Archive for the ‘Information’ Category

Round Rock Home Inspector Shares Article On AFCI’s

Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters

by Nick Gromicko, Rob London and Kenton Shepard

Arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are special types of electrical receptacles or outlets and circuit breakers designed to detect and respond to potentially dangerous electrical arcs in home branch wiring.

How do they work?

AFCIs function by monitoring the electrical waveform and promptly opening (interrupting) the circuit they serve if they detect changes in the wave pattern that are characteristic of a dangerous arc. They also must be capable of distinguishing safe, normal arcs, such as those created when a switch is turned on or a plug is pulled from a receptacle, from arcs that can cause fires. An AFCI can detect, recognize, and respond to very small changes in wave pattern.

What is an arc?

When an electric current crosses an air gap from an energized component to a grounded component, it produces a glowing plasma discharge known as an arc. For example, a bolt of lightening is a very large, powerful arc that crosses an atmospheric gap from an electrically charged cloud to the ground or another cloud. Just as lightning can cause fires, arcs produced by domestic wiring are capable of producing high levels of heat that can ignite their surroundings and lead to structure fires.

According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency for the year 2005, electrical fires damaged approximately 20,900 homes, killed 500 people, and cost $862 million in property damage. Although short-circuits and overloads account for many of these fires, arcs are responsible for the majority and are undetectable by traditional (non-AFCI) circuit breakers.

Where are arcs likely to form?

Arcs can form where wires are improperly installed or when insulation becomes damaged. In older homes, wire insulation tends to crystallize as it ages, becoming brittle and prone to cracking and chipping. Damaged insulation exposes the current-carrying wire to its surroundings, increasing the chances that an arc may occur.

Situations in which arcs may be created:
electrical cords damaged by vacuum cleaners or trapped beneath furniture or doors.
damage to wire insulation from nails or screws driven through walls.
appliance cords damaged by heat, natural aging, kinking, impact or over-extension.
spillage of liquid.
loose connections in outlets, switches and light fixtures.
Where are AFCIs required?

Locations in which AFCIs are required depend on the building codes adopted by their jurisdiction. Inspectors are responsible for knowing what building codes are used in the areas in which they inspect.

The 2006 International Residential Code (IRC) requires that AFCIs be installed within bedrooms in the following manner:
E3802.12 Arc-Fault Protection of Bedroom Outlets. All branch circuits that supply120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-amp outlets installed in bedrooms shall be protected by a combination-type or branch/feeder-type arc-fault circuit interrupter installed to provide protection of the entire branch circuit.
Exception: The location of the arc-fault circuit interrupter shall be permitted to be at other than the origination of the branch circuit, provided that:
The arc-fault circuit interrupter is installed within 6 feet of the branch circuit overcurrent device as measured along the branch circuit conductors, and
The circuit conductors between the branch circuit overcurrent device and the arc-fault circuit interrupter are installed in a metal raceway or a cable with metallic sheath.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) offers the following guidelines concerning AFCI placement within bedrooms:
Dwelling Units. All 120-volt, single phase, 15- and 20-ampere branch circuits supplying outlets installed in dwelling unit in family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, sun rooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, or similar rooms or areas shall be protected by a listed arc-fault circuit interrupter, combination-type installed to provide protection of the branch circuit.
Home inspectors should refrain from quoting exact code in their reports. A plaintiff’s attorney might suggest that code quotation means that the inspector was performing a code inspection and is therefore responsible for identifying all code violations in the home. Some jurisdictions do not yet require their implementation in locations where they can be helpful.

What types of AFCIs are available?

The four most common types of AFCIs are as follows:
Branch/feeder—installed at the main electrical panel or sub-panel.
Outlet circuit—installed in a branch-circuit outlet.
Combination—complies with the requirements of both the branch/feeder and the outlet circuit AFCIs.
Cord—a plug-in device connected to the receptacle outlet.
Nuisance Tripping

An AFCI might activate in situations that are not dangerous and create needless power shortages. This can be particularly annoying when an AFCI stalls power to a freezer or refrigerator, allowing its contents to spoil. There are a few procedures an electrical contractor can perform in order to reduce potential “nuisance tripping,” such as:
Check that the load power wire, panel neutral wire and load neutral wire are properly connected.
Check wiring to ensure that there are no shared neutral connections.
Check the junction box and fixture connections to ensure that the neutral conductor contacts a grounded conductor.
Arc Faults vs. Ground Faults

It is important to distinguish AFCI devices from Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) devices. GFCIs detect ground faults, which occur when current leaks from a hot (ungrounded) conductor to a grounded object as a result of a short-circuit. This situation can be hazardous when a person unintentionally becomes the current’s path to the ground. GFCIs function by constantly monitoring the current flow between hot and neutral (grounding) conductors, and activate when they sense a difference of 5 milliamps or more. Thus, GFCIs are intended to prevent personal injury due to electric shock, while AFCIs prevent personal injury and property damage due to structure fires.

In summary, AFCIs are designed to detect small arcs of electricity before they have a chance to lead to a structure fire.

 

Schedule your home inspection today with Gateway Inspections Inc, call 512-639-9905 or email: schillercharles@gmail.com.

 

Round Rock Home Inspector Says Inspect Foreclosures

Foreclosure Inspections: Trust Your Gut

by Nick Gromicko, Rob London and Kate Tarasenko
So, you want to buy a house cheap, and you look to the foreclosure market. Considering the over-abundance of these properties and just how little many of them are going for, it’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon and buy up. And it may pay off as a long-term investment.  But, like any other major purchase, you should know as much as you can about a property before you buy it, which is why home inspections, performed by certified InterNACHI inspectors, are necessary.
Unfortunately, many real estate agents, who don’t like bargaining with banks, are advising clients that home inspections are of no value as a bargaining tool, since banks don’t negotiate on “as is” properties. As an added disincentive, banks selling properties “as is” have no legal responsibility for any lurking defects. While the agent’s advice to forgo an inspection as a means to negotiate on the price may be logical, it is startlingly counter-intuitive, and possibly even negligent. Would you buy a car without knowing whether it has a transmission?  The same premise holds true for a house, regardless of whether you intend to live in it, or fix it and flip it. The Realtor may be trying to salvage a deal that could possibly be scrapped if an inspector uncovers damage that the bank is unwilling to pay for, and you, as the buyer, have to realize that the agent’s advice is not in your best interest. In this case, they’re putting you at risk in order to ensure they get their commission.
Any Realtor advising against an inspection on a foreclosure (or neglecting to recommend that one be performed) is ignoring the likelihood that, long before the previous owners stopped making mortgage payments, they deferred required maintenance tasks. Moisture intrusion leading to leaks and mold are just a few of the major problems commonly found by inspectors in foreclosed properties.  Tales abound of bizarre discoveries in abandoned properties, from wild boars to colossal bees nests. Former owners may loot their own properties, taking with them anything they can pry up or unscrew, and leave behind trash and junk that you have to pay for to have removed.
There are also stories of foreclosed properties that have been intentionally vandalized by their former owners in acts of retaliation against their banks. In one infamous case in early 2010, an Ohioan bulldozed his $250,000 home after the IRS placed liens on his carpet store, and then threatened to take his house. The damage done by the owner was apparent, but there are probably less extreme situations where the damage isn’t as obvious, making a home inspection of utmost priority.
You should always get a home inspection before buying a property, especially when you’re buying a bank-owned foreclosure.  In such cases, it may be impossible to find out how well the home was cared for, or whether major damage was done right before the past owners left the property. Ask the bank how much time you have after your initial offer to have an inspection performed, and schedule one immediately. If it goes well, you’ll enter into the deal with peace of mind and a better idea of what repairs you’ll have to deal with. That alone is worth the price of an inspection. If the inspection reveals a costly disaster, you can back out of the deal and save tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.

 

Round Rock Home Inspector Shares Must Do Home Projects

3 Simple Must-Do Home Improvement Projects if You Want Your House To SELL

Article by: Alice T. Chan

In a competitive market, in any market for that matter, there are a few basic home improvement projects that are non-negotiable. They are the ones that can make or break the sale of your home. Those who choose to take their chances and cut corners, pinch pennies, avoid effort…live to regret it. Don’t allow yourself to be one of those people.

Here are 3 simple MUST-DO home improvement projects IF you want your house to SELL!

Flooring – Many sellers think it’s a better idea to give a buyer credit to choose their own carpet when they move into the house. The problem is, the majority of those buyers can’t see beyond what’s currently in the home. That old, dirty or outdated carpet usually deters them from purchasing the home altogether OR if they do, they will low-ball the offer. This includes worn hardwood flooring, poorly installed laminate, and old, outdated tile or vinyl. Take care of upgrading these features BEFORE putting your home on the market AND ensure that the type of product you install is at a quality level commensurate with the value of your property. You wouldn’t want to put the same type of flooring in a $300,000 home that you would in a $1,000,000 property. The buyers will know and they will NOT be pleased. Remember, flooring is the foundation (literally) for the home’s interior so make it count.

Paint – Touch up paint just does not do the job. The color (even if it came out of the same can) won’t match due to time, wear, and fading. I have seen touch ups done in the wrong finish. Then your wall just looks like it has a skin condition. Do yourself a favor and invest in a fresh paint job. It will frame the rooms in a clean, fresh manner and fresh paint psychologically engages buyers in the home buying process. It feels like a new home to them and that’s what you want – for them to envision themselves in their new home.

Window Treatments – Fancy drapery are personalized items that generally don’t add a lot of value to the resale process. In fact, it can hinder it. It is usually my recommendation that drapery be removed unless it truly complements the décor and furnishings. If your drapery keeps much needed sunlight from coming through, is mismatched, and does not complement the home’s interior, I highly recommend removing it. Also, if you have blinds that are warped, dusty, and broken, it’s time to replace them. Keep in mind that there are two levels of window treatment. Blinds and shades are for light filtration and privacy and drapery is to frame the windows and add softness and color. For selling purposes, blinds are all that’s really needed. Leaving windows naked can be a negative in many cases and is not advisable. The home just doesn’t look finished and it can be a magnet for burglars.

Having helped hundreds of clients prepare their houses to sell, these 3 home improvement projects were always addressed. This is also the reason I decided to incorporate products from Empire Today into my schedule of services. Empire Today has quality, name-brand products which include Carpet, Hardwood, Laminate, Ceramic, Vinyl Flooring and Window Treatments. I am very impressed with their product selection and their next day installation service which is especially important with home selling clients. I invite you to contact me for an in-home consultation to discuss product options. Whether you are selling now or later, I will always keep the resale value and the prospective target buyer in mind.

Continue reading on Examiner.com 3 Simple Must-Do Home Improvement Projects if You Want Your House To SELL – San Jose Home Staging | Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/home-staging-in-san-jose/3-simple-must-do-home-improvement-projects-if-you-want-your-house-to-sell?CID=examiner_alerts_article#ixzz1QDhB8Yip

Round Rock Home Inspector Reveals Smelly Home Selling Tips

Sell your home with ambient aromatherapy

(ARA) – Staging a home visually with a thorough cleaning and appealing decorative touches can help make a sale, but why stop there? Use essential oils to infuse a property with a pleasant background aroma to stealthily ply the senses and break down the defenses of potential buyers.

Shopping malls and upscale boutiques use the technique of applying ambient scents in retail spaces to not only make the place smell good, but to elicit a planned psychological response that is meant to transform all of those “no thanks, just browsing” guests into cash paying customers. You can do the same to propel sluggish real estate sales.

Known as ambient fragrancing or scent marketing, the practice has spawned a whole subcategory of experts and products within the traditional fragrance industry. The result is an exciting new diversification of a category of goods and services that has been limited to perfume and scented body care applications.

Ambient fragrance started to trickle into the real estate market years ago with savvy agents baking cookies or cinnamon rolls in the homes they were showing to create a comforting, deliciously scented atmosphere that was meant to entice buyers. If you are struggling to sell a home in today’s frozen real estate market, you may have tried this technique. But with the dismal state of the economy and the glut of available homes, you are surely going to have to bake a lot of cookies before a buyer will be impressed enough to make an offer on your house.

“The essential oils that are used in the practice of aromatherapy offer a more practical and potent way to use scent marketing to move a tired property,” says Tom Havran, branded products developer with Aura Cacia. “Using even tiny amounts of familiar, tempting aromas like the oils of cinnamon, clove, vanilla and orange can fill a whole house with pleasant ambient fragrance and make it an attractive purchase for potential buyers.”

An added bonus is that since essential oils are all-natural and distilled from plants, they are less likely to illicit the kind of adverse reactions that often come with harshly synthetic wall socket plug-ins or spray fragrances. Learn more at www.auracacia.com.

Create a warm, comforting atmosphere that can help put potential property buyers at ease with Vanilla Amber Aroma Crystals. Use real vanilla (such as Vanilla Precious Essentials oil from Aura Cacia).

Ingredients:
1 cup coarse-grained, chunky sea salt
1 teaspoon jojoba or grapeseed oil (just enough to make the salts glisten and gleam)
20 drops vanilla Precious Essential oil
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops sweet orange essential oil

Directions:
Mix salt and oils, pour into a classy-looking dish or bowl and set out on a table. Placing the crystals in a warm sunny window or near a heat register will help diffuse the delicious aroma throughout the room. Stir in additional essential oils to boost the scent as needed. This recipe sets a restful and romantic mood in the bedroom area.

The light floral/citrus scent of Fresh Flowers and Bergamot Vacuum Powder will create a cheerful, friendly and clean atmosphere to impress visitors. Since you need to vacuum before each property showing anyway, this is a great way to turn the chore into a smart real estate marketing move.

Ingredients:
1 cup baking soda
35 drops bergamot essential oil
5 drops ylang ylang or neroli essential oil

Directions:
Mix baking soda and essential oils in a canister and lightly sprinkle over carpets then vacuum.

If baking cookies or apple pie sounds too involved, simply create an Apple & Spice Simmer. Here is an easy way to fill a house with the alluring, homespun fragrance of baked goods without the toil and mess of baking.

Ingredients:
5 dried apple slices
5 sticks cinnamon bark (or 2 to 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon)
1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon whole cloves
Medium size pan of simmering water (approximately 5 cups)
30 drops cinnamon essential oil
5 drops clove essential oil
5 drops lemon essential oil

Directions:
Toss apples slices, cinnamon, vanilla bean and cloves with essential oils. Place in simmering water on the stovetop. Add more water and oils as needed.

Natural, familiar aromas of essential oils are more recognizable and appreciated than the harsh and strange scents of many synthetic fragrances. Using essential oils to craft your own bit of psychological scent marketing could provide a big return on a small investment when you finally sell that home. The home you need to sell is one of thousands available in the current market and aromatherapy may give you a much needed unique and surprising edge.

Round Rock Home Inspector Says Open Your Car Windows First

CAR  AIR-CONDITIONING – VERY  IMPORTANT!

My car  book says to roll down the windows to let out  all the hot air
before turning on  A/C.

WHY?  Car Air-conditioning – No wonder  more folks are dying from cancer
than ever  before.  We wonder where this stuff comes  from but here is an
example that explains a lot  of the cancer causing incidents.

Many people are in their cars first thing in  the morning and the last
thing at night, 7 days  a week.

As I read  this, it makes me feel guilty and ill.
Please pass this on to as many people as  possible.
Guess it’s not too late to make  some  changes

Car A/C (Air Conditioning) MUST  READ!!!

Please do NOT turn on  A/C as soon as you enter the  car.

Open the windows after you enter your car  and then turn ON the AC after a
couple of  minutes.

Here’s why:   According to  research, the car dashboard, seats and air
freshener emit Benzene, a Cancer causing toxin  (carcinogen – take time to
observe the smell of  heated plastic in your  car).

In addition  to causing cancer, Benzene poisons your bones,  causes anemia
and reduces white blood cells.  Prolonged exposure will cause Leukemia,
increasing the risk of cancer. Can also cause  miscarriage.

Acceptable  Benzene level indoors is 50 mg per sq. ft.
A  car parked indoors with windows closed will  contain 400-800 mg of
Benzene.

If  parked outdoors under the sun at a temperature  above 60 degrees F, the
Benzene level goes up to  2000-4000 mg, 40 times the acceptable  level.

People  who get into the car, keeping windows
closed  will inevitably inhale, in quick succession,  excessive amounts of
the  toxin.
Benzene is  a toxin that affects your kidney and liver..  What’s worse, it
is extremely difficult for your  body to expel this toxic  stuff.

So friends, please open the windows and door  of your car – give time for
interior to air out  -dispel the deadly stuff – before you  enter.

Thought:  ’When someone shares something of value with you  and you benefit
from it, you have a moral  obligation to share it with  others.’

This is what  _snopes.com_ (http://snopes.com/)    says.  It is not the air
conditioning in  the car but the Benzene producing agents that  cause
cancer. _http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/benzene.asp_
(http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/benzene.asp)

Round Rock Home Inspector Says Plan Home Improvement Project

Planning Your Home Improvement Project

If you’re going to start a home improvement project this summer, the place to start is with plans. Millions of dollars are wasted every year by home owners who fail to plan. You will need to convey your thoughts and ideas on paper to your contractor and things will get done the way you would like them to be completed.

Even if you are just going to add a simple deck requires a plan. Why? Because you will want the type of handrails you like, the location of the steps and ensure the deck is large enough to fit all the furniture you want to have on it.

If you’re not going to do the project yourself, chose a reputable contractor that has been referred by someone you trust. If you are going to do competitive bidding, remember the lowest price is lowest for a reason. Usually because of lower quality materials and inexperienced labor, this can result in inferior work.

Always get a permit from your city to do the project and you will need the plans you completed to give to the city. I would recommend hiring a professional home inspector to make sure the project is constructed to today’s standards.

Plans get your mind to visualize all the things you would like your project to be. Remember, plans are the place to start and your project will be a success!

Gateway Inspections Inc

Charles Schiller Professional Home Inspector TREC #2717                                                                                                                    512-639-9905                                                                                                                                          http://www.roundrockhomeinspector.com                                                                                                                                              email: schillercharles@gmail.com

 

 

Round Rock Home Inspectors Shares Spray Foam Article

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Helpful? 0

EPA: More Data Needed to Ensure Spray Foam Safety

Spray-polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation, growing in popularity, is under scrutiny from EPA. What’s a homeowner or builder to do?

Posted on May 16 by Tristan Roberts

Image 1 of 2

Icynene’s open-cell spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation is among the SPF industry products under scrutiny by EPA and others.

A friend of mine used to be a long-haul truck driver. At one point he even became a trainer working with new drivers.

Over dinner recently, I asked what was one key lesson that he would want to impart to any new driver. While he was thinking about it, his wife lit up and offered this advice (which I’m sure is not from the company manual): make sure your seatbelt is removed before you begin a hot swap.

In trucking, a hot swap occurs in a truck being driven by a team of two drivers when they are in a real hurry to make a delivery. When one is ready to take a break and turn the wheel over, rather than taking the time to stop, they may decide to trade places while the vehicle is moving down the highway.

Hot swapping green building techniques

While I’m sure that experienced drivers can “hot swap” quite, um, professionally, it is an inherently unsafe practice. This is underscored by the fact that you have to remove your seatbelt, in a speeding tractor-trailer, before you can even begin!

When I heard this, it felt to me a lot like a situation we face with some regularity in green building. We are racing to make our buildings safer, healthier for occupants, less-polluting, and lower carbon. But we are behind in that race. For example, we have been paying serious attention to the health effects of building materials on indoor air quality for only about 20 years. We have been inventing new chemicals that affect our indoor air quality for well over 100 years.

Unfortunately for the builder, homeowner, or renter who simply wants some reliable advice on what to worry about from an environmental perspective, and what not to worry about, things sometimes change or crop up unexpectedly. And we’re not usually completely ready with a seamless hot swap. Remember when compact fluorescent bulbs first came out? Remember the first low-flow toilets? Best forget them.

The issue of the day? SPF safety

The issue of the day is spray polyurethane foam (SPF) insulation products. Last month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new action plan for a key family of chemicals used in SPF. Isocyanates, such as MDI (methylene diphenyl diisocyanate), are chemicals that react with polyols to form polyurethane. They can also cause skin, eye, and lung irritation, asthma, and chemical sensitization when absorbed through the skin or inhaled.

Polyurethane is in a lot of stuff, from foam mattresses to bowling balls. When it is fully reacted or “cured,” it is stable and its chemistry is not a significant concern. Some products, however, such as adhesives, coatings, and spray foam, react while being applied by builders or homeowners doing insulation retrofits, and continue to react for some hours afterwards, and may contain “uncured” isocyanates to which people may be exposed.

This is not news: worker protection protocols and quality assurance programs for SPF installation were developed by the SPF industry decades ago.

Why the fuss now?

As Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, put it, “There has been an increase in recent years in promoting the use of foams and sealants by do-it-yourself energy-conscious homeowners, and many people may now be unknowingly exposed to risks from these chemicals.” You can add to that a growing number of complaints about adverse health effects from homeowners and occupants of office buildings where SPF has been applied during energy retrofits.

EPA’s SPF action plan for MDI is being developed within its Design for the Environment (DfE) program under jurisdiction from the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which requires U.S. chemical manufacturers, importers, processors, and distributors to report to EPA any information suggesting that one of their chemicals “presents a substantial risk of injury to health or the environment.”

While the reported data is technically public information, penetrating it is very difficult, in some measure because manufacturers often claim confidentiality for proprietary components in their chemical formulations. But the cumulative evidence to date has moved EPA to take real action on this issue, mainly to gather reports of adverse health effects from manufacturers, and to consider initial rulemaking for both consumer-applied and professionally applied SPF products.

The action plan leaves open questions about how far EPA will go to clamp down on these products, but it’s safe to think of this as a shot across the bow from EPA for the SPF industry.

We don’t know much about SPF offgassing

In addition to the presence of MDI in the product, the chemical reaction and curing of SPF can produce other chemicals of concern: excess isocyanates, aldehydes, amine catalysts, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We don’t know much about the nature and quantities of offgassing of these substances, the curing rates of SPF, or how health risks can change with improper environmental conditions or mixing ratios during the SPF process.

To that end, there is a new ASTM standard under development. John Sebrowski, a senior associate scientist with Bayer MaterialScience and chair of the task group working on this ASTM standard, is helping develop a standard practice to establish re-occupancy times after onsite SPF application. “We are currently getting ready to conduct research using micro-scale chambers and thermal desorption techniques to measure emissions,” he said.

Safe re-entry times

When asked what relationship the current ASTM draft standard and research might have to the existing protocol offered by Bayer MaterialScience (which recommends re-occupancy times of 12 hours and 24 hours for workers and occupants, respectively), Sebrowski responded that the protocol would be used as a starting point, but “we are also investigating other approaches to measuring the emissions.”

According to EPA, safe re-entry times put forward by manufacturers vary between 8–24 hours for one-component SPF and 23–72 hours for two-component SPF. But more research and standardized testing is clearly needed. EPA is not working alone on this issue; several other federal agencies — including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission — are part of the team. Each is concerned about protecting workers or consumers from health effects from the increasingly prevalent site-applied SPF.

Should we stop using SPF?

“I think you have to be careful when you discuss the toxicity of spray foam,” says David Price, environmental scientist in the indoor environment division of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “I have not seen any information at this point that there is any hazard to occupants.” While Price supports EPA’s decision to gather data on possible post-occupancy issues with SPF, he doesn’t want the public to “find the accused guilty before you hear the case.”

Price has seen some of the anecdotal evidence as well as some of the scientific findings, and says that no cause-effect relationship has yet been found between SPF installation and post-occupancy illnesses. “It’s appropriate for EPA to look at this stuff; that’s what we do,” Price said. “But I’m very sensitive about tagging a product as ‘of concern’ or ‘may be toxic’” before the data has been gathered and reviewed.

Environmental Building News contacted several builders and foam industry professionals, and found that most were unwilling to be quoted on an issue they deemed sensitive and still-unfolding. One leading green remodeler offered this perspective: “I have stopped using SPF in any of my projects at this point. I simply can’t and won’t jeopardize my clients’ health and the reputation of my company by using building materials with the emissions profile of SPF.”

Since this news came out, comments on message boards that I have seen have tended toward defense of SPF and annoyance (that’s putting it politely) at EPA. The undercurrent seems to be: Is the whole industry going to get stained because of some untrained DIYers? Let’s hope that the general public doesn’t jump to conclusions too rapidly — that EPA gathers its data and that its process works. And let’s be real: not all SPF insulations jobs are perfect — some have even ended tragically.

Recommendations for continued use

SPF has unique advantages that can be difficult to replace. If you decide to continue using it while EPA continues its work, here are some recommendations.

Make sure that your SPF contractor installs SPF correctly, employing quality control/assurance protocols such as the following the Spray Foam Quality Control – Canadian Installation Requirements, or the ABAA Quality Assurance program.

Follow current EPA recommendations on a safe approach to installation, from the publication Quick Safety Tips for SPF Users.

If you are a homeowner or building manager or employee in a building in which SPF will be installed, follow EPA’s Steps to Control Exposure.

Also, stay tuned; the SPF industry is working on a new class of SPFs — hybrid non-isocyanate polyurethanes (HPINUs) — that may pose much less serious occupant and worker health issues than our current slate of SPF building products.

What do you think about the SPF issue? Do you use it, or not? Why? Let us know below.

Tristan Roberts is Editorial Director at BuildingGreen, Inc., in Brattleboro, Vermont, which publishes information on green building solutions.

Note: Peter Yost, residential program manager at BuildingGreen, and Paula Melton, associate editor, contributed reporting to this column.

Round Rock Home Inspector Shares How To Take Home Pictures

How to Take Beautiful Home Photos (8 comments)

4 Professional Photographers Share Tips for Making Home Interiors Shine

Share:
Photography is one of those fine art forms that most people think is easy to do … until they give it a try. If you have a home design blog or website, you know how difficult it can be to truly portray how gorgeous your new office is on a dinky digital camera with three flash settings. Even if you do invest in great equipment, it really won’t make a difference unless you know how to use it. Want to understand why your shots aren’t turning out like the pages of Elle Decor? Odds are, you’re making a few errors that are fairly common among novice photographers.

Luckily, four talented photographers on Houzz have provided us with examples of their gorgeous work, along with their tips on how to improve your home photography in terms of:

1. Light
2. Focus and Exposure
3. Staging
4. Composition.

Make sure to check out their photos and profiles to learn more about these exceptional photographers.

1. Light
David Livingston: The best times to shoot an interior and an exterior are eastside in the morning, and westside in the afternoon. The north and south sides can simply be shot whenever the light is bright. For your lighting, try to limit the extreme areas that are too dark or too bright. You might need to add light to the dark areas, and pull the drapes in for some bright areas, or just wait around until the light is more even in that room.

by David Livingston

Michal Venera: Shoot at dusk, or at dawn. You want the light to be soft — it makes the shots more flattering, and it softens the exterior. You want to try to match the exterior and interior light as much as possible. Early evening or late afternoon is the ideal time to shoot an interior or exterior. After sunset can also be fun for an exterior if you’re shooting an area with porch lights or other outdoor lighting.

by michal venera

David Churchill: For me, there are no rules for when to shoot an interior. Often with a project there is a tiny window to shoot it. This is usually just after completion. Sometimes I get to choose a day with great weather, which can make a real difference to the quality of the images. Dusk is always a great time to capture good interiors, as you can easily balance the interior and exterior light level. I would say that good weather is more important when shooting exteriors. If there is no sun, the light is very flat. I mainly use available light with interiors. I only use additional lighting to control contrast. If an area is too dark compared to the rest of the shot, I may add some. I try to do this so you can’t tell I have used lighting so it feels natural. I find I use this much less these days as many contrast issues can be sorted out in Photoshop.

by David Churchill

Matthew Millman: It’s always best to try and wait for good light. Generally, there is a time in the day when most every room in a house gets “good light.” Usually, this is when the sun is coming in and the space is more luminous than when there is no sunlight. Sunlight infuses a shot with energy and warmth, telling a more compelling story. This may mean you have to wait a few hours to get a better shot. If you have the time, it’s always worth it.

by Matthew Millman

2. Focus and Exposure
David Livingston: When choosing an exposure, make sure to avoid over- or under-exposing a photo. Depth of field can be a difficult concept to grasp and execute. Have a tripod, and take a long exposure. Use the preview function on your camera, study what depth of field is, have a bigger f-stop. I’d recommend f16 or f22.

by David Livingston

Michal Venera: The better the lens, the better the shot. No matter how good you are, it’ll never be its best if you don’t have a great piece of equipment. If you want to emphasize depth of field, use a tripod and set the lens somewhere in the middle — around 11. That’s ideal. The sharpness of the lens will be at its best.

by michal venera

David Churchill: The exposure is all dependent on the amount of light available. With interiors, I usually shoot between about 1 to 20 seconds at f16. With sunlit exteriors, I shoot at about 1/60th at f16. Depth of field is basically what is in focus in a given image from front to back. Generally I try to have as much as possible, but if I want to emphasize a particular element within an interior, I might make the depth shallower so that only that element is in focus while the rest is more blurred. Finding the best shot takes a lot of experience, and there really are no hard and fast rules.

by David Churchill

Matthew Millman: Take lots of photos. Every project I shoot, I carry an extra camera around with me all day and I take tons of photos as tests. I shoot them at a high ISO on a low-resolution setting, and I never use them for anything beyond checking what looks good and how the light is playing through a space. And when we set up for a photo, if I don’t feel like it is as good as it could be, I try the shot from a different angle. Sometimes I’ll do it again and again until I get it right. It takes a lot of shots to get one good one. Keep shooting and never settle for just okay.

by Matthew Millman

3. Staging
David Livingston: Really look at the compositions of each spot, and see if you like what is in and out of the frame, as well as how/where things are placed within the frame. When staging, work with one color direction, and layer that color throughout the photo to add richness and depth.

by David Livingston

Michal Venera: When it comes to staging, I personally don’t do it, since most of my clients [such as Pottery Barn, Williams Sonoma, and Meredith Publishing] will do the staging ahead of time. However, a lot of photographers do. My general belief is that simpler is better.

by michal venera

David Churchill: For staging, I try to keep things fairly natural looking and not too staged, as I find it easy for things to look corny when overdone. Probably the best advice I have been given with staging is: “If in doubt leave it out.” I do like to have people in shots too, again, where it feels natural and not too staged. I think this adds another dimension to the image and gives scale and depth. As much as possible, I will try to catch people unawares. This particular photo was an area of Santa Monica with many tracks into the hills, which is ideal for horse riding. So I waited until someone came by, and captured them just at the right moment.

by David Churchill

Matthew Millman: While the eye can handle complexity well, the photo is more democratic and does not respond to clutter as gracefully. Your photos should be ambitious, trying to tell as much of a story as possible, but the styling or staging should be simple. Let the project speak for itself. Do not add too much.  And if a space is cluttered, pare it down. Remember that your viewer is building their own story about the space through your images. If the images are messy, the viewer will figuratively trip on the things in a space and miss the design. However, if the space is crisp (not sterile), then the viewer has room to imagine what they would feel like if they were there.

by Matthew Millman

4. Framing and Composition
David Livingston: Both wide frames and tight frames work well for interiors. I’d recommend tearing apart magazines and studying the photos you like, and then trying to recreate them. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten is to try to keep things straight up and down — keep your camera plumb, and and don’t tip it up or down to get your shot. Instead, move the whole camera higher or lower to get what you want in the frame. In order to get an interesting shot, I think about whether or not I like the composition, or if I would want to walk into the space. The shot is interesting if it draws you in.

by David Livingston

Michal Venera: You really want to have a wide selection of shots, so take more than you normally would. Experiment with all sorts of angles and frames so there are a lot to choose from. When you’re shooting an interior, deciding whether or not to include people or animals is usually the decision of the client. If you do opt to include people in your shots, it always looks better and is easier if you’re not shooting them straight on. If you get a side or profile view, it’s a bit better, and doesn’t draw attention to the person. You want the focus to be on the interiors. If you don’t want to include people, or if the client doesn’t want you to, it’s always nice to create the illusion that the space is lived in — even if it isn’t. A half glass of water or something similar can help you do that without adding people.

by michal venera

David Churchill: When shooting a project I am very aware of giving a full range of images from wide-angled general shots to tighter details. It makes a project much more interesting to be able to see how a space works as a whole but also the design, detail, and materials involved. As I walk through an interior certain elements will rise up to me, and I will use my hands to make a frame to see how I could compose it and make it into the image that I want to portray. Sometimes a composition will work really easily, but often I will have to struggle a bit with it until it says what I want it to say.

by David Churchill

Matthew Millman: Shoot lower to the ground — at about the height of light switches (or your belly button) in a room.  Shooting from standing height can often make the furniture look funny or distorted, as if you are looking down on it. Getting a lower camera angle can allow you images to feel more intimate to the objects in the room and make the viewer feel more a part of the shot. Bring the viewer into the shot. Generally, people shoot too far away from their subject.  This implies a distance that the viewer will have to travel to get to their destination. Instead, try to frame the shot with an element in the space. This way the viewer will feel more like they are already in the shot. Sometimes a detail can be as compelling, or more, than an overall shot.  Details often describe the essence of a space rather than literally depicting it. Look for sweet details that capture feeling through things like texture, light, and color.

by Matthew Millman

Round Rock Home Inspector Lists Service on Thumbtack

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Round Rock Home Inspector Talks About GFCI Receptacles

GFCI receptacles protect appliance plugged into that receptacle and those plugged into downstream receptacles.

GFCI RECEPTACLE

A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, or GFCI, is a special purpose circuit breaker. It is not tripped by a current surge or overload, but by a difference in amperage between the hot and neutral wires. Such difference can be caused by leaking to ground (for example, when someone standing on a wet floor touches a short circuited toaster).

There are two types of GFCI’s, circuit breakers that are installed in the distribution panel, and individual receptacles.

GFCI receptacles are less expensive than the circuit breakers, and they protect only those appliances plugged into that receptacle and those plugged into downstream receptacles. A GFCI circuit breaker protects every appliance plugged into the circuit.

Code requires GFCI protected receptacles in any potentially wet area. That includes all kitchen counter tops, and in bathrooms, garages, unfinished basements, crawlspaces, and outbuildings (with some exceptions). Wet areas also include any outdoor locations, such as porches and decks.

An exception to the areas above include a dedicated outlet for a refrigerator/freezer. These appliances may trip a GFCI when there is not danger of shock and spoil the food.  Also, GFCI’s will not work with any appliance that has a ground wire connected to its case, such as ranges, cook tops, and clothes dryers. GFCI’s are not recommended to be used with medical equipment, sump pumps, or other critical equipment that must operate in an emergency.

Every GFCI receptacle has a test button on its face. Homeowners should test them every month, by pushing the test button. It should trip and turn off the power to that receptacle, than push in the reset button to energize the receptacle.

When buying a home you need a qualified inspector that will keep you from getting stuck with unexpected post closing expenses and give you the piece of mind you deserve when buying a home. Schedule an inspection today, Gateway Inspections has been “PROTECTING HOME BUYERS FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS”.