Functional? Really?

This post is the first in a series of posts that wants to get at the real question of the day.

How did we get “here”—and from “where” did we come?

forclosureThis is not simply about “directions,” although in a twisted way maybe that is what it is all about. Garmins and TomToms will not provide the real directions or answers here—they can still be a case of garbage in, garbage out. And there I go again, figuring it out ahead of where it is supposed to all come together at the end of the post.

Perhaps it is all about garbage in, garbage out—then again, perhaps not.

What I am trying to get at is more about the metaphorical “here” and the metaphorical “we” and the metaphorical “where.”

Therefore, if anything, it is about garbage other than what buried the entire house.

It is not just about the pathetic, the unfortunate, or those that made poor choices. It is not about genetics, economic disparity or “tinkle-down” economics (now there is a topic that could piss off almost anyone–or more accurately, leave someone feeling tinkled on).

This post could just as easily be about sleazy landlords as it is about sloven tenants. Both of which were some mother’s and father’s “most-adorable-babies-in-the-whole-wide-world.”

This is also not about how this could “never happen to me”—or to you, my reader, because I know that it could. This stuff happens to people that say that it could never happen to them! It happens to good people every day of the week. Of course I do realize that is “them” and not me and you–so we are saved for the moment.

Everyone knows about the best laid plans of mice and men however.

This is a story of not how one person could come to this position in life but about how three people all in one house, all at the same time, got to this position. They surely cannot be alone in these United States.

It is a story about a house too. It is a house with no functional toilets–at least not in the normal sense of “functional.” One toilet was truly not functional, as flushing it allowed water to squirt out of a hole in the side of the toilet all over the wall and floor. Based on the amount of dust on the cover, I am guessing that a decision was made to not use this toilet. Evidence that “decisions” were still being made on some level.


The second toilet was apparently being flushed by filling the tank with water as necessary. (And one has to admire the towel covered cardboard lid.)


There was one “functional” shower in the home. By functional I mean to say that you could stand under the shower head, water would come out of the shower head, and a good percentage of the water would go down the drain.


The fact that the wall tiles were nearly entirely missing and the entire floor around the toilet and tub was rotten apparently did not lessen the obvious functional daily use of the shower.


The moldy wallpaper and moldy ceiling only adds to the ambiance.


Next time we will talk about where all that water was “really” going.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Don’t let your “Shark-Bites” come back to bite you!

There has been some discussion about whether push-to-connect type plumbing fittings (Shark-Bites are a common brand name) maintain electrical continuity when using them on metal piping.

As near as I can tell, the unsatisfactory answer is that they are not tested or listed for continuity through them. One thing is certain, any bonding achieved through the connectors is purely “coincidental” as there is certainly no “positive” connection between the brass fitting and the metal pipe.

Coincidental contact between the fitting and the pipe happens when the pipe makes accidental contact with the fitting (intentional contact for this purpose was not designed into the fitting). Whether the pipe is inserted all the way or not, there may be no continuity through the fitting—functional or otherwise.


So what is the definition of electrical continuity–or better yet “functional continuity?” By lining up 3 pennies in a row touching each other, you will have continuity across the pennies, but how would that continuity function under a live load? Would it create an effective ground fault path to trip a breaker if necessary?

Not likely, and likely a bonding jumper would be necessary around such plumbing fittings.

In fact there is actual documentation from the manufacturer of Shark-Bite, push-to-connect fittings that recommends jumping around the fittings when used with metal piping.

I set up a little experiment with an assembly of 4 push-to-connect fittings to see how much voltage drop there would be. The voltage drop of the circuit through the soldered pipe assembly on the left (without any push-in-connectors) was 4.6%.


The voltage drop through the push-in-connector assembly without any load was up-and-down but generally around 25%. By merely wiggling the assembly a bit the voltage drop varied up and down. Under the load of a 1500 watt space heater, the fluctuation varied widely from 45% to 75%.

It was interesting to note that when I initially started the test, the assembly was plugged into an AFCI protected circuit. As soon as I turned on the 1500 watt space heater, the AFCI breaker tripped. I could actually hear the arcing at the connections. Seems like the AFCI functioned as intended.

The experiment and test results pictured above were completed on a circuit that was not AFCI protected.  I found the results to be pretty dramatic.

This is a side view of the assembly, painted black for thermal uniformity.


Here is the thermal image of the assembly prior to turning on the heater.


Here is an image of the temperature within the assembly after 60 seconds.


Here is the temperatures within the assembly after 2 minutes: >356 degrees F.  My decision that it probably was not a good idea to continue the experiment game next, as it appeared I now had two heaters in the room instead of one.

So while this little experiment may lack in some controls that would be present if the same testing was done in a professional laboratory, or by Myth Busters, it is likely good enough to conclude that push-in-connectors cannot be relied upon as a ground fault path and could even be a fire hazard if the piping they were in were to become energized.

The bottom line is that proper bonding is necessary around push-in-connectors installed in metal piping systems—or better yet, perhaps other types of fittings should be used.


By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Homeowners would be lost without outside water faucets.

Can you imagine life without them?

As a home inspector I get to see lots of them, and one of the most important things about inspecting outside faucets is attempting to see if they leak—especially the frost free type.

There are many places that these valves can leak and most of the leaks won’t show up unless some means of back pressure is applied. There can be leaks at the valve stem, the anti-siphon device and worse yet, inside the wall.

It is common for people to leave the hoses installed in the winter and when this is done the faucet will no longer be frost free and will be subject to freezing. It is important when testing valves in the summer to attempt to find out if hoses have been left on in the winter.

Typically I do this by installing a pressure gauge on the faucet and then turning it on. This not only gives me the water pressure but also will help find any leaking that might be going on. Because the water is not running, I might even be able to hear the all too familiar sound of “hissing” water inside the wall or crawl space.

Some leaks simply will not show up without back-pressure.

For example take a look at this faucet, with the water running. Can you see the leak?


Now under back-pressure, the leak becomes very evident—hissing sound and all. This valve has a small hole in the valve body.



All outside faucets, when inspected, should be checked under back-pressure.

While we are discussing leaving hoses on, there are other devices that accomplish the same thing and create the same problem. Don’t leave “Y” adapters in place either. Each branch of the Y has its own shut-off and if these are left shut off in the winter water can build up in the valve making it no longer frost free.


Are your outside faucets happy this winter?

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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