Leavenworth Home Inspection Issues – Part II
Leavenworth homes have a number of common issues that often show up during a home inspection. In part I of this series about common issues found in Leavenworth homes, John Griffith of Cascade Site Services talked about 5 issues that he often sees in his inspections. Here are the next five issues, in no particular order.
6) Unlined Masonry chimney: Another of the potentially deadly situations that is discovered during a home inspection is an unlined and/or a deteriorated masonry chimney. Typically, masonry chimneys for wood burning fireplaces have terra cotta clay liners. Fireplace inserts and pellet stoves usually have a metal chimney liner installed. If there is no clay or metal type of liner inside the masonry chimney, the chimney is unlined. Unlined masonry chimneys pose a significant safety risk. Any cracks or gaps in the chimneys’ bricks or mortar, anywhere in the chimney (below the roof), will allow heat, smoke and carbon monoxide to escape into the structure. Many attic fires are attributable to deteriorated unlined masonry chimneys. Even if the chimney has a clay liner, any cracks or gaps in the clay liner will pose the same hazards as an unlined chimney. It is critical that homeowners, with a wood burning fireplace and masonry chimney, have the chimney inspected and cleaned by a licensed chimney service company. This should be done annually, if the fireplace is used at all, since cracks in the tile liner can occur at any time and soot buildup can occur very rapidly.
For more information on chimney safety and inspections, see http://www.csia.org/.
7) Electrical Service Panel issues: For those that have ever looked behind the cover of an electrical service panel, you understand the multitude of concerns that are possible in the power supply of an “all electric” home. Usually, the more common issues that are discovered in electrical service panels can be attributed to two causes – outdated equipment and “do it yourself” homeowners. While “DIYing” may work fine for some home projects, electrical system installation or modification should be left to professionals or at least to those “DIYers” that truly understand electrical circuits. Just being “fairly familiar” with electrical supply systems can have very hazardous consequences. “Double lugging” and “over fusing” are typical pitfalls that homeowners, turned part time electricians, often fall into. “Double lugging” occurs when a circuit breaker has two wires or circuits connected to the breaker, when the breaker is designed for only one wire. “Over fusing’ refers to a circuit breaker that is too large for the size of the wire or circuit it is protecting. These conditions can result in arcing, overheating and are a potential fire hazard. Outdated equipment poses limitations on the ability to add new circuits or additional loads to existing components. Also, the older the electrical supply equipment is, the harder (more expensive) it may be to find replacements when breakers fail. Outdated may also refer to down right hazardous, as in the case of “Zinsco” brand panels and breakers. “Zinsco” brands were common in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and unfortunately, have a high failure rate. A high failure rate, in an electrical service panel, usually results in fire. “Zinsco” breakers are easily recognizable by their green, red, blue and black breaker handles. When “Zinsco” panels or breakers are discovered during a home inspection, an automatic referral to a certified electrician will follow. More often than not, the electrician will recommend complete replacement of the panel and/or breakers. Other brands that warrant similar referrals are “Sylvania” and “Federal Pacific / Stablok”. To see some results of electrical system failures, go to http://www.inspect-ny.com/.
8) Lack of GFCI protected receptacles: Since GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) devices were not required on specific electrical receptacles until around 1980, many older homes do not have this affordable and effective protection as part of their updated electrical system. GFCI breakers in the panel, or receptacles in the wall, offer increased protection from potential shock hazards, particularly in areas that are considered “wet”. These areas include the exterior of the home, as well as, garages, unfinished basements, and around sinks in bathrooms and kitchens. For owners of older homes, the installation of GFCI protected receptacles is a great place to begin a safety upgrade to their electrical systems.
9) Nonfunctional smoke detectors: It is absolutely amazing to me that I still come across so many homes that have no smoke detectors or worse yet, smoke detectors that are not working! These simple and inexpensive devices save thousands of lives every year, yet the $2.00 replacement battery seems to be the big roadblock in maintaining effective fire safety in many homes. Older homes, if they have smoke detectors, usually need to install additional devices, so that there is a smoke detector in the hallway of each level of the home, as well as every bedroom. Also, if there is a natural gas or propane appliance in the home, a carbon monoxide detector near the appliance is essential for a safe home. For more information, go to http://www.nfpa.org/.
10) Inadequate attic insulation: More along the lines of comfort, rather than safety, is the condition of minimal insulation in the attic. Newer homes require insulation values of 30 or better, while older homes, will typically be around 19 or sometimes none at all. Adding insulation in the attic spaces will help conserve heat in drafty, older homes.