A large majority of homes these days have a gas furnace like the one in the photo. In this article, I'm going to point out some of the main components, we will learn about what the components do, and I'll give you some tips on how to maintain your furnace each year.
A heat exchanger is long metal tubes that are inside your furnace. You can't really see the heat exchanger which makes inspecting them rather difficult. The flames from your furnace burn inside the tubes and the toxic gases are vented out of the home through the roof. This keeps the toxic flames and gases separated from the clean, warm air that is blown into your home. If your heat exchanger develops a crack, this can allow harmful gases like carbon monoxide into your home. Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed on every floor of the home, and also within 15 feet from bedrooms.
Gas furnaces need a way to ignite the gas to start a flame. There are mainly two different types of igniters, a standing pilot light, and electronic ignition. A standing pilot light is when the pilot light is on at all times. When the thermostat calls for heat, the gas valve opens and the burner turns on to heat the home. An electronic ignition is either an intermittent pilot light, or a hot surface igniter. An intermittent pilot light is when the thermostat calls for heat, the pilot light turns on and then ignites the burners. Most furnaces these days use a hot surface igniter. This is sometimes referred to as a "glow plug" because when the thermostat calls for heat, this igniter gets red hot and starts glowing. The gas valve will open and when it gets hot enough, it will ignite the burners. In the photo below, you can't really see the igniter, but you can see the red glow as it is heating up.
TIP: If your hot surface igniter doesn't glow when calling for heat, you may have a crack in the igniter which won't allow it to heat up and glow hot enough.
A burner is where the gas and air are combined to create a flame that will heat your home. Burners can be cleaned carefully. Dust and debris can get in your burners and cause the flames to flicker, or it can potentially cause one or more of the burner ports to not ignite. A healthy burner will have blue flames.
Gas (most commonly natural gas and less commonly propane gas) is piped into the home and into a gas valve inside the furnace cabinet. The gas valve controls the gas going into the furnace burner and will also shut off if a safety switch fails.
A thermocouple is used with a pilot light to sense whether the pilot light is lit or not. When the thermocouple heats up from the flame on the pilot light, it sends a 24 volt signal to the gas valve to allow gas to flow and keep the pilot lit. If the thermocouple is going bad or does not sense any heat, then the gas valve close and will not keep the pilot light lit.
When the igniter heats up and ignites the gas, the flame from one burner will pass directly over a small probe called a flame sensor. This sensor heats up from the flame passing over it and sends a signal to the gas valve telling it to stay on. If the flame sensor doesn't heat up or is going bad, it will shut the gas valve off so it isn't spewing gas through the furnace with no flames.
TIP: If your furnace burner will not stay on, chances are, the flame sensor is no good or dirty. If the burners ignite but then shut off right away, this is a good sign that the flame sensor is bad. These sensors can be cleaned with emory cloth, or a very fine grit sandpaper. This will clean the carbon off of the sensor and it can operate properly after. Cleaning this probe can potentially save you a few hundred dollars on a service call.
Draft Inducer Motor
When gas is burned it gives off toxic fumes that need to be vented out of the home. A draft inducer motor turns on to create a small vacuum that pushes the air and fumes up and out of the vent pipe.
A pressure switch is used to make sure the draft inducer motor is on and is pushing gases out of the exhaust pipe. If the draft inducer motor turns off or fails, then the pressure switch will not allow the gas valve to be turned on. This is a safety mechanism to ensure that all the dangerous gases are being pushed up the exhaust pipe.
A blower motor is used to blow air past the hot heat exchangers which heats up the air. This warm air is blown up through the duct work in the house and into rooms through the air vents.
Return Air Filter
I'm pretty sure we've all seen and replaced one of these before. These keep out dust and debris from entering back into the furnace. A dirty air filter can cause a furnace to not work properly and can force the blower motor to work too hard. These should be replaced frequently.
The best tip I can give you is to have your furnace inspected once a year by an HVAC professional. They will clean, adjust, calibrate, and test all the components of your furnace to make sure they are working efficiently and ready for the cold winter months.
Every week I will give you guys a home maintenance tip that you can do to keep your home well maintained throughout the year saving yourselves some money along the way.
These tips are through the the eyes of a licensed home inspector, and they are some of the things that typically “pop up” in a home inspection.
Today’s tip will be focused on radon testing.
If you haven't had your home checked for radon, fall is a good time to do so. The weather gets cooler and windows stay shut more often, so radon is more likely to become trapped in your home.
Radon at high enough levels can be extremely harmful, so it's very important to have a test done to find out how much radon is in your home.
Every week I will give you guys a home maintenance tip that you can do to keep your home well maintained throughout the year saving yourselves some money along the way.
These tips are through the the eyes of a licensed home inspector, and they are some of the things that typically “pop up” in a home inspection.
Today’s tip will be focused on sump pumps.
A sump pump’s main purpose is remove water that has accumulated in a water-collecting sump basin, commonly found in the basements of homes. The water may enter via the perimeter drains of a basement waterproofing system, funneling into the basin, or because of rain or natural ground water, if the basement is below the water table level.
Sump pumps plug into electrical outlets and rely on electricity to operate. So what happens when the power goes out during a big rainstorm? You guessed it.....your sump pump does not kick on and your finished basement gets flooded costing you thousands of dollars in water damage.
Today's tip is to have a water pressure backup sump pump installed. As long as you have water pressure into your home from the city supply, your sump pump will continue to operate even during power outages. The only real downfall to this system are that they are somewhat costly to have installed (roughly $500), and if you have well water, then this is not an option for you.
If you are on a well, I would recommend getting a battery backup for your sump pump with a few spare, fully charged batteries.
The cost of the installation of a water powered sump pump backup system will definitely be much much lower than the cost of damage from a flood.
What is an FHA loan?
An FHA loan is a federal-assistance mortgage loan offered by qualified lenders and backed by the Federal Housing Administration.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, soaring foreclosure and default rates led lenders to tighten their loan requirements to the detriment of the prospective homeowner. The FHA was created during this time to provide lending institutions (such as banks, savings and loan associations, and mortgage companies) with sufficient insurance to allow them to ease up on eligibility requirements for borrowers so that they could be approved for loans that they could not otherwise afford. If a borrower defaults on an FHA loan, the FHA pays off the mortgage from a reservoir of collected fees. The FHA funds this reservoir with fees charged to the borrower, such as an upfront mortgage insurance premium, and small, ongoing monthly fees.
What are some benefits of an FHA loan?
FHA loans offer the following benefits over conventional loans:
How does a home buyer get an FHA loan?
Home buyers who wish to obtain FHA loans need to contact several lenders and ask them if they make FHA-backed loans. Bear in mind that each lender sets its own terms and rates, so comparison-shopping is critical. Next, the lender assesses the borrower for risk by examining their income level, debt-to-income ratio, credit repayment history, and expenses. Certain other factors are also considered, such as how the property will be used, how many units are on the property, and whether the borrower will actually live in the home. Note that prospective homeowners may be denied an FHA loan if they plan to rent the property out to others and not live in it themselves.
What are the limitations and disadvantages of an FHA loan?
In summary, prospective homeowners considering FHA loans should weigh their individual finances, needs and credit history, along with the pros and cons unique to this type of mortgage.
What is a home inspection?
A home inspection is a non- invasive, visual examination of the home's major structures, systems and components that are visible and safely accessible. The inspector should substantially adhere to a standards of practice that outlines what should be covered during a general home inspection, as well as what is excluded. Some inspectors may strictly follow the standards of practice, while others may exceed the standards and inspect other items, or perform a more detailed inspection. Whatever the inspector includes in his or her inspection should be discussed prior to the inspection – this is known as the scope of work. The inspector should be able to provide you with a copy or online link to the standards of practice they follow. The inspector should provide you with a written report, which may include photos and/or recommendations, of his or her findings of the inspection. Read InterNACHI's Standards of Practice to find out what is typically included and excluded in a home inspection.
Why should I get a home inspection?
Buying a home is typically the biggest investment you will ever make, so it's important to get a home inspection because the inspector should be able to discover and document defects that may or may not be obvious to you as a prospective buyer. Such defects can range from simple replacements or repairs, to severe damage or safety and health concerns. Additionally, most mortgage companies require a home inspection on a property before approving the home loan.
Where can I find a home inspector in my area?
There are several ways to find a home inspector. A simple Google search in your area, a Facebook neighborhood group, or even in local ads. You may also find inspectors' brochures by visiting a real estate office. There is no single method that is superior when it comes to finding an inspector who's right for your inspection needs.
Below are some online resources for finding a home inspector near you:
How can I be sure that a home inspector is qualified?
It is important to choose a home inspector who is qualified and holds a license or certification in the field. Many jurisdictions do not regulate home inspections, meaning that anyone could call themselves a home inspector. However, just because someone performs home inspections doesn't mean that they're actually qualified to do so. If you are buying or selling a home in an unregulated jurisdiction, make sure to look for a home inspector with the proper certifications. If you are located in a state or province that does require licensing of home inspectors, you should hire only a licensed professional.
Contact your state by phone or online to find out whether they license home inspectors, and what qualifications they're required to have. License numbers in licensing states may vary in appearance, but you should be able to independently verify it. If your state doesn't require licensing, find out what qualifications and certifications your home inspector has. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors – InterNACHI®– is the largest and most trusted home inspector association in the world. Its members undergo rigorous training to become Certified Professional Inspectors (CPIs)®. They also follow a Standards of Practice and adhere to a Code of Ethics.
Find out if your inspector is licensed and a CPI before you hire him or her. This will ensure that you are hiring only an individual who has received the best training to become a home inspector.
How much does a home inspection cost?
There is no set cost for a home inspection. The cost will vary based on the inspector, the local market, the geographic region, the scope of the inspection to be performed, and more. Before the inspection, you should find out what will be included in the inspection and what won't, and these details should also be outlined in the inspection agreement that you will need to sign prior to the inspection. Some of the major factors in the cost of a home inspection include the square footage, age, and condition of the home.
How long does a home inspection take?
Depending on the home's age, size, and location, as well as the home inspector's own work protocols and ethic, your home inspection may take up to three or four hours. Adding square footage, outbuildings, and/or ancillary services (such as mold or radon testing) will increase that time. It may be necessary for your inspector to bring in a helper for a very large property. If your general home inspection takes significantly less than two to three hours, it may indicate that the inspector was not thorough enough.
At what point in the real estate transaction should I schedule a home inspection?
A home inspection is usually scheduled after an offer has been made and accepted, but before the closing date. That way, the inspector can rule out any major defects that could be dangerous or costly. In rare cases—due to timing or contractual issues—the inspection can be scheduled after the closing date. If this is the case, the home buyer should schedule the inspection for the earliest possible date after closing.
Should I be present for the inspection?
YES! You should attend the inspection, and you shouldn't hire an inspector who doesn't allow this. You can learn a lot by following an inspector through the home. You will certainly gain a better understanding of the home's condition, which will give you insight into its potential sale points and defects. Additionally, you will likely learn information about the home's maintenance, systems and components that may provide useful for the transaction.
Can the home inspector also repair any defects he or she finds?
What if your home inspector is also a licensed contractor? Sounds great, right? Not always. Although it may seem convenient to have an inspector who is also a contractor, it poses a conflict of interest. According to InterNACHI's Code of Ethics:
"The InterNACHI member shall not perform or offer to perform, for an additional fee, any repairs or associated services to the structure for which the member or member's company has prepared a home inspection report for a period of 12 months. This provision shall not include services to components and/or systems that are not included in the InterNACHI Standards of Practice."
If an inspector financially benefits from finding any defects, this can impact the accuracy of the report (whether intentional or not). Make sure the inspector you hire abides by a Code of Ethics and a Standards of Practice.
What happens if the inspection reveals problems?
Every home has defects, even brand new construction homes. It is important to understand the severity of the defect. For example, a missing shingle or dirty air filter can be easily fixed at a low cost. However, if the defect is more extreme, such as a major foundation crack, wood-destroying organism infestation, or evidence of mold, you should find out how these problems can be addressed, and whether you can negotiate their cost with the seller.
If it is determined after you move in that your home has a severe defect that wasn't reported by your InterNACHI® Certified Professional Inspector®, you should check to see if he or she participates in InterNACHI's "We'll Buy Your Home Back" Guarantee.
What is the Buy-Back Guarantee and how does it work?
If your InterNACHI® Certified Professional Inspector® participates in the Buy-Back Guarantee, InterNACHI® will buy your home back if the inspector misses something on your inspection.
Here’s how this program works:
You should always get a home inspection when you purchase a home. They are very valuable and will help you see the home through the eyes of a neutral third party. A home inspector will not tell you if you should buy the home, but they can give you all the info you need on the systems/components and overall condition of the home.
I am a member in good standing of InterNACHI and I participate in the Buy Back Program as well. Give me a call to book your inspection today!
Although trees are generally a desirable feature of home landscaping, they can pose a threat to buildings in a number of different ways. You may want to educate yourselves about tree dangers so that can know about some potentially dangerous situations.
Tree Roots and Foundations
Contrary to popular belief, tree roots cannot normally pierce through a building's foundation. They can, however, damage a foundation in the following ways:
Structural Defects in Trees.
Trees with structural defects likely to cause failure to all or part of a tree can damage nearby buildings. The following are indications that a tree has a structural defect:
Tips for homeowners:
A power strip is a length of electrical sockets attached to the end of a flexible cable that plugs into an electrical receptacle. It is used where electrical appliances in proximity demand more wall receptacles than are available. You may encounter these in older homes that lack enough permanent electrical wall receptacles for the needs of today's families. Homeowners who understand the proper uses and limitations of power strips can be aware of potential electrical hazards caused by their misuse.
Power strips range in appearance from plastic-coated heads to banks of plug-in outlets encased in large metal boxes, often accompanied by LED switches that indicate when the units are turned on. Some models include a push button that automatically trips if the strip becomes too hot for safe operation.
Here are a few no-no's with power strips:
Note that while power strips are designed to distribute electricity, they do not regulate power flow or block electrical spikes or surges. Surge protection is incorporated into some power strips, but it should never be assumed that a power strip offers surge protection without inspecting the unit for the proper UL designation. The misconception that power strips are also surge protectors can lead to costly damage to electrical equipment during a power surge.
In summary, power strips are lengths of electrical sockets that allow multiple appliances to be powered; however, as with all types of extension cords, they should be used sparingly and temporarily with small appliances and electronics, rather than as a substitute for a permanent wall receptacle.
As energy efficiency has become an increasing concern among builders and homeowners, the performance of building materials and components are being scrutinized more closely. In order to maximize levels of efficiency by examining the details of how each individual component of a house performs on its own and as part of a dynamic system, very specific properties are measured and taken into account. This can be especially helpful when trying to select the best building materials for a given application. R-value is the measurement used when quantifying a specific material’s level of thermal resistance. R-value is often the standard consideration when discussing the effectiveness of insulation.
How Does R-Value Relate to Insulation?
Heating and cooling costs account for 50% to 70% of energy used in an average U.S. home. Inadequate insulation can account for a lot of wasted energy, so it is important to be sure that insulation is doing its job properly. The function of insulation is to provide resistance to the flow of heat, and R-value is the measure of exactly this attribute for a given material. A higher R-value equates to higher resistance to heat flow and greater effectiveness in insulating. An insulation material’s R-value, in conjunction with how and where it is installed, will determine its overall thermal resistance and effectiveness. Adding the R-values of each layer of material contained in one building component, such as a wall or ceiling with multiple layers of insulation, will help determine the thermal resistance of the whole component. The way the insulation is installed, as well as other factors, will also affect its thermal resistance.
Important Factors to Consider When Measuring Thermal Resistance
When considering R-value as a means to determine the thermal resistance of a building component, there are other factors that must also be taken into account. While R-values are an excellent guide for comparing the attributes of different insulation products, they apply only when the insulation is properly installed. For example, if two layers of insulation are smashed into the thickness intended for one layer, the R-value does not double. Likewise, if a single layer of insulation is compressed during installation, it will not be as effective. Stuffing batt insulation sized for 5 inches into a 4-inch wall cavity will actually lower its R-value. Ensuring that insulation is correctly installed will help allow the product’s full benefits to be realized.
Also important to consider is the fact that even when installed correctly, insulation affects heat transfer through the insulation itself but not through other materials, such as glass windows and studs. If there are structural gaps in any building penetrations, even insulation with a high R-value that's installed properly cannot mitigate heat loss from air leaks. Studs and windows provide a parallel heat conduction path, and insulation between studs in a wall does not restrict heat flow through the studs. This heat flow is called thermal bridging, and the overall R-value of the wall will be different from the R-value of the insulation itself.
The FTC and DOE on R-Value
In the 1970s, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created a rule requiring insulation manufacturers to disclose R-values at the point of sale and in some ads. This was intended to protect purchasers from false claims made by manufacturers and to create a standard of comparison for products.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued recommendations for insulation R-values in new and existing homes. The recommendations are based on a comparison of the cost for installing insulation versus potential future energy savings. Their recommendations for attics, cathedral ceilings, walls and floors are generally greater than what is actually required by most current building codes.
R-value ratings are a useful tool, especially when comparing the effectiveness of insulation products, but understanding a bit about how other factors affect a building component’s thermal resistance is important if insulation is to be used to its full benefit.
The 2018 IRC (International Residential Code) states that Climate Zone 5 (Chicago) attics should be insulated to R-49 which is over 15" of fiberglass batt insulation. Keep in mind you ALWAYS need to make sure the attic access hatch/door is insulated as well. If your attic is insulated to R-49 but you have no insulation over the attic hatch, it will reduce your overall R-value effectiveness to R-11!
A home's central air-conditioning system must be periodically inspected and maintained in order to function properly. While an annual inspection performed by a trained professional is recommended, homeowners can do a lot of the work themselves by following the tips offered in this guide.
Clean the Exterior Condensing Unit and Components
The exterior condenser unit is the large box located on the side of the building that is designed to push heat from the inside of the building to the outdoors. Inside of the box are coils of pipe that are surrounded by thousands of thin metal "fins" that allow the coils more surface area to exchange heat. Follow these tips when cleaning the exterior condenser unit and its inner components -- after turning off power to the unit!
According to modern standards, air-conditioning condensing units and heat pump units should have a readily accessible electrical disconnect within sight of the unit. The disconnect is allowed to be installed on or within the unit, but it should not be located on panels designed to allow access to the unit.
Make sure the condensing unit outside is sitting level.
Clean the Air Filter
Air filters remove pollen, dust and other particles that would otherwise circulate indoors. Most filters are typically rectangular in shape and about 20 inches by 16 inches, and about 1 inch thick. They slide into the main ductwork near the inside fan unit. The filter should be periodically washed or replaced, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. A dirty air filter will not only degrade indoor air quality, but it will also strain the motor to work harder to move air through it, increasing energy costs and reducing energy efficiency. The filter should be replaced monthly during heavy use during the cooling seasons. You may need to change the filter more often if the air conditioner is in constant use, if building occupants have respiratory problems,if you have pets with fur, or if dusty conditions are present.
Cover the Exterior Unit
When the cooling season is over, you should cover the exterior condenser unit in preparation for winter. If it isn’t being used, why expose it to the elements? This measure will prevent ice, leaves and dirt from entering the unit, which can harm components and require additional maintenance in the spring.
In addition, homeowners should practice the following strategies in order to keep their central air conditioning systems running properly:
Homeowners should perform periodic inspections and maintenance to their home's central air conditioning system. It will keep it running properly and will certainly add to the lifespan of the unit.
Engineered wood flooring is an alternative to solid hardwood flooring made entirely out of real wood. It's currently the most popular type of flooring in the world. North America is the only area left where traditional, solid wood floors still outnumber engineered floors, but engineered wood flooring is quickly catching up, with its popularity for new builds, as well as remodels, increasing steadily every year for the past few decades. Homeowners may be interested in how this product is manufactured and installed, and what its advantages are compared to older, more traditional forms of flooring.
The beginnings of mass-produced wood flooring can be dated as far back as 1903 when it was referred to as “wood carpeting” in a mail order catalog. This flooring consisted of 1½ x 5/16-inch wooden strips that were glued to heavy canvas that was then installed by tacking it down with small nails. The wood was then sanded and finished. The varnishes used were not too durable, so the floors were hot-waxed and buffed to a shine with a floor brush.
Early examples of the “wood carpet” eventually evolved into what is today known as laminate flooring, which consists of melamine-infused paper as its upper layer, and wood-chip composite beneath. Laminate flooring typically features a printed or embossed top layer meant to approximate the look of real hardwood.
The current style of engineered wood flooring has been available since the 1960s, and has steadily increased in quality, leading to improved advantages over traditional hardwood flooring.
Engineered wood flooring is most commonly made with a plywood-core substrate and a real hardwood veneer or skin, which comes pre-finished from the factory. The top veneer, which looks just like the top of a traditional solid wood plank, is called the lamella.
Some engineered flooring utilizes a finger-core construction, with a substrate comprised of small pieces of milled timber running perpendicular to the lamella. This can be made with an additional layer of plywood running parallel to the lamella, which gives it added stability. Fiberboard-core flooring is also available, but it's generally considered to be an inferior option.
Engineered wood flooring is meant to be indistinguishable from traditional hardwood floor once it's installed, and only the lamella is visible. The lamella veneers available are made from nearly every type of common wood, as well as many more exotic ones, in order to provide the same variety of aesthetics typical of quality hardwood floors. The substrate that the veneer is attached to is just as strong and durable as hardwood -- if not stronger -- and the finish applied at the factory often outlasts one applied on-site to solid wood flooring. Even surface effects are available that can be applied to the finish to give the flooring a time-worn look, such as light distressing.
Engineered flooring starts around $3 per square foot on the low end, and over $14 per square foot on the high end.
To judge quality, check the thickness of the lamella, the number of layers in the substrate, and the number of finish coats. Typically, the more layers, the better. Listed below are descriptions of the advantages of adding layers to the construction in the common classes of engineered boards:
The cost of engineered flooring can be around 20% more than that of traditional flooring, but the difference can be offset or recouped by saving on installation, staining and sealing.
Installation of engineered wood flooring is generally quite simple compared to the installation of traditional hardwood, and can often be accomplished by a homeowner without the help of a professional flooring contractor. If the services of a professional are enlisted, the job can be done more quickly and cost-effectively than if solid hardwood were to be installed. Engineered flooring can be fastened in place with screws or nails, glued down, or left to "float," relying on its mass to hold it in place. Listed below are several installation methods:
Advantages of Engineered Flooring
While solid hardwood is a great traditional building material that provides aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound flooring, it does have its limitations. For example, it cannot be installed directly on concrete or below grade, such as in basements. It is generally limited in plank width and is more prone to gapping, which is excessive space between planks, and cupping, which is a concave or "dished" appearance of the plank, with the height of the plank along its longer edges being higher than the center with increased plank size. Solid hardwood also cannot be used where radiant-floor heating is in place.
Engineered wood flooring, on the other hand, can actually provide some distinct advantages over traditional hardwood in many instances and applications. Some of these include:
Engineered wood flooring is increasingly becoming the first choice for floor installations, and its advantages, in many circumstances, can be exceptional.
My name is Chris Dallaglio and I'm the owner of Total Eclipse Inspections LLC. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Radon Measurement Professional, U.S. Dept of Energy Home Energy Score Assessor, part-time blogger.