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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.

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

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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