Friday, March 2, 2018

Doors and screwdrivers

In a previous blog I mentioned various items that I inspect in a home. Doors are one of them and are an important part of your home. Without properly operating doors you could have the neighbors dog sitting on your couch at 4 in the morning. Your electric bill may be higher because of a faulty piece of weather stripping. Doors give you privacy while in the bedroom or sitting on the throne. A faulty door knob could be a headache while trying to enter the house with a bag full of groceries on a rainy day. Doors, like windows, come in all shapes and sizes as well. Interior doors; panel, flush, French, pocket, bypass, and bifold. Exterior doors; panel, storm, sliding, French, garage, and patio, just to name a few. The doors can be made from wood, steel, aluminum, fiberglass or a composite. The doors can also have glass installed that may be fixed or operable. Each door comes in a variety of sizes as well. Standard widths are 15 to 36 inches and heights are 80 to 96 inches. Doors can also be custom ordered in any size you desire, for a custom price of course!
During an inspection I check the doors for proper operation. The door should open and close smoothly and securely. Wide gaps let the weather in and cut down on privacy. The most common defect for a door is what I will refer to as “dragging”. You may have one in your home right now. It hits the frame and drags across it as you shut the door, wearing the paint off in that spot. The repair for this is usually just tightening up a hinge but it may be more extensive. The door may have been installed incorrectly. The hinge side of the door is fastened to the framing by using shims and screws or nails. Sometimes the shims were not installed correctly or the fasteners have failed. Either of these will cause the door to sag. To fix this requires a little more than a Phillips screwdriver. That is why I will refer the defect to a licensed general contractor. I cannot tell why the door is dragging unless I pull some trim off of the wall. (Why do I refer you to consult with a licensed general contractor? I will leave the answer to that in another blog.)
Part of the door inspection is checking the operation of the door handle. It does not happen often but sometimes when you turn the knob the latch doesn’t retract. No big deal..... unless you are on the wrong side of the door! I have a tool bag that I carry into the home with me. Screwdriver, pliers, GFCI tester, mirror, moisture meter, flashlight, CO detector, digital thermometer and a probe to check for rot. Not a complete list of items but it’s more than I can put in my pocket. I usually have the flashlight and screwdriver in my back pocket.
Now to my story.... when I entered a room, I would grab the door knob and close the door as I walked through the doorway. If it closed smoothly, I would continue inspecting the room I entered. When I was finished in the room I would open the door and give it a good look checking for cracks, rot and loose hardware. I still do all of the above except for the first part. I was in the middle of nowhere in a basement bathroom. I followed the above routine and when I turned the door knob to leave, I found myself still standing in the bathroom with a closed door. Wiggle, wiggle, tug, turn, tug... nothing. I am locked in a basement bathroom in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone service. I wasn’t worried about dying in the basement before someone found me, I was worried about the consequences of using force to free myself. Broken door jamb, trim and or door. Money out the window because of my own stupidity. Then I remembered the screwdriver in my pocket. With a little luck and some careful prying with the screwdriver I was able to free myself from my bathroom tomb.
Lesson learned... check the door knob for proper operation from the outside of the room.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Wasps and windows....

It that time of year when wasps are waking up. They gather in the corners of windows to take in the heat from the sun. I have always wondered where they spend the winter. There must be a little Motel 6 somewhere in the house. When I inspect a home I check everything that I can access. Doors, windows, light fixtures, switches, receptacles and faucets just to name a few. Windows come in all shapes and sizes. Transom, double hung, single hung, picture, garden, jalousie, hopper, awning, slider, casement, bow and bay. (I'll admit... I had to look up the spelling of jalousie!). Double hung windows, for those that don't know, are windows where both sashes slide up and down. Double hung windows are dangerous!
Disclaimer..... Double hung windows that are working properly are just fine. I don`t want to hear a rumor going around saying "Skip said double hung windows are dangerous and we can't buy this house because of them!"
Let me explain..... When I inspect a window I check for rot, proper operation, broken panes, and blown gas seals.
I have learned a thing or two about windows during my inspection career. When unlocking an unfamiliar double hung window be sure to hold the upper sash as you do it. I have had the pleasure of having the tips of my fingers smashed by the upper sash slamming down on them. Once was enough for me to learn my lesson. If you have never had this type of injury consider yourself blessed. Electrical shock waves all the way to your toes. If you are lucky, you will get to keep your purple fingernail that matches your purple finger tip.
Some double hung windows have a tilt lock feature. This enables you to tilt the window inward in order to clean it. They come in handy on the second floor. No ladders! I check this feature by sliding the locks and tilting the window in. On rare occasions they won't tilt and I will note that defect in the report. I do not want Mrs. Smith calling me on a Saturday morning telling me that her windows won't tilt in and I didn't let her know about it. Usually when they will not tilt it means that they have been installed too tight. Windows are installed with shims and sometimes the installer puts a few more in than needed. It could also be a broken tilt lock mechanism.
Anyway...... back to my story. I inspected a window the other day when the weather was a little chilly. I had my trusty denim jacket on. Check for broken panes, check for rot, check for blown gas seals, (if a gas seal is blown, the window has a cloudy look and no amount of cleaning will help) and check for proper operation. Ahhh... this window has a tilt lock. When you tilt the window in, in order to close it you have to use a small amount of force to put it back in its upright position. Depending on the size of the window, this can cause the window to shake slightly. The window in question was rather large and in order to put it back, I had to fully extend my arms over my head. Remember the wasps???..... When you raise your hands over your head, instinct is to look upward which is what I did. As the window shut it shook slightly and I felt something drop into my sleeve. It was then that I noticed a single wasp in the corner of the window. It could have been any number of things that dropped into my sleeve. A piece of wood, a large dust bunny but the flapping of tiny wings against my arm made me realize that it wasn't either of those things. A second ago, the lone wasp in the corner had a buddy and now his buddy is in the sleeve of my jacket. Thankfully the buyers and their realtor had just left moments ago. I'm not sure how they would have reacted from seeing their home inspector screaming like a little girl running through the house stripping down as he went. Thankfully, the wasp was still in a stupor from winter and did not sting me.
Double hung windows are dangerous!
The picture below was taken after the above. He had more buddies!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Turning on valves....

Turning on valves

Home inspectors are not allowed to turn valves on that are off. This is true for water and gas. How do you inspect the item if the valve is off you ask? I don't. I can visually inspect the item but if the valve is off I cannot tell you whether or not it will function as intended. Why don't you just turn the valve on? It's just a valve! I don't know why it is off. There may be a leak in the line and it was turned off to protect the property. That is why I ask that all of the utilities be turned on before the inspection. That includes gas and water valves and breakers in the panel boxes.
Story time.... Once there was a home inspector who inspected a house and found that the water to the home was off. The inspection was completed and it was noted that the water was off in the report. The buyer wanted the plumbing inspected. A few days later the inspector was asked to go back and inspect the water system. He was told it was OK to turn the valve on. The homeowner told the realtor everything was fine and there would not be any problems if the inspector turned the water on. So the inspector went back to the home and turned the water valve on. He heard water running upstairs so he went around the house turning off all of the faucets that were on. Next he needed to check the water heater to see if it was full (not a good idea to turn the breaker on for the water heater if it's not full). He heard a drip coming from the front of the basement around the area where the main electric panel was located. He grabbed his camera to take a picture of the leak. The drip was coming from a copper pipe cap. The solder joint was losing the battle. Just as he was taking a second shot of the drip, the cap gave up its fight. Water shot 20 to 30 feet across the basement. Luckily the shut off valve was just a few feet away. As the water pressure dropped, the stream of water flooded the electric panel and most of the basement floor before finally stopping.
Who is at fault? The same thing would have happened to whoever turned the valve on. Who would be responsible had the water line broke in a ceiling on the third floor? There would be drywall damage, flooring damage and maybe even furniture damage. Thinking it's "just a valve" could cost a lot of money because in the end someone has to pay to repair the damage.
That is why home inspectors don't turn valves on that are off.

Driveway- Asphalt vs. Concrete

Driveway- Asphalt vs. Concrete
December 19, 2016

Had a question from a customer on driveways. Concrete or asphalt. Both have their pros and cons. We will discuss asphalt first. From what I have witnessed with asphalt driveways in the winter is that they are the first to get covered in snow but are the first to melt. They hold heat and release the heat to melt the snow and ice off of the driveway. In my opinion they convey a certain sense of elegance and prestige. They are easily damaged by heavy equipment (many companies make you sign a waiver before they will drive any heavy machinery on it releasing them from liability) and The asphalt does not take kindly to roots from trees. Patch jobs always look like a patch job if a repair is needed. If in the future you wish to add on an apron or make the driveway wider, there will always be a seam. Appearance wise you get what you get. A black smooth surface that will fade to a grey color over time. There are many different coatings that can be applied every few years to give it a fresh appearance. Asphalt will not last as long as a concrete drive. That is something to keep in mind when comparing costs.
Concrete will last a lifetime provided it is cared for properly. Concrete has many more options as far as appearance. It can be colored and designs stamped into the surface before it dries. You could have the look of a cobble stone driveway for much less than a real one and a lot less maintenance. Concrete does have control joints. They can be strategically placed for a better appearance. To ensure your driveway melts off as fast or faster than an asphalt drive you can run a series of warm water pipes through the concrete as it is placed. The warm water system can be operated through a variety of devices. Geothermal or an outdoor boiler (the same units used for heating your home and hot water by  using wood).
Asphalt and concrete both require a certain amount of maintenance. Sealing both is important to keep water from penetrating the surface and causing those unsightly cracks. Asphalt will crack into small chunks. If the base material was not compacted correctly you can end up with low spots as the base material and asphalt sink. If concrete has the proper amount of reinforcing materials in it, a soft spot in the base material will not travel through the concrete.
I hope this helps with your decision between the two.