Did you know that you can call us to ask a home inspection related question EVEN if we are not the home inspector that inspected the home you are buying or selling? So feel free to reach out to Jerry to get his opinion on any home related question you may have. With over 35 years of home building and inspecting experience he really has the knowledge to help explain things, or direct you to the right person. We look forward to helping you!
It is heating up out here in Arizona (finally) – even here in Prescott, but especially in the Phoenix area. Now is the time to make sure your air conditioning is ready to handle the heat! As part of a home inspection (in the Phoenix and Prescott areas) we do take a close look at the HVAC units, and if in doubt we will suggest an HVAC company come take a closer look. We also have routine maintenance done on our own home’s unit since a building’s central air-conditioning system must be periodically inspected and maintained in order to function properly. While an annual inspection performed by a trained professional is recommended, homeowners can do a lot of the work themselves by following the tips offered in this guide.
- Remove any leaves, spider webs and other debris from the unit’s exterior. Trim foliage back several feet from the unit to ensure proper air flow.
- Remove the cover grille to clean any debris from the unit’s interior. A garden hose can be helpful for this task.
- Straighten any bent fins with a tool called a fin comb.
- Add lubricating oil to the motor. Check your owner’s manual for specific instructions.
- Clean the evaporator coil and condenser coil at least once a year. When they collect dirt, they may not function properly.
- Inspect the drain line for obstructions, such as algae and debris. If the line becomes blocked, water will back up into the drain pan and overflow, potentially causing a safety hazard or water damage to your home.
- Make sure the hoses are secured and fit properly.
When the cooling season is over, you should cover the exterior condenser unit in preparation for winter. If it isn’t being used, why expose it to the elements? This measure will prevent ice, leaves and dirt from entering the unit, which can harm components and require additional maintenance in the spring. A cover can be purchased, or you can make one yourself by taping together plastic trash bags. Be sure to turn the unit off before covering it.
- Have the air-conditioning system inspected by a professional each year before the start of the cooling season.
- Reduce stress on the air conditioning system by enhancing your home’s energy efficiency. Switch from incandescent lights to compact fluorescents, for instance, which produce less heat.
Greetings from Prescott Valley, Arizona. Just want you to know that we are always here for you if you need a home inspection done, whether it is a holiday of not, and we look forward to working with you in the new year! In the meantime, from all of us here at Sonoran Property Inspections (and by all of us I mean Jerry, Pam, and the Golden Retriever!) we wish you a warm and happy holiday season, and a peaceful and prosperous new year! All we need now is just a little snow.
Don’t you hate it when you are in the shower and someone else in the house flushes a toilet and you get burned by hot water? I do test water temperature when I do a home inspection, but sometimes these fluctuations don’t show up until later. So let’s talk a little about anti-scald valves. Anti-scald valves, also known as tempering valves and mixing valves, mix cold water in with outgoing hot water so that the hot water that leaves a fixture is not hot enough to scald a person.
Facts and Figures
- Scalds account for 20% of all burns.
- More than 2,000 American children are scalded each year, mostly in the bathroom and kitchen.
- Scalding and other types of burns require costly and expensive hospital stays, often involving skin grafts and plastic surgery.
- Scalding may lead to additional injuries, such as falls and heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
- Water that is 160º F can cause scalding in 0.5 seconds.
Unwanted temperature fluctuations are an annoyance and a safety hazard. When a toilet is flushed, for instance, cold water flows into the toilet’s tank and lowers the pressure in the cold-water pipes. If someone is taking a shower, they will suddenly feel the water become hotter as less cold water is available to the shower valve. By the same principle, the shower water will become colder when someone in the house uses the hot-water faucet. This condition is exacerbated by plumbing that’s clogged, narrow, or installed in showers equipped with low-flow or multiple showerheads. A sudden burst of hot water can cause serious burns, particularly in young children, who have thinner skin than adults. Also, a startling thermal shock – hot or cold – may cause a person to fall in the shower as he or she scrambles on the slippery surface to adjust the water temperature. The elderly and physically challenged are at particular risk.
Anti-scald valves mitigate this danger by maintaining water temperature at a safe level, even as pressures fluctuate in water supply lines. They look similar to ordinary shower and tub valves and are equipped with a special diaphragm or piston mechanism that immediately balances the pressure of the hot- and cold-water inputs, limiting one or the other to keep the temperature within a range of several degrees. As a side effect, the use of an anti-scald valve increases the amount of available hot water, as it is drawn more slowly from the water heater. Inspectors and homeowners may want to check with the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to see if these safety measures are required in new construction in their area.
Installation of anti-scald valves is typically simple and inexpensive. Most models are installed in the hot-water line and require a cold-water feed. They also require a swing check valve on the cold-water feed line to prevent hot water from entering the cold-water system. They may be installed at the water heater to safeguard the plumbing for the whole building, or only at specific fixtures.
The actual temperature of the water that comes out of the fixture may be somewhat different than the target temperature set on the anti-scald valve. Such irregularities may be due to long, uninsulated plumbing lines or defects in the valve itself. Users may fine-tune the valve with a rotating mechanism that will allow the water to become hotter or colder, depending on which way it’s turned. Homeowners may contact an InterNACHI inspector (like me) or a qualified plumber if they have further questions or concerns.
In summary, anti-scald valves are used to reduce water temperature fluctuations that may otherwise inconvenience or harm unsuspecting building occupants.
One of the major components of a home is the HVAC system. Having an HVAC inspection done prior to buying a home will help identify a possible failure prior to purchase.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of a winter night, shivering under the blankets and able to see your breath? Or have you ever watched the thermostat creep into the upper 80s during a record-setting heat wave, realizing you haven’t heard the air conditioner kick on? If so, your heating or cooling system was on the fritz—and (of course), it happened at the worst possible time. Components like fan motors, run capacitors, contactors, coils, compressors, low/high pressure switches and time delay programs are all wear and tear items subject to fail at any time.
These systems not only fail when you need them the most, but also during the hardest time of the year to get a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) contractor to come by for repairs. Naturally, technicians are at their busiest when these systems are busiest. So, unless you have a relative in the business, the best way to ensure your heating and cooling systems keep working is to maintain them properly.
To guard against a future breakdown, have a professional perform periodic maintenance on the systems before the peak seasons begin. Have the heating system serviced in late summer or early fall, and keep in mind that priority scheduling for repeat customers may begin mid-summer. For a central air-conditioning system, arrange to have a pro check it out in the early spring, after temperatures have reached 65° F, depending on when it starts getting hot in your region.
A typical maintenance call will involve tightening electrical connections, checking the condition of hoses and belts, lubricating all moving parts, and making sure the controls work properly.
For cooling components, the contractor will clean the evaporator coils that remove the heat from the air in your home, as well as the condenser coils that release the collected heat to the outside air. Your tech will also check the fan components, make sure the refrigerant level in the system is correct, inspect ductwork and gas lines, and check for leaks.
For heating systems, technicians typically check fuel connections, change the filters, and inspect the system’s combustion and heat exchangers.
What You Can Do
Here are a few maintenance tasks you can perform yourself:
- For ongoing maintenance, change the filters every three months for a forced-air system that includes both heating and cooling. If the systems are separate, change the filters every three months during the heating or cooling season. The type of filter to use and directions for changing it can be found in the manual that comes with installation. Instructions may also come with the filter, or on a label affixed to the HVAC unit. You an also ask an HVAC contractor for advice, or visit the manufacturer’s website to see if information is available online.
- Check around the house to make sure all heating and cooling vents, baseboard heaters, and radiators are not blocked by furniture. If they are blocked, the system has to work harder to provide you with the comfort you want, placing a strain on the system.
- Air-conditioning systems often have an outdoor component that houses the compressor and condenser. This part of the system dumps hot air from your house to the outside as part of the cooling cycle. Remove leaves and other debris off of the top of the unit, and maintain a clearance of 2 to 3 feet around it.
Repair vs. Replace
If your HVAC system does break down, you will be faced with the decision of whether to repair or replace it. Repairs are less expensive, but there are a number of reasons to consider replacing the entire unit.
- The system is eight to 15 years old. While a properly maintained system can last longer than 15 years, some older equipment is not as efficient as those available today. And with the average household spending almost half its energy budget on heating and cooling costs, it makes sense to install an energy-efficient system. For example, the annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating measures how much fuel a furnace or boiler converts to heat and how much is wasted. It is not unusual to find old furnaces with an AFUE below 70%, which means that over 30% of the fuel is wasted. High-efficiency furnaces available today can achieve AFUE ratings above 98%. That could mean a reduction in heating bills of 20 to 30%. Likewise, the seasonal energy-efficiency ratio (SEER) can be as low as 8 to 10 SEER in older units, while newer units often boast up to 25 SEER, translating to a reduction of up to 50% of cooling costs.
- The system needs to be repaired frequently. Even if the repairs are minor, having an HVAC contractor on speed dial does not bode well for the future. If you are faced with a major repair—such as a compressor for an air conditioner, or a blower motor for a furnace—and you have had to pay for a similar repair recently, it is time to replace the unit.
- Energy bills keep going up and the house is too hot or too cold. There could be a number of reasons for this, such as leaky ducts, or a lack of insulation and weather sealing in the walls and ceiling. However, it could also mean that the current system is not the right size for the house. A properly sized system would solve that problem quickly.
When faced with a large repair, discuss your options with a qualified HVAC contractor. If you choose a replacement, make sure you hire a reputable, licensed and insured contractor associated with a company you can trust, and confirm that you have a sufficient warranty to insure you against installation and mechanical errors. And after the repair or replacement, keep it well maintained.
Whether you are buying or selling a home in Prescott or Phoenix, a home inspection is important, and we are here to help. But once the transaction is complete and it is time to move, here are more helpful reminders of things to add to your moving checklist.
Moving can be stressful. With tons of to-dos, a tight timeline, and a growing pile of boxes, it’s easy to get frazzled and let things fall through the cracks. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Get organized now by making a checklist to work from. Set deadlines for the most critical tasks, like hiring movers, renting a storage unit ,and turning on your new utilities. Aside from packing up room by room, make sure your list has these often forgotten items too:
- Forward Your Mail: The post office makes it very easy to ensure your mail gets routed to the right place, at least for the first year after your move. Just head to a local branch or go online to update your address with the date you’ll be moving, and your mail will automatically get forwarded.
- Measure and Decide: Take a measuring tape to your new home and jot down the measurements of each wall and nook. What furniture and decor will fit in your new space? What won’t? It’s better to make decisions about what to donate or sell BEFORE your moving date.
- Refill Prescriptions: It may take a bit to get your prescriptions forwarded to a new pharmacy and even longer for you to find the time to pick them up. If possible, get your prescriptions refilled ahead of time from your current pharmacy.
- Back Up Your Electronics: Back up your computer and phone to the cloud (or external hard drive – or both), and make sure you’ve uploaded all your photos and documents somewhere safe. In the event something happens to your devices during the move, a backup will get you up and running faster.
As always, give us a call if you have any questions about homes or doing inspections for you. We are here to help.
Ten Tips to Speed Up Your Home Inspection
- Confirm that that the water, electrical and gas services are turned on (including pilot lights).
- Make sure your pets won’t hinder your home inspection. Ideally, they should be removed from the premises or secured outside. Tell your agent about any pets at home.
- Replace burned-out light bulbs to avoid a “light is inoperable” report that may suggest an electrical problem.
- Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and replace dead batteries.
- Clean or replace dirty HVAC air filters. They should fit securely.
- Remove stored items, debris and wood from the foundation. These may be cited as “conducive conditions” for termites.
- Remove items blocking access to HVAC equipment, electrical service panels, the water heater, attic and crawlspace.
- Unlock any locked areas that your home inspector must access, such as the attic door or hatch, the electrical service panel, the door to the basement, and any exterior gates.
- Trim tree limbs so that they’re at least 10 feet away from the roof. Trim any shrubs that are too close to the house and can hides pests or hold moisture against the exterior.
- Repair or replace any broken or missing items, such as doorknobs, locks or latches, windowpanes or screens, gutters or downspouts, or chimney caps.
Checking these areas before your home inspection is an investment in selling your property. Your real estate agent will thank you!
It is a WINDY day here in Prescott Valley, Arizona! So let’s talk a little about how you can use natural windbreaks to your advantage. Windbreaks are dense rows of trees and shrubs designed to reduce wind speed before it reaches a building. During a home inspection I will pay attention to landscape items as it relates to the home, such as making sure trees and shrubs are not too close to the structure, but well placed trees and shrubs can do much to enhance not only the beauty of the home, but the also provide other perks for the homeowner.
- Many animals rely on windbreaks. Food, shelter from severe weather, nesting sites, and a means of escape cover are all provided by the vegetation that composes a windbreak. For example, the planting of windbreaks during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s is believed to have allowed the expansion of woodland birds and other creatures, such as Mississippi kites and fox squirrels. Birds, in particular, are known to rely on windbreaks for temporary cover during winter storms. Even large mammals, such as white-tailed deer, use windbreaks for cover, food and fawning. Employ a variety of trees and shrubs in your windbreak to create an abundance of different kinds of nuts, seeds and berries, which will, in turn, attract a diversity of wildlife.
- While any vegetation will increase the appeal of an otherwise barren yard, a uniform, well-maintained windbreak can actually increase property values with their pleasing aesthetics. Also, they allow the homeowner to strategically screen out undesirable sights.
- Windbreaks are effective for noise deflection. Windbreaks reduce the infiltration of traffic noise into a property by absorbing and deflecting it with leaves and large branches. In addition, traffic noises will be replaced with the sounds of rustling leaves or the singing of birds that are drawn to the vegetation.
- Windbreaks provide snow control (okay, those of you in Phoenix can ignore this part!). A properly placed windbreak will prevent snow drifts in areas such as driveways and building entrances. Valuable time and effort can then be spent on activities other than snow removal.
Windbreaks work either by deflecting the wind up and over a building, thereby forming a protective wind shadow, or by catching it to reduce its speed. And as the windbreak captures the winter wind, so too does the wind chill diminish. For example, if the outside temperature is 12° F (-11° C), a windbreak can reduce a 20-mph wind to 5 mph, and the wind chill will be reduced from -22° F (-30° C) to a more bearable 8° F (-11° C).
The best windbreaks block wind close to the ground by using fast-growing trees and shrubs that have low crowns. Deciduous trees, while they are favored as shade trees during the summer, lose their leaves in cold weather, which makes them less effective than evergreens at stopping the frigid winter wind. The best choices are dense, fat, fast-growing conifers that will mature to a height higher than the roof. These qualities may be found with Norway, white and Colorado blue spruce. Again, those of you in Phoenix and Scottsdale will have to use something like fast growing oleanders or other dense shrubs to help.
Tips that you may find helpful:
- For maximum protection, plant your windbreak at a distance from your home of three to five times the height of the mature trees. Studies have shown, however, that the effective distance of wind reduction is sometimes as high as 30 times the height of the windbreak, depending on the tree species.
- Do not plant trees too close to the home’s south side, as this will reduce the warmth supplied by the winter sun.
- Arrange windbreaks in multiple rows to increase their effectiveness.
- Do not prune the lower branches of the windbreak, as this will increase the wind speed near the ground.
- Thin the trees and shrubs as they grow to ensure that competition does not jeopardize the health of the windbreak. For instance, you can plant trees 3 feet apart, but then you should remove every second tree when their crowns begin to intersect.
- Incorporate numerous plant species in the windbreak to impede wind from ground level to the treetops. Even non-living yard features, such as walls, fences and raised soils, can be incorporated into a single windbreak.
- Decide which direction the prevailing winds come from in your area so you know where the best places are to plant the windbreak.
- Be careful to not plant large trees too close to the home, as they may fall during a storm, shed leaves or needles on your roof, allow pests to access your roof, or even penetrate your basement walls with their root structure. If you are experiencing any of these conditions, be sure to talk about it with your home inspector during your next scheduled inspection.
- Arrange the windbreak in such a way that it will provide a conduit for breezes and desired winds.
Whether or not you decide to use Sonoran Property Inspections, the following summary could be useful information as you search for a home inspector in the Prescott or Scottsdale area. Not all inspectors are the same, so take the time to educate yourself on what to look for and expect in an inspection report.
Influenced by the changes in both economic and legal environments, home inspection reports have changed to accommodate increased consumer expectations, and to provide more extensive information and protection to both inspectors and their clients (including real estate agents).
If your home inspector is not a member of one of the two main professional inspection organizations (ASHI or InterNachi), you may want to find another inspector. Those that are members of these organizations adhere to Standards of Practice that are designed to identify both the requirements of a home inspection and the limitations of an inspection. I am a certified inspector through InterNACHI and would be happy to answer any questions for you concerning these Standards of Practice.
Here is a summary for you (and your clients) of what to expect from a home inspection:
- Inspections are a visual inspection to provide you with the general features of the home, and identify any potential deficiencies or safety issues. Your inspector can not perform any destructive or exhaustive testing (for example, they will not take anything apart to determine a problem).
- Inspectors may not be an expert in every system of the home, but are trained to recognize conditions that require further examination by an expert. As a past home builder, I know homes inside and out, but will still recommend an expert in a certain trade if I see something that concerns me.
- Reports should be easy to read and understand, and contain a summary section to outline the major points for the client. A sample report can be seen on my website to give you an idea of how this report should look.
- A post inspection review on-site with the client and/or real estate agent can help everyone understand the “facts” of each home and offer advice or answer any questions or concerns.
In summary, for clients to have a realistic expectation about what information will be included in the home inspection report, follow these tips:
- Read the Standards of Practice, and the inspector agreement to know what is and is not inspected
- View a sample report on the inspector’s website
- Talk to the inspector – before and after any inspection
If I can help you in any way with your inspection questions, please call or email me.
Happy New Year from Sonoran Property Inspections, your local home inspector for Prescott, Prescott Valley, as well as Phoenix and Scottsdale. With home inventory getting lower, it is a good time to consider listing your home. Did you know that a pre-listing home inspection could help you sell your home quicker?
When the home buyer hires an inspector to look at the home, issues can come up that may send both parties back to the negotiating table. But when you decide to hire an inspector before you list you can address any potential stumbling blocks BEFORE they derail your sale of the home. You may choose to repair any items yourself, or price the house accordingly. But either way, by taking the initiative you are the one in control. The buyer may (and should) hire a different inspector to re-inspect the home, but at least there should be no big surprises to you as the seller.
So, if you decide to list your home, consider doing a home inspection to go into the transaction with a little more peace of mind for a small amount of investment. If we can help, just let us know.