Monday, May 29, 2017
If you have window panes that are clouded over, it’s likely that they are double-pane (insulated) and have lost the inert gas sealed between the two panes of glass. Check to make sure that the clouding is not on the outside by cleaning the glass first.
After about 20 years, the seals around the perimeter of the glass fail due to the fatigue caused by the expansion/contraction movement of repeated heat/cool weather cycles. When the pressurized gas escapes, humid outdoor air enters through the gaps and dew forms on the inside surface during temperature drops, which allows a growing layer of dust to adhere to the interior surface of the glass—and also, in some cases, the powder of moisture-absorbing silica pellets that were inserted at the factory to forestall moisture-intrusion problems.
While it is possible to replace only the sash (affected glass and frame around it), more often it is cost-effective to replace the entire window. Most real estate contracts that provide an allowance for repairs disclaim “cosmetic” defects, meaning ones that effect only the appearance of the home, like a stained carpet or scratched kitchen countertop, and some sellers will argue that a fogged window is only cosmetic. But the loss of the gas seal also destroys the insulating ability and rating of the window. Because of that it is a material defect and should be repaired.
Friday, May 26, 2017
Most of the homes in the Florida Panhandle have an EIFS finish on the exterior walls, like the one in the photo above. Unfortunately, when we tell homebuyers that their new house has EIFS (pronounced “eefs”) exterior walls, they often say “no, you’re wrong, the builder told me it’s Acrocrete.”
That’s similar to saying “no, it’s not a facial tissue, it’s Kleenex.” Acrocrete is a division of BASF Corporation and specializes in acrylic architectural finishes. Their EIFS (Exterior Insulated Finishing System) materials are the most recognized brand in the industry. Acrocrete also offers stucco, along with other silicone and elastomeric-enhanced finishes, although we have never had anyone refer to a wall finish as Acrocrete that was not EIFS.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
When you are ready to do repairs or improvements to your home, the best way to find a good contractor is to ask your friends and neighbors who they have used that they were satisfied with. We can also make recommendations for you, and so can your realtor. But if you’re searching for a contractor by any other method, be careful. A warning bell should sound in your head if you encounter any of the following points when interviewing a potential contractor:
- A contractor whose business card says only “licensed and insured.” A local painter that has these words on his business card once laughingly told us “Yeah, it means I have a driver’s license and truck insurance!” Real licensed contractors are required by the State of Florida to list their license number on their business card and other advertising. You can verify licensing by visiting the State of Florida licensing website at www.myfloridalicense.com This website also allows you check on any complaints filed with the state against the contractor.
- A contractor that appears at your door with a pitch about how he’s doing another job in the neighborhood and wants to offer you a bargain price because he has left-over materials or a last-minute cancellation on another job.
- A contractor who has no business address listed on his business card and the phone number is a cell phone. Where do you find him if there’s a problem after the job is done? Not all contractors have an office, but they should at least be able to give you a home address and phone number that you can verify in the phone book.
- A contractor who can’t--or won’t--give you names, addresses, and phone numbers of satisfied customers in your area that you can actually call and talk to.
- A contractor who promises to do your job “at cost” but will not provide a specific price or, at least, a guaranteed maximum amount.
- A contractor that provides a Workmen’s Compensation exemption form instead of a Workmen’s Compensation Certificate of Insurance. The exemption is perfectly legal but applies only to the one person listed on the form. Sometimes an unscrupulous contractor will show you an exemption in his name but send other people to do the actual work. Workmen’s Compensation Insurance covers workers for injuries they may sustain while working on your home--and guarantees that they will not sue you for their injuries. Your contractor is required by law to carry this insurance on anyone he employs to do your work that does not have an exemption card.
- A contractor who uses any high-pressure sales tactics, or threatens to rescind a “special price” if you don’t sign a contract on the spot.
One final note: we recommend that you get several recommendations and interview at least two candidates for any major home-improvement project.
Don’t simply take the recommendation of someone whose judgment you trust, including us. A few years ago we referred a customer to a small remodeling contractor that we knew well and received a call a couple of months later that they were very unhappy with him. Sloppy work, not showing up each day, and not finishing on the agreed timetable were all part of the list of complaints. As it turned out the builder was going through a divorce and his personal turmoil spilled over into his working day.
Needless to say, that contractor is no longer on our list. Our customer said she sensed something was amiss when she first interviewed him but proceeded based on our recommendation. Trusting a combination of your personal instincts and good recommendations from friends when evaluating contractors is your best bet.
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Under Florida law, as in many other states, a seller of a residential property has an obligation to disclose to the buyer all known facts that materially affect the value of the property being sold and are not readily observable. The Florida Association of Realtors has a standard property disclosure form that is provided to sellers as a convenient way to comply with the legal obligation of disclosure, and realtors encourage their sellers to use them. Completing the form is actually not a requirement, but deciding to not fill out and sign the form does not get a seller out of their obligation to disclose. Plus, it makes a buyer very suspicious of the property.
“The number one reason for a lawsuit after a real estate transaction in Florida is a lack of disclosure,” and selling the house with an “As Is” contract does not eliminate the disclosure requirement. But decisions by Florida courts have made it clear that the seller is not responsible for something they “should have known”; only for known defects and hazards that were not easily discernible and not disclosed. If a real estate agent, knowing places a property “For Sale” and the permits were not pulled by the building department for work completed by the seller (i.e., electrical, HVAC, Drywall, Plumbing or Roof replacement) the agent is going to be liable!!! Agents should get in the habit of requesting permits for the work completed.
A recent case in the Central Florida area, in which the seller received a settlement from their insurance company for repair of a sinkhole below their house (shown in the photo above), then made only cosmetic repairs to the home and sold it without telling the buyers about the sinkhole, has resulted in a criminal conviction in Federal Court for wire fraud. While the case highlights the possible legal consequences, it was an unusual situation because the lack of disclosure was so significant and easily proved. Most lawsuits are in civil court, and not that straightforward.
Disclosure is often complicated by the fact that many sellers do not have first-hand knowledge of defects in a home because they have never occupied it. Banks selling a foreclosure, investors disposing of a rental property, and the children of deceased parents selling their retirement condo to settle the estate are three examples. Also, sometimes people just forget about problems that occurred years ago and are unaware of current defects in their home. For all of these reasons, realtors encourage buyers to get a home inspection.
Any professional home inspector will tell you that they are not going to find everything that is wrong with a house in a two to three-hour examination. But a home inspection provides the homebuyer with a good understanding of the overall condition of a house and adds an additional layer of “disclosure” that is a sensible part of due diligence in buying a home. SitePro inspection reports typically average between 80 to 120 pages, with over 300+ pictures with narratives under each picture.
February 2016 UPDATE
We inspected a home today in a neighborhood known to have a high incidence of foundation problems due to underlying veins of clay soil. The buyer informed us that the seller’s disclosure stated that previous structural settlement/heaving had been repaired, but wanted a careful examination of the house anyway. An itemization of the work, including a diagram with the location of piers and total cost of the project, was attached to the disclosure.
SitePro always does a permit search in the public-access database of the local building department before each home inspection and found it odd that there was no building permit for the extensive foundation work outlined in the documentation. Also, although there was plenty of cosmetic repairs, clear evidence of structural distress was still visible.
Because of the concerns we raised, the buyer called the foundation repair company after our inspection to figure out what was going on. They advised him that the paperwork he had was only a proposal, and they had never done any work at the home.
To learn more valuable strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, like our facebook page and review our blogs.
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Free-standing appliances, such as a range or refrigerator, are not required for an FHA mortgage. But any built-in appliances that have been removed or not yet installed must be in place. So, if the built-in cooktop and oven in the kitchen image above were missing, it would need to be replaced. SitePro takes pictures and gets the serial numbers during the home inspection, and later finds that appliances have been removed. Therefore, asking the listing agent to contact their client and return the appliance. But, if instead, there was simply a gap along the counter and base cabinets for a free-standing range to slide into, then it would not be required by FHA.
A missing dishwasher, because it is also a built-in appliance, would be a red flag for the FHA appraiser. If a home has a defined location for a dishwasher, with plumbing and electrical in place, then a dishwasher must be in it. Also, any appliances that are present in the home must be functional and safe to operate.
The FHA requirements are intended to make sure that any home loan with an FHA guarantee is both livable and safe, without requiring any additional work or investment. The things they do require are outlined their Handbook 4905.1, Rev. 1, “Requirements for Existing Housing - One To Four Family Living Units,” and includes:
- Safe and potable water
- Sanitary facilities and a sewage disposal system
- Adequate heating
- Domestic Hot Water
- Electricity for lighting and equipment in the home
Sunday, May 14, 2017
Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) pipe is a thermoplastic created by the chlorination of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin. It has been available since the mid-1960's and has an estimated lifespan of 50 to 70 years. Because it a more recent product, the durability of the material will be better defined over the next few decades.
CPVC is cream color when new and tends to darken towards tan as it ages. It has many of the same properties as PVC pipe, except that CPVC is also heat resistant to approximately 200º F, which is a property that PVC lacks.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Zinsco panels, like the one shown above, use a clip-on connection between the breakers and aluminum bus bar. They have a higher than usual rate of failure, due most often to loosening of the connection between bus bar and breaker. When this happens, it causes arcing and overheating in the area, which leads to melting of the metal, with breaker permanently welded to bus bar and impossible to remove. Secondary problems are failure of the breakers to trip under an overcurrent event and cases of a tripped breaker continuing to be energized.
The Zinsco company was sold to GTE-Sylvania in 1973, which continued to manufacture the Zinsco panel design under the name of Sylvania-Zinsco. It was also sold under the Kearney brand name. But the design was eventually discontinued, and later Sylvania panels do not have the problematic Zinsco design.
There have been no recalls of the Sylvania-Zinsco panel, and it has not been made for many years now. We occasionally see these panels, still in use and not experiencing any problems after we examine them with an infrared camera for hot spots. However the high failure rate means that most home inspectors (including us) recommend that any of them still in service be examined by an electrician for defects, which are not visible unless the deadfront (front cover plate) is removed, along with multiple breakers, in order to examine the bus bar and back of breakers. We DO NOT recommend that you attempt to examine the interior of the panel yourself. You might also consider replacement of a Zinsco panel as a safety precaution, based on its checked history, and that is what some experts recommend.
Another panel of the same era, the “Stab-Lok” made by Federal Pacific, was found to have fraudulently obtained UL-approval of their panel design and eventually went out of business due to lawsuits related to fires caused by equipment failures. Although Sylvania-Zinsco panels should have a safety examination, the standard recommendation for Stab-Lok panels is replacement.
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Vinyl is a popular siding choice for home builders and mobile home manufacturers because the material is cheaper and easier to install than other alternatives. The bonus for homeowners is that vinyl is also low maintenance. But, like most other siding materials, vinyl is water-resistant but not waterproof. It requires a house wrap (vapor barrier) covering the wall sheathing below the siding for adequate weather protection. Correct installation of the house wrap is very important, especially at the door and window openings.
The vinyl panels are installed in a way that allows them to expand and contract with changes in temperature. A nailing hem at the top of the panel has slots for the fasteners and the panel will slide easily along its length if the nails are not driven too tight to the siding. A gap about the thickness of a dime is recommended. The hem is covered by the strip of siding above it which interlocks with the flange at the top of the hem.
Because the nailing area is not visible on the completed home we look for symptoms of improper installation such as sagging or buckling. Often repairs to siding using exposed fasteners (called face nailing) will be present. This is not considered waterproof and interferes with the thermal expansion and contraction of the material. In the photo, below you can see where the panel buckles in both directions because it is trapped by the screw.
You also want to keep your outdoor grill a good distance from the wall. An oval area of comically melted and sagging siding on the wall facing a back deck of a home is a sure sign of a grill being too close to the wall.
Vinyl siding terminates into J-channels at window and door openings, corner boards, light fixtures, hose faucets, dryer vents and electrical disconnect boxes. Special individual mountings for these items are available and include mounting blocks. These strips not only help to waterproof the connections, but give the ends of the panel’s room to expand. Most vinyl siding is fashioned to look like ship-lapped wood siding, however the products are also available in wood shingle, beaded board, and board and batten styles.
Thursday, May 4, 2017
When you first move into a new home, there always seems to be at least one wall switch that’s a puzzle. What is it connected to? Here are eight pointers to help determine what circuit the switch serves:
1) A switch in the room under an attic hatch opening may turn on a light in the attic. Sometimes the switch is installed in the ceiling next to the hatch opening.
2) Furnaces and air conditioning air handlers are required to have an electrical disconnect device within sight of the unit, so a service technician can shut off the power and be sure that it stays off while working on the system, to avoid a shock hazard. It is usually a circuit breaker or pull-disconnect in a small metal box but is sometimes a regular wall switch. When it is turned off by someone assuming its a light switch, the furnace or air handler will not run. If your mystery switch is near the indoor unit of your HVAC system, try turning it off while the system is running as a test.
3) Wall switches in some rooms go to a wall or floor outlet, With the switch in the off position, check for any nearby receptacles that are dead, then turn it on to verify. Still no luck? The switch may be installed upside down, so try putting it in the on position and checking again for a dead receptacle.
4) The switch may be connected to a ceiling fan/light that requires a hand-held remote to operate after the switch is on. If there are no pull-chains on the side of the fan, look for a remote and try the switch again.
5) A switch next to an exterior door may serve floodlights under the soffits or post lights in the yard with dead bulbs. Try changing the bulbs in the exterior lights and trying the switch again.
6) The switch may be connected to an attic exhaust fan. Because these fans have a thermostat that acts as a secondary switch to activate the fan only when the attic is hot, the switch may not appear to be functional during cool weather.
7) Kitchen sink disposals and gas fireplaces often have a switch hidden in a nearby cabinet.
8) Also, if the previous owner removed the disposal—or some other long-gone appliance—it may just be an orphan switch.
Monday, May 1, 2017
The NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association) recommends that the bottom of the microwave be no more than 54 inches above the floor, which allows 18 inches clearance above the typical range/counter height of 36 inches. Otherwise, a shorter person would be reaching over their head to remove a hot item from the microwave—which is dangerous. We think that is a sensible maximum installation height, but a higher or lower level should probably be determined by the needs of the occupants of the house.
The International Residential Code (IRC) and Florida Building Code (FBC) defer to the manufacturer’s installation instructions and do not have a specific code requirement. Most manufacturer’s installation manuals recommend that the top of the microwave be at 66 inches above the floor. That is, coincidentally, also the standard height of the bottom of a wall cabinet above the range in most kitchens.
The question of maximum height for an over-the-range microwave came up today at a home inspection where the bottom of the microwave was 62 inches above the floor. Our customer’s comment was “I don’t think I want to try to pull a bubbling lasagna down from there!”
Van Hibberts, is a Certified Residential Building Code Inspector and typically uses the International Residential Code (IRC) as a reference guide when discussing these concerns with clients. However, The State of Florida clearly states that Home Inspectors are forbidden to quote any codes unless they are a Certified Building Code Inspector, which currently SitePro is the only inspection company with those certifications.