What is it?
Ventless gas fireplaces are self explanatory but for the yankees up North, who have no idea what Im talking about let me explain. In the South ventless fireplaces are far more common, this is because our winters are so much more mild in comparison that our fireplaces tend to be mostly aesthetic.
The further North you go the more people tend to fully rely on there fireplaces, growing up in Idaho we used wood to heat, and our fireplace was far from aesthetic. In Birmingham when performing home inspections we rarely come across a functional wood burning stove, and only slightly more common, is a well maintained wood burning fireplace.
The predominant component we see, and the one taking the market by storm with new construction homes is ventless gas fireplaces. They are significantly cheaper to install, since running a flue pipe can get expensive in a hurry, cheaper to purchase in general, and are fairly easy and carefree to operate.
Are they safe?
The question we often get is “is this safe to operate? what about Carbon Monoxide?” First I will say that I wouldn’t operate one in my house without a Carbon Monoxide detector nearby. Second, I would make sure and have an annual inspection performed by Timberline Inspections (If you need an inspection in Birmingham) because we will check the gas lines and ensure there’s nothing leaking. Third, what I'm about to explain is not from a physics background and incorporates a B- understanding of thermodynamics.
Ventless fireplaces combust in a process called “complete combustion,” during which essentially the harmful elements are not present. In this process the oxygen in combination with your natural gas combine to create two virtually harmless byproducts, H2O and CO2. Carbon Monoxide is present in only trace amounts and is generally not a concern.
These units are virtually safe to run provided there’s no issue with the combustion process; the combustion process can become incomplete when the available oxygen is depleted, the gas supply is interrupted, or the unit is just old and not functioning at top condition from age.
Oxygen can get depleted from a number of causes, multiple stoves running in unison, candles or oil lamps being burned in a power outages, a wood stove running in another area of the house, even a tightly sealed home can allow the unit to theoretically burn oxygen faster than it can replace it. This lack of oxygen can, unknowingly, change the combustion process causing carbon monoxide levels to soar. Even more scary, deadly levels of carbon monoxide can accumulate and not be enough to trigger your detector. When was the last time you checked your batteries? Is yours hardwired in?
Modern fireplaces are built with oxygen depletion sensors, that help to prevent potential issues. In theory, these should shutdown the fireplace when the oxygen levels get low, causing “incomplete combustion.” Unfortunately there’s not really a good way to test these and ensure they are functioning, and depending on the manufacturer date of your unit, it may not even have it.
University of Illinois commissioned a study that found 20% of homes observed, had levels of carbon monoxide greater than what is approved by the EPA and WHO.
Water vapor being the other byproduct is also a danger and one that is overlooked. Growing up in the dry areas between Alaska and Idaho a little extra moisture in the air hardly ever hurts. In fact dad used to leave an old cast iron pot on top of the wood stove just to add a little moisture in the air.
Down South we have the opposite experience, our moisture content is already high and increasing it here is never a good thing. We love our air conditioning so much more in the south because it removes the moisture from the air. Northern people don’t often know what the condensate line does on their HVAC system, in the South we have to have drainage setup for it.
Increasing water vapor inside the house in winter causes condensation on cold surfaces, windows are particularly susceptible and we will often see moisture running down them and hitting the sills in winter. We don't usually notice until the sill is rotten and we are replacing windows and framing. But that’s not the worst part. a significant amount of that moisture is condensing behind your wall and not being allowed to dry. This causes mold and mildew, which can lead to pungent smells and health hazards. It’s reasons like this why we recommend mold testing regardless of whether we see indicators of mold.
This is one of the reasons that most manufacturers give a recommended run time of 2 hours or less. Also to avoid the buildup of carbon monoxide.
To Vent Or Not To Vent?
Should you go ventless really depends on you. Me personally, Ive never understood the point of aesthetically pleasing fireplaces and would rather have something functional for wintertime heat. However, if I was going to install a gas fireplace I would almost certainly get a ventless system. The reason being they are cheaper, safe when installed and used correctly, and less to maintain and worry about. Birds and pests nest in flue pipes, why have it if you don't need it?
Your take aways to operating your fireplace safely and keeping your family from being one of the horror stories we hear on the news is to, first purchase and PROPERLY install CO detectors. Second, units are cheap replace them when they are outdated and make sure they have plenty of combustion air. Third, if you’re in Birmingham call us to get an annual home inspection, or call your local provider. annual inspections are cheap quick and painless and a good inspector can make sure you’re operating in a safe manner.
A lot of things accumulate around your home including keys and chargers in your junk drawer, or even Cheerios in every nook and cranny imaginable if you have children. Some of this junk can be useful, most importantly the spare hardware that could be hiding in every room or leaning up against the shed in the backyard. The old wooden door by the tool shed, loose nails, hooks, screws, doorknobs, and hinges, all of these are useful treasures that you can make repairs with in and around your home. For the purpose of this article I will use as an example the half door that my wife requested for Christmas, to keep the dogs out of the kitchen. Keep in mind the project described here will not be detailed because the goal is for you to figure out what you can do with your spare materials to improve your home without a big price tag and thin out the junk piles in the process.
My wife’s request
In our house we have three “fur babies” and although we love them, they stay underfoot. This is not normally a big deal, however the one place it really bugs my wife is in the kitchen. Leaving the house through the back door meant fighting back 3 fuzzy sharks attempting to escape when they smelled freedom. To remedy this, she requested a door to keep them out but did not want it to feel completely closed off. With that in mind we decided a half door was the only viable option. This simply meant cutting a door in half as if to make a Dutch door but leaving the top half off.
My wife and I live in a beautiful craftsman style house built in 1922 which means a lot of things with our own experiences differ from most. One perk is that a century of existence combined with solid concrete walls, (something unique for the age and style) has caused the dwelling to accrue a plethora of assorted hardware. To avoid special drill bits and mounting options, the owners over the years had opted to hang decor from the ceiling (or so I assume judging by the number of hooks in the tongue and groove). The windows and doors being original, had mix match pieces of locking mechanisms, which made for a rather interesting collection. I decided to tackle the project using the homes accumulated surplus not only for the satisfaction of building something for my wife, but also to keep cost down and preserve the style of our house. By the way yes, for those thinking it, I have been accused of being cheap many times.
I began with an old undersized door that had been removed years before and had taken up residence in my tool shed. All the original hardware was still attached with a few missing parts, so I removed them and soaked them in 50/50 white distilled vinegar and water to clean off paint and rust. I then turned my attention to the door. My wife wanted to keep some of the patina, so I sanded and Scraped off only the loose and flaking paint on both sides. The kitchen side received a clear coat to seal and preserve the weathered look, and the dining room side got the turquoise treatment that the rest of our dining room/ living room doors had been given by a previous owner. When it came to the desired height she simply stood in the door and showed me where she wanted it to be, I took a measurement and then cut the door to size.
The hinges I robbed from some old removed built-in doors. They were undersized but were adequate for the project and will eventually be upgraded. All of the hinges and other hardware were fastened using screws but for the top cap, made from spare wood, I used trim nails to avoid splitting. The next step after mounting was to install a knob. This part was simply cosmetic since it did not have the ability to latch, and to keep the door closed I repurposed a hook latch with a screw in eyelet. However, I turned to the doorknob collection once again provided by our house and chose one that was glass.
The door turned out great, and matched the style and color scheme of the house. My wife loved it and it kept the dogs out of the kitchen. The best part was discovered the next time we left the house, when we moved to block the fuzzy sharks from running out the door and remembered they weren’t there. That part she loved the most. As I mentioned, the project used spare hardware that was no longer being used therefore not everything was a perfect fit. At certain times during the build I had to backup and rethink, or alter parts. With common knowledge and a basic set of tools, however any obstacle encountered during the project can be overcome. Also parts that need upgrading can always be improved after completion.
Even if you don’t think you can take on building or fixing something because you don’t have the know how, countless books, and websites, have been created about taking on tasks around the house. There is a certain sense of accomplishment creating something, or repairing something for oneself, no matter how big or small. The goal of course is to learn as much as you can so you can do the job correctly if it’s something that can drastically affect the wellbeing and condition of your home. My wife’s door could have been constructed better with newer store bought materials but that door does not degrade the structure and operates as intended.
Wife approved, dogs restrained, mission accomplished. Good luck on your projects!
Timberline Inspections LLC
Greater Birmingham Area Home Inspector
In Alabama we get a significant amount of storms, everything ranging from small rainstorms, tornadoes, blizzards and even hurricanes and tropical storms. It comes as no surprise that we have to be prepared to weather a storm.
1. Trim and Clear. I see this on just about every list online, trim and clear trees back from your house. In areas of the country with prominent forest fires keeping a fire barrier between the wood line and your house is often a building code requirement. Though its not a requirement in the South East United States it still passes the common sense test to do the same.
Blown down trees will damage power lines, roofs, and even structural supports of your home. One heavy log can cause thousands in damage, and don't forget you wont be able to cosmetically match paints and shingles very well, so you’ll likely be viewing the mismatch until it’s time to completely redo it. Any home owner with a chainsaw and a ladder can get trees and limbs cleared up so nothing is over-hanging your house.
Required materials: Ladder, Chainsaw or limb saw, pruning shears, rope
3. Walk the yard. Grading is important and with the amount of home inspections we do in a year in Birmingham I can tell you one of the most common causes of moisture issues is grading and gutters. Even if the site was fine last year, its important to realize your land settles and it may not be graded correctly anymore; It doesn’t usually hurt to go more but a rule of thumb for the minimum is 1 inch every 10 feet from the house.
At the same time you should check the gutters discharge too. We see a lot of houses during inspection that discharge water immediately next to the house. Short term this can cause water entry in a bad storm, but long term you’ll start to rot the wood all around it, and even damage masonry. Even if it’s not touching the brick, concrete foundation and mortar all soak it up and absorb it into the surrounding area. This causes a significant amount of damage over time.
Required materials: Shovel, fill dirt, 6 foot level, tape measure, splash blocks.
4. Back Ups: Two is one, and one is none. During a bad storm is not the time to have things quit working on you. However, this is the time we can almost guarantee some things will. I live out in the country, it’s pretty well a guarantee that anytime we have a decent storm ill lose power for a short term, and during the snow storms ill lose it over night. if not longer This is a minor irritant unless you have a freezer stocked full of food and rely on electricity for your heat.
As home inspectors we always recommend two sources of heat for just this reason… even in the South! Im not suggesting you have two types of furnaces, but2 days below 30 degrees with no heat can be deadly. If you have electric heat and a gas log fire place you can at least get some heat in the house. Whether you have backup heat or not, having a generator is invaluable. It can run a freezer so food doesn’t go bad and allow you to use your electric cook top, microwave, or oven. More than that if you have a basement or problematic crawl space it will allow you to run your sump so you don't get flooding.
On that same note sump pumps are inexpensive enough it doesn’t hurt to have a back up, and it doesn't need to be a high quality backup. They’re cheap and having one you’ll never need is good insurance against a flooded basement with $10,000 in mold and water damage. Required materials: Sump pump, generator, back up heat system, back up cooker, propane.
5. Have your emergency supplies ready. I wont give a huge list here, there’s lots of experts on the subject and an entire blog post could be devoted to just this. I will, however, through some basic principles on the subject. Food, water, shelter (meaning clothing and blankets), and comfort should be readily available. A plastic tub of some sort stored in a convenient area (somewhere you can get to without a light) filled with necessities can handle any number of issues, FEMA recommends 3 days worth. Include in this tub:
You may be wondering about some of these items and why we recommend keeping it in a tub. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and severe tropical storms can have you leaving the home. Having everything you need to do so, packed in a water-resistant container offers obvious advantages should the need arise. But even in things as minor as power outages it is safe and secure to have everything in a place you can get to without the lights on.
You may keep your important papers in one secure place like a safe. In the military it was common practice to have what was referred to as an “I love me” book with all this information in there. Any documentation that would be needed to start life over on a move: land deeds, vehicle titles, court documents etc.
Flooding, forest fires, tornadoes all can force you to start over. During that mess is not the time to be hunting down birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates (or divorce decrees) etc.
6. Check with your insurance provider to ensure you're covered against any issues that may arise. Rebuilding a home from cash while paying off your mortgage to a house you no longer live in, all because you didn't know it wouldn’t be covered sounds like a horrible way to spend the next ten years of your life.
7. Service your equipment: Having a GOOD HVAC technician review your equipment and verify it’s working correctly can save you $1000’s. At a minimum they should top off your freon, check the lines, acid wash the coils, and take temperature readings.
This is also a good time to have the hot water heater serviced but this is something you can do yourself with minimal knowledge. We will publish a blog soon on how to do that.
The bottom line is that during a storm is not the time to have your heater go out. As I mentioned if you are on electric you will likely lose it anyways, so do all that you can to avoid the loss.
8. Put your plumbing on drip: This is one of the things we tend to neglect if we are home but can save a significant amount if your heat goes out while you’re asleep. Blankets and the brandy you were drinking will likely ensure you a solid nights sleep even if it gets a little cold. Put a tap on drip because even if you have freeze proof exterior hose bibs, the plumbing in your walls can still freeze. This is true even with the heat on and you at home!
Give the water a little room to expand and you can sleep easy knowing it cost you less than $0.05 to run the drip all night and your pipes can release pressure.
I’m writing this article because Whirlpool thoroughly ticked me off with my oven/microwave combo! Since owning this oven I used the self clean for the first and last time and will never purchase one of these again.
Now for those of you reading this to find the fix for this ridiculous issue keep reading it’s at the bottom of the article. Let’s first discuss the problem so we are all on the same page. After running Whirlpools Gold Accubake Micro/Oven Combo in self cleaning mode for the first time I was excited to see how well it cleaned (a hole in the tinfoil caused a meal to leak fat all over the bottom of the oven). So I scrubbed and scraped until only the residue was left and thus entered the nightmare of self cleaning mode.
During that mode the door locks and you cannot use your oven for several hours. After completion the lock releases and you should be able to wipe out the oven and be done. This was not the case for myself, and based on the online research many, many others!
The door lock wouldn't release, and after several hours of reading posts and struggling through Whirlpools (waste of time) troubleshooting guide, the only thing I managed to learn was that I had multiple faults from E0-F1 through E7-F5. What this told me was that Whirlpool had figured out ‘Every’ way to ‘F*&%’ me 5 times.
I then read that on some models the code that I was pulling meant the wiring harness was loose in the back and the cover needed to be removed. I doubted this was the case since it happened during the self cleaning, but at this point in time what the hell! Next I learned that you cannot remove the panel without opening the oven door to remove two screws, which I obviously couldn't do since it was the door lock that was not working… am I in the Twilight Zone?
So to no avail I was on my last result, of calling Whirlpool; if you've ever dealt with customer service you understand my hesitation here. I wasn't in the mood to spend an hour on hold being redirected to different departments to finally get tech support that would then ask me to turn off the oven and turn in back on (FYI this is what Dish Network does, can’t wait to be out of my contract there… but I digress). Afterwords I would get scheduled for a technician to come out and billed $300, only to tell me I need a new oven… but they will apply the $300 for a 2.5% discount at purchase.
Now on to the fix!
As a home inspector in Birmingham I’m reasonably familiar with appliances and thought maybe I had enough knowledge to fix the guts of the oven. (as a disclaimer I should tell you under no circumstances should you attempt this. You could void the warranty, damage the oven, or subject yourself to injury or death from electrocution).
As I looked in between the oven and microwave I realized the vent lead to some of the internals. Inside there is a small piston that activates the door lock. Since the oven doesn't use the lock for anything except cleaning, this was a relatively useless feature. With a metal coat hanger (piece of plastic would be better with the electronics, but be sure you disable the power before you attempt anything,) I was able to easily depress the piston and release the lock.
Since the lock is not used the code immediately reset, with the power being off, and did not come back on. As you have it I have a working oven again for the low price of one coat hanger. I haven't tried the self cleaning feature since and don't intend to use it again, but the oven works fine now and saved me a service fee or a new oven. Moral of the story here is don't buy Whirlpool Gold appliances, normally I would chalk this up to a lemon until I found that so many people had the same issue and Whirlpool did nothing to help. Disappointing too because Whirlpool was a brand I was always fond of prior to this experience.
Alright so you've just purchased your first home… the excitement is overwhelming and you are still in shock at the simplicities that come with it. You no longer have to ask a landlords permission to paint or make cosmetic changes, the money spent on them is now going back in your pocket, and every time you walk in to the house the realization hits you that you own it.
There is almost no greater feeling in the world then purchasing your own home and more specifically your first home. However, with that purchase come some pitfalls and shortcomings that can be scary and intimidating.
Don't Remodel Yet!
When you bought the home it may have been outdated and ugly or maybe just not your style. You went through it with your spouse (or those of us that are single with your dog) and dreamed about all the changes you “needed” to make to it.
Realize first that those changes are “wants” and not “needs” overspending right now can you lead you right back on the path to being an apartment dweller by defaulting on your loan. Remember the Les Brown quote; “the quickest way to get back on your feet is skip two car payments!”
Believe me I get it the shag carpet is horrible, the velvet Elvis is permanently mounted to the wall, and the grey flowered wall paper absolutely has to go. Keep in mind you just made a huge downpayment, paid for a home inspection (if you were smart), and have all these maintenance items to care for first.
Bottom line her is take care of your maintenance items and savings account first, then you can begin your upgrades.
Leading us to the second point… Maintenance!
I cant tell you how many homes i’ve inspected that simply have drastic deferred maintenance with them. I’ll write a brief maintenance article over the next few weeks but in short don't forget that your HVAC filters need to be changed monthly, HVAC needs serviced annually, shingles need patched, siding needs cleaned and painted, windows need caulk, the list literally goes on.
These things begin to add up and can cost you a significant amount over the course of the year. In general I budget $100 a month for maintenance, this is excessive for most months but on the occasion where you need a new AC, furnace or hot water heater the money is already there for it. Don't be foolish save the money now and take care of these issues before they become bigger problems.
One thing that no one ever wants to admit they need is an annual maintenance inspection. Most home owners, especially the do-it-yourselfer believes they have the knowledge to identify issues. In part they can, which is why annual maintenance inspection can run significantly cheaper then a standard inspection. In realty, it takes a trained inspector to identify issues you aren't yet having or the ones you cant see… like water leaks behind a wall.
Pay for Quality
When it comes to home maintenance, repairs, and remodels nothing seems scarier or more outside the realm of possible then getting a quote from a qualified contractor. 1st contractors can be hit or miss and they are not created equal (much like home inspectors).
It’s difficult to find good contractors even more so to find good ones with decent prices. As it appears the ones that are good usually know it and charge a premium for their services. I recently had a client that purchased services from a contractor, in short the work was screwed up miserably and the client is facing a lengthy court battle; to win a case that she will likely never see a return on her money because the failure bankrupt the general contractor.
What’s the point here? Shop quality services for your home not price. The same holds true with inspections. People call me all the time price shopping and asking if I will match another inspectors price. I tell them simply ‘no’ because my inspections will be much more thorough and in depth. As an example, I did a home inspection last week that was an average size home with no special features besides a pool to add to the price. That inspection took me 5 hours plus an additional hour to complete the report; had I completed it to the minimum required standard I could have easily been finished in 2 to 2.5 hours. That is simply not the way I do business, I provide a high quality service and charge accordingly.
Track your information.
Keep track of everything in a binder or online (clients of Timberline Inspections receive a lifetime subscription to Home Binder). Save receipts! Save everything! When you come back in 5 years and need to match the paint to fix dings, it will save you the trouble of repainting, try to match a broken tile without it and you'll feel my pain.
On that same note buy and save extra on everything it’s good to have leftover originals to do repairs in 5 or 10 years. Store them in your attic out of the way and leave it if you ever sell the house. Remember products get discontinued and suppliers go out of business, so don't wait until it’s too late to match it. Even if you knew that wouldn't happen it’s still imperative because different batches can produce different coloring and a new one 10 years late likely wont match.
Don't skimp on insurance
Being an inspector I deal a lot with property inspection for insurance claims, some companies are better then others and the only two I would ever use are Nationwide and USAA. Are they the cheapest? Certainly not but guess what! When there’s a claim they just pay it…
I’ve dealt with both companies and both seem to be great, as a Veteran I’m slightly biased to use USAA but having gone through the claims process with them on several occasions they just pay up. Neither of those companies try to sneak by with technicalities and get themselves out of paying you.
Pick a deductible you can afford, if you only have $1000 in your emergency fund then your deductible should be no more then half that. Imagine if you picked it at $5000 and then had a major fire or storm damage... How will you cover the added expense? and even so doing you will then be out of money completely. There’s time to save on the premiums later just get one you can afford now and pay for a disaster.
One question I get asked regularly is, do I need a home inspection with a new construction home? At first glance the answer would seem like a ‘no.’ You're likely thinking you had code inspectors come out and you have a reputable contractor. In reality your assumption could not be further from the truth.
A new construction home actually needs more then 1 home inspection! The first issue here being there’s a significant difference between a home inspection and a code inspection; the second issue is contractors are not inspectors and also have a biased opinion (reasonably so); third it will be beneficial in law suits and home warranty claims.
Code inspections monitor the building process for governing codes, home inspectors monitor buildings for building standards of practice. The difference meaning codes are the minimum requirements while standards of practice are based on best building practices.
Additionally home inspections monitor system functionality. If you imagine building a car the quality control inspector ensures that everything is put together properly and is similar to a code inspection; the home inspection is more in line with a test drive, we drive the car checking brakes, turn signals, transmission function etc. There is some overlap here because best practices aline with codes and home inspectors are reasonably familiar with codes and base inspection on those as well.
I have personally never inspected a home that passed the code inspections but passed the home inspection. The most recent home inspection I did on a new construction home cost the home buyer $385, for their money I found $7,000 worth of defects from a reputable contractor. The contractor now had to fix those issues and saved the client thousands on future repairs and issues when listing the house.
Contractors do inspect their work, but even good crews get anxious at 5 o'clock on Friday. Ordering inspections in process at key stages may cost you an extra few hundred dollars but ensures your home is built properly and issues cannot be hidden. We can also save the contractor money by conducting those inspections so they are not fixing them after it is built.
Small things that the code doesn't require, the inspector can recommend that the contractor fix providing you the ability to get the work done at no cost to you. Codes don't necessarily require counter flashing but the home inspector will require these to be put in. Now you no longer have to rebuild the wall when you go to sell the house because the contractor had to fix it. If he refuses and you have issues in the future you now have a report backing the claim recommending them.
If you order an inspection at 11 months after the house is built you then have a report backing all warranty claims (even things you don't have an issue with yet). For the price of an inspection you saved thousands because you are no longer the one responsible for fixing the issues.
The last issue is some clients ask the professionals they've hired to tell them whether they need an inspection. The professional doesn't get paid until you buy the house so of course they will tell you ‘no’ so they can push the deal through. A decent professional with their clients best interest truly in mind will advise you to get it done; whether that’s the lawyer, insurance agent, realtor, or builder they should recommend you have it performed.
The recommendation for a new construction home is to have several (usually 2) in process inspections, one full inspection on completion, and another full inspection with mold test at 1 year. This can obviously add up but the return in savings is well worth it, remember this is the largest asset you will ever own have the foresight to get it inspected correctly.
There’s a lot of instances where people don't understand the need for a home inspection. Most of the general public believes the only time they need a home inspection is during the purchase or sale of property. Nothing could be further from the truth! Inspections are needed during repairs, maintenance, storm damage, high energy bills, the list goes on. But one of the areas that is often left out is during a divorce.
Divorce is a hard thing and tensions can be high (I’ve been there myself so I sympathize), having an appropriate value of property and personal assets helps smooth over the process. If one spouse gets the house and the majority of the worldly possessions distaste and anger can ensue. One of the best ways to avoid this is to have an accurate representation of property value.
The home inspection for a divorce is in all reality an inspection similar to those conducted during a real estate transaction. A list will be generated for the repairs needed and recommendations made to complete all repairs. The steps in appraising your house are fairly straight forward but don't forget the overlap between appraisers and home inspectors.
Appraisers will devalue a home based on certain defects and a lot of that is subject to their expert opinion. As a home inspector nothing is more frustrating to me then when I perform an inspection and then the appraiser dings the sale with trivial defects that do no affect the function of the home.
First, you need to order the appraisal, once complete make sure you get a copy of the report with all his findings annotated, don't forget to get their contact information you will need this later. Present the report to the inspector so he can review the findings from the appraiser, then let the inspector get to work on the house.
Treat the inspectors report like a checklist for things to get done and start speaking with service contractors. Some inspectors can even manage the project for you for a small fee. Once all the repairs are complete call the inspector for a re-inspection and another report. This fee is usually relatively small and varies by the amount of time the inspector has to put in to the inspection. Typical charges range around $150 depending on the service, at Timberline Inspections we charge a flat rate of $125 and waive the fee if it’s a small re-inspection (anything less then an hour usually).
I’ve seen some inspectors that charge minimal fees to cover their expenses and some do it for free. Be wary of these inspections as they are usually not very thorough. Then speak to your appraiser to get him to redo the appraisal and provide you a new value.
Lets plug some numbers in! The appraised value of the home is initially $200,000, with repairs whether selling or keeping the home your value drops to $180,000. The appraiser charges you $300, the inspector charged $375 and $100 for the re-inspection, the appraiser charged $300 for the second appraisal, and the contractor charged $10,000 for all the repairs. During the second appraisal the value came back at $210,000. You invested $11,075 in the home and each walked away with $99,460 assuming a 50/50 split on value and splitting the price of inspections and repairs.
Had you taken the original value you each walked away with only $90,000! However, if you failed to get the home inspection one party walked away with $100,000 while the other party walked away with $80,000. In making things fair one person took a $15,000 loss while the other person only gained $5,000.
Obviously this is a hypothetical example and some houses will be better while some are worse. In the amount of houses I’ve inspected I have never seen a house that would not benefit from at least getting the inspection, including new construction homes.
Business owners tend to be some of the most intelligent minds in America but it never ceases to amaze me how few of them get inspections on their property. One thing I’ve learned managing my own inspection firm is that you should always ALWAYS contract out the work you are not an expert in. It wastes more time and money when you try to do it yourself and it is always a benefit to have a professional do it for you.
As a business owner you would never do your own taxes or legal work and generally we try to hire out our marketing, when we can see a direct benefit. I have enough mechanical knowledge to take my truck apart and put it back together again, but when it comes time to do repairs I pay a professional because my time is better used elsewhere. The care of your largest asset should be no different, and it is even more important to inspect it right using a licensed organization.
Two things we can discuss in todays post, 1st is whether you need an inspection (you do) and what will be included in that inspection, 2nd is whether you should be on a maintenance program.
If you're buying a commercial warehouse, a commercial kitchen, income properties or virtually any property that can (or should) be purchased under the veil of a corporation you need to have an inspection done. It removes liability from you in the event that an employee or visitor is injured due to a fault in the property. Imagine the lawsuit you open yourself up to (and even just the loss in wages and workmans comp claim if no suit entrails) in the event that someone is injured walking on a broken mezzanine. Why didn't you have it inspected Mr. Business owner? Said the judge.
Second, do you know how to check, water lines? what about pressure checking gas lines? or evaluating a 440 volt 3 phase electrical panel? Or measuring output of an HVAC system? A lot of DIYers (which a large percentage of business owners seem to be) have walked around with an inspector and thought they could do the same job when purchasing a residential home, the reason they have this misconception is because what they see and what actually is going on are separate things.
When the inspector turns on the bedroom light he's not just testing the light switch and the fixture, he's mapped out the circuitry in his head so he has a better idea what to look at in the panel, he's checking the ceiling for water stains and evidence of asbestos, lead and Chinese drywall, when he tests your outlet he's load testing the entire circuit, when he opens the windows he's checking for caulking and broken seals in the window. Much more is actually going in to each step then you are seeing and the same (with much more severe consequences) holds true with your commercial property.
When you look at your commercial property you might be spending $200,000 or $1,000,000 everyones budget is different but the percentage of effect is similar it is the single largest asset your company will likely ever purchase. Knowing the issues before hand can assist you in lowering your price for negotiation, have repairs done before establishing, and even make the sellers pay them. It can also tell you if this is a property you need to walk away from. Imagine a commercial HVAC system, they can literally cost $100,000 or more and repairs can be astronomical, doesn't it make sense to throw a couple hundred bucks towards a specialist to check it out?
We all know it’s stupid to perform your own legal work and this can be potentially more costly. I used to work for a roofing company that specializes in commercial roofing, do you have any idea how much a commercial roof costs?! Labor alone is out of this world because they have to compete with Davis Bacon wages on the government buildings. Imagine purchasing a building and immediately having to shell out $30,000 because you didn't want to fork over the money initially to have it inspected.
Ok so how much does it cost? That’s the question that the budget savvy business owner wants to know. How is this going to affect their bottom line? Well some companies charge by the square footage and that seems to be a pretty common method. At Timberline Inspections I do things slightly different and I actually tailor the plan to fit your budget. I’ll make my recommendations but in the end if you (the business owner) tells me you want to spend $500 or $10,000 on the inspection I’ll make a plan that fits. Keep in mind that when you cut price, things get cut out of the inspection; if you tell me to take $600 of the first bid that means you lose the specialist to inspect the HVAC unit. I would advise that this is a mistake, and you can take my word on it, as unbiased because I don't make anymore from the inspection whether you use my HVAC contracts or not.
Keep in mind for those of you reading this at a distance outside of Alabama, if you have a building in a different state it may be worth hiring an out of state inspection firm (Timberline Inspections) to perform the inspection because paying the travel fees is often cheaper then paying for the cost of living.
For example, the average price of a home inspection in Birmingham is around $400 depending on who you use, in New York you can pay between $1500 and $2000 for the same inspection. That means you could literally find the best inspector in Alabama pay the premium fee of $450 then $500 for the plane ticket and a $400 bonus for traveling and it would be cheaper then you could get the worst home inspector around for. Now it obviously is not that simple and there’s other fees to consider but you get the point, plus licensing and insurance come into play; it would be worth while for commercial properties buyers to look outside your local market.
Ok so you’ve agreed to get your inspection and we’ve come up with a plan to get your building inspected properly. Now we can look into an annual maintenance program. Maintenance programs make sense for all properties, whether you're a home owner, investor, developer, or property management firm getting your annual maintenance inspection will save you 10’s of thousands over the course of owning the property
The best clients I get with this service and the ones that receive the most benefit from the inspection, are the ones that come to me and say “Mackay I’ve got 10 properties, I want you to make me a list of whats wrong with them.” These clients truly want to know what’s wrong with their house, and they will get it fixed and more times then not they will ask me to manage the projects for them.
Here’s how I work this aspect, I recommend for the first year the properties have a residential home inspection complete with a mold test (usually including 3 samples). At this point they will sign an annual maintenance plan (basically this is just a lasting inspection agreement it does not lock you in to an agreement to force you to have them inspected annually so don't panic!). The annual maintenance plan will give me and them some options, we can setup when you want them to occur and I will schedule them at my convenience provided it works for you, in return you receive a discount. This allows me to fill up my slow season with work and you get to capitalize on my cutting you a discount for being an off season. We will perform a mold test every five years and after any water damage is reported in the home. All properties where the land lord pays the utilities on will receive an energy audit with the first inspection. So what kind of price are you looking at?
This varies a lot on the size, age and features of the home; for example a 2000sqf house built in 2000, with a slab floor will run you roughly $350 - $400 in Birmingham, lets say $350 for sake of argument; 3 mold tests will run you an average of $350 for a total of $700 minus your %20 discount for setting up an annual inspection plan. Your total is $660 the first year and $280 each year after that; don't forget too that you get more discount if you have multiple properties. That changes based off the specifics of the property but as an example I recently made a deal with an investor to inspect all 10 of his properties for $2500 ($250 each).
Now back to the inspection agreement for annual maintenance. It can be written two ways, we can write it as a running agreement (basically the standard liability agreement) or a lock in for an annual plan. Why would you lock it in you ask? Because then you get to lock in the price at todays rate of inflation! You might agree to pay it for 5 years but you also agree to the price for five years. It also gives you negotiating room for the price, if you just verbally agree to have them inspected I’ll do it for $300 per house, but if you put it in writing I might do it for $275. If you have a commercial building and you know you will be running that factory for the next 10 years, why wouldn't you lock in the price at todays rate?!
To determine the best course of action you need to look at your specific needs. The plant manager of a factory once told me his monthly electric bill was $8,000! Now a large portion of this was the machinery which there really isn't much we can do to help that, but if we put them on an annual maintenance plan and perform an energy audit the first year we can cut that drastically. This property had 3 HVAC systems that were each the size of a semi trailer, how much juice do you think that was drawing each month? If we tighten the buildings envelope through an energy inspection we can reduce that drastically. Lets say the energy audit costs $10,000 (likely much cheaper unless it’s a huge property), then another $10,000 in upgrades, but I can save you $2,000 a month on electricity alone you would literally pay for the inspection before this years budget is complete and then you have a surplus next year to spend on productivity and quality! I’m hearing promotions in your future.
The bottom line here is that it always makes sense to get an inspection and a maintenance program built, and it usually makes sense to get an energy audit. Do yourself a favor and call an inspection firm that can get you setup right and ensure your property is ready to meet the needs of your business.
Before we talk about some home owner remediation techniques lets address very briefly some preventative maintenance. Realize that water is the greatest enemy your home will ever face, and too often moisture issues go unnoticed or simply unbothered. Either the home owner doesn't see it or they seam to have some disillusioned idea that it will go away naturally. To start, if the water damage has occurred and you're willing to tackle the task dry everything quickly.
Carpet absorbs moisture and mold spores, providing a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi (which is why carpet should never be used in a bathroom). If it’s a lot of water, as in it needs to be measured in gallons, use a shop vac to pull the moisture out. I once had a pipe burst (my dumb fault not the weather) during a remodel project; in the time it took me to get the rusted water main turned off (it’s about 200 Meters from my front door) my house had 25 gallons of water rushing underneath all the hardwood floors. At this point in time it was too late for preventative maintenance I simply had to get the water cleaned up. The first step was the shop vac and sitting there for several hours syphoning the water up. Once it’s underneath the hardwood it was a matter of creating enough suction so I could pull the water from the living room through the opening in the bathroom.
Ok so now we have the majority of water cleaned up. Mind you if this had happened on carpet the pad and rug would have retained a larger percentage of the water, so you would not have been able to vacuum as much water out.
Next step was to get as much of the remaining moisture out as possible within the first 48 hours. Much like the crime show on television after 48 hours you're looking at a significant mold problem because in the time it took you to vacuum everything up… You've already got mold!
Forget the electric bill with the AC or heat you're going to have to sacrifice there. Depending on the size of your spill open up the windows surrounding the area and turn on any exhaust fans immediately available. My particular incident involved the half bath and the living room with the connecting hallway, so all windows in the living room and the exhaust fan in the bathroom were opened (for good measure I opened a few more, better to error on the side of caution).
The bottom line here is we have now increased the relative humidity (RH) in the air and it will continue to stay high and transport water unless we can get it out of the house. Keep in mind that water will travel in the air through walls and then you have a condensation and MOLD issue behind your walls, so don't be stingy open the windows. If you're really lucky you've got a wood stove going and its winter so not only do you have exceptionally dry air but a heat source to crank up and aid in drying. Mine was unfortunately in the middle of the summer in Alabama.
Next stop you need to hit the local hardware store and get some fans and ideally a dehumidifier (If it’s a bad spill you will need to hire a professional with a large industrial sized dehumidifier). Once you are set up to get the air circulating and the moisture removed from the structure you've done about all you can. If it’s hardwood go ahead and remove the trim work so you have plenty of room for expansion and cupping of your boards. They will typically settle back eventually but it may take several months! and until then you need to leave room so boards wont push up and damage the moulding.
Any water damage on drywall can typically dry in place provided there is no swelling and the seams aren't pealing. However, if either of the above are true go ahead and remove the drywall and get a fan on the opening to let it dry. You can come back and fix it the next weekend after it has thoroughly dried. Keep in mind that it may be worth your peace of mind to pay an inspector to come out with his moisture meter and measure the moisture content (MC) in the wood before you put drywall back on; for that matter it’s definitely worth getting a mold test done before you start any repairs.
If you're house has shiplap siding or lauan board from the 70’s go ahead and put your pry bar behind it and peal it back a touch to let the air reach behind. If it’s lauan or another type of wood paneling that is not shiplap I recommend complete removal for aesthetic sakes!
Insulation is usually best if it is just tossed and replaced; it retains a lot of water, it’s hard to dry, and rarely performs as well after having been wet. If it’s just little damp you can try to get away with a fan on it but I would make sure it’s completely dry before putting up new drywall.
Keep in mind that the remediation techniques I’m talking about are for potable water only. If you have a grey or black water spill you need to call a remediation company to handle it for health, safety, and legal reasons.
Now for the question you asked to begin with… what about mold? before you can treat the mold you have to identify the kind and amount. Basically we are relatively certain you have mold, you may have even seen a bit but you should know the extent and the mold test will tell you the types of spores in the air and the amount present. Basically this can tell you if it’s something you can handle as the do-it-yourself warrior or if you need to hire a professional industrial hygienist.
Mold jobs are broken down into three different sizes: small - less then 10 sqf, medium - less then 100 sqf, or large - more then 100 sqf. Anything in the large category needs a mold remediation professional pretty much regardless of what the test results show. This is where it is somewhat redundant to get a mold test if you see it and it’s this large, but again it can make a difference to the hygienist for the treatment options. The only exception is to know the type so it can be treated appropriately.
If you elect to work on it yourself it’s important to take into consideration your personal protective equipment. Now you’re not attempting to be a professional remediation service and I’m not attempting to guide you in to that realm, but here are a few tips to keep in mind with your PPE. I’ll make mention that it is always best and safest to hire a professional company this is only for those cheap skates out there that wont listen to that advice.
Tyvek suits cost about $8 and provide some degree of protection from spores and contaminants. Not typically the same as what the pros use bit it will do for your home remediation project. Gloves are every bit as important and you can purchase mold and bacterial specific gloves however a set of rubber dish gloves can go a long ways for the DIYer.
In truth, you could probably get away with the N95 mask from the hardware section but I would recommend you just purchase the respirator. Ensure you get one that has a good seal around your face and has the appropriate filter. 10 years ago I could have listed out the types of filters but now there’s so many, just read the back of the box at the store and it will tell you. Go ahead and purchase one that has a 99% particulate rating. You can reuse the respirator next time you paint or sand something so don't feel like it’s a waste of money. Over-booties can help but if you have trouble finding them just duct tape the ankle of your pants around the boot.
Now we move on to containment. You have to be able to keep the mold spores from spreading throughout your house. containment can vary depending on the size and shape of the room but the general concept is to create a negative pressure room that keeps spores out of the house. Grab yourself a roll of painters plastic, duct tape, and a fan. You might need some PVC pipe and fittings too but we will come back to that in just a minute.
If the room is a stand alone room like a bedroom turn off the HVAC (you don't want it to circulate the spores throughout the house). Get all your tools inside the room so you don't have to leave and a few contractor bags and a handful of zip ties. Close the door and cut a piece of plastic to fit all the way around then duct tape the seams. You can leave the floor portion un-taped to circulate new air in to the room. Next Seal of any vents or openings entirely and brace the fan (blowing out) in the window. Then seal it the same way leaving only the back of the fan exposed.
If everything is done correctly when you turn on the fan the door seal should pull inwards like it’s trying to collapse, and you should have a decent draft of air coming underneath the door. Do not let that get lose though you shouldn't have much gap at the bottom; you need to ensure that no spores can make their way back in to the house.
Now if the room is a large open great room then you may need to build a box to work in, out of PVC pipe and cover the entire thing in plastic. If you're in a bathroom without a window you can use the exhaust fan but it may not be powerful enough to provide good suction, and if the pipe is long it will get mold spores in it, so be sure and vacuum it when you are finished.
Now start cutting out all the bad components wood, drywall, etc. don't try to pour bleach on porous material and hope its treated, it wont work. If a piece of wood has sentimental value it’s better to have a professional take care of it. Once you've gotten everything removed now bag it in the contractor bags and zip tie the end, then double bag it and zip tie the next one.
If possible remove the bags through the open window to avoid dragging spores through the house. Make sure they are disposed of in a manner legal and appropriate with your jurisdiction. A pro will likely leave an air scrubber working in the room for several days or at least during the remediation but without that option make sure everything is vacuumed viciously.
Once everything is dry and all the dust has been vacuumed you can begin rebuilding. Do not rush this step or you'll be starting over! leave any openings exposed for a week or two to let everything air out, keep the containment up and the fan running during this time to transport the remaining spores to the exterior. When you're ready move the plastic and fan through the window, if that’s not an option bag them in contractor bags and dispose of them as you did the construction debris.
One final note before beginning the rebuilding process, it is worth it’s weight in gold to hire an inspector to perform another mold test to ensure you have removed all the contaminants. This may be expensive depending on what needs to be done. Ideally, you will take an exterior sample as a control and an indoor air sample in the room affected. However, if you want to take true diligence and ensure it is gone the inspector can take a sample behind the wall and a surface sample on any areas affected. I have a biased opinion but don't skimp here or you will be starting over in a few months of allergies.
Maybe you're listing the house and want a pre-inspection, maybe the buyer has scheduled there’s, or maybe you’re just trying to use one of the many ancillary services we offer; whatever the case take the time to prepare your house for the inspection. There’s many things that can get in the way of an inspection addressing these issues can save a lot of heartache on both ends for the buyer and seller.
Put the animals up. This should be fairly obvious but it’s amazing how many people put the dog in the back yard and don't realize the inspector needs to go back there. No area of your house is going to be off limits for the inspection and it’s important that the inspector be able to access everything because they will (or at least they should).
Granted the lizards and fish aren't usually an issue unless a large tank is blocking a specific area that the inspector needs access to, and for the most part cats aren't too bad but some can still bite and claw. But dogs are the main worry here and even ones that have never bit anyone should be put up because at the least they will be curious to the intruder and slow the inspection. More then that as a dog lover I have to try and be understanding that not everyone that comes to my house thinks my shepherd is as adorable as I do.
Multi inspection firms can have a company policy that their inspectors cannot access areas that have animals. This is for several reasons, 1st it opens the home owner up to a law suit from the individual which is bad for business. (believe me a good business owner doesn't want to be involved in a suit even if they are in the right because it is simply bad for business). 2nd If the employee gets injured it becomes a workmans comp claim and that employee could potentially sue the company which is obviously not desirable. Remember too that even not being aggressive dogs can scratch and nip when they get excited which can lead to infections. Save the inspector a headache and save yourself any liability from a vicious dog.
Clean your house. A dirty house hides issues, or makes the appearance to the buyer that you are hiding issues, it also can make things impossible to inspect because you have a mound of debris in the way. In which case that inspector will snap a picture and record it, that buyer may then ask the inspector to come back out and charge the sellers the re-inspection fee.
You’re moving anyways so your realtor should tell you to make the house presentable. Inspections are tedious and adding in additional obstacles only slows it down. If things are really bad they will get reported on the inspection report and can cause you to pay in the end. Animals inside with urine and feces on the carpet can and will be reported on the inspection as unhealthy living conditions and could force you to purchase new carpet. However, if you had paid a professional cleaning service to take care of it then you would have saved a significant amount of money.
Make sure your appliances are viewable. Insulating blankets on hot water heaters need to be removed. Sometimes they cannot be taken off without the inspector cutting them off, which is not allowed because you do not have the sellers permission to do it. I’ve been asked numerous times by buyers if I can cut it off and unfortunately I have to tell them “No” because it is not yet their house.
On that same note, ensure that if it’s in a closet or behind a piece of drywall the cover needs to be removed so nothing is damaged upon removal. For that reason the inspector may or may not do it (typically not supposed to though I’ve made the exception if I think I can do it without damaging anything).
Please clean the clothes around the laundry room. I get it everyone lets the laundry area take the hit for the mess in the house, but unfortunately that is one room that really can't be inaccessible during the inspection. The inspector will check the vent, plumbing fixtures, etc. and cannot have a bunch of dirty clothes blocking the area.
Turn it ON. Power, water and all appliances should be turned on! I cannot stress this enough, I’ve come across so many houses that did not have the water turned on and it is a huge liability for the inspector to turn it on. If there is a leak in the line and water damage occurs the inspection firm is liable and most licensing organizations prohibit the act regardless. Funny enough the same holds true with the shut off valves below toilets and sinks so make sure those are on too.
Power may not seem like as large of an issue but when power is off turning it on could create a fire hazard and the inspector may not feel comfortable powering it up. Bottom line it’s his or her safety and reputation on the line so it’s not your call as the buyer and that can be very frustrating.
Make sure the appliances are all turned on and running. Some houses have kill switches for certain appliances which can cause them to not respond and the inspector may not see the switch in which case the inspector will note it as not functioning. Inspectors are trained in building science not locating hidden switches, each house is different and only the home owner will know those details.
In a nutshell that’s it. There’s other little things we run across that aren't so common but in reality this covers the basics and the common issues. Bottom line up front is prepare your house as if you are having a dinner party. Keep it clean and tidy and ensure everything is function and the pets are put away.
I am a United States Army Veteran with over 10 years construction experience prior to my service. After my time in the military I enrolled in InterNACHI's rigorous course work to become a certified member and prepare for the National Home Inspectors Exam. I continue to push inspection courses and education, attaining and exceeding the required continuing education courses