Home » Archives for Joe Hammond

Should I Get A Home Inspection On My Brand New Home?

Having your home inspected by a professional, licensed home inspector is a very important step when buying a home. This still holds true if the home is brand new and no one else has ever lived in it before.

I worked as a contractor and carpenter for an independent home builder for many years before becoming a home inspector. When a home is being built, there are a lot of moving parts. There are dozens of different contractors working together to build the home. From the foundation to the framing, and from the electrical to the plumbing. There are typically different contractors or specialists building or installing the systems and components that pertain to their area of expertise. What happens when all these different specialists are all working at the same time is that sometimes, things get overlooked or just forgotten. Remember, a home is a very complex system.

Many times, the general contractor, the one in charge of making sure everyone does their jobs properly and at the right time, will make what is called a “punch-list”. This is a list of items or projects that need to be completed before the home is finished. Unfortunately, all the things on the list don’t always get done before the home goes on the market.

I recently inspected a brand new home and found several things of interest that would definitely benefit a buyer to know before buying the home. Let me show you what I found.

First, I found that as with many Florida homes, there were no gutters on the lower eaves of the home. Gutters carry storm water away from the home and prevent soil erosion and foundation settlement. To read more about gutters click here.

No gutters on this new home
Soil erosion caused by lack of gutters

After that, I found some stucco cracking under the windows. The cracking was still pretty small, but was beginning to spread just behind a sprinkler head. These heads are notorious for getting broken or twisted so they point backwards. With the stucco beginning to crack behind the sprinkler head, it was only a matter of time before water got inside the wall.

Stucco cracking on a new home

While I was inspecting the exterior, I noticed that none of the windows had screens. This can be fairly common on new homes. Sometimes the screens are stored in the garage or in a shed. Nevertheless, it’s always important to know if they are present and accounted for. I was not able to find any screens on the property.

No screens on new home
No screens on new home

Around the back of the home on the underside of the eaves, I found two open electrical boxes. I assume these were in place for light fixtures, or maybe even power for cameras. But, in the current state, the open boxes could be a safety hazard or could just become damaged due to weather.

Open electrical box on a new home
Open electrical box on a new home

When I was inspecting the garage, I found that the fire-rated service door from the garage to the home was equipped with auto-closing hinges. However, the hinges were not working properly and the door just stayed open when swung. The auto-closing hinges keep the fire wall in place between the home and garage in case there is ever a fire in the garage.

Auto-closing hinges are not working

Last I inspected the bathrooms and found that the hallway bathroom fixtures were very loose and poorly secured at the shower wall. I also found that one of the faucets in the master bathroom was not functioning at all.

Loose fixtures at shower in new house
Faucet not working

Overall, home inspectors do typically find much less deficiencies in new homes over older homes. But, you never know what the situation may be. I once found a serious structural defect in a brand new home.

In closing, even if the home is brand new and no one has ever lived in it before, you definitely should still have the home inspected by a professional and licensed home inspector. You are making a huge investment. You want to know what you are buying.

Is Aluminum Wiring Safe?

There is a lot of controversy surrounding single strand aluminum wiring even among home isnpectors, with good reason. Not to mention the issues that can arise on the insurance side.

Most homes with widespread single strand aluminum wiring were built between 1965 and 1972. However, aluminum is still used in a lot of areas still today. Aluminum wiring was used mainly because it is a lighter weight material and is much less expensive than it’s more durable and more conductive counterpart, copper. Copper is now much more widely used than aluminum because it is more reliable. For the sake of this specific issue and post, we will only be talking about single strand aluminum wiring. Multi-strand aluminum can have completely different properties.

Common Problems With Aluminum Wiring

#1 Rust

Typically, an oxide or rust forms on aluminum due to a chemical reaction to oxygen. A white substance can form on aluminum that restricts conduction of electricity. This process can also cause the aluminum to overheat.

Copper can also develop an oxide but it does not typically cause conduction to lessen.

#2 Soft Material

When a home is wired, the wiring is cut and stripped. Because aluminum is a soft material, sometimes it can become damaged.

#3 Expansion and contraction

When electricity flows through wire it heats up. With aluminum, its composition causes it to expand when it heats up more than other materials. Then after it cools down, it contracts. Over time, this will cause the screws and lugs near the wire to loosen. This in turn can cause arcing which is a fire hazard.

Scorched outlet with aluminum wiring

My Home Inspector Found Aluminum Wiring. Do I Need to Have It All Replaced?

Tearing up walls to replace all the wiring is an expensive task to say the least. Here are the most common options for aluminum wiring.

#1 Rewire the home

You could have the home rewired. However, this is going to be expensive.

#2 Pigtailing

This is a common repair for aluminum wiring. The main issues with aluminum wiring is at the connection. These could be at switches, outlets, junction boxes etc. . Pigtailing puts a copper wire at the connection and then connects to the aluminum. However, the connection must be a special connection with special equipment. You can’t just connect it directly. There are a few different methods of pigtailing:

  1. Twist-On Nuts
    • These should only be the copper to aluminum specialized nuts. Be careful, these are not allowed in some areas!
  2. COPALUM (Copper Aluminum Connectors)
    • These are specialized connectors that must be crimped with a special tool.
  3. AlumiConn
    • This type of connector actually uses specialized screws to connect to two materials together.
Wire Nuts
Shrunk Copalum type connectors
AlumiConn type connectors

#3 Aluminum Specific Outlets and Switches

There are a few manufacturers that make outlets and switches that are specifically designed to account for the unique characteristics of aluminum.

Aluminum Wiring and Insurance

Many home owner’s insurance companies will not write policies for homes with single strand aluminum wiring. This can be a big consideration when weighing options.

Closing

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission says that a home that has aluminum wiring is 55 times more likely to catch fire than other wire types. Remember, most issues that arise from aluminum wiring are at the connections. These connections could be at switches, outlets, junction boxes etc. If you think about the number of connections in the average home, you can see the risk.

Don’t ever try to fix electrical issues by yourself. You should always consult a licensed electrician before undergoing any electrical upgrades or repairs.

Reasons to Get a Home Inspection (#1)

Can You Do Your Own Home Inspection?

The simple answer… yes you can. But, we don’t recommend it, and your real estate broker or other professional most likely won’t either.

In the weeks to come, let’s go over the reasons why it really is a good idea to have your home inspected by a trained and licensed professional. The reasons I am listing are not necessarily in order of importance, so please don’t think one is more crucial than another. This list is just to give you an idea of what home inspectors do and the real value they can provide you with.

#1 Home Inspectors Can See Problems You Can’t

The majority of home inspectors (with a few exceptions based on safety) will walk your roof, traverse through the attic and if you have an older home, army-crawl through the space underneath the home known as the crawlspace (yes I said army-crawl). Most home owners or home buyers are not willing to or even know how to enter and get through these spaces properly and safely. Home Inspectors are trained to do these things and do them on a daily basis. Many do this multiple times a day. Don’t worry about getting muddy and dirty in confined spaces or risk your safety walking your roof. Just let the home inspector do it for you, that’s what they’re paid for!

The other thing to consider when contemplating inspecting your own home, is that there may be issues that you can see wide out in the open that don’t require you to enter any confined spaces, but you may not know they are issues. Home Inspectors are trained and have a lot of experience “seeing” things that others can’t or don’t. Many people don’t know that certain conditions inside an electrical panel or forced air furnace can be serious safety hazards. Usually these conditions are not obvious the the casual observer.

Stay safe. Hire a home inspector!

What Does “Open Ground” Mean?

Your Home Inspector or Electrician Says the Home or Outlet is “Ungrounded”: What Does That Mean?

It is not uncommon for home inspectors or electrical contractors to find ungrounded electrical systems or outlets, especially in older homes. Let’s explore what this means and why it can be an issue.

Basics of how electricity works

When electricity is used it must complete a circuit. Grounding provides a path for unwanted or improperly routed electricity to “complete its circuit” by going into the ground.

Types of outlets

There are typically two types of outlets or “receptacles”. The two-prong type and the three-prong type. The two-prong is usually in older homes and dates back to the 60s. This outlet just has two parallel vertical slots, the “hot” and the “neutral”. The three-prong type looks just like the two prong only it has a third round hole usually below and between the slots (though sometimes it is above depending on the installation). This third hole is for the ground prong.

Is grounding important?

Yes, grounding is important. Usually, electricity flows normally through the hot and neutral wires, but sometimes circumstances cause the power to need an alternate path and the ground is used. Typically if the system is ground properly this causes the breaker to trip. If electricity cannot complete a circuit through ground or other means, it can be a shock or fire hazard because the power will use whatever conductor is nearest to complete the circuit, even if that is a person or device.

What if the home is ungrounded?

If the home itself is ungrounded, this typically means that the home was wired with a “two-wire” method instead of a “three-wire” method. If this is the case, the home can be rewired, or special devices can be installed to help mitigate the issues. However, this is never as effective as having a true ground.

What if the outlet is ungrounded?

If just one or a few outlets are ungrounded, it could be that the grounding wire is loose, connected improperly or not connected at all.

Grounding can be a confusing and complicated issue. However, in most circumstances it is a safety hazard if left as is. But don’t worry, there are many different methods used today to help remedy this issue.

What are the different types of roof?

Why does roof shape (geometry) matter?

This is a fairly common question we get during home inspections. Especially when we are also doing Wind Mitigation inspections. Roof geometry is very important, especially in Florida, because the different shapes can make a big difference when high wind or hurricane season comes! So let’s talk about the different types of roof shapes and what they mean, and the pros and cons of each.

Gable roof

A gable roof is a pitched roof that basically looks like an “A”. It is sloped on two sides and open at both ends. Some roofing materials typically installed on gable roofs include asphalt shingles, clay/cement tiles and metal. Gable roofs are typically less expensive to replace because they have less surface area. This type of roof is good at shedding water if it has a steep enough pitch. However, it has been known to be susceptible to damage or issues in high wind or hurricane conditions. But don’t worry! Big issues are usually rare. Having a Wind Mitigation inspection is a great way to see if the roof is attached to the home correctly to offset the high wind resistance.

Gable roof

Hip roof

A hip roof is a pitched roof but it doesn’t open on the ends. It looks almost like a pyramid that has a flatter ridge on top. Ever wonder why the Great Pyramids have stood for so long? That shape is extremely strong structurally and highly aerodynamic, which means the wind just passes around it and rarely causes any damage or resistance. Some roofing materials typically installed on hip roofs include asphalt shingles, clay/cement tiles and metal. This is one of the strongest roof shapes. However, replacement of roofing materials can be on the pricier side because the roof surface is greater.

Hip roof

Flat/low slope roof

Flat/low slope roofs are much less common in Florida, but there are some. Some roofing materials typically installed on flat roofs include built up roof, tar and gravel (another form of built up), rolled roofing (like huge flat shingles) and different types of membrane. Flat roofs are convenient because they can be traversed easily, they are usually not as expensive to replace and they are easy to add additional features to if the structure design permits. However, they do tend to “pond”, which means low spots will form and pooling occurs. This can be especially concerning in Florida where we often have flooding rains. On flat roofs, the system should be very well sealed and at least some slope should be incorporated.

Flat/low slope roof

Shed roof

These types of roofs were originally designed for farm sheds and lean-to structures. Sometimes these roofs are also called “skillion” roofs. The shape is like half of a gable roof, just one long slope. They are great for their solar potential if built correctly. Some roofing materials typically installed on shed roofs include asphalt shingles, clay/cement tiles and metal. The downside is that they are highly susceptible to wind damage and offer limited protection in harsh weather conditions.

Shed roof

Gambrel roof

These roofs are often called “barn roofs”. This type of roof is like a gable roof but there are two different slopes. These types of roofs have great potential if a second story is desired. Some roofing materials typically installed on gambrel roofs include asphalt shingles, clay/cement tiles and metal. These roofs require very consistent maintenance and again can be susceptible to high wind damage.

Gambrel roof

Mansard roof

This type of roof is similar to gambrel roofs with the two different slopes, but is almost always four-sided. These types of roofs are not very common in Florida. They offer the pros, but also the cons of both low pitched roofs and a pitched roofs.

Mansard roof

There are many other types of roofs, but these few are the most common found in Florida. Sometimes different roof shapes are combined in one house. If you don’t have one of the stronger roof shapes, don’t worry! There are always ways to make it stronger to survive beautiful and crazy Florida!

Should my House in Florida have gutters?

Do I Really Need Gutters?

We get asked this question on home inspections all the time. The simple answer is… yes you really should have gutters.

You would think with all the flooding rains we get in Central Florida, that gutters would be commonplace. However, a huge portion of homes still have little to no guttering. The fact that Florida has a sandy soil and most moisture is absorbed quickly without homeowners seeing the ponding may be the reason for this. Or, it may be that builders are trying to save on costs and decided that gutters are not important. Whatever the case may be, we always recommend having gutters installed and maintained at all lower eaves of your home.

No gutters on Central Florida home. (Pretty common)

Let’s say you have good grading and plenty of slope around your home. Should you still have gutters?

As with any other system in your home, the real problems are usually the ones you CAN’T see. In Florida we have a very sandy soil. This allows it to absorb a lot of moisture. However, it is also very easily eroded. Erosion underneath your home can cause all kinds of costly issues from foundation settlement to structural failure. Properly installed gutters with downspouts and extensions will carry the bulk of the storm water away from the home and prevent long term erosion.

Another benefit to gutters is, because the storm water is being carried away to downspouts, it keeps everyone from getting rainwater dumped directly off the roof onto them as they walk in the home. It also keeps flower beds and shrubs from getting washed out.

One thing that people don’t typically think about when it comes to gutters is that without them, rainwater will tend to run down the side of the fascia (eaves) and also down the side of the home. This in turn can cause moisture intrusion into the wall, which can lead to rot and mold. Think of it like a cup that has a loose lid. When the cup is tipped, the liquid runs down the side and gets everywhere!

We all know that water follows the path of least resistance. Properly installed gutters with downspouts and extensions provide a perfect path for storm water and ultimately will help maintain your home for years to come!

Illustration of importance of gutters

Why Should the Refrigerant Line on my AC be Insulated?

Most HVAC specialists recommend that the refrigerant line on your AC be insulated. But what does that mean?

First, let’s talk about what the refrigerant lines do.

A typical residential AC unit has two copper lines that exit the building and run into the condenser unit. One is called the “warm” line or “liquid” line. This line is typically smaller, and it carries the refrigerant in a liquid form and sheds heat as it moves. This line is not typically insulated because it must get rid of heat.

The other line is called the “cold” line or “suction” line. This is the larger line, carries a cooled vapor and should be insulated.

Suction line with damaged insulation
Suction line with new insulation

What happens if the line is not insulated?

When the insulation begins to fail, more and more energy is lost and usually it makes your equipment work harder to maintain temperature. Insulation protects against condensation and helps maintain moisture control. If moisture penetrates the insulation, surrounding the cold pipe, energy is lost and can even lead to freezing. This in turn can lead to bigger problems down the road.

Frozen line

Typically, the insulation used in this application is a rubberized or foam material and is low cost. An HVAC professional can install it quickly and easily.

Don’t get caught with AC problems that can escalate. Make sure to check your suction line at least once a year, especially in Florida where the UV index can get pretty high. Insulation can become damaged quickly by high UV. In all my years doing home inspections, I have never seen this insulation last for extended times. Just add this to your home maintenance list!

When should I be worried about stucco cracks?

Let’s talk about stucco cracks

Last week, my wife and I were putting our sons to bed and found a large damaged area of drywall on the wall. My first thought was that the boys had put a hole in the wall from rough housing. But, I looked closer and found that the wall was wet. The floor was also wet and the wood laminate was beginning to buckle and warp. Not something any of us like to see. My first thought was “oh great I have a plumbing leak”. But, I realized there is no plumbing in that area. Cross that off the list. Upon further investigation, I found some small cracks on the exterior stucco of our home just opposite of the wet area. Small cracks can lead to big problems. Especially somewhere as wet as Florida! Many people don’t realize that it only takes very small cracks to allow moisture intrusion. Which can then lead to bigger issues down the road.

YIKES!
Just a small crack!
Another small crack in that corner.

So when should cracks in your stucco be repaired?

Stucco is after all a concrete product, which means it will crack at some point.

There are a few different types of cracks. They range in shape, size and meaning. Here are a few of the main types of cracks on your stucco and what they mean.

  • Hair line cracks:
    • This type of cracking is typical and will almost certainly occur. But, there is still a risk of moisture intrusion even from these tiny cracks. Consider using an elastomeric sealant to seal these cracks and then paint over to create another moisture barrier.
Hairline crack
  • “Spider” cracking:
    • This is when the cracking spreads out like a spider web in all directions. This is typically caused by a poor initial installation of the stucco. This could eventually lead to stucco failure or the stucco coming loose at the home. A stucco contractor would be able to tell if the stucco is failing and if it needs to be repaired or re-applied.
Spider stucco cracking
  • Pattern cracking:
    • If the stucco is cracking in patterns, this again is most likely due to poor installation of the stucco or “lathe” underneath. Consider consulting a stucco contractor.
Pattern cracking
  • Peeling stucco:
    • Peeling or flaking stucco usually means the stucco already has moisture behind it and is failed or failing and will most likely need to be removed and replaced by a stucco contractor.
Peeling stucco
  • Stair-step” cracking:
    • This type of cracking could be a sign of minor to major settlement, or could be a sign of shrinkage between blocks if the home is block construction. If the cracks are very wide, a masonry specialist could be consulted to determine if it is just shrinkage and can be repaired or “tuck-pointed” or if there is a structural issue.
Stair step cracking
  • Lateral or structural cracking:
    • Typically if a crack is wider on one side than the other, it means the structure is moving somehow and is almost always a sign of some sort of structural settlement. If the cracks are showing signs of displacement, consider hiring a structural engineer to determine if the home is continuing to settle over time. If the home settles too significantly, it could cause very large and expensive repairs later.
Displacement cracking

A few more tips on how to maintain stucco cracking and prevent bigger issues later on:

  • Seal any cracks you see or hire a professional to seal those for you. Remember, even hairline cracks can allow moisture intrusion.
  • Make sure your sprinkler systems aren’t spraying directly onto the home. This condition introduces moisture directly to areas that could have cracks. It can also wear down the stucco, actually causing cracks.
  • Consider installing gutters at the lower eaves around the entire home if you do not have gutter already. Gutters carry storm water away from the home and distributes it safely away from the home.
  • If you already have gutters, make sure to clean them at least twice a year. When debris builds up inside gutters, it causes them to overflow and it can flow backwards onto the stucco. Blocked gutters can also damage the gutters themselves due to rust or excessive weight.
  • Do your own mini home inspection for your stucco once or twice a year, so that you know as soon as problems arise and you can fix it before it becomes a big issue.

Why Do I Need To Change The Filter In My HVAC System?

All Florida homes need regular upkeep and maintenance during the year. One of the systems in your home that especially needs regular maintenance is your HVAC system. “HVAC” stands for “Heating Ventilation & Air Conditioning”. We may not use heat for much of the year in Florida, but even your cooling system will use some sort of “Air Handler” that will need regular maintenance. One of the simplest parts of maintaining your HVAC system is to change the filter regularly. This is needed for several reasons and can really spell trouble if the filter is not changed regularly.

So, what is the purpose of a filter?

The filter catches all the dirt and airborne contaminants in the air to keep us healthier right? Well… yes, but that is really just a happy side effect of its real job, despite what most people are led to believe. The real function of the filter in your HVAC system IS to trap airborne contaminants, but not primarily to maintain air quality. The main purpose of catching all that debris is to keep it from going into your system.

How often do I need to change my filter?

This is different from system to system and filter to filter. The home itself can also impact how often you should change your filter. If you go to your local hardware store where the filters are located you will see a wide range of different types, sizes, thicknesses and uses. Changing your filter should be done anywhere from once a month to almost once a year. The filter thickness and manufacturer recommendations will tell you how often it needs to be changed. Here is a very rough guide on how often each type of filter should be changed:

  • Filters at 1-2 inches thick should be replaced every 1-3 months.
  • Filters at 3-4 inches thick should be replaced every 6-9 months.
  • Filters at 5-6 inches thick should be replaced every 9-12 months.
Now that’s a dirty filter!

Other variables that can affect how often you should change your filter are:

  • The amount of people in the household: More people living in the home generates more debris and contaminates. This means in a large household; the filter should be changed more often.
  • Pets: This is a big contributor to the amount of contaminates in the air as well. Pets shed fur and dander and can decrease the life of your filter.
  • Indoor Air Quality: If a home already has issues with indoor air quality, the filter will pick up a large amount of contaminates and will not last as long either. If your filter is becoming blocked very quickly, consider having an HVAC specialist add an air purifier.
  • Allergies: If there are people in the household who suffer from allergies or asthma, the filter may need to be changed more often to accommodate those more sensitive people. There are also special allergy sensitive filters you can get to help with this even more.
  • The frequency of use: In Florida, we tend to run our AC pretty frequently. If you are someone that likes it really cool inside, this could cause the filter to need changing more often as well.

Putting off easy maintenance could lead to big and complicated problems.

When you forget to change the filter in your system for too long, problems can arise pretty quickly. Here are just a few things that happen when the filter is too dirty:

  • HVAC System Damage
    • There are a large number of mechanical and electronic components inside the HVAC system that can be damaged or blocked when debris settles inside the unit.
    • When filters are dirty and blocked, it causes the unit the work harder because the air is not moving properly through the unit. This uses more energy and stresses the unit which can damage or decrease the useful life of the system.
    • A blocked filter restricts airflow which can cause the internal temperature inside the unit to rise, causing the system to overheat. This in turn can cause components to fail or become damaged.
    • When too many contaminates flow through the system, they can become lodged in the condensate removal components. These could be drain lines, condensate pumps or could even spill into the home. This is a common occurrence in Florida due to the high humidity.
  • Poor Personal Comfort & Low Air Quality
    • When the filter is blocked the air will not flow through the home properly and can cause difficulty in maintaining the desired temperature consistently through the home.
    • A blocked filter cannot trap contaminates as easily and the current contaminates will stay in the air, causing discomfort or allergy flare ups.

Don’t Forget Another Filter Change!

Changing your HVAC filter is a very important maintenance task for you and your system! It’s easy for everyone to forget to change the filter. But you should make it a priority to check your filter once a month to make sure it’s in good shape. If the filter is completely covered with contaminants, it’s time to change your filter.

A few ways to help you remember to check your filter is to mark your calendar for once a month, set a reminder on your phone or link the task of changing your filter with paying your utility bill. Don’t pay the bill until you check the filter!

Do yourself and your HVAC system a favor and remember to change your filter!