NY Metro ASHI News
A Publication of the NY Metro Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors
Edited by John Gerardi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Articles published in the NY Metro ASHI News are the sole opinion of the author and we publish these articles for educational purposes only and not to indorse or state a position for or against the content of the article.
Date: Thursday, June 26, 2003, 6:00PM
Next Meeting's Program Pat Sposato from Parkway Exterminating will be speaking about wood destroying insect inspections.
Guests are welcome at all meetings.
FOAM INSULATION AND TERMITES
By Robert Festa
A new problem in termite control is emerging with the increase of foam insulation in renovations and new construction. In 1983, the Department of Energy reported that approximately 5% of existing houses had foundation insulation, whereas in 1992 they found that 50% of new construction had some foundation insulation.
There is no question that increased use of foam
insulation provides significant energy savings for the consumer and our
environment. However, these materials are being used by many insect species
such as termites and carpenter ants for galleries and tunneling. The problem
with termites is being reported with increased frequency from as far south as
Termites have four basic requirements for survival, i.e., food, moisture, temperature, and protection from predation. While foam insulation has no nutritional value to termites, it can provide three of the four requirements and permit undetected access to the cellulose (food) material in the structure.
Termite control strategies include the use of mechanical alteration, soil treatment, foundation treatment and wood treatment. While limited wood treatment can be made, foam insulation precludes mechanical alteration, soil treatment and foundation treatment.
One problem with any of these types of insulation is that termites can gain undetected access to the wood or other cellulose containing materials in the structure. While the insulation is of no nutritiona1 value, it provides ideal nesting and tunneling conditions. It also affords termites a habitat which offers protection, conserves moisture and provides a relatively consistent temperature. The situation created by foam insulation is analogous to having wood in contact with the soil. This is because in most applications the foam is in contact with the soil and the energy conservation properties of the insulation are reduced when any gap above grade exists in the insulation.
Another problem is that the water resistant properties of the foam prevent the adsorption or absorption of termiticides. Thus, critical areas cannot be protected. At best only the termite galleries in foam can be expected to permit some termiticide penetration, but certainly not enough to provide effective control.
The National Pest Control Association, U.S. Dept. of
The following are guidelines I use when dealing with the problem:
Inspect properties thoroughly for this type of insulation and termite infestations associated with its use.
Insulation contact with the soil should be considered the same as wood in contact with the soil when reporting on conducive conditions.
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VIC'S (AD)VICE COLUMN
by Victor J. Faggella
"Be Careful Out There"
If you ever watched the old TV police show, "Hill Street Blues", you will be familiar with the title of this column. The show would typically open with the sergeant preparing his men for their day on the street by advising them of the current problems. When finished, he would dismiss them with the caution, "Be careful out there". I am issuing the same warning to my fellow inspectors.
Sometime last month, I inspected a 75 year old wood frame house covered with cement coat stucco. As I started my inspection of the exterior walls, I observed a bulging of the stucco, at grade level, on both sides of the front entrance. My first thought was that water had gotten into the walls where the flat front portico joined the house and caused some damage to the framing and sheathing. However, as I wall<ed around the house, I noted that this bulging existed around the entire perimeter. This typically means that there is sill damage which is allowing the house to settle. When I entered the basement to check this, I found the ceiling to be covered with the typical cement coat found in homes this age. Fortunately, in the boiler room there was an opening to a small crawl space where the structure was exposed. The house was a balloon frame type and the visible sill was badly deteriorated from infestation and the studs were compressing it several inches.
When I run into problems of this nature I call on Mark Rodi, "Termite Specialist and Construction Engineer". Mark has made presentations at several of our meetings and seminars. He is most knowledgeable not only on termite problems but also how to repair the damage they have caused. Mark established that the entire sill, (which was below grade) was deteriorated and would have to be replaced. He estimated the cost of repair as upwards of $ 60,000. My client called in a friend who was also a contractor and he advised him that costs could exceed $100,000. As this was a million dollar house, my client was still willing to buy the house if the owner would split the cost of repair. The owner's reply was "The house isn't going to fall down". Obviously my client did not buy the house.
Several weeks later, I was inspecting a second house for him. His Realtor told me that the house which I had previously inspected had two subsequent inspections and neither had turned up the serious structural problem. I was feeling very proud of myself for having found a problem that two other inspectors had missed. Then something happened that took the "cockiness" out of me. I had made my typical three turns around the house while looking at various aspects and making notes. I had completed my inspection of the basement and made one more trip outside to check on a possible source of basement water through a window well. As I was checking the area, I noticed a black pipe corning up out of the ground. It was in a corner behind some shrubs. As I followed the pipe up some six or seven feet, I noted a "whistler" at the top of the pipe, a buried oil tank vent. This was an all gas house, the boiler was not new and there was no evidence of old oil lines in the basement. When was the last time you saw a vent pipe seven feet tall? I checked at the curb, and sure enough there was an old fill line which had been filled with cement. Remember, I had previously made three passes. I couldn't I have missed this, but I did. It would have been an expensive mistake. It was either "dumb luck" or "the Good Lord Above" depending on what you believe, that made me find it. So, depend on dumb luck or say your prayers, but "Be careful out there".
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Fast Precast Foundations
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(Journal of Light Construction July 97)
This cost-competitive foundation system can
be installed in less than a day
What would you think if a foundation contractor told you that he could install your foundation in less than two hours? You'd probably chalk it up to walking around too many job sites without a hard hat.
What's in a Wall?
The panels consist of 2x8 concrete studs, sheathed with a I-Inch layer of extruded polystyrene insulation board and covered with an exterior face shell of 2-inch concrete. At the top and bottom of the panels, the concrete studs and face shell are connected by concrete "wall plates" that serve as bond beams.
The panels are factory-cast using a 5,000-psi fiber-reinforced concrete, and are available in standard heights of 4, 8, and 10 feet in lengths up to 12 feet. The concrete studs are reinforced with a 3/8-inch vertical bar on the interior (tension) side of the wall, and each bond beam is reinforced with two 3/8-inch bars.
A perimeter drain is placed a foot or so outside the foundation footprint, and 6 inches of l/2-inch crushed stone is spread over the entire basement area and leveled.
Unlike conventional foundations, Superior Wall panels do not require concrete footings. Many builders flinch at the thought, but when typical residential wall loads are compared with average soil bearing capacities (2,500 pounds per square foot or higher), standard spread footings are generally oversized.
A poured concrete foundation often represents half of the total design weight of a house. Since an 8-foottall prefabricated panel weighs in at about 285 pounds per linear foot (less than a third of the weight of a 10-inch poured-in-place concrete wall), total house loads can be reduced by as much as 30%.
The panels are designed to support more than 4,000 pounds per linear foot, and point loads of up to 71/2 tons can be supported by tripled concrete studs. Beam pockets capable of supporting 10,000 pounds can be cast into the wall. The company reviews the builder's plans, and designs the panels to support the project's particular loading requirements.
Superior Wall panels have been approved for use in areas under the BOCA code. According to the company, over 15,000 foundations have been installed, and there has been no structural failure attributed to the design or manufacture of the system.
Assembling the Panels
Lifting pockets are cast into each panel, and specially designed nylon straps are looped over the crane's spreader bar to pick up each panel. Panels are bolted together at the top and bottom with l/2-inch galvanized machine bolts inserted through precast recesses in the top and bottom plates.
Half-inch bolts, inserted through cast recesses, fasten the panels together at the top and bottom plates (left). A bead of urethane sealant is applied to the butt joints, and after the panels are drawn up tight, the joint is caulked again on the interior and exterior (right).
To seal the joint, a bead of high-quality urethane caulk is applied to the panels just before they're butted together. After the panel bolts are drawn up tight, two additional beads of caulk are run on the exterior and interior of the joint. Outside corners are cast as miter joints, and bolted together and sealed in the same manner as butt joints.
In most cases, the concrete slab is poured before backfilling. The slab acts as a brace, preventing the bottom of the panels from kicking in as the foundation is backfilled. In areas where there will be no slab (a crawlspace, for example), 2x6 diagonal
bracing is fastened to the bottom of the foundation panel and tied into the floor joist system above.
The company claims that no additional waterproofing treatment is needed. By preparing the site so groundwater is readily diverted from the foundation, moisture problems are avoided. If I were building in an area with a high water table, I'd still apply a foundation coating or membrane, and use a granular backfill material.
The cost of the precast panels compares favorably to conventional foundations. According to David Weaver, who installs Superior Wall panels, the average installed cost for 8-foothigh wall panels is $36 per linear foot within 20 miles of the plant. An 8-foot poured wall costs about $38 per linear foot in my area (not including footings).
Compared with poured concrete or block foundations, interior finishing costs are also much lower for the
Superior precast panels. Builders realizes savings of up to 15% when finishing costs are factored into the cost equation.
Freight on Board
Trucking costs for the precast panels start to become prohibitive when the job site is located more than 200 miles from the plant. Currently, there are 14 plants manufacturing Superior Wall panels in New York, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and South Carolina. Manufacturers must be licensed; direct inquiries to Superior Walls of America at 800/452-9255.
Seeing is believing. The foundation shown in the article took about 90 minutes to set in place. Had the
framers been there, they could have started setting sill plates before the crane pulled out.
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What Are Combustion Appliances?
Combustion appliances are those that burn fuels for heating, cooking, or decorative purposes. Examples include space heaters, ranges, ovens, stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters, and clothes dryers. Common fuels used by these appliances are natural or liquefied petroleum (LP) gas, fuel oil, kerosene, wood, or coal. Usually these appliances are safe. However, under certain conditions, these appliances can produce combustion pollutants that can damage your health, or even cause death.
What Are the Major Health Effects?
Combustion pollutants are gases or particles that result from burning materials. The types and amounts of pollutants produced depend on the appliance, how well the appliance is installed, maintained, and vented, and the fuel it uses. Major combustion pollutants and the health effects of exposure include the following:
. Carbon monoxide interferes with the delivery of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body. It can cause fatigue, headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, increased chest pain in people with heart disease, confusion and disorientation, and, at high levels, death. According to Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there are more than 1,000 carbon monoxide deaths each year. Because the chemical is odorless and some of the symptoms are similar to common illnesses, the effects may not be recognized until it is too late. Those most at risk are the elderly, infants, fetuses, and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease
. Nitrogen dioxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause irritation of the respiratory tract, shortness of breath, and increased incidences of respiratory illness. There is evidence from animal studies that repeated exposures to elevated nitrogen dioxide levels may lead, or contribute, to the development of lung disease such as emphysema. Children and individuals with asthma and other respiratory illnesses are at greater risk from exposure to nitrogen dioxide.
. Particulates can cause eye, nose, throat, and lung irritation, and can increase respiratory problems, especially in those with preexisting medical conditions, such as cardiovascular illness and immune system diseases. Certain chemicals attached to the particles may cause lung cancer if they are inhaled. The risk of lung cancer increases witt1 the length and amount of exposure. The health effects from inhaling particles depend on many factors, including the chemical makeup and size of the particles.
. Sulfur dioxide irritates the eyes, nose, and the respiratory tract at low levels of exposure. At high levels, it causes the lung airways to narrow. This results in chest tightness, wheezing, or breathing problems.
Combustion always produces water vapor. Although water vapor is not usually considered a pollutant, it can act as one. It can result in high humidity and wet surfaces. These conditions encourage the growth of biological pollutants such as house dust mites, molds, and bacteria.
How Can I Reduce My Exposure to Combustion Pollutants?
. Avoid using unvented, fuel-burning devices in enclosed spaces. Unvented, fuel-burning space
heaters should only be used in emergencies. Follow the manufacturer's directions, especially
instructions on the proper fuel and proper adjustment. While a space heater is in use, open a door
from the room where the heater is located to the rest of the house and open a window slightly
. Install and use exhaust fans over gas stoves and ranges and keep the burners properly adjusted. A persistent yellow-tipped flame is generally an indicator of maladjustment and increased pollutant emissions. Ask your gas company to adjust the burner so that it is operating properly. If you purchase a new gas stove or range, consider buying one with pilotless ignition, so there will not be a pilot light burning continuously. Also, never use a gas stove to heat your home.
. Keep woodstove emissions to a minimum. Make certain that doors in old wood stoves are tightly fitting. Use aged or cured wood only and follow the manufacturer's directions for starting, stoking, and extinguishing the fire in woodstoves. Do not burn pressure-treated wood indoors. If you are purchasing a woodstove, choose a properly sized new stove that is certified as meeting EPA emission standards.
. Always make certain the flue in your fireplace is open when the fireplace is in use.
. Obtain annual inspections for central air handling system components, including furnaces, flues, and chimneys, and promptly repair cracks or damaged parts. Blocked, leaking, or damaged chimneys or flues release harmful combustion gases and particles, and can release fatal concentrations of carbon monoxide, Strictly follow all service and maintenance procedures recommended by the manufacturer, including those that tell you how frequently to change the filter. If the manufacturer's instructions are unavailable, change the filters once every month or two during periods of use.
. If you suspect that combustion pollutants are causing adverse health effects, consider turning off any combustion appliances, and contact the appliance service company or fuel company to inspect and, if needed, adjust the appliance, See a doctor to determine if symptoms may be caused by the combustion pollutants.
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Tel (630) 285-1121; Fax: (630) 285-1315
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Inspecting Your Contract
By Alan Carson
Purpose of the Contract
Many believe the purpose of a contract is to limit the liability of the inspector. We believe the purpose of a contract is to clearly communicate to clients the scope of the home inspection. Clients should understand what you can and cannot do. This goes to the heart of establishing reasonable expectations. In our view, it is quite fair for clients to hold our feet to the fire within that window of responsibility.
We send our Authorization Form (We don't call it a contract !) to our clients ahead of time and encourage them to sign and return the agreement prior to the inspection. This gives the client a chance to ask questions before the inspection. The inspection itself will go more smoothly if certain elements are completed in advance, such as explaining the scope of the inspection, adjusting expectation and getting the agreement signed. This is also an opportunity to take care of payment details prior to the inspection.
The goal of an agreement, in our opinion, is to have both the supplier and customer agree on the service to be delivered. It is the responsibility of the customer to pay for the service when it is delivered. It is the responsibility of the supplier to deliver the service.
Our contract is short and attempts to explain in layman's terms the scope of the inspection. We include a copy of the Standards of Practice so that the client can understand the scope of the inspection and understand that the rules of the game are well established, and not something we made up. We refer to the ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) Standards of Practice because it makes it clear that the exclusions and restrictions are not specific to our company but are those of a nationally recognized organization.
Scope of Inspection
There is a risk when defining the scope of the inspection too rigidly. If you clearly set out what you are going to do and then perform services beyond this scope, your contract may be thrown out by a court. (“I told you we don't do things like asbestos but I thought you should know that there is asbestos on these pipes.") If you report on things outside of scope, it can be argued that you should have reported on other things outside the scope as well, since you were clearly not serious about defining your scope. There is judgment involved in deciding what kind of issues need to be raised and different inspectors will have different thresholds. If you notice something that is outside the scope of the inspection but is life threatening, for example, you may have a moral or ethical obligation to raise this issue. You should be clear that this is not part of the inspection, that the issue is being raised as a courtesy and that a specialist in this area may be consulted. If there is an asbestos concern, you may recommend a specialist. No one can confirm that a substance contains asbestos by visual examination. As long as it is clear that the issue is not part of the inspection, and you outline the reason the issue is raised there should be no problem. Recommending further investigation rather than a solution is critical to preventing confusion for clients.
It is very important to establish realistic expectations in the mind of your client. Clients should know that you are there to find big problems, the kind that would change their mind about buying the property. In looking for big problems, you will trip over some small ones and rather than ignore them, you will report them as a courtesy. No matter how well you communicate this, a client may still have the expectation that you will find every cracked pane of glass, loose tile, soft mortar joint and so on.
Unless you explain to the client upfront that this is not reasonable, who can blame them for expecting more? It is your responsibility to clarify the scope. Some inspectors define the inspection as a sampling process rather than an all-inclusive exercise. Some make it clear that they will not mention problems that would cost below $500 to repair. Others communicate that they report major problems only, and then define major problems as being life and safety issues or items that would cost over $1,000 to repair. Find your own way to get the message across but make it clear.
Setting reasonable expectations begins with your promotional material. We believe that your promotional materials can be positive without over-promising. Offering "complete peace of mind," or a "total solution" etc. may expose you to liability.
Limiting Your Exposure
There are many variations regarding the wording of contracts. We encourage YOU to check with your attorney before settling on any. Remember, however, that attorneys have a specific goal - to minimize your liability. Their goal is not to build your business success. An attorney typically has little understanding of your marketing or customer service activities. Your goals may include business growth as well as liability control.
Many contracts have clauses that minimize the inspector's exposure. These include the following:
* Limiting the liability to a fee or similar low number (if allowed in your jurisdiction).
* A statute of limitations that sets a restriction on the period of time clients have to come after you for a problem.
* A clause stating that if the client sues you and loses, they are responsible for your costs.
* That a technically exhaustive inspection is available at a considerably higher price. (This is designed to reinforce the idea that a
home inspection has a limited scope.)
* Exclusions for everything you can think of (radon, lead, mold, building codes, engineering work, concealed items, environmental
issues, operating costs, acoustical propel1ies, etc.)
* The inspection is visual only.
* There is no inspection of concealed areas.
* The inspection identifies only conditions that are both present and apparent at the time of the inspection. Intermittent problems are not covered.
* Professional opinions are often based on inference because there is no direct evidence or the information is not complete.
* The inspection is not a guarantee or a warranty.
* There is no responsibility if repairs are completed before the inspector has a chance to reexamine the property.
* We are not responsible for providing "improvements" that add more value to the client's property than what they had at the time of the inspection. For example, if we say the roof has five years remaining and it has to be replaced immediately, we should not have to provide a new roof with a 15-year life expectancy. We should only have to provide a roof with five years of life remaining.
* The inspector is not liable for any consequential loss (if the roof leaks and destroys a $20,000 piece of furniture, the damage to the furniture is not our problem).
* The contract is the entire agreement (anything we say in our advertising does not matter).
* The contract replaces all previous representations (including what we may have said on the phone or on our web site).
* Disputes will be resolved by arbitration (or mediation)
Reprinted with permission from "Working RE" magazine www.workingre.com (888)347-5273
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