Home Inspection Articles

Keeping Your Home Safe & Festive This Holiday Season

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Dec 17, 2013 11:39:00 AM

December Newsletter

GraphOne of the many joys of the holiday season is decorating your home. Religious celebrations aside, December is about spending time with loved ones and toasting the successes and achievements of the past year. Making your space warm and inviting for family, friends, and colleagues is an integral part of this process - and beyond that, it's really fun.

We know that it's easy to get wrapped up in wreaths, lighting, and ornaments, so we want to take this moment to encourage homeowners to practice safe decorating this season. (And no, we're not just talking about making sure you've got mints by your mistletoe). So what exactly do we mean? We've found that atmosphere can trump electrical and fire safety, and that between visiting and being visited by others, basic maintenance can get overlooked. Outlined below are our top five December Décor Do's & Don'ts.  

1. Don't leave your candles unattended

It may seem like common sense, but with what feels like a million things on your "To Do" list, it doesn't take a lot to get distracted. So when your hot cocoa break gets interrupted by a frantic call from your mother-in-law, remember to extinguish your candles before you answer the phone. This is a pretty serious fire hazard that doesn't take much to avoid, so make sure to blow out your candles before leaving a room.

2. Don't keep your holiday lights near paper and plush materials

Whether they are on your tree, around your windows, or on your banisters, it's important to keep your indoor lights clear from debris that can catch fire. When left on for several hours the tiny bulbs on your holiday lights can create a lot more heat than you'd expect, so keeping them away from flammable objects is important. Although modern holiday lights are definitely safer than their predecessors, taking this extra precaution is still a good idea. 

3. Do put your outside lights on timers

TimerIf they aren't already, neighborhoods will soon be aglow with lights framing homes and twinkling in trees, real and inflatable snowmen, and other festive creatures wishing passers-by happy holidays. Turning your front yard into a winter wonderland can be a blast, but the majority of modern decorations require electricity to function, and keeping the juice flowing all night is less than ideal. Save money and the environment by using a timer for your outdoor electronics. Plug your decorations into the timer, and set it to turn on and off at specific times. We usually set ours to turn on just after sunset, and off around 10 or 11pm. Timers can help to deter burglars by making them think you're home when you aren't, and they save you the trouble of fumbling with plugs late at night in your pajamas. They typically cost around $30 and are available at most hardware stores.

4. Do check and test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

With all the seasonal cooking and baking your kitchen will see this month it's important to make sure you're prepared for an emergency. You wear oven mitts to protect your hands, do the same for your house by properly maintaining your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. You should test your detectors on a monthly basis to see whether they have working batteries. You must have at least one smoke detector on each floor, but we recommend more. While there aren't standard rules for carbon monoxide detectors, and you might not even have one, we treat them similarly to smoke detectors and do encourage homeowners to have at least one in their homes.  

5. Do shovel your driveway and salt your walkway

IcyIt's no wonder "Let It Snow" will be playing in stores, at school concerts, and in living rooms all season long - snow is one of the quintessential pieces of the holiday puzzle. Unfortunately, it can be more than festive, it presents a hazard too. Winter weather is wonderful, but it's also dangerous. Avoid getting stuck in your driveway, or slipping down your walkway, by shoveling and salting regularly. These chores are a bit of a pain in the neck, but they are far superior to you or others falling due to prolonged snow and ice accumulation. 

Home maintenance and safety is valuable year-round, but as this is one of the traditionally busiest times for many, we felt it pertinent to reinforce these concerns. 

There are a lot of do's and don'ts this season, but perhaps this biggest is don't drink and drive. Please stay safe and responsible. 

Holiday Greeting

Topics: Winter Tips, Home Inspector Advice, Monthly Newsletters, Carson Dunlop, Homeowner Tips, Newsletter, Home Safety

This is Major Tom to Pest Control

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Dec 10, 2013 9:24:00 AM

Fun In The SnowCold weather brings with it many things – smiles to skiers and snowboarders, outdoor rinks for skaters, and supplies for snowman creators. Unfortunately, it can also bring pests into your home. As the temperature drops, rodents begin to seek warmth and shelter to sustain them for the winter months. It’s important to make sure they don’t find a way into your home.

Most people with in-laws will confirm you can’t always control your home’s guest list. But don’t fret, you can protect yourself and your property from these furry creatures. To help combat this potential invasion, we encourage homeowners to heed advice from our resident pest control experts and Specialty Service partner: Orkin Canada

Denying Access: Entry Points

Window

Rats can fit through holes the size of a quarter, and mice only need a hole the size of a pencil. The smallest openings in your home can serve as rodent entry points. Common places rodents use to access your home include cracks in your foundation and around doors and windows.

Check the exterior of your home and seal any unnecessary openings with weather-resistant sealant reinforced with steel or copper wool so rodents can’t gnaw through. Make sure doors and windows are flush against their frames and the sill, and use weatherstripping to fill any gaps. 

Deterring Interest: Preventative Action

Sealing entry points is just one step homeowners can take. Rodents come to your home in search of shelter and food. Implementing measures related to food storage and cleanliness will also help to keep your home pest-free. Consider:

  • Storing food in tightly sealed containers, preferably made of tin or plastic
  • Cleaning up water spills immediately
  • Vacuuming, sweeping, and mopping regularly to eliminate food waste and water sources
  • Keeping trash cans tightly sealed and disposing of trash often

We're Not Alone: What If It's Too Late?

If you suspect the worst has already happened and you might have rodents in your home, look for the following signs:

  • Droppings - Mouse droppings are about the size of a grain of rice and rat droppings are about the size of a raisin.
  • Gnaw marks - Rats and mice gnaw even when they're full, so look out for places in your home that appear to be chewed or gnawed, particularly around cracks and holes.
  • Rub markings - Rodents feel protected when they crawl along baseboards or pipe openings, so pay close attention to those areas.

Evicting Unwanted Tenants: It's Never Too Late

MouseIf you encounter signs of infestation, the end isn’t nigh, but do make sure to keep safety as your first priority when addressing the issue. Rodents carry dirt and disease, so please don’t touch them or attempt to resolve the problem on your own. Instead, contact a pest management provider immediately – they will help you with remediation and set up a proactive program to keep these pests at bay year-round.

If you have any questions or concerns about the presence of rodents, termites, or other pests in your home, reach out to Orkin Canada and they can advise you further.

We have partnered with a number of reputable and reliable companies who offer services outside the scope of a Home Inspection. Our Specialty Service providers help to assess issues such as: mold, indoor air quality, asbestos, well and septic systems, and pools. To learn more, please call 800-268-7070.

Topics: Home Inspection, Home Inspector Advice, Carson Dunlop, Specialty Services, Homeowner Tips, Pest Control

Forgotten Fall Chores: Leaf Raking

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Dec 3, 2013 1:15:00 PM

Rake Your LeavesIs it December already? Winter has snuck up on many this year, and although most of us are snow-free so far, that’s no excuse to fall behind on your seasonal maintenance. Yard work can be hard work, but it’s important to rake your leaves or you may find your home suffering Old Man Winter’s wrath.

They may be great for crunching and make excellent piles for jumping, but fallen leaves require some attention. Many rake their leaves to keep their yards looking spick and span, but leaf-raking is more for function than fashion. Undisturbed foliage presents more problems for homeowners than a nasty glance from a neighbor.

A well-raked yard helps protect:

  • Downspouts & gutters
  • Window wells
  • Grading

By ensuring these areas are appropriately maintained, homeowners are ultimately helping to prevent water-related damage. Consider each area.

Downspouts & Gutters

GuttersWhen downspouts and gutters are clogged with leaves that have collected due to an unraked yard, they stop functioning properly and hold water instead of sending it away from the home. This increases the opportunity for water to enter the home. To learn more about downspout and gutter maintenance, including the ideal length of a downspout, check out our article on Downspout Care.

Window Wells

Should a window well become filled with leaves, not only does it impact the amount of light a basement receives, but it becomes easier for water to become trapped in the well. This trapped water will likely seep into the foundation of the home and into the basement. Learn more about keeping your window wells functioning correctly, including our recommendation for gravel, from our article on Maintaining Your Window Wells.

Grading

To help combat the fallibility of foundation systems, as none are completely impermeable to water, it is important to keep the soil around your home dry. Clusters of errant, unraked leaves, provide a great environment to trap water in your home’s surrounding dirt. The moisture from wet ground close to your foundation can easily become moisture in your foundation. To learn more about keeping the soil around your home dry, including a discussion on slope, check out our article on Proper Grading.

As you can see, raking leaves has less to do with aesthetics than many believe. It may seem like a task you can leave to the last minute, but we’d like to encourage homeowners to take faster action. Clean your yard and protect your home. We’re committed to helping homeowners stay safe, comfortable and dry year-round. If you have a Home Inspection related topic you’d like us to address, please comment below or find us on Twitter and we’ll do our best to help out.

Topics: Winter Tips, Home Inspection, Home Inspector Advice, Carson Dunlop, Homeowner Tips

Winter Window Woes

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Nov 26, 2013 9:52:00 AM

November Newsletter

November PollAs the days get colder and the nights become longer, hibernation starts to seem more and more appealing. Beyond the necessity of extra layers and the hustle and bustle of the ever-approaching holiday season, heating bills alone make many want to sleep until April. 

Unfortunately, most don't have the kind of flexibility needed to nap the winter away - so how can enduring the coming dim and expensive months be avoided? Aside from heading for a warmer climate, making a few adjustments to a somewhat overlooked item in your home can have a major impact on your comfort this season. This November, it's time to think about your windows.  

During the winter, windows have the potential to be both an enemy and an ally. They let light into your home, but they can also bring cold air, frost, and condensation. However, with a few considerations and minor adjustments, homeowners can get more friend than foe out of their windows.

Over the course of a subzero night, windows, (especially those older, single-glazed, metal-framed ones), will often become very frosty. While wonderfully artistic and fun for kids to scratch their names into, frost does render the window particularly useless: can't open it or look through it. This frosting isn't exclusive to older windows; windows all over will be exhibiting varying degrees of the same effect. Even some newer windows will sweat heavily or frost up. 

Frosty WindowFrosty windows are a result of condensing moisture in the home. Vapor droplets in the air that come in contact with the cold surfaces of the window will, if the surfaces are cold enough, cool down into water droplets and precipitate onto the cold surfaces. If this happens all night long, there can be considerable accumulation of water. In some cases, the water drops freeze shortly after forming on the window, causing ice to build up. 

To help correct this issue, attention should be paid to the amount of moisture in your home and the interior temperature of the window glass and frame. Moisture cannot be eliminated from your home entirely, but it can be reduced.

This can be achieved by:

  • Turning your furnace humidifier down or off
  • Ensuring your clothes dryer is venting properly
  • Using kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans when cooking and showering
  • Opening a window periodically when things feel "stuffy"

We recognize that it's only possible to do so much, and if your windows are cold enough the sweat will still form - which is why we also encourage homeowners to warm up the surface temperature of the window glass and frame. 

If the window is old, it may be drafty. This will be apparent in cold air whistling through around the edges. Replacing or improving weatherstripping, a relatively easy DIY project, can often solve a draft problem. If the room has only one pane of glass between it and the outside, install a storm window. This will warm up the interior pane. Of course, the frost may simply form on the inside of the storm window anyway. With a newer double-glazed window, unless it's very cheap or very poorly installed, the glass and frame temperature should be pretty reasonable.   

The trick now is to assess where the heat source is in the room. In a perfect world, the heat for the room is delivered at floor level right below the window. The idea is that the warm air, either from a furnace register or convecting off a radiator, washes up the window, keeping the glass and frame nice and warm, reducing or eliminating condensation. 

A related problem in many homes is the window treatments. California shutters look great and can block out light, but when closed they also block warm air from reaching the window, leading to condensation in cold spells. The solution is to open up the louvers, or open the shutters. Many blinds and drapes have the same effect. When closed, find a way to prop them out at the bottom so that the warm air can go up between them and the window. 

If you've tried everything, and still you have a window or two that sweat uncontrollably, the low-rent hardware store plastic sheeting will work nicely. This remains the cheapest solution for your windows. A better, but more expensive solution? Replacing those old windows with new multi-glazed coated windows.

As a professional Home Inspection Company, at Carson Dunlop our aim is to help homeowners stay warm, safe, and dry. We believe that knowledge is the best tool when it comes to protecting the biggest investment of your life: your home. If you have a Home Inspection topic you'd like us to address in future Newsletters or on our blog, make sure to comment below or Tweet us @carsondunlop - we'll do our best to help out.

Topics: Winter Tips, Home Inspector Advice, Monthly Newsletters, Carson Dunlop, Newsletter

Buying a House? Our Home Inspection Packages Can Help

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Nov 19, 2013 3:17:00 PM

Learn About Your HomeWe know that buying a home is a complex process; there are many facets to consider before making this type of investment. Beyond deciding whether or not you like the home and if you can afford it, there are several other questions worth asking:

  1. How are the systems of the home functioning? Is it in good overall condition?
  2. Are there any moisture issues or leakages occurring in the home?
  3. Was it ever used as a grow house or meth lab? Are there homes in the area that were used this way?
  4. How are the local schools? Where do they rank on a regional and provincial level?
  5. What amenities are located near the home?
  6. What political riding will you become a part of? Who will be representing you?

Although some of these issues will have more bearing on the decision to purchase the property than others, all will have some impact on your comfort in the home and neighborhood.

HomeVerifiedSo how do you get all the information you need without adding more to your “To Do” list? Some of the inquiries above require a lot of research to determine. Let us help. Our Home Buyer’s Inspection enhanced packages now includes a HomeVerified Home History Report which will provide information on: grow house and meth lab records for the area, local school rankings, neighborhood amenities, and political representation.

This Home History Report is in addition to:

  • A summary page with key findings
  • Improvement recommendations for conditions (with time frames and cost estimates)
  • Photos and color illustrations for clarity
  • A Home Reference Book to help understand how your home works
  • A check for manufacturer recalls on appliances through RecallChek
  • Free enrollment in the Carson Dunlop Homeowners Association
  • A Thermal Imaging Inspection to help identify hidden moisture issues and leakage

Please visit our website or call 800-268-7070 to learn more about the different Home Buyer’s Inspection packages we offer and the benefits of thermography, performing a check for recalled appliances, and Home History Reports.


Topics: Home Inspection, Home Inspector Advice, Carson Dunlop

Furnaces: Heating Your Home This Winter

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Nov 8, 2013 12:32:00 PM

FurnaceAs we enter November and the beginning of the winter season Jack Frost is definitely nipping at our noses. Although the weather is mild compared to the subzero temperatures of December, January, and the better part of February, extra layers are being donned and people are seeing their breath most mornings.

Early sunsets and extra blankets mean different maintenance tasks are required of homeowners. While we have already discussed fall maintenance items and winterizing your home, we have yet to discuss caring for everyone’s favorite seasonal appliance: the furnace. 

Furnaces aren’t known for being fickle, but there are certain protective measures homeowners should implement to ensure their homes are warm and comfortable this winter.

It is important to be aware of:

  • Furnace Filters
  • Furnace Humidifer
  • Furnace Efficiency

Furnace Filters

Furnace FilterYour furnace filter should be checked monthly to determine if it needs cleaning or changing. Typically located in the air return duct adjacent to the furnace, making sure your furnace filter is in good condition can help improve both comfort and heating costs. You will need to see if you should purchase a cleanable or disposable furnace filter – most homeowners choose to have a disposable filter, for convenience, but both are good choices. Furnace filters generally range from $5 to $30 depending on the type of filter you select.
Helpful tip: Note the size of your filter before heading out to buy a new one.

Furnace Humidifiers

While ideal humidity for homes can be as low as 5%, people feel the most comfortable in environments with 60% humidity. Unfortunately, houses can have a hard time coping with this in cold weather. Too little humidity makes people feel uncomfortable. Too much can cause condensation, mold, mildew, and rot in homes as the warm moist air hits cool surfaces. Contrary to popular belief, homeowners actually have to lower the humidistat setting as the weather outside gets colder. The colder is it outside, the easier it is for condensation to form on cool surfaces, like windows. Homeowners can reduce condensation and the risk of mold by lowering the interior humidity level. The recommended house humidity levels are:

Outside Temperature Recommended House Humidity
-20°F (-28°C)  15%
-20 °F to -10°F (-28 to -23°C)  20%
-10 ° F to 0°F (-23°C to -18°C)   25%
0°F to +10°F (-18°C to -12°C)   35%
10+° F and above (-12°C and above)   40%
 Summer months  Off

Watching for condensation on your windows is another great way to gauge your house humidity level. Lower the humidity when you see condensation. In addition, room temperature and humidity monitors, available at hardware and building supply stores, can help you manage your humidity.

If your home is new, you may not have a furnace humidifier. Most new homes do not need one because the foundation and wood framing in newer homes take time to dry out, and release moisture into the air as they dry. In addition, new homes are “tight”, which means the air within them hangs around for a while before being replaced by dry exterior air. The air is around long enough to pick up moisture from things like showers, cooking, drying clothes and breathing. By comparison, older houses are drafty. Cold, dry air is creeping in all the time, replacing the warm, moist air that is flushed out.

If there is a small box hanging from the furnace or ductwork beside the furnace with a small electrical wire and a small water supply pipe attached, you have a furnace humidifier. You may also see a humidistat, a dial that looks like a thermostat but is used to control the humidity level, and is often mounted to the basement ductwork.

Drum-Type

The two most common types of furnace humidifiers are: drum type humidifiers and trickle (cascade) type humidifiers. A drum type humidifier has a tray of water with a sponge on a barrel or drum rotating through it. The tray is kept full of water with a float switch, which adds water from the plumbing system when the water level drops. When the humidistat is turned up, or the humidity level drops, a small electric motor rotates the sponge drum through the tray, absorbing water. Some of the air moving through the ductwork blows across the sponge, picking up moisture. This moist air moves through the ducts and into the rooms of the home. 

Cascade-TypeA trickle or cascade type humidifier has no tray of water. A small electric valve at the top controls the water supply to the humidifier. When the humidistat calls for water, the valve opens, trickling water down a honeycomb-like metal pad. Air blows across the pad, picking up moisture. Excess water is drained through a hose to a floor drain, laundry tub, or condensate pump.

Maintenance for a drum type humidifier focuses on the tray of sitting water. Ponding water can cause scale build-up and bacterial growth. Every spring, the water supply pipe valve should be turned off, the tray and sponge should be cleaned, and the humidistat should be set to OFF. In the fall, turn on the water valve, and set the humidistat to 35%. We recommend a mid-winter cleaning as well.

To maintain a trickle or cascade type humidifier, turn off the water supply and turn the humidistat to OFF in the spring. Before use in the fall, remove and soak the pad in a de-scaling solution. If it’s damaged or too clogged to clean, the pad can be replaced. Once the pad is back in place, the water supply pipe valve can be turned back on, and the humidistat set to 35%. This unit will not need cleaning again until next year.

Furnace Efficiency

There are two efficiency measurements with respect to furnace efficiency: steady state and seasonal. Steady state efficiency refers to how much usable heat is created when a furnace is running as a percent of the energy produced by burning the fuel. For example: conventional gas and oil furnaces have steady state efficiencies of roughly 80%. When the furnace is on, 20% of the heat generated goes up the chimney and outside. The remaining 80% is transferred through the heat exchanger into the house air, which moves through the ductwork to the registers in each room.

Seasonal efficiency addresses the off-cycle losses as well as the steady state losses. It is an overall efficiency measurement. Furnaces aren’t on all the time – not even in the dead of winter. They turn on as the thermostat calls for heat, and turn off when the thermostat is satisfied.

When the furnace isn’t on, the heat from your house escapes up the chimney flue the same way that heat would escape from an unused fireplace if the damper was left open. This is an off-cycle loss. If you add these off-cycle losses to the steady state losses you end up with the seasonal efficiency. Season efficiencies for conventional gas and oil furnaces are typically about 60-65%.

High Efficiency FurnaceHigh efficiency furnaces are complex, and as a result they’re often more expensive than conventional furnaces. High efficiency furnaces on average cost about $1,000 - $1,500 more than a conventional furnace. In some areas, conventional furnaces are no longer available. When you buy a furnace, you have to buy high-efficiency. If you spend $1,000 per year heating your house with a conventional furnace, you can save close to $350 with a high efficiency furnace. A high efficiency furnace may pay for itself in 3 years.

If you’re considering a high efficiency furnace for your home, speak with a reliable heating or HVAC contractor to discuss the pros and con of various models and any estimated increase in furnace maintenance costs.

If you have homeownership questions, comment below or Tweet us @carsondunlop and we’ll do our best to help.

Topics: Winter Tips, Home Inspection, Home Inspector Advice, Carson Dunlop, Homeowner Tips

Fall Back Safely

Posted by Thea Scrimger on Nov 1, 2013 11:26:00 AM

Winter SunriseOne of the biggest signs that summer is officially over is scheduled to take place this week. No we’re not talking about Halloween – we’re referring to the start of Daylight Savings Time. This Sunday marks the end of spring time with the autumn time change. At 2:00am on November 3rd, it is time to “fall back” and gain an extra hour of daylight as we move toward the winter solstice.

What will you do with your extra hour? At Carson Dunlop, we would like to encourage homeowners to use their new-found sixty minutes to address some safety items in their homes. With the sheer volume of maintenance tasks that come with winter’s arrival, we’ve found that despite their importance, the following tasks are easily overlooked:

Testing Smoke Alarms & Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon Monoxide DetectorWhether your smoke detectors are wired or stand-alone, ensure they have functional batteries by testing them monthly and replacing the batteries twice a year. The time change is a great reminder for this. You must have at least one smoke detector on each floor, but we recommend more.

The same approach applies to carbon monoxide detectors. Not sure what those are, or if you have one? Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas – which makes it impossible to detect. It is a by-product of incomplete combustion, and at high concentrations it can be deadly. Carbon monoxide detectors sample the air at specific time intervals. A microchip inside the detector stores the reading and keeps track of the level of carbon monoxide that the detector is exposed to over time. You should usually have one or more carbon monoxide detectors in your house, but follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. This usually means one per floor. Like smoke detectors, be sure to maintain and test the unit regularly. Click here to learn more about carbon monoxide detectors.

Turning Off Outdoor Faucets

ValvesAs the temperature drops homeowners must turn off their outdoor faucets. This is done by shutting off the supply valve, which is typically located inside the home. The outside valve is typically left open to allow any water in the pipe to escape. Faucets must be turned off to prevent pipes from freezing and subsequently bursting.

Frost-proof hose bibbs don’t have to be shut off in the winter. These valves have a long stem that penetrates through the building wall and shuts off the water supply inside the building. These valves should be sloped to drain any water in the stem to the outdoors.

Taking Measures to Keep Your Home Pest-Free

The smallest openings, cracks, and crevices in your home can serve as rodent entry points. Rats can fit through holes the size of a quarter, and mice only need a hole the size of a pencil. There are several steps you can take to help prevent rodents from accessing your home. These include:

  • Checking the interior and exterior of your home for entry points, and sealing any unnecessary openings with weather-resistant sealant reinforced with steel or copper wool so rodents cannot gnaw through it.
  • Making sure doors or windows are flush against their frames and the floor, and use weatherstripping to fill in any gaps.
  • Trimming landscaping away from your home, as shrubbery can provide harborage for rodents.
  • Storing food, including pet food and bird seed, in tightly-sealed containers, preferably made of tin or plastic, and clean up food and water spills immediately.
  • Vacuuming, sweeping, and mopping regularly to eliminate food and water sources that might attract rodents.
  • Keeping trash cans tightly sealed and disposing of trash regularly.

We know it can be hard to find the time, but this Sunday save yourself some frustration by taking care of the above safety and comfort items. Looking for more seasonal maintenance tips? Click here to check out our Carson Dunlop winterizing checklist. And as always, if you have a homeownership issue you’d like more information or guidance on, comment below or Tweet us @carsondunlop and we’ll do our best to help out.

Topics: Home Inspection, Home Inspector Advice, Carson Dunlop, Homeowner Tips