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.
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 façade 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 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….
I came upon this deadly little coiled booby trap the other day.
This wonder piece of homeowner electrical handiness was currently energized, thank goodness the crawlspace was dry.
Here are just some of the things that well meaning installers can get totally wrong:
Lack of Straps: Water heaters in this area should be strapped on the top third and bottom third, to resist movement in a seismic condition. Water heaters are bombs, high temperature water under pressure can be an explosive combination. It is important to prevent the tank from moving.
Flue issues: This is absolutely important with gas appliances. If you don’t get the flue right you can allow carbon monoxide to freely enter your home. This particular flue was built out of vinyl dryer ducting. The plastic had been melting into a puddle on the top of the tank.
This is this home owners solution for the flue exhaust. The home owner may have thought that a clothes dryer and a gas fired water heater were basically the same thing.
Here is a picture of the draft hood in action. Notice the lighter’s flame tipped away from the hood. This means that flue gases, instead of going outside, are coming inside! This is potentially a deadly setup that has apparently been in place for years.
These are just some of the many things that can be done wrong by a less-than-handy handy person.
The job of a competent home inspector is to see and comment on everything. It would be impossible to determine what our clients did or didn’t care about in the thousands of components and systems that we look at. So we comment on everything and let our clients determine what they find important and significant.
Of course there are exceptions such as, in the Salem area of the Willamette valley Oregon, gutters and downspouts. If there is one system that needs to work perfectly it is the gutters and downspouts.
It has everything to do with how we receive rain. In our area the rain comes down relatively slowly. Very seldom do we get sudden volume, like an inch in a few hours, like other parts of the country. Our rain just seems to be slow and constant for about 5 to 6 months.
This means that grading is not terribly important. The soaking rains will soak in to the soil before they have a chance to run towards your home.
Gutters and downspouts however have an absolutely critical role in moisture management. If they are not fully functional they allow excess water to spill on around or under your home for 5 to 6 months. If the gutters are plugged or the seams leak they will spill water on to the soffit, fascia or splash water against the siding for 5 to 6 months! All of this wood and water is an ideal condition for things that eat wood. Fungus, wood boring beetles, and termites will all enjoy the easy refined cellulose meal that is your home.
Even if the gutters appear to be fully functional above ground there is the, out-of-sight-out-of-mind, below grade downspouts. The downspouts going below ground has been very popular for the last 20 years. This is a major source of water intrusion for the crawlspaces in our area. When newly installed the downspouts should hug the foundation around the perimeter of the home and flow toward the storm drain. This is one of the first items to be installed on a new home and possibly vulnerable to damage until it is covered during final grading. If the concrete walkway poured over the pipe damages or disconnects the pipe, it can dump all of the water collected on the roof on to the soil near the crawlspace. This condition can lead to water in the crawlspace but also foundation movement.
Homes are not perfect. Lack of maintenance, wear and age can all have effect on homes. If you own a home in the Salem area of the Willamette valley keep your eyes on your gutters and next time it is raining, investigate your downspouts. They are one of the most important components of your home.