Maintaining Your Gutter System

Water from the roof reaches the ground through gutters and downspouts or by flowing directly off roof edges. Because downspouts create concentrated sources of water in the landscape, where they discharge is important. Downspouts should not discharge where water will flow directly on or over a walk, driveway or stairs. The downspouts on a hillside building should discharge on the downhill side of the building. The force of water leaving a downspout is sometimes great enough to damage the adjacent ground, so some protection at grade such as a
splash block or a paved drainage chute is needed.   Water that flows directly off a roof lacking gutters and downspouts can cause damage below. Accordingly, some provision in the landscaping may be needed, such as a gravel bed or paved drainage way.

The rule of thumb for downspouts: at least one downspout for each 40 feet (12 m) of gutter. For roofs with gutters, make sure that downspouts discharge so water will drain away from the foundation. Downspouts can be checked for size. Seven square inches is generally the minimum except for small roofs or canopies. There should be attachments or straps at the top, at the bottom, and at each intermediate joint. Downspout fasteners can rust, deform, fail or become loose. On buildings with multiple roofs, one roof sometimes drains to another roof. Where that happens, water should not be discharged directly onto roofing material. The best practice is to direct water from higher gutters to discharge into lower gutters through downspout pipes. Wooden gutters are especially susceptible to rot and deterioration and should be monitored. Pitched roofs in older buildings may end at a parapet wall with a built-in gutter integrated with the roof flashing. At this location, drainage is accomplished by a scupper (a metal-lined opening through the parapet wall that discharges into a leader head box that in turn discharges to a downspout). The leader head box should have a strainer. Check the scupper for deterioration and open seams. All metal roof flashings, scuppers, leader head boxes and downspouts should be made of similar metals.

Homeowner maintenance includes cleaning the leaves and debris from the roof’s valleys, gutters and downspouts. Debris in the valleys can cause water to wick under the shingles and cause damage to the interior of the roof. Clogged rain gutters can cause water to flow back under the shingles on the eaves and cause damage, regardless of the roofing material. This condition can occur with composition shingle, wood shake, tile or metal. In the winter if drainage systems are clogged this moisture that has wicked under the roof covering can create a ice dam and cause damage to your roof system.

Inspect the downspouts to make sure they are clean, clogged downspouts will cause the same damage.If downspouts are underground, make sure the area of discharge is cleared of grass  and other plant material.  If the discharge area is blocked water can back up into the downspouts also creating an ice blockage and eventually into the gutters and cause the same ice dam issues as described above.

Ice dams can form on pitched roof overhangs in cold climates subject to prolonged periods of freezing weather, especially those climates with a daily average January temperature of 30º F (-1º C) or colder. Heat loss through the roof and heat from the sun (even in freezing temperatures) can cause snow on a roof to melt. As water runs down the roof onto the overhang, it freezes and forms an ice dam just above the gutter. The ice dam traps water from melting snow and forces it back under the shingles and into the building’s interior.  Watch the edge of the roof overhang for
evidence of ice dams and look at the eaves and soffit for evidence of deterioration and water damage. If the house has an attic, the underside of the roof deck at exterior walls can be checked for signs of water intrusion.

Safety:  Don’t forget about safety when cleaning your gutters.

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.


Garage Door Safety

Garage doors are one of the heaviest moving objects associated with your home.  They are supported and operated by large springs and  openers which control the opening and closing of garage doors, either through a wall-mounted switch or a radio transmitter. Due to the strain that garage door components and openers regularly endure, they may become defective over time and need to be fixed or replaced. Defective components may create safety hazards as well as functional deficiencies to the garage door assembly.

The majority of the injuries caused by garage doors are the result of pinched fingers, although severe injuries and deaths due to entrapment occur as well. Sixty children have been killed since 1982 as a result of garage doors that did not automatically reverse upon contact.

The safety components of  the garage door system which should be inspected are:

  1.  Manual emergency release handle
  2.  photoelectric sensors or photo eyes
  3.  Auto reverse system
  4. Rollers, guides and hinges

Manual Emergency Release Handle:
All garage doors should be equipped with a manual emergency release handle, which will detach the door from the door opener when activated. It is vital during emergency situations, such as when a person becomes trapped beneath the door or when a power outage cuts electricity to the door opener. Activate the handle to make sure that it works, although you will have to reset the handle if it does not reset automatically. In order for the handle to be accessible and obvious, the handle should be red in color and hang no higher than 6’ above the garage floor.

Photoelectric Sensor:
Photoelectric sensors or Photoelectric eyes are located at the base of each side of the garage door and emit and detect beams of light. If this beam is broken, it will cause the door to immediately reverse direction and open. For safety reasons, photo sensors must be installed a maximum of 6 inches above the floor surface and should be tested periodically.

Automatic Reverse System:
This safety feature can be tested by grasping the base of the garage door as it closes and applying upward resistance. Use caution while performing this test because you may accidentally damage its components if the door does not reverse course.

Rollers, Guides and Hinges:
Door parts should be checked for loose door guides,rollers & hinges, because of extreme pressures on these parts the guides and hinges can become loose or the rollers worn. Make these inspections a part of your annual maintenance inspections or have a Certified Home Inspector conduct an Annual Home Inspection.

Home Safety

From the perspective of 28 years in construction management (superintendent),  job site safety  was always foremost on my mind.  When an accident occurs on a job site it can be very costly in many ways.  First to the injured party who must suffer through the healing process, it also cost the project time due to possible re-staffing, time taken in investigating the accident and the insurance rates sometimes will go up.  In my Home Inspections I am not looking for things like household chemicals or plants, I concentrate on electrical issues or fall type hazards.  Just as a project superintendent would have a safety plan, so home owners should also have a plan in case of accidents of any kind.  Remember the faster you can respond to an accident the better for the victim (your loved one).

Buying a home is the first step, you have most likely had it inspected for structural and electrical problems hopefully by a Certified Inspector.  Don’t stop there, as you move into your new home keep in mind the safety of your family.  If you have small children consider cabinet latches and keep the poisonous plants out of reach. 

As I was considering  my own home safety, I was astonished at the number household items considered to be poisonous either by ingestion or inhalation.  Items we use sometimes daily but don’t stop to read the labels.  Safety does not stop with household chemicals, it also includes electrical, trip hazards and even house plants.  To my surprise I found the following list of indoor plants to be poisonous.

***English Ivy, Aloe Vera, (Burn plant), Poinsettia, Hydrangea, Jerusalem Cherry,
 Amaryllis, Azalea, Flamingo lily, Angels' wings, Chrysanthemums, Mums,
Kaffir Lily, Croton, Cyclamen, Angel's Trumpet, Dumb cane, Crown-of-thorns, 
Devil's Backbone,Ceriman, Swiss-cheese plant, Heart leaf philodendron, Philodendron***    The following link has more information on the individual plants and what parts are poisonous.     http://www.blankees.com/house/plants/poisonous.htm

Mums

Items in the kitchen considered poisonous: glass cleaner, antibacterial cleaner, dishwashing detergent, all-purpose cleaner, insect sprays, oven cleaner, and ant or roach baits.

Items in the bathroom considered poisonous: medicines, toilet cleaners, antibacterial cleaners, air fresheners, drain cleaners, mold and mildew remover.

Items in the garage considered poisonous: motor oil, windshield washer fluid, gasoline, paints, auto batteries, antifreeze, pesticides.

For a poison emergency in the U.S. call 1-800-222-1222
To Learn More About Chemicals Around Your House:
http://www.epa.gov/kidshometour/kitchen.htm#view
 

Tips on Poisoning
Don’t force to vomit immediately. Call poison control. Tell them what substance and how much was swallowed.
Take the bottle or package to the phone when you call. Directions on the container may not be up to date. Always follow the instructions given by the poison control center. Do not give the patient fluids or cause to vomit if unconscious or in convulsions. Call for emergency help.

Tips for MINOR BURNS
 Immediately cool the burn area by putting it under cool running water or in a sink filled with cool water for at least five minutes or until the pain subsides. Never apply butter, grease or ointment. Don’t open blisters or remove dead skin. Cover with gauze. If blisters break, apply a clean dressing. If the burn is on the face, covers an area bigger than your hand or if it blisters, call the doctor or emergency number.

Tips for Cuts
MINOR – Wash wound area with soap and water, not alcohol; cover with a sterile gauze bandage.
MAJOR – If blood appears to be gushing or spurting, follow these instructions and call for help. Take a clean
cloth or towel and press hard on the cut for 10 minutes. Do not remove pressure to see if it’s working. If possible, raise the cut above the level of the chest. After 10 minutes, if the bleeding has stopped, cover the cut with a bandage. If the bleeding hasn’t stopped, try pressing harder for five more minutes and seek medical help.

 

Make sure you have the following posted near your phone in case of an emergency.

 

 

    Inspections Done Right
 

TIME TO WINTERIZE

Living in Colorado Springs has some challenges when going about the annual duty of winterizing your home.  The following tips you will find helpful especially for this environment, some of these tips come from personal and sometimes expensive experiences.

Colorado Springs is a GREAT place to live and the winters are not as brutal as the North Eastern states, in fact we can have days in the 60’s in the middle of winter.  With that in mind please read carefully the tips I propose, they are laced with problems I have seen in my Home Inspections.

DOORS and WINDOWS

Check the weather striping on your doors and windows, bad gaskets or weather striping can let in cold air and also moisture.  On the exterior of doors and windows check the caulking around the trim and especially the tops.  In winter snow can set on top of the trim for extended periods of time, if the caulking is deteriorated moisture can be introduced into walls or deteriorate trim and siding.

exterior trim1exterior trim2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROOF GUTTERS

Clean your roof gutters and down spouts of leaves and debris, clogged gutters can cause ice dams to form along roof edges and force moisture under roof shingles or behind facia and other trim.  This can lead to moisture inside the attic space or deteriorate trim which can be costly to repair.  Make sure down spouts drain roof water away from foundation and the ground itself is draining away from foundations, unlike the photo below.

clogged gutter1clogged gutter2foundation drainage2

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPRINKLER SYSTEM

You should drain or blow out your irrigation system (especially if it is PVC) after the growing season and hard frosts start to occur.  The bad part of frozen and broken pipes is they don’t appear until spring when you re-energize your system.  Poly piping is more flexible and forgiving but still should be blown out.  If you don’t have an air compressor and the knowledge call a professional, it can be cheaper in the long run.

YARD MAINTENANCE

Yard maintenance in Colorado Springs in winter can be challenging, the winter temperatures can vary from blizzard to spring conditions within a week.  In dryer winters you should water lawns and young trees a few times, or when spring arrives you find a lot of dead grass or trees.  With that in mind, when you do water make sure to disconnect your hoses from the hose bibs after use.  Hoses left connected can cause hose bibs to freeze and rupture, when thawing occurs and you hear water running inside your walls you will remember, I should have disconnected that hose.
Flower beds close to your house should be cleaned, lots of dead leaves is a great food source for mold which can lead to mold spores which can invade your home.

FIREPLACE

Fireplace chimneys should be cleaned every year to prevent build-up and chimney fires.  Make sure your damper is working freely, after you start a fire and the room fills with smoke is not the time to remember your damper.  Make sure your spark arrester is in good condition and vent cap is attached well.  Spark arresters are important especially in areas such as Colorado Springs due to the dead and often times dry foliage  in the winter time.  Brush fires are fairly common in winter in Colorado Springs and the surrounding area.

fireplace cap

FURNACE

Furnaces should also undergo an annual cleaning by a professional, this can prolong the life of a furnace and makes the furnace more cost effective to run.
Keep your furnace filter cleaned and make sure you have plenty on hand, they are inexpensive and can save money on your utility bills.  Make sure your venting is well attached to your furnace and water heater.  If blizzards occur check to make sure your roof vent is clear to prevent carbon monoxide from building up inside your house.  If you have an old thermostat consider changing to a programmable thermostat  the wiring is usually lo-voltage and color coded the same as your old thermostat and easy to install.

CARBON MONOXIDE & SMOKE DETECTORS

One issue i come across a lot during my home inspections which can be a show stopper when selling your house is the absence of Carbon Monoxide detectors.  Change the batteries in detectors and if you don’t have Carbon monoxide detectors consider replacing your old smoke detectors with the new combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector.  Many deaths have been attributed to Carbon Monoxide.  The new detectors are about $45.00, what is a life worth?