sun. In fact, if designed correctly, roof overhangs can protect the building’s exterior walls from moisture and sun. The concerns regarding moisture, standing water, durability and appearance are different, reflected in the choices of roofing materials.
Maintaining Your Roof
Homeowner maintenance includes cleaning the leaves and debris from the roof’s valleys and gutters. Debris in the valleys can cause water to wick under the shingles and cause damage to the interior of the roof. Clogged rain gutters can cause water to flow back under the shingles on the eaves and cause damage, regardless of the roofing material. including composition shingle, wood shake, tile or metal. The best way to preserve your roof is to stay off it. Also, seasonal changes in the weather are usually the most destructive forces.
A leaky roof can damage ceilings, walls and furnishings. To protect buildings and their contents from water damage, roofers repair and install roofs made of tar or asphalt and gravel; rubber or thermoplastic; metal; or shingles made of asphalt, slate, fiberglass, wood, tile, or other material. Roofers also may waterproof foundation walls and floors.
There are two types of roofs: flat and pitched (sloped). Most commercial, industrial and apartment buildings have flat or slightly sloping roofs. Most houses have pitched roofs. Some roofers work on both types; others specialize. Most flat roofs are covered with several layers of materials. Roofers first put a layer of insulation on the roof deck. Over the insulation, they then spread a coat of molten bitumen, a tar-like substance. Next, they install partially overlapping layers of roofing felt, a fabric saturated in bitumen, over the surface. Roofers use a mop to spread hot bitumen over the surface and under the next layer. This seals the seams and makes the surface watertight. Roofers repeat these steps to build up the desired number of layers, called plies. The top layer either is glazed to make a smooth finish or has gravel embedded in the hot bitumen to create a rough surface. An increasing number of flat roofs are covered with a single-ply membrane of waterproof rubber or thermoplastic compounds. Roofers roll these sheets over the roof’s insulation and seal the seams. Adhesive mechanical fasteners, or stone ballast hold the sheets in place. The building must be of sufficient strength to hold the ballast.
Most residential roofs are covered with shingles. To apply shingles, roofers first lay, cut, and tack 3-foot strips of roofing felt lengthwise over the entire roof. Then, starting from the bottom edge, they staple or nail overlapping rows of shingles to the roof. Workers measure and cut the felt and shingles to fit intersecting roof surfaces and to fit around vent pipes and chimneys. Wherever two roof surfaces intersect, or where shingles reach a vent pipe or chimney, roofers cement or nail flashing strips of metal or shingle over the joints to make them watertight. Finally, roofers cover exposed nailheads with roofing cement or caulking to prevent water leakage. Roofers who use tile, metal shingles or shakes follow a similar process. Some roofers also water-proof and damp-proof masonry and concrete walls and floors. To prepare surfaces for waterproofing, they hammer and chisel away rough spots, or remove them with a rubbing brick, before applying a coat of liquid waterproofing compound. They also may paint or spray surfaces with a waterproofing material, or attach a waterproofing membrane to surfaces. When damp-proofing, they usually spray a bitumen-based coating on interior or exterior surfaces.
A number of roofing materials are available…
Asphalt is the most commonly used roofing material. Asphalt products include shingles, roll-roofing, built-up roofing, and modified bitumen membranes. Asphalt shingles are typically the most common and economical choice for residential roofing. They come in a variety of colors, shapes and textures. There are four different types: strip, laminated, interlocking, and large individual shingles. Laminated shingles consist of more than one layer of tabs to provide extra thickness. Interlocking shingles are used to provide greater wind resistance. And large individual shingles generally come in rectangular and hexagonal shapes. Roll-roofing products are generally used in residential applications, mostly for underlayments and flashings. They come in four different types of material: smooth-surfaced, saturated felt, specialty-eaves flashings, and mineral-surfaced. Only mineral-surfaced is used alone as a primary roof covering for small buildings, such as sheds. Smooth-surfaced products are used primarily as flashing to seal the roof at intersections and protrusions, and for providing extra deck protection at the roof’s eaves and valleys. Saturated felt is used as an underlayment between the roof deck and the roofing material. Specialty-eaves flashings are typically used in climates where ice dams and water backups are common. Built-up roofing (or BUR) is the most popular choice of roofing used on commercial, industrial and institutional buildings. BUR is used on flat and low-sloped roofs and consists of multiple layers of bitumen and ply sheets. Components of a BUR system include the roof deck, a vapor retarder, insulation, membrane, and surfacing material. A modified bitumen-membrane assembly consists of continuous plies of saturated felts, coated felts, fabrics or mats between which alternate layers of bitumen are applied, either surfaced or unsurfaced. Factory surfacing, if applied, includes mineral granules, slag, aluminum or copper. The bitumen determines the membrane’s physical characteristics and provides primary waterproofing protection, while the reinforcement adds strength, puncture-resistance and overall system integrity.
Most metal roofing products consist of steel or aluminum, although some consist of copper and other metals. Steel is invariably galvanized by the application of a zinc or a zinc-aluminum coating, which greatly reduces the rate of corrosion. Metal roofing is available as traditional seam and batten, tiles, shingles and shakes. Products also come in a variety of styles and colors. Metal roofs with solid sheathing control noise from rain, hail and bad weather just as well as any other roofing material. Metal roofing can also help eliminate ice damming at the eaves. And in wildfire-prone areas, metal roofing helps protect buildings from fire, should burning embers land on the roof. Metal roofing costs more than asphalt, but it typically lasts two to three times longer than asphalt and wood shingles.
Wood shakes offer a natural look with a lot of character. Because of variations in color, width, thickness, and cut of the wood, no two shake roofs will ever look the same. Wood offers some energy benefits, too. It helps to insulate the attic, and it allows the house to breathe, circulating air through the small openings under the felt rows on which wooden shingles are laid. A wood shake roof, however, demands proper maintenance and repair, or it will not last as long as other products. Mold, rot and insects can become a problem. The life-cycle cost of a shake roof may be high, and old shakes can’t be recycled. Most wood shakes are unrated by fire safety codes. Many use wipe or spray-on fire retardants, which offer less protection and are only effective for a few years. Some pressure-treated shakes are impregnated with fire retardant and meet national fire safety standards. Installing wood shakes is more complicated than roofing with composite shingles, and the quality of the finished roof depends on the experience of the contractor, as well as the caliber of the shakes used. The best shakes come from the heartwood of large, old cedar trees, which are difficult to find. Some contractors maintain that shakes made from the outer wood of smaller cedars, the usual source today, are less uniform, more subject to twisting and warping, and don’t last as long.
Concrete and Tile
Concrete tiles are made of extruded concrete that is colored. Traditional roofing tiles are made from clay. Concrete and clay tile roofing systems are durable, aesthetically appealing, and low in maintenance. They also provide energy savings and are environmentally friendly. Although material and installation costs are higher for concrete and clay tile roofs, when evaluated on a price-versus-performance basis, they may out-perform other roofing materials. Tile adorns the roofs of many historic buildings, as well as modern structures. In fact, because of its extreme durability, longevity and safety, roof tile is the most prevalent roofing material in the world. Tested over centuries, roof tile can successfully withstand the most extreme weather conditions including hail, high wind, earthquakes, scorching heat, and harsh freeze-thaw cycles. Concrete and clay roof tiles also have unconditional Class A fire ratings, which means that, when installed according to building code, roof tile is non-combustible and maintains that quality throughout its lifetime. In recent years, manufacturers have developed new water-shedding techniques and, for high-wind situations, new adhesives and mechanical fasteners. Because the ultimate longevity of a tile roof also depends on the quality of the sub-roof, roof tile manufacturers are also working to improve flashings and other aspects of the underlayment system. Under normal circumstances, properly installed tile roofs are virtually maintenance-free. Unlike other roofing materials, roof tiles actually become stronger over time. Because of roof tile’s superior quality and minimal maintenance requirements, most roof tile manufacturers offer warranties that range from 50 years to the lifetime of the structure.
Concrete and clay tile roofing systems are also energy-efficient, helping to maintain livable interior temperatures (in both cold and warm climates) at a lower cost than other roofing systems. Because of the thermal capacity of roof tiles and the ventilated air space that their placement on the roof surface creates, a tile roof can lower air-conditioning costs in hotter climates, and produce more constant temperatures in colder regions, which reduces potential ice accumulation. Tile roofing systems are made from naturally occurring materials and can be easily recycled into new tiles or other useful products. They are produced without the use of chemical preservatives, and do not deplete limited natural resources.
Single-ply membranes are flexible sheets of compounded synthetic materials that are manufactured in a factory. There are three types of membranes: thermosets, thermoplastics, and modified bitumens. These materials provide strength, flexibility, and long-lasting durability. The advantages of pre-fabricated sheets are the consistency of the product quality, the versatility in their attachment methods, and, therefore, their broader applicability. They are inherently flexible, used in a variety of attachment systems, and compounded for long-lasting durability and watertight integrity for years of roof life. Thermoset membranes are compounded from rubber polymers. The most commonly used polymer is EPDM (often referred to as “rubber roofing”). Thermoset membranes make successful roofing materials because they can withstand the potentially damaging effects of sunlight and most common chemicals generally found on roofs. The easiest way to identify a thermoset membrane is by its seams, which require the use of adhesive, either liquid or tape, to form a watertight seal at the overlaps. Thermoplastic membranes are based on plastic polymers. The most common thermoplastic is PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which has been made flexible through the inclusion of certain ingredients called plasticizers. Thermoplastic membranes are identified by seams that are formed using either heat or chemical welding. These seams are as strong or stronger than the membrane itself. Most thermoplastic membranes are manufactured to include a reinforcement layer, usually polyester or fiberglass, which provides increased strength and dimensional stability. Modified bitumen membranes are hybrids that incorporate the high-tech formulation and pre-fabrication advantages of single-ply with some of the traditional installation techniques used in built-up roofing. These materials are factory-fabricated layers of asphalt, “modified” using a rubber or plastic ingredient for increased flexibility, and combined with reinforcement for added strength and stability. There are two primary modifiers used today: APP (atactic polypropylene) and SBS (styrene butadiene styrene). The type of modifier used may determine the method of sheet installation. Some are mopped down using hot asphalt, and some use torches to melt the asphalt so that it flows onto the substrate. The seams are sealed by the same technique.
Are You at Risk?
If you aren’t sure whether your house is at risk from natural disasters, check with your local fire marshal, building official, city engineer, or planning and zoning administrator. They can tell you whether you are in a hazard area. Also, they usually can tell you how to protect yourself and your house and property from damage. It is never a bad idea to ask an InterNACHI inspector whether your roof is in need of repair during your next scheduled inspection. Protection can involve a variety of changes to your house and property which that can vary in complexity and cost. You may be able to make some types of changes yourself. But complicated or large-scale changes and those that affect the structure of your house or its electrical wiring and plumbing should be carried out only by a professional contractor licensed to work in your state, county or city. One example is fire protection, accomplished by replacing flammable roofing materials with fire-resistant materials. This is something that most homeowners would probably hire a contractor to do.
Replacing Your Roof
The age of your roof is usually the major factor in determining when to replace it. Most roofs last many years, if properly installed, and often can be repaired rather than replaced. An isolated leak usually can be repaired. The average life expectancy of a typical residential roof is 15 to 20 years. Water damage to a home’s interior or overhangs is commonly caused by leaks from a single weathered portion of the roof, poorly installed flashing, or from around chimneys and skylights. These problems do not necessarily mean you need a new roof.
Some roofing materials, including asphalt shingles, and especially wood shakes, are less resistant to fire than others. When wildfires and brush fires spread to houses, it is often because burning branches, leaves, and other debris buoyed by the heated air and carried by the wind fall onto roofs. If the roof of your house is covered with wood or asphalt shingles, you should consider replacing them with fire-resistant materials. You can replace your existing roofing materials with slate, terra cotta or other types of tile, or standing-seam metal roofing. Replacing roofing materials is difficult and dangerous work. Unless you are skilled in roofing and have all the necessary tools and equipment, you will probably want to hire a roofing contractor to do the work. Also, a roofing contractor can advise you on the relative advantages and disadvantages of various fire-resistant roofing materials.
Hiring a Licensed Contractor
One of the best ways to select a roofing contractor is to ask friends and relatives for recommendations. You may also contact a professional roofers association for referrals. Professional associations have stringent guidelines for their members to follow. The roofers association in your area will provide you with a list of available contractors. Follow these guidlines when selecting a contractor:
- get three references and review their past work;
- get at least three bids;
- get a written contract, and don’t sign anything until you completely understand the terms;
- pay 10% down or $1,000 whichever is less;
- don’t let payments get ahead of the work;
- don’t pay cash;
- don’t make final payment until you’re satisfied with the job; and
- don’t rush into repairs or be pressured into making an immediate decision.
You’ve Chosen the Contractor… What About the Contract?
Make sure everything is in writing. The contract is one of the best ways to prevent problems before you begin. The contract protects you and the contractor by including everything you have both agreed upon. Get all promises in writing and spell out exactly what the contractor will and will not do.
Your contract should call for all work to be performed in accordance with all applicable building codes. The building codes set minimum safety standards for construction. Generally, a building permit is required whenever structural work is involved. The contractor should obtain all necessary building permits. If this is not specified in the contract, you may be held legally responsible for failure to obtain the required permits. The building department will inspect your roof when the project has reached a certain stage, and again when the roof is completed.
Make sure the contractor carries workers’ compensation insurance and general liability insurance in case of accidents on the job. Ask to have copies of these policies for your job file. You should protect yourself from mechanics’ liens against your home in the event the contractor does not pay subcontractors or material suppliers. You may be able to protect yourself by having a “release of lien” clause in your contract. A release of lien clause requires the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers to furnish a “certificate of waiver of lien.” If you are financing your project, the bank or lending institution may require that the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers verify that they have been paid before releasing funds for subsequent phases of the project.
Keep these points in mind if you plan to have your existing roofing materials replaced:
- Tile, metal, and slate are more expensive roofing materials, but if you need to replace your roofing anyway, it may be worthwhile to pay a little more for the added protection these materials provide.
- Slate and tile can be much heavier than asphalt shingles or wood shingles. If you are considering switching to one of these heavier coverings, your roofing contractor should determine whether the framing of your roof is strong enough to support them.
- If you live in an area where snow loads are a problem, consider switching to a modern standing-seam metal roof, which will usually shed snow efficiently.
19. Seller’s Pre-Listing Inspection
Eventually, your buyers are going to conduct an inspection. You may as well know what they are going to find by getting there first. Having an inspection performed ahead of time helps in many other ways, such as:
- It allows you to see your home through the eyes of a critical and neutral third party.
- It alerts you to immediate safety issues before agents and visitors tour your home.
- It may alert you to items of immediate concern, such as radon gas or active termite infestation.
- It permits you to make repairs ahead of time so that …
- Defects won’t become negotiating stumbling blocks later.
- There is no delay in obtaining the Use and Occupancy Permit.
- You have the time to get reasonably priced contractors or make the repairs yourself, if qualified.
- It helps you to price your home realistically.
- It may relieve prospects’ concerns and suspicions.
- It may encourage the buyer to waive his inspection contingency.
- It reduces your liability by adding professional supporting documentation to your disclosure statement.
Never hire an inspector who is not a member of InterNACHI, which provides the most trusted and rigorous training for inspectors in the industry.
Copies of the inspection report, along with receipts for any repairs, should be made available to potential buyers.
20. Septic Systems
Septic systems treat and disperse relatively small volumes of wastewater from individual and small numbers of homes and commercial buildings. Septic system regulation is usually a state and local responsibility. The EPA provides information to homeowners and assistance to state and local governments to improve the management of septic systems to prevent failures that could harm human health and water quality.
Information for Homeowners
If your septic tank failed, or you know someone whose did, you are not alone. As a homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining your septic system. Proper septic system maintenance will help keep your system from failing and will help maintain your investment in your home. Failing septic systems can contaminate the ground water that you and your neighbors drink and can pollute nearby rivers, lakes and coastal waters.
Ten simple steps you can take to keep your septic system working properly:
- Locate your septic tank and drainfield. Keep a drawing of these locations in your records.
- Have your septic system inspected at least every three years. Hire an InterNACHI inspector trained in septic inspections.
- Pump your septic tank as needed (generally, every three to five years).
- Don’t dispose of household hazardous waste in sinks or toilets.
- Keep other household items, such as dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, and cat litter out of your system.
- Use water efficiently.
- Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the system. Also, do not apply manure or fertilizers over the drainfield.
- Keep vehicles and livestock off your septic system. The weight can damage the pipes and tank, and your system may not drain properly under compacted soil.
- Keep gutters and basement sump pumps from draining into or near your septic system.
- Check with your local health department before using additives. Commercial septic tank additives do not eliminate the need for periodic pumping and can be harmful to your system.
How does it work?
A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drainfield, and the soil. Microbes in the soil digest and remove most contaminants from wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater. The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming sludge), and oil and grease to float to the surface (as scum). It also allows partial decomposition of the solid materials. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the septic tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drainfield area. Screens are also recommended to keep solids from entering the drainfield. The wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drainfield for further treatment by the soil. Micro-organisms in the soil provide final treatment by removing harmful bacteria, viruses and nutrients.
Your septic system is your responsibility!
Did you know that, as a homeowner, you’re responsible for maintaining your septic system? Did you know that maintaining your septic system protects your investment in your home? Did you know that you should periodically inspect your system and pump out your septic tank? If properly designed, constructed and maintained, your septic system can provide long-term, effective treatment of household wastewater. If your septic system isn’t maintained, you might need to replace it, costing you thousands of dollars. A malfunctioning system can contaminate groundwater that might be a source of drinking water. And if you sell your home, your septic system must be in good working order.
You should have your septic system inspected at least every three years by a professional, and have your tank pumped as necessary (generally every three to five years).
Use water efficiently…
Average indoor water use in the typical single-family home is almost 70 gallons per person per day. Dripping faucets can waste about 2,000 gallons of water each year. Leaky toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons each day. The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system.
Dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, and other kitchen and bathroom waste can clog and potentially damage septic system components. Flushing household chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, anti-freeze and paint can stress or destroy the biological treatment taking place in the system, as well as contaminate surface waters and groundwater.
How do I maintain my septic system?
Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the drainfield.
Don’t drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system. Doing so can compact the soil in your drainfield or damage the pipes, the tank or other septic system components.
Keep roof drains, basement sump pump drains, and other rainwater and surface water drainage systems away from the drainfield. Flooding the drainfield with excessive water slows down or stops treatment processes and can cause plumbing fixtures to back up.
Why should I maintain my septic system?
A key reason to maintain your septic system is to save money! Failing septic systems are expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is often the culprit. Having your septic system inspected (at least every three years) is a bargain when you consider the cost of replacing the entire system. Your system will need pumping every three to five years, depending on how many people live in the house and the size of the system. An unusable septic system or one in disrepair will lower your property’s value and could pose a legal liability. Other good reasons for safe treatment of sewage include preventing the spread of infection and disease, and protecting water resources. Typical pollutants in household wastewater are nitrogen phosphorus, and disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Nitrogen and phosphorus are aquatic plant nutrients that can cause unsightly algae blooms. Excessive nitrate-nitrogen in drinking water can cause pregnancy complications, as well as methemoglobinemia (also known as “blue baby syndrome”) in infancy. Pathogens can cause communicable diseases through direct or indirect body contact, or ingestion of contaminated water or shellfish. If a septic system is working properly, it will effectively remove most of these pollutants.
21. Settlement Information
You’ve decided to buy a new home — congratulations! This article will help you take this big financial step by describing the home-buying, home-financing, and settlement process.
Lenders and mortgage brokers are required by federal law under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”) to give you this information. You should receive it when applying for a loan, or within three business days afterward. Real estate brokers frequently hand out a booklet, as well. You probably started the home-buying process in one of two ways: you saw a home you were interested in buying, or you consulted a lender to figure out how much money you could borrow before you found a home (sometimes called pre-qualifying). The next step is to sign an agreement of sale with the seller, followed by applying for a loan to purchase your new home. The final step is called “settlement” or “closing,” where the legal title to the property is transferred to you. At each of these steps, you often have the opportunity to negotiate the terms, conditions and costs to your advantage. You will also need to shop carefully to get the best value for your money. There is no standard home-buying process used in all localities. Your actual experience may vary from those described here. This article will take you through the general steps to buying a home in order to eliminate, as much as possible, the mysteries of the settlement process.
Buying and Financing a Home
The Role of the Real Estate Broker
Frequently, the first person you consult about buying a home is a real estate agent or broker. Although real estate brokers provide helpful advice on many aspects of home-buying, they may serve the interests of the seller, and not your interests as the buyer. The most common practice is for the seller to hire the broker to find someone who will be willing to buy the home on terms and conditions that are acceptable to the seller. Therefore, the real estate broker you are dealing with may also represent the seller. However, you can hire your own real estate broker, known as a buyer’s broker, to represent your interests. Also, in some states, agents and brokers are allowed to represent both buyer and seller. Even if the real estate broker represents the seller, state real estate licensing laws usually require that the broker treat you fairly. If you have any questions concerning the behavior of an agent or broker, you should contact your state’s Real Estate Commission or licensing department. Sometimes, the real estate broker will offer to help you obtain a mortgage loan. He or she may also recommend that you deal with a particular lender, title company, attorney or settlement/closing agent. You are not required to follow the real estate broker’s recommendation. You should compare the costs and services offered by other providers with those recommended by the real estate broker.
Selecting an Attorney
Before you sign an agreement of sale, you might consider asking an attorney to look it over and tell you if it protects your interests. If you have already signed your agreement of sale, you might still consider having an attorney review it. An attorney can also help you prepare for the settlement. In some areas, attorneys act as settlement/closing agents or as escrow agents to handle the settlement. An attorney who does this will not solely represent your interests, since, as the settlement/closing agent, they may also be representing the seller, the lender, and others, as well.
Please note that in many areas of the country, attorneys are not normally involved in the home sale. For example, escrow agents or escrow companies in western states handle the paperwork to transfer title without any attorney involvement.
If choosing an attorney, you should shop around and ask what services will be performed for what fee.
Find out whether the attorney is experienced in representing home buyers. You may wish to ask the attorney questions such as:
- What is the charge for negotiating the agreement of sale, reviewing documents, and giving advice concerning those documents, as well as for being present at the settlement, or for reviewing instructions to the escrow agent or company?
- Will the attorney represent anyone other than you in the transaction?
- Will the attorney be paid by anyone other than you in the transaction?
Terms of the Agreement of Sale
Before you sign an agreement of sale, here are some important points to consider. The real estate broker probably will give you a pre-printed form of agreement of sale. You may make changes or additions to the form agreement, but the seller must agree to every change you make. You should also agree with the seller on when you will move in and what appliances and personal property will be sold with the home.
Some important terms you should become familiar with include:
sale price: For most home purchasers, the sales price is the most important term. Recognize that other non-monetary terms of the agreement are also important.
title: The “title” refers to the legal ownership of your new home. The seller should provide the title, free and clear of all claims by others against your new home. Claims by others against your new home are sometimes known as “liens” or “encumbrances.” You may negotiate who will pay for the title search, which will tell you whether the title is “clear.”
mortgage clause: The agreement of sale should provide that your deposit will be refunded if the sale has to be canceled because you are unable to get a mortgage loan. For example, your agreement of sale could allow the purchase to be canceled if you cannot obtain mortgage financing at an interest rate at or below a rate you specify in the agreement.
pests: Your lender will require a certificate from a qualified inspector stating that the home is free from termites and other pests and pest damage. You may want to reserve the right to cancel the agreement or seek immediate treatment and repairs by the seller if pest damage is found.
home inspection: It is a good idea to have the home inspected. Never hire an inspector who is not a member of InterNACHI. Unqualified inspectors charge less but they will cost you in the long run. An inspection should determine the condition of the plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical systems. The structure should also be examined to assure it is sound, and to determine the condition of the roof, siding, windows and doors. The lot should be graded away from the house so that water does not drain toward the house and into the basement. Most buyers prefer to pay for these inspections so that the inspector is working for them, not the seller. You may wish to include in your agreement of sale the right to cancel, if you are not satisfied with the inspection results. In that case, you may want to re-negotiate for a lower sale price or require the seller to make repairs.
lead-based paint hazards in housing built before 1978: If you buy a home built before 1978, you have certain rights concerning lead-based paint and lead-poisoning hazards. The seller or sales agent must give you the EPA pamphlet titled “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home,” or other EPA-approved lead-hazard information. The seller or sales agent must tell you what the seller actually knows about the home’s lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards, and give you any relevant records or reports.
You have at least 10 days to do an inspection or risk-assessment for lead-based paint or lead-based paint hazards. However, to have the right to cancel the sale based on the results of an inspection or risk-assessment, you will need to negotiate this condition with the seller.
Finally, the seller must attach a disclosure form to the agreement of sale which will include a Lead Warning Statement. You, the seller, and the sales agent will sign an acknowledgment that these notification requirements have been satisfied.
other environmental concerns: Your city or state may have laws requiring buyers or sellers to test for environmental hazards, such as leaking underground oil tanks, the presence of radon or asbestos, lead water pipes, and other such hazards, and to take the steps to clean up any such hazards. You may negotiate who will pay for the costs of any required testing and/or clean up.
sharing of expenses: You need to agree with the seller about how expenses related to the property, such as taxes, water and sewer charges, condominium fees, and utility bills, are to be divided on the date of settlement. Unless you agree otherwise, you should only be responsible for the portion of these expenses owed after the date of sale.
settlement agent/escrow agent or company: Depending on local practices, you may have an option to select the settlement agent or escrow agent or company. For states where an escrow agent or company will handle the settlement, the buyer, seller and lender will provide instructions.
settlement costs: You can negotiate which settlement costs you will pay and which will be paid by the seller.
Shopping for a Loan
Your choice of lender and type of loan will influence not only your settlement costs, but also the monthly cost of your mortgage loan. There are many types of lenders and types of loans you can choose. You may be familiar with banks, savings associations, mortgage companies and credit unions, many of which provide home mortgage loans. You may find a listing of some mortgage lenders in the Yellow Pages or a listing of rates in your local newspaper.
Some companies known as “mortgage brokers” offer to find you a mortgage lender willing to make you a loan. A mortgage broker may operate as an independent business and may not be operating as your “agent” or representative. Your mortgage broker may be paid by the lender, you as the borrower, or both. You may wish to ask about the fees that the mortgage broker will receive for its services.
You may be eligible for a loan insured through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, or similar programs operated by cities and states. These programs usually require a smaller down payment. Ask lenders about these programs. You can get more information about these programs from the agencies that run them.
Computer loan origination systems, or CLOs, are computer terminals sometimes available in real estate offices or other locations to help you sort through the various types of loans offered by different lenders. The CLO operator may charge a fee for the services the CLO offers. This fee may be paid by you or by the lender that you select.
Types of Loans
Loans can have a fixed interest rate or a variable interest rate. Fixed-rate loans have the same principal and interest payments during the loan term. Variable rate loans can have any one of a number of “indexes” and “margins” which determine how and when the rate and payment amount change. If you apply for a variable-rate loan, also known as an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM), a disclosure and booklet required by the Truth in Lending Act will further describe the ARM. Most loans can be repaid over a term of 30 years or less. Most loans have equal monthly payments. The amounts can change from time to time on an ARM, depending on changes in the interest rate. Some loans have short terms and a large final payment called a “balloon” payment. You should shop for the type of home mortgage loan terms that best suit your needs.
Interest Rate, Points and Other Fees
Often, the price of a home mortgage loan is stated in terms of an interest rate, points, and other fees. A “point” is a fee that equals 1% of the loan amount. Points are usually paid to the lender, mortgage broker, or both, at the settlement or upon the completion of the escrow. Often, you can pay fewer points in exchange for a higher interest rate or more points for a lower rate. Ask your lender or mortgage broker about points and other fees.
A document called the Truth in Lending Disclosure Statement will show you the “Annual Percentage Rate” (APR) and other payment information for the loan you have applied for. The APR takes into account not only the interest rate, but also the points, mortgage broker fees, and certain other fees that you have to pay. Ask for the APR before you apply to help you shop for the loan that is best for you. Also ask if your loan will have a charge or a fee for paying all or part of the loan before payment is due (a “pre-payment penalty”). You may be able to negotiate the terms of the pre-payment penalty.
Lender-Required Settlement Costs
Your lender may require you to obtain certain settlement services, such as a new survey, mortgage insurance, or title insurance. It may also order and charge you for other settlement-related services, such as the appraisal or a credit report. A lender may also charge other fees, such as fees for loan processing, document preparation, underwriting, flood certification, or an application fee. You may wish to ask for an estimate of fees and settlement costs before choosing a lender. Some lenders offer “no-cost” or “no-point” loans, but normally cover these fees or costs by charging a higher interest rate.
Comparing Loan Costs
Comparing APRs may be an effective way to shop for a loan. However, you must compare similar loan products for the same loan amount. For example, compare two 30-year fixed rate loans for $100,000. Loan A with an APR of 8.35% is less costly than Loan B with an APR of 8.65% over the loan term. However, before you decide on a loan, you should consider the up-front cash you will be required to pay for each of the two loans, as well.
Another effective shopping technique is to compare identical loans with different up-front points and other fees. For example, if you are offered two 30-year fixed-rate loans for $100,000 at 8%, the monthly payments are the same, but the up-front costs are different:
- Loan A: 2 points ($2,000) and lender-required costs of $1,800 = $3,800 in costs
- Loan B: 2-1/4 points ($2,250) and lender-required costs of $1,200 = $3,450 in costs
A comparison of the up-front costs shows that Loan B requires $350 less in up-front cash than Loan A. However, your individual situation (how long you plan to stay in your house) and your tax situation (points can usually be deducted for the tax year that you purchase a house) may affect your choice of loans.
“Locking in” your rate or points at the time of application or during the processing of your loan will keep the rate and/or points from changing until settlement or closing of the escrow process. Ask your lender if there is a fee to lock in the rate, and whether the fee reduces the amount you have to pay for points. Find out how long the lock-in is good for, what happens if it expires, and whether the lock-in fee is refundable if your application is rejected.
Tax and Insurance Payments
Your monthly mortgage payment will be used to repay the money you borrowed, plus interest. Part of your monthly payment may be deposited into an “escrow account” (also known as a “reserve” or “impound” account) so your lender or servicer can pay your real estate taxes, property insurance, mortgage insurance and/or flood insurance. Ask your lender or mortgage broker if you will be required to set up an escrow or impound account for taxes and insurance payments.
Transfer of Your Loan
While you may start the loan process with a lender or mortgage broker, you could find that, after settlement, another company may be collecting the payments on your loan. Collecting loan payments is often known as “servicing” the loan. Your lender or broker will disclose whether it expects to service your loan or to transfer the servicing to someone else.
Private mortgage insurance and government mortgage insurance protect the lender against default and enable the lender to make a loan which the lender considers a higher risk. Lenders often require mortgage insurance for loans where the down payment is less than 20% of the sales price. You may be billed monthly, annually, by an initial lump sum, or by some combination of these practices for your mortgage insurance premium. Ask your lender if mortgage insurance is required and how much it will cost. Mortgage insurance should not be confused with mortgage life, credit life or disability insurance, which are designed to pay off a mortgage in the event of the borrower’s death or disability.
You may also be offered “lender-paid” mortgage insurance (LPMI). Under LPMI plans, the lender purchases the mortgage insurance and pays the premiums to the insurer. The lender will increase your interest rate to pay for the premiums — but LPMI may reduce your settlement costs. You cannot cancel LPMI or government mortgage insurance during the life of your loan. However, it may be possible to cancel private mortgage insurance at some point, such as when your loan balance is reduced to a certain amount. Before you commit to paying for mortgage insurance, find out the specific requirements for cancellation.
Flood Hazard Areas
Most lenders will not lend you money to buy a home in a flood-hazard area unless you pay for flood insurance. Some government loan programs will not allow you to purchase a home that is located in a flood-hazard area. Your lender may charge you a fee to check for flood hazards. You should be notified if flood insurance is required. If a change in flood insurance maps brings your home within a flood-hazard area after your loan is made, your lender or servicer may require you to buy flood insurance at that time.
Selecting a Settlement Agent
Settlement practices vary from locality to locality, and even within the same county or city. Settlements may be conducted by lenders, title insurance companies, escrow companies, real estate brokers or attorneys for the buyer or seller. You may save money by shopping for the settlement agent.
In some parts of the country (particularly western states), settlement may be conducted by an escrow agent. The parties sign an escrow agreement which requires them to provide certain documents and funds to the agent. Unlike other types of settlement, the parties do not meet around a table to sign documents. Ask how your settlement will be handled.
Securing Title Services
Title insurance is usually required by the lender to protect the lender against loss resulting from claims by others against your new home. In some states, attorneys offer title insurance as part of their services in examining title and providing a title opinion. The attorney’s fee may include the title insurance premium. In other states, a title insurance company or title agent directly provides the title insurance.
A lender’s title insurance policy does not protect you. Similarly, the prior owner’s policy does not protect you. If you want to protect yourself from claims by others against your new home, you will need an owner’s policy. When a claim does occur, it can be financially devastating to an owner who is uninsured. If you buy an owner’s policy, it is usually much less expensive if you buy it at the same time and with the same insurer as the lender’s policy.
Choice of Title Insurer
Under RESPA, the seller may not require you, as a condition of the sale, to purchase title insurance from any particular title company. Generally, your lender will require title insurance from a company that is acceptable to it. In most cases you can shop for and choose a company that meets the lender’s standards.
Review Initial Title Report
In many areas, a few days or weeks before the settlement or closing of the escrow, the title insurance company will issue a “Commitment to Insure,” or preliminary report or “binder” containing a summary of any defects in title which have been identified by the title search, as well as any exceptions from the title insurance policy’s coverage. The commitment is usually sent to the lender for use until the title insurance policy is issued at or after the settlement. You can arrange to have a copy sent to you (or to your attorney) so that you can object if there are matters affecting the title which you did not agree to accept when you signed the agreement of sale.
Coverage and Cost Savings
To save money on title insurance, compare rates among various title insurance companies. Ask what services and limitations on coverage are provided under each policy so that you can decide whether coverage purchased at a higher rate may be better for your needs. However, in many states, title insurance premium rates are established by the state and may not be negotiable. If you are buying a home which has changed hands within the last several years, ask your title company about a “re-issue rate,” which would be cheaper. If you are buying a newly constructed home, make certain your title insurance covers claims by contractors. These claims are known as “mechanics’ liens” in some parts of the country.
Lenders or title insurance companies often require a survey to mark the boundaries of the property. A survey is a drawing of the property showing the perimeter boundaries and marking the location of the house and other improvements. You may be able to avoid the cost of a complete survey if you can locate the person who previously surveyed the property, and simply request an update. Check with your lender or title insurance company on whether an updated survey is acceptable.
One of the purposes of RESPA is to help consumers become better shoppers for settlement services. RESPA requires that borrowers receive disclosures at various times. Some disclosures spell out the costs associated with the settlement, outline lender servicing and escrow account practices, and describe business relationships between settlement service providers.
Good-Faith Estimate of Settlement Costs
When you apply for a loan, RESPA requires that the lender or mortgage broker give you a “good-faith estimate” of settlement service charges you will likely have to pay. If you do not get this good-faith estimate when you apply, the lender or mortgage broker must mail or deliver it to you within the next three business days.
Be aware that the amounts listed on the good-faith estimate are only estimates. Actual costs may vary. Changing market conditions can affect prices. Remember that the lender’s estimate is not a guarantee. Keep your good-faith estimate so you can compare it with the final settlement costs, and ask the lender questions about any changes.
Servicing Disclosure Statement
RESPA requires the lender or mortgage broker to tell you, in writing, when you apply for a loan or within the next three business days, whether it expects that someone else will be servicing your loan (collecting your payments).
Affiliated Business Arrangements
Sometimes, several businesses that offer settlement services are owned or controlled by a common corporate parent. These businesses are known as “affiliates.” When a lender, real estate broker, or other participant in your settlement refers you to an affiliate for a settlement service (such as when a real estate broker refers you to a mortgage broker affiliate), RESPA requires the referring party to give you an Affiliated Business Arrangement Disclosure. This form will remind you that you are generally not required, with certain exceptions, to use the affiliate, and are free to shop for other providers.
HUD-1 Settlement Statement
One business day before the settlement, you have the right to inspect the HUD-1 Settlement Statement. This statement itemizes the services provided to you and the fees charged to you. This form is filled out by the settlement agent who will conduct the settlement. Be sure you have the name, address, and telephone number of the settlement agent if you wish to inspect this form. The fully completed HUD-1 Settlement Statement generally must be delivered or mailed to you at or before the settlement. In cases where there is no settlement meeting, the escrow agent will mail you the HUD-1 after settlement, and you have the right to inspect it one day before settlement.
Escrow Account Operation and Disclosures
Your lender may require you to establish an escrow or impound account to insure that your taxes and insurance premiums are paid on time. If so, you will probably have to pay an initial amount at the settlement to start the account, and an additional amount with each month’s regular payment. Your escrow account payments may include a “cushion” or an extra amount to ensure that the lender has enough money to make the payments when due. RESPA limits the amount of the cushion to a maximum of two months of escrow payments.
At the settlement or within the next 45 days, the person servicing your loan must give you an initial escrow account statement. That form will show all of the payments which are expected to be deposited into the escrow account, and all of the disbursements which are expected to be made from the escrow account, during the year ahead. Your lender or servicer will review the escrow account annually and send you a disclosure each year, which shows the prior year’s activity, and any adjustments necessary in the escrow payments that you will make in the forthcoming year.
Processing Your Loan Application
Here are several federal laws which provide you with protection during the processing of your loan. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), the Fair Housing Act, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) prohibit discrimination and provide you with the right to certain credit information.
The ECOA prohibits lenders from discriminating against credit applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, the fact that all or part of the applicant’s income comes from any public assistance program, or the fact that the applicant has exercised any right under any federal consumer credit protection law. To help government agencies monitor ECOA compliance, your lender or mortgage broker must request certain information regarding your race, sex, marital status and age when taking your loan application.
The Fair Housing Act also prohibits discrimination in residential real estate transactions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin. This prohibition applies to both the sale of a home to you and the decision by a lender to give you a loan to help pay for that home. Finally, your locality or state may also have a law which prohibits discrimination.
Frequently, there are differences in the types and amounts of settlement costs charged to the borrower — for example, some borrowers are charged greater fees for mortgages depending on their credit worthiness. These differences may be justified or they may be unlawfully discriminatory. It is important that you examine your settlement documents closely, and do not hesitate to compare your settlement costs with those of your friends and neighbors. If you feel you have been discriminated against by a lender or anyone else in the home-buying process, you may file a private legal action against that person, or complain to a state, local or federal administrative agency. You may want to talk to an attorney, or you may want to ask the federal agency that enforces ECOA (the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System) or the Fair Housing Act (HUD) about your rights under these laws.
Prompt Action/Notification of Action Taken
Your lender or mortgage broker must act on your application and inform you of the action taken no later than 30 days after it receives your completed application. Your application will not be considered complete, and the 30-day period will not begin, until you provide to your lender or mortgage broker all of the material and information requested.
Statement of Reasons for Denial
If your application is denied, the ECOA requires your lender or mortgage broker to give you a statement of the specific reasons why it denied your application, or tell you how you can obtain such a statement. The notice will also tell you which federal agency to contact if you think the lender or mortgage broker has illegally discriminated against you.
Obtaining Your Credit Report
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires a lender or mortgage broker that denies your loan application to tell you whether it based its decision on information contained in your credit report. If that information was a reason for the denial, the notice will tell you where you can get a free copy of the credit report. You have the right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of any information in your credit report. If you dispute any information, the credit reporting agency that prepared the report must investigate, free of charge, and notify you of the results of the investigation.
Obtaining an Appraisal
The lender needs to know if the value of your home is enough to secure the loan. To get this information, the lender typically hires an appraiser, who gives a professional opinion about the value of your home. The ECOA requires your lender or mortgage broker to tell you that you have a right to get a copy of the appraisal report. The notice will also tell you how and when you can ask for a copy.
RESPA Protection Against Illegal Referral Fees
The ESPA was enacted because the U.S. Congress felt that consumers needed protection from “unnecessarily high settlement charges caused by certain abusive practices that have developed in some areas of the country.” Some of the practices Congress was concerned about are discussed below. Most professionals in the settlement business provide good service and do not engage in these practices.
It is illegal under RESPA for anyone to pay or receive a fee, kickback or anything of value because they agree to refer settlement service business to a particular person or organization. For example, your mortgage lender is not allowed to pay your real estate broker $250 for referring you to the lender. It is also illegal for anyone to accept a fee or part of a fee for services if that person has not actually performed settlement services for the fee. For example, a lender may not add to a third party’s fee, such as an appraisal fee, and keep the difference.
RESPA does not prevent title companies, mortgage brokers, appraisers, attorneys, settlement/closing agents and others who actually perform a service in connection with the mortgage loan or the settlement, from being paid for the reasonable value of their work. If a participant in your settlement appears to be taking a fee without having done any work, you should advise that person or company of the RESPA referral-fee prohibitions. You may also speak with your attorney or complain to a regulator.
It is a crime for someone to pay or receive an illegal referral fee. The penalty can be a fine, imprisonment, or both. You may be entitled to recover three times the amount of the charge for any settlement service by bringing a private lawsuit. If you are successful, the court may also award you court costs and your attorney’s fees.
If you have a problem, the best place to have it fixed is at its source (the lender, settlement agent, broker, etc.). If that approach fails and you think you have suffered because of a violation of RESPA, ECOA, or any other law, you may be entitled to sue in a federal or state court. This is a matter you should discuss with your attorney.
Most settlement service providers are supervised by a governmental agency at the local, state and/or federal level. Your state’s Attorney General may have a consumer affairs division. If you feel that a provider of settlement services has violated RESPA or any other law, you can complain to that agency or association. You may also send a copy of your complaint to the HUD Office of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
If you have a question at any time during the life of your loan, RESPA requires the company collecting your loan payments (your “servicer”) to respond to you. Write to your servicer and call it a “qualified written request under Section 6 of RESPA.” A “qualified written request” should be a separate letter and not mailed with the payment coupon. Describe the problem and include your name and account number. The servicer must investigate and make appropriate corrections within 60 business days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
23. Ten Tips to Speed Up Your Home Inspection
Speed up your home sale by preparing your home ahead of time using the following tips. Your home inspection will go smoother, with fewer concerns to delay closing.
- Confirm that that the water, electrical and gas services are turned on (including pilot lights).
- Make sure your pets won’t hinder your home inspection. Ideally, they should be removed from the premises or secured outside. Tell your agent about any pets at home.
- Replace burned-out light bulbs to avoid a “light is inoperable” report that may suggest an electrical problem.
- Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and replace dead batteries.
- Clean or replace dirty HVAC air filters. They should fit securely.
- Remove stored items, debris and wood from the foundation. These may be cited as “conducive conditions” for termites.
- Remove items blocking access to HVAC equipment, electrical service panels, the water heater, attic and crawlspace.
- Unlock any locked areas that your home inspector must access, such as the attic door or hatch, the electrical service panel, the door to the basement, and any exterior gates.
- Trim tree limbs so that they’re at least 10 feet away from the roof. Trim any shrubs that are too close to the house and can hides pests or hold moisture against the exterior.
- Repair or replace any broken or missing items, such as doorknobs, locks or latches, windowpanes or screens, gutters or downspouts, or chimney caps.
Checking these areas before your home inspection is an investment in selling your property. Better yet, have your InterNACHI inspector ensure that your home is Move-In Certified™. Your real estate agent will thank you!
24. Termite Control in the Home
Wood-destroying insects and other organisms can cause serious problems in the wooden structural components of a house, and may go undetected for a long period of time.
All chemical soil treatments, bait systems, and chemical wood treatment must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and applied in accordance with the EPA label’s instructions. In some cases, it is not feasible for a builder to arrange for soil treatment. In this regard, the International Residential Code (IRC) by the International Code Council allows a builder to utilize pressure-treated wood as a measure of termite protection. If pressure-treated wood is used, however, it must be used in all framing members up to and including the top plate of the first floor’s level wall. This includes the sub-floor and floor joists of the first floor. The use of pressure-treated wood in only the sill plate is not acceptable. In such cases, the builder must provide the lender with a letter stating that the house is protected from termites by the use of pressure-treated wood. The builder must also provide the home buyer with a one-year warranty against termites. The use of post-construction soil treatment where the chemicals are applied only around the perimeter of the foundation is NOT acceptable in new construction.
Appraisers are to observe all areas of the house and other structures/areas within the legal boundaries of the property that have potential for infestation by termites and other wood-destroying organisms, including the bottoms of exterior doors and frames, wood siding in contact with the ground, and crawlspaces. Mud tunnels running from the ground up the side of the house may indicate termite infestation. Observe the eaves and gable vents and wood window sills for indication of the entrance of swarming termites, and note excessive dampness or large areas where the vegetation is dead. Evidence of active termite infestation must be noted.
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. Prevent infestations because if they occur, they will almost always need professional pest-control service.
Signs of Infestation
Hire a qualified InterNACHI inspector to inspect for termites or other wood-destroying organisms. Generally, the first sign of infestation is the presence of swarming termites on the window or near indoor light. If they are found inside the house, it almost always means that they have infested. Other signs that may be found are termite wings on window sills or in cobwebs, and shelter tubes, which are tunnels constructed by the termites from soil or wood and debris. Usually, wood damage is not found at first, but when it is found, it definitely reveals a termite infestation. Anywhere wood touches soil is a possible entry into a home for termites. Examine wood which sounds dull or hollow when struck by a screwdriver or hammer. Inspect suspected areas with a sharp, pointed tool, such as an ice pick, to find termite galleries or their damage.
Control measures include reducing the potential infestation, preventing termite entry, and applying chemicals for remedial treatment.
Inspect thoroughly to determine if there is an infestation, damage, and/or conditions that could invite a termite attack, or the need for remedial control measures. The tools and equipment needed for an inspection include a flashlight, ice pick or sharp-pointed screwdriver, ladder, and protective clothing. Always hire an InterNACHI inspector for your inspection needs, as they are trained by the highest standards in the inspection industry.
Check the foundation of the house, garage and other buildings for shelter tubes coming from the soil. Look closely around porches, connecting patios, sidewalks, areas near kitchens and bathrooms, and hard-to-see places. Check window and door frames, and where utility services enter the house for termite infestation or wood decay. Also, look behind shrubbery and plants near walls. Pay special attention to areas where earth and wood meet, such as fences, stair carriages and trellises. Open and check any exterior electrical meter or fuse box set into the wall, a common point of infestation.
Carefully check all doors, window facings, baseboards, and hardwood flooring. Discoloration or stains on walls or ceilings may mean that water is leaking and can decay wood, and this can aid termite infestation. It is very important to inspect where plumbing and utility pipes enter the foundation and flooring. Also, examine the attic for shelter tubes, water leakage, and wood damage.
Many termite problems can be prevented. The most important thing to do is to deny termites access to food (wood), moisture and shelter. Follow these suggestions:
- have at least a 2-inch clearance between the house and planter boxes, or soil-filled porches;
- eliminate all wood-to-soil contact, such as trellises, fence posts, stair casings and door facings (they can be put on masonry blocks or on treated wood);
- separate shrubbery from the house to help make it easier to inspect the foundation line;
- use wolmanized wood (pressure-treated wood) so that rain will not rot it;
- seal openings through the foundation;
- remove wood scraps and stumps from around the foundation;
- have at least 12 to 18 inches of clearance between floor beams and the soil underneath.
Termite treatment often requires specialized equipment. Therefore, it is recommended that you always use the services of a pest control operator because he is familiar with construction principles and practices, has the necessary equipment, and knows about subterranean termites.
If you think you have a termite infestation in your house, you need to call a structural pest control company to conduct a professional inspection. To find a company, ask friends or coworkers for recommendations, or check the Yellow Pages. If the inspection finds evidence of drywood termites, you have several options, depending on the degree of infestation. Fumigation and heating of the entire house are the only options that ensure eradication in the entire structure. If the infestation is contained in a small area, local or spot control may be effective. However, hidden infestations in other parts of the structure will not be eradicated.
Total (Whole-House) Eradication
For the heat method, pets, plants, and other items that might be damaged by high temperatures must be removed. The house is then covered with tarps, and hot air is blown into the tarp until the inside temperature reaches 140° F to 150° F, and the temperature of the structural timbers reaches 120° F. The time to complete this procedure varies greatly from one structure to another, depending on factors such as the building’s construction and the weather conditions. The procedure may not be practical for structures that cannot be heated evenly.
Local or Spot Control
Local or spot-control methods include the use of pesticides, electric current, extreme cold, localized heat, microwave energy, or any combination of these methods. Local or spot control also includes the removal and replacement of infested structural timber. These methods are intended to remove or kill termites only within the specific targeted area, leaving open the possibility of other undetected infestations within the structure. These treatments are NOT designed for whole-house eradication. Any pest control company that claims whole-house results with local or spot control methods is guilty of false advertising and should be reported.
Local or spot treatment with pesticides involves drilling and injecting pesticides into infested timbers, as well as the topical application of toxic chemicals. The electric-current method involves delivering electric energy to targeted infestations. For the extreme cold method, liquid nitrogen is pumped into wall voids adjacent to suspected infestation sites, reducing the area to -20° F. The localized heat method involves heating infested structural timbers to 120° F. The microwave method kills termites by directing microwaves into termite-infested wood.
If you see the following signs in your house, you might have termites:
- sawdust-like droppings;
- dirt or mud-like tubes or trails on the structure;
- damaged wood members (like window sills); and
- swarming winged insects within the structure, especially in the spring or fall.
25. USDA Loans
by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
USDA loans are housing loans that are backed through the Rural Housing Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).The USDA offers competitive loans for borrowers in rural areas
In the wake of the mortgage crisis in 2008 and 2009, lenders have become more cautious, so it’s harder for home buyers, especially first-timers, to secure financing, especially those with low incomes or little money for a down payment. In response, the USDA has enacted changes that made millions of borrowers eligible for their rural mortgage programs, which have been around for decades. These loans are primarily used to help low-income individuals and families purchase homes in rural areas, given the challenges faced in finding an affordable mortgage loan or deriving high income in sparsely populated areas. Funds can be used to build, repair, renovate or relocate a home, or to purchase and prepare sites, including providing water and sewage facilities. If the borrower defaults on payments, loan funds are still guaranteed to the lender.
Eligibility of Applicants
The following factors affect eligibility for USDA loans:
- Loans are restricted to borrowers in rural areas, although many of the zip codes that qualify for USDA loans are in relatively typical suburbs of major cities. The 2002 Farm Bill defines a rural area as “any area other than (1) a city or town that has a population of greater than 50,000 inhabitants, and (2) the urbanized areas contiguous and adjacent to such a city or town.”
- Applicants for loans may have an income of up to 115% of the median income for the area. If an income exceeds the maximum mark, you may be able to make certain adjustments that will help you qualify.
- Applicant families must currently be without adequate housing, but be able to afford the mortgage payments, including taxes and insurance. Copies of IRS tax filings from years prior may be required, especially if the prospective borrower is self-employed or has worked many jobs over the past few years.
- Applicants must have reasonable credit histories. Late payments will appear on the credit history, as will bankruptcies, repossessions and
- The amount loaned will also depend on the number of dependents claimed by the applicant.
Eligibility of Housing
Housing must be modest in size, design and cost. Also, houses constructed, purchased or rehabilitated must meet the building code adopted by the state and the Housing and Community Facilities Programs’ (HCFP) thermal and site standards. New manufactured housing must be permanently installed and meet the manufactured housing construction and safety standards of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as well as the HCFP’s thermal and site standards. Existing manufactured housing may not qualify unless it is already financed with an HCFP direct or guaranteed loan, or it is Real Estate-Owned (REO), formerly secured by an HCFP direct or guaranteed loan.
USDA Loans vs. Federal Housing Authority (FHA) Loans
While the USDA and FHA both insure loans made by private lenders, the policies and eligibility requirements for each are quite different. The following are the principle differences:
- Unlike loans offered by the FHA, USDA loans have no monthly mortgage insurance premium.
- The FHA requires that an applicant invest 3.5% of the purchase price as a down payment, although this fee may be donated by an employer, a blood relative, or a non-profit organization that is approved by HUD. The USDA does not require a down payment.
- Both the USDA and FHA have similar appraisal requirements. Both feature mortgage options for a fixed rate mortgage, and repayment terms of 15 years and 30 years.
- FHA loans may be as high as $729,750, while USDA loans are limited to $300,000.
In summary, USDA loans are a good option for many prospective home buyers and borrowers living in (or moving to) rural areas.
26. VA Loan Basics
by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
A VA loan is a mortgage loan guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). VA loans can be very helpful for veterans
Like FHA loans, VA loans are backed by the federal government in order to protect lenders against default, an assurance that removes barriers to home buying for prospective homeowners when they attempt to get a mortgage. This loan guarantee has its origins in the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (more commonly known as the G.I. Bill), passed by U.S. Congress in 1944 to provide a wide range of benefits for soldiers returning from WWII. Eligibility for VA loans – as well as unemployment compensation, vocational training, and other offerings of the G.I. Bill – have since been made available to veterans of subsequent wars and peacetime service.
VA loans serve two primary purposes:
- to finance loans for eligible veterans in regions where private financing is not available, which are generally rural areas, and small cities and towns far from metropolitan and commuting areas of large cities; and
- to help eligible veterans who lack sufficient funds for a down payment to purchase properties.
VA loans offer eligible veterans a number of benefits that are not available to recipients of conventional loans. Note that not all of the following features are available to those receiving FHA loans. VA loan benefits include:
- 100% financing on purchases and refinances. Loans are available up to $417,000 (as of 2009), although this amount is higher in some areas with a higher cost of living and/or inflated real estate markets, such as Hawaii, Alaska and California;
- no Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). PMI is money paid to a lender to offset losses in the event that the borrower defaults and the lender cannot recover its investment after foreclosure;
- fixed, competitive interest rates;
- the loan is assumable, meaning that borrowers can sell their homes to non-veterans and pass along the benefits of the VA loan to the buyers;
- forbearance, in which the federal government can extend leniency to veterans experiencing temporary financial hardship;
- no prepayment penalty. Penalties are applied to conventional loans when borrowers choose to pay off their mortgages early, which then gives them the option of refinancing at a lower interest rate;
- easy credit and low income standards, compared with conventional loans;
- the builder of a new home is required to give the purchasing veteran a one-year warranty, protecting the borrower against construction that conflicts with VA-approved specifications. Also, the VA will compensate the borrower for correction of structural defects in the home within four years of the loan guarantee if the defects seriously affect livability. An InterNACHI inspector should be hired to inspect for structural defects;
- the borrower may be charged only the fees and other costs that the VA considers appropriate;
- the down payment may be financed. Closing costs and funding fees still apply, however; and
- in California, veterans may be eligible to receive additional benefits from a Cal-Vet Home Loan, such as reusability (you can receive a new Cal-Vet loan whenever you purchase a property as long as you have paid off previous Cal-Vet loans), and earthquake, fire and mudslide protection plans.
In order to be eligible for a VA home loan, the borrower must obtain a Certificate of Eligibility by completing the VA Form 26-1880. Veterans, active-duty, guard, reserve, and military spouses potentially qualify for this certificate. Veterans and active military personnel need to have served for a designated duration, depending on war- or peacetime, in order to be considered eligible. The certificate states the entitlement amount, which is the portion of mortgage that the VA will guarantee for each serviceperson. Keep in mind that the Certificate of Eligibility, while necessary for the loan process, only allows an eligible individual to apply for a home loan, but it does not guarantee loan approval.
In summary, VA loans offer eligible veterans a variety of benefits that are not available to recipients of conventional or even FHA loans.
27. Protect Your Property From Water Damage
Water may be essential to life, but, as a destructive force, water can diminish the value of your home or building. Homes as well as commercial buildings can suffer water damage that results in increased maintenance costs, a decrease in the value of the property, lowered productivity, and potential liability associated with a decline in indoor air quality. The best way to protect against this potential loss is to ensure that the building components which enclose the structure, known as the building envelope, are water-resistant. Also, you will want to ensure that manufacturing processes, if present, do not allow excess water to accumulate. Finally, make sure that the plumbing and ventilation systems, which can be quite complicated in buildings, operate efficiently and are well-maintained. This article provides some basic steps for identifying and eliminating potentially damaging excess moisture.
Identify and Repair All Leaks and Cracks
The following are common building-related sources of water intrusion:
windows and doors: Check for leaks around your windows, storefront systems and doors.
roof: Improper drainage systems and roof sloping reduce roof life and become a primary source of moisture intrusion. Leaks are also common around vents for exhaust or plumbing, rooftop air-conditioning units, or other specialized equipment.
foundation and exterior walls: Seal any cracks and holes in exterior walls, joints and foundations. These often develop as a naturally occurring byproduct of differential soil settlement.
plumbing: Check for leaking plumbing fixtures, dripping pipes (including fire sprinkler systems), clogged drains (both interior and exterior), defective water drainage systems and damaged manufacturing equipment.
ventilation, heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems: Numerous types, some very sophisticated, are a crucial component to maintaining a healthy, comfortable work environment. They are comprised of a number of components (including chilled water piping and condensation drains) that can directly contribute to excessive moisture in the work environment. In addition, in humid climates, one of the functions of the system is to reduce the ambient air moisture level (relative humidity) throughout the building. An improperly operating HVAC system will not perform this function.
Prevent Water Intrusion Through Good Inspection and Maintenance Programs
Hire a qualified InterNACHI inspector to perform an inspection of the following elements of your building to ensure that they remain in good condition:
flashings and sealants: Flashing, which is typically a thin metal strip found around doors, windows and roofs, are designed to prevent water intrusion in spaces where two building materials come together. Sealants and caulking are specifically applied to prevent moisture intrusion at building joints. Both must be maintained and in good condition.
vents: All vents should have appropriate hoods, exhaust to the exterior, and be in good working order.
Review the use of manufacturing equipment that may include water for processing or cooling. Ensure wastewater drains adequately away, with no spillage. Check for condensation around hot or cold materials or heat-transfer equipment.
HVAC systems are much more complicated in commercial buildings. Check for leakage in supply and return water lines, pumps, air handlers and other components. Drain lines should be clean and clear of obstructions. Ductwork should be insulated to prevent condensation on exterior surfaces.
humidity: Except in specialized facilities, the relative humidity in your building should be between 30% and 50%. Condensation on windows, wet stains on walls and ceilings, and musty smells are signs that relative humidity may be high. If you are concerned about the humidity level in your building, consult with a mechanical engineer, contractor or air-conditioning repair company to determine if your HVAC system is properly sized and in good working order. A mechanical engineer should be consulted when renovations to interior spaces take place.
moist areas: Regularly clean off, then dry all surfaces where moisture frequently collects.
expansion joints: Expansion joints are materials between bricks, pipes and other building materials that absorb movement. If expansion joints are not in good condition, water intrusion can occur.
Protection From Water Damage
interior finish materials: Replace drywall, plaster, carpet and stained or water-damaged ceiling tiles. These are not only good evidence of a moisture intrusion problem, but can lead to deterioration of the work environment, if they remain over time.
exterior walls: Exterior walls are generally comprised of a number of materials combined into a wall assembly. When properly designed and constructed, the assembly is the first line of defense between water and the interior of your building. It is essential that they be maintained properly (including regular refinishing and/or resealing with the correct materials).
storage areas: Storage areas should be kept clean. Allow air to circulate to prevent potential moisture accumulation.
Act Quickly if Water Intrusion Occurs
Label shut-off valves so that the water supply can be easily closed in the event of a plumbing leak. If water intrusion does occur, you can minimize the damage by addressing the problem quickly and thoroughly. Immediately remove standing water and all moist materials, and consult with a building professional. Should your building become damaged by a catastrophic event, such as fire, flood or storm, take appropriate action to prevent further water damage, once it is safe to do so. This may include boarding up damaged windows, covering a damaged roof with plastic sheeting, and/or removing wet materials and supplies. Fast action on your part will help minimize the time and expense for repairs, resulting in a faster recovery.
28. Water Quality
The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world. However, national statistics don’t tell you specifically about the quality and safety of the water coming out of your tap. That’s because drinking water quality varies from place to place, depending on the condition of the source water from which it is drawn, and the treatment it receives. Now you have a new way to find information about your drinking water if it comes from a public water supplier (The EPA doesn’t regulate private wells, but recommends that well. owners have their water tested annually.) Starting in 1999, every community water supplier must provide an annual report (sometimes called a “consumer confidence report”) to its customers. The report provides information on your local drinking water quality, including the water’s source, the contaminants found in the water, and how consumers can get involved in protecting drinking water. You may want more information, or you may have more questions. One place you can go is to your water supplier, who is best equipped to answer questions about your specific water supply.
What contaminants may be found in drinking water?
There is no such thing as naturally pure water. In nature, all water contains some impurities. As water flows in streams, sits in lakes, and filters through layers of soil and rock in the ground, it dissolves or absorbs the substances that it touches. Some of these substances are harmless. In fact, some people prefer mineral water precisely because minerals give it an appealing taste. However, at certain levels, minerals, just like man-made chemicals, are considered contaminants that can make water unpalatable or even unsafe. Some contaminants come from the erosion of natural rock formations. Other contaminants are substances discharged from factories, applied to farmlands, or used by consumers in their homes and yards. Sources of contaminants might be in your neighborhood or might be many miles away. Your local water quality report tells which contaminants are in your drinking water, the levels at which they were found, and the actual or likely source of each contaminant. Some ground water systems have established wellhead protection programs to prevent substances from contaminating their wells. Similarly, some surface-water systems protect the watershed around their reservoir to prevent contamination. Right now, states and water suppliers are working systematically to assess every source of drinking water, and to identify potential sources of contaminants. This process will help communities to protect their drinking water supplies from contamination.
Where does drinking water come from?
A clean, constant supply of drinking water is essential to every community. People in large cities frequently drink water that comes from surface-water sources, such as lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Sometimes, these sources are close to the community. Other times, drinking water suppliers get their water from sources many miles away. In either case, when you think about where your drinking water comes from, it’s important to consider not just the part of the river or lake that you can see, but the entire watershed. The watershed is the land area over which water flows into the river, lake or reservoir. In rural areas, people are more likely to drink ground water that was pumped from a well. These wells tap into aquifers, the natural reservoirs under the earth’s surface, that may be only a few miles wide, or may span the borders of many states. As with surface water, it is important to remember that activities many miles away from you may affect the quality of ground water. Your annual drinking water quality report will tell you where your water supplier gets your water.
How is drinking water treated?
When a water supplier takes untreated water from a river or reservoir, the water often contains dirt and tiny pieces of leaves and other organic matter, as well as trace amounts of certain contaminants. When it gets to the treatment plant, water suppliers often add chemicals, called coagulants, to the water. These act on the water as it flows very slowly through tanks so that the dirt and other contaminants form clumps that settle to the bottom. Usually, this water then flows through a filter for removal of the smallest contaminants, such as viruses and Giardia. Most ground water is naturally filtered as it passes through layers of the earth into underground reservoirs known as aquifers. Water that suppliers pump from wells generally contains less organic material than surface water, and may not need to go through any or all of these treatments. The image The quality of the water will depend on local conditions. The most common drinking water treatment, considered by many to be one of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century, is disinfection. Most water suppliers add chlorine or another disinfectant to kill bacteria and other germs. Water suppliers use other treatments as needed, according to the quality of their source water. For example, systems whose water is contaminated with organic chemicals can treat their water with activated carbon, which adsorbs or attracts the chemicals dissolved in the water.
What if I have special health needs?
People who have HIV/AIDS, are undergoing chemotherapy, take steroids, or for another reason have a weakened immune system may be more susceptible to microbial contaminants, including Cryptosporidium, in drinking water. If you or someone you know fall into one of these categories, talk to your healthcare provider to find out if you need to take special precautions, such as boiling your water. Young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of high levels of certain contaminants, including nitrate and lead. To avoid exposure to lead, use water from the cold tap for making baby formula, drinking and cooking, and let the water run for a minute or more if the water hasn’t been turned on for six or more hours. If your water supplier alerts you that your water does not meet the EPA’s standard for nitrates, and you have children under 6 months old, consult your healthcare provider. You may want to find an alternate source of water that contains lower levels of nitrates for your child.
What are the health effects of contaminants in drinking water?
The EPA has set standards for more than 80 contaminants that may be present in drinking water and pose a risk to human health. The EPA sets these standards to protect the health of everybody, including vulnerable groups like children. The contaminants fall into two groups, according to the health effects that they cause. Your local water supplier will alert you through the local media, direct mail, or other means if there is a potential acute or chronic health effect from compounds in the drinking water. You may want to contact them for additional information specific to your area. Acute effects occur within hours or days of the time that a person consumes a contaminant. People can suffer acute health effects from almost any contaminant if they are exposed to extraordinarily high levels (as in the case of a spill). In drinking water,microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, are the contaminants with the greatest chance of reaching levels high enough to cause acute health effects. Most people’s bodies can fight off these microbial contaminants the way they fight off germs, and these acute contaminants typically don’t have permanent effects. Nonetheless, when high-enough levels occur, they can make people ill, and can be dangerous or deadly for a person whose immune system is already weak due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, steroid use, or another reason. Chronic effects occur after people consume a contaminant at levels over the EPA’s safety standards for many years. The drinking water contaminants that can have chronic effects are chemicals (such as disinfection byproducts, solvents, and pesticides), radionuclides (such as radium), and minerals (such as arsenic). Examples of these chronic effects include cancer, liver and kidney problems, and reproductive difficulties.
Who is responsible for drinking water quality?
The Safe Drinking Water Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the responsibility for setting national drinking water standards that protect the health of the 250 million people who get their water from public water systems. Other people get their water from private wells which are not subject to federal regulations. Since 1974, the EPA has set national standards for over 80 contaminants that may occur in drinking water. While the EPA and state governments set and enforce standards, local governments and private water suppliers have direct responsibility for the quality of the water that flows to your tap. Water systems test and treat their water, maintain the distribution systems that deliver water to consumers, and report on their water quality to the state. States and the EPA provide technical assistance to water suppliers and can take legal action against systems that fail to provide water that meets state and EPA standards.
What is a violation of a drinking water standard?
Drinking water suppliers are required to monitor and test their water many times, for many things, before sending it to consumers. These tests determine whether and how the water needs to be treated, as well as the effectiveness of the treatment process. If a water system consistently sends to consumers water that contains a contaminant at a level higher than EPA or state health standards regulate, or if the system fails to monitor for a contaminant, the system is violating regulations, and is subject to fines and other penalties. When a water system violates a drinking water regulation, it must notify the people who drink its water about the violation, what it means, and how they should respond. In cases where the water presents an immediate health threat, such as when people need to boil water before drinking it, the system must use television, radio and newspapers to get the word out as quickly as possible. Other notices may be sent by mail, or delivered with the water bill. Each water suppliers’ annual water quality report must include a summary of all the violations that occurred during the previous year.
How can I help protect my drinking water?
Using the new information that is now available about drinking water, citizens can be aware of the challenges of keeping drinking water safe and take an active role in protecting drinking water. There are lots of ways that individuals can get involved. Some people will help clean up the watershed that is the source of their community’s water. Other people might get involved in wellhead protection activities to prevent the contamination of the ground water source that provides water to their community. These people will be able to make use of the information that states and water systems are gathering as they assess their sources of water. Concerned citizens may want to attend public meetings to ensure that their community’s need for safe drinking water is considered in making decisions about land use. You may wish to participate when your state and water system make funding decisions. And all consumers can do their part to conserve water and to dispose properly of household chemicals.
29. Why Get a Home Inspection If You’re Buying “As Is”?
by Nick Gromicko, CMI®
Some sellers – often, those working without an agent – want to sell their home “as is” so they don’t have to invest money fixing it up or take on any potential liability for defects. There is nothing wrong with buying a home “as is,” particularly if you can buy it at a favorable price, but if you are considering buying an “as is” home, you should still hire a competent home inspector to perform an inspection. There are several reasons for this.
First, you don’t know what “as is” is. Sure, you can walk through the home and get an idea of its general condition. You may even spot some defects or items in obvious need of repair. But you won’t obtain the same detailed information you will receive if you hire a home inspector. Home inspectors are trained to look for things you are not likely to notice. InterNACHI inspectors, for example, must follow InterNACHI’s Residential Standards of Practice and check the roof, exterior, interior, foundation, basement, fireplace, attic, insulation, ventilation, doors, windows, heating system, cooling system, plumbing system, and electrical system for certain defects. Armed with a home inspector’s detailed report, you will have a better idea of what “as is” means regarding that home, which means you’ll be in a better position to know whether you want to buy it. You may also be able to use information from the home inspection to negotiate a lower price.
Second, many states require the seller to provide you with written a disclosure about the condition of the property. Sellers often provide little information, and a few even lie. A home inspection can provide the missing information. If an inspector finds evidence that a seller concealed information or lied to you, that may be a sign that you don’t want to buy a home from that seller.
Finally, if you buy a home “as is” without hiring a home inspector and then later discover a defect, all is not lost. A home inspector may be able to review the seller’s disclosure and testify as to what the seller knew or should have known about. The inspector may find evidence that the seller made misrepresentations or concealed relevant information from you. Even the seller of an “as is” home may be held liable for misrepresentation or concealment.
But the better choice, obviously, is to hire a home inspector first. Remember: The cost of a home inspection is a pittance compared to the price of the home. Be an informed consumer, especially when buying an “as is” home, and hire an InterNACHI Certified Professional Inspector®.