The Inspector

Home Inspection Services Inc.

More than just a Home Inspection!

        

Forget Spring Clean... Summer Clean Tips

Easy Home Fixes in the Summer


When it gets warm, it's tempting to ditch any housework for the beach or the patio. Hard as it may be, consider suppressing that urge for a few weekends, because some fairly easy work can improve the state of your home, give it an appearance makeover, and even save you some money.

Clean Your Dryer Vent


Without some maintenance, your dryer could cause a house fire. The U.S. Fire Administration reports nearly 16,000 dryer fires occur annually, which happen largely because dryers' vents get clogged with lint and dust.
Thankfully, you can avoid any unnecessary dryer-caused danger with a few simple steps. First, you'll need a vent-cleaning brush kit, which can clean your dryer vent tubing more thoroughly than a vacuum cleaner can. Begin by cleaning the dryer's lint trap housing with a smaller brush to remove as much lint and dust as possible. Then disconnect the dryer duct from the dryer and the wall for a thorough cleaning. Also use a brush to clean the vent on the outside of the house to keep both ends clean and free of lint.
A dryer fire is just the sort of thing you'll want to be sure you're covered for. Check with your insurance broker.

Clean Your Gutters


Water and debris can accumulate in your gutters over the fall and winter, which can lead to water damage in your house. And you don't want that. So get a ladder that can reach your gutters, but be sure not to overextend yourself. If the gutter is too high, you might want to call in an expert to do the job.
If you're doing the work yourself, don't lean the ladder near electrical wires and take extra care where you place the ladder. Scoop out the gutter's wet leaves and debris, and wet down caked-on dirt so you can scoop out the mud with a trowel.
Also, use a garden hose to flush the gutters after you've cleaned them. This will get the gutters clean, and it will also let you know if you have leaks. Then use the hose to wash out your downspouts to make sure they're not clogged. But be gentle—downspouts aren't meant to withstand the same water pressure as a house drain.
Some experts recommend covering your gutters with a wire mesh guard or other gutter guard system to keep debris out. And remember: Never hang onto a gutter for support. It's built to hold water and some leaves, not your weight.


Keep Your Deck Healthy


Your deck provides a great place to hang out in the summer, but it needs a little TLC to stay in good shape. Visually inspect the boards to look for curling, cracked, or rotting wood. If you see a board that's damaged, remove it and replace it with a board that you've cut to fit the same space.
Go underneath your deck to make sure the support structure is in good shape, and keep an eye out for cracked boards and missing screws or nails. If you see signs of insects or unwanted animals, such as spider webs or chewed boards, call a pest-control expert to take care of the problem.
Lastly, if your deck is sealed or stained, some experts say you should refinish it annually. Start by a low psi power washing of the deck, then letting it thoroughly dry. Remove the finish or seal with a remover/stripper, and let it dry again.
With a sander and medium-grit sandpaper, lightly sand the deck, then remove all of the dust before continuing. Before you apply your finish, do a small test area to make sure you've got the right colour. If you do, apply the finish with the wood's grain and don't stop in the middle—that can cause uneven colouring and streaks.
Two things to remember: make sure you're wearing a mask to prevent inhaling dust and fumes, and don't do any of this work if it's going to rain.


Spruce Up Your Paint Job


When your house looks good, it makes your entire property look better. So every summer, rent a power washer and use a mild detergent to clean your house's exterior. With just a little work (that's actually pretty fun), you can get rid of dirt, dust, bird droppings, tree sap, and more. And it provides a good opportunity for you to inspect your house and make sure everything is still in good order.

 

Asbestos


 Asbestos

Close up inspection of asbestos filaments by Shawn Anderson Home Inspector

 

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers. In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance.

How Can Asbestos Affect My Health?

From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer in the forms of mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity, and asbestosis, in which the lungs become scarred with fibrous tissue.
 
The risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma increase with the number of fibers inhaled. The risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibers is also greater if you smoke. People who get asbestosis have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.

Most people exposed to small amounts of asbestos, as we all are in our daily lives, do not develop these health problems. However, if disturbed, asbestos material may release asbestos fibers, which can be inhaled into the lungs. The fibers can remain there for a long time, increasing the risk of disease. Asbestos material that would crumble easily if handled, or that has been sawed, scraped, or sanded into a powder, is more likely to create a health hazard.

Where Can I Find Asbestos and When Can it Be a Problem?

Most products made today do not contain asbestos. Those few products made which still contain asbestos that could be inhaled are required to be labeled as such. However, until the 1970s, many types of building products and insulation materials used in homes contained asbestos. Common products that might have contained asbestos in the past, and conditions which may release fibers, include: steam pipes, boilers and furnace ducts insulated with an asbestos blanket or asbestos paper tape. These materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged, repaired, or removed improperly; resilient floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile. Sanding tiles can release fibers, and so may scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring during removal; cement sheet, millboard and paper used as insulation around furnaces and wood-burning stoves. Repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibers, and so may cutting, tearing, sanding, drilling, or sawing insulation; door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves and coal stoves. Worn seals can release asbestos fibers during use; soundproofing or decorative material sprayed on walls and ceilings. Loose, crumbly or water-damaged material may release fibers, and so will sanding, drilling or scraping the material; patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings, and textured paints. Sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos fibers;
asbestos cement roofing, shingles and siding. These products are not likely to release asbestos fibers unless sawed, dilled or cut; artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces, and other older household products, such as fireproof gloves, stove-top pads, ironing board covers and certain hairdryers; and automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings and gaskets.


Where Asbestos Hazards May Be Found in the Home

 

  • Some roofing and siding shingles are made of asbestos cement.
  • Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have asbestos as insulation.
  • Asbestos may be present in textured paint and in patching compounds used on wall and ceiling joints. Their use was banned in 1977.
  • Artificial ashes and embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos.
  • Older products, such as stove-top pads, may have some asbestos compounds.
  • Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves may be protected with asbestos paper, millboard or cement sheets.
  • Asbestos is found in some vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives.
  • Hot water and steam pipes in older houses may be coated with an asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape.
  • Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.

 

What Should Be Done About Asbestos in the Home?

 

If you think asbestos may be in your home, don't panic.  Usually, the best thing to do is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. There is no danger unless the asbestos is disturbed and fibers are released and then inhaled into the lungs. Check material regularly if you suspect it may contain asbestos. Don't touch it, but look for signs of wear or damage, such as tears, abrasions or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibers. This is particularly true if you often disturb it by hitting, rubbing or handling it, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or air flow. Sometimes, the best way to deal with slightly damaged material is to limit access to the area and not touch or disturb it. Discard damaged or worn asbestos gloves, stove-top pads and ironing board covers. Check with local health, environmental or other appropriate agencies to find out proper handling and disposal procedures. If asbestos material is more than slightly damaged, or if you are going to make changes in your home that might disturb it, repair or removal by a professional is needed. Before you have your house remodeled, find out whether asbestos materials are present.


 
How to Identify Materials that Contain Asbestos

There are six different types of asbestos. Chrysotile, Amosite, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Anthophyllite and Actinolite.


 
You can't tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos, or have it sampled and analyzed by a qualified professional. A professional should take samples for analysis, since a professional knows what to look for, and because there may be an increased health risk if fibers are released. In fact, if done incorrectly, sampling can be more hazardous than leaving the material alone. Taking samples yourself is not recommended. If you nevertheless choose to take the samples yourself, take care not to release asbestos fibers into the air or onto yourself. Material that is in good condition and will not be disturbed (by remodeling, for example) should be left alone. Only material that is damaged or will be disturbed should be sampled. Anyone who samples asbestos-containing materials should have as much information as possible on the handling of asbestos before sampling and, at a minimum, should observe the following procedures:

  • Make sure no one else is in the room when sampling is done.
  • Wear disposable gloves or wash hands after sampling.
  • Shut down any heating or cooling systems to minimize the spread of any released fibers.
  • Do not disturb the material any more than is needed to take a small sample.
  • Place a plastic sheet on the floor below the area to be sampled.
  • Wet the material using a fine mist of water containing a few drops of detergent before taking the sample. The water/detergent mist will reduce the release of asbestos fibers.
  • Carefully cut a piece from the entire depth of the material using a small knife, corer or other sharp object. Place the small piece into a clean container (a 35-mm film canister, small glass or plastic vial, or high-quality resealable plastic bag).
  • Tightly seal the container after the sample is in it.
  • Carefully dispose of the plastic sheet. Use a damp paper towel to clean up any material on the outside of the container or around the area sampled. Dispose of asbestos materials according to state and local procedures.
  • Label the container with an identification number and clearly state when and where the sample was taken.
  • Patch the sampled area with the smallest possible piece of duct tape to prevent fiber release.

Send the sample to an asbestos analysis laboratory (accredited). Your Provincial or local health department may also be able to help.  


How to Manage an Asbestos Problem

If the asbestos material is in good shape and will not be disturbed, do nothing! If it is a problem, there are two types of corrections: repair and removal. Repair usually involves either sealing or covering asbestos material. Sealing (encapsulation) involves treating the material with a sealant that either binds the asbestos fibers together or coats the material so that fibers are not released. Pipe, furnace and boiler insulation can sometimes be repaired this way. This should be done only by a professional trained to handle asbestos safely. Covering (enclosure) involves placing something over or around the material that contains asbestos to prevent the release of fibers. Exposed insulated piping may be covered with a protective wrap or jacket. With any type of repair, the asbestos remains in place. Repair is usually cheaper than removal, but it may make removal of asbestos later (if found to be necessary) more difficult and costly. Repairs can either be major or minor. Major repairs must be done only by a professional trained in methods for safely handling asbestos. Minor repairs should also be done by professionals, since there is always a risk of exposure to fibers when asbestos is disturbed.

 
Repairs
 

Doing minor repairs yourself is not recommended, since improper handling of asbestos materials can create a hazard where none existed. If you nevertheless choose to do minor repairs, you should have as much information as possible on the handling of asbestos before doing anything. Contact your provincial or local health department or regional EPA office for information about asbestos training programs in your area. Your local school district may also have information about asbestos professionals and training programs for school buildings. Even if you have completed a training program, do not try anything more than minor repairs. Before undertaking minor repairs, carefully examine the area around the damage to make sure it is stable. As a general rule, any damaged area which is bigger than the size of your hand is not considered a minor repair.

 
Before undertaking minor repairs, be sure to follow all the precautions described previously for sampling asbestos material. Always wet the asbestos material using a fine mist of water containing a few drops of detergent. Commercial products designed to fill holes and seal damaged areas are available. Small areas of material, such as pipe insulation, can be covered by wrapping a special fabric, such as re-wettable glass cloth, around it. These products are available from stores (listed in the telephone directory under "Safety Equipment and Clothing") which specialize in asbestos materials and safety items.

Removal is usually the most expensive method and, unless required by state or local regulations, should be the last option considered in most situations. This is because removal poses the greatest risk of fiber release. However, removal may be required when remodeling or making major changes to your home that will disturb asbestos material. Also, removal may be called for if asbestos material is damaged extensively and cannot be otherwise repaired. Removal is complex and must be done only by a contractor with special training. Improper removal may actually increase the health risks to you and your family.


 
Asbestos Professionals: Who Are They and What Can They Do?

Asbestos testing. Close up of asbestos inspection.


 
Asbestos professionals are trained in handling asbestos material. The type of professional will depend on the type of product and what needs to be done to correct the problem. You may hire a general asbestos contractor or, in some cases, a professional trained to handle specific products containing asbestos.
 
Asbestos professionals can conduct inspections, take samples of suspected material, assess its condition, and advise on the corrections that are needed, as well as who is qualified to make these corrections. Once again, material in good condition need not be sampled unless it is likely to be disturbed. Professional correction or abatement contractors repair and remove asbestos materials.
 
Some firms offer combinations of testing, assessment and correction. A professional hired to assess the need for corrective action should not be connected with an asbestos-correction firm. It is better to use two different firms so that there is no conflict of interest. Services vary from one area to another around the country.
 
The federal government offers training courses for asbestos professionals around the country. Some provincial and local governments also offer or require training or certification courses. Ask asbestos professionals to document their completion of federal or provincial-approved training. Each person performing work in your home should provide proof of training and licensing in asbestos work, such as completion of EPA-approved training. Provincial and local health departments or EPA regional offices may have listings of licensed professionals in your area.
 
If you have a problem that requires the services of asbestos professionals, check their credentials carefully. Hire professionals who are trained, experienced, reputable and accredited -- especially if accreditation is required by state or local laws. Before hiring a professional, ask for references from previous clients. Find out if they were satisfied. Ask whether the professional has handled similar situations. Get cost estimates from several professionals, as the charges for these services can vary.

Though private homes are usually not covered by the asbestos regulations that apply to schools and public buildings, professionals should still use procedures described in federal or state-approved training. Homeowners should be alert to the chance of misleading claims by asbestos consultants and contractors. There have been reports of firms incorrectly claiming that asbestos materials in homes must be replaced. In other cases, firms have encouraged unnecessary removal or performed it improperly. Unnecessary removal is a waste of money. Improper removal may actually increase the health risks to you and your family. To guard against this, know what services are available and what procedures and precautions are needed to do the job properly.

In addition to general asbestos contractors, you may select a roofing, flooring or plumbing contractor trained to handle asbestos when it is necessary to remove and replace roofing, flooring, siding or asbestos-cement pipe that is part of a water system. Normally, roofing and flooring contractors are exempt from state and local licensing requirements because they do not perform any other asbestos-correction work.

Asbestos-containing automobile brake pads and linings, clutch facings and gaskets should be repaired and replaced only by a professional using special protective equipment. Many of these products are now available without asbestos.
 
If you hire an home inspector who is trained in asbestos inspection:
Make sure that the inspection will include a complete visual examination, and the careful collection and lab analysis of samples. If asbestos is present, the inspector should provide a written evaluation describing its location and extent of damage, and give recommendations for correction or prevention.

Make sure an inspecting firm makes frequent site visits if it is hired to assure that a contractor follows proper procedures and requirements. The inspector may recommend and perform checks after the correction to assure that the area has been properly cleaned.
If you hire a corrective-action contractor:

Check with your local air pollution control board, the local agency responsible for worker safety, and the Better Business Bureau. Ask if the firm has had any safety violations. Find out if there are legal actions filed against it.

Insist that the contractor use the proper equipment to do the job. The workers must wear approved respirators, gloves and other protective clothing.

Before work begins, get a written contract specifying the work plan, cleanup, and the applicable federal, state and local regulations which the contractor must follow (such as notification requirements and asbestos disposal procedures). Contact your state and local health departments, EPA regional office, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's regional office to find out what the regulations are. Be sure the contractor follows local asbestos removal and disposal laws. At the end of the job, get written assurance from the contractor that all procedures have been followed.

Assure that the contractor avoids spreading or tracking asbestos dust into other areas of your home. They should seal off the work area from the rest of the house using plastic sheeting and duct tape, and also turn off the heating and air conditioning system. For some repairs, such as pipe insulation removal, plastic bags may be adequate. They must be sealed with tape and properly disposed of when the job is complete.

Make sure the work site is clearly marked as a hazardous area. Do not allow household members or pets into the area until work is completed.

Insist that the contractor apply a wetting agent to the asbestos material with a hand sprayer that creates a fine mist before removal. Wet fibers do not float in the air as easily as dry fibers and will be easier to clean up.

Make sure the contractor does not break removed material into smaller pieces. This could release asbestos fibers into the air. Pipe insulation was usually installed in pre-formed blocks and should be removed in complete pieces.


Upon completion, assure that the contractor cleans the area well with wet mops, wet rags, sponges and/or HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) vacuum cleaners. A regular vacuum cleaner must never be used. Wetting helps reduce the chance of spreading asbestos fibers in the air. All asbestos materials and disposable equipment and clothing used in the job must be placed in sealed, leakproof, and labeled plastic bags. The work site should be visually free of dust and debris. Air monitoring (to make sure there is no increase of asbestos fibers in the air) may be necessary to assure that the contractor's job is done properly. This should be done by someone not connected with the contractor.


Caution!

Do not dust, sweep or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos. These actions will disturb tiny asbestos fibers and may release them into the air. Remove dust by wet-mopping or with a special HEPA vacuum cleaner used by trained asbestos contractors.

Aluminum Wiring Inspections

 
Between approximately 1965 to the late 70's, single-strand aluminum wiring was sometimes substituted for copper branch-circuit wiring in residential electrical systems Aluminum and copper wiring, with each metal clearly identifiable by its color due to the sudden escalating price of copper. After a decade of use by homeowners and electricians, inherent weaknesses were discovered in the metal that lead to its disuse as a branch wiring material. Although properly maintained aluminum wiring is acceptable, aluminum will generally become defective faster than copper due to certain qualities inherent in the metal. Neglected connections in outlets, switches and light fixtures containing aluminum wiring become increasingly dangerous over time. Poor connections cause wiring to overheat, creating a potential fire hazard. In addition, the presence of single-strand aluminum wiring may void a home’s insurance policies. Inspectors may instruct their clients to talk with their insurance agents about whether the presence of aluminum wiring in their home is a problem that requires changes to their policy language.

Shawn Anderson home inspection showing an electrical aluminum wiring inspection with multiple types of wiring in one electrical panel.


 
Facts and Figures


On April, 28, 1974, two people were killed in a house fire in Hampton Bays, New York. Fire officials determined that the fire was caused by a faulty aluminum wire connection at an outlet.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), "Homes wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1972 ['old technology' aluminum wire] are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach "Fire Hazard Conditions" than is a home wired with copper."

Aluminum as a Metal

Aluminum possesses certain qualities that, compared with copper, make it an undesirable material as an electrical conductor. These qualities all lead to loose connections, where fire hazards become likely. These qualities are as follows:

  • higher electrical resistance. Aluminum has a high resistance to electrical current flow, which means that, given the same amperage, aluminum conductors must be of a larger diameter than would be required by copper conductors.
  • less ductile. Aluminum will fatigue and break down more readily when subjected to bending and other forms of abuse than copper, which is more ductile. Fatigue will cause the wire to break down internally and will increasingly resist electrical current, leading to a buildup of excessive heat.
  • galvanic corrosion.  In the presence of moisture, aluminum will undergo galvanic corrosion when it comes into contact with certain dissimilar metals.
  • oxidation. Exposure to oxygen in the air causes deterioration to the outer surface of the wire. This process is called oxidation. Aluminum wire is more easily oxidized than copper wire, and the compound formed by this process – aluminum oxide – is less conductive than copper oxide. As time passes, oxidation can deteriorate connections and present a fire hazard.  
  • greater malleability. Aluminum is soft and malleable, meaning it is highly sensitive to compression. After a screw has been over-tightened on aluminum wiring, for instance, the wire will continue to deform or “flow” even after the tightening has ceased. This deformation will create a loose connection and increase electrical resistance in that location.
  • greater thermal expansion and contraction. Even more than copper, aluminum expands and contracts with changes in temperature. Over time, this process will cause connections between the wire and the device to degrade. For this reason, aluminum wires should never be inserted into the “stab,” “bayonet” or “push-in” type terminations found on the back of many light switches and outlets.
  • excessive vibration. Electrical current vibrates as it passes through wiring. This vibration is more extreme in aluminum than it is in copper, and, as time passes, it can cause connections to loosen.
Electrical outlet showing burning caused by aluminum wiring from a Shawn Anderson home inspection

Is Aluminum Wiring Safe ?

Aluminum wiring is an acceptable wiring choice if properly installed and used in the proper application.  Problems began to show up where aluminum was used in branch circuit wiring. These are the smaller wires that deliver electricity from the electrical panel to the plugs, switches and lighting fixtures.  Aluminum tends to oxidize when exposed to air, resulting in overheating, and eventual failure at the termination points.  Since aluminum wire is softer and exhibits different electrical characteristics than copper wiring, particular attention is necessary to verity that appropriate devices are being used.  As with all wiring, aluminum is safe provided appropriate connections and terminations are made without damaging the wire and with approved materials installed in conformity with the Canadian Electrical Code. Today, stranded aluminum cable is mostly used for main distribution wiring or feeder lines to bring electricity to the home.

When houses are wired with aluminum wiring most insurance companies require a complete electrical safely inspection by a professional and licensed electrical contractor before policies are sold or renewed.  Electrical modifications are generally needed and in some cases complete rewiring is advised to reduce the risk of a house fire.

How do I Know if my home has Aluminum Wiring ?

Houses constructed between the mid 1960’s until the late 1970’s could have aluminum wiring. You might be able to check the wiring yourself. This may be done by looking at the electrical wiring visible, either between the open floor joists, in the basement, up in the attic, or at the service panel, check if the wire is marked with the work ALUMINUM or ALUM, AL, ALUM ACM,  AL ACM.

Some symptoms that may indicate problems with aluminum wiringare:

• Flickering lights that can’t be traced to a failing bulb or other external cause.

• Plugs that don’t work even with the circuit energized.

• Uncommon static on the radio, TV or computer.

• Switch plates and receptacle covers that are crooked, discolored or warm.

• Circuit breakers or fuses that trip for no evident reason.

• Unusual odor similar to that of burning plastic around switches and receptacles.

• Smoke or sparking close to electrical devices.

If you observe any of these problems, it is important to have a licensed Vancouver electrical contractor check the electrical system immediately to determine the best and securest solution to this safety concern.

Is there a Solution to my Aluminum wiring problems?

Yes, BC homeowners have three ESA authorized options, when addressing the concerns of aluminum wiring.

 1. Installation of CO/ALR or AL/CU devices only.

It involves replacing all the wall receptacles and switches in the house with ones that are specifically rated for aluminum wiring. “Decora” devices and Tamper Resistant receptacles are not available in a CO / ARC form. Availability islimited to standard devices. This option does not address connections in lighting fixtures.

2. Copper Pigtails with Specialized Connectors.

The most usual method of addressing this problem is bridging a new copper pigtail wire between the existing aluminum wiring and any electrical device. This connection must be done using very specialwire connectors along with appropriate anti-oxidant paste to increase conductivity and eliminate corrosion.

3. Complete home rewire using only copper wiring.

Clearly this is the securest long term solution to the aluminum wire dilemma. It is the most labor intensive and expensive method, with investments ranging from $7,000 to $20,000 plus, depending on the size of the home. This option would help to protect the value of the home.

All three of these options should be performed by a professional and licensed Vancouver electrical contractor to ensure right installation procedures are strictly followed.

In summary, aluminum wiring can be a fire hazard due to inherent qualities of the metal. Inspectors should be capable of identifying this type of wiring.

Acid Rain


“Acid rain,” like “global warming,” is a phenomenon whose very existence is disputed by some.  In fact, evidence of acid rain has been observed in industrialized cities around the world since the mid-1800s.  “Acid rain” describes the mixture of wet and dry deposits from the atmosphere which contain high amounts of nitric and sulfuric acids that result from both natural and man-made emissions.  Its effects on structures and homes are very real.  Inspectors can learn more about acid rain and its destructive signs on metal and stone components of the exteriors of homes.
 
Acid rain is formed when the chemical precursors of nitric and sulfuric acids -- sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx), respectively -- combine with natural sources of acidic particles, such as volcanoes and decaying vegetation.  When this mixture reacts with oxygen, water and other chemicals (including pollutants such as carbon dioxide), the result is acid rain, which can be carried by rain, and even snow, frost, fog and mist, which, in turn, runs off into soil and groundwater.
 

Graphic of acid rain cycle.

 
 
According to the EPA, about two-thirds of all SO2 and one-quarter of the NOx emissions in the atmosphere in the U.S. result from power plants that burn fossil fuels (primarily coal), as well as vehicles and agricultural equipment that rely on gasoline.
 
It is fair to say that any industrialized region with power plants that burn fossil fuels will show some wear on its surrounding structures from acid rain.  But buildings in arid regions are at greater risk because of dry deposition, in which acidic pollutants are present in gases, smoke and dust, which tend to stick to buildings, cars and other structures.  When it rains or snows, the subsequent wet deposition of nitric and sulfuric acids becomes even more acidic, which then washes into the soil and aquifers.

The more obvious impacts of acid rain can be seen on particular types of stone, such as limestone and marble buildings, monuments, statues and headstones.  The weathering pits and canyons can obliterate the lettering and features of such structures to a brutal degree, depending on the type of stone and other environmental conditions.

sculpture showing the affects of acid rain


 
Acid rain can also corrode bronze and other metals, such as nickel, zinc, copper, and carbon-steel, as evidenced by streaks and discoloration on bridges and other metal structures, such as many commercial buildings.  
 
Not all buildings or structures suffer the effects of acid rain.  How big of a threat it is can be determined by the chemical makeup andinteractions of a building's materials.  Limestone and marble, which, historically, were used widely because of their availability and workability by artisans, are especially susceptible because they are composed of calcite, or calcium carbonate, which acidic chemicals can dissolve easily.  To observe this first-hand, drop a piece of blackboard chalk into a glass of vinegar.  Drop another piece of chalk into a glass of water.  The next morning, you’ll see the alarming difference.

Modern buildings tend to use granite, which is composed of silicate minerals, such as quartz and feldspar.  Silicate minerals resist acidic attacks from the atmosphere.  Sandstone, another silica material, is also resistant.  Stainless steel and aluminum tend to hold up better.  But all minerals, including those found in paint and road overlay, are affected, to some degree.

Because of the switchover in the use of certain building materials in the post-Industrial Era, historic buildings, more so than modern ones, tend to show the destructive outcome of acid rain since we first began burning fossil fuels for energy.  London’s Westminster Abbey, the Colosseum in Rome, and India’s Taj Mahal, Cambodia's Angkor Wat all show signs of degradation brought on by atmospheric nitric and sulfuric acids.
 

Ankor Wat showing signs of damage from acid rain

 
Plant life and wildlife are also affected.  The pH -- or alkalinity and acidity -- of lake water, for example, tends to re-stabilize and maintain equilibrium when contaminated by acid rain.  However, soil and trees can become irreparably harmed when their pH is disturbed to the extent that their natural abilities to compensate for chemical fluctuations in the environment are thwarted.  Soil contains naturally occurring mercury and aluminum, which are normally poisonous for plant life.  But plants can survive when the nutrient base of the soil remains healthy, giving them a strong buffering capacity.  Acid rain, however, destroys the environmental balance, and these naturally occurring chemical threats suddenly become fatal.  The plants' "immune systems," made stronger by the surrounding soil, become compromised.  The plants and trees may die a slow death due to nutrient starvation, oxygen deprivation, injured leaves that cannot recover, and/or their bark will become damaged and vulnerable to mold, fungi and wood-destroying insects.  
 
When the environment is under continual attack by the deadly effects of acid rain, the odds of survival for other resident plant, animal and insect species diminish as the ecosystem is thrown out of its natural balance.
 
On the flipside, NASA researchers recently discovered that one species of swampland bacteria's ability to produce methane -- a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming -- is actually inhibited by acid rain.
 
The EPA’s Acid Rain Program got underway in 1995 (after being enacted by Congress in 1990), which continues to seek to reduce SO2 and NOx emissions to below 1980 pollution levels.  The program originally targeted coal-burning electricity plants, and has expanded to include other types of industry that burn coal, oil and gas, too.  While the EPA touts some success in bringing down some polluters’ output by 40%, critics charge that because the program permits emission “allowance trading” among its participants, the larger industrial polluters simply pay the $2,000-per-ton fine for exceeding SO2 and NOx limits.  The EPA, however, has embraced a market-friendly approach while shooting for overall target reductions.
 
The primary problem with acid rain, of course, is that there is no way to contain it.  It blows with the wind and is captured and carried by localized weather systems.  Although the deterioration which acid rain causes may be slow, it is persistent.  And until we shift our reliance on fossil fuels by using various types of green energy (wind, solar, etc.), we will continue to witness the destructive consequences in all aspects of our environment, both natural and man-made, for decades to come.
 
Homeowners can mitigate the environmental effects of acid rain by modifying their purchasing and traveling habits, and by using building materials that are better able to withstand the corrosive effects of this modern scourge.  Home Inspectors can become more familiar with the problems posed by acid rain by investigating the types of building materials used, and by contacting their local EPA representative for up-to-date statistics on pollution levels for their specific area.

Home Energy Saving Tips


Energy Saving Tips

 

Energy efficiency for a sustainable future. Tree coming out of a lightbulb.

Drastic reductions in heating, cooling and electricity costs can be accomplished through very simple changes, most of which homeowners can do themselves. Of course, for homeowners who want to take advantage of the most up-to-date knowledge and systems in home energy efficiency,  energy auditors can perform in-depth testing to find the best energy solutions for your particular home.

Why make your home more energy efficient? Here are a few good reasons:
It saves money. It costs less to power a home that has been converted to be more energy-efficient.

It increases the comfort level indoors.

It reduces our impact on climate change. Many scientists now believe that excessive energy consumption contributes significantly to global warming.

It reduces pollution. Conventional power production introduces pollutants that find their way into the air, soil and water supplies.


1. Find better ways to heat and cool your house.

As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that energy bills can be reduced through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:

Install a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can be used in place of air conditioners, which require a large amount of energy.

Periodically replace air filters in air conditioners and heaters. Set thermostats to an appropriate temperature. Specifically, they should be turned down at night and when no one is home. In most homes, about 2% of the heating bill will be saved for each degree that the thermostat is lowered for at least eight hours each day. Turning down the thermostat from 75° F to 70° F, for example, saves about 10% on heating costs. Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves money by allowing heating and cooling appliances to be automatically turned down during times that no one is home and at night. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and, in some climate zones, can save up to $150 per year in energy costs.
Install a wood stove or a pellet stove. These are more efficient sources of heat than furnaces.
At night, curtains drawn over windows will better insulate the room.

2. Install a tankless water heater.

Demand-type water heaters (tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don't produce the standby energy losses associated with traditional storage water heaters, which will save on energy costs. Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. A gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don't need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.

3. Replace incandescent lights.

The average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights convert approximately only 10% of the energy they consume into light, while the rest becomes heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), can reduce the energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer further energy savings by reducing the amount of time that lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:

CFLs use 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
LEDs last even longer than CFLs and consume less energy.
LEDs have no moving parts and, unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.

4. Seal and insulate your home.

Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy-efficient, and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home can improve comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills.

The following are some common places where leakage may occur:

Electrical receptacles/outlets, mail slots, around pipes and wires, wall- or window-mounted air conditioners, attic hatches, fireplace dampers, inadequate weatherstripping around doors, baseboards, window frames,and switch plates.
Because hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that save them money on cooling and heating, such as:

Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas.
Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry.
Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foamboard insulation in the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.

5. Install efficient showerheads and toilets.

The following systems can be installed to conserve water usage in homes:

low-flow showerheads. They are available in different flow rates, and some have a pause button which shuts off the water while the bather lathers up;
low-flow toilets. Toilets consume 30% to 40% of the total water used in homes, making them the biggest water users. Replacing an older 3.5-gallon toilet with a modern, low-flow 1.6-gallon toilet can reduce usage an average of 2 gallons-per-flush (GPF), saving 12,000 gallons of water per year. Low-flow toilets usually have "1.6 GPF" marked on the bowl behind the seat or inside the tank; vacuum-assist toilets. This type of toilet has a vacuum chamber that uses a siphon action to suck air from the trap beneath the bowl, allowing it to quickly fill with water to clear waste. Vacuum-assist toilets are relatively quiet; and dual-flush toilets. Dual-flush toilets have been used in Europe and Australia for years and are now gaining in popularity in the U.S. Dual-flush toilets let you choose between a 1-gallon (or less) flush for liquid waste, and a 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste. Dual-flush 1.6-GPF toilets reduce water consumption by an additional 30%.

6. Use appliances and electronics responsibly.

Appliances and electronics account for about 20% of household energy bills in a typical U.S. home. The following are tips that will reduce the required energy of electronics and appliances:

Refrigerators and freezers should not be located near the stove, dishwasher or heat vents, or exposed to direct sunlight. Exposure to warm areas will force them to use more energy to remain cool.  
Computers should be shut off when not in use. If unattended computers must be left on, their monitors should be shut off. According to some studies, computers account for approximately 3% of all energy consumption in the United States.
Use efficient ENERGY STAR-rated appliances and electronics.  ie. TVs, home theater systems, DVD players, CD players, receivers, speakers, and more. According to the EPA, if just 10% of homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees.
Chargers, such as those used for laptops and cell phones, consume energy when they are plugged in. When they are not connected to electronics, chargers should be unplugged.
Laptop computers consume considerably less electricity than desktop computers.

7. Install daylighting as an alternative to electrical lighting.

Daylighting is the practice of using natural light to illuminate the home's interior. It can be achieved using the following approaches: skylights. It’s important that they be double-pane or they may not be cost-effective. Flashing skylights correctly is key to avoiding leaks;
light shelves. Light shelves are passive devices designed to bounce light deep into a building. They may be interior or exterior. Light shelves can introduce light into a space up to 2½ times the distance from the floor to the top of the window, and advanced light shelves may introduce four times that amount; clerestory windows.  Clerestory windows are short, wide windows set high on the wall. Protected from the summer sun by the roof overhang, they allow winter sun to shine through for natural lighting and warmth; and light tubes.  Light tubes use a special lens designed to amplify low-level light and reduce light intensity from the midday sun. Sunlight is channeled through a tube coated with a highly reflective material, and then enters the living space through a diffuser designed to distribute light evenly.

8. Insulate windows and doors.

About one-third of the home's total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. The following are ways to reduce energy lost through windows and doors:

Seal all window edges and cracks with rope caulk. This is the cheapest and simplest option.
Windows can be weatherstripped with a special lining that is inserted between the window and the frame. For doors, apply weatherstripping around the whole perimeter to ensure a tight seal when they're closed. Install quality door sweeps on the bottom of the doors, if they aren't already in place.

Install storm windows at windows with only single panes. A removable glass frame can be installed over an existing window.
If existing windows have rotted or damaged wood, cracked glass, missing putty, poorly fitting sashes, or locks that don't work, they should be repaired or replaced.

9. Cook smart.

An enormous amount of energy is wasted while cooking. The following recommendations and statistics illustrate less wasteful ways of cooking:

Convection ovens are more efficient that conventional ovens. They use fans to force hot air to circulate more evenly, thereby allowing food to be cooked at a lower temperature. Convection ovens use approximately 20% less electricity than conventional ovens.
Microwave ovens consume approximately 80% less energy than conventional ovens.
Pans should be placed on the matching size heating element or flame.
Using lids on pots and pans will heat food more quickly than cooking in uncovered pots and pans.
Pressure cookers reduce cooking time dramatically.
When using conventional ovens, food should be placed on the top rack. The top rack is hotter and will cook food faster.

10. Change the way you do laundry.

Do not use the medium setting on your washer. Wait until you have a full load of clothes, as the medium setting saves less than half of the water and energy used for a full load.
Avoid using high-temperature settings when clothes are not very soiled. Water that is 140° F uses far more energy than 103° F for the warm-water setting, but 140° F isn’t that much more effective for getting clothes clean.

Clean the lint trap every time before you use the dryer. Not only is excess lint a fire hazard, but it will prolong the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
If possible, air-dry your clothes on lines and racks.

Spin-dry or wring clothes out before putting them into a dryer.

Efflorescence

 

EFFLORESCENCE

Shawn Anderson Home Inspection of efflorescence coming out of a the concrete of a home's foundation

Efflorescence is a common problem in concrete and masonry block foundations. The white fuzzy stuff you see along the inside and outside of your basement wall is efflorescence. Don't worry this annoying build up isn't hazardous; efflorescence is simply salt and can be easily removed with efflorescence removers and other cleaning techniques. More than anything, if you see efflorescence it means you have a moisture problem and if gone untreated can cause deterioration.


What happens is, water infiltrates the block or the concrete wall and dissolves minerals. As water evaporates from the surface of the unit the mineral deposits are left behind, thus efflorescence crystals can grow. Although efflorescence is generally a visual problem, if the efflorescence crystals grow inside the surface of the unit, it can cause spalling, which is when the surface peels, pops out or flakes off. The salt pushes from the inside out and can eventually cause crumbling and deterioration.

If the efflorescence is removed, but then returns, it is a sign that water is entering the wall and driving the salts out. If it does not return, then the cause was initial moisture and salts from when the concrete was placed.

Three conditions must exist before efflorescence will occur:
* First: There must be water-soluble salts present somewhere in the wall.
* Second: There must be sufficient moisture in the wall to render the salts into a soluble solution.
* Third: There must be a path for the soluble salts to migrate through to the surface where the moisture can evaporate, thus depositing the salts which then crystallize and cause efflorescence.
All three conditions must exist. If any one of these conditions is not present, then efflorescence cannot occur.

Preventing Efflorescence

The best way to prevent the problem is to prevent water from infiltrating the wall. If you see efflorescence crystals it usually means there is a leak somewhere letting outside water in. Once, the source of the water infiltration has been located and stopped then the walls can be cleaned with an efflorescence remover.

While inside systems can divert the water, it may not solve the problem of efflorescence and other moisture-related mineral build-ups. Regardless of what is done on the inside, water is still entering through the wall from the outside.

The salt that ends up as efflorescence crystals on your walls, can come from salt laden soils or the Portland cement in the mortar and grout. The soluble salts could come from the sand or from contaminated water used to make the concrete, grout or mortar.

Another culprit is, of course, the clay brick itself. The natural clays used in the manufacture of brick often contain soluble alkali sulfates. Most modern fired clay brick have balanced chemical additives to immobilize the sulfates and render them insoluble. This prevents the salts from being dissolved into a solution that could migrate through the wall to the surface. Most fired clay brick do not greatly contribute towards the efflorescence problem.

How to Clean Efflorescence?

The traditional method of cleaning efflorescence has been sandblasting, which, of course, works. Unfortunately it removes just about everything else, too. The abrasive action of the sand erodes the surface of the brick and the tooled mortar joints along with any deposited salts. This increases the porous qualities of the masonry and the water absorptive nature of the wall. Sandblasting should be used with caution and afterwards the masonry should be sealed with a waterproofing material.


An alternative to sandblasting, which has shown good success when done properly is the use of special chemical cleaners. Generally, thorough presoaking and post washing with clean potable water is required. Presoaking is done to saturate the wall, reducing its natural porous tendencies and limiting the depth of penetration of the cleaning solution. After the cleaning solution has been used, the wall must be thoroughly washed with clean water to remove any of the cleaning chemicals. This is very important since most cleaning agents are acidic in nature and cannot be permitted to remain in the wall where they will continue to react with and erode the masonry itself.

A conventional chemical cleaner that has been used for removing efflorescence is muriatic acid in a mild solution, usually one part muriatic acid (hydrochloric acid, HC1) to 12 parts water. Several mild individual applications are better than one overpowering dose. Again, care must be taken to thoroughly presoak the wall with clean water and to thoroughly flush the wall of all remaining acids with clean water.

Remember, cleaning efflorescence from masonry walls does not cure the problem; it only removes the symptoms. After cleaning, the efflorescence will reappear unless the natural efflorescent chain is broken.

The presence of efflorescence shows that the salts are already in the wall, have sufficient water to be made soluble, and that migratory paths exist for the salt solution to travel through to the surface.

Efflorescence is a controllable condition that should not be a problem in modern masonry. Breaking the chain of conditions necessary for efflorescence can be done with good details, the correct materials and quality construction.


source: Basement Questions