60% of decks are unsafe

Decks are wonderful additions that can really sharpen up the look of a home while providing a nice place to hang out with family. Though they are nice features on a home, many are not built to withstand the severe weather conditions of Idaho, and other diverse weather states.

The problems

Homes are built to be able to withstand severe weather conditions. The problem is, a deck should be looked at as an extension of the home. Therefore, should it not be built to the same standards of a home? Obviously, I’m not talking about following the same codes as the house, but it would be nice to see decks built with a bit more care, and safety precautions.

Home inspections

Here in Idaho, home inspections should include a thorough inspection of the deck. Home inspectors often see problems with decks such as:

  • footings not below frost line ~ can cause posts to raise and lower deck during the seasons
  • balusters not spaced correctly, or secured safely ~ fall hazard
  • handrails missing, or not properly sized ~ fall hazard
  • ledger board (connection to home) not secured well ~ possible deck collapse
  • nails used instead of through bolts and lag screws ~ nails tend to pull out
  • Improper sizing of materials ~ failure or collapse of deck
  • Improper construction practices ~ failure or collapse of deck

While this is a short list, there are many more common issues that are found by home inspectors every day. So, you can see why it would be important to have your home inspector take a thorough look at the deck, but is it really “unsafe?”

It doesn’t fail until it fails

In our professional opinion, “unsafe” is something that should never be overlooked. Though a connection may work for a period of time, that doesn’t mean it won’t fail in three years. Home inspections include these safety concerns because we want our clients to feel safe when using their deck. The last thing we want is for our client to contribute to one of the 40,000 annual deck injuries. Even though it may look fine, it doesn’t fail until it fails; and when it does, you won’t be ready for it.

In need of a home inspection?

Home Inspection ID would love to fill your home inspection needs. We provide inspections in Boise, Nampa, Meridian, Caldwell, Kuna, Star, Middleton and most of Treasure Valley. If you live in Idaho, an inspection is a must; but if your home has a deck, make sure your home inspector is knowledgeable in deck construction, or have a separate specialist verify its soundness in addition to the home inspection.

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Why I want a masonry fireplace

Fireplaces have been featured in homes forever. Originally, they were necessary in order to provide heat for the home during the cold months; however, they have gradually become more and more a luxurious staple in the home, rather than a necessity. And to be honest, Who doesn’t enjoy them? Living in Idaho, I’ve come to appreciate a good fire in the middle of winter. They’re amazing to stare at and create a wonderful spot to huddle around while reading a book.

Drawbacks

Their only real drawback is that they generally are low on the efficiency scale for heating your home, and sometimes, actually lose heat instead of gain heat in the home. There have been many different designs when it comes to fireplaces that can either improve or decrease their efficiency and functionality.

To name a few types:

  • gas igniting (wood burning)
  • gas burning
  • woodburning
  • gel burning
  • stoves (pellet, and wood-burning)

Each of these can have different features that can help improve the efficiency of the home.

Which one is better?

So, which one is the best? Well, most would argue that it’s not always about efficiency, and you must also factor in user experience and enjoyment. While this is true in most common choices (debating efficiency vs luxury), there is one (possibly more) that is able to combine both.

Masonry fireplaces have been around for centuries. The reason for this is stone and masonry’s unique ability to conduct heat and radiate that heat for extended amounts of time. With a masonry fireplace, one is able to heat an average home well, by simply burning wood once per day, and possibly a second at night.

The burning process

The temperatures of these fireplaces get to over 1000ºF in the firebox, and the gasses endure a secondary “burning” to reduce emissions as well as improve efficiency of the burn. What’s left of the smoke, is then slowly fed through smoke channels in the masonry, transferring this massive amount of heat into its walls. These walls then radiate that heat for hours and hours after the burn has finished. Creating a constant source of heat long after the fire has gone out.

Not only are these fireplaces extremely good at radiating heat (unbeatable by any other style of fireplace), they are also amazing to watch and enjoy the warmth around. There have been many names for these fireplaces; Finnish, Russian, Masonry, etc.

Masonry fireplace walkthrough on Youtube

I must say, that while I have been intrigued by these fireplaces for awhile, I wasn’t completely sold until I saw this guy’s youtube video (click here). He does a fantastic job of explaining these beauties, and demonstrating how they work.

Have you found your dream fireplace?

Home Inspection ID would love to hear what your favorite type of fireplace is! You can let us know why it’s your favorite in the comments (please include a picture!). If you are in the market for a home in Boise, Idaho, that features one of these or any other type of fireplace, you will want to get it inspected by a professional. Though a home inspection is a great start, it’s also a good idea to have a specialist inspect it a bit more thoroughly.

Different types of chimney inspections

There are different levels of chimney inspections; levels 1,2, and 3. Level 1 is a non-invasive inspection (similar to what a home inspector does). Level 2 is a little more invasive (but not usually destructive). And level 3 includes all of the visual examinations of 1 and 2, but may also include removing parts of the building in order to examine further. These different levels of inspection are warranted based on past/current problems, concerns, or noticeable damage. A level 1 is always recommended, however if there are any major concerns, a level 2 or 3 may be advised.

 

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New home problems

While there are so many wonderful things about technology and the improvements that have allowed us to build more efficient, airtight homes, it’s caused a dangerous problem that can be easily overlooked.

Modern houses are really quite amazing structures. They are made up entirely of systems that interact with each other on a daily basis without the average person even being aware of it. Thousands of hours have been poured into research and production of each system, and all of this goes, for the most part, unnoticed by the occupant.

With changing technology, comes new and different safety concerns. One’s that could put your family and loved ones at risk, should they be neglected.

Homes over the years have gradually become more and more airtight. While this is fantastic when it comes to heating and cooling efficiencies, it poses an oftentimes overlooked threat:

Backdrafting.

What is backdrafting? Backdrafting occurs when a house is put into “negative pressure”. In simple terms, what this means, is that the house is essentially consuming more air than it’s receiving. This creates a sort of vacuum, which will use whatever source of air comes the easiest. unless you leave a door or window open during the Winter (not likely in Idaho), then that “easiest” source will probably be the exhaust vents, chimneys, and flues.

Now imagine what would happen when you fire up the furnace, or any other gas, oil, or solid fuel appliance with a flue? You guessed it; the combustion products would backdraft into the home, creating dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide (due to improper combustion) and hazardous gases. Now, if this all happened while you were asleep, then you may not even notice that this was occurring until it was too late.

With older homes that are less airtight than more recent construction homes, this becomes a little less of an issue (though it can still be an issue, especially if the home has been renovated or air sealed), as air can be pulled in through cavities in walls and other vulnerable areas.

So, we now know what can increase the risk of negative pressure, but what are some of its underlying causes? Well, usually it has something to do with a fuel burning appliance such as a furnace or a water heater (or both). In order to create a flame, these appliances use up oxygen in the air around it, but if (say) the furnace and water heater are located in an airtight section of the home, then this could force air to be drawn from the easiest source available, i.e., the flue. Since the flues main occupant is the combustion product of the appliance, then this gets sucked into the home as well.

One other contributing factor could be the excessive use of bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room exhaust fans. While these devices are important in pulling stale, humid air out of the house; they do not provide a way for air to get back in while in use.

Now, having said all this, there have been reasonable precautions taken by many manufactures and builders of homes and appliances to prevent this “negative pressure” from happening. Some of which includes the following:

  • Backup combustion air flaps installed in tightly built homes near fuel burning appliances, allowing air in to prevent negative pressure.
  • Appliances that draw combustion air directly from outside (many times through a PVC pipe).
  • Fresh, outside air, supplied and mixed in with inside air via ducts to the air handler, creating a more balanced, or sometimes positive pressure environment in the home. This only works, however, if the blower is running.
  • Heat recovery ventilators (HRVs), and other mechanical ventilators which can help even out pressure between the outside air, and inside air.

These are just some of the things that have been developed in whole or part, to help aid in preventing backdrafting in the home. These precautions, however, are usually unbeknownst to the home owner, and sometimes the contractors who install such appliances. It is very important to have these concerns looked at by a professional in the heating industry. They will be able to performs tests on all your appliances and flues in order to understand if this will be an issue or not.

If you are do-it-yourselfer when it comes to many things around the home, it is important to be aware that many things affect other components of the home, and you may consider having a professional walk you through the installation process, and then inspect it upon completion.

All this said, is it bad to have a tightly built home? Absolutely not! Tightly built homes are very efficient, but you must look at the home as a series of interdependant systems, not separate systems. The minute you start separating systems without looking at the ramifications on other systems in the home, you put the occupants and systems at risk.

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A money saving idea for heating your water

Here in Idaho, the weather can get pretty cold at times. Imagine taking some snow that has melted, and heating that over the stove every time you wanted to take a shower. That sounds absurd, however that is precisely what many of our homes are doing to provide us with hot water during the winter. As you can imagine, the price it takes to heat that water can be substantial when you look at the annual cost. Now, think back to your last shower (hopefully not too long ago!), and the amount of steaming hot water that went down the drain. Whether you’re a 30 minute showerer, 15, or even 5, there is a considerable amount of heat you paid for that gets disposed of every day. This amount is even larger if you have a large or medium sized family.

Luckily, someone realized this waste of energy, and invented something to “recapture” some of this wasted heat.

Let me introduce you to the “Drain Water Heat Recovery Unit”:

Take a look at the diagram. The easiest way to explain this system is to follow the cold water (blue) in the diagram. This water is run around and around a copper heat exchanger of sorts, where hot water from the bath/shower pours down against the outer wall of the cold supply water piping. Since the unit is made from Copper (a very good conductor of heat), a considerable amount of heat from the shower water is captured and transferred to the cold supply water without making any direct contact.

If you keep following the cold water in the diagram, you will see that the water is now “pre-heated” (green), and enters the water heater this way. Much better than ice cold water. This not only makes it cheaper to run year round, it can also extend the life of your water heater since it is no longer working as hard to heat ice cold water. You’re essentially recycling old heat.

Since price ranges for these units can vary anywhere from $300-$500 (copper can be expensive), the payback period is usually estimated to be between 2.5 to 7 years. When you think about it, that’s not very long at all! Compare that to solar roofing at over 20 years payback (usually much longer).

So, while these units are particularly helpful in cold or diverse climates like Idaho, they can also be helpful in warmer climates as well. After all, even in Arizona they use hot water!

While in Idaho, home inspections aren’t usually going to include money saving upgrades like this in a report, you can certainly ask your inspector if he knows of any home efficiency or energy upgrades that might be a good fit for your home. Who knows! He may have a list!

 

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Construction isn’t cheap

Have you ever hired a contractor for something you thought was simple, and it turned out to be much more of a money pit than you originally thought? Yeah, I thought so. Even if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, it’s not hard to imagine the cost once you factor in supplies, and labor.

The high (but many times appropriate) pricing of contractors, is often a big incentive for sellers to do projects on their home that probably should have been done by a professional.

The average homebuyer wouldn’t be able to tell if (say) a sub panel that was installed, was installed by the owner, and not an electrician. Home inspectors, though they can’t always determine past work “qualifications,” can often spot shoddy work in a heart beat. In this case, why does it matter? It seems to be working, right? Sure, it may be working, but here are a few reasons to be concerned:

  1. Electrical wiring is complicated, and there are books of codes put in place for safety reasons. Electricians have spent hours studying these codes and how electricity works. Homeowners typically have not, and though they may have wired something to the point that it “works,” it can often be a far cry from safe.
  2. Though in many jurisdictions it’s legal to work on your own home’s electrical, if you ever in the future had to pull a permit for certain types of renovations (many times having little to do with electrical), you may find yourself having to bring the wiring of the house up to code in order to legally do the addition or renovation. As we all know, electricians aren’t cheap, and this can add thousands of dollars in additional costs.
  3. As a buyer, if the seller was confident enough to do his own electrical, there’s a fair chance that there is more work not done by a professional in the home. This isn’t to say that a homeowner isn’t capable of doing his or her own repairs, it’s just something to be cautious or aware of if you notice that the owner is a DIYer.

Now, I know all of this makes me sound like a negative Nancy, but really, being able to find this kind of work that can or should be done can save you thousands when negotiated with the seller (far surpassing the cost of the inspection fee).

Many times, we find that all the major systems such as the Furnace, A/C, or roof are “nearing the end of their life expectancy,” but are technically still doing their job well. This can be a huge negotiation factor with the seller, whether they decide to provide a new furnace (thousands of dollars), or drop the price of the home (thousands of dollars).

Construction costs can be offset. Whether that is through the seller, doing it yourself (cautiously), or tax credits offered by different states for upgrading to more energy efficient systems (yes, they do this!).

 

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