Environmental

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.

 

Radon and the Crowd it Rolls with.

Radon can make you very sick and has been linked to more cases of lung cancer than tobacco. Radon is a radioactive gas that is produced when uranium degrades. Uranium has a tendency to geologically ‘hang,’ with granite. This is significant due to the fact that the geology of granite and other minerals can be mapped.

The EPA has a fantastic resource for general knowledge on all kinds of different environmental issues. They have a radon exposure map that is based on a geologic map of the United States. Basically it categorizes areas of the US depending on what type of rock is found in that area.

Unfortunately this map is only a good guess. It cannot tell your home or any other home has a radon issue. The only way to determine if your home has a radon issue is to (shameless plug) get it tested. If you live in Salem, Oregon I just happen to know of a fantastic home inspector that can help….

 

Grow mold in your attic (vent to the soffit)

Ah mold. It is such a hot button. I know just by putting the word MOLD into my title this post will get attention.

People are interested, but I am still surprised at the lack of knowledge or the inaccuracy of knowledge (even you agents who need to know the basics).

This is not intended to be a general knowledge post. (go here for that) This is a heads up for everyone on the issues concerning acurrently accepted means of exhausting bathroom vents. It is acceptable, by International building codes to duct bathroom vents to an attic vent (any vent). This is usually a good thing and definitely better than venting directly into the attic. Recently I came across a very new home (only four years old) that had some mold growth in the attic. Not really a huge amount, however mold spores are microscopic and you cannot determine if it is affecting Indoor Air Quality without getting a lab involved. With closer investigation it could be noted the exhaust fan for the shower and toilet area was ducted to the nearby soffit vent. This is currently acceptable by building standanrds however in this case it was the root of the issue.

The way an attic vent system works is like a chimney, as the roof heats cool air is pulled into the soffit vents and hot air is exhausted out the ridge vents. So as the diligent home owners ran their exhaust fans during the steamy shower all of the warm steam was pointed at an intake vent!! All the moisture exhausted toward the vent and promptly turned around and was able to condense on the cool attic surfaces as the soffit vent did its job.