Sunday, March 6, 2011

10 Easy Ways to Save Energy in Your Home

10 Easy Ways to Save Energy in Your Home

by Nick Gromicko, Ben Gromicko, Rob London and Kenton Shepard
Most people don’t know how easy it is to make their homes run on less energy, and here at InterNACHI, we want to change that. Drastic reductions in heating, cooling and electricity costs can be accomplished through very simple changes, most of which homeowners can do themselves. Of course, for homeowners who want their homes to take advantage of the most up-to-date knowledge and systems in home energy-efficiency, InterNACHI energy auditors can perform in-depth testing to find the best energy solutions for your particular home. 
Why make your home more energy efficient? Here are a few good reasons:
  • Federal, state, utility and local jurisdictions' financial incentives, such as tax breaks, are very advantageous in most parts of the U.S.
  • It saves money. It costs less to power a home that has been converted to be more energy-efficient.
  • It increases indoor comfort levels.
  • It reduces our impact on climate change. Many scientists now believe that excessive energy consumption contributes significantly to global warming.
  • It reduces pollution. Conventional power production introduces pollutants that find their way into the air, soil and water supplies.
1. Find better ways to heat and cool your house. 
As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that energy bills can be reduced through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:
  • Install a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can be used in place of air conditioners, which require a large amount of energy.
  • Periodically replace air filters in air conditioners and heaters.
  • Set thermostats to an appropriate temperature. Specifically, they should be turned down at night and when no one is home. In most homes, about 2% of the heating bill will be saved for each degree that the thermostat is lowered for at least eight hours each day. Turning down the thermostat from 75° F to 70°F, for example, saves about 10% on heating costs.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves money by allowing heating and cooling appliances to be automatically turned down during times that no one is home and at night. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and, in some climate zones, can save up to $150 per year in energy costs.
  • Install a wood stove or a pellet stove. These are more efficient sources of heat than furnaces.
  • At night, curtains drawn over windows will better insulate the room.
2. Install a tankless water heater.
Demand water heaters (tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don't produce the standby energy losses associated with storage water heaters, which will save on energy costs. Demand water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. Therefore, they avoid the standby heat losses required by traditional storage water heaters. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. Either a gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don't need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.
3. Replace incandescent lights.
The average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights convert approximately only 10% of the energy they consume into light, while the rest becomes heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFL), can reduce energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer further energy savings by reducing the amount of time lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:
  • CFLs use 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • LEDs last even longer than CFLs and consume less energy.
  • LEDs have no moving parts and, unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.
4. Seal and insulate your home.
Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy efficient -– and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home can improve comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills. An InterNACHI energy auditor can be hired to assess envelope leakage and recommend fixes that will dramatically increase comfort and energy savings.
The following are some common places where leakage may occur:
  • electrical outlets;
  • mail slots;
  • around pipes and wires;
  • wall- or window-mounted air conditioners;
  • attic hatches;
  • fireplace dampers;
  • weatherstripping around doors;
  • baseboards;
  • window frames; and
  • switch plates.
Because hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that save them money on cooling and heating, such as: 
  • Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas.
  • Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry.
  • Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foam board insulation the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.
5. Install efficient shower heads and toilets.
The following systems can be installed to conserve water usage in homes:
  • low-flow shower heads. They are available in different flow rates, and some have a pause button which shuts off the water while the bather lathers up;
  • low-flow toilets. Toilets consume 30% to 40% of the total water used in homes, making them the biggest water users. Replacing an older 3.5-gallon toilet with a modern, low-flow 1.6-gallon toilet can reduce usage an average of two gallons-per-flush (GPF), saving 12,000 gallons of water per year. Low-flow toilets usually have "1.6 GPF" marked on the bowl behind the seat or inside the tank;
  • vacuum-assist toilets. These types of toilets have a vacuum chamber which uses a siphon action to suck air from the trap beneath the bowl, allowing it to quickly fill with water to clear waste. Vacuum toilets are relatively quiet; and
  • dual-flush toilets. Dual-flush toilets have been used in Europe and Australia for years, and are now gaining in popularity in the U.S. Dual-flush toilets let you choose between a 1-gallon (or less) flush for liquid waste, and a 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste. Dual-flush 1.6-GPF toilets reduce water consumption by an additional 30%.
6. Use appliances and electronics responsibly.
Appliances and electronics account for about 20% of household energy bills in a typical U.S. home. The following are tips that will reduce the required energy of electronics and appliances:
  • Refrigerators and freezers should not be located near the stove, dishwasher or heat vents, or exposed to direct sunlight. Exposure to warm areas will force them to use more energy to remain cool.  
  • Computers should be shut off when not in use. If unattended computers must be left on, their monitors should be shut off. According to some studies, computers account for approximately 3% of all energy consumption in the United States.
  • Use efficient “Energy Star”-rated appliances and electronics. These devices, approved by the DOE and the EPA’s Energy Star Program, include TVs, home theater systems, DVD players, CD players, receivers, speakers and more. According to the EPA, if just 10% of homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees.
  • Chargers, such as those for laptops and cell phones, consume energy when they are plugged in. When they are not connected to electronics, chargers should be unplugged.
  • Laptop computers consume considerably less electricity than desktop computers.
7. Install daylighting as an alternative to electrical lighting.
Daylighting is the practice of using natural light to illuminate the home's interior. It can be achieved using the following approaches:
  • skylights. It’s important that they be double-pane or they may not be cost-effective. Flashing skylights correctly is key to avoiding leaks;
  • lightshelves. Light shelves are passive devices designed to bounce light deep into a building. They may be interior or exterior. Light shelves can introduce light into a space up to 2½ times the distance from the floor to the top of the window, and advanced light shelves may introduce four times that amount;
  • clerestory windows.  Clerestory windows are short, wide windows set high on the wall. Protected from the summer sun by the roof overhang, they allow winter sun to shine through for natural lighting and warmth; and 
  • light tubes.  Light tubes use a special lens designed to amplify low-level light and reduce light intensity from the midday sun. Sunlight is channeled through a tube coated with a highly reflective material, then enters the living space through a diffuser designed to distribute light evenly.
8. Insulate windows and doors.
About one-third of the home's total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. The following are ways to reduce energy lost through windows and doors:
  • Seal all window edges and cracks with rope caulk. This is the cheapest and simplest option.
  • Windows can be weatherstripped with a special lining that is inserted between the window and the frame. For doors, weatherstrip around the whole perimeter to ensure a tight seal when closed. Install quality door sweeps on the bottom of the doors, if they aren't already in place.
  • Install storm windows at windows with only single panes. A removable glass frame can be installed over an existing window.
  • If existing windows have rotted or damaged wood, cracked glass, missing putty, poorly fitting sashes, or locks that don't work, they should be repaired or replaced.
9. Cook smart.
An enormous amount of energy is wasted while cooking. The following recommendations and statistics illustrate less wasteful ways of cooking:
  • Convection ovens are more efficient that conventional ovens. They use fans to force hot air to circulate more evenly, thereby allowing food to be cooked at a lower temperature. Convection ovens use approximately 20% less electricity than conventional ovens.
  • Microwave ovens consume approximately 80% less energy than conventional ovens.
  • Pans should be placed on the correctly-sized heating element or flame. 
  • Lids make food heat more quickly than pans that do not have lids.
  • Pressure cookers reduce cooking time dramatically.
  • When using conventional ovens, food should be placed on the top rack. The top rack is hotter and will cook food faster. 
10. Change the way you wash your clothes.
  • Do not use the “half load” setting on your washer. Wait until you have a full load of clothes, as the “half load” setting saves less than half of the water and energy.
  • Avoid using high-temperature settings when clothes are not that dirty. Water that is 140 degrees uses far more energy than 103 degrees for a "warm" setting, but 140 degrees isn’t that much better for washing purposes.
  • Clean the lint trap before you use the dryer, every time. Not only is excess lint a fire hazard, but it will prolong the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
  • If possible, air-dry your clothes on lines and racks.
  • Spin-dry or wring clothes out before putting them into a dryer. 
Homeowners who take the initiative to make these changes usually discover that the energy savings are more than worth the effort. However, you should consider that inspectors can make this process much easier and perform a more comprehensive assessment of energy saving potential than you can. For a qualified inspector, visit Ask the inspector if they are trained in performing energy inspections.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Do you have BED BUGS?

Bed Bugs: Inspecting for the New "House Herpes"

by Nick Gromicko and Rob London 
Bed bugs are small, flightless, rust-colored parasites that feed on the blood of humans and other warm-blooded animals. Adult bed bug
Bed bugs were diminished to an historical footnote after their near-eradication in the 1950s, but they are re-emerging in a big way. At the EPA’s National Bed Bug Summit in 2009, researchers decided that the parasite’s revival is more appropriately termed a pandemic rather than an epidemic, noting its rapid spread across large regions and different continents. For those afflicted by the bug, humiliated and defeated by its persistence, many prefer to refer to the infestation as “house herpes.” The United States has seen a 50-fold increase in bed bug infestations over the last five years, according to the National Pest Management Association. An entomologist told MSNBC, “It’s like the return of the wooly mammoth,” as many of his peers had previously never seen a single bed bug in their careers. The outbreak has affected most parts of North America and Europe, especially in urban areas. 
Researchers believe bed bugs have roused from a half-century of hibernation for two reasons:  the termination of the use of the pesticide DDT; and a rise in international travel. DDT, a powerful synthetic pesticide, was used widely in agriculture until a public outcry concerning its safety lead to a US-ban of the chemical in 1972, followed by international bans. Unbeknownst to the environmentalists of the time, these laws would permit future outbreaks to grow unchecked, which is precisely what happened when travel increased from countries where bed bugs were never subjugated, such as India.
Hotbeds of international travel, such as New York City, have hosted the bulk of the carnage. The bugs hitch rides from country to country in suitcases, and creep into hotel rooms where other guests are then exposed and unknowingly spread the parasites to movie theatres, cabs, buses, hospitals, houses, and everywhere in between. In New York City, bed bug reports increased 800% from 2008 to 2009, a year in which the Department of Housing Preservation and Development received 13,152 bug infestation complaints.Bed bug bites
The unpleasantness of a typical rodent or insect extermination is largely the fee charged by the exterminator.  But with bed bugs, this fee is just one piece of a greater nightmare. Because bed bugs are adept at hiding almost anywhere, an alarming quantity of possessions, from curtains to books and picture frames, must be discarded or quarantined. In one posh New York City rental tower, a tenant was forced to part with carpets, bedding, curtains, 20 cashmere sweaters, an Armani suit, a couch, a headboard, a night table, a bedframe, and an exercise bike, according to the New York Daily News. Other victims have had to throw away their books unless they were willing to inspect each one, page by page. Some possessions may be salvaged if they are sealed in special casing long enough for the bed bugs to die, which can takes many months. During this time, residents may be forced to move to temporary housing elsewhere.
Fortunately, the health dangers posed by bed bugs seem to be limited to temporary skin irritation and inflammation, akin to mosquito bites. There are no known cases of disease transmission from bed bugs to humans, despite the fact that the parasites seem similar to other parasites that do transmit disease, such as fleas and ticks. Anaphylactic shock, however, may be experienced by a small percentage of the population, and measures should be taken to prevent bacterial infection of bitten areas. 
Adult bed bugs are flat, apple-seed sized with rusty-colored, oval bodies. Newly hatched bed bugs are semi-transparent, light tan in color, and the size of a poppy seed. Yet, due to their elusive nature, their presence is usually discovered through peripheral clues rather than by seeing the bugs themselves. Some of these signs include fecal spots, blood smears, crushed bugs, or the itchy bumps that may result from bites. Bugs may be disturbed while feeding and leave a cluster of bumps, or they may bite in a row, marking the path of a blood vessel. The parasites emit a characteristic musty odor, although the smell is sometimes not present in even severe infestations. The bugs also emit a smell that is detectable by dogs, which has lead to the implementation of dogs in bed bug detection. Properly trained dogs can find bed bugs in wall voids, furniture gaps, and other places that humans may overlook and, in doing so, they focus on the area in which exterminators must spray.Bed bugs, their eggs and excrement
It is best for bed bugs to be treated by pest management professionals (PMPs), not homeowners, as there is risk that an inexperienced person may spread the infestation further throughout the home. For instance, bug bombs will be ineffective and merely spread bed bugs. Even chemical sprays designed to kill bed bugs, if used by inexperienced homeowners, may make the infestation worse. PMPs can inspect for bed bugs in their immature stages of development, including their eggs, while homeowners cannot. In addition, prep work performed by a homeowner may make it difficult for the PMP to assess the extent of the infestation.
The following tactics may be useful, however, for temporary relief or confirmation of the presence of bed bugs:
  • Remove bed skirts, as they provide easy access for the bugs to travel from the floor to your bed. If you must have bed skirts, make sure they do not reach the floor.
  • Move your bed away from the wall. Bed bugs cannot fly, but they can climb walls in order to fall onto the bed.
  • Place furniture legs in tin cans coated with talcum powder, petroleum jelly or a non-evaporative liquid, to deter the bugs from climbing.
  • Place a strip of duct tape at the base of furniture with the sticky side out. This tactic can be used to confirm the presence of bed bugs because it will trap them in place.
  • Spray cracks and crevices with an insecticide designed to control bed bugs. Follow the label's directions carefully. However, do not treat bedding, towels or clothing with insecticide.
Homeowners can limit their chances of bed bug exposure by purchasing only new furniture, as stowaway bugs can hide in older or used chairs and mattresses. Hostels, hotels and motels host many travelers and are obvious breeding grounds for bed bugs, and many hostels ban sleeping bags for this reason. Unfortunately, person-to-person contact is difficult to avoid.
In summary, bed bugs are a growing, serious threat.  Along with wood-destroying organisms, inspectors may want to enhance their knowledge by learning to recognize and become familiar with the problems posed by bed bugs because of their potential to infest homes and damage property.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chinese Drywall

Chinese Drywall

by Nick Gromicko, Rob London and Kenton Shepard
Amidst a wave of Chinese import scares, ranging from toxic toys to tainted pet food, reports of contaminated drywall from that country have been popping up across the American Southeast. Chinese companies use unrefined “fly ash,” a coal residue found in smokestacks in coal-fired power plants in their manufacturing process. Fly ash contains strontium sulfide, a toxic substance commonly found in fireworks. In hot and wet environments, this substance can offgas into hydrogen sulfide, carbon disulfide, and carbonyl sulfide and contaminate a home’s air supply. 

The bulk of these incidents have been reported in Florida and other southern states, likely due to the high levels of heat and humidity in that region. Most of the affected homes were built during the housing boom between 2004 and 2007, especially in the wake of Hurricane Katrina when domestic building materials were in short supply. An estimated 250,000 tons of drywall were imported from China during that time period because it was cheap and plentiful. This material was used in the construction of approximately 100,000 homes in the United States, and many believe this has lead to serious health and property damage.

Although not believed to be life- threatening, exposure to high levels of airborne hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur compounds from contaminated drywall can result in the following physical ailments:
  • sore throat;
  • sinus irritation;
  • coughing;
  • wheezing;
  • headache;
  • dry or burning eyes; and/or 
  • respiratory infections.
Due to this problem’s recent nature, there are currently no government or industry standards for inspecting contaminated drywall in homes. Professionals who have handled contaminated drywall in the past may know how to inspect for sulfur compounds but there are no agencies that offer certification in this form of inspection. Homeowners should beware of con artists attempting to make quick money off of this widespread scare by claiming to be licensed or certified drywall inspectors. InterNACHI has assembled the following tips that inspectors can use to identify if a home’s drywall is contaminated:
  • The house has a strong sulfur smell reminiscent of rotten eggs.
  • Exposed copper wiring appears dark and corroded. Silver jewelry and silverware can become similarly corroded and discolored after several months of exposure.
  • A manufacturer’s label on the back of the drywall can be used to link it with manufacturers that are known to have used contaminated materials. One way to look for this is to enter the attic and remove some of the insulation. 
  • Drywall samples can be sent to a lab to be tested for dangerous levels of sulfur. This is the best testing method but also the most expensive.
Contaminated Chinese drywall cannot be repaired. Affected homeowners are being forced to either suffer bad health and failing appliances due to wire corrosion or replace the drywall entirely, a procedure which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. This contamination further reduces home values in a real estate environment already plagued by crisis. Some insurance companies are refusing to pay for drywall replacement and many of their clients are facing financial ruin. Class-action lawsuits have been filed against homebuilders, suppliers, and importers of contaminated Chinese drywall. Some large manufacturers named in these lawsuits are Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin, Knauf Gips, and Taishan Gypsum.
The Florida Department of Health recently tested drywall from three Chinese manufacturers and a domestic sample and published their findings. They found “a distinct difference in drywall that was manufactured in the United States and those that were manufactured in China.” The Chinese samples contained traces of strontium sulfide and emitted a sulfur odor when exposed to moisture and intense heat, while the American sample did not. The U.S. Consumer Safety Commission is currently performing similar tests. Other tests performed by Lennar, a builder that used Chinese drywall in 80 Florida homes, and Knauf Plasterboard, a manufacturer of the drywall, came to different conclusions than the Florida Department of Health. Both found safe levels of sulfur compounds in the samples that they tested. There is currently no scientific proof that Chinese drywall is responsible for the allegations against it.  
Regardless of its source, contamination of some sort is damaging property and health in the southern U.S. The media, who have publicized the issue, almost unanimously report that the blame lies with imported Chinese drywall that contains corrosive sulfur compounds originating from ash produced by Chinese coal-fired power plants. Homes affected by this contamination can suffer serious damage to the metal parts of appliances and piping and lead, potentially leading to considerable health issues. While no governing body has issued regulations regarding contaminated drywall, it is advisable that home inspectors be aware of the danger it poses and learn how to identify it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

12 Safety Tips for the Holidays

DR. PAUL's Child Health & Wellness Info Site

Here are 12 handy tips for a safe and healthy holiday season. The 12 days of a Safe and Healthy Christmas!

1. When putting up Christmas lights at home for the holidays, make sure that all electrical cords are in good condition. Never run cords under the carpet, and avoid overloading sockets with many plugs; this can start an electrical fire. 

2. When visiting other people's homes, remember that their homes may not be child-proofed. When arriving at a party or friend's house, look around to make sure that there are no obvious hazards to your child. 

3. When going out to holiday parties without the children, be sure that your baby sitter knows where and how to reach you. All emergency numbers should be clearly posted so that the babysitter can use them if needed. 

4. To avoid food poisoning, always thaw the turkey in the refrigerator and not on the countertop. Also, remember that food should never be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours. 

5. Children love to get toys for Christmas! It is a good idea to follow the age ranges on packages, as toys that are too advanced could be hazardous for younger children. Make sure that there are no parts of the toy that could be swallowed or can choke a child. 

6. Children enjoy stuffed toys like Teddy bears and cloth dolls. When buying these items make sure that they have sturdy seams and that the eyes, noses and other parts are very firmly attached. Loose pieces can easily be swallowed by a child. 

7. Make sure that your young child does not have access to the Christmas tree. Ornaments are often made of metal plastic or foam, and can be dangerous as they can block the child's air passage, and can also cut a child's skin. 

8. Holiday plants are quite attractive to children but potentially very toxic. Make sure that plants such as Mistletoe, Holly and Rhododendron are out of the reach of children at all times. 

9. Gift wrapping often contains toxic metals and therefore children should not be allowed to chew them. Additionally do not burn gift wrapping paper in the fireplace as this may give off toxic fumes. 

10. Toy ideas for children less than 1 year include wooden blocks, float and squeeze toys and soft animals without buttons or other parts. Do not give small toys that can be swallowed, or toys with long strings that may potentially strangle a child. 

11. Toy ideas for the over 2 year-old include developmental toys that encourage the imagination to expand. Projectile-type toys such as guns, weapons and toys with sharp edges or points are not appropriate. 

12. Merry Christmas! Christmas is a family affair, so involve the whole family! The more a child is included in the festivities the more is entrenched a sense of belonging and being loved. Enjoy and share their joy! 

For more child health and wellness information on-line, visit

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kitec Fittings

Kitec® Fittings

By Nick Gromicko and Rob London 
Kitec® is a brand of brass plumbing fitting that was recalled in 2005 by its manufacturer, IPEX, due to its tendency to quickly corrode. The fitting was widely installed throughout the western United States since the early 1990s.
How is Kitec® defective?
Kitec® was originally marketed as a corrosion-resistant alternative to fittings made from copper. Corroded Kitec® fittingIPEX manufactured the fittings with a high percentage of zinc, making them vulnerable to corrosion in a process known as dezincification. As water goes through the fittings, it corrodes the metal, and zinc leaches from the brass and creates a powdery buildup inside the fittings. This buildup can weaken the fitting, restrict water flow and, in the worst-case scenario, cause the pipe to leak or burst. Some homeowners have returned to their homes after being away for several days to find it flooded, requiring tens of thousands of dollars to replace carpet, drywall and furniture. Even small leaks, especially if they are hidden behind drywall, can lead to the growth of mold, which itself is a dangerous condition.
Replacing these fittings usually requires cutting into the walls and replumbing the entire house, which costs between $6,000 to $8,000, on average, although it can cost several times this amount. These costs are often paid out of pocket, as some insurers do not cover repairs to items that were recalled. Many insurers that will cover the repairs will require sizable deductibles and increased rates. 
Legal Matters
Kitec’s® Canadian manufacturer, as well as home building companies and plumbing contractors that installed Kitec® fittings, have been the target of a series of massive class-action lawsuits. More than 31,000 homeowners in southern Nevada sued IPEX in 2006 and received a $90 million settlement. Roughly 30,000 homeowners in New Mexico united to file claims as well, and California is likely to follow suit, once the scope of the problem is better understood. Builders and plumbers who installed the product have also been targeted. Nevada builder Del Webb was recently ordered to pay more than $27 million to homeowners in that state. The purpose of these lawsuits is to force the defendants to replace the Kitec® fittings and compensate homeowners who already paid to have them replaced.
Who is affected?
The exact number of homes with Kitec® water pipe fittings is difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint. Many homes will have low water pressure but never know why. Based on the lawsuits that have been filed, it seems that at least 60,000 homes in southern Nevada and New Mexico have Kitec® fittings. In addition, it is likely that tens of thousands of homes across the southwest, notably in Tucson and Maricopa County in Arizona, in Sacramento and Los Angeles, and in parts of Texas, have Kitec® fittings. 
Identifying Kitec® PlumbingA sticker such as this one may be found in or on the electical box
Identification of Kitec® plumbing must be performed by a qualified plumber. The plumber will bore small holes beneath sinks, then insert an instrument with a flexible arm to help identify the fittings. InterNACHI inspectors may be able to identify Kitec® by a yellow or neon sticker on or inside the electrical box. Inspectors and plumbers should beware, however, that stickers were sometimes used indiscriminately to warn of non-metallic plumbing systems other than Kitec®. Therefore, it is possible that a home has no Kitec® fittings even if there is a Kitec® sticker in the electrical panel box. Similarly, many homes that contain Kitec® plumbing do not have stickers in their electrical panel boxes. Also, Kitec® PEX pipes may have the "Kitec" label.
In summary, defective fittings were installed for many years throughout the American southwest, leading to class-action lawsuits. The fittings can be identified in several ways but only a qualified plumber can say with certainty if they are Kitec®.  

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Basic Waterproofing for Basements

Basic Waterproofing for Basements

by Nick Gromico and Ethan Ward
Water Damage Concerns
Basements are typically the area of a structure most at risk for water damage because they are located below grade and surrounded by soil.  Soil releases water it has absorbed during rain or when snow melts, and the water can end up in the basement through leaks or cracks.  Water can even migrate through solid concrete walls via capillary action, which is a phenomenon whereby liquid spontaneously rises in a narrow space, such as a thin tube, or via porous materials.  Wet basements can cause problems that include peeling paint, toxic mold contamination, building rot, foundation collapse, and termite damage.  Even interior air quality can be affected if naturally occurring gasses released by the soil are being transmitted into the basement. 
Properly waterproofing a basement will lessen the risk of damage caused by moisture or water.  Homeowners will want to be aware of what they can do to keep their basements dry and safe from damage.  Inspectors can also benefit from being aware of these basic strategies for preventing leaks and floods.
Prevent water entry by diverting it away from the foundation.
Preventing water from entering the basement by ensuring it is diverted away from the foundation is of primary concern.  Poor roof drainage and surface runoff due to gutter defects and improper site grading may be the most common causes of wet basements.  Addressing these issues will go a long way toward ensuring that water does not penetrate the basement.
Here are some measures to divert water away from the foundation:
  • Install and maintain gutters and downspouts so that they route all rainwater and snow melt far enough away from the foundation of the building to ensure that pooling does not occur near the walls of the structure.  At least 10 feet from the building is best, and at the point where water leaves the downspout, it should be able to flow freely away from the foundation instead of back toward it, and should not be collecting in pools.
  • The finish grade should be sloped away from the building for 10 to 15 feet.  Low spots that may lead to water pooling should be evened out to prevent the possibility of standing water near the foundation.
  • Shallow ditches called swales should be used in conditions where one or more sides of the building face an upward slope.  A swale should slope away from the building for 10 to 15 feet, at which point it can empty into another swale that directs water around to the downhill-side of the building, leading it away from the foundation.

Repair all cracks and holes.
If leaks or seepage is occurring in the basement's interior, water and moisture are most likely entering through small cracks or holes.  The cracks or holes could be the result of several things.  Poor workmanship during the original build may be making itself apparent in the form of cracks or holes.  Water pressure from the outside may be building up, forcing water through walls.  The house may have settled, causing cracks in the floor or walls.  Repairing all cracks and small holes will help prevent leaks and floods.
Here are some steps to take if you suspect that water is entering the basement through cracks or holes:
  • Identify areas where water may be entering through cracks or holes by checking for moisture, leaking or discoloration.  Every square inch of the basement should be examined, especially in cases where leaking or flooding has not been obvious, but moisture buildup is readily apparent.
  • A mixture of epoxy and latex cement can be used to fill small hairline cracks and holes.  This is a waterproof formula that can help ensure that moisture and water do not penetrate basement walls.  It is effective primarily for very small cracks and holes.
  • Any cracks larger than about 1/8-inch should be filled with mortar made from one part cement and two parts fine sand, with just enough water to make a fairly stiff mortar.  It should be pressed firmly into all parts of the larger cracks and holes to be sure that no air bubbles or pockets remain.  As long as water is not being forced through basement walls due to outside pressure, the application of mortar with a standard trowel will be sufficient if special care is taken to fill all cracks completely.
  • If water is being forced through by outside pressure, a slightly different method of patching with mortar can be used.  Surface areas of walls or floors with cracks should first be chiseled out a bit at the mouth of the crack and all along its length.  Using a chipping chisel and hammer or a cold chisel, cut a dovetail groove along the mouth of each crack to be filled, and then apply the mortar thoroughly.  The dovetail groove, once filled, should be strong enough to resist the force of pressure that was pushing water through the crack.