Every so often, I write a newsletter on a subject I think might be of interest to both real estate professionals and their clients. You can find links to them below.
In response to customer requests, Brett Inspections is happy to announce the addition of a new Cursory Inspection service for prospective home buyers.The Cursory Inspection is intended as a service for home buyers who are thinking of making an offer on a property, but would like to have a knowledgeable building professional look at the home before taking that first step, without the commitment and expense of a full home inspection. Unlike a Standard Home Inspection, the Cursory Inspection DOES NOT include a full written report and DOES NOT involve a thorough inspection of all the home's systems. It DOES include a visual examination of the roof, siding, windows and doors, and building structure inside and out, from all easily-accessible locations. Attics and crawlspaces will ONLY be included at the inspector's discretion if it can be easily done in a timely manner.
The Cursory Inspection is not intended to replace a Standard Home Inspection, which is a more thorough examination of all the accessible systems in the home, including electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling, and structural systems. The Standard Home Inspection also includes a detailed illustrated report to document the condition of the home for negotiation and financing purposes, which the Cursory Inspection does not.
Brett Inspections is pleased to offer the Cursory Inspection service for a flat fee of $100 (within a 50-mile radius of Middlebury, VT). In addition, customers who purchase a Cursory Inspection will receive a $50 discount on a full inspection of the same property at a later date (may not be combined with any other offer).
Many people love Vermont for its beautiful rural landscape. While it truly is a joy to be surrounded by nature's bounty, it is not always so nice to find nature invading our homes and making itself comfortable.Autumn is the time when mice and other rodents seek out protected spaces to shelter in over winter, and for many people, this means critters in the house. The sound of animals scurrying in the walls at night is bad enough, but these little invaders can also spread disease with their urine and dropping, so an infestation can be hazardous to human health in addition to being a nuisance. The best solution to this problem is to track down and seal all entry points for these animals using wire mesh or steel wool to close off holes and cracks. Once this is done, use traps to remove the animals already inside.
Bats tend to be a problem in the warmer months, and often migrate south to overwinter in caves, so late fall and winter are good times to close off their access points, while they are out, to prevent them from moving back in the following year. Consider installing bat houses around your property to take advantage of bats' mosquito-eating habits without hosting them in your home.
Spring is a time of reawakening for trees, flowers...and ants. It is at this time of year that Vermonters tend to find trails of ants marching across the kitchen floor. It is difficult to make a home so tight that even tiny ants can't find a way in, but you can bait them with a borax and sugar mixture that they will carry back to the nest and poison themselves with. This method can be very effective.
As the weather warms, paper wasps like to build nests under eaves and decks. These wasps are not as aggressive as yellow jackets or hornets, but will still attack if they feel the nest is threatened. This can be a problem if the nest is built near entrances to the house or frequently-trafficked areas. For the brave, one good way to deal with these problem nests is to wait until nightfall when temperatures are cooler and knock off the nest with a garden hose spray nozzle. The wasps that survive will abandon the nest and move on.
As any realtor knows, complications can arise when buyers apply for government loans such as VA or FHA/HUD loans. Home inspectors do not specifically inspect for compliance with these rules, but a home inspection will usually turn up anything that might also trigger a government loan rejection. Fortunately, most of the rules that apply to these loans are fairly common-sense and ensure that buyers are moving in to homes that are safe, structurally sound, and re-sellable—all of which is in the buyers' best interest in the long run.
Not everything listed as a concern in an inspection report is necessarily a problem for loan appraisers. For example, missing handrails, cracked windows, minor plumbing leaks, and damaged sheetrock are all explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) minimum property requirements handbook as things that are not necessarily red flags. Asbestos siding or pipe insulation may also be acceptable, as long as it is intact and undisturbed. Likewise, radon testing is not currently required for these loans.
Below are a few things you might find in an inspection report that CAN trigger loan rejections.
-Roofs: Handbooks for FHA/HUD loans and VA loans both list similar rules for roofs. They want to see a roof that has a life expectancy of at least 5 years. A life expectancy of less than 2 years is a definite red flag. Three or more layers of shingles is also a problem, because installing a new roof without first stripping the old shingles significantly reduces the life expectancy of the roof. Even two layers may be too many if the newest layer has a life expectancy of less than 2 years. In either case, a new roof will be required.
-Lead paint: Any home built before 1978 is assumed to have lead paint. This is not a problem if the paint is maintained and intact, but if paint on an older house is chipping, peeling, or crumbling, a rejection may ensue.
-Adequate heat: if a wood stove is used as the primary source of heat, a backup system capable of providing 100% of the heating load will be required. This also applies to a solar hot water system.
-Gutters: The HUD handbook requires gutters on homes where the eaves are less than 12” (single story) or 24” (two story) deep. This is to protect the foundation from water intrusion.
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Radon is a slightly radioactive gas that is produced in the earth's crust when naturally-occurring traces of Uranium break down into other elements. Radon is invisible and odorless, and it is all around us in the air we breathe. Usually, radon levels are low enough that they pose no threat to human health, but sometimes, when conditions are right, unhealthy levels of radon can build up in enclosed spaces. If people are exposed to high radon levels for long periods, it can lead to lung cancer. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 21,000 people die from radon-related lung cancer in the United States each year.
The most accurate radon measurement techniques involve monitoring radon over the course of an entire year. This is because radon levels can vary wildly depending on many factors such as time of day, atmospheric pressure, temperature and humidity. But spikes and dips are not important with radon. The relevant data point for radon exposure is the average daily exposure over time. For this reason, there would be little value in an “instant” radon measurement.
In the real estate business, where transactions usually happen on short time frames, year-long testing would be impractical. However,as radon awareness spreads there has been an increasing demand for radon testing among home buyers. The current consensus is that the shortest useful measurement of radon levels in a home is 48 hours, and this has become the standard practice in the US.
Radon test results are expressed in pCi/L. According to the EPA, results averaging above 4.0pCi/L are considered unsafe. Radon mitigation measures are recommended in those cases. Specialized contractors install systems to draw off radon gas from beneath the building's foundation before it can enter the home.
Due to the high demand for radon testing, Brett Inspections has invested in a high-end radon air testing machine that can provide a detailed report the same day it is picked up from the testing site. The Corentium Pro contains four separate silicon photodiode sensors to provide parallel results that ensure greater accuracy. In addition, temperature, air pressure, and humidity sensors monitor and control for local conditions when creating the report. A tilt sensor and lockable controls even prevent tampering while the test is ongoing. The Corentium Pro is AARST/NRPP-certified for home inspections and radon testing.
Brett Inspections is now offering radon air testing (48 hr test duration) for $100 as part of a standard home inspection, or $150 as a stand-alone test. Please mention any required test when scheduling the inspection so we can assure the equipment is available.
A Few Words About Decks
In the USA today, there are about 45 million decks in use residentially. Every year decks or deck railings fail, causing injury and occasionally death to the people using them. Knowing some deck basics may help you be aware of potential safety issues that need to be corrected before someone gets hurt.
Around 90% of deck collapses occur because the deck pulled away from the building before tipping over. A ledger is the beam or board that connects a deck to the house and carries the weight on that side of the deck. It is usually a pressure-treated 2x8 or 2x10 board. Getting a safe and solid connection is key here. Generally speaking, this requires the ledger to be lag-screwed or lag-bolted directly to the house framing with no spacers other than flat sheathing. Fasteners should be a minimum of 3/8 inches in diameter and use washers between the head and the wood of the ledger.
How many fasteners are required depends on the size of the deck. The following equation is a good rule of thumb: On-center spacing of fasteners (in inches)=100÷joist length (in feet). For example, a 12 foot long joist should have ledger fasteners spaced no more than 8.33 inches apart (100÷12=8.33). For maximum holding power, fasteners should be placed no less than 2 inches from the top or bottom of the ledger, and no closer than 5 inches to either end.
Joist hangers are another important safety feature on any deck. They ensure that the joists have a strong and stable connection to the supporting ledger or girder, and help prevent a catastrophic failure of the deck. Toe-nailing with framing nails through the joist end is a notoriously unreliable connection. Any deck built in this manner should have properly sized joist hangers installed. This is usually an easy fix, and could potentially save lives.
Only special joist hanger nails should be used to nail off hangers. These are specifically engineered to have the required shear strength and holding power for the purpose. Undersized, rusty, or corroded nails in joist hangers are concerns that should be addressed without delay.
Railings and Child Safety
One of the most common concerns found with decks is with their railings and balusters. Any deck over 30 inches should have a railing at least 32 in. (residential) or 42 in. (commercial) tall, and supported by well-secured posts every 6 feet or less. Often, the lack of barriers that would prevent small children from falling through openings is found as a defect. To be child-safe, balusters should be spaced no wider than 4 3/8 inches apart. Additionally, the triangular space between the stair treads and railing should not allow a 6 inch diameter sphere to pass through. On open-backed stairs, a 4 in. sphere should not be able to pass through between the treads.
There are many more potential issues with decks. Those listed above are the most important, and the most commonly seen in inspections.
One of the most common concerns found in home inspections is the lack or improper placement of smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms. While it is relatively easy to fix these problems, failing to do so could leave the occupants of a home at greater risk in the event of a fire or back-drafting of a heating appliance.
The current guidelines for smoke alarms call for a smoke alarm in each bedroom AND on the ceiling or wall outside each separate sleeping area (usually a hallway or stairwell) AND on each story of the building. This includes a basement or cellar (preferably on the ceiling near the stairs), but not a crawlspace or attic. There should also be a smoke alarm in garages where the temperature is controlled.
CO alarms should be located on each level of a home, and may be combination smoke/CO alarms.
The proper placement of a smoke alarm is on the ceiling, or on a wall between 6 and 12 inches down from the ceiling. In a room with a vaulted ceiling, the alarm should be located no more than 36 inches and no less than 4 inches from the peak.
Due to the increased likelihood of false alarms and/or decreased accuracy, smoke alarms should NOT be placed in the following locations:
-Near a window, within 36” of a ceiling fan, or near a heating or A/C appliance
-In a bathroom with a shower or tub, where steamy air could cause a false alarm
-In a kitchen near a cooking appliance
-In an unfinished attic or garage where the temperature may fall outside the 40-100ºF range.
-In dead-air spots
In Vermont, state law has required the installation of smoke alarms in all new homes since 1994. As of 2008, smoke alarms are required to be of the photoelectric type only, and to be hardwired with a battery backup. Combination photoelectric smoke alarm/CO alarms are allowed, but not combination photoelectric/ionization alarms.
Being aware of these guidelines can help home sellers make the best impression, and give buyers the information they need to achieve maximum fire safety in their new home.
Many older homes in our area were insulated using vermiculite. This is an odorless, lightweight product made by exposing the mineral vermiculite to high heat, causing it to expand like a puffed-grain cereal. The resulting product is brown-grey to silver-gold in color and comes in small, roughly pebble-sized blocky chunks. These lightweight pieces were shipped in bags and poured loose into attics and wall cavities, where they formed an effective insulation layer.
Vermiculite itself is a harmless, inert substance. However, many naturally-occurring vermiculite deposits are found adjacent to asbestos deposits. This was the case for a large mine in Libby, Montana. That mine operated from 1919 to 1990, and supplied 70% of the vermiculite sold in the US during that time. Because the mine was strongly contaminated with asbestos and supplied such a large part of the market, it is safe to assume that any vermiculite found in a home built or insulated with vermiculite during that time period is contaminated with asbestos.
If you find vermiculite in a home, the best thing to do is to leave it undisturbed and take steps to insure it does not get tracked into the living areas. This means leaving the attic alone and not using it for storage. Caution should be taken during any construction or renovation work not to disturb the vermiculite and not to track it through the house. Sealing up any cracks or gaps in ceilings where dust might fall into the living area is also a good idea.
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