Most homeowners in Minnesota know it's important to 'winterize' the outside faucets to prevent them from freezing, because freeze damage can destroy the faucet or lead to a burst pipe. The problem is that many people don't quite get it right; winterizing the outside faucets in the fall seems like a simple thing to do, and it seems like it should be straightforward and easy, but there are a few tricks you need to know to really get it right.
Garden hoses - First and foremost, disconnect the garden hose from the outside faucet. If you leave your garden hose attached to the faucet, you're asking for trouble.
Determine if your faucet is frost-free or not. A rule of thumb is that if the faucet has a knob that's perpendicular to the house, it's frost-free. The knob turns a long stem that closes a valve inside the house where it's warm. If the knob is at a 45 degree angle, it's not frost free, and it needs to be winterized. This is only a rule of thumb though; if a boiler drain is installed at the exterior of the home, it will have a knob that's perpendicular to the house, just like a frost free faucet, but it won't be frost free. The photo below shows an example of a boiler drain installed at the exterior of a house.
To know for sure whether a faucet is frost-free or not, look up inside the spout. On a frost-free faucet, all you'll be able to see is a metal stem. On a faucet that isn't frost free, you'll be able to see the valve components open and close when the handle is turned. The images below show a faucet that is not frost-free.
Frost-free sillcocks with an integral vacuum breaker A properly installed frost-free sillcock with an integral vacuum breaker can have the water left on year 'round without any problems. A properly installed frost-free sillcock will have a slight downward pitch; this allows water to drain out when the faucet is shut off.
When frost-free sillcocks aren't installed with this downward pitch, water will sit inside the stem of the sillcock even when it's turned off. The pitch is a little dramatic in the photo below, but you get the point.
If this water freezes, it can burst the stem of the sillcock. Most homeowners don't know this has happened until the first time they use their faucet in the spring. Once they turn their faucet on, water starts shooting out of the burst stem inside the house, making a big mess while nobody is inside the house to see it. This happened to Connecticut home inspector James Quarello while he was inspecting a home a couple of years ago. Better him than me, I say.
The fix for an improperly installed frost-free sillcock is to have it re-installed with a slight downward pitch.
Winterizing standard sillcocks With a standard sillcock, the water needs to be turned off and drained out to prevent freeze damage. To do this, you'll need to first turn off the water supply to the faucet from inside the house. Exterior faucets should have a separate shutoff valve inside the house, but not all of them do. On older homes, these valves are typically located at the ceiling somewhere close to the outside faucet. On newer homes, the valves are typically located right next to the main water valve, and they're also usually labeled.
Once the water is turned off inside the house, the outside faucet needs to be opened up. Next, the bleeder cap inside the house needs to be unscrewed - this will allow water to drain out of the pipes. Depending on how the pipe is pitched, the water may drain through the bleeder cap or through the outside faucet. Keep a small bucket handy when you do this, just in case a lot of water needs to drain out of the bleeder. After the water drains out, you can screw the bleeder cap back on and turn off the outside faucet.
Sometimes, two wrongs really do make a right Some older houses in Minneapolis and Saint Paul don't have a shutoff valve for the outside faucet, and the faucets never get winterized... yet they never have a problem with freezing. How can this be? Here's a hint:
On older houses with no insulation at the rim space, there can be so much heat loss occurring here that the outside faucets never get cold enough to freeze. I call this two wrongs making a right. It's certainly not a reliable method of preventing freeze damage, but it does seem to work.
Vacuum breakers complicate things The problem with external vacuum breakers (aka backflow preventers) is that they don't allow all of the water to drain out. After the water is turned off and appears to have drained out, the rubber seal in the vacuum breaker will still trap enough water to destroy the vacuum breaker, which will cause water to spray out all over the place when the faucet is used again in the spring.
There are two possible solutions: remove the vacuum breaker in the fall, or drain the water out of the vacuum breaker. If the vacuum breaker will just unscrew from the sillcock, go ahead and take it off in the fall. The problem with this is that vacuum breakers are often designed to be permanently installed. They have a little set-screw on the side that gets tightened down until it breaks off, making it so the vacuum breaker can't be removed. If your vacuum breaker leaks every time you turn on your faucet and you need to replace it, there is still a way to remove it without destroying your faucet - I made a video showing how to do it.
If the vacuum breaker can't be removed or you don't want to hassle with removing it, no problem; there is still a way to drain the rest of the water out. If you look up inside the vacuum breaker, you'll notice that there is a small white plastic post. Just push this post to the side, and the rest of the water will drain out. The video below shows how this works.
If the vacuum breaker doesn't have that white post, it may have a plastic ring that will allow it to drain. What about those insulated faucet covers? I don't trust 'em. They're probably just a little better than nothing. Don't waste your time.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
As of January 1st of 2014, there are new requirements for home sellers in Minnesota regarding radon disclosure. The old disclosure form that home sellers would fill out just asked if there were any environmental concerns with radon, and the sellers would check yes or no. It couldn't get any more basic.
If the home hadn't been tested for radon, the answer would of course be "no". End of story.
The new Minnesota Radon Awareness Act requires sellers to give home buyers a lot more information about radon, including whether or not tests have been performed, the most recent test results, any details pertaining to radon reduction or mitigation systems, a warning about radon, and a copy of the Minnesota Department of Health publication titled "Radon in Real Estate Transactions".
Whew. That's a lot of stuff. Here's what the radon section in the new disclosure form looks like:
With the new Radon Awareness Act, radon testing in Minnesota is going to become much more common in real estate transactions. In 2013, my company conducted radon tests at approximately one out of every three buyers inspections that we did; the number will probably increase to at least one in two for 2014.
If you're buying a home, hire a professional to test it for radon. Don't go with the sellers results. I had an almost comical situation occur this fall when a buyer hired us to conduct a radon test along with our home inspection. The seller acted very insulated because she had already conducted a radon test on her own, "proving" that radon levels in her home were low. After some conversation with the seller, it seemed quite obvious that she had placed the do-it-yourself test on the second floor of her home and the windows were probably open when she conducted the test, making the test results worthless. It was no surprise to us when the radon results came back high.
To test your own home for radon, simply purchase a do-it-yourself test kit and follow the instructions. Short-term tests can be purchased online for $7.95 at http://www.radon.com/sub/mn/. Don't bother calling a home inspection company like us; our tests are geared for real estate transactions, where the testing needs to be done quickly by a third party professional.
Click these links for more information:
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
Two years ago I wrote a blog post titled "This Home Inspector's Love Affair With Flashlights", wherein I gushed about my new Fenix TK35 flashlight. Over the past two years I've tried a number of other flashlights, and I'm happy to say that the Fenix TK35 is still my go-to flashlight, but if my dream flashlight ever gets made, I'll kick the TK35 to the curb. I'll come back to that. Today, I'll give my two cents on a few other LED flashlights that I've tried. The flashlights below all use the same 18650 lithium ion batteries.
By the way, this is a home inspectors perspective; if you're looking for technical flashlight reviews, check out CandlePowerForums.
This is an extremely impressive looking flashlight that feels great in your hand and could easily double as a club. With a stated max light output of 1240 lumens, it's the brightest of all the flashlights mentioned here. It also had a very warm light output, which means the light looked yellow-ish, not white or blue. The flashlight comes in a padded case along with batteries, a belt holster, two 18650 batteries, an AC battery charger, and a DC battery charger. Not all of that stuff is listed on the web site, so I'm not sure why they were included.
My problem with this flashlight is that it's unwieldy. To carry this flashlight around, I had to use the holster. Once the flashlight is in the holster it's secure and won't fall out, but it's not easy to put the flashlight into the holster or take it out. This is also a flashlight that requires two-handed operation; it takes two hands to get the flashlight out of the holster, and then takes two hands to turn it on, because the on/off switch is located on the bottom of the flashlight.
As a home inspector, I probably take my flashlight out of my pouch, turn it on, turn it off, then put it back into my pouch about 50 - 100 times during each inspection. With the amount of time and effort it takes to get this flashlight out of it's holster and turn it on, the flashlight is unusable. It's marketed as a "Search and Rescue" flashlight; maybe it would do a great job at that, but I wouldn't know.
This flashlight is my workhorse. I've been using this flashlight for over two years now, and it has served me well. It has a stated max output of 820 to 900 lumens, it feels great in your hand, and has separate buttons for on/off and brightness.
I keep this flashlight in my tool pouch, so it's easy to grab and put away with one hand. Because of it's compact shape, operating this flashlight with one hand feels natural. You can't go wrong with this flashlight.
Fenix also has great warranty service; I wore out the rubber button at the bottom of the flashlight this fall and had to send the flashlight in for repair. Instead of replacing the piece of rubber, they just sent me a brand new flashlight. It seemed a bit excessive, but I sure didn't complain.
Search Ebay for TK35 and you'll find a TK35 knock-off flashlight selling for under $50, which includes batteries and a charger. I ordered one of these to use as a backup flashlight while my TK35 was out for repair, and found that I pretty much got what I paid for.
A couple of other guys in my company bought this knockoff flashlight before I did, and I'm pretty sure none of their flashlights are working any more. Of course, this light doesn't come with any kind of warranty. Don't buy this POS.
I recommend this flashlight as an inexpensive backup to anyone that already has the 18650 batteries and charger. This flashlight can be purchased on Amazon for under $10, and the light output is very similar to that of the TK35. It has a stated output of 1000 lumens.
My main complaint with this flashlight is that it's difficult to toggle brightness modes; you need to give the on/off button a half push to cycle through modes, and it takes a while to get the feel of what a half-click is. Also, if the batteries don't have a full charge this flashlight refuses to stay on the brightest setting.
This isn't a bad flashlight, but as far as I can tell the main thing that differentiates this flashlight is that it's waterproof. For a home inspector, that's not a selling feature. With a $95 price tag on Amazon and a max light output of 650 lumens, I see no reason to purchase this flashlight.
This flashlight is cute as a button, looking like an oversized pen light. If you need to carry a club around, forget this flashlight. The surprising thing about this flashlight is the brightness; it has an impressive 850 lumen output. In a head-to-head comparison, I couldn't tell which flashlight was brighter; my TK35 or this one. If I had to buy a new flashlight, I'd get this one and I'd probably start using it in place of my TK35. Amazon sells this flashlight for $75.
With a flashlight this small, I can even use my retractable tool tether.
See the flashlight details here: http://www.fenixlighting.com/products/fenix-pd35-led-flashlight.aspx
The flashlights discussed above are shown below for size comparison. Click the image for a high-res version.
The first flashlight I used as a home inspector was an Ultra Stinger, and I still miss the design. The shaft was long and skinny, so I marked it at one-inch increments to use it as a ruler. I would frequently include it in home inspection photos showing things like balusters spaced too far apart at guardrails, or auto-reverse sensors installed too high at garage door openers. Because the shaft was skinny and didn't have a flared base, it was nice to use my flashlight to measure insulation in attics as well.
I used a belt loop holster to keep the flashlight on my left hip, and I could easily pull the flashlight out and put it back with either hand. When walking around in attics, I could turn the light on and leave it attached to my hip when I needed to climb around with two hands, which was great.
Finally, this flashlight had very easy one-handed operation, because the switch was ergonomically located near the head of the flashlight.
I would still use this flashlight today if not for the miserable battery life and sub-par light output. The bulbs used to burn out constantly, so I installed an aftermarket TerraLux LED light bulb, which increased the light output and battery life, but it was too little too late. The Ni-Cad batteries just don't compare to lithium ion.
The perfect flashlight for a home inspector would be something the same size and shape as the Stinger Ultra, would have a powerful LED light bulb with a wide spill and minimal spot focus, would take two 18650 lithium ion batteries, and would come with some kind of high visibility etching in the shaft showing 1" measurements. I still have my belt holster. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
This is a guest blog post by Ryan Carey, of My 3 Quotes.
If you didn't call My 3 Quotes and you've just been through 3 very long and very painful window sales pitches, your head is now spinning. One salesperson told you all vinyl windows are junk, one told you to avoid wood windows at all costs, and one said fiberglass is no where near worth the money. They also had different ideas on the best spacer, balance system, weatherstrip, and glass pack. Now, who said what again?
Then came install methods. One salesperson said you need to do a full frame replacement with all new trim, one told you that an insert (retrofit) install will save you money and be just as good, and a third brought up sash replacement as the best option.
Then they all gave a reason why their price was only good for ONE DAY! One salesperson said they would invest "marketing dollars" in your house if you signed today, one had a coupon that was only good for "initial in-home presentation," and one said they would keep a sign in your yard for a month so that you would get the honor of a special deal (that was only good for that day, of course). They were all willing to go 40-50% percent off their list price if you signed on the spot, but the prices still seemed really high.
Confused and annoyed yet? Of course you are! In "Window Replacement: Part 1," we talked about glass packs and U-factors. Now let's talk about materials windows are made of and what install method is best for you.
There are thousands of vinyl window companies out there, with names like Lindsay, Alside, Great Lakes, etc... Not many people have heard of these windows like they have heard of the Big Three- Andersen, Pella, and Marvin (topic of Window Replacement: Part 3). Vinyl detractors attack the strength of the material, how it looks, and how much it expands and contracts.
Similar to vinyl siding, my best piece of advice with vinyl windows is to go with the top option any manufacturer makes. Almost every vinyl window manufacturer has a good, better, and best line. The "best" is absolutely an option for our climate, "better" is not so good for our climate, and "good" is only good for our fish houses and deer stands. The top options use more material for strength, better weatherstrip, the best glass packs, and they have lifetime warranties. Again, go for the overall U-factor of .30 or below.
Vinyl is less expensive than wood and fiberglass, but some people can't get over how they look. Many can find a color that works or pay an upgrade for a woodgrain laminate that matches their trim, but for others it is dead on arrival. That is all personal preference and it's why we have choices.
Yes, vinyl does expand and contract more than any other window material, but that does not have a dramatic effect on the performance. With any window, routine maintenance will need to be done. The line of caulking on the exterior can dry out and separate over time as the material moves, so you will need to re-caulk at some point. Insulation around the window needs to be checked periodically, as well. Low expanding foam is typically used to insulate around a window, but there are times when gaps can occur and a draft may result. Final analysis- Stick with top-of-the-line vinyl, and you'll be happy with the results.
Easily the best looking window material. It's natural, solid, goes with your trim, etc... Now, almost all wood windows are "clad" with a lower-maintenance material on the exterior- vinyl, aluminum, or fiberglass. You can still find an all-wood window, but I don't recommend it unless you're going for that weathered, "Little House on the Prairie" feel on the outside.
The remaining issue for me is the area where the glass meets the wood at the bottom of the window. The new glass packs have helped a lot with condensation and UV damage, but the Minnesota winter will eventually create some freezing, melting, and a little water damage here and there. They won't get black and rot like the first double pane windows from the 70's and 80's, but you will have to grab the steel wool and varnish on occasion at the bottom corners. If you can live with that, you can enjoy your wood windows.
Most wood windows have a 10-20 year warranty (20 on glass, 10 on everything else). Wood windows have many decorative hardware and grid options to further customize the look you are going for (or to match what was there previously). Go by the same guidelines for upper level window lines and low U-factors.
Melt down vinyl and combine it with wood fiber and you have composite materials. We'll talk more about this in Part 3 since one of the biggest replacement window companies, Renewal by Andersen, uses a composite material called Fibrex. It is more sturdy than vinyl alone, and has more of a matte finish. It carries a higher price tag, but it has become a very popular option along with fiberglass.
The newest window material boasts a lot of advantages: the strongest material, least amount of expansion and contraction, basically bullet proof! Fiberglass does have an impressive sales pitch (even if it isn't really bullet proof). Stronger material means the frame and sashes can be narrower. Narrower window frame means more light coming through. You can combine fiberglass with real wood, as mentioned above, or you can have all fiberglass. Some fiberglass windows, like Infinity from Marvin, have a stainable interior that is not real wood but sure looks like it.
The only downside to fiberglass is that you will pay more for it, but many are willing to do that. Fiberglass warranties vary from 10-20 to lifetime.
Once you have the window selected, it is time to tackle the next part of the process: What method of install works the best for you?
I only recommend an insert window replacement when the existing window is a double hung window with wood on the inside and out. The sashes (that slide up and down) can be removed along with the stops to leave a flat frame made of 1" material that easily accepts a new window. The exterior window trim is typically wrapped in aluminum so everything is low maintenance on the exterior. Sometimes there is some rot in the exterior window sill, but that can be cut out and replaced with new wood and then wrapped. You will lose some glass space with this install.
If your current window has vinyl or aluminum on the exterior, or if it is an existing crank-out window, you should always do a full frame replacement. This means the entire window is removed right down to the rough opening, and the new window is attached with a nailing flange to the exterior of the house. New interior trim is also included, so it is a good time to make a change if you don't like your interior casing or you are changing your color scheme.
A full frame replacement will result in the best install for water-proofing and keeping your original glass size. The downside is the additional expense, which could climb higher if siding on the exterior needs to be removed and replaced to get to the existing nailing flange. That won't be a problem if the existing windows have trim. If your windows are in a brick opening, a full frame replacement may not be possible. In those situations, I would recommend a lifetime commercial caulking around the windows as that will be the only line of defense against water intrusion.
So you have had a lot of condensation and it has ruined the window sash (the part of the window that cranks out or moves up and down). The wood around the glass is black but the frame looks OK. Is it possible to replace just the sash and save a bunch of money?
Many salespeople will tell you no, the new sashes will never fit right. They don't want to see the size of their job get cut in half.
The truth is that sash replacement can be a great option, but if you have casements (crank-outs) you need to make sure the existing window manufacturer is still in business. If so, new sashes can be ordered along with new stops or weatherstrip if needed. That will save a ton of money from full frame replacements, which you would normally do for casements.
For double hungs, an entire sash replacement kit can be ordered with new side balancers. For double hungs, I prefer the insert window with its own frame to a sash replacement kit.
The following video gives some good visuals on the differences between the three install methods.
Every single homeowner has a different scenario as far as which install method and window type is right for them. Many homeowners will e-mail me pictures of their existing windows with questions about the best install methods, so I encourage anyone reading this to do the same. Also, My 3 Quotes is a free service so I'm happy to visit the house and take a look first hand.
I'll cover the Big Three (Andersen, Pella, and Marvin) in Part 3 of this series.
Author: Ryan Carey has 15 years of experience in exterior remodeling for Twin Cities Homeowners and Property Management Companies. He is the owner of “My 3 Quotes,” a company that provides the free service of collecting 3 competitive home improvement bids for customers. For more information, visit www.getmy3quotes.com for free home improvement estimates.
The 2011 National Electric Code has an important little note at the end of section 406.4(D)(4) which just took effect January 1st, 2014. The exact text from this section is shown below:
(4) Arc-Fault Circuit-Interrupter Protection. Where a receptacle outlet is supplied by a branch circuit that requires arc-fault ciruit interrupter protection as specified elsewhere in this Code, a replacement receptacle at this outlet shall be one of the following:
This requirement becomes effective January 1, 2014.
This section requires that all replacement receptacles be arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) protected. This means that if you're replacing an old outlet in an old home in a location that needs AFCI protection in a new home, the replacement outlet needs to be AFCI protected.
What's an AFCI device? In short, it's an electrical safety device designed to prevent fires. It looks and acts a lot like a GFCI device in that it has a test button and a reset method, but GFCI devices are designed to prevent people from getting electrocuted, not prevent fires. For an excellent document explaining the functionality of AFCIs as well as the history of these devices, click here: AFCIs Come of Age.
AFCI protection is currently required for all 15 and 20 amp branch circuits providing power to outlets* in residential family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, bedrooms, sunrooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, and similar rooms or areas. Once the 2014 NEC is adopted, both outlets and devices in these locations will need AFCI protection, and list will be expanded to include kitchens and laundry areas.
* An "outlet" is defined in the NEC as "A point on the wiring system at which current is taken to supply utilization equipment." This might mean a light, a smoke alarm, or a 'receptacle'. A receptacle is what normal people call an outlet.
With this new requirement now in effect, I'm guessing the demand for AFCI outlets is going to skyrocket. Home Depot sells AFCI outlets for under $30, but they currently only have white. For more info on AFCI outlets from Leviton, click here: Leviton AFCI Outlets.
Special thanks to Doug Olson at the Richfield Home Depot Pro-Desk for letting me know about this code section that just took effect.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections