Sunday, November 9, 2008

How Much Should You Pay?

How Much Should You Pay for a Home Inspection?

We are in tough economic times and people are looking for ways to stretch their dollars and make every dollar count. Home buyers, like everybody else, are looking for a deal. And this entire real estate market is in a major slump right now, which only makes things worse. One third of the agents and one third of the home inspectors across this country have gone out of business and moved on to other lines of work in this last year. In an effort to save a few dollars, many people are forgoing their home inspection and buying a home outright… with no inspection at all.

For a few months now I have been debating with myself whether I should even write on this topic. All you have to do is Google your nearest large city and the words “home inspector” and you can quickly compare the home inspectors in your area. The vast majority of them do not advertise their prices. Why? They force you to call them, knowing you will ask what they charge… then they have a prepared sales pitch that is designed to convince the caller to hire them. They all have a “base price” that is real cheap, in order to spark the caller’s attention. Then, they ask a series of questions such as square footage, year built, and several other things which help them gather important information, but also gets the caller to respond over and over… and places the inspector in the proverbial driver’s seat. The caller is unconsciously committing to the sales pitch, one step at a time. Then, after they add in the extra cost for distance, square footage, age, and other things… they tell the caller their real fee. Problem is… the caller already decided to hire this guy based on his “base price”. The real price is often much higher.

My point here is that you need to shop around, and do not get tricked into hiring an inspector based upon a well designed and executed sales trick. There are some inspectors out there who advertise their rates right on their web sites. They have nothing to hide from you and I recommend you give these inspectors more serious consideration. It is clear they are not trying to hook customers with a sales pitch, and they are not trying to hide anything.
Next, I recommend comparing a few inspectors and see what you are really getting for your money. Most of them have a basic inspection… but then allow you choices based upon your individual needs or desires. Some will offer mold inspections, termite inspections, radon inspections, infrared thermography, and a host of other details, but usually at an additional price for each level of enhancement. Also, take a good look at how long will they really be inside your prospective new home. The vast majority of home inspectors across this country will complete your inspection in about 2 hours. 2-3 hours is the industry norm. Many inspectors will actually do the inspection in 3 hours. A few inspectors take as long as 4 hours. Ask yourself… why is this? Here is the single overriding reason why: MONEY. This allows them to “inspect” at least 2 houses per day. Many inspectors can make between $600 and $1,200 per day when times are good and the market is moving.

What do most Home Inspectors charge? This varies a great deal based on the market and also based on geography. In some areas, home inspectors charge $800 or more per inspection. However, in most areas of the country the average seems to be around $200-$300. Unfortunately, because of the housing market slump of this last year, and also the economic condition in general, there are lots and lots of “inspectors” out there who are charging as little as $99 per home inspection. These jokers are doing three homes per day when they can, so they can still make a tidy income. That will get you a one hour inspection, if you’re lucky. Unfortunately, a lot of home buyers will hire these guys in an effort to save a few hundred dollars. I challenge you this: Go into your crawlspace. Inspect every square foot of the soil, footings, piers, posts, stem walls, and the floor above. Go all the way from corner to every corner. Make notes, take photos, take moisture samples, and deal with the spiders and the dead mice. See how long it takes you to do this. And then ask yourself if you are still willing to hire an inspector that will look at your house in less than three hours. On average, I spend around two hours of every inspection just in the crawlspace. All my inspections take over 5 hours… and my average is around 7 hours. Day before yesterday I inspected a 2,100 square foot house (built in 1991) and it took me nearly nine hours. Why is this? I am thorough. I care about my clients. I inspect every home as though it were being purchased by my daughter. I am not trying to do two homes per day just to maximize income. Never have done two in a day, and I never will. Too easy to confuse the details, or forget some details when writing the reports.

Look real closely at what you are getting. Also, ask this of yourself… “This inspector charges $xyz”. “Am I getting a good value at this cost?”. Realize this: What your inspector charges is a reflection of what your inspector feels his services are worth.In the counties I serve, most homes sell between $150,000 and $300,000. The average tends to run around $200,000. Most home inspectors charge around $250… of course, some are higher and some are much lower. This means that for an average $250 inspection, the buyer would be paying 0.125% of the price of their home for a professional home inspection. That is, just under one eighth of one percent!

Now, let’s put that $250 inspection fee into perspective:
Cost to replace one natural gas-fired water heater: $700
Cost to replace one toilet: $450
Cost to upgrade a substandard electric service entrance and panel: $1,500
Cost to replace a garbage disposal: $350
Cost to install a new asphalt shingle roof: $3,500
Cost to replace an air conditioning unit: $1,200
Cost to replace five floor joists in crawl space damaged by termites: $1,250
Cost to replace 8 feet of damaged sill plate: $1,500
Cost to repair a foundation that has been damaged by tree roots: $8,200

The part that gets me is that many people do not think twice about paying an auto repair shop $80 per hour to fix their car. Yet thousands of people will spend hours “shopping’ for a home inspector who gives them the lowest price. The auto mechanic simply fixes the car. While important, yes… consider that against what is likely the most expensive and longest term investment of your entire life: your house. A good home inspector can identify issues before you purchase… often allowing you to reduce the cost of your purchase by thousands of dollars. A good inspector can even help prevent you from making a colossal mistake by purchasing a house that will end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars. A good inspector allows you to go into this investment with your eyes wide open… giving you a real good idea of things that will need repaired or replaced in the near future. A good inspector will also provide (in their report) valuable home maintenance tips and will also include ideas for reducing your energy consumption. Additionally, it never ceases to amaze me why some people will hire my competitor because he charges $100 less than I do. He will also do the inspection in 2 or 3 hours (I take 6 or more). He will also not test for Radon, not inspect for wood destroying insects, not test for mold, and not use infrared thermography (I do all these things).

This is one of the reasons I advertise my fees on my web site for all to see. I cannot compete for those clients who are price shoppers, because I do a complete and thorough inspection. The price shopper will see my fees and call my competitor instead. I think I have only had 4 or 5 phone calls in the last two years where I was asked how much I charged. This allows me to focus on my inspection at hand, rather than becoming a slave to my phone… trying to lure in every caller with a sales pitch in the hopes of hooking my next inspection. The clients who choose me do so because they want someone who is up front and honest about everything, including my prices. They want someone who will spend 2 or more hours in their crawlspace… not 2 hours on the whole inspection. They want someone who will check every outlet… not just a “representative sample”. They want someone who will check for mold, termites, anobiid beetles, radon, carpenter bees and ants, and hidden things that can only be seen through infrared thermography… in addition to the things normally checked by home inspectors.

Don’t get me wrong… there is a use for and a need for the “bargain” version of home inspectors. Some home buyers actually should seek out these types. But, if you are simply looking to save a few dollars (that 1/10th of 1% of the cost) then I submit that you just might not be able to afford that particular home. In other words… if you can’t pay $350 for an inspection on a $300,000 house, but you are willing to pay $250 for the inspection… what are you gaining (or losing) by saving that $100? Saving $100 on an inspection for a $300,000 house is like saving $4 on a new Chevrolet. That’s just silly. My point is… why would one even try to save a few tenths of one percent on such an important and expensive investment? Ask your inspector if he offers discounts. Some do. I give 10% off to all Firemen, First Responders, Police, and Veterans. Ask your inspector if he offers payment options. Virtually all inspectors demand payment in full at the completion of the inspection. I do not. I allow a variety of payment options, to include payment at closing, so you can actually roll the cost of your inspection into the loan for the house, and then let your loan company send me the payment. This option adds less than $1 per month to your mortgage payments.

I am not averse to turning down business from prospective clients who are looking for the lowest cost inspector. As an experienced professional, I know the value of my work. I do not claim to be the "best", nor do I claim to be the most thorough. In my humble opinion, people who believe they have no equal are most often very wrong. However, at the end of each day I go home and ask myself: “did you give 100 percent and did you give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage?”. I was raised with a stern hand and was instilled with a deep sense of fairness. I believe that people deserve their money's worth from the home they are buying, and from their inspection service.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Going Tankless!

Hot Water – On Demand

In my quest for achieving not merely an energy efficient home… but instead, reducing our energy consumption, I have taken the next big step in trying to get my combined monthly utility bills below $50. (Read more about these efforts in the ‘Energy Audit’ section of my web site at This is something simple that everyone should do: Install an ‘on-demand’ hot water heater. Most American households spend between $10-$25 per/month in merely heating hot water. Virtually all American homes have a hot water heater. Typically, they come in sizes of between 40 to 65 gallons. We spend money on utilities (energy) to keep all that water hot… all of the time! Why? This would be akin to putting a full tea kettle on the stove at medium heat, and then leaving it on day and night, forever, just in case we might want to make a cup of tea. This is insane, and of course, none of us would ever do such a thing. But most of us are in fact doing just such a thing. We waste energy 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year just trying to keep 40+ gallons of water hot all of the time. This, too, is insane.

The solution? Install a “tankless”, or “on-demand” hot water system. This is pretty new technology for North America. I have been inspecting homes for years, and have yet to see one of these amazing units in operation in any of the homes I inspect. However, tankless systems have been used in Europe and in Japan for decades. The American concept of having 40 to 60 gallons of hot water ready and hot at all times… just sitting around and consuming energy 24 hours a day just to stay hot in case it is needed, is a totally foreign concept to both the Japanese and the Europeans. It made no sense to me either as to why I should spend money to heat all that water, and spend even more money to keep it heated all of the time… just in case I might want some hot water for a few minutes during the course of a day. So, I purchased a new electric tankless on-demand unit for my home from a German company called Stiebel. It took about 4 hours to install. It sits on the wall and is not much bigger than a shoe box. The cost was the same as the cost for another traditional, 50 gallon water heater. So, I removed the 50 gallon water heater tank I was using… and now I have all that space freed up for use as a closet that before, had only room for 50 gallons of hot water. I started saving energy ($$money$$) immediately. My electric usage went from 82.8 kilowatt hours in July 2007, to only 54.6 kilowatt hours in July 2008. This tankless wonder immediately cut my electric bill by more than 30%. It will pay for itself in less than 2 years.

There is no requirement for hot water while I am away from home, so my new water heater heats no water at all, resulting in immediate energy savings. When I am home, this little wonder only heats water when I turn on the hot valve on the sink etc… There is a considerable energy savings as there is no longer a huge hot water tank working 24 hours a day just to keep a reservoir of hot water. The hot water output varies with different models, ranging from the very small units designed for just one sink or one dishwasher, to the much larger units designed for the entire house. Mine is a ‘whole house’ unit, and it still is not much bigger than a shoe box. Fuel savings (electric/propane/natural gas) from my any on-demand system is estimated to be between 30% to 50% per year (they can be 8% – 14% more energy efficient for homes that use a lot of hot water (a lot=86 gallons or more per day)). And, unlike my old water heater tank which could run out of hot water… the supply of hot water in my tankless system is endless, with flow rates high enough to run a bathtub, two sinks, and a dishwasher… all at the same time, with whisper quiet operation.

This type of system is not well suited to every American household. Homes with large families who use their hot water on and off all day long are generally not satisfied with the tankless systems. Using hot water continually throughout the day would negate any possible monetary savings realized by not having to heat a hot water tank. You need to evaluate your own needs and consumption habits before plunging into purchasing this type of system. Some people have found the need to add a small hot water tank to make their system viable for their use. RULE OF THUMB: Generally, if nobody is home for much of the day, and nobody is awake for most of the night, then there is simply no need to spend money on energy to keep a reservoir of hot water, and a tankless on-demand unit is the recipe for you. Most families in America would find this system ideally suited to their lifestyle and would enjoy a considerable energy savings with its use.

What is a Tankless Water Heater?
Tankless water heaters, also called “Instantaneous” or “On-Demand” water heaters, provide hot water only as it is needed. Traditional tank-type water heaters produce hot water all the time, whether it is needed or not. This causes standby energy losses that cost you money, all day, every day, all the time.

How do Tankless Water Heaters work?
Tankless water heaters heat water directly, without the use of a storage tank. Therefore, they avoid the standby heat losses associated with tank type water heaters. When a hot water valve is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the tankless unit. In an electric tankless water heater (like the one I installed in my home) an electric element heats the water. In a gas-fired tankless water heater a gas burner heats the water. As a result, tankless water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. How many times has someone in your home “used all the hot water”? That no longer happens with a tankless system. You don't need to wait for a large storage tank to fill up with enough hot water. Tankless systems make hot water for as long as there is a demand (a hot water valve is turned on). Typically, tankless water heaters provide hot water at a rate of between 2 to 5 gallons per minute. Typically, gas-fired (propane or natural gas) tankless water heaters will produce higher flow rates than the electric tankless water heaters will. Some of the smaller tankless systems cannot supply enough hot water for simultaneous, multiple uses in large households. For example: taking a shower and running the dishwasher at the same time can stretch a smaller tankless system to its limit. To overcome this problem, you can install a “whole house” type tankless water heater or install two or more tankless systems, connected in parallel for simultaneous demands of hot water. You can also install separate tankless water heaters for individual appliances, such as a clothes washer or dishwater, as these can consume a large volume of hot water in a short time.
Selecting a Tankless Water Heater
Before buying a tankless water heater, you must consider the following three things:

1. Fuel Type
2. Location, Size and Demand
3. Application

1. Fuel Type The first thing that you'll need to decide when selecting a tankless water heater is the fuel type. You will need to select between an electric tankless water heater or a gas fired unit that operates on propane or natural gas. Lets discuss the electric operated models first. In my home, I have no natural gas or propane, and the utility company does not offer such in my area. My home is all electric, so my choice was pretty well made for me.
If you plan to purchase an Electric Tankless Water Heater, you must consider the electrical requirements of such a system. These are:
Voltage, Amperage, and Circuit Breaker
Voltage: Many of the tankless system retailers sell tankless units that will accommodate a variety of voltages, such as: 110V, 120V, 208V, 220V, 240V, and 277V.
Amperage: Different electric tankless water heaters will have various requirements in amperage draw. You will want to ensure that your electrical distribution panel (breaker box) can support the electrical demands of your electric tankless water heater.
Circuit Breaker: You must ensure that you have a circuit or circuits that will support your electric tankless water heater. It may be necessary to put your electric tankless system on its own circuit or circuits. This was necessary on my own home.
You should consult with a qualified, licensed electrician for more information.
If you plan to purchase a gas-fired tankless water heater, one must consider these two things: the Gas Type and the Venting Requirements. This is a bit more complicated than installing an electric system. If you are uncertain about any of these steps, it would be prudent to consult with a certified plumber or electrician:
Gas Type: You will first need to identify whether your type of gas is natural gas or propane. It is crucial that you examine your current gas line to ensure that it will meet the requirements of your new gas-fired tankless water heater. The requirements of the tankless water heater may exceed that of your existing conventional tank-style water heater.
Venting Requirements: Next, you will need to consider the venting requirements for your specific installation, since gas fired systems do require proper venting. There are a few important things to keep in mind when purchasing the gas venting accessories for your gas-fired tankless water heater.
First, be sure that you purchase only Category III stainless steel (UL1738 certified) venting for your gas-fired tankless water heater. "Type B" venting accessories are not acceptable. Also, be sure to check local building code to ensure that your specific needs will be completely met.
Additionally, many tankless water heater manufacturers offer complete venting "kits". Customers should evaluate the needs of their own specific installation to ensure that they will be getting all of the necessary gas venting accessories. Depending on where you will be installing the tankless water heater, a pre-made kit will probably not meet all of your needs. Ensure that you measure out the route your vent will take, and consider where the discharge will go through the wall or ceiling. Then consider the necessary clearances and also consider ample access to air for combustion, only then purchasing the appropriate gas venting pieces. *** NOTE: gas-fired tankless water heaters may still require a minimal electrical connection. Be sure to review your installation requirements for the unit you are considering for purchase. Now, the next item for consideration:
2. Location, Size, and Demand When deciding which system to purchase, you will need to consider just where you will need the hot water. Are you looking for a system that will just heat the water at one bathroom sink (called a single point application), an entire bathroom (called a multipoint application), or an entire house, apartment, or condo (called a whole house application)? It is very important to recognize the number of fixtures that require hot water. Each fixture has its own demands. The chart below illustrates the typical flow rates (demand) for some standard fixtures:
Bathtub: Flow rates average between 2 - 4 gallons per minute
Shower: Flow rates average between 1.5 - 3 gallons per minute
Kitchen Sink: Flow rates average between 1 - 1.5 gallons per minute
Laundry Sink: Flow rates average between 2.5 - 3 gallons per minute
Dishwasher: Flow rates average between 1 - 3 gallons per minute
The flow rate is especially important, since tankless water heaters generate a specific temperature rise based on the flow rate demanded. For example, a Stiebel Tempra 12 model, running on 240 Volt power, will raise the water temperature by 54°F above the ambient incoming water temperature at 1.5 gpm, or it will raise the water temperature by 36°F above the ambient incoming water temperature at 2.25 gpm, and by 27°F above the ambient incoming water temperature at 3.0 gpm, up to a high of about 125°F. A larger unit, like the Stiebel Tempra 36 model, running on 240 Volt power, will raise the water temperature by 92°F at 1.5 gpm, 92°F at 2.25 gpm, and 82°F at 3.0 gpm, above the ambient incoming water temperature, up to about 125°F. This means that if you are using a 1.5 gpm shower and a 1.5 gpm kitchen sink simultaneously, a total demand of 3.0 gpm, the Stiebel Tempra 12 model will raise the temperature 27°F, whereas the Stiebel Tempra 36 model will raise the temperature 82°F. Next, you should look at your incoming water temperature. If you live in a colder climate like Idaho or Michigan, your incoming water temperature will likely be much lower than if you live in a warmer climate like Arizona or Alabama. Your best bet is to find out how much temperature rise you will need in order for your hot water to reach the desired heat. For example: If the normal incoming water temperature for your shower is 65°F, and you are using a 2.0 gpm shower, and you want to raise that temperature to 115°F, you will want to look for a Tankless Water Heater that will provide at least a 50°F temperature rise at 2.0 gpm (115°F - 65°F = 50°F). However, if you anticipate additional simultaneous demand, such as the hot water from the dishwasher being used while someone is showering, you will need to add the dishwasher’s gpm to the shower's gpm in order to determine your overall gpm demand and then find the temperature rise necessary to meet your overall needs. All this may seem complicated… but it is not really hard if you take a notepad and tackle one paragraph at a time. Even easier: Most manufacturers have 1-800 help lines that can assist you in selecting the right model to suit your needs. And now, for the final consideration:
3. Application You may have a specific application or purpose in mind for your tankless water heater. Here are a few examples of the different models and their functionality for a specific application: Single Point Application A single point application is one where only one fixture, such as a dishwasher or a shower, will require a tankless water heater. These units can be quite small. Some of them are about the size of a shoe.Multi Point Application The "Flow Controlled" range of on-demand water heaters from Eemax are ideally suited to serve two points, like two sinks in close proximity. Eemax Series Two units are ideally suited for residential showers, entire bathrooms, smaller houses, condos, summer cabins and apartments. Whole House Indoor Use Larger ‘Whole House’ units are designed to serve an entire house, apartment, condo, or cabin, where multiple points of use will exist. This is what I purchased for my own home, and mine is about the size of a shoe box.Tankless Water Heater Installation and Maintenance
Proper installation and maintenance of your tankless water heater can optimize its energy efficiency. Proper installation depends on many factors. These factors include your climate as well as your local building code requirements. You should have a qualified, licensed plumbing contractor install your tankless water heater. Be sure your contractor first consults with the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Manufacturers usually provide the necessary installation and instruction manuals with the product. Your contractor should also contact your municipality for information about obtaining a permit, if necessary, and also about any state or local water heater installation codes. Many tankless water heaters have a life expectancy of more than 20 - 25 years. They also have easily replaceable parts that extend their life by many more years. In contrast, the traditional storage tank water heaters last only 10 to 15 years on average. Periodic water heater maintenance can significantly extend your tankless water heater's life and minimize any reduction of its incredible efficiency. Read your owner's manual for specific maintenance recommendations.

Tankless Water Heater Manufacturers
There are many manufacturers of tankless water heaters,,,,,,,,,,: Eemax, Noritz, Rinnai, Stiebel, Chronomite, Rheem, and Bosch to name just a few.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Keep Your Mind in the Gutter

Most homes that I inspect have only partial gutter systems, or they have no gutters at all. Rare is the home that I find having a full complement of gutters, downspouts, and splashblocks. In fact, this is very rare. Home gutter systems are probably my number one pet peeve. It is such a simple and inexpensive thing to install, yet it is one of the most overlooked safety feature of a home. Safety feature? How, you say? Well, there is the obvious… gutters can keep water from dripping or pooling in front of a door entrance, which in turn could freeze. Wet or frozen: either one is a slip hazard. But that’s not the safety that I am talking about. I am talking about the safety and longevity of your home’s foundation.
Gutters, Downspouts, and Splashblocks: The System
Gutters, downspouts, and splashblocks work together like a team. Without one, each of the other two are pretty much useless. Together, they form the roof drainage system for your home. Unfortunately, most people I encounter believe the purpose of a gutter is to keep rain from falling on your head when you go out the door. This is why the vast majority of homes only have small gutter sections over the doors, and usually nowhere else on the home. While gutters will indeed keep the rain off your head while transiting a doorway, it is by no means the true purpose of a gutter system.
The roofs of most homes average between 2000 and 4000 square feet in size. Picture a spring day where it rains hard, all day long, dropping as much as an inch of rain or more in a single day. Multiply that times the square footage of your roof, and you can easily see that your entire roof surface area might collect several thousand gallons of water in a single day. This water has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is down. Here is what I see most of the time: Rainwater (or snowmelt) drips off the edge of the roof. It collects in the soil next to the basement or the crawlspace. It goes into the soil. It comes up in the crawlspace or basement, often causing mold and attracting termites. One day, maybe not this year, but surely, in three years or nine years or whenever, but surely the time will come when we have a prolonged period of rain followed by several (or more) days of incredibly hard freeze. Guess what happens to all that waterlogged soil pressed up against your foundation. It freezes. Ice cubes EXPAND. So does wet soil when it freezes. When it freezes and expands, it has to go somewhere. It will often push against the foundation hard enough to actually cause cracks, thus allowing an easy entry point in the future for even more water. In extreme situations, it can even cause bulging or buckling, causing very serious structural problems that might be un-fixable. Poor (or no) gutter systems are by far the single biggest cause of wet and damp foundations as well as foundation cracking for most homes.
A proper gutter system will prevent all this nonsense. On a home with a good (and complete) gutter system, all of this rain or snow melt is trapped at the roof edge instead of dripping off the edge and pooling against the foundation. The gutters, being properly sloped, channel the collected water to one of the downspouts associated with that particular section of gutter. The downspout (having been annually cleaned of leaves and debris) funnels the water down to near ground level and through an elbow to a point a few feet away from the foundation of the home. This downspout then empties onto a proper splashblock which serves to slow the speed of the water (thus reducing erosion) and also to spread the water dispersion over a larger area. For those of us who are energy conscious and/or looking for ways to be more eco-friendly, I recommend collecting your roof water and use it for watering the garden and watering the lawn. This will also reduce your water bill, thus adding to your expendable income.
Gutters should exist on all roof edges where water can drip. Easy. Trees and the winds are the enemies, because either (or both) can quickly ruin or clog a gutter with debris. Probably half the homes that I inspect have got gutters that have been neglected and forgotten, and are full of muck that makes the gutter totally useless. This causes water to fill the gutters and run down the sides of the house, often damaging the windows and the siding. Clogged gutters will also allow water to run behind the gutter which can damage the soffit, fascia, wall systems and foundations. Over time, granules from your shingles will also collect in these gutters. They become quite heavy and need to be removed. A putty knife or a garden hose usually does the trick. The gutters must be properly sized and placed the right distance from the roof edge, and they must also slope properly to allow proper drainage. Measure the slope… A drop of one inch over the run of 17 feet is just about right.
As you can see, just having gutters is useless unless you maintain those gutters. This is the easy part. Pick two days a year. For me… it is when we change the clocks. We do it twice each year, and we do it about 6 months apart. Furthermore, we are bombarded with commercials and news broadcasts about the time change, and how we should set our clocks. Simple! All the proper suspenses (or ‘prompts’) are already in place. Simply make those two days devoted to periodic “Honey-Do’s” around the house. Such as: Clean the gutters, set your clocks, change batteries in your smoke detectors, test your smoke detectors, wash the windows, and whatever else you might be inclined to forget or neglect. Make a list and simply do it twice a year. Your gutters will last a long, long time, thus protecting your most expensive investment from attack from below (the foundation).
Downspouts are the vertical tubes that are connected to your gutters. They transfer the collected water from the gutter at the roof line down to near the ground level. The number of downspouts necessary for any gutter system is roughly calculated at one downspout for every 35 feet of gutter length. This is a general guide. When you clean your gutters, you should also run some water down your downspouts to ensure they are free of debris. Hornets, birds, and other critters also like to make their homes in these tubes. A missing downspout is much more of a serious issue than a missing gutter, because the water is much more concentrated at the downspout area and all the water is directed towards the foundation at a relatively high velocity as gravity takes it from your roof to the turf, whereas in a missing gutter the water is spread along the entire roof line. A missing downspout focuses all the water in a small area which will puddle quickly and saturate the soil next to, and under your foundation in a very short amount of time. This can easily cause considerable damage to walls, siding, basements, landscaping, and crawlspaces.
Roof gutters on second floor roofs with missing downspouts can cause considerable damage to the first floor roofs if the water is allowed to fall directly onto the shingles. Remember, this water will be collected by a second floor gutter and led to a point that should have a downspout. If the spout is missing… this water will drop at relatively high velocity and will also drop at a high, concentrated volume. This will definitely lead to early shingle failure and should be an item of immediate concern.
As the downspout nears the soil, it generally has a curve to channel the collected water away from the foundation. The recommended practice is to make this end of your downspout so that it channels the runoff to a point 6 feet distant from the home. Again, this is to prevent water from saturating the soil next to the home which could cause catastrophic structural damage. There are several ways to get this 6 foot distance. One way is to simply extend the bend at the bottom of your downspout. These are called “downspout extensions”. Another way is to run the downspout into a drain pipe hidden beneath the soil, and then extend it away from the house. They are more pleasing to the eye than a 6 foot piece of drain pipe and they cannot be damaged by a lawnmower. These hidden drains have disadvantages though… they can become clogged and you may not know it until it is too late. But what if you don’t have underground drains, and you don’t want plastic or aluminum downspout extensions extending 6 feet into your yard. Then consider using “splashblocks”.
Make your downspouts so that they extend only 2-3 feet away from the home. At the end of that downspout where it empties onto the lawn or the landscaping, etc… place a splashblock. Splashblocks are generally made 18-24” in length and can be purchased at almost any hardware store. They can be made of almost any kind of material, but concrete, stone, and plastic are the most common. Browns, greens, and grays are the most common colors, but they can be found in almost every color in existence.
Splashblocks accomplish several very useful purposes. Most importantly, they slow the water down as it exits the downspout. This is to prevent soil erosion near your home. They also act as a dispersal agent. They take the downspout water which is coming out of the spout at high volume, and they spread that out over a much wider area. This also acts to prevent soil erosion. Splashblock design generally includes an inherent slope built into the block, which is discussed in the next section. Splashblocks also create a small area in front of your downspout that will not need mowed or trimmed. This serves to protect the downspout from damage.
I often recommend that homeowners install splashblocks underneath their water faucets on the outside of the home. You would not believe the number of foundation cracks I have seen that are located right behind a water faucet. A leaking faucet, or one that didn’t get shut as tightly as it should have, can saturate the soil next to a home. If followed by a hard freeze, it too can cause structural damage. A splashblock under the faucet can prevent this.
Ground Slope
Ideally, the ground should have a natural slope, leading away from your house. In other words, the soil next to your foundation should be higher than the soil located several feet away from your foundation. This is so that any water not being handled by your gutter system will naturally drain away from your house rather than towards your house. You would not believe the number of homes I see with real pretty landscaping mounds out front that look real nice, but they act like a natural dam. Instead of sloping water away from the home… they actually trap the rain and puddle it against the foundation where it soaks into the soil. Again… it is only a matter of time… maybe next year… maybe in 7 years… but one day it will happen. We will get many days of rain followed by a few weeks of subzero temperatures. These homes will be very high on the list of possible structural damage. Repair costs, assuming the damage can be repaired, can easily exceed $20,000 or more. Take a look at the soil around your home. Does it slope away from the house? Do you have any landscaping mounds that are acting as water dams? The ideal slope is an inch per foot, out to the 6 foot mark, to ensure proper drainage. So… a spot that is 3 feet from the home should be 3 inches lower than the soil next to the foundation.
This is pretty much it. In my humble opinion, a complete gutter system is one of the single most important components of a home. A properly designed and maintained gutter system can protect your most expensive investment for many years to come. You can see this and other valuable information about your home on my web site at
Dappy Jones
OxBow Home Inspections and Radon Testing

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Save Money by Changing Some Habits

Save Energy and Money by Simply Adjusting Some Habits
As the price of gasoline continues to skyrocket, more and more people are looking for ways to save some money elsewhere. Face it… the last time you filled your tank, it cost you $*&#@ dollars. Just a few years ago with that same amount, you would have instead taken the family to the movies, bought some things at a local hardware store, and then spent the rest on filling your tank. We are less and less able to help the small business owners and local growers by our patronage. Instead, we are giving a larger and larger share of our income to Arabian countries and to the hugely fat wallets of the oil executives who “earn” tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars each year off the backs of the average hard working American. Here are some simple things each of us can do to lessen our use of energy while at the same time reducing our monthly utility bills, thus giving us a little bit more expendable income. I speak from experience. When I moved into my current home (6 years ago), we were on a monthly level pay plan at around $240 per month. Now… our monthly utility bill (still on level pay) is at $74 per month. Try these things:

1. Adjust your thermostat. In the Summer months: set it to run two degrees warmer than you normally do, and, in the Winter months: set it to run two degrees cooler than you normally do. Your body will adjust in a short time, and you can offset this by wearing slippers or a sweater. You will see an immediate drop in your energy bill.
2. Another thermostat tip: Once set… leave it alone. Constantly adjusting the thermostat can dramatically waste energy and increase your heating and cooling costs. If you get a chill, resist the urge to turn it up a few degrees. The chill will pass and can be fixed by slippers or a sweater. If you increase the thermostat, you will only be turning it back down soon. This up and down temperature adjusting causes your furnace or air conditioner to cycle and does nothing but waste energy.
3. One more thermostat tip: Install an electronic programmable thermostat for your heating and cooling system. This is especially effective if nobody is typically home for much of the day. Program it to turn off a half hour before everyone leaves and to come on a half hour before anyone arrives home. Remember to keep the house above 40 degrees during the winter months to prevent pipes and toilets from freeze damage. An electronic programmable thermostat will, all by itself, reduce your energy bill by at least $10-15 per month. It costs about $180 to install. So, after only one year it will actually pay for itself. Even better… each year thereafter it will save you another $150-$180 per year. This little gem is simply money in the bank. Get one!
4. Say: “Energy Star”. When replacing your stove, refrigerator, washer, dryer, hot water heater, microwave, oven, grill, freezer, furnace, air conditioner, or any other appliance type item, make sure you get one that sports the “Energy Star” sticker. Energy Star rated appliances meet or exceed stringent energy use standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They do indeed cost a bit more, but the energy they save over the long haul makes them well worth it.
5. Get rid of those regular (incandescent) light bulbs! Switch all your bulbs to the compact fluorescent bulbs. Yes, they are more expensive at the cash register. But from that point on… they are a gold mine. They generate a lot less heat than standard bulbs, thus reducing your summer cooling costs. Regular bulbs last for several months or even up to a year or more… but fluorescent bulbs typically last more than 5 years and as long as 7 years. And talk about efficient! A regular 60 watt bulb burns 60 watts of electricity. Most homes have 15-25 bulbs. You could easily burn 1000 watts or more without even realizing it. Compare: The same 60 watt bulb (fluorescent version) only burns 13 watts. That’s right. Four of these fluorescent bulbs combined still burn less energy than does just one of the regular bulbs.
6. Seal energy leaks. Caulk over cracks, seams, and small holes around windows and exterior walls. Look carefully (where they go through the floor) around plumbing pipes, telephone wires, cable TV wires, dryer vents, sink and bathtub drains, and under countertops for holes and gaps and seal them well. A good home inspector with a Thermal Imaging camera (and who is certified in its use) is priceless, because they can literally “see” every location where you are wasting energy.
7. Have an energy audit performed on your home. This will find sources of energy waste in your home. It will also determine what improvements or changes you should make to your home in order to make it more energy efficient. These will be prioritized by cost versus gain, and will estimate how much each modification will cost versus how much each modification will reduce your energy cost by. In other words, allowing you to see how long it would take for each modification to pay for itself. Some energy/power companies do provide energy audits, and sometimes at little or no cost. If they do not use a thermal imager, then find a company that does. OxBow Home Inspections is one such company that does offer home energy audits at low cost and does use a thermal imager (and is certified in its use). OxBow is the only such company in all of Idaho. Their energy audits can be seen here at:
8. Check for tax rebates or incentives whenever you install energy-saving equipment such as Energy Star certified dishwashers, furnaces, air conditioners, etc... Quite often there are these types of incentives offered by individual states and even by the Federal Government. Sometimes these exist even for things such as merely adding insulation. Keep all receipts, and check with you tax advisor.
9. Eliminate the drips. If you have just one sink, or one tub, or one outside water faucet that drips: Have it fixed. Just one drip every second can use 20 kilowatts of energy each month… not to mention hundreds of gallons of water simply wasted. If you’re on a well, this means higher electricity costs for your well pump. If you’re on city water… just watch that monthly bill go up. Either way, you lose.
10. Ask your power company if they have any special energy-saving programs. Some programs shut down electric appliances for short periods of time during peak usage hours. You will hardly notice it at the time, but you will definitely notice it when you get your next utility bill. Idaho Power does indeed have such a program. An added bonus: When you participate, you help reduce the overall electrical demand during those hours of the day when the electrical demand normally spikes.
11. Landscape wisely. Take advantage of the winter sun for heating and use the summer shade for cooling. Selecting the right types of trees and shrubs and planting them in the proper location will do wonders for your utility bills. Consult a landscaping professional for advice.
12. Inspect all of the doors which lead to the exterior, including the one that leads to the garage. I inspect a lot of homes and I can tell you that probably 1/3 of them are losing large amounts of energy around their door weather stripping. The door is something we go through dozens or more times each day. When was the last time you actually stopped and took a good look at your door? Often times, you can make your door seal tightly against the weather stripping merely by adjusting the strike plate!
13. Make sure that the thermostat on your water heater is set at the manufacturer’s recommended setting. Setting it hotter merely wastes energy by keeping the water hot when no one is using it. Do one better… turn it down just a few degrees… just do not go below the minimum setting. Setting it to run a bit cooler will probably not be noticeable, yet it will reduce the amount of energy you spend in the heating of that water. Better yet… install a timer on your water heater. This will heat your water when you are home, but will turn it way down when you are not home or when you are sleeping. Very inexpensive little gold mine, this is.
14. When personal computers first hit the market, most computer experts advised us all to leave the computer on at all times in order to save wear and tear on the hard disk. This is no longer the case with a modern computer. You can now turn it off when you’re not using it, or you can set it up to use the energy-saving “sleep,” “hibernate,” or “standby” modes.
15. Buy a front-loading washing machine. They use 50% less energy and 1/3 less water than conventional models. What’s more: they remove far more water in the rinse and spin cycles which results in big energy savings ($$$) in the dryer. Your dryer will have to work much less in removing the moisture. This translates into a lower utility bill. Even better: It will extend the useful life of your dryer. It will simply last longer.

Times have changed. We can no longer ignore our energy consumption and our impact on the environment. We must all become good stewards of our natural resources. If each of us can reduce our individual carbon footprint by just a little bit… then just imagine the impact when taken collectively by 200 million Americans.

Dappy Jones
OxBow Home Inspections and Radon Testing

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Saving Energy, your wallet, and the environment


Boise, Idaho – 12 January 2008

OxBow Home Inspections today announced a new energy saving inspection service
for homeowners.

Home Energy Tune-uP®, a CMC Energy Services program for the residential sector, is now available to customers of OxBow Home Inspections. The Tune-uP® energy audit enables homeowners to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes which lowers their energy bills while at the same time increases their home’s comfort and value. It also enables the homeowner to do numerous good things for the environment. In most homes, the resulting energy savings will exceed the cost of the improvements.

A Home Energy Tune-uP® is easy. Your Home Inspector completes a comprehensive inspection of the home’s energy measures, to include heating and cooling equipment, insulation, windows, the water heater and all major appliances. Then a computerized cost-versus-savings analysis is provided, which details recommended upgrades to meet today’s energy efficiency standards and highlights the resultant energy savings. The report also provides information about low-cost energy efficiency improvements that the homeowner can easily implement. Details can be found at:

Dappy Jones, Owner, OxBow Home Inspections says: “The demand by responsible homeowners for homes that meet the latest energy efficiency standards has steadily increased. Energy costs are spiraling out of control, and are fuelling this demand”

Inspectors certified by CMC Energy to offer the Home Energy Tune-uP® Audit, can now meet this client demand with ease and expediency.


Dappy Jones, Owner of OxBow Home Inspections holds a Bachelor of Science degree and is a certified Energy Inspector/Auditor. Dappy is also a member of The National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI), the National Association of Mold Inspectors (NAMI), the International Code Council (ICC), the International Association of Independent Home Inspectors (IHINA), the International Association of Indoor Air Consultants (IAC2), and the National Radon Safety Board (NRSB). Learn more about all of OxBow’s services by visiting the web site at


Home Energy Tune-uP® is a national service provided jointly by Home Inspectors and CMC Energy Services to help homebuyers and homeowners control their energy bills by improving energy efficiency. The Tune-uP Program is a web-based program designed by CMC Energy Services. The home inspectors examine and measure all energy-related parts of the house, answering over 100 questions in the Tune-uP data collection process. This information is then analyzed using over 1000 calculations in order to estimate the savings and costs of each measure. The Tune-uP Report also provides information which may be used for financing. With experience since 1977 in over 200,000 homes and approval of our residential software by DOE, we are the premier company to help consumers improve the energy efficiency of their homes.