Plumbing – Part 1 – What Makes up a House’s Plumbing System?

Plumbing:

Part 1 in a Multi Part Series.

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

January 6, 2014

 About the author.  I am a NJ Licensed Home Inspector.  I am the owner and Senior Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC.  I am a member of the New Jersey Association of Licensed Professional Home Inspectors (NJ-ALPHI) and the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI).  The standards used to inspect your home’s systems are in accordance with New Jersey State laws, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and NACHI Standards of Practice.  Regal Home Inspections, LLC can also test your house for Indoor Air Quality; Mold and Allergens.  Radon contamination is a big issue with homes in New Jersey.  Many parts of Monmouth County and areas around it are considered “High Radon Potential” by the NJ DEP. We are certified by the NJ DEP to perform Radon Testing.

We can also facilitate testing of septic systems and oil tanks; tank integrity and soil tests below ground.

 

Never perform plumbing work yourself unless you are a licensed plumber.  Nothing in this article suggests that you should attempt to make any repairs yourself.  Any attempt to make plumbing repairs or upgrades can result in significant water damage.  ALWAYS hire a licensed plumber to perform any work.   Poorly performed plumbing work can lead to water damage, ongoing leaks and other, related issues.

Introduction

The plumbing system in a standard home inspection is extensive.  There are many aspects to a house’s plumbing systems, not just the pipes that carry water to the faucets and other appliances that use water.  The typical plumbing system in a home includes the pipes carrying cold and hot water but, not including the water heater as a separate plumbing element there are actually three (3) sets of piping in your home that are included in the plumbing inspection.

Before I get into a conversation about the plumbing systems let me point out that often times the vast majority of the plumbing systems are hidden behind finished walls, under floors and above finished ceilings.  Therefore we can actually see a very small portion of the plumbing and to the best extent possible, we make observations and come to conclusions about the entire system based upon what we can see.  In homes with extensively finished basements the amount of plumbing that is visible may be very, very little.

Plumbing Systems

In very general terms the, “plumbing” in a house consists of at least three sets of pipe, the water service entrance and water meter with its main shut off valve(s) and the water heater(s).  The appliances (sinks, toilets, tubs and showers) are also part of the plumbing system so overall the plumbing system in a house is extensive. And to make matters worse, if any one element has a defect which results in a drip, for example, you could have serious problems.  So let’s take a look at the components that comprise the plumbing in a house.

1) Supply Piping.  In a relatively modern home this is the copper piping.  The copper piping is usually ¾ or ½ inch in diameter.  It starts at the water meter (or pressure tank for a private well house) and carries the water to the isolation valves just before the appliance.  An example of an isolation valve is the valve behind the toilet bowl or under the sink.  In the case of the bowl, as you know, there is one valve as the toilet is served by cold water.  Under your sinks there is, of course, a hot and a cold isolation valve.  The copper pipes may also carry water to a hose bib that provides a convenient water valve outside your home.  These may, or may not have an isolation valve.

The supply piping is unique for a number of reasons but it is the only system that is under pressure.  Typical household water pressure is between 40psi and 60psi.  If your pressure is too low you will not get good water flow.  If it is too high, (at or above 80psi) you may have the potential to burst pipes, valves, gaskets and the like.  If you are concerned about your water pressure being too low, perform the following, simple test.  This may be an indication that your supply piping is in need of maintenance or replacement.

  1. Go to the highest bathroom in your house.  Usually it will be a full bath on the second floor.  If you have a ranch then any full bathroom will do.
  2. Turn on the sink valves and the tub and/or shower.  They should all be fully opened and running.
  3. Then, flush the toilet.  Watch the flow of water from the sink and tub/shower.  If the flow rates at the sink and tub/shower do not diminish, then you have adequate household pressure to operate your plumbing fixtures.  If they all slow down when you flush the bowl, you likely do not have adequate flow.

For a home built in 2014, the supply piping may not be made of metal.  There are a number of plastics used in current construction.  In homes built in the early 1900s and up to about 1940 you might actually find lead in the residential piping.  This should be replaced.   Galvanized steel was also used up to about the 1950s.  Galvanized steel rusts from the inside out and it is prone to becoming clogged inside the pipe from the rust build up.  Also, with this inside-out rusting the thinner areas where the pipe is threaded is  prone to leaking.   Brass may have been used in homes built in the early 1900s as well.

Copper has been in use since the middle 1900s.  It is durable, resistant to corrosion unlike the galvanized steel, and it’s relatively easy to work with. In summary, depending on the age of the home you may find different supply pipe materials, some of which should (must) be replaced.

2) Waste Piping.  The waste piping carries all the waste water and solids from the sink drains, washing machines and toilet bowls outside the house to the sewer system or to a private, septic system.  Modern waste piping is made of economical and easy to install PVC or a similar plastic material.  This is either white or the other forms of plastic piping may be black.  If it is visible, perhaps from an unfinished basement, you will see a series of feeder pipes running vertically into larger horizontal pipes and eventually the larger pipes will exit through the foundation wall in either a basement or perhaps in a crawl space.  This waste piping is not pressurized and for those sections that are not vertical, the slope should be relatively mild; about ¼ inch of slope per foot of horizontal pipe.

In older homes the waste piping may be cast iron.  Much heavier than modern materials and more difficult to handle and install.  There are all manners of interconnection devices so if a home improvement is being done you can remove sections of cast iron and replace it with PVC and they will interconnect very reliably.

3) Vent Piping.  Vent piping is the series of pipes that run (mainly) vertically and allows the waste water to flow properly.  To explain how the vent piping works and why it’s important think for a minute about a soda bottle.  If it’s full and you hold it upside down and then remove the cap the soda will gulp, gulp out and not evenly flow.  If you then poke a hole in the upper part of the inverted bottle the soda will pour out because the hole allows air to enter behind the soda.  The vent piping performs the same basic function as poking a hole in the soda bottle.  The vents allow air to follow the water as the water exits the house.  Without the vent piping the waste water would gulp, gulp, gulp its way out of your home.

The tops of the vent piping can usually be seen along the rear roof line of the home.  The vents penetrate the roof and allows air to flow behind the water.

These plumbing vents should NEVER terminate inside the attic or any living area.  Sewage gasses pass up through the vents and you do not want these gasses getting into the attic or any other living are of the house.  Vents should also not terminate near windows as the gasses could flow back into the house through the open window.  The gas needs to dilute quickly with the outside air and become benign.

So those are the three types of piping; Supply, waste and vent.

The entire plumbing system also consists of the water heater and the fixtures or appliances (sinks, bowls, etc.) that are connected to the supply and waste piping.

Water Heaters

Most water heaters are of the storage tank variety.  A few years ago instant-hot water heaters became popular and only made hot water when it was needed.  Personally, I believe the “instant” hot water is a slight misrepresentation.  The “instant” hot water maker begins to generate hot water as soon as a hot water valve is turned on but it could take a few minutes for the hot water to actually get to the faucet where the person is.  I don’t think that’s instantaneous as the name implies.

True, a tank hot water heater will maintain the desired hot water temperature in the tank whether the hot water is needed or not so this is somewhat inefficient.  The system I have is ideal in my opinion.  True, it is not as energy efficient as the “instant” water heater but in my case energy efficiency is not my primary concern.  And to tell you the truth, the simple convenience of being able to step into the shower 10 seconds after I turn on the water is also, not my primary objective.  In my house our water comes from a private well and the waste goes into a private septic.  If I didn’t have the system I have over the course of 1 year I would have pulled thousands of extra gallons of water from my well and dumped thousands of extra gallons of perfectly clean water down the septic system.  My primary goals are to be as efficient as possible with my water consumption and with my water disposal.  Conservatively I calculate that I have saved well over 12,000 gallons of water in the 6 years that I have had my hot water circulating system.  That’s 12,000+ fewer gallons pumped from the well and 12,000+ fewer gallons unnecessarily  poured into the septic.

A tank water heater with a re-circulating pump and a parallel hot water line is the best system for my needs.  I constantly have hot water circulating though my hot water pipes.  When none of the hot water valves is open the system is closed but constantly circulating hot water.  In the case of the master bath shower, 110 degree water is about 8 feet away from the shower head.  It’s like having a dedicated water heater a few feet away from every hot water valve.  In contrast, if I didn’t have the re-circulating pump the hot water from the tank would have to travel over 80 feet from the tank to the shower head.

So in this case, I am saving many gallons of water every day.  Yes it is costing me a little more in energy (natural gas) to keep the water hot but for my application, the system I have is what I need.

If you are interested in a hot water circulating pump for your house call Regal Home Inspections, LLC or email and I’ll put you in touch with the local plumber that installed mine.

When inspecting a home I look for a number of things associated with the water heater.  Not all are mentioned here but on an inspection the heater is thoroughly checked.   Let’s start with the make and serial number and capacity of the tank.  The first two data points will help indicate the year of manufacture.  If the heater is very old the buyer will be informed that the water heater may be nearing the end of its useful service life.

Where the pipes enter the tank on the top surface there is usually stamped into the metal the words, “Hot” and “Cold”.  Let’s make sure the heater is installed correctly!

The water heater may be electric but if it’s natural gas or oil I will check some other things including the exhaust vent piping and the burner area.

Of course I am looking for rust on the tank and indications that it may be leaking.   These are a few of the things that I look for on the water heating appliance within the overall household plumbing system.

Finally there are the appliances that use water that are considered part of the plumbing system.  The sinks, toilets, tubs, showers, clothes washing machine and dishwasher are parts of the plumbing system too.  Details on what I am looking for on these appliances will be covered in a future article.

If you are planning to sell your home, give Regal Home Inspections a call and hire us to perform a pre-listing inspection.  Here’s the logic.  If you allow Regal Home Inspections to perform an inspection before you list you can take care of some of the things up front.  You can use the inspection findings to make a list for the seller’s disclosure. More importantly, you can set the price with this knowledge.  Think about it…if you ignore the issues now, then when it comes time to execute the contract, the buyer’s home inspector will find these problems.  Then you are either negotiating away premium dollars to appease the buyer or you’re hiring an electrician (or a plumber, etc.) at the last minute to make corrections and that will cost you top dollar as well.  Deal with the issues you can and disclose the other issues.  That’s why at Regal Home Inspections we say, “Buy with confidence.  Sell with Pride.”

I would appreciate your comments about this article.  Please email your comments to frank07722@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

Residential Electrical Problems. Part 2 – Branch Circuit Wiring

The Electrical System in Your Home.

Common Problems Found by a Home Inspector.

Part 2 in a Multi Part Series.

Branch Circuit Wiring.

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

December 16, 2013

 

About the author.  I am a NJ Licensed Home Inspector.  I am the owner and Senior Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC.  I am a member of the New Jersey Association of Licensed Professional Home Inspectors (NJ-ALPHI) and the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI).  The standards used to inspect your home’s systems are in accordance with New Jersey State laws, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and NACHI Standards of Practice.  Regal Home Inspections, LLC can also test your house for Indoor Air Quality; Mold and Allergens.  Radon testing is coming soon.  We can also facilitate testing of septic systems and oil tanks; tank integrity and soil tests below ground.

 

Never perform electrical work yourself unless you are a licensed electrician.  Nothing in this article suggests that you should attempt to diagnose any electrical problems you may have or make any repairs yourself.  Any attempt to make electrical repairs or upgrades can lead to your death.  ALWAYS hire a licensed electrician to perform any electrical work.  Electricity kills.  Never perform electrical work yourself unless you are a licensed electrician.

 

If you’d like a visual inspection of your home’s electrical system because you think there might be problems with it, please call Regal Home Inspections, LLC and we can perform a limited, visual electrical inspection of your system in accordance with the ASHI & NACHI Standards of Practice.  This is not a “to code” inspection.  Our inspection DOES NOT guarantee conformance to local electrical codes. 

Introduction

This article in the electrical series will cover the Branch Circuit Wiring.  Branch Circuit Wiring includes the wiring FROM the circuit breaker box to your outlets, switches and appliances.  What is the inspector looking for?  What have I found that can become an issue with a Home Inspection Report?  Occasionally a home has a Sub Panel which is a second or smaller circuit breaker panel. There are many reasons for their use but for this article, I will deal only with the wiring to outlets, switches and appliances.

 

General Description

Branch Circuit Wiring is the cabling in your home that distributes the electricity to outlets, switches for lights and other fixtures (e.g. a ceiling fan) and often times directly to an appliance like your furnace or Air Conditioner Compressor.  As you may recall, electricity operates in a circuit and the electrons flow from the circuit breaker (or fuse) through the “hot” or “ungrounded” conductor to and through the appliance consuming the electricity and then it returns on (usually) the, “white” or “neutral” wire back to the circuit breaker panel.  If that circuit is opened at any point the electrons stop flowing and the appliance will not work.  The “open” can simply be a result of a switch being shut off, a  light bulb filament breaking, a plug being pulled out of a socket (all normal occurrences thus far) or a connection coming loose.  This last one is not normal but nonetheless still stops the flow of the electrons. 

In your circuit breaker panel the hot wire is connected to a lug on a circuit breaker.  This is usually the black wire and sometimes the red wire.   The corresponding white wire is connected to a lug on the neutral bus bar.  Please note that specialty circuits such as a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupts (covered in a later article) may be terminated differently.  This description applies to 120V non GFCI.

 

Over the years different types of branch circuit cabling and conductors have been used in homes.  Let’s focus this discussion on modern homes and let’s define a modern home built from 1965 to present.   So with that in mind the two main types of conductors used are copper (predominant) and for a period of the mid 1960s to the early 1970s aluminum was used.  Around this time a third, ground conductor was also commonplace as was the three-prong outlet that we are familiar with.  The three prongs are hot, neutral and ground.  Both types of conductors were insulated (early on the ground conductor was left bare) and then the conductors were wrapped in a jacket.   Metal or Armor jacketing is common and often referred to as, “BX”.  Non metal wrapped jackets are very common as well and commonly referred to as, “romex”.   

The gauge or thickness of the individual conductors is very important because the type of metal and the thickness of the conductor (among a few other things) determines the electrical carrying capacity of the wires and therefore cables.  This capacity is measured in Amps or Amperes and for typical branch circuit wiring varies from 14 gauge copper for a 15 amp circuit breaker to 12 gauge copper for a 20 amp circuit breaker.  These are very typical for the vast majority of household circuits and appliances.  However when we consider appliances like pools, hot tubs, air conditioning compressors, electric furnaces, electric clothes dryers and other large appliances, 12 and 14 gauge wire is inadequate.  This too is a topic for another article. Suffice it to say that the smaller the gauge the larger the diameter of the conductor and these large appliances may require 10, 8, 6 or lower gauge and hence, thicker wire. 

 

Observations

As an inspector I see some pretty awful wiring and would like to share a few examples.  If you see things like this in your house it would be wise to call Regal Home Inspections for a thorough inspection and it would be prudent to call a licensed electrician afterward to correct the problems before you try to sell the house.   

Here are some examples of poor residential electrical wiring.

 

Do you think this was installed by a Licensed Electrician?  Photo 1 is under a deck.  This is “romex” type cabling.  Can’t verify that it’s designed and approved for outdoor use.  Use of a rigid conduit is appropriate.  Not only is this highlighted in an Inspection Report but it will also raise concern that the work was not done by a professional, with a legitimate permit in place and I can assure you that it wasn’t inspected. 

 Carrs Tavern 065

Photo 1

An inspector should alert the client that this would have never been done by a qualified, licensed electrician. As a result this will be a clue that work has occurred in this house that may not be legitimate.  By this I mean that there may be electrical work that was likely not done with a permit and inspection.  Consequently there may be other aspects of the house, like plumbing, structural changes, etc. that may have been done by the homeowner.  Not necessarily the person you are buying from but perhaps someone that they bought from and the last inspector didn’t find for whatever reason.  

Poorly maintained outlets also seem to be very commonplace in homes that I have inspected. Photos 2, 3 and 4 are examples of outlets and a junction box that should be covered and secure.   Some should be completely removed. If you look carefully you can see an outlet without its cover in Photo 2.  The issues with Photo 3 include no cover to the junction box, no cover to the outlet, the receptacle isn’t grounded (as indicated by the green test probe) and it should be a GFCI outlet.  GFCI outlets are required in unfinished basements. GFCI outlets have been required in unfinished basements since 1990.  In Photo 4 is a junction box with wires hanging down.  The uncovered junction box is located in an attic space.

   Carrs Tavern 099                    557 Penn St 100

    Photo 2                                                                                Photo 3

Carrs Tavern 199

Photo 4

I come across numerous light fixtures that aren’t mounted properly and have exposed wires.  Here are a couple of examples in Photos 5 and 6.  Please note that in Photo 5, a globe should cover the exposed bulb.  Although this fixture was in a crawl space I have seen many fixtures like this in closets, stairwells and basements.

Carrs Tavern 110

Photo 5

  

557 Penn St 137      

Photos 6

These are just a few examples of electrical issues I have found in homes.  When inspecting a home I try to identify every electrical problem that I see.  As soon as I have identified one, single electrical problem the standard template words include, “consult a licensed electrician” to help/correct/evaluate, etc.   Most inspectors will stop there as soon as they find the first electrical problem.  In an effort to help the client I try to identify as many issues as I can find in my report.  In this manner the client can either have the issues properly priced and ask the seller to fix them or they can evaluate the cost and perhaps ask the seller for some price concession.  If the seller isn’t willing or able to pay for obvious corrections, in the case of a bank owned short sale for example, at least the client has a thorough list of the issues and can share that with an electrician and get a more accurate estimate of the repairs.  If I find 10 problems with the electrical system, for example, it’s probable that a licensed electrician will find a few more.  My findings are not intended to be an exhaustive list nor a list of work items that is required to fulfill the requirements of an electrical work permit but it will give the client an idea of the extent of the work; Minor, extensive or major repairs necessary.

If you are planning to sell your home, give Regal Home Inspections a call and hire us to perform a pre-listing inspection.  Here’s the logic.  If you allow Regal Home Inspections to perform an inspection before you list you can take care of some of the things up front.  You can use the inspection findings to make a list for the seller’s disclosure. More importantly, you can set the price with this knowledge.  Think about it…if you ignore the issues now, then when it comes time to execute the contract, the buyer’s home inspector will find these problems.  Then you are either negotiating away premium dollars to appease the buyer or you’re hiring an electrician (or a plumber, etc.) at the last minute to make corrections and that will cost you top dollar as well.  Deal with the issues you can and disclose the other issues.  That’s why at Regal Home Inspections we say, “Buy with confidence.  Sell with Pride.”

I would appreciate your comments about this article.  Please email your comments to frank07722@gmail.com.

Radon – What is it? TEST NOW!

 

Radon 

What is it and why is it important to consider?

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

December 15, 2013

About the author.  I am a NJ Licensed Home Inspector.  I am the owner and Senior Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC.  I have been a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician for over 20 years and was  a past member of the Colts Neck, NJ Board of Health and was Chairman of that Board for 2008 and 2009.    During my studies to become a Home Inspector and earning my NJ Certification to be a Radon Measurement Technician I learned a great deal about Radon and felt compelled to share that information in a manner that is easy to understand and increases awareness.  Every home in New Jersey should be tested for Radon on a regular basis.  Regal Home Inspections, LLC is having a year end 2013 and a New Year 2014 SPECIAL on Radon testing.  These discounted prices are good through January 31, 2014.  Please call now to schedule your Radon test.

It is likely that every adult has heard of Radon and may have an idea about what it is.  This report is intended to shed some additional light on Radon and hopefully motivate and inspire you to have your house tested for Radon concentration levels. You maintain your smoke alarms and check your car’s brakes regularly because it’s the right thing to do.  Prudent, right?  It protects your safety, doesn’t it?  Well after you read this you should be similarly motivated to call us today to have your home tested for Radon.

So let’s begin with a simple question; What is Radon?  Radon is a gas.  It is odorless and colorless and can’t be detected by human senses.  Uranium and Radium precede Radon in the spontaneous transformation  chain.  Uranium and Radium are solids that exist underground.  As they go through radioactive decay the next link on the chain is Radon, now a radioactive gas.  Elements that are radioactive spontaneously transform at the atomic level.  One radioactive elements spontaneously releases energy and becomes another element and so on.  Hence the use of the word, “Chain”.

There are other gasses that we’re aware of and concerned about, aren’t there?  There’s CO or carbon monoxide.  There’s natural gas like the gas we use to heat our homes and cook with.  We all know that these two gasses, CO and natural gas can be dangerous and even lethal.  CO can kill if breathed for minutes and natural gas can kill if it seeps into the house and then explodes.  Remember the final scene in the movie, Shooter?  Ka-Boom!

Except for all being gasses however, the difference between Radon and CO and natural gas are very different.  First, Radon is naturally occurring and seeps up from below ground.  It is not flammable so it will not explode and it will not kill you, like CO will, if breathed in for minutes.  No, Radon can kill in a different way.

In New Jersey the state is divided into 3 Tiers.  High Radon Potential, Moderate and Low.  The preceding map gives you an idea of where these areas are and if you are in a High or Moderate Radon Potential area YOU SHOULD get your home tested annually or even twice a year.

Why is regular testing important?  Well it’s important because of how Radon creates health problems and the type of health problem it creates.  Also because there are a number of environmental factors that may slow or hasten the entry of Radon into your home.  A good reading or measurement in the spring does not guarantee a good reading or measurement in the winter.  Misunderstanding or relying on your one-time results could be harmful. 

Radon is a radioactive gas.  This means that Radon, as a gas will spontaneously transform creating a chain reaction of sorts.  Radon will go through radioactive decay and change into Polonium-218.   In turn Polonium-218 will spontaneously go through its radioactive decay and change in to Lead-214.  Lead-214 will in turn transform into Bismuth-214 and then into Polonium-214.  This is almost the same as Polonium 218 but not exactly.  Polonium-214 will go through its radioactive decay and become Lead-210.  These elements following Radon are referred to as Radon Decay Products (RDP), Radon Daughters or Radon Progeny.   

An atomic primer: Most atoms have the same number of Protons and Neutrons.  An element’s “Atomic Number” is the number of Protons; Hydrogen has 1 Proton so it’s atomic number is 1.  Radon has 86 Protons so its atomic number is 86.  When one calculates an atom’s Atomic Mass we add the Protons and Neutrons.  Since most atoms have the same number of Protons and Neutrons, “usually” the atomic mass is twice the Protons.  Hydrogen’s atomic mass is 2; 1 Proton and 1 Neutron.  Helium has an atomic mass of 4; 2 Protons and 2 Neutrons.

A different type of atom is an Isotope.  Isotopes are different because they have a different number of Protons and Neutrons.  Since Radon’s atomic number is 86, Radon-222 (Rn-222) means that there are 136 Neutrons; 86+136=222.  Earlier I mentioned Polonium-218 (Po-218) and Polonium-214 (Po-214).  Both Poloniums have 84 Protons but since both Po-218 and Po-214 are isotopes they have different numbers of neutrons.  Po-218 has 134 Neutrons and Po-214 has 130.

So Radon is a gas and if it’s in the air you will breathe it in.  Regardless of if the Radon is in your lungs or in the air, it will go through its radioactive decay cycle.  The issues are many.  First Polonium, Bismuth and Lead are all solids.  Yes, the gas Radon becomes a solid.  So these particles now will stick to your lungs and settle.  Second, when these radioactive decays occur the decay process releases energy.  Very, very, very small amounts of energy but when these atoms are in your lungs, this energy has the potential to do cellular level and DNA level harm.   So what’s the big deal about, “energy”?  Well if we refer to the energy in its proper terms then maybe you will start to understand the issue.  There are actually three forms of energy released during the radioactive decay processes mentioned a moment ago.  Each element does not release all three types of energy but most release two of the three.  Those energy forms are ALPHA RADIATION, BETA RADIATION AND GAMMA RADIATION.  Now do they sound harmful?  In Alpha decay the atom (Radon-222, Polonium-218 or Polonium-214 will spontaneously release 2 neutrons and 2 protons.  These equate to an atomic mass of 4 (Helium) therefore reducing the atomic mass of each atom by four.  Bismuth and Lead decay releasing Beta and Gamma radiation.  In Beta radiation an electron is released and a Neutron is changed to a Proton.  In Gamma radiation energy in the form of a photon is released.  At the cellular level and DNA level these particles of energy, Alpha, Beta and Gamma, are causing destruction and this is why they are harmful.  This damage can start a chain reaction leading to cancer.  Ionizing radiation has the power and energy to cause electrons in nearby atoms to escape their natural orbit.

It’s interesting to consider each element’s half life because this will start to give you an idea of what’s going on with Radon and Radon decay products.  Radon has a half life of 3.8 days.  This means that half the Radon will go through its spontaneous transformation in 3.8 days.  Energy is released.  The result is Polonium-218.  It has a half life of 3 minutes.  Half is now Lead-218 and it has a half life of 27 minutes.  Half of it releases its Beta and Gamma radiation and now we have Bismuth-218 half of which decays in 20 minutes and also releases Beta and Gamma radiation and becomes Polonium-218.  Polonium-218 has a half life of 160micro seconds (very fast) and releases Alpha and Gamma Radiation.  Now multiply the original Radon atom by millions and you can see how the numbers, and damage can add up. 

Again, it’s important to note that the levels of the energy or radiation are very, very, very, very small.  But when the energy is being released hour after hour, day after day and it’s occurring inside your delicate lung tissue you can see why Radon and the Radon Decay Products (RDPs) are the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking.   If you never (never, ever, ever) smoked you have a 7 in 1000 chance of getting lung cancer from Radon if your exposure is at the EPA’s Action Level (of 4pCi/L).  If you were a smoker (EPA refers to “Ever Smoked”) you have a 62 in 1000 chance of getting lung cancer if your exposure is at the EPA’s Action Level.  If your exposure is higher than 4pCi/l your chances of getting lung cancer in both smoked and never smoked goes up. 

So you had your house tested once and it had a good reading.  So you’re OK, right?  WRONG!!!  There are many factors that go into Radon penetration in a home.   First, was the house tested under proper, “Closed House” conditions?  What was the weather outside?  Was it winter or summer?  All these things, and many others, can impact your Radon measurement.  This is why it’s good to test regularly.  If a test is made and it’s high, take another test.   If you last test was in the winter, test again in the summer and vice-versa.  I had one client that had their house tested weeks apart and one reading was 4.8pCi/L and the other was 1.1pCi/L.  The point is test frequently as financially possible.  If you’ve just moved into a new house and it tested well, you will do yourself a favor if you test monthly or every other month for the first year.  Test frequently particularly if you have a young family and plan on being in the home for a long time.  Imagine a wheel-of-chance like you see at an amusement park.  The wheel is divided into 52 sections.  Each section represents one calendar week.  If you test once, you will not be capturing a representative sample of your home’s radon potential.  Barometric pressure, wind speed and wind direction, use of a fireplace and many, many other factors can affect your Radon test reading.  Some days and weeks promote Radon infiltration into your house and some do not.  It’s like spinning the wheel.  Sometimes your number comes up and sometimes it doesn’t.   However, when you spin the wheel you are not risking your health. 

Unlike CO and natural gas, Radon kills slowly.  So my recommendation is to call Regal Home Inspections, LLC now.  Let’s get you scheduled for a Radon test and then on a regular schedule for periodic testing.  If your test results are good that’s good for this, “snap-shot” but it does not guarantee that the next test will also be good.  If the test is high, we can re-test to confirm the findings.  If we get multiple reading above the EPA’s Action Level then you should install a Radon Mitigation System.  Regal Home Inspections DOES NOT install Radon Mitigation Systems.  So we’re NOT looking to find a problem so we can sell you on a more expensive product or service.  We are a Certified Radon Test Measurement company.  We will facilitate the test and work with a reputable lab that will analyze the test canisters and provide the results. I can help you interpret the results and continue to provide you with peace-of-mind with regular testing with or without mitigation.

Please call today to schedule your  radon test for your family.  Discounted prices are valid for tests started by January 31, 2014.

I would appreciate your comments about this article.  Please email your comments to frank07722@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Residential Electrical Problems – Part 1

The Electrical System in Your Home.

Common Problems Found by a Home Inspector.

Part 1 in a Multi Part Series.

Service Entrance and Your Main Service Panel.

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

December 9, 2013

 

About the author.  I am a NJ Licensed Home Inspector.  I am the owner and Senior Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC.  I am a member of the New Jersey Association of Licensed Professional Home Inspectors (NJ-ALPHI) and the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI).  The standards used to inspect your home’s systems are in accordance with New Jersey State laws, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and NACHI Standards of Practice.  Regal Home Inspections, LLC can also test your house for Indoor Air Quality; Mold and Allergens.  Radon testing is coming soon.  We can also facilitate testing of septic systems and oil tanks; tank integrity and soil tests below ground. 

Never perform electrical work yourself unless you are a licensed electrician.  Nothing in this article suggests that you should attempt to diagnose any electrical problems you may have or make any repairs yourself.  Any attempt to make electrical repairs or upgrades can lead to your death.  ALWAYS hire a licensed electrician to perform any electrical work.  Electricity kills.  Never remove the cover to your circuit breaker panel. 

If you’d like a visual inspection of your home’s electrical system because you think there might be problems with it, please call Regal Home Inspections, LLC and we can perform a limited, visual electrical inspection of your system in accordance with the ASHI & NACHI Standards of Practice.  This is not a “to code” inspection.  Our inspection DOES NOT guarantee conformance to local electrical codes.

Electricity is something that we all use and likely, all take for granted.  I know I have up until the time that the power to my home goes out as it did during Super Storm Sandy.   The electrical system in your home is, like many other systems in your home, critical to its proper operation and critical to our comfort. It is also crucial to our safety as electrical problems can be fatal.  They can be fatal because they can electrocute someone and they can be fatal because they can be the cause of a fire which is equally dangerous.  Properly designed, built and maintained the electrical system in your home should be as safe as any other aspect of your home but a poorly built or maintained electrical system is a safety issue.  As I completed an inspection recently I was motivated to write this piece for two reasons.  First, the number of electrical problems were many and the second reason is that rarely do I do an inspection and not find electrical problems.  Furthermore, the types of electrical issues found on home inspections often rise to the level of significant, “Safety” problems.  This means, they are potentially serious accidents waiting to happen as a result.  Finally, they are either because of homeowner performing their own electrical work, which may be illegal, or because the home is old and the owners over time never upgraded the electrical system.  Now we are applying current day analysis to a semi-obsolete electrical system resulting in a number of problems identified as problems and often, “Safety” issues. 

 

When I prepare a report “Major Defects” and “Safety” issues are highlighted within the report as well as the sole subject of my report’s Summary.  The report, of course, includes many other informative aspects but these two are of particular interest (to lawyers and buyers) and of concern to both as well.  It has been requested of me by lawyers, that recommend me to clients, that they like to see a Summary of the “Major Defects” and “Safety” issues.  A lawyer isn’t as concerned about maintenance issues and a dripping faucet for example.   They want to go to the areas that might impact the occupancy, safety and value for example.  This is understandable in my opinion.

 

The electrical system is a significant aspect of the inspection.  All areas are important but the electrical system is rather extensive.  It begins with the service entrance.  This is the cable that brings electricity into the home.  It’s often through overhead cables but many newer homes have service that comes to the home through underground cables.  This is known as a “Service Lateral”.  The overhead wires are known as “Service Drop”. Let’s look at the rest of this piece assuming a Service Drop type of installation.  The wires come from a utility pole and not too far away is a transformer. 

 November 2, 2013 059-400

Photo 1

Please note that much of these explanations are simplifications.  To provide all the detail is too exhaustive for this piece.  The first thing an inspector will look at is the height of the cable at its lowest point and its proximity to the roof, metal gutters and windows as it arrives at the mast or conduit at the side of the home.  Some homes have SE Cable and not a conduit.  “SE” stands for Service Entrance.  The cables (you will usually see 3 distinct wires) should have a loop in them very close to the side of the house.  This loop is called a drip loop and prevents water from running along the wire and into the conduit.  This loop also facilitates the splices between what is the utility’s wire (from the pole) and the start of the electrical system owned by and the responsibility of the home owner. 

In Photo 1 you can see the loop and while it’s hard to see, there are three cables.  The wider sections at the bottom of the loop are the splices.  In this photo, to the right of the photo is the utility’s cable (responsibility) and to the left (and in to the home) is the owner’s responsibility.  Where the loop goes into the SE cable (straight gray cable going down to the left) is a weather head or seal so water does not enter the cable.

 Typically, homes have three wires as this one does.  One is the neutral, one is 120V AC and the other is also 120V AC.  This home would therefore have electrical service referred to as “120/240”.

557 Penn St 020-400

Photo 2

In Photo 2, please notice that the weather head does not exist.  Water from rain can enter the conduit and once in the conduit the next stop is inside the electric meter panel.  Water and electricity are not a good combination when safety is the goal.  This is also 3 wires so it is 120/240 service.  As you probably know, the wires go through the electric meter.

 557 Penn St 156-400

Photo 3

The electric meter measures the amount of electricity you use.  The meter should be safe from damage and secure.  Please notice how the conduit for this electric meter (Photo 3) is not secure in the manner it should be.  A curious child might try to stick something in the gap because that’s what kids do.  Additionally this meter is ankle high at the top of the stoop by the front door.  The entire electric meter box is also loose.  From the weather head to the meter must be serviced by a licensed electrician!

DSCF0586

Photo 4

Coming out of the other side of the electric meter, the cables should quickly (in the shortest path possible) go into the house’s electrical Service Panel (aka Circuit Breaker Box or Panel) – Photo 4.  Circuit breaker panels are typically located in a garage or basement.  They may also be located in an interior wall in a hall for example.  But they should not be located in a closet or bathroom.   In most homes there is one Service Panel.  A Circuit Breaker is an “over current protector”.  Current in this situation means amperage, amperes or amps.   Amps refers to the amount of electrical energy and as little as a fraction of an amp can kill.  If your house has fuses and a fuse-panel, you should consult a licensed electrician and plan to have the fuse panel replaced with a modern circuit breaker panel.

Your main panel is rated for a particular amperage (amperage rating) and is usually 200 amps.  While the panel is “rated” for 200 amps your main disconnect at the top of your panel may be 100, 150 or 200 amps.  Below the main breaker are the individual circuit breakers.   This photo is of a modern panel with the door closed. 

This panel is clean and secure.  What are some of the issues with panels?  There are many issues that I have encountered.  They almost always are documented in the report as Safety issues and have the potential of causing problems at the time of closing.  Why is that the case?  The seller says the house is for sale, “As is”.  The inspector highlights the problem as Safety related or a Major Defect and the issue has the potential to spoil a deal.  Lesson: If you are planning to sell your house, spend a few hundred dollars and have it inspected.  Then fix the problems the inspector finds.

November 2, 2013 091-400

Photo 5

In Photo 5, notice that there isn’t a main disconnect.  For safety reasons, if more than Six (6) switches are needed to disconnect power in a home, a single, main disconnect is required.  Notice that this panel has 14 circuit breakers but does not have a single, main disconnect.  It was highlighted in the home inspection report as a Safety issue.

Other issues with panels include missing and/or incorrect screws that attach the panel cover to the panel base.  Why are these important?  If the cover is removed or can easily be dislodged because the appropriate screws aren’t used or are missing, the exposed metallic components (wires, bus bar and terminals) are dangerous.  As you will probably agree, most screws have a point at the end, right?  The screws used to attach the cover to the base DO NOT have points.  The points could pierce the insulation of the hot/live wires inside the box again creating a safety issue.  Only the screws provided by the panel’s manufacturer should be used.  DO NOT grab the handiest wood screw and use it to secure the cover.  You could electrocute yourself.  Call a licensed electrician!

Frequently seen (or not seen) in panels are missing bushings where the cable enters the metal box, knock outs that were never used for cable entrances as well as for circuit breakers.  Although this panel cover (Photo 6) was removed for inspection, please notice the bushings that secure the orange cables to the side of the box.  Then look a little lower to the white cable.  Notice that there isn’t a bushing.  The soft cable jacket and the wire’s insulation can be cut or nicked by the sharp edge where the cable enters the box.  That isn’t the only issue with this box.  Bushings are missing elsewhere, there weren’t four screws securing the cover and NONE of the screws used were correct.  If you look on the left side of the face, where the screw holes are, you’ll see a small brown dot.  That’s the hole where the screw goes. Now notice the cable right behind where the screw goes in.  This is a safety hazard. Because of this, and other wiring issues, analysis and correction by a licensed electrician was emphatically encouraged.

 557 Penn St 072

Photo 6

Among many other things that an inspector should look for includes “double taps”, bare wire ends inside the box, proper use of the correct wire gauge for the capacity of the circuit breaker and many other aspects that could compromise safety. 

In some homes there are also “Sub Panels”.   Sub panels concentrate some circuit breakers for a specific reason.  If you add a pool for example, a sub panel might be used.  If you have a panel that can house 24 (as an example) circuit breakers and you do an expansion and need 10 more, a sub panel may be added to increase circuit breaker capacity.  The inspection of a sub panel is similar to the inspection of the main panel.  There are differences however.

Your inspector should spend a good deal of time inspecting the service panel.  If you are planning to sell, hoping to buy or planning to stay in your home for a while, call Regal Home Inspections, LLC for an inspection of your electrical system in accordance with ASHI and NACHI Standards of Practice.

The next article in the electrical series will cover the Branch Circuit Wiring.  This includes the wiring FROM the circuit breaker box to your outlets and switches.  What is the inspector looking for?

I would appreciate your comments about this article.  Please email your comments to frank07722@gmail.com

Indoor Air Quality

Environmental and Occupational Health
Annemarie Delle Donne, RN, BSN
Indoor air pollution is a serious health threat.  The levels of many air pollutants can be two to five times higher in indoor air than outdoor air, and in some cases can be 100 times higher.  Indoor air pollution is a real concern because people spend so much time indoors (American Cancer Society, 2013).

Cigarette smoke is a combination of approximately 7,000 chemicals, and over 60 of these are known carcinogens, making it the most toxic indoor air pollutant (American Cancer Society, 2013).  Some chemicals in tobacco smoke include nicotine, cyanide, benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia, acetylene, and methanol, as well as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide gases. Nationally, over 70% of people who smoke say they would like to quit, but only 34% try and only 10% succeed and remain tobacco-free for one year (Institute of Medicine, 2001). 

Second-hand smoke (SHS) is a mixture of the smoke given off by a burning cigarette, pipe, or cigar (side stream smoke) and the smoke exhaled by smokers (mainstream smoke) (American Cancer Society, 2013).  SHS can cause a wide range of adverse health effects such as heart disease (resulting in approximately 46,000 deaths per year), lung cancer (resulting in 3,400 deaths per year), and 7,500-15,000 hospitalizations per year.  The link between SHS and breast cancer is still being investigated.  Children who are exposed to SHS and have the flu are more likely to need hospitalization in intensive care units.  The costs of extra medical care, illness, and death caused by SHS are over $10 billion (American Cancer Society, 2013).  Second-hand smoke (SHS) is a major trigger of childhood asthma (Mannino, Homa, & Redd, 2002).  According to the 2006 Surgeon General’s report, there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke.  Many parents of children with asthma underestimate the smoke exposure and subsequent harm to their child ((United States Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2006).  Children’s bodies are still developing and are significantly affected by SHS.  The poisons in SHS put them at greater risk for upper respiratory diseases, low birth-weight, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS),  asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, middle ear infections, and cognitive and behavioral problems (USDHHS, 2006). SHS exposure is also associated with increased respiratory illness resulting in more missed days of school in children, especially in children with asthma (Gilliland, et. al., 2003).

References

Institute of Medicine (2001).  Clearing the smoke:  Assessing the science base for tobacco harm reduction.  National Academy of Sciences; Washington, DC.

Gilliland, F. D., Berhane, K., Islam, T., Wenten, M., Rappaport, E., Avol, E., Gauderman, W. J., McConnell, R., & Peters, J. M. (2003).  Environmental tobacco smoke and absenteeism related to respiratory illness in schoolchildren.  American Journal of Epidemiology, 157(1), 861-869.

Mannino, D. M., Homa, D. M., & Redd, S. C. (2002).  Involuntary smoking and asthma severity in children:  Data from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.  Chest, 122(2), 409-415.

United States Department of Health and Human Services (2006).  The health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke:  A report of the Surgeon General. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Smoking and Health; Atlanta, Georgia.

MOLD. Will I Know It If I See It?

MOLD.  Will I know it if I see it?

By Frank J. Delle Donne, Licensed Home Inspector

November 19, 2013

First Article in a Series on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

About the author.  Frank J. Delle Donne is a NJ Licensed Home Inspector.  He is the owner and Senior Inspector at Regal Home Inspections, LLC.  Frank has been a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician for over 20 years and is a past member of the Colts Neck, NJ Board of Health and was Chairman of that Board for 2008 and 2009.  During my studies to become a Home Inspector I learned a great deal about MOLD and felt compelled to share that information in a manner that is easy to understand and increases awareness.  If you are in doubt, TEST to be sure.

What is mold?  Mold is a fungus.  A mushroom is a fungi and is mold.  There are a number of important things to know and understand about mold.  I have emphasized understand because as much as you may not want to accept these facts they can’t be avoided.

Please commit to accepting these facts.

1) Mold is everywhere.

2) Mold is naturally occurring.

3) Mold has its purpose in the natural order of things and in the environment.

4) Mold’s basic form is in a spore.  A spore is a tiny, tiny particle.  A “Mold seed” so to speak.  When you see the dust particles in the sun beam (as we’ve all seen) some of what you may be seeing might be a mold spore.

5) Finally, no matter how insulated your house is you can’t prevent mold from coming from the outdoors to the indoors.  Imagine saying, “I am going to open the refrigerator and I will stop every bit of cold air from escaping the refrigerator while the door is open.”  Impossible, right?  Of course it’s impossible to stop the cold air from coming out of the refrigerator.   If you said or thought, “NO” you can stop reading now.

So Mold spores are everywhere.  If you live in Arizona you may have different types of mold than if you lived in a rain forest but you’ll have mold, period.  There are thousands and thousands of types of mold.  Some are bad and some are good.  Do you like Bleu Cheese dressing?  Well that’s made with mold.  A good mold of course.  And some molds are bad.  If someone has respiratory medial issues a high concentration of mold in the home may make their medical problems worse.

What does mold need?  Mold needs a few things to thrive.  Obviously it begins with the aforementioned mold spore.  If provided with enough moisture (water or very humid air) and a food source the mold will grow.  The example I use and many people understand is this.  Have you ever noticed that after a few days of rainy, damp and dreary weather mushrooms start to pop up in your yard?  Well those mushroom mold spores were there before it started raining but now that they have plenty of water, they grow.  Then notice that after a few days of sunshine the mushrooms disappear.  That’s because the water/moisture source literally, dried up.  Get rid of the water and we get rid of the mold.

So what happens inside the home?  Again, we have to accept that mold spores exist everywhere.  The types and quantities will vary but rest assured the spores are there.   When there is prolonged exposure to water those spores will start to grow and a new colony of mold will appear.   Why is there water in my home?  Here are some possibilities:

1) A new leak in the roof lets water in where it didn’t before.

2) A basement is constantly damp or water has accumulated after a heavy rain. If the water sits around too long it could foster mold growth.

3) Water is penetrating the outside exterior siding and leaking into the wall.  This can be particularly nasty because you may not be able to see it.  By the time the mold colony makes an appearance inside the home the interior of the wall is completely consumed by the colony.

4) Perhaps a leak developed in a pipe under a sink or inside the wall?

In these examples, all of the elements that encourage mold growth were there except for one, water.  When the last piece of the mold-puzzle is added, mold can grow.  Once you get rid of that moisture the mold will once again go dormant.

Mold may present in a manner that is easy to see.

Mold Outside A NJ Home | Regal Home Inspections
Photo 1
Mold Inside A NJ Home | Regal Home Inspections
Photo 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Photo 1, notice the gap where the outside trim meets the window sill.  In Photo 1 you are looking at the outside of the window.  Water can easily penetrate through those gaps.  And in Photo 2 you see the results of that leakage.  There are vertical water stains that initially caught my eye on this inspection and there is the obvious mold along the top of the trim and it has moved into the rug.  It’s a little more difficult to notice but you can see how the dry wall has been damaged by the water penetration.  A mold swab was taken and sent to the lab for mold species identification.   In this case, and in many cases, the paper (cellulose) of the dry wall is like a mold buffet.  The dry wall paper is the food source.

Testing for mold:

As mentioned above, a swab is one method of collecting a mold sample for lab analysis.  Another direct contact test is a tape lift.  As the same implies, a piece of adhesive back tape is placed against the suspect mold area and spores will attach to the tape.  The tape (like the swab) is market with date, time, location the sample was taken, etc. and sent to the lab.

If appropriate and possible, a bulk sample may be taken.  An example of a bulk sample may be a small piece of wall paper that appears to have mold on it.  A piece of the material can be cut and sealed in a plastic bag, marked, identified, etc. and sent to the lab.  These three methods, swab, tape lift and bulk are ways to collect samples from surfaces.

Air Sampling:

Often times families with members (adults or children) that have respiratory problems want to assure themselves that there aren’t active mold colonies releasing spores into the indoor air.  There may be a hint of mold odor in the air.  One, or more, family members may be having breathing problems that can’t be pinpointed to the cause.  They may come to a point where they would like to take air samples to either rule poor indoor air quality out or identify an indoor air quality problem so it can be corrected.

The process for testing indoor air for mold is an interesting process.  First, please remember that mold spores exist everywhere.  This can’t be denied and it can’t be corrected to 100% cleanliness in a home.  It just can’t.

The testing process uses small collection canisters attached to a vacuum pump.  The canisters are about the size of a golf ball and air is pulled into the canister and mold spores are trapped.  The canisters (note plural) are sent to a lab for analysis.

Now here’s the interesting part.  There will be 5 -10 air samples (canisters) taken in every home.  Some homes may necessitate more samples but there shouldn’t be any less.  The first sample is taken outdoors!  Why you may ask?  Well remember when I said that there are mold spores everywhere and that they occur naturally.  We need to take a BASELINE test so we know what types of mold exist in your area NATURALLY.  If mold X exists naturally where you live, don’t be shocked if mold X is inside your home!

After BASELINE #1 test we’ll take additional tests inside; basement air samples, bathrooms, kitchen, etc.  After we get all the inside samples we need we will take our last sample back outside for BASELINE #2.  The two BASELINE samples identify the types/species of molds that naturally occur and these two test will tell us approximately in what concentration these naturally occurring mold spores exist.

Indoor Results – If the indoor results consistently reflect the same types of mold as the baselines and indicate similar concentrations inside as exist outside, this is normal.   However, if the indoor tests indicate significantly HIGHER concentrations of some types of mold, this would indicate that there is something INSIDE the house fostering mold spore growth.  If the sources were not apparent, this would be a good time to consult with a mold remediation company.

Some mold types that are found naturally and may be present in your home include:

Aspergillus/Penicillium, Cladosporium, Ganoderma, Stachybotrys and Zygomycetes to name a few of the over 1 million mold types.

You can rely on Regal Home Inspections, LLC not to find mold where it doesn’t exist because we do not perform the remediation.   We take the samples and make the tests.  We work with the most reputable labs that perform the sampling analysis and Regal will help you understand the results.  If correction is needed, there are many mold remediation companies available and registered with New Jersey.  Mold sampling does not require certification or licensure but mitigation/remediation companies are registered with the state.

If you are concerned that you might have unwanted visitors in the form of mold, give us a call or email me at frank07722@gmail.com