Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Most Common Home Inspection Defects

I encounter defective components in homes on an everyday basis. There just isn't a perfect home out there, anywhere. The following defects are most likely going to be found on a typical home inspection.

The house (as a whole) is poorly maintained – Deferred maintenance represents a potential high cost situation to bring the home back into a satisfactory condition. If the present homeowner (Seller) did not properly care for their home over the years, then someone will need to upgrade the home sooner or later. Preferably sooner than later. In a situation like this, my home inspection report can be utilized as a checklist in order to get the home back up to healthy standards.

Poor drainage around the building - All roof water needs to drain away from the building at its lower perimeter in order to prevent water intrusion into the basement. Roof gutters, downspouts and downspout extensions can be installed to rectify any roof drainage problems. Grading (sloped away from the foundation) is also very important in this situation. 98% of the homes I inspect absolutely need improvements in the grading.

Electrical - Insufficient overload protection to the home's electrical service and amateur (and often dangerous) wiring connections are the most common everyday issues. Electrical system problems are safety related and require immediate attention by a licensed Electrician, ASAP.

Inadequate Insulation and Ventilation in the attic – Poorly installed or inadequate insulation and improper ventilation causes excessive utility costs, lack of occupant comfort and moisture/mold build-up. Most older homes require additional insulation, which then requires ventilation improvement. In other situations... in an effort to save energy, many homeowners have “over sealed” their homes with insulation with no regard to ventilation, resulting in excessive interior moisture due to the inadequate ventilation. Significant moisture and excessive heat build-up within the attic cavity can lead to rapid shingle deterioration, Mold build-up, peeling of exterior paint, rusty nails, energy losses and rotting and failure of both structural and non-structural elements.

Heating/Cooling System Defects - Improper installations, inadequate maintenance, exhaust and combustion issues, aged components, and malfunctioning safety controls are the most frequent issues I usually encounter on a daily basis.

Roof Issues – Improperly installed and aged roof surfaces occur frequently. I often find poorly installed or missing flashing at transition areas. Repairs may be simple or (at times) the entire roof may need to be replaced.

Minor Structural Damage - Minor structural damage means the house is not likely to fall down, but someone should correct the problems before they become more serious issues later. Such damage is usually caused by water seepage into the foundation, floor joists, rafters or window and door headers and are found unstable. First you need to correct the cause of the problem (a leaky roof or improper drainage outside the foundation, for example), then repair or replace any damaged structural members. Inadequate caulking and weather stripping is most common. Obviously, the more extensive the damage, the more expensive it will be to repair.

Plumbing Issues – The most common defects are leaking gaskets, deteriorated cast iron waste pipes, leaking and outdated problematic systems like polybutylene and galvanized piping and any incompatible piping materials. Repairs can often be performed by a licensed Plumber but on occasion, there's extensive damage and a total system replacement is the only solution.

Air and Water Penetrating Cracks and Window Perimeters at Exterior – Foundation cracks and separations at basement windows can allow water into the wall cavities which is conducive to rot and Mold growth. Finished basements with moisture issues require removing walls and floor coverings after repairing the water entry area.

Attic and Structural Damage – Cut, modified and broken trusses, rafters and floor joists are often found in attic cavities and on occasion I will find structural components missing. Usually carpentry repairs are needed in these situations, however I find it is rarely an imminent safety hazard.

Termite and other wood destroying organisms- Due the local environment and conducive conditions. All wood boring insect damage can absolutely be corrected. Costs will always depend on how excessive the insect damage is. The wood sill on top of the foundation is the worst area to have an infestation as this area will be very costly to repair because the house will need to be professionally lifted in order to remove the damaged sills and replace with new sills.

Fire safety issues - Related to Electrical issues (above) and fireplaces and wood stoves are often neglected by homeowners.

Now someone must take the responsibility to repair these defects soon and if you personally decided to take on these issues yourself, you will most likely be looking for specialized contractors to perform the repairs for you. I highly suggest you check all contractors licenses and their references before you hire anyone to perform work around your home that requires skill. Be especially aware of Home Depot remodeling contractors.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


This picture is a perfect example of the problems that are associated with Aluminum wiring. Note letters A and B (the insulation jackets are melted), which I will explain "Why" in the third paragraph and C (mixing copper wiring with aluminum wiring on the same breaker). Aluminum wiring can not be mixed with copper wiring and breakers can not be double tapped with two wires, unless designated by manufacturer and the breaker connnection will contain a special clip for double tapping. Aluminum wiring is very easy to identify due to it's obvious aluminum color. Aluminum wiring is not to be confused with tin coated copper which looks similar to aluminum wiring but aluminum wiring has distinguishing characteristics and is a solid conductor.

During the 1970's, aluminum (instead of copper) wiring became quite popular and was extensively used throughout the United States. Since that time, aluminum wiring has been implicated in a number of house fires, which caused jurisdictions to no longer permit aluminum wiring in new installations. I highly recommend that you do not use aluminum wiring for any type of new installation. But don't panic if your house does contain aluminum wiring. Aluminum wiring, when properly installed, can be just as safe as copper wiring. Aluminum wiring is, however, very unforgiving of improper installations. I will cover a bit of the theory behind potential electrical problems, and what you can do to make your wiring (in your home) safe.

The main problem that exists with aluminum wiring is a phenomenon known as "cold creep". When aluminum wiring warms up, it expands. When it cools down, it contracts. Unlike copper, when aluminum goes through a number of warm/cool cycles it loses a bit of it's tightness over time. To make the problem worse, aluminum oxidizes (or corrodes) when in contact with certain types of metal, so the resistance of the connection will go up. Which causes the aluminum wiring to heat up and corrode/oxidize even more. Eventually the wire may start to become very hot and melt the insulation jacket (shown in the picture above) or the fixture that it's attached to, and possibly even cause a fire.

Since people usually encounter aluminum wiring when they move into a house that was built in the 70's, I will cover the basic points of safe aluminum wiring. I suggest that, if you're considering purchasing a home with aluminum wiring or have discovered aluminum wiring after moving in, that you hire a licensed electrician to inspect the wiring for the following:

1) Fixtures (eg: outlets and switches) directly attached to aluminum wiring should be rated for it. The device will be stamped with "Al/Cu" or "CO/ALR". The latter supersedes the former, but both are completely safe. These fixtures are somewhat more expensive than the ordinary fixtures.

2) Wires should be properly connected (at least 3/4 way around the screw in a clockwise direction). All connections should be tight. While repeated tightening of the screws can make the problem worse, during the inspection it would pay off to snug up each connection.

{Note that stranded aluminum wiring is still often used for the main service entrance cable at your main panel. It should also be inspected.}

3) The "push-in" terminals are an extreme hazard with an aluminum wires. Any connections using the push-in terminals should be upgraded with the proper screw connections immediately.

4) There should be no signs of overheating: darkened connections, melted insulation, or "baked" fixtures. Any such damage should be repaired by a licensed Electrician and the connection should be upgraded.

5) Connections between aluminum and copper wire need to be handled specially. Current codes require that the connectors used must be specially marked for connecting aluminum to copper. The NEC requires that the wire be connected together using special crimp devices, with an anti-oxidant grease. The tools and materials for the latter are quite expensive - not practical to do it yourself unless you can rent the tool.

{Note that regulations are changing rapidly in this area. Suggest that you discuss any work with an Electrical inspector if you're going to do more than one or two connections.}

6) Any non-rated receptacles can be connected to aluminum wiring by means of a short copper "pigtail". See #5 above.

7) Shows reasonable workmanship: neat wiring, properly stripped (not nicked) wire etc.

If, when considering purchasing a home, my inspection of the exposed wiring (in your prospective home) shows no problems, you can consider the wiring safe. If there are signs of electrical problems in many places (which will be noted on your home inspection report), I suggest you consider a complete electrical inspection and possibly upgrading all branch wiring throughout the house. If the wrong receptacles are used, you can replace them with the proper type, or have the Electrician use pigtails. Having this professionally done by a licensed Electrician can run close to $10.00 per receptacle/switch plus hourly labor.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Energy Efficiency (Heat and Energy Loss)

I know everyone works very hard for their money (in order to pay the bills), but what you don't realize is how much of your hard earned energy dollars are actually slipping right through the cracks of your home. Keeping your home at a comfort level (by conditioning it) can be very costly. I know everyone would like to reduce their energy bills in our freezing winter months and then again, in the summer cooling months? Well, a good place to start would be a professional infrared home-energy efficiency inspection. My infrared inspection will actually show you where you are wasting your hard earned energy dollars, and at the same time, I will demonstate how you can properly seal those areas that are pulling your energy dollars to the outside of your house.

There are many building envelope anomalies that can generate significant heat and air conditioning loss, which causes your energy dollars to be wasted in a not-so-tight home.

Sources of Air Leakage in a Typical Home

My infrared camera allows me to perform a comprehensive energy efficiency inspection within your home by locating and pin-pointing those areas where unconditioned air is infiltrating into your living areas. Most air infiltrations are located at wall penetrations (such as windows, doors, vents, etc), and at transition areas of fully insulated walls, ceilings and floors. My thermal scan will identify the smallest of insulation breaches and fissures within the concealed cavities of your walls and ceilings. I will literally show you where you are wasting your precious energy resources and your hard earned dollars. My IR camera enables me to point out exactly where your costly energy dollars are being lost. I will then assist you in determining how to properly insulate those breached areas with minimum damage to your surfaces, so you can get the most out of your heating and cooling systems for many years to come.

No access to the top side of this ceiling, but infrared detects missing insulation

An infrared inspection detects a radiator conducting heat to the exterior.

During a Re-hab, infrared imaging detects missing insulation above ceiling

An infrared home energy efficiency inspection can be used to verify problems caused by poor design, poor workmanship, or material failure. With the ridiculously high priced heating fuel today, my energy audit can pay for itself in as little as one year. This is the ideal inspection to conduct for numerous situations in a typical home…

1) Use my infrared services while I’m performing your Standard home inspection. This valuable option is not included in my standard home inspection fee.

2) You can hire me immediately after completion of your newly constructed home while the home or building is still under warranty with the building contractor. I can also scan your new home on construction stage inspections. (In many cases, those moisture stains on your basement walls are explained away by the builder as "during construction" moisture. It pays to confirm this before the builder’s warranty expires.)

3) If you own an older home that is costing you too much in energy dollars due to excessive air drafts, I can pinpoint those problem areas where cold air is infiltrating your living space. Then, it’s best if you contact a building contractor to upgrade those specific areas that I will be clearly identifying throughout your home. All efficiency information and pictures will be transferred onto a professional thermal report for your convenience.

4) An infrared energy inspection will easily locate any missing insulation behind your finished walls and ceilings. Then, you can contact an insulation contractor to upgrade the areas that I will be identifying throughout your home. These areas will also be clearly identified on a professional energy efficiency report. During this inspection, I can show you how you can insulate specific areas without removing walls or ceilings.

5) I am able to detect potential mold problems behind walls and ceilings. All moisture issues must be mitigated immediately. As I stated previously, infrared imaging does not detect the actual Molds behind your walls and ceilings, but it will detect the issues associated with Mold build-up.

6) Infrared Thermography provides you with a unique opportunity to assess the energy efficiency of your HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) systems, including the tightness of the duct work that is located behind your walls and ceilings. In order to prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning, this inspection will also test for leaks throughout the vent pipes.

7) An infrared camera will locate those thermal panes that are at the beginning stages of leaking insulated gases. I am able to locate any broken seals in double/triple pane windows that do not visually show signs of condensation as of yet.

Windows look great visually, but infrared detects three thermal barrier leaks

As you can see, having an infrared energy efficiency inspection makes it much easier to positively pinpoint problems throughout your home, instead of simply making an educated guess without the camera. An IR inspection also allows me to communicate my findings with greater understanding to you (the homeowner) instead of just “speaking another language.” As one client had put it very clearly, “This inspection lets my eyes make sense of what my ears are hearing.” Now that makes perfect sense, Right?

The dark blue areas indicates that insulation is missing in this area

Thermal imaging pictures combined with digital photographs can greatly enhance your understanding of just what the problem is and how to go about having it repaired with minimum damage to the home. My final energy efficiency report will enhance your ability to deal directly with the contractors that may be performing the repair work for you. All you have to do is show your contractor the infrared energy efficiency report and they will fully understand your issues. After your contractor completes their upgrade, and before you make any final payment, you can then contact me to perform a final scan to verify that all work was performed correctly.

Looks great visually, until I detect insulation defects with thermal imaging

Friday, March 21, 2008

Infrared (Thermal) imaging Applications

There are a host of applications for infrared cameras and there are many issues (throughout the average building) that can be easily detected through infrared imaging.I would like to go explain the many applications that can be detected with infrared imaging. I will start with...

Detecting Hidden Moisture Intrusion

Moisture is the leading cause of costly building upgrades today. Scanning interior surfaces of your building can reveal excess moisture due to roof leaks, plumbing leaks, moisture entering your building at wall penetrations, leaks around windows and doors, locating hidden dampness under resilient flooring, and many other susceptible areas throughout your home.

Moisture on most building materials can easily destroy the structural integrity of a building and nurture Mold within days. The first step in any moisture problem remediation is to quickly and accurately locate and remove all sources of moisture in order to prevent wood rot and Mold. I’ll be able to instantly detect the ultimate source and exact location of any moisture entry area with little or no physical dis-assembly of the premises and minimal disturbance of anyone living in the home. This prevents building owners from ripping out entire walls and ceilings in order to pinpoint a problem area or to repair a leak somewhere inside the surface.

The moist areas of building materials cool when energy is transferred during the water evaporation process; therefore (during a thermal scan), a wet “cooler” area will stand out from the surrounding dry “warmer” surfaces. If I do locate moist areas in your home, I will be taking both digital and thermal pictures of these areas of concern in order to include these findings into your infrared report. Specified sections of wall or ceiling coverings can then be removed in order to perform the repairs that caused the moisture build-up. I will be alleviating the need to remove large sections due to pinpointing the exact location of the moisture build-up. Once the coverings are removed and the source of the leak has been properly repaired and all wet materials have been removed from the building, corrective measures must be taken for drying out the area before any materials can be re-applied. I am able to monitor the drying process for you, and confirm when your building’s damaged area is completely dry (Mold-free) and ready for re-construction. Then your building contractors will be able start installing your finished areas to your specifications.

My infrared camera does not detect the actual Molds behind your walls and ceilings, but will detect the issues associated with Mold build-up. When basement walls are covered by finish materials, thermal imaging can give you a definitive answer as to whether or not there are moisture issues behind these materials. An infrared camera is basically an on-board computer and a display screen that will show me the thermal images and temperatures that quickly identify the moist, cold or warm areas where molds are likely to be growing. Once I successfully locate an affected area, an invasive inspection at that exact location is then recommended. Required corrective actions are now able to be taken immediately, in order to alleviate extensive damage and any Mold accumulation.

You can also hire me for Moisture contamination evaluations after a severe flood, broken water lines, and equipment failure or even before acquiring real estate suspected of having hidden moisture damage. (Hint: Don't believe the story about the house that has musty odors because it has been vacant and closed up for a while. Musty odors are caused by moisture.)

Sunday, January 20, 2008



Wouldn’t you just love to have the ability to actually observe what’s going on behind those finished walls and ceilings of your existing or prospective home? Well, with today’s outstanding technology, I am now able to make this possible for all my clients. As part of my on-going commitment to reliability, I am now offering a valuable preventive and predictive maintenance option. It’s called…Infrared Inspections, also known as Thermal Imaging.

There is so much information regarding this spectacular technology that I’m going to break this down into sections in order for you to fully understand infrared technology, and its uses and applications. Thermal imaging (IR) is highly advanced technology that was originally developed by our high tech military for use in enhancing night vision in advanced weapons systems during the Korean War. It was used extensively by our ground forces for general theatre scanning, target acquisition and sighting enemy objects in the midst of darkness. This truly amazing camera technology is so astonishing, that it is slowly migrating into the residential and commercial inspection field. Thermal Imaging is quite possibly, the most important technology to be utilized in the Residential and Commercial inspection profession today.

In the hands of Certified, Trained and Experienced Thermographers (such as myself), an infrared camera allows me to detect hidden issues behind finished surfaces of any building by evaluating the camera’s images and temperature readings. Thermography is basically the use of an infrared imaging and measurement camera that can actually "see" and "measure" thermal energy emitted from an object. The camera can only sense the temperature difference that transfers to the most outer surface of a wall, ceiling or floor (and if the Delta T, or temperature difference, cannot conduct this difference to the outer most surface then I am unable to see it clearly with an infrared camera). So it’s crucial to have a temperature difference of at least ten degrees Fahrenheit between inside and outside temperatures. Most materials that are moist or located inside inaccessible surfaces will have an absolute temperature difference in a seasonal situation due to conditioning the living areas with heat in the winter and A/C in the summer. In New England’s ever-changing weather, the inside and outside temperatures will contain sufficient differential most of the time. If the A/C or heat is not conditioning the home, and the outside temperature is the same as the inside temperature, then the infrared camera can not perform its intended function. Temperature differential is absolutely necessary for me to better interpret the camera images and its indicators.

Now that you understand what Thermography is, I’m going to be more explicit as to “How this technology actually works”. Thermal, or infrared energy, is light that is not visible because its wavelength is too long to be detected by the human eye; it's the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that we perceive as heat. Unlike visible light (in the infrared world) everything with a temperature above absolute zero will always emit heat. Even very cold objects (such as ice cubes), will emit infrared images. The higher the object's temperature, the greater the infrared (IR) radiation emitted. By detecting those differentiating thermal patterns that are invisible to the naked eye, I’m able to point out concealed issues that need attention now. These findings enable homeowners to perform repairs in a predictive fashion rather than in a reactive manner, which is going to be far more expensive and time consuming when these invisible issues finally become apparent. Everything from faulty wiring whether it is in the wall or exposed, to the presence of concealed Termites, or concealed wet insulation and Mold build-up will affect the surrounding temperature of a surface. Heat-sensitive photography (IR) can reveal these and many other serious issues that cannot be seen by the naked eye or with conventional or digital photography.

My infrared camera enables me to detect extremely small but crucial heat patterns from one area of a structure to another. Even though thermal anomalies are invisible to the eye, temperature variations will clearly show up on my infrared camera’s view screen as “cold” or “hot” spots. These spots will contain color variations along with excessive temperature differentials if hidden issues are lurking behind surfaces of your building. The spectrums of light will allow me to analyze what’s going on in specific areas throughout your building. As you and I walk through your building, I will be pointing out any areas of concern and then interpreting my camera readings to you. Once my infrared inspection is finalized, my findings will be compiled into a professional report which will contain plenty of pictures and descriptions for easy understanding.

In order for me to complete your formal report in a professional manner, I have specially designed software that allows me to present your infrared findings and your digital photos in a side-by-side photo comparison format. This type of reporting system allows you to view both, the real time digital photo alongside the highlighted thermal photo of the area of concern. There will be no confusion in comprehending my easy-to-understand report. I will be including close-up infrared photos of all issues of concern along with digital wide angle views, so that everyone reading my infrared report will understand the exact location of the issues in question. Directly under these images, you will find my interpretations of what’s actually going on behind particular surfaces of your home. SEE SAMPLE REPORT

I am an expert who has a solid understanding of heat transfer laws, thermal dynamics and properties of why objects are hot or not or appear to be hot or not. Thermal imaging allows me to identify hidden problem areas much faster and (in most cases) can avoid building owners from using invasive and destructive measures in order to pinpoint problem areas behind finished surfaces. Scanning a building with my infrared camera provides me with crucial information about issues that may be hidden behind walls, ceilings, roof surfaces or any other inaccessible finished areas throughout your building. In providing this optional infrared service, I am now fully able to detect, interpret and document hidden faults and anomalies for immediate corrective action. I can even prioritize specific repairs to certain concealed areas of your building if the issue is serious. Without utilizing my infrared camera, there may be hidden defects that can normally go undetected in the course of my standard visual inspection.

Infrared cameras are the latest technology being used today for fast, reliable, and accurate building diagnosis in the entire range of building problems. It is now recognized as the most effective and least intrusive of all building diagnostic procedures. Thermal imaging allows me to easily locate an array of hidden building conditions with astonishing speed and accuracy. There are a host of applications for IR cameras and there are many issues that can be easily detected.


Massachusetts Home Inspections