Keep an Eye Out for Drum Traps in Old Homes

Trap ReplacementIf you’re in the market for an older home, it’s important to look for outdated plumbing and electrical components that might need to be replaced with more modern alternatives. A drum trap, for example, is an obsolete style of plumbing trap that can be found in many old homes. These traps are prone to clogging, and they even constitute code violations in some areas. Fortunately, drum traps are typically easy to spot.

What do drum traps look like?

Look for a reservoir shaped like a coffee can that’s located in the floor alongside a tub, mounted in a closet or hidden behind an access panel. If the drum trap is in the floor, you might be able to see a circular metal cover flush with the floor. You may be able to find drum traps suspended under the flooring in a home’s basement as well.

Why were they used?

Drum traps were designed to capture debris and prevent sewer gas from entering the home. In theory, homeowner would regularly open the trap and clean it to avoid clogging; however, this rarely happened in practice. Try to clean the drum trap now, and you may find that the cover has corroded and can’t be easily removed.

What problems are they associated with?

Clogging is a major issue. Clogs are especially difficult to address with a snake, since water flows into the trap at one level and out at another. Moreover, the metal reservoir can rot out, causing the trap to leak.

What should you do?

The best option is to have drum traps replaced with a more modern design, such as a P-trap. This is an easy and inexpensive fix that can save you a lot of headaches down the road.

A thorough home inspection can help uncover drum traps, along with other issues that are common in older homes, such as foundation problems, insulation gaps and more. If you’re in the Chicago area, call First Choice Inspectors at (773) 429-9711 to get your free quote today.

Warning Signs of Faulty Electrical Wiring

Scorched OutletConcerned about DIY or outdated electrical work in your home or a home you’re thinking about buying? Faulty wiring can be expensive to replace and pose serious safety risks to homeowners. Today we’ll address a few telltale signs of bad electrical work to look out for.

Hot Outlets

Although electrical appliances may generate heat when operating, your outlets should never be hot to the touch. The one exception is dimmer switches, which do get warm in the course of normal operation. However, these should never feel uncomfortably hot.

Flickering Lights

No, it’s not a ghost. Flickering lights are a common sign of a loose electrical connection.

Strange Odors

Some new appliances have a noticeable scent when you first plug them in. However, if you notice an odd smell (particularly a burning smell or the smell of ozone) coming from an outlet, immediately unplug all appliances from that outlet and have an electrician check out the problem.

Fuses That Always Blow, or Breakers That Always Trip

Fuses and circuit breakers are designed to prevent overloading by failing when necessary. If you trip a breaker every time you blow dry your hair or turn on the vacuum cleaner, it’s likely the result of inadequate or poorly-installed wiring.

Crackling, Popping or Buzzing From and Outlet

You should never hear noises coming from your outlets. If you do, it could be the result of loose prongs, fraying wire or another electrical issue.

Sparking

If a fuse box, outlet or breaker panel is sparking, call an electrician ASAP.

A thorough home inspection can help detect faulty electrical work, along with other issues including foundation problems, insulation gaps and more. If you’re in the Chicago area, call First Choice Inspectors at (773) 429-9711 to get your free quote today!

These Improvements Can Boost Your Home’s Resale Value

Painting a WindowThinking about selling your home? Some home improvements offer a better ROI than others when it comes time to put your home on the market. Today we’ll consider a few renovations that can significantly improve your home’s resale value.

Make a Good First Impression

When it comes to job interviews, first dates and home sales, first impressions matter. Refreshing your landscaping and adding a fresh coat of paint to your home can go a long way toward increasing its resale value and making it easier to sell in a competitive market. According to one study conducted in 2016, a complete landscaping upgrade can offer an estimated 105 percent return on investment.

Give Your Siding a Facelift

If you currently have dated vinyl siding, consider replacing it with modern fiber cement siding. Not only will your home look more attractive in realtors’ photos, it will also be better-protected against harsh weather conditions.

Update the Kitchen and Bathroom

Kitchen and bathroom improvements are perennially effective ways to increase resale value. Don’t have the budget for a complete redo? Replace worn tile or outdated fixtures to give these high-traffic rooms a cost-effective makeover.

Replace Your Windows

Energy-efficient tinted or double-paned windows can increase your home’s resale value and reduce your energy bills during the summer and winter.

Add a Deck

Buyers will imagine themselves relaxing with a cold drink in the summertime—and pay thousands more for your home.

When you’re ready to start house hunting, you can count on First Choice Inspectors to give you an honest, thorough home inspection so you can get the best possible deal at the negotiating table. To learn more, feel free to give us a call at (773) 429-9711 today!

Easy Ways to Keep Your Energy Bills Low This Summer

Programmable ThermostatDo your energy bills tend to rise with the temperature? Summer is approaching fast, and before long your A/C might be working overtime to keep your house cool. The good news is, there are a few simple steps you can take to reduce your energy bills even during the hottest months of the year.

Unplug appliances you aren’t using.

Did you know that many appliances use power when they’re plugged in, even when you aren’t actively using them? Unplug devices that revert to a “sleep” or “standby” mode with they’re not in use, as well as any plugged-in chargers that aren’t charging anything.

Check your home’s insulation.

Make sure that any gaps around windows and doors are caulked or weather-stripped, and inspect the insulation in your attic to make sure it isn’t deteriorating. If you live in an older home and you’re not sure when it was last insulated, consider hiring a professional to assess its thermal performance.

Use a programmable thermostat.

Air conditioning is probably the single greatest expense on your electric bill during the summer. A modern programmable thermostat can help to optimize your A/C usage so that it’s not running 24/7. Set the temperature no lower than 78 degrees during the summer—each degree you lower it will add another 4 to 8 percent to your energy bill.

Turn on ceiling fans.

Ceiling fans can help minimize your dependence on the A/C by recirculating cool air throughout your home. On average, ceiling fans reduce the temperature in a room by about four degrees.

At First Choice Inspectors, we regularly conduct energy audits that are designed to identify sources of thermal inefficiency and offer suggestions for improvement that can significantly reduce your long-term energy consumption. To get a free quote for your energy audit, give us a call at (773) 429-9711 or contact us online today!

Invest in a Chimney Sweep Now to Prevent Fires Next Winter

Chimney Sweep It may seem far off now, but when winter rolls around again you’ll look forward to the cheer and warmth of a roaring fire in your living room. However, if you don’t maintain your chimney during the warmer months, it can constitute a serious fire hazard.

Our advice? Invest in a chimney sweep now to prevent fires next winter.

What’s dangerous about an unswept chimney? One word: creosote. When you burn wood in your fireplace, the smoke travels up the chimney where it cools and forms condensation. As that condensation hardens, it leaves an oily residue called creosote.

The problem with creosote is that it’s highly flammable. If you don’t have it removed periodically, it can accumulate and create a major fire risk. A mere eighth of an inch of creosote can quickly catch fire. Any stray spark or ember from the fireplace can ignite the creosote, posing grave danger to your health and property.

The solution to creosote accumulation is to schedule an annual chimney sweeping and inspection.

A professional chimney sweep can get rid of any hazardous creosote accumulation and ensure that your chimney and fireplace are safe to use again next winter. Don’t wait until it gets chilly again—the best time to book your sweeping and inspection is during the warmer months, when your chimney is not in use.

Still have some lingering concerns about the safety of your home and its chimney? Feel free to give the team at First Choice Inspectors a call to get your free inspection quote today!

These Home Improvements are Great for Older Homes

Do you live in an older home that could use some updating? There are dozens of home improvement projects that you might be considering, but some of those projects are better-suited to old homes than others. Let’s take a look at a few home improvements that can dramatically improve your home and its resale value in the process.

New InsulationAdd energy-efficient insulation.

Home insulation has come a long way in the past several decades. Not only can modern insulation make your home more comfortable; it can also reduce your energy bills during the summer and winter. If your home feels a little drafty on cold mornings, consider investing in an energy audit to find sources of heat loss that could be sealed with fresh insulation.

Install a tankless water heater.

Another way to reduce the energy costs associated with your older home is by replacing your current water heater with a tankless option. Tankless water heaters are great because they don’t take up much space, they deliver hot water on-demand and they are far more efficient than traditional water heaters.

Repaint the interior.

Many older homes are still painted in colors that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Does your home fall into this category? If so, simply updating the interior with more contemporary colors can make a huge difference in its overall appearance. If the current paint in your home is really old, however, you may want to consider having a lead-based paint inspection first.

Install new light fixtures.

In addition to being somewhat unsightly, outdated light fixtures can also hide old electrical wiring that may not be up to code. Consider replacing these old fixtures with modern alternatives, and outfit them with LED light bulbs to help you save money on your electric bill.

Keep an Eye out for These Common Issues in Old Homes

Old HomeSpringtime is home buying season. With good weather on the horizon, realtors and sellers alike are readying homes, making repairs and preparing for open houses. The last few years have been a sellers’ market, and 2019 is expected to continue this trend. With this in mind, many buyers may be expanding their searches to include older homes.

Although there are no hard and fast rules for what constitutes an older home, those built before 1920 fall in the antique category. Since Chicago became a city in the mid-1800s, there is a substantial inventory of older homes in the city and surrounding suburbs. As such, it’s not uncommon for prospective buyers to find an older home on the market. It may have a rustic charm, but buyers should be aware of a few common and costly issues associated with these homes.

Lead and Asbestos

Until the 1970s, construction materials commonly included lead and asbestos. Any older home may have remnants of these hazardous materials leftover from previous decades. Mitigating lead plumbing can mean filtration, replacing a few fittings or replumbing a whole house. Many older homes come with a lead paint warning, and the only way to ensure a house is completely free of lead paint is by investing in professional lead paint abatement, which can be expensive. The same goes for asbestos removal.

Insufficient and Unsafe Electrical Systems

Most houses built in the early 20th century were not wired for the number of electronics, lights and appliances we have these days. While you will need an inspector to fully assess the wiring in a house and a professional electrician to help replace wiring, you can learn some useful things about a house’s electrical condition during an initial walkthrough. Look for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) and grounded, three-prong wall sockets. Count the number of outlets in each room; newer building standards typically include them every few feet. Open the breaker box as well. It should have breakers, not fuses, and the panel should be free of rust and other signs of damage.

Aging Mechanicals

Although water heaters, furnaces, and central air can last for decades in some cases, an older home may have equipment that is well past its recommended replacement date. The current owner will probably be unlikely replace these items, but with a little research, you can schedule and prepare for their replacement costs. Don’t forget to account for appliances like refrigerators, ranges, and dishwashers too.

This short list of issues that you may find in an older home is just a start. Home buyers should also be on the lookout for mold and mildew, termite problems, leaky plumbing, poor insulation, outdated windows, roofs in disrepair, radon and foundation problems.

Of course, a professional home inspector will call attention to any of the issues, but it never hurts to have a list of questions ready when it comes time to walk through that classic old house of your dreams.

Cross These Items off Your Home Fire Safety Checklist

Smoke Alarm TestThere are more than 1.3 million fires that take place in the U.S. every year. Many of these blazes start inside houses and put homeowners, their families and their properties at risk. The good news is, there are effective steps you can take to protect your family and your home in the event of a fire. Cross the following items off your home fire safety checklist today.

Make sure smoke alarms are installed throughout your home.

If a fire starts in your home, you want everyone to know about it as quickly as possible so that they can escape in a timely fashion. Smoke alarms can help alert you and your family to the presence of a fire, but only if they’re properly installed. You should have at least one smoke alarm on every floor in your home and an alarm inside each bedroom. This will ensure your smoke alarms are able to detect isolated fires before they spread to other parts of your home.

Test smoke alarms and replace the batteries accordingly.

Installing smoke alarms throughout your home is smart, but they won’t do you much good if their batteries are dead. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to test all the smoke alarms in your homes about once a month to make sure they’re working. If there are any that don’t have functioning batteries, replace them right away. You should also replace your smoke alarms about once every 10 years.

Create a fire escape plan and practice it.

If a fire were to start in your home right now, what would everyone do? If you don’t have a fire escape plan in place, your family members may panic and not know where to go. Sit down with your family and come up with a fire escape plan that works for everyone. Practice it about once a month so that it becomes routine.

In addition to taking these steps, you should also consider having an electrical inspection conducted to ensure your home’s electrical system is safe and up to date. To learn more, feel free to give us a call at (773) 429-9711 today.

Chicago Named the Second-Most Affordable City for Home Buyers

Chicago SkylineThinking about buying a home in the Windy City? Chicago’s housing market may be experiencing a period of slow growth, but it’s also one of the most affordable markets in the nation, according to a recent report published in Crain’s.

This report found that, of the 20 largest cities in the U.S., only St. Louis has a housing market more affordable than Chicago. Furthermore, while other major cities such as New York, Seattle and Philadelphia are expected to see an increase in housing prices over the next few years, the report estimates that Chicago’s market will continue to remain affordable through late 2021.

Rather than comparing cities to one another, this affordability index compared individual cities to their own price histories, taking into account variables such as employment growth, incomes and home prices. Based on this data, the report found that monthly payments on median-priced Chicago homes account for 23 to 24 percent of the median household income. In contrast, during the most recent housing boom, housing costs in Chicago were as high as 35 percent of the median household income.

These unique market conditions have made it a particularly good time to buy a home in Chicago.

Whether you’re buying your first home or shopping for investment properties, the team at First Choice Inspectors can work with you to make sure you’re making an informed decision. We offer a diverse selection of home inspection services, including new home inspections, energy audits, radon inspections and more.

Give us a call or contact us online to schedule your next inspection today!

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!