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Professional Home Inspection Services. Cofer Real Estate Inspections performs new and existing home inspections for the greater Dallas area.

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Home tips from your local Dallas Fort Worth Home Inspector

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Filtering by Tag: Dallas Home Inspections

Air-Conditioning Systems

Julian Cofer

A building's central air-conditioning system must be periodically inspected and maintained in order to function properly. While an annual inspection performed by a trained professional is recommended, homeowners can do a lot of the work themselves by following the tips offered here.

Clean the Exterior Condenser Unit and Components

The exterior condenser unit is the large box located on the side of the house that’s designed to push heat from the indoors to the outdoors. Inside of the box are coils of pipe that are surrounded by thousands of thin metal "fins" that allow the coils more surface area to exchange heat. 

Follow these tips when cleaning the exterior condenser unit and its inner components -- after turning off power to the unit, of course.

  • Remove any leaves, spider webs and other debris from the unit's exterior. Trim foliage back several feet from the unit to ensure proper air flow.
  • Remove the cover grille to clean any debris from the unit's interior. A garden hose can be helpful for this task.
  • Straighten any bent fins with a tool called a fin comb.
  • Add lubricating oil to the motor. Check your owner’s manual for specific instructions.
  • Clean the evaporator coil and condenser coil at least once a year.  When they collect dirt, they may not function properly.

Inspect the Condensate Drain Line

Condensate drain lines collect condensed water and drain it away from the unit.  They’re located on the side of the inside fan unit. Sometimes there are two drain lines—a primary drain line that’s built into the unit, and a secondary drain line that can drain if the first line becomes blocked. 

Homeowners can inspect the drain line by using the following tips, which take very little time and require no specialized tools:

  • Inspect the drain line for obstructions, such as algae and debris. If the line becomes blocked, water will back up into the drain pan and overflow, potentially causing a safety hazard or water damage to your home.
  • Make sure the hoses are secured and fit properly.

Clean the Air Filter

Air filters remove pollen, dust and other particles that would otherwise circulate indoors. Most filters are typically rectangular in shape and about 20 x 16 inches, and about 1 inch thick. They slide into the main duct work near the inside fan unit. The filter should be periodically washed or replaced, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions. A dirty air filter will not only degrade the quality of the home’s indoor, but it will also strain the motor to work harder to move air through it, increasing energy costs and reducing energy efficiency. The filter should be replaced monthly during heavy use during the cooling seasons. You may need to change the filter more often if the air conditioner is in constant use, if any family members have respiratory problems, if you have pets with fur, and/or if it’s particularly dusty indoors.  

Cover the Exterior Unit

When the cooling season is over, you should cover the exterior condenser unit in preparation for winter. If it isn’t being used, why expose it to the elements? This measure will prevent ice, leaves and dirt from entering the unit, which can harm components and require additional maintenance in the spring. A cover can be purchased, or you can make one yourself by taping together plastic trash bags. Be sure to turn the unit off before covering it. 

In addition, homeowners should practice the following strategies in order to keep their central air-conditioning systems running properly:

  • Have the air-conditioning system inspected by a professional each year before the start of the cooling season.
  • Reduce stress on the air-conditioning system by enhancing your home’s energy efficiency. Switch from incandescent lights to compact fluorescents, for instance, which produce less heat.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you like what you have read stay tuned for more to come. Cofer Real Estate Inspections serves Dallas and Fort Worth including surrounding cities. I provide Home Inspection for buyers and sellers, as well as warranty and maintenance  inspections. Schedule a Home Inspection online or call me directly at 469-450-0020

Pool Safety

Julian Cofer

Each year, hundreds of young children die and thousands come close to death due to submersion in residential swimming pools. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has estimated that each year, about 300 children under the age of 5 drown in swimming pools. Hospital emergency-room treatment is required for more than 2,000 children under 5 who were submerged in residential pools. The CPSC did an extensive study of swimming pool accidents, both fatal drownings and near-fatal submersions, in California, Arizona and Florida -- states in which home swimming pools are very popular and used during much of the year. 

  • In California, Arizona and Florida, drowning was the leading cause of accidental death in and around the home for children under the age of 5. 
  • Seventy-five percent of the children involved in swimming pool submersion or drowning accidents were between 1 and 3 years old.  
  • Most of the victims were in the presence of one or both parents when the swimming pool accident occurred.  
  • Nearly half of the child victims were last seen in the house before the pool accident occurred. In addition, 23% of the accident victims were last seen on the porch or patio, or in the yard.  
  • This means that 69% of the children who became victims in swimming pool accidents were not expected to be in or at the pool, but were found drowned or submerged in the water.  
  • Sixty-five percent of the accidents occurred in a pool owned by the victim’s immediate family, and 33% of the accidents occurred in pools owned by relatives or friends.  
  • Seventy-seven percent of the swimming pool accident victims had been missing for five minutes or less when they were found in the pool, drowned or submerged. 

Anyone who has cared for a toddler knows how fast young children can move. Toddlers are inquisitive and impulsive, and lack a realistic sense of danger. The best way to reduce child drownings in residential pools is for pool owners to construct and maintain barriers that prevent young children from gaining access to pools. However, there is no substitute for diligent supervision.

Swimming Pool Barriers

A safe pool barrier prevents a child from getting over, under or through, and keeps the child from gaining access to the pool except when supervising adults are present.  A young child can get over a pool barrier if the barrier is too low, or if the barrier has handholds or footholds for a child to use for climbing. The top of a pool barrier be at least 48 inches above grade, measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. Eliminating handholds and footholds, and minimizing the size of openings in a barrier’s construction, can prevent inquisitive children from climbing pool barriers.

For a chain-link fence, the mesh size should not exceed 1-1/4 inches square, unless slats fastened at the top or bottom of the fence are used to reduce mesh openings to no more than 1-3/4 inches.  For a fence made up of diagonal members (lattice work), the maximum opening in the lattice should not exceed 1-3/4 inches.

Above-ground pools should also have barriers. The pool structure itself can sometimes serves as a barrier, or a barrier can be mounted on top of the pool structure. Then, there are two possible ways to prevent young children from climbing up into an above-ground pool. The steps or ladder can be designed to be secured, locked or removed to prevent access, or the steps or ladder can be surrounded by a barrier, such as those described above. For any pool barrier, the maximum clearance at the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches above grade, when the measurement is done on the side of the barrier facing away from the pool. 

To prevent a young child from getting through a fence or other barrier, all openings should be small enough so that a 4-inch diameter sphere cannot pass through. This size is based on the head- breadth and chest-depth of a young child. 

Gates

Preventing a child from getting through a pool barrier can be done by restricting the sizes of openings in a barrier, and by using self-closing and self-latching gates.  There are two kinds of gates that might be found on a residential property. Both can play a part in the design of a swimming pool barrier. 

Pedestrian gates are the gates people walk through. Swimming pool barriers should be equipped with a gate that restricts access to the pool. A locking device should be included in the gate's design. Gates should open out from the pool and should be self-closing and self-latching. If a gate is properly designed, even if the gate is not completely latched, a young child pushing on the gate in order to enter the pool area will at least close the gate and may actually engage the latch. When the release mechanism of the self-latching device is less than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate, the release mechanism for the gate should be at least 3 inches below the top of the gate on the side facing the pool. Placing the release mechanism at this height prevents a young child from reaching over the top of a gate and releasing the latch. Also, the gate and barrier should have no opening greater than 1/2-inch within 18 inches of the latch release mechanism. This prevents a young child from reaching through the gate and releasing the latch.

All doors of the home that provide direct access to a swimming pool should be equipped with an audible alarm that sounds when the door and/or screen are opened. The alarm should sound for 30 seconds or more within seven seconds after the door is opened.  It should also be loud, at least 85 decibels, when measured 10 feet away from the alarm mechanism. The alarm sound should be distinct from other sounds in the house, such as the telephone, doorbell and smoke alarm. The alarm should have an automatic re-set feature. Because adults will want to pass through house doors in the pool barrier without setting off the alarm, the alarm should have a switch that allows adults to temporarily de-activate the alarm for up to 15 seconds. The de-activation switch could be a touch pad (keypad) or a manual switch, and should be located at least 54 inches above the threshold of the door covered by the alarm. This height was determined based on the reaching ability of young children. 

Pool Alarms

A pool alarm is a safety feature designed to alert adults when unsupervised children enter a pool. There are a number of different designs available, but none is foolproof.   

Types

  • surface wave sensor:  This type of sensor floats on the water and incorporates an electrical circuit that includes two contacts. One of these contacts rests in the water while the other is adjusted to remain above the water's surface. When a surface wave touches the above-surface contact, the electrical circuit is completed, causing an alarm to sound. Sensitivity can be increased or decreased by moving the above-surface contact closer or further from the water surface. 
  • sub-surface disturbance sensor:  Mounted to the pool wall below the water surface, this type of sensors is activated by wave-induced pressure changes. One design relies on the movement of a magnetic float below a magnetic sensor, while another design relies on a pressure-sensitive switch.  Sub-surface alarms can also be used in conjunction with solar covers, whereas the surface wave-sensor alarms cannot.  
  • wristband:  This device is worn around the child’s wrist and it cannot be removed without a key. The alarm will activate when the wristband becomes wet, which creates opportunities for false alarms, such as when the child washes his or her hands, or walks in the rain. 

Since pool alarms are not foolproof and they rely on someone remembering to activate them, they should not be depended upon as a substitute for supervision, or for a barrier completely surrounding the pool. Pool alarms should also be used in conjunction with other types of alarms, such as gate alarms, perimeter alarms, and window and door alarms. Even some pet doors come equipped with alarms, owing to the recent attention given to the 100 or so documented accidents where a child escaped to a pool through a pet door. Pool alarms are thus one protective layer of many, none of which is sufficient as a sole preventative measure against child drowning. 

Hazards of Pool Drains

While drowning is a well-publicized danger associated with swimming pools, comparatively little has been reported about injuries and deaths caused by pool drains. Water rushing out of the drain creates a suction that can ensnare swimmers, usually small children, causing debilitating injuries and deaths. These drains come standard in swimming pools, hot tubs and wading pools, and while they appear harmless, inspectors and parents alike should understand how they could cause harm. 

Drain covers can break or be removed by people who are unaware of the possible repercussions. When this happens, a swimmer playing with the drain may become stuck to it in a way similar to how a vacuum will stick to the palm of the hand, but with much more force; 350 pounds of pressure is normal for a pool drain, and public pools are even more powerful. This “suction entrapment” can hold the bather in the drain's grasp until the person drowns or escapes, often seriously injured.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) distinguishes between five types of drain entrapment:

  • body entrapment, where a section of the torso becomes entrapped. The CPSC is aware of 74 cases of body entrapment, including 13 confirmed deaths, between January 1990 and August 2004. The deaths were the result of drowning after the body was held against the drain by the suction of the circulation pump; 
  • limb entrapment, where an arm or leg is pulled into an open drain pipe; 
  • hair entrapment or entanglement, where hair is pulled in and wrapped around the grate of the drain cover. The CPSC is aware of 43 incidents of hair entrapment or entanglement in pools, spas and hot tubs between January 1990 and August 2004. Twelve of the incidents resulted in drowning deaths; 
  • mechanical entrapment, where jewelry or part of the swimmer’s clothing gets caught in the drain or grate; and
  • evisceration, where the victim’s buttocks come into contact with the pool suction outlet and he or she is disemboweled. While these accidents are rare, they result in lifelong impairment. 

Here are some ways that pool drains can be made safer:

  • Make sure the drain cover is present and firmly attached. If the drain cover is missing or damaged, no one should be allowed to enter the pool, and a professional should be contacted immediately. The CPSC requires anti-entrapment drain covers to be installed in all public pools, as of December 2008. 
  • Make sure there is a safety snap fitting serving the ground pool cleaner. These devices automatically suck away dirt and leaves, but if they become disconnected from the suction fitting at the pool wall, a hazardous situation can develop. A safety snap fitting is a spring-loaded stopper that will end any suction through the port if any disconnection occurs. 
  • Check to see if there is a safety vacuum-release system. This device will cause the drainage to automatically cease if any entrapment occurs.
  • Check for anti-entanglement drain covers. These are a type of fitting that is molded in a particular way so as to prevent hair entanglement. 
  • Use no drains at all. Gutters and overflows can be used to provide water to the pump without the need for a drain.
  • Install an additional drain. According to the CPSC, “Providing multiple outlets from the pool to the suction-side of the pump allows flow to continue to the pump, and reduces the likelihood of an entrapping suction being generated when a body blocks one of the outlets.”

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you like what you have read stay tuned for more to come. Cofer Real Estate Inspections serves Dallas and Forth including surrounding cities. I provide Home Inspection for buyers and sellers, as well as warranty and maintenance  inspections. Schedule a Home Inspection online or call me directly at 469-450-0020

Elderly Safety in the Home

Julian Cofer

"Aging in place" is the phenomenon describing senior citizens' ability to live independently in their homes for as long as possible. Those who age in place will not have to move from their present residence in order to secure necessary support services in response to their changing needs. 

As the baby boomers age, the 60+ population will spike from roughly 45 million in recent years to more than 70 million by 2020. Research shows that baby boomers’ expectations of how they will receive care differ from that of their parents’ generation.  Overwhelmingly, they will seek care in their own homes and will be less likely to move into assisted-living settings.

Many corrections and adaptations to the home can improve maneuverability, accessibility, and safety for elderly occupants, as well as those whose mobility is limited for reasons that are not age-related. Some such alterations and recommendations for a home are as follows:

Appliances:

  • microwave oven in wall or on counter; 
  • refrigerator and freezer side by side; 
  • side-swing or wall oven; 
  • controls that are easy to read; 
  • raised washing machine and dryer; 
  • front-loading washing machines; 
  • raised dishwasher with push-button controls; 
  • stoves having electric cooktops with level burners for safely transferring between the burners; front controls and downdraft feature to pull heat away from user; light to indicate when surface is hot; and 
  • replace old stoves with induction cooktops to help prevent burns.

Countertops:

  • base cabinet with roll-out trays; 
  • pull-down shelving; 
  • wall support, and provision for adjustable and/or varied-height counters and removable base cabinets; 
  • upper wall cabinetry lower than conventional height; 
  • accented stripes on edge of countertops to provide visual orientation to the workspace; 
  • counter space for dish landing adjacent to or opposite all appliances; 
  • glass-front cabinet doors; and
  • open shelving for easy access to frequently used items.

Bathroom:

  • fold-down seat installed in the shower; 
  • adjustable showerheads with 6-foot hose; 
  • light in shower stall; 
  • wall support, and provision for adjustable and/or varied-height counters and removable base cabinets; 
  • contrasting color edge border at countertops; 
  • at least one wheelchair-maneuverable bath on main level; 
  • bracing in walls around tub, shower, shower seat and toilet for installation of grab bars; 
  • if stand-up shower is used in main bath, it is curbless and wide; 
  • low bathtub; 
  • walk-in shower;
  • toilet higher than standard toilet, or height-adjustable; 
  • design of the toilet paper holder allows rolls to be changed with one hand; 
  • wall-hung sink with knee space and panel to protect user from pipes; and
  • slip-resistant flooring in bathroom and shower.

Exterior:

  • low-maintenance exterior (vinyl, brick, etc); and 
  • low-maintenance shrubs and plants.

Entry:

  • sensor light at exterior no-step entry focusing on the front-door lock; 
  • non-slip flooring in foyer; 
  • accessible path of travel to the home; 
  • at least one no-step entry with a cover; 
  • entry door sidelight or high/low peep hole viewer; sidelight should provide both privacy and safety; 
  • doorbell in accessible location; and
  • a surface on which to place packages while opening door.

Electrical, Lighting, Safety and Security:

  • install new smoke and CO detectors; 
  • install automated lighting, an emergency alert system, or a video-monitoring system; 
  • easy-to-see and read thermostats; 
  • light switches by each entrance to halls and rooms; 
  • light receptacles with at least two bulbs in vital places (exits, bathroom); 
  • light switches, thermostats and other environmental controls placed in accessible locations no higher than 48 inches from floor; 
  • move electrical cords out of the flow of traffic; 
  • replace standard light switches with rocker or touch-light switches; and
  • pre-programmed thermostats.

Flooring:

  • if carpeted, use low-density with firm pad; 
  • smooth, non-glare, slip-resistant surfaces, interior and exterior; and
  • color and texture contrast to indicate change in surface levels.

Hallways:

  • wide; 
  • well-lit; and
  • fasten down rugs and floor runners, and remove any that are not necessary.

Miscellaneous:

  • 30-inch by 48-inch clear space at appliances, or 60-inch diameter clear space for turns; 
  • multi-level work areas to accommodate cooks of different heights; 
  • loop handles for easy grip and pull; 
  • pull-out spray faucet; 
  • levered handles; 
  • in multi-story homes, laundry chute or laundry facilities in master bedroom; 
  • open under-counter seated work areas; and
  • placement of task lighting in appropriate work areas.

Overall Floor Plan:

  • main living on a single story, including full bath; 
  • 5-foot by 5-foot clear turn space in living area, kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom; and
  • no steps between rooms on a single level.

Reduced Maintenance and Convenience Features:

  • easy-to-clean surfaces; 
  • built-in recycling system; 
  • video phones; 
  • central vacuum system; 
  • built-in pet feeding system; and
  • intercom system.

Stairways, Stair Lifts and Elevators:

  • adequate handrails on both sides of stairway; 
  • residential elevator or lift; and
  • increased visibility of stairs using contrast strips on the top and bottom stairs, and color contrast between treads and risers on stairs with use of lighting.

Storage:

  • lighting in closets; 
  • adjustable closet rods and shelves; and
  • easy-open doors that do not obstruct access.

Windows:

  • plenty of windows for natural light; 
  • low-maintenance exterior and interior finishes; 
  • lowered windows, or taller windows with lower sill height; and
  • easy-to-operate hardware.

Advice for those who wish to age in place:

  • Talk with family members about your long-term living preferences. Do you want to downsize to a smaller single-family home, or do you plan to stay put in your traditional family home?
  • Take a look at your finances and retirement funds. With your current savings and assets, will you be able to pay for home maintenance? Consider starting a separate retirement savings account strictly for home maintenance. 
  • Remodel your home before your mobility becomes limited. As you age, changes in mobility, hearing, vision and overall health and flexibility will affect how easily you function in your home. Consider making your home “age-friendly” as a phased-in and budgeted home improvement, rather than waiting until you need many modifications at a time due to a health crisis. 
  • If you decide before you retire that you want to live in your current home through the remainder of life, consider paying for “big ticket – long life” home projects while you still have a healthy income. Such items may include having the roof assessed or replaced, replacing and upgrading the water heater or cooling unit, completing termite inspections and treatment, having a septic tank inspection and replacement, as needed, and purchasing a riding lawn mower. 
  • Healthy living plays a vital role in your ability to age in place. Most seniors leave their homes due to functional and mobility limitations that result from medical crises and an inability to pay for support to stay with them in their home. Effectively managing health risks and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help you stay strong, age well, and live long at your own home.

Residential Outbuildings

An alternative to adapting the primary residence is building or adapting an ancillary structure on the property.  So-called mother-in-law apartments are sometimes built over detached garages so that the non-primary resident can enjoy some autonomy and independence from the nuclear family in the main house.  Carriage houses, barns and studios are often adapted as extra living quarters.  While these types of dwellings can be upgraded to offer the basic necessities of a standard home, such as a sleeping area, sitting area, refrigerator, toilet, shower stall and sink, they may lack a bathtub, stove, and separate rooms.  The electrical and plumbing services tend to be limited, including the number of receptacles and GFCIs.  Also, there may be no HVAC system beyond required system venting. 

Mobile housing units, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), practical assisted-living structures (PALS), the nicknamed "med cottages" and "granny-pods" are newer housing innovations that are gaining popularity with homeowners who wish to house aging or infirm relatives on their properties without building an addition onto the primary residence.  Both parties are able to enjoy some privacy, and the non-primary resident can achieve an appropriate level of independence.  Many of these units have high-tech features, such as electronic medical alert systems, timers, video monitors, and automated floor lighting, such as that which illuminates the path from the bed to the bathroom that turns on by foot pressure.  

While these units may incorporate some abbreviated systems of a traditional home (i.e., electrical, plumbing, HVAC), high-tech features such as those described will require installation by a manufacturer's representative or other knowledgeable expert.  Additionally, local zoning laws may have certain requirements for such structures, or may prohibit them altogether.  Before families go to the energy and expense of upgrading an ancillary structure, they should check with their local building or zoning department.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you like what you have read stay tuned for more to come. Cofer Real Estate Inspections serves Dallas and Forth including surrounding cities. I provide Home Inspection for buyers and sellers, as well as warranty and maintenance inspections. Schedule a Home Inspection online or call me directly at 469-450-0020

Exterior Safety: House Numbers

Julian Cofer

House numbers should be clear enough so that police, the fire department, paramedics, etc., can quickly locate properties in an emergency. House numbers are often the only way that first responders can identify their intended destinations. A number of jurisdictions have begun enforcing laws through strict fines for homeowners who do not comply with laws that impose requirements for house numbers.  

Common Requirements

Many municipalities and counties have implemented ordinances requiring property owners to standardize the display of their house numbers or face stiff fines. Typical requirements include displaying street numbers in block numbering at least 4 inches tall and ½-thick, with a reflective finish or with a source of night-time illumination. 

In order for house numbers to be visible from the street, they should:

  • be large;
  • be of a color that contrasts with their background. Reflective numbers are usually helpful because they are easier to see at night than numbers that are not reflective;
  • not be obscured by any trees, shrubs, or other permanent objects;
  • face the street that is named in the house’s address. It does emergency workers no good if the house number faces a different street than the one the workers are traveling on;
  • be clearly displayed at the driveway entrance if the house is not visible from the road.

Future Adjustments 

Even if a house number is currently adequate, it might need adjustment in the future. The following are common reasons for future adjustment:

  • The numbers assigned to houses by the municipality occasionally change, and homeowners must adjust their house numbers accordingly.
  • The trees or shrubs in front of the house have grown so much that the number is no longer visible. House numbers installed in the winter may be visible during that season but become blocked by budding vegetation by spring or summer.
  • House numbers will require maintenance when they get dirty. Numbers may not be reflective or contrasting if they are covered in mud.  
  • Snow piles created by snow plows during the winter may be high enough to cover the number. If this happens, the number should be raised so this situation does not repeat.

House numbers serve a critical function for emergency personnel, so homeowners should make sure that they’reclearly displayed.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you like what you have read stay tuned for more to come. Cofer Real Estate Inspections serves Dallas and Forth including surrounding cities. I provide Home Inspection for buyers and sellers, as well as warranty and maintenance inspections. Schedule a Home Inspection online or call me directly at 469-450-0020

Extreme Home Safety: Panic Rooms & Bump Keys

Julian Cofer

Safe Rooms

A safe room, also known as a panic room, is a fortified room that is installed in a private residence or business to provide a safe hiding place in the event of an emergency. 

Some Facts

  • In Mexico, where kidnappings are relatively common, some people use safe rooms as an alternative (or a supplement) to bodyguards. 
  • In Israel, bullet- and fire-resistant security rooms have been mandated for all new construction since 1992. 
  • Since the 1980's, every U.S. embassy has had a safe room with bullet-resistant glass. 
  • Perhaps the largest safe room will belong to the Sultan of Brunei. The planned 100,000-square foot room will be installed beneath his 1,788-room, 2,152,782-square foot residence.   

Why are safe rooms used?  Reasons include:

  • to hide from burglars. The protection of a safe room will afford residents extra time to contact police; 
  • to hide from would-be kidnappers. Many professional athletes, actors and politicians install safe rooms in their houses; 
  • protection against natural disasters, such as tornadoes and hurricanes. Underground tornado bunkers are common in certain tornado-prone regions of the United States; 
  • protection against a nuclear attack. While structures near the blast may be incinerated, those far away may be shielded from radioactive fallout. This type of safe room, known as a fallout shelter and typically located outside the home, was more common during the Cold War than it is today; and
  • to provide a temporary refuge in the event of a serious disease outbreak.

Safe rooms have become a status symbol in wealthy areas such as Bel Air and Manhattan, where it is believed there are thousands of such rooms. However, it is difficult to estimate the number of safe rooms because many homeowners will not publicize their existence in their own homes. Even real estate agents tend to hide the location of safe rooms, or even the fact that a house contains one, until they know a buyer is serious about purchasing the house. 

Design

Safe-room designs vary with budget and intended use. Even a closet can be converted into a rudimentary safe room, although it should have a solid-core door with a deadbolt lock. High-end custom models costing hundreds of thousands of dollars boast thick steel walls, video banks, computers, air-cleaning systems, bulletproof Kevlar®, and protection against bacterial and chemical infiltration. Recommendations for specific design elements are as follows:

  • doors:  These are one of the most critical components of the safe room design. A bullet-resistant door with internal steel framing can weigh several hundred pounds, yet it must operate smoothly, easily, and without fail in an emergency. The hardware must be selected to provide substantial, secure locking without compromising the smooth operation of the door itself. Most importantly, it must allow the door to be secured quickly, preferably from a single control point. The hardware should not be capable of being overridden or tampered with from the outside. 
  • floors:  Concrete is an adequate material for the floor. In other forms of floor construction, such as wood, it is important to provide supplementary protection suitable to the anticipated type of emergency. As safe room construction often uses heavy materials, it is important to ensure that the floor can support a large load. 
  • sound insulation:  The attackers may try to verbally coerce the occupants to leave the safe room. Effective sound insulation will limit the ability for such unwanted communication. Also, sound insulation will prevent the intruders from hearing phone conversations between the occupant and police. 
  • walls and ceilings:  Wall construction that spans from floor to ceiling is generally preferred because of the structural continuity of the framing. Bricks and blocks, while bullet-resistant, can become dislodged from repeated sledgehammer battering. Steel stud walls, braced with additional reinforcing ties, can be faced with steel sheet or bullet-resistant materials, such as Kevlar®. These, in turn, may be covered with tile, Sheetrock or other decorative finishes. Steel and Kevlar® panels are available in large sheet sizes.  This helps minimize the number of joints that can be potential weak points of an assembly. It is important to not overlook penetrations that may be made for light fixtures, power points or plumbing pipes. Duct work that passes through protected walls should also be carefully considered to ensure that the security is not breached or they are not used to transfer poisonous gasses into the safe room. 
  • cameras and monitors:  Concealed cameras located outside the room enable its occupant to secretly monitor the movement and numbers of intruders. Effective camera systems may incorporate one visible camera outside the room so that an intruder disabling the exposed camera may not think to look for hidden cameras. 
  • generator:  A self-contained power system is standard in most high-end safe rooms.
  • Items to keep in a safe room:
  • bottled water and non-perishable foods:  There should be a small provision of bottled water and non-perishable foods (such as trail mix); 
  • communication devices:  Ideally, all three of the following devices should be stored in the safe room; 
  • a cell phone and charger, which are convenient, but they may not operate through thick safe room walls. The charger will not work if no electrical receptacles are installed, so those are required, too; 
  • a land-line phone:  Since cell phones may not work in a safe room, or because they may lose power, a land-line phone is recommended. It should, however, be on a separate line from the rest of the house so that intruders are less likely to disable it; 
  • a two-way radio;
  • blankets:  Occupants might be there for a while; 
  • first aid kit:  Even if occupants make it to the safe room, they may have been injured by the intruder en route. It is unlikely that he will allow the occupants to re-enter the room after they leave it to look for band-aids; 
  • prescription medication:  Small quantities of necessary medications should be stored in the safe room, or else occupants may be forced to surrender their position during a medical emergency. Having a hundred cans of tuna and a flat-screen TV does little good if your only asthma inhaler is left on the kitchen table; 
  • flashlights:  Severe weather can knock out electricity to the house, or intruders may intentionally cut the power; 
  • sanitation supplies:  Safe rooms built on a budget often don't have a toilet. A bucket can be used as a low-cost alternative; 
  • weapons:  If the intruders manage to enter the safe room, occupants should be prepared to defend themselves. Pepper spray is a common choice, and firearms are certainly no less effective; and
  • gas masks, which may become necessary in the event that the intruders force poisonous gas into the safe room. Where an odorless gas might be used, an electronic device may be installed to detect any noxious fumes or poisons. 

Bump Keys

Most people think that a locked door affords them security, but to anyone who knows how to use a bump key, a door lock is just a minor inconvenience.

Bump keys are keys cut to a special design that will allow them to be used for picking pin-tumbler locks. Pin-tumbler locks are the world's most popular lock, and these include exterior door entry locks for homes. The process of gaining entry using a bump key is called “bumping,” and it can be very effective.

All the cuts on a bump key are made to the maximum depth, so any key blank can be made into a bump key. Bump keys are manufacturer-specific.  A Kwikset® lock requires a bump key made from a Kwikset® key.  The same is true for other lock brands.  So, a full set of bump keys would include one for each of the major lockset manufacturers.

How Do They Work?

Keys operate by aligning tiny spring-loaded pins inside the lock. Once the pins are correctly aligned, the cylinder will turn and the lock can be operated.

To use a bump key, the "pull-back" method is common. With this method, the key is inserted all the way in, and then pulled back out one notch. While keeping rotational pressure on the key, it is then bumped into the keyway with the heel of the hand or with a device of some sort.  The "bumper" needs to bump the key hard enough to jar the pins, but not so much that the lock or key is damaged. Bumping the key causes the pins to jump slightly. Even this slight amount of motion is enough to allow the bump key to turn the cylinder, unlocking the lock.   

The success of the bumper depends on practice.  Very little skill is required, and the learning curve is short. Success will also vary with the type of lock and quality of the key. Keys made from soft metal won’t last long. Bumping tends to work better on more expensive locks, since the hard, high-quality parts work more smoothly.  Bump keys sometimes deform when they’re hit, causing them to jam in the keyway. They can be difficult to remove.

Can I Buy a Bump Key?

Owning or possessing a bump key is not currently illegal, and bump key sets, and videos on how to use them, are available online. To acquire a bump key, all that’s needed is the identification of the manufacturer of the lock.

How Can I Improve My Home's Security?

At least two companies, Schlage® and Baldwin, make locksets designed to defeat bump keys.  But many locks that use a key and the pin-tumbler system are vulnerable to bumping. No standards exist which demonstrate resistance to bumping. The resistance to bumping a deadbolt lockset varies with the manufacturer.  Electronic locks that have a key override are also vulnerable.

 Bump-proof locks are rare and expensive.  Bump-resistant locks are much more common.  Some (but not all) lockset manufacturers include bump-resistant features in their newer locks.  

 Without buying a new, bump-resistant lock, consumers have two options.  Usually, for less than $20, a locksmith can replace the original lock pins with "mushroom" pins, sometimes called spool pins, depending on the manufacturer.  While these pins will improve the resistance of the lock, they will not make it bump-proof.  Medeco® is a company that makes high-end locks.  They can provide bump-proof lock cylinders for which a duplicate key is available only through Medeco®-authorized dealers.  

 Although bump keys have been around for more than 50 years, their existence has become more widely-known with the advent of the Internet.  Consumers should be aware of this potential danger to their home's security. Taking extra safety precautions, such as installing an alarm system, can provide homeowners with enhanced protection of their property.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you like what you have read stay tuned for more to come. Cofer Real Estate Inspections serves Dallas and Forth including surrounding cities. I provide Home Inspection for buyers and sellers, as well as warranty and maintenance inspections. Schedule a Home Inspection online or call me directly at 469-450-0020

 

Home Maintenance Newsletter - Trash Compactors

Julian Cofer


Why Use a Trash Compactor?


Permanently installed residential trash compactors run on electricity and use a small hydraulic system to crush trash down to a fraction of its original volume (sometimes down to 25%) in order to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable waste regularly generated by a household.  Smaller and narrower than a dishwasher, they are a standard kitchen appliance in new-construction homes. 


How They Work


Trash compactors have three main components:  the motor; the ram; and the trash container drawer.  The motor runs using household electricity, which activates the ram that is operated using hydraulics.  Units vary by size, quality and cost.  The loading capacity for the average home unit is generally around 25 gallons, and the compacting force can range between 2,000 pounds to 5,000 pounds, depending on type and quality. 

Most units must be at least half full in order to work properly.  To use the unit, non-food refuse should be placed or stacked neatly at the bottom of the drawer.  When it is at least half full, the unit can be activated so that the ram compacts the drawer's contents. 



Safely Disposing of Household Trash 


Generally, bottles, cans, cardboard, paper and plastic items and the like can be conveniently disposed of in a trash compactor.  In order to minimize odors, containers that once held food and beverages should be rinsed before being placed in the drawer.

Trash compactors require the use of specially-fitted bags that, once filled, easily lift out of the unit for disposal or trash pickup. 

Perishable food items can stain the unit's interior and create unnecessary mess and foul odors, which is why they should not be disposed of in a trash compactor.  These types of items should be discarded using a garbage disposal or food grinder, or recycled as compost waste. 

Additionally, hazardous materials should never be placed in a trash compactor, as crushing them can have unintended consequences that can damage the unit, create an unsafe environment, and/or cause negative health effects.  These include batteries, cigarette butts (which may not be fully extinguished), household rags used with toxic substances, cans and containers that held hazardous liquids and chemicals (as residue can spill out and cause damage or negative health effects), and similar items.  These should be wrapped and disposed of separately, or recycled according to local guidelines or ordinances.


Safety Precautions and Sensors

 
As a safety precaution, trash must never be stuffed down into the bottom of the drawer with one's hands or feet, as this can dent or offset the drawer and its rollers, as well as damage the hydraulics. Rough use and frequent misuse can lead to chronic problems with the unit and its components.

Caution should be used when removing filled bags, as items that have been crushed may create sharp protrusions.  Many people wear gloves while removing bags for disposal.

The unit should always be locked, even when not in use.  Curious children may wish to pull open the drawer and hide inside, or activate the unit, which is why they should never be left unattended around an unlocked trash compactor.

Spills around the unit should be immediately cleaned up for safety as well as hygienic reasons.  Because trash compactors use electricity, spilled water or other liquids can cause the unit to short out or create an unsafe hazard for users. 

Trash compactors have built-in safeguards, such as locks, misload sensors, tilt sensors, and drawer-monitor switches, which are designed to help prevent injury, over-filling and under-filling, as well as detect when trash has been accidentally placed within the unit but outside the drawer (such as behind the drawer where the ram and hydraulics are located).  However, because they are constructed of many mechanical parts and electrical wiring, trash compactors can malfunction and chronically break down if not used and maintained properly. Repairs and replacing parts should be performed by a qualified professional.

 

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you like what you have read stay tuned for more to come. Cofer Real Estate Inspections serves Dallas and Fort Worth including surrounding cities. I provide Home Inspections for buyers and sellers as well as Warranty and Maintenance inspections. Schedule a Home Inspection online or call me directly at 469-450-0020.

Home Maintenance Newsletter - Garbage Disposals/Food-Waste Disposers

Julian Cofer

What Are Food-Waste Disposers?


Garbage disposals, also called food-waste disposers, are residential appliances designed to shred food waste so that it can fit through plumbing. They are usually electrically powered (although occasionally powered by water pressure) and are installed beneath sinks.


Why Use a Garbage Disposal?


When food waste is discarded into the trash, it places an enormous burden on waste-management systems. Garbage disposals reduce the severity of these problems by routing food waste into septic systems or sewers instead of landfills.
  

Garbage Disposals and Septic Systems


If a garbage disposal discharges into a septic tank, it can place significant strain on the septic system. The amount of waste that enters the tank, particularly grease and suspended solids, will increase considerably. This load increase requires that the septic tank be pumped more often than would otherwise be required. The additional strain will also reduce the lifespan of the septic system. Septic systems can be designed to accommodate food waste, but, in general, they are not.


Electrical Wiring Requirements

  • The National Electrical Code (NEC) does not require a garbage disposal to have GFCI protection.
  • The vibration caused by the operation of a garbage disposal can cause electrical connections to separate. Check for any loose connections in the wire compartment box at the base of the disposal.
  • Garbage disposals should be either hardwired or connected to an outlet through a grounded electrical outlet.
  • A dedicated circuit is generally recommended, although a circuit that is shared with a dishwasher is sometimes appropriate. The disposal’s user or installation manual should be consulted.

 

Precautions for Testing Garbage Disposals:

  • To test a garbage disposal for leaks, turn it on and run water through it. The water load should be great enough so that any leaks will become apparent. A good way to do this is to close the drain and fill the sink with water before releasing the stopper.
  • While testing a garbage disposal, never put anything other than water through it. Before turning it on, check to make sure there are no objects already in the disposal.
  • If a dishwasher is connected to the disposal, make sure that the line that connects them is securely attached.
  • Check to make sure that the garbage disposal is connected to a drain that is 1½ inches or greater in diameter.
  • Check to make sure that the disposal is provided with an adequate water supply.
  • If the home has a double sink, check to make sure the waste pipe from the disposal has a trap installed.

 

Maintenance and Operation Suggestions:

  • Put only small quantities of food into the disposal at a time. Large food scraps should be cut into smaller pieces before entering the disposal.
  • Never put anything down the disposal that is not food or water. Bottle caps, aluminum foil, and other non-food items can damage the disposal or get stuck in the plumbing piping.
  • Run water while using the disposal and for approximately 30 seconds after you turn it off. Food scraps will flow through the piping more easily if they are pushed along by water. Cold water is better than warm water for this purpose because it will force fats and grease to congeal and harden, allowing them to move more easily through pipes. Warm water can be run through the disposal while it is not in operation.
  • Ice can be used to clear off solidified grease and other debris from the blades in a garbage disposal.

The garbage disposal should be used to grind only non-fibrous, leftover food. If in doubt as to whether something can be put in the disposal, err on the side of caution and put it in the trash instead.
The following items should never be put in a disposal:

  • items that are hard enough to dull the blades, such as shells from shellfish or bones;
  • food that is highly fibrous, such as corn husks, artichokes, pineapples, potato peels, asparagus, or celery, which should enter a disposal only in small quantities or disposed of in the trash. These foods take a long time to grind and can clog the disposal or the plumbing;
  • grease and household oils; or
  • chemicals.

Garbage disposals have the potential to limit the amount of household trash that must be taken away to waste management facilities. They can also place additional strain on septic systems and, for this reason, they should be used infrequently.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you like what you have read stay tuned for more to come. Cofer Real Estate Inspections serves Dallas and Fort Worth including surrounding cities. I provide Home Inspections for buyers and sellers as well as Warranty and Maintenance inspections. Schedule a Home Inspection online or call me directly at 469-450-0020.

Home Maintenance Newsletter - Under-Sink Plumbing

Julian Cofer

Sinks are a category of plumbing fixtures that includes kitchen sinks, service sinks, bar sinks, mop sinks and wash sinks. A sink is considered a different item than a lavatory (or a bathroom sink), although the terms are often used interchangeably. Sinks can be made of enameled cast-iron, vitreous china, stainless steel, porcelain-enameled formed steel, non-vitreous ceramic, and plastic materials.

Sink waste outlets should have a minimum diameter of 1-1/2 inches. Most kitchen sinks have an opening of 3-1/2 inches in diameter. A food-waste grinder has a standard opening of 3-1/2 inches, and so do most kitchen sink basket strainers. A strainer or crossbar should be provided to restrict the clear opening of the waste outlet.


Plumbing Requirements for Garbage Disposals


Food-waste grinders (also known as garbage disposals and disposers) are designed to grind foods, including bones, into small-sized bits that can flow through the drain line. Using them to dispose of fibrous and stringy foods, such as corn husks, celery, banana skins and onions, is not recommended because fibers tend to pass by the grinder teeth, move into the drain pipe, and cause drains to clog.

Water must be supplied to the grinder to assist during its operation in transporting waste. The water flushes the grinder chamber and carries the waste down the drainpipe. Blockage may result if the grinder is used without running the water during operation. Grinders should be connected to a drain of not less than 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Food-waste grinders are supplied with water from the sink faucet. They do not add to the load used to compute drainage pipe sizing. The drain size required for a grinder is consistent with that for a kitchen sink.


Plumbing Requirements for Dishwashers


The water supply to a residential dishwasher should be protected against backflow by an air gap or backflow preventer. The machine must be equipped with an integral backflow mechanism, or the potable water supply must have either a backflow preventer or an air gap. The discharge pipe from the dishwasher should be increased to a minimum of 3/4-inch in diameter. It should be connected with a wye fitting to the sink tailpiece. Before connecting to the sink tailpiece, the dishwasher waste line should rise and be securely fastened to the underside of the counter. The combined discharge from a sink, dishwasher, and waste grinder is allowed to discharge through a single 1-1/2-inch trap.


Maintenance Tips


Homeowners should take care not to overload the garbage disposal or the dishwasher, as this can lead to leaks and backups in the sink and the plumbing system.  A backup at the kitchen sink may mean that the garbage disposal is clogged, or the plumbing line has some obstruction that prevents proper drainage.  It’s important that homeowners understand the cause of the problem, as well as the proper way to repair it, before dismantling pipes under the sink.  The right size of fittings and replacement parts, as well as proper drainage (including slope and traps) will ensure that the sink will work as it should following a repair, which is why most maintenance issues are best left to professionals, unless the homeowner has the proper instruction, parts and tools available.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you like what you have read stay tuned for more to come. Cofer Real Estate Inspections serves Dallas and Fort Worth including surrounding cities. I provide Home Inspections for buyers and sellers as well as Warranty and Maintenance inspections. Schedule a Home Inspection online or call me directly at 469-450-0020.

Home Maintenance Newsletter - Dishwashers

Julian Cofer

How Does a Dishwasher Work?


Dishwashers are labor-saving and water-conserving appliances that were first invented in the U.S. in the 1850s.  There are both portable units and permanently installed units that are found in most homes today. Permanently installed dishwashers rely on the home's electrical and plumbing systems, which is why their proper operation and maintenance are critical to household safety and trouble-free use.

A dishwasher operates with sprayed water using multiple cycles of washing and rinsing, followed by drying, using hot, forced circulated air.  These cycles may be further distinguished per length of cycle, power and temperature.

Dishwashers are plugged into a dedicated electrical receptacle at the back of the unit, and usually plumbed into the home's hot water supply, although the cold-water supply is also an option.  This assures that the dishwasher's load is optimally washed and rinsed using the maximum recommended temperature range of between 130° F and 170° F. 

The dimensions of an average unit are 24x24 inches, although deluxe models may be wider and/or deeper to accommodate larger loads.  Its interior components are typically made of stainless steel and/or plastic, and the exterior door may be metal, enamel-covered metal, or having a wood or wood-like veneer to match the decor of the kitchen cabinets.


Use, Maintenance and Precautions


Dishwasher-safe glasses, cups, plates, bowls, pots, pans and utensils, as well as some ceramic-ware and cutlery, are loaded into pull-out racks and baskets.  They can be safely washed and rinsed in cycles that vary in intensity and length. 

Many users rinse, soak or pre-treat cookware to remove solids and excess food waste before loading it in the dishwasher; this is a matter of personal preference, as well as how well the unit works on every day and heavy-duty loads, although waste that cannot be adequately drained should be removed from dishware before the soiled items are loaded into the unit.

Dishwashers can also be used to effectively disinfect toothbrushes, infants' plastic toys, formula bottles and synthetic nipples, and teething rings, as well as other household and personal hygiene items. However, extremely soiled items that come into contact with potentially hazardous or toxic materials, such as tools, gardening implements and the like, should not be washed in a dishwasher, as the toxic residue may not fully rinse out of the interior, which can contaminate future loads of dishware and utensils, as well as clog plumbing lines.
 
Soaps, pre-treaters and rinsing agents to prevent or eliminate water spots are available in a variety of costs, quality and effectiveness.  They also come in both powder and liquid form.  Regardless of the type of detergent used, it should be specifically for dishwasher use only, as other soaps can leave behind residue, as well as create excess foam and leaks.

Maintenance is relatively easy and can be done by running the unit through a hot-water cycle while it is empty, but this is only suggested following an especially dirty load where residue has not fully washed and drained for some reason. 

Dishwashers should never be overloaded.  Loads should be distributed and racked such that cleaning will be effective.  It is recommended that plastic items be loaded into the unit's top rack to avoid their coming into contact with hot elements in the unit's bottom and then melting, or being jostled by the power of the sprayers and subsequently blocking them, which may prevent the water from reaching the unit's entire load. 

It is important to monitor the unit for failure to fully drain, as well as for leaks, excessive noise and movement, and burning smells, which can indicate a burned-out motor, an issue with the plumbing connected to the unit, or a problem with its original installation.  A qualified professional should evaluate a malfunctioning unit and perform any repairs.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. If you like what you have read stay tuned for more to come. Cofer Real Estate Inspections serves Dallas and Fort Worth including surrounding cities. I provide Home Inspections for buyers and sellers as well as Warranty and Maintenance inspections. Schedule a Home Inspection online or call me directly at 469-450-0020.