Dryer Vent Safety 101

Dryer Vent Safety 101According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 17,000 house fires were caused by clothes dryers and washing machines in the United States in 2010. This accounts for roughly 4.5% of all the house fires in the country that year. Many of these fires were the result of clogged or improperly installed dryer vents that went unnoticed by homeowners. These vents are designed to remove residual moisture from your house during the drying process, but if neglected they can constitute serious fire hazards. Today, we’ll help you inspect and evaluate the safety of the dryer vent in your home.

Check Connections

Pull your dryer out and make sure that they dryer exhaust hose is, in fact, connected to the dryer. Typically the connection is located on the back of the dryer, but on some models it may be located beneath it. If the exhaust vent becomes disconnected, moisture will linger in your laundry room and flammable dryer lint will begin to accumulate within the back of the dryer. That additional moisture can promote mold growth in your home, while the dryer lint can easily cause fires.

Check for Kinks

Ideally, the exhaust hose behind your dryer shouldn’t be any longer than it needs to be. Long, loose lengths of hose are prone to kinks and twists that restrict the flow of air and moisture out of your home. As lint becomes trapped in the kinks in the hose and the airflow becomes further restricted, heat can build up in your dryer and eventually trigger fires.

Make Sure the Exhaust Terminates Outside

Sometimes, lazy installers will vent dryer exhaust into an attic or crawl space rather than the exterior of a home. Dryer exhaust must be vented outside and away from your home in order to avoid mold growth and minimize the chance of fire. Find out where your dryer exhaust terminates, and if it’s not outside your home take steps to have it rerouted as soon as possible. Please note that the total length of the exhaust hose should not exceed 25 feet in order to ensure adequate airflow.

The end of your exhaust vent should be fitted with a backdraft damper, but it should not be fitted with a screen. These screens accumulate stray lint and can become serious fire hazards if left unattended. Check the end of your exhaust vent periodically and clear any built-up lint deposits.

Here at First Choice Inspectors, we know how important it is for homeowners to stay mindful of this important maintenance item. If you’re concerned about the safety of your dryer vent, don’t wait for it to become a serious hazard. Give us a call today and gain the peace of mind of knowing your home is protected from dryer vent fires.

Inspection Items That Can Make or Break Your Resale Value

Inspection Items That Can Make or Break Your Resale ValueBefore you put your home on the market, it’s imperative that you have a clear understanding of the underlying issues that might be hiding beneath the surface. Your home might look fine at first glance, but the last thing you want is for a prospective buyer to discover structural issues that can seriously compromise the resale value of your home.  By having your home inspected before you put it on the market, you can give you and your buyers the peace of mind of knowing that your home isn’t in need of serious repairs. In this entry, we’ll look at a few issues that can seriously impact your home’s resale value.

Mold

There’s nothing that can scare away prospective buyers quite like a hidden patch of black mold. Mold is a tell-tale sign that your home has fallen victim to water intrusion, and it is often an indicator of more serious issues such as rot in the frame of your home. Many types of mold are hazardous to human health as well, which is an added concern for house hunters.

Polybutylene Piping

This gray piping which resembles PVC was used to plumb many homes between the 1970’s and 1990’s. Unfortunately, polybutylene piping degrades due to oxidants in water, causing it to leak and break over time.  Polybutylene piping has become a serious concern for home insurance companies in recent years. If you do have polybutylene piping in your home, it’s worth the expense of having it replumbed  before you even try to put it on the market.

Foundation Cracks

While foundation cracks come in many degrees of severity, the most serious ones can cause tens of thousands of dollars to repair. Worst of all, large foundation cracks can also indicate that your foundation is slanted or uneven. Rebuilding a foundation wall is an undertaking that few buyers will want to take on.

Want to find out for sure whether or not your house is ready to sell? Give us a call to schedule an inspection today.

Service Your Furnace This Spring

Service Your Furnace This SpringNow that winter has receded, one of the last things that you may want to think about is your furnace. Rising temperatures, open windows and light breezes are far more appealing than thinking about maintaining and tuning your heating system, but that ounce of preventative maintenance and care could save you a tidy sum down the road.

After a full season of use, your furnace has probably accumulated dust, grime and dirt in the filter from blowing warm air throughout the home. One of the quickest and simplest maintenance jobs is to replace or clean the filter to keep your furnace running efficiently. The style of furnace you have will dictate both the style of filter and period of maintenance. Pleated furnace filters should be thrown out and replaced every three months, while permanent filters should be cleaned monthly. There are also electronic air cleaning filters which should be cleaned bimonthly. Performing this cleaning in the spring will have your furnace ready to go as soon as the temperatures drop again.

In addition, spring is a great time to inspect your full furnace system for any signs of wear that may have happened during the winter. This includes inspecting all ductwork and the casing around the unit itself for any holes or signs of blocked ducts that could be impairing your system’s efficiency or leaking carbon monoxide. A professional inspector should also check the thermostat settings, inspect electrical connections and lubricate any moving parts to ensure your furnace is ready to keep you warm when you need it.

A full professional tune-up involves a number of additional annual performance checks and services. These include analyzing the furnace’s combustion gases to compare to the manufacturer’s specifications, checking drainage systems for blockages or leaks, testing the amperage that the blower motor is drawing and comparing it to the default setting, and inspecting the fresh air intakes, burners and blower wheel for signs of rust, corrosion or debris. Inspecting some of these components may require partial or total disassembly of portions of your furnace, making a professional inspector or heating contractor the go-to solution if you’re not comfortable with performing those operations yourself.

Spending the time to make sure that your furnace is safe and running at peak efficiency is a great proactive step you can take today to keep yourself from being left out in the cold tomorrow. First Choice Inspectors offers a wide range of services, including furnace and air conditioning unit inspections. Call or email us today for a quote.

Don’t Forget These 5 Essential Spring Maintenance Items

5 Essential Spring Maintenance ItemsLong winters can subject your home to some serious wear and tear. Snowmelt can reveal all sorts of issues of varying severity that went unnoticed throughout the cold season. It’s important to take care of these maintenance items quickly in order to protect your home from further damage. The spring is the perfect time to get out and tackle these molehills before they become mountains. In this entry, we’ll look at a few simple steps you can take to protect and preserve your home this spring.

Clean Your Gutters

Your gutters serve an important purpose – directing rainwater safely away from your home. Clogged gutters can cause water to pool and pour down the exterior surface of a house, which can eventually lead to mold, mildew, and even rot. If you notice vegetation blocking your gutters, you’ll want to clean them sooner rather than later.

Get a Termite Inspection

Moisture from snowmelt can cause the wood around the base of your home to decay, creating an ideal feeding ground for termites. Often called “silent destroyers,” termites can wreak havoc on the wood framing in a home. If you notice any rot around the foundation of your home, a termite inspection should be a high priority on your spring to-do list.

Clear Dryer Vents

Clogged dryer vents not only reduce the efficiency of your dryer; they also constitute a fire hazard. Be sure to clear any lint from the inside of your dryer vent as soon as you are able to do so.

Inspect Your Washing Machine Fill Hose

While you’re cleaning your dryer vent, you may as well check the fill hose on your washing machine for any signs of wear as well. A broken fill hose can flood your laundry room with water in minutes. If you see any cracks in the hose, pick up a new one from your local hardware store.

Touch Up Paint

In addition to serving an aesthetic purpose, paint also helps to seal and protect your home from moisture damage. If you notice any paint peeling, be sure to touch it up with a fresh coat.

Concerned about the condition of your home this spring? Give us a call today for a consultation.

Protecting Your Home from Water Intrusion This Winter

Water DamageWe’re halfway through February, and before too long we’ll be due for a healthy dose of spring weather. Here in Chicago, spring is synonymous with snow melt. One warm day in March might unleash millions of gallons of water onto the streets of our fair city. All that water can be disastrous for homes that aren’t properly fortified against the elements.

Water damage constitutes one of the foremost threats to any home’s well-being. Homeowners’ insurance companies spend an estimated $2.5 billion a year on repairing damage from water intrusion. In the interest of lowering that statistic, in this entry we’ll share a few tips for protecting your home against water damage.

Seal Gaps in Windows and Doors

As much as we’d like to think otherwise, homes are not static entities. Over the course of a home’s lifetime, it will gradually shift as its foundation settles. Over the course of many years, all this shifting can cause gaps to open up around door and window frames. Come melt season, these gaps can allow water into the living space of your home. Use a waterproof caulk to seal these gaps and keep moisture outside.

Install a Sump Pump

This is an especially good idea if your basement has a history of water intrusion. Your sump should be installed at the lowest point in your home, preferably in the middle of the basement floor rather than near walls. Be sure to outfit your sump pump with a backup battery in case you lose power during a storm.

Reseal Your Roof Deck

This will likely require the largest investment of any our suggestions, but it can also be one of the most effective ways to protect your home. Your roof constitutes your home’s first line of defense against water intrusion. Likewise, it’s essential that we maintain it properly. Roof deck sealers are typically thin, flexible membranes that adhere right onto the surface of your roof deck. There are also a number of spray foam products on the market that can help to seal joints between roof sheathing and framing.

Concerned about water intrusion in your home? Give us a call today for a consultation.

Five Signs it’s Time to Repair or Replace Your Water Heater

We often do not realize that our water heater needs to be repaired or replaced until we smell rotten eggs or take cold showers. Knowing what to look for can help you avoid the problem in the future. When you know that your water heater is getting of age, or you plan to sell your home, these are important things to check periodically.

  1. Loud Noises
    This could mean that your anode rode broke off and is floating around in your tank. This could also be a result of lime or sediments in the tank. This can be remedied by flushing out the old water, and replacing it with fresh water. If the problem persists, assistance may be required.
  2. A Leaky Temperature/Pressure Valve
    There is a valve on your water heater that acts as a safety switch. It could be as simple as your tank is just overheating, but it could also mean a leaky valve. This should be looked at by someone with experience, but doesn’t necessarily mean repair or replacement is needed.
  3. The Pilot Won’t Stay Lit
    A Pilot that won’t light usually means the thermocouple is bad. It is not an easy DIY project, we suggest involving a professional. Attempting to fix the problem without the proper experience and tools could exacerbate the problem to the point of needing a replacement.
  4. Rust or Corrosion
    Rust and Corrosion are often the cause of the sulfur smell and leaks in water heaters. There is usually no repair for severely eroded or leaky tanks. This is when it should be replaced completely.
  5. Hot Water Isn’t Lasting
    This is something that should always be checked before selling a home. If your water tank is too small for the size of the house, it makes or breaks decisions. If you have a large tank and know this is not the cause, then there may be a lime build up inside.

Trust a Home Inspector with Electrical Inspections

Every home has electricity. So, if you’re moving into a home, you need to make sure that the electrical work is up to code. You could take a whack at it on your own, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Here are 3 reasons to trust a home inspector with the electrical inspection on your home:

Electrical Work is Complicated – If you’re not a an electrician, look at a bunch of wires could look like Latin. If you speak Latin then it looks like some language that you don’t know. You may be able to notice when certain lights or outlets don’t work, but figuring out why or noticing less obvious bu harmful problems won’t be so easy.

Electrical Work can be Dangerous – When inspecting a home’s electrical state, you have to know what you can and cannot touch, as well as other safety precautions and potential hazards. The layman could go into any hazardous situation thinking it’s a walk in the park, so trust someone who knows electrical danger when they see it!

Inspectors Are Not Electricians – This might sound negative, but it’s actually positive. Inspectors will know how to recognize electrical hazards, but they won’t point out things for the sake of finding problems. Look at it this way: have you ever taken your car in for mechanical work? Did the mechanics suggest a bunch of stuff that cost more money and that didn’t seem necessary? An inspector, on the other hand, will only suggest that you fix things that actually need to be fixed.

5 Common Problems in Foreclosed Homes

Buying a foreclosed home can be a very good investment if you have the time and energy to make up for all of the problems that arise from foreclosure. So, before you buy a foreclosed home, get a foreclosure inspection. Here are some common things we see as Chicago home inspectors:

1 – Mold – When people aren’t around to clean, mold grows with ease. Moisture accumulates and the home becomes the perfect environment for various species of mold. This could mean a lot more than cleaning, you may have to replace drywall, beams, etc.

2 – Broken Windows & Siding – The elements and vandals alike love foreclosed homes. Don’t be surprised by broken windows or siding. And remember, siding isn’t there for the sole purpose of making things look nice, it’s there to protect your home, so it’ll need to be fixed.

3 – Infestation – Again, when people aren’t around, rodents, felines, canines, insects and birds make homes. You can’t blame them, but you can’t live with them either. Just because you don’t see them in the living room or basement doesn’t mean they aren’t there. A month after moving in, you might find them in your walls, attic or cupboard.

4 – Malfunctioning Faucets & Toilets – When these go out of use for extended periods of time, they break. Pipes need use to be operational. So, be prepared to call a plumber.

5 – Electrical Malfunctions – This can happen for all sorts of reasons. Animals chew away at wires, lightning hit the house, the prior residents stole electrical components before leaving… anything could happen. Sadly, we can’t live without lights, refrigerators and other electrical appliances, so you’ll need to have these issues looked into.

Keep all of this in mind, have a professional home inspector look into any foreclosed homes for you and good luck in searching for your home!

Avoid Hazardous Dryer Duct Materials!

You probably don’t think too much about your dryer duct. You set it up, it discards dryer air out of your house and there’s not much more to think about.

Or is there?

We encounter this sort of thing all the time during foreclosure inspections. Think about it: dryers create intense heat in small, usually confined spaces in your home. The dryer duct connects directly to your wall and if something goes wrong, you could be left in serious trouble.

Here’s a run down of dryer duct materials:

Plastic – This is an absolute don’t. Plastic can catch fire and spread it at a rapid rate (in other words, plastic ducts are flammable), leading to huge home damage. Stay safe and don’t use plastic!

Foil – While foil is not flammable, it can still virtually disintegrate if a fire starts within it. Some inspectors will not pass a home using this, though it is safer than plastic (and easier to use that semi-rigid aluminum).

Semi-Rigid Aluminum – This material is definitely the best and safest. Like any material, it can deteriorate under intense circumstances, but it has far greater integrity than foil or plastic. The UL listed semi-rigid dryer ducts will definitely offer the preventative safety that your home needs.

Avoid danger by choosing the right dryer duct material. As you know, certain materials withstand heat a lot better than others, in this case the aluminum. You also probably know that it only takes a spark to start a decent fire in the midst of certain materials. So, if you have a plastic or foil duct, get rid of it! Stop the fire when it’s still a spark, avoid danger and pass the home inspection with a semi-rigid aluminum dryer duct.

No – Brick is not Indestructible!

A week or so ago, The Chicago Tribune posted an article about brick homes. After reading it, you might just think that brick homes require no maintenance or upkeep. You might even think a brick home is entirely indestructible. Well, a quick look a this panoramic photo of San Francisco, after the earthquake of 1906 reveals that brick architecture is, in fact, destructible.

Granted, an earthquake produces a little more energy then normal wear and tear from weather and average elements. Even so, that does not mean that the earth beneath your home does shift. Those shifts can really affect the brick structure and, if you’ve ever played Jenga, you know how bricks fall over if compromised in the right way.

So, if you look to buy a brick home (new or used) make sure to conduct an accurate home inspection. A proper structural inspection will reveal if you’re about to walk into the finale of a Jenga game. Only, unlike Jenga, you won’t be laughing if everything topples over!