Worker inspecting pipes

Thinking about converting from Oil to Gas?

During our Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens home inspections, we often hear from our clients that they prefer gas over oil and anticipate that they will be making a conversion in the future.  Here are some factors to consider.

  • Oil is not explosive, gas is. Gas explosions are extremely rare, but it does happen once in a great while
  • Gas can be used to power whole house generators during a storm without having to worry about running out of fuel
  • In addition to your heating system, you can also connect kitchen stoves and oven’s, generators, fireplaces, barbecues, clothing dryers, and water heaters
  • Gas heating systems are typically more energy efficient than oil heat
  • Oil tanks can leak with environmental hazards
  • Gas boilers are quieter
  • Most people prefer cooking with gas rather than electricity
  • Gas is pretty much an uninterruptable fuel supply, you don’t have to worry about an oil delivery

So, if you decide that you would like to convert, or at least find out how much a conversion would cost, here are the steps.

  1. The first thing to do find out if there is gas on the street. Call national grid to find out.  If there is no gas on the street, it may be prohibitively expensive to run a main gas pipe along the street without having a lot of people in the immediate neighborhood agree to a conversion.
  2.  If there is gas on the street, national grid will run 100 feet of gas pipe from the street to your house for free.
  3. Contact a licensed plumber, qualified to discuss the pros and cons of different types of heating equipment and costs. When you’re ready, your plumber will remove the existing equipment and install new equipment.  National grid will then install a meter and connect the gas line.
  4. National grid will provide some incentives if you go with high-efficiency equipment.
  5. If your existing oil tank is in the home, it will need to be removed. If the oil tank is in the ground, it can be abandoned by an oil tank specialty company (keep the paperwork).  Abandonment is easier and cheaper than removal.

For more related information click on this link:

Download PDF


What does “STACK EFFECT” mean?

The “stack effect” is a term used in building science which means the whole structure acts like a chimney, simply because warm air rises.  So, in the winter, cold air comes in from the lowest parts of the structure and exits the building at the highest point.  If you open a window in the basement during the winter, you feel the cold air rushing into the building.  If you go to the attic you will find the air leaving the attic through attic vents.

Again, air gets pulled in from the lower part of the structure and pushed out at the upper part of the structure.  Now, take this into consideration knowing that air intrusion in the winter causes the largest loss of energy efficiency.  Air movement coming in, and then out, is the “low hanging fruit” on the energy efficiency tree.  Look at it this way, you can have all the insulation in the world in the walls and ceilings of the structure, but if the windows are open, and there is air movement, the insulation doesn’t do much!

So the moral of the story is make sure you have good windows in the basement and seal any openings to block air movement.  Take a close look for openings in the basement walls and at the top of the foundation where the concrete meets the wood part of the structure.  Apply caulking or other sealant where appropriate.  Taking these simple steps could save you a lot of energy dollars over time.

For more related information click on this link:

Download PDF

Oil Tank

What is a VAV Box in a commercial building?

VAV stands for Variable Air Volume.  A VAV box controls airflow in commercial and can be a frequent cause of space temperature issues in commercial properties.  The VAV is basically a sheet-metal box usually hung in the ceiling which is connected to a thermostat.  If the thermostat is calling for more cooling, it opens a damper and allows more airflow through that particular zone of cooling.  If a VAV isn’t working correctly, the temperature for the zone of cooling will be uncomfortable.  The VAV box controls the flow of cool air from a central air conditioning source and, assuming it’s working properly, reduces or increases the flow of air into a particular air conditioning zone, based on the thermostat setting.

One of the more common complaints that building occupants have are temperature related.  The air-conditioning demands on and air conditioning zone with lots of window glass is much different than the temperature demands on interior spaces.  So, there is typically a separate VAV box for spaces with a large heat load from windows versus a minimal heat load for interior space.

We have seen tenants not renew their lease because of frustration with interior temperatures.  Long-term temperature issues can reflect poorly on building management.  Tenant’s may continually complain about improper temperatures to no avail.  However, if the building management understands VAV box issues, the repair can be a simple part of a good maintenance program.  In a 100,000 square-foot commercial building, there could be 50 VAV boxes, and several of them may be malfunctioning.  This issue can even cause occupancy rates to fall in commercial properties.

Sometimes, even air conditioning technicians do not address the problem correctly, causing spaces to be either too warm or too cool.

For more related information click on this link:

Download PDF

Puppy sleeping at warm floor. Dog

Engineered Hardwood Floors versus Solid Hardwood Floors

While doing our Long Island and New York City home inspections, we are often asked “What’s the difference between solid hardwood flooring versus engineered hardwood floors”.

Solid hardwood floorboards have been used for hundreds of years.  Usually, they are three quarters of an inch thick with varying widths and can be refinished multiple times before they need to be replaced.  We have seen solid wood floors in place for over 150 years and still look great. Make sure the person doing the refinishing is a real professional because the floor may just require a light abrasion or cleaning to rejuvenate the floor versus a total sanding.

Engineered hardwood floors consist of a thin wood veneer applied on strips of plywood.  They are durable and look great.  However, typically engineered floors can only be refinished 1 or 2 times because the process can wear through the veneer and expose the plywood.  The floorboards are mechanically strong because the plywood base is strong.  In addition, engineered hardwood floors include a durable factory applied finish, but don’t expect this type of floor to last nearly as long as solid wood planks.

For more related information click on this link:

Download PDF

Roof Shingles

Is it okay to have 2 or 3 Layers of Roofing?

During our home inspections, we often see more than one layer of roof shingles.  In fact, sometimes we see 3 or 4 layers of roofing materials which can cause several problems.

1)  Most roof shingle manufacturers will not honor their warranty if there is more than a single layer of roofing shingles.

2) Most building codes do not allow a 3rd layer.

3) The 2nd and 3rd layers of roofing shingles are prone to blowing off in the wind.

4) Shingles have a shorter lifespan due to overheating from the sun.

5) having more than one layer impacts the aesthetics.

6)  In addition, roofing materials are very heavy and could easily add up to 10,000 pounds on an average sized roof which puts additional stress on the roof rafters which ultimately translates all the way down through the framing of the house and to the foundation.

7) And very importantly, unless all the shingles are removed, the condition of the roof sheathing (the wood below the shingles) can’t be observed, so consequently, there may be deteriorated roof sheathing that should be replaced but can’t.  Occasionally, someone falls through the roof because the wood under the shingles is completely deteriorated due to long term water leakage.

8) most inspectors will comment that a 2nd or 3rd layer of shingles is a negative condition.

There are some advantages to going with a second layer of roofing material: it’s cheaper, and a bit faster.  But taking the pros and cons into consideration, the benefits of keeping a single layer of roofing far outweighs the cons.

For more related information click on this link:

Download PDF


Are your Stairs and Handrails safe?

In almost every inspection we see stairs or railings missing handrails or balusters (spindles).  I think about it like this: picture someone elderly, and in the dark, in icy conditions navigating from the driveway to the top of the stoop without handrails.  That is when serious falls can happen. Picture someone climbing up the steps to the second floor, losing balance with nothing to hold onto.  Often, basement steps have no handrails or guardrails at all.  Picture a toddler playing on a deck chasing the ball for example, without the proper guardrails.  These conditions are recipes for injuries.  Tripping and falling on stairs is a very common source of injury.

Municipalities typically require guardrails and balusters if the height is more than 30 inches from the ground or floor.  Handrails are typically required if there are more than 3 stair treads (which also translates to approximately 30 inches).  But our advice is to make your house even safer than that which is required by code.  You can’t be too careful!

Handrails should be graspable, in other words, you should be able to grab them securely.  If your hand can’t get around the handrail, it isn’t very safe.

Handrail should be continuous.  You shouldn’t have to remove your hand from one handrail and then find the next handrail when traversing steps.  That could be enough to cause a fall.

The space between balusters should be no more than 4 inches wide to prevent babies’ heads from getting stuck.

There should be a light switch and light at the bottom and top of the stairs.  A single switch should turn on both lights.

Building codes contain a lot of requirements and dimensions, too many to mention here.  But my advice is to take a close look at all of your stairs, landings and balconies to get a gut feel for whether they are safe or not.  If you want to get into the details, there is plenty of information on various websites.  Or get a licensed and qualified carpenter or general contractor to examine all your stairs, landings, balconies, and decks to make sure they are safe.  Think safety, safety, safety!

For more related information click on this link:

Download PDF


What you should know about Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Like everything else in our technological world, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are getting smarter and better.

In my opinion, the best protection for you and your family, as well as your home is a new top-of-the-line combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector system.

There are two types of smoke detection technology: one type is better at detecting slow smoldering conditions, and the other one is best at detecting actual fires.  State-of-the-art smoke detectors include both types in 1 unit.  Now, take this 1 step further and include a carbon monoxide detector in the same unit.  (Carbon monoxide can’t be seen, is odorless, and can be deadly, so it is extremely important.)

Take that same unit and add some smart features.  A system that I personally have direct experience with is Google’s Nest Protect.  It’s an excellent high quality product!  But there are other systems on the market today with similar functionality.

  • They can speak clearly in plain language and warn you as to what the nature of the problem is and where it is.
  • They test themselves on a periodic basis and warn you clearly in plain language before their self-test.
  • The units are interconnected so that if one unit detects a problem all the units tell you about the problem.
  • These units are Wi-Fi connected and periodically report to your phone or other device as to what has been happening with the system over the last 30 days (for example).
  • Get fast alerts on your phone or device when the system detects a problem.
  • When you approach one of the detectors at night the unit automatically illuminates your pathway.
  • You can “hush” the alarm with your phone.
  • You can test the system with your phone

They can be hardwired to your home’s electrical system or you can purchase them with a lithium battery that lasts at least 10 years.  (Meets New York State laws)

Of course, the system can be monitored by a central station monitoring company.

It is recommended that these units be installed on the ceiling, one unit in each bedroom, and 1 outside of the sleeping area (in the hallway), at least one detector on each level including the basement.

Nest protect detectors are over $100 each.  I personally feel that they are the best.  There are many manufacturers that are substantially cheaper and have lots of excellent features so shop around.

For more related information click on this link:


Download PDF

Blue sky through skylight

Do Skylights always leak?

No, skylights don’t always leak, but, they often do.  No matter how good the skylights are, and how well they were installed, they are prone to leakage.  Usually it’s when there are heavy winds and rain, or built-up snow and ice.

But, there is a trade-off: skylights can add a lot to the aesthetics of a home.  So, if you want skylights, make sure they are installed by a knowledgeable crew, and get the best quality skylights that you can, and expect leaks sometime in the future.  Leaks are never good, but typically skylight leaks don’t cause tremendous problems.  It’s a good idea to periodically inspect the skylights from the roof and seal/caulk any potential openings on a “preventive maintenance” basis.

For more related information click on this link:

Download PDF

Icey flood

Freeze-Thaw Cycle

When we do our inspections on Long Island in the winter, the temperatures typically hover between 20° and 40° which means that water is continually freezing and then thawing.  So if something is wet, and then there is a freeze, the water turns to ice and expands with substantial force and can stretch or break whatever the material is.  As an example, water gets into the substrate of your driveway and a puddle forms.  And then there is a deep freeze which creates expansion breaks up the asphalt and creates potholes.

The freeze thaw cycle also can cause problems with foundations.  Let’s say there is a heavy rain and water has collected in the soil next to the foundation.  We get a deep freeze and again, the water turns to ice and expands and puts pressure on the foundation wall.  If the foundation is made of poured concrete it probably won’t have any impact, but once in a while, we do see foundation cracks from soil expansion.

If the foundation is made of masonry blocks, serious problems can happen with the foundation, including long horizontal cracks which can be very problematic.  A long horizontal crack indicates that the foundation is “bulging” inwards.  As time goes on, the bulging increases to the point where expensive repairs may be required.  This is one of the reasons that proper roof drainage is so important.  Make sure you don’t have water draining towards the foundation.  It must drain away from the foundation.

We hope this information about the “freeze-thaw cycle is interesting and beneficial for you.  As usual, we hope you stay safe and healthy! Be careful out there!

For more related information click on this link:

Download PDF

Swimming Pool

Swimming Pool Safety

As horrible and sad as it is, every once in a while we all hear about a child that drowned in a swimming pool.  More than likely, if the proper protections were in place, the tragedy would have been avoided.  So, the purpose of this article is to address some of the components of swimming pool safety according to New York State rules and is intended to provide the broad strokes pertaining to swimming pool safety.

Please don’t rely on this article as a comprehensive document covering all of the rules and regulations associated with swimming pools.  Much more detail is available at this link and many others on the Internet  Please keep in mind that some municipalities have stricter rules so it’s important to check with the authorities to make sure you are in compliance with all local safety rules in effect.  By the way, there is no “grandfathering” for an older swimming pool.  All pools must meet current code.

Here’s the big picture: A proper barrier and gates around the pool, proper alarms, proper electrical safety and anti-entrapment devices inside the pool.

What is considered a swimming pool?  Anything deeper than 24 inches, including hot tubs and spas as well as above ground and inground pools.

  • There must be a barrier completely surrounding the pool at least 4 feet high with self-latching, self-closing gates with child rated locks. The barrier can enclose a larger area than the pool itself.
  • If the house is part of the barrier, there are rules for automatic alarms on doors and windows which are intended to alert people when the doors or windows are opened. There should also be an alarm capable of detecting a child getting into the pool and sounding an alarm.
  • Most swimming pools have suction ports capable of entrapping a child below the surface of the water. These suction ports should be equipped with an anti-entrapment cover which eliminates the hazard.
  • All the electrical components in and around the pool must meet strict requirements for safety and should be installed by a licensed and qualified electrician.

For more related information click on this link:

Download PDF