Warm handprint on a cold wall

Infrared Cameras

The pictures below show what our infrared cameras can see, (radiant heat) which can be very useful in real estate inspections.  For example, it’s very difficult to determine if a radiant floor heating system is functioning, especially in the summer.  But our cameras can pick it up quickly.  They are so sensitive that they can even pick up the warmth of a handprint radiating heat on a cooler wall.  The heating elements in an oven are immediately confirmed as working.  Warm radiators are extremely easy to see.  Bottom line is, they are great tools for inspectors!

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a hot water radiator
warm handprint on a cold wall
hot water pipes in a radiant heated floor
heating elements in an oven
heating elements in an oven

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Depositphotos_42546585_s-2019

Lawn Sprinklers

Lawn sprinkler systems are often part of our home inspections.  Some of them are small with only a few zones and some of them can have 30 or 40 zones (for larger luxury Properties).

As I’m sure you realize, lawn sprinklers have to be “blown out” at the end of every season in order to avoid freeze ups and broken pipes.  The blowouts usually happen in November in preparation for freezing temperatures in winter.  It’s usually fairly economical ($100 or less for average properties) to blow out sprinkler systems.

In the spring, it’s a good idea to have a sprinkler company turn the system on and check for proper operation on all of the zones.  This is also fairly economical.

We often find sprinkler systems running too long making the ground soggy and prone to disease.  According to the SCOTTS website recommendations, approximately 1 inch to 1 ½ inches of water every few days is a good rule of thumb.  A few days between watering can make the grassroots go deeper and be healthier.  In order to measure how much water your sprinkler system is delivering, you can put some cans at various locations in the yard the yard, then run the sprinklers until the water in the cans is 1 or 1½ inches deep and keep track of the time.  That is the amount of time you should set sprinkler system to run.  Of course, all lawns are different, some soils contain a lot of clay and some soils contain a lot of sand.  So water demands can be different.

Although it’s not code everywhere, it’s a good idea to have a backflow preventer on the sprinkler system.  A backflow preventer stops water from reversing its flow from the lawn and back into your own drinking water as well as the public water pipes.  A backflow preventer is typically installed close to the main water valve by a plumber.

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Electrical Closet

Is your main Electrical Panel safe?

During our inspections we often see main electrical panels that have been recalled and are recommended to be replaced.

The main electrical panel takes the electrical power from the street and distributes it to all the circuits in the home. Each circuit is protected by a circuit breaker. The circuit breaker is intended to stop the flow of electricity before a wire inside a wall overheats and becomes a fire hazard. Obviously, the functionality of the circuit breakers is especially important to avoid a potential fire. Unfortunately, some defective and unsafe circuit breaker panels were installed in homes over the years and this presents an electrical safety hazard because the circuit breakers may not do their job and consequently start a fire.

I recommend that you look at the panel to figure out who the manufacturer is. If it’s one of the following manufacturers, contact an electrician for further evaluation and advice.

The following panels should be replaced period, end of story.

1) Federal Pacific
2) Zinsco
3) Sylvania
4) ITE/bulldog Pushmatic

Secondly, electrical panels may be unsafe just based on age. A good rule of thumb is 30 years. Usually you can locate the date of manufacture on the inside of the panel door. If you can’t get a date, we recommend calling an electrician for an evaluation. Remember, Circuit Breakers are electrical/mechanical devices which age and can become faulty over time. Faulty circuit breakers present an electrical safety concern.

Better safe than sorry!

For more related information click on this link:  https://safeharborinspections.com/

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Basement Tiles

What about Asbestos Floor Tiles?

Up until the 1980s, VAT (vinyl asbestos tiles) were widely used in residential and commercial construction. In the 1980s, vinyl asbestos tiles were phased out. So how do you know if the tiles
contain asbestos? If they were installed prior to the 1980s, more than likely they contain asbestos. Typically, they are 9 x 9” tiles or larger square tiles. BTW, often the mastic/glue holding the tiles down contains asbestos.

If you want to know for sure if they contain asbestos, contact a New York State licensed Asbestos Assessor who will properly collect samples and send them to a laboratory for testing.
So, what do you do if you have vinyl asbestos tiles?

1) If the tiles are in good shape and not crumbled or severely cracking, the authorities recommend that they be left in place because they are not “Friable”. Friable means that the material can be
crumbled in your hand when squeezed. If they are in good shape, you can leave them just as they are and be careful not to disturb them. Or you can cover them with carpet, ceramic tile,
floating floors, hardwood floors, etc. (Do your research to find out the proper way to cover asbestos floor tiles.)

2) If the tiles are cracked or crumbling and sound like they’re breaking when you walk on them, they might be emitting fibers . That means they should be evaluated by a New York State
Licensed Asbestos Assessor who will likely recommend removal, a job for which we recommend using an New York State Asbestos Removal Contractor. This is not a DYI project.

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Thermometer

How hot should your Water be?

Domestic hot water should be approximately 115 to 120°F. Much hotter than that can cause scalding, especially with children and the elderly. You can check your water temperature with a common kitchen thermometer.

Sometimes we see hot water well above the standards. Even up to 160°. So let’s say you turn on the faucet in the shower and the temperature is too cold. So you turn on more hot water. You’re under the impression that the temperature is right but in reality it’s much hotter than it should be. A child climbs into the shower and gets burned.

The temperature of the hot water on most water heaters can be adjusted with a dial. But sometimes with a “tankless coil” water heater, located inside the boiler, and not installed properly, there is no way to adjust the temperature. This is where we see the temperature so hot that it can cause burning. The temperature on these water heaters also fluctuates a lot when somebody turns on a second faucet or the clothes washer turns on. If you’re experiencing this condition, we recommend getting a licensed plumber to do what needs to be done to correct the water heater temperature.

For more related information click on this link: https://safeharborinspections.com/

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Washing hands under water faucet

Whole house Water Filter Systems are awesome!

How would you like to have crystal clear, wonderful tasting, water at each faucet and shower in your home?

It seems like the public street water taste and smells worse and worse as time goes on. Water can contain chlorine, fluoride, bacteria, viruses, pesticides, lead, nitrates, to name a few. Sometimes when you run the shower you get a strong odor of chlorine and chemicals. I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that if chlorine is added to our water to kill the bad stuff, what is it doing to our bodies when we drink and wash with it? Every time you take a shower whatever contaminants are in the water get absorbed through your skin. It can’t be good for you!

I personally have a whole house water filter system and love it. The water tastes like spring water. There is no chlorine taste or odor. The oils on your skin don’t get dissolved from chemicals. With a whole house water conditioning system, all of the showers, tubs, faucets, water taps etc., deliver much better and safer water than what you get straight from the public water system.

As you would expect, you get what you pay for. There are simple cartridge filters that improve the water quality to an extent, and cost under $400 installed. There are higher quality more effective water conditioning systems that cost upwards of $4,500. Again, you get what you pay for.

We recommend that you do your research and talk to some of the companies that sell and install water filter systems and take it all into consideration and see if one of these systems is right for you.

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New white kitchen

Should the Seller be present during an inspection?

Usually sellers leave on their own before the inspection, often at the suggestion of the listing agent.  Most inspectors are fine either way, whether the seller is there or not.

We feel that it is better for all concerned if the seller is present.  Why?  Because there are often questions that can easily be answered by the seller if they are present.  For example, we can’t get the gas fireplace to operate because we can’t find the remote control.  The seller knows exactly where it is and can turn it on to demonstrate that it functions.  Sometimes there are multiple thermostats throughout the house, some of which are air conditioning and some of which are heat.  The seller typically knows exactly how they’re set up.

Let’s say there is a stain on the ceiling that may be a plumbing leak.  We ask the seller who explains that yes, there was a leak, but they had a plumber fix it.  There is a depression in the yard which looks like it may be a cesspool issue, but the seller explains that they had a tree stump removed.  We suspected inground oil tank because oil feed lines go through the foundation wall near the boiler.  The seller explains that they had the oil tank abandoned and they have the paperwork.  We see signs of old termite damage; the seller explains that they had it treated and it’s under guarantee.

Sometimes there are issues that we discover that the seller wasn’t aware of, for example a leak developing in the water heater.  We bring it to the seller’s attention, and they get a new water heater because we explained that it could get worse quickly and even flood.

If the seller is not present, all these questions will likely end up in the inspection report which can make the report longer and more concerning than it needs to be.  Conversely, if all the questions are answered during the inspection it’s better for the seller, the buyer, and the agents!  We regularly see transparency between the buyer, seller and agents.  Often, everybody leaves the inspection on the same page, which is obviously a good thing!

These are just our observations over the years for your consideration.

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Insulation

Which side should the Vapor Barrier or Insulation face?

During our inspections we very often see insulation installed improperly in the attic. Insulation has a vapor barrier which is intended to avoid moisture and mold buildup and stop airflow
through the insulation. If the vapor barrier is facing the living space the moisture is stopped before it gets to the insulation. If the vapor barrier is installed upside down (not towards the living area) often it deteriorates the insulation and the vapor barrier and makes the insulation less efficient.

If the house is occupied, there is a substantial amount of moisture in the air from cooking, bathing, washing, and even breathing. So, we want to keep that moisture in the living area of the house rather than having it go through the ceiling, through the insulation and then hitting the vapor barrier where it can condense and build up moisture, causing the issues as explained above.

So, the moral of the story is, install the insulation with the vapor barrier facing the living space of the house.

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Termites

Those pesky Termites are insidious!

Webster’s dictionary defines insidious as “ having a gradual and cumulative effect: subtle, developing so gradually as to be well established before becoming apparent.”

Often, termites are present but not apparent.  As examples, in a slab construction house, all the wood framing is usually covered with sheet rock.  In a colonial with a finished basement, only a little wood is exposed.  So, we may see no signs of termites but it’s very possible that termites are present and active but not visible.

In many cases, we see termite “mud tunnels” or other signs of termites without seeing any live termites.  In fact we very rarely see live termites, because they are insidious.  A wall can look completely normal and yet when the sheet rock is removed, massive termite damage can become apparent.

Sometimes termite damage is minor and simple to repair.  But sometimes termite damage is very extensive and expensive to repair.

There are too many possibilities to discuss them all in this email, but, our strong recommendation is, every wood structure should be protected with an annual termite inspection.  Even if somebody says “we never had a problem” they should still have an annual termite inspection. The inspection cost is minimal compared to potential repair costs.

I recently called some extermination companies for pricing information.  Annual termite inspections cost range from $100-$135 per year.  Termite treatment ranges from approximately $600-$1,200 depending on the size of the house.  Feel free to reply to this email if you would like an extermination company recommendation.

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Real Estate expected Useful Life Chart

When it comes to real estate, people often talk about the “expected useful life” of components.  So, I thought it might be helpful for you to have chart that gives some actual time frames.  Keep in mind that because there are so many variables, expected useful life numbers are just best guesses.  This one is from Florida but it’s still pretty good.

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Equipment and Material Life Expectancy Chart

Air conditioning compressor 12 to 15 years
Asphalt driveways 20 to 25 years
Fiberglass/asphalt roof shingles 20 to 25 years
Architectural fiberglass/asphalt roof shingles 25 to 35 years
Boilers, hot water or steam 25 to 40 years
Brick and concrete patios 15 to 25 years
Brick and stone walls 50 to 100 years
Built-up roofing, asphalt 15 to 20 years
Cast-iron sinks 15 to 20 years
Central air-conditioning unit 15 to 20 years
Clothing dryers 10 to 15 years
Clothing washer 12 to 15 years
Concrete block foundations 100+ years
Concrete walks 10 to 20 years
Dishwashers 10 to 15 years
Electric ranges 10 to 15 years
Exhaust fans 5 to 10 years
Faucets 10 to 15 years
Fences 10 to 15 years
Floor tile 30 to 40 years
Forced air furnaces, heat pumps 15 to 20 years
Freezers 10 to 20 years
Garage door openers 8 to 12 years
Garage doors 20 to 25 years
Garbage disposals 8 to 10 years
Gutters and downspouts 15 to 20 years
Microwave ovens 10 to 15 years
Ovens and cooktops 10 to 20 years
Poured concrete foundations 100+ years
Refrigerators 10 to 15 years
Rooftop air conditioners 15 to 20 years
Siding, aluminum 20 to 40 years
Siding, vinyl 30 to 45 years
Siding, wood 25 to 40 years
Slate roofs 40 to 100 years
Smoke detectors 10 years
Sprinkler systems 10 to 15 years
Stucco 20 to 40+ years
Sump pumps 5 to 10 years
Swimming pools 15 to 20 years
Termite treatment 5 to 7 years
Termite treatment, bait Stations Indefinitely if being maintained
Waste pipes, cast-iron 50 to 70 years
Water heaters – conventional

Water heaters – indirect fired

Water heaters – high efficiency

8 to 12 years

12 to 20 years

12 to 15 years

Window AC units 5 to 10 years
Wooden decks 10 to 20 years

 

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