Dryer Vents

Dryer Vents

Most Americans do not consider in home laundry as a luxury but rather more of a common element and necessity. Most of us never think about the dangers associated with the basic dryer appliance. Dryers, both gas and electric, require some form of vent that discharges from the home and exits to the exterior of the home.

One of the most important things stressed during any inspection training course is safety. A home inspector is not a code-enforcer, and it is important to distinguish between the two, because there is so much riding on the inspector’s ability to spot trouble areas.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), there are more than 14,000 dryer fires reported. The importance of the system being properly configured, the use of proper materials and the maintenance of the dryer and dryer exhaust systems can hardly be overstated. A well designed exhaust system can allow the dryer to work at peak operating levels.

There are very simple rules for the discharge of dryer through a vent pipe. The discharge pipe should evacuate to the exterior of the dwelling in less than 25 feet, and each bend or 90 degree angle in the pipe will shorten that distance by 2 1/2 feet each time. The connection of the various elements of the dryer vents should never be fastened with screws. If a screw is used they can create an opportunity to catch the lint on the interior of the pipe and cause a blockage.

Length Standard

The next and probably the most important element to inspection of the dryer vent should be the identification of the materials being used to exhaust the dryer vent. While home stores and appliance stores may sell a wide variety of pipes and pipe materials, many of these might be dangerous and will contribute to the likelihood of a fire. The common plastic vent is highly susceptible to fire, the combustible plastic material can melt and combust with only a partial blockage or obstruction of lint material.

The foil material, while also very common, is a very lightweight material and can also combust. The lightweight material also causes the material to dip or bend, and these bends can cause obstructions.

Flexible pipes are convenient to install, do not require specific elbow materials, and are different than foil pipes because these are a much thicker material. These are a very acceptable material as long as they are kept clear of debris and properly fastened and installed.

The safest and arguably the best material is smooth rigid metal. This material allows the lint and other elements on the interior of the pipe to easily move to the exit point on the exterior of the home.Just because the proper materials, fastening and length is present; the home is still not out of harm’s way. The interior of the dryer vent will require periodic cleaning, because the lint material is extremely flammable.

A professional can be called to thoroughly clean the interior of the vent, and insure the system is without build-up. This will lessen the fire risk considerably. Determining if the dryer vent requires cleaning could be as easy as looking at the exterior vent. If it is dirty there, the rest of the pipe will also be dirty.

Dirty

Most home inspectors and HVAC contractors recommend the vent system be professionally cleaned annually. This is a very simple inexpensive process that should be placed on your annual maintenance list.
There will also be special installation circumstances which will need special attention. These will include vent pipes that exit into or through an attic, and since metal pipes are the recommended materials, this can pose some additional obstacles. In this instance, because the temperatures of the discharge in the pipe is warm; the pipe will be prone to condensation and this condensation could cause water damage to the ceilings below. This is why the pipes in these areas are recommended to be insulated; to prevent condensation.

The attic vent should also never discharge directly into the attic but to the exterior of the home. This can be through the roof or the eaves but it has to be to the exterior. If the vent is broken or torn or just discharges directly into the attic, then lint material can become a fire hazard there as well.

Bottom line, the key is to make sure the dryer vent is clean. While the materials used for the vent is very important, the interior maintenance is the most important part to dryer vent safety.

New Construction Inspections

We get it. Why would anyone suggest getting an inspection on a newly constructed property? 

The Builder has invested a substantial amount of time, money and emotional energy in constructing a home. Dozens of tradespersons have worked together for hundreds of hours over several months to showcase their best work. The county inspector reviewed the work throughout the construction process and has given their blessing. A REALTOR spent their hard-earned marketing dollars to find the right buyer. That buyer fell in love with the home. 

Who wants a home inspector to come along and disrupt the process?

We couldn’t agree more. At The BrickKicker, we see ourselves as part of the process and we understand our place within it. Our job is to educate buyers and give them an honest, unbiased survey of the home. We help them complete their due diligence so they can move forward with confidence.

We see the consequences of shortcuts and poor practices on a daily basis. In Georgia, you get a one-year warranty on your new home but your builder may have no leverage over his subcontractors 11 months after they have been paid for their work. A new construction inspection by The BrickKicker will identify potential issues before closing while you have the negotiating position to get things done correctly.

While a traditional home inspection is designed to look at the elements of an existing home a new construction inspection can go one step further. We can verify code compliance and have more time and better tools than the county building inspectors that have periodically stopped by during construction. We pay special attention to the issues that are frequently overlooked. The BrickKicker inspectors will provide you with the information you need to prepare a final punch-list. This is a list of items found in new construction which are incomplete, missing or completed in a less than quality manner.

What should buyers look for when choosing an inspector for new construction?

The State of Georgia has no licensing or certification requirements for home inspectors. One thing that distinguishes The BrickKicker from other companies is our commitment to continuing education. We complete 2 hours of CE per inspector, per week. We have some of the most educated, tested and trained inspectors in the State of Georgia and we can meet any builder requirements. Our minimum standard is certification by The American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), the only 3rd party accredited home inspection association. All of our inspectors meet the highest standards in our industry. Some builders demand a higher standard, the International Code Council Residential Combination Inspector certification (ICC R5). We meet that requirement as well. 

Buyers should be aware that a Purchase and Sales Agreement for a newly constructed home will likely specify that they hire a home inspector with specific credentials and insurance that most practicing home inspectors in Georgia do not have. If you choose the wrong inspector you may find out the day before your scheduled inspection that they are not permitted on the property. When you are looking for an ICC Residential Combination Inspector with Workers’ Compensation Insurance, a business license and General Liability Insurance, call The BrickKicker. 

Home Inspection Costs

Home Inspection Costs

Usually, the first thing we are asked when a client call to ask about a home inspection is “What does it cost?” Most home inspectors price their inspections based on the same criteria: size, age and foundation type. This is the minimal amount of information we need to provide a quote. We usually start by asking for the address because buyers don’t always have the other information available when they call. We can go to Zillow and get the information we need before getting a price. Our base price for a condo starts at $250 and for a home $295. The price goes up based on heated square footage, additional buildings and we charge a little extra for a crawlspace. (They can be hazardous.) For example, a 2,000 square foot house built in 1970 with a crawlspace would cost $425 and a 4000 square foot house built in 1998 with a finished basement would cost $495.00. 

 

Additional Services

An established home inspection company will offer a full menu of additional services. Some services may be included that other companies upsell. For example, we include IR Thermography with all of our inspections. Yes, IR cameras are costly and proper use requires additional training but all of our inspectors have been trained and each of them has an IR camera in their toolkit. (We never charge extra for using the tools in our bag.) 

Termite inspections are regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture and we believe that every home buyer should have one. Because we have a relationship with an extermination company, we are able to offer these free of charge.

We charge extra for a sewer camera inspection but this is because we frequently have to send an extra person, we only have one sewer camera and the equipment is very expensive. We rarely cover our cost when providing this service but we believe it is critical to inspect any main sewer lateral that is over 20 years old.

Radon testing is offered by most home inspectors but buyers should ask what kind of radon test is offered. We use continuous radon monitors. Each device costs $1200, must be sent for annual calibration and require a quality assurance program to ensure the machines are working properly. In return, we get results immediately when we pick up our machines, they are very accurate and tamperproof. There are certainly less expensive, less accurate and more time-consuming devices on the market that are not ideal to use during a home inspection. Radon testing saves lives and we do not cut costs on important diagnostic tools. 

 

Hidden Costs

In a “Sellers’ Market”, it is not unusual for a seller to refuse to fix anything that a buyer requests after the inspection. This is unfortunate for the buyer but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have an inspection just because they have a weak negotiating position. Sellers rarely know the condition of everything in their home and the disclosure (or I as call it, “The Book of Lies”) is almost always filled out moments after it is requested with very little effort in providing accurate information. The home inspection is the only chance a buyer has to understand the condition of the home they are purchasing. They may be paying top dollar for a home with major upcoming expenses and zero room for negotiation. Without a home inspection, they may purchase a home that they would have otherwise walked away from. That is a costly mistake.

If the cost of the inspection is less than the homeowner’s insurance deductible, then it might be a great deal. Small plumbing leaks can become big plumbing leaks. Slow, concealed leaks can cause major damage over time. Certain losses are not covered by insurance but can easily be prevented by hiring a competent home inspector. We recommend an annual inspection of some areas of the home. (The places homeowners  never go, for sure.) A buyer’s home inspection may also discover problems that the seller cannot legally ignore. Sellers lose negotiating power when they are faced with the duty to disclose the findings to the next potential buyer. 

Offsets to the Cost

Some home inspectors offer home maintenance programs that can be of great value to their clients. We buy a HomeBinder subscription for all of our clients. This is an amazing tool for managing your home and organizing all documents related to the home. It can also be a powerful tool to help market one’s home when it comes time to sell. We also have a relationship with Porch that benefits our clients. The Porch Home Assistant will help transfer or set up utilities and also provides our clients with significant discounts on handyman services. (This “Assistant” is an actual person.) Porch also backs up our inspections with a 90-Day Porch Inspection Guarantee. If we miss something, Porch will cover it up to the cost of the inspection. We have the most highly trained inspectors in our market but they are human, and humans can make mistakes. 

 

Don’t Settle for Second Best

We are aware that there are many low-cost providers of home inspectors in our area. It might be tempting to call one because the house looks good and the inspection should be “easy.” In our experience, that “easy” inspection may be the one that requires the most proficient and experienced inspector to recognize a major problem. If you are going to shop price on a home inspection, you may as well skip it altogether. If you are going to hire a Professionally Trained and Independently Certified Home Inspector, know that the quality of the inspection report, the complimentary termite and IR Thermography and additional assurances that The BrickKicker offers makes an inspection with us one of the smartest investments you can make in your new home. 

The Story of How Radon was Discovered in Homes

Who is Radio Active Stanely?

In January of 1984, Stanely Watras and his young family moved into their new home in Boyerstown, Pennsylvania. Stanely began work at the soon-to-be-operable Limerick Nuclear Power Plant as a construction engineer. A few weeks before the plant began its energy production, they installed radiation detectors at the exterior doors. Employees would walk through them at the end of their shift, ensuring that they were not tracking radioactive material into the streets of their small town. 

Imagine the confusion that was caused one morning when Stanley arrived at work and set off the radiation detectors as he entered the building, when the power plant that was still free of radioactive material. For the next few weeks, Stanely continued to set off the detectors until it was discovered that the radioactive material was on his clothes and the source was his home. Upon further investigation it was determined that there were extremely high levels of radon in the Watras’ home. The EPA recommend safe levels are under 4.0pCi/L. The level in the Watras’ home was 2,700 pCi/L.

Because the levels of radon found in the Watras’ home were higher than levels detected in typical uranium mines, the family promptly moved out of their home and the Environmental Protection Agency moved in. For the next several months, the EPA used the Watras home to test multiple radon mitigation systems. They were eventually able to get the levels below 4.0 pCi, installed an alarm that would sound if levels every crept up to unsafe levels again and the Watras family moved back into their home.  

What Is Radon?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer. Radon is created as part of the decay process of uranium. The EPA estimates that, nation wide, radon is responsible for 21,000 deaths from cancer a year; of these 21,000 deaths, roughly 19,000 of these individuals are smokers. Exposure to both cigarette smoke and radon gas puts individuals at a much higher risk than either of the two factors alone. 

Where does radon come from?

The presence of uranium and its progeny (radon) in the earth was not new information. However, until the Watras’, it wasn’t understood that radon could be seeping into homes through cracks in foundations and well water. Naturally, the Watras’ neighbors were concerned that the levels in their homes may also be extremely high. Testing indicated that half were within acceptable levels. This was because the entire neighborhood was built on the Reading Prong, a rocky belt that contains elevated concentrations of uranium. 

To understand how this could be, it may be helpful to think of how underground water sources can travel great lengths to find a spring to flow through. It, like radon, is looking for the path of least resistance. This is what happened in the case of the Watras’ home. Their house happened to have been built on top of a crack in the rocky out cropping that radon was able to escape through. 

What happened to the Watras family?

As of 2015, Stanely and Diane Watras’ were still living in their home. Despite the dire predictions from experts at the time of the radon discovery in their home, none of the five family members have died from lung cancer. The radon mitigation system installed in their home has done its job. 

How can I determine if there are elevated levels of radon in my home?

Elevated radon levels does not mean your home is unfixable. Depending on the size and design of the home and the type of the foundation, mitigation systems can be installed for under $2000. (Sometimes under $1000.) If you are concerned about radon levels in your home, consider conducting a long term test. AccuStar’s Alpha Track radon test kits are used for long term radon testing. The long term test offer a better representation of the radon concentration over different seasons and building conditions. Exposure time is typically between 3 and 12 months. These kits can be purchased for $30.

It’s More Than A Musty Smell

Perhaps it’s happened to you: You and your buyer have arrived at a showing and the home has been empty for some time. You unlock and open the door and a wave of musty air hits you and your client in the face. Agents frequently dismiss this as “just a musty odor because the house has been sitting.” Their clients usually accept this because, hey, their agent is a pro and goes into a lot of homes. Surely this is the norm during a house hunt. Perhaps a musty odor is a good sign. The reality is that the likely source is microbial growth and suggesting that it is anything else is opening yourself up to a lawsuit. Why bother? Why not address musty odors head on and hire the right home inspector to investigate the smell?

The most likely cause of a musty order in a home is mold. Actively growing molds release Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds (MVOCs) that frequently have a distinct odor. The good news is that when damp conditions in a closed-up house cause mold to grow, it is usually someplace you can see it. If the mold was caused by a leak or long term-persistent moisture it could be growing under floorboards, behind walls, under wallpaper or in the ductwork on dust and debris that has settled there. 

Mold is found everywhere in nature. Like mushrooms, its purpose is to break down wood, leaves and other plant material into nutrient-rich dirt. Mold is made up of tiny, generally transparent filaments called hyphae. As these hyphae take in nutrients from the substrate they are growing on they create a fuzzy blanket called mycelium. This is when molds become visible. As the mycelium reaches the next stage of development it is ready to spread. To do this it creates and distributes spores. (A lot of spores.) To correctly classify the genus or species of mold laboratory testing must be done, however, identification is probably unnecessary if you intend to have it cleaned up.

Breathing in mold spores can cause health problems for some individuals. The symptoms of mold-related illness are frequently respiratory issues, irritated eyes, rashes, sinus congestion, sneezing and headaches. There are certain types of molds that release mycotoxins that have been known to cause severe neurological problems. Whether or not individuals are affected by mold is dependant on a number of factors; the type of mold, the nutrient source, the duration and severity of exposure and the sensitivity of the individual. At greater risk are people with compromised immune systems, asthma, the elderly, small children and pregnant women.

Most molds need four things in their environment to grow; an organic substrate to grow on, temperatures between 40-120 degrees, the presence of mold spores and moisture. Three of the four of these are outside a homeowners ability to control or change. We keep the temperature in our home well within that range. We track mold spores into our house from the outdoors on our shoes and in our pets’ fur. They also float in freely every time we open a door or window. Occasionally, mold may grow on our expired bread, produce or house plants. Though mold loves to grow on wood, it can also grow on dust particles. Moisture is the only factor we can control in stopping or preventing mold growth. Because mold can grow within 24-48 hours of coming in contact with moisture, it is imperative that water intrusion is promptly remedied.

 

At The BrickKicker, we believe that every home inspection should also be a mold investigation. Our inspectors are trained to look for visible mold in the areas of homes where mold is likely to grow. We recommend following EPA guidance when it comes to mold testing and remediation: When we find mold, we recommend having it cleaned up. We do not sell remediation services nor do we recommend expensive testing to confirm what we already know. If your clients have a history of respiratory issues we can certainly provide quantified microbial measurements using a method appropriate for the observation or the concern. The BrickKicker also offers indoor an air quality test that can be done on homes outside the scope of a real estate transaction.

So the next time you detect a musty odor in a home tell your clients to keep it in perspective. A closed up home may have damp conditions that cause microbial growth. Perhaps that is what they are smelling. A good home inspector will track down the source of the odor, make sure it wasn’t caused by a more serious issue and give appropriate recommendations to move forward. Tell them to call The BrickKicker.

Inspecting Commercial Kitchens

Inspecting a Commercial Kitchen

Before purchasing a building with a commercial kitchen, a thorough inspection will help you determine if the mechanical equipment has been well-maintained.  Large kitchens can be tricky because they require different venting/lighting systems than other parts of commercial properties.Technically speaking . . .
After establishing the kitchen is truly a commercial kitchen and not a break room kitchen in an office one can determine the exhaust inspection needs.  Small break room kitchens have many of the same features and systems as a residential inspection, and thus, inspection requirements should be likewise.  However, a true commercial kitchen is much more complex and may require a specialist or subcontractor to assist in a thorough inspection.

The inspection . . . 
The BrickKicker Inspector will observe the hood and exhaust system.  The first and most important element of the commercial exhaust hood is the cleaning and inspection tag.  This is a tag typically placed on the exterior of the hood which identifies the last time the hood was cleaned and serviced.  All commercial hoods are required to be cleaned at least once a year.  This is typically a thorough pressure cleaning using steam.  The entire system, including the ductwork through the roof or sidewalls, is also cleaned.

Many kitchens we inspect are in-service or operating.  If this is the case, we simply ask the kitchen staff to operate the system, and we being a visual inspection of the rest of the system.  This includes:

  • Reporting on the conditions of the filters or noting if any excessive grease is present.
  • Locating the fire suppression system and its condition.
  • Examining that the lighting (including the bulb) is installed in an explosion-proof or flash-proof fixture to prevent any electrical shorts or issues from causing a grease fire in the system.

Airflow . . .
Because a commercial kitchen can create a very difficult work environment, we carefully investigate the air quality of the kitchen.  Our inspections also include examining any excessive heat from the various appliances, fumes, and odors from what is being prepared, and gases expelled from burning fuel used to operate the appliances.

If a fresh air intake is installed on the roof, we address the metal filter where fresh air is being brought into the system and ductwork leading into the hood to provide the fresh air.  If any ductwork is damaged or has openings, the quality air flow can fail, and even allow water into the system.    The exhaust fan unit should have a cover present and should be installed to the hood. This cover prevents weather elements from directly coming into contact with any of the interior portions of the fan unit.  If rain, ice, snow or water is allowed to enter the system it can cause the grease to create a slurry or build up and potentially fail the system.  These vents typically have a removable cap which allows for cleaning.
Our goal is to help you keep your kitchen, staff, and customers safe!

Inspections for all of your commercial and residential property needs.

What is Included in a Property Condition Assessment?

Property Condition Assessments

With The BrickKicker Property Condition Assessments, you will feel more confident purchasing or leasing a commercial property for your place of business.  We have a full-time dedicated and certified team of inspectors available to help you and your clients with your commercial inspection needs.

The BrickKicker is committed to excellence and being your consultant throughout your commercial property involvement.

Peace of mind
— for both you and your Commercial Clients —
with The BrickKicker!

 

Our Baseline Property Condition Assessments include:

  • Site review
    • Paving
    • Landscaping
    • Utilities
    • Topography
  • Structural Frame
  • Building Exterior and Envelope
  • Roof Surfaces
  • Windows and Doors
  • Plumbing System and Components
  • Electrical System and Components
  • Installed Mechanical Systems
  • HVAC Systems
    • Heating Systems
    • Air Conditioning Systems
    • Ventilation Systems
  • Visual review of Life Safety and Fire Protection
  • Installed Interior Elements
  • Document Review (if supplied)
  • Probable Costs and Recommendations (if requested)
Additionally, our trained inspectors can provide optional services:

  • Energy Audits
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Assessments
  • Fire Safety and Sprinkler Inspections
  • Roof or Floor Cores
  • Mold Sampling
  • Radon Gas Testing
  • Energy Star Rating
  • Fenestrations
  • Elevator Inspections
  • Alarm Inspection
  • Wood Destroying Organism Inspection
  • Engineering Specialist or Certification

Asbestos and Home Inspections

Asbestos containing materials may be a concern for some home buyers. Their concern is not unwarranted but their understanding of the hazards associated with asbestos exposure usually comes from class-action lawsuit infomercials. Mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis are all associated with asbestos exposure and the latency period for disease can range from 10-40 years. To make things worse, there is no safe level of exposure and asbestos containing building materials are found everywhere.

Homebuyers may request asbestos testing with their home inspection. This is a difficult request to deliver. First, it is rare to find a home inspector that can legally do asbestos testing in Georgia. (Spoiler Alert: We can.) The ability to test is further complicated by the need to cut holes in walls, flooring or insulating materials to get samples. Inspectors certainly cannot cut holes in walls or flooring materials during a home inspection. In addition to taking multiple (up to 9) samples in each area of concern, the EPA recommends doing sampling in a way that is truly random, making discrete sampling locations unlikely.

When is asbestos testing appropriate?

If may not be feasible during a home inspection but asbestos testing is recommended during renovation and demolition projects. The local building inspector may require it before issuing a demolition permit. An asbestos inspector will identify areas of potential asbestos containing materials and take an appropriate number of samples for laboratory analysis. A home buyer should also be aware that some renovation projects that they plan to tackle on their own may not require a permit but could be potentially hazardous.  Repairing drywall, removing “popcorn” ceiling texture or replacing old flooring materials are a few examples of simple DIY projects that could result in contaminating the home and exposing the occupants to asbestos.

How should Realtors communicate to clients about asbestos?

So how do you help your clients keep these hazards in perspective without downplaying them? First, direct them to the EPA website. At www.EPA.gov/Asbestos, homebuyers can find clear and concise information about the hazards of asbestos and products that may potentially contain them. Second, they should make sure their home inspector has been trained to identify materials that are likely to contain asbestos.

How can The BrickKicker be of help if asbestos is suspected to be present?

At The BrickKicker, we have an EPA accredited asbestos building inspector on staff. When an asbestos survey is necessary or testing is requested by a homeowner planning a DIY project, we can legally offer the service. During a home inspection, our professionally trained inspectors can identify potential asbestos containing materials, assess their condition and give recommendations for maintaining or removing them without laboratory analysis.

Maximum Occupancy

DO YOU KNOW YOUR MAXIMUM OCCUPANCY?

“Occupancy Load” refers to the number of people permitted in a building at one time based on the building’s floor space and function. The occupancy load must be posted on signs and publicly available. To exceed occupancy load or fail to post-occupancy load signs in the required places can result in fines and is a serious safety hazard.

Emergencies can require the immediate evacuation of a building, particularly in the event of a fire. Any delay in evacuation can be tragic, as was the case in the 2003 Station Night Club fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, which killed 100 people in just over five minutes. The fire was so lethal because evacuation was sluggish, partly due to the fact that the actual number of people present was much higher than the building’s occupancy load.

Sign Inspection

CCPIA inspectors can consider the following questions while they inspect load occupancy signs:

  • Is the sign present? The 2006 International Building Code (IBC) requires that signs should be present in all “assembly occupancies.” The city of Yuma, Arizona, requires their presence in assembly occupancies and defines that term as “gatherings of 50 persons or more for civic, social, or religious functions.” Other jurisdictions, such as the cities of Houston, Texas and Portland, Oregon, as well as the state of Idaho, agree that occupancy signs are required for buildings that have occupancy loads of 50 or more.
  • Has the sign been maintained?  It is the responsibility of the building’s owner to make sure that the sign is not damaged by wear or abuse.
  • Is the sign clear and legible? The Houston Fire Code requires the following:  Signs shall [have a] minimum of 1-inch block letters and numbers on a contrasting background so as to be readily visible. Allowable smaller lettering shall be a minimum of 3/8- inch block lettering.
  • Is the sign placed in a suitable location? The 2006 IBC requires the following: Every room or space that is an assembly occupancy shall have the occupant load of the room or space posted in a conspicuous place, near the main exit or exit access doorway from the room or space.

Additional recommendations can be drawn from the Houston Fire Code, which requires that occupancy load signs be placed in the following manner:

  • The sign shall be located in a conspicuous location within the room, adjacent to the main exit, so as to not be obstructed by doors, curtains, poster board stands, furniture, room dividers, or similar items.  The sign shall be posted not more than 60 inches nor less than 48 inches above the floor.

Calculation of Occupancy Load

Occupancy load is calculated by dividing the area of a room by its prescribed unit of area per person. Units of area per person for specific buildings can be found in the chart at the end of this article. For instance, the chart dictates that dormitories require 50 square feet of floor area for every room occupant.

Consequently, a dorm room that has 100 square feet of floor space will have a maximum occupancy of two people. The amount of space required per person varies based on the function of the room, which is determined by the building’s designer.

In summary, the occupancy load must be posted in many buildings on signs that are clearly visible and legible.

–thank you to InterNACHI and the CCPIA or this important information

Commercial Fire Safety

How Safe is Your Fire Alarm System?

Fire alarm systems are designed to protect people and their property from fire and smoke, but they cannot be relied upon unless they are routinely inspected by professionals. Regular inspection and maintenance also reduce expenses by preventing unbudgeted emergency repairs and costly false alarms.

Fire Alarm Systems Can Be Damaged

Fire alarm systems can be damaged in the following ways:

  • infiltration by dust, dirt and other contaminants;
  • vandalism;
  • remodeling;
  • improper maintenance; and
  • inadequate
    performance of degraded
    electronics.

How old is the system?

If you can find out the age of the system, you can get a better idea of inspection requirements.

  • Systems less than five years old require little effort to maintain. In these new systems, problems are usually caused by improper installation, such as bad grounding, or environmental factors, such as voltage transients.
  • Systems between five and 10 years old may experience component breakdown caused by harsh, but normal, environmental factors. Voltage fluctuations, temperature, and humidity may cause system failure or nuisance alarm problems.
  • Systems between 10 and 15 years old can still provide an appropriate life-safety response. However, systems this old require close attention, even with proper maintenance procedures in place. If the system has a history of poor maintenance (or none at all), it’s likely that failure of components will occur.
  • Systems older than 15 years may be beyond their technological life expectancy. The system may continue to work satisfactorily if properly maintained, but it will require testing and inspection by trained specialists to ensure that proper system response will occur in an emergency.

Inspection Steps

Few property inspectors are qualified to inspect fire alarm systems, and the International Standards of Practice for Inspecting Commercial Properties do not require inspectors to inspect fire alarm systems. However, some basic knowledge about systems outside of the scope of a general inspection can be helpful. In addition,  commercial property inspections give you the opportunity to educate your client about the importance of maintaining fire protection systems in a commercial building. Your client needs to know that a fire alarm system requires periodic maintenance and an annual inspection by a licensed contractor, as required by code. You should advise your client to obtain the documentation of the previous annual maintenance inspections, which should be kept on site.  They should indicate the items inspected (smoke detectors, pull stations, horn/strobes, etc.), the condition they were in at the time of the inspection, and any repairs made to the system.

Specifically, the following steps are generally taken by contractors trained in fire-alarm system inspection:

  • Set the sensitivity. This requires an understanding of the particular system, the specific application, and fire detection theory.
  • Simulate inputs, and test the annunciators. This requires specific knowledge of the system under testing.
  • Test and calibrate the alarm sensors, such as flame and smoke detectors, per the manufacturers’ specifications. This requires knowing about the different sensors—and their testing requirements, failure modes, and re-installation requirements.
  • Coordinate with the local fire department to test the input to their system.
  • Check the battery for corrosion and expiration date, and then take appropriate action, if necessary.

In summary, fire alarms in commercial buildings are essential life and property-saving systems, and they must be maintained and periodically inspected.