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How To Be Safe On a Ladder

Several years ago, I climbed a ladder to inspect a roof. When I was done with the roof inspection, I took a step onto the top of the ladder and suddenly the bottom of the ladder started to slide out. I was definitely on my way to a crash landing! Fortunately, my client was there, quickly stabilized the ladder, and probably saved my life.

People fall off ladders all the time, usually with injuries or worse. I know 2 home inspectors that have fallen, one broke his clavicle and another one broke his leg.  According to the American ladder Institute, over 30,000 people each year fall from ladders and get injured. If they had followed basic ladder safety protocols most of these accidents would not have happened.

Although there are a lot of ladder guidelines, here are a few that I feel are the most important. For the complete article and more detailed suggestions, click here: American Ladder Institute

Abbreviated ladder safety suggestions

  • Probably one of the most important things to do is have a second person physically hold the ladder to stabilize it.
  • Always keep at least three points of contact with the ladder, (2 feet, and 1 hand, or 2 hands and 1 foot).
  • Only place the ladder on firm level ground and without any type of slippery condition present at either the base or top support points.
  • Never step on the top rung or step of the ladder.
  • Be very careful not to overreach and lose your balance.
  • Stay off ladders in high winds or storms.
  • Make sure the ladder is in good shape, inspect it first.
  • Wear clean slip resistant shoes.
  • Don’t place the ladder in front of a closed door.
  • Use a rope, a tool belt, or have an assistant convey materials so that your hands are free when climbing.
  • Stay focused.

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What’s that green stuff on my pipes?

Ever see green-gray stuff on your pipes and wonder what it is? Well, it’s due to a bi-metallic reaction, also called electrolysis. If 2 different types of metal are in contact with each other in a plumbing system, chances are corrosion and damage are occurring. It’s also common for us to see it in an inspection where metal pipe hangers are supporting plumbing. Galvanized piping is especially susceptible to damage and often needs replacement. Eventually leaks can develop and plumbing repairs will become necessary.

Our recommendation is to grab a flashlight and look at the pipes, or better yet call a plumber to check it out. If repairs are needed, it will be cheaper now then later after they start leaking!

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Battery technology has improved quite substantially over the last 10 years. Tesla has developed a technology whereby batteries can now be charged by solar power from rooftop panels and then used at night or when it’s cloudy to power up a home. Batteries can be very successfully used to power up lawnmowers and leaf blowers, not to mention cars. Drills. circular saws, chainsaws, jigsaws, nail guns, and all manner of other equipment that has traditionally used electric power cords or gasoline can now be powered by rechargeable batteries. We can thank Elon Musk for driving much of this technology forward.

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Helical piles are basically big screws in the ground that are designed to serve as structural supports. They’ve been around since about 1850 but became very commonly used on long island after hurricane Sandy to shore up foundations. Hurricane Sandy washed out thousands of foundations and in addition, thousands of houses got lifted to stay “Dry” in future storms and high tides. Almost all these homes utilized Helical piles, (which unlike traditional telephone pole style posts) can easily be installed below an existing structure. The first step is to hire engineer who takes soil samples and designs a plan for the type and depth of the helical piles. Once installed they become the new foundation. They are also very useful for foundation repairs.

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What is that musty smell?

Do you have a musty smell in your home? There’s a good chance it could be mold. If you smell mold, you most likely have some mold present.  It might not be visible, but it can still be present.  The rule of thumb is if it’s under 10 square feet it can be cleaned up by the homeowner.  Anything over 10 square feet is recommended to be dealt with by licensed mold professionals.

How you clean it depends on what kind of material the mold is on.  You should speak to a professional before undertaking any mold cleanup to make sure you aren’t going to make the problem worse.  There are antimicrobial solutions available in stores that can be used to clean nonporous materials.  Porous materials can sometimes be cleaned by other methods but in some cases its best to discard them.  If it’s a very porous surface like furniture, carpeting or clothing it’s probably best to throw it away.

If you have had water intrusion such as flooding, or even minor long term water intrusion, the indoor air quality in your home may be seriously compromised. Even high humidity can lead to mold growth.  If you don’t remove the contaminated materials and reduce moisture and humidity it can present serious long-term health risks. Some people are more susceptible to mold allergies than others, but everyone is affected by toxic molds such as stachybotrys which releases mycotoxins.  There are many different types of molds so don’t be fooled by mold because it isn’t black as well as there are many types of molds that release mycotoxins.

If you need professional assistance, here’s how it works. New York State has instituted a licensing program to help people deal with mold problems. First, you contact a licensed mold assessor who will visit the property, analyze the situation, take samples, and send them to a laboratory, and ultimately come up with a remediation plan. Then, you can give the remediation plan to a Mold Remediator who will provide a price based on the plan the Mold Assessor designed. Once the project is completed, the Mold Assessor will come back and confirm the work was done properly and that there is no longer a mold problem.

As an aside, we recommend a dehumidifier for every basement or crawl space. We also recommend that the dehumidifier have an internal pump and hose to dispose of the water without needing to empty a bucket.

Safe Harbor has several licensed Mold Assessors on staff so if you ever have a question about mold, feel free to contact us.

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Real Estate Requires Maintenance

Without maintenance, real estate starts to fall apart. A basic rule in physics is that things tend towards maximum disorder, which means things fall apart. It’s a reality in nature. In case you’re wondering, it’s called Entropy and is dealt with in physics as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. We are mentioning this because it’s real. Roofs eventually leak, siding deteriorates, wood rots, metal rusts, mechanical systems fail, etc. Without ongoing maintenance, you will have bigger and more expensive problems in the future because one problem leads to another. It just happens. So, our motto is “solve the problem before it becomes a problem”.

Most people can usually tell immediately whether the house has been kept up or not. Maintenance definitely affects value. So, obviously the moral of the story is to keep up on maintenance!

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Your Heating System Reminder

This is a reminder, as we head towards winter, it’s a good idea to have your heating system serviced. If you don’t have a service contract, we recommend getting one. Heating systems have many components that should be checked for proper operation and safety. Also, if your heating system is not serviced regularly, you may be paying extra for fuel because of poor performance. If your heating system is not serviced, it may be more prone to break down.

In addition, you may be very glad you have a service contract with a good HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) company if your heating system fails in the dead of winter. Usually, if you have a service contract, you’ll get fast service because you have an account. Without a service contract, you may get put at the bottom of the service list. Especially when it’s very cold, because the heating company takes care of their existing customers first, especially if they’re busy.

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What is TYVEK?

Everybody has seen Tyvek house wrap on the sides of homes and commercial buildings during construction. What’s it for? Well, Tyvek blocks air movement and sheds water but allows moisture to travel through it. Houses build up quite a bit of moisture from cooking, breathing, washing, and bathing. And houses need to “breathe” (which means moisture needs to be able to exit the building so that it doesn’t cause wood rot or mold inside the walls.) It comes in rolls and gets applied to the outside of the structure between the plywood sheathing and the siding.

Tyvek is made of olefin, (which is very lite) and was patented by DuPont in 1956. Its use has been growing ever since. It’s very functional and easy to install.

So now, when you drive by new construction and see Tyvek house wrap, you’ll know what it’s all about!

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Change Your Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector Batteries

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors often don’t function because the batteries are dead. Using the spring and fall time changes as a reminder to change the batteries is not a bad idea. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors save lives! Obviously, if the batteries are dead the detectors are not going to function, possibly putting you and your loved ones in harm’s way.

However, a better approach is replacing your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors with high quality units. It’s like anything else, you get what you pay for. 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 a detector 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 ( which 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.

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Is Spray Foam Insulation any good?

When it comes to saving money associated with heating and cooling, air movement, between the outside and inside the structure is the source of most energy loss. Stopping air movement is critical and is the “low hanging fruit on the energy savings tree”.

Most homes we inspect use fiberglass or cellulose insulation bats on the floor of the attic. This type of construction requires attic venting which provides a free flow of air from the attic to the outside. Making matters worse, bat insulation is not good at stopping air flow at penetrations in the attic floor where electrical, plumbing and HVAC lines are going through the attic floor to the living space below. So there’s a flow of conditioned air from the living space, through the attic, and then to the exterior of the home through the attic venting system. Therefore, there is a substantial heating/cooling loss from inside your home through the attic and to the exterior of the home. And obviously, we all pay dearly for energy to keep the house warm or cool depending on the season.

These days, many homes utilize spray foam as an insulation material which is typically applied directly to the underside of the roof and doesn’t require attic vents. All the nooks and crannies are sealed with the spray foam and as result, air movement, from inside the home to the outside is pretty much stopped, providing a substantial savings.

Some people have inquired about the impact of spray foam insulation and the possibility of indoor air quality issues due to a lack of fresh air. It’s an excellent question!

Spray foam insulation provides such a good “air block” that if the entire house is insulated with spray foam it could cause a problem with indoor air quality (IAQ), and mechanical ventilation may be needed due to a lack of fresh air. There are lots of different systems that can introduce fresh air, some of them are energy efficient. Energy recovery ventilator (ERV) systems provide a controllable amount of fresh air in the structure and are energy efficient. In an older house there is probably enough air leakage through the walls, windows, doors, and other openings that more than likely there’s enough natural ventilation in the structure without adding a mechanical ventilation system even if the attic is insulated with spray foam.

So, in our opinion, spray foam insulation applied to the underside of the roof is the best way to go with insulation. And by the way, while you’re at it, it pays to seal any air gaps in the basement perimeter walls especially at the top of the foundation where it meets the wood framing. If you decide to explore the installation of spray foam, keep indoor air quality in mind. A good AC contractor or spray foam installer should be able to help guide you with this concern.

If you are interested, all our previous newsletters are available on our website blog. Click on the following link and it will take you right to it.

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