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Safety

SAFETY
Safety is a priority focus in every Houston home inspection Lone Star Home Inspections conducts.  Information we provide to you will hopefully better inform you in ways to make your house a safer place to live.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas produced by the incomplete combustion of solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels.  Appliances fueled with gas, oil, kerosene, or wood produce CO.  If such appliances are improperly installed, maintained, or used, they could produce dangerous levels of CO.
Breathing CO causes symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and weakness in otherwise healthy people.  CO also causes sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and disorientation.  High levels of exposure result in loss of consciousness or death.  Because CO is undetectable, people with carbon monoxide poisoning are commonly diagnosed with common illnesses such as the flu.
Statistics suggest that 5,000 people each year are treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.  The number is believed to be an underestimate because so many cases of CO poisoning are improperly diagnosed.
CO can be detected with CO detectors that meet the requirements of Underwriter Laboratory (UL) standard 2034.  Detectors that meet this standard measure both high concentrations over short periods of time and low concentrations over long periods of time.  Most detectors sound an alarm when safe limits are exceeded and some models quantify the concentration on a digital readout.  Units vary in price from $35 and up.
CO detectors should be placed in all homes where combustion appliances are used to enhance the occupant's personal safety.  Consult the recommendations of the manufacturer for proper use, placement, and maintenance of CO detectors.
The 2009 IRC requires carbon monoxide alarms in new dwellings and in existing dwellings when work requiring a permit takes place.  The carbon monoxide alarms must be installed in the immediate vicinity of sleeping rooms.

Fire / Smoke Safety

One of the most important steps that a homeowner can take to protect themselves and their loved ones is the installation of smoke detectors.  Are you aware that the 2000 International Building Code requires smoke alarms in each sleeping room?  Properly installed and maintained smoke detectors greatly increase the chances of surviving a home fire.
Three types of smoke detectors are on the market today.  Photoelectric detectors work by measuring the amount of light that can pass across the air inside the detector.  Ionization work by measuring the amount of electricity that can be conducted by air.  The third combines both ionization and photoelectric in one unit.  Photoelectric and ionization detectors work better with different types of fire.  Conditions associated with a flash fire commonly found in the kitchen or garage vary from conditions associated with a slow smoldering fire commonly found from a cigarette in the sofa.  Some fire departments now suggest that you use a few of each type of detector throughout the house.
Be sure that you carefully read the manufacturer's recommendations for proper installation, placement, and maintenance of smoke detectors.  Proper maintenance and testing of smoke detectors is critical to insure that the units work correctly.  It is also recommended that you review your local requirements for these devices.  Many fire departments welcome calls from area residents about the proper use of smoke detection devices.
Smoke detectors have a wide range of features.  A few of these features are:
Temporary shut off with automatic reset.
Models which can be hard-wired or plugged in to eliminate batteries.
Lights which activate to aid in emergency egress, and notify the deaf.
Test buttons.
Low battery warning alarms.  
Another important step toward good fire safety is preparation. Make sure that your family is prepared to quickly evacuate in the event of an emergency. Arrange to meet in a safe place away from the house after exiting. Make sure that escape is possible from bedroom windows and through burglar bars without the use of a key or tool.

Electrical Safety

The most common electrical problem in homes today is the lack of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI).  GFCI's detect leakage of current flowing to the ground.  They are a safety device used to prevent electrocution.  When the sensor detects about 4-6 milliamps of leakage, it automatically turns the power off in less than 1/40 second to prevent injury to any adult in good health.  GFCI devices protect against electrical shocks from frayed wiring, hazardous tool and appliances, and contact with moisture while using electricity.
In new construction, GFCI's are required at:
1. Garage receptacle locations.
2. Exterior receptacle locations including outbuildings.
3. All receptacle outlets servicing kitchen counter top locations.
4. Wet bar receptacle locations.
5. Bathroom receptacle locations.
6. Spa, hot tub, and pool circuits.
Oversized circuit breakers are often present.  The size or diameter of the branch circuit wire determines the amount of amperage the wire can safely carry without overheating and becoming a fire hazard.  The circuit breaker size should be determined by the wire size.
If a home has had a new AC unit installed, chances are it is more efficient (higher SEER rating) than the unit it replaces.  Higher efficiency means less required amperage to run the unit.  It is common to find the original circuit breaker servicing a newer AC unit.
Arc-Fault Protection
Beginning in 2008, AFCI's (arc fault circuit interrupters) protection has been expanded to include all habitable spaces (except kitchens), hallways, closets, and similar areas.  Only a combination type arc-fault circuit interrupter is permitted and it must protect the entire branch circuit.  AFCI monitor the sine wave of alternating current.  If it detects a compression and spiking of the sine wave it indicates a potential for a spark and shuts off.  AFCI's help prevent fires.

Tamper-Resistant Receptacles

It is now required for listed tamper-resistant receptacles for all 125-volt 15- and 20-ampere receptacles installed in dwelling units, on the outside of dwelling units, and in attached and detached garages.  Tamper-resistant receptacles are designed to prevent the insertion of any small object, such as a paper clip, into one side of the receptacle.  Both blades of an attachment plug must be inserted simultaneously to open the protective shield and allow connection of electricity.  This added safeguard in the electrical provisions intends to reduce the number of electrical shock injuries to children.

Aluminum Wiring

Repairing Aluminum Wiring US Consumer Product Safety Commission Publication #516
REPAIRING ALUMINUM WIRING

CPSC #516

U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission
Washington DC 20207

°  On April, 28,1974, two persons died in a home fire in Hampton
Bays, New York. Fire officials determined that the fire was caused by a
faulty aluminum wire connection at an outlet.

°  Since that tragic accident, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety
Commission staff and other government officials have investigated
numerous complaints from homeowners throughout the nation who have
had trouble with small gauge aluminum branch circuit wiring. The
Commission has also had research conducted that shows that homes
wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1972 ("old technology"
aluminum wire) are 55 times more likely to have one or more
connections reach "Fire Hazard Conditions"  than is a home wired
with copper.

°  The hazard investigated by the Commission staff occurs at
connections to old technology aluminum wire, such as at outlets or
switches or at major appliances such as dishwashers, furnaces, etc.
Corrosion of the metals in the connection, particularly the aluminum
wire itself, causes increased resistance to the flow of electric current
and that resistance causes overheating.

°  Homes built before 1965 are unlikely to have aluminum branch
circuit wiring. Homes built, rooms added, and circuits rewired or added
between 1965 and 1973 may contain aluminum wiring.

°  In 1972, manufacturers modified both aluminum wire and switches
and outlets to improve the performance of aluminum wired
connections. Sale of the old style wire, switches and outlets still on
dealers' shelves however, continued after 1972.

TROUBLE SIGNS

°  Signs of trouble in aluminum wire systems include warm-to-the-
touch face plates on outlets or switches, flickering lights, circuits that
don't work, or the smell of burning plastic at outlets or switches.
Unfortunately, not all failing aluminum wired connections provide such
easily detected warning signs; aluminum wired connections have
been reported to fail without any prior indications or problems.
1 (footnote) The survey conducted by the Franklin Research Institute defined
"Fire Hazard Conditions" to occur when receptacle coverptate mounting screws
reached  149~C (3O0~F), or sparks were emitted from the receptacle, or materials
around the receptacle were charred.


WHAT THE HOMEOWNER CAN DO

°  If you have noticed any of the trouble signs, have a qualified
electrician determine whether the problem is caused by deteriorating
connections to aluminum wiring. DO NOT TRY TO DO IT YOURSELF.
You could be electrocuted or you could make the connections worse
by disturbing them. If you are not certain whether your home has
aluminum branch circuit wiring, you may be able to tell by looking at the
markings on the surface of The electric cables which are visible in
unfinished basements, attics or garages. Aluminum wiring will have
"Al" or "Aluminum" marked every few feet along the length of the
cable. (Note - The marking "CU-clad" or "Copper-clad" in addition to
the "Al" or "Aluminum" means that the cable uses copper-coated
aluminum wire and is not covered by this message.)

°  If you do have aluminum branch circuit wiring, the Commission
suggests that you have a qualified electrician check the system for
impending trouble. Remember, you may not have noticed any of the
warning signs, but research shows that trouble may develop over time
and an electrician may spot potential problems before you notice
them.

CAN THE PROBLEM BE FIXED?

°  One method of eliminating the risks associated with old
technology aluminum wiring terminations is to eliminate the primary
cause: the aluminum wire itself. Depending upon the architectural
style of your home and the number and locations of unfinished spaces
(e.g., basements and attics), it may be relatively easy to rewire your
home. A new copper wire branch circuit system would be installed,
and the existing aluminum wire would be abandoned inside the walls.
This is the most expensive method of repairing an aluminum wired
home; but if you can afford the cost, it is also the best method
available.

°  Since it may be impractical to rewire some types of aluminum wired
homes (e.g., condominium units), or since rewiring may be
prohibitively expensive for some homes (e.g., split-levels with no
unfinished areas), the Commission staff attempted to find a repair
method which would permit the continued use of existing old
technology aluminum wire. The main criteria to be met by such a repair
method are:

 <>  It must permit the repair of every connection to, or splice
between, aluminum wire in the home;


 <> The repaired connections must be permanent but must result
in a system that can be maintained without the need for special
switches, wall outlets or other connectors;
 <> The repair technique must be practical for use in an occupied
and furnished home.

°  The CPSC-sponsored research, laboratory tests, and
demonstration projects identified only one method of repairing
existing aluminum wire circuits which meet these criteria. That repair is
known as the crimp connector repair.

°  The crimp connector repair consists of attaching a piece of copper
wire to the existing aluminum wire branch circuit with a specially
designed metal sleeve and powered crimping tool. The metal sleeve
is called a COPALUM parallel splice connector and is manufactured
only by AMP Incorporated. This special connector can be properly
installed only with the matching AMP tool. This tool makes a
permanent connection that is, in effect, a cold weld. An insulating
sleeve is placed around the crimp connector to complete the repair.

°  Two other repair methods are often recommended by electricians.
While these repair methods are substantially less expensive than
COPALUM crimp connectors, neither of these repairs is considered
acceptable by the Commission staff.


°  The first repair ("pigtailing") involves attaching a short piece of
copper wire to the aluminum wire with a twist-on connector sometimes
called a wire nut; the copper wire is connected to the switch, wall outlet
or other termination device. The Commission staff has evaluated the
effectiveness of "pigtailing" as a repair. In OPSO-sponsored laboratory
testing some brands of twist-on connectors have performed very
poorly. Over time, substantial numbers of these connectors have
overheated in laboratory tests. Surveys ot and statements made by
electricians and electrical inspectors confirm the highly variable and
often poor performance of these connectors when used with old
technology aluminum wire. It is possible that some pigtailing "repairs"
made with twist-on connectors may be even more prone to failure than
the original aluminum wire connections. Accordingly, the Commission
staff believes that this method of repair does not solve the problem of
overheating present in aluminum branch circuits.

° The other repair recommended by the industry uses switches andoutlets labeled "CO(ALR". Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) lists
these devices especially for use with aluminum wire, although they
can be used with copper or copper-clad wire. OO/ALR devices
perform better with aluminum wire when installed caretully and
according to best electrical practices than do the types of switches and
outlets usually used in the original installations of old technology
aluminum branch circuit wiring. However, CO/ALP connectors are not
available for all pat of the wiring system (for example, for
permanently-wired appliances and ceiling mounted light fixtures). In
the opinion of the Commission staff CO/ALR devices must be
considered to be, at best, an incomplete repair. Further, CO/ALP
wiring devices have failed in laboratory tests when connected to
aluminum wire typical of that installed in existing homes. The test
conditions simulated actual use conditions; no "overatress" type of
testing was used.

°  Exception: If you have an aluminum wire termination in your home
which exhibits symptoms of failure, twist-on connector pigtails or
CO/ALR devices may be used as an emergency temporary repair for a
failed aluminum termination. Should such a repair be performed, the
Commission staff recommends that you arrange to have your home
rewired or the COPALUM crimp connector repair performed as soon
as possible.

°  It is important to note that there is only one manufacturer of the
special connectors and the tools required to make the repairs as
recommended by the CPSC staff.

WARNING

°  There are many other brands and types of crimp connectors -
including those intended to be installed with a pliers type of handtool -
which are readily available to consumers at hardware stores, lumber
yards, hobby supply stores, automotive supply stores, and so forth.

THE COMMISSION STAFF DOES NOT BELIEVE THAT THESE
COMMON VARIETIES OF CRIMP CONNECTORS CAN BE USED TO
RELIABLY REPAIR ALUMINUM WIRiNG.

THE COPALUM CRIMP METHOD OF REPAIR

°  The precision dies in the COPALUM tool squeeze the connector
and wires into a particular shape which was determined during the
design of the COPALUM wire connector. Both the final shape of the
connection and the amount that it is squeezed (deformed during
crimping) are critical in making a reliable crimp connection. Upwards of
10,000 pounds of force is necessary to obtain the amount of
deformation for which the connector is designed.

°  In addition, electricians who are authorized to install COPALUM
connectors are thoroughly trained by the manufacturer to use the tool
properly. The Commission staff emphasizes that this training is
necessary to assure that the electrician uses the careful, professional
workmanship required to make the crimp connector repair safe and
reliable.

°  You should request a copy of AMP literature from your electrician
prior to his beginning work. Discuss with your electrician any
information in the literature which you do not understand. Remember,
every connection of aluminum-to-aluminum or aluminum-to-copper
wire in your home should be repaired in order to obtain the maximum
benefit from such repair work.

°  All appliances connected directly to #12 or #10 AWG aluminum
branch circuit wiring (for example, dishwashers, cooking equipment,
heaters, air conditioners and light fixtures) must be repaired in addition
to wall outlets, switches, junction boxes and panel boxes.

°  To determine whether the COPALUM crimp connection method
of repair is availabje in your area, you may wish to write or call the
manufacturer of the COPALUM connector for a list of authorized
electricians who are doing aluminum branch circuit repair work in your
area. You may write to:

AMP Incorporated
Att: Aluminum Wire Repair Program
Mail Stop 140-13
P.O. Box 3608
Harrisburg, PA 17105-3608
PHONE:  1-800-522-6752

°  The Commission staff wishes to remind you that all modifications
and additions to your wiring system should be done in accordance
with local regulations and inspected by municipal authorities. You
should insist that repairs to your aluminum wiring be inspected.


For further information write to:

U.S. CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION
WASHINGTON, D.C.  20207

TOLL FREE HOTLINE: 800-638-CPSC OR 800-638-2772
TTY (INCLUDING ALASKA AND HAWAII) 800-638-8270
TTY MARYLAND ONLY 8O0-492-8104

Water Heater Safety

A water heater is equipped with a safety device known as a temperature and pressure relief (T&P) valve.  This device is installed to prevent the water heater from exploding when the unit overheats.  Proper operation and installation of the T&P is critical to the safe operation of the water heater.
On most models, the T&P valve is located at or near the top of the unit. The T&P valve is typically bronze in color and has a small lever on the side. The valve should have a drain line attached to it which meets the following criteria.
1. The drain line is directed downward and never sloped upward.
2. The drain line is not reduced in size.
3. The drain line is an approved type of material.
4. The drain line exits outside, near the ground, and points downward.
With time T&P lines can become "frozen".  Most T&P valves have a useful service life of 3 years.  Exercise caution when operating the valve.  The valves are known for sticking in the open position, and the water is very hot.  Consult the manufacturers recommendations for proper installation, and maintenance of the T&P valve.
All water heaters in garages or rooms that are adjacent to a garage, must be raised 18 inches off the floor.  If installed in a garage the water heater should be protected from vehicle impact.
Gas Leaks
Homeowners rarely test for gas leaks in houses.  Routine checks for gas leaks are highly recommended.  Gas leaks can be detected using a soap solution, but preferably using a combustible gas detector.  Many gas leaks which are detected using a gas detector are missed when using a soap solution.  Common places where gas leaks are found include:
1. Gas fittings and connections.
2. Gas valves (behind the lever).
3. Gas pilot devices.
4. Gas lighters in fireplaces.
5. Gas wall heaters.
6. Gas valves not in use because the appliance now in use is powered by electricity.  These should be sealed with a cap or plug.
              a. Valve behind washer and dryer.
              b. Valve behind or beneath stove or oven.
              c. Valve behind water heater.
              d. Valve near furnace.

Lead

Home buyer's and renters will receive known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards during sales and rental of housing built before 1978. Buyers and renter receive specific information on lead-based paint in the housing as well as a Federal pamphlet with practical, low-cost tips on identifying and controlling lead-based paint hazards. Your Realtor should be able to supply you with this information.
Approximately three-quarters of the nation's housing stock built before 1978 contains some lead-based paint.  When properly maintained and managed, this paint poses little risk, however identifying a lead-based paint prior to closing would be prudent.  1.7 million children have blood-lead levels above safe limits, mostly due to lead-based paint hazards.  Lead poisoning can cause permanent damage to the brain and many other organs.  It can also result in reduced intelligence, behavioral problems, and abnormal pregnancies.
To receive a lead-based paint inspection or consulting services on how to handle lead-based paint contact the Texas Department of Health or your local health department.

 SWIMMING POOLS

Most buyers don't give much thought to pool barriers.  To protect your loved ones and yourself every pool should be guarded against unauthorized, unsupervised access.  According to the 2006 version of the International Residential Code for One- and Two-Family Dwellings the following requirements pertain to pool barriers.
SECTION AG105
AG105.2 Outdoor swimming pool. An outdoor swimming pool, including an in-ground, above ground or on-ground pool, hot tub or spa shall be provided with a barrier which shall comply with the following:
The top of the barrier shall be at least 48 inches above grade measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. The maximum vertical clearance between grade and the bottom of the barrier shall be 2 inches measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. Where the top of the pool structure is above grade, such as an aboveground pool, the barrier may be at ground level, such as the pool structure, or mounted on top of the pool structure. Where the barrier is mounted on top of the pool structure, the maximum vertical clearance between the top of the pool structure and the bottom of the barrier shall be 4 inches.
Openings in the barrier shall not allow passage of a 4-inch-diameter sphere.
Solid barriers which do not have openings, such as a masonry or stone wall, shall not contain indentations or protrusions except for normal construction tolerances and tooled masonry joints.
Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members and the distances between the tops of the horizontal members is less than 45 inches, the horizontal members shall be located on the swimming pool side of the fence. Spacing between vertical members shall not exceed 1.75 inches in width. Where there are decorative cutouts within vertical members, spacing within the cutouts shall not exceed 1.75 inches in width.
Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is 45 inches or more, spacing between vertical members shall not exceed 4 inches. Where there are decorative cutouts within vertical members, spacing within the cutouts shall not exceed 1.75 inches in width.
Maximum mesh size for chain link fences shall be a 1.25-inch square unless the fence is provided with slats fastened at the top or the bottom which reduce the openings to not more than 1.75 inches.
Where the barrier is composed of diagonal members, such as a lattice fence, the maximum opening formed by the diagonal members shall not be more than 1.75 inches.
Access gates shall comply with the requirements of Section AG105.2, Items 1 through 7, and shall be equipped to accommodate a locking device. Pedestrian access gates shall open outward away from the pool and shall be self-closing and have a self-latching device. Gates other than pedestrian access gates shall have a self-latching device. Where the release mechanism of the self-latching device is located less than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate, the release mechanism and openings shall comply with the following:
The release mechanism shall be located on the pool side of the gate at least 3 inches below the top of the gate, and
The gate and barrier shall have no opening greater than 0.5 inch within 18 inches of the release mechanism.
Where a wall of a dwelling serves as part of the barrier one of the following conditions shall be met:
The pool shall be equipped with a powered safety cover in compliance with ASTM F1346; or
All doors with direct access to the pool through that wall shall be equipped with an alarm which produces an audible warning when the door and its screen, if present, are opened. The alarm shall sound continuously for a minimum of 30 seconds immediately after the door is opened and be capable of being heard throughout the house during normal household activities. The alarm shall automatically reset under all conditions. The alarm system shall be equipped with a manual means, such as touchpad or switch, to temporarily deactivate the alarm for a single opening. Such deactivation shall last for not more than 15 seconds. The deactivation switch(es) shall be located at least 54 inches above the threshold of the door; or
Other means of protection, such as self-closing doors with self-latching devices, which are approved by the governing body, shall be acceptable so long as the degree of protection afforded is not less than the protection afforded by Item 9.1 or 9.2 described above.
Where an above ground pool structure is used as a barrier or where the barrier is mounted on top of the pool structure, and the means of access is a ladder or steps, then:
10.1. The ladder or steps shall be capable of being secured, locked or removed to prevent access, or
10.2. The ladder or steps shall be surrounded by a barrier which meets the requirements of Section G105.2,
Items 1 through 9. When the ladder or steps are secured, locked or removed, any opening created shall not allow the passage of a 4-inch-diameter sphere.

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