So You're Having Your Home Inspected - How to Prepare

One of the steps in the home selling process is having your home inspected by someone the seller has chosen.  The Home inspection is important to both the buyer and the seller, but to the seller it represents another hurdle to getting the contracts signed.   As an inspector I take people on tours of the homes they are planing on buying and talk them through the inspection process, showing them the good, the bad and the really bad.  One of the things that I see on a regular basis is how little many seller does to prepare for that inspection.  Some sellers just assume that there is nothing they can do to alter the outcome of the inspection, that's where they are wrong.   Following a few simple steps like those listed below can change the way an inspection occurs and possibly even shorten the amount of items on the inspection report.

1. Clean the House

This sounds so simple yet home owners often overlook this tactic. Home inspectors are people first and inspectors second. As people, they carry preconceived ideas of how well a home has been maintained. Clean homes say you care and take care of the house.

2. Be On Time Because the Inspector Will Be

Sometimes home inspectors are early. If an inspector makes an appointment with you for 9:00 a.m., have the house ready for inspection at 9:00 a.m. It's also common for inspectors to start on the exterior of the home, so leave the shades down or drapes drawn until you are dressed. More than one unprepared seller has been "surprised" by a stranger stomping around in the back yard.

3. Leave the Utilities Connected

The home inspector will need to turn on the stove, run the dishwasher, test the furnace and air conditioning, so leave the utilities on, especially if the house is vacant. It's impossible to check receptacles for grounding and reverse polarity if the power is turned off. Without utilities, the inspector will have to reschedule, which could delay the closing of your transaction and the removal of the buyer's home inspection contingency.

4. Provide Workspace Around Furnace and Water Heaters

Remove boxes, bookcases, furniture and anything else blocking access to your furnace, air conditioner and water heater. The inspector will need three to four feet of working space to inspect these items.

5. Keep Pilot Lights Ignited

Many home inspectors will refuse to light pilot lights because they are not covered for that type of liability. If your pilot lights are not lit, then important items such as the water heater, gas stove or furnace will not be inspected and the buyer could delay closing until those inspections are completed.

6. Provide Access to Attic and Garage

The inspector will need to get into your basement and / or attic as well, so keep a path cleared. Move boxes away from the walls. Vacuum spider webs.

7. Leave Keys for Outbuildings & Electrical Boxes

Leave the remote controls for your garage door opener or a key if the garage is unattached to the house. Unlock the covers for your sprinkler system and electrical box. Leave a key for exterior building access.

8. Clear Away Brush from Exterior Inspection Points

Pelham NY Home with Overgrown Foliage Hiding the House

Nobody expects you to shovel a tunnel around your home if snow drifts are blocking the foundation but, in the winter, do provide a path around the house. In the summer, cut down dead tree branches and clear brush from the foundation. Move trash cans away from the house.

9. Prepare to be Away for Three Hours Minimum

Often the buyer will accompany the home inspector, and buyers feel uncomfortable asking questions if the owner is present. Try to schedule a time for the inspection when you can be out of the house, and take the children with you. Crate your pets if you cannot remove them from the premises.

10.  Take Care Of Your Pets

Consider removing any dogs in the home, and leave a note about any other pets present. Don’t assume that the inspector or buyer will be OK with your dog. Consider taking them with you during the inspection or placing them in a kennel or secured area of the home. If cats or other pets are present, ensure the inspector knows this so they are not let out of the home.

11 Replace Any Burned Out Light bulbs

The inspector won’t know if the bulb is burned out, or if the switch or fixture is bad. A fresh bulb where needed will eliminate this question and help the inspection go smoother.

12. Consider Having A Pre-Listing Inspection

Consider having a pre-listing inspection. If you have further concerns about the condition of the home and the major systems, consider having a pre-listing inspection done. The inspector can point out any repair concerns, providing you with the opportunity to repair items in advance, and further prepare your home for a buyer’s inspection.  Oftentimes items uncovered during an inspection, such as mold, could have been remedied before the inspection eliminating a lot of concern and extra back and forth negotiations.  Sometimes being able to disclose upfront that the boiler or furnace are old, or you know that the roof is in need of repair means not having to re-visit the issues after the inspection.    Sterling Home Inspections can help assist you with Pre-Listing Inspections and perhaps help make the selling process a bit easier.

Ice Dams - Can They Be Prevented?

During snowy winters, many northern homes are plagued by ice dams. If your house suffers from wet ceilings during the winter, you may be ready to call up a contractor. Be careful, though: since most contractors don’t understand the causes of ice dams, they often suggest the wrong solution. Ice dams form when a home’s escaping heat warms the roof sheathing and melts the underside of the snow layer on the roof. Water trickles down the roof until it reaches the cold roofing over the eaves, where it freezes. After a while, the ice at the eaves gets thicker and thicker, forming an ice dam. Eventually, water backs up behind the ice dam. If the water reservoir is large enough, it can back up under the roof shingles and damage ceilings.
The four possible solutions to ice damming are:

  1. Sealing air leaks between the warm interior and the attic or cathedral ceiling.
  2. Adding more ceiling insulation.
  3. Improving ventilation between the top of the insulation and the roof sheathing.
  4. Installing a rubberized membrane under the roofing.

While the first two of these solutions can reduce or eliminate the problem, the last two solutions are the equivalent of waving a white flag and admitting defeat.


Step one: seal the air leaks

Most ice dams are caused by flaws in a home’s air barrier. If escaping indoor air finds its way to the underside of the roof sheathing during the winter, the heated air raises the temperature of the sheathing. That’s bad.


Step two: check your insulation level

Once you’ve plugged your air leaks, check your insulation levels. The latest version of the
International Residential Code requires R-49 ceiling insulation in New York.
In these areas, ceilings need a minimum of 14 inches of fiberglass batts, cellulose, or open-cell spray foam. If you’re using blown-in fiberglass, you’ll need about 20 inches to achieve R-49.
Two more points about attic insulation:
Attic insulation must completely cover the top plates of a home’s exterior walls.
Code insulation requirements represent the legal minimum. Most green builders choose to exceed these minimum requirements.



Step three: improve ventilation between the insulation and the roof sheathing

Once you’ve done your best with steps 1 and 2, it’s worth considering step 3: ventilation.
In the world of ice-dam prevention, ventilation is capitulation. By recommending ventilation, a
builder is saying, “I wasn’t able to include enough insulation to prevent the roof sheathing from being warmed by escaping building heat. So I guess I’ll use another method to cool the roof — I’ll ventilate the underside of the roof with exterior air.” Although it is an admission of failure, this type of roof ventilation often makes sense. It’s a kind of insurance.
When using roof ventilation to address ice dams, remember: Ventilation should always be the third, not the first, weapon in your arsenal. Distrust any expert who advises using ventilation as the first step toward solving an ice dam problem. If ventilation channels are improved without any attempt to perform air sealing work, ventilation improvements can make an ice dam problem worse or increase a home’s fuel bills. (By depressurizing an attic, an effective ridge vent often increases air leakage through the ceiling, bringing more heat than ever against the roof sheathing.) The best ventilation channels include a balance of soffit vents and ridge vents. Attics do not need gable vents. In a cathedral ceiling, provide an air barrier between the top of the insulation and the ventilation channel. Site-built ventilation chutes (foamed or caulked in place) are far preferable to polystyrene Proper-Vents.



Step four: cover your roof sheathing with rubberized membrane underlayment

There are lots of roofers out there with a sure-fire cure for ice dam problems: just cover your entire
roof with Ice & Water Shield. Run, don’t walk, away from such a roofer. These are the guys who have completely thrown in the towel. They have no plan to seal air leaks into your attic. They have no plan to improve your insulation level. They’ve given up on ventilation. In fact, they have no plan whatsoever to prevent ice dams. This is what they’re saying: “Yup, your roof is going to get an ice dam. Maybe a big one. We can’t plug your energy leak, so we’ll just let the ice dam develop. The Ice & Water Shield will probably keep your ceiling dry.” That said, Ice & Water Shield is relatively cheap insurance. Used properly — extending from your eaves to a point that is 3 feet higher than the plane of your exterior wall — Ice & Water Shield will Prevent Ice Dams With Air Sealing and Insulation to limit damage from ice dams that form due to unusual weather conditions or some idiot who disturbed your attic insulation. But remember: ventilation and rubberized membranes should be the last weapons in your arsenal.

Don't Over Do It With The Humidifier

 

As we enter the cold and snow filled season of winter here in New York I would like to take a brief moment and help educate you on the importance of monitoring and adjusting your humidity levels inside the home.

I was recently in a home in South Salem where I noticed the drywall seams and tape joints were all peeling away and were curled.  Upon further examination, I found suspected black mold colonies beginning to form on the pitched ceiling.  After flowing through the rest of the home I began to notice condensation on the insides of all of the windows (it was only 45 degrees outside?).  This had apparently been going on for some time because the windows all had black mildew / mold growth present on the interior window frames.

Humidity in Rye NY Home Inspection

The homeowner stated that they run a humidifier in the home every night because their doctor said it was necessary.  A quick measurement in the kids bedroom indicated a humidity level of over 58%, and the humidifier had not been running for a good three hours prior to my arrival.  In addition, there was an Aprilaire humidifier installed on the furnace unit which was running and set at maximum.  A large 55 gallon aquarium also was present in the family room.  The one and only bathroom had no exhaust fan and no window, thus no ventilation.  All in all, the home was a virtual steam room.

I may ruffle the feathers of a few medical professionals here, but the constant recommendations of running humidifiers and vaporizers has gotten out of hand.  If your child has a bout with the flu bug or common cold then by all means run a humidifier in their room while they are sleeping.  Turn the unit off when they wake up, and back on at bed time.  When the cold and flu symptoms are gone, quit using the vaporizer!!

Furthermore, whole house humidifiers installed on furnace units should never be set above 25-35% humidity.  Any more than that, and you are potentially growing mold and risking poor indoor air quality.  And in the case of the  South Salem home, damaging the structure and likely making everyone even sicker due to the mold exposure.

humidity-temp-monitor.jpg

An easy and inexpensive solution is to purchase a hygrometer (an instrument used to measure humidity) and place one on each level of the home.  These are available at online retailers such as Amazon or at specialty stores such as Brookstone or Sharper Image.  This way you can accurately monitor your humidity levels and make adjustments as necessary.  A rough guideline for ideal humidity level is 25-35% REL.

For inaccurate adjustments...(not my recommendation mind you) if you have condensation forming on windows, walls, ceilings then yes you have too much humidity.  On the opposite spectrum, if you are plagued with static electricity, bloody noses, or extremely dry skin or hair then you likely need to increase your humidity levels.

Carbon Monoxide Detector Placement - Do's and Don'ts

Now that winter is here, the widows are closed for the duration and the furnace is set on high its time to make sure our carbon monoxide detectors are working and placed correctly to save us in the event of an emergency.

Every fuel-burning appliance in your home, including a gas furnace, produces some levels of carbon monoxide. Normally those gasses are carried out of your home, but if something goes wrong a CO leak can be life-threatening to your family. That's why it's so important to have carbon monoxide detectors to help warn you of excess CO in your air.

So where should carbon monoxide detectors be placed in order to best detect CO leaks in your home?

Carbon monoxide detectors placement: Do's

In order to maximize the protection of your home from excess levels of carbon monoxide, place your detectors in all of the following places:

  • On every level of your home. In order to ensure that your home has maximum protection, it's important to have a CO detector on every floor.
  • Five feet from the ground. Carbon monoxide detectors can get the best reading of your home's air when they are placed five feet from the ground.
  • Near every sleeping area. If your CO levels get too high during the nighttime, it's important that detectors can be heard by everyone sleeping in your home. Place your detectors close enough to every sleeping area so that they can awaken everyone in the case of an emergency.
  • Near attached garages. Cars produce carbon monoxide any time they are running. If you have an attached garage, those gasses can quickly spread to the rest of your house. A CO detector near your attached garage will warn you if that becomes a problem.
  • Where the manufacturer recommends. Every model of carbon monoxide detector is tested according to manufacturer specifications. It's important to take those specifications into account when you're deciding where to place your detectors.

Carbon monoxide detectors placement: Don'ts

The following locations can either create a false alarm or avoid your detector from properly identifying the CO levels in your home:

  • In close proximity to any fuel-burning appliance.
  • In excessively humid areas such as your bathroom.
  • In direct sunlight.
  • Near any sources of blowing air such as a fan, vent or open window.

How Carbon Monoxide Is Measured

Before we get into what to look for when purchasing carbon monoxide detectors, it will help if you understand how carbon monoxide is measured.

CO is measured in a ratio called ppm (parts per million). Just as 5% means 5 out of a 100, 5 ppm means 5 out of 1 million. So if your home has 10 ppm of carbon monoxide, there is 10 carbon monoxide molecules for every million molecules in the air.

How Much CO is Too Much?

Even in homes without gas appliances, there could be CO. So how do you know how much is too much? It depends on your age, size and health. Here are some common thresholds of carbon monoxide.

  • 0.5-5 ppmAccording to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this is the usual range for homes without gas stoves or other gas appliances.
  • Under 70 ppm – Most people have no ill effects when exposed to ranges below 70 ppm for short periods of time. Prolonged exposure (6-8) hours can cause dizziness and headaches. Also, those with heart problems may experience chest pain, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
  • 100 ppm - Slight headache when exposed for 2 hours or longer.
  • 150-200 ppm – Prolonged exposure at these levels often leads to disorientation and unconsciousness and can also lead to death.

Types of Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Now that you understand how carbon monoxide is measured, you’re better prepared to understand the two basic types of carbon monoxide detection devices: alarms and monitors.

Carbon monoxide alarms or detectors
These are the most common type of carbon monoxide devices. They work like your smoke or fire alarms, simply alerting you when it deems that there is a dangerous amount of carbon monoxide in your home.

However, long exposure to low levels of CO can be as dangerous as short amount of exposure to high levels. And most alarms and detectors only tell you about the high levels. That’s where the carbon monoxide monitor enters.

Carbon monoxide monitor
A carbon monoxide monitor is different because it actively monitors the amount of carbon monoxide in your air and gives you a digital readout. This lets you know when there are higher than usual amounts of CO in your home, even if they aren’t at what other alarms deem a “dangerous” level.

Which is Better?

I encourage homeowners to purchase a carbon monoxide monitor, especially if you live with young children or elderly parents, as they can be more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning. However, carbon monoxide monitors with digital displays can be more expensive and having an alarm or detector is better than no device at all.

For more information on how to protect your family from the dangerous invisible killer that is CO, check out this carbon monoxide safety flyer from the National Fire Protection Agency

By Alan Singer Owner of Sterling Home Inspections located in Armonk NY.

Do Programable Thermostats Really Save Money?

Programmable thermostats save you money. That’s a no-brainer, right? You’ve seen that advice in books and magazines and on personal-finance blogs — even heard it from me

Well, it turns out programmable thermostats aren’t the miracle device we’ve believed all along. In fact, sometimes using a programmable thermostat costs more than not having one at all. But the fault doesn’t lie with the thermostat. The trouble, as my father used to say, is the nut behind the wheel.

Theory and practice
In theory, programmable thermostats are a great way to save on home energy costs.

According to the Energy Information Administration, about 42% of home energy costs go to heating and cooling. A lot of these costs come from heating and cooling empty (or unused) spaces, including heating and cooling while people are asleep. In plain English: People spend a lot to heat and cool their homes, and they’re not good about turning things off when they’re not needed.

In fact, some folks think it uses more energy (and thus costs more) to turn the thermostat down at night and then re-heat the following day. They’re wrong. A 1978 research paper (“Energy Savings through Thermostat Setbacks” by Nelson and MacArthur) confirmed basic physics. On average, if you turn the thermostat down by one degree Fahrenheit for eight hours every night, you’ll use about 1% less energy. (So, if you turn the temperature down by 10 degrees every night, you’ll use about 10% less energy.) But note that you’ll see less savings in milder climates (the bigger the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures, the more you save by adjusting the thermostat) and with electric heat.

Based on this, it makes sense that a programmable thermostat could reduce energy usage. You simply program the thermostat to warm (or cool) your home when you’re actually there; when you’re away (or asleep), the thermostat switches off. As is often the case, though, practice is different than theory.

The main problem is that people don’t use programmable thermostats the way they’re intended. Someone might keep the home cool during the day, for instance, but crank the heat above room temperature at night. But even when used properly, programmable thermostats may not offer a cost savings.

Where’s the savings?
An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document from 2004 describing the Energy Star programmable thermostats specification [PDF] summarizes the research into their efficacy:

Consumers are often advised that installing a programmable thermostat can save them anywhere from 10 to 30% on the space heating and cooling portion of their energy bills. While reliant on proper use of the programmable thermostat, such savings are easily true in theory; however, there needs to be more field-tested data to better substantiate savings claims. Analyses from recent field studies have suggested that programmable thermostats may be achieving considerably lower savings than their estimated potential.

How much lower? In 2007, RLW Analytics prepared a report for GasNetworks, a New England-based energy company. “Validating the Impact of Programmable Thermostats” [PDF] found that using an Energy Star-certified programmable thermostat produced an average savings of about “6.2% of total household annual natural gas consumption”. Those who installed programmable thermostats into older heating systems (in other words, those who didn’t install a new heating system at the same time) saved an average of 6.8%.

And that study painted the rosiest picture of programmable thermostats.

Note: The New England study also found that people who micromanage their manual thermostats use more energy than those who just leave them at predefined points for longer periods of time.

In 2000, the Energy Center of Wisconsin published a report entitled “Programmable Thermostats Gone Berserk? Taking a Social Perspective on Space Heating in Wisconsin” [PDF]. The study found, in part, that:

Despite the emphasis that has been placed on the use of programmable thermostats to reduce thermostat setpoints and so save heating energy, respondents with programmable thermostats report thermostat setpoints that are not substantially different from those of respondents with manual thermostats.

These details and the conclusions above lead us to suspect that the aggregate savings that can be expected from the installation of programmable thermostats in residential housing is probably quite modest.

Elsewhere, it’s worse. Sometimes those with programmable thermostats use more energy. In 2008-2009, Florida Power & Light conducted a study of 400 homes with programmable thermostats [PDF]. Turns out that those who programmed their thermostats actually used 12% more cooling energy than those who did not.

Sure, those who programmed the thermostat used less energy when they weren’t around; however, they tended to set the thermostat much lower for the times they were home. As a result, the folks who did nothing saved more energy.

Why is there a discrepancy between the theoretical and actual savings with programmable thermostats? Because the proposed savings were, in actuality, theoretical. That is, they were based on computer models and not on real-world experience. Now that there’s enough real-world data, it’s clear that programmable thermostats have only a minimal impact on energy consumption. As in other areas of personal finance, it’s human behavior that make the most difference.

The bottom line
In May 2009, the EPA suspended Energy Star certification for programmable thermostats [PDF], writing:

EPA has been unable to confirm any improvement in terms of the savings delivered by programmable thermostats and has no credible basis for continuing to extend the current Energy Star specification.

Programmable thermostats can reduce energy consumption — if they’re used right. But so can regular thermostats. What does make a difference on your heating and cooling costs? According to the Wisconsin study I mentioned earlier, your attitude toward conservation makes a big difference in energy consumption.

  • If you’re motivated to save energy (for whatever reason), you’re more likely to use less energy. In this case, a programmable thermostat makes no difference.
  • If you don’t care about saving energy, you’re likely to use more energy. Again, a programmable thermostat won’t change this.

Programmable thermostats can save money — not just in theory — buit only if they’re used correctly. Pick your set points based on your household’s habits, and then leave them there. Don’t fuss with the thermostat. The following is a typical energy-efficient program:

  • During the winter, set your thermostat for 68°F (20°C) while you’re awake, and set it lower for when you’re away or asleep.
  • During the summer, set your thermostat for 78°F (26°C) while you’re home, and turn it off when you’re away.
  • Better yet, heat (and cool) individual rooms instead of the entire house. If you tend to spend a lot of time in just one or two rooms, you can save a lot of money by using a space heater or a room-sized air conditioner.

Our thermostat is programmed for 65 when we’re home and 58 when we’re away or asleep. It kicks on about an hour before we wake or arrive home.

After all these words, the bottom line is common sense: Whether you use a programmable thermostat or not, if you turn down the heat (or turn off the air conditioning) when you don’t need it, you’ll save money.

Remember: Nobody cares more about your money than you do. Don’t just take someone else’s word about financial matters — not even mine. Conduct your own tests and experiments. Read. Draw your own conclusions. Do what works for you.

By Alan Singer Owner of Sterling Home Inspections located in Armonk NY.

Why is My Water Heater Leaking?

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” of the ground). 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).

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). It should terminate within 6” 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

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.

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 . 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 water heaters is 10-12 years. 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.

How Can I Reduce Home Energy Costs?

24 INEXPENSIVE IDEAS TO REDUCE YOUR HOMES ENERGY COSTS INCLUDING LINKS TO ADDITIONAL INFORMATION.

(Please see links at the bottom of this page.)
1. Check all exterior door seals: if you have an attached garage be sure to check the seals at this door as well.
2. Check all windows for air leaks.
3. Check all exterior basement walls for openings to the exterior (especially up in areas where the floor boards are over the top of the foundation and any protrusions through the foundation).
4. If you have electrical outlets mounted in the foundation walls air could be seeping in through them, you can buy foam insulators that fit the outlet and are mounted behind the plate cover.
5. Add insulation to the area above the foundation where floor joists attach to the sill and band boards.
6. Check for air leakage at electrical outlets through the interior of the house.
7. Make sure the entrance to the attic is insulated.
8. Add insulation to the attic.
9. Install inexpensive shrink plastic at the inside of windows If you have older single pane windows. You could upgrade to a newer style thermopane style windows if that expense is in the budget.
10. Having the furnace and hot water serviced. If these components are older upgrading to high energy efficient units can save a lot of money. Check with your local governmental offices to see if these are tax incentives/credits to help off set the costs.
11. Wrap the hot water tank with an insulation blanket.
12. Turn the temperature of the water heater down (typically round dial at the main control valve located at the front of the hot water tank).
13. Use a programmable thermostat to control in door temperatures.
14. Clean and service the air conditioning unit (if you have one).
15. Have kitchen appliances cleaned and serviced (also, if older consider upgrading to energy star appliances.
16. Change light bulbs to florescent bulbs to cut down on electric bill.
17. Walk the exterior of the house check for cracks and / or holes in the siding, trim boards and window frames
18. Make sure all hose spigots at not dripping.
19. Look for small leaks/drips at plumbing pipes throughout the house. Start at the main water pipe where it enters the house and follow all pipes.
20. Check for gas leaks at all gas pipe joints and appliances.
21. Unplug all major electric appliances when their not in use.
22. Incorporate solar hot water heat into your current system.
23. Have an energy audit performed by an expert.
24. Research Photovoltaic panels to reduce electric costs: you learn more about these products at:

How does the sun generate electricity?
http://greenenergyefficienthome.blogspot.com/
http://www.eere.energy.gov/

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it!”

We often call out issues or defects during a home inspection that lead us to recommend evaluation and repair by licensed contractors. But sometimes that contractor shows up and tells the owner or buyer, “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. The home inspector was paranoid.”

Who’s right?

The short answer is, both of us might be wrong, and both of us might be right

Corroded Electrical Panel

Let’s take an example: a corroded electrical panel, like the one to the right. To a home inspector, corrosion means water, and water and electricity don’t play well together. We will call for repair or replacement of the panel. When the electrician shows up, they could very well look at the panel and say, “Yes, there’s corrosion, but it’s not that bad and I don’t think it needs to be replaced.”

Now what?

The best thing to do in this situation is to ask the contractor to declare in writing that the particular system does not have a defect and is safe to operate as is. This declaration should be on the company letterhead, complete with license number and full company information. If this is provided, then the responsibility and liability for the system is now the contractor’s. If they are not willing to provide a written declaration, you could probably take that to indicate they aren’t confident in its safe operation either.

How wrong is wrong?

There is also “okay” and “the way it should be.” Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are a good example. They were not required in kitchens until 1987, but we always recommend them because they could save your life. We do see “time capsule” houses, with original kitchens and bathrooms, and the argument could be made that, since everything is original, and it was correct when built, we shouldn’t call out the lack of GFCIs as a defect. Swapping out a receptacle for a GFCI costs about $20; not having them where they could save someone’s life makes no sense, even if it is ‘okay.’

Get it in writing

There’s an old saying in the corporate world: “If it’s not in writing, it never happened.” Verbal assurances are worthless. Sometimes when confronted with a request to “please put that in writing on your letterhead for me,” contractors will backpedal and come back with, “Well…you know, the inspector is technically right; that probably should be fixed.”

If you do get the written assurance, it should go in your files along with other important house documents so you can show it to future buyers, or in case the issue in question does cause a problem down the road

Whats So Special About My Electrical Panel ??

We never think about it. Yet it serves us every day.  It is the largest safety device in your home but most do not appreciate what is does.

It is your electrical service panel. It is the heart of the home electrical system and is in essence the heart of our modern lifestyle.  Every year that goes by we require it to do more and more.

If you went to your main service panel and shut off the main breaker what would your life be in your home? No lights, no heat, no cooking, no TV so on… and so on.

As a home inspector I had a curious thought. Why is it when I recommend a panel be replaced it becomes more of an issue than other components of the home?

Open Electrical Panel

Open Electrical Panel

As home inspectors we often cite that a roof need replacement or if an air conditioner or heat pump is old it is ready for replacement or your water heater needs replacement. Most people understand and are used to the thought that these types of components reach the end of a useful lifespan and should be replaced.

But the main service panel, now that is a different story. This seems to get homeowners and some realtors get a little jumpy. They start to question my recommendation and ask more questions.

This brings me to my main point. Service panels and their associated components were built for the time they were installed.  As such they were not designed in many ways for our modern lifestyles and demands. Americans use more electrical power per person than do people of any other country in the world, but that does not mean that we have a better understanding of electricity.

Safety features and design requirements have been developed, improved and implemented in newer installations.

Through time many of these older panels become overcrowded and their initial design was poor at best. Time is not a friend of electrical systems and they should be replaced.

So here is a thought, roof replacement cost is about 6-7 k and up. An air conditioner/heat pump can be 2-3k and up. The cost to replace a service panel is usually in the $1200 to $1500 range.

I know this is not cheap but this is the one component that may save your life. A roof leak is bad but it most likely will not kill you. If your service panel catches fire or does not properly function it may have a devastating consequence.


Now I acknowledge that the events that have to happen to create a life threatening situation is a low probability but this is a safety device. It is like the airbag in your car, you sure hope to never need it but you will be glad it is there in the event of an accident.

Pushmatic Electrical Panels in Basement

Pushmatic Electrical Panels in Basement

The NFPA reported in 2009, an estimated 44,800 home structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments involved some type of electrical failure or malfunction as a factor contributing to ignition.  These fires resulted in 472 civilian deaths, 1,500 civilian injuries, and $1.6 billion in direct property damage.NFPA electrical fires report.

A study conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in the 1980s indicated that the frequency of fires in residential electrical systems was disproportionately high in homes more than 40 years old. The thought is that the aging of older electrical systems, combined with the fact that older homes were not built to the more rigid building codes of recent times, were deemed the most likely contributing factors.Residential Electrical Aging Research Project.

If you have a panel manufactured by Zinsco, Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) or even Bryant, these panels have a reputation for being problematic and a potential safety hazard and should be replaced sooner versus later but any electrical system 40 years or older needs a thorough evaluation.

As home inspectors we are hired to provide information. There is no pass or fail of a home. We all assume some risk but understanding that risk will help you make a better decision.

By Alan Singer Owner of Sterling Home Inspections located in Armonk NY.

Brood II cicadas, a sound and sight to experience this summer.

Have you heard the buzz? There’s a lot of buzz, or talk, about a certain insect that shows up once in a long while but in such big numbers that it’s impossible to ignore. But there’s also a sound, a buzzing or whirring that might remind you of a grass trimmer.

Yes, we are talking about cicadas: 11 / 2-inch-long, slow-flying insects with dark bodies and red eyes. Male cicadas are the noisy ones. Their call to females fills the air with a buzzing sound.

This year’s batch is called Brood II. (“II” is the Roman numeral for the number 2.) They have been underground since 1996, shortly after they hatched from eggs. (Your parents might remember them or Brood X, which showed up in 2004.) They emerge in May or early June, once the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees.

Brood II will appear along the East Coast, from North Carolina to Connecticut, but cicadas probably won’t show up in all Washington area neighborhoods. The heavy numbers are expected in Southern Maryland and outer Virginia suburbs. And by “heavy numbers,” we mean there might be a couple million on your block.

That’s a lot of cicadas!

Dan Babbitt, manager of the National Museum of Natural History’s Insect Zoo, says there’s no need to worry.

“They can’t hurt you in any way,” Babbitt said. “And they don’t hurt animals.”

Newly planted trees probably should be covered to protect them from egg-laying female cicadas, Babbitt said. Bigger trees may lose small branches but otherwise will be fine.

Animals will see them as a tasty, protein-filled treat. Birds, mice, raccoons, opossums and other animals will eat them.

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“I heard lots of stories of dogs
going nuts” in 2004 because they
enjoyed the flying snacks so much, Babbitt said.

The bugs’ exoskeleton is hard to digest, so animals may get sick if they eat too many.

Babbitt says humans, too, can eat cicadas, once they’re cooked.

These cicadas aren’t the ones you see occasionally in the middle of the summer. These are periodical cicadas — 15 broods, or groups, that each appear only once in 13 or 17 years.

“Roasting them was a good way to go,” he said, thinking back to 2004. “You can put them on the grill. I wasn’t a huge fan, but some people love them. It’s similar to eating a [soft-shell] crab.”

If you aren’t interested in tasting them, Babbitt suggests going out at night as dozens of nymphs come out of their holes and crawl up nearby trees.

“Watching that is pretty amazing,” he said.

The whole cicada spectacle will not last long. Adults live only four to six weeks. So by mid-July, Brood II cicadas will be history — that is, until 2030.

By Alan Singer Owner of Sterling Home Inspections located in Armonk NY.

Scott Adams on Green Building

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Dilbert creator Scott Adams writes about his new house in the Wall Street Journal:

The greenest home is the one you don't build. If you really want to save the Earth, move in with another family and share a house that's already built. Better yet, live in the forest and eat whatever the squirrels don't want. Don't brag to me about riding your bicycle to work; a lot of energy went into building that bicycle. Stop being a hypocrite like me.

Having got that out of the way, recognizing that to an extent anyone who builds anything new is a bit of a hypocrite, he goes on and makes some very good points.

As a rule, the greener the home, the uglier it will be. I went into the process thinking that green homes were ugly because hippies have bad taste. That turns out to be nothing but a coincidence. The problem is deeper. For example, the greenest sort of roof in a warm climate would be white to reflect the sun. If you want a beautiful home, a white roof won't get you there. Sure, you could put a lovely garden on your roof, because you heard someone did that. But don't try telling me a garden roof wouldn't be a maintenance nightmare. And where do you find the expert who knows how to do that sort of thing?

Adams has done a lot of research, consulted with a lot of people and writes about it with humour. Read it all in the Wall Street Journal.
By Alan Singer Owner of Sterling Home Inspections located in Armonk NY.

Garage Door Safety

Everyday items seem to get taken for granted too easily.  We push the button on the garage door remote from our car or inside the garage over and over without fully understanding just how complex and dangerous a garage door can be

After all, the garage door is the largest and heaviest moving object in most homes. It can cause injury or even death if damaged or misused.

Sterling Home Inspections wants to make sure that you and your family know how to operate and maintain your garage door system safely at all times. You are the key to garage door safety.

Here are 10 things everyone in your household should know about garage door safety. It’s a good idea to review these with everyone in your household from time to time – especially children.

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  1. The garage door and garage door opener are not toys. They are dangerous if misused, and can cause serious injury or even death.

  2. Children should never be allowed to play with the garage door or its operating system. Children should never stand, run or play under or near any garage door, especially when the door is open or moving. Learn more about garage door safety for children.

  3. Adults should not allow children access to the remote controls or push button wall controls for garage door opener systems; these should be kept out of reach of children. The push button wall control for a garage door operating system should be mounted at least five feet off the floor, out of the reach of children. 

  4. Never stand or walk under a moving garage door. Never try to enter or exit the garage by racing under a moving garage door.

  5. When opening or closing the garage door, always keep the door in view until the door is fully opened or fully closed. Make certain that no adults, children or animals try to enter or exit while the door is closing.

  6. Keep fingers and hands away from door sections when the door is opening or closing to avoid injury.

  7. Keep your garage door properly maintained to keep it operating safely. Annual maintenance by a trained service technician is recommended. There are other tests and maintenance tasks that you can perform. Learn more about garage door maintenance.

  8. Remember that your garage door opener uses electricity, which can shock or kill if mishandled. Service should be performed by a trained service technician. Locate a qualified professional near you.

  9. Never attempt to repair a garage door’s springs or cables. These are under extreme tension and can cause severe injury or even death. These are best repaired by a trained service technician. Locate a qualified professional near you.

  10. If someone has backed into the garage door (yes, it does happen – all of us are in a hurry at one time or another), it’s a good idea to have the door inspected and/or repaired by a trained service technician. Even if the door doesn’t appear to be severely damaged, the operating system may have become misaligned and wear prematurely, creating what could be a dangerous environment. Locate a qualified professional near you.