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Pre-cast fireplaces were installed on many homes throughout California during the mid 70’s to the mid 80’s. We come across them frequently while inspecting homes here in San Diego County. Many of these fireplaces were cracked or damaged before they were even installed. Most of the cracks discovered are typically at the “insulation plate” which starts at the fireplace opening and extended to the smoke chamber . A damaged fireplace can allow smoke, fire and carbon monoxide to enter the home which is a serious safety concern and fire hazard. During a recent home inspection, I came across this pre-cast fireplace that was severely cracked (one of the worst I’ve ever seen) and not safe for use. The only fix for this fireplace would be to tear it down and build a new one. If you are concerned about the fireplace in the home that you currently own or one installed at a home you are considering purchasing, be sure you have it thoroughly inspected by a qualified expert before attempting to use it.
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When inspecting a home, the inspectors of John Robinson’s Inspection Group are always thinking about the health and safety of the current and future occupants of that property. When it comes to health and safety, Fire Protection is always at the top of our list.
Did you know that materials like gypsum board provide passive protection against the rapid spread of a fire?
In single family homes, townhouses and condos with attached garages, a minimum of 1/2 in thick gypsum board or equivalent must be installed on the garage side of the walls and ceilings common to the house or shared attic space to maintain proper fire separation. Also, 5/8 in thick Type X gypsum board must be attached to the ceiling of the garage under habitable rooms.
There should be no direct openings between the garage and sleeping rooms. The door to the house from the garage is required to be 20 minute rated, 1 and 3/8 inches thick, solid wood or steel. There should be no duct openings in the garage (i.g. no central air or heat vent openings that terminate in the garage common to the house). Ducts that penetrate the common/firewall must be 26-gauge steel.
The most common issue we see are voids, holes or separations in the firewall to allow the passing of water lines, gap piping, and electrical wires from the garage to the home. All voids in the fire separation between the garage and the home should be sealed with approved materials.
If you have any questions regarding fire-separations and/or possible voids in the firewall of a home you currently live in or thinking of buying, please do not hesitate to give us a call at 619-684-1444.
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* Detached one-story accessory structures (tool sheds) less than or equal to 200 sq.ft.
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.
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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.
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.
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We find missing anti-tip brackets during about 90% of the home inspections we perform. Most homebuyers have no idea what they are or why they are needed. Follow this link below to our Facebook page to read a short article to gain a better understanding of what anti-tip brackets are and why they are important. John Robinson’s Inspection Group, always looking out for your safety. https://www.facebook.com/notes/john-robinson/anti-tip-brackets-for-freestanding-ranges/10202873284577444
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During a recent inspection of a San Diego home, I came across a water heater that had been relocated into the garage. It was quite evident that this modification was performed by non-licensed plumbers. Several unsafe conditions were visible. Below are a couple of photographs of of safety violations that should be corrected immediately by a licensed plumber.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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