On Your Guard

Your deck is 14” off the ground. You know it does not need a guard (barrier railing in lay terms). A guard is only required when the deck gets to be more than 30 from grade (plus some other rules that we are not going into right now).

The point is that you feel you want one anyway–after all, a fall from 14 inches in the dark with a beer in one hand and a girl in the other could still be at best embarrassing.

So you install a nice guard around the decks as you can see in the following pictures.

The problem is that once a guard is installed, even though it is not required, it must conform to the current requirements of a guard. The guard is not merely a thing installed to keep you from falling 30 inches. If that was the case, the spacing between the balusters or rails would not have to be so close together. The spacing is such that a small child will not either fall through or strangle themselves in the openings.

So even though this guard was not required the spacings between the rails on the one deck and the balusters on the other should be no greater than 4” per current standards.

Charles Buell, Real Estate Transactions in Seattle

What’s a little raw sewage between friends?

OK–nasty subject–I get that, but what is an inspector to do?

These sorts of issues are considered life/safety issues and the purpose of modern plumbing is to keep “stuff” where it belongs.  We like it when the drinking water stays in the pipes, the waste stuff stays in the pipes and the two don’t get mixed together.

ejectorpump1This sounds like a good plan.

I don’t like sewage ejector pumps–but they exist so I have to deal with them occasionally.  They are common whenever you have plumbing fixtures that cannot drain by gravity.  The effluent has to be pumped up to a level where it can drain by gravity.

Homeowner installation of these devices is almost always obvious and tragic.  At a recent inspection I found one in the basement of a home where a non-conforming kitchen and bathroom had been added.  The bathroom properly drained to the sump below the surface of the basement floor.

The kitchen sink drain however was tied into what amounted to the vent pipe for the unit (the lower pipe that runs off to the right).  However, because there was a big hole cut in the sump cover, no vent was really necessary for the pump to function.  The vent is there because under normal operation a vacuum would be created if it was not there.  A vacuum could suck the water out of the traps of the fixtures it was servicing.  The hole in the cover eliminates any possibility of there ever being a vacuum created.

There also has to be a check valve to prevent water that has been pumped out from draining back into the sump.  There also has to be a gate valve and unions so that the unit can be taken apart to be serviced.  Most importantly there HAS TO BE A SEALED LID!


Without a sealed lid the sewage could flood the basement if the pump were to fail–not to mention the likely continual odors of sewage that would be present.

I can only guess why anyone would destroy a perfectly good lid to create this health and safety issue.

The installation needs a new lid—but more importantly it needs a licensed plumber.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Being well grounded is not just about one’s well being–but it could be.

There was a time, in the not so distant past, when the only way a house’s electrical system was “grounded” was by connecting the grounding conductor to the metal water pipe coming to the house. There are still a large number of such houses around the country.

While I could talk about where this wire gets connected in relation to where it is supposed to be connected, that could be another whole blog post all by itself.

Today I want to talk about how this particular means of grounding the electrical system, often gets compromised by the installation of plastic components. It is also about how plumbers are not electricians and electricians are not plumbers, so these compromises happen too often. The lowly home inspector is about the only one that is going to draw attention to the problem.

One of the most common ways these older systems get compromised is when the old galvanized pipe from the street is no longer functional (from a plumbing stand point) and gets replaced with a new plastic water line. The installation eliminates the house electrical systems grounding electrode, resulting in the loss of a proper path to ground for dissipation of static charges that might build up on metallic systems  in the home.

The ground path is not totally eliminated however. There is also a grounding path back to the ground rod at the utility transformer on the pole at the street–which could be several houses away.

For electrical safety it is important to maintain grounding redundancy.

There could also be ground rods present in addition to the water pipe grounding electrode.

Another way these systems get compromised is when the pipe is repaired with plastic components—resulting in a break in continuity of the grounding conductor.

In the following pictures we can see where the old water line has been abandoned.

Water Pipe Grounding

And while the new water line from the street is metal, plastic components have been used to connect the new pipe coming to the home to the water pipes inside the home. The grounding conductor attached to the pipe on the house side of the plastic pipe is effectively no longer connected to the incoming water line–to either of the metal pipes.  Both would still likely be required to be used as grounding electrodes for the home’s electrical system.

Repairs will not be difficult, but needs to be done to provide proper grounding of the electrical system.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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