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.


Sump Pump Maintenance

What is a Sump Pump?
Sump pumps are self-activating electrical pumps that protect homes from moisture intrusion. They are usually installed in a corner of the  basement or in a crawlspace.  They are designed to  to remove rising groundwater and surface runoff before it has a chance to seep into the home. Water can cause interior damage and encourage the Mold growth.  Sump Pumps should be maintained and equipped with all necessary components in order to ensure their reliability and be tested to ensure proper operation. Sump Pumps are one component I check during my Home Inspection.

Types of Sump Pumps

  • Submersible sump pumps are designed for  underwater use and sit at the bottom of the sump pit, and are much quieter than pedestal pumps. Their oil-cooled motors and tight seals protect against water and dust and afford them a long lifespan.   Sump Pumps can be purchassubersable pumped from your local home improvement stores from about $150.00 to $400.00 which is a small price to pay considering  the possibility of moisture in your basement or crawl space leading to Mold Growth.

 

  • Pedestal sump pumps sit above the water line beside the sump trench and are not designed to get wet. Since they are not contained within the sump pit, they can be accessed easily but are also very noisy.


Maintenance of Sump Pumps

  • Sump pumps must be kept clean and free of debris. The inlet screen prevents the passage of dirt and other solid material from entering the pump.   Cleaning the screen should be a part of regular maintenance.

 

  • You should make sure that the float is not tangled or jammed in one position.  The float should be free to move up and down.  Raise the float and the pump motor should start, lower float and it should stop.  A sump pump with a jammed float is useless because it will not sense when it should turn on and shut off.

 

  • The pump can be tested by pouring water into the pit to make sure it becomes activated and expels the water.  Depending on the size and design of the pit and how fast the water peculates into the ground this procedure can take quite a few gallons of water.


Components of a sump pump

  • For most homes, the sump pit should not be less than 24 inches deep and 18 inches wide.  The sump pit must be large enough to allow thesump pit pump room to work properly.  The sump pit does not need to be constructed from any particular material, as long as it is solid and provides permanent support for the pump. It must, however,. Some homeowners use a 5-gallon bucket as a sump pit, but this is insufficient.

 

  • The check valve must be the same diameter as the discharge pipe into which it fits and is usually a different color. A check valve should be installed in order to check valveprevent pumped water in the discharge line from re-entering the sump pit when the device is turned off. Without this valve, the pump will have to work twice as hard to remove the same column of water, which causes unnecessary strain to the pump components. A check valve can also prevent the rare yet disturbing possibility that a discharge line connected to a stream or pond will back-siphon into the sump pit.  These Items will be checked by a Certified Home Inspector if you are purchasing a home with a sump pump installed.

 

  • An alarm can be installed because sump pumps can burn out, lose power, become clogged or misaligned, or malfunction in a variety of other ways. It is valuable to have a warning device installed that will signal water build-up. These alarms can alert homeowners or neighbors of flooding so that it can be resolved before water damage occurs. Alarms are especially important in residences that are not occupied for long periods of time.

 

  • Backup Power sources can be installed to maintain operation during power outages which are most likely to happen during heavy rains and floods, which are situations when the sump pump is most needed. For this reason, sump pumps should have a backup power source to rely on. A pump powered by a battery or the home’s water pressure can also be installed as a backup.

 

  • A GFCI receptacle can be used but may trip during safe conditions and deactivate the sump pump when it is needed. A sump pump is among the most critical of all household appliances, and its deactivation, especially if the tenants are not home, could allow catastrophic building damage. Codes recommend that appliances in basements and crawlspaces be connected to GFCIs to reduce the chance of electrical shock, but this advice is often ignored due to these concerns over nuisance tripping.


Sump Pump Discharge

  • Point of discharge should be 20 feet from your foundation and should have positive drainage from your wall or foundation line.
  • Water should not drain onto your neighbors property and in most areas is not permitted to drain into the sewer system or septic system.

Inspections Done Right

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

Concrete Movement at your Driveway

 

Colorado Springs has a variety of soils, the Briargate area has lots of sand while other areas have lots of clay.  Sand allows rain water to peculate or drain easily while clay does not and some clays are expansive or swells when wet.  In my Home Inspections it is not unusual to to find concrete drives that have a elevation difference of an inch or more and is considered a trip hazard.  This elevation difference is usually because water has found its way under the concrete or in some cases due to improper compaction when the house was built.  For the sake of this article we will say because of water intrusion.  When the house is built there is a joint between the garage floor slab and the drive slab, typically an expansion joint material, which is a fibrous material is placed between the concrete for a separation.  The problem is over time this fibrous material will deteriorate which will allow water under the concrete slab and if the soil is expansive then you get movement of the slabs.

In Commercial projects these joints are caulked with a polyurethane two part caulk which remains flexible when cured, you have no doubt seen these joints while walking into the malls or doctors office.  The same type caulk is available to home owners in a one part which can be purchased from your home improvement centers.  The caulk is available which will fit into a standard caulk gun and it comes in many colors but concrete Gray is the most common for this use.  By caulking the joints you can extend the life of your concrete by many years.  The photos below from a recent Home Inspection shows a condition in which most of the fibrous material has deteriorated and will lead to concrete movement.  If you are not handy with caulking of this type (it is tricky) call a caulking professional it will save you money in the long run.

Tom Camp

 

This joint is not as deteriorated, but needs to be replaced.Deterioration found during home inspection in Briargate

Your Defensible Space

Here in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region  has been a beautiful and wet spring and summer.  The grass is tall and green and the wildflowers tall and beautiful. I hate to say it, but fall is on the way and with the changing of the season. All the tall green grass and wildflowers will soon be changing to a crisp brown, which makes a great fuel for the spread of wildfires.

The area around your home should be a defensible space or zone, which can be maintained to reduce the spread of wildfires not only to your home but your neighbors as well.  As a home inspector I look for these issues  so I can inform the home owners of the danger.

The sketches below are taken from the InterNachi website and shows specific areas and distances from your home and how to prepare your landscape whether native or domestic to prevent the spread of fire.

With your home in the center, your roof and gutters should be kept clean form dried leafs and pine needles, and the first fifteen feet from your house should be kept clear of flammable materials such as firewood and grasses. Zone 2 from 15 feet to 125 feet, large trees and shrubs should be at least 10' apart and tree limbs should be trimmed to a height of 10 feet. The ground should be cleared of dried leaves, pine needles branches or other flammable materials.  Zone 3 is less restrictive, but trees should be kept healthy.

Colorado Springs is a beautiful place to live, please help keep it that way.

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