Home Pool Safety

Swimming pools should always be happy places. Unfortunately, each year thousands of American families confront swimming pool tragedies, drownings and near-drownings of young children. At IOHI, we want to prevent these tragedies. These are guidelines for pool barriers that can help prevent most submersion incidents involving young children. These guidelines are not intended as the sole method to minimize pool drowning of young children, but include helpful safety tips for safer pools.

Each year, hundreds of young children die and thousands come close to death due to submersion in residential swimming pools. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has estimated that each year, about 300 children under the age of 5 drown in swimming pools. Hospital emergency-room treatment is required for more than 2,000 children under 5 who were submerged in residential pools. The CPSC did an extensive study of swimming pool accidents, both fatal drownings and near-fatal submersions, in California, Arizona and Florida — states in which home swimming pools are very popular and used during much of the year.

  • In California, Arizona and Florida, drowning was the leading cause of accidental death in and around the home for children under the age of 5.
  • Seventy-five percent of the children involved in swimming pool submersion or drowning accidents were between 1 and 3 years old. 
  • Boys between 1 and 3 were the most likely victims of fatal drownings and near-fatal submersions in residential swimming pools. 
  • Most of the victims were in the presence of one or both parents when the swimming pool accident occurred. 
  • Nearly half of the child victims were last seen in the house before the pool accident occurred. In addition, 23% of the accident victims were last seen on the porch or patio, or in the yard. 
  • This means that 69% of the children who became victims in swimming pool accidents were not expected to be in or at the pool, but were found drowned or submerged in the water. 
  • Sixty-five percent of the accidents occurred in a pool owned by the victim’s immediate family, and 33% of the accidents occurred in pools owned by relatives or friends. 
  • Fewer than 2% of the pool accidents were the result of children trespassing on property where they didn’t live or belong. 
  • Seventy-seven percent of the swimming pool accident victims had been missing for five minutes or less when they were found in the pool, drowned or submerged.

The speed with which swimming pool drownings and submersions can occur is a special concern: by the time a child’s absence is noted, the child may have drowned. Anyone who has cared for a toddler knows how fast young children can move. Toddlers are inquisitive and impulsive, and lack a realistic sense of danger. These behaviors, coupled with a child’s ability to move quickly and unpredictably, make swimming pools particularly hazardous for households with young children.

Swimming pool drownings of young children have another particularly insidious feature: these are silent deaths. It is unlikely that splashing or screaming will occur to alert a parent or caregiver that a child is in trouble. The best way to reduce child drownings in residential pools is for pool owners to construct and maintain barriers that prevent young children from gaining access to pools. However, there are no substitutes for diligent supervision.

Why the Swimming Pool Guidelines Were Developed  
Young child can get over a pool barrier if the barrier is too low, or if the barrier has handholds or footholds for a child to use for climbing. The guidelines recommend that the top of a pool barrier be at least 48 inches above grade, measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. Eliminating handholds and footholds, and minimizing the size of openings in a barrier’s construction, can prevent inquisitive children from climbing pool barriers.   For a solid barrier, no indentations or protrusions should be present, other than normal construction tolerances and masonry joints. For a barrier (fence) made up of horizontal and vertical members, if the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is less than 45 inches, the horizontal members should be on the swimming pool-side of the fence. The spacing of the vertical members should not exceed 1-3/4 inches. This size is based on the foot-width of a young child, and is intended to reduce the potential for a child to gain a foothold. If there are any decorative cutouts in the fence, the space within the cutouts should not exceed 1-3/4 inches.   The definition of pool includes spas and hot tubs. The swimming pool-barrier guidelines, therefore, apply to these structures, as well as to conventional swimming pools.  

How to Prevent a Child from Getting OVER a Pool Barrier  
A successful pool barrier prevents a child from getting OVER, UNDER or THROUGH, and keeps the child from gaining access to the pool except when supervising adults are present.

The Swimming Pool-Barrier Guidelines  
If the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is more than 45 inches, the horizontal members can be on the side of the fence facing away from the pool. The spacing between vertical members should not exceed 4 inches. This size is based on the head-breadth and chest depth of a young child, and is intended to prevent a child from passing through an opening. Again, if there are any decorative cutouts in the fence, the space within the cutouts should not exceed 1-3/4 inches.

For a chain-link fence, the mesh size should not exceed 1-1/4 inches square, unless slats fastened at the top or bottom of the fence are used to reduce mesh openings to no more than 1-3/4 inches. For a fence made up of diagonal members (lattice work), the maximum opening in the lattice should not exceed 1-3/4 inches.   Above-ground pools should have barriers. The pool structure itself can sometimes serves as a barrier, or a barrier can be mounted on top of the pool structure. Then, there are two possible ways to prevent young children from climbing up into an above-ground pool. The steps or ladder can be designed to be secured, locked or removed to prevent access, or the steps or ladder can be surrounded by a barrier, such as those described above. For any pool barrier, the maximum clearance at the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches above grade, when the measurement is done on the side of the barrier facing away from the pool.

If an above-ground pool has a barrier on the top of the pool, the maximum vertical clearance between the top of the pool and the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches. Preventing a child from getting through a pool barrier can be done by restricting the sizes of openings in a barrier, and by using self-closing and self-latching gates. To prevent a young child from getting through a fence or other barrier, all openings should be small enough so that a 4-inch diameter sphere cannot pass through. This size is based on the head- breadth and chest-depth of a young child.

Gates
There are two kinds of gates which might be found on a residential property. Both can play a part in the design of a swimming pool barrier.   Pedestrian gates are the gates people walk through. Swimming pool barriers should be equipped with a gate or gates which restrict access to the pool. A locking device should be included in the gate’s design. Gates should open out from the pool and should be self-closing and self-latching. If a gate is properly designed, even if the gate is not completely latched, a young child pushing on the gate in order to enter the pool area will at least close the gate and may actually engage the latch. When the release mechanism of the self-latching device is less than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate, the release mechanism for the gate should be at least 3 inches below the top of the gate on the side facing the pool. Placing the release mechanism at this height prevents a young child from reaching over the top of a gate and releasing the latch. Also, the gate and barrier should have no opening greater than 1/2-inch within 18 inches of the latch release mechanism. This prevents a young child from reaching through the gate and releasing the latch.   Other gates should be equipped with self-latching devices. The self-latching devices should be installed as described for pedestrian gates.

How to Prevent a Child from Getting UNDER or THROUGH a Pool Barrier 
In many homes, doors open directly onto the pool area or onto a patio which leads to the pool. In such cases, the wall of the house is an important part of the pool barrier, and passage through any doors in the house wall should be controlled by security measures. The importance of controlling a young child’s movement from the house to the pool is demonstrated by the statistics obtained during the CPSC’s study of pool incidents in California, Arizona and Florida. Almost half (46%) of the children who became victims of pool accidents were last seen in the house just before they were found in the pool. All doors which give access to a swimming pool should be equipped with an audible alarm which sounds when the door and/or screen are opened. The alarm should sound for 30 seconds or more within seven seconds after the door is opened.  It should also be loud, at least 85 decibels, when measured 10 feet away from the alarm mechanism. The alarm sound should be distinct from other sounds in the house, such as the telephone, doorbell and smoke alarm. The alarm should have an automatic re-set feature. Because adults will want to pass through house doors in the pool barrier without setting off the alarm, the alarm should have a switch that allows adults to temporarily de-activate the alarm for up to 15 seconds. The de-activation switch could be a touch pad (keypad) or a manual switch, and should be located at least 54 inches above the threshold of the door covered by the alarm. This height was selected based on the reaching ability of young children. Power safety covers can be installed on pools to serve as security barriers. Power safety covers should conform to the specifications in ASTM F 1346-91. This standard specifies safety performance requirements for pool covers to protect young children from drowning. Self-closing doors with self-latching devices could also be used to safeguard doors which give ready access to a swimming pool.  

Indoor Pools  
When a pool is located completely within a house, the walls that surround the pool should be equipped to serve as pool safety barriers. Measures recommended above where a house wall serves as part of a safety barrier also apply for all the walls surrounding an indoor pool.   

Guidelines
An outdoor swimming pool, including an in-ground, above-ground, or on-ground pool, hot tub, or spa, should be provided with a barrier which complies with the following:  
1. The top of the barrier should be at least 48 inches above grade, measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. The maximum vertical clearance between grade and the bottom of the barrier should be 4 inches measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. Where the top of the pool structure is above grade, such as an above-ground pool, the barrier may be at ground level, such as the pool structure, or mounted on top of the pool structure. Where the barrier is mounted on top of the pool structure, the maximum vertical clearance between the top of the pool structure and the bottom of the barrier should be 4 inches.
2. Openings in the barrier should not allow passage of a 4-inch diameter sphere.  
3. Solid barriers, which do not have openings, such as a masonry and stone wall, should not contain indentations or protrusions, except for normal construction tolerances and tooled masonry joints.
4. Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members, and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is less than 45 inches, the horizontal members should be located on the swimming pool-side of the fence. Spacing between vertical members should not exceed 1-3/4 inches in width. Where there are decorative cutouts, spacing within the cutouts should not exceed 1-3/4 inches in width.  
5. Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members, and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is 45 inches or more, spacing between vertical members should not exceed 4 inches. Where there are decorative cutouts, spacing within the cutouts should not exceed 1-3/4 inches in width.
6. The maximum mesh size for chain-link fences should not exceed 1-3/4 inch square, unless the fence is provided with slats fastened at the top or the bottom which reduce the openings to no more than 1-3/4 inches.  
7. Where the barrier is composed of diagonal members, such as a lattice fence, the maximum opening formed by the diagonal members should be no more than 1-3/4 inches.   
8. Access gates to the pool should be equipped to accommodate a locking device. Pedestrian access gates should open outward, away from the pool, and should be self-closing and have a self-latching device. Gates other than pedestrian access gates should have a self-latching device, where the release mechanism of the self-latching device is located less than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate.

  • The release mechanism should be located on the pool-side of the gate at least 3 inches below the top of the gate.
  • The gate and barrier should have no opening greater than 1/2-inch within 18 inches of the release mechanism.

9. Where a wall of a dwelling serves as part of the barrier, one of the following should apply:

  • All doors with direct access to the pool through that wall should be equipped with an alarm which produces an audible warning when the door and its screen, if present, are opened. The alarm should sound continuously for a minimum of 30 seconds within seven seconds after the door is opened. The alarm should have a minimum sound pressure rating of 85 dBA at 10 feet, and the sound of the alarm should be distinctive from other household sounds, such as smoke alarms, telephones and doorbells. The alarm should automatically re-set under all conditions. The alarm should be equipped with manual means, such as touchpads or switches, to temporarily de-activate the alarm for a single opening of the door from either direction. Such de-activation should last for no more than 15 seconds. The de-activation touch pads or switches should be located at least 54 inches above the threshold of the door.
  • The pool should be equipped with a power safety cover which complies with ASTM F1346-91. 
  • Other means of protection, such as self-closing doors with self-latching devices, are acceptable as long as the degree of protection afforded is not less than the protection afforded by the above.

10. Where an above-ground pool structure is used as a barrier, or where the barrier is mounted on top of the pool structure, and the means of access is a ladder or steps, then:

  • The ladder to the pool or steps should be capable of being secured, locked or removed to prevent access.
  • The ladder or steps should be surrounded by a barrier. When the ladder or steps are secured, locked, or removed, any opening created should not allow the passage of a 4-inch diameter sphere.

These guidelines are intended to provide a means of protection against potential drownings of children under 5 years of age by restricting access to residential swimming pools, spas and hot tubs.  

Exemptions  
A portable spa with a safety cover which complies with ASTM F1346-91 should be exempt from the guidelines presented here. Swimming pools, hot tubs, and non-portable spas with safety covers should not be exempt from these provisions.

Termite Control in the Home

This is the time of year when termites begin to swarm to create new colonies. Wood-destroying insects and other organisms can cause serious problems in the wooden structural components of a house, and may go undetected for a long period of time.

New Construction  
All chemical soil treatments, bait systems, and chemical wood treatment must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and applied in accordance with the EPA label’s instructions. In some cases, it is not feasible for a builder to arrange for soil treatment. In this regard, the International Residential Code (IRC) by the International Code Council allows a builder to utilize pressure-treated wood as a measure of termite protection. If pressure-treated wood is used, however, it must be used in all framing members up to and including the top plate of the first floor’s level wall. This includes the sub-floor and floor joists of the first floor. The use of pressure-treated wood in only the sill plate is not acceptable. In such cases, the builder must provide the lender with a letter stating that the house is protected from termites by the use of pressure-treated wood. The builder must also provide the home buyer with a one-year warranty against termites. The use of post-construction soil treatment where the chemicals are applied only around the perimeter of the foundation is NOT acceptable in new construction.  

Appraiser’s Observations
Appraisers are to observe all areas of the house and other structures/areas within the legal boundaries of the property that have potential for infestation by termites and other wood-destroying organisms, including the bottoms of exterior doors and frames, wood siding in contact with the ground, and crawlspaces. Mud tunnels running from the ground up the side of the house may indicate termite infestation. Observe the eaves and gable vents and wood window sills for indication of the entrance of swarming termites, and note excessive dampness or large areas where the vegetation is dead. Evidence of active termite infestation must be noted.

Termites
Subterranean termites are the most damaging insects of wood. Their presence is hard to notice, and damage usually is found before the termites are

seen. Prevent infestations because if they occur, they will almost always need professional pest-control service.  

Signs of Infestation
Hire a qualified InterNACHI inspector or Licensed Pest Control professional to inspect for termites or other wood-destroying organisms. Generally, the first sign of infestation is the presence of swarming termites on the window or near indoor light. If they are found inside the house, it almost always means that they have infested. Other signs that may be found are termite wings on window sills or in cobwebs, and shelter tubes, which are tunnels constructed by the termites from soil or wood and debris. Usually, wood damage is not found at first, but when it is found, it definitely reveals a termite infestation. Anywhere wood touches soil is a possible entry into a home for termites. Examine wood which sounds dull or hollow when struck by a screwdriver or hammer. Inspect suspected areas with a sharp, pointed tool, such as an ice pick, to find termite galleries or their damage.

Control
Control measures include reducing the potential infestation, preventing termite entry, and applying chemicals for remedial treatment.

Inspection
Inspect thoroughly to determine if there is an infestation, damage, and/or conditions that could invite a termite attack, or the need for remedial control measures. The tools and equipment needed for an inspection include a flashlight, ice pick or sharp-pointed screwdriver, ladder, and protective clothing. Always hire an InterNACHI inspector for your inspection needs, as they are trained by the highest standards in the inspection industry.

Outdoors
Check the foundation of the house, garage and other buildings for shelter tubes coming from the soil. Look closely around porches, connecting patios, sidewalks, areas near kitchens and bathrooms, and hard-to-see places. Check window and door frames, and where utility services enter the house for termite infestation or wood decay. Also, look behind shrubbery and plants near walls. Pay special attention to areas where earth and wood meet, such as fences, stair carriages and trellises. Open and check any exterior electrical meter or fuse box set into the wall, a common point of infestation.

Prevention  
Many termite problems can be prevented. The most important thing to do is to deny termites access to food (wood), moisture and shelter. Follow these suggestions:

  • have at least a 2-inch clearance between the house and planter boxes, or soil-filled porches;
  • eliminate all wood-to-soil contact, such as trellises, fence posts, stair casings and door facings (they can be put on masonry blocks or on treated wood);
  • separate shrubbery from the house to help make it easier to inspect the foundation line;
  • use wolmanized wood (pressure-treated wood) so that rain will not rot it; seal openings through the foundation;
  • remove wood scraps and stumps from around the foundation;
  • have at least 12 to 18 inches of clearance between floor beams and the soil underneath.

Indoors
Carefully check all doors, window facings, baseboards, and hardwood flooring. Discoloration or stains on walls or ceilings may mean that water is leaking and can decay wood, and this can aid termite infestation. It is very important to inspect where plumbing and utility pipes enter the foundation and flooring. Also, examine the attic for shelter tubes, water leakage, and wood damage.

Chemical Treatment
Termite treatment often requires specialized equipment. Therefore, it is recommended that you always use the services of a pest control operator because he is familiar with construction principles and practices, has the necessary equipment, and knows about subterranean termites.  

Exterminating Termites
If you think you have a termite infestation in your house, you need to call a structural pest control company to conduct a professional inspection. To find a company, ask friends or coworkers for recommendations, or check the Yellow Pages. If the inspection finds evidence of drywood termites, you have several options, depending on the degree of infestation. Fumigation and heating of the entire house are the only options that ensure eradication in the entire structure. If the infestation is contained in a small area, local or spot control may be effective. However, hidden infestations in other parts of the structure will not be eradicated.

Total (Whole-House) Eradication   
For the heat method, pets, plants, and other items that might be damaged by high temperatures must be removed. The house is then covered with tarps, and hot air is blown into the tarp until the inside temperature reaches 140° F to 150° F, and the temperature of the structural timbers reaches 120° F. The time to complete this procedure varies greatly from one structure to another, depending on factors such as the building’s construction and the weather conditions. The procedure may not be practical for structures that cannot be heated evenly.

Local or Spot Control
Local or spot-control methods include the use of pesticides, electric current, extreme cold, localized heat, microwave energy, or any combination of these methods. Local or spot control also includes the removal and replacement of infested structural timber. These methods are intended to remove or kill termites only within the specific targeted area, leaving open the possibility of other undetected infestations within the structure. These treatments are NOT designed for whole-house eradication. Any pest control company that claims whole-house results with local or spot control methods is guilty of false advertising and should be reported.   Local or spot treatment with pesticides involves drilling and injecting pesticides into infested timbers, as well as the topical application of toxic chemicals. The electric-current method involves delivering electric energy to targeted infestations. For the extreme cold method, liquid nitrogen is pumped into wall voids adjacent to suspected infestation sites, reducing the area to -20° F. The localized heat method involves heating infested structural timbers to 120° F. The microwave method kills termites by directing microwaves into termite-infested wood.  

If you see the following signs in your house, you might have termites:
• sawdust-like droppings;
• dirt or mud-like tubes or trails on the structure;
• damaged wood members (like window sills); and 
• swarming winged insects within the structure, especially in the spring or fall.

Radon Mitigation

This article discusses the importance and effectiveness of radon mitigation. If you want to learn more about radon or need a refresher, check out my radon page.

Backstory

Like many, I had my home tested when I purchased it. The average was 3.7 pico Curie per liter (pCi/L) so no mitigation was “required”. After a few years, I tested the home again to find the average was 5.7 pCi/L. But with a new baby in the home, thoughts about the radon level and everything else disappeared. Three years later, things have finally settled down and I circled back to the radon concerns and tested again only to find the average ranging from 11-26 pCi/L which was devastating. I could no longer put off taking action to make my home safer for my family. Luckily, I am trained on radon measuring, mitigation, and inspection of mitigation systems but that is not the case for everyone so I decided to write about my own home’s mitigation.

What does mitigation entail?

There are a few effective and proven mitigation techniques used by professionals to bring the radon level down. No matter the method used, the general idea is to seal off openings that let ground air into the home and to create a new path for radon gas to leave the ground. The most common solution will use a fan running all the time to create a suction under the home and blow it above the roof. By doing so, the radon will go this route instead of coming into the home.

Mitigation using the sump basin

To minimize disruption to the finished basement and keep the solution cost effective, I decided to mitigate using my sump basin which was conveniently located in the back corner of the basement.

As you can see, my sump basin was not sealed. Using the sump basin is not ideal as it can complicate maintenance and replacement of the sump pump; however, there are basin covers such as this one from Everbilt which uses seals and keeps the sump pump accessible.

The impact mitigation has on radon levels

radon test

The above graph reflects hourly radon readings for 40 days in my basement covering time prior to, during, and post mitigation. Marker 1 on the graph is when the basin cover was installed to seal off the sump basin which was letting in soil air.

The EPA indicates sealing cracks and openings alone is not an effective mitigation solution so not surprisingly, adding the basin cover did not have much impact on my radon level. Marker 2 on the graph indicates when the piping and fan was installed create negative pressure in the sump basin and drain tile.

Sump Basin Radon Mitigation

The radon levels started dropping within 4 hours of activating the fan. With the fan running for just 14 hours, the radon level went from approximately 16 pCi/L to below 1 pCi/L. Lastly, marker 3 on the graph is a 4.5 hours period the radon fan was deactivated. In just that short amount of time, the level increased to 3.1 pCi/L and took another 4 hours to bring down below 1 pCi/L again.

In conclusion, radon mitigation can effectively reduce the radon levels of a home no matter how high the levels or type of construction. In most cases, mitigation systems can be installed for about the cost of other moderate repairs to a home and can operate for less than $10/month in electricity costs. But as with everything in a home, things can break. Have your home radon level tested every 2-3 years to ensure your mitigation system is operating effectively.

As evidenced in my case, radon levels can and do change over the years. If you haven’t had your home tested in more than 2 years, I recommend calling or texting me at (443)559-7028 to discuss getting your home tested.

Annual Home Maintenance Inspection

When was the last time you took your car or truck into the shop for routine service? Did the service technician give you a long list of things they checked like the brakes, belts, fluids, and hoses? Did they identify some things to fix and were you thankful they caught it before you were stranded on the side of the road or even worse, had an accident?

Now, when was the last time you had your home inspected? Home inspections aren’t just for when you are evaluating a home purchase. Your home is a major investment yet oftentimes, it gets little attention until something breaks or it is time to sell. The fact is, things do break or deteriorate, and small problems that are relatively easy and cheap to correct can lead to $1000s in repairs. A home maintenance inspection will identify routine maintenance needed and any repairs necessary to keep you home in tip top shape, stopping most problems before they become serious. It is wise to protect your biggest investment and get it inspected.

At Inside Out Home Inspector, we only provide inspection services. We do not perform repairs or sell products so you can rest assured that our inspection will be objective to help protect your home and your family. Call us at 443-559-7028 to schedule a check-up for your home.

Roofing

Roofs play a key role in protecting building occupants and interiors from outside weather conditions, primarily moisture. The roof, insulation and ventilation must all work together to keep the building free of moisture. Roofs also provide protection from the sun. In fact, if designed correctly, roof overhangs can protect the building’s exterior walls from moisture and sun. The concerns regarding moisture, standing water, durability and appearance are different, reflected in the choices of roofing materials.

Maintaining Your Roof   
Homeowner maintenance includes cleaning the leaves and debris from the roof’s valleys and gutters. 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. including composition shingle, wood shake, tile or metal. The best way to preserve your roof is to stay off it. Also, seasonal changes in the weather are usually the most destructive forces.   A leaky roof can damage ceilings, walls and furnishings. To protect buildings and their contents from water damage, roofers repair and install roofs made of tar or asphalt and gravel; rubber or thermoplastic; metal; or shingles made of asphalt, slate, fiberglass, wood, tile, or other material. Roofers also may waterproof foundation walls and floors.   There are two types of roofs:  flat and pitched (sloped). Most commercial, industrial and apartment buildings have flat or slightly sloping roofs. Most houses have pitched roofs. Some roofers work on both types; others specialize. Most flat roofs are covered with several layers of materials. Roofers first put a layer of insulation on the roof deck. Over the insulation, they then spread a coat of molten bitumen, a tar-like substance. Next, they install partially overlapping layers of roofing felt, a fabric saturated in bitumen, over the surface. Roofers use a mop to spread hot bitumen over the surface and under the next layer. This seals the seams and makes the surface watertight. Roofers repeat these steps to build up the desired number of layers, called plies. The top layer either is glazed to make a smooth finish or has gravel embedded in the hot bitumen to create a rough surface. An increasing number of flat roofs are covered with a single-ply membrane of waterproof rubber or thermoplastic compounds. Roofers roll these sheets over the roof’s insulation and seal the seams. Adhesive mechanical fasteners, or stone ballast hold the sheets in place. The building must be of sufficient strength to hold the ballast.   Most residential roofs are covered with shingles. To apply shingles, roofers first lay, cut, and tack 3-foot strips of roofing felt lengthwise over the entire roof. Then, starting from the bottom edge, they staple or nail overlapping rows of shingles to the roof. Workers measure and cut the felt and shingles to fit intersecting roof surfaces and to fit around vent pipes and chimneys. Wherever two roof surfaces intersect, or where shingles reach a vent pipe or chimney, roofers cement or nail flashing strips of metal or shingle over the joints to make them watertight. Finally, roofers cover exposed nailheads with roofing cement or caulking to prevent water leakage. Roofers who use tile, metal shingles or shakes follow a similar process. Some roofers also water-proof and damp-proof masonry and concrete walls and floors. To prepare surfaces for waterproofing, they hammer and chisel away rough spots, or remove them with a rubbing brick, before applying a coat of liquid waterproofing compound. They also may paint or spray surfaces with a waterproofing material, or attach a waterproofing membrane to surfaces. When damp-proofing, they usually spray a bitumen-based coating on interior or exterior surfaces.  

A number of roofing materials are available…

Asphalt
Asphalt is the most commonly used roofing material. Asphalt products include shingles, roll-roofing, built-up roofing, and modified bitumen membranes. Asphalt shingles are typically the most common and economical choice for residential roofing. They come in a variety of colors, shapes and textures. There are four different types: strip, laminated, interlocking, and large individual shingles. Laminated shingles consist of more than one layer of tabs to provide extra thickness. Interlocking shingles are used to provide greater wind resistance. And large individual shingles generally come in rectangular and hexagonal shapes. Roll-roofing products are generally used in residential applications, mostly for underlayments and flashings. They come in four different types of material: smooth-surfaced, saturated felt, specialty-eaves flashings, and mineral-surfaced. Only mineral-surfaced is used alone as a primary roof covering for small buildings, such as sheds. Smooth-surfaced products are used primarily as flashing to seal the roof at intersections and protrusions, and for providing extra deck protection at the roof’s eaves and valleys. Saturated felt is used as an underlayment between the roof deck and the roofing material. Specialty-eaves flashings are typically used in climates where ice dams and water backups are common. Built-up roofing (or BUR) is the most popular choice of roofing used on commercial, industrial and institutional buildings. BUR is used on flat and low-sloped roofs and consists of multiple layers of bitumen and ply sheets. Components of a BUR system include the roof deck, a vapor retarder, insulation, membrane, and surfacing material. A modified bitumen-membrane assembly consists of continuous plies of saturated felts, coated felts, fabrics or mats between which alternate layers of bitumen are applied, either surfaced or unsurfaced. Factory surfacing, if applied, includes mineral granules, slag, aluminum or copper. The bitumen determines the membrane’s physical characteristics and provides primary waterproofing protection, while the reinforcement adds strength, puncture-resistance and overall system integrity.  

Metal
Most metal roofing products consist of steel or aluminum, although some consist of copper and other metals. Steel is invariably galvanized by the application of a zinc or a zinc-aluminum coating, which greatly reduces the rate of corrosion. Metal roofing is available as traditional seam and batten, tiles, shingles and shakes. Products also come in a variety of styles and colors. Metal roofs with solid sheathing control noise from rain, hail and bad weather just as well as any other roofing material. Metal roofing can also help eliminate ice damming at the eaves. And in wildfire-prone areas, metal roofing helps protect buildings from fire, should burning embers land on the roof. Metal roofing costs more than asphalt, but it typically lasts two to three times longer than asphalt and wood shingles.  

Wood
Wood shakes offer a natural look with a lot of character. Because of variations in color, width, thickness, and cut of the wood, no two shake roofs will ever look the same. Wood offers some energy benefits, too. It helps to insulate the attic, and it allows the house to breathe, circulating air through the small openings under the felt rows on which wooden shingles are laid. A wood shake roof, however, demands proper maintenance and repair, or it will not last as long as other products. Mold, rot and insects can become a problem. The life-cycle cost of a shake roof may be high, and old shakes can’t be recycled. Most wood shakes are unrated by fire safety codes. Many use wipe or spray-on fire retardants, which offer less protection and are only effective for a few years. Some pressure-treated shakes are impregnated with fire retardant and meet national fire safety standards. Installing wood shakes is more complicated than roofing with composite shingles, and the quality of the finished roof depends on the experience of the contractor, as well as the caliber of the shakes used. The best shakes come from the heartwood of large, old cedar trees, which are difficult to find. Some contractors maintain that shakes made from the outer wood of smaller cedars, the usual source today, are less uniform, more subject to twisting and warping, and don’t last as long.

Concrete and Tile
Concrete tiles are made of extruded concrete that is colored. Traditional roofing tiles are made from clay. Concrete and clay tile roofing systems are durable, aesthetically appealing, and low in maintenance. They also provide energy savings and are environmentally friendly. Although material and installation costs are higher for concrete and clay tile roofs, when evaluated on a price-versus-performance basis, they may out-perform other roofing materials. Tile adorns the roofs of many historic buildings, as well as modern structures. In fact, because of its extreme durability, longevity and safety, roof tile is the most prevalent roofing material in the world. Tested over centuries, roof tile can successfully withstand the most extreme weather conditions including hail, high wind, earthquakes, scorching heat, and harsh freeze-thaw cycles. Concrete and clay roof tiles also have unconditional Class A fire ratings, which means that, when installed according to building code, roof tile is non-combustible and maintains that quality throughout its lifetime. In recent years, manufacturers have developed new water-shedding techniques and, for high-wind situations, new adhesives and mechanical fasteners. Because the ultimate longevity of a tile roof also depends on the quality of the sub-roof, roof tile manufacturers are also working to improve flashings and other aspects of the underlayment system. Under normal circumstances, properly installed tile roofs are virtually maintenance-free. Unlike other roofing materials, roof tiles actually become stronger over time. Because of roof tile’s superior quality and minimal maintenance requirements, most roof tile manufacturers offer warranties that range from 50 years to the lifetime of the structure.   Concrete and clay tile roofing systems are also energy-efficient, helping to maintain livable interior temperatures (in both cold and warm climates) at a lower cost than other roofing systems. Because of the thermal capacity of roof tiles and the ventilated air space that their placement on the roof surface creates, a tile roof can lower air-conditioning costs in hotter climates, and produce more constant temperatures in colder regions, which reduces potential ice accumulation. Tile roofing systems are made from naturally occurring materials and can be easily recycled into new tiles or other useful products. They are produced without the use of chemical preservatives, and do not deplete limited natural resources.

Single-Ply
Single-ply membranes are flexible sheets of compounded synthetic materials that are manufactured in a factory. There are three types of membranes: thermosets, thermoplastics, and modified bitumens. These materials provide strength, flexibility, and long-lasting durability. The advantages of pre-fabricated sheets are the consistency of the product quality, the versatility in their attachment methods, and, therefore, their broader applicability. They are inherently flexible, used in a variety of attachment systems, and compounded for long-lasting durability and watertight integrity for years of roof life. Thermoset membranes are compounded from rubber polymers. The most commonly used polymer is EPDM (often referred to as “rubber roofing”). Thermoset membranes make successful roofing materials because they can withstand the potentially damaging effects of sunlight and most common chemicals generally found on roofs. The easiest way to identify a thermoset membrane is by its seams, which require the use of adhesive, either liquid or tape, to form a watertight seal at the overlaps. Thermoplastic membranes are based on plastic polymers. The most common thermoplastic is PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which has been made flexible through the inclusion of certain ingredients called plasticizers. Thermoplastic membranes are identified by seams that are formed using either heat or chemical welding. These seams are as strong or stronger than the membrane itself. Most thermoplastic membranes are manufactured to include a reinforcement layer, usually polyester or fiberglass, which provides increased strength and dimensional stability. Modified bitumen membranes are hybrids that incorporate the high-tech formulation and pre-fabrication advantages of single-ply with some of the traditional installation techniques used in built-up roofing. These materials are factory-fabricated layers of asphalt, “modified” using a rubber or plastic ingredient for increased flexibility, and combined with reinforcement for added strength and stability. There are two primary modifiers used today: APP (atactic polypropylene) and SBS (styrene butadiene styrene). The type of modifier used may determine the method of sheet installation. Some are mopped down using hot asphalt, and some use torches to melt the asphalt so that it flows onto the substrate. The seams are sealed by the same technique.

Are You at Risk? If you aren’t sure whether your house is at risk from natural disasters, check with your local fire marshal, building official, city engineer, or planning and zoning administrator. They can tell you whether you are in a hazard area. Also, they usually can tell you how to protect yourself and your house and property from damage. It is never a bad idea to ask an InterNACHI inspector whether your roof is in need of repair during your next scheduled inspection. Protection can involve a variety of changes to your house and property which that can vary in complexity and cost. You may be able to make some types of changes yourself. But complicated or large-scale changes and those that affect the structure of your house or its electrical wiring and plumbing should be carried out only by a professional contractor licensed to work in your state, county or city. One example is fire protection, accomplished by replacing flammable roofing materials with fire-resistant materials. This is something that most homeowners would probably hire a contractor to do.   

Replacing Your Roof   
AThe age of your roof is usually the major factor in determining when to replace it. Most roofs last many years, if properly installed, and often can be repaired rather than replaced. An isolated leak usually can be repaired. The average life expectancy of a typical residential roof is 15 to 20 years. Water damage to a home’s interior or overhangs is commonly caused by leaks from a single weathered portion of the roof, poorly installed flashing, or from around chimneys and skylights. These problems do not necessarily mean you need a new roof.  

Fire-Resistant Materials
Some roofing materials, including asphalt shingles, and especially wood shakes, are less resistant to fire than others. When wildfires and brush fires spread to houses, it is often because burning branches, leaves, and other debris buoyed by the heated air and carried by the wind fall onto roofs. If the roof of your house is covered with wood or asphalt shingles, you should consider replacing them with fire-resistant materials. You can replace your existing roofing materials with slate, terra cotta or other types of tile, or standing-seam metal roofing. Replacing roofing materials is difficult and dangerous work. Unless you are skilled in roofing and have all the necessary tools and equipment, you will probably want to hire a roofing contractor to do the work. Also, a roofing contractor can advise you on the relative advantages and disadvantages of various fire-resistant roofing materials. 

Hiring a Licensed Contractor  
One of the best ways to select a roofing contractor is to ask friends and relatives for recommendations. You may also contact a professional roofers association for referrals. Professional associations have stringent guidelines for their members to follow. The roofers association in your area will provide you with a list of available contractors. Follow these guidlines when selecting a contractor:

  • get three references and review their past work;
  • get at least three bids; 
  • get a written contract, and don’t sign anything until you completely understand the terms; 
  • pay 10% down or $1,000 whichever is less; 
  • don’t let payments get ahead of the work; 
  • don’t pay cash; 
  • don’t make final payment until you’re satisfied with the job; and 
  • don’t rush into repairs or be pressured into making an immediate decision.

You’ve Chosen the Contractor… What About the Contract?
Make sure everything is in writing. The contract is one of the best ways to prevent problems before you begin. The contract protects you and the contractor by including everything you have both agreed upon. Get all promises in writing and spell out exactly what the contractor will and will not do.  

…and Permits?
Your contract should call for all work to be performed in accordance with all applicable building codes. The building codes set minimum safety standards for construction. Generally, a building permit is required whenever structural work is involved. The contractor should obtain all necessary building permits. If this is not specified in the contract, you may be held legally responsible for failure to obtain the required permits. The building department will inspect your roof when the project has reached a certain stage, and again when the roof is completed.  

and Insurance?
Make sure the contractor carries workers’ compensation insurance and general liability insurance in case of accidents on the job. Ask to have copies of these policies for your job file. You should protect yourself from mechanics’ liens against your home in the event the contractor does not pay subcontractors or material suppliers. You may be able to protect yourself by having a “release of lien” clause in your contract. A release of lien clause requires the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers to furnish a “certificate of waiver of lien.” If you are financing your project, the bank or lending institution may require that the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers verify that they have been paid before releasing funds for subsequent phases of the project.    

Keep these points in mind if you plan to have your existing roofing materials replaced:

  • Tile, metal, and slate are more expensive roofing materials, but if you need to replace your roofing anyway, it may be worthwhile to pay a little more for the added protection these materials provide. 
  • Slate and tile can be much heavier than asphalt shingles or wood shingles. If you are considering switching to one of these heavier coverings, your roofing contractor should determine whether the framing of your roof is strong enough to support them. 

January is National Radon Action Month!

With today’s access to information, it is surprising to me every time I hear a recent home buyer mention they haven’t heard of radon gas and didn’t get their home tested. Maybe it is just that the 30-45 days between contract and closing is a blur as there is usually a ton of stress and activity when purchasing a home. But the fact is, there are a lot of people unaware of radon gas and the risk it poses to them and their family. So there is no better time than National Radon Action Month to talk about radon gas and help spread the word of its impact.

Related image

Radon gas is everywhere and is a known carcinogen that can result in lung cancer. In fact, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer, taking approximately 21,000 lives each year in America. It is not something you can taste, smell, or see and only a test will give you insight into the levels within a home. Buildings such as homes allow the gas to concentrate to higher levels than outdoors which is why it is critical to get a home tested. If a home is found to have elevated levels, a mitigation system can be installed to reduce the levels and the risk of lung cancer. Simply put, the home can be fixed!

The best time or year to test a home for radon gas levels, according to the EPA, is when your heating system is running day and night… making the month of January an ideal time to test. So regardless of whether you decide to hire a professional or use a DIY testing kit, TEST TEST TEST your home! Test your home at least every 2 years if you have a mitigation system to verify its effectiveness or at least every 5 years if your last test showed levels were low.

Call us to schedule a test of the radon levels in your home at 443-559-7028. Testing only takes 2-3 days and we can provide your results immediately with guidance if results are high.

Check out our other services at https://insideouthomeinspector.com/services

To learn more about radon gas, visit the EPA website https://www.epa.gov/radon/radon-resources-individuals-and-families

Image source: https://www.lung.org/local-content/illinois/our-initiatives/illinois-radon-poster-contest.html

Protect Your Property From Water Damage

Water may be essential to life, but, as a destructive force, water can diminish the value of your home or building. Homes as well as commercial buildings can suffer water damage that results in increased maintenance costs, a decrease in the value of the property, lowered productivity, and potential liability associated with a decline in indoor air quality. The best way to protect against this potential loss is to ensure that the building components which enclose the structure, known as the building envelope, are water-resistant. Also, you will want to ensure that manufacturing processes, if present, do not allow excess water to accumulate. Finally, make sure that the plumbing and ventilation systems, which can be quite complicated in buildings, operate efficiently and are well-maintained. This article provides some basic steps for identifying and eliminating potentially damaging excess moisture.  

Identify and Repair All Leaks and Cracks
The following are common building-related sources of water intrusion:

  • windows and doors: Check for leaks around your windows, storefront systems and doors.
  • roof: Improper drainage systems and roof sloping reduce roof life and become a primary source of moisture intrusion. Leaks are also common around vents for exhaust or plumbing, rooftop air-conditioning units, or other specialized equipment.
  • foundation and exterior walls: Seal any cracks and holes in exterior walls, joints and foundations. These often develop as a naturally occurring byproduct of differential soil settlement.
  • plumbing: Check for leaking plumbing fixtures, dripping pipes (including fire sprinkler systems), clogged drains (both interior and exterior), defective water drainage systems and damaged manufacturing equipment.
  • ventilation, heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems: Numerous types, some very sophisticated, are a crucial component to maintaining a healthy, comfortable work environment. They are comprised of a number of components (including chilled water piping and condensation drains) that can directly contribute to excessive moisture in the work environment. In addition, in humid climates, one of the functions of the system is to reduce the ambient air moisture level (relative humidity) throughout the building. An improperly operating HVAC system will not perform this function.

Prevent Water Intrusion Through Good Inspection and Maintenance Programs  
Hire a qualified InterNACHI inspector to perform an inspection of the following elements of your building to ensure that they remain in good condition:

  • flashings and sealants: Flashing, which is typically a thin metal strip found around doors, windows and roofs, are designed to prevent water intrusion in spaces where two building materials come together. Sealants and caulking are specifically applied to prevent moisture intrusion at building joints. Both must be maintained and in good condition.
  • vents: All vents should have appropriate hoods, exhaust to the exterior, and be in good working order.
  • Review the use of manufacturing equipment that may include water for processing or cooling. Ensure wastewater drains adequately away, with no spillage. Check for condensation around hot or cold materials or heat-transfer equipment.
  • HVAC systems are much more complicated in commercial buildings. Check for leakage in supply and return water lines, pumps, air handlers and other components. Drain lines should be clean and clear of obstructions. Ductwork should be insulated to prevent condensation on exterior surfaces.
  • humidity: Except in specialized facilities, the relative humidity in your building should be between 30% and 50%. Condensation on windows, wet stains on walls and ceilings, and musty smells are signs that relative humidity may be high. If you are concerned about the humidity level in your building, consult with a mechanical engineer, contractor or air-conditioning repair company to determine if your HVAC system is properly sized and in good working order. A mechanical engineer should be consulted when renovations to interior spaces take place.
  • moist areas: Regularly clean off, then dry all surfaces where moisture frequently collects.
  • expansion joints: Expansion joints are materials between bricks, pipes and other building materials that absorb movement. If expansion joints are not in good condition, water intrusion can occur.

Protection From Water Damage

  • interior finish materials: Replace drywall, plaster, carpet and stained or water-damaged ceiling tiles. These are not only good evidence of a moisture intrusion problem, but can lead to deterioration of the work environment, if they remain over time.
  • exterior walls: Exterior walls are generally comprised of a number of materials combined into a wall assembly. When properly designed and constructed, the assembly is the first line of defense between water and the interior of your building. It is essential that they be maintained properly (including regular refinishing and/or resealing with the correct materials).
  • storage areas: Storage areas should be kept clean.  Allow air to circulate to prevent potential moisture accumulation.

Act Quickly if  Water Intrusion Occurs Label shut-off valves so that the water supply can be easily closed in the event of a plumbing leak. If water intrusion does occur, you can minimize the damage by addressing the problem quickly and thoroughly. Immediately remove standing water and all moist materials, and consult with a building professional. Should your building become damaged by a catastrophic event, such as fire, flood or storm, take appropriate action to prevent further water damage, once it is safe to do so. This may include boarding up damaged windows, covering a damaged roof with plastic sheeting, and/or removing wet materials and supplies. Fast action on your part will help minimize the time and expense for repairs, resulting in a faster recovery.

Holiday Home Safety Tips

The winter holidays are a time for celebration, and that means more cooking, home decorating, entertaining, and an increased risk of fire and accidents. Inside Out Home Inspector, LLC. recommends that you follow these guidelines to help make your holiday season safer and more enjoyable.

Holiday Lighting

  • Use caution with holiday decorations and, whenever possible, choose those made with flame-resistant, flame-retardant and non-combustible materials.
  • Keep candles away from decorations and other combustible materials, and do not use candles to decorate Christmas trees.
  • Carefully inspect new and previously used light strings, and replace damaged items before plugging lights in. If you have any questions about electrical safety, ask an InterNACHI inspector during your next scheduled inspection. Do not overload extension cords.
  • Don’t mount lights in any way that can damage the cord’s wire insulation.  To hold lights in place, string them through hooks or insulated staples–don’t use nails or tacks. Never pull or tug lights to remove them.
  • Keep children and pets away from light strings and electrical decorations.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
  • Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.  
  • Make sure all the bulbs work and that there are no frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections.
  • Plug all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with ground-fault circuit interrupters to avoid potential shocks.
  • Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.

Decorations

  • Use only non-combustible and flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel and artificial icicles of plastic and non-leaded metals.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not be knocked down.
  • In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp and breakable, and keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children.
  • Avoid trimmings that resemble candy and food that may tempt a young child to put them in his mouth.

Holiday Entertaining

  • Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S.  When cooking for holiday visitors, remember to keep an eye on the range.
  • Provide plenty of large, deep ashtrays, and check them frequently. Cigarette butts can smolder in the trash and cause a fire, so completely douse cigarette butts with water before discarding.
  • Keep matches and lighters up high, out of sight and reach of children (preferably in a locked cabinet).
  • Test your smoke alarms, and let guests know what your fire escape plan is.


Trees

  • When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label “fire-resistant.”
  • When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches, and when bent between your fingers, needles do not break.
  • When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces, radiators and portable heaters. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.
  • Cut a few inches off the trunk of your tree to expose the fresh wood. This allows for better water absorption and will help to keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard.
  • Be sure to keep the stand filled with water, because heated rooms can dry live trees out rapidly.
  • Make sure the base is steady so the tree won’t tip over easily.


Fireplaces

  • Before lighting any fire, remove all greens, boughs, papers and other decorations from fireplace area. Check to see that the flue is open.
  • Use care with “fire salts,” which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten.
  • Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.


Toys and Ornaments

  • Purchase appropriate toys for the appropriate age. Some toys designed for older children might be dangerous for younger children.
  • Electric toys should be UL/FM approved.
  • Toys with sharp points, sharp edges, strings, cords, and parts small enough to be swallowed should not be given to small children.
  • Place older ornaments and decorations that might be painted with lead paint out of the reach of small children and pets. 

Children and Pets

  • Poinsettias are known to be poisonous to humans and animals, so keep them well out of reach, or avoid having them.
  • Keep decorations at least 6 inches above the child’s reach.
  • Avoid using tinsel. It can fall on the floor and a curious child or pet may eat it. This can cause anything from mild distress to death.
  • Keep any ribbons on gifts and tree ornaments shorter than 7 inches. A child could wrap a longer strand of ribbon around their neck and choke.
  • Avoid mittens with strings for children. The string can get tangled around the child’s neck and cause them to choke. It is easier to replace a mitten than a child.
  • Watch children and pets around space heaters or the fireplace. Do not leave a child or pet unattended.
  • Store scissors and any sharp objects that you use to wrap presents out of your child’s reach.
  • Inspect wrapped gifts for small decorations, such as candy canes, gingerbread men, and mistletoe berries, all of which are choking hazards.

Security

  • Use your home burglar alarm system.
  • If you plan to travel for the holidays, don’t discuss your plans with strangers. 
  • Have a trusted friend or neighbor to keep an eye on your home.

YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD HOME INSPECTOR WISHES YOU
A SAFE & JOYOUS HOLIDAY SEASON!

Mold, Moisture and Your Home

Mold Basics

  • The key to mold control is moisture control.
  • If mold is a problem in your home, you should clean up the mold promptly and fix the water problem.
  • It is important to dry water-damaged areas and items within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth.

Why is mold growing in my home?  
Molds are part of the natural environment.  Outdoors, molds play a part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter, such as fallen leaves and dead trees.  But indoors, mold growth should be avoided.  Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores; the spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through outdoor and indoor air.  Mold may begin growing indoors when mold spores land on surfaces that are wet.  There are many types of mold, and none of them will grow without water or moisture.

Can mold cause health problems?
Molds are usually not a problem indoors, unless mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing.  Molds have the potential to cause health problems.  Molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants and, in some cases, potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins).  Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.  Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis).  Allergic reactions to mold are common.  They can be immediate or delayed.  Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.  In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people.  Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold.  Research on mold and health effects is ongoing.  This article provides a brief overview; it does not describe all potential health effects related to mold exposure.  For more detailed information, consult a health professional.  You may also wish to consult your state or local health department.

How do I get rid of mold?  
It is impossible to get rid of all mold and mold spores indoors.  Some mold spores will be found floating through the air and in house dust. Mold spores will not grow if moisture is not present.  Indoor mold growth can and should be prevented or controlled by controlling moisture indoors. If there is mold growth in your home, you must clean up the mold and fix the water problem. If you clean up the mold but don’t fix the water problem, then, most likely, the mold problem will recur.  

Who should do the cleanup?
This depends on a number of factors.  One consideration is the size of the mold problem.  If the moldy area is less than about 10 square feet (less than roughly a 3-foot by 3-foot patch), in most cases, you can handle the job yourself, following the guidelines below.  

  • If there has been a lot of water damage, and/or mold growth covers more than 10 square feet, consult with an InterNACHI inspector.
  • If you choose to hire a contractor (or other professional service provider) to do the cleanup, make sure the contractor has experience cleaning up mold.  Check references and ask the contractor to follow the recommendations of the EPA, the guidelines of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygenists (ACGIH), or other guidelines from professional or government organizations.
  • Do not run the HVAC system if you know or suspect that it is contaminated with mold.  This could spread mold throughout the building. 
  • If the water and/or mold damage was caused by sewage or other contaminated water, then call in a professional who has experience cleaning and fixing buildings damaged by contaminated water. 
  • If you have health concerns, consult a health professional before starting cleanup.

Tips and Techniques   
The tips and techniques presented in this section will help you clean up your mold problem.  Professional cleaners or remediators may use methods not covered here.  Please note that mold may cause staining and cosmetic damage.  It may not be possible to clean an item so that its original appearance is restored.  

  • Fix plumbing leaks and other water problems as soon as possible. Dry all items completely.
  • Scrub mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.
  • Absorbent or porous materials, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, may have to be thrown away if they become moldy. Mold can grow on or fill in the empty spaces and crevices of porous materials, so the mold may be difficult or impossible to remove completely.
  • Avoid exposing yourself or others to mold.
  • Do not paint or caulk moldy surfaces.
  • Clean up the mold and dry the surfaces before painting. Paint applied over moldy surfaces is likely to peel.  If you are unsure about how to clean an item, or if the item is expensive or of sentimental value, you may wish to consult a specialist. Specialists in furniture repair and restoration, painting and art restoration and conservation, carpet and rug cleaning, water damage, and fire or water restoration are commonly listed in phone books. Be sure to ask for and check references. Look for specialists who are affiliated with professional organizations. 
     

What to Wear When Cleaning Moldy Areas:

  • Avoid breathing in mold or mold spores.  In order to limit your exposure to airborne mold, you may want to wear an N-95 respirator, available at many hardware stores and from companies that advertise on the Internet. (They cost about $12 to $25.)  Some N-95 respirators resemble a paper dust mask with a nozzle on the front, and others are made primarily of plastic or rubber and have removable cartridges that trap and prevent most of the mold spores from entering.  In order to be effective, the respirator or mask must fit properly, so carefully follow the instructions supplied with the respirator. Please note that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that respirators fit properly (via fit testing) when used in an occupational setting.
  • Wear gloves. Long gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm are recommended.  When working with water and a mild detergent, ordinary household rubber gloves may be used.  If you are using a disinfectant, a biocide such as chlorine bleach, or a strong cleaning solution, you should select gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane or PVC.  Avoid touching mold or moldy items with your bare hands.   
  • Wear goggles.  Goggles that do not have ventilation holes are recommended.  Avoid getting mold or mold spores in your eyes.

How do I know when the remediation or cleanup is finished?

You must have completely fixed the water or moisture problem before the cleanup or remediation can be considered finished, based on the following guidelines:  

  • You should have completed the mold removal.  Visible mold and moldy odors should not be present.  Please note that mold may cause staining and cosmetic damage.   
  • You should have revisited the site(s) shortly after cleanup, and it should show no signs of water damage or mold growth.  
  • People should have been able to occupy or re-occupy the area without health complaints or physical symptoms.  
  • Ultimately, this is a judgment call; there is no easy answer. If you have concerns or questions, be sure to ask your InterNACHI inspector during your next scheduled inspection.

Moisture and Mold Prevention and Control Tips

  • Moisture control is the key to mold control, so when water leaks or spills occur indoors, ACT QUICKLY.  If wet or damp materials or areas are dried within 24 to 48 hours after a leak or spill happens, in most cases, mold will not grow.  
  • Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.  
  • Make sure the ground slopes away from the building’s foundation so that water does not enter or collect around the foundation.  
  • Keep air-conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly.
  • Keep indoor humidity low.  If possible, keep indoor humidity below 60% relative humidity (ideally, between 30% to 50%).  Relative humidity can be measured with a moisture or humidity meter, which is a small, inexpensive instrument (from $10 to $50) that is available at many hardware stores.  
  • If you see condensation or moisture collecting on windows, walls or pipes, ACT QUICKLY to dry the wet surface and reduce the moisture/water source.  Condensation can be a sign of high humidity.

Actions that will help to reduce humidity:

  • Vent appliances that produce moisture, such as clothes dryers, stoves, and kerosene heaters, to the outdoors, where possible.  (Combustion appliances, such as stoves and kerosene heaters, produce water vapor and will increase the humidity unless vented to the outside.)  
  • Use air conditioners and/or de-humidifiers when needed.  
  • Run the bathroom fan or open the window when showering.  Use exhaust fans or open windows whenever cooking, running the dishwasher or dishwashing, etc.

Actions that will help prevent condensation:

  • Reduce the humidity (see above).  
  • Increase ventilation and air movement by opening doors and/or windows, when practical.  Use fans as needed.  
  • Cover cold surfaces, such as cold water pipes, with insulation.  
  • Increase air temperature.

Testing or Sampling for Mold
Is sampling for mold needed?  In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary.  Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with federal mold standards.  Surface sampling may be useful to determine if an area has been adequately cleaned or remediated.  Sampling for mold should be conducted by professionals who have specific experience in designing  mold sampling protocols, sampling methods, and interpreting results.  Sample analysis should follow analytical methods recommended by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), or other professional organizations.  

Suspicion of Hidden Mold   
You may suspect hidden mold if a building smells moldy but you cannot see the source, or if you know there has been water damage and residents are reporting health problems. Mold may be hidden in places such as the backside of dry wall, wallpaper or paneling, the top-side of ceiling tiles, or the underside of carpets and pads, etc. Other possible locations of hidden mold include areas inside walls around pipes (with leaking or condensing pipes), the surface of walls behind furniture (where condensation forms), inside ductwork, and in roof materials above ceiling tiles (due to roof leaks or insufficient insulation).

Investigating Hidden Mold Problems   
Investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when the investigation involves disturbing potential sites of mold growth. For example, removal of wallpaper can lead to a massive release of spores if there is mold growing on the underside of the paper. If you believe that you may have a hidden mold problem, consider hiring an experienced professional.

Cleanup and Biocides   
Biocides are substances that can destroy living organisms. The use of a chemical or biocide that kills organisms such as mold (chlorine bleach, for example) is not recommended as a routine practice during mold cleanup. There may be instances, however, when professional judgment may indicate its use (for example, when immune-compromised individuals are present). In most cases, it is not possible or desirable to sterilize an area; a background level of mold spores will remain, and these spores will not grow if the moisture problem has been resolved. If you choose to use disinfectants or biocides, always ventilate the area and exhaust the air to the outdoors. Never mix chlorine bleach with other cleaning solutions or detergents that contain ammonia because toxic fumes could be produced.  

Please note: Dead mold may still cause allergic reactions in some people, so it is not enough to simply kill the mold; it must also be removed.  

Ten Things You Should Know About Mold  
1.  Potential health effects and symptoms associated with mold exposure include allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints. 
2.  There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture.
3.  If mold is a problem in your home, you must clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture.
4.  Fix the source of the water problem or leak to prevent mold growth.    
5.  Reduce indoor humidity (to 30% to 60%) to decrease mold growth by:  a. venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating sources to the outside; b. using air conditioners and de-humidifiers; c. increasing ventilation; andd. using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.    
6.  Clean and dry any damp or wet building materials and furnishings within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth.    
7.  Clean mold off hard surfaces with water and detergent, and dry completely. Absorbent materials that are moldy (such as carpeting and ceiling tiles) may need to be replaced.     
8.  Prevent condensation.  Reduce the potential for condensation on cold surfaces (i.e., windows, piping, exterior walls, roof and floors) by adding insulation.     
9.  In areas where there is a perpetual moisture problem, do not install carpeting.  
10.  Molds can be found almost anywhere; they can grow on virtually any substance, provided moisture is present. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods.

Electrical Safety

Electricity is an essential part of our lives. However, it has the potential to cause great harm. Electrical systems will function almost indefinitely, if properly installed and not overloaded or physically abused. Electrical fires in our homes claim the lives of 485 Americans each year and injure 2,305 more. Some of these fires are caused by electrical system failures and appliance defects, but many more are caused by the misuse and poor maintenance of electrical appliances, incorrectly installed wiring, and overloaded circuits and extension cords.     Some safety tips to remember:  

  • Never use anything but the proper fuse to protect a circuit.
  • Find and correct overloaded circuits. 
  • Never place extension cords under rugs. 
  • Outlets near water should be GFCI-type outlets. 
  • Don’t allow trees near power lines to be climbed. 
  • Keep ladders, kites, equipment and anything else away from overhead power lines. 

Electrical Panels   Electricity enters the home through a control panel and a main switch where one can shut off all the power in an emergency. These panels are usually located in the basement. Control panels use either fuses or circuit breakers. Install the correct fuses for the panel. Never use a higher-numbered fuse or a metallic item, such as a penny. If fuses are used and there is a stoppage in power, look for the broken metal strip in the top of a blown fuse. Replace the fuse with a new one marked with the correct amperage. Reset circuit breakers from “off” to “on.” Be sure to investigate why the fuse or circuit blew. Possible causes include frayed wires, overloaded outlets, or defective appliances. Never overload a circuit with high-wattage appliances. Check the wattage on appliance labels. If there is frayed insulation or a broken wire, a dangerous short circuit may result and cause a fire. If power stoppages continue or if a frayed or broken wire is found, contact an electrician.  

Outlets and Extension Cords
Make sure all electrical receptacles or outlets are three-hole, grounded outlets. If there is water in the area, there should be a GFCI or ground-fault circuit interrupter outlet. All outdoor outlets should be GFCIs. There should be ample electrical capacity to run equipment without tripping circuit breakers or blowing fuses. Minimize extension cord use. Never place them under rugs. Use extension cords sparingly and check them periodically. Use the proper electrical cord for the job, and put safety plugs in unused outlets.

Electrical Appliances
Appliances need to be treated with respect and care. They need room to breathe. Avoid enclosing them in a cabinet without proper openings, and do not store papers around them. Level appliances so they do not tip. Washers and dryers should be checked often. Their movement can put undue stress on electrical connections. If any appliance or device gives off a tingling shock, turn it off, unplug it, and have a qualified person correct the problem. Shocks can be fatal. Never insert metal objects into appliances without unplugging them. Check appliances periodically to spot worn or cracked insulation, loose terminals, corroded wires, defective parts and any other components that might not work correctly. Replace these appliances or have them repaired by a person qualified to do so.  

Electrical Heating Equipment
Portable electrical heating equipment may be used in the home as a supplement to the home heating system. Caution must be taken when using these heating supplements. Keep them away from combustibles, and make sure they cannot be tipped over. Keep electrical heating equipment in good working condition. Do not use them in bathrooms because of the risk of contact with water and electrocution. Many people use electric blankets in their homes. They will work well if they are kept in good condition. Look for cracks and breaks in the wiring, plugs and connectors. Look for charred spots on both sides. Many things can cause electric blankets to overheat. They include other bedding placed on top of them, pets sleeping on top of them, and putting things on top of the blanket when it is in use. Folding the blankets can also bend the coils and cause overheating.

Children
Electricity is important to the workings of the home, but can be dangerous, especially to children. Electrical safety needs to be taught to children early on. Safety plugs should be inserted in unused outlets when toddlers are in the home. Make sure all outlets in the home have face plates. Teach children not to put things into electrical outlets and not to chew on electrical cords. Keep electrical wiring boxes locked. Do not allow children to come in contact with power lines outside. Never allow them to climb trees near power lines, utility poles or high tension towers.

Electricity and Water
A body can act like a lightning rod and carry the current to the ground. People are good conductors of electricity, particularly when standing in water or on a damp floor. Never use any electrical appliance in the tub or shower. Never touch an electric cord or appliance with wet hands. Do not use electrical appliances in damp areas or while standing on damp floors. In areas where water is present, use outlets with GFCIs. Shocks can be fatal.  

Animal Hazards
Mice and other rodents can chew on electrical wires and damage them. If rodents are suspected or known to be in the home, be aware of the damage they may cause, and take measures to get rid of them.  

Outside Hazards
There are several electrical hazards outside the home. Be aware of overhead and underground power lines. People have been electrocuted when an object they are moving has come in contact with the overhead power lines. Keep ladders, antennae, kites and poles away from power lines leading to the house and other buildings. Do not plant trees, shrubs or bushes under power lines or near underground power lines. Never build a swimming pool or other structure under the power line leading to your house. Before digging, learn the location of underground power lines.
Do not climb power poles or transmission towers. Never let anyone shoot or throw stones at insulators. If you have an animal trapped in a tree or on the roof near electric lines, phone your utility company. Do not take a chance of electrocuting yourself. Be aware of weather conditions when installing and working with electrical appliances. Never use electrical power tools or appliances with rain overhead or water underfoot. Use only outdoor lights, fixtures and extension cords. Plug into outlets with a GFCI. Downed power lines are extremely dangerous. If you see a downed power line, call the electric company, and warn others to stay away. If a power line hits your car while you are in it, stay inside unless the car catches fire. If the car catches fire, jump clear without touching metal and the ground at the same time.  

MORE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS :

  • Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring.
  • Hire an InterNACHI inspector. InterNACHI inspectors must pass rigorous safety training and are knowledgeable in the ways to reduce the likelihood of electrocution.
  • Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old and damaged appliance cords immediately.
  • Use electrical extension cords wisely and don’t overload them.
  • Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters; pay special care to electrical appliances in the bathroom and kitchen.
  • Don’t allow children to play with or around electrical appliances, such as space heaters, irons and hair dryers.
  • Keep clothes, curtains and other potentially combustible items at least 3 feet from all heaters.
  • If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
  • Never overload extension cords or wall sockets. Immediately shut off, then professionally replace, light switches that are hot to the touch, as well as lights that flicker. Use safety closures to childproof electrical outlets.
  • Check your electrical tools regularly for signs of wear. If the cords are frayed or cracked, replace them. Replace any tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out or gives off smoke or sparks.

In summary, household electrocution can be prevented by following the tips offered in this guide and by hiring an InterNACHI inspector.