Home and Property Owner Frequently Asked Questions

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Q: Should I be concerned about aluminum wiring in my home?

A: The Texas Professional Real Estate Inspection Association (TPREIA) wants homeowners to avoid confusion about the existence of aluminum wiring in their home. Many people make the mistake of fearing that their house must be completely re-wired. The mere presence of aluminum circuitry does not always justify rewiring the entire home. In most cases, replacement of aluminum wire is an over-reaction to what is often a manageable problem. Aluminum wires were installed in many homes during the late 1960's and early 70's (especially mobile homes and trailers). In some dwellings, electrical fires occurred within a few years of construction, which is why most aluminum branch wiring was discontinued. However, the actual cause of these fires was not the aluminum wire itself, but the tendency for aluminum connections to become loose at outlets, switches, fixtures, and circuit breakers. Aluminum wiring, in some instances, is known to be hazardous, but it is still commonly used for 220-volt circuits. If installed according to manufacturers' specifications, it presents no significant fire hazard. In fact, most electric power companies use aluminum for their main service lines. In recent years aluminum materials have changed and are reported to be much better for electrical use. However, aluminum wiring is not commonly installed in newer homes today.

To ensure the safety of the aluminum connections in your home, alterations can be made, rendering the system safe, without the exorbitant cost of rewiring. For example, copper wire ends, known as "pigtails," can be retrofitted at all terminals. There are two primary rules governing the proper attachment of aluminum wires: The connecting terminals must be rated for aluminum wiring, and the wire ends should be treated with a special compound to prevent corrosion. With the introduction of AFCI breakers, this has been reported as one of the best means of correction for homes having aluminum wiring to increase personal safety. Only a licensed electrician should be entrusted to perform electrical work on your home.

Depending on the age of the alloys and the initial workmanship of the installation, the type and extent of necessary repair could cover a wide range of choices. Many houses wired with aluminum in the 1970’s have shown no problems, while the problems with some houses in the 1960’s could actually be made worse by improper diagnosis and installation.

There are those houses where the only realistic solution is a complete rewiring job, and there are others where nothing needs to be done. A professional home inspector can recommend that an electrical contractor familiar with the problems of aluminum wiring be retained to evaluate the system and recommend appropriate actions. The Texas Professional Real Estate Inspection Association (TPREIA) includes inspection of the electrical system as part of their State Required Standards of Practice for all member inspectors. A professional home inspector has an obligation to inspect the electrical system of a home, unless that portion of the home is inaccessible. In that case, lack of access should have been specifically noted in the inspection report, with a recommendation for further evaluation as soon as access can be provided.

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Q: How important is good drainage around my home?

A: Moisture intrusion damage and plumbing leaks are the largest repair expense most homeowners face today. Deferring maintenance for any moisture problem is not wise. Plumbing and drainage problems can escalate to health issues as molds can grow on virtually any substance when moisture is present.

Make sure your home’s roof, grade-level, and underground drainage systems are designed to redirect water flow away from the perimeter foundation. Properly installed drainage systems help prevent flooding, soils erosion, excessive moisture conditions, foundation settlement, and moisture infiltration into below grade rooms and storage areas. Typically, these drainage systems are referred to as a “French drain.” A French drain consists of trenches that are lined with drainage cloth, filled with rock, and contain perforated piping with the holes at the four and eight o’clock position. Ground water favors French drains because they provide an easier flow path than the natural grade of the property. Simply stated, a French drain creates a more permeable route for flow and carries the water to a safe disposal point.

The migration of moisture against either a home’s perimeter concrete foundation stem wall or beneath a concrete slab type foundation can be costly for homeowners because of the potential damage possible to a home’s support systems, as well as to personal contents and mechanical systems, along with the possible encouragement of mold and pest infestation.

To ensure that a home’s drainage system is adequate in design and effective during wet weather, make sure it is evaluated by a qualified and experienced inspector. If a problem is discovered by a professional home inspector, a geotechnical expert may be further recommended to perform a site evaluation and provide specifications and a cost analysis for the proper drainage system.

If any flooding has recently occurred, the foundations, subfloor framing, and other building components should be carefully examined for possible moisture-related damage. Your inspector has a professional obligation to inspect the crawlspace beneath the dwelling, unless that portion of the home is inaccessible. In that case, lack of access should be specifically noted in the inspection report, with a recommendation for further evaluation as soon as access can be provided. Make certain that your Inspector will crawl your open spaces during the inspections. No all Inspectors will crawl under a home.

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Q: What are some good summer maintenance tips for my home?

A: EXTERIOR

  • bulletDecks and Patios. Since wet and cold winters take a toll on wood decks, check your decks to determine if new paint is needed, hammer down any nails that have popped up, and secure any loose supports. Consider applying a water sealant to help improve the longevity of your wood decks. Also exam patios, walks and drives for cracks. Consider resurfacing or filling any cracks to avoid water intrusion that can cause lifting.
  • bulletFences. Look for loose or broken posts and check safety latches, especially around pool areas.
  • bulletSprinkler Systems. Monitor your sprinkler system for leaks around pipe joints and the anti-siphon values. Test your sprinklers for full coverage of your grounds while adjusting them to ensure water does not hit your house.
  • bulletWindows. Look for glazing putty that has dried out around window of older homes. Glazing putty should be redone to properly seal the window frames and conserve energy during the warm summer months.
  • bulletRoofs. Inspect your roof from the ground for any missing material and signs of aging or weathering such as severe cracking and brittleness. Roof penetrations and flashing can dry out from long exposure to the extreme sun and cold weather. If these signs are present, you should consider repairs in these areas. Also have the roof and gutters cleared of debris.
  • bulletGarage Doors. Examine the springs on tilt-up garage doors and tracks and the hinges on rollup doors. Check the safety reverse system on automatic door opener systems by using a roll of paper towels. The garage door should reverse within two seconds of contact.
  • bulletPools/Spas. Check the swimming pool slides for cracks, broken supports, broken ladder and/or ruptured water lines. Ensure that the diving board is supported well on the deck and test the board to see if it is rigid or pliable. Examine all pool/spa values, gates, and dams to see if they turn freely and are lubricated properly. Be sure to have all electrical connections of the pool/spa equipment inspected for potential electrical hazards.

INTERIOR

  • bulletAir Conditioning & Heating Systems. Air conditioning systems should be serviced by a professional. Air filters on the fan unit of the air conditioning and heating system should be changed every two months.
  • bulletVentilation. Check that vent systems and turbines are clear and turning. Make sure that if you covered the turbines on the roof with plastic during the rainy season that you remove the plastic.
  • bulletFireplace. Depending on how often you use your fireplace, the summer is a good time to get the flue cleaned by a chimney sweep. Gas fireplaces should be inspected annually by a certified gas technician with expertise in fireplaces.
  • bulletCeiling Fans. Check that ceiling fans are properly secured. Often wiring for ceiling fans is left in dismay. Wiring in the attic should be in a junction box with the colored wire nuts placed on the connections.
  • bulletSmoke & CO Detectors. Smoke and CO (carbon monoxide) detectors should be tested regularly. If needed, batteries should be replaced.

Homeowners should also consider a professional inspection to identify conditions that may have developed over time and may not be visible to the “untrained” eye. Homeowners who are equipped with a professional inspection report will know not only what items are most significant and in need of immediate attention, but what deferred maintenance items will need to be corrected before becoming more costly to repair or a high priority safety issue.

A professional inspector is third party, independent investigator who visually inspects and detects conditions in a home. He or she is a trained generalist, identifying and sorting through the multitude of major systems and components. The inspector investigates, operates, and systematically identifies the major systems and components of the home. The inspector is addressing health and safety issues, making recommendations, and counseling on repair options and maintenance. Professional inspectors should not perform or offer to perform any repairs to a home, thus eliminating conflict of interest. Health and safety concerns and adverse conditions are discussed and documented by the inspector.

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Q: Should I be concerned about a backflow of water between indoor and outdoor faucets?

A: The faucets in a home’s kitchen, bathrooms, laundry areas and exterior hose bibbs provide what is known as “potable water”. Potable water is defined as “fit for human consumption.” Non drinking irrigation water is usually termed “non-potable”. Both get their water from the same supply line — that is, the local water company’s water meter located on your lot. This means all water outlets at every location on your property (including both inside and outside) get their water from the same source. This results in a “cross-connection” between your garden hose and your faucets providing drinking water. A cross connection is not a good thing unless there is an anti-siphon or “back-flow” prevention device installed between the potable and irrigation water supply system.

A dangerous cross-connection can occur under the following scenario: Husband is outside fertilizing the lawn with weed-killer fertilizer pellets. Immediately after applying the chemicals he places the hose in a trench or turns on the sprinkler system. While this is occurring Wife is taking a shower and at that moment one of the children is getting a drink of water from the kitchen faucet. The child later becomes sick and a hospital visit reveals weed poison in the child’s blood. This scenario is possible because a change in water pressure can create a siphon effect where the irrigation water containing poisonous chemicals that has leached through the lawn and entered broken or low laying sprinkler heads or coiled hose openings are drawn into the home’s potable water supply.

Current Plumbing Code’s deal with this hazard by requiring exterior faucets (hose bibbs) and all landscaping water systems to be equipped with properly installed “back-flow” prevention devices. These devices prevent garden water from backing up into your home’s potable water system. However, if your home is an older property, you may not be protected from this potential danger.

A professional inspector can help you determine if your home is protected from cross contamination. All TPREIA inspectors are familiar with these devices and they are addressed during their inspections under Texas Real Estate Commission’s (TREC) extensive Standards of Practice.

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Q: When I sell my home, what are my disclosure obligations?

A: Texas law requires sellers to furnish prospective buyers with a completed Sellers Disclosure Statement. The SDS is basically a list of obligations sellers have to disclose regarding any and all known defects that could be interpreted as a material defect. A material defect is a condition that significantly affects the value, desirability, habitability, or safety of the building. Any such defect would also directly affect the marketability of the property.

The purpose of the disclosure statement is two-fold: The most obvious is to inform buyers of the condition of the property they are buying. The added benefit, often overlooked, is the liability protection provided for sellers. In this respect, the disclosure statement helps to minimize the likelihood of claims, disputes, or lawsuits occurring after the close of escrow.

Reasonable buyers are not likely to be troubled or concerned about small repaired item such as a hairline crack, but there are litigious individuals with whom the seller must be cautious. It is not whether you are required to disclose the crack, but it is to your advantage to disclose it. In so doing, that condition becomes one less issue with the potential to incite future conflict. In the unlikely event that a problem regarding the crack should ever arise, your defense would be strengthened by the fact that you had made full disclosure. The process is actually quite simple: just declare, in writing, that the crack was evaluated and repaired by a reputable licensed general contractor, and include a copy of the paper work that you received from the contractor. This should reassure, rather than alarm, most potential buyers.

There are several misunderstandings and/or misconceptions held by the general public regarding “As Is” real estate listings. When the property listing states the house is being sold “As Is”, this does not relieve the seller from certain real estate laws relating to the sale and transfer of ownership of real estate in Texas. In an “As Is” transaction the seller is still required to disclose all known material facts to the buyer. Thus, a residential dwelling being sold “As Is” is really being sold “As Is Disclosed” and that the seller is not going to fix nor credit the cost of the fix to the buyer.

Buyers should know that many times home sellers are not always aware what defects may lurk on the roof or in the electric, plumbing or heating/cooling systems or even within the attic or foundation spaces. That is precisely why it behooves all sellers to strongly consider obtaining a pre-listing home inspection. This will allow the inspector to perform a professional evaluation of all of the home’s systems and components without the buyer being in the picture. It also affords the seller the opportunity, without duress of time constraints, to make a judgment whether to correct any defects listed within the inspector’s written report, schedule further evaluations where suggested by the inspector, and/or to just list the defects discovered and described by the inspector in the seller’s SDS and set the home’s sales price accordingly. It is imperative to secure the services of a competent home inspector.

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