What is wrong with this picture? Why have an inspection?

So often we talk with real estate agents who question the choice of inspectors or question the reasons for even having an inspection.

As the company that represents buyers in our area I am not surprised. But sometimes I see an issue so obvious I think that anyone in the business should be able to identify it.

Here is one such photo:

BadwaterHeaterInstall600x450

Unless you are in your first year in this business you should really see one obvious and one more subtle defect with this installation.

And, we rely on home inspectors to find and document these types of concerns and since both of them are safety related, they may be worth discussing with a home seller for a credit or repair by a licensed contractor.

If you are a buyer considering who to use as a buyer’s agent or a designated buyer’s agent, you may want to make sure those you are considering have enough knowledge of homes to discuss topics like this with you.

Jon Boyd Broker/Manager
The Home Buyer’s Agent of Ann Arbor, Inc
1905 Pauline Blvd. Suite 1 
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
We serve the Ann Arbor – Brighton – Plymouth – Novi – Canton – Ypsilanti – Saline – Chelsea – Dexter – Novi – Northville areas in Southeastern Michigan.

News on Solar’s impact on value from the Appraisal Institute

As a local expert on solar homes I was pleased to see the Appraisal Institute announced their conclusion on the topic of solar’s impact on property valuation:

Solar Electric Systems Positively Impact Home Values

To determine the actual number for the value impact is not an easy task. And, it has very little connection with what the homeowner paid for the solar system, just like anything unique thing a home owner does to their home.

But at least appraisers now have a tool to use to get a handle on the impact of a solar system on a home’s value.

The Appraisal Institute worked with scientists at Sandia Laboratories to pin down some data that an appraiser can collect from the homeowner or the installer of a system. Inserting these numbers in to an online spreadsheet can pop out a dollar amount that the system might contribute to the home’s value.

The tool is usable for both photovoltaic (PV) solar, (Which generates electrical power) and solar thermal water heating, which is typically used for domestic hot water, but can be used for domestic space heating in extreme installations.

SolarPanelsOnRoof (1)

Why Would You Intentionally Bring Cold Winter Air Into A Home?

Especially when it is -15 degrees F. outside?
This is a discussion that almost always comes up with home buyers, either on a detailed viewing of a home or during a home inspection.

Systems that bring in this air are typcially called make-up-air systems or outside combustion air systems.

And they are a building code requirement on newer homes.

And as I write this the make-up-air system in my home is pulling in lots of frigid outside air to my furnace room.

And this is the way it should be.
The steel triangular device here is a vent bringing in outside air. (Yes, that is ~15 inches of snow on the ground.)

2014, The Year Thermal Imaging Hits The Mainstream With Inspections

This is going to be a milestone year for a technology that can add useful information during a home inspection.Thermal imaging is not new. My father worked with airplane mounted thermal imaging systems when he was in the aerospace industry back in the 1960’s. (And they cost over $100,000.) I used them for analysis of circuit design in the 1980’s when I was an electrical engineer. (And they cost over $10,000.) This year they will be available for under $400. All they need is to attach to your smartphone. FLIR, a company that has a large market share for the current thermal imaging cameras, is introducing their FLIR ONE. It attaches to a smart phone and will give users a new way to look at the world.

FLIR
Here is a like to more information: http://www.flir.com/flirone/

FLIR (1)

The concern is that reading and interpreting thermal images is not a task for amateurs. I participate on a number of home inspector type forums and there is constant debate about the use of thermal imaging in residential inspections and problems with liability and mis-interpretation. I personally had an energy audit done this last year and the auditor used a thermal imaging camera and even he wasn’t always sure what he was seeing.

This could get interesting!

Jon Boyd Broker/Manager
The Home Buyer’s Agent of Ann Arbor, Inc
1905 Pauline Blvd. Suite 1 
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
We serve the Ann Arbor – Brighton – Plymouth – Novi – Canton – Ypsilanti – Saline – Chelsea – Dexter – Novi – Northville areas in Southeastern Michigan.

LED Bulbs. Not Always Reliable. In Fact, Some Aren’t Even Safe!

A lot of people are promoting LED bulbs these days. I have been evaluating LED bulbs for a couple years now and I do think they have reached the point where they are worth considering for many applications in the home.

However, as I’ve looked closer at some of my LED bulbs I have two concerns:

1. Many of my LED lights have had much shorter life than claimed.

2. After taking some of the failed lights apart I no longer consider some of the designs safe. (I’m removing some from my home.)

Shorter Life:

Here is the background from an engineering prospective:

An individual LED may have a 50,000 hour design life, but in practice that LED is usually combined with 20 to 50 other LEDs and a circuit with a dozen other components. Even if one LED is reliable, when it is combined with a bunch of other components, the system, (the bulb in this case) is much less reliable than the individual parts. In addition if the design isn’t done well to start with the components may be used outside of their design parameters which will often dramatically lower their actual life time before failure.

I think that is the case with some of the LED failures I’ve seen on “generic” LED bulbs purchased over the internet. Some of these bulbs have lasted less than two years in moderate use, some have even failed in the first few days.

Two of the LED bulbs I purchased at Costco failed early also. I notice Costco stopped carrying that type shortly after my purchase so I’m thinking I wasn’t the only one with a negative experience.

Safety:

The term “safety” is a bit subjective, as anyone who deals with home inspections knows. In this case my reference for safety comes from electronics design work I did some 30 years ago relating to the safety standards of Underwriters Laboratories.

Fundamentally, a design needs to keep potentially lethal voltages away from human contact. Voltages greater than 48V are considered lethal. To keep that safety separation you need a casing, or small vent holes, or some distance designed into the product, or an isolation transformer or some combination of these.

The circuitry in a lot of these inexpensive LEDs does not have an isolation transformer or any of the other safety methods. And if there is no cover on the LEDs there is voltage exposed on the front of the bulb.

Here is an example from one of the failed and unsafe bulbs:
LEDBulbOpened (1)

Here is an example from one of the failed and unsafe bulbs:
The bulb circuit is just a high voltage AC capacitor, two resistors, a bridge rectifier and the LEDs in a series-parallel string. If I touch one of the exposed LEDs on the front of the bulb when it is on I would feel a poke. I consider this quite unsafe.

I notice on one of the newer replacement bulbs I purchase there is a lens to provide a level of isolation from the dangerous voltages. You can see this on the bulb on the right:
BothLEDBulbs (1)

BothLEDBulbs

If you touch the bulb on the left where the pen is pointing while it is on you will likely get a shock. The bulb on the right looks reasonably safe because the lense keeps you from being able to touch any components.

Finally, on some of the larger bulbs available now there is actually an isolation transformer as well as a protective case. These look to be much safer and even include an approval stamp from Underwriters Laboratories. The large bulb in the middle is an example of these. I am comfortable with these products and you can even see the safety certifications in fine print at the base of the bulb:
LEDBulbs (1)

For additional information on LED bulbs in practice check the post at http://actvra.in/49Dq from home inspector Reuben Saltzman.

Adding Multi-Fuel Options To Your Back-Up Generator

In the last ten years or so our office has purchase a lot of homes with some form back-up power.

In one case a home near Maple and Wagner had a priority circuit system that was replace with a whole house system.

At an inspection yesterday we saw a dangerous non-interlocked system.

We’ve seen all kinds, big, small, safe, unsafe, automatic switchover,  manual switchover, gas powered, propane powered, and natural gas powered.

But every one of them was set up for a single type of fuel.

This has always been a concern of mine because none of the back-up fuels is perfect and in an emergency any particular type of fuel might be in short supply.

Fortunately there is an option that allows most generators to be adapted to multiple fuels. A company called US Carburetion  produces kits that will allow a generator to use multiple types of fuel. They have produced products like this for a long time.

Their current line is called the “Motor Snorkel” and here is a video of the installation process on a medium sized portable generator:

 

Multi-Fuel Options For Your Back-Up Generator

In the last ten years our office has purchase a lot of homes with some form back-up power.

In one case a home near Maple and Wagner had a priority circuit system that was replace with a whole house system.

At an inspection yesterday we saw a dangerous non-interlocked system.

We’ve seen all kinds, big, small, safe, unsafe, automatic switchover,  manual switchover, gas powered, propane powered, and natural gas powered.

But every one of them was set up for a single type of fuel.

This has always been a concern of mine because none of the back-up fuels is perfect and in an emergency any particular type of fuel might be in short supply.

Fortunately there is an option that allows most generators to be adapted to multiple fuels. A company called US Carboration produces kits that will allow a generator to use multiple types of fuel. They have produced products like this for a long time.

Their current line is called the “Motor Snorkel” and here is a video of the installation process on a medium sized portable generator:

Multi-Fuel add-on for generator

If you have experience with one of these installations please share your thoughts in a comment below!

2 Incredibly Useful Moving Tips For Buyers or Sellers

Moving is usually a challenging and time consuming effort. These two tips will probably help anyone moving a home or office save time, stress, and money.

In our many years of helping home buyers we’ve found two things that most movers need to make a transition from one home to another. These things usually are just needed for a few days to a few months. They are moving boxes and extra storage space. This article will let you in on some of the very best options for both of those two items.

In our many years of helping home buyers we’ve found two things that most movers need to make a transition from one home to another. These things usually are just needed for a few days to a few months. They are moving boxes and extra storage space. This article will let you in on some of the very best options for both of those two items.

1. Boxes

Moving boxes always seem to be in short supply. Even if you are having professional movers pack your belongings you may still want to pack some things yourself. A basic small 12X12X16 moving box can cost as much as $6.00 if you buy it at a office supply store. Larger boxes can cost a lot more.

What you probably don’t know is that Home Depot has amazing prices on moving boxes. I assume that they made a strategic decision to price moving boxes about at their cost to bring in new business.

Home Depot’s small box is just 67 cents! Their large 18X18X24 box is just $1.37. They also have a medium sized box that is priced under a dollar.

These boxes are priced less than used boxes in most areas.

After you are done with the boxes you can advertise them on Craigslist and people will be happy to take them off your hands. Since the market price for boxes is so much higher than what Home Depot sells these for you could probably sell these boxes used and almost break even.

2. Short Term Storage Space

During a move there are often times when you can’t quite filter through everything you have in a time frame to match when you need to move. You can often benefit from moving some storage type items into somewhere other than your destination. Here is the trick: You can often get the first month at low cost or even free when you lease a storage building and most leases are month-to-month!

As an example when we moved our office recently we needed some extra space for desks, files and such for about 6 weeks while we made the transition. I spoke to five storage building locations that offered the first month free on a month-to-month lease. I ended up choosing the location nearest our office who actually offered a 600 square foot space with the first two months free. I did take the insurance policy they offered but even so we ended up paying less than $30 to use that space for almost two months. It worked out very well.
We’ve found these two tips very useful in the moves we’ve been involved with recently and we make an effort to share them with our buyer clients. I hope you find them useful and share them with others also!

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