Top 10 of 2016

2016 was a busy year! I like to post pictures from my inspections on Facebook. Some are educational and others show some of the interesting (I think) things I come across in homes. Here are some of the top photos from last year:

Overheated:

You can see the insulation is melted on the wire in the photo. My infrared camera shows the temperature is 317 degrees — that’s hot!

Spent Water Heater:

exploded-water-heater

I’m glad I wasn’t around when this happened!

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?:

5523aldrichaves-106

The red thing you see is a drum trap under a bathtub and those are electrical wires. Not the ideal installation.

Cracked Heat Exchanger:

cracked-heat-exchanger

That’s a pretty big crack. Once the heat exchanger is cracked, it’s time for a new furnace.

Nope:

water-heater-disclosurecorrosion-at-the-top-of-the-water-heater

The seller’s disclosure stated there’s mineral build-up on top of the water heater that needs to be cleaned monthly. Nope. There shouldn’t be a mineral build-up on top of a water heater. That’s an indication of a larger problem. Call a professional.

It’s Called A Dead Front Cover:

modified-deadfront-cover

If the breakers don’t fit, don’t modify the panel. It’s electricity.

Poor Vent Configuration:

poor-vent-setup

When the furnace and water heater vent connectors are across from each other, there’s a higher potential for exhaust gases backdrafting into the home.

More Overheating:

overheated

This was inside a Bulldog Pushmatic electrical panel, which are considered obsolete and should be replaced.

Watch Your Step:

watch-your-step

This is in a bedroom. You’ll have to be careful when you’re opening the window!

Nice Try:

not-18-circuits

It’s not too hard to turn a “7” into an “8.”

Multiple Taps:

triple-taps

I see double-taps (multiple wires terminated where there should only be one) all the time. Three is really pushing it. These particular breakers can handle two wires, but it should be one on either side of the screw.

Bad Vent Configuration:

poor-venting-configuration

The larger pipe is the exhaust pipe from the furnace. The smaller one is the exhaust pipe from the water heater. You can see where some of the furnace exhaust will head.

Thanks!:

water-heater-corrosion

Nothing like an arrow to point out the obvious corrosion.

Thanks for tuning in! I’ll keep posting pictures this year.

 

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Should I Test for Radon?

Did you know that the EPA has designated January as National Radon Action Month?

Testing for radon in the Twin Cities metro has become a lot more popular. Just a few years ago I barely had one request a month for a radon test. Last year, I conducted radon tests on nearly have of my inspections. And it’s trending upwards from there already this year.

Of all the homes I tested for radon last year, 42% came back with higher than recommended levels. The EPA recommends when the radon levels in your home are over 4.0, a mitigation system should be installed. Typically in the metro area this will run you roughly $1200-$1500 to have a system installed.

So what’s the big deal? Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that you likely have some levels of in your home. Long term exposure to unsafe levels of radon can potentially lead to lung cancer (they say it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer). The only way to know what the levels are in your home are to test for it. There are home testing kits you can find are your local hardware store (just follow the instructions) or you can contact a home inspector or radon professional for testing options.

The EPA has put together a wonderful guide for homeowners with lots more information about radon. Check it out:

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Top 16 of 2015

Around this time of year I like to put together a top 10 photos from the previous year. I had a hard time narrowing it down this year, so you get a top 16 of the year. Without further ado…

The leopard attic. I’ve never seen this in an attic before. The only guess was someone decided to spray paint all the roofing nails to keep them from rusting:leopard attic

The leaning chimney: Leaning chimney

Water in the crawlspace that gets covered with plastic (it’s probably best if you take care of the water first):water in the crawlspace

Disconnected water heater vent pipe in the attic space:disconnected water heater vent

Multiple double taps (don’t do this at home):double taps

This house had been vacant for a while and I’m guessing the heat and humidity caused the ceiling fan blades to droop (wanna see it in motion? droopy fan video):Droopy fan

We were wondering what that smell was coming from the fireplace:squirrel in smoke chamber

This is not how the electrical service wires are supposed to come into your house:electrical service connection

The strap must have kept the freezer door open just a little:frosty freezer

Saddle valves are notorious for leaking:leaking saddle valve

You’re missing something:missing roof shingles

Mouse house:mouse nest in electrical panel

That’s some old insulation:old headline

Common remodeling mistake:remodel

Flat roof pond:roof pond

Time to replace the water heater:water heater burn out

There you go! Have a great 2016!

 

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Top 10 of 2013

I figure you’re swamped with Top 10 lists at the end of the year, so why not post mine at the beginning of the year when you’re looking for something to read. It was another busy year and I saw lots of interesting/weird stuff. I try to get photos of everything and share them up on the facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/erricksonhomeinspections).

I went through the photos from last year and here are your top 10 from 2013:

10. How do you get in??

Image

9. Furnaces are not maintenance free (this filter’s three years old!):

Image

8. 50-year-old galvanized pipes look pretty nasty inside:

Image

7. Duct tape is not a plumbing fix:

Image

6. If you lose the blunt-tip screw that secures your electrical panel cover, don’t drill a new hole to use a pointy screw:

Image

5. A sure sign your deck has heaved:

Image

4. Just an awful retaining wall:

Image

3. That’s my screwdriver through the deck ledger board (rest of the deck was rotted too):

Image

2. Party on the balcony!!:

Image

1. You really think that’s going to work??:

Image

Thanks again for all your support. Here’s to a busy 2014!

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Time for Spring Cleaning!

Despite the 4-5 inches of snow we got last night, spring is right around the corner (in fact, it should already be here). With no snow in the immediate forecast, we might actually be able to get out and do some spring cleaning. Here’s a list to get you started:

 

At the Exterior:

  • Clean the gutters and make sure all the downspouts are connected
  • Inspect your roof. Look for loose or damaged shingles. Clean off branches and debris
  • Clean the combustion air or makeup air intake vents. Make sure to clean all vents at the exterior – dirt and debris can really build up on the screens protecting the vents
  • Clean the clothes dryer duct. Check the damper at the exterior – it should move freely and close properly
  • Check the condition of the siding. Look for loose boards or peeling paint. Check for cracks in stucco exteriors. 
  • Check the weather-stripping around windows and doors. Repair/replace as necessary.

Fireplace/Chimney

  • Have the flues professionally cleaned on any wood burning fireplaces.
  • Make sure spark arrestors and rain hats are installed on all flues.
  • Check under the bottoms of gas fireplace inserts and clean out any dust.

In the Mechanical Room

  • Check and replace the furnace filter. This should be done every 30-45 days.
  • Check and clean the filters of the air exchange system (if present).
  • Clean up dust and debris from around the base of the water heater and furnace.
  • Test your water heater’s Temperature Pressure Release Valve (it sticks out the side or top of the water heater). 

Smoke / CO Alarms

  • Replace the batteries in all smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors and check the test buttons.
  • Smoke alarms should be located inside every bedroom and one in a common area on every level.
  • CO detectors should be located within 10 feet of every sleeping room (and not in furnace rooms, kitchens, or garages).
  • Check the age of your smoke and CO alarms; smoke alarms are good for up to ten years, CO alarms are good for up to five years. If they’re any older, replace them.

 

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“You Must Have the Perfect House”

I get this quite a bit – my client will say to me during the inspection that I must have a perfect house or if I were to do an inspection report on my house I’d find nothing wrong.

 

In actuality, it’s quite the opposite.  Every house has problems – even new constructions homes. Just to back up a little – my main concerns in the inspection of a house are safety and functionality. I test all the major systems of the home and put it all together in a report. I include pictures and ratings based on severity.

 

Many times there are major safety issues or non-functioning systems in the home that need to be addressed. And they rage from an easy, inexpensive repair to extensive, very costly repairs.

 

There are commonly also maintenance, or deferred maintenance, items that need to be addressed. Some of these may need to be fixed in the near future or just something that gets added to your household maintenance checklist.

 

I see my job as testing all the systems in the home and giving an evaluation of these systems. Unless it’s a brand new home, systems in a home are always in different stages of service life – some may be new, some in the middle of their life and others at the end or passed the end of their typical service life. I make recommendations based on these assessments – i.e. keep up the typical maintenance, time to budget and plan for replacement or that should have been replaced a year ago.

 

Back to my house – there are no major safety issues, but I’ve got lots of maintenance issues. There’s always an ongoing checklist of items to monitor.  And I’ve got to balance those with the ‘to-do list’ my wife has for me too.

 

Our water heater’s getting old, so it’s time to keep an eye on that and think about replacing it.  I replaced the dishwasher last year, so we shouldn’t have to worry about that for a while. But our washer and dryer are getting older.

 

I like to think I’m pretty good with keeping up with the home maintenance. I check and change the furnace filter monthly. I test the water heater’s TPR valve at least once a year. We’ve got some nice, big mature trees in our yard, so I inspect and clean the gutters a few times a year.  I even clean our sinks drains occasionally. The list goes on.

 

Is there more stuff I could be doing? Sure, but it’s hard to find spare time with two kids. Really it’s about taking care of the major issues, keeping up the maintenance and making the other repairs when you can.

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Top 10 of 2012

It’s been another busy year at Errickson Home Inspections. Thanks for your continued support! You get to see some interesting stuff as a home inspector — some amazing things people have added to their homes and some things that just leave you scratching your head in amazement.

Without further ado, here’s the third annual top photos of the year:

10. Just a little off the top

Ceiling fan, top bunk

Ceiling fan, top bunk

I would avoid sleeping on the top bunk!

9.  What are the chances this will leak? (Answer: 100%)

Vent located in a poor spot on the roof.

Vent located in a poor spot on the roof.

8. A very poor (and dangerous) repair to the main electrical service entrance:

Call an electrician

Call an electrician

The service mast was broken, so now the main electrical wires were routed along the roof and metal gutter and attached under the meter. Time to call a professional.

7. Melted temperature dial on a water heater:

Water heater not combusting properly

Water heater not combusting properly

This water heater was pretty old and having some problems to say the least.

6.  Bad chimney:

Crumbling chimney

Crumbling chimney

Do not use!

5. Damaged chimney:

When you improperly vent your furnace and water heater into an unlined chimney, this is the damage it causes.

Deteriorated chimney

When you improperly vent your furnace and water heater into an unlined chimney, this is the damage it causes.

4. This furnace burner chamber was so filled with rust it didn’t fire up!

Dangerous furnace

Dangerous furnace

It got red-tagged and shutdown by a HVAC technician. Luckily no one got hurt.

3. Collapsed dryer vent:

Collapsed dryer vent, now venting into the attic space.

Collapsed dryer vent, now venting into the attic space.

There was so much lint (a fire hazard) in this attic. The vinyl vent is a bad choice too.

2.  Avoid deck parties:

This undersized deck post is also supporting the balcony above. That's quite the bow!

Undersized deck post

This undersized deck post is also supporting the balcony above. That’s quite the bow!

1. Rusted furnace flue pipe

Rusted furnace flue pipe

There were some dangerous holes in this furnace flue pipe (think exhaust gases in the house).

Honorable Mention:

bags of empty beer cans

Bags of empty beer cans in the attic space

There were nine bags of empty beer cans in this attic space – I wonder when the party was??

Barbie

A whole room dedicated to Barbies

Improper gas install on this water heater.

Improper gas install on this water heater.

Looks like just the right length! But not a proper installation.

Damage from a litter box

Damage from a litter box

I’m amazed at the damage a cat can do to sheetrock.

Zap!

Zap!

 

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Water Heater Maintenance/Inspection

Have you taken a look at your water heater recently?  They typically sit in our basements and we really don’t think about them for years until one day you find them leaking, or worse, spilling gallons of water on the floor.

There are a few maintenance tips I give home buyers during an inspections that I’d like to share and also some general inspection tips you can do every so often to try to avoid having gallons of water spilled on your floor.

First off the maintenance tips. I always like to show homebuyers the Temperature Pressure Relief (TPR) valve. This is one of the major safety features on a water heater. You’ll usually find it on the side of the tank, sometimes on top. It should have a pipe attached to it that runs down the side of the tank and stops short of the ground (it should terminate within 6”-18” of the ground in Minnesota). The TPR valve is meant to release before the temperature gets to high or pressure builds up too much to the point where the tank would explode (do a Google search for some cool video).

TPR valve

Water heater TPR valve. This one’s missing a discharge pipe.

It should be tested once or twice a year. It’s pretty easy – just put a bucket at the base of the discharge pipe, lift up the lever on the TPR valve, let some water run out and release the lever back down. If you don’t get any water or it continues to drip after it’s drained, it’s time to have the TPR valve replaced.

While you’re testing the TPR valve, take a look at the discharge pipe. First off, there should be one. If there isn’t one (see pic), it’s a safety hazard if that valve were to release. Next, there should not be a cap on the end of it (that would defeat the purpose). And the end of the pipe shouldn’t be threaded (to keep people from capping it). In Minnesota it should terminate within 6”-18” from the ground.

From a maintenance standpoint, the other thing you can do is drain some water out of the bottom of the tank once a year or so to flush and sediment out of the base of the tank. If you’ve got an older water heater and you’ve never done it, it might not be worth trying to start doing it now. But if your water heater is only a few years old, it’s a yearly task that should get you more life out of the water heater.

To do this, connect a short hose to the drain valve at the base of the water heater and run it to the main floor drain, laundry sink, bathtub or even outside. Shut-off the cold water supply to the water heater (there should be a shutoff valve on the cold water piping just above the tank) and/or the electricity running to the water heater. Open a hot water faucet (maybe at the laundry sink if that’s nearby). And, open the drain valve.  Watch the water coming out, you might find that you have to turn the cold water supply on and off to help flush the sediment out of the base of the tank. There’s a great video on how to do this here:

http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/video/0,,20047191,00.html

corroded shut-off valve

Corroded shutoff valve

That’s if from a maintenance standpoint. It’s also good to visually inspect your water heater a couple of times a year. First take a look at that discharge pipe connected to the TPR valve. Is there water dripping from it? If so, the TPR valve likely needs replacement. Next take a look at the top of the tank. Are combustible materials (like pipe insulation) cleared at least 12” from the top of the tank? Take a look at the cold (and maybe hot) water supply shut-off valves. Do they look corroded? Might be time to have a plumber out to replace them.

If you’ve got a gas water heater, take a look around the draft hood area at the top of the tank.  Take note if there are a lot of rust flakes in this area.  It could be an indication the water heater is having problems drafting or not combusting properly. Take a look at the flue pipes. Are they connected with at least three metal screws at each connection? Does it pitch upwards at least a ¼” per foot? If there are too many bends in the flue pipe that might be why it’s not drafting properly.  Might be time to call in an expert for further evaluation.

Rust in a water heater burner chamber

Rust in a water heater burner chamber

You can also take a look inside the burner chamber of gas-fired water heaters. Rust flakes and corrosion are an indication the water heater’s getting old. If there are a lot of rust flakes, it might be time to consider replacement. Look at the base of the tank while you’re down here. See any water? If so, the tank is probably ready to dump.  Make sure you keep combustibles away from this area and it’s not blocked so the water heater can get the proper amount of air it needs to combust properly.

Let the hot water run at a faucet and listen to the water heater as it’s heating up water. Is the tank making noise? I’ve had some water heaters that sound like they’re making popcorn inside the tank (check out the video). The sound is the sediment in the bottom of the tank bouncing around as it’s heated up.

So take some time to take a look at your water heater. Keep in mind that the typical service life for gas water heaters is 12-15 years and 20-25 years for an electric. That’s just the average. I’ve had people tell me their water heater dumped out at eight years. But with a little maintenance, you can get plenty of life out of them.

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Top 10 Photos of 2011

It was a very busy year here at Errickson Home Inspections. I got to walk through some really nice homes for some really nice people. But I also got to walk through a lot of bank owned, foreclosed, and short-sale properties, which made for a lot of interesting stuff to see and photograph. I’ve posted a lot of pictures on my Facebook site, but I thought I’d share what I think the top 10 photos were from 2011.

10. Gutter Balls

gutter balls

I found all of these objects in the gutter while inspecting a roof. I couldn’t believe the number of toys in this gutter — even a kid’s Croc!

9. Squirrel Remains

decomposed squirrel

Decomposed squirrel

I was looking in the ash pit in the basement of the chimney and found the remains of a squirrel  — it was just a pile of fur and a little skeleton.

8. Wild Mushroom

mushroom growing out of house siding

Mushroom growing out of house siding

That’s a mushroom, and that’s siding on a house. The siding’s been wet for so long that mushrooms are growing out of it.

7. The Whole Can of Spray Foam

spray foam the roof leak

Spray foam the roof leak

This is what it looks like when you use the whole can of spray foam to fix a roof leak.

6. Missing Bed

where's the bed?

Guess where the bed went?

There was lots to see in this house (bank-owned), but this kinda grossed me out.

5. Paint Bubbles

paint bubbles from an ice dam

Paint Bubbles Filled with Water from an Ice Dam

This is some of the damage ice dams was causing in this house. Those paint bubbles are filled with water!

4. Bat Hotel

bat crap

Bat hotel

This was in the attic of an old house. Bats had been living in it for years, and the floor was covered (inches) with bat crap.

3. Water Feature

sagging vent filled with water

Sagging exhaust vent filled with water

This vent is running from the exhaust fan in the bathroom out through the roof. Since it wasn’t installed correctly (see the sag), water has been collecting in that sag in the vent. I could hear it sloshing back-and-forth.

2. Jenga Chimney

crumbling chimney

Crumbling chimney

This chimney is in rough shape. It needs to be torn down (or pushed over). The roof wasn’t much better — just beyond the chimney, the roof had a major sag in it.

1. Bat Filter

bat in furnace filter

Bat stuck in furnace filter

I’ve seen a lot of dirty furnace filters before, and I figured this was just some debris stuck in this filter. But after taking a closer look, it was a bat. Pretty creepy! Turned out the vent at the exterior providing fresh air was missing a screen. The bat probably got sucked in when the furnace turned on.


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Act Now to Prevent Ice Dams This Winter

If you’ve been in Minnesota the past couple of winters, chances are you’ve had problems with ice dams or you know someone who did. Now is the time of year to take steps to prevent ice dams over the winter. Ice dams are caused when snow on the roof melts, run downs the roof and re-freezes as it gets over the cold eave. When enough water freezes it forms a dam. Water continues to back up until it eventually finds a way into your home.

There are things you can do to prevent this from happening and this is a great time of year to do it, instead of the middle of January when it’s -20 out. Things that cause the snow on your roof to melt are 1) warm, house air leaking into the attic , 2)lack of insulation, and 3)lack of ventilation. Chances are if you’ve had problems with ice dams in the past, these are your issues.

Attic spaces in Minnesota (and in many cold-weather climates) are meant to be conditioned to the outside. This means in the winter, the temperature up there is pretty close to the outside temperature. If the attic is cold, then the roof is cold and the snow on the roof doesn’t melt. When the attic is warm, it warms up the roof and melts the snow.

So the attic needs to be separate from the house below. This means any gaps around penetrations into the attic need to be sealed. There are a few things that typically run from the house, through the attic to the outdoors: plumbing vents, bathroom exhaust vents, furnace and water heater flue pipes and sometimes a dryer vent.  In order to run these vents out through the roof, holes are cut through the different levels of your house. If the area around these vents aren’t sealed, warm, moist air from the house can leak into the attic space. In the middle of winter, when it’s -10 in the attic, that warm, moist air warms up the attic and the moisture condenses on the underside of the roof giving it a frosty appearance. If enough warm air leaks into the attic (and doesn’t have enough ventilation to get out) it will warm up the roof and cause the snow on the roof to melt.

Seal up any spaces around vents and pipes. For larger gaps, you can cut pieces of unfaced, fiberglass batt insulation and fold it at the bottom of a 13-gallon plastic bag (acting like a vapor barrier). Stuff it into any open stud cavities, making sure to fill the whole space. Note that all kitchen and bathroom exhaust vents need to vent to the outside, they should not be venting into the attic. For smaller spaces, like around plumbing vents, use a can of expandable foam.

The metal flue pipe coming from your water heater, furnace or wood stove needs special consideration. Because the pipe gets hot, it requires a 1 inch clearance to combustibles. The gap between the metal pipe and wood should be covered with lightweight aluminum flashing and high temperature silicon caulk. Before covering the area back up with insulation, you can make a I” metal collar out of the aluminum flashing around the metal pipe to keep the insulation away from the metal pipe.

Once you’ve sealed up all the gaps into the attic space it’s time to make sure you have enough insulation. The insulation acts like a huge quilt over your house, keeping the warm air in. If you’ve only got a few inches of insulation, a lot of warm air will be able to escape into the attic. The recommended insulation amount in attics in our area of Minnesota is R-49 to R-60. The US Dept. of Energy has more information on R-values and insulation levels:

http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/insulation_airsealing/index.cfm/mytopic=11220

The last piece of all this is adequate attic ventilation. Attic ventilation helps the attic space breathe in the hot summer months and help get rid of any warm, moist air in the cold summer months. Good building practice calls for 1 square foot of ventilation for every 300 square feet of attic area space (length X width). Make sure when you’re adding insulation that you don’t block any soffit ventilation you might have.  More information on attic ventilation and how to calculate your square footage of ventilation can be found here:

http://www.airvent.com/pdf/literature/PAVbooklet.pdf

Once you’re done in the attic, make sure to all some insulation to the back of the attic hatch and seal it with some double-sided weather stripping or some caulk.

So, now’s the time to start thinking about this and doing something, especially if you’ve had problems in the past with ice dams. Check out the Resource section of my website for more information.

http://www.erricksonhomeinspections.com/resources.html

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