Tuesday, December 7, 2010

electrically challenged

So its December 6th and one of my previous clients calls me to see if I can go address an issue with his tenant. It seems her bathroom " has run out of electric" is her exact wording. Right away I know this means a breaker has tripped, but did she really think that the bathroom can run out of electric ?, and only the bathroom?. So I go there and knock on the door. The girl answers the door, and I tell her who I am, and tell her I'm here to restore power to the bathroom. I was tempted to hold a gas can in my hand and play with her a bit, but anyone who thinks the bathroom can run out of electric may just try this on her own. Bad idea.

I go to the basement and sure enough, a breaker is tripped. I reset it, and right away I hear the patter of her feet all around her apartment. Within 30 seconds the breaker trips again, and now I need to see why. I knock on the door and ask her to show me what she has plugged in to make the breaker keep tripping. In the middle of the living room on the floor is a medium sized electric space heater sitting on top of a shoe box awkwardly leaning forward. Directly in front of the heater is a 2 gallon plastic wash tub that you use for washing dishes. The tub is full to the brim with water. The heater is leaning towards the water and as she walks around, the vibrations are making the heater rock forward farther, and I can see that any second the heater is going to fall face first into the water. I go and jerk the plug out of the wall and ask her what the heck she thinks she is doing. Se looks at me with a shocked expression and says, " I'm trying to make the heater create steam to moisten the air". I asked her why doesn't she just use the steam furnace that came with the apartment? They are known to make steam. I even suggest placing a pot of water On the stove and boiling it. She says she doesn't want to use the oil furnace because oil is expensive. I ask her if she has any clue how expensive the electric space heaters are to run? She starts comparing a friends oil price, and electric price...we are getting nowhere. I go back to the electric space heater and tub of water scenario, and ask her if she has any idea how dangerous this is? She does not. I asked her if she knows what will happen if the heater falls into the water? she says " it will get wet and spill the water" That's why there is a towel on the floor under the water tub". I explain that if the heater falls in the tub, she will possible get electrocuted, or start an electric fire. She looks at me with a defiant look, and says
" I'M not dumb you know, That's why the heater is in the living room and not the bathroom." She then says " those things only happen in the tub, right?" She is in college, for what I don't know, but I only hope she is not going to be a doctor, or an engineer.
The landlord has a new rule, No space heaters, and all tenants have to get their own renters fire insurance. I will work on getting him some electrical safety pamphlets.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is your well Well?

Many homes in the rural communities have a well. When you are buying a home with a well and you schedule a home inspection it is a good idea to test the well. There are several things to test in a well. You want to know the volume of water that the well can generate, or the flow rate. You want to know the depth, and recharge rate, and the most important one is quality of the water. When clients call for an inspection they are focused on the house. Many buyers don't give the well much thought. They say things like..." I want a structural, mechanical, and heating inspection...and oh yeah, the house has a well, whatever you do with that".
Well there is quite a lot that we do with that! First, we check out the entire system from the well casing, the cap, the pressure tank and pressure switch, the piping, the filter if there is one, and the manifold that leads up to the house. We open the cap on the well and check the wires to the pump, and we inspect for bugs. We look to see if the well is too close to the septic, or any other contaminates. We look down the casing to see if the water is visible, and then we run the water. ( not that seeing the water really means anything)

Now comes the water testing. We ask the clients what level of water testing they want to do. Very often they do not really want to do more than the minimum requirements of the Bank. "Its too damn expensive ", they say. The Banks often have a minimum that they require for financing. This is a potability test. The potability test is a minimum test to determine if the water is fit to consume. This test is around $100.00. Potability checks for Fecal Coliform and Ecoli bacterias, Lead and Nitrates. Not too bad, but not very informative either.
Listen people! a Well is a hole in the ground that you will be drinking from! Wouldn't you like to know whats in this hole? Would you drink from a puddle in the parking lot that you park your nice car in? I think not, and I wouldn't blame you. So why would you drink from a well that you have not tested? You are either feeling lucky, or have Free company paid medical insurance!

Last week I inspected a house in the western part of the state. I asked the buyers if they wanted to test, and I explained that the test is important for their health and financial well being. Its true!. Have you priced water treatment systems lately? College is cheaper! So the buyer elected to test for the full menu. $300.00. The lab results came back with Acetone and Toluene. How did that get in there? Well I will tell you. The seller is a nice handy guy. He Paints and fixes his own cars, in his garage, then when he's done, he cleans out his spray equipment and dumps the chemicals in the ground behind the Garage. Imagine that! Well, when we reported the lab results, he about croaked, his face turned white and he confessed. Much to his credit, he was an Honest guy. Notice the Capital " H" in Honest? That's because he confessed. I'm not so sure I would have. The handy old guy asked how the Acetone and Toluene could travel so far in the ground as to get to his well 125 feet away? NATURE!!!!! It happens. Kinda why they say don't dump chemicals in the ground! Now I had to tell him that his neighbors may have some in their wells too. Now I think he really is gonna croak!

The cure here will be costly to say the least. Estimates will range from 4 to 6 thousand dollars, and that's if lawyers are not involved. The water will have to be tested at least a few more times, and that's not going to be cheap either, but the lesson here is.......The buyer tested!!!! and guess who is NOT going to have to pay for all of this mess? Yup, the buyer. Hows that $300.00 test sound now? Kinda like an insurance policy? You better believe it!!

Oh, almost forgot.....A buyer in Scituate.....he tested too. Found Tetrachloroethene in his well. Seem that a well repair person dropped the tin can of PVC glue into the well casing and figured the can was closed so...what the hell...leave it there. The can was open!!!!

Friday, February 19, 2010

When in doubt, check it !

Often times when looking for a home you base your decisions on the advertised amenities that the home claims to have. If you decide to buy this Home, DO NOT , under any circumstances, just take it for granted that the home has what is advertised. make the seller show you proof. You know full well that if the roles were reversed that they would ask you to provide proof, and you should. Its not rude, its business!
Last week I inspected a home in Coventry. The home was a flip, meaning that some one purchased a foreclosure to remodel it and re sell at a profit. The home was under going renovations as we conducted the Inspection. This particular home was advertised as having an Advantex septic system. Since the area has no sewers this was a plus for this home. For those of you who do not know, Advantex is the Cadillac of septic systems.
I always begin outside of the Home and with the septic if included. I was puzzled right off. I don't see the septic system. There is about 4 inches of snow on the ground , but that's not going to hide an Advantex. It would take 2 feet of snow to hid one. The stick out of the ground, and have landscape timber frames around them. I'M not seeing them. Advantex have an alarm panel, and I don't see one. I begin to think the buyers made a mistake. I ask them if they are sure the House was advertised with an Advantex ISDS septic. They are adamant. Yes it was.

Shortly after this, the realtor listing the home shows up and it turns out he is the owner as well. He is The realtor / Investor who is doing the flip. So I ask him to verify the location of the septic.
-- "Sure" he says," Its an Advantex system"," two years old" Quite proudly ! "Are you familiar with an Avantex system"?. ( He looks at me as if I'M clueless, and he is going to teach me).

-- I say " Yes , I'm familiar with them, and I'm quite sure there are parts missing"!

--He says " well its covered by snow" ( looking at me with doubt).

He sweeps off the snow and there are two green lids that say Advantex. They are spaced too close together as is, and I can already see what has happened. Someone ASS-U-ME-D.!

He removes the trademark ( pain in the butt) screws that hold the covers on, and opens one of the covers. TA-DA !!!! No Advantex.!! Just as I thought!! its a standard cement septic. The look on his face is priceless.

The original cement septic was 12 inches below ground and someone had installed risers to grade as a repair to prevent ground water from entering the cement covers. They chose Advantex covers because they are light, easy to keep clean, bright enough not to run over with the lawn mower, and probably cheaper than the cement version.
Inside the green covers was cement wedge covers to the cement tank. They were stuck in place. Boy were they stuck!. I used all of my tools and nothing!, it would not budge. I was concerned about breaking the lids. The seller was not. He took a hammer to them, and a crow bar. Nothing. !! These covers have not been off in a while. I decided to use water and a bar, and they finally came open. What I saw was not good. The tank was half empty. Not good. There is a leak in the tank. There's muck in the tank. not the correct muck either. Someone was flushing drywall compound in the system. It was partially blocking the sewer line into the tank.

- " That's not from us"!!!! we didn't do that."-says the seller.
- Well then you have a Burglar, I thought. One who breaks in, spackled the drywall, cleaned up the tools, and moved on. The looks of the crowd were on my side. They didnt buy it either. The house is being remodeled. There was a wire basket in the tub for straining the debris that was being flushed down. Joint compound is too heavy to flush. It collects in the base of the drains and settles. Here is the proof. He walked away. I don't think he likes me.
Inside the tank there was signs that some repairs had been done to this tank. The effluent cement baffle ( The exit side of the tank/ and cement housing) Had been smashed off and allowed to fall into the bottom of the tank. Then a solids filter had been installed. This is good. The cement in the bottom of the tank, not so good. So clearly someone had made a few corrections to the tank, but not addressed the present problem. There is a break in the tank or a bad leak. ( Might be a weep) A weep is a small hole designed in the tank bottom for drainage when built. They get plugged with Hydraulic cement. Sometimes the Hydraulic cement needs replacement. I think that's the case here.
The tank will need to be pumped dry, and inspected for a leak or crack, and repaired. then re tested. This is a far cry from an Advantex. Had the sellers decided not to inspect the septic as some buyers do, they would have regreted that for a very very long time. A conventional cement septic price ranges from 8 to $15,000.00 An Advantex ranges from 20 to $40,000.00.
A septic inspection cost $150.00 , do the math!!!

When in doubt, check it, check it, check it!!!!!!!!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Over anxious clients

Today I had an inspection of a large home in Central Rhode Island. It was a rather pretty home. The clients arrived shortly after me and were all smiles. The Gentleman was....well he was visibly excited. As I began to go over what I had done so far and get to know them, the Gentleman began to ask random questions about several different things, all of which I had not looked at yet. I explained that we have a system of inspection that we follow and this is the best way to ensure a thorough evaluation of the home. He was struggling to contain himself. His Wife was very relaxed and calm. We walked around the exterior of the home and with no real issues there, I suggested we go inside. The gentleman went to his car and began gathering some fire wood and newspaper. I was now struggling to contain myself. He saw my face. He asked if we could light a fire in the fireplace. I said No, we can not! I thought he was going to POP. I explained that we can not light a fire in the fireplace, and if we did, We would probably be asked to leave. His concern was that the smoke would not draft well. His Fireplace at home does not draft well. I explained the criteria needed for a fireplace to draft well. The Chimney needs to be tall enough to stand clear of any portion of the house and have a 10ft. horizontal clearance from any object. This chimney clearly had the reach needed. His did not. He took the Fire wood in, and asked if he could make a fire anyway. The answer was NO ! Just as I had expected. His wife was still calm. A pillar of support. My wife would be giving me the evil eye about now. I don't think I would have even gotten the Logs out of the car. As we began inside the house The gentleman gave his calm, supportive, wife a list of chores to do while we were there. Her job was to open and close every window, to turn on the faucets, and Try the light switches and doors. Great, I have a trainee. I asked him if he realized that we do all of that. He was puzzled. I don't think he expected that. He did not tell his wife. She went to work. I heard her. The gentleman and I proceeded through the house and in the basement. He was running in circles. I told him I was going to turn up the heat, now that I had determined the furnace was safe to run. This is my system. Before I could go near the steps to turn the thermostats up, The gentleman was shouting to his wife to go turn up all the thermostats. All 5. And she did. All 5. I think I like his wife. I wonder if she wants a job. She could probably use the rest. The rest of the inspection went well. The wife got to relax. When we left, the gentleman was asked to take his firewood with him. He did. I think I have met the most patient wife in the world, or at least the second most patient. My wife has to be near the top.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Home Safety.

After many years of being in the construction trades, and 10 years of Inspecting homes, I am still amazed at some of the issues that I find in the homes that I inspect for buyers. While my first instinct is to laugh and ask " what the heck they were thinking ?", I have to constantly remind myself that I am not alone. The prospective buyers are usually right with me and would certainly get freaked out if I say the wrong thing. Its sort of like your doctor looking at a problem you have, and saying " OH my God " Your heart might just skip a beat. So I have to pause and collect my thoughts, and then carefully explain what I see. The reaction they have will depend on the words that you choose, and your level of concern. Your face is a tattletale.

Today I was at a home in the southern part of the state. A nice big Colonial home that has recently lost its occupants to the economy. We have Seen a lot of this lately. Well, the previous occupants decided that they just could not live without a few of the items that were attached to the home and made the decision that they just were not leaving without them. They also decided, that removing the items did not warrant care and caution, which I'm sure they demanded when the items were installed. Lights were removed from landscaping, exposing live wires. A pool heater just could not be lived without. An air conditioning compressor absolutely had to come along for the trip to the new home. Apparently removing an air conditioner compressor is a job only accomplished with a hatchet. Who knew?. At some point a gas line to the pool heater was cut, and of no concern to the removers. Turning off the gas, or closing the valve was just out of the question.

While walking around the exterior of the house shortly after arriving, I detected a not so subtle smell of gas. I took a few more steps and the smell got stronger. I was puzzled. Its February. there is 4 inches of snow on the ground. I'm outside. Why am I smelling gas? This is not good. Where can it be coming from? If there is a leak in the house that smells this strong outside...we have a problem. I was alone. There was no one to share this with. I tried to call the Realtor that was going to be arriving in a minute. No Answer. I thought of calling the Fire dept., But that would not be good. Imagine the looks on the buyers face when they arrive to find Fire trucks in the front of the Home they are about to Buy. That would go over like a Skunk at a lawn party.
Before I had the chance to make a decision, the buyers arrived. I had to explain the situation to them and inform them that we cannot go into the house and turn on any lights until I have had a chance to go in the house and check for a leak. Just then the Realtor arrived and we shared this with Her. She handled It well. We all had, so far. We opened the door and I asked that everyone wait outside and DONT TOUCH ANY LIGHTS. As luck would have it, no gas in the house. Boy was I glad I hadn't called the Fire Dept. The Listing Agent was called and reported to us that they knew about a leak somewhere, But had yet to find it. Thanks for sharing!!! And thanks for leaving the gas ON !!
After a long search, the gas leak was found in the Pool Cabana due to the gently removed gas powered pool heater. I was thought full enough to close the valve, and open the window.
The rest of the inspection was slightly less thrilling, but still worth mentioning. A window tried to smash my fingers. Apparently a top window sash ballancer was broken, A ballancer is the device that makes the window stay up. Someone thought it wise to lift the window up, and latch it in place as if it was normal, and not bothering to label it. I unlocked the window to test it and SLAM!!!! That window came crashing down. My fingers are fine. I learned a long time ago, to NEVER put your fingers near the bottom. I have met windows like this one before.
Sparks came flying out of a light when I turned it on. The installation instructions forgot to mention that when installing the light you must not drive screws into the power wire. A roof leak that could be repaired for around $5.00 was allowed to continue for some time. The water had leaked into the attic, down on the ceiling of the top floor, down the wall of the second floor, through the ceiling of the first floor, and through the light fixture, over the kitchen sink, and actually dripped into the kitchen sink. So then next time you hear a dripping faucet, go check your roof.
Just thought I would share.