February 2018: How To Survive Winter

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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These days, the panels are considered outdated and have been replaced with “smart” devices like the Amazon Echo.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 find out if you’ve won.

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

  • 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

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 find out if you’ve won.

Pre-winter Home Maintenance

Fall may be the perfect time for you to enjoy outdoor activities, but this perfect weather will soon be gone. Take care of pre-winter home maintenance now, so you won’t have regrets later.

Don’t get lost in the perfect fall weather and put off pre-winter home maintenance this year, or you will regret it next spring. Follow these quick and easy home maintenance tips to prepare your house for the cold season ahead.

  1. Weatherproof windows and doors. Seal gaps larger than 1/8 inch around windows and doors to cut your winter heating bill by up to 15 percent. Use adhesive-backed closed-cell foam on windows and foam strips on the sides and top of doors, and install a door sweep on the bottom.
  2. Check your gutters. Make sure gutters are clean of debris and that water is properly directed out the downspout.
  3. Fix cracked concrete. Cracks in your driveway, walkway and steps are a safety issue, and will only worsen if water seeps into them and freezes in the winter. You can caulk and fix concrete if the area is clean and dry. For smaller cracks, squeeze acrylic latex concrete repair compound into the crack, smoothing excess with a putty knife. Use a vinyl concrete patching compound for larger cracks, and let it cure for one day before walking on it, three days before driving over it.
  4. Trees and power lines. Check trees around the house to make sure they are not threatening any power line wires.
  5. Check the roofing for cracks or missing shingles. Check asphalt for dry or curling shingles; wood for rot and splints; slate and tile for broken/missing pieces; and flat roofs for holes.
  6. Look around the attic space during daylight hours, with the lights turned off. Check for holes in the roofing and keep an eye out for animal activity or entry points for animals.
  7. If you have ceiling fans, change their rotation clockwise (by flicking a switch on the base) to push warm air down. Clean debris and dust from fan’s blades.
  8. Prepare your garden and planting beds. Mulch around your bulbs, shrubs, roses and trees to prevent any drastic changes in soil temperature from destroying the root systems of these plants.
  9. Take care of the lawn mower and garden tools. Run the gas out of the mower for storage, change the oil and check the spark plug. Clean garden tools and give them a light coat of oil to protect them from rust.
  10. Drain the water. If you live in a location where it freezes, drain the garden hose, coil it up and hang it up where it won’t freeze or crack. If you have a sprinkler system, drain it, and shut off the water to prevent pipes from freezing.