With winter coming on to cool much of North America, it’s worthwhile to address a potential hazard that arises with increased use of fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces and water heaters: carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas produced by the combustion of fuels such as natural gas, oil, and propane in devices including furnaces, water heaters, and stoves. These items are normally designed to vent the CO to the outside, but harmful interior levels of CO can result from incomplete combustion of fuel, improper installation, or blockages, leaks or cracks in the venting systems. Very high levels of CO can lead to incapacitation or death, with victims sometimes never having been aware they were being poisoned.
Homeowners can take action against potential carbon monoxide poisoning by taking the following steps:
Never use gas stoves or ovens to heat the home, even temporarily.
Have all fuel-burning appliances professionally inspected annually, preferably before the start of the cold weather season when heaters and furnaces are first used.
These appliances include gas stoves and ovens, furnaces and heaters, water heaters and gas clothes dryers.
All such devices should be properly installed and vented to the outside.
If repairs are necessary, be sure they are performed by a qualified technician.
Always use the proper fuel specified for the device.
Have flues and chimneys for gas fireplaces inspected regularly for cracks, leaks, and blockages that may allow a buildup of CO to occur.
Do not start a vehicle in a closed garage, or idle the engine in the garage even when the garage door is open.
Gasoline-powered generators and charcoal grills must never be used indoors.
Purchase a CO detector (either battery operated, hard wired or plug-in) and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper location and installation. Installation of working CO detectors in residential properties is now required by law in most states.
Learn what to do if the CO alarm activates. If anyone in the home experiences symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, or confusion, everyone should leave immediately and seek medical attention. If no symptoms are felt, open doors and windows immediately and shut off all fuel-burning devices that may be potential sources of CO.
Enjoy the comfort and safety of home this winter and all year long.
Smoke alarms are an important defense against injury or death in house fires. Statistics from the National Fire Protection Association show that nearly two-thirds of home fire fatalities occur in homes with non-working or missing smoke detectors. Most building codes now require smoke detectors in all residential structures, which has resulted in a steep drop in fire- and smoke-related deaths. Homeowners should check with their local public safety office or fire department for specific information on these requirements.
As in real estate, location is key! Smoke alarms should be in installed every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on each level of the home.
Alarms should be placed high on a wall or on the ceiling. It’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement. High, peaked ceilings have dead air space at the top; in these instances smoke alarms should be placed no closer than 3 feet from the highest point.
For areas close to the kitchen, use a detector with a “hush button” that can be used to silence nuisance alarms triggered by cooking smoke or steam. Alternatively, consider installing a photoelectric alarm near the kitchen, which will not be triggered by cooking. No matter which type is used, never remove the unit’s battery to stop or prevent nuisance alarms.
There are two primary types of smoke alarm technology: ionization and photoelectric. According to the National Fire Protection Association, ionization alarms are more responsive to flames, while photoelectric alarms are more sensitive to smoldering fires. For the most comprehensive protection, both types or a combination unit should be installed.
Test each alarm unit monthly. It’s helpful to put a reminder in your calendar to do this on the first or last day of the month, for example. The units have a test button that will sound the alarm for a moment or two when pressed. Any alarm that fails to sound should have the battery replaced. If the test button fails with a new battery, replace the entire detector immediately. Monthly testing is also an ideal time to dust off the unit so that it continues to work properly.
Replace the batteries at least once a year. A common rule of thumb is to do this when changing to or from Daylight Saving Time in fall or spring. Remember, a non-working alarm is no better than no alarm at all. Many newer alarms now come with 10-year lithium batteries that eliminate the need for new batteries, but the unit itself must be replaced after its stated lifespan.
If the alarms are hard-wired to the home’s electrical system, make sure they are interconnected for maximum effectiveness – meaning that if one alarm is triggered, all of the others will sound as well. Any hard-wired alarms, interconnected or not, should be installed by a licensed electrician for safety and proper operation.
The newest type of interconnected smoke alarms are wireless. This technology allows detectors to communicate with one another and, like their hard-wired cousins, will sound all of the units at the same time even if just one is triggered initially.
Early alerting is key to surviving a fire. Following these simple but important measures allows occupants to be warned, helping to prevent injuries and fatalities.
The days are getting noticeably shorter, and maybe there’s a nip in the air – sure signs that fall is on its way. Now is the perfect time to put these ideas on your to-do list and get your home in shape before winter rolls in.
Seal it up: Caulk and seal around exterior door and window frames. Look for gaps where pipes or wiring enter the home and caulk those as well. Not only does heat escape from these openings, but water can enter and may eventually cause mold problems and even structural damage.
Look up: Check the roof for missing or damaged shingles. Winter weather can cause serious damage to a vulnerable roof, leading to a greater chance of further damage inside the home. Although you should always have a qualified professional inspect and repair the roof, you can do a preliminary survey safely from the ground using binoculars.
Clear it out: Clear gutters and eaves troughs of leaves, sticks, and other debris. Consider installing leaf guards if your gutters can accommodate them – they are real time savers and can prevent damage from clogged gutters. Check the seams between sections of gutter, as well as between the gutter and downspouts, and make any necessary adjustments or repairs.
No hose: In climates with freezing weather, drain garden hoses and store them indoors to protect them from the elements. Shut off outdoor faucets and make sure exterior pipes are drained of water. Faucets and pipes can freeze and burst, causing leaks and potentially serious water damage.
Warm up time: Have the furnace inspected to ensure it’s safe and in good working order. Most utility companies will provide basic inspections at no charge, but there can often be a long waiting list come fall and winter. Replace disposable furnace air filters or clean the permanent type according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Using a clean filter will help the furnace run more efficiently, saving you money and energy.
Light that fire: If you enjoy the crackle of a wood-burning fireplace on a chilly fall evening, have the firebox and chimney professionally cleaned before lighting a fire this season. Creosote, a byproduct of wood burning, can build up to dangerous levels and cause a serious chimney fire if not removed.
Happy fall to you from everyone at Pillar To Post Home Inspectors.
The charms of living in an older home can be many – history, style, craftsmanship, quirks. But there’s no denying that living in such a home has its challenges. Maintenance can be tricky and expensive, especially if certain systems and features have been neglected over the years. Let’s take a look at some common situations found in many older homes:
Energy inefficiency is probably the number one issue with older homes. Most older homes were constructed with single-pane windows; if these windows are still in use, they likely don’t fit very well. Replacement windows can be very expensive, but will contribute immensely to reduced energy use and lower heating and cooling costs. Most replacement windows are available in several styles and at different price points, so finding ones that suit the look of an older home is easier than ever.
Like single-pane windows, poor insulation will also waste energy and money – and make living in the home uncomfortable. The most important and easiest area of the home to insulate is the attic, but walls and floors above ventilated crawlspaces should be insulated as well if possible. The attic may already have insulation but it may be inadequate by current standards.
If the home has older water pipes, they should be checked to identify the material and determine if they need to be replaced. Some older materials such as galvanized steel, iron, and even lead are still in use today even though new construction doesn’t allow them. Replacement options include copper and CPVC piping.
Outdated electrical systems can still sometimes be found in older homes and may not only be dangerous, they can make the house uninsurable in some situations. Even if no danger is present, we use much more electricity in our homes today and the capacity of older systems may be inadequate. Only a qualified electrician should attempt any repairs or updates to a home’s electrical system.
With careful maintenance and a nod to history, older homes can be comfortable, stylish, and even energy efficient in the right hands.