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Wednesday
Jun012011

Aluminum Wiring Risks

ALUMINUM WIRE RISK: The Aluminum Electrical Wiring Risks & Hazards Explained

Photograph of overheating aluminum-wired electrical outlet Photograph of overheating aluminum-wired electrical outlet

Aluminum wiring, used in some homes from the mid 1960's to the early 1970's, is a potential fire hazard. How safe is aluminum wiring?

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, fires and even deaths have been reported to have been caused by this hazard. Problems due to aluminum wiring expansion , or much more likely micro-fretting and arcing at the aluminum wiring connectors, can cause overheating at connections between the wire and devices (switches and outlets) or at aluminum wire splices. The connections can become hot enough to start a fire without ever tripping a circuit breaker!

The photos shown above are not the most dramatic catastrophes linked to fires caused by aluminum wiring. But these are conditions that are found in many homes with aluminum wiring, confirming that this is a real, common, and widespread hazard.

CPSC research shows that "homes wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1972 are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach "Fire Hazard Conditions" than are homes wired with copper. "Post 1972" aluminum wire is also a concern. Introduction of the aluminum wire "alloys" in 1972 time frame did not solve most of the connection failure problems.

Aluminum wiring is still permitted and used for certain applications, including residential service entrance wiring and single-purpose higher amperage circuits such as 240V air conditioning or electric range circuits. The fire risk from single purpose circuits is much less than for branch circuits.

But it's not necessarily because of a "new alloy" as some folks assert. It's because there are enormously fewer connections (four or six rather than 30 or 40 per circuit) and thus statistically a smaller chance of a connection failure. These connections do still burn up, as indicated by field reports.

Tuesday
Apr192011

5 reasons to consider mold testing

  1. People in the building are at particular health risk: elderly, infant, immune-impaired, asthmatic, history of respiratory illness or other medical complaints which might be caused by or aggravated by mold, allergens, or other bioaerosols
  2. People in the building are sick and there is reason to suspect that the building is causing or contributing to health, air quality, or similar concerns. You need a building or apartment evaluation and diagnosis to answer the question that may be posed by your doctor: might the building be contributing to or causing these complaints?
  3. The building has or is suspected of having had a history of significant leak events or even a single event which flooded some areas: plumbing leaks, roof leaks, ice dam leaks, basement water entry, sewer backup, ventilation problems, air conditioning system problems; forced-air central heating/cooling concerns. If hidden building cavities have been wet, the mold you see may be just the tip of a "mold iceberg" that does need an expert to find the extent of mold, cause of mold, and to remove the mold.
  4. Large areas of water damage or mold contamination have been seen and you need an estimate of the extent of demolition and mold remediation which will be needed to make a proper cleanup and repair.

    Small mold problems: If you are confident that the amount of mold is less than 30 sq. ft. of contiguous mold (and that there is no significant risk of a larger hidden mold problem) then the NY City mold remediation guidelines suggest that professional remediation is not appropriate. You do not need to hire someone other than perhaps a handyman or general cleaning service. BEWARE: if during cleanup of a small mold problem you discover that it is actually a large one, stop work and bring in a professional to advise you on how to proceed.

    Large mold problems: If more than 30 sq. ft. of mold-infected material is found or is already visible, then you need professional advice as more serious health risks and mold contamination may be involved.
  5. Contractors have already bid a variety of expensive mold-cleanup approaches to building cleanup/remediation and you need an unbiased, informed professional to help sort out these proposals
Tuesday
Apr122011

10 ways to prepare for a home inspection

1. Clean debris from gutters and roof

2. Caulk around windows and doors

3. Seal asphalt driveway

4. Clean HVAC filters

5. Seal basement walls

6. Clean the chimney

7. Replace burned out light bulbs

8. Have all documentation on hand for recent repairs and inspections

9. Remove firewood from contact with the house

10. Clear access to attic, crawl space, and garage

TIP: Encourage sellers to resist the impulse to make quick, cheap repairs before an inspection. You may raise a question that produces undue concern with the buyers.

The 10 Most Common Home Inspection Problems

1. Faulty wiring—open junction boxes, amperage mismatches, no wire nuts on wires.

The cure: Fix junction boxes; upgrade to at least 100 amps.

2. Poor grading and drainage—spongy soil around the foundation, signs of leaking in basement.

The cure: Regrade so that grounds slopes away from house for 10 feet; remove porous material around foundation.

3. Faulty gutters—clogged or bent gutters, water not channeled away from house.

The cure: Preventive maintenance; gutters of adequate size, splash pans to divert run-off.

4. Basement dampness—water stains, powdery residue on walls, mold or mildew.

The cure: Repair gutters to channel water away from house; apply waterproof coatings to basement.

5. Roof problems—brittle or curled shingles; broken or missing flashings.

The cure: Apply new shingle, or tear off if needed (usually after two re-roofs ); replacing flashings, especially around chimneys and other protrusions.

6. Foundation flaws—cracks in foundation, sloping floors, sticking doors or windows.

The cure: Fill cracks with silicon caulking or epoxy; apply waterproof coating to exterior.

7. Poor upkeep—needs repainting, worn carpeting, cracked driveway.

The cure: Give the house a minor facelift.

8. Faulty plumbing—inadequate water pressure, slow drains, signs of leaks on ceilings.

The cure: Clean and rout drains; reseat toilet with new wax ring, repair leaks.

9. Poor ventilation—extreme heat in attic, vapor condensation.

The cure: Ensure that roof soffits are not blocked; install additional roof vents; vent bathroom and kitchen fans outside.

10. Defective heating—cracks in the heat exchanger or water tank; carbon monoxide leaks.

The cure: Reseal chimney flues; replace sacrificial anode in water heater.

Wednesday
Apr062011

Homeowner Maintenance Plan

There are so many home maintenance and repair items that are important; it can be confusing trying to establish which are the most critical. To simplify things, we have compiled a short list of our favorites. These are by no means all-inclusive, nor do they replace any of the information in a home inspection report. They should, however, help you get started on the right foot. Remember, any items marked as priority or safety issues on your home inspection report need immediate attention.

One-Time Tasks

1. Install smoke detectors as necessary (They need to be installed in all bedrooms). Install carbon monoxide detectors, according to manufacturer’s recommendations.
2. Make any electrical improvements recommended in the home inspection report.
3. Remove any wood/soil contact to prevent rot and insect damage.
4. Change the locks on all doors. Use a dead bolt for better security and to minimize insurance costs.
5. Correct trip hazards such as broken or uneven walks and driveways, loose or torn carpet or uneven flooring.
6. Correct unsafe stairways and landings. (Railings missing, loose, too low, et cetera.)
7. Have all chimneys inspected before operating any of these appliances.
8. Locate and mark the shut-offs for the heating, electrical and plumbing systems.
9. Label the circuits in electrical panels.
10. If there is a septic system, have the tank pumped and inspected. If the house is on a private water supply (well), set up a regular testing procedure for checking water quality.

Regular Maintenance Items

11. Clean the gutters in the spring and fall.
12. Check for damaged roofing and flashing materials twice a year.
13. Cut back trees and shrubs from the house walls, roof and air conditioning system as needed.
14. Clean the tracks on horizontal sliding windows annually, and ensure the drain holes are clear.
15. Test ground fault circuit interrupters, carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors using the test button, monthly.
16. Service furnace or boiler yearly.
17. Check furnace filters, humidifiers and electronic air cleaners monthly.
18. Check the bathtub and shower caulking monthly and improve promptly as needed.
19. Shut off outdoor water faucets in the fall.
20. Check reversing mechanism on garage door opener monthly.
21. Check attics for evidence of leaks and condensation and make sure vents are not obstructed, at least twice a year. (Provide access into all attics and crawl spaces.)

Saturday
Apr022011

Chimney Inspection Scam

Watch out for consumer fraud and scam operations that promise low-priced specials on chimney inspection, cleaning, re-lining, or repairs. Readers have informed us of a variety of common chimney rip offs involving professional criminals who combine information about new home buyers and local business names with a telephone promise of various chimney services such as chimney cleaning for $39.95. Homeowners attracted to this chimney deal may encounter scammers who arrive with a ladder, take a superficial look at a chimney, and claim that the chimney is unsafe, needs re-lining, or other treatment.

How to Avoid the Chimney Sweep Fraud Scam

These warnings [adapted& quoting from] from the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection can help consumers avoid getting scammed by a fake chimney service company:

  • To find a reputable chimney sweep, ask friends for referrals, look in the business section of your telephone directory under "Chimney Cleaning,” or visit the Chimney Safety Institute of America web site at www.csia.org. You can also visit the site for the National Chimney Sweep Guild (NCSG) at www.ncsg.org.Many sweeps apply for certification by CSIA or membership in the NCSG. These organizations promote professionalism in the industry by testing applicants and offering continuing education opportunities to keep members up to date on changing technology and fire safety.>
  • NEVER hire a chimney sweep who shows up at your door uninvited. There are many home improvement scams that commonly take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners; fly-by-night chimney sweep scams is one of the most prevalent
  • Be aware of telemarketing offers where someone offers you a very, very low price to come and clean your chimney. If someone is trying to get in at a very low price or is calling you out of the blue, they may just want to get their foot in the door, because they're really looking to do some type of repair work.
  • Some scammers provide photos they claim are from inside or outside your chimney, as evidence to convince you that your chimney needs repair. You have to be sure the photos are actually from your house. So any pictures that are provided to justify getting work done should include something in the photo or in the background that identifies it as your home
  • Some scam artists show debris from a chimney as an indicator of something that's broken. If the company claims that this debris shows that your liner is broken or collapsed that you need a new liner system, get a second opinion, or have them show you where it is broken.
  • Be aware of attempts to frighten you. If you get the feeling that a salesperson or sweeper is using terms like carbon monoxide poisoning or house fire in a way that feels alarming, you should get another opinion. This could very well be a hard sell tactic.
  • If you are being pushed to make an immediate decision, then make the decision to look for someone else.