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Ask the Inspector

E-mail Chris




Should we get a sewer camera inspection?
For older homes (any home with the possibility of buried cast iron or clay pipes), there is an increased chance of root intrusion or even breakage/wear. This buried pipe is something your home inspector cannot see. A sewer camera inspection is one of the best ways to find out if there is or will be a costly issue, and is always a good idea for an older home. These older sewer lines will typically be present in homes prior to the 1970s, but the era can vary. With newer homes with plastic drain lines to the street, most buyers do not purchase an inspection. The occurrence of problems is far less for newer lines, but issues sometimes can still happen, such as a "belly" (low area) or even a breakage.

What do I do if my home has no grounded outlets?
So many great homes in Southern California were built before electrical grounding was required. How do we hook up our equipment that require 3-prongs? Of course, the best solution is to have a full grounding system installed, which can be a big job. Many electricians recommend the alternative of having GFCI outlets installed (see below for a description of GFCI outlets). As a much cheaper (but very safe) alternative, GFCI outlets can take the place of grounding as long as the outlets are labeled "not grounded" (required). As with any professional upgrade, it is necessary to consult a qualified electrician for full details on this type of procedure for your specific home, but the relative cost can really be worth it.

GFCI - What is that?
GFCI electrical outlets have buttons on the front You have probably seen these near sinks in bathrooms or kitchens. Newer hair dryers also are installed with GFCI protection (trip buttons) in case the device falls in the water of the sink or tub. A GFCI outlet is a safety device that shuts off the electricity to that outlet almost instantly if any electricity goes where it is not supposed to (e.g., through you). If you drop a hair dryer in the water, the GFCI device shuts off, protecting you. I recommend GFCI protection for any home that does not already have it near sinks or plumbing fixtures. It is required for newer homes, but is a good inexpensive safety upgrade to certain outlets in older homes as well that could save lives.

I need some work done. How do I find a good contractor?
Lots of people ask me how to find quality work for the money. A great start is to just begin asking the right questions. Take a look at some online reviews, then check for a license (www2.cslb.ca.gov/OnlineServices/CheckLicenseII/CheckLicense.aspx), and start calling contractors. You can start by asking basic questions such as, "I'm going to be remodeling my kitchen - what's your experience with tile? Do you have any references? How long have you been in the business? Why should I hire you?" With each call you make you will discover more questions to ask for the next call. The best contractors will take the time to explain their work and can have the best answers to your most important concerns. You want good customer service, right? Good answers are a great start.

If you're still a bit nervous, try hiring someone to do part of the work or to take on a smaller job first. "Give them a try." For example, have them install part of your kitchen. If you like their work, hire them again for the rest. I've seen that done and it can really work.

And of course, ask your new neighbors, even if you have not moved in yet. If anyone on your new street has had any work done and are happy with their contractor, they will be happy to share. During inspections I have sometimes asked questions of neighbors, and the response has been great. It is a great way to get to know the people in the area and it really can help you. Neighbors can be your best resource - happy customers.

Especially for more involved tasks, such as building an addition room, definitely ask for references or some kind of assurance of quality. Remember that building permits should always be pulled for any new work (even changing a water heater), so ask about it.

In cold weather, does my outdoor water heater need a "thermal blanket?"
Actually, no, especially in Southern California. Even outside, a water heater is already so well insulated (like a thermos) that there is no need for any extra insulation. Feel the exterior of the water heater some time - it's not even hot.

How do I care for my sprinkler system?
Sprinkler components are frequently damaged by gardeners and pets, so expect to make minor repairs to the sprinkler system frequently. It's a good idea to check the system on a regular basis. Sprinklers should always be directed away from the building to prevent moisture intrusion/water damage and or mold/mildew. I suggest a demo by the seller at your walk through. Adequacy of coverage is something to monitor over time.

My report says my wall heater has "backdrafting" - what does that mean?
Backdrafting means that potentially toxic vapors from the heater flame are entering into the living space of the home and are not exiting through the vent pipe as designed. This is improper and is a potential hazard, so do not operate the heater until it has been corrected. A lot of the time this is caused by a problem with the vent cap (usually an inexpensive fix), or with the vent pipe itself (the pipe exiting the roof above the heater). Call a qualified heating specialist to correct this and you should be fine.

What is a "seismic gas shut-off"?
It's a device that shuts off the gas to your house in the case of an earthquake. Since 2002, the city of Los Angeles (including the Valley) requires that the gas service to the house has one. Verification of these shut-offs is to be made at the time the house is sold. Installing one is the responsibility of the seller and can be properly fitted by a qualified retrofitter.


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