September 15, 2013

Home Inspection Issues and Remedies: What to do about concerns related to your fireplace and chimney.

Filed under: Property Inspection — Chuck @ 8:47 am

If you have an general inspection done on your home or on a home you are thinking of buying and the inspector recommends having the chimney and fireplace checked out, don’t be alarmed. It is common that a general home inspector who sees that there is a working fireplace will suggest that the system be more thoroughly evaluated by a chimney specialist.

That does not necessarily mean that there is a problem – although that is always a possibility – but it does mean you need to heed the advice and have someone qualified take a closer look. After all, your general home inspector probably has no way to tell what is going on up inside the chimney without a more probing and invasive inspection. That’s why they may advise you to make an appointment with someone who is specially qualified and experienced in that area and who has the tools to do this kind of unique inspection.

Schedule an Inspection
First you will need to schedule an appointment with a qualified chimney sweep who can do a thorough inspection of your chimney, clean it if needed, and ensure that it will function safely while also maximizing your energy savings. A chimney that draws smoke properly helps your fireplace burn more efficiently, in other words, and that can cut down on your firewood costs while keeping you warmer this winter.

You may wonder how an inspector can see up the chimney, and that used to be a serious obstacle. But these days they use special tools such as video cameras that can get into all the nooks and crannies. That’s one of the reasons why a conscience general home inspector will recommend the hiring of a chimney specialist who is thoroughly equipped to deal with fireplace systems and has the knowledge and experience required.

What Chimney Sweeps Do
The role of the chimney sweep is to check the chimney for structural integrity and to make sure that the fireplace and chimney are working safely and doing an energy efficient job. They will check the interior surfaces to see if the chimney is clean and free of excess flammable debris such as creosote, which is a chemical byproduct of wood burning that can cake-up along the walls of the chimney. Not only does creosote build-up choke the chimney, making it harder to start and maintain a fire, but it can also burst into flames and cause a catastrophic house fire.

The inspection will also check to see that the chimney was built correctly and that any heated surfaces are safely insulated from contact with the walls of your home or any other surfaces that could catch fire. If there are any cracks or voids in the chimney or if the roof flashing is not up to code, the inspector will also report on those issues. The inspection should also check for chimney or fireplace ventilation problems that could allow accidental seepage of potentially lethal carbon monoxide, since this invisible, odorless chemical is a natural byproduct of fires.

How They Prepare
Many people think of a chimney sweep as a soot-covered fellow in a stove pipe hat, because that is how chimney sweeps have been portrayed for years in movies, plays, and novels. But the modern day chimney sweep is a highly trained professional who will probably arrive at your home in crisp, clean clothing and carrying a toolkit filled with rather cool high-tech equipment. These pros definitely do not want to wind up covered in soot and ashes at the end of the day.

More importantly, they want to make absolutely sure that they do not cause any of that debris to fill the rooms of your home and ruin your carpet, furniture, or drapes. So part of their job will be to cover the area in protective tarps, and most chimney sweeps use high-powered portable vacuums to literally suck the soot and ash out of your fireplace as it falls down the chimney, removing it before it ever has a chance to create a mess. If the chimney sweep you talk to about coming to your home does not, however, offer these kinds of protective measures as part of their standard service then you should probably hire someone else who does.

After the Inspection
Once the chimney sweep has done an inspection you will have to do as you did when you received your original general inspection report. Read over the report and talk to your chimney sweep. Either you will get a clean bill of health and go ahead and proceed with confidence that the fireplace system works as it should, or you will need to address any subsequent issues.

If the flashing is in need of repair, a roofer or other qualified contractor may be needed, for instance, and if the firebox inside the fireplace need work you may need to enlist a brick mason’s help. To be on the safe side you should have your chimney sweep conduct a follow-up inspection after other contractors finish their work, just to make sure everything is complete.

Real Estate Advice: Ground rules for working with real estate agents.

Filed under: Real Estate — Chuck @ 8:44 am

Regardless of whether you are a buyer or a seller, you will want to establish some working guidelines or ground rules with your Realtor. Not only will that help to eliminate problems with communication, but it can also save you a lot of wasted time, energy, and unnecessary aggravation.

Ground Rules for Buyers
There is a big difference between browsing casually and being a serious shopper, and if you are trying to find a home to purchase you want to get down to brass tacks. The first thing to do is narrow down your buying preferences regarding how much you are willing to spend, what area of town you want to buy in, and what features and amenities you absolutely cannot live without. If you need a fenced backyard, for instance, and insist on a location that is close to a particular school, your real estate agent needs to know that.

Once you’ve communicated your priorities, establish a rule that the Realtor is not to show you any properties that do not meet those criteria without first discussing them with you. They should also show you homes in groups, not individually, as a strategy to consolidate home tours and minimize the time it takes to drive around looking at property. The real estate agent should line up a minimum of three homes for you to tour at a time, and schedule the appointments close together to make an efficient use of your day.

You should also insist that before showing you any homes, your Realtor has to first preview them. To make sure your real estate agent is complying with this rule, ask them to take photos while they are there and email them to you.

Ground Rules for Sellers
As a seller it is especially important to set down some guidelines, otherwise your real estate broker may totally disrupt your life by showing up unexpectedly with potential buyers. Realtors should always book the appointments ahead of time, call ahead, and give you at least 2-3 hours to prepare. Showing your home before you have a chance to tidy up or put the pets away, can, for instance, leave buyers with a bad impression of the home. Plus you don’t want your home selling experience to throw your personal life and family’s schedule all out of whack.

If your schedule is a busy one, for example, (and whose isn’t?) decide which days and times of day are convenient for you and then agree with your Realtor that those are the slots available for showing the house. Don’t be too restrictive, though, to the point that you impeded the successful sale of your home. A good real estate agent will also never bring people to look at your house until they have been financially pre-screened. Lots of folks enjoy touring homes, despite the fact that they have no intention of making an offer or actually buying. You don’t want to waste time with those kinds of casual lookers who are just kicking the tires.

There are also sincere, serious buyers who do not realize that they cannot qualify for mortgage financing. Due to no fault of their own they may also waste your time. It is the Realtor’s responsibility to weed out these ineligible buyers as much as possible, by having a frank discussion with them about their finances and making sure that they are working with a lender. Should you find yourself stuck with a real estate agent who doesn’t listen well and doesn’t respect your ground rules, then consider dropping them and hiring someone who has more expertise and professionalism.

September Home Maintenance Tips

Filed under: Home Maintenance — Chuck @ 8:40 am

Within a few weeks most people in North America will be dusting off the leaf rake, stowing away the lawn mower, and rolling up the garden hose. Some will be tuning up the leaf blower, while others begin shopping for a new snow blower. Here are some timely tasks for you to tick off your list while the weather is still nice and the other mandatory projects – like cleaning leaves out of the gutters and salting the walkways – are not yet taking up all of your available time.

Scope Out the Roof
Summer bakes rooftops, and can dry out adhesives, curl and shrink shingles, and debilitate the structural integrity of your protective roof. So evaluate the health of your roof now. September is a great time to do this, right before winter arrives and has a chance to create more damage. Wintertime puts a lot of stress on a roof with ice dams, the extreme weight of snow, and ice and ice melt pushed into any cracks, gaps, and crevices.

But don’t risk falling from a ladder, because that can cause problems much more serious than anything happening to your roof. Instead use a pair of binoculars. Scan the roof looking for any telltale signs like missing or uplifted shingles or flashing that is no longer tight. If you spot a problem area, have it checked out by a professional.

Spot Check Painted Surfaces
Solar heat is also tough on exterior paint, and after a blazing summer an older paint job may show real wear and tear. Walk around the house, using binoculars if you have a multi-story building, and look for signs of bleached, curling, or cracking paint surfaces. Oftentimes you can remedy problems by simply applying a fresh coat to the worst spots, while postponing the need for a completely new paint job.

If you intend to paint, make sure you get professional advice regarding the right kind of paint to use that’s compatible with the existing surface. Curling of paint on an older home can also indicate the presence of toxic lead-based pain layers underneath, so if you aren’t sure have it checked by an environmental inspector. But don’t neglect small pesky painting projects this month. Do it now, while the weather is cooperative. Otherwise if you put it off until next spring the repair or maintenance could be much more complicated and expensive.

Clean and Maintain the Deck
September is also the time to give your deck a good cleaning with a stiff push broom and some elbow grease and appropriate detergent on the especially dirty stains. As long as you are going to return the surface to a clean condition, you might as well go ahead and apply a fresh coat of stain. After all, one of the biggest time consuming parts of a deck-refurbishing project is getting everything clean so the stain will go on nicely.

Also check the structural integrity of the deck, looking for any places where the wood is soft or rotting. Usually where you find the darkest water stains you’ll also find the parts of the deck that are most susceptible to rotting, carpenter ants, and the like. Test all the railings and planks to make sure none are loose or shaky, and if you see any rusted bolts, screws, or other hardware be sure to replace it with hardware that is rust-proof. Otherwise a rusted bolt can snap in two and send your deck crashing to the ground.

Prepare for Autumn Planting
If you like to garden in the summertime, you do not have to abandon your hobby just because colder weather is coming. This is a great time of year to mulch, which will protect plants and also make flowerbeds look better. Meanwhile don’t forget to order your bulbs soon. Autumn is almost here and is the season to get bulbs into the ground so that as soon as spring arrives you’ll have a burst of color from flowers like tulips and daffodils.

You can also install cold frames – which look like a sandbox with a removable or hinged window frame on top. Then you can plant inside this miniature greenhouse structure to use solar warmth to significantly extend your growing season. There are also edible and ornamental plants like kale that thrive in cooler weather.