Central Humidifiers

The winters in Colorado Springs can be very dry and the humidity levels in your home so low that wood floors and wood furniture will shrink or contract.  During My Home Inspections I come across many different types of humidifiers which are attached to the return air duct work at the furnace.  Humidifiers should have a damper which is closed during the summer season and opened during the winter season.

What is humidity?
Humidity refers to the amount of moisture in the air. “Relative humidity” signifies the amount of moisture in the air relative to the maximum amount of water the air can contain before it becomes saturated. This maximum moisture count is related to air temperature in that the hotter the air is, the more moisture it can hold. For instance, if indoor air temperature drops, relative humidity will increase.

How do central air humidifiers work?

Central air humidifiers are integrated into the forced-air heating system so that they humidify air while it is being heated.  The water that is used by the device is pumped automatically into the humidifier from household plumbing, unlike portable humidifiers, which require the user to periodically supply water to the device. Humidifiers are available in various designs, each of which turns liquid water into water vapor, which is then vented into the house at an adjustable rate.

Why humidify air?     

Moist air  seems to soothe irritated, inflamed airways. For someone with a cold and thick nasal secretions, a humidifier can help thin out the secretions and make breathing easier.
Indoor air that is too dry can also cause the following problems:
•    damage to musical instruments, such as pianos, guitars and violins;
•    dry skin;
•    peeling wallpaper;
•    static electricity, which can damage sensitive electrical equipment, cause hair to stick up, and can be painful or annoying; and
•    cracks in wood furniture, floors, cabinets and paint.

Central Humidifier Dangers

Humidifiers can cause various diseases. The young, elderly and infirm may be particularly at risk to contamination from airborne pollutants such as bacteria and fungi. These can grow in humidifiers and get into the air by way of the vapor where it can be breathed in. Some of the more common diseases and pathogens transmitted by humidifiers are:
•    Legionnaires’ Disease. Health problems caused by this disease range from flu-like symptoms to serious infections. This problem is generally more prevalent with portable humidifiers because they draw standing water from a tank in which bacteria and fungi can grow;
•    thermophilic actinomycetes. These bacteria thrive at temperatures of 113° to 140° F and can cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which is an inflammation of the lungs; and
•    “humidifier fever,” which is a mysterious and short-lived, flu-like illness marked by fever, headache, chills and malaise, but without prominent pulmonary symptoms. It normally subsides within 24 hours without residual effects.
Other problems associated with humidifiers include:
•    accumulation of white dust from minerals in the water. These minerals may be released in the mist from the humidifier and settle as fine white dust that may be small enough to enter the lungs. The health effects of this dust depend on the types and amounts of dissolved minerals. It is unclear whether these minerals cause any serious health problems;
•    moisture damage due to condensation. Condensed water from over-humidified air will appear on the interior surfaces of windows and other relatively cool surfaces. Excessive moisture on windows can damage windowpanes and walls, but a more serious issue is caused when moisture collects on the inner surfaces of exterior walls. Moisture there can ruin insulation and rot the wall, and cause peeling, cracking or blistering of the paint; and
•    accumulation of mold. This organic substance grows readily in moist environments, such as a home moistened by an over-worked humidifier. Mold can be hazardous to people with compromised immune systems.


Designs and Maintenance

drum-type humidifier:  has a rotating spongy surface that absorbs water from a tray. Air from the central heating system blows through the sponge, vaporizing the absorbed water. The drum type requires care and maintenance because mold and impurities can collect in the water tray. According to some manufacturers’ instructions, this tray should be rinsed annually, although it usually helps to clean it several times per heating season.
•    flow-through or “trickle” humidifier:  a higher quality though more expensive unit than the drum-type, which allows fresh water to trickle into an aluminum panel. Air blows through the panel and forces the water to evaporate into the air stream. Excess water exits the panel into a drain tube. This design requires little maintenance because the draining water has a “self-cleaning” effect and, unlike the drum-type humidifier, there is no stagnant water.


Annual Home Maintenance

I wrote this article because during my Home Inspections in the Colorado Springs and Denver areas, I get  many questions about maintaining the different parts or aspects of a home.  Your Home is such a large investment  so to protect your investment I have assembled a list of items which should be maintained or checked annually.
Preventive maintenance is cheaper than replacement of major items such as flooring, walls or Mold Mitigation.  This is not a complete list as many homes have unique features which may also require maintenance, use this list to build your own list.  Or have me Inspect your home on an annual basis.  During my Home Inspections I check about 500 items in and around the home.

EXTERIOR

  • Plants and shrubs touching your house should be trimmed and tree branches touching your roof line should be trimmed as well.  Plants and shrubbery  in contact with your house will allow moisture to decay exterior finishes and allow Wood Destroying Insects a habitat.
  • Check for wide gaps in your concrete slabs (walks & drive), especially at your foundation line, caulk as necessary.  Wide gaps will allow moisture under your slabs and cause movement which can lead to an expensive concrete replacement. 
  • Test your frost proof hose bibs, to do so turn your hose bib on (with out a hose attached) then turn off, a small amount of water should drain from the hose bib which would mean the valve is working correctly.  Malfunctioning hose bibs can be expensive when they freeze and rupture.
  • Test exterior GFCI outlets, this is a safety item which should not be ignored, it is a matter of your safety.  If GFCI does not trip, have it replaced by a competent Electrician.
  • Check all horizontal house trim especially above doors and windows for deteriorated or cracked caulking, replace as necessary.  When caulking is no longer effective, moisture may get inside your walls and cause mold growth or deteriorate your wall finishes.  Check for loose soffit material or loose siding which can allow insects inside your walls of attic.
  • Check rain gutters and down spouts, clean as necessary.  Down spouts should drain 3' to 5' away from wall lines.
  • Clean window wells as necessary, window wells clogged with leaves and debris can prevent proper drainage. The result can lead to water inside your basement or crawl space.
  • Check decks and railings for loose planks or railings, re-secure as necessary.  If surface coating is worn re-coat with a UV protectant which can extend the life of your wood.
  • Check fences and gates for loose screws, hinges & slats, correct as necessary.
  • Check irrigation valves for leaks and drips, repair as necessary.  Irrigation valves are normally located next to foundation walls and if they continue to leak the moisture could get into basement or crawl space or the wet soil at footing area could cause settlement and wall cracking.

GARAGE

  • Check garage door parts and hinges for loose bolts and screws, re-tighten as necessary.  Check auto reverse and photoelectric eyes and manual disconnect  for proper function. Defective components may create a safety hazard.  To test auto reverse function while door is in the closing position grasp bottom door edge with both hands, if you cannot reverse the doors operation with mild hand resistance the sensitivity should be adjusted.
  • Door from garage to house should have self closing hinges or closure  to prevent the spread of fire or fumes into living quarters.
  • Check in corners of garage for mouse droppings, exterminate as necessary.

BASEMENT / CRAWL SPACE

  • Check around windows and perimeter walls for signs of moisture.  If moisture does exist a specialist may be needed to determine cause. Moisture in basements and crawl spaces can lead to mold growth.
  • Clean window tracks for easy operation, you may need these windows as means of egress.
  • Check operation of sump pump, most pumps have an external float which can be moved in an upward motion to activate pump.
  • If furnace is located in basement check filter.  Filters should be changed every couple of months through the winter season.
  • At top of Gas Water Heater check around vent cap for dark residue, this is usually caused from back drafting, consult a licensed plumber for repairs.

KITCHEN

  • Test GFCI outlets, a defective GFCI can lead to electrical shock.  All outlets within six feet of wet areas should be GFCI protected. If outlet fails have a qualified Electrician replace.
  • Check for leaks under sinks, some leaks go un-noticed and can lead to expensive floor and cabinet repairs.
  • Clean under Refrigerator and if coil is accessible clean it also.  Keeping these clean can prolong the life of the Refrigerator and improve healthy air quality.
  • Check for loose caulking around sinks and counter tops, replace as necessary.  Loose caulking can allow moisture to come in contact with particle board which is under the formica surfaces and swells easily.
  • Clean aerator on faucet, small particles in water accumulate on screens and restrict water flow.
  • Check for anti-tip bracket on range/oven, install if missing.  This bracket prevents unit from tipping if child climbs on oven door.

BATHROOMS

  • Check GFCI's for proper operation, have replaced if defective. GFCI outlets are required for areas within 6' of wet areas.
  • Check for leaks under sinks, some leaks go un-noticed and can lead to expensive floor and cabinet repairs.
  • Check for loose caulking around sinks, tubs and counter tops, replace as necessary.
  • Clean aerator on faucet, small particles in water accumulate on screens and restrict water flow.
  • Check for loose water closet (toilet) or signs of moisture around bottom of toilet.  Toilets can become loose over time, re-tighten or replace wax ring as necessary.

INTERIOR AREAS

  • Have carpets professionally cleaned on an annual basis, this can extend the life of your carpets and promotes air quality.
  • Use hose type vacuum cleaner to clean floor ducts, floor vents usually lift out without the need of tools, it is amazing how much lint and debri can collect in floor vents and go un-noticed, this will also promote healthy air quality.
  • Test Smoke Detectors/Alarms and replace batteries on an annual basis.  Replace defective detectors.  Smoke alarms should be tested once a month and Experts agree Smoke Alarms and Detectors should be replaced after ten years.
  • Test CO Detectors and replace batteries. CO Detectors should be tested once a month and Experts agree CO Detectors should be replaced after ten years.  Colorado State Law requires sellers of homes to provide a CO Detector within 10' to the entrance of sleeping quarters.
  • Test AFCI (arc fault current interrupters) breakers in electrical panel if equipped.
  • Check Fire Extinguishers, most have a gauge close to the handle, the dial should indicate charged or in the green zone, if not replace or have recharged.
  • Having your home tested for Radon on an annual basis is recommended.  Radon levels can change with seasons and from year to year.  EPA declares Radon is the second leading cause of Lung Cancer, Radon Gases can be prevented by installing a Mitigation System.

  Inspections Done Right

Should I Worry About Radon?

Based on the amount of a requests I receive for Radon Testing , homeowners and home buyers are becoming more concerned about Radon gas. I think it’s important for homeowners and buyers on radon and radon testing.  I’ve included a list of links at the bottom of this article.  Please reach out ot me if you have questions.

What is Radon?

Radon is a colorless and odorless radioactive gas that is produced by the radioactive decay of radium. Radium is a product of a decay chain beginning with uranium, a naturally occurring radioactive element. Radium is found in trace amounts in nearly all rocks,soils,and groundwater as well as building materials, plants,animals,and the human body.

Where is Radon Found?

Radon is a natural component of the air we breathe. Radon gas decays to solid particles called radon decay products. Inhaled radon decay products account for more than two thirds of the natural background radiation dose to members of the public. Scientists have long known about the radiation dose from radon, particularly to miners; however, the general public in the United States became aware of the potential risk of radon in homes in the 1980s.

The map below shows the concentration of mapped Radon zones. Notice Colorado notice we in Colorado are in the Highest  Zone 1.   Colorado Springs and Elpaso County have a very high incidence of Radon Gas.

EPA Map of Radon Zones.

Is Radon Harmful to Your Health?

According to the EPA, radon is the second most important cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. Radon exposure is also considered the  primary cause of lung cancer in individuals who have never smoked. The majority of radon related lung cancers are attributable  to long-term exposures at low or moderate concentrations since most of the exposures occur at these lower concentrations. Adverse health  effects, other than lung cancer, have not been consistently demonstrated in epidemiological studies.

EPA chart (vertical number of Deaths - Horizontal Causes of Death)

 

How is Radon Measured?

Radon concentration is a measurable quantity that is related to the amount of radiation that would be emitted by radon and its decay products  in a liter of air.  Radon concentration in air is expressed in units of picocuries per liter (pCi/L).Higher radon concentrations and smoking habits are related to a higher potential for adverse human health effects. The concentration to which an individual is exposed can be influenced by that person’s lifestyle,such as time spent indoors, building construction,local geology, and other environmental factors.

What Level of Radon is Acceptable?

The U.S. EPA has established guidelines for exposure to radon in homes. At levels of 4pCi/L or more, the U.S. EPA encourages members of the public to take steps to reduce the radon concentrations and to consider action at levels above 2pCi/L. The Health Physics Society concurs with the U.S. EPA guideline of 4pCi/L. However, because 4pCi/L is not a definite line between safe and unsafe, the HPS also agrees with the EPA s recommendation to consider action at levels below 4pCiL. Recent residential epidemiological studies have demonstrated that there is a statistically significant increased risk of lung cancer at concentrations below the U.S. EPA s action level of 4pCi/L.

Radon Testing Guidelines

You should have your home or building tested by a Certified Radon Measurement Professional.   Closed house conditions are required 12 hours prior to deployment of the tests and for the 48 hours during the test.  Closed-house conditions means keeping all windows closed, keeping doors closed except for normal entry and exit, and not operating fans or other machines which bring in air from outside.  Fans that are part of a radon-reduction system or small exhaust fans operating for only short periods of time may run during the test.

How Long does Radon Testing Take?

Many different types of Radon Measurement Devices are available.  Short term tests require a minimum deployment tome of 48 hours to 7 days.  For the Radon tests I conduct I use either a Charcoal Liquid Scintillation which is two small vials of activated charcoal  or Activated Charcoal Adsorption container filled with activated charcoal and covered with a screen and filter.   Both of these types are deployed for 48 hours.  Long  term can be a Continuous Monitoring which could be in place for a year.

What if my Radon Levels are High?

For existing homes with radon concentrations at or above 4pCi/L, proper radon mitigation can almost always reduce levels to below 2pCi/L. Homeowners, or others responsible for a particular building, should contact a qualified radon mitigation specialist to determine the appropriate actions to be taken to reduce indoor radon concentrations. Confirmation tests should be made after mitigation to ensure that the system is working properly.

What if I Plan to Build a New Home?

For new construction, particularly in areas designated by the U.S. EPA or state radon programs as  having the potential for indoor radon concentrations exceeding 4 pCi/L, radon‐reducing features or a full mitigation system should be installed at the time of construction. Nationwide, the average cost of installing radon resistant systems in new construction is in the range of several hundred dollars, while the cost of mitigating an existing home often exceed $1,000.

Radon and Home Sales?

Radon testing is standard for many real estate transactions along the front range.   Because real estate sales happen quickly, there is often little time to mitigate for radon and this becomes a price negotiation item regardless of whether the buyer is actually concerned with radon or not. The best thing to do is to test for radon NOW and save the results in case the buyer is interested in them.  If there is a radon issue, I can recommend a mitigation company to resolve your issue and get on with the purchase or sale of your home.

 

Radon References:

EPA on Radon

El Paso County Colorado Radon Services

InterNACHI Radon Information

Or Contact me for your Radon Testing or other Home Inspection Needs

Inspections Done Right

Carpeted Bathrooms is it a Good Idea?

Probably 30% of the homes I inspect have at least one bathroom that has carpet. Here are some things to think regarding bathroom flooring.  Carpet or not?

Advantages of a Carpeted bathroom:

  • Carpet provides a non slip surface when exiting the shower or tub
  • Carpet is warmer to your feet  in the winter
  • Carpet is less expensive and quicker to install than Ceramic Tile
  • Carpet has a warmer look to the bathroom.

Disadvantages of a Carpeted bathroom:

  • Carpet and padding can act as a sponge and hold water
  • Carpet can be more difficult to clean when soiled
  • Carpet can hold urine and be undetected
  • carpet can hold moisture from exiting the shower or tub
  • Wet carpet can be a hiding place for mold

When left to grow mold can create structural damage, because mold can deteriorate a wood sub-floor or drywall and cause structural damage which can lead to costly repairs.  Carpet has a tendency to hold or foster bacteria which is one reason it is against code to carpet a commercial bathroom.

Precautions you should take if you have carpet in your bathrooms

moldy subfloor

  • Check often for moisture
  • Make sure you have proper ventilation
  • Make sure toilet is not leaking
  • Carpet in bathrooms should be cleaned on a regular basis

The photo  is of a bathroom that was tiled but moisture  invaded the ceramic tile and went unchecked mold growth occurred and lead to costly repairs.

 

 

Inspections Done Right    Inspections Done Right