Your Homeowner’s Newsletter from Distinct Home Inspections
Welcome to the Homeowner’s Newsletter! Each month, you’ll find plenty of useful information for keeping your house in great condition so that you can enjoy it for years to come. Preserve your investment—and keep your family safe and healthy—by maintaining your home using the following tips.
15 Tools Every Homeowner Should Own (Part 3)
The following items are essential tools, but this list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to ask your InterNACHI inspector during your next inspection about other household tools you might find useful.
- Claw Hammer
A good hammer is one of the most important tools you can own. Use it to drive and remove nails, to pry wood loose from the house, and in combination with other tools. They come in a variety of sizes, although a 16-ounce hammer is the best all-purpose choice.
- Screwdriver Set
It’s best to have four screwdrivers: a small and large version of both a flathead and a Phillips-head screwdriver. Electrical screwdrivers are sometimes convenient, but they’re no substitute. Manual screwdrivers can reach into more places and they’re less likely to damage the screw.
- Wire Cutters
Wire cutters are pliers designed to cut wires and small nails. The side-cutting style (unlike the stronger end-cutting style) is handy, but not strong enough to cut small nails.
- Respirator / Safety Mask
While paints and other coatings are now manufactured to be less toxic (and lead-free) than in previous decades, most still contain dangerous chemicals, which is why you should wear a mask to avoid accidentally inhaling their fumes. A mask should also be worn when working in dusty and dirty environments. Disposable masks usually come in packs of 10 and should be thrown away after use. Full and half-face respirators can be used to prevent the inhalation of very fine particles that ordinary facemasks will not stop, such as insulation fibers and sawdust.
- Duct Tape
This tape is extremely strong and adaptable. Originally, it was widely used to make temporary repairs to many types of military equipment. Today, it’s one of the key items specified for home emergency kits because it’s water-resistant and extremely sticky. Duct tape now comes in a variety of colors, but remember that it’s meant to be used as a temporary fix.
What Is Mold?
Mold is classified as a fungus and is part of the natural environment. Outdoors, molds are essential for breaking down dead organic matter, such as fallen leaves and dead trees. But indoors, mold growth should be prevented. Not only is it unpleasant, as evidenced by its musty odor and unsightly staining, but it can cause significant and irreparable damage to a home’s structural components, as well as furnishings and carpeting.
How does it grow?
Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores, which are invisible to the naked eye and float through the air. Mold may begin growing indoors when its spores land on surfaces that are wet. There are many types of mold, but none of them will grow without water or moisture, which is why mold prevention begins by maintaining clean and dry surfaces wherever possible.
Health Effects of Mold
Molds have the potential to cause health problems by producing irritants, allergens (which are substances that can cause allergic reactions), and even potentially toxic substances called mycotoxins. Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals and even in those not generally allergic. These reactions can include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, a runny nose, watery eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis). Allergic reactions to mold are common, and they can be immediate or delayed. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold. Very serious respiratory ailments can result from prolonged exposure to mold.
How do I get rid of mold?
The key to mold control is moisture control. If mold is a problem in your home, you should clean up the mold promptly and fix the moisture problem, because mold cannot grow unless it has a water source, which usually means a plumbing leak or some structural damage that’s allowing water intrusion from the outside. If you discover a leak or have experienced flooding, it’s important to completely and thoroughly clean and dry any water-damaged areas and items within 24 to 48 hours to prevent the onset of mold growth. Vinegar is effective on porous surfaces, and bleach is best on non-porous surfaces. Some severely water-damaged items that cannot be fully dried out or cleaned may need to be disposed of, such as books and rugs. Be aware that it’s impossible to get rid of all mold and mold spores indoors. Some mold spores may be found floating through the air and in household dust. This is normal. But mold spores will not grow into mold if moisture is not present. If you clean up the mold but don’t fix the water problem, then, most likely, the mold problem will recur. If mold damage is extensive, professional intervention may be required. The easiest way to prevent mold growth indoors is by keeping your home clean and dry and monitoring indoor humidity levels.
Unchecked moisture intrusion can lead to structural defects in a home over time, as well as health problems for the home’s family.
Some common moisture-related problems include:
- structural wood decay;
- high indoor humidity and resulting condensation;
- expansive soil, which may crack or undermine the home’s foundation, or softened soil, which may lose its ability to support an overlying structure;
- metal corrosion;
- ice dams, which form in roof gutters that are undersized or obstructed and water isn’t allowed to drain properly; and
- mold growth. Mold can only grow in the presence of high levels of moisture. People who suffer from the following conditions can be seriously or even fatally harmed if exposed to elevated levels of airborne mold spores:
- lung disease; and/or
- compromised immune systems.
Note that people who do not suffer from these ailments may still be harmed by elevated levels of airborne mold spores.
How does moisture get into the house?
Homeowners should have a basic understanding of how moisture may enter a home and where problems are commonly found.
Moisture or water vapor moves into a house in the following ways:
- air infiltration. Air movement accounts for more than 98% of all water vapor movement through a building’s cavities. Air naturally moves from high-pressure areas to lower ones by the easiest path possible, such as a hole or crack in the building envelope. Moisture transfer by air currents is very fast—in the range of several hundred cubic feet of air per minute. Replacement air will infiltrate through the building envelope unless unintended air paths are carefully and permanently sealed;
- by diffusion through building materials. Most building materials slow moisture diffusion to a large degree, although they never stop it completely;
- leaks from the roof, such as those caused by aging materials needing repair or replacement, storm damage, or deteriorated or unsealed areas around a chimney, skylight, or other roof penetration;
- plumbing leaks;
- flooding, which can be caused by seepage from runoff or rising groundwater. It may be seasonal or catastrophic; and
- household activities, including bathing, cooking, dishwashing, and washing clothes. Indoor plants, too, may be a significant source of high levels of indoor humidity. Excess humidity that isn’t allowed to dissipate through adequate ventilation can build up into condensation, which can lead to moisture problems indoors.
Monitoring indoor humidity, introducing fresh air, providing adequate ventilation, and performing regular, seasonal home maintenance—in addition to having annual home inspections—will help homeowners monitor the different areas of the home that may harbor unwanted moisture intrusion and all the problems it can introduce.
While cleaning out the gutters may not be everyone’s favorite home-maintenance task, gutters filled with debris will not drain properly. Ice dams can form in freezing weather, which can essentially shut down your roof’s entire drainage system, possibly forcing unwanted moisture in through your roof and attic. Also, if runoff from the roof is allowed to discharge too close to the home’s foundation, either because of neglected gutter maintenance or even improper system installation, serious structural problems can develop that can compromise the stability of the entire home. That’s why it’s essential that you monitor and maintain your roof-drainage system.
The most common roof-drainage system in residential construction is gutters hung from the roof edge attached to downspouts. The gutters may be open or covered on top, with seams, or seamless. The gutters should be connected to downspouts that direct water away from the home’s foundation. The downspout may lead down to a concrete splashblock that prevents water from draining directly into the soil next to the foundation.
The gutter problems you discover may be related to the materials from which the gutters are made, the quality of the installation, environmental conditions, or a combination of all three.
Galvanized steel gutters are the most common type of gutters. If they’re painted, it may be difficult to tell steel gutters from aluminum just by looking, but you should be able to tell the difference by tapping on them with your finger or by using a magnet (aluminum will not react). They’re durable but not invulnerable to damage, which can include dents from hail or windblown debris and separation due to age or improper installation. Metal gutters are subject to corrosion, especially if debris has been allowed to accumulate. Debris holds moisture next to the metal, so watch for corrosion in gutters that have tree branches hanging over them. Corrosion often starts at the seams.
Copper gutters generally last a long time compared to steel and vinyl, but they’re the most expensive type and, therefore, less common. Vinyl gutters are comparatively inexpensive and can be made to match different colors and styles. However, depending on their quality, they can be fragile, and you may find them broken or disconnected at vulnerable points in the system. They can be repaired using special adhesives, but replacement may be necessary if damage is severe or extensive.
Problems with installation range from improperly sloped gutters to gutters that are loose or poorly attached. You may be able to identify improper slope by observing standing water in the gutter, or the accumulation of sediment in portions of the gutter away from the downspouts. You can check the slope from the ground by looking at the margins between the gutter and roof or the gutter and fascia. On homes with steeper roofs, the gutters may need to be installed using standoffs to help ensure that runoff doesn’t overshoot them. In areas that experience snowfall, it’s not unusual to find gutters bent from sliding snow, especially on homes with metal roofs.
Downspouts are designed to drain water from the gutters and discharge it a safe distance away from the foundation. They often discharge directly onto the ground, but through the use of extensions and other devices, they should be configured in such a way that roof runoff does not saturate the soil at or beneath the foundation.
Water from a downspout that discharges next to the home’s foundation can wash away soil from beneath the wall, leaving the foundation unsupported in large areas. If too much of the wall loses support, it may settle unevenly or even crack. This can lead to moisture intrusion or even flooding in the basement or crawlspace, not to mention costly repairs.
Downspouts should connect to the gutters securely and be free of debris. They should have some device (such as an extension or splashblock) that will carry runoff away from the foundation before discharging it to the soil. Clogged downspouts will cause runoff to overflow the gutter, which can create hazardous and unsightly puddles.
Some downspouts may be tied into perimeter drains, and this can be a problem when the ground is frozen. Ice may prevent the system from working. When this happens, some homeowners may disconnect the downspout, but they may never re-connect them, which can create new problems.
In-roof gutters sometimes connect to downspouts installed inside the exterior walls. In older homes, these downspouts are made of metal and eventually corrode and leak. Internal downspout leakage can sometimes go unnoticed for long enough to do considerable structural damage, such as decay of home’s the wooden framing.
Now that you know more about what can go wrong when you neglect regular roof-drainage maintenance, you’ll hopefully be less likely to put off cleaning out those gutters. Your home will thank you!
Distinct Home Inspections