Sunday, January 7, 2018

Signs of Frozen Water Pipes and What to Watch For

When the temperatures drop, one major issue that could come up is a frozen water pipe.   Know why frozen pipes are so dangerous, the types of pipes that are most vulnerable to freezing and signs that a pipe is actually frozen.

Why Are Frozen Pipes Dangerous?

They can create an inconvenience but, more seriously, can cause major damage to your property.

Lack of Running Water– The most obvious danger of a frozen pipe is the inability to access running water.  This can interfere with your everyday tasks such as washing the dishes or taking a shower

Potential to Burst- The second problem that can occur when a pipe freezes is that the pipe actually bursts.  Once the actual water in the pipe freezes, pressure is created between the closed faucet and the blockage that can build up to a point that causes the pipe to burst.

Pipes That Are Vulnerable to Freezing

There are some pipes that are more vulnerable to freezing than others:

Southern Climates- Pipes that are located in climates which rarely see cold temperatures may be particularly vulnerable to freezing as we just learned with this Januarys freeze.  This is due to the lack of insulation around the pipes.  Since these areas rarely see temperatures around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, water pipes are more likely to be located in areas of the property which are not properly insulated against the cold. 

 •Exterior Walls- Water pipes that are located along the exterior walls of a home can be vulnerable to freezing.  This is because they may not have the adequate amount of insulation protecting them from the exterior temperatures.

Attics and Basements/Crawlspaces- Pipes that are located in attics, crawlspaces or in basements may also have a greater tendency to freeze.  These pipes may not receive the same amount of heat as the rest of the property.  If these areas are not used as living space, they also may not be properly insulated.

Signs of Frozen Pipes

There are a few clues which can help you determine if you have frozen pipes:

The Temperature Is Right- Pipes cannot freeze if it is not cold enough outside for them to do so.  Water does not freeze when it is 60 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and neither do pipes.  When the temperature falls to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, you should begin to take precautions to prevent vulnerable pipes from freezing.

There Is Frost on the Pipe- For pipes that can actively be seen, such as those under sinks, you may be able to see frost that has accumulated on the exterior of the pipe.  This can serve as a warning sign that the pipe is frozen before you ever try to turn on the faucet.

No Water Is Coming Out of the Faucet- Another sign that you may have a frozen pipe on your hands is lack of running water.  If you turn on a kitchen or bathroom faucet and only a slight trickle of water or no water at all comes out, the water pipe leading to the faucet may be frozen.
Strange Smells- Another potential sign of a blocked pipe is an odd smell coming from a faucet or drain. If the pipe is partially or completely blocked, the only way the odor can escape is back up in the direction of your property.

Act Quickly

Once you are aware that a pipe is frozen, you must act quickly to thaw the pipe.  Depending on the location of the pipe and your level of expertise, you can attempt to thaw the pipe yourself or you can contact a licensed plumber to thaw the pipe for you.  It is imperative to thaw the pipe as soon as possible, because it has the potential to burst and cause extensive damage to your property.

How Much Does a Frozen Pipe Cost to Fix?

It is very difficult to estimate the cost of fixing a frozen pipe because each situation is so unique. Two factors that play a huge role in cost are the location of the pipe and whether the pipe has burst.

If you are able to easily access the blockage, such as a pipe under a kitchen sink, you might be able to thaw the blockage for free using hair dryer or hot rags.

If the blockage is buried in a wall, fixing the issue will become more expensive. You may spend a few hundred dollars cutting open sheetrock to find the problem or more than a thousand if you need to hire a plumber find and thaw out the blockage.

If a frozen pipe bursts and you have a flooding issue on your hands, you could be faced with thousands of dollars of damage. You will have to hire a plumber to fix the burst pipe and then you will have to deal with fixing any damage the water has caused inside your property. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Don’t get all your inspections done on the same day

I recently had a client who was purchasing a newly renovated house (flip) in Plainfield.   Plainfield now a day is usually out of my travel distance.   But this client was special.   He was the seller of a house I did an inspection on a few months back for the buyer.   Since the travel distance was too far I had to tell him I could not do a radon test (which meant two round trips to the location).   He had no problem with that, he just wanted me to do the inspection.  On that day I was doing the home and termite inspections.   There was a tank sweep going on and a radon test being placed.   Multiple tests and inspections happening the same day (approximately $1000).  At the end of my inspection my client and their realtor were in a heated discussion the floor above me.   My client came down, I told him I was finished and he says that’s great, I’m not getting the house.   What had happened the lawyer had just called and told him not to do any inspections this day.   It seems his lawyer never received the signed agreement from the sellers lawyer.  The sellers accepted a higher offer from someone else.   I have discussed this with others multiple times.   I have an old blog entry and Youtube video about this same scenario.  “Don’t get all your inspections done on the same day”.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Home Inspection and A Home Warranty

A home inspection is a limited, non-invasive examination of the condition of a home, often in connection with the sale of that home.   Home inspections are usually conducted by a home inspector who has the training and certifications to perform such inspections.   But a home inspection is no guaranty the systems in a house will operate for ever with no problems.

A home warranty is a one-year service agreement that covers the repair or replacement of many major home system components and appliances that typically breakdown over time due to normal wear and tear.   The home inspection is no crystal ball.  It will tell you the condition of the house and its systems the day of inspection only.

Unlike homeowner's insurance, a home warranty is a service contract that covers essential applications and home system components when they break down due to normal wear and tear – items that most homeowners insurance plans do not cover.   Consider it the perfect complement to this standard insurance, not a substitute for it.

The question isn't whether or not a breakdown will happen; it's if you'll have a plan to deal with the associated expenses and headaches.  The home inspection was a great fist start but it only goes so far

Friday, July 7, 2017

Home Inspection: What is a Town home/Condo?

Recently I have been getting requests to inspect a town home/condo.   My question to the potential client was what is it?  Is it a town home or a condo?  To my surprise most didn’t know the difference.  So let’s understand what each is.   

What is a condominium?

A condominium, or condo, is a building or community of buildings in which units are owned by individuals, rather than a landlord.  Condo owners only own the interior of their unit. All other areas, including the building exterior, lawn and communal areas are property of the Homeowners Association (HOA).

What is a town home?

A town home is defined as conjoined units that are owned by individual tenants. They are architecturally similar to row houses in that owners usually share at least one or more walls.  In most town home communities, owners own their unit’s interior and exterior, including the roof, lawn and driveway, but not the communal areas.

The problem at hand is there are condo’s on the market that look like town homes and the buyers are not being instructed as to the difference.  So to summarize the difference and make this as simple as possible to understand.  No matter what it looks like, a condominium is walls in only, which is all that is being purchased.  Also when you call a home inspector for an inspection be sure what you ask for, you may be paying for more than you need.  Know what you’re buying.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Spring Has Sprung

Here are a few tips to get your house back into shape after the cold winter.   Now is a good time because the weather is accommodating, with very little debris from plants and trees being blown around.

1.      Masonry:   I always say, “Anytime you see a crack fill it”.  Take a walk around your house.  Look at everything that is made of masonry.   Your brick house, sidewalks, stairs, and foundation.  If there is a crack fill it.  When the weather gets cold again, water in these cracks can freeze, expand and cause more damage.

2.      Gutters:   Check the condition of your gutters.   Gutters are used to control water run-off from the roof.   But when it is cold, water can freeze and the weight of the ice over a long period of time can cause damage.

3.      Driveways:    Black top (asphalt) driveways last about fifteen to twenty years in our area.  But you can extend that life expectancy by tarring any cracks, preventing moisture from doing any more damage.   And sealing the whole driveway to extend its life expectancy every year.  Now is a good time to do this because leaves and debris are not being blown around.

4.      Drainage:    Does the ground around your house slope away from the foundation?  By directing water away from the foundation can help keep a basement dry.  One way to have this addressed is by having a grading and drainage expert take a look.  He or she will guide you to a dryer basement. 

5.      Furnace:   Your heating system has been working hard during the colder months.  Now is a good time to have your heating expert or PSE&G do any needed maintenance and cleaning.  Their demand for service is lower now and you can avoid the rush when winter comes again.

6.      HVAC (Cooling):   Preventive maintenance is the key word.  Have the HVAC system checked out before the heat comes.   This is especially true if your system is older.  The outside compressor is good for 15 years in our area.   Then it needs tender loving care.   Also make sure the trap on the air-handler in the attic did not crack during the colder months.  You don’t want to wake up to your wife yelling “the ceiling is leaking”, (it happened to me).

7.      Radon Test:   What is radon?  Radon is the natural decomposition of radioactive material in the ground.   The long and short of it is.  Long exposure to high doses can cause lung cancer.  Did you already have a test done?  Things change.  It is advisable to test every two years.   And did you know that thermal frost of the ground can affect the results of a test.  Cold weather testing can be different than warm weather testing.

8.      Home Inspection:   Last but not least, a home inspection.  You don’t have to have a home inspection done only when you’re buying a house.  By having a home inspection done in the spring will tell you how your home weathered the winter.  And the report will provide you with a list of issues that can be addressed.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

5 Ways Heating and Cooling Issues Can Disrupt a Home Sale

1. Leaks and emissions

Whether it's the escape of refrigerant or gasses, leaks are among the most common—and potentially dangerous—problems you're likely to encounter with an HVAC unit.

2. Bad parts

In some cases, a leak can be the first indication of something bigger like a furnace that failed the gas inspection due to a bad heat exchanger.

The heat exchanger is one of the most critical components of the furnace as it is the mechanism for converting fuel to heat.    A broken heat exchanger has the potential to release gas into the air, making this a dangerous, and expensive.   Unfortunately, this problem isn't likely to be caught with a standard home inspection.

3. Poor installation or maintenance

Annual maintenance plays a huge role in how well an HVAC system holds up.   Homeowners who neglect annual maintenance may be in for a rude awakening when it's time to sell.

An inspection was performed recently and pointed out to the buyer the poor condition of the air-conditioning unit:  the vent pipe was disconnected and air that was meant to go outside was blowing around inside the AC closet.   While this fix was an easy one, the buyer was turned off and ended up making an offer on the other home." 

4. Old age

Old boiler (furnace). 

According to the National Association of Home Builders, most HVAC systems have a life expectancy of between 15 and 20 years.  Depending on how they're maintained, some may hold on longer than others.   Recently an inspection of an older home—over 100 years—had an ancient furnace that needed to be replaced.   It was leaking and there were numerous other issues.

5. Missing parts

Vacant homes make an all-too-easy target for vandalism and theft.  The components inside HVAC equipment can prove tantalizing to thieves who will scrap the materials for cash.   This has been seen many times with short sales and foreclosures.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Winter Is Here Prepare

Everyone puts off those last minute maintenance chores until the weather turns cold.  So we felt bringing back this previous blog entry, a list of items that will make the transition into winter mode that much easier.
Furnace Inspection;  Having your furnace inspected and is operating at peak efficiency is a wise investment.  Typical cost for a technician to inspect and clean your furnace is around $80 to $100.00.  This is a small price to pay to avoid a costly repair on the coldest day of the year when your furnace won’t start.  Change your furnace filter every 30 days or so, if you have animals who shed hair a more frequent replacement might be required.
Check or have your chimney checked for any cracks, missing brick or mortar or loose rain cap.  The freezing thawing action of water penetrating small cracks can do a lot of damage over the winter season.  If you have a wood burning fireplace you should consider having it cleaned prior to use and have the flue tiles inspected for any cracks or deficiencies.
If you have ceiling fans now is a good time to clean the dust and lint off the blades and reverse direction of motor.  Forcing the warm air down will make your living area feel much more cozy.

Windows & Doors
Caulking Windows;  Clean your windows and doors inside and out.   This is a great time to check your seals and exterior caulking.  Ensuring your seams on brick and concrete window sills are not open can save you a lot of money on needless repairs later on.   Water can enter your exposed seams cracking mortar and eventually damaging the brick below.  This “spalling” as it is known, happens when clay style brick absorbs moisture, which then freezes and blows off part of the brick surface.
Check all your door closures to ensure they all operate smoothly.  Screen doors should have glass panels lowered or installed on older models.  Basement windows screens in window wells are susceptible to damage from rodents and other small animals.  Screens should be removed and stored for the winter.  Replace any damaged door seals or sweeps to prevent drafts from entering home during the cold months.  Operate your garage doors and lightly grease track for smoother and quieter operation.

Roofs & Gutters
Flashing Not Sealed on Roof; Inspect your roofs shingles for any damaged or missing tabs.  Pay close attention to any flashings on walls or chimneys to ensure that they are completely sealed.  Caulk any suspect areas to be doubly sure of preventing any roof leaks.   Clean out any debris in gutters and ensure your downspouts and extensions are in good condition.  If you have an older home using heating cables for eaves or downspouts, now is a good time to ensure that they are in good working order.   Put away your rain barrels and ensure your splash pads and extensions are directing water away from your home.

Draining Exterior; Tap Drain all your exterior water lines to prevent freezing.  I personally always leave the exterior tap open and have never had a freeze up problem.  If you have hose reels installed, now is a good time to store them after draining out the water.  On older homes with crawlspaces now is a good time to close ventilation vents and cover with insulation in preparation for winter.  Any in ground sprinkler lines should have already been blown out by your sprinkler maintenance company, if not call them immediately.
Wrapping your hot water tank and hot water lines with insulation can save you money all year long.  Check your sump pump by either lifting float or pouring water into unit to ensure it is in operating condition.

Drafts & Air Leaks
Energy experts estimate about 30% of the heat in your home is lost to leaks and drafts.  Adding foam seals to exterior wall outlets can stop and lot of heat loss.  Check any penetrations on the exterior wall of your house and seal any gaps with caulking, this stops both cold air and moisture from entering your home.  Check you interior for leaks and missing insulation at penetrations.  Most contractors will not replace your vapor barrier or insulation when they install electrical or heating vents.  Replacing insulation and re-sealing vapor barrier can save a lot of heat loss over the course of a winter.