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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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Filtering by Tag: Security System

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