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
It's the most wonderful time of the year; it's the time when we release our list of the top 20 home inspection photos that were featured on our Facebook page.
Soffit Bone - This was a flipped house in Minneapolis that had a bone sticking out of the soffit right above the front door. Why? How? No idea.
Brass Has No Class - earlier this year, we spotted the exact same brass chandeliers in two different houses, on opposite sides of town, on the same day. One was in a laundry room, another in an attic.
The title for the above photo was inspired by a recent blog post by MS Home Inspector Gary Smith: Brass Has No Class.
You Need Gutters - this might be the most pronounced drip line we've ever seen.
Glowing Bonding Screw - we never found out what was causing that bonding screw to glow, but we felt pretty comfortable recommending someone get an electrician out to fix it right away.
"You look out for OSHA, I'll paint the soffit." - One of the crazier ladder settings we've observed while inspecting a house.
Rorschach Mold - please look at the wall and tell us what you see.
The Gauntlet - the mouse died of a heart attack.
Overflowing Standpipe - When Milind filled the kitchen sink with water and then let it drain, water backed up out of the standpipe in the basement. Nice action shot, huh?
Minnesota Nice - you'd think we staged this photo, but we didn't. The owner of this Minneapolis home left some appliance manuals on the kitchen table, a three page letter listing the deficiencies they were aware of, a garage door opener remote, a flashlight, and two boxes of girl scout cookies.
Sump Pump to Sanitary Sewer - we blogged about this topic earlier this year: http://www.structuretech1.com/2013/07/sump-pump-shouldnt-discharge-into-the-sanitary-sewer/ . This photo shows one of the craziest ways to get it wrong.
Time-Out Chairs Are All About Placement - want to make your kids behave? Consider a more strategic location for the time-out chair.
Some of my favorite photos are the ones that need no explanation. The rest of these photos are pretty self explanatory.
Dropped Ceilings Were Invented To Hide Electrical Hazards
Jamie Hyneman Toilet
Corner Toilets Are Expensive
Door Stop / Smoke Alarm Combo
Downspout Aimed at Outlet
That Rug Better Come With The House
Some Things Can't Be Explained
Put The Milk In Back
Load Bearing Soup Can
OK, that was 21 photos. We like to under-promise and over-deliver. Just to show we're good sports about this stuff, the last photo didn't come from a home inspection; that's my house. Yes, it still looks like that today. If anyone has a better idea, please share. If you like these photos, please check out our Facebook Page where we have a non-stop stream of them. Happy New Year!
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
Back when I first started doing home inspections, I was under the impression that roof ventilation was the cure-all for everything. I would look at a lot of problems and quickly point to insufficient roof ventilation as the cause, and recommend more roof ventilation as the cure.
Blistered shingles? Not enough roof ventilation.
Ice dams? Not enough roof ventilation.
Frost in the attic? Not enough roof ventilation.
Today I'm much more ho-hum on roof ventilation. Take it or leave it. Asphalt shingle manufacturers require roof ventilation to help preserve the life of the shingles, despite the fact that the color of shingles will have a greater effect on their life expectancy than roof ventilation will. An attic with insufficient ventilation will get warmer than a well ventilated attic, which may increase the temperature of the shingles, which may decrease the life of the shingles... just a little. Proper ventilation will also help to keep the attic space cooler during the winter, which may help to prevent ice dams. Let me say that again; proper ventilation may help prevent ice dams. I'm not saying it will, but it might. The same thing goes for frost in the attic; as I mentioned last week in my post about frost in the attic, proper ventilation may reduce frost accumulation in attics, but it won't prevent it.
In other words, roof ventilation certainly isn't a cure for any condition, but it's still required. Roof vent manufacturers publish installation instructions that are easy to read and should be easy to follow, and roof ventilation is required in section R806 of the building code, but a lot of folks either don't read the instructions or they don't care. Today I'm going to go over a few of the most common roof vent installation errors and issues.
For proper ventilation, both high and low vents should be installed. On paper, the high vents are supposed to act like exhaust vents while the low vents should act like intake vents. Convection is supposed to help make this happen. In reality, it all depends on how the wind blows, convection has little to no effect, and it's never perfect. The intake vents will typically be soffit vents, while the exhaust vents may consist of ridge vents, turbine vents, box vents, or powered vents... but only one of those. The photo below shows an example of these different types of vents, all installed on the same roof, which is a no-no.
When different types of roof vents are installed, there is an increased potential for air in the attic to basically short-circuit. In the photo above, the power vent would probably end up sucking in air from all of the other high vents in the photo, while pulling in just a small amount of air from the lower soffit vents. The solution here is to install only one type of exhaust vent.
Power vents shouldn't be used because they create more problems than they fix. I blogged about this earlier this year: Attic Fans Won't Fix Ice Dams (or anything else). I use the terms 'attic fan' and 'powered roof vent' interchangeably. I also use the terms 'roof vent' and 'attic vent' interchangeably.
I've never been a huge fan of turbine vents because I have it in my head that they may end up causing some of the same problems that powered roof vents do, but the fine folks at Complete Building Solutions swear by 'em, and I trust those guys, so I won't complain about turbine vents. The one thing I'll mention is that turbine vents need to be installed perfectly level; when they're not installed level, they don't turn. In the photo below, the vent on the left wasn't level. Do you see anything else that's wrong in the photo?
The other thing about turbine vents is that they really do pull air out of the attic; if air sealing hasn't been performed in the attic, they'll pull air into the attic from inside the house, and shouldn't be used. That bears repeating: do not install turbine vents if the attic has not been professionally air-sealed.
Current standards specify a 50/50 split between high vents and low vents, but how are low vents supposed to be installed in a house with no soffits?
Without any low vents, the high vents will tend to pull conditioned house air into the attic through attic air leaks. One solution would be to install fascia vents, and another less desirable option would be to install a bunch of box vents low down on the roof. I could go on and on with these roof vent installation errors or shortcomings, but I never make a huge deal about any of this stuff because I don't think it makes a ton of a difference. As I mentioned at the end of last week's blog post about frost in the attic, focus on sealing attic bypasses before addressing ventilation. Ventilation mostly helps to hide other problems.
For more reading material on roof ventilation, check out the links below:
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
With the cold snap last week, I've seen a rash of frost covered attics. I also received an email this week that inspired me to blog about this:
A couple of years ago my husband and I contacted you about frost accumulating in our attic. My husband filled in all the attic bypasses as you suggested and also put in an outside attic vent. This year with our extremely cold weather, frost is accumulating again. Do you have any other suggestions? - Wendy Wils
I've blogged about frost in attics before, but it's been a few years and it's time to re-visit this topic. To start, frost shows up in the attic when moisture-laden air from the house gets into the attic. That's about it, pretty simple. When the moisture gets into the attic, it condenses on the roof sheathing in the form of frost. The frost itself doesn't do any damage, but once it melts things get wet, which is when the damage occurs. Melting frost can lead to deteriorated roof sheathing, mold on the roof sheathing, wet insulation, and water stains on the ceilings. All bad stuff; you definitely don't want frost is your attic.
Frost gets into the attic from air leaks, or attic bypasses. I've blogged about attic air leaks many times, and I've shared photos of attic air leaks; check out my post on moldy attics for some good examples of attic bypasses. Of course, any type of exhaust fan needs to be exhausted directly to the exterior, and never into the attic. Even if the exhaust fan is aimed at a roof vent, this isn't good enough. A lot of moist air will still find it's way back into the attic.
The best way to prevent frost from accumulating in an attic is to seal off attic air leaks. Click here for an excellent guide to attic air sealing. While seemingly small air leaks may not seem to be important, these can add up to a lot of frost accumulation in the attic. It's important to seal all attic air leaks; not just the big ones. Once every little air leak has been perfectly sealed, the attic will be frost free. The only problem with doing all of this air sealing is that the air leaks are located underneath the attic insulation, and it can be very difficult to find every air leak without completely removing the attic insulation. For this reason, it's nice to start with the easier stuff first.
The more humid a house is, the more frost you'll find in the attic. The houses with the worst frost problems always have a whole-house humidifier running, which is why I'm not a fan of humidifiers. They destroy houses. If you have a frost problem in your attic, be sure to take care of all the easy, obvious stuff before crawling around in your attic. For the love of love, turn your humidifier off.
Replace the standard switches on your bathroom exhaust fans with timers that will run the fans for an hour at a time. Here's an example of a timer switch that can be used for motors and doesn't require a neutral wire. Once those timers are installed, train everyone in the house to run the bathroom fan for 30 - 60 minutes after every shower or bath; this is how long it takes to get indoor humidity levels back to normal. Just running a fan while taking a shower won't do much.
If you don't have exhaust fans installed in bathrooms that are used for showers or bathing, fix that. I don't care what the building code says, you need a fan in these bathrooms.
If you have a kitchen exhaust fan, use it while cooking. Ovens generate a lot of moisture.
Consider installing an HRV if you don't have one. HRVs replace damp indoor air with dry outdoor air, and recapture a fair amount of heat at the same time. This will certainly lower humidity levels in the home. If you already have an HRV, make sure it's properly installed, properly maintained, and operating.
If you have too many plants (or weeds) in your home, get rid of 'em. I can't say how many is too many, I just know it when I see it.
If you have a damp basement or a crawl space with no vapor barrier, fix it. These are both major contributors to indoor humidity and attic problems.
With all other factors being equal, the air in your house sees your house as a very wide chimney, because warm air rises. The trend is to have air leaving the house at the top, and entering the house at the bottom. The taller the house, the greater this effect. Split level homes with more than one attic space will always have the worst attic problems at the uppermost attic.
When a home has a combustion air duct connected to the return plenum, the house gets pressurized when the furnace runs, which increases the effects of attic air leaks. Combustion air ducts should not be connected to return plenums; they should just be dropped down into the room.
Unbalanced HVAC ductwork can also cause pressure problems. If there are too many return openings in the ductwork in the basement, the basement will be under negative pressure while the upper levels are under positive pressure. Sealing up all of the holes and gaps in your furnace ductwork can actually help to decrease the severity of attic air leaks. One simple test to find out if your basements "sucks" is to position a door to the basement about 1" away from being closed, then turn the furnace fan on. If the door closes by itself, it's an obvious sign that the ductwork is not properly balanced.
Let's think that one through. If an attic doesn't have enough insulation, it will be warm. Adding insulation will make the attic colder. The colder it is in the attic, the greater the potential for frost accumulation. Adding insulation to an attic will only make things worse when it comes to frost. Insulation should only be added after air sealing has been performed. If it's not in the budget to do both, then just have the air sealing done. This is much more important.
Bah-humbug. Focus on all the other stuff listed above first. Proper ventilation in the attic may reduce frost accumulation, but if done wrong, simply adding more roof vents might actually make for more frost. I'll have more on roof vents next week.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
This is a guest blog post by Ryan Carey, of My 3 Quotes.
Time for window shopping? Get ready for the product that was absolutely made for the kitchen table sales pitch. Windows are a salesperson's dream, chock full of parts and pieces that can be handed to the homeowner, moving sashes to display operation, and a light kit to show the effectiveness of the new glass, featuring a heat lamp powerful enough to singe your corneas!
Early in my career, a sales manager once told me, "You sell the sizzle, not the steak." Windows certainly have a lot of "sizzle" terms that sound pretty impressive, like Constant Force Balancer, Block and Tackle, Low E, Argon Gas, Krypton Gas, Triple-Fin Nylon Pile Weatherstrip, Warm-Edge Spacer, Neat Glass, Fusion Welded Corners, the list goes on and on... Let's navigate around this "sizzle" and see what actually makes a good "steak" when replacing your windows.
If you decided not to use My 3 Quotes (bad idea) and you are on your third 3-hour window presentation with all of these terms swimming around in your head, how do you know which features are the most important? The one measuring stick that cuts through all of the subterfuge is the window's U-factor. U-factor measures the amount of heat transfer, which tells you how well the window insulates. The lower the number, the better. A U-factor of .30 or less was required on the last round of window tax credits and that is the minimum I would recommend in our Minnesota climate, however, .35 is the minimum Minnesota Energy Code requirement.
Ask for the NFRC sticker verifying the window's U-factor from your contractor. The NFRC is the National Fenestration Rating Council. For those of you who would like to learn a new word, "fenestration" is a term that means "the openings in the walls of a structure." Those openings get filled with windows and doors, thus the NFRC rates windows and doors. Got it? Good. So, if one window has a U-factor of .27 and the other is .34, the .27 is significantly better. But what if the .34 window has "triple fin nylon pile weatherstrip?" It doesn't matter what amazing bells and whistles that window has; it's not as good in the efficiency department, which is one of the main reasons we replace our windows. DECEPTIVE MARKETING WARNING: Some windows have brochures showing windows with really low U-factors, but when you read the fine print, it says that the U-factor is being measured from the center of the glass. The full unit U-factor is the only one that matters, so if a salesperson tells you their double pane window has a U-factor of .23, ask them, "Is that full unit or center of the glass?" The salesperson will then know they are dealing with an educated homeowner that they can't B.S. Tell them what "fenestration" means and they may run out the door!
The glass pack is not the only factor that determines U-factor, but it certainly is the biggest. Most glass packs are double pane, with an air space of anywhere from 1/2" to 1". The panes are attached to each other with a "spacer" that runs around the perimeter, and it is a topic of much discussion in a window presentation. The first spacers were all aluminum and if you have wood windows from the 70's or 80's, chances are you will see the silver aluminum between the glass panes. Aluminum is a huge conductor of heat and cold, so it contributes to the condensation that forms on a window in the winter, especially on the bottom edge where the moisture starts to turn the wood black. No window can completely eliminate condensation in a humid house, but the aluminum spacer makes it that much worse.
Today there are warm-edge spacers, made out of non-conductive foam polymers. This greatly decreases the heat (and cold) transfer along the edges of the glass, cutting down on the amount of condensation. However, keep in mind that new windows sometimes cause condensation for the first time! How can that be? It's because the old windows were so drafty that the moisture simply passed through to the outside. With the tight seals from a new install and new windows, the moisture is better sealed in your house and will condense on the coolest surface, being the glass. You will get less of it with the warm-edge spacer. If you can lower humidity levels in your home, that will also help with the condensation issue.
The other technology that cuts down dramatically on heat transfer and condensation are Low E coatings and Argon gas. Yes, better weatherstripping and improving on the window's draftiness has helped as well. However, the majority of your window is glass, and Low E/Argon filled windows have the most dramatic effect on your windows' efficiency and your energy bills. The '70s, '80s, and most '90s windows simply had two panes of clear glass which is really not much better than a single pane unit with a storm window on the outside. That, along with the aluminum spacer, is why the wood around the glass decayed so quickly.
Low E (which means low emmisivity) is a layer of silver oxide particles in the glass that reflects radiant heat back to its source. Therefore, it bounces heat away in the summer and bounces heat from your furnace back into your house in the winter (as opposed to escaping through the glass). It also filters out around 90% of UV rays, which slows down fading to your wood trim, furniture, flooring, pets, etc...
Argon gas is a very heavy gas that goes between the two panes of glass, making heat transfer even harder. If your house was filled with argon gas, you could walk but it would be like walking through water. Heat transfer requires the molecules between your glass panes to become excited and start spinning around, and the heavy gas makes that more difficult. Krypton gas is also available and even heavier, but it is quite a bit more expensive. In case any arch enemies of Superman are wondering, Kryptonite is not available.
Triple pane windows with Kryton gas can get a window down to a .19 U-factor in some cases. I'm not a huge fan of triple pane because of the extra weight that strains the hardware and the extra opportunity for seal failure. When a glass pack's seal is broken, condensation forms between the panes of glass and you can't get to it to clean it off. However, most glass packs are guaranteed for at least 20 years so if you want to pay the extra for triple pane to get the lowest U-factor, you sure can. For my money, using a double pane window with Low E 366 from Cardinal Glass (which is available through many manufacturers) gives you nearly triple-pane efficiency. Watch the heat lamp demo below (every salesperson's favorite part of the pitch) to see how much better your new windows will perform over your old ones. Every company does some variation of this in your house.
This concludes part 1. In the blogs ahead, we'll talk about the different materials windows are made of; wood, aluminum, vinyl, fiberglass, composite, etc... We'll differentiate between retrofit installs and full frame replacements, and we'll talk about the BIG 3 window manufacturers (Andersen, Marvin, and Pella) and how they differ from their thousands of competitors. What's in a name? Stay tuned!
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.