The Importance of Thermal Imaging

Today, once again...

...I was reminded of the importance of using thermal imaging during the home inspection.

Thermal Imaging Adds Value For Our Customers

Too few home inspectors use thermal cameras, citing the initial cost of investment and the lack of return. It's true: a good thermal camera will set you back $1500 or so, and I'm not sure that the use of thermal cameras has every sold me an inspection. That said, the return on the investment for my customers has been huge. Thermal cameras point out temperature differences that our eyes can't detect. Those temperature differences often reveal problems that could be very costly for our customers.

Strange Hot Spot

Today, for instance…

I was scanning the ceiling of a ranch, looking for cold spots that would indicate a water leak (since it is currently raining large cats-and-dogs). To my surprise, I found a warm spot in the ceiling. I climbed up into the attic and searched for the source of the heat. I though I might find an overheating electrical connection. To my surprise, buried underneath the insulation, I found a rather large rat's nest. The heat source in the ceiling was the body heat from the group of rats. There is no way that any inspector would have found this without the use of a thermal camera.

About a month ago…

I pulled out my thermal camera, as I always do when inspecting the main panel, and I noticed that the wire was overheating without even having any electrical load on the circuit. There is no telling how hot the wire got when the circuit was in use, but suffice it to say that it was a fire hazard. There was no visual sign that the wire was overheating, so I wouldn't have known about it without thermal imaging. Since then, the wire was replaced, and my clients moved in without any worries about any other electrical maladies.

Hot Wire in an Electric Panel

Sunlight in a kitchen

A Final Public Service Announcement:

When your AC is running, shut your blinds when you're not home. It is amazing how much heat your floors radiate when the sunlight is hitting it. Let you blinds reflect that heat back into the ether outside your home.

In Summary

These are just a few of the most recent stories of how our thermal cameras have served our customers. Don't let anyone tell you that thermal imaging doesn't pay off, and don't schedule a home inspection without knowing that your inspector will be using a thermal camera. Your new home is expensive; we're here to make sure that it's not an expensive mistake.

Hiring People

How I hire the right people…

I just listened to a radio report about yet another manufacturer who is having trouble finding qualified applicants for the available positions. You've probably heard similar stories. I get annoyed when I hear business owners or managers say things like, “I can’t find people with the skills I need,” or “There are very few people who are familiar with our specialized machinery,” or “This job requires a license for (insert skill) that too few applicants hold.” These are cop-outs.
The problem is not the lack of a skilled workforce; the problem is that many companies are unwilling to train people to do the job. They are deflecting their responsibility of training their employees onto the job market. The expectation that there will be a steady flow of applicants with 100% of the necessary personality traits and technical skills for vacant positions is completely ridiculous and predictably fruitless. (The rest of this paragraph is a rabbit hole, but follow me down it for a minute.) Consider Sea World and their dolphins. When Sea World needs a new dolphin, what do they do? They bring a few dolphins into an office and ask them if they know how to balance a beach ball on their snout, and if they all say "no," then they all get thrown back into the ocean, and the search continues, right? No, of course not. They train the dolphins tirelessly to do exactly what they need. Expecting a new member of your workforce to be able to perform specialized, complicated tasks without any training is totally unreasonable, but that is exactly the tactic that many companies employ when searching for new blood.
Including myself, Gerard Home Inspection has four skilled, trained, and capable employees. Precisely zero of our employees started their job with all of the skills necessary to properly inspect a house, yet we have quickly built a reputation for reliability and quality. How did that happen? It is really pretty simple. Our inspectors underwent a 6-month training and licensing period prior to performing their own inspections. During that time, we focused on building the skill set required for completing high-quality, timely inspections for our clients. It was expensive and exhausting, but it was immensely rewarding. I am just as confident with our inspectors’ skills and techniques as I am my own.
I’ve never tried to find people with the right skill set for this job; I’ve tried to find people with the right values. I can teach just about any literate person everything they need to know to inspect a home. It is honestly not that complicated after you see it done about 100 times. But I can’t teach values. I can’t teach someone to be honest, or loyal, or to be able to work independently, or to play well with others. People either develop these values in childhood or they don’t, and these values tend to be relatively static throughout a person’s life. My technique for hiring people can be boiled down to this: I find the people with the values I'm looking for, and then I train them to do the job. I strongly believe that this is the model most companies should adapt to overcome what they perceive as an under-skilled workforce. After all, whether we start working at age 12 or age 25, each of us enters the workforce as an unskilled worker. Without an investment of time and energy from others, that is exactly what we would remain.

A Short Collection of Bad Ideas: Edition 1.

A Short Collection of Bad Ideas, Version 1.

These are the things that keep my job interesting.

People often ask me, "What is the most interesting/weirdest thing you've seen on an inspection?" So far, the winner of that prize is a set of heavy duty eye bolts installed in a master bedroom ceiling, directly above the bed. Luckily, the seller of the home was there to tell me what they were for, as though I hadn't already connected the dots. Different strokes for different folks. Beyond that, I see things all the time that make me scratch my head and laugh... If you see any of the following things going on in your house, think about making a change. If you've got eye bolts in your bedroom ceiling, good for you, have a good time.

Hiding the Main Water Shut-Off

If you have a leak that you don't know how to stop, the main shut-off is the "panic button." Don't hide it from yourself. I recently inspected a home that had the water main hidden behind a faux HVAC register. It took me 20 minutes just to find it, and it took a power tool to get the register off! Imagine that a pipe burst and water began spewing everywhere in this house. The homeowner would be frantically trying to shut off the water, and if it takes 20 minutes to find the main shut off, serious damage to walls, flooring, and trim could result. I know it is ugly, but keep your water main accessible.

Electrical Panel in a Kitchen Cabinet.

Beyond the fact that there is less storage for Tupperware, putting an electrical panel in a kitchen cabinet is a bone-headed idea. You need to have 3 feet of clearance to the left and right of a main panel and this one doesn't have it. The thing wasn't even fastened to the wall! It was just laying loosely in the cabinet with all of the electricity for the house and the barn flowing through it. Inside the panel, I found the worst wiring arrangement I had ever seen. Clearly not a professional job.

Window for a Backboard.

This requires little explanation. I'm guessing that the basketball goal was installed by a window salesman. Somehow, that window is original. I guess the homeowners just weren't into basketball. With my shot, I wouldn't have gotten through a game of "horse" without busting that thing out. @gjm

Stacks on Stacks of Adapters

My theory is, if you want to burn your house down, just burn it down... don't wait for a situation like this to do it for you. So here's the setup - the garage door opener cord wouldn't quite make it to the light socket (which, by the way, is the wrong place to plug in a 500 watt electric motor), so the homeowner decided to string together a bunch of adapters. Honestly, it's pretty clever. Also, it's a terrible idea. All of those connections were supporting the weight of a tight, long run of wire. If one of them pulled just a little bit loose, you could easily create a short that could start an electrical fire. Maybe I'm old fashion, buy I usually recommend plugging this type of stuff into an outlet...
Well, that's all I've got for now. I hope you find this as entertaining as I did. Take care of yourselves.

You Don’t Know Something Until You Can Teach It.

"Nuts and Bolts with Gerard Home Inspection"

Course # 1: The Electrical System

The most rewarding thing I did all year.

Season one of the Realtor CE course series, "Nuts and Bolts with Gerard Home Inspection" is coming to a close, and what an awesome season it was. The series is designed to teach realtors the specifics of how systems in a home work, what can go wrong, and what they should be looking for when they're walking through a home with a client. The Nuts and Bolts series is divided into three parts, the first of which was the electrical course. There was plenty of education, fun and Montgomery Inn BBQ for all.

I had a few specific goals in mind for the courses:
1. No boredom... None. If the class looks bored, its your fault.
2. Teach something that people are going to be able to use in their everyday lives.
3. "Wow" them with your presentation. (Mission accomplished...)

Educating realtors was the goal, but the realtors weren't the only ones learning from the experience. As I was putting the presentation together, I anticipated questions that might be asked by the realtors and dug deep into the science behind our electrical infrastructure and the mechanics of specific components, like different types of breakers and GFCIs. Furthermore, as I was teaching the courses, I was asked some really great questions that I didn't know the answer to, and that drove me to look even deeper to answer the question for both myself and the realtor.

Not only was the course educational for everyone involved, but it was a lot of fun. I am told that staying awake is the biggest challenge for most realtors during CE courses, but there were very few bobbing heads during my classes, which was perhaps the most rewarding part of the series for me.

After the courses had been taught and the dust was settled, I had several people call me for advice on modifications they were working on or planning for their home. Knowing that people learned a useful skill and felt confident enough to apply it in their personal lives was very gratifying for me.
This course is approved for 3 hours of Ohio CE credit. If you'd like to have this CE course taught in your real estate office, please get in contact with me and we will set it up.

Preparing Your Home for Winter.

Winter is coming, and you know what that means – low temperatures and high utility bills. An ounce of preparation this winter can save you a bundle in utility and repair bills. Here are a few things you should do before the first freeze.

1. REPLACE THAT MERCURY THEROMOSTAT.

P1160014P1160013Mercury thermostats were invented in 1953. It is 2015… you deserve better.

You don’t need to spend $250 on a NEST thermostat to get the energy savings of a modern unit – a programmable thermostat costs about $25, meaning that it can easily pay for itself in its first month of cold-weather use. Replacement is easy – you can do it yourself; just be sure that you shut off the furnace breaker before you begin the replacement process and follow the directions that come with your thermostat.

2. SHUT OFF YOUR EXTERIOR WATER FAUCETS.
P1160009Spigots, hose bibs, water sockets, or whatever you call them, are susceptible to freezing. Old fashioned faucets, like the one pictured, are especially vulnerable. It is highly recommended that you shut off the water supply at the interior water valve (where available) and drain the faucet to prevent freezing. In the event of a freeze, water will spew all over the place, likely behind your walls and all over your stuff, until you discover the leak. The leaks usually occur in your basement, which often takes days or weeks to find, easily causing thousands of dollars worth of damage in the interim. “Frost Proof” faucets can still freeze and cause damage to your pipes if the conditions are right, so don’t bet the ranch on their frost-proofiness. Shut them off before the first freeze.

3. GRAB YOUR GUN! … and a tube of caulk.
P1160011Your windows and doors are responsible for the majority of the air leaks in your home, and the tighter you can seal them up, the less energy you’ll waste. A tube of caulk can pay for itself dozens of times over several seasons before it dries out and cracks again, so grab a tube or two the next time you pass them at your local hardware store.

You’ll want to re-caulk areas where the old caulk has cracked (like in the picture) and you may need to do some scraping, so grab your 5-in-1 on your way outside. The insides of your windows and doors may need some sealing up too. Check around all sides of the frames for cracks- these are areas where cold air can enter  your home.


4. SEAL IT UP.

P1160015 (2)Lock your windows. It’s that simple. Most modern windows seal much more tighly when they are locked. Since locking your windows is free, this is the best bang-for-the-buck piece of advice I can offer. It will only take 5 minutes and it will save you a few Lincolns each winter. Go get it done. I’ll wait.

Oh, hi! You’re back! Let’s move on to doors. Sealing up doors isn’t usually as easy as locking them, but you’re going to want to make sure they’re sealed up tightly, too. If your door does not shut very tightly, determine the about of space you have between the door and the jamb. Now, go buy some weather stripping that will fit in that space. Don’t neglect cellar, basement, and infrequently used side doors, as these are usually the leakiest doors in your home.

One last thing – your garage door. If you see any light coming through the top or bottom of the overhead door, or the frame around it, seal it up, too.

5. INSULATE!
P1160019You were expecting to see this tip sooner in the post, weren’t you? Well, the thing is, insulation can be expensive to buy and time intensive to install. Your time and money would be better spent sealing up your home before you start an insulation project. Complete steps 3 and 4 before you tackle this step.

That being said, insulation really works. Insulating an attic is a good weekend project that will pay for itself in 3 to 5 years. If you’ve got an old, uninsulated, clapboard house, you have options! Insulation can be blown into the walls from the outside for around $2K-$4K, depending on the size of your house. The best insulation company I’ve found in the greater Cincinnati area is Priority One. Check them out at priorityinsulation.com, or give them a call at: 513-922-0203.

6. SHUT YOUR VENTS. (or don’t… keep reading)
P1160017Vents in your crawlspace have two main purposes:
1. Reducing humidity levels in your crawlspace during the summer months;
2. Increasing your utility bills and freezing your pipes in the winter months.
You’ll want to close your vents when you turn on your furnace for the first time in the fall and open it back up when you turn on the AC in the spring. Some people even block off the vent holes with styrofoam and caulk in the winter time. That seems a little overboard to me, but if your pipes are continuing to freeze, or you’re losing a noticeable amount of heat, it’s probably not a bad idea.

Think you’ll forget to shut or open your vents? Don’t worry, most people do. As a result, modern technology has blessed us with automatic vents that open at 70 degrees and shut at 40 degrees. They sell for $20-$30 each. Install them and forget about this chore for life, or at least until they break.

7. MIND YOUR CHIMNEY.
CreosoteChim-chimney, chim-chimney, chim-chim-charoo, you better keep it clean to avoid a fire in your flue. Chimney fires are damaging, scary things, and they’re worth every reasonable effort to avoid. Chimney fires are caused by a build up of creosote, which is the flammable organic stuff in the ash of a fire. It is basically made of sap and charcoal. Creosote condenses on your cold fireplace flue and can ignite after enough of it has built up. Call a local chimney company to come sweep the chimney if have any visible buildup of creosote in your flue. If you don’t have any creosote in your flue, great. As a preventative measure, it is a good idea to use a “creosote sweeping log” as a starter for your wood fires. It is also a good idea to NEVER BURN PINE, or any other sappy wood. That’s just asking for it…
P1140916
The oft-neglected flue damper can be your home’s biggest energy hog if left open all winter. Since heat rises and chimneys go up, the heated air in your home will quickly flow out of the chimney if the damper is not closed. Not planning on ever using your fireplace? It is not a bad idea to put a layer of fiberglass insulation behind it and seal it off.

 

 

 

8. CLEAN YOUR GUTTERS.
P1160022After the last leaf falls off your trees, but before you lose your motivation, go ahead and clean out your gutters. If you wait until the spring, the leaves will turn into a pile of mush that is more likely to clog your gutters and downspouts, which can cause a myriad of issue that you don’t want. Get out there and get it done. In 6 months, you’ll thank me for the reminder.

 

 

 

 

Well, there you go. That’s my list of things to do before winter sets in. This list is not exhaustive, and there’s certainly more that you could do, but I think this is a good start for keeping Old-Man Winter in his place. Once this is all done you can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate without stressing about things you should be doing to the house.

Have a Happy Winter. Cheers.

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