A far better mouse trap–why not use them?

Usually most attempts at building a better mouse trap does not significantly deplete the number of mice to be trapped.

This fact does not keep us from trying to come up with better mouse traps.  After all, it is the American way–and many fortunes have been made from these attempts.

On a recent inspection, of a ten year old home, I came across one such “better-mouse-trap” that apparently did not catch on–at least not yet.

This mouse trap has to be the “Cadillac” of washing machine trays.  It is still surprising to see a tray at all under washing machines, so when I came across this Floodsaver I could not help but be amazed.

Flood Saver Washer Tray

Flood Saver Washer Tray

This tray is not one of those cheap brittle plastic things that float around on the floor and has a flimsy drain that always leaks.  This one is high-density polyethylene with a real drain as durable as any shower stall drain.  The drain ran to the exterior of the home.  This tray protects the floor and wall from leaking of the supply lines, flooding due to the drain backing up, as well as leaking of the washer itself.

Drain termination

Drain termination

The termination at the exterior was very clever as well.  Since you would not want to install a trap on this drain—because then you would have to install a trap primer as well—this drain just ran to the exterior and pointed down toward the ground.  Since these trays are only for catching emergency leaks, any traps would likely dry out quite quickly.  To keep cold air and critters from going into the drain the end was sealed with a small hollow ball that would float if water had to find its way out of the pipe.

If you were in a jurisdiction that did not allow the pan to drain to the exterior, a trap could either be installed with a trap primer or long lasting oil trap seals can be used to prevent the trap from drying out.

The cost of the unit pictured is about $140.00 and seems worth it, in the context of a new home.  There are models without the back wall cover and with no drain—sometimes there is just no way to drain the pan.  Then of course you would want a high water alarm or to pay attention when the dog or cat has found a new watering hole.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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How inspectors keep track of themselves during inspections

Typical data plate

Typical data plate

As anyone that has followed my blog for any length of time knows, photography is my primary note taking tool during an inspection.  I VERY rarely write anything down during an inspection.  I have developed a list of ways to photograph things that could perhaps be easy to write down–but why bother when it takes so much less time to snap a picture.  If I have something that is only evident by “movement” I will shoot a couple of seconds of video of the issue–like a poorly secured gas line swinging back and forth.

Not only do I use it as a means of documenting what I am seeing, but it essentially enables me to repeat the inspection while I am working on the report back in the comfort of my office with KEXP on in the background (available by internet connection pretty much everywhere).

Some inspectors would have you believe that they catch everything the first go-around on an inspection.  Most experienced inspectors know otherwise–however painful it may be to admit it.  Every inspector knows that when they walk around the house one direction they find things.  They know when they walk around the home in the other direction they find things they missed the first time.  In time, most inspectors develop ways to check themselves–to help themselves not miss thiongs–or as little as possible.  Through this process most inspectors hopefully don’t miss anything major.

Keeping track of myself

Keeping track of myself

Photography is one of my primary tools to keep track of myself.

There have been countless times where, during the writing of the report, I have found things in pictures that I not only missed at the time of inspection but also would have had no way of seeing at the time of inspection.  For example I will run my arm up a tunnel where the neighbor’s cat has made a path under the porch and shoot a few “blind” pictures of the space under the porch—to be looked at later on the computer screen.  This gives me better information in how to language what I am going to say about the lack of access under that porch.  One time I found a large pile of  materials known to contain asbestos.  One time I got a picture of the cat.  Out of sight–out of mind I guess.

It is pretty rare for me to take less than 350 pictures on an inspection.  Sometimes as many at 600 on larger homes.  I have had commercial inspections with  over a thousand pictures.  I have gotten to the point where I can see a relationship between how many pictures I have taken and how much “hell-to-pay” I am going to have doing the report.  300 pictures on a 1000 sq ft rental property is a much nastier report than 300 pictures on a 3000 sq ft  new construction home.

The other day I did an inspection where I was specifically taking a picture of the main water shut-off and the water meter.

Water line tapped in prior to meter

Water line tapped in prior to meter

When I got home and was looking at the picture I could see where a “T” had been installed in the line previous to the water meter.  I had no chance to trace the line–because I did not see the issue until I saw it on my computer–I don’t know what purpose the line was serving.

I seriously doubt that most jurisdictions would approve of tapping into the main water line prior to the meter.

Regardless, this is an issue that is worth bringing to the attention of the buyer for further evaluation.  I wish that I had noticed it at the time of inspection–but I didn’t.  So having a second chance to catch the issue with the photographs was better than missing it all together.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Ghosts–it is that time of year!

Ghosts!

When she called me to book the inspection she told me that she had heard that the house was haunted.  She said she didn’t believe in ghosts and wanted to go ahead with the inspection anyway. 

I recognized the address, and had heard stories about the house being haunted myself.  I also had no reason to think that she didn’t believe in ghosts–I don’t belief in ghosts either. 

The house spent a lot of time being vacant and had more owners than a dollar bill.  Rumors travel fast about such homes and no amount of frosting on the listing was going to cover up its history.  It was still an awesome deal for the location–so awesome that most anyone would wonder why it sat vacant–if they had no clue of its history.

It was an enormous old house with thick heavy lead-based paint peeling off in sheets like shaved-chocolate from the cedar clapboard siding.  The trim was mostly bare wood–except the ornate decorative gables that were too intricate to peel and somewhat protected by the roof overhang. 

The rose bushes, that strangled the South side of the house, were mulched with the chocolate paint chips that had fallen there.

The story book old home had charm for sure.  It was located in a little hollow at the end of Cul-de-sac Street.  It had massive curb appeal–or at least it could have had a lot of curb appeal if an owner could have stayed there long enough to properly maintain it.  It was not hard for optimistic new buyers to see its promise–its great bones were obvious even if it did have a few skeletons in its many closets. 

It seems there is never any shortage of young home buyers with too much energy and lack of knowledge to prevent them from undertaking such projects.

Its many outdated systems would need upgrading–including the hammering and hissing old steam boiler with its many radiators. The monstrous old coal burning, asbestos-white boiler in the basement, that had been converted to oil in 1946 (right after the war) and then converted to gas in 1974 (right after the war), groaned and creaked through the long winters but still kept occupants and ghosts alike warm and cozy.

But the visions of returning the home to its former glory would sooner or later succumb to the stories of how previous owners had seen ghosts and heard strange noises in the house. 

All owners, sooner or later, would report seeing and hearing the ghosts and would pack up and leave, which only served to perpetuate the ghost story.

But alas–some ghosts–not all ghosts–are not what they seem, especially at Halloween.

 

Everyone knows the dangers of carbon monoxide which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.  We are most familiar with “acute” carbon monoxide poisoning, where you get a massive dose in a short amount of time resulting in death or serious injury  (the car running in the closed garage scenario).

What is less understood are the effects of levels of carbon monoxide typically considered to be below the threshold for typical symptoms.  In other words we are only beginning to understand the cumulative effect of low levels of carbon monoxide that can lead to symptoms that might initially be misdiagnosed as some other condition.  Symptoms such as headache, dizziness, chest pain, nausea and vomiting can often be symptoms for other things besides carbon monoxide poisoning.

Even OSHA allows workers to be exposed to “average” carbon monoxide levels of 50ppm over an 8 hour period.

Since carbon monoxide accumulates in the body, it stands to reason that even levels below 30ppm or 20ppm might accumulate and have an effect on our health over time.  Supposedly removing oneself from the source of exposure allows one to return to normal, however there is some evidence that suggests that repeated exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide may do some damage.  Repeated exposure, places a heavy burden on the cells throughout our bodies–including our brains–affecting how well cells function.  It can lead to depression, confusion and memory loss.

Ghosts can even be a symptom.  According to Wikipedia, “Symptoms such as delirium and hallucinations have led people suffering (carbon monoxide) poisoning to think they have seen ghosts or to believe their house is haunted.”  It kind of makes you wonder how many of our ancestors were affected by carbon monoxide sleeping by the smoldering embers in the fireplace.

co-cigarettesLevels as low as 35 ppm can lead to headache and dizziness within six to eight hours of constant exposure to carbon monoxide. It is not unusual to have start-up levels of carbon monoxide on your home’s gas range or gas oven WAY above these levels.  Levels typically should drop to under 100ppm once the flame becomes established–if everything is working properly.  The question remains as to whether over time these low levels can affect our health–they certainly will not set off your carbon monoxide detectors.  Public health authorities say that the incidental nature of these exposures, and the fact that they are not sustained, makes exposure at these levels “safe.”

This may or may not be true.

These conclusions however are why it is not “required” to have a range hood over your gas cooking stove.  I have found in testing gas ranges that normal burning of the cook top will have levels of carbon monoxide well above safe levels–even if it is for a short period of time.  In homes with no exhaust fan, or with exhaust fans that do not get used, this represents quite a lot of exposure to carbon monoxide in the length of time it takes to cook the Thanksgiving turkey–another reason to pass out on the couch after dinner.

The now required carbon monoxide detectors in your home will do absolutely nothing to let you know about this condition.  In fact they are not allowed to alarm at low levels.

I have only a partial clue as to what the truth of repeated incidental exposure to carbon monoxide is, but it would seem prudent to ALWAYS use the exhaust fan whenever operating the gas cooktop, oven and/or broiler.  It would also seem prudent to install a range hood–and use it–if you don’t have one–regardless of codes.

PS

The “266ppm” in the picture above is the amount of carbon monoxide in the smoke from a Marlboro cigarette.  It would also seem prudent to not smoke.  It appears that cancer might not be the only problem with cigarettes.  I always knew there was something a little off with the Marlboro Man.

 

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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