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New article on depositions

July 31st, 2009

Ever been involved in a lawsuit? If you have, it’s likely that you have also been deposed. When you are deposed, you must answer questions posed by the opposing lawyer. Every word spoken at this meeting is recorded to be used later in trial. Inspectors, since their profession requires a lot of liability, should know how to prepare for depositions. Some basic strategies include pausing before answering, being as brief as possible without being dishonest, and ignoring the opposing attorney’s attitude. For other tactics that can be used by a witness at a deposition, check out our new article on deposition preparation.

This blog entry was posted by Rob London.

New Article on adjustable steel columns

July 30th, 2009

Ever see adjustable steel columns in basements and wondered whether they should be replaced by more permanent, non-adjustable columns? Perhaps they should be, but a structural engineer needs to make that decision, not an inspector. Adjustable columns might be defective according to the IRC (such as in the case where they are less than 3 inches in diameter) but maybe the load they are carrying is unusually light. Nevertheless, there are certain things that inspectors can look for, such as rust-proofing and deflection. For more information, check out our new article on adjustable steel columns.

This blog entry was posted by Rob London.

New article on inspector attire

July 29th, 2009

You can increase your amount of business through relatively little effort by changing your appearance. Do you ever show up to inspections unkempt? Smelly? Unshaven? Do you wear clothes that are too nice for the area you are inspecting, or do you show up in a wife beater to inspect a $3 million dollar home? You could be losing a whole lot of business if your clients are not satisfied with your appearance. It’s also helpful to have a travel bag with you that contains hygiene items such as deodorant, mouthwash, wet naps, and a change of a shirt. The fact of the matter is that even if you perform a brilliant inspection, you might not be invited back again if your client is put off by the clothes that you wear or other aspects of your appearance. And it isn’t just about looking your best, because you don’t want to overdress or be reeking of cologne, either. The key is to match what is expected by your particular client base, which takes some time to get to know. Fortunately, attire and hygiene are easy to improve upon. Take a look at our new article on inspector attire for more helpful hints on the subject.

This blog entry was posted by Rob London.

New article on window bars

July 28th, 2009

Bars are installed in windows so that potential intruders will not try to break into the house. These bars can, however, be a deathtrap if they cannot be quickly removed during a fire. Many people are killed or injured because they don’t know how to disengage the bars or they cannot do it quickly. Remember, people are very panicked during fires. Egress needs to be as simple as possible. The IRC is very specific about the need for a quick-release mechanism. For more information, check out our new article on window bars.

This blog entry was posted by Rob London.

New article on marijuana grow operations

July 27th, 2009

In Canada, the number of indoor grow ops is so serious that in some areas, law enforcement has given up pursuing all but the greatest offenders. The roughly 50,000 grow ops in that country bring in billions of dollars annually. Why should you care? Well, marijuana is grown in homes, and inspectors inspect homes, so it’s not that unusual to encounter evidence of a former grow operation. Grow ops can cause building damage and it’s important to know where that damage came from. Water damage and mold often comes from roof leaks, but they can also be caused by grow ops. Dangerous electrical connections are often used to illegally tap power lines and divert huge amounts of current to lights. To find out more, check out our new article on marijuana grow operations.

This blog entry was posted by Rob London.

World Health Organization’s mold guidelines.

July 27th, 2009
The following are some quotes from the recent (July, 2009) World Health Organization’s Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality, Dampness and Mold which confirms that mold is a health hazard and that inspection and measurements can be used to confirm indoor  microbial growth (note, we bolded the bold parts):
“The conditions that contribute to the health risk were summarized as follows.
  • Microorganisms are ubiquitous. Microbes propagate rapidly wherever water is available. The dust and dirt normally present in most indoor spaces provide sufficient nutrients to support extensive microbial growth. While mould can grow on all materials, selection of appropriate materials can prevent dirt accumulation, moisture penetration and mould growth.
  • Microbial growth may result in greater numbers of spores, cell fragments, alergens, mycotoxins, endotoxins, β-glucans and volatile organic compounds in indoor air. The causative agents of adverse health effects have not been identified conclusively, but an excess level of any of these agents in the indoor environment is a potential health hazard.
  • Microbial interactions and moisture-related physical and chemical emissions from building materials may also play a role in dampness-related health effects.

On the basis of this review, the following guidelines were formulated.

  • Persistent dampness and microbial growth on interior surfaces and in building structures should be avoided or minimized, as they may lead to adverse health effects.
  • Indicators of dampness and microbial growth include the presence of condenation on surfaces or in structures, visible mould, perceived mouldy odour and a history of water damage, leakage or penetration. Thorough inspection and, if necessary, appropriate measurements can be used to confirm indoor moisture and microbial growth.
  • As the relations between dampness, microbial exposure and health effects cannot be quantified precisely, no quantitative health-based guideline values or thresholds can be recommended for acceptable levels of contamination with microorganisms. Instead, it is recommended that dampness and mould-related problems be prevented. When they occur, they should be remediated because they increase the risk of hazardous exposure to microbes and chemicals.
  • Management of moisture requires proper control of temperatures and ventilation to avoid excess humidity, condensation on surfaces and excess moisture in materials. Ventilation should be distributed effectively throughout spaces, and stagnant air zones should be avoided.
  • Building owners are responsible for providing a healthy workplace or living environment free of excess moisture and mould, by ensuring proper building construction and maintenance. The occupants are responsible for managing the use of water, heating, ventilation and appliances in a manner that does not lead to dampness and mould growth. Local recommendations for different climatic regions should be updated to control dampness-mediated microbial growth in buildings and to ensure desirable indoor air quality.
  • Dampness and mould may be particularly prevalent in poorly maintained housing for low-income people. Remediation of the conditions that lead to adverse exposure should be given priority to prevent an additional contribution to poor health in populations who are already living with an increased burden of disease.
  • The guidelines are intended for worldwide use, to protect public health under various environmental, social and economic conditions, and to support the achievement of optimal indoor air quality. They focus on building characteristics that prevent the occurrence of adverse health effects associated with dampness or mould. The guidelines pertain to various levels of economic development and different climates, cover all relevant population groups and propose feasible approaches for reducing health risks due to dampness and microbibial contamination. Both private and public buildings (e.g. offices and nursing homes) are covered, as dampness and mould are risks everywhere. Settings in which there are particular production processes and hospitals with high-risk patients or sources of exposure to pathogens are not, however, considered.
  • While the guidelines provide objectives for indoor air quality management, they do not give instructions for achieving those objectives. The necessary action and indicators depend on local technical conditions, the level of development, human capacities and resources. The guidelines recommended by WHO acknowledge this heterogeneity. In formulating policy targets, governments should consider their local circumstances and select actions that will ensure achievement of their health objectives most effectively.”

Read more about the mold report from the World Health Organization, find a certified mold inspector, become mold certified, or buy the book “How to Perform a Proper Mold Inspection.

This blog entry was posted by Nick Gromicko.

New article on knob and tube wiring

July 22nd, 2009

Knob and tube (K&T) wiring is a very early system of wiring common in homes from 1880′s – 1930′s.

Some inspectors seem to think that there is something inherently dangerous about knob and tube wiring, but there isn’t. As long as it was installed correctly it probably worked fine. The main problem with this early wiring system is the likelihood that it was improperly modified, often decades after it was installed. Also, building insulation was commonly laid down on top of the knob and tube wiring, interfering with its ability to cool down and presenting a fire hazard. K&T wiring is so feared that some insurers will not write insurance for homes that have the wiring. Inspectors should know what the NEC has to say about this wiring system, what to tell clients, and understand why the wiring is dangerous. For more information, check out our new article on knob and tube wiring.

This blog entry was posted by Rob London.

New article on exterior design features

July 21st, 2009

Do you tell the difference between a deck and a porch? Can a very large balcony also be considered a deck? The definitions for these terms are so ambiguous, and their styles range so much geographically that they are almost interchangeable. But not completely – take a look at our new article on exterior design elements, which summarizes the general differences between decks, porches, balconies, verandahs, and patios.

This blog entry was posted by Rob London.

New article on how to increase home energy efficiency

July 20th, 2009

Home’s are very inefficient. Hot air leaks through mail slots and windows, incandescent light bulbs burn up 90% of the energy they consume as heat, furnaces heat vacant houses, the list goes on. In spite of fears over pollution, global warming, dwindling natural resources and the high costs of electricity, American houses account for a staggering 72% of national energy consumption. Canadian buildings use even more energy. There are a lot of ways that homeowners can make their homes more energy efficient and a lot of reasons why they would want to do this. LED lights, for instance, are already far better choice than incandescent bulbs and they will become more affordable in the future. Take a look at our new article on ways to increase home energy efficiency to find out more changes that can be made.

This blog entry was posted by Rob London.

New article on bat infestations

July 17th, 2009

Bats are our allies in the battle against insects, and the fears about them are largely untrue. Still, it’s better if they are kept out of the home. Bats have the potential to transmit dangerous diseases such as rabies and histoplasmosis. Although rabies is rare, it is particularly troublesome because it is always fatal once symptoms develop. Inspectors should know how to spot the signs of bat infestations and be able to field questions about the subject for clients who think they might have an infestation. To find out more about bats and bat infestations, take a look at our new article on bat infestations.

This blog entry was posted by Rob London.

Lock boxes

July 16th, 2009

Do you know about Supra locks? They are high-tech versions of the old combo locks we are all used to, and they have have a few advantages. They are opened by an electronic keypad that inspectors carry with them and they keep records of who accessed them and at what time. Combo locks are still common in many places but it seems that they are slowly being replaced by Supra Locks, which are generally considered to be superior. To find out more about the pros and cons of both types of lock boxes check our our new article on lock boxes for inspectors.

This blog entry was posted by Rob London.

TPR Valve Importance

July 15th, 2009

Water is essentially an incompressible solid. It has no latent heat energy within itself to expand when released, unless the water is superheated. Water above 212˚ F is superheated water, and superheated water would really like to turn into steam at atmospheric pressure. It possesses latent heat energy, which can flash into steam and create a force that is not unlike an explosion.

Water would normally boil at 212 ˚F, but inside a tank it can’t expand anywhere so it can’t boil off into steam. Water in a “closed” system and under pressure, such as inside a hot water tank, has a much higher boiling point. For example, where water supplied to a tank is at 50 psi, the boiling point is 297.7˚ F.

Let’s assume a water heater tank has 30 gallons of superheated water inside it. Assume 50 psi and the water temperature is superheated at 300 ˚F. Remember that superheated water really wants to turn into steam. If the tank ruptures, then 30 gallons of superheated water will instantaneously turn into steam in an outwards direction through the rupture.

There is a tremendous amount of energy released as the superheated water is exposed to atmospheric pressure and immediately turns into steam. Every cubic inch of water becomes a foot of steam!

Below is a list of energies developed in a 30-gallon hot water tank.  The following data shows the explosive energy created in a 30 gallon hot water tank at various pressures and temperatures.

At 0 pressure psi, water will boil at 212 F, and the foot-pounds of energy released when 30 gallons of water is exposed to atmospheric pressure is 0.

At 10 pressure psi, water will boil at 239.5 F, and the foot-pounds of energy released when 30 gallons of water is exposed to atmospheric pressure is 479,800.

At 30 pressure psi, water will boil at 274.0 F, and the foot-pounds of energy released when 30 gallons of water is exposed to atmospheric pressure is 1,305,000.

At 50 pressure psi, water will boil at 297.7 F, and the foot-pounds of energy released when 30 gallons of water is exposed to atmospheric pressure is 2,021,900.

At 70 pressure psi, water will boil at 316.0 F, and the foot-pounds of energy released when 30 gallons of water is exposed to atmospheric pressure is 2,642,000.

At 90 pressure psi, water will boil at 331.2 F, and the foot-pounds of energy released when 30 gallons of water is exposed to atmospheric pressure is 3,138.400.

Note that at 50 psi, water flashes into steam at 297.7˚ F, and the energy released equals more than 2 million foot-pounds of energy, similar to the explosive energy released by one pound of Nitroglycerin. A 16-inch gun on a USS Iowa class battleship produced a 7,500,000 foot-pounds of energy.

Combination temperature and pressure relief (T & P Relief or TPR) valves do two things: 1) they open and release water out of the tank if the temperature exceeds 210˚F (just below the boiling point), and 2) they will open if the pressure in the tank exceeds 150 psi (the maximum normal operating pressure for a water heater.)

It is essential to avoid excessively high water temperatures and pressures at a water heater tank.

“How to Properly Inspect Hot Water Tanks” – An online video training course for property inspectors.  http://www.nachi.org/advancedcourses.htm

This blog entry was posted by Ben Gromicko.

Deck Inspections, Illustrated (How to Inspect a Deck)

July 15th, 2009
We released our new Deck Inspections, Illustrated article just in time for summer entertaining.
More than 2 million decks are built and replaced each year in North America.  InterNACHI estimates that of the 45 million existing decks, only 40% are completely safe.
Because decks appear to be simple to build, many people do not realize that decks are, in fact, structures that need to be designed to adequately resist certain stresses. Like any other house or building, a deck must be designed to support the weight of people, snow loads, and objects.  A deck must be able to resist lateral and uplift loads that can act on the deck as a result of wind or seismic activity.  Deck stairs must be safe and handrails graspable.  And, finally, deck rails should be safe for children by having proper infill spacing.
A deck failure is any failure of a deck that could lead to injury, including rail failure, or total deck collapse. There is no international system that tracks deck failures, and each is treated as an isolated event, rather than a systemic problem.  Very few municipalities perform investigations into the cause of the failure, and the media are generally more concerned with injuries rather than on the causes of collapses.  Rail failure occurs much more frequently than total deck collapses; however, because rail failures are less dramatic than total collapses and normally don’t result in death, injuries from rail failures are rarely reported.  Here are some interesting facts about deck failure:
  • More decks collapse in the summer than in the rest of the year combined.
  • Almost every deck collapse occurred while the decks were occupied or under a heavy snow load.
  • There is no correlation between deck failure and whether the deck was built with or without a building permit.
  • There is no correlation between deck failure and whether the deck was built by a homeowner or a professional contractor.
  • There is a slight correlation between deck failure and the age of the deck.
  • About 90% of deck collapses occurred as a result of the separation of the house and the deck ledger board, allowing the deck to swing away from the house.  It is very rare for deck floor joists to break mid-span.
  • Many more injuries are the result of rail failure, rather than complete deck collapse.
  • Deck stairs are notorious for lacking graspable handrails.
  • Many do-it-yourself homeowners, and even contractors, don’t believe that rail infill spacing codes apply to decks.
This article focuses on single-level residential and commercial wood decks.  Recommendations found within this document exceed the requirements of both InterNACHI’s Residential Standards of Practice and the International Standards of Practice for Inspecting Commercial Properties.
A proper deck inspection relies heavily on the professional judgments of the inspector.  This article will help improve the accuracy of those judgments.
Many thanks to InterNACHI staffer Lisa Vega for creating the awesome deck graphics.
Click here to go to the deck inspections article: Deck Inspections, Illustrated.
This blog entry was posted by Nick Gromicko.

New article on house numbers

July 15th, 2009

Ever have trouble finding a friend’s house because you can’t see any house numbers? Well, imagine how hard it is for paramedics and firefighters who are trying to save lives. House numbers that are missing or not clearly visible from the street are a serious public health issue. Fortunately, house numbers cost almost nothing and are easy to install. Many jurisdictions have begun fining residents who fail to display numbers clearly. To find out more inspection-related advice about this topic and why it’s so important, check out our new article on house numbers for inspectors.

This blog entry was posted by Rob London.

New article on burglar-resistance for homes

July 14th, 2009

There’s no such thing as a burglar-proof home but there are some things that homeowners can do to make their homes less appealing to potential thieves. Get a dog. Don’t want to? Put up “beware of dog” signs around the yard. Get an alarm system. Don’t want to? Put up alarm stickers anyway. The house should look like it is occupied even when it isn’t. Or, you can move to Norway – they barely have any break-ins. Just don’t go to Australia if you want to keep your home safe. Inspectors should learn these tips and statistics so they can pass them onto their clients. For more inforation, take a look at our new article on burglar resistant homes.

This blog entry was posted by Rob London.

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