In this issue

Good information...

Below is a ‘grab bag’ of stuff I came across in my office while sorting a pile of notes left from past seminars. A lot of this was good information – but who remembers it six months later?  I can’t remember it the next day. Senior members:  read this twice. In fact read everything twice.   

But first, a reminder about the faulty toilet connectors brought to our attention by Lenny Licari last year.  The faulty connectors, I find, are present on almost every home.  I had a disclaimer on these but, after a recent family problem, decided that was not enough.  To elaborate: my son recently called and said his toilet was leaking all over the place. Fortunately, he was in the shower when this happened so he could turn it off quickly. Still, water was running down into the basement before he could shut off the water.  I stopped by and sure enough, the plastic (acetal) connector under the toilet had completely split apart.  See photo.    So, I now look at each of these and try to call out the faulty connectors. 

NO WAIT: you can note the obviously bad ones but don’t declare that any are the non-failure prone type.  Too much liability.  Recommend a plumber check all of these. The best connectors are metal and would be found at plumbing supply houses.  The plastic connectors with the large nubs may be okay as they were not part of the class action lawsuit.       

More information on this is available at: https://www.toiletconnector.com/Home/FAQ#faq1

 

A good blog for home inspectors is offered by a guy named Reuben Saltzman of Structure Tech  in Minneapolis. 

You should be able to access it by this link:  https://www.specificfeeds.com/home-inspection-blog

One interesting thing I learned from this blog: Minneapolis requires that home sellers have an inspection from a list of approved inspectors prior to putting their home on the market.  If unsafe conditions are found, specifically hand and guard rail problems, they are required to correct these prior to the sale.  Interesting….

I’m not sure where I got this but it is good information for homebuyers. If you want to impress your client with your knowledge memorize and throw out the chemical names at the inspection – or maybe you don’t want to sound like you have an expertise you don’t have. 

Room deodorizers frequently contain 2, 5-dichlorophenol (2, 5-DCP), a metabolite of 1,4-dichlorobenzene, which has been linked to precocious puberty and other health problems,13 including cancer. Endocrine-disrupting phthalates are also commonly found in air fresheners and room deodorizers.

If you’re having issues with unpleasant smells, you’d be wise to address the root causes rather than masking them with chemical sprays.

Another tidbit:  chlorine based in-tank toilet bowl cleaners will harm the flush/fill components and will void the warranty on the toilet.

 

A possible company for repairs to Rivco windows?  I inspected a five year old home where many of the windows were faulty (a builder’s home no less).  They reportedly had a company,  The Window Medics of New England, who specialize in repairs to Rivco windows. (Rivco is no longer in business but there are lots of their windows out there).  They also offer a procedure to remove the fogging (moisture) from double glazed windows   Disclaimer:  I have no direct experience with this company – but they sound like they could be a good resource. 

http://windowmedics.com/

Outside the box...

I’ve included some interesting information for a book I am writing (and will be forever writing) for home buyers.  This is just part of the chapter on environmental hazards, with the topic on electromagnetic fields.   I recommend that you talk about this issue with your client at the inspection. Point out the power lines on the street and the electrical devices in the home and how they can be producing high electromagnetic fields.  I find that real estate agents really  appreciate when we raise concerns that I cannot provide an answer to.  The whole topic is interesting, if nothing else.   

From the Homebuyer’s Handbook…

“Exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) from high power lines, cell tower, other sources….

This topic really requires its own chapter – if not a book   I’ve provided lots of links on this whole subject, many to web pages created by a Michael Neuert of EMFinfo.org and EMFcenter.com  who I find provides the clearest explanation of EMF issues.   If you are electromagnetically sensitive – or just have a lot of concern about your exposure to electromagnetic fields, you will need to do additional research.  I will note at the start that there is a lot of misconceptions about exposures to electromagnetic fields and lots of studies that indicate possible problems – and an equal number of studies that downplay the risks.   I’ll concentrate on how you may want to approach this topic in your home buying search.  It may not be a relevant or critical concern in most real estate purchases – but it is a topic you should know something about.

As a brief explanation:  electromagnetic fields (or EMF) encompass the entire spectrum of the fields of energy.  Visible light is part of this spectrum. EMF’s  include the low frequency waves such as from power sources,  radio, cell signal, TV signals, etc.  These are referred to as non-ionizing waves as they do not heat up and thereby directly damage human tissues.    In contrast, the frequencies that are higher than visible light, running from ultraviolet light, x-rays, up to gamma rays, are referred to as ionizing radiation   Essentially as our bodies are part of and are affected by the whole electromagnetic spectrum.  

For our purposes, there are three types of electromagnetic fields that we should be concerned about:

First, to quote Michael Neuret, “magnetic fields are the EMF component most often linked to serious health effects in the scientific research literature (e.g., the link between power lines and leukemia). These common magnetic fields are emitted from power lines, building wiring, electrical panels, lights, appliances, and virtually every device that runs on regular electricity.

Electric fields make up the other half of the common electro-magnetic fields emitted from power lines, wiring, lights and appliances. They are also linked to many important biological effects but have been studied less.  Anecdotally, electric fields are often involved when people knowingly feel “symptoms” and discomfort from different electrical sources.   Electric fields induce significant voltages onto the skin, which are easily sensed and measured.

Finally, Radio frequency or “RF” includes the higher frequency fields and microwaves emitted by cell towers and cell phones, TV and radio broadcast towers, cordless phones, Wi-Fi and other wireless computer components, microwave ovens, baby monitors, Smart Meters and various other electronic devices.  “

The below section provides information about the largest sources of EMF exposure and the risks and claims regarding these.  It is beyond the scope of this book, however, to delve too deeply into the possible risks from electromagnetic field exposure.  I will provide commonsense advice on how you can limit your exposure and risk when in the home buying process -- as well as after you are in the home.  

As noted, electromagnetic fields (EMF) comes in two types: ionizing and non-ionizing. “Ionizing” basically refers to the ability of the energy to break chemical bonds into ions. Electromagnetic radiation of the ionizing radiation type (X-rays and gamma rays) is a problem as it causes DNA damage. But, what about radiation from the non-ionizing electromagnetic fields? 

This is where things get controversial.  Because the low frequency waves produced by cell towers are the non- ionizing low frequency types, the telecom industry has argued that cell signals are not a problem.  Numerous studies they present seem to support this.  The same is argued for the effect of high power transmission lines: that the level of exposure to the radiation from EMF’S from power lines has little or no health effects.   They may be correct – I’m not qualified to give a definitive answer.  In terms of EMF exposure from power lines, homes with elevated electromagnetic fields from power sources may be more likely to have a wiring problem. High voltage lines may not always be the culprit, assuming they are some reasonable distance away.  (There is a specific type of wiring problem, reportedly present in twenty five percent of the homes, that will produce elevated electromagnetic fields.  I’ll go into this briefly at the end of this section).  

What are the reputed health concerns with exposure to electronic magnetic fields (EMF)?

There are reportedly numerous studies on the low frequency electromagnetic fields produced by power lines and the higher frequency fields produced by cell phones, cell towers, and other RF sources (such as smart meters) that do not show these to be significant health risk.   The problem is:  most of the studies funded by the telecom industry do not show a link between EMF exposure and health issues, while numerous independent studies come to very different conclusions.   Scientists initially assumed that, because EMF’s from these sources are not an ionizing type of radiation such as X rays or gamma rays that do ionize, or damage, the molecules they hit. that they would not be a risk to human health.   Unfortunately, scientists then discovered that EMF’s can cause harmful biological effects not only by heating up sensitive tissues but by influencing or interfering with sensitive "bio-electromagnetic" processes within our cells, brains and bodies.  The human body is in fact a living "bio-electronic" machine, utilizing many sensitive electromagnetic processes for the proper functioning of our brain, nervous system, immune system and other organs.   To quote Michael Neuert:

“…researchers have shown that our pineal gland can sense daily changes in the earth's natural magnetic field, and use this information to help regulate our brain wave patterns and wake/sleep cycle.  An example of electromagnetic interference (EMI) affecting human biology is found in the fact that artificial magnetic fields (like those from power lines) can suppress the secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland at night.  This is important because melatonin is the main hormone which initiates our sleep cycle.  It is also a strong antioxidant which fights cancer naturally within our bodies”.

Another problem is that, as cell phone usage has only really taken off over the last ten or fifteen years, there have been no long-term studies on the risks from cell phone usage or exposure to cell signals. 

While this is a matter of much controversy, studies suggest that EMFs may be linked to a variety of health problems including leukemia, lymphoma, brain and nervous system cancers, melanoma, breast cancer, miscarriage, birth defects, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, depression and suicide. Anecdotally, EMFs have been associated with symptoms such as nausea, headache, fatigue, anxiety, dizziness, mental confusion, memory loss, sleep disturbance, seizures, tinnitus, changes to blood pressure and heart rate, itchy or burning skin sensations, and skin rashes. Anecdotally, there are increasing numbers of people who report "hypersensitivity" to electromagnetic fields, similar to the way that some individuals have become "hypersensitive" to chemicals due to over-exposure in the past.

Exposure to high magnetic and electrical fields from high transmission lines AND other power sources… 

Transmission lines….  There have been claims that the low frequency EMF’s from high voltage lines could increase the risk of cancer, particularly childhood leukemia.  Importantly, other studies have not shown this correlation.  I cannot weigh in on this, as the science or proof of health effects may not be entirely settled.  In terms of what to think about when looking at homes near high power transmission lines, I think the critical factor is just how close you are to the transmission lines. Electromagnetic fields decrease with distance from the source.  At anywhere from 700 to 1000 feet the level of EMF’s produced by power lines reaches ‘background levels’ – in other words, there is simply is no elevated exposure.  You may be able to see the transmission lines from your home or backyard, but if you are a sufficient distance (see below) away this may not be a problem.  In many states, California and in many areas in New England, the utility companies will come out to the property where homeowners have concerns about power lines and will do a survey with ‘Gauss meters’ to indicate the levels of electromagnetic fields that may be reaching the house.   In terms of household appliances, most will produce EMF’s but if correctly wired you should not have any elevated exposures at one to three feet away. 

The issue with exposure to high magnetic fields, however, goes beyond proximity to high voltage transmission lines.  Regarding this, I’ll quote Michael R. Neuert,  of The EMF Center ( www.emfcenter.com).

“It is difficult to predict a safe distance from power lines, because the EMFs can vary greatly depending upon the situation.  The best advice is to measure with a gaussmeter to determine the actual levels of magnetic fields and the distance required in your particular case.  (Special note: magnetic fields are EMF component most often linked to health effects in the studies.  They are measured with special instruments called gaussmeters.)

The strongest magnetic fields are usually emitted from high voltage transmission lines — the power lines on the big, tall metal towers.  To be sure that you are reducing the exposure levels to 0.5 milligauss (mG) or less, a safety distance of 700 feet may be needed.  It could be much less, but sometimes more.  You must test with a gaussmeter to be sure.

It's even more difficult to predict a safe distance from neighborhood power distribution lines — the type typically found on wooden poles.  For example, homes with a nearby transformer will sometimes have higher EMFs because the transformer is a hub and the power lines carry more electricity for a group of homes.  The issue is complicated by the fact that there can be stray electricity flowing in the metal water service pipes of the neighborhood, increasing the magnetic fields from both the power lines and from the buried pipes!

Thus, there is no reliable safety distance for neighborhood power lines.  In general, a magnetic field level of 0.5 mG will be reached somewhere between 10 and 200 feet from the wires.  But you cannot tell by simply looking up at the power lines.  You have to test on-site with a gaussmeter to be sure.

If the electrical power lines are installed underground, the magnetic fields may be just as strong, or even stronger.  This is because the power lines could actually be closer to you when only buried a few feet down, rather than up 20 or 30 feet overhead.  For neighborhoods with buried power lines, you must always test with a gaussmeter.

Power lines also emit electric fields.  The electric fields from high voltage transmission lines (metal towers) can be very strong outside near the wires and extend for over a thousand feet.  However once inside the home, the building structure usually provides some shielding, and the electric fields from electrical wiring and cords will usually be much stronger than that from the power lines.” 

On this I’ll note that I’ve had the voltage stick I keep in my shirt pocket start ringing when inspecting homes near power lines – but usually just when I am on the outside of the home.  Its disconcerting, but the electrical EMF fields may not pose as much of a concern as the magnetic portion of the EMF field as they are easily shielded by trees and the home’s walls and ceilings.  The magnetic fields penetrate through the walls are not easy to shield”

This chapter goes on to discuss the high EMF’s that may be produced within the home by faulty wiring.  I’ll include this in the next newsletter (or buy the book – if I ever get it done).  As a brief note on this:  we all know that grounding the neutral in a subpanel is incorrect.  One of the results of this practice is that it produces high electromagnetic fields on the home.  A problem is that, while we may be able to see this being done within the subpanel, an improper grounding of the neutrals (grounding electrode connector) also occurs when an electrician does not connect the neutrals in a junction box to the neutral wire for that circuit, but instead uses a different circuit’s neutral for the connection.  This reportedly is a common practice.  

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June 2018 Newsletter  

Notes from the editor

Good day, fellow inspectors.  I know you’ve been eagerly awaiting the next newsletter. Actually, a newsletter was completed for January that Mike and I forgot to send out. (Oops.) Maybe that one will be sent next December as the content is more winter-oriented.   I was also told not to do an April 1 newsletter as a number of members almost cancelled their membership in the chapter after reading in last years April 1 newsletter that Mike had been removed from office for expropriating chapter funds (this was an April Fools issue, but I guess I the article was fairly convincing). 

In any case, Mike has provided probably all really valuable information in this newsletter (on the upcoming Fall Conference, to be held in Portland, Maine.  Apparently, David Rossinow has been reborn as (Bob Mulloy) Rossinow  by taking over the educational responsibilities of the chapter from Greg Boyd, and doing much of the planning for the conference.  Greg, I hate to admit, did an incredible job as last year’s educational chairman, but has now retired to fish and travel the world. (It’s a tough way to end up, isn’t it?)

Anyhow, thoughts on the current market…

I assume everyone is busy. We had better be as June is usually the busiest month I’ve found – and who knows what will come next with the economy and the real estate market.  Personally, I’m having a lousy year.  Although my central problem is my lack of marketing effort and poor phone coverage, I’ve been told by agents I work with that many if not most of their clients are waiving the inspection to get their offer accepted.

I know, I know. This is insane.  I could go on (and on) about this but I’d be preaching to the choir.  Perhaps we should exert our newly developed legislative muscle and have the state require home inspections. Fat chance.  I also find the ‘no negotiation’ situation annoying as it allows the sellers to be jerks and not do anything for the usually strung out first time buyers when adverse conditions are revealed.  (Seller: “Yes the house has termite damage and the heating system is failing but ‘screw you ’ to the buyer – I’ve got mine…”).   I’ve started to do inspections for homeowners who waived their inspection.  I think this is a good idea obviously, but let’s face it, I’m don’t have a purely objective motivation promoting these.  Still, its interesting how much the buyer can learn.  Getting people to part with money after they have closed, however, is not an easy proposition, so I’m not optimistic.    

On another tack, the Boston Globe had an interesting article that provided a warning for home buyers about sellers recording their conversations as they walk through the house.  Apparently, sellers with home security and monitoring systems are recording prospective buyers as they walk through to get an idea of how interested a buyer may be and how high they may be willing to go.  I’ve provided a link below.  My advice to a buyer would be to talk up the negatives while they are in the house. They could possibly have a conversation stating that any buyer of the property will have to do a complete make over, given the conditions present – but I don’t think it will matter much.   The link: 

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/another-woe-for-home-buyers-is-the-house-spying-on-you-2018-03-13

 

The Darwin Awards  (given to those whose stupid actions will remove them from the gene pool for future generations) has already been won – by me.  Did you know that, when setting a ladder up to a large limb you want to cut as it is shading your garden,  climbing up and chain sawing the outer half of the limb, that the release of this weight would cause the remaining trunk to violently spring up throwing the chainsaw, ladder, and wood-be logger backwards.  Who would’ve thought?   I will recover, but having a separated, possibly fractured ribs is one of the more painful things one can go through. (I’ve done it before).  You can’t do much except take lots of pain pills and try not to bend over – ever, until the bone resets.  

A final thought (finally):  when the stock market gets this high (not from good economic conditions by the way: its from companies buying back their stock to keep the price high so the CEO’s and corporate officers can cash in their options at a high price) AND the real estate market gets this crazy, haven’t we been here before, say in 2005?  It won’t be the same cause of things going bad as, at today buyers actually have to a provable income to buy a home -  but it will be something. My guess:  the oil situation.  Or perhaps something arising from our – sorry, can’t go there in this newsletter. 

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Seminar Review

This was an ‘oldie’ but ‘goodie’.  Fireplace and chimney seminars always seem to provide a lot of valuable information. Unfortunately, after a few months (or a few hours for some of us) the information is lost. So, I ran across my notes from this speaker, which dates all the way back to January 2016.  Anyhow, it was good information (and I may start reviewing some of my notes from the better seminars for future newsletters.

Seminar highlights:

  • Ventless fireplaces, if working properly, have a 99.8 combustion efficiency. They can go from “good to bad in a week.”
  • They don’t come with a CO detection system.
  • Gas ovens throw out lots of CO. There are ways to adjust the burners so that throw out less CO. 
  • CO levels at 30 to 50 PPM will have a noticeable affect. CO detectors available to homeowners won’t go off unless levels are over 20 ppm (I think this should be 30 PPM?). 
  • Vent free stove in a masonry fireplace requires a vented chimney.
  • Gas log fireplaces cannot have glass doors closed. These must be open when running.

Heatilators. 

  • The shelf on these collect water and corrode out the unit.
  • You cannot use a roof-top damper when the damper is no longer functional.

Gas fireplaces

  • Generic ceramic panels cannot be used. Cracks in the panels are okay. Gaps are a problem.
  • Vapor etches the glass, especially when using propane. Develops a white film.  “Some gas cleaners will work some of the time”.
  • “Zero clearance fireplaces” should be called “factory built fireplaces”. These require 16 to 18 inches of non-combustible hearth in front. Builders often run carpeting right up to the unit. 
  • Cannot put a wood stove into a pre-fab fireplace.
  • Glass doors and different fact trim may have their own instructions.
  • The speaker noted that you need the tech data to properly inspect a pre-fab fireplace.
  • You cannot block the louvers. Homeowners commonly block these as they feel cold air coming out. 
  • The inside of the chase must be sheet-rocked. No exposed insulation should be present. 
  • Many pre-fabs do not allow glass doors.
  • The hearth extension may require thermal rating.

Combustibles vs. non-combustibles

  • Non-combustibles include metal, brick, tile, concrete, plaster on metal lath
  • Combustibles include plaster on wood lath, papered sheetrock, windows. Hardibacker (contains cellulose). Permabase (uses polystyrene for an aggregate and should not be considered non-combustible.

Other

  • Ahrens makes a non-combustible firebox that can be used when plywood was left under the hearth.
  • Ignition by pyrolysis occurs at 170 F. This can occur from a steam pipe (?).  Wood doesn’t always show pyrolization.  There is no test for this. 
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