The Tiny House Movement

 by Nick Gromicko

A growing number of homeowners in the U.S. are downsizing to homes smaller than 1,000 square feet, and, in some cases, smaller than 100 square feet. This transition to smaller homes, known as the Small House Movement, is adhered to by people who believe American houses in general are too large, wasteful and energy-inefficient.Small houses are becoming more common

While home sizes ballooned from the 1950s into the early 2000s, data suggests that this trend is slowing, or even reversing. A 2008 survey shows that more than 60% of potential home buyers would rather have a smaller house with more amenities than the other way around. Similarly, according to the National Association of Home Builders, 59% of builders nationwide said they were planning to or were already significantly downscaling from the “McMansion” era.

The disadvantages of downsizing are obvious:  you may have to get rid a lot of furniture, the new house is less prestigious, and you lose space for guests. Neighbors, too, might view your small home as a threat to their property values. But living small is nothing new.  After World War II, 1,000-square-foot homes were the norm for returning soldiers and their families.

Gayle Butler, editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens, describes the Small House Movement as “right-sizing,” rather than downsizing, as homeowners forgo unused space and buy homes that better fit their needs. Dee Williams, of Olympia, Washington, sold her 1,500-square-foot home and moved into an 84-square-foot home that she built herself. When the electric company began charging more for electricity, her bill doubled from $4 to $8, an increase that probably would have been more dramatic in her previous home.

Adherents to the Small House Movement enjoy the following perks of their transition:

  • increased cash flow. Smaller homes require a smaller mortgage, lower property taxes, and decreased homeowner’s insurance, maintenance costs, and the expense required to furnish the home. Owners might even be able to purchase a smaller house in cash using the proceeds from their existing home. And with the extra money, they can afford improved insulation, higher-quality windows and flooring, and luxuries such as solar roof panels and skylights;
  • less maintenance. Fewer rooms and smaller spaces cut down on the time needed to clean and maintain, leaving more hours in the day for more enjoyable activities;
  • lower utility bills. It costs a lot less to heat and cool a small home than a large home. Typically, there is no wasted space in vaults in a small home;
  • reduced consumption. If there is little space to store items, homeowners are much less likely to buy new things. Fewer rooms and windows mean less money spent on TVs and curtains, for instance;
  • more time with family. Less space means that more room must be shared, which encourages group activities and dinners.

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While the benefits of the Small House Movement are clear, the transition isn’t easy for everyone, especially for those who have become accustomed to large houses. The following tips can help homeowners make do with less space:
  • Use items for more than one purpose. For example, you can use a trunk as a coffee table, placing in it items such as shoes, files, and extra sheets to save closet space.
  • Eliminate or cut down on extra silverware, pots, pans and dishes if the kids have moved out.
  • Use rooms for more than one purpose. You may be able to squeeze a small computer desk into the corner of a bedroom, and a rarely-used dining room can double as a library.
  • Purchase a stackable washer/dryer unit to save space.
In summary, median house sizes have begun to decline, spurred on by adherents to the Small House Movement.

Holiday Home Safety Tips

The winter holidays are a time for celebration, and that means more cooking, home decorating, entertaining, and an increased risk of fire and accidents. InterNACHI recommends that you follow these guidelines to help make your holiday season safer and more enjoyable.

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Holiday Lighting
  • Use caution with holiday decorations and, whenever possible, choose those made with flame-resistant, flame-retardant and non-combustible materials.
  • Keep candles away from decorations and other combustible materials, and do not use candles to decorate Christmas trees.
  • Carefully inspect new and previously used light strings, and replace damaged items before plugging lights in. If you have any questions about electrical safety, ask an InterNACHI inspector during your next scheduled inspection. Do not overload extension cords.
  • Don’t mount lights in any way that can damage the cord’s wire insulation.  To hold lights in place, string them through hooks or insulated staples–don’t use nails or tacks. Never pull or tug lights to remove them.
  • Keep children and pets away from light strings and electrical decorations.
  • 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.
  • Make sure all the bulbs work and that there are no frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections.
  • Plug all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with ground-fault circuit interrupters to avoid potential shocks.
  • Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.
Decorations
  • Use only non-combustible and flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel and artificial icicles of plastic and non-leaded metals.
  • 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 and breakable, and keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children.
  • Avoid trimmings that resemble candy and food that may tempt a young child to put them in his mouth.
 
Holiday Entertaining
  • Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S.  When cooking for holiday visitors, remember to keep an eye on the range.
  • Provide plenty of large, deep ashtrays, and check them frequently. Cigarette butts can smolder in the trash and cause a fire, so completely douse cigarette butts with water before discarding.
  • Keep matches and lighters up high, out of sight and reach of children (preferably in a locked cabinet).
  • Test your smoke alarms, and let guests know what your fire escape plan is.

Trees
  • When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label “fire-resistant.”
  • When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches, and when bent between your fingers, needles do not break.
  • When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces, radiators and portable heaters. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.
  • Cut a few inches off the trunk of your tree to expose the fresh wood. This allows for better water absorption and will help to keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard.
  • Be sure to keep the stand filled with water, because heated rooms can dry live trees out rapidly.
  • Make sure the base is steady so the tree won’t tip over easily.
   

Fireplaces
  • Before lighting any fire, remove all greens, boughs, papers and other decorations from fireplace area. Check to see that the flue is open.
  • Use care with “fire salts,” which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten.
  • Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

Toys and Ornaments
  • Purchase appropriate toys for the appropriate age. Some toys designed for older children might be dangerous for younger children.
  • Electric toys should be UL/FM approved.
  • Toys with sharp points, sharp edges, strings, cords, and parts small enough to be swallowed should not be given to small children.
  • Place older ornaments and decorations that might be painted with lead paint out of the reach of small children and pets.
Children and Pets 
  • Poinsettias are known to be poisonous to humans and animals, so keep them well out of reach, or avoid having them.
  • Keep decorations at least 6 inches above the child’s reach.
  • Avoid using tinsel. It can fall on the floor and a curious child or pet may eat it. This can cause anything from mild distress to death.
  • Keep any ribbons on gifts and tree ornaments shorter than 7 inches. A child could wrap a longer strand of ribbon around their neck and choke.
  • Avoid mittens with strings for children. The string can get tangled around the child’s neck and cause them to choke. It is easier to replace a mitten than a child.
  • Watch children and pets around space heaters or the fireplace. Do not leave a child or pet unattended.
  • Store scissors and any sharp objects that you use to wrap presents out of your child’s reach.
  • Inspect wrapped gifts for small decorations, such as candy canes, gingerbread men, and mistletoe berries, all of which are choking hazards.
 Pet-Safety-Tips
Security
  • Use your home burglar alarm system.
  • If you plan to travel for the holidays, don’t discuss your plans with strangers.
  • Have a trusted friend or neighbor to keep an eye on your home.

Three Deadly Mistakes Every Home Buyer Should Avoid

Can You Guess What They Are?
Deadly Mistake #1: Thinking you can’t afford it.

Many people who thought that buying the home they wanted was simply out of their reach are now enjoying a new lifestyle in their very own homes.

Buying a home is the smartest financial decision you will ever make.  In fact, most homeowners would be broke at retirement if it wasn’t for one saving grace — the equity in their homes.  Furthermore, tax allowances favor home ownership.

Real estate values have always risen steadily.  Of course, there are peaks and valleys, but the long-term trend is a consistent increase.  This means that every month when you make a mortgage payment, the amount that you owe on the home goes down and the value typically increases.  This “owe less, worth more” situation is called equity build-up and is the reason you can’t afford not to buy.

Even if you have little money for a down payment or credit problems, chances are that you can still buy that new home.  It just comes down to knowing the right strategies, and working with the right people.  See below.

Deadly Mistake #2: Not hiring a buyer’s agent to represent you.

Buying property is a complex and stressful task.  In fact, it is often the biggest, single investment you will make in your lifetime.  At the same time, real estate transactions have become increasingly complicated.  New technology, laws, procedures, and competition from other buyers require buyer agents to perform at an ever-increasing level of competence and professionalism.  In addition, making the wrong decisions can end up costing you thousands of dollars.  It doesn’t have to be this way!

Work with a buyer’s agent who has a keen understanding of the real estate business and the local market.  A buyer’s agent has a fiduciary duty to you.  That means that he or she is loyal only to you and is obligated to look out for your best interests.  A buyer’s agent can help you find the best home, the best lender, and the best home inspector in your area.  That inspector should be an InterNACHI-certified home inspector because InterNACHI inspectors are the most qualified and  best-trained inspectors in the world.

Trying to buy a home without an agent or a qualified inspector is, well… unthinkable.

Deadly Mistake #3: Getting a cheap inspection.

Buying a home is probably the most expensive purchase you will ever make.  This is no time to shop for a cheap inspection.  The cost of a home inspection is small relative to the value of the home being inspected.  The additional cost of hiring a certified inspector is almost insignificant by comparison.

As a home buyer, you have recently been crunching the numbers, negotiating offers,

download (3)adding up closing costs, shopping for mortgages, and trying to get the best deals.  Don’t stop now!  Don’t let your real estate agent, a “patty-cake” inspector, or anyone else talk you into skimping here.

InterNACHI front-ends its membership requirements.  InterNACHI turns down more than half the inspectors who want to join because they can’t fulfill the membership requirements.

InterNACHI-certified inspectors perform the best inspections, by far.  InterNACHI-certified inspectors earn their fees many times over.  They do more, they deserve more and — yes — they generally charge a little more.  Do yourself a favor…and pay a little more for the quality inspection you deserve.

Its a Twister!!! Tornado Safety: Myth vs Fact

Tornadoes, also known as twisters or cyclones, are whirling columns of air that form with little warning and carve unpredictable paths of destruction through communities worldwide. America’s “Tornado Alley” – roughly the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains – where tornadoes kill dozens and cause billions of dollars in damage annually, sustains the majority of these storms. The extreme danger posed by tornadoes to families and their homes justifies the need for InterNACHI inspectors and their clients to learn some basic tips concerning tornado behavior, preparedness, and
post-storm damage inspection.
What Causes Tornadoes?

Tornadoes form from giant storms called supercells, which are fast rotating updrafts created when colder polar air meets warmer tropical air. Changing wind speeds and direction can cause rising air to rotate vertically, creating within the larger supercell what is known as a mesocyclone. For reasons not yet understood, columns of strong rotating air can develop within the mesocyclone, eventually extending from the cloud base to the ground in the form of a tornado. Their size, shape and color vary greatly, from transparent, narrow funnels several hundred feet across to dark wedges wider than they are tall.

Tornadoes damage small areas and thus cause less damage nationwide than hurricanes and tropical storms, but for those caught in their path, tornadoes can wreak havoc unmatched by any other weather phenomenon. Most tornadoes have wind speeds of less than 110 miles per hour and dissipate after several miles, but larger storms can exceed 300 miles per hour and devastate communities hundreds of miles apart.

Facts and Figures

  • Of the 50 states, Florida experiences the most tornadoes per unit area, while Oklahoma is hit by the strongest tornadoes per unit area. Bangaldesh, due to its poor building construction and general lack of tornado awareness, has the highest annual tornado death toll of any country.
  • Tornadoes in the northern hemisphere generally rotate in a counterclockwise direction, while the opposite is true in the southern hemisphere.
  • Supercells spawn land tornadoes.  Dust devils and gustnadoes appear similar to tornadoes but they are distinct and far less dangerous phenomena.
  • A waterspout is a relatively weak tornado that forms over water as a result of cumulus congestus clouds.
  • Tornadoes are intense and can be long-lived. Consider the following extremes:
    • The Bridge Creek-Moore tornado that happened just outside Oklahoma City in 1999 had winds of 301 mph, the highest wind speed ever recorded.
    • The Great Bend tornado in Kansas that occurred in 1915 hurled a sack of flour 110 miles and a cancelled check 305 miles.
    • In 1925, the nicknamed Tri-State Tornado that affected Missouri, Illinois and Indiana holds three records for traveling 219 miles at 73 mph and killing 295 people.

Classifications

Tornado strength is categorized by the following Enhanced Fujita Scale, whereby the storm receives an “F” rating from 0 to 5 based on the severity of the inflicted damage:This photo shows the aftermath of an EF0 storm, the classification for the weakest tornado.

  • EF0:  The weakest type of tornado can cause superficial damage to structures and vegetation.
  • EF1:  This rated tornado can cause major roof damage, with mobile homes seriously damaged.
  • EF2:  This stronger tornado may result in roof loss and wall collapse, with mobile homes destroyed and smaller trees uprooted.
  • EF3:  This is the maximum level that allows for reasonably effective residential sheltering in a first-floor interior room. Small cars can become projectiles and large trees can be snapped.
  • EF4:  At this level, most homes are completely destroyed, leaving a pile of debris on the foundation. A storm shelter is required to ensure safety. Trains and large trucks can be pushed over, and cars and large trees can be flung long distances.
  • EF5:  As the result of this strongest and most dangerous tornado, well-built homes can be lifted from their foundations and shredded in mid-air, then dispersed as coarse gAn E5 tornado leveled this home to its foundation.ranules over large areas. Large trucks and farm equipment can be smashed into their components parts, skyscrapers may actually be deformed, and entire communities may be leveled. At a rate of occurrence of just 0.1%, EF5 tornadoes are extremely rare, yet they have caused more than 20% of all tornado casualties.

While no two tornadoes are alike, the anatomy of a tornado’s attack on a house is as systematic as it is fierce and is defined as “a progressive failure [that] begins top-down, then outside-in,” according to Timothy Marshall, a tornado expert who writes for Popular Mechanics. Within the first second, pummeling debris tears away a structure’s roof shingles and decking, while wind shatters and rushes through windows and raises the internal pressure. The upward force of the wind on the underside of the already weakened roof, combined with the uplift forces above the roof caused by the high wind, quickly overcome the relatively weak connections between the roof and the walls. The roof tears away from the house, leaving the exterior walls unsupported. In another second, the exterior walls blow out – first, the side walls parallel to the straight-line winds, followed by the windward wall, and finally the back wall – leaving the interior walls unprotected against the maelstrom. An EF4 tornado needs only four seconds to wipe a foundation clean.

Myth vs. Fact

Knowing what not to do can be just as essential as taking the proper safety precautions. Misconceptions concerning tornadoes persist in the media, which may lead to avoidable damage and even unnecessary injuries and deaths.

InterNACHI would like to dispel the following tornado myths that may harm building occupants:

  • MYTH:  Open windows to equalize the barometric pressure between the interior and the exterior pressure caused by a nearby tornado, thereby preventing damage to the building.

FACT:  While a pressure imbalance does exist, it is not great enough to cause a building to explode outward, as was once hypothesized. Damage is primarily caused where wind breaches the building from the outside, which is why windows and other openings should remain closed. Moreover, openings on the windward side of a building actually increase internal wind pressure, resulting in additional uplift force on the roof.

  • MYTH:  The safest location in a house is its southwest corner.

FACT:  This notion originated in the 1887 text Tornadoes, from which it became conventional wisdom until a 1966 study indicated that the southwest corner is actually the most dangerous place to be during a tornado. The safest part of a structure during a tornado is the lowest central room, especially a bathroom or the area beneath a stairwell.

  • MYTH:  Tornadoes always travel in a northeasterly direction.

FACT:  While in most areas, tornadoes tend to follow their parent storms to the northeast, they may stop, change direction, or suddenly backtrack, seemingly at random. Local geography plays a part, too, such as in Minnesota, where tornadoes sometimes travel northwest, andA conventional home may withstand the effects of an EF2 tornado, but it destroyed this mobile home. in coastal south Texas, where they sometimes travel southeast.

  • MYTH:  Tornadoes are “attracted to” mobile homes.

FACT:  The inordinate severity of damage inflicted on trailer parks, compared to conventional homes, can be attributed to the weakness of the building materials commonly used in mobile homes, their lack of foundations, and their small size.

  • MYTH:  Large auditoriums are safer during tornadoes than houses.

FACT:  Many studies have concluded that large-span structures, such as auditoriums and gymnasiums, are vulnerable to high winds because of their high surface area. As such, these buildings should be avoided.

  • MYTH:  Tornadoes do not strike cities.

FACT:  This myth is based on the comparatively small area occupied by downtown areas, which make them uncommon targets for tornadoes. Also, the urban heat-island effect may discourage the formation of weaker tornadoes. Significant tornadoes are unaffected by turbulent warm air, however, and EF4 and EF5 tornadoes have struck Atlanta, Georgia, Lubbock, Texas and even London, England.

  • MYTH:  Mountains, lakes and rivers are significant barriers against tornadoes.

FACT:  Tornadoes have formed over rivers and lakes, and more than a dozen have crossed over the Mississippi River. Twisters have been observed as high as 12,000 feet (3,700 meters) above sea level and ascend 3,000-foot (910 meter) ridges without slowing down.

Damage to Homes

While much tornado destruction is obvious, some of the damage is only apparent upon closer inspection. Even an insurance adjuster can miss critical structural and safety defects that may cost the homeowner a fortune to repair.  According to CNN, a jury found that a major insurer acted “recklessly and with malice” while handling insurance claims resulting from the 1999 Oklahoma tornado, which posed serious safety defects to the building’s occupants. An unbiased and comprehensive assessment of the damage inflicted on a home by a tornado can be obtained by hiring an InterNACHI inspector. Read InterNACHI’s article on Emergency Preparedness to find out what to do after an emergency

Specifically, the following elements should be inspected for damage:

  • gas leaks. Uprooted trees may have damaged underground gas pipes, which can lead to deadly fires;
  • electrical damage. Electrical equipment should be dried and checked before being returned to service. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call a utility repairperson or an electrician first for advice;
  • plumbing. Tornadoes can easily shake and rattle a home, causing plumbing lines to twist and crack. Following the storm, homeowners can check their plumbing by turning on all plumbing fixtures, checking cabinets for signs of water damage, and checking ceilings from below for staining. Avoid using toilets if sewage lines have been damaged;
  • roof and siding. Cracking, tears and gouges caused to the roof and siding by flying debris will eventually allow for the entry of rainwater and snowmelt. Gable roofs are especially vulnerable to damage from the high wind generated by tornadoes. For additional support, attach wall studs to roof rafters using hurricane clips, not nails;
  • chimney damage. Chimney damage may slow or stop the ventilation of carbon monoxide (CO) – a poisonous, colorless, odorless and tasteless gas – allowing it to accumulate in the living area. Inspect the chimney closely for damage in a tornado-damaged house. For more information, read InterNACHI’s article on chimney inspection;
  • windows and gutters. Flying debris can smash windows, damage windowpanes and shutters, rip screens, and dent or tear away gutters;
  • foundation. Strong winds can cause foundations to uplift. Check the perimeter of crawlspaces for any changes and inspect masonry for signs of separation or cracking;
  • interior. Inspect for stress cracks in the corners where walls and ceilings meet, and especially the areas above windows and doors. Use a level to check for cupping of the floor and bowing of the walls. Water stains and mold on interior walls may appear some time after the tornado, indicating overlooked damage to the roof that has permitted moisture intrusion; and
  • garage doors. Due to their large surface area, garage doors can be damaged or blown in before other parts of the house are damaged. The wind may then damage the interior and accelerate the home’s collapse. Garage door system technicians can be hired to install horizontal bracing, impact-resistant coverings, and strengthen weak hinges and glider wheel tracks. Old or damaged doors should be replaced.

Tips for Clients

If a tornado is in your area, immediately take shelter indoors, preferably in a basement or first-floor room, closet, hallway, or the void beneath a stairwell. Bathrooms are generally safe, as plumbing fixtures strengthen the walls and anchor them to the ground, and bathtubs can protect against flying debris. Crouch face down beneath a heavy table or workbench, and cover your head with your hands to protect against falling debris.  Do not leave the building until the storm has passed. If possible, cover yourself with some sort of thick padding, such as blankets or a mattress.

Also, avoid the following areas:

  • rooms with many windows. Before any other part of the house fails, windows typically shatter and allow the entry of dangerous projectiles, such as broken masonry and gravel, in addition to glass shards from the window itself;
  • rooms with exterior walls. Exterior walls will fail before interior walls, which often survive intact;
  • under heavy objects that are located on the floor above. A piano or refrigerator may fall through a weakened floor and crush anything below; and
  • mobile homes. Only 10% of Americans live in mobile homes but nearly half of all tornado fatalities happen in them. Mobile homes that are not tied down can be flipped in 60- to 70-mph winds, and even small tornadoes can cause them to completely disintegrate, leaving occupants unprotected. Leave a mobile home immediately and seek shelter elsewhere. If none can be found, lie flat in the nearest ditch with your hands shielding your head.

InterNACHI Inspectors may pass on the following tips to their clients:

  • Watch for atmospheric conditions that accompany tornadoes, such as a dark, greenish sky, large hailstones, a cloud of debris, a roaring noise, or a lowering, spinning storm cloud.
  • Monitor the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on the radio or TV and listen for tornado advisories. A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for a tornado to form, while a tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted or detected on radar.
  • If a tornado is approaching, shut off the water either at the main meter or at the water main that leads into the home.
  • Before a storm, shut off the electricity, as sparks from electrical switches could ignite gas and cause an explosion.
  • Keep all hazardous materials, such as poisons and chemical solvents, stored in a secure area away from emergency food and water supplies.
  • Arrange furniture so that chairs and beds are away from windows, mirrors and picture frames.
  • Secure top-heavy, freestanding furniture, such as bookcases and China cabinets, with L-brackets, corner brackets, eyebolts, flexible cable or braided wire, and place heavy items on the bottom shelves.  This is an advisable safety precaution in general for families with small children and those who reside in earthquake-prone regions.
  • Keep a disaster supply kit on hand. It should include a first-aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, essential medicines, a battery-operated radio, emergency food and water, and a hand-held can opener.
  • Install a safe room or storm shelter in or near the house. Read more about these in InterNACHI’s article on Safe Rooms.
  • Following a storm, do not use matches, lighters or appliances or operate light switches until you are sure there are no gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a hissing noise, open a window and leave the building as quickly as possible. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. Wait for a professional to turn the gas back on.
  • Read InterNACHI’s article on Emergency Preparedness to find out what to do before and after an emergency.
In summary, tornadoes are devastating and unpredictable, but a little knowledge concerning their basic behavior can save lives.  InterNACHI inspectors and their clients can benefit by being aware and prepared in order to protect both their families and their properties.

Emergency Preparedness

by Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko
Whether you’re facing rising floodwaters or a wildfire that’s too close for comfort, many homeowners confront seasonal threats to their safety that force them to flee their properties, at least temporarily.  In the last three years alone, damage created by severe weather and natural disasters in the U.S. has reached the tens of billions of dollars, as well as caused hundreds of deaths.
In the fall of 2010, Boulder County, Colorado, experienced its worst wildfire in history with the Fourmile Canyon fire, which incinerated 135 homes in just three days after forcing 3,500 people to evacuate.  In the spring of 2011, a record 165 tornadoes were recorded in a 24-hour period in the South, killing more than 300 people across six states.  In April and May, the Mississippi River breached its banks in areas across six states that are home to many battles and graves of the Civil War, reaching levels not seen in 84 years, and causing both uncontrolled and controlled flooding in regions of the Gulf Coast that are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  And in September 2013, the city of Boulder and the Northern Front Range of Colorado experienced record rainfall in a three-day period that resulted in catastrophic flooding, leading to deaths and the destruction of homes and even entire towns, as well as long-term damage to road, bridge and building infrastructure costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
Here are some tips everyone can use to make a strategic retreat, as well as ways that InterNACHI inspectors can help their clients both prepare for an emergency and assess any property damage upon their return home.
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Evacuating in the event of an emergency is often difficult under the best of circumstances.  Sometimes we may receive ample warning to prepare, but many dangers are unpredictable.  Given the emotional stress and panic that can compromise decision-making abilities in the moment, an important aspect to consider is whether the emergency is localized or widespread.  An emergency such as a ruptured gas pipe, a chemical spill from a nearby truck or train accident, or a home fire suggests that help is just beyond the immediate zone of danger and the evacuation will be temporary, from just a few hours to one or two nights.  All families should devise a Family Evacuation Plan that includes a location outside the home where family members can meet.  But a larger disaster, such as the aforementioned flood or wildfire, or an earthquake, hurricane or tornado tends to affect a wider area and may compromise or fully disable public utilities, including communications, electricity, water and sewer.  Roads within the danger zone may be blocked or difficult to travel, and emergency personnel may encounter problems reaching those who need assistance.
Regardless of the type of disaster, there are many things you can do to mitigate potential property damage and make for a secure departure, should the time come, especially given some warning to evacuate safely.  And, upon returning home, we’d all like the shock to be minimized as much as possible.

To help homeowners get organized before an emergency, we’ve broken down these common concerns into three categories:

  • personal health and safety;
  • home security; and
  • re-entry.

PERSONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
 
Homeowners should take certain measures to ensure their personal safety when they need to leave their homes for an unknown period of time.  Make sure that you watch or listen to TV or radio for local news and broadcasts by the Emergency Alert System to stay abreast of the latest weather or other conditions, as well as to find out what local emergency management recommends, including the location of public shelters.
Here’s a list of things to pack that will help relieve the last-minute panic of leaving home in a hurry.  This list may vary for each person, but the items are generally based on these priorities:  short-term vs. long-term evacuation, and what you’ll need while you’re away, as well as what you shouldn’t leave behind while you’re gone:
  • an all-purpose, waterproof first aid and emergency kit that includes hand sanitizer, a flashlight, a radio with batteries, and matches;
  • glasses, hearing aids, and prescription medications for all family members;
  • supplies for pets, including carriers, leashes, plastic or collapsible/camping-type water bowls, food and medication;
  • a kit of personal toiletries for each family member that’s ready to grab and go;
  • a change of clothes, including undergarments, footwear and outerwear;
  • sleeping bags and Mylar™ camping blankets;
  • personal paperwork in waterproof pouches, including irreplaceable or hard-to-replace documents, such as:
    • drivers’ licenses and other ID;
    • birth certificates;
    • Social Security cards;
    • passports;
    • insurance policies, and other banking, business and legal cards and documents;
  • contact information for relatives, friends and neighbors, as well as local shelters, including the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which may be directing disaster relief activities in your area;
  • keys;
  • cash and credit cards;
  • firearms;
  • personal electronics, including cell phones and chargers;
  • irreplaceable personal effects, such as albums of photos that haven’t been digitally preserved;
  • enough snacks, including special food items such infant formula, and non-perishables, along with a can opener (if needed), to last until reaching alternative housing and supplies;
  • water.  If the emergency may be extended, FEMA recommends a three-day supply of one gallon per person per day, to be used for both drinking and sanitation;
  • plastic bags, wet wipes, hand sanitizer and other items for personal sanitation and hygiene; and
  • a basic toolkit that includes work gloves, pliers, an adjustable wrench, a hacksaw, and other tools to fix a flat tire, turn off and on household utility shut-off valves, pry open a damaged door, or cut through tree branches that may be blocking a road.

An expanded emergency supply list can include the following items:

  • a gallon of bleach to be used as a disinfectant and to purify drinking water, if necessary.  Adding 16 drops of plain household chlorine bleach to a gallon of water will make the water potable;
  • a gasoline-powered portable generator, along with extra gasoline;
  • a portable fire extinguisher;
  • portable lanterns and flashlights;
  • a camping toilet;
  • tents;
  • a portable cook stove and mess kits;
  • face masks for every family member;
  • plastic sheeting or tarps, duct tape and scissors to create a “shelter in place,” if a more secure shelter cannot be accessed in time.  These can also be used to create a barrier from flying debris if it is not safe to leave and you must take refuge in your home; and
  • other supplies that can aid in daily routines if temporary accommodations are too difficult to reach or overcrowded.

These items can help a family be self-sufficient while temporary accommodations and plans for returning home are sorted out.  With the exception of medications and electronics that are used every day, most of the items can be stored in a central location, such as a coat closet or garage cupboard, or already loaded in your vehicle.

Other Considerations 

For residents with special needs, such as infants, the elderly, and those with mobility issues, an emergency evacuation plan is essential because the time needed to leave is greater, and the list of personal items is often specialized.  For example, a lightweight, collapsible wheelchair may be a more practical option for short-term use for someone who is wheelchair-bound.  A person who relies on oxygen may be able to invest in a portable, back-pack type supply.  Those who wear hearing aids should keep extra batteries in their toiletries kit.
In all cases, emergency personnel and first responders should be notified as soon as possible regarding the location of at-risk and elderly residents whose mobility may be compromised so that they can receive the additional assistance they need to make a safe getaway.

The B-List

If a forced evacuation is predicted to be long-term and residents are afforded extra time to pack more than just the essentials, some homeowners may opt to pack items that have special sentimental or luxury value, such as heirlooms, jewelry, artwork, and other prized possessions.

Like most lists, this “B-list” should be made well in advance, including how such items can be packed into your vehicle while leaving room for occupants and emergency essentials, or even stored off-site at a secure location.

HOME SECURITY

On a regular basis, homeowners should make sure that their property’s drainage is unobstructed, including gutters, downspouts and drainfields.  Tree limbs should be trimmed back so that they don’t break off and damage the roof or become entangled in nearby power lines during a storm.  Shingles and chimneys should be in good repair, with no loose elements that can become dangerous projectiles in high winds.  Homeowners living in wildfire-prone areas should maintain an adequate defensible space around their properties.

In addition to learning about the maintenance of their homes, homeowners should also take inventory of potential hazards within the home that can compromise personal safety, such as light fixtures, windows and shelf units.  Things such as these can become unsteady or damaged and cause serious injury while a family takes shelter indoors during a severe storm or earthquake.

If you’re not familiar with the locations of your shut-off valves and how to operate them, it’s critical for you to schedule an inspection with your InterNACHI inspector who can walk you through these essential steps so that, when the time comes, you can act confidently and quickly.

Shutting Off Utilities

If you have time, prior to shutting off the utilities to your home, turn off all your household appliances and unplug them.  If you do not turn off the electrical service at the panel, your plugged-in appliances will still draw current and create potential hazards in an already unstable situation.

  • Electricity:  The method for disconnecting your electrical service depends on the age of your home and the type of system it has.  Most homes have circuit breakers, but some older homes have fuses.  Locate your main panel and open the door, called the dead front.  For a fuse panel, you should find a knife-switch handle or pullout fuse clearly marked “main.”  For a circuit breaker panel, there should be one switch marked “main,” with directions marked “on” and “off.”  If you have more than one panel, it’s a good idea to turn off the switches or remove the fuses at the sub-panels because current can sometimes bypass the main breaker or fuse.
  • Gas:  Each of your gas-fueled appliances, such as your water heater and stove, should have its own shut-off valve.  The service for your home is located outside at your gas meter.  It may be exposed, it may be in a box underground, or it may be in an above-ground cabinet.  Make sure that you have easy access to it (especially if it is a locking box), and make sure you know which service is yours if you live in multi-family housing.  The shut-off valve itself generally runs parallel to the pipe that extends from the ground to the meter.  Turning this valve 90 degrees in either direction so that the valve is crosswise to the pipe will shut off the gas supply. 
If you suspect a leak, do not ignite any fire source (candle, cigarette, etc.) or turn on or off any electrical switches nearby, including lights, as even a minor spark can cause an explosion.  Make sure that the service is safe to turn back on when you return home.
  • Water:  Each sink, commode and water-supplied appliance has its own shut-off valve.  If you have time and depending on the type of emergency, shutting off the water to these appliances may prevent accidental flooding of the home.  If you find it necessary to shut off the home’s water supply, make sure you know where the valve is located.  Typically, it’s in an area of the home or garage that’s nearest the exterior valve at the meter.  Similar to the gas shut-off valve, those with a blade-type valve are aligned with the pipe when turned on, and turning it a quarter-turn will shut the water off.

Lock Your Doors and Windows

Secure the home’s window and door locks to prevent unwanted entry by intruders during a time of crisis.  This includes all exterior doors and doors leading from an attached garage to the home, as well as yard gates and all outbuildings.  During a tornado, some homes may become overly pressurized unless some windows are left open a crack.  In hurricane-prone regions, windows may need to be boarded up.  Use your judgment and the recommendations of local experts based on the type of emergency.

Other Security Issues

Ranchers and farmers have their own particular concerns because of livestock, as well as additional buildings and equipment to secure.  Likewise, commercial property owners and managers of multi-housing units have their own unique priorities that should be addressed ahead of time with employees and tenants in an emergency evacuation plan.  Fire marshals generally require that the emergency escape route, of specified dimensions for easy visibility, be posted in a common location.  Such signage is typically located near fire pull alarms and fire extinguishers.  All residents and employees should concentrate on safe evacuation and leave security of the property to those charged with such responsibilities.

RE-ENTRY

Being let back onto one’s property after a disaster or emergency can be an emotional time, so it’s important to allow emergency personnel and first responders to do their jobs and to follow their instructions.  Generally, unless you can turn on all of your utilities again, your access may be limited, but it depends on your municipality and the scope of the damage.  You may be instructed to boil your water for a brief period of time while governmental agencies confirm that it’s potable and safe without treatment.

Before you re-enter your property, check the exterior.

Check the exterior.

  • Make sure that there are no downed power lines on or near your property.  If there are, do not attempt to move them yourself; immediately contact utility company personnel or law enforcement.
  • Check for broken tree branches that may impede your access to your property, or which themselves may be in contact with power lines; again, enlist help in such situations to avoid a potentially fatal injury.
  • Make sure the perimeter of your property is secure before allowing pets back onto the property.  Natural disasters can be disorienting for them, and they may try to escape. 
  • Check any damage to windows and exterior doors, as well as the roof, chimney and other penetrations, but do so safely.  You may defer this to your InterNACHI inspector.
  • Check gutters, downspouts and exterior drainage for blockages, and clear them as soon as it’s possible to do so safely.
  • It’s always best to document damage from the ground and contact your InterNACHI inspector who can make a more in-depth and detailed inspection.  Even after you contact your insurance carrier, an unbiased inspection by a trained home inspector may reveal issues that are not immediately apparent, such as hail damage, which requires some expertise to properly identify, especially if the insurance investigator must inspect damage incurred by multiple clients in the aftermath of a widespread emergency.

Check the interior. 

  • Before turning on the water and gas service to the home, check the individual appliances to make sure that they’re undamaged.  Document all damage, and contact utility personnel if you don’t feel safe turning the fuel or water back on yourself.  If there is no apparent damage or telltale smells or sounds (such as hissing) emanating from any appliances, it should be safe to turn on the gas and water at their shut-off valves.  Make the same damage assessment before turning the electricity back on, too.
  • Securely dispose of perishable food items left in the refrigerator during a power outage.  Ensure that stray animals foraging for food can’t access it.  Some food left in the freezer may be salvageable, but always err on the side of caution to avoid serious illness caused by bacteria.
  • Go back through your home to check for structural damage, including broken glass.
  • In the aftermath of a storm or flood, check the basement, crawlspace and attic areas for moisture intrusion, as well as areas at window sills and exterior doors.  Unchecked moisture can lead to mold problems and structural issues down the road.  Have your InterNACHI inspector survey your home with an infrared camera, which can identify areas of moisture intrusion and energy loss that may not be visible to the naked eye.

Check in with neighbors and others.

  • At-risk and elderly neighbors should be accounted for.
  • Notify pet owners or Animal Control if you see disoriented domestic pets searching for their owners or homes.  Also, avoid contact with wildlife that may have been forced from their natural habitat. Report their location to Animal Control.
Those of us untouched by disaster sometimes daydream about what we would grab if we had only moments to spare.  The fact is, there is no bad time to actually make that list and prepare those plans.  Talk with your entire family about what to do in an emergency.  By making practical preparations and involving all family members, chances are that when disaster strikes, you’ll feel less panicked and more in control to guide your family in a safe and orderly evacuation.  They’ll know what to expect, too (as much as possible), and that will lessen their fear, which is especially important for keeping calm and acting quickly.  Schedule a meeting with your InterNACHI inspector to help you devise a checklist to prepare your house in the event of an emergency, and to assess its condition afterward to make sure it’s safe for you to re-occupy.  He or she can also help you get started on an action plan for repairs.  And don’t forget to replenish your emergency supply kits so that you can be prepared the next time, too.
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Nick’s BIG Survival List for Ultimate Self-Sufficiency
There was a time when citizens were encouraged to build bomb shelters in their backyards for nearly unimaginable worst-case scenarios, such as a foreign invasion or nuclear fallout.  While U.S. national security has been reinforced to unprecedented levels, not every contingency can be met by third parties.
The list below represents the items a family will need to be truly self-sufficient if the grid goes down and public services and utilities are disabled for three months or longer.  The list is long and comprehensive, and all the items will take time to assemble.
    • BOOKS
      • Bible (waterproof)
      • Bible (camo)
      • Survival, Evasion and Escape
      • Other survival handbooks, such as the classic Firefox© series
      • Gardening books
      • Baking and cookbooks
      • How to butcher livestock and game manual
      • Cooking with stored food books
      • Homeopathy books
      • Food preservation books
      • First-aid manuals
      • Pens and paper
    • CLOTHING
      • Hats (baseball cap for sun protection, and wool cap/balaclava for warmth)
      • Socks
      • Boots & other footwear
        • Spare laces
      • Work gloves
      • Overalls
      • Coats
      • Rubber boots
      • Rain suit or poncho
      • Clothes pins (for air-drying clothes)
      • Sewing kit
      • Sewing awl
      • Treadle sewing machine
      • Wash tubs
      • Laundry tongs
      • Hand washer/wringer for laundry
      • Diapers
      • Diaper pins
      • Antique iron
    • COMMUNICATION
    • CURRENCY & BARTER
      • Cash
      • Silver
      • Gold
      • Jewelry
      • Wine, beer & spirits
    • DEFENSE & SECURITY
      • Knives
      • Night-vision scope and gear
      • Fully opaque, blackout curtains
      • Earth-tone or camouflage clothing
      • Camouflage face vei
      • Green and brown dye
      • Locks
      • Detection systems
      • Alarms
      • Camera systems
      • Jobsite boxes (Vicki boxes) to cache preparedness goods.
    • ENTERTAINMENT
    • FOOD & COOKING SUPPLIES
      • Energy bars
      • MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat)
      • Canned goods
      • Wheat (hard red)
      • Rice (white rice stores longer than brown, but has fewer nutrients)
      • Dried beans
      • Dried lentils
      • Oatmeal
      • Corn (whole-kernel)
      • Peanut butter
      • Dried fruit
      • Honey (liquid/pure stores the longest)
      • Sugar
      • Canned sardines, tuna, salmon
      • Cooking oil
      • Olive oil
      • Nuts
      • Nut butter
      • Powdered milk
      • Vinegar
      • Salt (large supply)
      • Baking soda
      • Nitrogen-packed food
      • Freeze-dried food
      • Ground coffee
      • Smoker
      • Food bags
      • Fishing gear
        • Fishing nets
        • Fishing lines
        • Sinkers
        • Hooks
      • Bow & arrows
        • Bow strings (spares)
      • Snare wire (stainless)
      • Hunting rifle & shotgun
        • Ammo
        • Gun-cleaning kit
          • Cotton gloves
        • Ear protection
        • Eye protection
        • Rifle scope
      • Boar spear
      • Meat grinder (hand-cranked)
      • Meat saw
      • Skinning knife
      • Gambrel
      • Garden seeds (non-hybrid, open-pollinated)
      • Sprouts
      • Gardening tools
      • Grain grinder (hand-operated)
        • Spare set of coarse burrs for grain grinder
        • Mortar and pestle
      • Aluminum foil
      • Refrigeration:
        • Cooler
      • Food preparation items:
        • Stainless steel bowl
        • Large skillet
        • Large stew pot
        • Mess kits
        • Can opener
        • Knives
        • Cooking utensils
        • Eating utensils
        • Camp stove
        • Dutch oven
        • Coffee pot (French press, reusable filter with holder)
        • Bay leaves
        • Dehydrator
        • Canning supplies
        • Mixing bowl
        • Wire whisk
        • Muffin tin
      • Vitamins
      • Baby food
      • Pet food and bowls
    • FUEL & POWER
      • Propane cylinders
      • Gasoline
      • Diesel
      • Kerosene
      • Storage tanks
      • Siphoning tube
      • Motor oil
      • Generator (tri-fuel)
      • Coal
      • Photovoltaic power system
      • Photovoltaic battery charger
      • Rechargeable batteries
      • Inverter
    • HEAT & WARMTH
      • Wool blankets
      • Bedrolls
      • Pocket lighters
      • Matches (waterproof)
      • Fire steels
      • Fresnel magnifying lens
      • Hexamine fuel tablets
      • Sleeping bags
      • Insulated pads (to sleep on)
      • Firewood (split)
      • Axe
      • Wedge
      • Splitting maul
      • Log splitter (manual)
      • Saw
      • Sawhorse
      • Sterno
      • Woodburner
        • Fire extinguisher
    • HYGIENE
      • Toilet paper
      • Soap (Fels Naptha®)
      • Toothbrush
        • Toothpaste
        • Baking soda
        • Floss
      • Feminine hygiene products
      • Straight razor
      • Bucket toilet
      • Garbage bags
      • Powdered lime
      • Towels
    • IDENTIFICATION & DOCUMENTS
      • Passport
      • Birth certificate
      • Drivers license
      • Insurance policies
      • Deeds
      • Wills
    • LIGHT
      • Flashlight
        • Batteries
      • Candles (beeswax is best)
      • Lantern
        • Lantern oil (clear)
        • Lantern wicks
    • MEDICAL
      • First-aid kit
      • Bandages
      • Gauze
      • Quick clot sponges
      • Rubbing alcohol (pure grain from the liquor store comes in a glass bottle and will last forever)
      • Tincture of iodine
      • Tincture of benzoin
      • Potassium iodate tablets (to prevent thyroid damage from nuclear fallout)
      • Cotton balls
      • EMT shears (stainless steel)
      • Burn treatment kit
      • Oil of cloves
      • Temporary dental filling kit
        • CIMPAT™
        • Tempanol™
        • Cavit™
      • Crutches
      • SAM® splint
      • Disinfectants
      • Witch hazel
      • Hydrocortisone cream
      • Calamine lotion
      • Aloe vera gel
      • Grapefruit seed extract (nutribiotic, liquid)
      • Hot water bottle
    • PERSONAL
      • Spare prescription eyeglasses
      • Sunglasses
      • Birth control
      • Medical prescriptions
      • Sunscreen
      • Bug repellent
    • SHELTER & COMFORT
      • Tent
      • Tent seam tape
      • Plastic sheets
      • Tarp
      • Ground cloth
      • Folding/camp chairs
      • Folding/camp tables
    • TOOLS & SUPPLIES
      • Anvil
      • Duct tape
      • Multi-tool
      • Chainsaw
      • Binoculars
      • Cable ties
      • Tie-downs
      • Come-along
      • Sharpening stone
      • Chain
      • Rope
      • Wire
      • Buckets with turn lids
      • Nails
      • Radiacmeter (hand-held Geiger counter)
      • N95 respirator masks
      • Bolt cutters
      • Other hand-powered tools
      • Shovels
      • Pulley
      • Paracord
      • Large adjustable wrench (to shut off gas and water service)
    • TRANSPORTATION
      • Snowshoes
      • Backpack
      • Compass
      • Jumper cables
      • Local maps
      • Snowmobile
      • ATV
      • Diesel pickup truck
      • Cart
      • Sled
      • Tire chains
      • GPS
      • High-lift jack
      • Transfer pump
    • WATER

10 Easy Ways to Save Money & Energy In Your Home

by Nick Gromicko, Ben Gromicko, and Kenton Shepard
Save Money and Energy Most people don’t know how easy it is to make their homes run on less energy, and here at Hero Home Inspection with InterNACHI’s help, we want to change that.

Drastic reductions in heating, cooling and electricity costs can be accomplished through very simple changes, most of which homeowners can do themselves. Of course, for homeowners who want to take advantage of the most up-to-date knowledge and systems in home energy efficiency, InterNACHI energy auditors can perform in-depth testing to find the best energy solutions for your particular home.

Why make your home more energy efficient? Here are a few good reasons:

  • Federal, state, utility and local jurisdictions’ financial incentives, such as tax breaks, are very advantageous for homeowners in most parts of the U.S.
  • It saves money. It costs less to power a home that has been converted to be more energy-efficient.
  • It increases the comfort level indoors.
  • It reduces our impact on climate change. Many scientists now believe that excessive energy consumption contributes significantly to global warming.
  • It reduces pollution. Conventional power production introduces pollutants that find their way into the air, soil and water supplies.

1. Find better ways to heat and cool your house. 

As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that energy bills can be reduced through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:

  • Install a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can be used in place of air conditioners, which require a large amount of energy.
  • Periodically replace air filters in air conditioners and heaters.
  • Set thermostats to an appropriate temperature. Specifically, they should be turned down at night and when no one is home. In most homes, about 2% of the heating bill will be saved for each degree that the thermostat is lowered for at least eight hours each day. Turning down the thermostat from 75° F to 70° F, for example, saves about 10% on heating costs.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves money by allowing heating and cooling appliances to be automatically turned down during times that no one is home and at night. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and, in some climate zones, can save up to $150 per year in energy costs.
  • Install a wood stove or a pellet stove. These are more efficient sources of heat than furnaces.
  • At night, curtains drawn over windows will better insulate the room.

2. Install a tankless water heater.

Demand-type water heaters (tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don’t produce the standby energy losses associated with traditional storage water heaters, which will save on energy costs. Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. A gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don’t need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.

3. Replace incandescent lights.

Save Money LightbulbThe average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights convert approximately only 10% of the energy they consume into light, while the rest becomes heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), can reduce the energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer further energy savings by reducing the amount of time that lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:

  • CFLs use 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • LEDs last even longer than CFLs and consume less energy.
  • LEDs have no moving parts and, unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.

4. Seal and insulate your home.

Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy-efficient, and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home can improve comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills. An InterNACHI energy auditor can assess  leakage in the building envelope and recommend fixes that will dramatically increase comfort and energy savings.

The following are some common places where leakage may occur:

  • electrical receptacles/outlets;
  • mail slots;
  • around pipes and wires;
  • wall- or window-mounted air conditioners;
  • attic hatches;
  • fireplace dampers;
  • inadequate weatherstripping around doors;
  • baseboards;
  • window frames; and
  • switch plates.

Because hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that save them money on cooling and heating, such as:

  • Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas.
  • Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry.
  • Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foamboard insulation in the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.

5. Install efficient showerheads and toilets.

The following systems can be installed to conserve water usage in homes:

  • low-flow showerheads. They are available in different flow rates, and some have a pause button which shuts off the water while the bather lathers up;
  • low-flow toilets. Toilets consume 30% to 40% of the total water used in homes, making them the biggest water users. Replacing an older 3.5-gallon toilet with a modern, low-flow 1.6-gallon toilet can reduce usage an average of 2 gallons-per-flush (GPF), saving 12,000 gallons of water per year. Low-flow toilets usually have “1.6 GPF” marked on the bowl behind the seat or inside the tank;
  • vacuum-assist toilets. This type of toilet has a vacuum chamber that uses a siphon action to suck air from the trap beneath the bowl, allowing it to quickly fill with water to clear waste. Vacuum-assist toilets are relatively quiet; and
  • dual-flush toilets. Dual-flush toilets have been used in Europe and Australia for years and are now gaining in popularity in the U.S. Dual-flush toilets let you choose between a 1-gallon (or less) flush for liquid waste, and a 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste. Dual-flush 1.6-GPF toilets reduce water consumption by an additional 30%.

6. Use appliances and electronics responsibly.

Appliances and electronics account for about 20% of household energy bills in a typical U.S. home. The following are tips that will reduce the required energy of electronics and appliances:

  • Refrigerators and freezers should not be located near the stove, dishwasher or heat vents, or exposed to direct sunlight. Exposure to warm areas will force them to use more energy to remain cool.
  • Computers should be shut off when not in use. If unattended computers must be left on, their monitors should be shut off. According to some studies, computers account for approximately 3% of all energy consumption in the United States.
  • Use efficient ENERGY STAR-rated appliances and electronics. These devices, approved by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Program, include TVs, home theater systems, DVD players, CD players, receivers, speakers, and more. According to the EPA, if just 10% of homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees.
  • Chargers, such as those used for laptops and cell phones, consume energy when they are plugged in. When they are not connected to electronics, chargers should be unplugged.
  • Laptop computers consume considerably less electricity than desktop computers.

7. Install daylighting as an alternative to electrical lighting.

Daylighting is the practice of using natural light to illuminate the home’s interior. It can be achieved using the following approaches:

  • skylights. It’s important that they be double-pane or they may not be cost-effective. Flashing skylights correctly is key to avoiding leaks;
  • light shelves. Light shelves are passive devices designed to bounce light deep into a building. They may be interior or exterior. Light shelves can introduce light into a space up to 2½ times the distance from the floor to the top of the window, and advanced light shelves may introduce four times that amount;
  • clerestory windows.  Clerestory windows are short, wide windows set high on the wall. Protected from the summer sun by the roof overhang, they allow winter sun to shine through for natural lighting and warmth; and
  • light tubes.  Light tubes use a special lens designed to amplify low-level light and reduce light intensity from the midday sun. Sunlight is channeled through a tube coated with a highly reflective material, and then enters the living space through a diffuser designed to distribute light evenly.

8. Insulate windows and doors.

About one-third of the home’s total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. The following are ways to reduce energy lost through windows and doors:

  • Seal all window edges and cracks with rope caulk. This is the cheapest and simplest option.
  • Windows can be weatherstripped with a special lining that is inserted between the window and the frame. For doors, apply weatherstripping around the whole perimeter to ensure a tight seal when they’re closed. Install quality door sweeps on the bottom of the doors, if they aren’t already in place.
  • Install storm windows at windows with only single panes. A removable glass frame can be installed over an existing window.
  • If existing windows have rotted or damaged wood, cracked glass, missing putty, poorly fitting sashes, or locks that don’t work, they should be repaired or replaced.

9. Cook smart.

An enormous amount of energy is wasted while cooking. The following recommendations and statistics illustrate less wasteful ways of cooking:

  • Convection ovens are more efficient that conventional ovens. They use fans to force hot air to circulate more evenly, thereby allowing food to be cooked at a lower temperature. Convection ovens use approximately 20% less electricity than conventional ovens.
  • Microwave ovens consume approximately 80% less energy than conventional ovens.
  • Pans should be placed on the matching size heating element or flame.
  • Using lids on pots and pans will heat food more quickly than cooking in uncovered pots and pans.
  • Pressure cookers reduce cooking time dramatically.
  • When using conventional ovens, food should be placed on the top rack. The top rack is hotter and will cook food faster.

10. Change the way you do laundry.

  • Do not use the medium setting on your washer. Wait until you have a full load of clothes, as the medium setting saves less than half of the water and energy used for a full load.
  • Avoid using high-temperature settings when clothes are not very soiled. Water that is 140° F uses far more energy than 103° F for the warm-water setting, but 140° F isn’t that much more effective for getting clothes clean.
  • Clean the lint trap every time before you use the dryer. Not only is excess lint a fire hazard, but it will prolong the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
  • If possible, air-dry your clothes on lines and racks.
  • Spin-dry or wring clothes out before putting them into a dryer.

Holy Attic Infestation, Batman

Bats are nocturnal mammals found in most inhabited places throughout the world. Bat infestation in homes, especially in attics, can be a health hazard, aswell as a nuisance, for homeowners.

 

Interesting Facts
  • Due to its high levels of phosphorous and nitrogen, guano (bat feces) is an effective fertilizer and gunpowder ingredient. Guano has been such a critical resource that in 1879, a war between Chile and Bolivia, called the Guano War, was waged over rights to the guano-rich western coastline. 
  • Despite how large they appear in flight, bats are remarkably small. Some can fit through openings smaller than ½-inch wide. Even the largest bat – the golden-crowned flying-fox — with a wingspan of up to 5 feet, may weigh as little as 3 pounds.
  • Roughly 20% of all known mammal species are species of bats.
  • Bats are the only mammals capable of sustained flight.
  • Contrary to popular belief, bats are neither rodents nor birds, and they are not blind.
Indications of a household bat infestation:    
  • the accumulation of guano. Bat guano resembles rodent droppings but can be distinguished in several ways:  guano tends to cluster as it piles up beneath the exit of the bats’ roost; guano often has a shiny, speckled appearance due to the ingestion of insect wings; and guano can be easily crushed into smaller fragments, while rodent droppings will not. Of course, it is not safe to touch any animal droppings with unprotected hands;
  • milky white urine stains on windows;
  • stains around entry holes, such as cracks and crevices;
  • mouse-like droppings under eaves and overhangs;
  • stains and odors caused by urine and guano;
  • noises such as squeaking, scratching and crawling in attics and walls shortly before dusk and dawn; andLarge pile of bat guano
  • grease and dirt. Bats often leave smears of grease and dirt from their coats on the entry point to their roost.
Bats and Disease
Rabies

Due to their high mobility and social behavior, bats are often hosts for diseases, such as rabies. Rabies is perhaps the most serious disease transmitted by bats in North America. Most of the human rabies cases in the United States have been caused by the rabies virus from bats. Awareness of the facts about bats and rabies can help homeowners protect themselves, their families, and their pets.

Rabies is a virus that affects the nervous system of humans and other mammals. Once symptoms of the disease develop, it is almost always fatal. Humans contract rabies from animal bites. Some bats have teeth so sharp that a sleeping person may not realize that they have been bitten. It is recommended that those waking up with bats in the bedroom undergo a series of preventative (and sometimes painful and expensive) rabies inoculations. The alternative is to capture the bats (without being bitten) and take them to a laboratory for testing.

Indications that a bat has rabies:

  • The bat is in an unusual place, such as a bedroom or in the lawn. Healthy bats do not rest on the ground.
  • The bat is approachable. Healthy bats are scared of humans and will flee long before they can be approached.
  • The bat is active during the day.
  • The bat appears unable to fly.

For these reasons, rabid bats are often most likely to come into contact with humans.

Histoplasmosis
This respiratory disease, caused by the fungus Histoplasma capsulatum, is transmitted through the inhalation of fungal spores found in bat guano and bird droppings. Although generally not fatal, histoplasmosis can cause flu-like symptoms. For individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with AIDS, histoplasmosis can be fatal.
Bat Removal
The following instructions for bat removal can be passed on from InterNACHI inspectors to their clients:
  • The entry point for the bats should be identified. Holes as small a human thumb are large enough for some bats to squeeze through. The homeowner can seal off most of these holes with caulk, leaving one hole intact for resident bats to exit at night.
  • The homeowner can then plug this hole at night so that bats cannot return to the house. Alternatively, the homeowner can install a one-way “check-valve” from wire mesh that will allow bats to exit the house but not allow them to return.
  • “Bat houses,” which can be constructed or purchased, can be placed next to the house during bat removal to provide bats with an attractive alternative to the house.
Note:  Bat removal should not take place during the summer (in North America). Baby bats that are unable to fly will not be able to leave the house during the summer months and they will starve to death if adults are not permitted to enter the home. Bat removal during the summer is inhumane and will result in the additional problems posed by decomposing bat carcasses.
In summary, bats can transmit dangerous diseases to humans, and inspectors and homeowners should be wary of bat infestations.