February 2018: How To Survive Winter

Ask The Inspector

How to Survive Winter

How To Survive Winter: Seven Genius Hacks

Snow is stressful, but just because it’s the dead of winter doesn’t mean you should be left out in the cold. We’re here to make it easier with these seven brilliant snow hacks you can add to your winter routine right now. Learn More

How To Remove Salt Stains the Easy Way

If pesky salt stains are getting in the way of keeping your floors sparkling, you’ll want in on this secret: vinegar. Find out how this inexpensive household staple can help you get rid of winter salt stains in a flash. Learn More

Expert Advice

The Best (and Worst) Firewood to Burn This Winter

Whether you’re new to the world of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces or a seasoned veteran (pun fully intended), it helps to know the right woods to use. Read on to find out the best firewoods, as well as a few you should avoid altogether. Learn More

How to Get Organized Around Your House

The start of the year is the perfect time to set goals and priorities. And a big part of hitting the reset button is getting a handle on your possessions. Here are four proven tricks for paring down, sorting out and organizing your stuff for a stress-free home. Learn More

Snapshots From The Field

Our inspectors are always coming across interesting things in the field: new home trends, common repair issues—and sometimes even a few throwbacks.

This little light panel may not look like much, but at one time it was considered cutting-edge technology! Now a household rarity, solenoids once allowed us to turn on the lights in almost any room of the house from one centralized location. No stumbling into a dark kitchen—you could simply flip a switch in your bedroom on your way down the hall.

These days, the panels are considered outdated and have been replaced with “smart” devices like the Amazon Echo. This means they have the potential to warrant costly repairs for a home’s wiring down the road. If you own or show a home that features solenoids, we recommend having a specialist check them over.

Maintenance Matters


5 Ways to Know if You Need a Gutter Replacement

Healthy gutters are an integral part of any home. With winter in full force and spring on the way, gutters become more important than ever for keeping your house free of water damage. Look for these five telltale signs to determine if it’s time for a replacement. Learn More

 The Best Electrical Outlets for Your Needs

As long as they’re functioning properly, electrical outlets are something most of us don’t even think of it. But believe it or not, certain outlets are better for certain purposes. Find out how to protect your home and connect to all your devices with this quick outlet guide. Learn More

Monthly Trivia Question

Q: How long does it take oak to season in order for it to be suitable to use for firewood?

Be the first to answer correctly and win a $10 Starbucks’s gift card. Submit your answer to your local NPI inspector to find out if you’ve won.

The Best Electrical Outlet Type for Your Needs

Varying in category, voltage, and function, different electrical outlet types are each designed for a specific purpose. Different countries may have varying national standards, but the central goal is always the same: connecting you to your devices swiftly and easily.

Surge Protection Outlets for Clean Electricity

For reliable power you need to start with clean electricity, but what does that mean? Clean electricity is free of “noise,” (aka interference) that can be caused by nearby power lines or electrical substations. A noisy electrical supply is prone to surges, which is why one of the best ways to protect your home’s expensive electrical equipment is with a surge protector. Surge protection is also necessary in professional settings such as emergency power supplies or life-support systems for hospitals. If you don’t like the look of a surge protection power strip, you can buy in-wall surge protection outlets, too.

Polarized and Grounded Outlets Prevent User Error

Certain outlet types are designed only for specific connectors to improve safety. Polarized plugs and outlets are now the standard for all common household appliances. With polarized plugs, you’ll notice that one blade is slightly larger than the other. This ensures that you can only plug your appliance in one way, the right way, aligned with your home’s wiring system. Grounded plugs, usually found on larger appliances like ovens, refrigerators and televisions, have three prongs.

Use GFCI Outlets In Case of Water

Ever wonder why some outlets have reset buttons on them? This is a special type of receptacle called a GFCI, or ground-fault circuit interrupter. Required in kitchens, bathrooms, and other exposed or damp areas, that tiny “reset” button can protect from serious shock when the right amount of electricity and water meet. Acting like an ultra-sensitive circuit breaker, this face detects the amount of incoming and outgoing current, and if they are not even, shuts itself down. Therefore, if you are having trouble with one or more outlets in the kitchen, bathroom, or laundry area, simply locate the GFCI switch and try a reset, which will restart any circuits it has been connected to. If you are having trouble locating the GFCI switch, National Property Inspections is always here to lend a helping hand.

Childproof Outlets Protect Your Little Ones

If you have a young family, child proof outlets are now more accessible than ever. While they appear identical to standard outlets, they are anything but. A spring-loaded cover plate protects the outlet holes, which prevents the insertion of household objects when unequal pressure is applied to the receptacle’s contact points. So essentially, unless you are an adult trying to plug something in, the outlet won’t budge. With nearly 2,400 children (that’s seven per day!) in emergency rooms due to electrical shocks per year, this is a fantastic way to keep your little ones out of harm’s way.

If you are having trouble locating the GFI switch or are wondering if it is time for an upgrade, National Property Inspections is here to help.

5 Ways to Know if You Need a Gutter Replacement

1. You can see visible damage.

The quickest way to know if you need a gutter replacement is to examine your gutters up close. If your gutters are damaged, you may be able to see visible cracks, rust and holes, especially along the bottom. If the wear and tear is minor, you should be able to make repairs yourself with a little sealant. But before you make a decision about how to proceed with a potential DIY project, it’s important to look for the following signs. If you see any of these, chances are you’ll need a full-blown gutter replacement.

2. There’s water damage on your home’s siding.

The state of your home’s siding can give you great insight into many other aspects of the house’s condition, including its gutters. Another sign you may have a gutter replacement on your horizon is the presence of discolored water marks right below the gutters on your home’s siding. Water marks can indicate that gutters are leaking or overflowing. If your home is made of brick or another material, you’ll need to take a look at the fascia and soffit for water damage.

3. Your gutters pull away from the house.

Sagging gutters that pull away from the house indicate major drainage problems. If gutters get weighed down with water, they can sometimes drop or fall off the home altogether. Sometimes, sagging gutters are unavoidable due to heavy rainfall or freezing snow, but often, they can be prevented by cleaning out the dirt and debris that might be blocking water flow. Just be careful not to cause additional damage to gutters when leaning your body weight or a ladder against your home.

4. Your basement is flooding.

They say that if your basement is flooding, you should start at the top of your home and work your way down to diagnose the issue. This is where gutters come into play. You might experience basement flooding from time to time when your gutters can’t carry water away from your home fast enough. If water isn’t carried away, it can end up right below your eaves as it slides off your roof, seeping into your basement and causing water damage that ranges from wet patches on the ground to inches of standing water. Sometimes, basement flooding is unavoidable, especially in areas of heavy rainfall where gutters overflow often. Often, though, it means your gutters are significantly damaged.

5. You can spot mildew on your foundation.

If your home is experiencing foundation issues, the gutters may be your last area of concern. But they can actually play a big role in the health of your home’s structure. This is because the primary job of gutters is to carry water away from the home. If you can see water pooling around the foundation and signs of mildew, you could be dealing with a major gutter issue. Sometimes, simply cleaning your gutters will help get rid of any plugs, but you could also need a replacement.

If you need help determining the condition of all aspects of your home, NPI can help. Whether you’re buying, selling or just looking for a three to five year checkup, set up an appointment with our highly trained and qualified inspectors.

How to Get Organized Around Your House

How to Get Organized Around Your House

The start of the new year is a perfect opportunity to set your priorities and get a handle on your possessions. Here are some simple tips to help you get organized and achieve a stress-free home.

1. Pare down your stuff.

Let’s face it, you probably received a present or two over the holidays that you’ll never use. Instead of letting them collect dust and clutter up your home, give them to a friend or charitable organization. Once you have holiday clutter taken care of, you can start tackling the rest of the house.

Going room by room, focus on one item at a time—when’s the last time you used each one, or even thought about it? If you haven’t used, worn or even looked at something in more than six months, it’s probably time to let it go. For items that you’re having trouble parting with because of their sentimental value, take a picture of it instead; you’ll keep the memory and lose the dust-catcher.

Tip: Avoid the common mistake of thinking you can take care of clutter with containers—that step comes later. Once you’ve simplified your living space by removing items you don’t care about, you can focus on creating attractive storage for all the things your family actually uses.

2. Make a cleaning schedule . . . and stick to it.

Now it’s time to bring out the cleaning supplies, but you have to have a strategy. Rather than just jumping in and cleaning the first thing you see, keep a few rules in mind:

  • It’s faster to clean by task rather than by area, so work on all the mirrors and windows first, followed by dusting, polishing, vacuuming and mopping.
  • Keep organized by working methodically down from the ceiling to the floor. This ensures you don’t accidentally dirty anything you just cleaned.
  • Once you have everything spic and span, create a weekly cleaning schedule. By focusing on one task or area a day, you make the task as a whole less daunting.

A regular cleaning schedule can also yield unexpected benefits. For example, cleaning out the fridge once a week cuts down on food waste, helping you save money and avoid gross “time capsule” leftovers.

3. Create a storage solution for every area.

What works in one room won’t necessarily be your best bet in another. Take your mudroom—this space is perfect for a hook and cubby system to keep your family’s belongings off the floor and organized. Your living room lends itself to decorative storage baskets for holding useful items like DVDs and other media, while your bedroom closet could benefit from an over-the-door shoe rack or modular shelving. For overcrowded garages, look into overhead storage for bigger items and wall-mounted racks for tools like shovels, rakes and brooms so you can free up much-needed floor space. The possibilities are endless, so you can get as creative as you want!

4. Get organized for safety’s sake.

Keeping your home organized also lets you concentrate on the safety issues in your home that might otherwise slip your mind. Make sure your home is equipped with both smoke and carbon monoxide detectors (and that they have fresh batteries installed). You can also have an NPI inspector check your home for radon—one in every fifteen homes has elevated levels of this odorless gas, which causes around 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.

Moving to the laundry room, your dryer vent can often become clogged with lint (even if you always clean the trap). Lint is highly flammable, and it’s responsible for starting over 15,000 building fires a year, which is more than enough reason to make it a priority. If you notice your dryer taking more time than usual to dry a load of clothes, this is a sign your dryer vent needs cleaning. Depending on the length of your dryer vent and the number of turns it takes, you can either DIY the process with a dryer vent cleaning kit (these cost around $20) or hire a professional.

Maintaining an organized home is key to your family’s well-being and safety. Your NPI inspector is here to help, so schedule an inspection today!

The Best (and Worst) Firewood to Burn This Winter

Whether you’re new to the world of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces or a seasoned veteran (pun fully intended), it helps to know the right woods to use to get the most for your money. Here’s some of the best firewood to burn, along with other kinds you should avoid at all costs this winter.

A Word on Seasoning

Before we get into specific types of wood, we need to mention “seasoning,” a term that will apply to all the woods we talk about going forward. Seasoning refers to the process of drying firewood before it’s burned in your stove or fireplace. Burning unseasoned (or “green”) wood releases more smoke and water vapor, which means more creosote buildup and a greater chance of chimney fires over time.

How can you tell the difference between seasoned and unseasoned wood? It’s easy. Green wood often looks freshly cut with visible saw marks, while seasoned wood will look gray or white. The ends of seasoned wood shows radial cracking and the bark should come off easily. If the wood isn’t cracked and the bark is firmly attached, it’s still green and shouldn’t be used in your fireplace yet.

The Best Firewood to Burn

The firewoods that made our “Best to Burn” list had to meet a number of criteria, including having a high heat value and a pleasant experience (fragrance, long-lasting burn, etc.). One cord of each type of wood here produces heat equivalent to burning 200-250 gallons of fuel oil.

  • Apple: deliciously fragrant aroma, slow-burning
  • Beech: burns at very high heat, great for colder climates
  • Cherry: hardwood with pleasant fragrance and long-lasting burn
  • Oak: hearty and heavy weight, low level of smoke
  • Sycamore: dense wood for long-lasting fire

The Worst Firewood to Burn

As a general rule, wood from coniferous trees isn’t very good for burning in your fireplace because it lacks the density of hardwood. It burns faster and doesn’t put off as much heat, so you need to use more wood to heat your home. The woods below produce more smoke that ends up as creosote deposits in your chimney, and tend to spark much more than hardwood, making for a less than relaxing fireside experience.

  • Birch: bark produces lots of soot and smoke
  • Cedar: filled with volatile oils that create popping and sparks
  • Balsam Fir: lots of smoke with sparks
  • Spruce: lightweight and fast-burning
  • Pine: a resinous softwood that creates lots of creosote

Other Poor Choices

It’s definitely a bad idea to burn any type of treated lumber, as the chemicals used in the manufacturing process can be released in the smoke and inhaled. You should also only use locally sourced firewood to avoid the problem of invasive insects like the Emerald Ash Borer and the Asian Long-Horned Beetle, which can cause massive damage to native forests.

Call NPI for a Safe Fireplace

National Property Inspections wants your winter season to be warm, bright and safe! Give NPI a call today to help keep your home’s wood-burning systems in top condition.

How to Remove Salt Stains the Easy Way

Winter brings more into your home than just snow and ice. In addition to slushy footprints, there’s a good chance that you and your family are tracking in salt, sand and ice melt. Avoiding these substances in parking lots and walkways is almost impossible, so what’s a person to do? You might start by thinking of the clean-up process as a little science experiment.

The salt that we scatter on sidewalks in winter is actually made up of calcium chloride pellets. Calcium chloride is an inexpensive substance known for its effective melting properties, with certain solutions having the ability to prevent freezing at as low as – 62 degrees Fahrenheit. It also happens to have a high pH, one greater than 7.

Because calcium chloride is so acidic, it tends to attract water, which means it loves our snowy boots. You may think you’re in the clear once wet footprints have either evaporated or been wiped away, but unsightly white streaks will likely appear in time. And if salt isn’t properly cleaned, it can slowly destroy a floor’s finish or permanently stain carpet.

How to Remove Salt Stains with Vinegar

Your first thought may be to grab a bucket of hot soapy water or scrub hard at the stubborn stains with a brush. But the best way to remove stains is to neutralize the highly acidic calcium chloride with a low-pH cleanser. You can choose a floor neutralizer for this specific purpose, but our favorite solution is one we’ve already discussed at length in a previous entry—vinegar. With its pH of 3, vinegar won’t just remove tough, baked-on stains from your oven. When used the right way, it’s your best bet for keeping floors clean.

Since vinegar itself is fairly acidic, it’s best not to apply it directly to just any surface. Stone, for example, can be eroded by acidic substances and is not ideal for cleaning with vinegar. The key to using vinegar to remove salt stains is to dilute it. To avoid wear and tear on your flooring, try mixing four to five ounces of vinegar with about a gallon of warm water. Use a generous amount of vinegar solution to mop floors or gently scrub carpets. Allow it to rest for three to five minutes, then use clear warm water to mop stains again.

While vinegar is perfect for vinyl or tile flooring, you’ll need to modify the process if you have a hardwood floor. It’s best not to use a mop since excess or standing water can cause damage to wood. Spot-treat hardwood floor stains with a rag soaked in the solution, then use another clean, dry rag to wipe up the stains and any vinegar residue.

You can also use vinegar to clean salt stains off of concrete. Since calcium chloride tends to bond more strongly to concrete than interior flooring materials, you’ll need to create a stronger cleaning solution. Mix one part vinegar with five parts water, put down a generous amount of cleaner, wait three to five minutes and then mop it up with clear water.

More Winter Foot Traffic Tips

A certain amount of moisture and staining is probably unavoidable when it comes to your home and winter foot traffic. You may need to lay down a strict no-shoes-in-the-house rule and put out additional absorbent mats to catch any water and salt. It’s a good idea to place one for wiping outside the door and then one or two more to cover your foyer. You can also try leaning shoes toes-up on the lip of a boot tray so that excess moisture drains off.

Do you have a question about removing stubborn salt stains from your home’s floors? Let us know in the comments below, or contact your National Property Inspections team.

How to Survive Winter: 7 Genius Snow Hacks

Snow is stressful, but just because it’s the dead of winter doesn’t mean you should be left out in the cold. We’re here to make things easier and show you how to survive winter with these brilliant snow hacks.

1. Get a snow rake.

A rake for snow sounds like a joke, but it’s actually one of the best ways to prevent ice dams from forming on your roof. Snow rakes are designed to be used from the ground, with telescopic handles that easily remove snow from areas of your roof around the gutters. This helps melting snow travel through your downspouts instead of backing up into your attic.

2. Wear socks over your shoes.

We promise we’re not (just) trying to make you look like a dork—wearing socks over your shoes before you go out to shovel increases traction over ice and snow. Less slip and fall is always a good thing, are we right? Just make sure you’re using an old pair of socks, because they will get ruined.

3. Mist your shovel with cooking spray.

Scooping your driveway is bad enough, and the only thing that makes it worse is snow sticking to the shovel. Believe it or not, there’s a way to avoid it. Just spray a light coat of cooking oil over both sides of your shovel blade and watch the snow slide right off, every time. No more banging the shovel on the ground between scoops.

4. Lay out a tarp for easy snow cleanup.

If you want to skip the shovel all together, lay out a tarp on your walkways before the storm hits (make sure to stake it down if it’s windy). Once it stops snowing, pull the tarp off into your yard, shake off the snow, and behold your instantly snowless path. Clever you!

5. Set your ceiling fans to spin clockwise.

We all know that heat rises, which would be perfect if we spent our time on the ceiling. This leaves us with the problem of how to get that heat back down where we need it. If you have ceiling fans, you might have noticed that they spin counterclockwise, which draws air up from the floor. You might not know that you can switch your ceiling fan to spin clockwise instead, drawing warm air down from the ceiling to keep you comfortable.

6. Melt frozen locks with hand sanitizer.

Because of its high alcohol content, hand sanitizer is the perfect tool for unfreezing stuck locks. Why does it work so well? Alcohol drastically lowers the freezing point of water, so the outside temperature has to be much colder for water to freeze. Here’s how to pull off this trick (spoiler: it’s really easy): coat your key in sanitizer, then put it in the lock. Best of all, this method will work on any lock, whether it’s your home, your car door or a padlock.

7. Defrost icy car windows with two ingredients.

Everybody hates warming up their frosty car in the morning, but there’s an easy way to save time without having to buy a remote starter. Start by mixing up a solution of 1 part water to 2 parts isopropyl rubbing alcohol, put it in a spray bottle and watch the frost melt away. The solution won’t freeze in a cold car, so you can take it with you wherever you go, and you can even use it to open car doors when they get stuck.

From tips to get around in the snow to energy efficiency audits for your whole home, your NPI inspector is here to help you survive winter. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment!

January 2018: Winter Energy Saving Tips

Ask The Inspector

Winter Energy Saving Tips

Q. What Does an Inspector Look for When It Comes to Heating Systems?

In the winter, utility costs rise in most regions of the United States. In fact, heating and cooling typically account for about one half of a homeowner’s total yearly utility costs! Since cold weather can tax any type of home heating system, having an NPI inspector look at yours can mean great savings. Your inspector will examine your home’s particular system and take into account its unique needs.

Identifying the energy source and delivery system used to heat your property is part of a general home inspection. Your inspector will check for a master system shut-off switch, which is important for both safety and convenience. They’ll also examine the condition of the equipment, maintenance history, the state of the filter, and the ventilation system. Understanding the status and upkeep of these components is important whether you’re buying a home or ordering a seasonal checkup.

Inspector’s Tip:

Filters on heating and cooling systems should be cleaned and checked once a month depending on manufacturer instructions. When you hold the filter up to a light, you should be able to see through it. If you can’t, then it’s time to replace or clean it.

Expert Advice

How can I determine energy loss from my home?

A. It’s normal for utility bills to rise in winter. But if you suspect your bills are overly high, then your first step should be to reach out to your utility company to see if they offer free or discounted energy audits to customers. If not, then you need to hire a certified home energy rater to evaluate your home’s energy efficiency.
By using equipment like blower doors, which measure the extent of leaks in the building envelope, and infrared cameras, which reveal hard-to-detect areas of air infiltration and missing insulation, your certified home energy rater can determine the energy efficiency of your home. They’ll also look at your HVAC system to determine the age and the efficiency of the unit. To complete the survey, your home energy rater will inspect all major appliances, with some raters even going so far as to inspect light fixtures and bulb use. Your potential savings and future energy conservation consumption will make the investment of hiring a professional well worth it.

Be Advised

Reduce Hot Water Bills

Do you want to lower your water heating bills this winter? You’d be surprised at just how simple it can be to save. Here are our best tips for energy-efficient water heating.

  • Repair leaks in fixtures and install new low-flow fixtures on showerheads and faucets. When replacing dishwashers or clothes washers, purchase energy-efficient appliances with an Energy Star® label.
  • Lower the thermostat setting on your water heater and save between 3 to 5 percent for each 10-degree reduction in your water temperature. Just be sure to consult your water heater owner’s manual first.
  • Install a timer on your electric water heater that will shut it off at night when it isn’t in use. This simple move could save you an additional 5 to 12 percent in energy costs.
  • Insulate your water heater tank and hot water pipes. This helps hold heat in so that you’re not so inclined to crank up the temperature. Select specially made covers according to the type of system you have.

With these easy steps, you’ll be on your way to big savings all year round.

Snapshots From The Field

What’s Wrong With This Photo?

  1. It is the wrong finish
  2. It is installed backwards
  3. It is blocking the window from opening

Correct Answer C.  The faucet was installed without making note of the fact that the window opens inward. The window can no longer open because the faucet blocks it. 

Maintenance Matters

What is the proper location for the thermostat in my house?

Location matters when it comes to your home’s thermostat, and it can have a significant impact on energy efficiency and utility costs.

Your thermostat should be located on an interior wall near the center of your home in a room that’s used frequently by your family. It should not be in direct sunlight or near fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources, and it should also be away from doors and windows that open and close often. Since the kitchen is usually the warmest room in a home due to its many appliances, thermostats should be placed well away from this room to give an accurate reading.

Thermostats are generally located about five feet above the floor so they can be read or adjusted easily, and they may be controlled by a gauge, a dial or a panel of buttons. Thermostats are examined for all these factors during a home inspection.

Most thermostats for gas-fired appliances also have a variable anticipator to help prevent overheating. The anticipator “fools” the heating unit into shutting down just before the room hits the set temperature so the heat remaining in the furnace finishes the job.

Whenever changing a thermostat or performing routine maintenance, it’s a good idea to make sure the settings for the anticipator are correct.

Did You Know?

Insulation Tips

Making sure you have the proper amount of insulation in your attic can save you money on energy bills. Check out these great insulation tips from Energy.gov:

  • Consider factors such as your climate, home design and budget when selecting insulation for your home.
  • Use higher R-value insulation, such as spray foam, on exterior walls and in cathedral ceilings to get more insulation with less thickness.
  • Install attic air barriers, like wind baffles, along the entire attic eave to help ensure proper airflow from the soffit to the attic. Ventilation helps with moisture control and reducing summer cooling bills. If you have insulation on the underside of your roof, be sure to ask a qualified contractor for recommendations.
  • Be careful how close you place insulation next to a recessed light fixture. Choose IC-rated insulation to avoid a fire hazard.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and make sure you wear the proper protective gear when installing insulation.

For more information about the type and amount of insulation recommended for your area, visit http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/tips-insulation in the United States and http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/grho/grho_010.cfm in Canada.

Monthly Trivia Question

Q: What is the average life expectancy of a furnace? 

A: 5-10 years
B: 10-15 years
C: 15-20 years
D: 20-25 years

Be the first to answer correctly and win a $10 Starbucks’s gift card. Submit your answer to your local NPI inspector to find out if you’ve won.

December 2017: Electrical Inspections

Ask The Inspector

Electrical Inspections

Q. How Does an Inspector Check the Electrical System in a House?

Ask The Inspector

A. Starting off with the outdoor electrical service to the home, the inspector first determines whether the power source is underground or overhead. If the service is underground, then the only part visible to inspect may be a lateral piece of pipe coming up out of the ground on an outside wall and going into some type of meter panel. If there’s an overhead service, then the inspector can visually inspect the wires coming from the utility pole to the house, as well as the connections of the wires before the drip loop and weather head. They will also inspect the service mast and the mast going to the same outside meter panel, if it’s visible.

From the outdoor meter panel, a wire goes to either a main disconnect or directly to the main electrical panel inside the home. Once at the main panel, the inspector should first check to make sure the panel cover is not energized. If not, then he/she should carefully remove the cover to begin inspection of the main panel.

On the main panel, the inspector will determine the service size, and then inspect the inside of the panel, making sure that the right sized wires and breakers have been used for the branch circuits. Other things the inspector will look for are double-tapping (more than one wire under a lug or connection), open knock-outs, holes that may have been used at one time to run the cabling wire through, and too many disconnects in a panel. The inspector will also consider whether the wires used for the branch circuits are sized appropriately to the correct breaker.

In some cases, there may be additional panels, called subpanels, for more circuits in the home. Everything stated previously will apply to the inspection process for subpanels.

From the panels, the inspector will go about the house from room to room, inspecting the readily accessible outlets, light switches and electrical fixtures. On the outlets, the inspector will check for correct wiring practices: proper polarity, hot and neutral in the correct position, and proper grounding with three-prong outlets. Another safety requirement for certain outlets is proper ground fault (GFCI) or arc fault (AFCI) protection on newer homes according to today’s standards, so your inspector will check those, too.

When properly performed, the electrical inspection can take the most time and be more comprehensive than any other component of the home inspection process.

Be Advised

Holiday Fire Safety

The holiday season is upon us. That means Christmas trees, holiday lights, the warmth of candles and the glow of the fireplace, all contributing to that cozy holiday feeling. Unfortunately, these staples of holiday cheer can easily become fire hazards. However, with a little care, you can safely enjoy all of these things and keep your holiday season aglow.

Be Advised

Real Christmas Trees
Real or artificial seems to be a question that many people struggle with every year. After all, nothing beats the fresh scent of a real Christmas tree. But be careful with that tree — if it becomes too dry, the lights can too easily cause it to catch fire. Keep your real Christmas tree hydrated with plenty of water to avoid a fire hazard.

Holiday Lights
Nothing beats the soft, shimmering glow of holiday lights, both indoors and out. But keep two things in mind when hanging outdoor lights. First, always practice proper ladder safety. Second, be sure to use cords and extension cords rated for outdoor use. An indoor extension cord won’t do for outdoor lights.

Candles offer not only the soft lights of the holidays but also the scents of the holidays. Be careful where you set them, especially with pets or children in the house, and be sure to properly extinguish them.

If you recently had your fireplace cleaned, then good for you—it’s ready to go for the winter and the holiday season. If you haven’t had your fireplace cleaned in a while, then creosote buildup could potentially cause a chimney fire. As with candles, be sure to properly extinguish a fire to prevent a hazard.

Snapshots From The Field

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Snapshots From The Field

  1. This is called a “concealed” downspout. It gives the outside of the house that “un-cluttered” look.
  2. This is called the maintenance-free downspout. You never have to worry about maintaining it or cleaning it out.
  3. Someone forgot to connect the downspout.
  4. The downspout is behind the wall.

Correct Answer D. It looks like there is no downspout there, when in fact they put it inside the wall. That’s okay isn’t it? When the day comes that it starts to leak, and it will, someone will be tearing the wall apart outside to fix it.

Noteworthy News

Being Smart About Appraisals

An appraisal is an evaluation of the value of a property at the time of the sale. It is generally ordered by the lending agency. Documentation to back up the appraisals may include a brief inspection of the home, a comparison of recent sales of similar properties and a general description of the property. It is not a home inspection. A home inspection is a detailed visual inspection of hundreds of components of the home or other property completed over two hours or more. A home inspector is generally hired by the buyer or seller.

Noteworthy News

Consider these tips when hiring an appraiser:

  • Ask lenders you use about the appraiser’s qualifications.
  • Check that the appraiser’s memberships in professional organizations are up-to-date.
  • Verify years of experience with the state’s board of appraisers.

When reviewing the appraisal, use your own knowledge of the property, the location and the square footage to determine if the findings seem reasonable. If not, it should raise a red flag and you may have to get a second opinion.

Maintenance Matters

Electrical protection: GFCI and AFCI

Advancements in electrical protection devices help keep families and businesses safe. These devices include Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) and Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs). Both help prevent electrical shocks and fires caused by erratic surges in electrical current.


GFCIs are designed to trip when they sense even a minor imbalance in current between the hot (black) and neutral (white) legs of an electrical circuit. They shut off power to the receptacle in a fraction of a second – fast enough to avoid a potentially fatal shock. In new construction, they’re required in kitchens and bathrooms, and in other areas that might get wet, such as the garage and basement.

GFCI outlets have test and reset buttons. If you locate the GFCIs in your home, it is a good idea to test them monthly to make sure they are operating properly.

As of 2002, AFCIs are required to be installed on branch circuits that serve residential bedrooms in new construction only, not existing construction. A property inspector can help pinpoint areas where adding AFCIs or GFCIs could help protect your family.

Did You Know?

Condensation on Windows

Noticing condensation on your windows? It could be the result of differences in the outdoor and indoor temperatures, but there are a couple of things you can do to put a stop to it. First, check the weather stripping on the window, as it may need to be replaced. Second, check the indoor humidity, as it could be too high. Indoor humidity should be 50 percent or less. If you have steamy windows, turn the humidity down to 25 or 30 percent. Also, make sure to use the exhaust fans in your bathrooms and kitchens to help control humidity.

Monthly Trivia Question

Two of the reindeers are named after weather phenomenon. Name the reindeer.

Be the first to answer correctly and win a $10 Starbucks’s gift card. Submit your answer to your local NPI inspector to find out if you’ve won.

November 2017: Plumbing Inspections

Ask The Inspector


Q: Obviously my inspector will check the plumbing fixtures — sinks, toilets, showers, etc. — but what about the supply and drain pipes?

Ask The Inspector

A. In addition to checking all the plumbing fixtures of a property for functionality, water pressure, drainage and flow, your inspector should visually inspect and describe the water supply pipes and drainage pipes.

Water supply pipe materials were made of lead and then converted to galvanized pipe from the early 1900s to early 1960s, so those may be present in older homes. Copper supply pipes were introduced in the late 1950s and may also still be used. Some modern-day plumbing supply systems have incorporated plastic-type piping — such as polybutylene, PEX and CPVC — made by various companies. During the inspection, your inspector should determine and describe the type of plumbing supply systems.

In some cases, drain pipes were made with clay for underground use from the house to the main line at the street. Inside the house – in the early days of the late 1800s to early 1960s — lead and cast iron were primarily used and then replaced by the more modern ABS, PVC and CPVC plastic drain pipe material.

In any case, your inspector is looking for signs of leakage and corrosion with either your water supply or drain pipe systems. A home inspection does not guarantee insurability of a home that contains certain building products and materials; some insurance companies may not cover certain water pipe supply systems.

For example, there was a class-action lawsuit that is no longer in effect for polybutylene piping systems. Polybutylene piping is typically a gray, sometimes black, flexible plastic piping system that was prone to leaking, especially in the first generation. These systems were reported as failing in the tubing, fittings and connections. The settlement of the class-action suit only repaired the leaks — it did not entitle full replacement unless warranted. The second generation of this piping was prone to leaking at the fittings. Thus, when discovered, polybutylene piping systems should be fully inspected by a qualified plumbing contractor.

Galvanized piping systems are now considered obsolete and are no longer used. Typically, galvanized piping systems have a tendency — depending on hard water content — to collect calcium deposits at elbow and T fittings, which reduces water flow, especially on the hot water side. Eventually the lines close up, and in some cases, they can develop leaks.

Plumbing system repairs and replacements can be one of the most expensive repairs to a home, so it is important to have plumbing systems inspected by a quality, trained home inspector.

Be Advised

Dealing With Air Impurity

Air impurity is caused by two general pollutants: particulates and gases. Smoke, dust mites, and pollen fall into the particulate category. Gaseous pollutants include gases released as a result of combustion, such as nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

Be Advised

There are several ways to clean your home’s air of its potential pollutants:

  • Air filter solutions trap particles as air passes through the filters.
  • Activated carbon air filters are used to eliminate gases and odors from the air.
  • Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) systems use UV light to kill gaseous pollutants.
  • Air ionizers remove particles from the air by releasing negative ions, which change the polarity of airborne particulates.

It’s not possible to control the air quality outdoors; controlling it indoors is another matter. An air purifier is available for nearly every indoor pollutant, and is a common sense decision for homeowners to help ensure a healthy air environment.

Snapshots From The Field

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Snapshots From The Field

  1. You should not install polybutylene piping or any type of plastic piping system this close to a gas water heater vent pipe.
  2. This is a proper installation.
  3. Plastic piping like polybutylene is the best type of piping system to use for this application.
  4. PEX pipe would be a better choice for this application.

Correct Answer A. You should not install polybutylene piping or any type of plastic piping system this close to a gas water heater vent pipe. There should be a metal type of extension pipe installed for any of the supply lines in or out of a gas water heater. NPI’s inspection expert says that the installation in the photo is a disaster waiting to happen. Also note that the pipe may be leaking due to corrosion.

Noteworthy News

Exterior Flashings

Whether for a window, door or skylight, cutting a hole in your home will create a place where water can enter. This can cause rot, mold or other problems. Flashings, made of aluminum, galvanized steel, copper and plastics such as PVC, are meant to cover and protect the seams. This prevents water problems from occurring.

Noteworthy News

Flashings may be visible, concealed or partially concealed, and are integral in ensuring that water stays outside on the lawn instead of inside on the floor. If traced to their source, many so-called roof leaks are actually flashing failures. Flashings divert water away from: chimneys, windows, doors, valleys, the intersection of various rooflines, skylights, pipes and stacks.

As part of a general home inspection, NPI professionals inspect the flashings to ensure they are functioning and properly installed. The inspector will observe both the inside and outside wall and roof openings where flashings are common to determine if there is any evidence of failure or leakage. Findings are recorded in a written report. For more information on flashings, roofs and property inspection, talk with your local National Property Inspections franchise owner.

Maintenance Matters

Shopping Tips for New Windows

One of the best ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency is to install new windows. But once you start shopping, the variety of available technologies to choose from may seem overwhelming. For instance, glazing materials now come with a variety of coatings and feature options. You can also buy frames in aluminum, wood, vinyl, fiberglass or a combination of materials. And, each glazing or frame option has its own pros and cons.


To help you determine which window option to choose, we’ve collected the following tips:

  • Look for the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label to ensure that the window’s performance is certified.
  • The lower the U-value, the better the window’s insulation. In colder climates, a U-value of .35 or lower is recommended because these windows have double glazing and a low-e coating.
  • In warmer climates, where summertime heat coming through windows is the main concern, look for windows with double glazing and spectrally selective coatings to reduce heat gain.
  • Select windows with air leakage ratings of 0.3 cubic feet per minute or less.
  • To maximize the seasonal energy benefits in temperate climates, choose windows with both low U-values and low solar heat gain coefficiency (SHGC).
  • Look for the ENERGY STAR® AND EnergyGuide labels on the windows.
  • Vinyl windows are a low-cost durable option — virtually indestructible, impervious to moisture and insect and rot-proof.
  • Fiberglass windows won’t warp, rot or crack, but they also cost about twice as much as vinyl windows.
  • Although aluminum windows are extremely strong, aluminum has many downsides: It doesn’t insulate well against heat and cold; it expands and contracts rapidly relative to glass, putting stress on seals; and it is susceptible to the corrosive effects of salt air, so it’s not a great choice for coastal climates.
  • Wood windows have a certain charm, but they aren’t as durable, are susceptible to rot and insect attack, require vigilant maintenance and cost more.

Did You Know?

The Life Expectancy of Home Components

Do you ever wonder how long a certain component in your home might last? The life expectancy of a typical component depends on the use it receives. The National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) “Study of Life Expectancy of Home Components” created a timeline for you, based on the results of the study, to use before planning your next big home improvement.

Appliances differ in their life expectancies. Gas ranges have the highest life expectancy of 15 years, washers and dryers are expected to last about 13 years, and dishwashers and microwaves are expected to last nine years.

Flooring All natural wood floorings have a life expectancy of 100 years or more; marble, slate and granite are expected to last for about 100 years; vinyl floors last up to 50 years; carpet last between eight and 10 years.

Kitchen cabinets are expected to last up to 50 years.

Masonry (chimneys, brick veneers, fireplaces) are expected to last up to 100 years.

Countertops have a life expectancy of about 20 years, depending on the type.

Exterior doors (fiberglass, steel, wood) can last as long as the house exists, while vinyl and screen doors have a life expectancy of 20 to 40 years.

Garage door openers have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years.

The life expectancy of most components is often overlooked. Most components are replaced before they are worn out because of changes in technology, life styles and consumer preferences. Proper maintenance of these components is important in order to achieve the maximum life expectancy.

Monthly Trivia Question

Carpenter Ants destroy wood by feeding on it. True or False?

Be the first to answer correctly and win a $10 Starbuck’s gift card. Submit your answer to your local NPI inspector to find out if you’ve won.