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McMinnville, Oregon Trip - 09/28/09 10:29 AM
A couple weeks back my wife and I decided we wanted some time off so we went south to McMinnville, Oregon. It is a small town, very pleasant, and like stepping back in time. Bellingham was kind of like that when I was a kid. One day we went on some winery tours. They have real wine growing country there. Some of the hillsides with the grapes remind me of Italy. One winery we visited, and liked the samples, was called Duck Pond. When we were leaving, we went around the side of the building and there was this pretty pond.
Corroded Water Line Connections - 09/27/09 01:42 PM
When dis-similar metals are in contact, it tends to lead to corrosion. Probably the place where the home inspector is most likely to see this problem is in plumbing systems. Often steel bonding clamps, designed for steel gas pipes, are connected to copper. If the clamp has been there a long time, it is likely that one will see some deterioration of the copper. Probably the most common place to find galvanic action is at water connections on hot water heaters.
In the photo, galvanized steel nipples were used to connect the tank to the copper flex lines. This is (6 comments)
Washington State Approved Home Inspector Education (Bellingham Technical College) - 09/26/09 07:22 PM
On an ongoing basis, due to being the program coordinator for home inspection training at Bellingham Technical College, I am receiving calls and Email inquiries from individuals who wish to be trained to work as licensed home inspectors in the state of Washington. Licensing kicked into place in this state almost a month ago on September 1, 2009. That new law, when it went in, created a commotion for a few in the business. As far as we can tell, it impacted only a few inspectors but there are those who would have been "grandfathered-in" had they completed the licensing process prior to (16 comments)
Conducive Conditions -- Bellingham Home Inspection (King of the House) - 09/26/09 05:49 PM
Sometimes those on-site problems that lead to more significant issues are subtle enough that the average homeowner completely misses the clues. Some homeowners or buyers will pick-up on dirt that is too close to, or up over, wood trim or siding. They know that is bad. But most of these folks do not notice soil that is sloped in such a way that it routes runoff water toward the home. There is another even more subtle condition. The level is one tool that can be used to detect the problem.
The bubble indicates that there is a slope toward the (6 comments)
Subtle Plumbing Defect - 09/24/09 11:44 PM
A hot water heater, gas or electric, requires a drain on the temperature pressure relief valve. And, when a water heater is inside a home, it is best if there is a drain pan under the tank and, we hope, a drain to outside. Both of those things were present in the photo below. So what is the defect?
The defect is that the TPR drain, the copper tubing, is bottomed out on the bottom of the drain pan. One thing an inspector looks for is possible cross-connections. This is a subtle one, but this drain should end ABOVE the (7 comments)
Electric Heaters and Safety -- King of the House Home Inspection - 09/24/09 09:00 PM
It was so common as to be the norm only a few years back. Now it is frowned upon. What am I talking about? How about this: Electric receptacles (outlets) installed over the top of electric baseboard heaters. It seems like every 60's and 70's house that I see, if there are baseboards, the receptacle will be right over the top of the heater. The problem, if one thinks about it, it pretty apparent. People tend to drape lamp and other appliance cords over the heaters -- which get hot inside -- and this will at best cause the insulation on (7 comments)
Interesting Sticker But What Good Is It? - 09/23/09 10:33 PM
When my wife and I were in McMinnville, Oregon on a short vacation a week back, a great getaway place, I saw something interesting on the door at the train station.
This train station was classic in appearance, an old fashioned train station. When I was admiring it, I saw something that I have never seen before, at least in Washington. On all the entry doors, there was a sticker warning that the building may contain asbestos
I really think such a sticker is kind of strange. Now, maybe, the idea is to warn any workmen who do jobs (14 comments)
Active Rain Shakes The Family Tree - 09/22/09 10:23 PM
I will recount a recent and story, of coincidences, that is really quite amazing and amusing. People who take part in Active Rain are often writing about someone they met at Facebook or Twitter or at Active Rain. My story of mistaken identities might take the cake. About a year ago, I had a comment left on a blog post that I had written. It was just a nice little comment and it came from a young female realtor in Moses Lake.
This is the photo she was using. You might have noticed Heather Adkinson here at Active Rain. She had picked up (14 comments)
Sittin' and Thinkin' With Ben - 09/21/09 09:30 AM
They always say that if you want to improve your mind, then hang out with smart folks. One of the greatest scientists and inventors in the history of the USA goes back to the days of Benjamin Franklin. What comes to mind is Ben standing in a lightning storm with a kite. But I know that he was involved in much more than that. He had a very creative mind. I really got a kick out ot fhis bench on a public street in McMinnville, Oregon. It was a pretty appealing place to be on a nice day. Move over Edison, (12 comments)
And the Winner Is - 09/20/09 09:14 AM
Well, yesterday I asked Active Rain members to help me pick my new high definition photo. They got to choose between me with my cat and my grandson. In the long run, and probably better for me as far as not being killed by my daughter, the grandson won, tummy exposed and all.
I have never changed my AR photo before, so It seems strange after all these years. At least the youth of the grandson helps add some vitality to the photo of the old bird. For those of you trying to upload the new photos, the sides of (14 comments)
Travel Bug Biting Me - 09/19/09 09:57 PM
I am starting to think about my next vacation. I do not know just where it will be. Probably Mexico in January. However, not long after that we are planning a trip to Italy. My wife has a birthday coming up in a couple years and we plan to go to the Verona or Lake Como area for about three weeks. And we plan to rent a villa and have friends come stay. They have to pay their way over, other than that, we will put them up. I was thumbing through some of my photos from one of my last (15 comments)
Please Do Not Call Me Silly - 09/19/09 02:46 PM
I saw that Active Rain was encouraging us to post new high quality photos. Of course, being so increbibly photogenic, that is an offer I could not resist. I told my adult daughter that I was going to try to get a photo of me with my office assistant. Everyone knows that Nutsy is more of an equal or a superior versus an assistant. Anyway, I said I was going to have my photo taken with Tigretto Tartufo who is a certified rodent interventions specialist (CRIS). He goes in the crawl space right after I do. My daughter told me that I (19 comments)
A Pasta-ing We Shall Go - 09/18/09 10:41 AM
This is my second Italy flavored post in the past hour. I had to do it. I was looking through some of my Italy photos today. My wife and I, about three or four years ago, spent two weeks in Bologna. If you don't know it, Bologna is the food capital of Italy. It is in the bread basket of Italy, the Emilia Romagna region, and it is noted for the best food in all of the country. Their pastas are handmade in all the delis and the restaurants. You can see people making them, often little old ladies who have (9 comments)
Stern Italian Cat - 09/18/09 10:24 AM
About three years ago when the wife and I were touring the Cinqua Terre in Italy, we were walking around one of the little hill towns. We were way up high, with this beautiful view of the ocean and all of these ancient houses. Is that what I took a photo of? Well, yes and no. As we were taking a stroll, sitting at the door to his owner's home -- typical cat -- was this very stern looking Italian feline. I thought he was an interesting looking creature so I am posting the photo. He did not look like a (11 comments)
Is It, Or Isn't It Working? - 09/17/09 10:16 PM
As home inspectors, we check to see if there are an adequate number of smoke detectors in a home. They should be in the usual locations -- in every bedroom and in any hallways that adjoin bedrooms. And, if there are wood stoves, fireplaces, gas or oil burning appliances, then there should also be a carbon monoxide detector. While most inspectors look for proper placement of smoke detectors, the standards do not call for testing them. Sometimes you wonder how many times you see these devices and they flat do not work. They might be there, but be no good. Of (18 comments)
Home Inspector Training Washington State - 09/17/09 08:58 PM
I have had a number of potential home inspectors contact me and ask why they should take the home inspection course that is offered at Bellingham Technical College as opposed to a cheaper online course. They ask me because I am the program coordinator of the program. I can answer that question, and tell you more, in a few sentences: 1. If you settle for an online course, as your fundamentals training, then it will not count one iota towards getting your license. In this state, there are four approved classes in fundamentals training and two of them require purchasing a franchise. BTC is (1 comments)
No Wonder It Doesn't Work -- Goofy Public Solutions - 09/16/09 09:56 AM
Last week I was driving between Washington and Oregon. At a rest stop, I saw a crazy design, somebody's wild hair, and it is no wonder that it is not working. Sometimes the government seems to come up with weird concoctions that they hope will pass as normal. I will recreate this for you, the way I saw it. I got out of the car and headed toward the public building, mainly a restroom of course. It was a big, long flat building and at all four corners, no matter how you approached it, you saw what at first looked like (17 comments)
Monitoring Foundation Cracks - 09/14/09 03:42 PM
Many of us in the field of home inspection really hate to use the term "monitor." We know, from practical experience, that if you tell a client to monitor a problem that person usually thinks nothing more about it. It may not go away, they just do not think about it. Monitor is interpreted as putting it out of mind. This is especially true of issues in the crawl space. Even builders, who own houses, never seem to go down into their own crawl spaces. But, honestly, with some issues the only practical thing you can suggest is monitoring. A good (6 comments)
A Little Clue - 09/12/09 11:23 AM
At a recent inspection I saw, up on the roof, a poor flashing on a B-vent. A B-vent is the vent used for venting gas furnaces and gas water heaters. It is not uncommon to find problems with the roof flashings. Often, a precautionary warning is all that is required -- this will be a problem someday. Then there are those other times. I was down by the furnace and looked up at the vent from below. What we had there was a spot of heavy rust and a clear concern. At this home they need to have a professional check (9 comments)
Conducive Conditions - 09/11/09 03:55 PM
According to the Washington State Department of Agriculture, crawl space vents, in an unconditioned crawl space, should be open as much of the year as is possible. WSDA regulates pest issues and, even with the new home inspector laws, it seems that conducive conditions (conditions that will lead to rot) will remain the same as they have been in the past. The crawl space vent below has another issue. Soil and organic matter is up against the screen. This leads to a couple problems (1) the vent is blocked (2) soil and moisture is blown down into the crawl space. If you see (6 comments)
Take A Look At This One - 09/11/09 03:55 PM
For the homeowner it seems that various combinations of black electrical tape, duct tape, masking tape and shoe-goo are the solution to most plumbing leaks. My friend Charles Buell believes that, given the choice, masking tape is superior. Personally, I go with the duct tape. Seriously, it seems that people do not realize that pipes, if gaskets and fittings are in decent shape and properly in place, do not need glue and tape. Below is a nice example of what the inspector sees.
It would be much more practical to properly repair this than to monkey around with it. Also, (8 comments)
Especially in rental properties, I see many space heaters. They might be electric or gas. Such a heater, in a two-story home, is shown below.
I said that this heater was in a two-story home. Guess what? That is the ONLY heater in the home. That is defined as insufficient heat. For a home to be adequately heated, there needs to be a source of heat in every livable room. Livable excludes halls and closets, bathrooms (although I think they need heat) and laundry rooms, that kind of thing. When I find a home with insufficient heat, I tell (9 comments)
New House Surprises - 09/10/09 12:06 PM
Recently I wrote about the need for heat in every livable room in a house. Sometimes, in older houses, that was just never planned for or taken into account. Then you have the new houses. When I have the time, I take my laser thermometer and check each supply register as the furnace is running. I do the same with baseboards or electric wall heaters. It is sometimes surprising, yet happens quite a bit, that I will find that new house has no heat coming from one or more supply registers. Getting down into the "warm" crawl space, the reason can be very (5 comments)
Bellingham Home Inspector (King of the House) B-vent safety - 09/10/09 12:05 PM
There it is again. The photo you see below has to be one of the most cited issues found at home inspections in the northwest. What you are looking at is the B-bent for a gas furnace. That B-vent is in contact with the loose fill insulation. A B-vent requires one-inch of clearance from flammables and that includes insulation. This is simple to do. They put a metal shield, like a collar, around the vent and then put the insulation around that. The problem is not that this is a difficult fix. The problem is that somehow the steps get out (2 comments)
Messy, Messy Messy - 09/10/09 09:48 AM
Have you ever been in an attic? Some attics are totally unremarkable. Or, if the builder put that white loose fill insulation in the attic of a new home, it looks like you are gazing out over a snow bank. The attic below, unfortunately, is more the kind of attic that gets the attention of the home inspector.
We inspectors see this over and over again. Somebody has made repairs or replaced the roof and, in so doing, they left all the scraps in the attic. In attics and crawl spaces all you want to see is structurally important material -- (5 comments)
Water Is The Enemy - 09/09/09 06:43 PM
It seems wrong to be saying that water is the enemy. People in some parts of the world and this country are in desperate need of water. Even here in Bellingham, we have some rivers that are looking pretty low right now. But, when it comes to the health and well-being of homes in this region, water is the enemy. Water can lead to rot, mold and other nasty conditions. Take a look at the crawl space below.
You might think that photo is shocking, if you realize that what you see there is the sub-structure of a home, (11 comments)
Problem -- Poor Vapor Barrier - 09/08/09 09:17 PM
When there is an unconditioned crawl space under a home, the most common situation in Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest, it is important that the vapor barrier be effective. For a vapor barrier to be effective -- keeping evaporation from the earth under the plastic -- it must cover all of the soil. Below is a classic example of a sloppy job of installing a vapor barrier. It is, also, probably the way the vapor barrier looks at about half the houses I inspect -- even the new ones.
A home with major gaps in the vapor barrier can lead (5 comments)
Steam And Bathroom Fans - 09/08/09 09:16 PM
It seems like, unless it is a new house, I always find problems with exhaust fans. Even homes that are only a few years old often vent them into the attic. The theory -- very wrong -- is that the attic venting will take care of the moisture. This might not be a big deal in a half bath, with a sink and not a shower or tub, but it sure does not work when a home has facilities that generate large quantities of steam. That steam lingers in the attic and is likely to cause sheathing stains and even mold. (7 comments)
Common Problem With Vinyl Siding - 09/08/09 09:24 AM
Vinyl siding is very popular in Bellingham and Whatcom county. Often I will see homes with vinyl siding and it looks to be in good shape. One place the inspector really needs to look carefully though is at decks and patios -- any place where barbecues or equipment might be stored.
This photo is typical of what you are likely to find at the patio. Perhaps even more common than that is the melted siding where the barbecue has been sizzling away and it overheated the siding. Remember, vinyl is plastic and plastic melts. If you are checking a home (11 comments)
Nutsy's Fascinating Labor Day Revelation - 09/07/09 10:32 AM
Many years ago, when I was raised in another state, I was at Oakwood elementary school and the instructor told me that, throughout modern history, two names are more famous than those of past Presidents and world leaders. One of those two names was a fictional character -- Sherlock Holmes. The other was a real person -- Harry Houdini. It was the real person, not the fictional one, that had close ties to the Wallenda family. My great, great uncle, Pinenut Wallenda, was Houdini's right hand squirrel. Uncle Pinenut was Houdini's best hope to avert tragedy. If something went wrong, Pinenut would (19 comments)
When you live in a wet area, like Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest, sometimes all people can do to keep the crawl space reasonably dry is to install a sump pump. The biggest ongoing problem with sump pumps is the fact that they are mechanical devices. Mechanical devices -- like your car and the airplane you fly in -- quit working unless they are well-maintained. That is true of a sump pump too. The next problem is this: Homeowners do not know much about them, they are out of sight and out of mind and, with few exceptions, homeowners have (10 comments)
When Second Best Is As Good As It Gets - 09/04/09 11:16 PM
Oh yes, if only everything could be perfect. My belief is that, if you are talking houses, the word "perfect" never applies. That is my view, having worked for several years as a home inspector in Bellingham. Here is an example -- I often find water heaters that are installed in finished living space and the tank has no pan with a drain to the outside underneath it. The inspection report language goes much like this: The water heater is installed over finished living space and has no catch pan and drain installed. While the probability of this becoming an issue increases proportionally (13 comments)
Bellingham Home Inspector (King of the House) -- Wood Decay - 09/04/09 12:03 AM
In yesterday's post, I wrote about the problem of water ending up next to the home, on exterior wood or at the foundation, as a result of uncontrolled runoff water. This photo is a section of porch, from yesterday's house, that was negatively impacted by both a lack of gutters and, also, the fact that there is wood to soil contact.
Wood to soil contact, and uncontrolled runoff water, when put together, lead to big problems. In fact, those two factors are probably the single biggest contributors to rot or wood decay fungi. Steven L. Smith Bellingham WA Home (9 comments)
Whatcom County Home Inspection (King of the House) -- No Gutters - 09/03/09 10:44 AM
In this wet corner of the Pacific Northwest, when a home does not have gutters and downspouts, the uncontrolled runoff water ends up in all those places you do not want to find it -- like running down the siding or collecting at the foundation and entering the basement or the crawl space or rotting the wood trim or the siding. Sometimes people in heavy snow or mountain areas do not want gutters because they might come down when snow collects in them, although there are gutter systems designed for mountain locations. When I inspected this house years ago, the front (4 comments)
School Days -- Washington State Home Inspector Licensing - 09/02/09 11:46 PM
Today, at Bellingham Technical College, students spent the whole day focusing on learning about the various wood destroying organisms that are found in this state. The primary culprits are carpenter ants, termites, wood boring beetles, moisture ants and wood decay fungi or rot. Under the new home inspector licensing law, a home inspector inspects for rot and conducive conditions (things that cause rot or attract pests) but the inspector does not inspect for wood destroying insects. However, many home inspectors are also licensed structural pest inspectors and they do inspect for wood destroying insects.
The purpose of this class, an (6 comments)
Washington State Licensed Home Inspectors - 09/02/09 09:31 AM
The weather has changed and, with it, the winds of change have blown into Washington State. As of yesterday, the licensing of home inspectors became official. Washington state is a state that licenses home inspectors now and in the future.
This whole process of wrangling over the law, and the implementation of the law, took place over years. In fact it is not all complete as of yet. Until July of this year, there are a few inspectors, who have been given extra time to work, so they can gain mandatory education credits. If they do not do that, then they are (7 comments)
Why Bother? - 09/01/09 08:57 AM
When I see a TPR drain line on a water heater that looks like this, I wonder why bother. It seems like just leaving the valve with no drain makes as much sense as setting up this kind of "shotgun" effect.
Based on the solder at the one end, probably this had a drain on it at one time, but it is long gone now. A TPR drain line should terminate within 6 inches of the ground or the pavement, depending on where the tank is located. And the drain may only run down, never up. Well, at least that (12 comments)
Steven L. Smith, King of the House Home Inspection, provides information for real estate buyers, sellers and real estate industry professionals.
Blog posts emphasize issues commonly found in Bellingham, WA and Whatcom County. Smith is Washington State Licensed Home inspector #207, a state licensed structural pest inspector and one of the most experienced inspectors in the northwest corner of the Pacific Northwest.
Steven L. Smith is lead instructor of home inspection at Bellingham Technical College and teaches classes for Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Steve was a two-term member of the state licensing board.
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