A Flood of Laundry

person adjusting control on front load clothes washer
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As a home inspector, one of the things I inspect are washing machine hoses.  It may seem like a simple non-descript item to inspect, but these hoses can be the cause of significant loss and stress.  I feel it is my duty to inform sellers or potential buyers of items that are not only an immediate concern, such as, a live wire dangling from the ceiling, but also those things that could be a potential concern in the long term.

SS Hose

In my inspection reports, if I notice that the current washing machine hoses are plain rubber, I recommend that they be replaced with the braided stainless steel type of hose because they are far less likely to burst, like this one from Certified Appliance.  They are certainly not immune to failure, but if they do fail, they are much more likely to develop a leak, than to rupture.

IMG_4447This photo shows a hose that was removed from a washing machine after I discovered it during an inspection.  The washing machine was actually in the kitchen area.  Since the house was on city water, had the hose burst, it would have flooded the kitchen and run into the basement.  This could have easily cost the homeowners thousands of dollars in loss, clean up, and repair.

Another thing to note in this situation is evidence of minor leaking at the opposite end.  The white crusty substances are mineral deposits from hard water.  When there is a minor leak at a water connection, the water will evaporate leaving  the minerals behind. Over time, the deposits build up and cause the leak to become greater.  Additionally, these deposits can bind threaded couplings together, which makes separating them nearly impossible without breaking one component or the other.  In this situation, the shut off valve for the washing machine broke and had to be replaced.

If you’re looking to install a washer and dryer in the home you’re flipping, or in your own home, spend a little extra for the added insurance of better hoses.  Be sure that they are tightly secured to prevent leaks.  I normally tighten them hand tight and then use water pump pliers (aka Channellock’s ®) to tighten them 1/8 to 1/4 of a turn.  Be careful not to over tighten them.

Holy Smoke!

person giving keys on man
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Think ahead to when you’re trying to sell the house you’re flipping.  The buyers will most likely hire a home inspector to check out the place. Inspectors will look for the presence and operation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  If you haven’t checked or replaced the smoke detectors, you may need to accommodate the requests of the buyers.

Before you even start your renovation, check with the local code enforcement office to see what the requirements are for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in a home being renovated. Depending upon the amount of renovation being performed, you may be required to install detectors to the most current code requirements.  Note: if you are renovating the property in order to rent it to tenants, the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are usually different than for a simple residence.  Be sure to convey that to the code enforcement office.

Why should you do this before you start your renovation?  Because, you may be required to installed hardwired and/or linked detectors throughout the house.  This means you may need to run wiring in the ceilings or walls to appropriate locations for the smoke detectors. This, in turn, means that you may need to cut into the wall or ceiling to for wiring, which may affect your decision of whether or not to renovate certain areas of the house.

 

If the smoke detectors in the house are sufficient in number and placed in the proper locations, check for the date of manufacture on the back.  The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) recommends replacing smoke detectors 10 years from the date of manufacture.  So, if the date on it is 2009, the detector should be replaced this year, (2019).  If there is no date of manufacture on the smoke detector, assume that they are more than 10 years old.

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The best practice for placing smoke detectors in a home is one in each bedroom, one in the hallway to bedrooms, and one on every floor of the house.  Wiring these together or using detectors that are able to wirelessly communicate with each other is also good practice.  Below is a chart that can be found on brkelectronics’ website that shows the NFPA’s recommendations.  Again, it is always best to check with the local code enforcement office to understand the exact requirements.  If you are going to use an electrician to install the wiring, they should already understand the code.

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Excerpted from brkelectronics.com

There are many smoke detectors on the market today, but they can be divided into 3 types:

  • Ionizing
  • Photoelectric
  • Combination

Both ionizing and photoelectric have their pros and cons, so manufacturers introduced a combination type that uses the best of both types to better detect smoke/fire.  I’m certain there are a number of opinions to be found on the internet, but I’m including a link to a page on First Alert’s website which helps answers several questions about the different types:  https://www.firstalertstore.com/store/categories/Smoke_alarms_faq.htm

Note:  the NFPA makes recommendations for fire prevention in residences (as well as other types of structures), but these recommendations need to be accepted by the local authority in order for them to be required.  The NFPA has no authority to institute requirements.

By investigating the needs for smoke detectors upfront, you can avoid the possibility of having to negotiate the costs of installing them at the time of closing.

Quick Tip #1 – Circuits

In larger homes there may be a multitude of circuits throughout the house.  If you’re working with a buddy and you have time to spare, you can trace these circuits by turning on lights and lamps throughout the house, and have your buddy watch for which lights go off as you turn off breakers one at a time.  This method is tried and true, but time consuming, especially in older homes that may have more than one electrical panel.

In a particular house where I was trying to test some circuits, there were 3 electrical panels; two were adjoined, but a third was in a different part of the house.  The house was built in the late 1700’s, so it was a challenge to determine what circuits were fed from each panel.

Panel #3                        img_2431

So, I invested in a circuit tracer tool like this one from Southwire Tools to make my work much easier.

southwire

With this device, you plug the transmitter into an outlet and then use the receiver to sense which circuit breaker the transmitter is attached to.  Once you flip off the correct breaker, the receiver indicates that so you know the circuit is dead.

The kit I bought also had adapters for light sockets and 2-prong outlets, as well as a set of clips.   These help assure that the particular fixture is dead and not just the circuit.  Three things to remember when doing electrical work:

  • Always, consult a professional if you are not comfortable doing electrical work.
  • Always check the wiring you’re working on with a voltage indicator or multimeter before starting the work.
  • Always treat electrical wiring as if it were live.

That was close!

The house you’re flipping is lacking a little on the landscape side, so you and buddies decide that a lamppost near the front walkway would be a great idea.

turned on outdoor lamp
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You decide in order to save a little money, you’ll dig the trench so that the electrician doesn’t have to.  The ground is difficult to break with shovel, so you bring out your pick axe.  The first few swings work great, but on the next one you strike something.

You lean down into the hole to see what it is.  Then you discover that you’ve just nicked the casing of an underground electrical line to the house.  Wow! That was close!

I can hear some of you saying, “Oh, come on! Like that would ever happen!”  Well, it did happen.  I was digging a hole for a fence post in my back yard, and nicked the electrical cable.  My house was between two roads, and the electricity for my home, went underground through a neighbor’s property, through my backyard and into my house.  I had incorrectly assumed that the electricity was fed from the road my house was on.

I’m grateful that, now, it’s a law that you need to call Dig Safe before you dig around your home.  While no system is perfect, it greatly decreases the chances of accidents or incidents happening.  It doesn’t just apply to electrical systems, it applies to all utilities: gas, propane, sewer, water, etc.

I met my friend Joe at a company at which we both were employed.  Joe was a temp and a handy sort of fellow.  I was the head of Safety.  Joe had mentioned to me that he could have signs made up rather cheaply, and if I needed any, to let him know.

I took Joe up on his offer as we needed a sign to indicate the place for the employees to collect in the event of an emergency evacuation.  Joe had the “collection point” sign made up and brought it, the signpost, the hardware and a sledge hammer to work one day.  He cheerfully bound into my office that day and said, “I’ve got the sign.  If you want to show me where to put it, I’ll set it up.” “Sure,” I responded, as we headed out to the parking lot.  We made our way to an end of an island in the parking lot that was visible from both the front and rear of the building.  I said, “Right here looks like a good spot.”  Joe marked the spot and replied, “Great.  I’ll go get my sledge hammer and get to work.”  [Joe was expecting to spend 10 minutes to drive in the signpost and fasten the sign to it.]

“Hold on sec,” I said, “We’ve got to call Dig Safe.”  Joe looked at me and chuckled.  “Yeah, right!” was his response.   “No, I’m serious.  You need to give them a call before you put in the post.”  He gave me a glaring look out of the corner of his eye.  “Ok,” he said sarcastically.  “Just humor me,”  I said.  “All right, I’ll give them a call,” said Joe somewhat begrudgingly.

scenic view of fire at night
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A day or so later Joe strolled into my office holding his belly and laughing hysterically.  “What’s going on, Joe?” I asked.  “Boy, do I owe you an apology!” he exclaimed.

“You do?  For what?”

“Well, Dig Safe was just here and that point where you wanted to put the sign, it was directly over a 4 inch gas main about 8 inches below the ground!  If I had put that sign post in, I would have been blown into space!”  and he continued to chuckle.  “Wow!” I exclaimed, “That was close…but that’s why we call them.  I’m just glad you’re still here.”

“I will never doubt you again!” said Joe.

Often times we think of rules as those things that are just there as an annoyance;  because someone wants to throw their weight around.  But somewhere along the line, someone wanted to protect people when they made that rule.  Think of a child.  Letting a small child play in the street probably isn’t safe, so parents make rules to protect them.

When we, as adults, decide to sidestep rules, there may be consequences; even significant consequences if we choose to bypass them.  I hope that these two real-life accounts will help you see the importance of following this rule.

For most areas, simply dialing 811 will connect you with Dig Safe, as it is known in Northern New England.  If you cannot connect with them through 811, check out the http://www.call811.com website.  If that doesn’t work, contact your local code enforcement office. It could literally save your life.

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That’s Shocking!

person holding multimeter beside white painted wall
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So you’ve decided to join the thousands of others who flip houses (hopefully for profit). Congratulations!  Hopefully, you’ve realized before you bought the house, that this is going to be a lot of work.  If you follow the process from some of the flipper reality shows, the first thing you might do is demolition.  Is there a better stress reliever than smashing something with a sledge hammer?!! And it looks like such a blast on the realty shows.  But wait; there are few things that you can do to help save time, effort, and possible injury.

In nearly every wall, ceiling, and floor there may be electrical wiring and/or plumbing.  Sometimes it’s a challenge to locate these, especially in older homes, such as those built before the advents of electricity and indoor plumbing.  As a home inspector, I’ve seen several examples of these.   So, let’s talk about electrical wiring and fixtures.

Perhaps I’m more cautious than others, but 20 years in the safety field has taught me a lot.  One of the most beneficial things I learned was that you can never foresee everything.  I once witnessed a man using a reciprocating saw (Sawzall ®) sever an electrical wire while cutting some drywall and studs that had been damaged in a flood.  Thankfully he was not injured, but he could have been electrocuted if his hand had made contact with the blade or the live wire.

In my own personal experience, I was nearly electrocuted.  I was working with my father-in-law on our home.  (My in-laws lived on the first floor and my wife and I live on the second). I asked him where the breaker was for an outdoor light I was about to replace, and he told me not to worry about it, that he had already shut the breaker off.  I thanked him and attempted to remove the light fixture.  The fasteners were so rusted my only option to remove the light was to cut the wires.  I took out my cutters and proceeded to cut the wires in one cut.  To my surprise, there was a loud snap and a puff of smoke. Yikes!  I went to my father-in-law and said, “I thought you said that you shut off that breaker?” in disbelief.  He simply responded, “Oh, that one. No.  I didn’t shut THAT breaker off.”

Before you start your demolition, shut off the power to all the circuits you don’t need.  Next, use a circuit tester, like this one from Sperry Instruments,

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to test the outlets, switches and fixtures in the area you’ll be demo-ing.  Don’t forget to look on the other side of walls, floors and ceilings, if possible. The circuit tester itself isn’t infallible, so be sure to check that it is working properly on a live circuit before every use.  [An even safer way is to use a generator on site and shut off all the power to the house.]

[Note:  some states allow persons who own the home to perform electrical work on the home, but other states and municipalities may not.  Be sure to check with your local code enforcement office to determine if you need a licensed electrician to perform any of this work.]

Once you’ve established that all the circuits are de-energized, you can proceed with the demo.  If you cut any wires, first, only cut one at a time, this will lessen the risk of shorting out the wires.  Second, be sure to strip and cap each conductor to prevent contact with them when the power is on.  Next, wrap each conductor with electrical tape and temporarily tie it out of the way.  Here is an example of a live 208 Volt line that had been cut and left unprotected at chest level, (I bent it up to keep someone from contacting it).  Simply contacting this wire could have sent someone to the hospital or worse.

Live wire
Live 208 Volt 4 conductor cable for a range.

If you’ve just bought a house to flip, the inspector should have identified any item like this for you.  But, it is always a good idea to check electrical cables (wires) to see if they are live before you work near or on them.  They may not have been live at the time of inspection, because a switch wasn’t turned on.

To summarize: before performing demolition, shut off power, check that electrical wires, outlets and fixtures are de-energized, and be sure to cap any wires that have been cut.  If you’re not comfortable doing this work, call an electrician.