Shorts on fire

Whether you have a new home or an old house, it’s important that you know the condition of the electrical system.

Simple problems can cause electrical shorts, and those shorts have the potential to spark a fire.

The demand for electrical convenience and appliances in our homes has grown exponentially over the years.

That growth is primarily fueled by the desire for appliances that makes our lives easier and manufacturers are more than keen to meet the demand.

According to studies, the global demand for household appliances is estimated to be 1.5 billion units by the year 2020. And they all need to be plugged in.

Professional home inspectors see the electrical systems in a house as one of its main components. However for most, the electrical system is hidden inside of the structure and pretty much recognized as a convenience that we couldn’t imagine living without.

Electrical systems in newer homes are generally more reliable than older ones because they have been designed to accommodate today’s modern conveniences.

Let me give you an example: my neighbour's home was built in 1967 and originally had eight electrical circuits. That the home has been completely rewired and has 58 circuits.

An electrical system of an older home generally offers less convenience. By less convenience, I mean fewer plugs and limited electrical circuits to plug all of today’s appliances in to.

When desire for more power to drive new appliances overrides availability and that call is often met by the do-it-yourself electrician.

DIY electricians often modify an existing limited electrical circuit to meet their new needs without regard to the system’s ability to service the demand.

When this happens the actions of a DIY electrician can jeopardize the safety of the occupants and performance of the equipment.

Home inspectors can tell you that we see dangerous conditions more than we want to. We see far too many examples of poor workmanship or substandard materials, or both.

Home inspectors frequently see power bars (power strips) primarily in older homes. Power bars are used to add temporary multiple receptacles to an existing wall receptacle.

People buy and install power bars when there are more electrical appliances requiring power than a wall receptacle has available.

Misusing temporary power bars can result in electrical hazards. Small appliances and consumer electronics are added without recognizing that the system may not be able to handle them safely causing overloaded circuits, tripping breakers and overheating wires and connections.

Power bars are a lesser concern than the weekend warrior electrician patching an electrical system.

Everyone should know their limits, but DIY electricians are more apt to complete an electrical project that can lead to injury and property damage far more so than a qualified electrician.

The good news is DIY electrical work is always correctable, and most of the time without complications. Electrical repairs are usually corrected with the correct parts and approved methods.

If you know that sub-standard electrical work has occurred in your home, or if you suspect defective parts or equipment has been used, it’s time for an electrician to perform a basic inspection of your system.

Shorts on fire are the last thing you want.


Is your roof ready for winter?

Will my roof leak this winter?

That’s a question that some Okanagan homeowners are pondering right about now.

I can tell you that after inspecting thousands of homes that people maintain or replace their roof coverings for one of two reasons:

  • because they want to
  • or they have to.

As our roof coverings age, their reliability decreases, and that can cause worry.

Here in the Okanagan, our roof coverings take a real beating from the environment. In the summer, our roofs are susceptible to the immense power of the sun – scorching heat and powerful UV rays.

In the colder months, roof coverings are subject to moisture, vegetative debris and freeze thaw cycles – and that’s about when homeowners start thinking about the reliability of their aging roof coverings.

One of the primary purposes of a roof is to provide moisture related protection for your home. Sloped roofs are more efficient in moving roof surface water off structures compared to flat or low sloped roofs.

Sloped roof coverings last much longer because they trend to remain drier and because there is a better choice of quality materials available.

Home inspectors evaluate many different kinds of roof systems daily in their profession. Usually, roof deck systems are quite reliable.

Areas that are prone to concentrated water flows are the real hotspots for common leak related failures. Roof covering penetrations, like chimneys or vent protrusions, are at higher risk for leakage, so are roof valleys and flashings.

It is not uncommon for these areas to develop a leak before the rest of the roof material has aged significantly.

While roof coverings may appear fine today conditions can change rapidly. At a minimum, aging roof penetrations and flashings should be inspected on a semi-annual basis. As a roof covering ages more frequent inspections are required.

If you are concerned about how your roof is going to hold up through this rainy season, here are some things for you to investigate:

  • When did your roof covering have a maintenance inspection by a professional roofing company? A small investment now can save you thousands of dollars in repairs later.
  • Shingles that are curling are cracked or even missing spell trouble. Look for granular loss in your gutter system. Individual shingles can be replaced as necessary, but if the damage is widespread, a new roof may be necessary.
  • Look in your attic and evaluate the underside of your roof sheathing for leaks and water stains. The best time to do this is after a spell of rain. Make sure you have a great flashlight and light up the attic space for best results.

Be prepared for the inevitable. Do you have a replacement plan? Remember, people replace their roof coverings for one of two reasons, because they want to, or they have to.

So, back to the question at hand; will my roof leak this winter?

  • First, you should pay attention to the story your roof covering is telling you. Missing shingles, granular loss, cracked and cupping shingles mean the covering is getting tired.
  • Pay attention to warning signs at flashings and penetrations – from the exterior and from the attic.
  • Lastly, professional roofing contractors speak roof, they are here to help and are best qualified to give you the answers you need and peace of mind.

Crawl space protects house

By taking good care of your crawl space, it will take care of your whole house.

The true purpose of a crawl space is to have easy access to the mechanical and sub-surface structural components of your home.

When your home was constructed, it was likely well-lit and storage free to provide easy access for working in. It should remain the same way for the duration of the home.

Unfortunately, some home owners see their crawl spaces as great storage space for infrequently used belongings.

However, the out of sight, out of mind approach may cause immense problems down the road. It stands to reason that crawl spaces with excessive storage make it difficult to look for developing problems.

Crawl spaces are prone to sub-surface activity that range from moisture problems to pest infestations, and if you can’t easily inspect for them, they’ll develop until they become a known problem.

Good home inspectors will tell you upfront that water is the No. 1 enemy of all homes. Once we have a water or moisture problem, they can be hard and expensive to fix.

In some cases, moisture related problems can lead to health problems.

Interestingly, most moisture problems in houses are a result of the actions of the home owner and not a result of natural occurrences. I

nstalling irrigation systems against the home is a common source of water intrusion in crawl spaces. Faulty and unmaintained gutter and downspouts systems can direct water where it can do harm.

Pest infestations can be a great concern for homeowners. Mice and rats can harbour in your crawl space unnoticed for ages without being detected, and their activity can be destructive.

The same can be said about subterranean termites. Yes, the Okanagan is home to termites. If you’ve had an infestation you’ll know what I’m talking about.

It can be difficult for homeowners to see clues of wood destroying insects (WDOs), because, for the most part, these pests live underground, but they do pop up into houses to investigate for new habitat and food sources.

That can be bad news. If your crawl space is full of storage, termites can be at work destroying the structural components of a home completely unnoticed.

Top four reasons why your home may be at risk of termites:

  • Access — In homes with concrete foundations and concrete floors, termites can enter a home through openings as narrow as two pieces of paper put together – think cracks. Once they get in and establish themselves, these WDOs have a never ending appetite.
  • Temperature – Much the same as humans, termites like to be comfortable. Any home that is climate controlled year round helps create optimal conditions for termites.
  • Moisture – We talked about moistures sources like faulty gutters and downspouts, and irrigation systems, but we need to add leaking plumbing components and sub-surface water activity to the list.
  • Food source – Termites eat wood. All wood products are at risk of infestation by termites. Firewood, decaying landscape structures, soil grading too high at the structure and concealed framing components are at risk.

Taking care and inspecting your crawl space can seem like a pain in the butt. Problems that develop in crawl spaces can fester for years and can affect the whole house and its occupants.

Regular inspections of your crawl space can help you identify moisture, rodent and nasty termite infestations.

Remember, take care of your crawl space and you’ll take care of the whole house.


Using space heaters

When things get cold, the cold turn up the heat

As the cold winds of winter approach, it's time to turn up the heat.

For most of us, turning up the heat means setting the temperature on the central heating system thermostat to warm.

However, some of us need only to heat a small area of our home for a short period of time, that’s where space heaters come in handy.

Some people use space heaters for comfort heat in addition to the heat produced by their central heating system.

While effective for warmth, this approach can inflate heating bills and doing so doesn’t fix heating system inadequacies that can otherwise be solved in cost effective ways.

Studies show that the cost of heating with central heating systems is less than half of what electric space heaters cost to heat the same space.

Electric space heaters warm rooms in a couple of ways: radiant heat or convection heat. Radiant heat is much like the warmth that you feel when you are in the sunshine.

The closer you are to a radiant space heater the more warmth you’ll feel. Convection heaters warm the air around the heater. The warm air rises from the heater to the ceiling while pulling the cooler air towards the heater to create a convection loop.

Some electric heaters have built-in fans to spread heat further than relying on convection alone.

There are several benefits to electric space heaters. First, they don’t have the costs and regulations associated with combusting fuel and they can be installed in pretty much every room.

Electric heat is 100 per cent efficient and since electric heaters have a limited amount of working parts they are very reliable and have long life spans.

Of course, electric space heaters capitalize on the green energy factor. Besides being 100 per cent efficient they don’t produce carbon dioxide while generating zero local emissions.

Today’s portable space heaters include a variety of safety features. Models with Tip-Over protection automatically shut off when they are tipped over for any reason. Models with overheat protection automatically shut off when the upper limit is reached.

When buying a space heater look for CSA (Canadian Standards Association) or UL (Underwriters Laboratories) certifications so that you can be confident it's safe to use at home. Look for heating element guards and read and follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions for operation and care.

To make the most of your space heater, use it in a small or enclosed space, and try placing it in the corner of the room. Keep doors shut to keep the heat in the room that you're using.

When winter gets cold, and it’s time to turn up the heat, it’s almost impossible to find another heating appliance that delivers the same amount of comfort for such a small investment as a space heater does.

So go ahead, use space heaters as a secondary heat source for a small room or a way to add a little heat to a chilly space.


More About the House articles

About the Author

When you need advice or guidance with DIY home improvement and repairs, Hugh Cairns can help you with the answers.

Home improvements can be rewarding, turn your home into a nicer more comfortable place to live, and increase its value.

Whether you are renovating your kitchen, converting a loft, giving a room a lick of paint or making improvements to your home’s energy efficiency, this column is here to guide you with useful information and key things to remember.

Do you have a renovation question or concern? Please feel free to send Hugh your questions. Contact him through www.subject2homeinspections.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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