Indoor Air Quality Issues

Indoor air quality is generally worse than most people believe, but there are things you can do about it.

Some Quick Facts:

  • Indoor air quality can be worse than that of outdoor air.
  • Problems can arise from moisture, insects, pets, appliances, radon, materials used in household products and furnishings, smoke, and other sources.
  • Effects range from minor annoyances to major health risks.
  • Remedies include ventilation, cleaning, moisture control, inspections, and following manufacturers’ directions when using appliances and products.

Many homes are built or remodeled more tightly, without regard to the factors that assure fresh and healthy indoor air circulation. Many homes today also contain furnishings, appliances and products that can affect indoor air quality.

Signs of indoor air quality problems include:

  • unusual and noticeable odors;
  • stale or stuffy air and a noticeable lack of air movement;
  • dirty or faulty central heating or air-conditioning equipment;
  • damaged flue pipes and chimneys;
  • unvented combustion air sources for fossil-fuel appliances;
  • excessive humidity;
  • the presence of molds and mildew;
  • adverse health reactions after remodeling, weatherizing, bringing in new furniture, using household and hobby products; and
  • feeling noticeably healthier outside.

Common Sources of Air Quality Problems

Poor indoor air quality can arise from many sources. At least some of the following contaminants can be found in almost any home:

  • moisture and biological pollutants, such as molds, mildew, dust mites, animal dander, and cockroaches;
  • high humidity levels, inadequate ventilation, and poorly maintained humidifiers and air conditioners;
  • combustion products, including carbon monoxide from unvented fossil-fuel space heaters, unvented gas stoves and ovens, and back-drafting from furnaces and water heaters;
  • formaldehyde from durable-press draperies and other textiles, particleboard products, such as cabinets and furniture framing, and adhesives used in composite wood furniture and upholstery;
  • radon, which is a radioactive gas from the soil and rock beneath and around the home’s foundation, groundwater wells, and some building materials;
  • household products, such as paints, solvents, air fresheners, hobby supplies, dry-cleaned clothing, aerosol sprays, adhesives, and fabric additives used in carpeting and furniture, which can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs);
  • asbestos, which is found in most homes more than 20 years old. Sources include deteriorating, damaged and disturbed pipe insulation, fire retardant, acoustical ceiling tiles, and floor tiles;
  • lead from lead-based paint dust, which is created when removing paint by sanding, scraping or burning;
  • particulates from dust and pollen, fireplaces, wood stoves, kerosene heaters, and unvented gas space heaters; and
  • tobacco smoke, which produces particulates, combustion products and formaldehyde.

Tips for Homeowners

  •    Ask about formaldehyde content before buying furniture, cabinets and draperies.
  •    Promptly clean and dry water-damaged carpet, or remove it altogether.
  •    Vacuum regularly, especially if you have pets, and consider using area rugs instead of wall-to-wall carpeting. Rugs are easier to remove and clean, and the floor underneath can also be easily cleaned.
  •    Eliminate unwanted moisture intrusion by checking for sources (such as holes and cracks in the basement and other areas, and leaks from appliances), and by using a dehumidifier.
  •    Open windows and use fans to maintain fresh air with natural and mechanical air circulation.
  •    Always open the flue damper before using the fireplace.  This will also prevent carbon-monoxide poisoning.
  •    If your air conditioner has a water tray, empty and clean it often during the cooling season.
  •    If you smoke, smoke outdoors and away from any windows and doors.
  •    Use the range vent above your stove whenever you cook.
  •    Use the bathroom vent whenever you use the bathroom.
  • Don’t leave vehicles or lawn care equipment running in your garage.  Make sure the door leading from the home to the garage has a door sweep to help keep out vapors.

Your InterNACHI inspector can recommend more ways to help you maintain healthy indoor air quality for you and your family.

Radon

Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas. You cannot see, smell or taste radon. But it still may be a problem in your home. Although radon is a naturally occurring gas in our environment, it is also the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths in the U.S., according to the U.S. Surgeon General. Nearly one out of every 15 homes is estimated to have elevated radon levels. The Surgeon General and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommend testing all houses. Millions of Americans have already tested their homes for radon, and you should, too. (And if you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.)

Let your InterNACHI inspector test your home for radon.

You cannot predict radon levels based on state, local or neighborhood radon measurements. Do not rely on radon test results from other homes in the neighborhood to estimate the radon level in your own home. Homes that are next to each other can have different radon levels. Testing is the only way to find out what your home’s radon level is. Your InterNACHI inspector uses special interference-proof air-canister testing devices that will measure the radon levels in different areas of the home over a limited period of time, which will help determine whether installing a mitigation system is recommended. A radon mitigation system can aid in continuously and automatically filtering outdoor ground air that enters the home, which will help reduce your home’s radon level.

Radon in Water

If the results of your radon air sampling test show elevated levels and your water comes from a private well, have your inspector test your water, too. The devices and procedures for testing for radon in your home’s water supply are different from those used for measuring radon in indoor air. If your water tests positive for radon, this can add to your risk of exposure because the radon can be released into the air during showering and while performing household tasks using water.

The EPA estimates that radon causes thousands of cancer deaths in the U.S. each year. Testing is the only way to determine your home’s radon levels. Contact your InterNACHI inspector to conduct your radon inspection.

GFCIs

A ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is a device used in electrical wiring to disconnect a circuit when an unbalanced current is detected between an energized conductor and a neutral return conductor. Such an imbalance is sometimes caused by current “leaking” through a person who is simultaneously in contact with a ground and an energized part of the circuit, which could result in a lethal shock. GFCIs are designed to provide protection in such a situation, unlike standard circuit breakers, which guard against overloads, short circuits and ground faults.

It is estimated that about 300 deaths by electrocution occur every year, so the use of GFCIs has been adopted in new construction and recommended as an upgrade in older construction,in order to mitigate the possibility of injury or fatality from electric shock.

Testing Receptacle-Type GFCIs

Receptacle-type GFCIs are designed to allow for safe and easy testing that can be performed without any professional or technical knowledge of electricity. GFCIs should be tested right after installation to make sure they are working properly and protecting the circuit. They should also be tested once a month to make sure they are working properly and are providing protection from fatal shock.

To test the receptacle GFCI, first plug a nightlight or lamp into the outlet. The light should be on. Then press the “TEST” button on the GFCI. The “RESET” button should pop out, and the light should turn off.

If the “RESET” button pops out but the light does not turn off, the GFCI has been improperly wired. Contact an electrician to correct the wiring errors. If the “RESET” button does not pop out, the GFCI is defective and should be replaced.

If the GFCI is functioning properly and the lamp turns off, press the “RESET” button to restore power to the outlet.

Electrical Panel Safety

All homeowners should know where their electrical panel is located.  When you open the door to it, you should find breakers that are labeled which correspond to the different rooms or areas of the home.  Breakers will sometimes trip due to a power surge or outage, and the homeowner can flip the switch to reactivate the current to the particular room or area.  Behind the breakers is the dead front, and it is this electrical component that should be removed only by a qualified electrician or inspector.

Before touching the electrical panel to re-set a breaker, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have an escape path?  Make sure that you know where you can safely turn or step if you must escape a dangerous surprise, such a bee or a spark. An unfortunately placed shovel or extension cord, for instance, can turn a quick jerk into a dangerous fall.
  • Is the floor wet?  Never touch any electrical equipment while standing on a wet surface!
  • Does the panel appear to be wet?  Check overhead for dripping water that may have condensed on a cold water pipe.
  • Is the panel rusty?  Rust is an indication of previous wet conditions that may still exist.
  • Are there scorch marks on the panel door?  This can indicate a past or very recent arc, and further investigation should be deferred to a licensed electrician.

Here is a list of defective conditions that a homeowner may see that may be called out during an electrical inspection:

  • insufficient clearance. According to the 2008 National Electrical Code, most residential electrical panels require at least a 3-foot clearance or working space in front, 30 inches of width, and a minimum headroom clearance of 6 feet, or the height of the equipment, whichever is greater.
  • sharp-tipped panel box screws. Panel box cover screws must have blunt ends so they do not pierce the wires inside the box.
  • circuit breakers that are not properly sized.
  • oxidation or corrosion to any of the parts. Oxidized or corroded wires will increase the resistance of conductors and create the potential for arcing.
  • damage caused by rodents. Rodents have been known to chew through wire insulation in electrical panels (and other areas), creating an unsafe condition. Rodents have been electrocuted this way, leaving an unsightly mess inside the panel.
  • evidence of electrical failures, such as burned or overheated components.
  • evidence of water entry inside the electrical panel. Moisture can corrode circuit breakers so that they won’t trip, make connections less reliable and the equipment unsafe to touch.
  • a panel manufactured by Zinsco or Federal Pacific Electric (FPE). These panels have a reputation for being problematic, and further evaluation by a qualified electrician is recommended.

Fire Safety for the Home

The National Fire Protection Association’s fire prevention program promotes the following eight tips that people of all ages and abilities can use to keep family members safe, especially during the threat of a house fire.

  1. Plan and practice your escape from fire.
    We’ve heard this advice before, but you can’t be prepared to act in an emergency if you don’t have a plan and everybody knows what that plan is.  Panic and fear can spread as quickly as a fire, so map out an escape route and a meeting place outdoors, and involve even the youngest family members so that everyone can work as a unit to make a safe escape.  If you live in a condo or apartment building, make sure you read the signs posted on your floor advising you of the locations of stairways and other exits, as well as alarm pull stations and fire extinguishers.
  2. Plan your escape around your abilities.
    Keeping a phone by your bedside will allow you to call 911 quickly, especially if the exits of your home are blocked by smoke or flames.  Keep a pair of shoes near your bed, too.  If your home or building has a fire escape, take some time to practice operating it and climbing it.
  3. Smoke alarms save lives.
    If you don’t already have permanently installed smoke alarms hard-wired into your electrical system and located outside each bedroom and on each floor, purchase units and place them in those locations.  Install them using adhesive or screws, but be careful not to touch your screwdriver to any internal wiring, which can cause an electrostatic discharge and disable them.  Also, install carbon monoxide detectors, which can protect family members from lethal poisoning even before a fire starts.
  4. Give space heaters space. 
    Whether saving on utility bills by using the furnace infrequently, or when using these portable units for spot heating, make sure you give them at least 3 feet of clearance.  Be sure to turn off and unplug them when you leave or go to bed.  Electrical appliances draw current even when they’re turned off, and a faulty unit can cause a fire that can spread through the wires in the walls at a deadly pace.
  5. If you smoke, smoke outside. 
    Not only will this keep your family members healthier and your home smelling fresher, it will minimize the chance that an errant ember from your cigarette will drop and smolder unnoticed until it causes damage.
  6. Be kitchen-wise.
    This means monitoring what you have on the stove and keeping track of what’s baking in the oven.  Don’t cook if you’re tired or taking medication that clouds your judgment or makes you drowsy.  Being kitchen-wise also means wearing clothing that will not easily catch on the handles of pots and pans, or graze open flames or heating elements.  It also means knowing how to put out a grease fire:  water will make it spread, but salt or baking soda will extinguish it quickly, as will covering the pot or pan with a lid and turning off the stove.  Always use your cooktop’s vent fan while cooking.  Also, keep a small, all-purpose fire extinguisher in a handy place, such as under the sink.  These 3-pound lifesavers are rated “ABC” for their fire-suppressing contents. Read the instructions on these inexpensive devices when you bring them home from the store so that you can act quickly, if the time comes.
  7. Stop, drop and roll.
    Fight the urge to panic and run if your clothes catch fire because this will only accelerate its spread, since fire needs oxygen to sustain and grow.  Tamping out the fire by rolling is effective, especially since your clothes may be on fire on your back or lower body where you may not be immediately aware of it.  If ground space is limited, cover yourself with a blanket to tamp out any flames, and douse yourself with water as soon as you can.  Additionally, always stay close to the floor during a fire; heat and smoke rise, and breathable air will normally be found at the floor-level, giving you a greater chance of escape before being overcome by smoke and toxic fumes.
  8. Know your local emergency number. 
    People of all ages need to know their emergency number (usually, it’s 911).  Posting it near the phone and putting it on speed-dial will save precious moments when the ability to think clearly may be compromised.

Keep your family safe by following these simple tips!

Garage Door Safety

The garage door is the largest moving object in a house. Its parts are under high tension. All repairs and adjustments should be performed by a trained garage door systems technician. To find a technician, visit the International Door Association website. If the garage door appears inoperable or out of plumb, do not attempt to operate the garage door opener. If the door appears plumb, you can perform some basic testing to ensure that your garage door is operating as it should.

Photo-Electric Eyes

Federal law states that residential garage door openers manufactured after 1992 must be equipped with photo-electric eyes or some other safety-reverse feature. If the garage door has an opener, check to see if photo-electric eyes are installed. They should be near the floor, mounted to the left and right sides of the bottom door panel. The beam of the photo-electric eyes should not be higher than 6 inches above the floor.

Non-Contact Reversal Test

This check applies to door systems that are equipped with photo-electric eyes. Standing inside the garage and safely away from the path of the door, use the remote control or wall button to close the door. As the door is closing, wave an object in the path of the photo-electric eye beam. The door should immediately reverse and return to the fully-open position.

Contact Reversal Test

This check applies to doors with openers when the opener’s force setting has been properly set, and when the opener reinforcement bracket is securely and appropriately attached to the door’s top section. If you’re concerned that a contact reversal test may cause damage to the garage door or its components, don’t do it.

Otherwise, begin this test with the door fully open. Under the center of the door, place a 2×4 piece of wood flat on the floor in the path of the door. Standing inside the garage but safely away from the path of the door, use the wall push button to close the door. When the door contacts the wood, the door should automatically reverse direction and return to the fully-open position.

If your garage door fails or is slow to respond to any of these tests, contact a qualified technician who can check for any necessary repairs or upgrades.

Safe Railings & Stairs at Porches & Decks

Most DIY homeowners (and a surprising number of contractors) aren’t aware that the railings and stairs at decks and porches should follow certain measurements for safety.  This is especially important for households with children and/or visitors with children.
Here are some basic rules for steps:
  • Most deck stairs have open risers (the vertical space between stairs) that are not safe for children, as well as adults who may step too far into the tread or surface of the step.  Risers may be open but should not allow the passage of a sphere 4 inches in diameter.  Another way to make an open-riser stairway safer is to increase the depth of the tread.
  • It’s typical for steps or risers in the same stairway to be of slightly unequal heights, but the difference between the shortest and tallest (including the very bottom step) should not exceed 3/8-inch.  This is to ensure that a person’s natural stride is not interrupted, which can otherwise lead to tripping.
  • A smooth and graspable handrail should be provided on at least one side of a stairway having four or more steps.  A handrail is considered graspable if the average person can hold onto it using a natural grip for balance and support.  It should also be between 34 and 38 inches high.
  • Outdoor lighting at steps is essential for night-time safety.  Solar-powered stake units are a low-cost and energy-efficient option.
Here are some rules for railings:
  • The guardrail surrounding a deck or porch should be supported by posts at least every 6 feet.  This includes most decks that are higher than 12 inches above adjacent areas.
  • The spindles or balusters between the posts should be less than 4 inches apart to prevent children from slipping through or becoming stuck between them.
  • Balusters should be vertical rather than horizontal or ladder-type to prevent anyone from climbing on them and damaging them or hurting themselves.
If you suspect that your deck or porch doesn’t meet these guidelines, a tape measure will help ensure your family’s and guests’ safety.  Check with your local building department for code compliance and other requirements.

Dryer Vent Maintenance For Safety

Did you know that your dryer vents and ducts need to be cleaned every year? If they are not thoroughly cleaned, the consequences could be deadly.

Several variables can influence the required frequency of dryer system cleaning: the number of people in your home, the frequency of clothes washing, lifestyle (sports and/or outdoor activities), etc.

Some dryers are connected directly to an exterior wall, reducing the duct length. However, others may exhaust upward through the roof or they may be located in the middle of the home. What does this mean? Long dryer ducts provide more opportunity for lint buildup. An uncleaned system may lead to

  • higher utility bills
  • clothing that shrinks or gets damaged by heat
  • reduced life expectancy of the dryer
  • a house fire.

That’s right—fire. In fact, some 15,500 fires, 310 injuries, and 10 deaths are attributed each year to dryer fires, according to estimates by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

If you haven’t already, put your dryer vent on a regular cleaning and maintenance schedule.

Here are some links to help:

Dryer Safety: dryersafety.org

How to Clean Your Dryer Vent and Other Quick Tips: consumerreports.org/clothes-dryers/how-to-clean-your-dryer-vent

Find a Certified Professional in Your Area: csia.org

Burglary Facts

  • Every 14.6 seconds a burglary takes place in the United States.
  • Most burglaries occur during the day, between the hours of 10am and 3pm.
  • Burglars spend an average of just 10 minutes in the home, creating an average loss of $2,000, not to mention, stealing personal identification information like checks, credit card statements and passports.

*US DOJ – FBI

The best defense against burglary is prevention.

With a little planning you can reduce your home’s “curb appeal” to burglars, increase your safety, and dramatically reduce your odds of becoming another statistic.

With the peak months for burglaries just ahead, A Superior Inspection, LLC and Federal Protection, Inc. would like to help prevent you from becoming a victim with the following information and practical tips.

The Usual Suspects – Burglars drive through neighborhoods looking for homes that appear to be vacant and with few obstacles to gaining entry. They are typically young males, (13 to 25 years of age) Often supporting a drug habit, which make them particularly dangerous and desperate.

They are looking for the path of least resistance and don’t want to get caught. Therefore, you’ll want to harden the target and draw attention to them in case they do gain access.

Tips to “Harden the Target and Draw Attention”

Be a Good Neighbor – Consider starting a neighborhood watch program. Let your neighbors know when you’ll be gone so they can set your trash out and pick up your mail and papers. Also consider leaving a car in the driveway, interior lights and/or even a television on when you are away.

Lock it Up – Don’t leave valuables like bicycles and expensive gas grills out in plain view and ALWAYS lock all your doors and windows when you’re away. 1/3 of all burglars gain access through an unlocked door or window. Sliding glass doors should also be secured with pins or a “Charlie bar” in the track. For long trips, consider using the slide lock on your garage door and unplugging your opener.

Light it Up – Make sure exterior lights illuminate all entrances to your home. Consider Motion Lights and Make sure your house numbers are well-lit and clearly visible from the road to help responding authorities find your home during a burglary or other emergency.

Make ‘Em Famous – Don’t give burglars a place to hide.

  • Remember the 2:6 Rule: Keep bushes and shrubs trimmed to two feet off the ground and tree limbs trimmed to no lower than six feet. This will provide neighbors and others passing by an unobstructed view of your residence.
  • Consider surveillance cameras for the exterior of your home. Cameras provide a definite deterrent to a would-be burglar as they do not want the risk of being identified.
  • Consider a professionally installed, centrally monitored home security system. Even a modest burglar alarm will provide immediate response and cause the intruder to flee, knowing the authorities are being dispatched.

IF YOU SUSPECT A BURGLARY HAS TAKEN PLACE

  • Do NOT enter!
  • Do NOT confront suspects
  • Do call the police or sheriff office immediately from a safe location
  • Do provide dispatcher with all necessary information (including suspect/vehicle descriptions and direction of travel and follow the dispatcher’s directions).
Perry Workman
Security Consultant
Federal Protection, Inc
417-493-8159
pworkman@federalprotection.com
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