Category : Seasonal

What happens when a home owner removes the filters in their furnace

We sometimes talk about homes that have suffered from abuse from their owners. A friend of mine ran across this example in a home he bought recently. The furnace had been run for years without a filter. Here is what he saw when he opened it up and looked at the air conditioning coils:

Homes that have been “abused”

We sometimes talk about homes that have suffered from abuse from their owners. A friend of mine ran across this example in a home he bought recently. The furnace had been run for years without a filter.

Here is what he saw when he opened it up and looked at the air conditioning coils:


Here is what it should look like:


You can imagine how this impacted the unit’s efficiency for both heating and cooling.

This is something that I think any buyer agent should understand and be able to talk about. This isn’t highly technical and it certainly isn’t a buyer’s agent’s job to open up a furnace, but, a buyer agent should understand this. Many real estate agents call themselves buyer’s agents but don’t know much about houses. This is unfortunate. Our people understand homes and we are willing to tell you what we see. Remember if you want an unconflicted, true buyer agent to help you with your home buying, call us.

A Delightful Meeting with a Window Replacement Contractor

It is funny what you learn and when you learn it in the real estate business. As an exclusive buyer agent I’ve been been in thousands of homes with new or updated windows. In fact window discussions are very common for us because it does have a significant impact on the quality of living in a home. I know a lot about windows. But I learned a bit more today.

As it turns out my wife and I are looking at doing some remodelling and we met a window contractor at our house today. I’ve worked with a lot of contractors over the years and probably met with a dozen or so just in the last month for one thing or another.

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Connie Moore of Wallside Windows. Wallside was referrred to us by one of my past home buyer clients who had them do some work ten years ago.

Now understand that these are not luxury windows. I love the Pella product with the built-in blinds. I like a lot of the premium windows that I see when I show homes. These are not premium windows. Wallside focuses on vinyl replacement windows. These are basic, energy efficient, windows which are guaranteed for 35 years. (And the company is actually old enough that the guarantee means something.)

We’ve Signed a Contract With a Michigan Solar Panel Installer

This is from a press release last month:

Select Solar And Generator, a Michigan solar panel installer, has signed a contract to design, install, and commission a solar roof for Jon Boyd, a local home buyer’s broker and nationally recognized home buying expert. The installation will have the ability to provide virtually all the electric power needed for Boyd’s 1966 country ranch home.

“This seems like a great match.” said Mike Cooley, Michigan area solar installer for Select Solar And Generator. “Boyd has an electrical engineering degree and has played with solar cells since he was a young child. That, combined with his knowledge of home financing, home construction, and the amazing value with the utility and tax credits, and it is no wonder he is excited.”

The Ann Arbor home is served by DTE Energy and a significant portion of the solar photovoltaic system installation costs will be covered by DTE’s SolarCurrents program.

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.)

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.


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)


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 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: