Formal structured home inspections began to occur in the United States in the 1960’s, probably due to a growing consumer consciousness and self protective instinct. Industry growth has been fueled by numerous court rulings in recent years, that have given more protection to property buyers. In the old days, sellers were not required to disclose defects or problems with the property and the buyer had little recourse after the transaction was closed. The buyer was in a position of “buyer beware”. Nowadays however, buyers are more sophisticated, and those that order home inspections are in a position of “buyer be aware”, allowing them to know the condition of the property prior to consummating the sale.
Aluminum wiring was used from the 1960’s – 1970’s as an alternative to copper wiring. Most homes built during this time frame have aluminum wiring.
Aluminum Wiring Concerns
Corrosion of the metals can occur in the connections at outlets, switches and twist-on connectors
When excessive corrosion occurs it increases the resistance in the circuit and causes overheating. This overheating can cause fires
Aluminum wire overheats more easily than copper
According to the US. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), homes wired with “old technology” aluminum wiring (manufactured before 1972) are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than is a home wired with copper.
Reducing your Risk
Risks associated with aluminum wiring at connections can be reduced by a method of attaching a short copper wire to the existing aluminum wire with a special crimp on metal sleeve, the COPALUM connector, manufactured by AMP Incorporated.
The COPALUM connector is the only method (other than complete replacement of the aluminum wire with copper) that is approved by the CPSC and listed with Underwriters Laboratory. It is recognized by many industry experts as the safest available repair method.
The COPALUM method must be installed by factory trained Electricians and may not be available in all locations
The COPALUM method is the recommended repair method. Alternatives should only be considered where the COPALUM method is not available.
Some experts recommend pigtailing with the 3M Scotchlock twist-on connectors as an alternative. It should be noted that these connectors are not Underwriters Laboratory (UL) listed, however they have several features that may make them safer than the “Ideal #65 Twister” UL listed connector.
The Ideal #65 Twister connector was listed by UL in 1995 as acceptable for use as an aluminum to copper connector, however many people consider it to be inferior to both the COPALUM method and the Scotchlock twist-on connector. It should be noted that since the Ideal #65 Twister connector is UL listed, it may be the only connector that will be accepted by the local building official if the COPALUM method is not available.
Building officials may accept alternative materials if documentation of the materials suitability is supplied.
Changes made by manufacturers in the early 1970’s addressed some concerns with aluminum wire (new technology wire) and devices (marked CO/ALR) but connections were still made with twist-on connectors and are still a concern, as a result, this must be considered an incomplete solution.
The cost to repair a home with aluminum wiring is typically $1000 to $2000 dollars. Each connection in each device, and the electrical panel must be repaired.
Aluminum wire repairs should only be made by a licensed Electrician using special techniques.
Wire that is not a problem
Aluminum wiring larger than # 10 gauge is still used in homes today. These larger sizes are not a problem.
Copper clad aluminum wiring has no known history of the types of problems of aluminum wire.
Plated copper wire is relatively common in older homes. This wire looks like aluminum wire, but the copper is visible at cut ends of the wire. The wire does not need to have these repairs.
Radon is a radioactive gas released during the natural decay of uranium in the soil. Radon is odorless and invisible.
Radon gas is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer and is estimated to cause 14,000 deaths per year, according to the National Safety Council.
Radon enters a home through cracks in floors and walls, floor drains, drain systems and sump pits, construction joints, and exposed soil in crawlspaces. Homes with well-water can develop radon concentrations through showering and doing laundry.
The EPA, the Surgeon General, the American Lung Association, and the American Medical Association recommend testing for radon gas as a health precaution.
The EPA recommends radon mitigation if the concentration level is 4.0 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher.
Many corporate relocation companies require testing for radon gas prior to home purchase, and require mitigation if the concentration exceeds the acceptable threshold.
Homes with elevated radon levels can usually be corrected for less than $1,000
Asbestos has long been known for its excellent insulating qualities and resistance to heat. Homes built prior to 1978 may have “asbestos containing materials” and homes built prior to 1950 have a much greater probability of having asbestos materials. The presence of asbestos materials in a home is generally not considered a hazard unless the material becomes damaged or disturbed. Damaged or disturbed asbestos material can release fibers and/or dust into the air that may be inhaled.
Inhalation of asbestos fibers and/or dust can cause several diseases, including “asbestosis”, a disease similar to emphysema, and several types of cancer.
The likelihood of developing an asbestos related disease increases with the amount of asbestos inhaled and the length of time exposed to breathing asbestos fibers.
Smoking, when combined with breathing asbestos fibers, greatly increases the risk of asbestos related diseases.
The risk of asbestos related diseases seems to be greatest for workers who manufactured, handled, installed and/or removed asbestos containing products.
Asbestos comes in several forms, and is found in many different products, such as:
Insulation for piping, boilers, ductwork, etc
Automobile brake and clutch linings
Asbestos mineral shingles
Siding products, such as “transite” and asbestos siding
Floor tile and adhesives. Much of the older 9″ x 9″ resilient floor tile used in homes and businesses in the past contains some asbestos, as does some of the adhesives used to secure the tile.
Asbestos can be classified as either “friable” or non-friable. Friable asbestos is asbestos that can easily release fibers into the air, such as pipe insulation or duct insulation that is in poor condition. This type asbestos when handled, bumped or touched, may release fibers into the air which can then be inhaled into the lungs.
Non-friable asbestos is asbestos which will not easily crumble, abrade, or otherwise easily release its fibers into the air. Examples of this type asbestos are: asbestos floor tiles (in good condition), asbestos siding, and asbestos shingles (sometimes referred to as mineral fiber shingles).
Asbestos in a non-friable state is not harmful as no fibers are being released into the air for inhalation.
Asbestos in a friable state is a health concern. When disturbed it releases asbestos fibers into the air. These fibers are very small and can stay airborne for long periods of time.
Asbestos in the home should be treated in different ways, according to the type of asbestos and degree of friability.
Asbestos floor tiles (or suspected asbestos tiles) are generally best left in place. Common practice is to install new flooring over the old tile. Removing the old tile would probably release asbestos fibers and is not recommended.
Asbestos siding is often left in place and new insulation and siding is installed over the old siding.
Asbestos shingles usually must be removed and properly disposed of in a landfill approved for this type asbestos disposal
Some older duct, pipe, or boiler insulation may contain asbestos. This insulation is generally aging and often in need of repair. Repair is usually preferred over replacement of this insulation as replacement is expensive and should only be done by specially trained and equipped personnel. Repair should also be done by trained personnel. Repair usually consists of placing the insulation in a stable condition. This may entail a process called “encapsulation” and/or wrapping with plastic or another approved method.
Experienced people may be able to identify certain products as likely to contain asbestos, but positive identification of a material as containing asbestos can only be made by laboratory analysis.
A standard home inspection is a cursory, visual inspection of the property components to determine the inspector’s opinion of general condition and operability. Only the visible and readily accessible components are inspected and reported on. Inspectors typically do not disassemble components, move furniture to gain access to components, or perform demolition to gain visible access to components. Deactivated systems are generally not activated by the inspector. Inspections are not intended to determine compliance with building codes, zoning laws, etc, unless specifically contracted for separately. A standard home inspection does not typically include environmental testing, pest inspection, measurements, cost estimates for repairs, or inspection of ancillary items such as window coverings, phone wiring, security systems, landscaping, sprinkler systems, wells and septic systems, swimming pools, detached buildings, etc.
The home inspection is typically performed by the inspector for a buyer with a contract on the property. Frequently the inspection report is used by the client as a negotiation tool in the sales transaction process. Most inspectors have their client(s) read and sign an agreement form describing the “purpose, scope, limitations and conditions” of the inspection, prior to beginning the inspection.
Cedar shake shingles are a common roof covering material, highly valued for their rustic appearance. However, in some climates, shake shingles are less than an ideal material to use.
If you are planning to purchase a home with shake shingles, make sure to have it inspected by a professional to determine the remaining life expectancy. Also check with your insurance company to see if coverage is available and what the deductibles are.
Be aware that some neighborhoods have protective covenants, requiring shakes as the only approved roof covering material, forcing you to re-roof using a high priced material with limited life expectancy. Some Homeowner’s Associations are proceeding to amend their covenants to allow alternate materials, while others are standing firm on their restrictions. Check with your real estate agent to see if there are restrictions and if alternate materials are allowed.