Sunday, December 8, 2013

Is your water heater not working as well as it used to?

   Don't go out and buy a new one just yet. Many problems plague modern water heaters such as water quality to bad heating elements and thermostats. Since issues with gas water heaters are usually not a task that the average home owner should try to tackle alone, I will mainly address the issues with electric water heaters.
   When I first approach a water heater in a home I determine which type of unit it is; gas or electric. Then I check the heat source. For gas units I check the size of the burner in relation to the capacity of the unit, as this can determine how quickly the unit will recharge its hot water supply. For electric units I check the resistance of both elements to see if they're working properly (not standard in most home inspections), as this is a common reason for reduced performance.
    Prior to doing anything, shut off the supply power to the water heater at the service panel. By removing the covers from the water heater you can easily access the elements and the thermostats. If the resistance of one element is significantly lower (usually around 1 to 0 ohms) it is most likely shot. The average resistance is between 10 and 13 ohms. Replacing the element is relatively simple, but one should refer to the owners manual on exactly how to do it, not this blog.
   Another issue that can cause issues resulting in the elements and/or the thermostat failing is the overall water quality. In a gas powered water heater there is a sacrificial anode rod which acts as a kind of magnet for impurities to attack rather than the sides of the tank itself. Gas powered water heaters lack this protection and sometimes rely on a protective layer of plastic on the inside of the tank itself. Instead of attacking the anode rod, impurities will be attracted to the elements themselves. When this happens heat can build up unevenly on the element causing it to fail.
   Typically the upper element is the first to fail in an electric system. But sometimes the water contains enough impurities that they settle to the bottom of the tank over time. This causes a "mud bed" to form on the bottom of the tank. If the mud bed becomes too thick it can actually interfere with the lower element by causing heat buildup eventually causing lower element failure. Removing this mud is relatively simple but will require some work. Most plumbers offer this service.
   Finally, if the elements have been malfunctioning for a long time the thermostat has most likely failed as well. First, ensure that the reset button has not tripped as this is a common problem. Nuisance tripping could be a sign of either a bad thermostat or a bad element. Next, check the resistance of the thermostat itself (refer to manual). Bad resistance numbers = bad thermostat.
   There are many online resources that will guide you on how to conduct most of these problems, just be sure that you are being safe while doing them. And when in doubt ask for help from a licensed plumber.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Frost-Free Hose Bibs

The purpose behind frost-free hose bibs (or faucets) is to prevent water from freezing in the more susceptible piping located near the exterior wall. This is done by design. Properly installed the hose bib itself causes the water supply pipe to be tilted slightly as to reduce the amount of water remaining in the pipe while the water is turned off. Often times the hose bib is incorrectly installed or damaged and therefore cannot perform as designed resulting in leaky joints, or cracked pipes. If you notice that the faucet is leaking or suspect that excess moisture in the area near the faucet is due to a leak, call a plumber immediately. In the picture below you can easily see that the hose bib is turned sideways. However this happened, it has caused a leak that is visible from the outside and in the crawlspace. Sometimes these leaks are not caused by mechanical damage, meaning that they weren't caused by hitting it with
something. It is most often caused from the pipe
itself becoming damaged from the water inside freezing and expanding to the point where the pipe itself cracks. In some cases the damage may not be found until after the ice thaws. One way to prevent this from happening of course is to use a foam or other material type of insulating cover. These can be purchased at most hardware stores and will usually keep the temperature around the hose bib above freezing by trapping warmer air radiating out from the home inside the cover. They are much cheaper than hiring a plumber to come out and fix a leak.

Monday, November 18, 2013


   During the "macro" portion of this inspection (looking at the home as a whole) I initially thought that the roof on this home had simply been neglected, hence the egregious amount of moss and lichen that was growing on it. Upon closer inspection it became apparent that the shingle roof had been installed over the top of older asphalt shingles.
    When properly installed, wood shingle roofing is applied over skip-sheathing, or a modern equivalent. This allows the wood to "breathe", reducing the amount of time that moisture is in contact with the wood. Without the skip-sheathing the moisture remains in the wood creating a perfect environment for rot.
   In the second picture you can see the asphalt shingles directly below the wood shingles. Why this was done this way is simple; it cost less, was easier and took less time. Whether this was a DIY job or the shoddy work of a lazy contractor I will never know.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Click below to see an example home inspection report. Also viewable in PDF.

Anobiid Beetles

Saw this at a local farm recently. I wont disclose the name for obvious reasons, but left unchecked, these little guys could very well compromise the structural integrity of the entire building. Anobiid Beetles prefer softwood like pine but will inhabit certain hardwoods. They also like the moisture level of the wood to be between 13% and 20%.

Flux Corrosion + Galvanic action = Leaks

All of the copper pipes under this home were corroded to the point where a couple leaks had already formed. The main reason for this was that the "plumber" who installed the piping did not remove the excess flux from the solder joints. Flux is extremely acidic and will deteriorate the pipes if left. Compounding the issue were the dissimilar metal hangers used to suspend the pipes from the floor. Using dissimilar metals together will cause galvanic action to occur resulting in more corrosion.

Roof Moss

Why is it important to keep moss off of your roof? Moss grows tendrils that reach up underneath shingles and other roofing materials which exposes them to excess moisture such as driving rain. With the shingles uplifted it is harder for the roof to shed water which can result in leaks. Finally, the moss itself acts as a sponge which can cause conducive conditions for rot in the wood structure underneath. A simple application of a zinc or iron based fungicide in the fall is a proven method of keeping this stuff at bay.

Chain of Events

Upon arriving at this home I immediately noticed the deteriorated brick in front of the garage. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on. Turns out that the contractor built the brick on top of the poured concrete driveway. The substrate beneath the slab has settled or been washed away which in turn caused the slab to crack and settle bringing the brick with it. This could have been prevented had the brick been installed correctly prior to the poured concrete slab. I recommended further evaluation by a qualified contractor due to masonry not being a profession that requires any special licensing.