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.

Drafty Windows? We Have Help

iStock_000000197663Small

There is a chill in the air, the North Wind has an extra bite and a draft is coming through the windows. What can you do?

First, open and close the window and look for any torn or missing weather-stripping on the sash. Make sure the window lock is adjusted properly to close the window tight against the weather-stripping. If there are storm windows, make sure they are shut and latched properly.

Next try to determine where the air is coming in. Make sure all of the windows are closed. Make sure window coverings are held away from the glass and will not ignite. Light a candle and hold the flame near each window, fairly close to the window at the seam between the widow frame and the sash. Move the candlestick slowly around the frame and the sash, pausing to allow the flame to steady. If the flame bends or flickers while in the pause mode, then there is probably a leak, mark the area with a piece of tape or a sticky note and continue around that window and the others in the home and mark any suspect area.

Once you have identified the problem areas and drafts, you need to seal them up. Some methods can be completed by the homeowner; other, more complicated methods of repairs may be best left to a contractor.

  • Weather-stripping can be purchased at a hardware store or home center. Different products are available, most commonly plastic, felt, foam or metal. These materials can be cut and pressed into the gaps between the frame and the sash, or installed on the frame and pressed against the sash to create a good seal.
  • Caulking is usually installed on the exterior, so this is a task for warmer weather. Caulking can be applied where the trim meets the window frame and where the trim meets the wall covering. If old, deteriorating caulking is in place, remove it by scoring the caulk where it meets the trim and the frame, and remove it with a putty knife or chisel. Make sure to clean the area well with a brush before applying new caulking. A good exterior latex caulk may be preferred for ease of application and cleanup, this type of caulking is usually paintable if the caulk does not match the window or if you wish to paint the window in the future. Be sure to follow the installation instructions on the tube of caulking for proper installation.
  • Insulating film. If the window will not be opened during the winter months, then a layer of shrink film can be applied to the window. The film is usually applied to the window using double-sided tape. The window trim should be clean so the tape will stick properly, then apply the tape and film as directed in the instructions. This film is usually removed in the spring and summer months so the windows can be opened.
  • Replacement windows. This is usually an expensive venture, but in most cases the cost of the replacement is at least partially recouped in the sale of the home. Until the home is sold, you still have the benefit of fewer or no drafts and lower energy bills. Proper installation and insulation is important when replacing windows.

Several options are available to reduce drafts, and your local utility companies may offer energy audits and recommendations for weatherization contractors to help limit the amount of energy lost by drafty windows.

Submitted by Kenn Garder, Technical Support, NPI/GPI Corporate

Top Five Problems Revealed During a Home Inspection

Purchasing a house is a major decision, and a home inspection report can be used to assist in the decision-making process. Here are some of the more common issues found during a home inspection.

 

Poor Grading and Drainage

Water should run away from any structure to help prevent moisture intrusion. If the soil around a house slopes toward the house, or if water pools around the perimeter of the foundation, that moisture can create hydronic pressure in the soil that can move the foundation, causing cracks and leaks that can lead to extensive damage and expensive repairs. If water wicks into the wood framing members, the wood will rot over time. This moisture also provides a haven for wood-destroying organisms (WDO) because it provides a water and food source.

Erosion around the perimeter of a house may be caused by water spilling over gutters due to clogged downspouts or downspouts that terminate near the foundation. Downspout extensions or spill ways can be installed to keep water away from the foundation.

Roof Coverings

The roof of a house is designed to withstand most of what Mother Nature can dish out, whether it be rain, wind or sun. If installed properly, the roof should keep water out of the home.

The life expectancy for roof coverings varies depending on the material. Asphalt composite shingles, for instance, typically have a life expectancy of 15 to 25 years. As the roof covering ages, it can become more susceptible to water infiltration and leaking.

Plumbing Problems

Notice a theme here? Controlling water is one of the most important issues in home maintenance.

Leaking supply water and drain lines can cause damage to walls and floors, or they can become the water source for mold and mildew. Outdated (galvanized) or problematic systems (polybutylene) can develop leaks more frequently. Wax rings under toilets can develop leaks and damage the floor around the toilet or the ceiling below.

Electrical Issues

House fires caused by faulty wiring and overloading circuits are common. It is not unusual for a home inspector find evidence of DIY additions to a home’s electrical system. Many times these additions work but were not done properly, causing safety issues.

Exposed wire connections and double taps in the panel are also common problems. If your home inspector finds these or other electrical issues, he/she will recommend that you have the system evaluated and repaired by a qualified licensed electrician

HVAC Havoc

Inadequate maintenance of the HVAC equipment is common. Dirty condenser coils on the air conditioner condenser unit and dirty furnace filters can lead to major repairs. The equipment may be at or near its life expectancy and need to be replaced. Gas-fired furnaces may not burn properly.

With proper maintenance, an HVAC system can continue to heat and cool the house, but many times heating and cooling systems are “out of sight out of mind.”

This is a sampling of typical issues found during a home inspection. These items may vary depending on the geographical location of the property and the overall maintenance of the property.

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

Content originally published in February of 2016.

Tips for Proper Furnace Maintenance

Furnace_shutterstock_132626027

A gas furnace is a key piece of equipment in a home. Most furnaces are installed centrally in the house but often are tucked away in a closet, up in the attic, or in the basement or crawl space. In other words, they may not be the easy to access. To help your home’s heating equipment live a good, long life, regular maintenance is strongly recommended. Just because the furnace is out of sight doesn’t mean it should be out of mind.

Many HVAC companies offer service agreements that include a regular scheduled maintenance program. Or maybe you’re a handy do-it-yourselfer who wants to get their hands dirty and take care of things themselves. If that’s you,  here are a few furnace maintenance tips.

  1. Change the filter regularly. The filter prevents dirt from entering the furnace. Dirt and debris can build up on the blower fan and in the ductwork, which can also reduce air flow, wasting fuel and drastically lowering the unit’s efficiency. The filter may be changed monthly, quarterly or annually, depending on the type of filter and the conditions the furnace is operating under. Generally, we recommend changing the filter monthly. Make sure to use the proper size filter.
  2. Remember safety first. When maintaining your furnace, follow some basic safety practices. Most furnaces have a service switch that can be shut off so the unit won’t turn on during maintenance. Check for gas leaks and loose wires before you begin cleaning the furnace. If you smell gas smell or notice a loose wire, contact an HVAC professional.
  3. Clean the blower and ducts. The blower assembly is usually next to the filter, so the dust and dirt that penetrates or goes around the air filter goes to the blower. Use a damp cloth or vacuum to clean the blower, belts and pulleys to remove any accumulated dirt.
  4. Inspect the fan. After the dirt has been removed, make sure the fan spins smoothly and is properly secured. The bearings on the fan and motor may need lubricating, and if the fan is belt-driven, then the fan belt should be checked for proper tension.

Cleaning and maintaining a furnace is not a daunting task and is fairly inexpensive to complete. Proper maintenance will extend the service life of your equipment and help your furnace stay energy efficient.

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

Make Your Refrigerator More Efficient with These 8 Hacks

When we think of ways to save energy, we don’t often turn to the fridge. It just does its thing, right? Well, not quite. Here are eight ways to make your refrigerator more efficient.

First, it’s important to note that if your refrigerator is 15 or more years old, you may not be able to get the most out of it energy-wise, even if you do everything right. Older models are simply never going to be quite as efficient as newer models, and more sophisticated units are coming out all the time. When you decide to replace your older fridge, opt for an Energy-Star-certified model.

Now, on to the hacks!

1. Get rid of frost if you have it.

This is much more common in older units. If your refrigerator is accumulating frost, the first thing you’ll need to do is defrost it. Otherwise, you’re automatically setting yourself up for a far less efficient fridge. That’s because frost buildup can cause fridge coils to work overtime and make it more difficult for the unit to keep at a consistently cool temperature. It’s a bit of a process, but defrosting is totally worth it—plus, who couldn’t use extra room in the freezer?

2. Open your fridge as little as possible.

One of the easiest ways to save energy is to keep your refrigerator closed. That means not leaving the door hanging open while you’re cooking and making selections quickly when you need something. The less your refrigerator has to readjust its temperature from being introduced to warm air in your home, the less it has to work and the more energy you’ll save.

3. Use your in-door water and ice.

This one goes right along with keeping those refrigerator doors closed. The less you open your fridge or freezer for beverages and ice, the less you’ll need to open your fridge.

4. Avoid putting hot or warm dishes in your fridge.

This is a small one, but it could make a big impact over time. Use Tupperware and plastic wrap whenever possible, and allow any food to cool down completely before placing it in the fridge. This helps keep heat out of your unit.

5. Remove fridge clutter.

Raise your hand if your fridge is packed at all times. If you have a big family or a penchant for cooking, it can be unavoidable. Luckily, it’s almost guaranteed that there’s an item or two in there that’s out of date. So take some time to go through your refrigerator’s contents and weed out the stuff that isn’t going to get eaten. It’s especially important not to store large items, like takeout boxes, casserole dishes and loaves of bread on the top shelf, as they could trap heat in the unit and cause your compressor to work overtime.

6. Use the power-saver switch.

Your unit might not have one of these, but if it does, it’s in your best interest to use it! Power-saver switches are connected to heaters built into the walls of refrigerator units. These heaters are designed to help prevent condensation, but the secret is that they may not even be needed. Try turning on the power-saver switch to disable this feature—you may find that no condensation builds up and you can save a little energy.

7. Keep your refrigerator away from your stove.

The heat from your stove can cause your refrigerator’s compressor to work overtime every time you go to cook. Over time, this can even wear out the unit and shorten the life of your appliance. While you may be stuck with this setup for the time being, keep in mind that ideally, your fridge should be several feet away from your stove when you mock up new design plans.

8. Clean your condenser coils.

Cleaning behind the fridge hardly ever makes the top of the old chore list, but if you’d like to have a more efficient unit, it’s a must. Dust removes heat and causes the coils to work much harder than they need to. Pulling the fridge out and sweeping under it, then using a bristle brush to dust the back will do the trick. And luckily, you shouldn’t need to do this too often.

Call National Property Inspections to have your home questions answered.

Our NPI inspectors can answer the most important questions you have about the condition and maintenance of your home. Call us to sell or buy with confidence.

Understanding Your Home’s Phantom Load

Your Home's Phantom Load

What if we told you your home was full of phantoms? Before you go calling in the paranormal investigators, you should know what kind of ghosts we’re talking about. They don’t make the walls bleed or the bed levitate, but they can still be scary . . . for your electric bill.

What’s a phantom load?

Simply put, your home’s phantom load is a measure of the energy consumed by your appliances when they’re turned off. Most modern electronics don’t really turn off when you hit the power button. Instead, they go into “low power” or “standby” mode, which allows appliances like TVs and computers to boot up faster when you turn them on. You’ll also see phantom load on display with any appliance that features a digital clock, including your oven, microwave and DVR.

This may not seem like a big deal . . . after all, how much power can they possibly waste when they’re turned off? Turns out it’s a lot. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, modern appliances on low power mode waste somewhere in the realm of $4 billion (yep, with a B) of electricity every year, or 12 power plants’ worth.

What does my phantom load cost me?

You can generally expect around 11 percent of your monthly power bill to go towards appliances that are turned off. This comes out to around $100 a year, but it can vary a lot based on the number of power-draining appliances you have. Considering the average household has over twenty of these appliances connected at any given time, that’s a lot of energy and money wasted.

Which appliances have the worst phantom loads?

Generally speaking, anything with a remote control or external power supply is still going to draw substantial power when it’s turned off. Here’s a breakdown of the worst offenders:

  • DVR: This device is a problem because it wastes a lot of power (37 watts, or $39/year) in standby mode, but if you turn it off completely it can’t record. Considering that’s the reason it exists, there’s not much to do about this one.
  • Video game systems: If you’re a gamer, you should factor in about 24 watts of phantom load for each system you have plugged in. That’s $25 a year.
  • Laptop computers: Laptops that are plugged in and fully charged use almost 16 watts even when they’re in sleep mode ($17 a year).
  • Flat screen TV: While TVs don’t use as much power as DVRs, video game systems or laptops in standby mode, most households have more than one TV, and each one draws its own phantom load. Expect to use about six watts, or about $6.50 a year, for each TV on standby.

You can see that these numbers start to add up fast. These are just the heavy hitters, but if you think about every appliance in your home that’s always plugged in, all of those carry a phantom load, too. Everything from your cable box and Roku to Google Home and cell phone chargers cost you money every day without you realizing it.

How can I control my home’s phantom load?

If you live in a tech-heavy household, it’s not surprising to see hundreds of dollars wasted per year in phantom energy usage. Thankfully, though, it’s pretty easy to keep it in check by using a smart power strip.

Smart strips look just like a normal power strip, but have outlets that can turn on and off individually. Special circuitry in the strip detects changes in the electrical load traveling through each outlet, so when you use a remote to turn on your device, the strip senses the increase in load and turns on that outlet. Other outlets on the strip stay off until you need them, saving energy and money.

Other smart strips allow you to group devices together (like your TV, DVD player and soundbar), so when you turn on the main device, the strip supplies power to the secondary devices, too. There are even models equipped with infrared motion detectors to let your strip know to supply power when you’re in the room, and cut the power when you’re not.

National Property Inspections is Here to Save You Money

From energy audits to full inspections revealing the condition of your property, NPI helps you find ways to run your home more efficiently. Call us and book an appointment today.

5 New Ways to Save Energy

So you have your thermostat set to the perfect temperature and you’ve checked and re-checked your windows and doors for drafts. . .and you’re still cold. It may just be time to think outside the box. Here are five more ways to save energy and keep a warmer home through the coldest months of the year.

1. Move furniture away from radiators

You might be tempted to move your sofas and chairs as close to the fireplace, woodstove or registers as possible. But upholstered furniture can actually absorb heat, leaving the rest of yoether home in the cold. It’s best to move all furniture away from your home’s radiators to keep the warm air circulating freely. This goes for curtains as well when possible, though the right kind can go a long way toward keeping in warm air.

2. Trade in your curtains

Speaking of curtains. . .winter might be a good time to upgrade. Switching to curtains made from a heavier material can help keep warm air from escaping through drafty windows. Insulated, or thermal curtains are available for this express purpose in stylish colors and prints so that you won’t have to drastically change the vibe of your living area.

3. Reverse the direction of your ceiling fans

Most of us don’t even think about our ceiling fans in winter—they’re typically reserved for cooling things off and circulating air only. In warmer months, the blades of ceiling fans spin at a slight angle counterclockwise to utilize the wind chill effect. But we all know that warm air rises while cooler air sinks. Therefore, ceiling fans are actually perfect for taking the work your furnace is doing and kicking it up a notch. By switching your blades to clockwise during the colder months, cool air is drawn upwards while warm air is forced down into your living space. You’ll be able to turn down the thermostat and save a little cash by keeping all that cozy warm air low.

4. Put down extra rugs

If you have hardwood floors, you’re no stranger to icy feet. Putting down extra rugs can help provide additional insulation for any room, whether wood, tiled or carpeted. To up the warmth factor and protect against slips, simply place a grippy pad underneath.

5. Switch to flannel sheets

Did you remember to switch your cotton sheets for a flannel set? This quick, inexpensive change can make a big difference in your nighttime comfort, not to mention your heating bill. While flannel sheets had a bad rep at one time for being uncomfortably warm, the flannel-cotton blends available now help strike the perfect balance. You can even invest in a flannel duvet cover to see even more substantial savings over time.

For even more energy-saving tips, call us today. Our inspectors can evaluate your residential or commercial property to determine the efficiency of your HVAC system, insulation, window seals and other infamous energy drainers.

Making Your Home Energy Efficient

A close look at your home systems can improve energy savings. Several options for evaluating your home’s energy efficiency are available.

Consumers who improve their home’s energy efficiency can reap the benefits of energy savings. Several different inspection services are available to help homeowners pinpoint areas of potential savings.

The U.S. federal government offers an online do-it-yourself auditing tool for consumers. Go to http://hes.lbl.gov/and follow the instructions to receive a personalized energy savings report for your home. Collecting the information for the audit can take some time. If you had a general home inspection when you purchased your home, find it. The home inspection report contains much of the information needed to complete the audit.

Certified Home Energy Raters perform an on-site inspection that covers items such as insulation, windows, construction, ducts, heating and cooling equipment, water heaters, lighting, appliances, and thermostats. Blower door tests determine areas of leakage within the home “envelope.”

Measurements and findings are entered into the software, and the homeowner receives a report detailing the current energy rating, recommended improvements and energy savings predictions possible with different improvements. These reports may help the homeowner in securing an energy-efficient mortgage through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA and VA that includes the cost of energy efficient improvements. New-home builders wanting to qualify for certain tax advantages are required to use raters to check the energy efficiency levels of recent construction.

Raters must meet certain education requirements prior to taking a final exam and then continue to meet education and quality assurance standards set by the Residential Energy Services Network in order to maintain their certification.

Infrared camera inspections are another way to analyze some areas of energy loss in the home. Trained infrared inspectors can use the cameras to locate areas of missing insulation, electrical hot spots and water intrusion.

Home Tune-Ups, a division of CMC Energy Services, offers another version of an energy audit. Tune-Up inspectors perform a visual inspection and provide their clients with a cost and savings report for improvements. The Tune-Up includes access to a database of contractors. CMC trains its own inspectors and offers its own software program for determining energy savings.

Individual states or utilities may also offer weatherization programs or energy audits. Wisconsin is one such state, but these programs very widely from state to state. For more information, try contacting your local utility, state energy office, or sometimes health and human services, which may administer some of the energy reduction program monies.

Information about energy efficiency legislation, programs and standards is also broken down state by state on a new website at http://www.ase.org/content/article/detail/2356 and sponsored by the Alliance to Save Energy.

Building an Efficient Fire

Having the right appliance and the proper safety components, such as smoke detectors, is important. So is having the right kind of wood to burn.

Fireplace safety begins with a properly installed chimney or ventilation system. This helps move the byproducts of combustion out of the home. Properly placed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are also a must in any home with wood-burning appliances.

What some people fail to consider is that building an efficient, productive fire has as much to do with the wood as with the appliance that houses it. To build an efficient fire:

  • Use only seasoned wood. Seasoned wood is wood, hard or soft, that has been cut and allowed to dry for six to nine months.
  • Seasoned wood should be cut and stacked off of the ground, preferably in a spot that receives good sunlight and air movement. Cutting the wood allows air to blow across both ends, evaporating moisture inside. Cover the top of the wood to prevent rewetting from precipitation. The wood pile should also be located away from the house and other structures to prevent the infestation of wood-destroying insects.
  • Using dry, seasoned wood also reduces the buildup of creosote, a byproduct of wood burning that collects on the inside of the chimney and can ignite, causing dangerous chimney fires. When creosote reaches ¼ inch of thickness on the walls of the chimney flue, you should have it cleaned by a trained professional. Inspect the chimney frequently to check for creosote buildup.
  • Start fires using clean newspapers and dry kindling, never garbage, plastics or treated wood.
  • Let the fire burn down to coals, and then rake the coals toward the air inlet, creating a mount. Do not spread the coals flat.
  • Regularly remove ashes from the woodstove into a metal container with a cover. Store ashes outdoors on a nonflammable surface until completely cooled.

Information for this article came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at www.epa.com.

 

Make Every Day Earth Day

The U.S. Department of Energy offers tips to save money and protect the environment through your everyday choices.

The U.S. Department of Energy offers an interactive way to learn how to save money and protect the environment through the choices you make every day. Visit http://www.energy.gov/energytips.htm for more information.