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Wednesday
Mar162011

Termites

Termites are the major wood-destroying structural pests in the southern United States. According to some estimates, over $2 billion are spent annually in the U.S. controlling or preventing termite infestations. In North Carolina, our main problem is with subterranean termites, i.e., termites that normally live below ground and may move up into a structure where they cause damage.

Termites are "social insects", i.e., they live in a nest or colony which is typically found underground, often near a tree, stump, wood pile or other source of 'food'. Each colony contains a king and queen who are brown in color. The queen is able to lay thousands of eggs each year. There are also soldier termites which have large heads equipped with large mandibles ("jaws"). The soldiers protect the colony from invaders (such as ants). The majority of the colony consists of thousands of whitish workers who have various jobs within the colony. Some workers take care of the queen and the newly hatching immature (sometimes called "larvae"). Other workers forage (search) for food. The foraging workers are the ones that we find infesting wood. As the colony grows, the workers expand the nest and their feeding area. A mature colony will contain 200,000 to 2,000,000 workers, although many colonies contain as few as 50,000-60,000. Studies have also shown that termites from a single colony may forage across an area of one-third acre and travel over 200 feet from their nest. One acre of land may support several termite colonies (although this doesn't mean that all of them are invading your home!). A large termite colony does not usually occupy a single underground nest. As the foraging area expands the colony actually splits to form several smaller "nesting sites".

 

SIGNS OF TERMITE ACTIVITY

Without a periodic inspection of your home, termite activity can remain undetected for years. Some signs of their activity show up unexpectedly, while others are discovered by accident or during renovations. Here are some key signs of a termite infestation:

Swarming -
A termite colony matures in 3-5 years and begins to produce
swarmers (winged adults). In North Carolina, we have at least three species of termites that begin swarming in late winter and continue into September or October. Swarming usually occurs during the day, particularly on warm days following rain. Swarmers found outdoors near tree stumps, landscape timbers, etc., are not an indication that your house is infested, but they serve as a reminder that termites live around us. When swarming occurs indoors, it usually means that you have an infestation somewhere within your house. Several species of ants also swarm at the same times of the year as termites. Winged termites and ants look somewhat similar, but you can tell them apart by certain features. If you're not sure whether you have termites or ants, show them to a pest control professional or bring specimens to your county Cooperative Extension Center for identification.

Mud tubes
Unlike ants, termites do not roam around out in the open. They will either tunnel through wood (or other material) or else travel inside pencil-size (or larger) mud tubes that they build from soil, wood particles and other materials. You will find these tubes on foundation walls, floor joists or other parts of the house. Tubes may also hang from the floor system (see picture below) or may be found protruding from cracks between boards and beams and even through holes termites may chew through sheet rock on walls and ceilings. Break open the tubes to see if termites are still active. An empty tube doesn't necessarily mean that termites are gone; they may have simply abandoned this particular tunnel. Termites often rebuild damaged tubes, which is another indication of current activity. 'Old' tubes are dry and crumble easily, leaving behind "etching" on the surface that may be visible for years (an indication that a house had termite activity at some time). Without knowing the inspection history of the house, it is impossible to tell or guess at the age of tunnels or etching.

Tubes that are found on ceilings or on the second floor of buildings may indicate that you have a "secondary" or aboveground ("aerial") infestation, i.e., the termite colony actually lives in the building and the termites are traveling up from the soil. Mud tubes built by an aboveground colony usually contain materials other than soil, e.g., wood and sheet rock or whatever the termites are feeding on. Secondary infestations occur when there is a serious moisture problem or leak somewhere within the structure. In such situations, a thorough inspection may require removal of siding or interior wallboards, etc. More importantly for you, secondary infestations cannot be controlled with the usual soil treatment. Finding and correcting the moisture problem is the first step to eliminating the termites.

 

Friday
Mar112011

Mold in the home

The first thing to understand about mold is that there is a little mold everywhere – indoors and outdoors.  It’s in the air and can be found on plants, foods, dry leaves, and other organic materials.  It’s very common to find molds in homes and buildings.  After all, mold grows naturally indoors.  And mold spores enter the home through doorways, windows, and heating
and air conditioning systems. Spores also enter the home on animals,
clothing, shoes, bags and people.

When mold spores drop where there is excessive moisture in your home,
they will grow. Common problem sites include humidifiers, leaky roofs and
pipes, overflowing sinks, bath tubs and plant pots, steam from cooking,
wet clothes drying indoors, dryers exhausting indoors, or where there has
been flooding.

Many of the building materials for homes provide suitable nutrients for
mold, helping it to grow. Such materials include paper and paper products,
cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood and wood products, dust, paints, wallpaper,
insulation materials, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery.

The importance of mold in the real estate market today

Much has been made of indoor mold in advertising and the media lately,
so it’s a common concern for homeowners and buyers. It's common to find
mold even in new homes. Whether you’re selling your current home or
looking into buying one, it’s vital to get a mold inspection. Presence of
active mold can drastically affect the resale value of any home.

For homeowners, a mold test will either put your mind at rest or make
you aware of any problems that could otherwise cause delays or deal
breakers once you’ve entered negotiations with a buyer. A professional  
mold tester will give you a signed report from an expert before you put the
home up for sale. Imagine being able to show a “clean bill of health” to
potential buyers that express concerns – they’ll be impressed by your
thoroughness and commitment to your home.

For buyers, getting a mold test will ensure that you’re not surprised by
costly clean up and the potential health hazards of mold. If any mold is
found to be present and active in the home, the mold inspection will
allow you to ask the seller to do the clean up prior to buying the home.

Exposure to mold

Everyone is exposed to some amount of mold on a daily basis, most
without any apparent reaction. Generally mold spores can cause problems
when they are present in large numbers and a person inhales large
quantities of them. This occurs primarily when there is active mold growth.

For some people, a small exposure to mold spores can trigger an asthma
attack or lead to other health problems. For others, symptoms may only
occur when exposure levels are much higher.

The health effects of mold can vary. The production of allergens or irritants
can cause mild allergic reactions and asthma attacks. The production of
potentially toxic mycotoxins can cause more severe reactions, and in rare
cases death.

Should I be concerned about mold in my home?

Yes. If indoor mold is extensive, those in your home can be exposed to
very high and persistent airborne mold spores. It is possible to become
sensitized to these mold spores and develop allergies or other health
concerns, even if one is not normally sensitive to mold.

Left unchecked, mold growth can cause structural damage to your home
as well as permanent damage to furnishings and carpet.

According to the Centers for Disease Control*, "It is not necessary,
however, to determine what type of mold you may have. All molds should
be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal."

Can my home be tested for mold?

Yes. We offer thorough mold testing that involves visual examinations of
the most likely areas to harbor mold. We also take air samples indoors
and out to determine whether the number of spores inside your home is
significantly higher. If the indoor level is higher, it could mean that mold is
growing inside your home.

How do I remove mold from my home?

First address the source of moisture that is allowing the mold to grow.  
Then take steps to clean up the contamination.

mold in the home

Sunday
Mar062011

Thermal Imaging

Infrared cameras are the latest technology being used for fast, reliable, accurate building diagnosis in a wide range of building problems, from post-catastrophe fire and flood investigations to chronic leaks and moisture problems.   Moisture in building materials can destroy structural integrity and nurture mold. The first step in moisture problem remediation is to quickly and accurately locate and remove all sources of moisture. By finding variations in temperature, Infrared cameras instantly show you what’s wet and what’s dry.  For example, an area that is damp from a plumbing leak will heat up at a different rate than a dry area. The variations in heat emitted can be easily detected with an Infrared Camera. IR cameras can often find the ultimate source with little or no physical disassembly of the premises and minimal disturbance of inhabitants.

How does Thermal Imaging work?

Thermography is the use of an infrared imaging and measurement camera to “see” and “measure” thermal energy emitted from an object. It is not a moisture meter, and does not “see” moisture. The cameras help the inspector see temperature differences and anomalies which can be caused by moisture.  When two areas composed of the same or similar materials experience changing ambient temperatures, the area with the higher thermal mass (usually moisture) will change temperature more slowly.

The first thing we do is turn on the functioning plumbing. We let water run through the drains of the toilets, sinks, showers, and dishwasher. Depending on the ambient conditions at the house at time of inspection, we may run hot or cold water. If the house is cold, hot water will show up better than cold water. We may use the heating or AC system to help change the temperatures in the house. The dry areas with less thermal mass will change temperature quickly. Areas with a higher thermal mass, which may include damp areas, will change temperature slower. These differences will be obvious when viewed through the Infrared camera.

Evaluating the home with an IR Camera is a simple process, but one that most home inspectors do not use (The cameras are very expensive ranging from $4,000 – $15,000). And with many bank-owned homes getting a quick paint job for a fast sale, water stains may be covered up. It is important to note that the Infrared Cameras do not see through walls, cabinets, or concrete. Rather, they show differences in the surface temperature of a material. It is these temperature differences that may indicate moisture or another anomaly such as missing insulation.

Please note that an Infrared camera is not a magic tool. It cannot determine if a leak will occur in the future if the area has had time to dry out. For example, if there has been no rain for several months, the Infrared camera will not detect moisture from a roof leak since no moisture is present. It also cannot detect moisture behind cabinets, furniture, or deep within a structure.

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 emits heat. Even very cold objects, like ice cubes, emit infrared energy. The higher the object’s temperature, the greater the IR radiation emitted.

When evaluating which inspection company to use for your home inspection, please consider this technology.  Isn’t your house worth it?

Thursday
Feb242011

Termites

Termites, which play a positive role in recycling wood and plant material, become a problem when they consume structural lumber. Every year thousands of U.S. housing units require termite treatment. These pests cause serious damage to wooden structures and posts and can also attack stored food, household furniture, and books. Successful termite management requires special skills, including a working knowledge of building construction and an understanding of termite biology and identification. In most cases, it is advisable to hire a professional pest control company for the inspection and control problem.

Friday
Feb182011

Wood Siding

  • Although wood siding may be easier to repair than other materials, it requires more maintenance in general, and repainting or resealing must be done every few years.
  • Unlike siding made from synthetic materials, when not properly maintained, wood is susceptible to rot, which can lead to structural issues if not addressed in a timely manner.
  • While termite problems can occur with other materials, wood siding is more susceptible to direct attack from wood-destroying pests.  The use of treatments and preservatives, as well as the choice of wood, can help prevent termite problems.
  • The cost of installing wood siding can be prohibitive, as it is one of the most expensive types of exterior cladding.  The average price for a 1,250-square-foot installation may range from $6,500 to $7,500.