Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Detectors

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas that forms from incomplete combustion of fuels, such as natural or liquefied petroleum gas, oil, wood or coal.

Facts and Figures

  • 480 U.S. residents died between 2001 and 2003 from non-fire-related carbon-monoxide poisoning.
  • Most CO exposures occur during the winter months, especially in December (including 56 deaths, and 2,157 non-fatal exposures), and in January (including 69 deaths and 2,511 non-fatal exposures). The peak time of day for CO exposure is between 6 and 10 p.m.
  • Many experts believe that CO poisoning statistics understate the problem. Because the symptoms of CO poisoning mimic a range of common health ailments, it is likely that a large number of mild to mid-level exposures are never identified, diagnosed, or accounted for in any way in carbon monoxide statistics.
  • Out of all reported non-fire carbon-monoxide incidents, 89% or almost nine out of 10 of them take place in a home.

Physiology of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

When CO is inhaled, it displaces the oxygen that would ordinarily bind with hemoglobin, a process the effectively suffocates the body. CO can poison slowly over a period of several hours, even in low concentrations. Sensitive organs, such as the brain, heart and lungs, suffer the most from a lack of oxygen.

High concentrations of carbon monoxide can kill in less than five minutes. At low concentrations, it will require a longer period of time to affect the body. Exceeding the EPA concentration of 9 parts per million (ppm) for more than eight hours may have adverse health affects. The limit of CO exposure for healthy workers, as prescribed by the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, is 50 ppm.

Potential Sources of Carbon Monoxide

Any fuel-burning appliances which are malfunctioning or improperly installed can be a source of CO, such as:

  • furnaces;
  • stoves and ovens;
  • water heaters;
  • dryers;
  • room and space heaters;
  • fireplaces and wood stoves;
  • charcoal grills;
  • automobiles;
  • clogged chimneys or flues;
  • space heaters;
  • power tools that run on fuel;
  • gas and charcoal grills;
  • certain types of swimming pool heaters; and
  • boat engines.
in air
Health Effects in Healthy Adults Source/Comments
0 0% no effects; this is the normal level in a properly operating heating appliance  
35 0.0035% maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
50 0.005% maximum allowable workplace exposure limit for an eight-hour work shift               OSHA
100 0.01% slight headache, fatigue, shortness of breath,
errors in judgment
125 0.0125%   workplace alarm must sound (OSHA)
200 0.02% headache, fatigue,
nausea, dizziness
400 0.04% severe headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, confusion; can be life-threatening after three hours of exposure evacuate area immediately
800 0.08% convulsions, loss of consciousness;
death within three hours
evacuate area immediately
12,000 1.2% nearly instant death  


CO Detector Placement

CO detectors can monitor exposure levels, but do not place them:

  • directly above or beside fuel-burning appliances, as appliances may emit a small amount of carbon monoxide upon start-up;
  • within 15 feet of heating and cooking appliances, or in or near very humid areas, such as bathrooms;
  • within 5 feet of kitchen stoves and ovens, or near areas locations where household chemicals and bleach are stored (store such chemicals away from bathrooms and kitchens, whenever possible);
  • in garages, kitchens, furnace rooms, or in any extremely dusty, dirty, humid, or greasy areas;
  • in direct sunlight, or in areas subjected to temperature extremes. These include unconditioned crawlspaces, unfinished attics, un-insulated or poorly insulated ceilings, and porches;
  • in turbulent air near ceiling fans, heat vents, air conditioners, fresh-air returns, or open windows. Blowing air may prevent carbon monoxide from reaching the CO sensors.

Do place CO detectors:

  • within 10 feet of each bedroom door and near all sleeping areas, where it can wake sleepers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) recommend that every home have at least one carbon monoxide detector for each floor of the home, and within hearing range of each sleeping area;
  • on every floor of your home, including the basement (source:  International Association of Fire Chiefs/IAFC);
  • near or over any attached garage. Carbon monoxide detectors are affected by excessive humidity and by close proximity to gas stoves (source:  City of New York);
  • near, but not directly above, combustion appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, and fireplaces, and in the garage (source:  UL); and
  • on the ceiling in the same room as permanently installed fuel-burning appliances, and centrally located on every habitable level, and in every HVAC zone of the building (source:  National Fire Protection Association 720). This rule applies to commercial buildings.

In North America, some national, state and local municipalities require installation of CO detectors in new and existing homes, as well as commercial businesses, among them:  Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont and New York City, and the Canadian province of Ontario. Installers are encouraged to check with their local municipality to determine what specific requirements have been enacted in their jurisdiction.

How can I prevent CO poisoning?

  • Purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors with labels showing that they meet the requirements of the new UL standard 2034 or Comprehensive Safety Analysis 6.19 safety standards.
  • Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local building codes. Have the heating system professionally inspected by an InterNACHI inspector and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
  • Never service fuel-burning appliances without the proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owner’s manual when performing minor adjustments and when servicing fuel-burning equipment.
  • Never operate a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space, such as a garage, house or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never use gas appliances, such as ranges, ovens or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Never operate un-vented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
  • During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.
  • Do not place generators in the garage or close to the home. People lose power in their homes and get so excited about using their gas-powered generator that they don’t pay attention to where it is placed. The owner’s manual should explain how far the generator should be from the home.
  • Clean the chimney. Open the hatch at the bottom of the chimney to remove the ashes.  Hire a chimney sweep annually.
  • Check vents. Regularly inspect your home’s external vents to ensure they are not obscured by debris, dirt or snow.

In summary, carbon monoxide is a dangerous poison that can be created by various household appliances. CO detectors must be placed strategically throughout the home or business in order to alert occupants of high levels of the gas.

Posted in Uncategorized

Ten Tips to Speed Your Home Inspection

Many home owners aren’t familiar with the home inspection process.  Consider the following list to help the home inspection go as smooth as possible.

1. Confirm that the water, electrical, and gas services are turned on and that pilots are lit.
2. Make sure your pets won’t hinder the inspection. Ideally they should be removed from the premises or secured outside.
3. Replace burned out light bulbs to avoid a “light is inoperable” report that may suggest an electrical problem.
4. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and replace dead batteries.
5. Clean or replace dirty HVAC air filters. They should fit properly.
6. Move stored items, debris and wood away from the foundation. These may be cited as conducive conditions for wood destroying organisms.
7. Remove items blocking access to HVAC equipment, electric panels, water heaters, the attic, and crawl space.
8. Unlock any locked areas that your home inspector must access, such as the attic door or hatch, electrical service panels, door to the basement, and exterior gates.
9. Trim tree limbs so they are at least ten feet from the roof. Trim shrubs that are too close to the house and can hide pests or hold moisture against the exterior.
10. Repair or replace any broken or missing items such as door knobs, locks and latches, window panes and screens, gutters, downspouts and extensions, and chimney caps.

I could add dozens more items but this is a fairly simple list that most home owners should be able to tackle in a weekend.  Your attention to these items can help minimize findings, producing a more attractive inspection report assisting in the sale of your home.  For more Racine home inspection related information please see my blog at


Posted in Uncategorized

Tank Style Water Heater Inspection


Typical Gas Water Heater

Continuing my theme of common problems I see on home inspections, today’s post is going to discuss tank style water heaters. These water heaters are simple tanks with a cold water pipe coming in and a hot water pipe coming out. At the bottom of the tank is either a gas fired burner or electric heating element that warms the water to the desired temperature. As warm water is used cold water comes in and travels to the bottom of the tank via the drop tube. Being warmer and less dense than the cold water, the warm water stays at the top of the tank instead of mixing. This is a good thing because the top is where the warm water is drawn out of the tank. There are instances where the drop tube has deteriorated or broken off allowing the cold water to come in at the top, mixing and cooling the hot water right where it is taken out of the tank. This situation severely limits the amount of useable hot water from the tank. While this problem is not likely to be identified in a non-invasive visual home inspection, I mention it here to possibly assist those with unexpectedly low amounts of hot water. Normally the drop tube is replaceable and inexpensive.

When I walk up to a water heater I like to start with the incoming water piping. First I observe the pipe material going into the tank and check for leaks and that there is a shutoff valve to turn the incoming water off so the tank can be changed without turning water off to the whole house. Next, if the pipe coming into the tank is a dissimilar metal than the nipple on the tank, say copper going into a galvanized nipple, check for a dielectric union. This is a special union that prevents the flow of electrons from one metal to the other preventing corrosion. The hot side of the piping is generally the same as the cold but there generally isn’t a shutoff valve.

Sediment Trap, Union, & Valve

Gas line sediment trap, shutoff valve, and union

With the water piping taken care of it is time to move on to the gas piping if it’s a gas fired water heater. There are four main things to check: leaks, shutoff valve, sediment trap, and union. The gas piping is usually black iron but you may also see flexible stainless depending on what is allowed in your area.  When you first approach the water heater be aware of any sulfur or rotten egg smell.  Any sulfur smell likely indicates a leak. Be sure to pay attention to this when you first enter the area because the longer you are exposed to the smell the less it is noticed. For first timers it is probably easier to start at the gas valve located low on the side of the tank and follow the gas line backwards. Just upstream from the gas valve should be a union. The union allows the gas line to be disconnected from the water heater without taking all the piping apart. Continuing upstream from the union you should find a sediment trap. This is normally a three or four inch nipple extending down below the horizontal run of pipe. It allows any debris in the gas line to fall out of the stream preventing clogged burner orifices. Now continue traveling upstream from the sediment trap and you should find a shutoff valve within a few feet. Its’ purpose is to turn gas off to just the appliance for service.

With the piping taken care of it’s time to inspect the tank itself. Look for heavy rust on the tank shell and soot or burn marks caused by flame roll-out of the burner compartment. Towards the top of the tank is usually a brass valve coming out the side with a pipe running down to near the floor. This is the temperature and pressure relief valve and extension. Its’ purpose is to relieve pressure by venting hot water out the valve, should the heater malfunction and over heat, preventing a water heater explosion. This also means in the event of the valve venting that scalding hot water will forcefully spray all over. The purpose of the extension is to safely vent this spray to within six inches of the floor preventing anyone nearby from getting severely burned. There should always be a TPR valve and extension terminating within six inches of the floor.

TPR Valve

TPR Valve & Extension

If you see water on the floor just below the extension pipe this means the valve has opened or leaked. Sometimes the valve needs to be replaced. Other times there may be a back flow preventer in the home preventing the water from expanding into the city water supply as it is heated which raises pressure in the tank causing the valve to drip. If this is the case, an expansion tank should be installed between the water heater and back flow device. Back flow devices are normally located where the water comes into the home.

With the piping and tank done it’s time to inspect the exhaust vent on gas fired heaters. Electric water heaters won’t have this vent because there are no combustion gases to vent. At the top center of the tank will be a metal collar raised off the top of the tank about an inch with the metal duct attached to it. This is called a draft hood. The draft hood should be firmly secured to the tank, commonly with screws. Also the metal duct running out the top of the draft hood should be firmly secured to the draft hood with screws. I mention screws instead of duct tape because the vent gets hot and tape will come loose. I often see draft hoods and vent not secured at all and just sitting on top of the heater. This is a bad idea because if it is bumped out of proper alignment, dangerous carbon monoxide will discharge into the area every time the burner runs.

Draft hood

Draft Hood & Single Wall Vent

Now inspect the duct coming out of the draft hood. It should slope up at least a quarter inch per foot. In homes where the water heater and furnace both vent into a common flue in the chimney the smaller appliance (normally the water heater) must enter the flue above the larger appliance vent. This is to keep the larger appliance from over-powering the smaller appliance vent and back-flowing exhaust down the smaller vent into the home. The actual vent pipe is normally single wall or double wall. Single wall pipe just slips together and is held with screws. Double wall has a twist lock type connection. The reason I mention the different styles of vent pipe is because the required clearances to combustibles are different. With single wall you should maintain a six inch clearance to combustibles. Double wall or “B Vent” can be as close as one inch to combustibles. You may also run into a high efficiency water heater with a powered vent. These are less common and have to be installed per manufacturer’s instructions so I won’t comment further.

Last but not least is the water heater drain valve. As its’ name states, it’s for draining the water out of the tank. You generally want to do this for two reasons. The first is to make the tank lighter so it can be removed. The second is a yearly maintenance function. Every year you should attach a hose to the valve and run it to a drain. Open the valve all the way and allow the water to flow out down the drain for a few minutes. What this does is help pull sediment off the bottom of the tank increasing heat transfer from the burner. The burner won’t have to work as hard saving you money and extending the life of the tank.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list of everything to check on a water heater, it should handle 90% of the water heaters you are likely to encounter.

© Darren Taylor and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Darren Taylor and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Plumbing Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Dishwasher High Loop and Air Gap Devices

My job as a home inspector can be quite interesting with unusual things popping up that one doesn’t normally see. One thing that isn’t included in that unusual list is the dishwasher drain’s high loop or air gap device. I’d say a good 25% of all the dishwashers I look at lack proper configuration of the drain line. First let’s take a look at what a high loop and air gap device is and why you want one.
Dishwashers are normally located in the kitchen near the sink. The easiest way to plumb the dishwasher drain is often into the sink drain piping. A plastic hose about ¾” in diameter runs from the dishwasher to the drain line under the sink. The hose is attached to the garbage disposal or Tee’d into the piping upstream of the trap. It is important the connection is before the trap. Traps are designed to prevent sewer gases from entering the home. If the drain line is installed downstream of the trap, sewer gases can rise through the line straight into the dishwasher. Besides the objectionable smell, sewer gas also contains poisonous hydrogen sulfide and methane. This is the reason traps are required on all drain lines in the home.
HighLoopAirGapA high loop is simply taking the drain hose from the dishwasher and mounting it as high as possible under the counter top before it loops down and connects to the sinks drain line or garbage disposal. What this does is form a trap inside the hose. The reason it has to be as high as possible is to get it above the level of water in the sink. If the high loop is below the water level in the sink, dirty sink water can flow back down the drain hose into the dish washer. You don’t want dirty sink water spraying around the dishwasher during its rinse or dry cycle do you?
An air gap device takes things a little further. In addition to running the drain line above the water level in the sink to prevent dirty water from flowing back into the dishwasher, they also provide an air gap. An air gap is simply a break in the line that lets in air to prevent siphoning. Under certain conditions if the city water line were to loose pressure, the city line can become contaminated by your dirty water siphoning back into it. An air gap device prevents this. Air gap devices are usually mounted on the sink to the side of the faucet. Two hoses attach to the bottom of it below the counter top. One hose in from the dishwasher, and another out to the sink drain line or garbage disposal. There normally is a slot cut into the air gap device that allows water to flow out in case the downstream hose becomes plugged. If you see water running out of the air gap when the dishwasher is draining, check your line to the under sink drain and the under sink drain lines for an obstruction.

Requirements vary by municipality.  Be sure to check with your local building inspector if a high loop meets code or you need to install an air gap device.

© Darren Taylor and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Darren Taylor and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



Posted in Plumbing Tagged with: , ,

Steel Support Columns

Steel support columns come in two varieties, fixed and adjustable and are designed to provide structural support.  The adjustable columns are also known as screw jacks and beam jacks.  An attached Adjustable steel columnthreaded adjustment mechanism normally at the top of the post is used to adjust the height of the post.

A few facts about steel support columns:

  • They are usually found in basements.
  • In some parts of North America, adjustable steel columns are called lally columns, although this term sometimes applies to columns that are concrete-filled and non-adjustable.
  • They can be manufactured as multi-part assembles, sometimes called telescopic steel columns, or as single-piece columns.

The following are potentially defective conditions:

  • The post is less than 3 inches in diameter. According to the 2012 International Residential Code (IRC), Section R407.3, columns (including adjustable steel columns)…shall not be less than 3-inch diameter schedule 40 pipe.”
Poles smaller than 3 inches violate the IRC, although they are not necessarily defective. A 2½-inch post may be adequate to support the load above it, while a 4-inch post can buckle if the load exceeds the structural capacity of the post. Structural engineers — not inspectors — decide whether adjustable steel posts are of adequate size.
  • The post is not protected by rust-inhibitive paint. The IRC Section R407.2 states:

All surfaces (inside and outside) of steel columns shall be given a shop coat of rust-inhibitive paint, except for corrosion-resistant steel and steel treated with coatings to provide corrosion resistance.

Inspectors will not be able to identify paint as rust-inhibitive. In dry climates where rust is not as much of a problem, rust-inhibitive paint may not be necessary. Visible signs of rust constitute a potential defect.

  • The post is not straight. According to some sources, the maximum lateral displacement between the top and bottom of the post should not exceed 1 inch. However, tolerable lateral displacement is affected by many factors, such as the height and diameter of the post. The post should also not bend at its mid-point. Bending is an indication that the column cannot bear the weight of the house.
  • The column is not mechanically connected to the floor. An inspector may not be able to confirm whether a connection between the post and the floor exists if this connection has been covered by concrete.
  • The column is not connected to the beam. The post should be mechanically connected to the beam above to provide additional resistance against lateral displacement.  This is one of the more common defects found.
  • More than 3 inches of the screw thread are exposed.
  • There are cracks in upstairs walls. This condition may indicate a failure of the columns. 
Steel support columns are usually inspected for problems during your home inspection, however a structural engineer may be required to confirm serious issues.
© Darren Taylor and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Darren Taylor and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Posted in Structural

Three Deadly Mistakes Every Home Buyer Should Avoid

Deadly Mistake #1: Thinking you can’t afford it.

Many people who thought that buying the home they wanted was simply out of their reach are now enjoying a new lifestyle in their very own homes.

Buying a home may be the smartest financial decision you will ever make. In fact, most homeowners would be broke at retirement if it wasn’t for one saving grace — the equity in their homes. Furthermore, tax allowances favor home ownership.

Real estate values have always risen steadily. Of course, there are peaks and valleys, but the long-term trend is a consistent increase. This means that every month when you make a mortgage payment, the amount that you owe on the home goes down and the value typically increases. This “owe less, worth more” situation is called equity build-up and is the reason you can’t afford not to buy.

Even if you have little money for a down payment or credit problems, chances are that you can still buy that new home. It just comes down to knowing the right strategies, and working with the right people. See below.

Deadly Mistake #2: Not hiring a buyer’s agent to represent you.

Buying property is a complex and stressful task. In fact, it is often the biggest, single investment you will make in your lifetime. At the same time, real estate transactions have become increasingly complicated. New technology, laws, procedures, and competition from other buyers require buyer agents to perform at an ever-increasing level of competence and professionalism. In addition, making the wrong decisions can end up costing you thousands of dollars. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Work with a buyer’s agent who has a keen understanding of the real estate business and the local market. A buyer’s agent has a fiduciary duty to you. That means that he or she is loyal only to you and is obligated to look out for your best interests. A buyer’s agent can help you find the best home, the best lender, and the best home inspector in your area. That inspector should be an InterNACHI-certified home inspector because InterNACHI inspectors are the most qualified and best-trained inspectors in the world.

Trying to buy a home without an agent or a qualified inspector is, well… unthinkable.

Deadly Mistake #3: Getting a cheap inspection.

Buying a home is probably the most expensive purchase you will ever make. This is no time to shop for a cheap inspection. The cost of a home inspection is small relative to the value of the home being inspected. The additional cost of hiring a certified inspector is almost insignificant by comparison. As a home buyer, you have recently been crunching the numbers, negotiating offers, adding up closing costs, shopping for mortgages, and trying to get the best deals. Don’t stop now! Don’t let your real estate agent, a “patty-cake” inspector, or anyone else talk you into skimping here.

InterNACHI front-ends its membership requirements. InterNACHI turns down more than half the inspectors who want to join because they can’t fulfill the membership requirements.

InterNACHI-certified inspectors perform the best inspections, by far. InterNACHI-certified inspectors earn their fees many times over. They do more, they deserve more and — yes — they generally charge a little more. Do yourself a favor…and pay a little more for the quality inspection you deserve.

Posted in Uncategorized

Inspecting Chimney Flashing

When doing Racine home inspections, one of the things I see far more often than I should is improper chimney flashing or sometimes no flashing at all!  That may be alright for the kids tree fort but you want to keep water out of your house no matter what and a bead of roofing sealant just isn’t going to do that in the long run.  Before I get any further I want to comment on shingle roofs.  Shingle roofs are NOT a waterproof system, instead they are made to SHED water.

Like any other place the roof runs into a vertical wall, chimney flashing is made up of two basic elements, step flashing and counter flashing.  See the illustration below.  Step flashing is an “L” shaped piece of sheet metal.  There is a step flashing for each shingle.  First a step flashing gets laid down.  Then a shingle gets laid on top of the step flashing.  Another step flashing goes above the last shingle, followed by another shingle, etc.  This allows any water that gets under a shingle from the edge  to run down the top of the step flashing and out onto the top surface of the shingle below preventing any water from getting through the roof.

There is one spot that sealant is commonly used on the step flashing.  When a piece of step flashing comes to the corner of the chimney it is bent around the corner.  The creates a small hole at the corner that needs to be filled with sealant.

Step flashing overlapped by counter flashing

Step flashing alone would be helpful but any water that hits the vertical wall will run down the wall and get in back of the step flashing and probably under the shingles.  For this reason counter flashing is used.  See the picture below.  Counter flashing has a lip bent on the top of it.  A groove is cut into the chimney where you want the top of the counter flashing.  The lip of the counter flashing is stuck in the groove and a sealant applied in the groove.  As water sheds down the chimney or wall it flows down the counter flashing which directs the water over the step flashing and out onto the shingles.

Chimney-flashingTop and bottom of the chimney are flashed basically like the sides except at the bottom the apron flashing doesn’t go under the shingles, it extends out over the top of the shingles.

Because chimney areas are so prone to leakage, I recommend they be inspected every year or two.  Look for loose or missing flashing.  While you are up there is a good time to also inspect the chimney brick and crown.   A sealant designed for masonry can be used on small cracks in the brick and crown.  If you see anything major it is always best to call in a quality roofer or mason.

© Darren Taylor and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Darren Taylor and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Posted in Uncategorized

Foreclosure Inspections: Trust Your Gut

by Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko
So, you want to buy a house cheap, and you look to the foreclosure market. Considering the over-abundance of these properties and just how little many of them are going for, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon and buy up. And it may pay off as a long-term investment.  But, like any other major purchase, you should know as much as you can about a property before you buy it, which is why home inspections, performed by certified InterNACHI inspectors, are necessary. Foreclosure home inspection
Unfortunately, many real estate agents, who don’t like bargaining with banks, are advising clients that home inspections are of no value as a bargaining tool, since banks don’t negotiate on “as is” properties. As an added disincentive, banks selling properties “as is” have no legal responsibility for any lurking defects. While the agent’s advice to forgo an inspection as a means to negotiate on the price may be logical, it is startlingly counter-intuitive, and possibly even negligent. Would you buy a car without knowing whether it has a transmission?  The same premise holds true for a house, regardless of whether you intend to live in it, or fix it and flip it. The Realtor may be trying to salvage a deal that could possibly be scrapped if an inspector uncovers damage that the bank is unwilling to pay for, and you, as the buyer, have to realize that the agent’s advice is not in your best interest. In this case, they’re putting you at risk in order to ensure they get their commission.
Any Realtor advising against an inspection on a foreclosure (or neglecting to recommend that one be performed) is ignoring the likelihood that, long before the previous owners stopped making mortgage payments, they deferred required maintenance tasks. Moisture intrusion leading to leaks and mold are just a few of the major problems commonly found by inspectors in foreclosed properties.  Tales abound of bizarre discoveries in abandoned properties, from wild boars to colossal bees nests. Former owners may loot their own properties, taking with them anything they can pry up or unscrew, and leave behind trash and junk that you have to pay for to have removed.
There are also stories of foreclosed properties that have been intentionally vandalized by their former owners in acts of retaliation against their banks. In one infamous case in early 2010, an Ohioan bulldozed his $250,000 home after the IRS placed liens on his carpet store, and then threatened to take his house. The damage done by the owner was apparent, but there are probably less extreme situations where the damage isn’t as obvious, making a home inspection of utmost priority.
You should always get a home inspection before buying a property, especially when you’re buying a bank-owned foreclosure.  In such cases, it may be impossible to find out how well the home was cared for, or whether major damage was done right before the past owners left the property. Ask the bank how much time you have after your initial offer to have an inspection performed, and schedule one immediately. If it goes well, you’ll enter into the deal with peace of mind and a better idea of what repairs you’ll have to deal with. That alone is worth the price of an inspection. If the inspection reveals a costly disaster, you can back out of the deal and save tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with:

Attic Pull-Down Ladders

Attic pull-down ladders, also called attic pull-down stairways, are collapsible ladders that are permanently attached to the attic floor. Occupants can use these ladders to access their attics without being required to carry a portable ladder.  These ladders are very convenient but oftentimes have defects affecting their safe use.

Common Defects

Homeowners, not professional carpenters, usually install attic pull-down ladders. Evidence of this distinction can be observed in consistently shoddy and dangerous work that rarely meets safety standards. Some of the more common defective conditions observed by inspectors include:

  1. Cut bottom cord of structural truss. Often, homeowners will cut through a structural member in the field while installing a pull-down ladder, unknowingly weakening the structure. Structural members should not be modified in the field without an engineer’s approval;
  2. Fastened with improper nails or screws. Homeowners often use drywall or deck screws rather than the standard 16d penny nails or ¼” x 3” lag screws. Nails and screws that are intended for other purposes may have reduced shear strength and they may not support pull-down ladders;
  3. Fastened with an insufficient number of nails or screws. Manufacturers provide a certain number of nails with instructions that they all be used, and they probably do this for a good reason. Inspectors should be wary of “place nail here” notices that are nowhere near any nails;
  4. Lack of insulation. Hatches in many houses (especially older ones) are not likely to be weather-stripped and/or insulated. An uninsulated attic hatch allows air from the attic to flow freely into the home, which may cause the heating or cooling system to run overtime. An attic hatch cover box can be installed to increase energy savings;
  5. Loose mounting bolts. This condition is more often caused by age rather than installation, although improper installation will hasten the loosening process;
  6. Attic pull-down ladders are cut too short. Stairs should reach the floor;
  7. Attic pull-down ladders are cut too long. This causes pressure at the folding hinge, which can cause breakage;
  8. Improper or missing fasteners;
  9. Compromised fire barrier when installed in the garage;
  10. Attic ladder frame is not properly secured to the ceiling opening;
  11. Cracked steps. This defect is a problem with wooden ladders.

In summary, attic pull-down ladders are prone to a number of defects, most of which are due to improper installation.  If you have an attic pull-down ladder use the above list to perform a safety check or contact your Racine home inspector who can perform the inspection for you.

© Darren Taylor and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Darren Taylor and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Posted in Uncategorized

Anti-Tip Brackets for Freestanding Ranges

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there were 143 incidents caused by range tip-overs from 1980 to 2006. Of the 33 incidents that resulted in death, most of those victims were children. A small child may stand on an open range door in order to see what is cooking on the stovetop and accidentally cause the entire unit to fall on top of him, along with whatever hot items may have been cooking on the stovetop. The elderly, too, may be injured while using the range for support while cleaning.
In response to this danger, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) created standards in 1991 that require all ranges manufactured after that year to be capable of remaining stable while supporting 250 pounds of weight on their open doors. Manufacturers’ instructions, too, require that anti-tip brackets provided be installed.

Anti-tip brackets are metal devices designed to prevent freestanding ranges from tipping. They are normally attached to a rear leg of the range or screwed into the wall behind the range, and are included in all installation kits. A unit that is not equipped with these devices may tip over if enough weight is applied to its open door, such as that from a large Thanksgiving turkey, or even a small child. A falling range can crush, scald, or burn anyone caught beneath.

Bracket Inspection

Inspectors confirm the presence of anti-tip brackets through the following methods:

  • It may be possible to see a wall-mounted bracket by looking over the rear of the range. Floor-mounted brackets are often hidden, although in some models with removable drawers, such as 30-inch electric ranges made by General Electric, the drawers can be removed and a flashlight can be used to search for the bracket. Inspectors should beware that a visual confirmation does not guarantee that the bracket has been properly installed.
  • Inspectors can firmly grip the upper-rear section of the range and tip the unit. If equipped with an anti-tip bracket, the unit will not tip more than several inches before coming to a halt. The range should be turned off, and all items should be removed from the stovetop before this action can be performed. It is usually easier to detect a bracket by tipping the range than through a visual search. This test can be performed on all models and it can confirm the functionality of a bracket.
If no anti-tip bracket is detected, inspectors should recommend that one be installed.
Clients can contact the dealer or builder who installed their range and request that they install a bracket. For clients who wish to install a bracket themselves, the part can be purchased at most hardware stores or ordered from a manufacturer. General Electric will send their customers an anti-tip bracket for free.

© Darren Taylor and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Darren Taylor and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Uncategorized

Contact Form

[contact-form-7 id="39" title="Contact form 1"]