Stair Codes

Injuries on stairs are more common than you may think.

(Reuters Health) – More than 1 million Americans injure themselves on stairs each year, according to a study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

So, it pays to focus on your stairs (both inside and outside of your home).

The following drawings are based on most of the common building codes in effect today. It may take a few minutes to understand what the drawings are saying but we recommend focusing on the subject for your safety, and that of your family.

If you have any questions feel free to call us at 631-275-8080, or email office@safeharborinspections.com. We will be glad to help!

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3d illustration of crane over house plan background with code sign

Do home inspectors determine code compliance?

During our home inspections, we are often asked if an item “meets code”. According to New York State law, home inspectors are not required to determine what meets, or does not meet code. Because municipalities and states are regularly changing codes, the only person that can determine if something meets code is the local building inspector.

Having said this, it is still a good idea for home inspectors to be familiar with various codes as basic background knowledge and training. Codes are there for various reasons, including functionality and safety of the building and its systems. So, understanding the various codes is a good thing for home inspectors. Obviously, this enables the inspector to do a better job which ultimately helps the client.

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Halifax, Canada - June 18, 2012: A fire truck and firefighters from Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency team, fighting a house fire in the community of Fairview. Bystanders from the neighborhood look on.'

Main Causes of House Fires

As a very basic recommendation, check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. There are several rules, guides, and codes applying to basic smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. We recommend paying attention to the subject! There’s plenty of information on the Internet to guide you through the subject of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

The main source of house fires in the United States has to do with cooking. Believe it or not, cooking fires account for close to 50% of all fires in the United States. Forgetting to turn off the stove, spilling grease, dirty ovens, and tops, and inadvertently leaving the oven/stove unattended.

Christmas trees are also substantial sources of house fires. The tree gets too dry, the wires are too old, and, of course, candles.

Another substantial source of house fires has to do with space heaters.  Curtains, clothing, or furniture in front of a space heater. The space heater falls over or fails to turn off when it reaches its design temperature.

Electrical wires, overloaded circuit breaker panels are also substantial sources of house fires. Aluminum wires, old electrical outlets, ungrounded circuits are culprits.

And don’t forget something as simple as dryer vents. Dryer lint is extremely flammable and regularly cause house fires. Keep your dryer vents and vent screens clean!

Smoking: although the number of people smoking has been dropping over the years, it is still a major source of house fires.

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Ice Damming, what is it?

During our home inspections, sometimes we see signs of water leaks in the ceiling where the ceiling meets the roof. This is usually caused by “Ice Damming”. Ice damming is caused by snow melting on the roof and then dripping down towards the gutters where it freezes again and builds up ice and a little “pond” forms on the lower portion of the roof and gutters. The pond gets bigger as more and more snow melts and then freezes down by the gutter. Eventually, the water backs up under the roof shingles which causes the leaks.

What makes this happen? The attic is too warm, thereby causing the snow to melt on the roof. If you do have this problem, we recommend that you deal with it because it can cause wood rot and mold above the ceiling and inside the wall. It can also attract wood-destroying insects like termites.

Because your attic is too warm, you have an opportunity to save energy while fixing the ice damming issue. The first approach to fixing the problem is to stop warm air from getting into your attic. That means sealing openings between your attic and the living space. This may require additional insulation and/or blocking any openings between the living space and the attic, such as openings around electrical wires, high-hat light fixtures, plumbing pipes, dryer, and bathroom vents. By the way, sometimes bathroom vent fans and clothing dryers discharge warm air directly into the attic which will raise the temperature in the attic. Ideally, the attic temperature should be similar to the exterior temperature.

Of course, this is a very brief description of ice damning and there is a lot more information on the web if you’re interested in learning more about the subject.

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bare stranded wires, stranded wires on the table

Are aluminum wires covered with copper safe?

Sometimes during our home inspections, we come across a wiring product called Copper-Clad aluminum wire. The core of the wire is made of aluminum, but the exterior of the wire is clad in copper. Is it safe even though it’s aluminum? Yes, it is safe and approved without modification. Because the wires are clad in copper, corrosion and oxidation do not occur like they do in typical aluminum wires. (It’s the corrosion and oxidation that causes aluminum wires to overheat).

If you are told that you have aluminum wires, they may be correct, but they may be leaving out a very important piece of information, which is, are they copper-clad. Again, copper-clad aluminum wires are safe.

If someone, (for instance an inexperienced inspector) tells you that you’re dealing with aluminum wires, ask the question, are they clad in copper? If they are clad in copper, you can save the expense of having the wires in the house modified or replaced.

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3d illustration of a flipped house. Real state concept

About “Flipped” Homes

As I’m sure you know, there is an entire industry around investing in real estate, improving it, and then selling it. Commonly known as “Flipping”. Oftentimes, flipped homes are in very good condition and were properly improved with licensed contractors and an investor with the intent to do “the right thing”. New appliances, bathrooms, kitchen, HVAC, flooring, driveway, electrical etc. etc.

However, often the flippers major priority is to maximize the return on his investment. This can lead to hiring unskilled and unlicensed contractors to save as much money as possible. At first glance the house may look impeccable because of the new cosmetics and appliances. But upon further examination, shortcuts may show up.

As an example, we did an inspection which revealed substantial structural defects in the crawlspace. Consequently, there was a substantial concern in the structure. As usual, we took pictures of the situation and offered to show the investor (flipper) the pictures to help explain what we saw. The response from the flipper was “no thanks, I just hope the next buyer doesn’t hire an inspector”.

Sometimes defects are purposely hidden with sheet rock, ceiling tiles, and carpeting etc. So, during the inspection defects are impossible to see without dismantling (which does not occur during an inspection). If you walk into the basement and everything is covered up, perhaps there are defects that cannot be seen by you, or an inspector or anybody else for that matter.

Sometimes we see signs of a bearing wall having been removed to create a “great room” and a sagging ceiling develops.  When bearing walls get removed, structural modifications must be made in order to support the weight above.

The bottom line is in the adage, “buyer beware”. Make sure you hire a very thorough inspector and read the inspection report very carefully. It’s also not a bad idea to check with the building department to see if the contractors procured and finalized building permits during the upgrade process. This can be accomplished by an “expediter”.

Please don’t misunderstand us. Usually the improvements were well executed, and the home is in great condition, and will serve its purpose nicely for years to come without major unexpected repairs.

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Heat Loss Detection of the House With Infrared Thermal Camera

Should home inspectors have infrared cameras?

Infrared cameras can “see” temperatures of objects immediately and at somewhat of a distance. So, an inspector can walk into a room and immediately see if the HVAC system is putting out warm or cool air (depending on the season). An infrared camera can also help identify water leaks, hot water temperatures, and a slew of other things, like being able to see the location and functionality of radiant heat pipes in floors, missing attic or wall insulation, and a lot of other items. They can even speed up inspections.

The bad news is, they are expensive. A good quality camera for use in a home inspection can range from $5,000-$15,000. In addition, inspectors also need to be trained to interpret the camera results properly.

Infrared cameras are not required by New York State, and a good inspector can still do a good inspection without using an infrared camera. However, these are good tools and may pick up a problem that otherwise could not have been detected. For that reason, Safe Harbor Inspections Inc. has elected to provide all 10 of our inspectors with infrared cameras.

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Chimney with fire coming out


This time of year, people who own fireplaces are probably using and enjoying them. Especially when it’s really cold like it has been recently. Here are some basic suggestions regarding fireplaces:

  • Get your chimney cleaned and inspected! When I was about five years old, we had a chimney fire. It sounded like a freight train coming through, pretty scary. Flammable creosote builds up over the years and catches on fire. It spreads quickly and the entire interior of the chimney catches fire. A huge air draft develops and makes a horrible noise as it rushes into and through the chimney. Chimney fires are common and occasionally, they turn into house fires. If you get your chimney cleaned, you probably won’t get a chimney fire.
  • There should be no combustible material within at least 6 inches of the fireplace opening. Since most fireplace surrounds are made of wood, the 6-inch clearance rule becomes important. There are also requirements for non-combustible materials in front of the fireplace.
  • There should be a flue damper which has to be open before your start your fire. Otherwise, the room will be filled with smoke very quickly. So, make sure it’s open before you start the fire. The next morning when the fireplace is cool you can shut the damper to prevent heated air from escaping into the atmosphere through your chimney.
A warm fire in the stone fireplace on a cold night

Please be aware that there are several building code nuances pertaining to fireplace and chimney installations. In addition, different codes may come into play based on your location. Consider researching the subject of fireplace installations in your municipality and make sure that your fireplace, fireplace surround, the area in front of your fireplace, as well as your chimney, are properly set up. We also suggest that you get your fireplace and chimney inspected and serviced by a knowledgeable fireplace/chimney contractor. It may just prevent a fire!

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Metal signpost with four arrows, "integrity", "ethics", "respect", "honesty" words on them, blue sky with clouds and sun in a background.


Should a home inspector pay a commission to a Real Estate Agent for Home Inspection referrals? In a word, NO. In 2006, New York State instituted a Home Inspection License Law which includes a “Code of Ethics”, and states that Home Inspectors may not pay real estate agents (or anybody else for that matter) for Home Inspection referrals. This is to avoid a potential conflict of interest and harm to the client. Before 2006, and before the license law came into effect, it was the “Wild West” where Home Inspectors regularly paid real estate agents for their referrals. But now it’s illegal!

So, if you are a Real Estate Agent, our recommendation to you is this: if a Home Inspector offers to pay you a commission for home inspection referrals, just say no. IT’S ILLEGAL.

Also, the reverse is true. It’s illegal for real estate agents to pay a home inspector. This is also to avoid a potential conflict of interest and harm to the client.

Of course, the Code of Ethics contains many more rules and regulations that I am not mentioning here. If you are interested, you can Google “New York State home inspection code of ethics”.

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Automatic door control



New York City fire investigators determined that this horrible fire, which has been declared the worst in New York City’s history and took 17 lives, spread because the front door to the apartment was not closed. The door should have self-closed and latched. Because the door was open, the fire had plenty of oxygen and nothing to stop it from spreading throughout the building.  Here’s a video of it raging: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/space-heater-to-blame-in-deadly-nyc-fire1/

So, what does this mean for you? Consider the need for fire-doors where you live.

There should be a fire door between your garage and the rest of the home to protect you in the event of a fire in the garage. (The walls and ceilings separating the garage from the rest of the home should be fire-rated (2 layers of fire-rated sheetrock).

There should also be a fire door where you access your boiler room to reduce the potential for a fire to spread. (By the way, the boiler room should be finished with two layers of fire-rated sheetrock on the walls and ceiling and have a fire-rated fresh air vent for the operation of the boiler.)

There should also be a fire door between living units (as in a two-family home).

A fire-rated door must self-close, self-latch, and be specifically identified as fire-rated. If you look closely at the edge of the door, you should see a fire-rated label. If there is no label, it’s not fire rated. These doors typically come as an assembly that includes a fire-rated door, frame, and hardware.

Of course, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are a no-brainer! This is a different subject which we covered in a previous newsletter (available at the Safe Harbor Inspections website blog).

There are many nuances to this subject. If you want to confirm that you comply with the current building codes, you can contact the building inspection department in your municipality. (Even though you might be grandfathered, consider upgrading to the current code anyway).

Feel free to email or call us if you have any questions.

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