As a home inspector I see all kinds of homes - all sizes, all ages, all conditions. One of the largest SAFETY issues that I report on has to do with smoke detectors. A large percentage of homes either don't have them where they are needed or they are too old and wouldn't work anyway. We can do better. WE MUST DO BETTER! This post will be written in simple and blunt wording.
Below is a link to a video from a newscast that shows a real world test on smoke detectors. In the beginning of the video the newscaster introduces the story by saying, 'we all have smoke detectors in our homes.' As a home inspector I can tell you for a fact that "ALL" is not a word that I would use to describe reality in our homes. In fact, smoke detectors are either missing where required or just too old to work in the overwhelming majority of the homes that I inspect here in the Cedar Valley. Take a look at the video and then keep reading.
In the video, notice the three types of smoke detectors and the time it took to sense the fire. Keep in mind, THESE WERE WORKING SMOKE DETECTORS!
As the video states there are 3 types of smoke alarm sensors: ionization, photo-eye, and combination photo-eye/ionization.
Ionization (least expensive and detect fast burning) $5 to $10.00
Photo-eye (mid-priced and detect slow smoldering) $20.00 and up.
Combination or dual sensing (most expensive BUT MOST EFFECTIVE) $30 and more.
In the video notice how quickly the dual sensing unit responded. Notice how LONG it took the cheap ionization detector to respond to a slow smoldering fire. The smoke would kill you before the flames ever do.
Updated national building codes REQUIRE dual sensing detectors. Only 10% of the homes in America have a dual sensing device. Codes are updated for a reason. Thirty or forty years ago when homes were made of natural materials the time to evacuate a home was about 15 minutes. Today, due to many man-made materials we have about 3 minutes to get out of the house. For example, there is a reason that the fire department will NOT enter a home to fight the fire once it is confirmed that everyone is out safely.
The floor structure of a newer home is made of materials that rely on glue and high pressure to bond layers of wood together during the manufacturing process to make the individual joist members and plywood as opposed to the solid wood floor joists many years ago. Once the glue reaches a high temperature it simply melts and the system fails. There is no warning. There is no sound. Tests have shown that a manufactured floor system can fail in as little as four minutes. For this reason get as much time as you can to evacuate the home. Use devices that detect slow smoldering fires. It takes several minutes for a cheap detector to sense a fire, several more minutes for you to call 9-1-1, several more for the fire department to show up to even begin to look for you. Television shows make it all happen before the next commercial break. It doesn't happen this way. Realistically, you have only the time OF A COMMERCIAL BREAK to get out safely. "Buy" yourself that time. Get dual sensing smoke detectors.
To make matters worse, most of the detectors I see in a home are either not working due to the batteries or the device is older than 10 years old. Yes, detectors do wear out and need to be replaced. While pushing the test button on the device MAY activate the alarm to sound it is NOT an indication that the "sniffer" on the device is functioning.
Below are some diagrams on where to install smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors (CO) and fire extinguishers. Notice, MORE THAN ONE SMOKE DETECTOR is required per floor with livable space. If you have bedrooms or livable space in the basement you would need to follow the same requirements as the other floors.
In the video these test results even made the fire fighter conducting the test change his own detectors at home. He knows that time is something you just don't have in a fire. "Buy" yourself all the time you can.
I have seen a lot of different temperatures on water heaters when I test them during a home inspection. I test the temperatures at several places in the home for several different reasons.
So, with that in mind what should a hot water heater be set at? It is acceptable to turn your water heater as high as 140ºF if required but higher energy consumption will occur. Be aware that turning up the temperature on your water heater WILL increase your electric or gas bill every month. Adjusting the water heaters temperature higher is sometimes required if it is located far from the point of usage or if it is not properly insulated. If your shower is located on the other side of your home from the water heater, you may want to adjust the temp higher. If there are multiple showers in your home and they are all being used at the same time you can adjust the temperature to prevent running out of hot water.
Increasing your water heater temperature by just 10ºF from 130ºF to 140ºF may increase heat loss resulting in a larger electric bill from $30 to $75 dollars annually. Setting the temperature to 140ºF can also increase standby losses (cost of keeping water hot all the time) resulting in an annual expense around $500 dollars. One benefit from setting your water heater to 140ºF is that this temperature is hot enough to kill almost anything that could be growing inside the water heater itself. If you do decide to raise the temp on your heater for whatever reason, use caution when using faucets, bath tubs, or showers as severe scalding can occur. To minimize the scalding risk, you should ensure you either have or install mixing valves or other temperature regulating devices on any taps you use for washing or bathing. If you turn up your water heater make sure to check the supply temperature at your showers and bathtubs so that the mixing valves are putting out 110 to 120 deg F water. The mixer valves may need to be adjusted again.
With all of this being said I am sure you are asking where I set my water heater? Well, I have mixing valves on my tubs and showers set to 110 deg F. My water heater is set at 132 deg F because I want to kill the bacteria. The water heater sits there all day usually doing nothing but just keeping hot for when I come home and need a shower so 5 to 6 hours of standby time is normal.
So, remember we were discussing about water sitting in the pipes and cooling off? Well, that can be addressed too by installing a re-circulating pump. This insures that hot water is regularly circulated through the distribution system and the amount of time you stand at the fixture waiting for hot water to come out is reduced. Yes, this does use energy, but you may want to consider this with any plumbing upgrade.
I hope you found this helpful and educational. Stay tuned for future posts on home issues.
Message From Jon:
This article below is given as an informational source to help you understand that water heaters do require maintenance. This should give you an idea of what a professional will do, why it should be done and help you decide if it is something you can attempt yourself. Keep in mind, even if you decide you can't attempt this maintenance, it is still something that should be done to prolong the use and efficiency of a water heater. Believe me, it does make a difference. The total replacement cost of a water heater can be as high as $1,000 depending on the type and size and difficulty of installation.
by Fran J. Donegan for The Home Depot
Storage tank water heaters are the type of appliance that can hum along for years. Once installed, they don’t need constant attention. However, they do require maintenance to keep them running at peak efficiency. These are mostly simple tasks that you can do yourself, but you can also hire a pro to perform regular maintenance for you. Here are some tips on how you can keep your water heater working proficiently, and how often it will need maintenance.
Understanding Your Water Heater
Be sure to review the owner’s manual that came with your water heater. It usually spells out necessary maintenance tasks, as well as other important information, such as safety precautions and size specifications. When in doubt, refer to the manual. If you can't find the manual, check the manufacturer’s website for instructions on obtaining a copy.
Consult a professional before attempting any maintenance tasks, and make sure that the water line and the power to the water heater are safely shut off before beginning.
Keep the area around the water heater free of clutter. Gas heaters have vents at the bottom that must be kept clear to aid in the heating element combustion. Never store anything with flammable vapors, such as gasoline or paint thinner, near a gas water heater. Providing a clear space around the appliance makes it easy to get to the water shutoff in an emergency. It also gives repairmen room to work on the heater, should a service call be necessary.
Every Few Months
Drain some of the tank’s water to remove the sediment that collects on the bottom of the tank. All incoming water contains sediment that, over time, can hinder the performance of your water heater. The amount you need to drain will depend on the condition of the water.
Test the temperature/pressure-relief valve. It's located near the top of the storage tank and should be attached to a long tube that extends almost to the bottom of the tank. The valve is designed to relieve pressure that builds up above acceptable levels inside the tank.
Every Few Years
Check the anode rod, and replace it, if necessary. The rod is usually made of aluminum, magnesium, zinc, or a combination of corrodible metals, and is suspended inside the tank. Its purpose is to attract any corrosive elements in the water. The theory is that any corrosion that attacks the rod will not attack the inside walls of the tank. Eventually, corrosion will get the best of the rod, and a new one must take its place.
by Nick Gromicko and
additional commentary by Jon Bronemann
Coauthor's Note: I was having this discussion about attic ladders with my neighbor the other day and thought it would be a good time for an article on this. I see so many of these violations during my home inspections here in Iowa. Many times the violations are on homes that passed a final inspection and then homeowner's, unlicensed contractors or others no familiar with proper safety requirements get into a project that is really over their head and can allow fire to spread or causes structural damage to a home because of the way it was installed.
Attic pull-down ladders, also called attic pull-down stairways, are collapsible ladders that are permanently attached to the attic floor. Occupants can use these ladders to access their attics without being required to carry a portable ladder.
Homeowners, not professional carpenters, usually install attic pull-down ladders. Evidence of this distinction can be observed in consistently shoddy and dangerous work that rarely meets safety standards. Some of the more common defective conditions observed by inspectors include:
The 2009 edition of the International Building Code (IBC) and the 2006 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) offer guidelines regarding attic access, although not specifically pull-down ladders. Still, the information might be of some interest to inspectors.
2009 IBC (Commercial Construction):
1209.2 Attic Spaces. An opening not less than 20 inches by 30 inches (559 mm by 762 mm) shall be provided to any attic area having a clear height of over 30 inches (762 mm). A 30-inch (762 mm) minimum clear headroom in the attic space shall be provided at or above the access opening.
2006 IRC (Residential Construction):
R807.1 Attic Access. Buildings with combustible ceiling or roof construction shall have an attic access opening to attic areas that exceed 30 square feet (2.8m squared) and have a vertical height of 30 inches (762 mm) or more. The rough-framed opening shall not be less than 22 inches by 30 inches, and shall be located in a hallway or readily accessible location. A 30-inch (762 mm) minimum unobstructed headroom in the attic space shall be provided at some point above the access opening.
By Nick Gromicko, Ben Gromicko, and Kenton Shepard of InterNACHI
Most people don’t know how easy it is to make their homes run on less energy. The professional inspector organization, InterNACHI, that I belong to is trying to educate people and change that. we want to change that.
Drastic reductions in heating, cooling and electricity costs can be accomplished through very simple changes, most of which homeowners can do themselves. Of course, for homeowners who want to take advantage of the most up-to-date knowledge and systems in home energy efficiency, InterNACHI energy auditors can perform in-depth testing to find the best energy solutions for your particular home.
Why make your home more energy efficient? Here are a few good reasons:
1. Find better ways to heat and cool your house.
As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that energy bills can be reduced through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:
2. Install a tankless water heater.
Demand-type water heaters (tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don't produce the standby energy losses associated with traditional storage water heaters, which will save on energy costs. Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. A gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don't need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.
3. Replace incandescent lights.
The average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights convert approximately only 10% of the energy they consume into light, while the rest becomes heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), can reduce the energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer further energy savings by reducing the amount of time that lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:
4. Seal and insulate your home. Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy-efficient, and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home can improve comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills. An InterNACHI energy auditor can assess leakage in the building envelope and recommend fixes that will dramatically increase comfort and energy savings. The following are some common places where leakage may occur: electrical receptacles/outlets; mail slots; around pipes and wires; wall- or window-mounted air conditioners; attic hatches; fireplace dampers; inadequate weatherstripping around doors; baseboards; window frames; and switch plates. Because hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that save them money on cooling and heating, such as: Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas. Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry. Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foamboard insulation in the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.
Hitting Home Blog
Jon Bronemann - author of "The Hitting Home" blog. Check it out and you will see what I see everyday and why hiring a quality contractor is so very, very important. Seeing is believing and it really does "Hit Home".