Month: February 2009

Going green.


One very important aspect of shrinking our “carbon foot print,” is re-using things to reduce our consumption of new things.



Being a home inspector here in Salem, Oregon I have the unique opportunity to go into other people’s homes and poke around in their crawlspaces, on their roofs and under their sinks. All of this snooping around turns up some very creative solutions to everyday problems.


I am not sure if this is a new filter option or a very old one. This high-tech wool yarn filter may not be very effective at filtering out tiny particles but it appears to fit right in to the filter canister.



Problems Under the Surface


The wonderful world of residential construction can be very complex. A new home is a series of systems and components that rely on one another to perform properly. If the previous component is installed improperly all of the other systems that are built upon that component will not live up to their potential. I recently had the opportunity to inspect a beautiful new home here in West Salem, Oregon that was like a display home for just why you need a home inspection on a new home.

Cosmetically this home was very attractive. Vaulted ceilings, custom built-ins, crown molding and of course the ever present Brazilian cherry floors and granite counters. Under the fancy fa├žade were a few very important details that the builder screwed up. One of those little things was a vapor retarder, big name for a very simple and relatively inexpensive component. It is basically a sheet of plastic stretched over the bare earth of the crawl space that prevents excess water vapor from leaving the soil (a normal and natural process) and being absorbed by the home’s wood structure (also a natural process but very harmful to the structure of the home).

With the vapor retarder missing, the moist soil provides all the moisture and humidity necessary for an extremely conducive environment for wood destroying organisms. Wood destroying organisms like molds, termites, and powder post beetles and other critters that can call your home food.

When I popped the lid to that crawlspace a wave of mustiness (mold spores) slapped me in the face. Upon closer inspection of the very wet, very muddy crawlspace it could be noted that although the air was full of spores from actively producing molds, no visible growing mold could be noted on the structure. However the scraps of wood, construction debris, that had been left scattered about were covered with very healthy fungal colonies.

All of that excess wood was another little screw-up. All of these little mistakes, although ultimately the builder’s responsibility, were also made by the contractors that were in charge of the vapor retarder, the contractors that left cellulose debris (plumbers, framers, and electricians), and the government official (building inspector) that is paid to ensure that these things don’t happen.

This poor home had other serious issues. Homes like these sometimes makes me wonder about some people’s integrity, however I guess it will always be job security for honest, independent building consultants.


Smoke Detectors detect more than smoke

Smoke detectors should be our silent watchmen. They should patiently wait, ready to alert us of the possibility of fire. Unfortunately sometimes they go off for reasons other than fire:

2:30am Instantly awake! All of the smoke detectors in our home are going off. BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!!! For close to 30 seconds then they turn off. I jump out of bed and run into the hall between the kid’s and our room ready to assess the situation and get the kids out of the house……Nothing, no smell of smoke, no crackling fire. No indication of fire at all! At this point, the sudden rush from being totally asleep to totally awake and high on adrenaline for no apparent reason has me more than a little irritated.

Our home was less than a year old so the next morning I called our builder. He said he had never heard of that and didn’t know what to tell me. I let it go. The silly detectors performed properly for another 6 months and the same thing happened! Middle of the night, sound asleep, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!! for about 30 seconds.

A few months later I got a call from a client describing a similar situation. I called the detector company.

Within a few minutes I was describing the phantom alarms to a real person at customer service. He guessed that a spider was causing these false alarms! Our wired-in alarms has a little green light that attracts the spiders. When the spider gets to crawling around and exploring the crevices it steps into the ionization sensor. The sensor ‘sees’ the spider as smoke and sounds the alarm. All of this sudden vibration alarms the spider who promptly finds a new place to explore.

The best thing to do to (hopefully) prevent this arachnid exploration is to blow out the detector and sensor with ‘canned air’ every so often. Spiders are territorial and if they are disturbed repeatedly they will find new areas to hang-out.

It has been about a year and a half since the last false alarm. I hope this insight answers some questions for those of you who have had similar experiences.