A home inspection is a vital part of every real estate transaction. A thorough home inspection serves to inform prospective buyers about the home they are seeking to purchase. I believe buyers don’t always understand what to expect from the home inspection, and when expectations and reality don’t match up, problems can arise. Read on to learn what you can expect when you hire Wilson Home Inspections to perform your next home inspection.
Home Inspection Defined
First let’s look at the textbook definition of a home inspection. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, which I am a member of, defines a home inspection as, “a non-invasive, visual examination of the accessible areas of a residential property, performed for a fee, which is designed to identify defects within specific systems and components defined by (InterNACHI’s) standards, that are both observed and deemed material by the inspector.” (To see InterNACHI’s complete Standards of Practice, click here.) By this definition, a home inspection at its most basic level should provide information about any deficiencies of the major systems of the home. As such, I go through your home from top to bottom with a fine toothed comb looking for any issues, but I think a home inspection should be much more than just a problem seeking mission. I believe that a home inspection can, and should, educate you about the home as a whole, rather than just tell you what’s wrong with it. This is why I strive to provide you with information I believe will help make you a better homeowner. Lets look at information that adds value to your home inspection report.
Locations of Key Components
In the event of a major plumbing leak or burst pipe, do you know where or how to quickly shut the water off? If Wilson Home Inspections inspected your home, that information would be in your report. Do you know the locations of GFCI outlets and which downstream outlets they control? That information would also be in your report. Gas shut-off? Electrical panel? They are in there too! Knowing where to find these things will prevent you the frustration of trying to find them when you’re in a bind, and, if you forget, simply refer back to your home inspection report.
Serial Numbers and Dates
As part of the HVAC inspection, I will open up gas furnaces to look inside at the burner unit. This area is also where the spec plate is that contains important numbers such as model and serial numbers as well as build dates. I note all of these things in the report. If there is ever a problem with the furnace and you need repair parts, or if you can’t remember when the unit was built, you can pull up your inspection report to get the numbers and dates rather than having to climb up in the attic and open up the unit. I include this type of information for the water heaters and AC units as well. It’s just another way I add value to your home inspection.
Owning a home is a great feeling, but it also comes with a lot of responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is keeping the home well maintained. I know at my house it seems like there’s always something that needs to be done. It can be quite a challenge remembering what needs to be replaced or cleaned when. In your home inspection report, I include helpful tips about maintenance and cleaning schedules for different areas of the home. A clean and well maintained home looks more appealing, holds its value better, and will sell faster when the time comes.
Without a doubt, the primary purpose of a home inspection, with regards to the real estate transaction, is to identify any deficiencies the home may have. However, there’s plenty of other helpful information that can be included in the report. In my opinion, that’s what separates good home inspectors from great home inspectors. That’s why I always urge everyone, not just my own clients, to read the full inspection report rather than just skipping to the summary of deficiencies. You might be surprised what you find.
This weeks blog post comes from Jeff Antilla over at the real estate website Redfin.com. Jeff has a passion for writing about topics relating to home ownership. I found this article to be very fitting for the beginning of the new year. I hope the information Jeff presents here helps you on your home buying journey. I personally think #18 is great advice for every home buyer. When you get ready to buy, give me a call. I'd be honored to inspect your new home. Now, on to the good stuff. Enjoy!
What You Need To Buy A House In 2019
You are about to embark on one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences that can ever come from spending money: buying a home. If you are buying a home in 2019, you should know that the entire process is not quick, but when all is said and done, there are few things more exhilarating than buying a house. This guide will help equip you with what you need to buy a house this year.
1. Check Your Credit Score
Before applying for a loan and certainly before ever making an offer on a house, you should know your credit score. Why is your credit score important? Well, it’s not only the difference between getting a low-interest rate on a home loan versus a high one, but it will also directly impact how much a bank or lender will actually loan you. There are several websites you can use to check your credit score, here are a few to consider: TransUnion, Equifax, Experian.
You can check your own score as much as once a day without affecting your credit, also known as a soft inquiry. Hard inquiries are when financial institutions check your credit score, typically when you’re applying for a loan or credit card. Hard inquiries lower your credit score a few points, so try to keep hard inquiries to a minimum.
2. Improve Your Credit Score
Maybe you just checked your credit score and realized it’s not as high as you had expected. Don’t worry, there are a few things you can do now that will help raise your credit score so you can capitalize on a great interest rate.
Though you can easily implement steps to help your credit score, fixing or raising a credit score doesn’t happen overnight. It’s imperative to start now so when you go to apply for a home loan your credit score will (hopefully) be where you want it. Here are three tips to help improve your credit score, and recommended by John Heath, Directing Attorney at Lexington Law:
“Improving one’s credit score may take time, but it can be done. Bad credit is not irrevocable,” said Heath. “Developing good habits and repairing your credit report will help increase your credit score so you’re able to secure a home loan or a great interest rate with confidence.”
3. Know What You Can Afford
The best way to determine how much house you can afford is to simply use an Affordability calculator. Though calculators such as these do not necessarily account for all of your monthly expenditures, they certainly are a great tool for understanding your larger financial situation.
After you figure out what you can comfortably afford, you can then start online window shopping for houses and really begin to narrow down what you want in a house versus what you can afford. Are you looking at specific neighborhoods? How many bedrooms do you want? Do you need a large yard, big deck, swimming pool, man cave, she shed, etc?
Understanding what you can afford in the area you want to buy will help keep you grounded and focused on what you actually want in a house versus what might be nice to have.
4. Save Up For a Down Payment
Unless you want to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), you really want to save up for a sizable down payment. PMI is an added insurance charged by mortgage lenders in order to protect themselves in case you default on your loan payments. The biggest problem with PMIs for homeowners is that they usually cost you hundreds of dollars each month. Money that is not going against the principal of your mortgage.
How much should you save for a house? Twenty percent down is typical with most mortgage lenders in order to avoid paying for PMI. However, there are other types of home loans, such as a VA loan if you have served in the military and qualify, that may allow you to put down less than twenty percent while avoiding PMIs altogether.
As an added benefit to having a sizable down payment, you may also receive a lower interest rate that will save you tens of thousands of dollars in interest over time. So start saving now!
5. Build Up Your Savings
Lenders like to see a healthy savings account and other investments or assets (i.e. 401k, CDs, after-tax investments) that you can tap into during hard times. What they really want to see is that you are not living paycheck to paycheck. A healthy savings account and other investments are a good idea in general as it will help you establish your future financial independence, but it is also a necessary item on your checklist of what you need to buy a house in 2019.
6. Have a Healthy Debt-to-Income Ratio (DTI)
Another key component banks and other lenders consider when issuing loans, and at what interest rate, is your debt-to-income ratio. The debt-to-income ratio is a lender’s way of comparing your monthly housing expenses and other debts with how much you earn.
So what is a healthy debt-to-income ratio when applying for a home loan? The short answer is the lower the better, but definitely, no more than 43% or you may not even qualify for a loan at all. There are two DTIs to consider as well.
The Front-End DTI: This DTI typically includes housing-related expenses such as mortgage payments and insurance. You want to shoot for a front-end DTI of 28%.
The Back-End DTI: This DTI includes all other debts you may have, such as credit cards or car loans. You want a back-end DTI of 36% or less. A simple way to improve this DTI is to pay down your debts to creditors.
How do you calculate your DTI ratio? You can use this equation for both front-end and back-end DTIs:
DTI = total debt / gross income
7. Budget for Extra Costs
There are a lot of little costs that go into buying a house that are overlooked by new home buyers all the time. Though there are some things, such as sales tax and home insurance, that can be wrapped into a home loan and monthly mortgage, there are several little things that cannot be included into the home-buying package and need to be paid for out of pocket.
Though these items can range in price depending on the area, size and cost of the house you’re buying, here is a list of extra costs you should consider (not all inclusive):
**Property taxes and home insurance can be paid separately or your lender could include it into your monthly mortgage payment.
8. Don’t Close Old Credit Card Accounts Or Apply for New Ones
Closing a credit card account will not raise your credit score. In fact, in some cases, it may actually lower it. Instead, try to pay down the balance as much as you can, while continuing to make your monthly payments on time. If you have an old credit card you never use anymore, just ignore it, or at least don’t close it until after you have purchased your new home.
Opening new credit cards before buying a home is also not a good idea. You don’t want creditors checking your credit or opening new cards under your name, as you may lose some points on your credit score.
The absolute worst thing you can do is max out one of your credit cards, even if the limit on the card is low. If you do, your credit score may plummet. Try tackling your credit cards by paying on the ones with the highest interest rate first, then as one gets paid off, focus on the next card until you’re free and clear.
9. A Solid Employment History
If you haven’t gotten the picture yet, lenders like consistency, including your employment history. Lenders like to see a borrower with the same employer for about two years.
What if you have a job with an irregular or inconsistent pay schedule? People with jobs such as contract positions, who are self-employed, or have irregular work schedules can still qualify for a home loan. A mortgage known as a ‘Bank Statement’ mortgage is becoming rapidly popular with lenders as more self-employed or what has been referred to as the ‘gig economy’ has taken off.
10. Know the Difference Between a Fixed Rate and an Adjustable Rate Mortgage
The difference between these two types of mortgage rates really lies within their names. A fixed rate loan is exactly that, an interest rate that will never change the moment it’s locked in. You will pay the same amount the very first month you pay your home loan and will continue to pay that same exact amount over the course of thirty years (or however long the loan term is).
An adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) is typically a mortgage that starts out as a lower rate than fixed interest rates but then is adjusted each year typically resulting in a rate higher than a fixed rate. A 5-1 ARM is a popular mortgage offered by lenders, which is a hybrid between fixed and adjustable rate mortgages. Your mortgage would start out at a lower fixed rate for the first five years, then after that time period has elapsed, the rate would then be adjusted on an annual basis for the remainder of the loan term.
11. Follow Interest Rates
It is important to know what interests rates are doing. The big question is are they on the rise or are they falling?
When the economy is good the Federal Reserve typically raises the interest rate in an effort to slow down economic growth in order to control inflation and rising costs. When the economy is in the dumps the Fed does the exact opposite. They lower the interest rate in order to entice more people to make larger purchases that require loans (i.e. land, cars, and houses) to help stimulate the economy.
As new soon-to-be homeowners, it’s a good idea to know how the overall economy is doing, and more importantly, how it’s impacting the interest rates you’ll soon be applying for. In 2018, after years of bottom of the barrel interest rates, the Fed raised interest rates three times and is projecting to raise it three more times in 2019.
Why are small hikes in interest rates so important to you? To put it into perspective, even a one percent increase in your interest rate on a home loan is the difference of paying or saving tens of thousands of dollars in interest payments on your home loan over time.
12. Know How Much Time it Takes to Buy a House
The home buying process from start to finish is time-consuming and very relative to individual circumstances and the housing market in your area. However, there are some general universal constants that you can expect, such as a cash offer on a house is usually much quicker than a traditional loan, and if there is a perfect house in a good neighborhood and at a great price, you better expect competition and added time for a seller to review offers.
Depending on the housing market in your area and possibly which season you’re buying in, it can take you a couple of weeks to find a home or more than a year. But after you find your home you can typically expect the entire process from making an offer on a house to walking in its front door, to be as little as a few weeks to a couple of months on average.
13. Find a Knowledgeable Real Estate Agent
There are several ways to find a knowledgeable real estate agent. Many people rely on recommendations from friends and family, while others look to online reviews. While both of these scenarios work really well and can land you a great real estate agent, the reason these agents rise above the others as the best of the best or the crème de la crème is because of their intentions.
A good real estate agent isn’t trying to get you into a house as quickly as possible so they can earn acommission. Instead, you want an agent that will act as your guide through the home buying process, while having your best interests in mind. A good agent will be able to tell you straight if they think a house is a good fit for you, or if you should keep looking. They should also be expert negotiators so that you get the best deal possible.
14. Find a Mortgage Lender
There are a few things to keep in mind when researching a mortgage lender. The first thing that comes to most people’s’ minds is what mortgage rate can they get. You may have to shop around to find the best rate because lower the rate the more money you save.
Secondly, how does that mortgage lender rate compared to other lenders? By looking at positive and negative online reviews you can usually establish a theme pretty quickly of the strengths and weaknesses of the lender, and what you can possibly expect for a level of service down the road.
Ask the lender what their average length of time is to close on a house after the offer has been accepted? A good lender versus a bad one can be the difference of moving into your new home two to four weeks earlier. You want to find out how streamlined their processes are.
15. Get Pre-approved
When being approved by a mortgage lender, you should be aware that there is a small but relevant difference between the typical fast preapproval for a home loan versus an underwritten pre-approval.
The fast pre-approval usually encompasses a credit report and a loan officer review and can be done in less than a couple of hours. This basic pre-approval allows you to quickly know how much you can afford and then make an offer on a house that may have just come on the market.
The underwritten pre-approval usually takes about twenty-four hours and includes a credit report, loan officer review, underwriter review, and a compliance/fraud review. Though this process takes longer, your offer on a house is actually stronger. Eventually, if you’re planning on buying a house, you will have to go through the underwritten pre-approval process anyway, so it’s better to jump on it from the start.
16. Research Neighborhoods or Areas You Want to Live
There are many variables to think about when researching your future residents. The key to beginning your research is to determine those variables most important to you. Are you looking for a good school district, a large house, convenience to commuter options, or a specific neighborhood that is extremely friendly and ranks high on Walk Score?
Your real estate agent will most likely tell you to figure out your list of the things you absolutely want in a house versus the extra features that you would like to have, but wouldn’t deter you from a house if it wasn’t there.
Your list will help your agent narrow down the number of houses they’ll show you, saving you time by only showing you houses you’d actually be interested in.
17. Shop For Your Home and Make an Offer
Now that you know where you want to live and you’re pre-approved, the fun begins. You get to look at houses! Once you find the house you know would be a great fit for you and your family, you’ll want to make an offer.
There are numerous variables to consider and hopefully, your knowledgeable real estate agent will help you through this process. Understanding the market conditions, how houses have been selling in the neighborhood and at what price (above or below asking), and knowing if there are other competing offers will help you assess and determine how you’d like to make an offer.
Negotiating an offer on a house can be emotionally taxing, so do your research and rely on your agent’s advice so you come to the table prepared.
18. Get a Home Inspection
Congratulations are in order! The sellers have accepted your offer. Now you want to get the home inspected to make sure there are no underlying issues that could cost you money down the road, such as a bad roof or foundation. Usually, a home inspection is a contingency built into the initial offer, and your real estate agent can help you set this up. However, it is recommended to hire an inspector that is certified by a national organization (such as ASHI or Inter-NACHI). Though you can waive this contingency if you’re trying to make your offer more competitive in a hot market. Just be aware that if you do waive a home inspection contingency, you may be taking on considerable risk.
There are several types of home inspections, but in general, a typical home inspection involves a certified inspector that will go in, around, under, and top of your house looking for anything that could be of concern, such as structural or mechanical issues. The inspector would also look for safety issues related to the property. Though they will go into crawl spaces and attics as part of their inspection, they will not open walls. They will inspect the plumbing and electrical systems and should point out any defect in the property that could cost money down the road for the homeowner.
Then they will put their findings into a nice written report for you with pictures, which then basically becomes a miniature instruction manual for your house. No house is perfect, but the report will give you a great snapshot of the property at the time of the inspection. If there are fixes that need to be addressed, this report will certainly let you know.
You should also know that the sellers are not required to make any repairs to the property. However, you can request them through your real estate agent, which will let you know what repairs are reasonable or not.
19. Have the Home Appraised
Home appraisals are an important part of the process because oftentimes house prices can quickly skyrocket when the housing market is hot, and banks do not like to loan out more money than what a home is worth. A home appraiser will not only tell you what the home is actually worth for the area and for the current housing market, but this appraisal will also directly affect the size of loan the bank will give you.
If the home appraisal comes back and states that the house is worth $300,000, but you made an offer of $310,000, the bank will most likely only lend you $300k. You will then either be stuck with paying the additional $10k out of pocket, or you may try to renegotiate the price with the sellers to see if they would be willing to come down. Or you may lose the house altogether.
Also, the mortgage lender will usually set up the home appraisal so you can take this time to focus on other home-buying tasks that need to be finished up.
20. Close the Sale and Sign The Papers
Congratulations, you’re a homeowner! Your real estate agent should help you map out the last details, such as when and where you should sign all the papers to take ownership of the house and, of course, the handing over of the keys. Welcome to your new home.
Last week, I introduced you to the GFCI outlet. I talked about how they function, why they are necessary, and where they should be located. To summarize, they are safety devices designed to prevent fatal electrocution accidents and should be located in all wet areas and areas with good potential for ground contact (think exterior). This week I will go into the different types of GFCI devices, common installation practices, and how to test them.
Types of GFCI Devices
Two types of GFCI devices commonly seen in a home inspection are outlets and circuit breakers. GFCI circuit breakers are located at, you guessed it, the main breaker panel. These protect all of the outlets on the circuit and don’t require any GFCI outlets to be installed in the circuit. GFCI beakers are often used to protect jacuzzi tubs where the outlet for the pump is concealed inside the tub enclosure. This prevents having to disassemble the tub enclosure to reset the outlet in the event of it tripping. These devices have a test button just like the outlets; to reset them you simply turn the breaker back on.
The other type of GFCI device, which I have already talked a little about, is the GFCI outlet. You’ve probably already seen them around your house. A distinguishing feature of a GFCI outlet is the presence of two buttons, one which says “TEST” and another labeled “RESET.” We will discuss these buttons and their functions in a bit. Similar to the GFCI breakers, a single GFCI outlet can protect other non- GFCI outlets on the circuit as well. If you look on the back of a GFCI outlet you will see terminal screws labeled line and load. Power coming into the outlet should be wired to the “line” side of the outlet. Any outlets to be protected “downstream” of the GFCI outlet should be wired to the “load” side of the outlet. Many homes use a GFCI outlet located in the garage to control or protect all of the exterior outlets. They may also install a GFCI in one bathroom that protects all of the other bathroom outlets. Each house is different, but a thorough home inspector will note GFCI outlet locations and the outlets they may or may not protect.
Testing GFCI Devices
Just like smoke detectors and other home safety devices, GFCI outlets should be tested regularly to ensure they are functioning properly. As part of a your home maintenance plan, you should test GFCI outlets monthly. Luckily, it is a very simple process. All you have to do is push the test button. When you push the test button, you can have a few possible outcomes:
Now, suppose you want to find out which non-GFCI outlets in your house are protected by an upstream GFCI outlet. A simple way to test them, the way I test them during an inspection, is to use a GFCI outlet tester. The tester can be found at your local home improvement store for under 10 dollars. You simply insert the tester into the Non-GFCI outlet and press the test button. If the power goes out, you know the outlet is protected. The trick can be figuring out which GFCI outlet is protecting it. I recommend making sure the house is nice and quiet so you can listen for the GFCI outlet to trip so you can determine its location. There’s almost nothing more frustrating than a tripped GFCI that you can’t find.
I hope I’ve answered any questions you may have had about GFCI outlets. If not, drop me a comment below and I’ll answer it or make it a future blog post!
For this week and next week’s blogs, I will be looking at GFCI outlets. I will discuss how they work, why they are needed, where they are needed, and how you can test GFCI outlets in your home.
Before we jump into GFCI outlets, we need to talk a little bit about wiring. In an electrical system, there are 2 wires that normally carry current. One of the wires makes the connection to the earth. This wire is considered a grounded conductor (not to be confused with the ground wire) and the other wire is considered an non-grounded conductor. The grounded conductor is (usually) the white wire and is referred to as the “neutral” wire. The non-grounded conductor can be any color other than white or green, although it is usually black. It is referred to as the “hot” wire.
Electricity’s goal always has been and always will be to find its way back to the earth. This is what causes lights to illuminate and other electrical devices to function. Electricity travels from the “hot” wire through a light or other electrical device and back to earth through the “neutral” wire. This inherent property of electricity is also what makes it a safety hazard.
Electricity can’t differentiate between a light bulb and a human being. If you provide electricity a path to ground through your body, it will pass through it just the same as a light bulb. When electricity finds its way to ground in a manner that it wasn’t supposed to, such as through your body, this is known as a ground fault. Wet areas in the home such as the kitchen and bathroom are prime locations for shocking experiences. A wet hand holding on to a faucet while another part of the body comes into contact with faulty wiring could spell disaster. This is where the GFCI outlet proves its worth.
A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, GFCI for short, is an electrical safety device designed to prevent fatal electrical shocks due to ground faults. A GFCI device monitors the electricity coming in and compares it to the electricity going back out through the grounded conductor. When the GFCI outlet senses a difference of as low as 5 milliamps (.005 amps), it shuts down or “interrupts” the circuit within milliseconds as a ground fault is most likely occurring. It’s not so fast that you won’t feel a shock at all, but it will prevent a fatal electrocution.
GFCI outlets requirements in the residential setting first appeared in 1971. They were first required to be installed near swimming pool equipment. Fast forward to today, and GFCI outlets are required to be installed in the areas of the home where shocks are most likely to occur, wet areas and areas where ground contact opportunities are best. This includes garages, exterior outlets, bathrooms, kitchen countertops/islands, basements, crawlspaces, and outlets within 6 feet of plumbing fixtures. Click here to see a great chart that illustrates when GFCI outlets became required in each respective area of the home.
That's a good stopping point. Next week I will talk about different types of GFCI devices, common installation practices, and how you can test the GFCI outlets in your home.
In my first post, "Aluminum Wiring: Why Is It A Concern?", I talked about the differences between aluminum and copper wiring, the problems associated with aluminum wiring , and the solution for those problems. In this post, I continue by talking about where aluminum wiring is still commonly used today, requirements for using aluminum wiring, insurance companies, and what you should do if your home has aluminum wiring.
Making A Better Aluminum
With all the problems discovered shortly after aluminum wire’s introduction to the home building industry, wire manufacturers searched for a way to improve aluminum wire and “stop the bleeding” if you will. In the early 70s, they came up with a higher quality alloy that worked much better in electrical applications.
Too Little Too Late
This new and improved aluminum wire proved to perform much better than previous iterations. However, by the time these improvements were made, aluminum wire’s reputation was so tarnished that nobody was buying it. The late 1970s was the end of the road for solid strand aluminum wire.
While most manufacturers have ceased production of solid strand aluminum wire, aluminum wire can still be found widely used in the multi-strand form. Multi-strand aluminum wiring is commonly used to supply power to power hungry appliances such as stoves and HVAC units. It is also used for service entrance conductors into the home.
Now let’s look at a couple requirements for aluminum wire still in use.
A special paste was developed for use at the connection points of stranded aluminum wire. This paste or “joint compound” prevents oxidation (rusting) of the wires and is also electrically conductive.
No Push-in Connections
Testing has proven that aluminum wire performs much better when used with screw connections rather than push-in connections. The screw connection involves wrapping the wire around the screw and tightening the screw down. The push-in connection, sometimes called a quick connect or “stab” connection relies on spring loaded contactors to make the connection. For this reason, push-in connectors are not permitted for use with aluminum wiring.
What About Insurance?
Home insurance companies are very well aware of aluminum wire and the worst case scenarios its malfunction can result in. Some insurance companies refuse to insure homes that have aluminum wire present. Other insurance companies may require a certificate from a licensed electrician or power company which states that all aluminum wire connections have been inspected for proper installation.
The Big Question: What To Do?
Your certified professional home inspection has revealed that your current home or prospective home has aluminum wire present. What should you do? There are several options available for dealing with aluminum wiring.
The fix that many people automatically gravitate towards is a complete rewire of the home with copper wiring. This is the most costly option as a complete rewire can cost upwards of $10,000. A complete rewire is something you can try to negotiate for with the seller if you are buying the home. While a rewire is without a doubt the most permanent solution to aluminum wiring, in most cases I believe it to be impractical.
Install Approved Devices
Another option, which I am a proponent of, is to have all of the outlets, switches, and other connection points upgraded to those approved for use with aluminum wiring. This is still a costly option, however it is much more realistic than a complete rewire.
A third option would be to have a licensed electrician come in and “pigtail” all of the aluminum wires with copper wire using copalum crimps. This process involves a special tool that crimps or bonds the 2 wires together. This would allow you to safely continue to use the outlets and switches already installed. Below is a video showing the COPALUM connector installation.
The last option is to do nothing and hope for the best. While I believe this would be a very bad idea, I understand that money doesn’t grow on trees and large scale repairs may not be financially viable. In this case, it is imperative that you have functioning smoke detectors installed in all the proper locations. You should also stay vigilant in watching for any of the signs of electrical issues discussed here.
Aluminum branch circuit wiring has has its share of problems, but significant improvements have been made. While many people call for complete rewiring of the home, neither electricians nor electric authorities believe it to be necessary. A licensed electrician should inspect all connection points and replace or correct them as necessary.
Aluminum wiring is a controversial subject in the real estate world. I often have clients ask questions like, “Is aluminum wiring safe?” or “Does it need to be replaced?”. My short answer is yes it is safe, and no it does not need to be replaced. However, I need to elaborate on those answers, as aluminum wiring requires special considerations.
I often hear people say that aluminum wiring has been outlawed for use in residential construction. This is not true. It is still very much allowed when installed properly.
Traditionally, copper has been (and still is) the preferred conductor since electricity’s inception in the late 1800's. It wasn’t until the 1960's, at the height of the Vietnam War era, that aluminum wiring began to be used in American homes. Copper prices were sky high as it was being used to make munitions and other products for military use. Home builders had to find an affordable alternative. That alternative was aluminum.
Copper is Better
It is well known that copper is a better electrical conductor than aluminum. The manufacturers and rating agencies knew this and required aluminum wire be sized one gauge larger than copper wire to carry the same current. Where a branch circuit to a light fixture is traditionally ran with 14 gauge copper, it would have to be ran with 12 gauge aluminum. The smaller the the gauge, the larger the wire.
Problems began to arise a short time after aluminum wire became widely used. Issues included lights flickering, cover plates on switches and receptacles would be warm to the touch, and burnt wire insulation. These were all caused by the aluminum wire overheating for several reasons we will look at below.
Aluminum wire is softer that copper which made it much more susceptible to cuts and nicks when removing insulation to make connections. When an area of a wire is damaged, that place becomes a hot spot that will overheat.
When electricity passes through a wire, it heats up. When metal heats up, it expands, and, consequently. it contracts when it cools down. Aluminum has a higher expansion rate than copper. The expansion and contraction cycle due to heating and cooling would cause what is referred to as “creep.” When connected to outlets not approved for use with aluminum wire, the wire would literally creep out from under the terminal screw holding the wire down. This created a loose connection that would overheat.
As with any metal, aluminum will oxidize, more commonly known as rusting. The difference between copper and aluminum is that the rust formed on copper is still a good electrical conductor. The rust that forms on aluminum does not conduct electricity well at all. It creates resistance that will cause overheating.
The problems noted above all occurred at the connection points like those receptacles, switches, light fixtures and at the main panel. The way to prevent these issues was, and still is, to use special connectors approved for use with both copper and aluminum. There were receptacles, switches, wire nuts, breakers and other electrical devices designed for this purpose. They should be marked or labeled with one of three markings: CO/ALR, AL-CU, or CU-AL.
Building inspectors were not common at the time when aluminum wiring was being installed. As a result, aluminum wiring was installed in many homes without connectors approved for use with aluminum. This is where the problems occurred and are still occurring today.
Stay tuned for my next post in which I will discuss more issues associated with aluminum wiring, insurance companies, and what to do if your house has aluminum wiring.
You've just built the home of your dreams. You agonized for months over design options and finishes. You stopped by countless times to see the progress. The process you thought would never end is finally complete and you're wondering if you should have it privately inspected. The answer is a resounding yes!
A common misconception many people have is that newly constructed homes don't need to be inspected. This couldn't be further from the truth. You are making a lifetime investment in your new home and you need to be sure it is built to last a lifetime as well. I've encountered way too many problems when inspecting new construction homes to believe that there is such thing as a perfectly built home that doesn't need to be inspected.
One myth some builders will tell you is the home has been inspected and passed multiple times by the municipal inspector as part of the permit process, therefore a private inspection would be a waste of your money. Understand that municipal inspectors are often overworked to the point that they don't have time to thoroughly inspect every single aspect of your home. I am in no way saying municipal inspectors are not good at their jobs, they just simply don't have the time. They do a great job of ensuring that homes are built in accordance with current building codes. Keep in mind, however, that building codes are the minimum standards to which the home must conform to. There is a huge gray area between building codes, quality workmanship and best practices. Any reputable builder should welcome a private home inspection. Even the best builders can and do miss things during the construction process.
Another myth regarding new construction inspections is since it is brand new, there can't be any problems. While new homes don't have the same problems as existing homes (such as aging building components nearing the end of their lifespan), they come with their own set of problems, usually related to improper construction techniques. While the average homeowner may notice cosmetic issues, without the knowledge of building codes and proper construction methods or best practices, they may overlook more serious problems. Private home inspections are by no means a code compliance inspection, however, licensed new construction home inspectors understand current building code requirements and construction methods in order to be able to identify any major issues.
Below are a few photos of issues I have found during new construction inspections.
This roof had a large hole in it where conduit for planned overhead power supply had been removed.
This house had a broken window in the attic.
I often find loose wires that were forgotten.
Hopefully these pictures help reinforce my point; new construction homes need to be inspected too!
Without a doubt, one of the most common issues I see pertains to the dishwasher installation. The issue is that the dishwasher drain line does not make a high loop underneath the kitchen sink. In the diagram below, you can see that a high loop is just what it sounds like.
As you see, the dishwasher drain should make a high loop up to the bottom side of the countertop. The high loop is necessary for 2 reasons. The first is to ensure proper drainage of waste water during the drain cycle and prevent siphoning. The second is to prevent contaminated water from the garbage disposal or sink drain from backflowing into the dishwasher.
An alternative to the high loop would be an air gap that is installed through the countertop. An air gap device is used to create a siphon break for the same purposes as the high loop. As you can see in the photo below, it is a bit unsightly. For this reason most homeowners opt for the high loop.
Although all new dishwashers come with a high loop integrated into the unit itself, every installation manual I have read requires the high loop be installed under the sink as well. Luckily this is not a hard requirement to satisfy. A simple and inexpensive fix would require a piece of metal (or plastic) strapping and a screw (left), or for a few dollars more, you could purchase a u-bend bracket (right). Both of the options should be available at your local hardware store.
Imagine this. It's 2 a.m. and you are sound asleep. Suddenly you are awakened by the blaring sound of your smoke detector. Your house is on fire. You need to get out but the hallway outside your bedroom is blocked by flames. This is where the code compliant egress window that should be installed in your bedroom can save your life.
An egress window, referred to in the building code as an Emergency Egress & Rescue Opening, is one that opens directly to the exterior of the home. It is designed to allow occupants to exit the home in case of emergency, or, in a worst case scenario, allow firefighters a way to enter the bedroom to search for and rescue occupants who may be incapacitated. There are specific size requirements for a window to be considered an egress window.
According to the International Residential Code, egress window requirements are as follows:
The diagrams below illustrate these requirements.
During a home inspection, I look at bedroom windows to determine if they are safe. Sure, I could pull out my tape measure to make sure the window meets egress measurement requirements, but I believe it is much easier than that. In fact, I believe anyone could determine if a bedroom widow is safe or not. If you don't think you could reach and/or fit through the window opening with relative ease, then its probably not a safe egress window.
Egress window requirements were seen in building codes as early as 1970, though many jurisdictions didn't adopt these codes until years later. It is not uncommon to see homes with windows that are too small by today's standards, yet were perfectly acceptable when the home was built. If you have aging windows needing replacement that don't meet current egress requirements, have no fear. Most jurisdictions allow you to replace existing windows with energy efficient windows of the same size. Depending on the size of the window, another option would be to replace it with a casement window with egress hinges. This would give you an energy efficient window that also qualifies as an Emergency Escape & Rescue Opening.
Home inspectors should point out windows that are too small as safety hazards and recommend the issue be corrected. While correction would be the best option, it is not always feasible. In this case, another option would be to not use the room as a bedroom.
Have you ever looked at your gas furnace or gas water heater and wondered what the short piece of gas pipe going to nothing was for? Did the plumber possibly leave it in case you wanted to add to the line? It is actually a very useful component of the gas line known as a sediment trap.
Let's look at what the code says about sediment traps:
"Where a sediment trap is not incorporated as part if the appliance, a sediment trap shall be installed downstream of the appliance shutoff valve as close to the inlet of the appliance as practical."
We can see an example of this in the picture below.
The code also specifies some locations where sediment traps are not required: illuminating appliances (appliances that have a flame that is clearly visible during operation), ranges, clothes dryers, decorative vented appliances for installation in vented fireplaces, gas fireplaces and outdoor grills. The orientation of the sediment trap is also important. It must be vertical to function properly. We can see an improper horizontal installation below.
I frequently see appliances required to have sediment traps that aren't equipped with them. I find it odd since sediment traps have basically always been required. I even find them missing during new construction inspections. Apparently, not all installers and government inspectors are concerned with whether they are present or not. To be honest, I am not overly concerned with their presence either. However, I will note the lack of a sediment trap in the report.
If you look at your own appliances or a thorough home inspection report and see that there are missing sediment traps, don't be alarmed. Just consider having one installed the next time the unit is serviced or replaced. If you don't have the issue corrected, it isn't the end of the world. Think of a sediment trap as a cheap form of insurance for your gas appliances.
Colin is a Certified Professional Home Inspector as well as a licensed MS Residential Builder. He has been remodeling homes since he was 14 and even built his own house by hand from the ground up. Colin is also the owner of Wilson Home Inspections.