All of the inspectors here at John Robinson’s Inspection Group get asked by our San Diego home buyers from time to time if certain modifications or additions discovered (or disclosed by the sellers) need to be or should have been permitted.   Our answer generally depends on exactly what was modified, changed or added to the home inquestion.  Over the years and after performing thousands of pre-purchase home inspections, we have discovered that most home buyers, home sellers, and home owners have no idea of what needs to be permitted vs what may not need to be permitted.  The following list will serve as a good place to start in determining if your addition or modification needs to be permitted according to the latest International Residential Code (IRC) manual.

According to the IRC, permits are not required for the following:

* Detached one-story accessory structures (tool sheds) less than or equal to 200 sq.ft.
* Fences less than or equal to 6 ft., sidewalks, driveways, swings and playground equipment
* Retaining walls less than or equal to 4 ft. from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall & with no surcharge
* Water tanks on grade less than or equal to 5,00o gallons & height/width ratio less than or equal to 2:1
* Painting, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, counter & similar finish work
* Awnings projecting less than or equal to 54 inches from exterior wall & supported from wall
* Decks less than or equal to 200 sq. ft. & less than or equal to 30 inches above grade and not attached to dwelling or serving a required exit door

We wanted to provide this list of  what typically can be done to your home without a  permit according to the latest IRC to help clear up some of the confusion for our home buyers, sellers, and owners.   If what you are planning to build falls outside of the list above it is safe to assume that a permit is required.  However, your local city/county building official has the final say regarding what needs to be permitted.  So before you build be sure to contact your local building department to prevent problems and hefty fines down the road.

Because your health and safety may depend on it.

Your home inspector’s number one priority during a home inspection is identify problems with the home that will affect your family’s health and safety.  This is why the home inspector’s of John Robinson’s Inspection Group strongly recommend that you read the entire home inspection report.  In it you will find further evaluation and/or repair recommendations that can have a direct effect on your family’s health and safety.

For example; If the inspector identifies that the color of the furnace or water heater flame is incorrect, this can be indicative of a problem with the furnace or water heater like a cracked heat exchanger or damaged burner.  A cracked heat exchanger is not always visible during a home inspection.  So, the inspector will recommend that the furnace be further evaluated by a licensed HVAC contractor (or plumber) to determine the exact cause and repair as needed (which may require replacing the furnace or (water heater).

Without reading the entire inspection report and following the inspector’s recommendations, it will be impossible for you to know the true condition of the home that you are purchasing.  We love Realtors and their referrals.  However, do not rely solely on your Realtor to tell you what issues discovered by the inspector are or are not important.  If you have questions or need further clarification on comments made in the inspection report call your John Robinson’s Inspection Group home inspector immediately.  We will be more than happy to help you.

San Diego Home Inspection Incorrect Flame at a water heater

San Diego Home Inspection Incorrect Flame at a water heater

A safety hazard was discovered during a recent home inspection here in San Diego by an inspector from John Robinson’s Inspection Group. Upon entering the attic space of this North Park area home, the inspector observed that the gas furnace flue pipe was not properly installed.  A separation was noted about halfway between the top of the furnace and the roof sheathing.  This is a serious health and safety hazard.  Every time this gas furnace is turned on, the byproducts of combustion including Carbon Monoxide are allowed to spill or leak right back into the home.  This condition can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Separated gas furnace flue pipe is a Carbon Monoxide hazard

A separated gas furnace flue pipe found in the attic of this home during a home inspection.  This is a Carbon Monoxide hazard that should be immediately corrected

 

Carbon monoxide is known as the “Silent Killer”.  It can prevent the body from receiving oxygen.  Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms can be flu-like: to include nausea, headaches, hard time breathing, weakness, trouble falling asleep, and fatigue.  In large quantities, carbon monoxide can cause fainting, brain damage, or death.

To repair this condition is as simple as hiring  a qualified HVAC contractor to properly reconnect this pipe back together.  This home also lacked carbon monoxide detectors.  The installation of carbon monoxide detectors  in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association installation recommendations will greatly improve the level of safety in this home.  Here’s a link to their website for more information: http://goo.gl/ptA8eP

The inspectors here at John Robinson’s Inspection Group are always looking for health and safety hazards during each and every home inspection we perform.  Our goal is to ensure that the home you are considering buying, selling, or renting is safe for those who are currently or going to live in it.  If you are concerned about safety hazards in your home do not hesitate to contact our office to set up an appointment….Someones life could depend on it.

Heat loss occurs more rapidly on homes that are poorly insulated.  This will lead to higher utility bills.  Here is a thermal image of the ceiling of a home we recently inspected here in San Diego that had a very large gap in the attic insulation.  The homeowner had no idea this condition even existed in their home because this was located in an inaccessible section of the attic space and could only be seen with our thermal imaging technology.  To ensure that your home is properly insulated be sure to thoroughly inspect the attic space and walls.  However, some areas will not be visible, so the use of equipment like our thermal imaging cameras may be needed to do a more thorough inspection.

Buying a home can be a very exciting and rewarding experience.  Don’t let your dream become a nightmare by buying a home with a bad foundation.  The inspectors here at John Robinson’s Inspection Group take their time to inspect your home’s foundation and enter every crawlspace to ensure your home’s foundation is in working order.   Check out these picks of a few issues we recently found during a San Diego home inspection in Pacific Beach.

A large part of my plumbing inspection is to test how well that hot water system is working throughout a home. If your water heater is too small for the home you live in, you may run out of hot water before it’s your turn to use the shower or take a bath. (I hate cold showers) Yesterday, as I was inspecting an 8400 SF home in Rancho Santa Fe, I noticed that this home was only equipped with one 50 Gallon AO Smith Vertex water heater. And guess what, after testing every sink, every shower, every bathtub, and running both dishwashers at the same time, I never ran out of hot water. Check out this short clip. It just might be the hot water solution for your home too. :)

This old cast-iron drain line was leaking in the crawlspace of this San Diego home built in the 1950’s. This is causing an excess of moisture to accumulate.

Leaking drain lines and improper site drainage can have an adverse effect on the stabilityof your home’s foundation, attract wood destroying organisms and cause mold growth. The owners of this property had no idea that this was occurring right under their feet.

Periodic inspections of crawlspaces and attics can help to keep your home in tip top shape. Call us today at 619-684-1444 to see how a home maintenance review can help protect your investment.

The recent heat wave in San Diego has forced many of us to stay inside and turn on the air conditioner.  However, during a recent home inspection we discovered this air conditioner’s condensate pump was not functioning properly.  This problem had been occurring for many months promoting extensive mold growth on and inside its return air compartment.  This is a serious health concern that should be repaired immediately.  To prevent serious issues like this from developing in your home, be sure to have your air conditioner inspected, cleaned and serviced regularly to ensure proper operation.

The home inspectors at John Robinson’s Inspection Group are always thinking about your family’s health and safety.  Although we do not inspect for lead during our home inspections, it’s still very important to know the facts about this dangerous material that can be present in your San Diego home.

FACT: Lead exposure can harm young children and babies even before they are born.

FACT: Even children who seem healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies.

FACT: You can get lead in your body by breathing or swallowing lead dust, or by eating soil or paint chips containing lead.

FACT: You have many options for reducing lead hazards. In most cases, lead-based paint that is in good condition is not a hazard.

FACT: Removing lead-based paint improperly can increase the danger to your family.

If you think your home might have lead hazards, read on to learn about lead and some simple steps to protect your family.

 

Health Effects of Lead

  • Childhood lead poisoning remains a major environmental health problem in the U.S.
  • Even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies.
  • People can get lead in their body if they:
    • put their hands or other objects covered with lead dust in their mouths;
    • eat paint chips or soil that contains lead; or
    • breathe in lead dust, especially during renovations that disturb painted surfaces.
  • Lead is even more dangerous to children than adults because:
    • babies and young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths. These objects can have lead dust on them;
    • children’s growing bodies can absorb more lead; and
    • children’s brains and central nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.
  • If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from:
    • damage to the brain and nervous system;
    • behavioral and learning problems (such as hyperactivity);
    • slowed growth;
    • hearing problems; and
    • headaches.
  • Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from:
    • difficulties during pregnancy;
    • other reproductive problems (in both men and women);
    • high blood pressure;
    • digestive problems;
    • nerve disorders;
    • memory and concentration problems; and
    • muscle and joint pain

Where is Lead Found?

In general, the older your home, the more likely it has lead-based paint.

 

Paint

 

Many homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. The federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978. Some states stopped its use even earlier. Lead can be found:

  • in homes in the city, country and suburbs;
  • on apartments, single-family homes, and both private and public housing complexes;
  • on the interior and exterior of the house;
  • in the soil around a home.  Soil can pick up lead from exterior paint and other sources, such as past use of leaded gas in cars;
  • in household dust. Dust can pick up lead from deteriorating lead-based paint and from soil tracked into a home;
  • in drinking water. Your home might have plumbing that uses lead pipes or lead solder. Call your local health department or water supplier to find out about testing your water. You cannot see, smell or taste lead, and boiling your water will not get rid of lead. If you think your plumbing might have lead in it:
    • Use only cold water for drinking and cooking.
    • Run water for 15 to 30 seconds before drinking it, especially if you have not used your water for a few hours.
  • on the job. If you work with lead, you could bring it home on your hands or clothes. Shower and change clothes before coming home. Launder your work clothes separately from the rest of your family’s clothes;
  • in old (vintage or antique) painted toys and furniture;
  • in food and liquids stored in lead crystal, lead-glazed pottery and porcelain;
  • from lead smelters and other industries that release lead into the air;
  • with hobbies that use lead, such as making pottery or stained glass, or refinishing furniture.
  • in folk remedies that contain lead, such as “greta” and “azarcon” used to treat an upset stomach.

Where is Lead Likely to be a Hazard?

  • Lead from paint chips, which you can see, and lead dust, which you can’t always see, can be serious hazards.
  • Peeling, chipping, chalking and cracking lead-based paint is a hazard and needs immediate attention.
  • Lead-based paint may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear-and-tear. These areas include:
    • windows and window sills;
    • doors and door frames;
    • stairs, railings and banisters; and
    • porches and fences.

Note: Lead-based paint that is in good condition is usually not a hazard.

  • Lead dust can form when lead-based paint is dry-scraped, dry-sanded, or heated. Dust also forms when painted surfaces bump or rub together. Lead chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch. Settled lead dust can re-enter the air when people vacuum, sweep or walk through it.
  • Lead in soil can be a hazard when children play in bare soil, or when people bring soil into the house on their shoes.

Checking Your Family and Home for Lead

  • Have your children and home tested if you think your home has high levels of lead.
  • Just knowing that a home has lead-based paint may not tell you if there is a hazard.

To reduce your child’s exposure to lead, get your child checked, have your home tested (especially if your home has paint in poor condition and was built before 1978), and fix any hazards you may have.

 

Your Family

  • Children’s blood lead levels tend to increase rapidly from 6 to 12 months of age, and tend to peak at 18 to 24 months of age.
  • Consult your doctor for advice on testing your children. A simple blood test can detect high levels of lead. Blood tests are important for:
    • children at ages 1 to 2;
    • children and other family members who have been exposed to high levels of lead; and
    • children who should be tested under your state or local health screening plan.

Your doctor can explain what the test results mean and if more testing will be needed.

 

Your Home

 

You can get your home checked in one of two ways (or both):

  • A paint inspection tells you the lead content of every different type of painted surface in your home. It won’t tell you whether the paint is a hazard or how you should deal with it.
  • A risk assessment tells you if there are any sources of serious lead exposure, such as peeling paint and lead dust. It also tells you what actions to take to address these hazards.

Have qualified professionals do the work. There are standards in place for certifying lead-based paint professionals to ensure that the work is done safely, reliably and effectively. Be sure to ask your InterNACHI inspector about lead paint during your next inspection. Trained professionals use a range of methods when checking your home, including:

  • a vsual inspection of paint condition and location;
  • a portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) machine;
  • lab tests of paint samples; and
  • surface-dust tests.

Note: Home test kits for lead are available, but studies suggest that they are not always accurate. Consumers should not rely on these tests before doing renovations or to assure safety.

 

What You Can Do to Protect Your Family

 

If you suspect that your house has lead hazards, you can take some immediate steps to reduce your family’s risk:

  • If you rent, notify your landlord of peeling or chipping paint.
  • Clean up paint chips immediately.
  • Clean floors, window frames, window sills, and other surfaces weekly. Use a mop, sponge or paper towel with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner, or a cleaner made specifically for lead.

REMEMBER: NEVER MIX AMMONIA AND BLEACH PRODUCTS TOGETHER, SINCE THEY CAN FORM A DANGEROUS GAS.

  • Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning dirty and dusty areas.
  • Wash children’s hands often, especially before they eat, and before nap time and bed time.
  • Keep play areas clean. Wash bottles, pacifiers, toys and stuffed animals regularly.
  • Keep children from chewing window sills and other painted surfaces.
  • Clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil.
  • Make sure children eat nutritious, low-fat meals high in iron and calcium, such as spinach and dairy products. Children with good diets absorb less lead.

In addition to day-to-day cleaning and good nutrition, you can temporarily reduce lead hazards by taking actions such as repairing damaged amd painted surfaces, and by planting grass to cover soil with high lead levels. These actions, called “interim controls,” are not permanent solutions and will need ongoing attention. To permanently remove lead hazards, you must hire a certified lead-abatement contractor. Abatement (or permanent hazard elimination) methods include removing, sealing or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials. Just painting over the hazard with regular paint is not enough. Always hire a person with special training for correcting lead problems — someone who knows how to do this work safely and has the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly. Certified contractors will employ qualified workers and follow strict safety rules set by their state or the federal government. To be safe, hire an InterNACHI inspector trained in lead detection for your next inspection.

 

Are You Planning to Buy or Rent a Home Built Before 1978?

 

Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint that contains lead (called lead-based paint). Lead from paint, chips and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly. Federal law requires that individuals receive certain information before renting or buying pre-1978 housing.

  • Residential Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Program
    • LANDLORDS have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before leases take effect. Leases must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint.
    • SELLERS have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint. Buyers have up to 10 days to check for lead hazards.

If not conducted properly, certain types of renovations can release lead from paint and dust into the air.

  • Pre-Renovation Education Program (PRE)
    • RENOVATORS have to give you a pamphlet titled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” before starting work.
  • Take precautions before your contractor or you begin remodeling or renovations that disturb painted surfaces (such as scraping off paint or tearing out walls).
    • Have the area tested for lead-based paint.
    • Do not use a belt-sander, propane torch, heat gun, dry scraper or dry sandpaper to remove lead-based paint. These actions create large amounts of lead dust and fumes.
    • Lead dust can remain in your home long after the work is done.
    • Temporarily move your family (especially children and pregnant women) out of the apartment or house until the work is done and the area is properly cleaned. If you can’t move your family, at least completely seal off the work area.
    • If you have already completed renovations or remodeling that could have released lead-based paint or dust, get your young children tested and follow the steps outlined to protect your family.

The home inspectors here at John Robinson’s Inspection Group consider child safety in and around your home to be a very serious matter that should never be glossed over during a home inspection.  That’s why during our inspection of your prospective home we inspect for items that could prove to be hazards to you and especially your children.  The Number One hazard for children under the age of 19 is falls, which are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries in the U.S. for this age group.  About 8,000 youngsters wind up in emergency rooms every day for injuries related to falling, adding up to almost 2.8 million per year.  With those statistics in mind, it is worth looking at what can be done to prevent such injuries in the home.

In trying to fathom how so many children can be injured on a daily basis from something as simple as slipping and falling, we need to consider an important factor, which is height.  Oftentimes, when observing small children at play, we are amazed at their dexterity and ability to take what looks like a fairly serious tumble and hop right back up, unfazed.  Likewise, a slip or fall for most adults, more often than not, leads to little more than a poorly chosen expletive being uttered.  However, imagine a small child falling a distance equivalent to the average height of an adult, and we begin to see where the danger lies.  With this to consider, let’s closer look at two of the most important areas to childproof in a home: windows and staircases.

STAIRCASES

The first thing that probably comes to mind when examining child safety in relation to stairways and staircases is a safety gate, and with good reason: falling down stairs can be a serious hazard for an infant or toddler who is just learning to navigate his or her surroundings. When properly installed, high-quality safety gates can help eliminate this possibility.

Safety Gates  

A safety gate is a gate that is temporarily installed in a door or stairway.  It allows adults to unlock and pass, but small children will be unable to open it.  There are two basic types of gates which differ in the way they are installed.  The first type is a pressure-mounted gate.  These safety gates are fixed in place by pressure against walls or a doorway.  They can be used in doorways between rooms, such as for keeping crawling babies out of a kitchen during cooking, but they are not suitable for keeping kids out of other areas, such as the top of a stairway, where falling could be a risk.

The other type of safety gate, which is recommended specifically for stairways, is hardware-mounted.  These gates will mount solidly in place with screws but are still easily removable for times when they are unnecessary.  A hardware-mounted safety gate will prevent small children from entering stairways where accidents could occur.

When choosing a safety gate, you can refer to established ASTM standards for these products, and some manufacturers also participate in a certification program administered by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.  Any gate you choose should meet the ASTM standards, which will ensure that the gate itself poses no hazard to the child.  Products that comply with these standards will have a sticker on the packaging or on the unit itself.

Railings 

For parents of children who have outgrown the need for safety gates but are still small and curious, especially those prone to climbing on things, baluster spacing on the handrail becomes a concern.  An InterNACHI inspector knows that a stairway with four or more risers should have a continuous handrail not lower than 34 inches or taller than 38 inches on at least one side, with balustrades not more than 4 inches apart from each other.  If you have spaces between vertical rails or risers that will allow an object larger than 4 inches to pass between them, they should be reported during an inspection as in need of repair because they pose a risk to a child who tries to climb on the rail or gets stuck between them.

WINDOWS
If the dangers associated with falling are compounded by the height of the fall, then windows can present an even greater concern than stairways.  It is estimated that more than 4,000 children are treated every year in emergency rooms for injuries sustained by falling from windows.  There have been at least 120 such deaths reported since 1990.  Risk of injury from window-related accidents in the home can be minimized by addressing
several common issues.
The first thing and simplest thing to do is to ensure that there is no furniture situated in areas that would make it easy for a child to reach and open or close a window.  Any furniture a child could potentially climb on should be moved away from windows.
Latches, Stops and Guards
As children begin to grow to heights where they may be able to access windows from a standing position, it is important to install secure, child-proof latches.  There are many types of window latches that, similar to safety gates, will allow an adult to easily open and close windows, but will prevent kids from doing the same.

Also available are window stops, which will not allow the window to be opened wider than a pre-determined width.  The recommended opening, similar to balustrade spacing, should not exceed 4 inches.  This eliminates the possibility of a child or one of his limbs to pass through.  These stops are easily removable by an adult whenever necessary.

An additional option to consider is a window guard.  A window guard can be vertical or horizontal.  It attaches to a frame and can be removed by an adult, but will deter a child.  Guards have some form of bars or beams across them, which should be no more than 4 inches apart.  Window guards maintain the functionality of the window while ensuring a child’s safety while the window is open.  However, even with a guard installed, kids should not be allowed to play around windows, whether they are open or closed.  Try to open windows only from the top, if possible.  And never rely on window screens to keep a child from falling, as that is not the function they are designed for.

With some foresight, a few clever and fairly inexpensive products, and proper adherence to building codes, the risk of injury from falling can be successfully minimized.  Your InterNACHI inspector can assess the safety issues in your home, and advise you on the most effective childproofing measures to keep your family safe.by Nick Gromicko and Ethan Ward