Home Care Tips


Air Conditioner Upkeep

posted Jul 22, 2017, 6:53 AM by Troy LaPare

A home's central air-conditioning system should be periodically inspected and maintained in order to function properly. In Western NY, we can get hot, humid days and having a working AC, is a nice luxury. In addition, our harsh winters can do havoc to the external parts of your AC systems. Any homeowner can do a lot of the work themselves by following the tips offered in this guide.Exterior Condenser Unit
 
Clean the Exterior Condenser Unit and Components
 
The exterior condenser 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.
  • Add lubricating oil to the motor. Check your owner’s manual for specific instructions.
  • 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 ducts 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.
 

Inside Air and your Forced Air Furnace

posted Mar 11, 2017, 7:32 AM by Troy LaPare

In the Buffalo/Niagara area, a finished basement is a common thing. Who among us has not watched a hockey game in the basement  "mancave", or sent the kids down to the finished basement "playroom". Unfortunately, many homeowners don't take into account how the furnace in the home gets air, for combustion. Generally you can pull combustion air either from the interior or exterior. BEST PRACTICE is to pull air from the exterior. Exterior combustion air draw eliminates the furnace getting dirty air from basement and possible chemical traces from the laundry room. If the basement is open it isn't a big deal, there's usually plenty of air. In finished basements, furnace enclosures rarely have enough open air space (wall/door vents) to meet BTU requirements.
For new furnace installations, make sure your contractor isn't taking shortcuts. What was stated in the contract? Did he say he would run it outside or not? 
Combustion air pipe is passive. 
In the Northeast the vent should be 12 inches above grade (keep in mind snow levels in your area, if your living in south towns snow belt you know what I mean)

Fear the Fuse Box?

posted May 10, 2016, 4:20 PM by Troy LaPare

Fuses and circuit breakers are designed to prevent circuit overload. What's the danger of circuit overload? Starting a Fire!! When electrical energy moves through copper and aluminum, the wiring can get hot. Nobody wants red-hot wires glowing inside the walls of your house!

Most wiring in pre-1970s houses can safely carry a sustained load of 15 amps without overheating, while circuits in many (but not all) newer homes can safely carry 20 amps.

But Mr. Home Inspector, are fuses dangerous? Nowadays, we use much more electricity than did our parents or grandparents. 50 years ago most houses were wired with 60 amps of total capacity--and fuse boxes often only had room for four 15-amp circuits and a single 30-amp 220-volt circuit for a stove or water heater. Fast forward to modern day, most new houses have 150 or 200 amps of capacity, with dozes of individual circuits.

When a 15-amp fuse blows, it can be mighty tempting to screw in a 20-amp fuse as a replacement instead of hiring an electrician to wire a new circuit. And when that 20-amp fuse blows, it can be equally tempting to screw in a 30-amp fuse. If you do this, you've created a fire hazard.

  1. If you find a fuse box stuffed with 30 amp fuses, or even all 20 amp fuses, chances are the fuses have been blowing frequently--and the occupants have installed heavier fuses than are safe. This house definitely needs additional wiring!
  2. Even if you find a newer 150 or 200-amp circuit breaker box, you're not entirely out of the woods. If you discover only five or six circuit breakers in the box, this means that little or no new wiring has been added over the years, even though the capacity exists to add it. (Most electrical codes, for example, require outlets every 12 feet or within six feet of each doorway. But many older houses have only one outlet per room.)
  3. If the main fuse (or circuit breaker) is rated for 100 amps, which was normal residential capacity from the early 1950s to the mid-1960, you've probably got adequate overall capacity if most of the major appliances in the house (stove, water heater, dryer) are gas rather than electric.
  4. A house with 60-amp service, on the other hand, almost always needs upgraded electrical service.
  5. And in some (but not many) older houses you'll find a 100 or 150-amp fuse box with a dozen to 20 or more individual circuits, each protected by a 15 or 20 amp fuse. This is a sign that the house was rewired years ago by an owner who was playing it safe, and planning ahead. In such circumstances, there may be no compelling reason to replace the fuse box with a new circuit breaker panel. To play it safe, though, you should always make any purchase offer contingent upon having the home inspected.

One more thing, in NY, most insurance companies will charge high insurance rates if the house has a Fuse Box, or will not insure the house at all.

Insulating a Crawl Space

posted May 3, 2016, 4:42 PM by Troy LaPare

I grew up in a split-level on Sheva Lane, the house style that was common suburbia in the decades immediately following the Vietnam War.

The middle floor—the one that “split” the upper and lower levels—was built upon a crawl space. You could get to it from a hole in the wall that was covered by a plywood panel, but as children we rarely ventured through.

As a home inspector, I climb through these areas often and find the design flaws of the years prior.

I often find batts of soggy fiberglass insulation hanging haphazardly from the joists. Dim light filtered in from vents in the walls. Sometimes unpleasant signs of mice and what looked like spore based organism covering some of the joists. The damp concrete walls are almost always bare.

In the 50's 60's and 70's, common building practice was to insulate the floor above the crawl space and to leave the crawl space’s wall vents open, so any moisture buildup would vent to the outside—a monumental design flaw. Instead of expelling moisture (at least in climates with humid summers), the open vents allowed moist air in. As that air passed over the cool surfaces of the crawl space, condensation was left behind. At my parents house, fiberglass batts had degraded to the point of sagging and no longer kept cold air from reaching the floor above.

Today, energy experts have a different prescription for crawl spaces based upon the idea that they should be part of the home’s conditioned space (the area that is heated and cooled). If conditioned, then condensation is eliminated, which in turn minimizes the chance of mold and mites. Energy loss from air ducts is reduced, and first-level floors become warmer in winter. Drafts are also minimized.

Here is a list of recommendations and things I look for, to bring your crawl space into the 21st century:

• Eliminate sources of water in the crawl space before doing anything else.

Extend downspouts, maintain gutters, and regrade sidewalks, patios, and garden beds so that they slope away from the house. If necessary, install a basement waterproofing system or sump pump.

• Insulate the walls, not the ceiling.

Rigid boards may be installed with construction adhesive or mechanical fasteners. You may also choose to lay an insulating mat over the crawl space floor.

• Use an insulation that resists damage from water (not fiberglass or cellulose).

Any one of the rigid board insulations will work, but polyioscirunate has the best R-value (6 to 7 per inch). Remainders and seconds are sometimes available from commercial roof insulation manufacturers. You just have to pick it up.

• Seal all vent openings.

Vent covers, installed from the exterior, are available in standard sizes. Or make your own from plywood and caulk them in place.

• Ensure that hatchways to the exterior are sealed.

Use heavy-duty weatherstrip to ensure a tight seal or purchase a pre-manufactured crawl space hatchway.

• Seal rim joists and sills.

Fill the ends of joist bays with rectangles cut from rigid board insulation. Use foam sealant, such as Great Stuff, to seal the joints. Use caulk or foam sealant to seal the joint between the top of the crawl space wall and the sill.

• Install an air and vapor barrier over the floor and tape it to the insulation.

Plastic vapor barriers are available in sheets of various thicknesses. If you plan to use the encapsulated space for storage, choose a barrier that will stand up to foot traffic. Many companies offer encapsulation services; in my opinion Basement Systems, Inc. has the most completely engineered system.

Inspecting a Foreclosure Property

posted Apr 3, 2016, 12:43 PM by Troy LaPare   [ updated Apr 3, 2016, 12:44 PM ]

 "You should always get a home inspection before buying a property, especially when you’re buying a bank-owned foreclosure.  In such cases, it may be impossible to find out how well the home was cared for, or whether major damage was done right before the past owners left the property. Ask the bank how much time you have after your initial offer to have an inspection performed, and schedule one immediately. If it goes well, you’ll enter into the deal with peace of mind and a better idea of what repairs you’ll have to deal with. That alone is worth the price of an inspection. If the inspection reveals a costly disaster, you can back out of the deal and save tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Source: The International Society of Certified Home Inspectors website

Foreclosures are tricky, but an inspection is even more important on these properties, considering the amount of time the house has gone without maintenance and upkeep.

Some things to consider; most foreclosures have been "winterized" by the bank, this means the electric, gas/propane an water have been shut off. The Inspector can look at the Hot Water tank, Electric Panel and Furnace/Boiler but he will not be able to check the color of the flames for good heat exchanges,hot water and pressure, the light switches, reverse polarity etc. A good inspector will write this up in the report and should not disclaim the entire system. Also the inspector should charge you anywhere from 100 to 200 dollars less.

For the long term, a foreclosure property can be a big value, without an inspection, buyer beware.

Aluminum Branch Wiring

posted Apr 20, 2015, 7:43 AM by Troy LaPare

 Aluminum branch wiring was used during the 1960’s and 1970’s for the wiring of receptacles, switches and devices throughout many homes. It is particularly common in Subdivision homes built in the 1970s in the Erie County and Southern Ontario area.

Single strand branch aluminum wiring has been implicated in a number of house fires. The cause of these fires was not the aluminum wire itself, but was the result of something called thermal creep or improper connections. Aluminum does not conduct electricity as efficiently as copper and creates more resistance and heat. The wire also expands and contracts more than copper wire and can cause the connections to become loose at the devices and junction boxes. Oxidation will build up between connections, causing an increase in the amount of thermal energy generated, which then could cause fire.

Many individuals believe that the aluminum wiring should be removed and replaced with copper. This is not always the case, and there are approved or recognized methods for making the system safe. If single strand aluminum wire is present (#12, #10 Gauge, General Purpose Branch Wiring) it is important to install or verify proper connections of all devices and terminals throughout the house. Copper wire ends, known as ‘pigtails’, can be installed at all terminals. Wire nuts are not approved for pig tailing, and according to many licensed electricians, may pose an even greater fire hazard and should be replaced.

Keep in mind this does not apply to the main service lines that may be aluminum and are covered in thermal paste. These lines are connected directly to the service panel and thermal creep does not affect these heavy duty connections.


Life Saftey Issues

posted Mar 30, 2015, 6:23 AM by Troy LaPare   [ updated Mar 30, 2015, 6:35 AM ]

As the Spring season begins, the Home Inspection season kicks into high gear, this article will concentrate on what a good Home Inspector concentrates on the most, Life Safety Issues. 
Almost all municipalities have building codes, these codes exist because someone at sometime was hurt by the code not existing. Examples are, the required height of railings, ARC Fault interrupter, Firewalls and others.
The Home Inspectors does not inspect from Code, but our best practices often coincide with them. I will give some great examples.

Exits in Basements: In WNY, the finished basement is common, this gives the house extra living space, however, did you know if the room does not have a second exit, Home Inspectors will write this up as a safety concern? Why? Because a fire at the main stairway would cause a person or child to become trapped and would also prevent a firefighter an access point.

Home Generators: After the famous October storm, many WNY residences now have Gas or Natural Gas powered Generators.These kick on during blackouts and power key areas of the home, such as the refrigerator and sump pumps.

However, did you know that not having a ATS, (or Automatic Transfer Switch) can cause a fire (from electric powered heat on the line) and can kill a Utility Linesman restoring power in your Neighborhood?

These are just two examples, Troy's Home Inspections Service has the knowledge and experience to find these  and any other safety concerns before you buy your home.

NY home inspectors must attend 24 hours of classroom instruction every two years, we are trained to find and explain life safety issues, it is in the Home buyers best interest to hire one of these professionals, before purchasing your new home.

GFCI Receptacles

posted May 31, 2014, 11:54 AM by Troy LaPare

One of the most common Inspection items I come across, is the lack of GFCI receptacle in Kitchens and Bathrooms.
First, I will discuss why these are best practice to have installed and then what the American Society of Home Inspectors standards are.

Why have GFCIs?

A GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) is an unintentional flow of electricity between a source of electrical current and a grounded surface. Without protection, electrical shock can occur if a person comes into contact with an energized part. For example, if a person is holding a damaged electrical cord from a hair dryer and touches a plumbing fixture, they could get electrocuted. At minimum, a painful shock.

The GFCI receptacle constantly monitors an electrical circuit. If it detects even a slight flow of electricity to a grounded item, it immediately shuts off the flow of electricity. This protects you from electrocution. It is particularly important to protect people where they could come in contact with exposed grounded items such as plumbing fixtures or with dripping water on hands.

How is a GFCI different from  regular circuit breaker or fuse?

If too much electricity flows through a wire, it will get hot. Sometimes it can get hot enough to start a fire inside the walls of a house. Traditional circuit breakers protect your house from fires by shutting off the flow of electricity to a wire when there is too much demand for electricity. This can happen when too may items are plugged into a circuit. This is why a power strip can be dangerous, if there are too many electric items plugged into one plug. Circuit breakers do not protect people from electrocution. Their purpose is to protect you from a fire.

When and where are GFCI receptacles required?

GFCI receptacles were required in houses starting in 1971. Originally they were only required at the exterior of the house and by swimming pool equipment. Over the years, GFCI receptacles have been required in more locations such as garages, bathrooms, kitchens, etc. This really depends on the municipality, but some local codes may be different. Remember,  that a home inspection is not a code inspection, if a home inspector recommends GFCI installation it is for you and your families safety.

Best Practice is that any receptacle within 6 feet of a laundry tub, sink, pool,shower or bathtub be a GFCI.

Deck and Railing best practices

posted Apr 20, 2014, 5:07 AM by Troy LaPare

With the weather getting warmer many homeowners will be looking to add some outdoor living space, this usually comes in the form of decks porches and balconies.
No matter if your a do it yourself guy, or will be hiring a contractor, home inspectors look for these best practices  to ensure the safety of our clients.

All decks higher than 30" above grade must have a guardrail. If you choose to install a guardrail on a deck lower than 30" you must still meet these requirements. These standards apply to decks and balconies attached to single family detached homes. Best practice requires guardrails to be at lest 36" in height measured from the deck surface to the top of the rail.

Choice of  styles are allowed as long as the interior sections of the rail don’t possess any openings large enough to pass a 4” diameter sphere through (this prevents toddlers from slipping through and falling).Guardrails for stairs allows up to a 6”diameter sphere through the triangle opening formed by the stair riser, stairtread, and bottom rail.The guardrails must be strong enough to withstand aconcentrated 200 lb force anywhere along the top of the rail.To achieve this you should space rail posts no greater than 6' apart.

Handrails are required for stairs and must meet standards as specified by ASHI.The top edge of the handrail must be placed between 34” and 38” above the nosing of the stair treads.  Handrail ends must be returned and terminated at rail posts.The handgrips must allow a minimum of 1-1/2” spacebetween the handrail and the guardrail or wall. A variety of gripping surfacesmay be acceptable but must meet requirements for gripping surface.Flat 2x4 and 2x6 handrails are not acceptable.A circular cross section of a handrail musthave an outside diameter of between 1-1/4” and 2”.

We wish you and your family a safe and happy spring ands summer season.



 

Unseen Fire hazards in the Home

posted Apr 6, 2014, 9:21 AM by Troy LaPare

If you have ever witnessed a fire, you have seen the damage these can cause. Even if parts of the Home can be saved the smoke water and psychological damage can be immense.

According to the CDC, four out of five deaths resulting from a fire happen in the home. According to the National Safety Council, most of these deaths could be avoided if smoke detectors were properly installed and regularly maintained in the kitchen, stairwells, and near each bedroom. Check the batteries at least yearly to make sure they work.

The American Red Cross reports that 80 percent of all deaths due to fire take place when the family is sleeping. The cause is not the fire itself, but rather smoke inhalation and lack of oxygen. In addition, the fire may trigger the release of poisonous chemicals in upholstery, plastic material, and draperies.

No matter who built your home or what materials constructed of, no house is fireproof, but you can do a great deal to prevent home fires:

  • If there are children in the home, lock up matches and cigarette lighters.
  • Don't hang potholders or dishtowels over the burners on the stove. Store them away from the stovetop.
  • Never smoke in bed.
  • Never leave home or go to bed with your Christmas tree lights on.
  • Never use a higher watt lightbulb than a lamp manufacturer suggests.
  • Use salt or soda to put out a grease fire in your kitchen; never throw water on it.
  • Have an established family escape route and have regular fire drills. If your house has more than one story, keep a fire safety ladder under each bed. Plan ahead where you'll all meet outside.
  • Teach your family the American Red Cross rule if their clothes ever catch on fire: Stop running, Drop to the ground, and Roll over to put out the flames.
  • Keep papers, curtains, and other flammable material away from hot radiators, portable heaters, and lighted fireplaces.
  • Make sure that your child's sleepwear is flame resistant, and wash it according to manufacturer's instructions.
  • Be very careful with portable kerosene heaters. Use them only when you are in the room; turn them off any time you leave the room.
  • For homes with children, put up guards around space heaters, fireplaces, and wood-burning stoves.
  • Don't overload circuits by putting too many plugs in an outlet.
  • have a Home Inspector or Electrician check you electrical panel for proper gauge wire for each circuit in your home and check the panel for its age. Check out this excellent website for more on this; http://www.ismypanelsafe.com/
  • For lamps or small appliances, don't use extension cords that dangle and can be pulled. Children can pull the appliance down and injure themselves as well as start a fire.
  • Don't let your children play with firecrackers or any type of explosives.
  • Buy fire extinguishers, and learn how to use them. Place them where they are most likely to be needed, such as the kitchen. Check periodically to be sure they are in good working order.
  • Clean out your laundry vent every six months with a vacuum cleaner and make sure it is made of metal, NOT plastic.

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