Thermal Pane Windows

Thermal Pane Window.

Thermal pane windows are made up of multiple panes (double or triple) of glasses separated by insulating gases. These windows reduce the transfer of heat between inside of the house and the outside environment, and this in turn reduces the consumption of power for cooling or heating the homes, and help save on energy. This makes thermal pane windows more efficient than the single pane windows.

Thermal pane windows have different glass panes separated with a perfect vacuum. Since it is difficult to obtain a perfect vacuum between the glass panes, the space is filled with insulating gases. This reduces the heat transmission between the 2 sides of the window. During summers, the windows block heat entering into the house, and during winters, heat from inside is prevented from going outside. This helps in saving the energy used to cool and heat the house.

Argon, krypton and xenon gases are used for insulation between the glass panes. Krypton and xenon are rarely used while argon is more commonly used due to its efficiency and affordability.

Most thermal glass panes, with proper maintenance, can last up to 10 years. The life of the thermal panes depends on the type of thermal pane and different manufacturers offer different warranty period for the window panes.

Low emissive or low-e coating is a coating of a metallic oxide layer applied to the inner side of the glass pane. This coating greatly helps in reducing the transfer of heat from warm to cold atmosphere. Low-e coating helps in reducing energy consumption, and thermal pane windows with low-e coating have high energy efficiency. Normal triple pane thermal windows are more efficient than the normal double pane thermal windows while double pane windows with low-e coating are more efficient than triple pane windows without low-e coating.

One of the most common problems associated with thermal pane windows is that over the time, the space between the panes leak and can lead to the development of moisture between the panes. The moisture developed between the panes reduces the energy efficiency and also make the glasses unclear.

Some manufacturers say they are able to remove all the moisture between the glass panes by drilling small hole at the top of the glass and applying moisture control membrane over the hole to let the moisture escape the glass. Sometimes this technique doesn’t work and therefore the glass panes need to be replaced. However it is not necessary to replace the entire window, instead replacement of panes is enough.

Window issues are a very passionate item for many home buyers.  When a window seal is failed it might be difficult to see through the glass, and there could be a cloudiness / haze between the glass or even moisture or condensation present between the glass.  This is yet another reason to look at every window and not just a representative sample of them.

How to Determine if a Window Seal is Failed

Beyond just looking at the window and seeing the moisture or other signs there is a simple test that can be performed using very little technology or tools.  When the gas between the glass escapes it is transposed with normal ambient air; this air between the glass reacts with pressure or temperature change, and that is why the condensation will form.

Using a simple ice cube and holding it on the glass with temporarily change the temperature of the gas between the glass.  If the condensation or moisture form the ice cube is only on the exterior or surface of the glass, the window is fine, but, if the moisture is located between the two panes of the glass then the seal is failed.

Spend time with the windows and create a common routine to your inspections.  Windows are important and not will replace a thorough and professional inspection.

Windows

There are many perspectives when you look at windows.  Depending upon your perspective is where you find yourself.  If you are the housekeeper, you are worried about keeping them clean.  If you are a small child you are looking at the big world out there.  If you are the homeowner you may be looking at one of the most expensive replacement items in the home.  

If you are the home inspector you are looking at a very complex and diverse system that has deliberately placed a hole in the exterior envelope for the sole reason of making the home less efficient, less water and weather tight, and has a huge potential of liability or call-backs.           

Before you can really sit down and start to discuss the construction, installation, maintenance, failures or any other features of windows it is only right to look at the industry standards and understand what the home inspector is actually supposed to look at and inspect.

American Society Of Home Inspectors (ASHI)

4. EXTERIOR

4.1 The inspector shall:

  1. inspect:
    1. wall coverings, flashing, and trim.

10. INTERIORS

10.1 The inspector shall inspect:

   D.  a representative number of doors and windows.

International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI)

3.2. Exterior

I. The inspector shall inspect:

C.  a representative number of windows;

3.10. Doors, Windows & Interior

I. The inspector shall inspect:

  1. a representative number of doors and windows by opening and closing them;

Both of these standards have one thing in common, they both talk about a representative sample.  The rest of it is up to experience and background.  This leaves a great deal up to each individual to determine what their professional expectations are, as well as what the client expectations are.  This why it is important to have a good thorough understanding of windows, not only the functionality but where the potential failures might be as well.

Gaining a good understanding has to begin with understanding the basic styles of windows.

  • Single Hung – There is a top and bottom sash but only the bottom sash moves or opens and closes.
  • Double Hung – There is a top and bottom sash and both the top and the bottom sashes move or open and close.
  • Arched Window –  Typically a fixed or non-moving pane of glass with rounded tops that add an architectural design element.
  • Awning Window – These are ideal in climates with a lot of rain.  They have a sash or window that opens upward like an awning.
  • Bay Window – Bay windows protrude from an exterior wall and create a small shelf in the home. Bay windows rely on flat windows set into an angled frame that are built out of the home.  These can be casement, fixed, single or double hung windows.
  • Bow Window -Bow windows rely on custom curved windows that create a circular area along the outside of the home. Depending on the amount of window panels you want to use to create the curved bow window, a bow window can sometimes run more expensive than a full bay window.
  • Casement Window – Casement windows swing out to the side or up to open. This allows the window to be constructed of solid glass and offers a less obstructed view overall. 
  • Garden Window – Garden windows are essentially mini bay windows that are meant for plants. They’ve earned their name because they act like tiny little greenhouses that protrude from the inside of your home.
  • Glass Block Window – Most commonly, glass block window types are frosted or adorned with a patterned design, which simultaneously provides light and privacy. They are ideal for use in bathrooms, basements, and other private spaces.
  • Hopper Window – Hopper windows open from the top and usually crank open to tip down. They make efficient use of compact spaces, which is why they’re commonly found in basements or bathroom. These windows can open inward or outward depending on the need or design.
  • Jalousie Window – Jalousie windows are a unique window style that splits into many different slats of metal or glass. The windows open like a set of blinds. Simply crank the lever and the slats tilt to the side, which creates a series of gaps for air to flow through.

   

  • Picture Window – Picture windows are fixed windows that can not be opened. Picture windows are large window types that don’t have any breaks or visible frames, resulting in an unobstructed beautiful view.
  • Round Circle Windows -Round, half round, elliptical, or oval—the the round circle window category encompasses many different shapes that add architectural interest to your home. In particular, round windows give your space a nod to historical decor, such as Victorian or Gothic era structures. 
  • Skylight Window – Skylights are typically found on the roof and add an excellent window style option to those looking for more natural light into the home.  These windows can be fixed or moving.
  • Sliding Windows -Sliding windows have two sections that are usually made from single windows, and one of the sections slides horizontally overtop of the other to open or close. 
  • Storm Windows -Storm windows are exterior windows that install right in the same frame as your current windows. Storm windows add another layer of blocking out drafts and heat loss perfect for when cold weather rolls in. Storm windows are also perfect for areas who often get inclement weather.
  • Transom Windows – A transom window is the decorative windows that you see installed above doors in upscale homes, or even above other windows in some instances.  Many times these windows are located over interior spaces as well as exterior locations.

Now that there is an understanding about the types of windows there needs to be an understanding of the parts of the windows.

  • Interior Casing: The finished trim or holdings around the window frames. They help prevent cold air from entering as well as add a finishing touch and enhancing the overall look of the window.
  • Head: The horizontal part of the window frame.
  • Muntin: A bar / strip of wood or metal between adjacent panes of glass that create a grid or latticework appearance.
  • Sash Lock: The locking mechanism attached to a single-hung or double-hung window.
  • Upper Sash (Upper Panel): The upper part of the fixed or movable framework holding the pane of a window, this can be fixed or movable.
  • Side Jamb: The vertical parts that form the sides of a window frame.
  • Stile: Vertical members of the window frame.
  • Window Pane: A plate of glass within a window frame.
  • Lower Sash (Lower Panel): The lower part of the fixed or movable framework holding the pane of a window this cab be fixed or movable.
  • Channel: A groove around windows.
  • Exterior Sill: The external horizontal bottom part of the frame that protects from water intrusion and can be used as a decorative element.
  • Apron: The decorative raised section below the window sill.
  • Stool: The bottom horizontal shelf of the window attached to the window sill where the sash descends.  This is where plants may be placed.
  • Bottom Rail: The lowest horizontal part of the window frame that connects to its vertical parts.
  • Top Rail: The top horizontal part of the window frame.
  • Air Latch: Makes it possible to keep the window open regardless of the position you set it.
  • Aluminum Bracket: Brackets made of aluminum and part of a window bracket system that offsets the window from the wall by a few inches.
  • Glass Sealant: A silicone-based product that can take on the form of a liquid, gel or foam.  This is applied to glass surfaces as a protective coating and used to preserve its clean and dry exterior.
  • Hollow Glass: Window panes made of hollow glass.
  • Pane: A sheet of glass in a window.
  • Spacer: An insulating glass unit typically made of aluminum that’s sealed between two glass layers and keeps the glass panes apart.
  • Meeting Rail: The horizontal rail of a sash that meets the rail of the other sash when the window is closed.
  • Pulley: A simple machine with a wheel and a rope / chain used to lift heavy objects.
  • Sloped Sill: The exterior part of the window sill that is designed to be sloped downward to enable water to run off.
  • Drain Hole or Weep Hole: A short channel where fluids can flow.
  • Lift Rail: A handle used to open and close a window that goes all the way across the sash.
  • Lower Sash: The lower part of the fixed or movable framework holding the pane of a window, and it can be fixed or movable.
  • Frame: The framework that makes up the window’s perimeter and supports the entire window system.

Now that the types and parts of a window have been identified, it is time to start to discuss the failures that can happen.


The industry standards provide the inspector the opportunity to inspect a representative sample of the windows.  The superior and confident inspector will go beyond that and might not operate or exercise every window for operation the inspector should lay hands on or observe the condition of every window.

Glass can break.  A very common failure to windows is the simple break or fracture in the panes of glass.  Glass can be relatively inexpensive, but there are circumstances where the replacement of cracked glass can be costly.  Cracked glass can also be dangerous, and should be considered a safety hazard as well as functional issue with the window.

There can be deterioration to any elements of the window: the glazing bean holding the glass to the sash can fail; the paint or finish can fail; troughs or sill can decay from standing water; and rails and stiles can be damaged or cracked. 

In addition, exterior water can run down the glass and filter into the claddings or behind the claddings and this can cause the wood structure of the frame and sash to deteriorate.  This is very common on casement windows with a wooden frame and cladded exterior. Any issues with windows can cause problems for owners, including costing them more on energy.

Permanent Foundation Certification Inspection

What is inspected during a Permanent Foundation Certification Inspection?

The BrickKicker will be looking for 3 things during the Permanent Foundation Certification Inspection.

First, The BrickKicker will be confirming that the installation meets HUD requirements. Specifically, we will be checking that the permanent foundation has a load path so the building will not fall off or float off, the foundation.

Second, The BrickKicker will check additions to the manufactured home. Additions can be mechanically attached but the structure of the manufactured home cannot be used to support an addition.

Third, The BrickKicker attempt to confirm that the manufactured home is in its first permanent location. “1st Permanent Location” is often difficult or impossible to completely verify. However, HUD/FHA does not want to see these Manufactured Homes moved from one location to another. Moving a home built like this can damage its structural integrity.

What is the process and time frame for receiving our Permanent Foundation Certification?

The BrickKicker is aware of the time constraints surrounding real estate transactions. We make sure the inspections are completed within 2 days of the order being placed and submit all necessary data to a licensed engineer that we work closely with. The engineer reviews the photos and, depending on the findings, will state that the manufactured home has been constructed in accordance with HUD/FHA Guidelines or will recommend corrections to the home so that it is in compliance with HUD/FHA Guidelines. From start to finish this process takes 3-4 business days.

What does the report look like?

The report will include a cover page, table of content, general and structural information about the inspection (with photos) and will conclude with a HUD Engineering Certification Report Summary page. The average report is 8 pages long and will have 20 – 25 photos.

How much does the Permanent Foundation Certification Cost?

The BrickKicker offers a stand-alone Permanent Foundation Certification or it can be ordered with a standard Home Inspection. To keep the overall cost down and provide very timely service, we work very hard to make sure that the inspection is completed within 2 to 3 business days. A typical Foundation Certification is $395. We offer a $100 discount if it is ordered with a Home Inspection.

Top 5 Electrical Panel Defects!

What to do with 5 defects frequently found in an electrical panel.

Electrical issues in a home inspection report can cause a great deal of anxiety for buyers. They might perceive every one of them as a fire or shock hazard and a long list may give them the impression that the house is unsafe. In an older home, the electrical section of the report can be overwhelming. 

Buyers expect us to report everything we find, no matter how inconsequential. A good home inspector will not just give a list of defects: They will also tell you why you should care and what to do next. Afterall, maybe it’s not worth worrying about. Here is a quick rundown of five things we frequently find in an electric panel. 

Mismatched breakers – Low Priority – Wait 

We often report breakers in a panel that have a different manufacturer than the panel. Does it matter? Probably not, but it could be an issue on an older panel. Most modern breakers have a somewhat standard design. An electrician can verify this during a service call for something more important. Without other signs of a problem (poor fit, damage, scorch marks) this is a low priority find.

Missing Grommets – Low Priority – Wait

There are requirements to prevent conductors from being damaged in every part of the electrical system. In an electrical panel, cables are secured to prevent strain on the connections inside the panel and to prevent overcrowding. Does it matter? Probably not for existing construction. This is another low priority find and an inexpensive correction.

Open knockouts – Low Priority – Wait

This may seem like a silly thing to write up but there are two great reasons to keep the enclosure as enclosed as possible. The main reason is to contain a fire within the panel but also to keep unwanted visitors out (i.e. insects, rodents, snakes). Open knockouts have been required to be filled since the 1923 National Electrical Code (NEC). This is also a low priority item and can probably wait until an electrician is called for something else.

Double-Lugged Neutrals – Low Priority – Wait

Each neutral conductor is required to have its own individual terminal. (This has been required since 1965 but was not specifically addressed by the NEC until 2002.) Neturals carry current and develop heat that can lead to loose connections and arching in the panel. We see signs of overheating in about 1% of these installations. Without signs of overheating this is another low priority item that can wait.

Double Tapped Breakers – Potential Hazard – Call an electrician

Double-tapped breakers have been prohibited by the NEC since 1935. The connection at the terminal is the weakest point on the circuit and the place where problems are most likely to occur. Some modern breakers are designed to accommodate two circuits but there is rarely a good reason to do so. There is a potential to overload the circuit causing (hopefully) the breaker to trip. Double taps can also lead to loose connections and overheating. If the seller has not experienced any nuisance tripping, the repair is likely going to be a splice with a single wire pig-tailed into the breaker. If the circuit is overloaded, a new breaker or a tandem breaker may need to be installed. We would elevate this to a higher priority repair and ask the electrician to take care of the low priority items when they are on the service call. 

If your client is overwhelmed by a home inspection report, you should absolutely expect your home inspector to help them focus on the parts that matter. As a REALTOR you should never downplay the inspector’s findings but you can certainly push back on your client’s behalf when the report is missing clear and actionable information to help them move forward. 

At The BrickKicker, we report every finding the same way. We tell your clients what we found, why they should care, and what they should do next. 

Make sure The BrickKicker is number one on your referral list!

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

How Much Does a Home Inspection Cost?

Usually, the first thing we are asked when a client calls about a home inspection is “What does it cost?” A typical home inspection cost is 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. These are good barometers for an average home inspection cost.

Additional Services

An established home inspection company will offer a full menu of additional services. Some services may be included that other companies up-charge. 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 free termite inspections.

We charge extra for a sewer camera inspection , mostly because this tends to require an extra person, and 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 requires a quality assurance program to ensure the machines are working properly. In return, we get results immediately when we pick up our machines. These machines are extremely 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 of a Home Inspection

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. All these can factor into the cost of a home inspection.

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. While you’re here, be sure to check out our seasonal home maintenance checklist!

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 Kitchen Ventsexterior 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.

Roof Top Ventilation 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.