The Future of How Homes Work

Posted on 14. Jun, 2017 by in General

Phantom loads that leak energy in standby include modems, phones, and TVs

It’s been a crazy-busy spring.  So much so that I’m only now getting around to writing about the Georgia Association of Home Inspectors March conference, plus a few personal observations

Proposed Electric Code:  Plugged Into the Future

One goal of the code is to anticipate future trends
The future is here: for the first time in history plug (receptacle) loads consume more energy than space heating
There are so many new plug location requirements it’s easier to figure out where plugs aren’t required than where they are.
“Phantom” or “Vampire” loads occur when appliances leak energy in the standby mode.
“Smart” surge protectors and hard switches limit loss.

Stand-alone de-humidifier keeps mold out. Understanding how to manage humidity is key to cooling comfort

HVAC:  Load Calcs, Variable speed takes moisture out, Ventilate it right

Heating systems work above design temperatures 99% of the time, cooling systems 1%.
This disparity is mostly due HVAC contractors using “rule of thumb” sizing, not actual load calculations (measuring the home and calculating the correct size of the appliances)
New code requires contractors perform, and to be liable for, proper load calculations.

 

Look for agents who know what it takes to sell expensive homes

It’s not the heat but the humidity that makes Atlanta’s mixed-humid climate a formidable A/C challenge. Variable speed appliances answer with longer run times that remove moisture better than single speed.                                                                                     Atlanta builders are halfway to the Build it Tight, Ventilate it Right design goal. Newer, tighter homes require balanced ventilation systems instead of exhaust-only type, especially when high volume range exhaust fans are installed. Timed or pressure-activated                                                                systems deliver the correct volume of fresh air

Variable speed HVAC systems improve comfort and efficiency

Real Estate Realities

Initial pricing is critical. If it’s not right reductions likely follow
One third of homes listed for sale don’t sell
Cheaper homes are an easier sell than expensive ones
Corporations purchased tens of thousands of homes during the recession
Frustrated buyers have tens of thousands                                                                      fewer homes to choose from

Designed ventilation systems bring fresh air in to replace air vented from range hoods, bathrooms, dryers and gas appliances

Energy:  Three best DIYs, Spray Foam Works!

Three DIY energy projects worth doing:
Switch your light bulbs to LED.  Added energy bonus: retrofit recessed light kits keep attic air out of your living space
Seal ducts. With average leakage at 25% it’s worth the effort. Aeroseal (airborne mastic sealant) is an alternative
Install radiant barriers in your attic. They’ll lower attic temperatures and make cooling                                                                      easier.

Foamed attics perform better than modeling would suggest because small and irregular gaps are sealed

Foam Future

Spray foam works even better than scientific modeling predicts because it seals small, irregular gaps
Though not cheap performance and payback make foam an energy industry leader. Heating, cooling and ventilation consume 50% of the average household energy budget.

 

Proposed electric code requires a receptacle for each parking spot in a garage

Making it Last

Old homes built with durable materials can take a lot of abuse. Moisture goes through without causing much damage. They’re durable but not comfortable. New homes built of heat and moisture-sensitive materials are comfortable and efficient. They’re also more susceptible to moisture damage. Your best bet is to manage moisture carefully, whatever and wherever its source

Home inspectors serve the public as quality control advocates. We’ll show you how to make your home work better. Getting an maintenance inspection could save you money and make life more comfortable

I’d appreciate a shout-out from happy customers
Help others find Comprehensive Home Inspections with a google review of 
Dan Curl Home Inspector

Looking ahead, Looking back

Posted on 31. Jan, 2017 by in General

Comments, observations and opinions on my 30th inspection year

Down the Road
Drive-to-mortgage bigger, newer, cheaper suburban homes still dominate the market.  But Millennials have altered the equation by demanding neighborhood amenities and short commutes.
Fundamental change toward efficient and sustainable construction methods and materials is gathering speed. Drivers like http://www.southface.org/ lead the way.

Infrared camera gives you a picture of what’s hot and what’s not

The bigger task, developing sustainable communities, will happen when all parties decide it’s time for regional change.

On my Radar
My new infrared camera will help detect safety hazards, energy loss and moisture. The pictures are worth 1000 words and 25 bucks

Also new this year: cardswipe for the checkless

Variety comes in many colors:One of the last Grandma kitchens in Morningside

Doing Bad Flips
Fast makeover, quick profit Flips are popular on TV. I hate them. They remind me of the shoddy new homes built in bubble years; a combination of high market demand coupled with vague standards and enforcement. Buyers need beware that “good work ain’t cheap and cheap work ain’t good”.  They’re also major pain to inspect.

 

 

Flashlight illuminates dirty air pathway bypassing the filter

The Pace of Change
Conventional wisdom can’t be trusted. Over the decades I’ve seen it disproved by new evidence time and again. What was acceptable is now defective, essential now superfluous, luxury now commodity, safe now a hazard. Keeping up with and understanding these contradictions, their implications and explaining them to clients, is challenging. Examples abound: Hardboard siding, Polybutylene water pipe, synthetic stucco, rule of thumb sizing of HVAC equipment,                                                                         powered attic vents, Ionization smoke alarms.

Every home, and every homeowner, is different

Solving the Puzzle
Every job is a mystery. How does this home work? How can I apply general principles to this particular building? How does it withstand the forces of nature, insects, mold, fire, ill-use, lack of maintenance, modifications, additions, social and economic changes? Each inspection requires careful examination, comprehensive knowledge and a curious mind.

 

Friend and associate Dean Moore ready for a church crawl

The Spice of Life
I’m not a creature of routine.  Put me behind the same desk every day and I’ll go crazy. Inspections provide the mix of physical demands and mental acuity, field and office work, social interaction and quiet study I require. I’ve inspected 200 year old churches, factory lofts, Reid and Shutze designed homes, tiny houses, mansions and McMansions, farms, mountain cabins, Victorians and thousands of bungalows, 5 over 4s and brick ranchers. The people I meet; clients, agents, tradesmen, engineers, specialists, even builders, help make the hard work of inspecting less onerous.

 

 

Unsustainable: Wet crawl space and moisture sensitive engineered framing

Blessing and Curse
I have trouble keeping my mouth shut. It’s open because I’m social, more so because I want to arm my clients with the knowledge to make their homes sustainable: lower operating and replacement costs, improved comfort, health and safety, increased value.

 

 

 

Sustainable because it’s beautiful and well-built

O Lucky Man
My career path was unplanned, circuitous and serendipitous. In 1986 engineer neighbor John Kamisky was looking to hire. I was looking for a new career. There have been many along the way who’ve helped, especially John, in good times and bad. And many, many others who’ve shared of their time, talent and training. I’m grateful for their guidance and friendship, grateful also that I continue to enjoy doing what I do.

 

 

The Power of Piss and other Tails

Posted on 17. Mar, 2015 by in General

The Power of Piss: mice ruined my oven

Our tenant’s Christmas cooking party turned out to be a stinker when mice took up residence in the back of the gas oven. Building Science informs us that heating accelerates chemical reactions.  Imagine Old Dog Smell to the 10th power.

Cleaning did not change the smell factor.  Here’s the sexed-up explanation why:  http://www.salon.com/2012/11/03/chances_are_your_house_is_soaked_in_mouse_urine/  

Animals obey their biological imperatives.  They’re adapted to survive.  They seek shelter from the weather and predators, warmth and moisture, they eat, procreate, nest, poop and piss, defend and expand their territories.  I have 30 years first-hand experience with un-invited guests, human and otherwise.

Signs of un-invited house guests. As temperatures warm you may notice the smell

Rodentry

Rats run alongside exterior walls, seek cover and burrow under foundations.   They climb trees and run gutters until they find gaps between the fascia and roof.  If there are no gaps they’ll gnaw through water-weakened wood.  Rats chew through rubber and plastic pipe to get a drink.  They thrive in wet basements and crawl spaces.  They love grass seed. They favor the warmth atop water heaters, furnaces, ductwork and the tops of ceiling tiles in basements.  They nest in attics, in ribbed plastic ductwork, in cluttered crawl spaces and basements and in walls.

Chipmunks (ground squirrels) burrow near foundations.  Burrows channel water toward foundation walls and provide ready-made invasion routes for rats.  Flying squirrels are the octopi of the rodent world.  They squeeze through the smallest of openings and nest in quiet attic spaces. Mice live in hollows of walls and ceilings….. and in ovens.  Gray squirrels prefer attics.  Squirreled-away nuts are a sure sign of activity.  They’ll also nest in uncovered chimneys. Nesting squirrels filled our 25 ft chimney flue with tree branches.

Fiberglass insulation a handy nesting material, cellulose not so much

Other Warm and Cold Blooded Creatures

Bats prefer warm south or west-facing attic gable vents.  Nesting birds also use gable vents-they often pile nesting materials several feet deep. Opossums and Raccoons nest in attics and uncovered masonry chimneys. Rat snakes take up residence where there is sufficient prey. Bears, coyotes and raccoons will get into the trash or compost.   House Wrens Nest near and in houses.  http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/atlanta/har.htm
Health, Safety and Functional Concerns

The Power of Piss triggers asthma attacks. Animals and their feces may transmit diseases due to parasites, bacteria and fungi.    Bats are known carriers of Rabies (about 5%).  Never handle a bat bare-handed.  Rodents chew through wiring insulation to mark escape routes causing an increased risk of fire.  Animal bites are bacterial bombs and should be dealt with immediately.
Animals tramp down, pull apart and disturb wall and ceiling insulation-their preferred nesting material reducing insulation effectiveness.

Biological imperative: attic gable vents filled with nesting materials. Screen with hardware cloth

What Homeowners Can Do

Step 1.  Knowledge is Pest Control Power

Pests are ever-present and live just beyond our field of vision.  Animals are biologically engineered to survive. They possess highly developed senses the and ability to detect variations in pressure and moisture.

The hollows of framed walls and between floors, flues, ducts, plumbing vents and wiring openings, are their vertical and horizontal paths through homes.  They inhabit spaces behind kitchen appliances, behind and under countertops and cabinets, in pantries and dropped soffits (ceilings); wherever there’s room to hide and store food. 
Buffered Zones like attics, basements, crawl spaces and storage areas, especially wet and cluttered ones, are ideal because they are close to sources of food and provide shelter, moisture and warmth.

Triply Beneficial: Sealing animal pathways with rigid materials also controls fire and energy loss

Step 2.  Discourage pests by making your home less hospitable for them:

Outside the House
Screen and seal openings in exterior walls at crawl vents and other wall penetrations.  Use hardware cloth, a galvanized mesh with 1/4″ openings, and foam sealant.  Trim tree limbs and shrubs away from outside walls and roof.  Move or trim plants away from exterior walls.  Replace vegetative ground cover close to exterior walls with gravel.  In all ways and as much as possible reduce the volume of roof and site water near exterior walls. Clean gutters and grade or drain roof, surface and A/C water toward the downhill side of your home.  Store birdseed, grass seed and other rodent foods in sealed containers.  Bird feeders are favored in the daytime by chipmunks and squirrels, at night by rats, mice and opossums.
If you leave pet food outside expect it to be eaten.

Rat Path. Rats used the unsealed opening created for A/C refrigerant and power lines to enter the crawl space. Vegetation close to the wall, wet soil and a cluttered crawl space made this an ideal habitat

Exterior and Attics
Screen and seal outside openings:  at soffit vents, gable vents, at corners, where the fascia and gutter meet, at plumbing vents, at roof exhaust vents.  Draftstop (method of sealing with rigid materials) openings that connect the attic to the house:  at plumbing, ducting and wiring openings penetrations. This will also limit the movement of fire and loss of conditioned air.

Basements and Crawl Spaces

Consider closed and conditioned crawl space design:   http://www.crawlspaces.org/
Install dehumidifiers in un-ventilated areas to reduce moisture.  Set glue traps for mice, spring traps baited with peanut butter for rats.  If all else fails install a concrete rat slab over crawl space soils.  Draftstop openings at plumbing drains and vents and where A/C lines and dryer vents extend to the outside.  Install hardware cloth over crawl vents.  It’s especially important to clean up crawl spaces: remove clutter and debris and cover soils with plastic.

Triply Beneficial: Soils covered by rat slabs keep burrowing animals out, limit moisture and soil gases including radon

Inside the home

Remove clutter in kitchens, closets and storage areas.  Fix plumbing and roof leaks. Keep a clean kitchen.  Use covered trash containers.  If your heating vents are in the floor vacuum them out-especially in the kitchen.  Check for evidence of infestation at or behind fixtures and appliances, especially in kitchens and bathrooms.

Step 3.
Contact a qualified pest control company.  If pests are a big problem plan for multiple visits.

Step 4.
Expect repeats.  And don’t ignore the Power of Piss.

 

Letters Home

Posted on 16. Aug, 2014 by in Architecture, Building Science, Caring for your Home, Eco-Inspector, Energy, Ethics, General, Healthy Home, Heating and Air-Conditioning, Nature, New Homes, Older Homes

Moore’s Law in practice: Duct system zone control motherboards that used to cost 9000 are now 400

Inspectors typically work Point of Sale transactions.  A lot of what we do gets lost in the buyers rush to negotiate, move and settle. Here are my reasons to schedule aMaintenance Inspection every 6-9 years.

The science of how we build and live in homes is changing.  Materials, methods and lifestyle all have an impact on function and durability.

 

The Whole Enchilada: Electric code now requires upgraded mains, panel, breakers, wiring and fixtures. Main panel should have been moved during this kitchen renovation

IT makes for affordable components and systems. There’s no reason to assume that the way we build homes will remain unchanged while the world around us is speeding along at the rate of Moore’s Law

Because of bureaucratic hassle obtaining a building permit in metro Atlanta may be considered an option, not a requirement.  Most Building Codes are updated every three years.  Significant codes changes respond to major disasters or building component failures.

 

Dirty cooling fins reduce efficiency and appliance life

A home built or renovated to code is worst structure you can legally build. Go below that minimum at your own risk.  Exceed it and you’ll benefit in the long run.

Systems and components last an average 6-15 years.  Simple and easy maintenance extends service life

Latent, long-developing defects due to sunlight, heat and moisture are less noticeable and, eventually, more costly to repair

 

 

Moisture wicking through foundation wall makes a moldy basement and reduced wall strength

Additions, renovations and energy upgrades alter the movement of heat, air and moisture inside the home. Good time for an inspection.  Not going to move?  Don’t count on it.  I inspect Never-gonna-move-again homes all the time.

The culture of how we build communities is changing:  http://wabe.org/post/what-do-you-do-broken-suburb.  Keeping up with the Jones is more about re-sizing and lifestyle options.

 

 

 

Not Good Housekeeping. Are you using your mechanical closet for storage?

Lost in Translation:  “the idea that houses can loved and beautiful…..has been reduced to a grim business of facts and figures, an uphill struggle against the relentless urge of technology and bureaucracy, in which human feeling has almost been forgotten.”  Buildings, especially homes, should speak the character and aspirations of their owners.  A home can be more than just new countertops.

Homeowners, builders and realtors may not know all that is, and is becoming, aboutHow Homes Work. That’s my job, let me help.

 

 

House-smart realtor Peggy Desiderio noticed a knothole-split deck stair stringer

Applied Building Science. Adjacent crawl vent feeds moist 93F air onto a 55F supply air duct. The result: 100% saturated subfloor and mold

New methods, durable materials. Moisture barrier and weather-resistant stainless steel exhaust housing

 

 

A New, Old House

Posted on 14. Mar, 2013 by in General

My ESL wife (English the Second Language) characterized the 1924 Bungalow we purchased in Candler Park in 1984 as our “New, Old House”.

Take a look at this renovation of a late 70’s architect-designed modern by Karen and Meredith at Phoenix Resurrections.

Here’s a photo of what it looked like before they purchased the property.

Sorting out, cleaning up and resdesign require vision, good design chops, talented, hardworking tradesmen and good management

The results speak for themselves:  A New, Old House

 

Hardscape Recipe

Posted on 04. Sep, 2012 by in General

Start with a plan; a collaborative effort between the homeowner and architect

Add one Landscape Design and Installation Contractor.  Mix lightly

 Measure ingredients; concrete, stone, block, brick and mortar

Heat with  equal parts intelligence, skill and physical effort

Adjust mixture according to weather, plan changes, material costs, sub-contractor mistakes, alignment and homeowner schedule.

Enjoy for the next 50-100 years

Summer in the City

Posted on 19. Aug, 2012 by in General

A casual late summer Weekend in the ATL included:

Grant Park Farmers Market Getting Bigger

Finished last week’s business.  Bike ride to retrieve a radon test kit in Kirkwood, drop by to Oakhurst to check out the BBQ festival set up, visit with friends near Sun in My Belly.  Hit a bucket of Balls at Charlie Yates GC with new judge Hiro

Circuit Bike Race included Juniors

Light Dinner at patio outside pub in the old Scottish Rite Hospital in Oakhurst.  We got to listen to the festival without having to pay the 10 dollar cover.  Met old ALTA teammate William Wallace

Handmade Finishing Salts

Skipped church for a visit to the Grant Park Farmers Market.  Watched a bike race, bought Bosnian breads, Lavender finishing salt, and assorted veggies

Gotta Love that Vase

Capping it off with some home maintenance, putting away of things and tennis (weather permitting) at the Candler Park Courts.  I might be Almost Human by Monday. 

Cable Guys Tear it Up

Posted on 14. Jul, 2012 by in General

Inspection standards require me to respect each home I enter and to leave the property in the same condition I found it.  I work hard at this.  It’s often a challenge due to various factors.
People get mad when you mess up their homes, even if things are just a little out of place.

Cable splitter unsupported in pathway

Tradesmen working in crawl spaces and attics rarely leave these areas undisturbed.  Their goal is to “Git er Done” ASAP.  Cable Guys are the worst:  they’re paid for piece work, ignorant of standards, dismissive of the menial nature of proper workmanship (“This job is just temporary until I land that job as a software designer.”) and are aware that homeowners don’t follow them into the crawl space to check their work. 

Logic, building science and an abiding interest in homes have led me to improve my crawl space.  I’ve controlled moisture, conditioned the space, removed extraneous materials, strapped and supported utilities, fought to keep pests out, and installed lighting.  I’ve made it considerably easier for tradesmen to do their work.  In my role of inspector I understand how dirty and difficult navigating crawl spaces can be.  Believe me, I know.

Cable run UNDER stored items.  Note all other utilities supported to joists

So it really pisses me off when the cable guys break my A/C condensate drain allowing water to create an environment mildew and roaches.  Or NOT spend 5 minutes to support their wiring to underside of the floor joists and bust holes in the wall and insulation allowing warm, moist air into my conditioned crawl space.

THIS IS STANDARD THROUGHOUT THE INDUSTRY.  Contract workers are underpaid and unsupervised.  Homeowners are content to have their internet and  are ignorant of damage done by the CABLE GUY.  When confronted with poor quality of work the typical response is to offer a few free months of HBO.

The A/C condensate drain was broken by the black cable in foreground

Git-er-Done means sloppy work.  Larry the Cable Guy could tell you that as plain as the nose on your face.

And I can get by without another three months of HBO.

Catching Hail

Posted on 02. Jul, 2012 by in General

I’ve been inspecting roofs for decades and had not seen significant hail damage until last week.

Real Hail 
Rarely damages the entire roof.  Hailstorms are typically wind-driven.  Damage occurs at roof planes at approximate right angles to the falling hail.  Only the upper rear roof was damaged; the other roof planes suffered glancing blows

Soft metal damage.  This refers to vents of varying types damaged by hail.  A turtle-back attic exhaust vent is pictured here.  Small bumps indicate small hail.  Big bumps indicate big hail.

Significant gouging of asphalt granules.  Not little bits but chunks of the surface scoured from the shingle face by hail impact

Hail damage does occur.  But the hailstones must be large enough, fall at an angle that results in significant granule loss and the hailstorm has to last long enough to cause shingle failure.

When these metrics are compared with the number of claims made the numbers just don’t work.  The insurance companies know it, roofers know it and homeowners know it.

Atlanta Weekend

Posted on 20. Jun, 2012 by in General


What to do on a fine October Weekend in Atlanta?

The Eco-Inspector took a group from Villa International to the Clarkston International Festival, worked on his front porch, rode Stone Mountain, checked out some old and new homes and hung out with the crew at the Candler Park FallFest. Top it all off with the League of Decency getting down with the Blues!

Epidemiologists and Public Health specialists from Villa visit Clarkston

Lakeside on the practice green. The Stonemont and Lakeside courses offer a severe test of both distance and accuracy. One of the top public courses in the US.
1840’s cottage in Stone Mountain now a restaurant/reception hall/ballroom

Big New House. Simple layout, no seven gables here. Builders are starting to get the moisture control details right: good news for homeowners!

Zapped back to the 70’s by the Time Bandit; just in time to see the Allman Brothers at Piedmont Park

League of Decency at
Candler Park FallFest
Caledonia! Caledonia!