Friday, March 13, 2015

Zen and the Art of Furnace Filters

Check Your Furnace Filter Lately?

LEFT:  When it's new    RIGHT: Soon thereafter!
I didn't think so.

I check a LOT of filters as a home inspector and it's become pretty obvious to me that it is a very low priority for almost everybody.

Every now and then, most homeowners peruse a Big Box Home Improvement store and see the aisle dedicated to filters, and the thought occurs to them that just maybe they should buy one of those things.

But you're not really sure of the size or type and so the thought just drifts away - like a Zen Master's thoughts of the world leave during meditation.  On to see if the tulip bulbs are on sale...

I'm laying down the Challenge.  Go to your basement and record the size of the filter.  Then look at the filter that's in there. YUCK! I know.  It's okay - we still love you even though your filter is dirty. But to get your Zen on, you need to get with the flow.

And I'm talking about Air Flow!  Chances are, you've got a fancy-schmancy pleated type filter that is so clogged it looks like Oscar the Grouch's backside.  When you bought it, it probably had a picture of Bob Villa or some other demi-god of home repair on it and you trusted it - after all it also had "High Efficiency" written all over it too.

If you suffer from allergies or asthma, the way you should treat your inside air is with a room HEPA unit.  Your furnace filter is designed for the furnace's efficiency, not to cure your hay fever! The fancy-schmancy pleated ones are fine, just as long as you check them every month and change them when they are dirty and clogged.  But when we turn our eyes inward and are truly honest with ourselves - we don't and won't do that!  If we're good (and far better than most) we'll schlep down to the furnace every six months and check it.

So do yourself a favor and make a special trip to the Big Box store just for filters and buy yourself a dozen LOW EFFICIENCY (yes I said it) CHEAP (yes I said that too) furnace filters of the fiberglass type and change that sucker. You have the right size written on a scrap of paper or, if you're like me, you've got a picture on your iPhone of the right size.

IMHO The Best Bet

The fiberglass type filters are designed for your furnace.  They stop the size particles that will damage your fan motor and clog the fins on your condensers. The  fancy-schmancy pleated ones are really good - and if you can commit to checking and changing them often, probably the best way to go.  But most of us have more pressing issues on our minds (for instance: is the DVR set to record 'Dancing With the Stars'?)

You want your Furnace to Breathe in Deeply and it will appreciate you for your caring.  It will live longer and run more efficiently if the filter isn't clogged  - and you'll save money from it not having to run as long and from not buying the fancy-schmancy pleated filters, so you can breathe easy!

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Monday, March 2, 2015

What Really Matters

The Big Four

A few issues show up over and over again in Home Inspections I perform. From my perspective, a home that needs a little caulking or minor cosmetic updates is no reason to back out of buying your next home. However, some things that come up during a home inspection should be addressed before finalizing a home purchase. Below are some issues that should not be overlooked. All too often I see buyers panic - but the solutions are usually simple!

Old shingles, poor flashing, and water stains on interior ceilings are all signs that the roof may need to be replaced. Multiple layers of shingles are no longer allowed on homes.  The removal of layers of old shingles can make roofing replacement an expensive undertaking. Make sure the roof inspection is thorough. If the roofing is found lacking, it's not necessary to scuttle the whole deal. Get estimates on roofing replacement and work that into your counter-offer. After all, knowing that you have a brand new roof on your new home should actually make it easier to sleep at night.

Many homes were built before modern code requirements of GFCI and Arc-Fault circuits were required. This is not a reason to panic. GFCI outlets in wet locations and basements are easy and inexpensive to install. An outdated or overloaded Main Panel may be much more expensive though.  If your home was built in the early 1970’s or before, your Main Panel could be ready for an update. Your Home Inspector should be certified by a leading agency such as International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), and they will be able to advise you on whether or not this is a concern.  If it is, again the solution can be easier than the problem. A qualified electrician can come up with a firm bid to update your panel if necessary. Again, no need to panic, but Knowledge is Security, and is a powerful tool in negotiating the right price for your home.

There are four parts to plumbing: Water supply, Hot water, Drains and Vents. The Water supply coming from the street should be looked at and evaluated right away - especially in Denver.  Some homes are still connected via lead pipes - we're talking Ancient Roman level of technology. Sometimes they are connected using Galvanized steel pipe. That can be trouble, but not necessarily. The sooner it's switched to copper tubing, the better, but make sure the transition is done with a Dielectric Union - a type of fitting that uses a plastic bushing to prevent two dissimilar metals from contacting and causing corrosion.

Hot water is something we take for granted - until we don't have any!  An inspector can tell you if there are any causes for concern with your water heater. Drains are also critical. A common source for leaks, they are often victims of corrosion or loose joints - especially the "Pretty Chrome" ones. Sometimes that chrome hides a drain that's rusted from the inside out.  Nobody thinks about vents - but a clogged vent pipe can slow down a drain as much as a clogged P-trap, and sometimes lead to siphoning a P-trap dry which can lead to sewer gasses in the home.  A gurgling noise or slow drains may be caused by the lack of proper drain venting.  A good Home Inspector will check for this. 

Cracks in walls and sticking windows and doors can be signs of structural damage. Careful examination by an experienced Home Inspector can determine if they are just minor settling issues experienced by all homes  - or if they justify further examination. Choosing a Home Inspector that is familiar with the area that you live in can greatly decrease the chance of a misdiagnosis.  Would you want to give up on buying your home for a drywall crack that can be repaired for under $50? Perhaps sanding away a little paint is all you need to free up sticky doors and windows. Most of Denver is built on sandy loam - an excellent base for building a sturdy home.  Some areas have bentonite clay in the soil - which has expansive qualities that can wreak havoc on a foundation. A home Inspector that is familiar with your area may give you clearer insight on this localized problem, and whether your foundation is designed for the soil it's sitting on. 

The Bottom Line
Every home has an issue or three. If the home fits your lifestyle and is in an area you would like to call home, don’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. From my perspective, I see common issues such as these all too often get blown all out of proportion. Granted, I'm pretty handy and very familiar with home construction, so my comfort level is higher than someone who perhaps is not as handy as I am. I just don't want you to miss out on what can be the perfect home for you once you get past a few of these types of issues. Yes, there are some problems that will make you want to walk away.  But with the information gained from having your potential future home inspected, you are in a good position to fairly negotiate with the seller and end up owning the home of your dreams.  

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