Sunday, March 1, 2009

So, Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad, Home Inspection?

No matter whom you talk to that is involved in a home sale transaction, whether it be the owner, buyer, or real estate agent, everyone has a certain amount of reservation concerning a home inspection or "termite" inspection. Why? All that it entails is basically a visual inspection of the home and a short written report, right? So, who's afraid of the big, bad home inspection? Everyone it seems!

Let me start by making an obvious observation. For most all of us, the single biggest investment we will make in our lifetime is the purchase of our own home. Not only is it an investment that we can't have go sour, but we must make a comfortable, safe place out of the dwelling to protect and grow our families that we can live in happily and call "home". And when we've outgrown or want a new/different home, we need to realize the equity we have built up in the property to help us purchase our next "home". "OK", you say, "I know all of this. What has this got to do with being afraid of home inspections?" Everything, actually, because it is well known that buying or selling a home is probably the second biggest stress we will encounter in our life. All the uncertainty and suspicions begin to "bubble to the surface" as the home sale process grinds on which skews our thinking, and sometimes our common sense.

So, let's look logically at what a home inspection has to offer for each participant in the home sale process. I want to start with the home owner who is thinking about moving and about to list his/her property for sale, because usually they are the ones that think they have nothing to gain from, and everything to loose from a home inspection. Nothing could be further from the truth.

No matter what "shape" the owner feels his/her property is in (good, bad or in between), the smartest thing they can do is spend the few dollars necessary for an accurate home inspection and "termite" inspection. Spending these few dollars in the beginning will save you major dollars and stress in the end. Possessing this information prior to listing your home for sale not only enables you to plan, but to price your property accurately. The information gleaned from the reports allows you to take care of any repairs that you feel you want to on your time schedule, and to obtain bids from various contractors for repairs you don't want to tackle yourself, which could save you a lot of money in the process. When you do list your property for sale, you do so empowered with the knowledge that you know of, or have taken care of any repairs, and you can go into negotiations with the buyer straight on because you have a "heads-up" on what the condition of your home is. This negotiating strength will allow you to realize as much of your equity as possible to be used to purchase your new home. Most real estate agents will appreciate this situation also because it takes most of all the uncertainty and stress out of the equation. Normally the home inspection results are revealed shortly before escrow is to close and there is no time for obtaining bids or alternative actions, which can result in a "blown" deal with everyone unhappy.

Most everyone thinks that a home inspection and "termite" inspection is only for the "protection" of the buyer. That is only partly true. Sure home inspections are ordered to reveal any unknown/undisclosed issues. But, the buyer didn't order and pay for the inspections to make the property out as garbage! The buyer likes and wants to spend and invest their hard earned money on the property and they want to make it their "home". As a prospective purchaser of a home and property, you want the inspection(s) to validate your decision to purchase that piece of property. You want to know what you are buying. You, of course, want to know what the big issues are, if any, but you also want to know the little things that will be an irritation or money drain before you sign the contract of sale. You want to make up your own mind as to what is acceptable as is, and what is not and needs to be negotiated with the seller. And just about as important, the home inspection is actually your first in depth "get acquainted" look at your new home because it covers information on so many of the homes' components, systems, utilities and their locations. But even that is not all, if your home inspector is like most concerned inspectors', he is your source for information you can turn to long after the close of escrow when everyone else involved in the deal has disappeared.

OK, onto the real estate agent and what the home inspection and "termite" inspection has to offer them. How about peace of mind? How about the good feeling inside that you have put together a home sale in which both the buyer and seller are happy and there is not going to be a bad case of "buyers remorse" now that escrow is closed? How about the fact that you are looked up to as an agent that demands full disclosure and still can close the deal BECAUSE EVERY BODY KNOWS WHERE THEY STAND AND WHAT THEY CAN EXPECT OUT OF THE DEAL! In the years I have been involved in inspecting homes, I can't tell you how many times I have seen buyers follow through and close a sale of a home with major issues because they not only like the home, but because they are fully aware of its' short comings and are mentally prepared to take it on. With truth and knowledge everyone comes out ahead. As I've been preaching for years, your buyer today is your seller tomorrow.

So in closing, there is absolutely nothing to fear from a home inspection or "termite" inspection except fear itself. These are "tools" to be used in a positive way to bring about a positive home sale experience, if you choose to use them in that way.

Bruce LaBell



Home Safety Inspection

Home Safety Inspection
Is your home fire and burn proof? A few simple steps can save your life and the lives of those you love. This simple checklist will help you determine what you need to do to help fire proof your home. Print your checklist results as a reminder of what you still need to inspect or accomplish.
Fire Prevention Checklist
Fire Protection and Preparedness:
• Is there a smoke detector on each level of your home and near each sleeping area?
• Are the batteries working?
• Do you test your smoke detector monthly?
• If you are hearing and/or vision impaired, do you have an appropriate smoke detector?
• Do you have an escape plan?
• Have you practiced your escape plan?
• If you use a wheelchair or walking aid, have you checked each possible exit route carefully?
• Do windows and doors open easily from the inside?
• Do you have a single box containing all important papers?
• Do you keep them in a safe place? Have you catalogued and updated your household inventory list for insurance claims?
Living Area:
• Are all space heaters at least three feet away from everything, including you?
• Are all electrical cords and plugs in good condition?
• Are candles blown out when leaving the room or going to sleep?
• Are candles in sturdy non-tip and non-combustible candle holders?
• Are bathroom and kitchen outlets protected by ground-fault circuit-interrupters.
• Is there a fire extinguisher within easy access of the cooking area?
• Do you know how to use it?
• Is the cooking area clean and free of clutter?
• Do you always remain in the kitchen while cooking?
• Do you wear snug fitting sleeves that won't catch fire while cooking?
• Do you turn off and unplug appliances when they are not in use?
• Do you ensure electrical outlets are not overloaded?
• Do you clean appliances so grease cannot build up and catch fire?
• Do you turn pot and pan handles in so they are not knocked over?
• Never smoke in bed!
• Is there a flashlight near your bed?
• Are the batteries fully charged?
• Is there a whistle by your bed to warn others of a fire and alert rescuers of your location?
• Do you always make sure curling irons and hot rollers are unplugged after each use?
• Is the water heater set at 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower to prevent scalds and burns?
• Have you installed thermostatically controlled faucets and shower heads?
• Are newspapers, empty boxes, paints, and gasoline cans stored away from heaters and outlets?
• Is gasoline stored in approved safety cans that prevent the escape of flammable vapors?
• Are paints, gasoline and other flammable liquids stored away from flames and sparks: Are they outside the home in a shed or detached garage?
• Are address numbers at least 3-5 inches, a contrasting color from the rest of the exterior and clearly visible from the street?
• Is firewood stacked at least ten feet from your home?
• Is the exterior of your house clear of all trash and dead grass?
• Is your grill or barbecue at least three feet from the house when cooking? Never use a charcoal
• type grill on a wooden deck or porch.
• Are ashes and coals placed in a metal container away from the house?
• Is the chimney clean and in good repair?
Before You Go To Bed Or Lie Down:
• Did you fully extinguish smoking materials (cigarettes, cigars, etc.)?
• Did you turn off the oven and burners?
• Did you unplug the coffee pot?
• Did you fully extinguish all candles or oil lamps?
• Is your heating pad turned off?
• Are the lights turned out, leaving one on in case you need to get up?
• Are your glasses near your bedside so you can see to escape and avoid injury?
• Are your house keys and car keys near your bedside so they are easily accessible?
• Are your doors locked?
Smoking Materials:
• Do you have large, deep, non-tip ashtrays for smokers?
• Are matches and lighters locked up high, out of children's sight and reach?
• Do smokers wet all butts and ashes before throwing them away?
References: Home Checklist for Older Consumers,; Home Safety Council on line at:; Fire Safety Checklist for Older Adults,

Friday, February 27, 2009

During the month of January, 2009, 36.8% of all closed residential home sales in the Greater Phoenix Area were lender-owned properties!

During the month of January, 2009, 36.8% of all closed residential home sales in the Greater Phoenix Area were lender-owned properties!

We all know that bank-owned and foreclosure property sales are clipping along at a furious pace right now. Many consumers are caught up in the perception that they will undoubtedly save mountains of money if they buy a distressed property. Experienced brokers and agents know that this is not always the case. Repair costs can grow rapidly and turn a “great deal” into a time-consuming frustration. Estimating repair needs and costs is crucial.
Your first step is a professional home inspection for several reasons. It is likely that the homeowner did not properly maintain the property as finances became strained. In some cases, an angered homeowner may cause both obvious and hidden damage to the property. It is not uncommon to see missing/damaged fixtures, appliances and components at a foreclosure property.
Start estimating. You can take the simple or detailed approach with estimating repair costs. A great first step is to go to where they have a free easy-to-use repair cost estimator. If you want a finely tuned estimate you can look at the Craftsman Book series of software. Trial versions can be found at which gives you the ability to estimate construction costs like a pro.
One final note. It is often a challenge to get the utilities turned on before the inspection. Persistence is needed in dealing with the various parties as you arrange for the inspection. Don’t give up and by all means have the home inspected. Who knows how many thousands of dollars it could take to repair an undiscovered defect.

For more information Visit us at or call
Today! (602) 765-2140

are you ready for.......

The Digital TV Transition

in June, 2009, TV broadcast stations in the United States must complete the technical transition to all-digital broadcasting as mandated by the FCC and Congress. TV broadcast stations include, for example, local NBC, ABC, and CBS affiliates.

This switch to all-digital broadcasting by February 17, 2009, impacts viewers who currently use an antenna (i.e., rabbit ears or rooftop antenna) to access local broadcast stations. To receive the signals after the transition, consumers have the following options

The phrase "Digital TV Transition" refers to the time period during which broadcasters are making the switch from analog to digital broadcasting. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 granted broadcasters an additional 6 megahertz of spectrum to make the transition from analog to digital TV, so that analog spectrum could eventually be returned to the government for use by public safety and other services. Congress' legislation ensures the transition is completed by February 17, 2009, at which time broadcasters must return their analog spectrum and begin broadcasting in the digital format only.

TV stations serving all markets in the United States are airing digital television programming today, although most will continue to provide analog programming through February 17, 2009. At that point, full-power TV stations will cease broadcasting on their current analog channels, and the spectrum they use for analog broadcasting will be reclaimed by the government and put to other uses.

If you currently receive analog television over the air or via an antenna, you'll need to take action to continue watching your favorite stations. TVs accessing "pay" television service such as cable or satellite aren't likely to be affected by the switch

What is the digital TV transition?

The digital TV transition refers to the time period during which broadcasters are making the switch from analog to digital broadcasting. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 granted broadcasters an additional 6 megahertz of spectrum to make the transition from analog to digital TV, so that analog spectrum could be returned for use by public safety and other services.

Congress enacted legislation that would ensure the transition is completed by June, 2009. At that time, the nation's broadcast TV stations will begin broadcasting exclusively in digital. This means that any consumer receiving broadcast TV over the air on an older, analog TV must take some action for that TV to continue receiving programs from the local TV stations. Those options include obtaining a new digital-to-analog converter; subscribing to cable TV or other multichannel video service, or replacing the analog TV with a new one equipped with a digital TV tuner. Cox has committed to converting the digital signals to analog so that any TV hooked to cable can receive the broadcast stations for at least three years after the deadline..

Why is government implementing the digital transition?

There are some compelling reasons why local TV stations across the country -- including those in your area -- are required by the U.S. government to change to digital broadcasting. Changing over to a digital format will reduce the amount of signal spectrum the nation's TV broadcasting system uses, freeing up extra capacity for first-responders such as local police and fire departments to enhance the way they react to emergencies. In addition, changing to digital broadcasting lets TV stations send clearer signals through the air. Picture and sound quality will be better. TV stations can even use the new digital technologies to transmit high-definition TV (HDTV) signals, and they can introduce new channels. So there are benefits to all Americans, including TV viewers, from the digital conversion.

Will consumers be able to watch digital TV on their existing analog sets?

All Cox customers will be able to watch these stations on any TV hooked up to cable. Cox Digital Cable customers already receive these channels in digital format, and Cox is committed to converting these broadcast channels for its analog customers for at least three years after this deadline. Non-cable customers can subscribe to our service or obtain an digital-to-analog converter box from many retail outlets beginning in June 2008.

What should I do first to prepare for the TV digital transition?

First, take an inventory of the TVs in your home. Even if you're a cable customer, you may have one or more TVs that aren't hooked up to cable. These secondary TVs are likely to be "analog" -- that is, they probably don't have the digital tuners that are featured in all of the "digital" TVs available today. These older TVs won't be able to tune in the digital signals that stations will start broadcasting in June 2009.

How do I know my TV is digital-ready?

Typically, TVs purchased in the last few years that are 25 inches or larger have digital tuners embedded so a separate converter is not needed to receive and display the over-the-air digital signals. Check your owner's manual or contact the manufacturer to be certain. Here are some general guidelines:

If you bought your TV set before 1998, it probably doesn't have a digital tuner.
If you bought a big-screen, projection TV between 1998 and 2004, it's possible there's a built-in digital tuner inside. But chances aren't great. Only a limited percentage of projection TVs (and generally only those 42 inches in diameter or larger) included digital tuners before 2004.
If you've purchased a new TV since 2004, your chances of having a built-in digital tuner improve dramatically. Starting in 2004, many of the TVs sold at popular electronics stores have featured digital tuners that will let you receive the new digital over-the-air broadcasts starting in February 2009. But be aware: It's not a sure thing. Even some of the newer TVs are purely display monitors that lack the internal circuitry needed to pick up digital broadcasts. Usually these TVs have been advertised as "HD-ready" or "HDTV monitors." That means they can display digital and high-definition signals, but they need help getting those signals in the first place. You'll still need a special converter or a cable TV connection.

When will the DTV transition be complete?

TV stations serving all markets in the United States are currently airing digital TV programming, although most will continue to provide analog programming through the deadline -- June, 2009. At that point, full-power TV stations will cease broadcasting on their current analog channels, and the spectrum they use for analog broadcasting will be reclaimed by the government and put to other uses. Cox is committed to converting these digital broadcast TV signals to analog for at least three years after this deadline, so all Cox customers will continue to receive these broadcast channels on every television hooked up to cable.

What do I need to do to receive digital signals?

If you don't have cable or digital cable, you will need to subscribe to cable, purchase a digital to analog converter or purchase a new digital TV.
Cable subscribers will not need to take any action to receive digital programming. For at least three years after this deadline, most cable companies will continue to offer analog broadcast signals to customers who do not receive digital services.
TVs purchased after March 1st 2007 plus those purchased in recent years that are 25 inches or larger have the necessary technology for viewing over-the-air digital programming already embedded and do not require a converter to access digital broadcast signals.
Will I need a new TV if I have an analog TV?

When broadcast stations stop analog service, you will still be able to use your analog TV to view over-the-air broadcast content if your TV is hooked up to cable, or if you purchase a special digital-to-analog converter box that will be available at retail locations.

Who will pay for the special converter that analog customers will need?

If you decide to purchase a converter, the government will help you pay for the necessary equipment. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is overseeing a coupon program to help offset consumer costs related to the digital transition. Beginning January 1, 2008, consumers can apply for up to two $40 coupons to be used towards the purchase of a digital-to-analog converter. Coupons, available on a first come, first serve basis, will be mailed to eligible households and will expire after 90 days of issuance. Consumers may call toll free 1-888-DTV-2009 1-888-388-2009) in English and Spanish for updates.

Note: Coupon program details, frequently asked questions and a program brochure are online:

When will the converter boxes be available?

The converter boxes are slated to be available for purchase in mid-February 2008. Several national retail chains have already committed to selling the boxes. They include: Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Circuit City, Target, Sears, Kmart and Radio Shack.

Why can't we have both DTV and the TV system we have currently?

Broadcast and wireless services depend on the use of the airwaves. DTV technology is much more efficient than the current analog technology and will allow the broadcast of more program content using less broadcast spectrum. Transitioning to digital broadcasting will make resources available for public safety and other new and innovative services for American consumers.

For more information visit or call 1-888-388-2009 .

Source Cox Cable Az

Bruce LaBell
Royal Home Inspectors
602.765.2140 Phone
602.765.2142 Fax


Yes, the holidays should be merry and bright, but the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns consumers that the holidays bring the dangers associated with the improper use of decorative lighting. By avoiding such hazards as dried out Christmas trees, unsafe lights and unattended burning candles, thousands of holiday-related injuries can be prevented. By all means enjoy yourself this holiday season, but make following the fire/electrical safety tips outlined below a priority in your merrymaking so as to avoid any mishaps.


•· Look for the label "Fire Resistant" when buying an artificial tree. While this label does not mean the tree won't catch fire, it does signify the tree will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.

•· Check for freshness when purchasing a live tree. You can do this by looking for deep green trees whose needles are hard to pull from branches and do not break when bent between your fingers. The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin. When tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.

•· Be sure to place trees (artificial or live) away from fireplaces and radiators. Live trees dry out quickly in heated rooms so be certain to keep the tree stand full of water at all times.

•· Place trees out away from traffic paths and do not block doorways.


•· Use only lights that have been tested for safety by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or another recognized testing laboratory. A UL label indicates the lights conform to certain standards. Use only lights that have fused plugs.

•· Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets. Always replace burned-out bulbs promptly with the same type and wattage bulbs. Using the wrong bulbs can cause overheating.

•· Connect no more than three standard-size sets of lights together.

•· Make sure extension cords are rated for the intended use.

•· Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.

•· Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.

•· When hanging light strings, stay away from the electric power lines that may run from utility poles to your home.

•· Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other mean of supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples to hold strings in place, not nails or tacks. Or, run strings of lights through plastic hooks.

•· Since damage or a short-circuit could quickly start a fire, turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house.

•· Use caution when removing outdoor holiday lights. Never pull or tug on lights - they could unravel.

•· Outdoor electric lights and decorations should be plugged into circuits protected by ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCIs). GFCIs have been installed on exterior circuits in new homes since the 1970s and can be added as a safety retrofit in older homes.


•· Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or nonleaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous if ingested by children.

•· Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not be knocked down.

•· In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, keep tree trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to avoid the child swallowing or inhaling small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them.

•· To avoid eye and skin irritation wear gloves and glasses or goggles while decorating.

•· When using artificial snow sprays, follow container directions carefully to avoid lung or eye irritation.

•· Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

For 12 toy safety tips for your holiday gift giving, visit Consumer Report's blog at Remember, these tips are only general guidelines. Since each situation is different, contact a professional if you have questions about a specific issue. More home safety and maintenance information is available online at

Each year fires occurring during the holiday season injure up to 2,600 individuals and cause over $930 million in damage. According to the United States Fire Administration (USFA), there are simple life-saving steps you can take to ensure a safe and happy holiday. By following some of the outlined precautionary tips about preventing Christmas tree fires, inspecting holiday lights, holiday decoration safety and holiday candles you can greatly reduce your chances of becoming a holiday fire casualty.

Royal Home Inspectors L.L.C.
602.765.2140 Phone
602.765.2142 Fax

What does As Is really mean?

What does As Is really mean?

When the term As-Is is used in a real estate listing, it is a notice to readers that the seller of the property has taken a position that the condition of the property is not negotiable. It does not mean that the seller has no responsibility for the condition of the property, and it does not necessarily mean that the seller will refuse to listen to reliable information provided with regard to the condition of the property. Contrary to what seems to be a popular misconception, As-Is has nothing to do with a potential purchaser's right to discovery with regard to the conditions of the property.

Sure, anyone can offer to sell anything without offering any representation about or warranty of its condition. Standard purchase contract forms often contain a lot of stuff about condition, but that can be lined-out, leaving no responsibility on the seller and abandoning the purchaser to decide what to do about the condition of the property. Nevertheless, a savvy purchaser will want to know about the condition of the property, and a savvy selling agent will want to ensure the purchaser is aware of those rights and chooses to take action on every one of them, or acknowledges in writing that they have been waived. It is foolish to assume that the notice As-Is stated on the listing is enough to discourage a purchaser from even attempting to discover the conditions of the property and that the As-Is statement in some way automatically protects agents from liability for property condition.

With the recent downturns in residential real estate largely caused by questionable practices in marketing and financing, we are being treated to what seems to be an almost endless stream of foreclosed properties and short-sales. These properties are almost always listed As-Is, since those who represent the properties are only rarely familiar with the properties. Agents bringing purchasers for these properties might be inclined to tell their clients (erroneously) that they have no real right to inspect anything or to do anything but sign a contract to purchase on an As-Is basis. Of course, agents who conduct themselves in this manner are "skating on thin ice."

Meanwhile, sometimes inspectors contacted to do an inspection of an As-Is property are told in advance that the seller is not willing to fix anything. . . as though that information might influence the inspection. Apparently, some agents are under the impression that the purpose of a home inspection is to find conditions for the seller to fix. Professional inspectors are committed to discovering and relating useful information about a property's conditions to their clients, with no regard about who (if anyone) might be responsible for repairs or corrections. Property condition rightfully has an effect on property value, so knowledge about condition (in the hands of a savvy purchaser) should influence the price a purchaser is willing to pay. Conversely, an uninformed buyer might agree to a sale price that does not properly reflect the actual value of the property. If an agent does not encourage his or her client to become as informed as possible, regardless of an As-Is provision in the listing, the difference between the purchase price and the real value might show up on his or her doorstep.

As the ranks of practicing REALTORS® and truly professional home inspectors dwindle, those who remain might look around and identify what characteristics the survivors share. Could it be that real integrity actually counts? Is loyalty to one's client a worthwhile trait, or was cynicism about buyers and sellers more appropriate? Professionalism in practice is now more obviously not just an advertising claim . . . it actually counts! If you are reading this, you may be a survivor. This would be a good time to connect with some of the other survivors in allied fields. Look for appraisers who work hard to develop realistic and defensible estimates of property value. Look for home inspectors who are recognized by legitimate professional associations and who adhere to tough standards above those required by the State. Hang out with people you would trust if you were the purchaser . . . it is part of your job!

Bruce LaBell
Royal Home Inspectors
602.765.2140 Phone
602.765.2142 Fax

Is Your Home as Fire Safe as You Can Make It?

The answers to these questions will help determine if it is.

Do you have the right kind of Fire & Smoke Detectors
If your house has natural gas, propane or oil service, or a fireplace/wood stove, do you have Carbon Monoxide Detectors?
Are the detectors in the right places?
Did you replace the detectors when you moved into your home and at least every 10 years thereafter?
Do you test the detectors on a monthly basis?
Have you replaced the detector batteries recently?
Do you have the right kind of Fire Extinguishers in the right places?
Do you have a fire escape plan and practice it with your children?
Do you have a fireproof container for all your really important documents?
(Birth Certificates, Stocks, Wills, that precious drawing from grade school, etc.)
Do you have a residential fire sprinkler system in your house?
(These are mostly found in newer homes. They typically cost $0.60 to $1.00 a square foot in new homes (about the same as a carpet replacement) and can greatly reduce both fire and water damage. Only heads exposed to the fire start spraying water. The 15-18 gallons a minute from the sprinkler system are significantly less than the 75-250 gallons from the firefighter's high pressure hose! Costs to retrofit a home with a sprinkler system will be higher.)
Smoke Detectors:

There are three basic types of residential smoke detectors, all with different means for detecting smoke and fire, different types of fires they detect best, and different replacement reasons & needs.

Ionization Smoke Detectors powered by batteries are the most common kind and economically available at most local hardware and discount stores. They can be mounted easily in just about any location. They use a small radioactive source (not harmful to humans) to cause the air inside the detector to be capable of carrying electric current. As particles of smoke enter the detector they block the flow of electricity. Low electrical current causes the alarm to sound. These detectors work best on flaming type fires (wood, paper, etc) and react a little slower on smoldering fires (mattresses, couches, etc). Batteries need to be replaced occasionally. If your detector starts making a chirping sound every so often, you need to change the battery. A general recommendation is to change these batteries every six months, usually timed to a major event like springing forward to daylight savings time or falling back to normal time. (Some newer smoke detectors come with a 10 year Lithium battery that eliminates the need to change batteries.) Remember battery powered detectors operate even during power failures.

Photoelectric Smoke Detectors use a light sensitive photocell to detect smoke inside the detector. They usually require a connection to an electrical supply but are also available with a battery backup. A light bulb puts out a beam of light. The photocell is hidden from direct exposure to the light beam. Smoke entering the detector causes the light beam to be reflected in several directions. The photo cell detects the reflected light and causes the alarm to go off. These detectors work best on smoldering fires and react a little slower on flaming type fires. The light bulbs need replacement every few years.

Thermal Detectors usually requiring a connection to an electrical supply, react to heat rather than smoke. A fire must raise the heat level near the detector to cause the alarm to go off. This type of detector is mostly used in dusty, dirty environments usually found in industrial and commercial applications. This is the type of detector that most fire sprinkler heads use to detect heat, pop, and start spraying water. This detector would be good near a cooking stove where an ionization or photoelectric smoke detector might cause false alarms.

Where Should You Put Smoke Detectors?

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends smoke detectors in every room; unfortunately that doesn't fit everyone's budget abilities.
In a hallway near several bedrooms, or even in each bedroom, is the most important placement as most fires occur during sleeping hours.
In the basement, preferably on the ceiling near the basement stairs.
In the garage, over the door to the house, is a needed location because of all the combustible materials we store there.
If your house has more than one level, there should be at least one detector on each level.
Put the detectors on the ceiling or on the wall with the top of the detector between six to twelve inches from the ceiling.
DO NOT put detectors on walls or ceilings within six inches of the ceiling/wall corner. There is very little circulation within this dead area.
DO NOT put them near heating and air conditioning supply & return vents.
Why should you replace your smoke detectors every 10 years?

The NFPA recommends, and some cities Fire Codes require, that smoke detectors be tested at least monthly and replaced when they fail to respond or every 10 years maximum. In addition, most manufacturers now mark their detectors for a maximum life of 10 years.

Why do they need to be replaced every 10 years?

10 years is a somewhat arbitrary figure, developed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) but, as with any equipment you buy (TVs, VCRs, etc), parts start breaking and failing as the equipment ages. This includes smoke detectors. Sometimes stuff just breaks without us noticing (in the case of smoke detectors, it's sometimes to late). The detection chamber gets clogged with dust & other airborne debris. In addition, as detectors age the sensitivity settings tend to drift toward being more sensitive causing more false alarms and people tend to disconnect the power supply on those detectors. A 1994 CPSC study found that sixty percent of detector failures were caused by the power supply (electricity or batteries) intentionally being removed due to problems with false alarms. Fifty percent of the failed detectors were more than 10 years old. The fact that some older detectors were made to be more sensitive also resulted in their disconnection from power.

Always replace your detectors whenever any of the following occur.

The detector fails to respond to the monthly test and it has power.
The detector has gotten wet, been painted, or has other physical damage.
The detector has been exposed to a fire or large amounts of grease (kitchens!)
The detector causes several false alarms without apparent cause.
When you move into a used home, you have no way of knowing how old the detectors are. Replace them when you move in.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors

Carbon Monoxide kills silently and sneakily. It is a colorless, odorless gas that is a byproduct of fossil fuel burning. It can be generated by wood stoves, fireplaces, appliances that use natural gas, propane or oil such as furnaces, space heaters, dryers, kitchen ranges, or other open flame appliances. Normally the gases generated by burning are vented safely outside the house, however blocked vents or not enough oxygen to the burners can quickly cause elevated levels of CO.

The best defense is a good offense.

Check your fireplaces & wood stoves for closed or blocked flues.
Have a qualified chimney sweep (find one at inspect chimneys and vents yearly for cracks, blockages (e.g., bird's nests, twigs, old mortar), corrosion or holes.
If you want to enclose a furnace or water heater in a smaller room make sure there is plenty of combustion air available.
Have a Heating & Air Conditioning contractor check your fuel burning appliances, before cold weather sets in. Make sure they are in working order.
If you have a downdraft cooktop, such as a Jenn-Aire, or a powerful kitchen ventilation fan over the stove, make sure make sure it doesn't pull fumes back down your wood stove flue or chimney.
Don't use gas or propane cooking stoves or ovens to heat your home.
Don't use barbecue grills inside the garage or house. Not even charcoal grills.
Open your garage door before starting the car in the garage. Back the car out of the garage right away and close the door. Not doing so can draw fumes into the house. Nor should you use a remote starter if the car is in the garage.
Don't run gasoline engines in a garage or house.
Don't use a kerosene fueled space heater in a garage or house. If you absolutely have to, make sure there is plenty of ventilation and combustion air by opening windows or doors. When you have to put more fuel in the heater, cool it down first and take it outside to refuel.
Clean the ductwork for the gas clothes dryer regularly. Also check it for blockage by snow, plants or lint.
CO is sneaky. CO hurts you by rapidly accumulating in the blood stream which depletes the bloods ability to carry oxygen throughout the body. Even at low levels, carbon monoxide can cause serious health problems.

Some of the symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to those of the flu, i.e. headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizzy spells, etc. If you may have been exposed to CO and feel like the flu bug bit you, you should also ask your doctor to check you for CO poisoning.

Battery powered and electrically connected CO detectors are available that can detect CO at levels as low as .01 percent.

Follow the manufacturer's recommendations in placing & testing CO detectors. They are generally placed near sleeping areas and the home's furnace.

Most manufacturers recommend testing CO Detectors weekly and replacing them every five years. Just like smoke detectors, they wear out and fail.

How Should You Respond to a CO Alarm?

DO NOT IGNORE the CO Detector's alarm if it sounds. CO Detectors should sound an alarm before a healthy adult feels any effects from CO. Treat each alarm seriously.
Get everyone, including pets, out of the house. Count heads to make sure everyone is out.
If flu like symptoms are present, call 911. If there are no health problems call your heating contractor, gas company or fire department to have your house tested.
DO NOT ventilate your home, reset the CO detector, or turn off fuel burning appliances unless it s an apartment, duplex or other multifamily type home. If it is, the safety of your neighbors is more important than finding the CO source. (Many CO alarms have been designated false alarms because the homeowner ventilated the home and turned off the fuel burning equipment before the source could be traced.)
DO NOT go back in the home until the testing technician tells you that it is safe to do so.

If you need a CO Detector and you have it, you'll be glad you had it.

If you need a CO Detector and don't have it, you may never know the difference, but your relatives will!

Fire Extinguishers

Neither one extinguisher nor one type of extinguisher is adequate to protect your home. In a three bedroom home with a basement and a garage, I recommend that you have at least four extinguishers.

One Class B extinguisher (meant for grease, gas & other flammable liquids) in the kitchen.
Don't keep it to close to the stove. You don't want to reach into a fire to get the extinguisher.
One Class A extinguisher (meant for wood, cloth, paper, plastics, etc) in the garage.
One Class A extinguisher near the bedrooms.
One Class A extinguisher in the basement.
Only try to fight minor blazes. If it becomes a serious fire, GET OUT! Call 911 from a neighbor's house.

Your Fire Escape Plan

Draw your homes floor plan being sure to include all doors and windows.
Determine at least two exits from every room.
Make sure every person living in the home is familiar with the fire escape plan.
Designate a meeting place outside the house so you can easily determine that everybody made it out. (Some mommies, daddies & firefighters have been seriously injured or killed trying to get back in to a house to get a child who was already out of the house.)
Place fire ladders in rooms that are too far above ground to jump.
Practice your fire escape plan at least once a year.
This information is my opinion based on my research and education. It is provided for general information purposes only. Any actions you take based on this information is your responsibility. I suggest that you consult a specialist in the particular field to determine the best practices in your particular situation.

Bruce LaBell

Common Misconceptions

Common Misconceptions

One of the common misconceptions being circulated today is the notion that newly constructed homes do not need a professional home inspection. After all, the builder has assured you at the walk-through that everything is OK and the house has been "passed off" by the local building department. Not so fast. Let's look at a few facts before we go any further.

A big difference in home building today is the way the companies are structured. Your nationally recognized, award winning builder is really no better than the local workforce and the supervision watching over them. They can fall back on their size and past reputation all they want, but you are at the mercy of the of the people swinging the hammers, pulling the cable and the supervision in charge. After WWII, the building contractors employed a significant number of the total workforce on a housing tract. Today, they basically set up a trailer, coordinate sub-contractors and schedule walk-throughs. Their payroll is countable on one hand. Bottom line is "who's looking out for you"? Who is demanding that the low-bid sub-contractors working on your investment perform to manufacturer's recommendations, building standards and widely accepted construction techniques? Recently, while out in the field, I observed two houses being framed side by side in the tract of nationally advertised builder. One home was being framed by 4 men in a well stocked work truck. The other was being framed by 6 guys that drove up in an old station wagon. The 4 men had their own water on the back of their truck. I observed some of the 6 guys walking into the front yards of occupied homes drinking out of their garden hose. Who would you want to build your home? For that matter, how would you ever know?

You need an advocate. You need a hired set of eyes. You need an un-biased, third party to inform you of any and all visible components that were not installed properly or may be defective. Every building was new at one time. Unfortunately, many people live in some that were "signed off" by the local building inspector from the booth at the local coffee shop.

A new home is inspected in exactly the same manner as one that was built 50 years ago; systematically. The big difference however, is the expectations of the buyer. The new home buyer is in a position to demand near-perfection. I have watched clients of mine spend literally hours going around a new home with a roll of blue masking tape, marking scratches, dents, chips, runs, etc. Meanwhile, I am in the attic, on the roof, inside the electric panel and under the kitchen sink. What teamwork! As long as you have the builder and his supporting cast of sub-contractors "on the hook", you are well served by having the home thoroughly inspected by a qualified, professional inspector. The documentation will send a strong message to the builder that you are informed and expect the building to exhibit proper building component applications. If you did not have your new home inspected, fear not. The builder is responsible for up to 10 years on certain component applications. There is no excuse for negligence. True, we all make mistakes, but the supervision (builder) gets paid for catching those mistakes before they are passed on to the unsuspecting consumer. Recommended course of action is to schedule a visual home inspection immediately.