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Bath fan fire hazards

Old dirty bath fans can start fires. A bathroom exhaust fan relies on air moving through the fan to cool it down. When the fan is clogged with lint and dust, airflow can be severely restricted, which makes the fan run hot. You take a hot fan motor and put it in contact with lint and dust, and you have a fire hazard.

House on fire

We've been putting this warning into our inspection reports for the last decade or so, but we experienced this firsthand last week. Our home inspector was inspecting the basement of a 1987-built home when he heard the smoke alarms go off. He went upstairs to check it out, and found the bathroom exhaust fan on fire, with flames licking the ceiling. It was so serious that he called 911 immediately.

Fire trucks

Side note: our inspector called me right after calling the fire department. Of course, after verifying the fire department was on its way and my inspector was safe, my first question was "Did you get a picture?" No, he got the heck out of the house. Probably a good idea.

Thankfully, we hadn't even opened the attic access hatch yet, so there was no possibility for someone to accuse us of starting the fire. As home inspectors, we get blamed for everything that goes wrong with the house. It's not fair, but neither is life. We don't know the official cause of the fire yet, but we do know that bath fans start on fire every day.

What to do

According to Broan, bathroom exhaust fans are supposed to be cleaned twice a year. Twice a year. Wow. Who does that? I sure don't. Maybe I will. Here's a short video showing how this should be done:

After digging into this topic a bit more, I found that another potential cause of bath fan fires is worn out bearings on the motor. From now on, I'll be recommending replacement of noisy and squealing bath fans. I'll no longer consider this to just be a nuisance.

I also found many websites and individuals who said that bath fans are only designed to be run for short periods of time. I had never heard this advice before, and it contradicts the advice that we give to run bathroom exhaust fans for 30 - 60 minutes. So naturally, I called the technical department at Broan to ask about this. They said they've never heard of this before. There's no limitation on how long you should expect your fan to safely run for.

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Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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Home inspection fail files: wrong house

How could a home inspector inspect the wrong house? It's not as tough as it sounds. I've done it twice myself, and at least one other person on my team did it recently. Possibly several inspectors on my team, but only one that I know about ;-).

Wrong Home Inspection

My second 'wrong home' inspection happened in 2008. I knew that I was supposed to inspect a home listed by Re/Max, so I drove down the street looking for the Re/Max sign. Boom. There it was. The home had a manual lockbox code of H-O-T or something like that, and it worked, so I proceeded to inspect the home as usual.

You can guess what happened, right?

The house that I was supposed to be inspecting was about four houses away. Same agency, same lockbox code. Luckily, my clients called to ask where I was about an hour into the inspection. That's the last time I ever made that mistake.

Lesson learned: Double-check the darned house number. Just because the lockbox code works doesn't mean you're at the right house.

Wrong Truth-In-Housing Evaluation

The first time I inspected the wrong house was for a Truth-In-Sale of Housing (TISH) evaluation, which is a pre-sale listing inspection that's required in Minneapolis. It's also known as a "City Inspection" because we do these on behalf of the city of Minneapolis.

The year was 2005, and we received a lot of referrals from an agent who would order inspections on behalf of her Spanish-speaking clients. She ordered a city inspection for a property located on Columbus Avenue, but I went to the same house number on Chicago Avenue, which is one block away.

I knocked on the door and was greeted by Spanish-speaking occupants. They seemed confused and unsure of why I was there, but that was par for the course and I didn't let it stop me. I cheerfully introducing myself as the Truth-In-Sale of Housing Evaluator, showed them my city ID card, and proceeded to inspect the home as usual, repeating "ees ok" as needed.

The occupants followed me around, looking confused and irritated, but I powered on through. There were people sleeping throughout the home, and I did my best to not wake them up.

After I had been there for about 25 minutes, I received a call from the real estate agent asking where I was. I quickly figured out that I had bulldozed my way into the wrong house. I sheepishly apologized and left in a hurry. The occupants looked very relieved to see me leave.

Lesson learned: everyone seems much more believable when they have an ID badge and they believe themselves.

Wrong New Construction Home

For new construction developments, the streets typically aren't mapped out by Google right away, so we have to find these homes the old-fashioned way. No, not with a Hudson map book; we have to get directions. That'll be a very confusing concept to my kids by the time they're old enough to drive.

So anyway, earlier this year one of the inspectors on my team was supposed to inspect a new construction home located at 7648 Archer Pl. He mistakenly ended up at 7648 Archer Pt, which was only one block away. Oh, and wouldn't you know it, that house was also listed for sale.

Same agency.

Same lockbox combination.

We inspected that entire home from start to finish before getting a call from our client asking where we were. Ouch. At least our inspector hadn't driven home yet.

Lesson learned: While Pt and Pl look very similar, they're not at all the same street.

I decided to blog about this topic after commiserating with some other home inspectors from across the country. This kind of thing can happen to anyone, and it has happened to a lot of people. Hopefully, it only happens once. So why did it happen to me twice? I must have a high tolerance for self-inflicted pain.

Author: Reuben SaltzmanStructure Tech Home Inspections

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