Emergency Preparedness:

How Home Inspectors Can Help Their Clients

by Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko


Whether you're facing rising floodwaters or a wildfire that’s too close for comfort, many homeowners confront seasonal threats to their safety that force them to flee their properties, at least temporarily.  In the last three years alone, damage created by severe weather and natural disasters in the U.S. has reached the tens of billions of dollars, as well as caused hundreds of deaths. 

 

In the fall of 2010, Boulder County, Colorado, experienced its worst wildfire in history with the Four mile Canyon fire, which incinerated 135 homes in just three days after forcing 3,500 people to evacuate.  In the spring of 2011, a record 165 tornadoes were recorded in a 24-hour period in the South, killing more than 300 people across six states.  In April and May, the Mississippi River breached its banks in areas across six states that are home to many battles and graves of the Civil War, reaching levels not seen in 84 years, and causing both uncontrolled and controlled flooding in regions of the Gulf Coast that are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  And in September 2013, the city of Boulder and the Northern Front Range of Colorado experienced record rainfall in a three-day period that resulted in catastrophic flooding, leading to deaths and the destruction of homes and even entire towns, as well as long-term damage to road, bridge and building infrastructure costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

Here are some tips everyone can use to make a strategic retreat, as well as ways that InterNACHI inspectors can help their clients both prepare for an emergency and assess any property damage upon their return home.

 

Evacuating in the event of an emergency is often difficult under the best of circumstances.  Sometimes we may receive ample warning to prepare, but many dangers are unpredictable.  Given the emotional stress and panic that can compromise decision-making abilities in the moment, an important aspect to consider is whether the emergency is localized or widespread.  An emergency such as a ruptured gas pipe, a chemical spill from a nearby truck or train accident, or a home fire suggests that help is just beyond the immediate zone of danger and the evacuation will be temporary, from just a few hours to one or two nights.  All families should devise a Family Evacuation Plan that includes a location outside the home where family members can meet.  But a larger disaster, such as the aforementioned flood or wildfire, or an earthquake, hurricane or tornado tends to affect a wider area and may compromise or fully disable public utilities, including communications, electricity, water and sewer.  Roads within the danger zone may be blocked or difficult to travel, and emergency personnel may encounter problems reaching those who need assistance. 


Regardless of the type of disaster, there are many things you can do to mitigate potential property damage and make for a secure departure, should the time come, especially given some warning to evacuate safely.  And, upon returning home, we’d all like the shock to be minimized as much as possible.

 

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


personal health and safety;

home security; and

re-entry.

  

PERSONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY

 

Homeowners should take certain measures to ensure their personal safety when they need to leave their homes for an unknown period of time.  Make sure that you watch or listen to TV or radio for local news and broadcasts by the Emergency Alert System to stay abreast of the latest weather or other conditions, as well as to find out what local emergency management recommends, including the location of public shelters. 

 

Here’s a list of things to pack that will help relieve the last-minute panic of leaving home in a hurry.  This list may vary for each person, but the items are generally based on these priorities:  short-term vs. long-term evacuation, and what you’ll need while you’re away, as well as what you shouldn’t leave behind while you’re gone:


• an all-purpose, waterproof first aid and emergency kit that includes hand sanitizer, a flashlight, a radio with batteries, and matches;

• glasses, hearing aids, and prescription medications for all family members;

• supplies for pets, including carriers, leashes, plastic or collapsible/camping-type water bowls, food and medication;

• a kit of personal toiletries for each family member that’s ready to grab and go;

• a change of clothes, including undergarments, footwear and outerwear;

• sleeping bags and Mylar™ camping blankets;

• personal paperwork in waterproof pouches, including irreplaceable or hard-to-replace documents, such as:

• drivers' licenses and other ID;

• birth certificates;

• Social Security cards;

• passports;

• insurance policies, and other banking, business and legal cards and documents;

• contact information for relatives, friends and neighbors, as well as local shelters, including the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which may be directing disaster relief activities in your area;

• keys;

• cash and credit cards;

• firearms;

• personal electronics, including cell phones and chargers;

• irreplaceable personal effects, such as albums of photos that haven’t been digitally preserved;

• enough snacks, including special food items such infant formula, and non-perishables, along with a can opener (if needed), to last until reaching alternative housing and supplies;   

• water.  If the emergency may be extended, FEMA recommends a three-day supply of one gallon per person per day, to be used for both drinking and sanitation;

• plastic bags, wet wipes, hand sanitizer and other items for personal sanitation and hygiene; and

• a basic toolkit that includes work gloves, pliers, an adjustable wrench, a hacksaw, and other tools to fix a flat tire, turn off and on household utility shut-off valves, pry open a damaged door, or cut through tree branches that may be blocking a road.


An expanded emergency supply list can include the following items:


• a gallon of bleach to be used as a disinfectant and to purify drinking water, if necessary.  Adding 16 drops of plain household chlorine bleach to a gallon of water will make the water potable;

• a gasoline-powered portable generator, along with extra gasoline;

• a portable fire extinguisher;

• portable lanterns and flashlights;

• a camping toilet;

• tents;

• a portable cook stove and mess kits;

• face masks for every family member;

• plastic sheeting or tarps, duct tape and scissors to create a “shelter in place,” if a more secure shelter cannot be accessed in time.  These can also be used to create a barrier from flying debris if it is not safe to leave and you must take refuge in your home; and

• other supplies that can aid in daily routines if temporary accommodations are too difficult to reach or overcrowded.  

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


Other Considerations 


For residents with special needs, such as infants, the elderly, and those with mobility issues, an emergency evacuation plan is essential because the time needed to leave is greater, and the list of personal items is often specialized.  For example, a lightweight, collapsible wheelchair may be a more practical option for short-term use for someone who is wheelchair-bound.  A person who relies on oxygen may be able to invest in a portable, back-pack type supply.  Those who wear hearing aids should keep extra batteries in their toiletries kit. 

 

In all cases, emergency personnel and first responders should be notified as soon as possible regarding the location of at-risk and elderly residents whose mobility may be compromised so that they can receive the additional assistance they need to make a safe getaway.  

 

The B-List


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


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


HOME SECURITY


The good news is that if you’re a homeowner whose home was inspected by an InterNACHI inspector, he or she probably already gave you your free copy of Now That You’ve Had a Home Inspection, the ultimate home maintenance manual, now in its fourth edition, and newly available in Spanish as a PDF download.  This indispensable guide outlines exactly the types of things that homeowners should be aware of on a seasonal and annual basis to keep their homes in good repair, and many of these tips can be adapted to emergency situations.  

 

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

 

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


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


Shutting Off Utilities


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


Electricity:  The method for disconnecting your electrical service depends on the age of your home and the type of system it has.  Most homes have circuit breakers, but some older homes have fuses.  Locate your main panel and open the door, called the dead front.  For a fuse panel, you should find a knife-switch handle or pullout fuse clearly marked “main.”  For a circuit breaker panel, there should be one switch marked “main,” with directions marked “on” and “off.”  If you have more than one panel, it’s a good idea to turn off the switches or remove the fuses at the sub-panels because current can sometimes bypass the main breaker or fuse. 


Gas:  Each of your gas-fueled appliances, such as your water heater and stove, should have its own shut-off valve.  The service for your home is located outside at your gas meter.  It may be exposed, it may be in a box underground, or it may be in an above-ground cabinet.  Make sure that you have easy access to it (especially if it is a locking box), and make sure you know which service is yours if you live in multi-family housing.  The shut-off valve itself generally runs parallel to the pipe that extends from the ground to the meter.  Turning this valve 90 degrees in either direction so that the valve is crosswise to the pipe will shut off the gas supply. 

If you suspect a leak, do not ignite any fire source (candle, cigarette, etc.) or turn on or off any electrical switches nearby, including lights, as even a minor spark can cause an explosion.  Make sure that the service is safe to turn back on when you return home.


Water:  Each sink, commode and water-supplied appliance has its own shut-off valve.  If you have time and depending on the type of emergency, shutting off the water to these appliances may prevent accidental flooding of the home.  If you find it necessary to shut off the home’s water supply, make sure you know where the valve is located.  Typically, it’s in an area of the home or garage that’s nearest the exterior valve at the meter.  Similar to the gas shut-off valve, those with a blade-type valve are aligned with the pipe when turned on, and turning it a quarter-turn will shut the water off.


Lock Your Doors and Windows


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


Other Security Issues


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


RE-ENTRY


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


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


Check the exterior.


Make sure that there are no downed power lines on or near your property.  If there are, do not attempt to move them yourself; immediately contact utility company personnel or law enforcement. 


Check for broken tree branches that may impede your access to your property, or which themselves may be in contact with power lines; again, enlist help in such situations to avoid a potentially fatal injury.

 

Make sure the perimeter of your property is secure before allowing pets back onto the property.  Natural disasters can be disorienting for them, and they may try to escape.  


Check any damage to windows and exterior doors, as well as the roof, chimney and other penetrations, but do so safely.  You may defer this to your InterNACHI inspector. 


Check gutters, downspouts and exterior drainage for blockages, and clear them as soon as it's possible to do so safely.


It’s always best to document damage from the ground and contact your InterNACHI inspector who can make a more in-depth and detailed inspection.  Even after you contact your insurance carrier, an unbiased inspection by a trained home inspector may reveal issues that are not immediately apparent, such as hail damage, which requires some expertise to properly identify, especially if the insurance investigator must inspect damage incurred by multiple clients in the aftermath of a widespread emergency.


Check the interior. 


Before turning on the water and gas service to the home, check the individual appliances to make sure that they’re undamaged.  Document all damage, and contact utility personnel if you don’t feel safe turning the fuel or water back on yourself.  If there is no apparent damage or telltale smells or sounds (such as hissing) emanating from any appliances, it should be safe to turn on the gas and water at their shut-off valves.  Make the same damage assessment before turning the electricity back on, too.


Securely dispose of perishable food items left in the refrigerator during a power outage.  Ensure that stray animals foraging for food can’t access it.  Some food left in the freezer may be salvageable, but always err on the side of caution to avoid serious illness caused by bacteria.

Go back through your home to check for structural damage, including broken glass. 

In the aftermath of a storm or flood, check the basement, crawlspace and attic areas for moisture intrusion, as well as areas at window sills and exterior doors.  Unchecked moisture can lead to mold problems and structural issues down the road.  Have your InterNACHI inspector survey your home with an infrared camera, which can identify areas of moisture intrusion and energy loss that may not be visible to the naked eye.


Check in with neighbors and others.


At-risk and elderly neighbors should be accounted for. 

Notify pet owners or Animal Control if you see disoriented domestic pets searching for their owners or homes.  Also, avoid contact with wildlife that may have been forced from their natural habitat. Report their location to Animal Control.


Those of us untouched by disaster sometimes daydream about what we would grab if we had only moments to spare.  The fact is, there is no bad time to actually make that list and prepare those plans.  Talk with your entire family about what to do in an emergency.  By making practical preparations and involving all family members, chances are that when disaster strikes, you’ll feel less panicked and more in control to guide your family in a safe and orderly evacuation.  They'll know what to expect, too (as much as possible), and that will lessen their fear, which is especially important for keeping calm and acting quickly.  Schedule a meeting with your InterNACHI inspector to help you devise a checklist to prepare your house in the event of an emergency, and to assess its condition afterward to make sure it’s safe for you to re-occupy.  He or she can also help you get started on an action plan for repairs.  And don't forget to replenish your emergency supply kits so that you can be prepared the next time, too.

 

 

************************************

 

Nick Gromicko's BIG Survival List for Ultimate Self-Sufficiency

 

There was a time when citizens were encouraged to build bomb shelters in their backyards for nearly unimaginable worst-case scenarios, such as a foreign invasion or nuclear fallout.  While U.S. national security has been reinforced to unprecedented levels, not every contingency can be met by third parties. 

 

The list below represents the items a family will need to be truly self-sufficient if the grid goes down and public services and utilities are disabled for three months or longer.  The list is long and comprehensive, and all the items will take time to assemble, so consider getting started now.

 

BOOKS

Bible (waterproof)

Bible (camo)

Survival, Evasion and Escape

Other survival handbooks, such as the classic Firefox© series

Gardening books

Baking and cookbooks

How to butcher livestock and game manual

Cooking with stored food books

Homeopathy books

Food preservation books

First-aid manuals

Pens and paper

CLOTHING

Hats (baseball cap for sun protection, and wool cap/balaclava for warmth)

Socks

Boots & other footwear 

Spare laces

Work gloves

Overalls 

Coats

Rubber boots

Rain suit or poncho

Clothes pins (for air-drying clothes)

Sewing kit

Sewing awl

Treadle sewing machine

Wash tubs

Laundry tongs

Hand washer/wringer for laundry 

Diapers

Diaper pins

Antique iron

COMMUNICATION

Cell phone charger (car)

Walkie-talkies (MURS band)

Two-way radios

CB radio

Weather radio (hand-cranked)

Whistle

CURRENCY & BARTER

Cash 

Silver

Gold

Jewelry

Wine, beer & spirits

DEFENSE & SECURITY

Firearms

Ammo

Gun-cleaning kit 

Cotton gloves

Knives

Night-vision scope and gear

Fully opaque, blackout curtains

Earth-tone or camouflage clothing

Camouflage face vei

Green and brown dye

Locks

Detection systems

Alarms

Camera systems 

Jobsite boxes (Vicki boxes) to cache preparedness goods.

ENTERTAINMENT

Playing cards

InterNACHI's Residential Code Exam Prep Flash Cards

Board games, toys for young children

Harmonica and other acoustic musical instruments

Coloring books and crayons

FOOD & COOKING SUPPLIES

Energy bars

MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat)

Canned goods

Wheat (hard red)

Rice (white rice stores longer than brown, but has fewer nutrients)

Dried beans

Dried lentils

Oatmeal

Corn (whole-kernel)

Peanut butter

Dried fruit

Honey (liquid/pure stores the longest)

Sugar

Canned sardines, tuna, salmon

Cooking oil

Olive oil

Nuts

Nut butter

Powdered milk

Vinegar

Salt (large supply)

Baking soda

Nitrogen-packed food

Freeze-dried food

Ground coffee

Smoker

Food bags

Fishing gear

Fishing nets

Fishing lines

Sinkers

Hooks

Bow & arrows

Bow strings (spares)

Snare wire (stainless)

Hunting rifle & shotgun

Ammo

Gun-cleaning kit

Cotton gloves

Ear protection

Eye protection

Rifle scope

Boar spear

Meat grinder (hand-cranked)

Meat saw

Skinning knife

Gambrel

Garden seeds (non-hybrid, open-pollinated)

Sprouts

Gardening tools

Grain grinder (hand-operated)

Spare set of coarse burrs for grain grinder

Mortar and pestle 

Aluminum foil

Refrigeration:

Cooler

Food preparation items:

Stainless steel bowl

Large skillet

Large stew pot

Mess kits

Can opener

Knives

Cooking utensils

Eating utensils

Camp stove

Dutch oven

Coffee pot (French press, reusable filter with holder)

Bay leaves

Dehydrator 

Canning supplies

Mixing bowl

Wire whisk

Muffin tin

Vitamins

Baby food

Pet food and bowls

FUEL & POWER

Propane cylinders

Gasoline

Diesel

Kerosene

Storage tanks

Siphoning tube

Motor oil

Generator (tri-fuel)

Coal

Photovoltaic power system

Photovoltaic battery charger

Rechargeable batteries

Inverter

HEAT & WARMTH

Wool blankets

Bedrolls

Pocket lighters

Matches (waterproof)

Fire steels

Fresnel magnifying lens

Hexamine fuel tablets

Sleeping bags

Insulated pads (to sleep on)

Firewood (split)

Axe

Wedge

Splitting maul

Log splitter (manual)

Saw

Sawhorse

Sterno

Woodburner

Fire extinguisher

HYGIENE

Toilet paper

Soap (Fels Naptha®)

Toothbrush

Toothpaste

Baking soda

Floss

Feminine hygiene products

Straight razor

Bucket toilet

Garbage bags

Powdered lime

Towels

IDENTIFICATION & DOCUMENTS

Passport

Birth certificate

Drivers license

Insurance policies

Deeds

Wills

LIGHT

Flashlight

Batteries

Candles (beeswax is best)

Lantern

Lantern oil (clear)

Lantern wicks

MEDICAL

First-aid kit

Bandages

Gauze

Quick clot sponges

Rubbing alcohol (pure grain from the liquor store comes in a glass bottle and will last forever)

Tincture of iodine

Tincture of benzoin

Potassium iodate tablets (to prevent thyroid damage from nuclear fallout)

Cotton balls

EMT shears (stainless steel)

Burn treatment kit

Oil of cloves

Temporary dental filling kit

CIMPAT™

Tempanol™

Cavit™

Crutches

SAM® splint

Disinfectants 

Witch hazel

Hydrocortisone cream

Calamine lotion

Aloe vera gel

Grapefruit seed extract (nutribiotic, liquid)

Hot water bottle

PERSONAL

Spare prescription eyeglasses

Sunglasses

Birth control

Medical prescriptions

Sunscreen

Bug repellent

SHELTER & COMFORT

Tent

Tent seam tape

Plastic sheets

Tarp

Ground cloth

Folding/camp chairs

Folding/camp tables

TOOLS & SUPPLIES

Anvil

Duct tape

Multi-tool

Chainsaw

Binoculars

Cable ties

Tie-downs

Come-along 

Sharpening stone

Chain

Rope

Wire

Buckets with turn lids

Nails

Radiacmeter (hand-held Geiger counter)

N95 respirator masks

Bolt cutters

Other hand-powered tools

Shovels

Pulley

Paracord

Large adjustable wrench (to shut off gas and water service)

TRANSPORTATION

Snowshoes

Backpack

Compass

Jumper cables

Local maps

Snowmobile

ATV

Diesel pickup truck

Cart

Sled

Tire chains

GPS

High-lift jack

Transfer pump

WATER

Bottled water

Purifier

Canteen

Sodium hypochlorite bleach

Storage containers/barrels

Pick-up truck water tank

Solar distiller

HTH dry chlorine



image48

Homeowner Maintenance: Changing the HVAC Filter

by Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko

  

Part of responsible homeownership includes, of course, regular home maintenance.  And there are some tasks that, if deferred, can lead to a home system that’s inefficient and overworked, which can result in problems and expenses.  One such task is changing the filter of the home’s HVAC system.  It’s simple and inexpensive, and taking care of it at least every three months can mean the difference between optimum comfort and avoidable repairs.


What Can Go Wrong

Most homes have some sort of furnace or heat pump, and many of those homes (especially newer ones) have combined heating, ventilation and air-conditioning or HVAC systems.  Each type uses some type of air filter or screen to prevent larger airborne particles (up to 40 microns) from entering the system and clogging sensitive machinery.  A system that has a dirty filter can suffer from pressure drop, which can lead to reduced air flow, or “blow-out,” resulting in no air infiltration at all.  Any of these conditions can cause the system to work harder to keep the home warm or cool (depending on the season and the setting).  And any mechanical component that has to work harder to run efficiently puts undue stress on the whole system, which can lead to premature failure, resulting in repair or replacement. 

Also, a dirty filter that’s exposed to condensation can become damp, which can lead to mold growth that can be spread throughout the home by the HVAC system.  This can lead to serious health consequences, not to mention a compromised unit that will likely require servicing and may require replacement, depending on the severity of the moisture problem.


Types of Filters

Most HVAC and furnace filters are disposable, made of biodegradable paper or similar media, and shaped in cells, screens or fins designed to trap as much airborne debris as possible.  Filters can typically be purchased in economical multi-packs, and there are many types that will fit different models of furnace/HVAC units.  It’s important to use the appropriate filter for your unit; using the wrong filter that doesn’t fit the unit properly can create the same types of problems as having a dirty filter.  Your HVAC installer can show you where the filter goes and how to remove the old one and install a new one.  Your unit may also have an affixed label with directions for easy filter replacement.


How Often?

Your HVAC or furnace technician should service your unit once a year.  Because a furnace/HVAC unit contains moving parts, it’s important that belts are not cracked and dry, ventilation ductwork is not gapped, cracked or rusted, and components, such as coils and fans, are clog-free and adequately lubricated for unimpeded operation.  This sort of evaluation is best left to the professional, unless the homeowner has had the appropriate training.


The filter of the unit, especially if it’s an HVAC unit that will tend to get nearly year-round use, should be changed by the homeowner at least every three months, but possibly more often.


Check your filter’s condition and change it once a month if:

  • You run your unit six months a year to year-round.
  • You have pets.  Pet dander can become airborne and circulate through the home’s ventilation system just as typical household dust does.
  • You have a large family. More activity means more household dust, dirt and debris.
  • You smoke indoors.
  • You or someone in your household suffers from allergies or a respiratory condition.
  • You live in a particularly windy area or experience high winds for extended periods, especially if  there are no nearby shrubs or trees to provide a natural windbreak.
  • You live in an area prone to or having recently experienced any wildfires.  Airborne ash outdoors  will eventually find its way indoors.
  • You have a fireplace that you occasionally use.
  • You live on a working farm or ranch.  Dust and dirt that gets kicked up by outdoor work activity and/or large animals can be pulled into the home’s ventilation system,  you have a large garden. Depending on its size and how often you work it, tilling soil, planting, pulling weeds, using herbicides and pesticides, and even watering mean that dirt, chemicals and condensation can be pulled into your home’s ventilation system.
  • There is construction taking place around or near the home.  You may be installing a new roof or a pool, or perhaps a neighbor is building a home or addition.  Even if  the activity is only temporary, dust and debris from work sites adjacent to or near the home can be sucked into the home’s ventilation system, and  this increased activity can tax your HVAC system.


Change the filter immediately if:

  • The filter is damaged.  Whether it happened inside the packaging or while being installed, a      damaged filter that has bent fins, collapsed cells or holes will not work as well as an undamaged filter, especially if it allows system air to bypass the filter at any point. 
  • The filter is damp.  A filter affected by moisture intrusion, system condensation, or even high indoor humidity can quickly become moldy and spread airborne mold spores throughout the home via the ventilation system. 
  • There is evidence of microbial growth or mold on the filter.  Mold spores already infiltrating the home via the HVAC system are not only bad for the unit itself,  but they can pose a health hazard for the family, ranging from an  irritated respiratory system to a serious allergic reaction.  The musty smell produced by a moldy HVAC filter is also unpleasant and may  take a while to completely eradicate from inside the home.  If you discover that you have moldy air filter, it’s important to have the cause investigated further.  An InterNACHI inspector or HVAC technician can help determine the problem so that it doesn’t recur.


Tips on Changing the Filter

  • Turn off the unit before replacing the filter.
  • Use the right filter for your unit and make sure it’s not damaged out of the package.
  • Follow the directions for your unit to make sure you’re installing the filter properly.  For      example, many filters use different colors for the front and back (or upstream and downstream flow) so that they’re not installed backwards.
  • Make sure there aren’t any gaps around the filter frame.  If this is the case, you may have the wrong size filter, or the filter itself may be defective or damaged.
  • Use a rag to clean up an residual dust before and after you replace the filter.
  • Securely replace any levers gaskets and/or seals.
  • Turn the unit on and observe it  while it’s operating to make sure the filter stays in place.
  • Note the date of filter replacement in a convenient location for the next time you inspect      it.  A filter that becomes dirty enough to change within a short  period of time may indicate a problem with the unit or ventilation system, so monitoring how often the filter requires changing is important  information for your technician to have.


Call a technician for servicing if:

  • Your unit fails to turn back on.
  • The fan is slow or makes  excessive noise, or the fins are bent.
  • The coils are excessively dusty  or clogged.
  • You notice moisture intrusion  from an unknown source anywhere in the system.

 Homeowners who take care of the easy task of changing their HVAC filter can help prevent system downtime and avoidable expenses, as well as keep their families living and breathing comfortably.  Your InterNACHI inspector can provide more useful tips and reminders during your annual home maintenance inspection.

Sample filter

Sample filter

Dryer Vent Safety

By Nick Gromicko and Kenton Shepard

DryeClothes dryers evaporate the water from wet clothing by blowing hot air past them while they tumble inside a spinning drum. Heat is provided by an electrical heating element or gas burner. Some heavy garment loads can contain more than a gallon of water which, during the drying process, will become airborne water vapor and leave the dryer and home through an exhaust duct (more commonly known as a dryer vent).

 

A vent that exhausts moist air to the home's exterior has a number of requirements:


1. It should be connected. The connection is usually behind the dryer but may be beneath it. Look carefully to make sure it’s actually connected.


2. It should not be restricted. Dryer vents are often made from flexible plastic or metal duct, which may be easily kinked or crushed where they exit the dryer and enter the wall or floor. This is often a problem since dryers tend to be tucked away into small areas with little room to work. Vent elbows are available which is designed to turn 90° in a limited space without restricting the flow of exhaust air. Restrictions should be noted in the inspector's report. Airflow restrictions are a potential fire hazard.


3. One of the reasons that restrictions are a potential fire hazard is that, along with water vapor evaporated out of wet clothes, the exhaust stream carries lint – highly flammable particles of clothing made of cotton and polyester. Lint can accumulate in an exhaust duct, reducing the dryer’s ability to expel heated water vapor, which then accumulates as heat energy within the machine. As the dryer overheats, mechanical failures can trigger sparks, which can cause lint trapped in the dryer vent to burst into flames. This condition can cause the whole house to burst into flames. Fires generally originate within the dryer but spread by escaping through the ventilation duct, incinerating trapped lint, and following its path into the building wall.


InterNACHI believes that house fires caused by dryers are far more common than are generally believed, a fact that can be appreciated upon reviewing statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency. Fires caused by dryers in 2005 were responsible for approximately 13,775 house fires, 418 injuries, 15 deaths, and $196 million in property damage. Most of these incidents occur in residences and are the result of improper lint cleanup and maintenance. Fortunately, these fires are very easy to prevent.


The recommendations outlined below reflect International Residential Code (IRC) SECTION M1502 CLOTHES DRYER EXHAUST guidelines:


• M1502.5 Duct construction.

Exhaust ducts shall be constructed of minimum 0.016-inch-thick (0.4 mm) rigid metal ducts, having smooth interior surfaces, with joints running in the direction of air flow. Exhaust ducts shall not be connected with sheet-metal screws or fastening means which extend into the duct.


This means that the flexible, ribbed vents used in the past should no longer be used. They should be noted as a potential fire hazard if observed during an inspection.


• M1502.6 Duct length.

The maximum developed length of a clothes dryer exhaust duct shall not exceed 35 feet from the dryer location to the wall or roof termination. The maximum length of the duct shall be reduced 2.5 feet for each 45-degree (0.8 rad) bend, and 5 feet for each 90-degree (1.6 rad) bend. The maximum length of the exhaust duct does not include the transition duct.


This means that vents should also be as straight as possible and cannot be longer than 25 feet. Any 90-degree turns in the vent reduce this 25-foot number by 5 feet, since these turns restrict airflow.


o A couple of exceptions exist:

 The IRC will defer to the manufacturer’s instruction, so if the manufacturer’s recommendation permits a longer exhaust vent, that’s acceptable. An inspector probably won’t have the manufacturer’s recommendations, and even if they do, confirming compliance with them exceeds the scope of a General Home Inspection.


 The IRC will allow large radius bends to be installed to reduce restrictions at turns, but confirming compliance requires performing engineering calculation in accordance with the ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook, which definitely lies beyond the scope of a General Home Inspection.


• M1502.2 Duct termination.

Exhaust ducts shall terminate on the outside of the building or shall be in accordance with the dryer manufacturer’s installation instructions. Exhaust ducts shall terminate not less than 3 feet in any direction from openings into buildings. Exhaust duct terminations shall be equipped with a backdraft damper. Screens shall not be installed at the duct termination.


Inspectors will see many dryer vents terminate in crawlspaces or attics where they deposit moisture, which can encourage the growth of mold, wood decay, or other material problems. Sometimes they will terminate just beneath attic ventilators. This is a defective installation. They must terminate at the exterior and away from a door or window. Also, screens may be present at the duct termination and can accumulate lint and should be noted as improper.  


• M1502.3 Duct size.

The diameter of the exhaust duct shall be as required by the clothes dryer’s listing and the manufacturer’s installation instructions.


Look for the exhaust duct size on the data plate.


• M1502.4 Transition ducts.

Transition ducts shall not be concealed within construction. Flexible transition ducts used to connect the dryer to the exhaust duct system shall be limited to single lengths not to exceed 8 feet, and shall be listed and labeled in accordance with UL 2158A.


Required support for lengthy ducts is covered by the following section:


• M1502.4.2 Duct installation.

Exhaust ducts shall be supported at intervals not to exceed 12 feet and shall be secured in place. The insert end of the duct shall extend into the adjoining duct or fitting in the direction of airflow. Exhaust duct joints shall be sealed in accordance with Section M1601.4.1 and shall be mechanically fastened. Ducts shall not be joined with screws or similar fasteners that protrude more than 1/8-inch into the inside of the duct.


Additionally, makeup air for the laundry room in an amount equal to the sum – in cubic feet per minute (CFM) – of the dryer vent fan, and of any laundry room fans, must be supplied when both fans are operating. Depending on the laundry room's size, this may approach 300 CFM. Makeup air would need to be supplied from some source. If the door is closed and there is no window, this may present a problem, including extended drying times and reduced dryer vent flow that can cause an excess accumulation of lint in the exhaust vent, which is a potential fire hazard.


In general, an inspector will not know specific manufacturer’s recommendations or local applicable codes and will not be able to confirm the dryer vent's compliance to them, but will be able to point out issues that may need to be corrected.


image49