Important Information About Preventing Appliance Fires

Kitchen2

Preventing appliance fires comes down to proper planning and maintenance. This is especially true for the kitchen, which contains many appliances that without proper care could pose a hazard. To limit future problems, there are a few things every homeowner can do:

  • Have an Expert Look at Wiring — Have an electrician or home inspector check your wiring to see whether it can handle your household’s demand. These professionals can also look for faulty appliances and other problems.
  • Check for Recalls — Sometimes avoiding a problem means being proactive. Appliances are often recalled by the Consumer Protection Safety Commission (CPSC) and posted on websites, like www.CPSC.gov and www.recall.gov. Check these websites now and again to see if your appliance has been recalled. You can also register your new appliances with the manufacturer. If there is a recall, the manufacturer will be obligated to let you know immediately.
  • Be Careful in the Kitchen — Some problems are caused by the misuse of appliances. Keep small children and pets away from hot surfaces, and never leave cooking unattended. Be sure to keep rags, plastic bags and other flammable materials away from the cooking range. Also, unplug small appliances while not in use.

Kitchen fires are not only common, but they also make up about half of all household fires in the United States every year. Enlist the help of experts and do your best to keep this area of your home well maintained. Make kitchen safety a priority and keep your home running smoothly.

What Can You Get Rid of Right Now? 25 Quick Ideas for Decluttering

Got a spare hour or so? It’s time to start tossing. Grab a trash bag, a recycling bin and a few donation boxes and get down to business. Working room by room, here are the things you can get rid of right this second.

Kitchen

1. Expired food in your fridge and pantry. (Don’t forget to check all those condiments—they don’t last as long as you think).
2. Recipe books, cards and print-outs you don’t use.
3. Old or one-time use cleaning supplies under the sink.
4. Bottles of alcohol collecting dust.
5. Old, stained and tattered sponges, dishrags and hand towels.

Living Room

6. Magazines you’ve already read.
7. DVDs no one watches.
8. Knickknacks that no longer speak to you.
9. Extra throw pillows and blankets.
10. Toys and electronics that aren’t played with or used.

Bathroom

11. Expired medications.
12. Old makeup, nail polishes and skin care products.
13. Any half-empty bottles or soap remnants in the shower.
14. Sample packets and hotel soaps, shampoos and lotions.
15. Any hair accessories, curlers or hot tools that don’t get used.

Bedrooms

16. Extra sets of sheets—you only need two!
17. Clothes that don’t fit or you no longer wear.
18. Shoes that are worn out or never worn.
19. Jewelry that’s broken or never worn.
20. Extra buttons, clothing tags, safety pins and bobby pins.

Office

21. Old instruction manuals.
22. Print-outs you don’t have use for.
23. Books you’ve already read, don’t like or won’t realistically get to.
24. Old tax documents, bills and pay stubs. (Shred these!)
25. Extraneous pens, pencils and other office supplies.

Call National Property Inspections today for a full home inspection report.

Call us today to get a full assessment of your home’s major systems. Our inspectors can help you save time, save money and invest with success.

Icicles Signal Problems for Home Owners

Icicles

This winter, take special note of any icicles hanging from your roof. Small icicles are normal, but large, thick icicles can be dangerous if they fall and usually spell trouble for your home. Fortunately, most problems that cause icicles can be remedied easily.

Icicles typically indicate ice damming on your home’s roof, a problem usually caused by insufficient or missing insulation and ventilation in your attic and between your house and your attic. During the winter, this warms the roof, causing snow to melt more rapidly and move down the roof to the overhang, where it refreezes in the form of icicles. It can also cause an ice dam to form, which eventually pushes the water up under the roof’s shingles. This damages the roof and gutters, and it can lead to water intrusion causing leaks in ceilings or walls, or soaking insulation, which would make it ineffective. As if those problems weren’t bad enough, ice dams can cause structural decay and rot to your house, or cause mold and mildew to form in your attic and on wall surfaces.

Try the following remedies to reduce or eliminate ice damming and the damage it causes:

  • Seal all holes or gaps connecting your heated living space and your attic.
  • Ensure that the attic is properly insulated.
  • Attached with clips along the roof’s edge in a zigzag pattern, heated cables prevent ice dams, allowing you to equalize your roof’s temperature by heating it from the outside instead of blowing in cold air from the outside.
  • Use an aluminum roof rake to pull snow off of your roof.
  • Install a ridge vent and continuous soffit vents to circulate cold air under the entire roof.
  • Make sure that ducts connected to the kitchen, bathroom and dryer vents all lead outdoors through either the roof or walls — never through the soffit.
  • Seal gaps between chimneys and the house framing with L-shaped steel flashing held in place with unbroken beads of a fire-stop sealant.
  • DO NOT attack an ice dam with a hammer or other tool to chop it up, as you could cause further damage to your roof. If necessary, contact a roofing company to steam the ice dam off.

Reverse Polarity: What it Is and Why You Should Be Concerned

Quite simply, reverse polarity means that the wires in an electrical receptacle were installed incorrectly. A receptacle with reverse polarity will have the white (neutral) wire screwed to the hot side (copper screw) and the black (hot) wire screwed to the neutral side (silver screw). The bare or green wire should be connected to the green ground screw on the receptacle.

A home inspector will flag any outlets that are reversed polarity. Why should you be concerned about reversed polarity? Most electrical appliances and devices are designed so that the on/off switch interrupts electrical power at the point of entry into the appliance, device circuitry or components. If the hot and neutral wires are reversed, then it is possible that the device could be energized even if the switch is turned off. Reversed polarity on an electrical outlet should be considered an unsafe condition, as the risks include damage to the appliance, short circuit, shock or fire.

How Can I Tell if My Receptacles Have Reverse Polarity?

You can purchase a plug-in type voltage tester at your local hardware store. These are generally inexpensive. The tester will include a chart that will tell you which lights should illuminate when you plug it in to a properly wired outlet. The chart will also indicate what the other lighting combinations mean, such as an open ground condition.

How Do I Fix Reverse Polarity?

Once you find a receptacle with reversed polarity, leave the plug-in tester plugged into the receptacle and find the circuit breaker that is delivering the voltage to that line. Turn the breaker OFF. When you return to the receptacle there should be no lights lit up on the tester. If there are, then you turned off the wrong breaker. Try again.

With the power to that circuit OFF, remove the cover plate and the two screws holding the receptacle to the wall box. Gently pull the receptacle out of the box. If there are any other wires inside the box, use a touch-style voltage tester to ensure that they are also OFF. If they are hot, find the circuit breaker feeding them and turn it OFF as well.

Inspect your receptacle. A receptacle with reversed polarity will have the white (neutral) wire screwed to the hot side (copper screw) and the black (hot) wire screwed to the neutral side (silver screw). The bare or green wire should be connected to the green ground screw on the receptacle. Simply remove the white and black wires and connect them to their properly intended sides of the receptacle. To wire it properly, the black gets connected to the dark or copper-colored screw and the white wire gets connected to the silver screw. If the wire looks brittle or damaged, use wire strippers to cut the old wire away and strip off a 3/4-inch fresh section of insulation. Wrap a strip of electrical tape around the screw terminals for added safety, resecure the receptacle to the wall box and attach the cover plate.

Finally, plug the voltage tester in to the receptacle and then turn the circuit breakers back on. When you get back to the receptacle, the tester should indicate proper wiring. If, for whatever reason it still reads reverse polarity, then the problem may be in another receptacle or in a junction box somewhere. In that case, your best bet would then be to call a licensed electrician.

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Your Home

Want to make 2019 the best year yet? It all starts with a happy home. Putting even one or two of these 10 household New Year’s resolutions into practice can help you create a healthy space for making all your dreams realities.

1. Improve your indoor air quality.

Make clean air a priority in 2019. Poor indoor air quality is a leading cause of respiratory issues, like asthma and allergies. It can also cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and general malaise. That’s because indoor air can harbor mold spores, dust, pollen and other nasty stuff you don’t want to be cooped up with all day.

Changing your furnace filter at least once a year can go a long way toward improving indoor air quality. Make sure your ventilation system is up to par, particularly in the kitchen and bathrooms. You should also use low-VOC paint and burn real firewood instead of pressed wood logs. This will help keep risky chemicals out of the air for extended periods of time. As an extra measure, portable air cleaners are available to help purify air in single rooms.

2. Declutter, room by room.

The beginning of the year is a great time to reevaluate your belongings. What do you actually use? What brings you joy? What feels stale? Since de-cluttering can get overwhelming quickly, and breaking tasks down into manageable chunks is key to achieving big results, it’s best to go room by room. Try designating one room for one weekend day until the job is done.

3. Simplify a chore that stresses you out.

We all have that one chore we dread. Maybe your vacuum just isn’t cutting it anymore, or putting away dishes is way more difficult than it should be because your cabinets are over-stuffed. Give yourself a break and simplify! This might mean hiring outside help, treating yourself to simply figuring out a new approach to organization. Whatever it may be, make your own happiness a priority and tackle it just because it’ll make your day-to-day life easier.

4. Volunteer your time in the neighborhood.

Nothing feels better than giving back to your community. You can do one better by taking on a special task in your neighborhood, like cleaning up a park, founding a community garden or organizing a neighborhood watch group. You’ll make new friends and creating a last positive impact.

5. Take tangible steps toward saving energy.

We’ve talked about saving energy time and time again on the NPI Home blog. If you haven’t taken steps toward energy conservation, the start of the new year is a great time to turn over a new leaf. Here are a few steps you can take this weekend to help:

• Use weather stripping to seal cracks and fix drafty doors and windows
• Switch out traditional lightbulbs for energy-saving lightbulbs
• Insulate your HVAC system’s ductwork
• Be diligent about keep lights off in unused rooms
• Set your thermostat to kick on only when you’re home

6. Change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

When’s the last time you changed the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors? If you can’t remember, the chore is probably past due. Go ahead and do it right away and make a note on your phone calendar or planner of the next date you’ll need new batteries. This way you’ll never miss another change.

7. Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy ingredients.

To keep your energy up and feel your best in the coming year, you need to fuel your body with healthy food. Make a point to keep your kitchen stocked with healthy snacks, as well as a few pantry staples that will allow you to throw together a nutritious meal in a snap. For healthy snacks, try string cheese, fresh fruit, nuts and crudités with hummus. For a meal in a pinch, keep black beans, eggs, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta and frozen veggies on hand, plus a protein of your choice. With a basic spice arsenal, these items can be leveraged into stir frys, casseroles and an array of one-pot dishes.

8. Treat yourself to something fresh and new.

If you haven’t updated your space in a hot minute, why not try something new? It doesn’t have to be big or expensive to create a fresh look and feel. You might try:

• Shopping Etsy or your local secondhand shop for a new art print
• Snagging a new houseplant (the easier to care for, the better!)
• Upgrading your sheets—bonus points if you pick a new color palette
• Swapping out your curtains
• Choosing some fun new throw pillows for your couch

9. Create a filing system for important documents.

Unorganized paper piles are Enemy Number One for the dedicated de-clutterer. This is the year you nip those sloppy stacks in the bud once and for all. Whether you opt for a full-blown filing cabinet, a portable accordion folder or a desktop file sorter will depend on your space, needs and budget, but any of these solutions will go a long way toward keeping your important documents organized and easy-to-find. If you’re stuck setting a few hours aside to sort and toss old documents, make sure you take the time to dispose of them the right way. If you have a shredder, you can shred them from the comfort of your own home. Otherwise, you can pay a fee (typically around $1 a pound) at most shipping and office supply stores, or wait for a free community shredding event.

10. Watch your water usage.

Did you know that even though 71% of earth is covered in water, only 0.5% is available for drinking? With rising populations, saving water becomes everyone’s responsibility. Not only will this minimize the effects of droughts, it helps preserve the environment for years and years to come.

If taking long, hot baths or showers is your favorite way to relax, it’s worth it to find a new way to treat yourself. Try a little aromatherapy with a scented candle or essential oils. Yoga and meditation are also great alternatives when you need a little alone time and rejuvenation.

Call National Property Inspections for a full home inspection today.

Our NPI inspectors are professionally trained to assess your home’s major systems and create a comprehensive report of its condition. Call us today.

Home Inspector Solves HVAC Mystery

John Nelson, NPI Franchise Owner, Manassas, Virginia

John Nelson, NPI Franchise Owner, Manassas, Virginia

Sometimes home inspectors do more than inspect homes for home buyers and sellers. Sometimes they are called in as sleuths to solve a home owner’s mystery. This story comes from NPI franchise owner John Nelson in Manassas, Virginia. It’s a good reminder that a home inspection is always a good idea, even on brand-new houses. Here’s what John told us:

Last August, I got a call from a distraught home owner. He bought a brand-new home from a well-known builder in September 2013. He didn’t have an inspection performed before buying the house — what could possibly be wrong with a brand-new home, right? After the weather turned cold and winter set in, the home owners found themselves in in a serious situation: It was cold on the upper floor (the bedroom level) of their 3,500 sq. ft. beautiful new home. So cold, in fact, that the heating system was running nonstop.

“Something must be wrong with the heat,” the owner thought. He called the builder, who promptly sent out the HVAC installer that put in the system during construction. The home actually has two HVAC systems — one in the basement, for the basement and first floor, and another in the attic for the bedrooms. The HVAC installer went to the house, went into the attic to check the system, did his thing and proclaimed, “The system is working fine. No problems found at all. It’s operating completely within the manufacturer’s specs.”

So the home owners suffer through the winter — thankfully it was not a bad one for temperatures. Spring arrived and everything seemed fine. Then June starts to heat things up. By the beginning of July, this poor home owner and his family are sweating up a storm. This poor guy has gone out and bought four window-mounted air-conditioning units for his brand-new home just so they can sleep at night!

He calls the builder again, knowing something isn’t right. Instead of going to the home to see what’s happening and investigate this poor guy’s situation, the builder calls Mr. HVAC Installer to find out why the HVAC system is not cooling the bedrooms. The HVAC installer returns, does his thing, whatever that is, and again proclaims that the system is working perfectly, completely within design specs …

The home owner is mystified. He has Googled HVAC systems, read everything he could about how the systems work. He came up with no answers. Then he finally decides to have a third party go to the house to investigate. “Forget the builder,” he thinks. “I need a home inspector!” The guy calls me and says, “John, I need your help!” He relays to me the entire story of what’s been going on with his HVAC. It’s now the first week of August, and in the Washington, D.C., area that means 95 degrees and 100 percent humidity.

I arrived at his house and went upstairs to the main bedroom hallway, and I stopped at the top of the stairs. The heat was oppressive. It was so hot that you could feel it on the back of your neck, like you’re outside and the sun is cooking your neck. Now, I haven’t been in the house more than two minutes at this point, and I look at the home owner and proclaim, without even looking at anything, “I know exactly what the problem is!”

I got my ladder and entered the attic to verify my suspicion. Keep in mind that the builder’s HVAC installer has been inside the attic three or four times over the course of the winter and summer and never noticed: THERE IS NO INSULATION IN THE ATTIC. None, nada. The attic is clean as a whistle. This poor family has been through a complete Washington, D.C., winter and the worst part of a Washington, D.C., summer with no attic insulation. The builder completely forgot to install it, and I guess an HVAC installer is not trained to notice little details like the fact that the attic was so clean.

I walked out of the house no more than 15 minutes after arriving. The homeowner was so grateful that he paid me double my fee. I feel like I really helped someone who needed it desperately and made a difference. And I never even had to check the HVAC system.

A few days went by and the home owner called me back. He said, “The builder has fully insulated the attic, and my AC is actually turning off all by itself sometimes! John, I feel like such an idiot for not having the house inspected before we bought it, I need you to come out and do a complete inspection. My wife and I discussed it, and we want you to go over the whole house.” I found a few more small issues, and the home owners were happy. I also ended up inspecting the neighbors’ houses on both sides of him within the next month. I guess the word got around.

February 2019: Resolutions

Ask The Inspector

Should You Be Concerned About Radon?

Radon is a radioactive gas that is slowly released during the natural decay of uranium in the earth, and it moves freely through any soil, rock and water. These broken down elements can be inhaled into the lungs, leading to long-term damage. Luckily, it’s easy to keep your family safe. Learn more

Common Defects in Newly Built Homes

When it comes to new-home construction, defects are common. In fact, it’s been said that a home inspector can sometimes find more things wrong with a newly constructed home than an older one. Here’s a list of issues our inspectors find most often. Learn more

How Does a Home Inspector Inspect a Gas Forced-Air Furnace?

Industry standards of practice state that an inspector should open accessible panels to inspect installed heating equipment. So, how does the inspector meet these standards when he/she is using visual noninvasive inspection techniques? Find out at the blog! Learn more

Expert Advice

Everything You Need to Know About Ventilation

We all understand the importance of a healthy roof for keeping a home in great condition. But what’s one often overlooked area that plays a huge role in a roof’s performance and efficiency? Ventilation. Here, we’ll go over how to determine whether you need better roof and attic ventilation. Learn more

25 Quick Ideas for Decluttering

Got a spare hour or so? It’s time to start tossing. Grab a trash bag, a recycling bin and a few donation boxes and get down to business. Working room by room, here are the things you can get rid of right this second. Learn more

10 New Year’s Resolutions for Your Home

Want to make 2019 the best year yet? It all starts with a happy home. Putting even one or two of these 10 household New Year’s resolutions into practice can help you create a healthy space for making all your dreams realities. Learn more

Snapshots From The Field

What’s wrong with this picture?

Hint: if you see a light fixture located anywhere near a tub or shower, you need to be on your toes.

The light fixture pictured in the shower above is not “wet-rated” or “watertight,” meaning it has not been approved for use near a water source. Wet-rated lights should not be confused with “damp-rated” lights, which are approved for areas that are subject to light moisture or condensation (the inside your refrigerator or an older basement are two examples of areas that need damp-rated bulbs). Your shower is a wet location, and it needs wet-rated lighting. Recessed lighting with a watertight barrier is one of the best choices to keep you and your family safe from electrocution and injury.

Maintenance Matters

Important Information About Preventing Appliance Fires

Preventing appliance fires comes down to proper planning and maintenance. This is especially true for the kitchen, which contains many appliances that without proper care could pose a hazard. To limit future problems, there are a few things every homeowner can do. Learn more

Icicles Signal Problems for Homeowners

This winter, take special note of any icicles hanging from your roof. Small icicles are normal, but large, thick icicles can be dangerous if they fall and usually spell trouble for your home. Fortunately, most problems that cause icicles can be remedied easily. Learn more

 

Monthly Trivia Question

Question: What percentage of the earth’s water is safe and available for drinking?

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.

 

Home Inspection 101: Inspecting a Home’s Grading

New House + Landscaping_iStock_000002119557Small

An important component of a home inspection that is not always obvious to the home buyer is the grading of the yard. I have seen homes that are meticulously maintained inside but have poor grading, even holes in the yard. Unfortunately, grading is often considered a low priority, but the effects of improper grading can be disastrous.

Rainwater ponding outside, or worse, running toward the house, can wreak havoc. Basements can flood, damaging items in the basement, as well as drywall, carpet and more. Even a slab-on-grade house with no basement is susceptible to water damage, as it could develop mold from water seeping into the walls, and the moisture could attract termites. Furthermore, standing water in cold climates can freeze and damage brick paver decking and other hardscapes.

The ideal grading that the home inspector should look for is for the ground to slope away from the house in all directions a half inch per foot. Other factors besides the slope of the ground can cause problems, including downspouts that disperse water right against the building, instead of directing it away, and vegetation that holds water and keeps it from draining away.

If the property looks like it has drainage problems, then the best way to know for sure is to check during or immediately after a rainstorm. When this is not practical, the inspector could try running a hose in the questionable area.

While the best and most foolproof way to remedy the grading is to build up the ground to slope away from the house in all directions, it’s often just not possible. Small lot sizes, the elevation of the house, where the house transitions from foundation to framed wall, the elevation of the neighbor’s land, existing vegetation, hardscape and accessory buildings, and especially cost are all factors in the equation.

Remedies for improper grading include connecting downspouts to a pipe to direct the roof rainwater further away from the house and French drains, which are basically a trench filled with gravel or perforated pipe that catches the water in the yard and directs it away from the house.

For more information about grading, read our previous post, “What’s Your Grading Grade?

Submitted by Ken Roleke, NPI Franchise Owner, Tucson, Arizona

Home Inspection 101: Electrical Panel Inspection

Wire Box

When you’re buying a house, you want to know it’s safe. One of the main safety concerns is a home’s electrical system. Old wiring, improper outlets and an outdated service panel are problems often found in houses. Although older houses are at more risk for these issues, even newer houses can have electrical problems. This is just one more reason a home inspection is a good idea before you buy your dream home. Your home inspector will check all visible aspects of a home’s electrical system.

Inspection of the electrical panel should be performed only by either a licensed electrician or a trained property inspector — don’t try to inspect the panel yourself. Removal of the outer panel cover, and even removal of the panel-cover screws, poses a potential risk for electrocution. Your home inspector will approach the panel and first use either the back of their hand or a static electrical tester to check whether the service panel is energized — meaning there’s potential risk of electrocution from improperly installed interior panel wiring or the wrong type of screws to hold the panel cover in place.

(Flat-tipped screws should be used to hold the panel cover in place, not pointed-tip screws. The reason for flat-tip screws is that they reduce the risk of potential penetration into the insulation or sheathing that protects the wires inside the panel, which may not have been appropriately placed or safely tucked into the panel.)

Once the inspector removes the panel cover, he or she begins a visual inspection of the interior of the panel box. The inspector checks for and determines the size of the service coming into the house — how much power is coming in from the utility. The following are some other items an inspector checks for:

  • Whether the panel has fuses or circuit breakers
  • Properly sized wires coordinate to appropriately sized breakers
  • Presence of double-taps — when more than one wire is connected to a breaker (unless the equipment is rated for such use)
  • Dark, rusty or smoky residue on the panel
  • Age and wear of the panel
  • Improperly wired subpanels
  • Wires run in a neat and orderly manner
  • Presence of open splices or nicks in wires
  • All connections are tight

A common finding is open knock-outs — holes or knock-outs that wires may have been passed through at one time but which are no longer in use. These holes should be closed or plugged so that in the event of an arc or spark in the panel, the occurrence can be contained within the panel.

If your home inspector finds problems with the electrical panel, he or she will recommend that the panel be evaluated and repaired by a professional electrician. Don’t skip this important step before you purchase a house; your safety depends on it.

How Does a Home Inspector Inspect a Gas Forced-air Furnace?

Furnace

Industry standards of practice state that an inspector should open accessible panels to inspect installed heating equipment. The inspector is supposed to describe the energy source used to create the heat, as well as inspect the heating equipment, venting and distribution systems.

So, how does the inspector meet these standards when he/she is using visual noninvasive inspection techniques? After all, when you order a home inspection, you want to be sure the furnace is operating correctly.

NPI/GPI has high standards for its inspectors, and we recommend the following methods for furnace inspection:

  • Locate the thermostat(s) to operate the system. The thermostat should be centrally located in the house and away from other sources of heat.
  • Examine the exterior of the furnace for rust, corrosion, soot etc.
  • Use a gas sniffer on all visible gas lines joints and connections.
  • Identify the furnace, and note the serial number, age and input BTUs. This information is often found inside the burner panel.
  • Remove the draft shield and examine the burner heads, combustion chamber, and verify that the correct piping is used for gas supply. Replace the shield and panels when complete.
  • Note the color and condition of the flame for a proper burn.
  • Inspect the flue for gas leaks, rust, corrosion and proper clearances from combustibles.
  • Note any unusual noise or vibration from the blower fan.
  • Note any unusual odors.
  • Check the blower fan and filter for cleanliness.
  • Use the gas detector at the nearest supply register to check for any leaks.
  • Make sure the furnace is located in an area that provides ample air supply and has adequate room for service access.
  • While the unit is running, check for air delivery in the rooms.
  • Complete an overall inspection of the ductwork.

As with all elements of a home inspection, the inspection of the furnace inspection is visual and noninvasive; however, normal service panels are removed to inspect the furnace. A thorough inspection of the heat exchanger is not in the scope of work for a home inspection, so don’t be fooled by inspectors who tell you they’ve checked the heat exchanger.

The furnace’s data tag information can be included in the report, as well as the unit’s BTUs, manufacturer and age of the unit. Photo documentation of the furnace also should be included in the report.

If issues are discovered, then the home inspector should recommend further evaluation and repairs as needed by a qualified heating contractor.

By Kenn Garder, National Accounts Manager and Technical Support, NPI/GPI Corporate