Smart HVAC System Could Offer Significant Energy Savings

After a long, hot summer, you may be tired of seeing your energy bills spike from the increased load on your HVAC system. Thanks to the efforts of Iranian-American entrepreneur Hamid Farzaneh, homeowners will soon have access to a new “intelligent” ventilation technology that’s designed to make HVAC systems far more efficient.

The Alea Air system uses an array of 11 sensors to offer selective control over each HVAC vent in a home.

In contrast to smart thermostats like Nest, Alea Air optimizes HVAC efficiency with a series of vents that are networked together via a central Airhub. Over time, the sensors in these vents gather data about the temperature and air quality in the different rooms in a home. Based on the data they collect, the vents can open and close automatically to regulate airflow in each room. Furthermore, their simple modular design makes it easy for homeowners to install the vents without assistance from an HVAC technician.

Just like smart thermostats, the Alea Air system can also be accessed via a smartphone app. Through this app, homeowners can choose to manually take control of the temperature in different rooms. In the future, Farzaneh plans to add more sensors to his Alea Air vents that will allow them to detect dust and pollen as well. Alea Air units will reportedly begin shipping in January 2019.

Interested in finding new ways to make your home more energy efficient and reduce your utility bills? At First Choice Inspectors, we can conduct a home energy audit to identify hidden inefficiencies in your home’s thermal performance and offer suggestions for improvement. Just give us a call or contact us online today to learn more!

Keep an Eye out for Signs of Termite Activity This Summer

Termite DamageDid you know that termite damage costs U.S. homeowners an estimated $5 billion a year? Termites tend to be particularly active this time of year, when warm weather gives them an opportunity to swarm and form new colonies. With this in mind, it’s always a good idea to stay on the lookout for signs of termite activity in and around your home during the summer. Let’s start by inspecting your flooring.

Blisters in Wood Floors

If you have wood or laminate flooring in your home, check for areas with “blisters” that might resemble water damage. This blistering effect tends to occur when termites start chewing through a home’s subfloor. If you find these blisters and you haven’t had a plumbing leak in the past, there’s a good chance that termites are the culprits.

Damaged Wood

Spotting termite-damaged wood can be tricky because the insects tend to burrow behind walls, floors and other surfaces. That said, you can sometimes find the tell-tale grooves that hungry termites leave in the wood around your home’s foundation. If you see signs of termite damage in a crawl space or on the bottom edges of your siding, for example, there may be more damage on other wood surfaces in the home as well.

Discarded Wings and Termite Droppings

Many termites leave their nests in the summertime to find mates and new places to expand their colonies. During this process, they tend to leave a lot of droppings and discarded wings laying around as well. If you find these droppings and wings around your home this summer, consider calling an exterminator sooner rather than later.

Concerned about hidden structural issues in your home or a home you’re thinking about buying? Give us a call or contact us online to schedule an inspection with the team at First Choice Inspectors today!

How to Save Money on Your Air Conditioning Costs This Summer

Digital ThermostatOn days when the temperature creeps into the 80s and 90s, it can be difficult to resist the urge to crank up the A/C. If you have small children or pets at home, air conditioning might be downright essential this time of year. Unfortunately, in addition to make your home far more comfortable, air conditioning can cause a noticeable spike in your energy bills. Today we’ll look at a few ways to minimize the impact of air conditioning on your electric bill, so you can stay comfortable without breaking the bank.

Circulate Air With a Ceiling Fan

Ceiling fans can assist your A/C unit by dispersing cool air around your home and preventing hot air from pooling on the ceiling. A ceiling fan won’t actually cool a room, but it will make the room feel cooler by redistributing air. This way, you can keep your thermostat a few degrees higher without causing discomfort.

Close Curtains and Blinds During the Day

Be sure to close your curtains and blinds before you leave for work in the morning. Otherwise, the sunlight will radiate through your windows all day and force your A/C to work harder to keep up with the heat. Blocking all that excess sunlight can put a significant dent in your monthly energy costs.

Be Mindful of Your Thermostat Placement

If your thermostat is on a warm wall next to a window, it may be causing your A/C to run more than it needs to. Ideally, your thermostat should be placed on an interior wall in a room you use frequently like a living room. You should also make sure it’s not obstructed by furniture or other objects that might disrupt its sensors.

Invest in an Energy Audit

If your energy bills seem unreasonably high, it could because of inefficiencies in your home such as outdated insulation and leaky windows. An energy audit can allow you to identify these issues and find ways to make your home more energy efficient. If your home is properly sealed and insulated, your HVAC system won’t have to work as hard to regulate the temperature inside.

To learn more about the home energy audits we offer at First Choice Inspectors, feel free to give us a call or contact us online today!

Lead-Based Paint Remains a Concern in Chicago’s Older Homes

Peeling PaintDespite the Chicago Department of Public Health’s efforts to address lead hazards in older homes, many neighborhoods in and around the city are still in need of lead paint abatement. Although lead-based paint is relatively harmless when left undisturbed, it can because a serious health hazard when it begins to deteriorate into a toxic dust.

Young children tend to be particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning, as they are more likely to accidentally ingest small flakes of lead paint that fall from walls and ceilings. Because their brains are still developing, they are also more susceptible to the neurological damage caused by lead poisoning. According to a report from ABC 7 news, more than 4,500 children in Cook County tested positive for lead poisoning in 2014.

Should you be concerned about the presence of lead paint in your home?

If your home was built before 1978 and has never undergone an extensive renovation, there’s a good chance that there is at least some lead-based paint in your home. Even if the walls and ceilings have been repainted numerous times over the years, you may be able to spot signs of chipping lead paint around door frames, window sills, stairs and railings.  

In general, it’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to lead-based paint. This is especially true if you have children in your family. At First Choice Inspectors, our lead inspections are specifically designed to uncover lead paint hazards in the older homes in our area. In the event that we identify signs of deteriorating lead paint, we can also recommend a lead abatement company to help you safely resolve the issue once and for all.

To schedule an inspection, give us a call at (773) 429-9711 today.

Things to Keep in Mind Before Buying a House With Water Damage

Water Damaged FlooringYou find a home that you and your family absolutely love. You’re just about ready to make an offer, but then a routine home inspection reveals signs of past water damage. Could this cause more problems in the future? Should you abandon the home altogether? There are a few important things to consider before following through with the deal.

Water damage can cause mold, rot and more.

If it isn’t properly remediated, water damage can cause lingering issues for years. Homes that have been water damaged may be more prone to mold and mildew growth, for example. They may also require structural repairs if the damaged was extensive enough to cause beams and joists to rot. Be sure you have a clear understanding of the extent of the damage and the work that was done to repair it before you think about buying the home.

It can also bring down the value of a home.

If water damage isn’t properly assessed and repaired, it can also significantly reduce the home’s resale value. If you’re willing to negotiate for repairs, or make the repairs yourself, you may be able to use this to your advantage as a buyer. On the other hand, if you don’t want to invest that kind of time and money in the home, you’re probably better off looking elsewhere.

The damage isn’t always immediately obvious.

Some signs of water damage, such as mold growth and drywall stains, are pretty easy to spot. Others, like the effects of water damage on a home’s electrical system, require a trained eye to identify. If you notice superficial signs of water damage during a walkthrough, a home inspection may reveal more serious underlying issues as well. Be sure to have the home inspected by a professional before making a final decision.

Want to make your dream home won’t turn out to be a money pit? Give us a call or contact us online to get your quote with First Choice Inspectors today!

How to Prepare Your House for a Home Inspection

Home Inspection ReportGetting ready to schedule a home inspection prior to selling your home? If so, it’s a good idea to prepare your property for the inspectors before they arrive. Today we’ll look at a few simple steps you can take to make sure your home inspection go as smoothly as possible.

Make sure home inspectors can access every room in your home.

Do you typically keep your garage locked? Do you have an office in your basement that is usually off-limits to outsiders? Is there a crawl space access door that’s blocked by a piece of furniture? You need to make sure a home inspector can check out every part of your house. That means unlocking doors, creating clear paths to hard-to-reach areas, and providing access to unfinished spaces in attics and basements.

Clear out space around utilities.

There are many people who use their utility rooms as added storage. They may have boxes and other items piled around their water heaters and electric panels, for example. If this sounds familiar, be sure to declutter these areas so that a home inspector can access your utilities without having to wade through a pile of personal belongings.

Compile documents related to maintenance and repairs.

Have you renovated your home in recent years or tackled a large repair project? Home inspectors and buyers will want to see records of this work, so put together a folder with documents related to the maintenance and repairs you’ve had done during your time in the home. You may not have documentation for every little maintenance item you’ve worked on in the home, but you should at least have records of any major renovations, upgrades and repairs you’ve made.

Once you’re ready for your home inspection, feel free to give us a call or contact us online for your free quote!

How to Negotiate Repairs Following Your Home Inspection

Home BuyersBefore you commit to buying a home, you should always have a home inspection done. A professional home inspection can not only identify areas of concern and items that need to be repaired, but also give you more leverage at the negotiating table.

If your inspector finds that the home does need some work, you shouldn’t necessarily back out of the deal altogether. Instead, you may be able to negotiate repairs with the sellers.

Think about what needs to be fixed before you move in.

Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to get a seller to fix every issue your home inspector uncovers. There are very few homes that are in perfect condition, and some basic wear and tear is to be expected.

Consider the repairs that your home inspector recommends, and decide which items absolutely need to be repaired before you move in. For example, if there’s an electrical issue that constitutes a safety hazard, you should ask the sellers to remedy the issue before you agree to purchase the home.

Send the seller a list of repairs you want done.

Sit down with your real estate agent and generate a list of repairs that you would like to see done before you sign on the dotted line. The seller might not agree to all of them, but they’ll probably agree to most repairs as long as they’re within reason. Many sellers are willing to swallow these extra repair expenses if it means they can secure a reliable buyer for their home.

Ask about repair credits.

There might be a few items on your list that would be impossible for a seller to do without racking up substantial costs. For instance, if the home’s subfloor in disrepair, it might not be possible for the seller to replace it without ripping out the old carpeting and replacing it, which would cost a lot of money.

In cases like these, you should ask to receive a credit on the price of the home so that you can tackle the job later. This will help you save money and give you the freedom to make repairs on your own.

To schedule your next home inspection, give us a call or contact us online today for your free quote.

These Minor Flaws Can Be Signs of Serious Underlying Issues

Low Water PressureAre you in the process of searching for a new home? If so, it’s important to keep a close eye out for issues that could require expensive repairs in the future. Some of these issues – like outdated electrical panels or cracks in the foundation—are pretty easy to spot if you know what to look for. Others, however, are more difficult to identify. In some cases, minor cosmetic defects can even be signs of serious structural or mechanical problems.

Water Pressure Issues

Low water pressure might seem like a trivial annoyance, but if the problem is widespread it could mean that the house is in need of a complete plumbing overhaul. Old houses with outdated galvanized steel pipes tend to have bad water pressure, for example. If you notice the faucets in a house are all running slow, be sure to ask about when the plumbing was last updated.

Wall and Ceiling Discoloration

Discoloration might just mean that a home hasn’t been repainted in a while, but it could also be a sign of past water damage. Be especially wary if you notice extensive discoloration on basement walls. Yellow spots on white walls and ceilings are also tell-tale signs of leaks. If you notice a musty odor in conjunction with the discoloration, there’s a good chance the home has mold and moisture issues.

Sagging, Sticking Doors

A single stuck door is probably nothing to worry about, but if all the doors in a home are sagging it could be a sign of an uneven foundation. Fixing an uneven foundation can be extremely costly, and foundation repairs can sometimes necessitate plumbing and electrical replacements as well. If you notice a number of stuck or sagging doors, check the foundation for cracks and other signs of damage.

Uneven Floors

Is there a noticeable dip or rise in the home’s flooring? Even if the change in elevation seems relatively minor, it could be a sign of a serious issue such as termite damage or a sagging foundation.  If any of the flooring in a home appears uneven, you should have it inspected by a structural engineer before you consider making an offer.

Want to make sure the house you’re looking at isn’t going to wind up being a money pit? The team at First Choice Inspectors can conduct a thorough, professional home inspection to identify a variety of potential problems. Give us a call or contact us online to get your quote today!

Keep These Tips in Mind Before Buying a Foreclosed Home

Home ForeclosureFollowing the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007, home foreclosure rates increased dramatically across the country. Some savvy investors were able to capitalize on the huge foreclosure inventory by buying homes at a fraction of their market value. But for every success story you hear about someone getting a great deal on a foreclosure, you can find many more horror stories about people buying money pits that demand extensive renovations. Buying a foreclosed home can be a worthwhile investment, but only if you’re careful to buy the right home. You can start by making a realistic budget that includes more than just the purchase price.

Include renovations in your budget.

Don’t let the attractive sticker price fool you. Some foreclosures can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to renovate. Before you start shopping around, determine how much you’re willing to spend on renovations and include that figure in your overall budget. You should also consider what types of renovations you’re willing to take on. You probably want to steer clear of homes with foundation issues or serious water damage, for example.

Consider how long it’s been vacant.

Homes can quickly fall into disrepair when they’re not occupied. Homes that sit vacant for months or years at a time are prone to pest infestations, plumbing issues, sewage backups and more. The exterior might look fine, but there may be serious problems hiding just beneath the surface. If a home has been vacant for more than a few months, approach with caution.

Find out if the home has been winterized.

This is especially important here in the Chicago area. When unoccupied homes aren’t properly winterized, sub-zero temperatures can cause pipes to freeze and burst. This, in turn, can cause costly water damage and contribute to the growth of mold and mildew. If the home you’re looking at has been vacant during the winter, make sure the utilities were effectively winterized to prevent this type of damage.

Invest in a home inspection.

You should get an inspection anytime you buy a home, but it’s especially important when you’re shopping for foreclosures. A comprehensive home inspection can identify serious structural and mechanical issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. It can also give you a better idea of just how much the home will cost to renovate. By spending a few hundred dollars on a home inspection now, you can save many thousands of dollars in repairs down the road.

At First Choice Inspectors, we offer inspections designed specifically for foreclosed homes. To learn more, feel free to give us a call or contact us online today.

Beware of These Common Household Electrical Hazards

Electrical FireMany electrical devices and appliances are invaluable household tools, but they can also constitute dangerous safety hazards if you’re not careful. The first step toward preventing electrical hazards is educating yourself about them! Today we’ll address a few of the most common fire hazards to keep an eye out for in your home.

Overloaded power strips

Surge protectors are designed to prevent dangerous electrical surges, but they can still be overloaded with too many appliances. This is why you should never create chains of power strips by plugging them into one another. It’s also a good idea to replace old, outdated surge protectors with new ones periodically.

Appliances placed too close to water sources

You’re probably well aware of the fact that water and electricity don’t mix, but that doesn’t stop some people from using devices like blow dryers and radios in wet bathrooms. These hazards are also quite common in kitchens, where plumbing issues can cause electrical appliances to short out and generate sparks. Clean up liquid spills as soon as you notice them, and be especially careful about standing on wet floors while using handheld electrical appliances.

Outdated electrical wiring

If the electrical wiring in your home hasn’t been updated in several decades, it could be more prone to fire hazards than modern wiring. Worn-out insulation can leave wires exposed to moisture, for example. If you’re not sure about the condition of your home’s wiring, it’s important to have it inspected by a professional to make sure it’s safe and up to code.

Do you have some lingering questions or concerns about the electrical system in your home? Feel free to give us a call or contact us online to request an inspection today!