What is a home inspection? Without a comprehensive home inspection, you could end up paying thousands of dollars in repairs or possibly buy a house that is unsafe. Here’s an overview of each element of a home that must be inspected.
by Michael Chotiner of The Home Depot
Stains on asphalt roofing shingles make a house look shabby, which detracts from its value. In some cases, stains are merely a cosmetic issue. But sometimes they’re symptomatic of a problem that, if left unchecked, can lead to more serious damage and, eventually, roof failure. It’s not always hard to distinguish the causes of stains, nor, in most cases, to get rid of them and prevent the stains from recurring.
Common Causes of Staining
Dark stains on an asphalt roof could be caused by a number of conditions, including:
Eroded mineral surface. If the roof-covering material has been on the house for 15 years or so, it could be that the surface granules are wearing off the shingles and the asphalt base is starting to show through. On older roofs, you may additionally see cracked and/or shingles with curled edges. If you determine that age and wear are the causes of darkening, it may be time for a new roof.
Algae growth. More often than not, blue, green or black stains on an asphalt-shingle roof are caused by algae. Algae staining begins with small spots which, over time, can develop into streaks. Algae stains, which are often mistaken for mold or mildew, aren’t harmful to anything other than the appearance of asphalt shingles, but nobody likes the look.
Moss. Green, velvety masses of moss often grow on north-facing roof surfaces and on tree-shaded roofs. Unlike algae, moss left on roof surfaces can develop beyond an aesthetic problem. It can infiltrate the roof structure underneath the shingles and make their edges lift and curl, which can lead to cracking and blow-off during high winds and storms. Heavy moss growth can actually form dams that can cause water to back up under the shingles and damage the roof deck. It’s best to clean moss off a roof as soon as you notice it’s growing there.
Both algae and moss can be easily removed from asphalt shingles with a 50/50 solution of chlorine bleach and water. Laundry-strength bleach is sufficient, or you can opt for any of a number of proprietary roof cleaners, some of which don’t contain bleach, lye, or other potentially harmful chemicals.
Since bleach and some cleaners can be harmful to plants and humans, it’s a good idea to take some precautions when working with them, including the following:
- Wait for a calm, windless day to clean your roof.
- Spray landscape plants near the house with water and cover them with tarps to protect them from chemical overspray and runoff.
- Wear protective clothing, including long sleeves, pants and gloves, as well as goggles to protect your eyes, and shoes with high-traction soles.
Before climbing up to clean stains from your roof, be aware that about 30,000 people fall off ladders and roofs each year. Consider using a safety harness, just as the pros are required to do, and follow the common-sense rules for properly positioning and using a ladder, which can be found in InterNACHI’s article on ladder safety. Also, be sure to notify someone that you’ll be on your roof. In case of an accident that incapacitates you, you’ll want someone to know where to look for you.
Upgear by Wenner Safety Harness (photo courtesy of The Home Depot)
How to Clean Algae and Moss from a Roof
Apply the bleach solution with a garden sprayer. Let it stand on the surface for about 20 minutes, then rinse it off with spray from a garden hose. Don’t let the bleach solution stand on the roof for more than 30 minutes or so without rinsing. And don’t use a pressure washer, which can damage the shingles by removing their protective layer of asphalt granules.
If accumulations of algae or moss are heavy, at least some of it should wash off the roof surface right away with the stream from the hose. You can try brushing off algae and moss with a brush or broom with medium-stiff bristles, but don’t scrub too hard. You don’t want to separate the mineral granules from the shingles.
If chunks of algae or moss or heavy stains remain on the surface after rinsing, let the roof dry, then spray on the bleach solution again. Wait 30 minutes and rinse. Don’t worry if some staining remains after the second rinse. It should wash off over time with exposure to rain and sunlight.
How to Prevent Algae and Moss Stains from Recurring
Algae and moss tend to grow roof surfaces that are shaded and retain moisture. So, it’s a good idea to cut away tree branches that overhang the roof and block sunlight. Keep the roof surface clean by blowing off leaves and fallen branches during seasonal maintenance.
The red lines indicate where to install sacrificial metal strips
to prevent algae and moss growth.
For long-term stain prevention, have zinc or copper strips installed under the cap shingles, leaving an inch or two of the surface exposed at roof peaks, along hips, and under the first course of shingles at the base of dormers. Copper and zinc are sacrificial metals that shed tiny bits of their surface with each rainfall. The metals coat the roof and inhibit organic growth for many years.
Following these maintenance tips can help homeowners enjoy an attractive roof. They can also help extend the roof’s service life, which is important whether you plan to stay in your home or sell it in the future.
There’s nothing like coming home and warming up next to a roaring fire during the long, cold months of winter, or even chilly evenings in any season. Long commutes to work in the cold and the increasingly short hours of daylight in the fall and winter are made more bearable by the comfort and familiarity of family gatherings by the fire. It may be for this reason that some type of wood-burning enclosure has remained a staple of many households, even though open fire is no longer a necessity for cooking and heating. With this in mind, let’s take a look at one of the more modern options available, the factory-built fireplace.
What is a factory-built fireplace and how does it differ from a masonry fireplace?
The traditional masonry fireplace is based largely on the innovations of Count Rumford, an 18th-century inventor. His applied theories on thermodynamics led to the design of a restricted chimney opening to increase updraft, which allowed fire to burn in an enclosure without smoke filling the room. Rumford’s design quickly achieved wide popularity in London households, and he became something of a celebrity as news of his innovation spread.
Factory-built fireplaces are also often called “zero-clearance” fireplaces because of their minuscule safe-clearance requirements. An insulating air blanket is incorporated in the design to keep the outer wall of the fireplace cool, which allows safe installation in very close proximity to wood framing. In general, ½-inch of clearance to combustibles is required around the outside of the firebox enclosure, and 2 inches of clearance are required around the chimney, except where the firestop is installed if a chimney passes through two levels of a house. Different manufacturers may have different suggested clearances, and it is important for installers to note this for proper and safe installation.
Safety and Maintenance
Factory-built fireplaces pass rigorous testing standards established by the Underwriters Laboratories and the American Gas Association. Properly installed, factory-built fireplaces have an excellent safety record. However, as in any situation where an open flame is involved, there are some things to keep in mind in order to avoid any risk of fire hazard.
If the fireplace is installed on top of any combustible material, such as carpet or wood, it must rest on a metal or tile panel that extends the length and width of the appliance.
Any combustible flooring near the fuel opening must be insulated with non-combustible floor protection.
Room air-inlet and outlet grilles must be unobstructed.
The same fire-safety precautions that are used for a traditional fireplace should be observed when a factory-built fireplace is in use.
- It should be connected. The connection is usually behind the dryer but may be beneath it. Look carefully to make sure it’s actually connected.
- It should not be restricted. Dryer vents are often made from flexible plastic or metal duct, which may be easily kinked or crushed where they exit the dryer and enter the wall or floor. This is often a problem since dryers tend to be tucked away into small areas with little room to work. Vent elbows are available which is designed to turn 90° in a limited space without restricting the flow of exhaust air. Restrictions should be noted in the inspector’s report. Airflow restrictions are a potential fire hazard.
- One of the reasons that restrictions are a potential fire hazard is that, along with water vapor evaporated out of wet clothes, the exhaust stream carries lint – highly flammable particles of clothing made of cotton and polyester. Lint can accumulate in an exhaust duct, reducing the dryer’s ability to expel heated water vapor, which then accumulates as heat energy within the machine. As the dryer overheats, mechanical failures can trigger sparks, which can cause lint trapped in the dryer vent to burst into flames. This condition can cause the whole house to burst into flames. Fires generally originate within the dryer but spread by escaping through the ventilation duct, incinerating trapped lint, and following its path into the building wall.
M1502.5 Duct construction.
Exhaust ducts shall be constructed of minimum 0.016-inch-thick (0.4 mm) rigid metal ducts, having smooth interior surfaces, with joints running in the direction of air flow. Exhaust ducts shall not be connected with sheet-metal screws or fastening means which extend into the duct.
M1502.6 Duct length.The maximum length of a clothes dryer exhaust duct shall not exceed 25 feet (7,620 mm) from the dryer location to the wall or roof termination. The maximum length of the duct shall be reduced 2.5 feet (762 mm) for each 45-degree (0.8 rad) bend, and 5 feet (1,524 mm) for each 90-degree (1.6 rad) bend. The maximum length of the exhaust duct does not include the transition duct.
- The IRC will defer to the manufacturer’s instruction, so if the manufacturer’s recommendation permits a longer exhaust vent, that’s acceptable. An inspector probably won’t have the manufacturer’s recommendations, and even if they do, confirming compliance with them exceeds the scope of a General Home Inspection.
- The IRC will allow large radius bends to be installed to reduce restrictions at turns, but confirming compliance requires performing engineering calculation in accordance with the ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook, which definitely lies beyond the scope of a General Home Inspection.
M1502.2 Duct termination.
Exhaust ducts shall terminate on the outside of the building or shall be in accordance with the dryer manufacturer’s installation instructions. Exhaust ducts shall terminate not less than 3 feet (914 mm) in any direction from openings into buildings. Exhaust duct terminations shall be equipped with a backdraft damper. Screens shall not be installed at the duct termination.
M1502.3 Duct size.
The diameter of the exhaust duct shall be as required by the clothes dryer’s listing and the manufacturer’s installation instructions.
M1502.4 Transition ducts.
Transition ducts shall not be concealed within construction. Flexible transition ducts used to connect the dryer to the exhaust duct system shall be limited to single lengths not to exceed 8 feet (2438 mm), and shall be listed and labeled in accordance with UL 2158A.
- They are long-lasting. Their motors can handle more usage than typical portable units. Warranties, too, are usually longer for central units.
- They are quiet. Because the motor is located outside the living area, users are not subjected to noise created by the motor, which can be excessive and stressful.
- They can be retrofitted into older houses, or built into new construction.
- They are a good investment. Just as a kitchen renovation or new deck will make a home more valuable, many buyers will pay extra for a house equipped with a central vacuum.
- They are hypo-allergenic. Unlike portable vacuums, which recycle air back into the room, dust-laden air is blown into the outdoors from central vacuum systems. One comprehensive study conducted at the University of California at Davis’ School of Medicine compared portable to central units and concluded that “a central vacuuming system would best provide [allergen removal] as it would be installed outside the living area of the dwelling and/or vented outdoors.”
- The system is easy and safe to use. There is no heavy equipment to carry from room to room, and no electric cords to trip over or catch on furniture.
Types of central vacuum cleaners available include:
- cyclonic, in which air is spun in a canister and exhausted to the outdoors. Location is critical for these units, as it is possible for exhausted, debris-laden air to find its way back into the house through open windows. The filter must be removed and cleaned periodically;
- inverted filter, in which the dirt enters the vacuum canister amidst a tornado-like swirl of air. The canister must be emptied periodically, and always outside of the home. Allergy sufferers may find disposal unpleasant, as mold and other debris become airborne; and
- disposable bag, in which dirt is sucked into a paper bag in the same fashion as for portable units. This is perhaps the cleanest and most hygienic method available, as mold spores, bacteria and other debris are physically separated and stored in a bag from which they cannot escape.
- price. A good system can cost $1,500, which is significantly more expensive than even premium portable vacuum cleaners;
- damage caused by items sucked up inadvertently. With greater power comes higher risk that large items will be sucked up, potentially causing damage to the unit. Tales abound of units becoming jammed or broken when they swallow, often at the hands of children, broken jars of jelly, toilet water, and even pet birds. Portable units are usually too weak to readily suck up items that can cause them to break;
- a system compromised by weak suction. Such a problem may be due to obstructed pipes or exhaust, an excessively dirty filter, or a full canister that needs to be emptied. If the unit does not operate at all, the motor might be broken, a breaker may have tripped, or the wiring may be defective.
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