Heating oil, which is more commonly known as Fuel Oil No. 2, is used to heat 7.7 million American homes each year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Heating oil is in a category of fuel oil that also includes Fuel Oil No. 1 (kerosene), range oil and jet fuel. It is essentially the same as diesel fuel except without dye (and the state taxes). For home heating use, oil is usually stored in tanks that are
underground, in basements, or above ground outside of the house. Heating oil is safe when stored and used appropriately, but accidental spills and undetected leaks can endanger health, property and the environment. Inspectors and their clients should be aware of some of the hazards of a leaking or damaged above-ground oil tank.
How common are leaks?
Oil leaks and spills can happen at a residential property for a number of reasons, such as when a storage tank develops a leak or is damaged or overfilled, or if oil is accidentally filled into a septic tank or into fuel lines that are no longer attached to the tank. A spill might even happen on a nearby property and the oil may flow into a neighbor's yard. Regardless of its cause, cleaning up an oil spill is extremely expensive, often costing hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, and putting homeowners in danger of bankruptcy.
How toxic is home heating oil?
Heating oil is also an environmental pollutant that can poison soil, groundwater, and wildlife and their habitats. It has a relatively low toxicity to humans –- less than that of gasoline, for instance -– although it can harm people through the following methods of exposure:
- inhalation of vapors:
- Short-term exposure to heating oil fumes can cause headaches, nausea, increased blood pressure, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, and irritation to the eyes, nose and throat.
- Long-term exposure to heating oil fumes, often due to undetected leaks, can cause liver and kidney damage, diminished ability to smell and taste, and other serious health problems. Heating oil is not currently known to cause cancer, although one of its constituents -– benzene –- is carcinogenic.
- skin contact, which can lead to itchiness, redness, pain, blisters and peeling; and
- ingestion, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness and breathing difficulties. In large enough quantities, ingestion can lead to coma or death.
Signs of a Possible Leak
The following conditions can aid inspectors and homeowners in identifying leaks or conditions that may lead to leaks in above-ground heating oil tanks:
- drips or any signs of leaks around the tank, filter, fuel-delivery line, valves, piping or fittings;
- signs that the tank has been patched to temporarily conceal a leak (depicted in the photo below);
- rusty, loose, wobbly or bent tank legs, or a cracked foundation, which can indicate poor tank stability. A full 275-gallon heating oil tank weighs more than 2,000 pounds, so it needs strong legs and a sturdy foundation;
- poor condition of oil tank lines. Check these periodically and contact the oil supplier if they look questionable. Keep the vent line clear of any snow, ice and insect nests;
- dying vegetation surrounding an outdoor tank. An oil leak may be the cause of damaged or dying plants or grass nearby;
- wet spots or rust on the tank’s outer surface;
- old fuel-fill lines are no longer connected to the tank in use. If these lines are inadvertently filled, a massive oil leak will result. Unused/unconnected fuel lines from replaced oil tanks should be removed;
- overhanging eaves that may allow ice or snow to fall onto the tank and melt, potentially corroding the tank;
- fuel lines that are not covered by protective casing, even if the tank is underground;
- oil stains on the ground or a strong odor of oil around the tank;
- a cracked, stuck or frozen fuel-level gauge, or signs of fuel around the gauge;
- a clogged or restricted tank vent blocked by snow, ice or insect nests; or
- signs of an oil spill around the fill pipe or vent pipe.
What should you do in case of an oil spill?
Homeowners should take the following steps in the event of a residential oil spill or leak.
- Act immediately. Even after the source of the leak is stopped, the leaked oil will saturate surrounding soil, flow into cracks and drains, and get beneath floors and walls and remain there until it is cleaned up.
- Turn off all sources of flames or sparks in the area, such as pilot lights in water heaters and furnaces. Unplug any sparking mechanisms. Do not smoke or light matches in the area. While heating oil is less flammable than gasoline, it is still possible for it to ignite.
- Ventilate the area. Clothes and furniture will absorb the oil smell and may need to be discarded. Open windows and close cold-air returns, heat registers and other openings that may allow fumes to enter other areas of the home. Make every effort to seal off any air flow between the spill and the inhabited areas of the home.
- Be sure to keep pets away from any contaminated area.
- Clean up small spills by donning rubber gloves and old shoes and clothes that can be thrown away afterward. Avoid skin contact and inhalation of fumes. Larger spills will require professional cleanup.
In summary, home heating oil is a moderately toxic substance that can do serious damage to buildings and the environment. InterNACHI inspectors and homeowners should keep an eye out for any signs of an undetected leak or an accidental spill. If a leak or spill is discovered, take immediate safety measures, including contacting the fuel supplier.
Often times, I get a chance to ask a potential customer of mine on the phone what some of the other companies may be offering for services and/or prices. It's a great way to stay competitive. It's also a great way to keep abreast of what's going on. When it comes to Mold Inspection and Mold Testing, there are some interesting schemes being presented to customers from some vendors.
Often times, one such testing plan offered to clients is individual air sampling for mold spores performed in each and every room in the house. Although there is a protocol out there that suggests this method, I disagree with it - and find that in probably all cases, it is not necessary. Over my years of testing, I have found that in the majority of cases in a typical home setting, where a homeowner may or may not be aware of a potential mold-related problem - as few as one air sample (including no outdoor air sample) is all that is necessary!
In a typical residential environment, the most significant component of a good mold investigation is the visual observation.
Be extremely wary of the investigation company who recommends or requires an air sample in each and every room of your home:
- Many of the leading mold industry standards, including the CDC, EPA, and NYDOH explicitly discourage random air sampling. The New York City Department of Health (NYCDOH) states, "Air sampling for mold should not be part of a routine assessment. This is because decisions about appropriate remediation strategies can usually be made on the basis of a visual inspection"
- The air in an indoor environment very rapidly becomes equalized by our everyday, ordinary comings and goings - and even more so in the presence of hot air heating and cooling systems. The air in your end bedroom most certainly resembles the air in the kitchen at the other end of the hall. This can be very easily demonstrated with handheld measuring instruments.
- Sampling the air inside one room will not prove/disprove the presence of, or locate reservoirs of mold hiding under carpets or behind walls. In most cases, it will only introduce more variables into your results - most likely resulting in more confusion for you. More confusion for you leads me into my final, and unfortunately, most relevant point.
- You've heard it before: it's all about the money, folks. A good lab will turn an air sample report for a vendor for as little as $25-30 each. If your potential investigator is charging you $80-125 per sample, then that can be as much as $100 times the number of rooms in your house/samples for data that is simply not of any real value! Ask your investigator how much each sample costs you and why they recommend that number of samples!
I have had potential customers of mine tell me that other companies were looking to charge $750 or more for a simple investigation that included a multitude of air samples. A detailed and full mold investigation on a typical home even in a scenario when the customer has no idea of a specific problem or problems should require 0-2 mold air samples in total in almost all cases. Larger numbers of samples are for large-scale remediation projects that require professional mold remediation companies and significant repairs or renovations. Be sure to keep these facts in mind when hiring a Massachusetts black mold toxic Mold Inspection company.
Dust mites are microscopic arachnids that thrive indoors in warm, moist places, such as the insides of pillows and mattresses. They feed on dead skin that is regularly shed by humans and their pets. The harm posed to building occupants by dust mites is slight compared to other minuscule bed-dwellers, such as bed bugs. Yet, unlike
those blood-sucking parasites, dust mites live in virtually every home and in large numbers. Due to their small size, access to copious quantities of food, and an insatiable desire to breed, dust mites can number 100,000 in just one square yard of carpet. They are a known allergen and can create allergic reactions in prone individuals, so it’s important to learn dust-mite detection and population-management strategies.
Size and Identification
At just 0.42mm in length and 0.25mm to 0.32mm in width, typical dust mites are barely visible against a dark background in normal light, and a microscope is required to clearly see their features. Creamy blue in color and rectangular-shaped, they have eight hairy legs, and no eyes or antennae. While their presence can be confirmed microscopically, testing is an unnecessary expense because they virtually always show up in tests.
Dust mites are medically significant because their feces contain a protein that can cause allergic reactions in certain individuals. The following are some of the more common allergy symptoms experienced by sufferers:
- asthma and difficulty breathing;
- in a child, frequent upward rubbing of the nose;
- hay fever;
- runny nose;
- itchy, red or watery eyes;
- nasal congestion;
- itchy nose, roof of mouth and/or throat;
- post-nasal drip;
- facial pressure and pain;
- cough; and
- swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes.
While there exists a genetic predisposition to allergic reactions, they can also develop over time, especially from childhood exposure. Eighteen to 30% of Americans are allergic to dust mites' feces, and almost half of all American homes have dust mite allergen levels that are high enough to create sensitivity in people who were not previously allergic. A doctor can confirm a dust mite allergy using skin or blood tests.
Eradication and Management
Disodium octaborate tetrahydrate powder is used to eradicate house dust mites. Non-chemical measures, such as limiting the availability of food, adjusting living conditions, and removing or killing the critters themselves can also be effective. Specifically, homeowners can practice the following management practices:
Reduce humidity levels. Studies have shown that the use of an air conditioner or electric blanket can dehumidify sufficiently to reduce the number of dust mites found in the home.
Dust. Before you vacuum, dust surfaces with a damp cloth, and be careful not to scatter the dust.
Vacuum. The vacuum is the most important tool in the homeowner’s dust mite arsenal. Thorough, regular vacuuming of carpets, furniture, textiles and other home furnishings will keep dust mite populations in check. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to avoid re-dispersal of dust into the home. The person with the allergy should not be the one performing the cleaning.
Use air purifiers. A HEPA filter air purifier will reduce the level of airborne dust mites. The effectiveness of these products is limited, however, as dust mites are generally not airborne.
Isolate pets. Pets create large amounts of dander, which is a food source for dust mites. Locate these pets’ sleeping quarters far from your own and in an area that can be cleaned easily, such as on washable hardwood or vinyl floors. If possible, avoid the adoption of excessively furry pets, and groom them regularly outdoors.
Isolate fabrics. Move all upholstered furniture, clothes, draperies, carpets and rugs away from the allergic individual’s sleeping quarters.
Reduce air infiltration. Open doors and windows can allow the entry of pollen, which serves as food for dust mites and is itself an allergen. Damp summer air can also flow indoors and increase humidity levels, which encourages the spread of dust mites.
Launder bedding. Research has shown that laundering with any detergent in warm water (77° F) removes nearly all dust mites from bedding. Ten minutes in a household clothes dryer at high temperatures will kill all dust mites in bedding.
Exaggeration and fear-mongering have spurred an entire industry of detergents, air filters and other products that purportedly protect building occupants against dust mites, which are harmless to those who are not allergic. These products often don’t work as advertised and are rarely as effective as the simple measures described. Do your research before buying into clever marketing, and be sure to hire an IAC2 certified InterNACHI inspector if you have any worries about household pests or air quality.
In summary, dust mites are small, house-dwelling critters that can create allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Their numbers can be managed through relatively simple strategies.
If you would like to have your home sampled for common allergens - which includes a screening for Dust Mites, please CONTACT ME
Thanks to Nick Gromicko and Rob London for this article - All content copyright © 2006-2013 the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, Inc.
Below is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC - http://www.cdc.gov/) Official statement on Mold, Dampness, and your Health. I have added my own comments in regards to this statement at the bottom:
Facts about Mold and Dampness
There is always some mold everywhere - in the air and on many surfaces. Molds have been on the Earth for millions of years. Mold grows where there is moisture.
Mold and Your Health
Exposure to damp and moldy environments may cause a variety of health effects, or none at all. Some people are sensitive to molds. For these people, molds can cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation. People with mold allergies may have more severe reactions. Immune-compromised people and people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may get serious infections in their lungs when they are exposed to mold. These people should stay away from areas that are likely to have mold, such as compost piles, cut grass, and wooded areas.
In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children.
In addition, in 2004 the IOM found sufficient evidence to link exposure to damp indoor environments in general to upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people and with asthma symptoms in people with asthma. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking exposure to damp indoor environments in general to shortness of breath, to respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children and to potential development of asthma in susceptible individuals. In 2009, the World Health Organization issued additional guidance, the WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould [PDF, 2.52 MB].
A link between other adverse health effects, such as acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage among infants, memory loss, or lethargy, and molds, including the mold Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra), has not been proven. Further studies are needed to find out what causes acute idiopathic hemorrhage and other adverse health effects.
(end of article)
In spite of the recent media hype over the presence of mould (mold) in residences and the workplace, there is virtually no scientific or medical data that supports the level of fear and concern generated by misleading and sensationalized news reports.
Please note that the CDC makes prefaces the article with "that there is always some mold everywhere", and, specifically, that exposure to such environments may cause some symptoms, "or none at all".
The next section of the article describes various symptoms that are most typically associated with common allergic reactions (or "allergies") - "nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation". This sentence is followed by indicating that people with existing or known mold allergies, as well as those that have weakened immune systems (due to illness or age) are at a higher chance of being affected, perhaps seriously. Please note that in no place does the article directly associate the risk of lung infection/disease and mold exposure with ordinary healthy adult individuals.
The next two paragraphs summarize studies done by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2004. Once again, the studies link allergic type reactions to primarily healthy individuals, and greater symptoms to asthmatics and those with compromised or limited immmune systems, such as the ill, the elderly, and children.
The last paragraph addresses the disassociation between mold exposure, including, specifically, Stachybotrys chartarum, the mold species most commonly misidentified as "black mold" and/or "toxic mold" and symptoms such as acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage among infants, memory loss, or lethargy (fatigue).
Although I am no expert, in summary I find the CDC's position well in line with the standard position taken by other credible sources in the industry, and associated textbooks on the subject. Furthermore, the statements are supported by my relatively limited number of samples and clients. I am in full agreement with the CDC's position!
In closing, I urge all of you to do your homework and research the subject in detail prior to making any rash judgments, or furthermore spending large sums of money on unneeded or useless remediation techniques provided by unscrupulous or unknowledgable companies. Buried underneath all the hype, scare tactics, and misinformation is the truth.
OK, you've just finished your MA home inspection and your inspector has noted the presence of water supply lines in the home made of Polybutylene Plastic, also known as "PB pipe". So, what's the scoop?
PB pipe was manufactured between 1978 and 1994 for use as piping in home plumbing systems. It offered plenty of advantages over other materials such as flexibility, ease of installation, resistance to freezing, and most importantly - it was inexpensive. PB pipe was installed in roughly 6 to 10 million homes in the Unites States during that period. Despite its strengths, production was ceased in 1994.
PB pipe has experienced a higher than normal rate of leaks or plumbing line failures in comparison to more common supply piping materials such as copper, CPVC, or PEX. Bear in mind that NO supply piping materials have a failure rate of zero. There were several Class Action Lawsuits involving PB pipe.
The very first installations of PB pipe had Acetal fittings, made of a hard gray (or sometimes white) plastic, which were inserted into the pipe material and then secured in place with an aluminum metal band (or "crimp ring"). The Acetal fittings were problematic and prone to cracking and leakage due to over-crimping and/or the different expansion characteristics of plastics. As a result, fittings made of copper or brass were introduced, as well as more durable copper crimp rings. Although the metal fittings are more reliable, they too may suffer failures. Additionally, there were a number of other factors that contributed to the leaks associated with PB plumbing systems. Overall, approximately 90% of leaks occur at the joints in the piping due to poor connections using plastic insert fittings.
A typical home inspection cannot and will not determine if PB pipe is about to leak simply by looking at the outside of the pipe or operating the water fixtures.
Here's my first consideration: There are NO current requirements that existing PB pipe be removed from a house - however some prefer to remove it and update to more modern piping materials such as copper or PEX. PB pipe is no longer an acceptable plumbing supply line material for NEW houses. Keep in mind that your seller(s) have probably been aware of it and lived with it since it's installation.
Here's the reality: There is no single course of action that is recommended for consumers with homes containing PB pipe. For the majority of consumers I have worked with, they simply do nothing and continue to live with the piping. In my area there are several housing developments that were plumbed entirely with PB pipe starting in the mid-80's, I continue to see many, many of these homes on a regular basis. Some plumbers or websites may recommend (or insist) replacing the entire system even if there have not been any problems.
The bottom line is: The course of action you wish to undertake should take into account your personal level of risk aversion, the types of materials used, the age of the system, as well as past performance. Do your homework on line. Talk to other homeowners in the area. Understand the material and its risks. Consult a licensed plumber or plumbers for their opinion, without inferring that there is money to be made, if you have any additional questions or concerns. Feel free to email me as well.
Buying or renting a house or apartment for the first time is often supposed to be one of the most exciting times in your life. Unfortunately, many first time buyers and renters may not be aware of one of the biggest hurdles in the way of a good home and that’s toxins. Potential hazards continue to grow by the day it almost seems and the importance of a home inspector continues to grow.
Being aware and educated on some of the most common household toxins is of major importance to a new buyer. Without any knowledge of problems and the proper inspection services, families may be backing themselves into an unfortunate situation with a new house that has a ton of problems.
Mold is something that many of us are familiar with, but can sometimes slip the mind when looking for a new home. High levels of mold around a home can end up impairing health and having a slow but large effect on people. While the affect that mold can have on health is sometimes in question, there’s no doubt that it should be kept out of houses.
Radon is a household toxin that is continuing to become even more prevalent these days. Many buyers may be unaware of this problem because it is a silent gas. Radon is a gas that can’t be seen, tasted, or smelled at all, but it remains a major risk to houses. It occurs from a breakdown of uranium in water and soil. It then has the possibility of getting into the air you breathe. Radon’s presence in houses often occurs from seeping through cracks in insulation coming up from the ground, often in basements and first level areas.
Asbestos insulation is another thing that can go over the head of a buyer because it’s behind the walls of a home. Asbestos fiber was highly used as an insulation material heavily throughout the mid to late 1900’s in homes and structures. Unfortunately, asbestos exposure was then heavily tied to cases of a dangerous cancer known as mesothelioma. Although this material is banned in most of the country, it’s still being used in the insulation for many older homes.
These are just a few of the invisible toxins that can affect the quality of the home buying process, but they clearly show the importance of being aware. The growing amount of toxins being found only continues to prove that a professional, stringent home inspector can often be the difference between buying the right home and the wrong home.
BONSAI Inspection Company would like to thank Kristy Dawson [firstname.lastname@example.org] for authoring this article. Kristy is a recent college graduate and health and safety advocate. She is an aspiring writer and use my articles to spread awareness of such issues as chronic illnesses and cancer.
One of the questions I hear most in regards to cleaning up mold in the household is: "Should I just use some bleach on it?".
Here's an emphatic answer for you: No!
Household bleach is generally a solution containing 4-6% sodium hypochlorite and 0.01-0.05% sodium hydroxide. It is most frequently used as a disinfectant or a bleaching agent in our clothing. US Government regulations allow food processing equipment and surfaces to be sanitized with solutions containing bleach, provided that the solution is allowed to drain adequately before contact with food, and that the solutions do not exceed 200 ppm. If higher concentrations are used, the surface must be rinsed with potable water after sanitizing. A 1 in 5 dilution of household bleach with water (1 part bleach to 4 parts water) is also effective against many bacteria and some viruses, and is often the disinfectant of choice in cleaning surfaces in hospitals.
However, as a fungicide (or "mold killer") on porous surfaces such as walls, floors, ceilings, and cabinets, it is not effective – in fact, it can actually provide nutrients to the mold and make problems worse. The Clorox ® Company, OSHA, and the US EPA all have determined that bleach should not be used in mold remediation. While bleach appears to kill mold, just the surface mold is affected – the hidden mold underneath the surface remains alive and well.
Bleach can also be extremely dangerous, and in the shadow of the 'green' movement, is not environmentally friendly. Mixing bleach with other cleaning solutions or detergents that contain ammonia can produce highly toxic fumes including cyanide gas. A small percentage of the sodium hypochlorite will also break down into chloroform and carbon tetrachloride. It was estimated in 1992 using market data, that stored household products would have contributed to 12 tons of chloroform and 28 tons of carbon tetrachloride. Chloroform breaks down in the troposphere and it was estimated that about 96,000 tons of carbon tetrachloride are released annually.
So what do you use? The object of mold removal is to clean the surface and remove loose moldy material, not to try to sterilize the surface. Certain mold-contaminated materials that cannot be suitably cleaned (drywall, carpeting, and curtains) should simply be discarded. Clothing and bedding linens or towels can be washed or dry-cleaned. For hard, non-porous surfaces, any cleaning method that removes surface mold is fine: warm water and soap are your best choice. Stains that are left behind, such as on framing lumber, are generally harmless, provided that you keep the areas properly dry. If you don't keep the area dry, new mold growth will readily occur on many surfaces regardless of the old stains that were left from the prior mold cleanup.
Remember to always hire a professional when you are unsure, are dealing with a large area, or if anyone in the home is experiencing symptoms. Simply killing mold is not always the answer. Dead airborne mold material can be as equally bothersome as living mold!
Most people don’t know how easy it is to make their homes run on less energy, and here at BONSAI, we want to change that. Drastic reductions in heating, cooling and electricity costs can be accomplished through very simple changes, most of which homeowners can do themselves. Of course, for homeowners who want their homes to take advantage of the most up-to-date knowledge and systems in home energy-efficiency. A BONSAI Inspection Company Energy Audit can provide in-depth testing to find the best energy solutions for your particular home.
Why make your home more energy efficient? Here are a few good reasons:
- Federal, state, utility and local jurisdictions' financial incentives, such as tax breaks, are very advantageous in most parts of the U.S.
- It saves money. It costs less to power a home that has been converted to be more energy-efficient.
- It increases indoor comfort levels.
- It reduces our impact on climate change. Many scientists now believe that excessive energy consumption contributes significantly to global warming.
- It reduces pollution. Conventional power production introduces pollutants that find their way into the air, soil and water supplies.
1. Find better ways to heat and cool your house.
As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that energy bills can be reduced through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:
- Install a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can be used in place of air conditioners, which require a large amount of energy.
- Periodically replace air filters in air conditioners and heaters.
- Set thermostats to an appropriate temperature. Specifically, they should be turned down at night and when no one is home. In most homes, about 2% of the heating bill will be saved for each degree that the thermostat is lowered for at least eight hours each day. Turning down the thermostat from 75° F to 70°F, for example, saves about 10% on heating costs.
- Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves money by allowing heating and cooling appliances to be automatically turned down during times that no one is home and at night. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and, in some climate zones, can save up to $150 per year in energy costs.
- Install a wood stove or a pellet stove. These are more efficient sources of heat than furnaces.
- At night, curtains drawn over windows will better insulate the room.
2. Install a tankless water heater.
Demand water heaters (tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don't produce the standby energy losses associated with storage water heaters, which will save on energy costs. Demand water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. Therefore, they avoid the standby heat losses required by traditional storage water heaters. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. Either a gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don't need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.
3. Replace incandescent lights.
The average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights convert approximately only 10% of the energy they consume into light, while the rest becomes heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFL), can reduce energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer further energy savings by reducing the amount of time lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:
- CFLs use 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
- LEDs last even longer than CFLs and consume less energy.
- LEDs have no moving parts and, unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.
4. Seal and insulate your home.
Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy efficient -– and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home can improve comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills. An InterNACHI energy auditor can be hired to assess envelope leakage and recommend fixes that will dramatically increase comfort and energy savings.
The following are some common places where leakage may occur:
- electrical outlets;
- mail slots;
- around pipes and wires;
- wall- or window-mounted air conditioners;
- attic hatches;
- fireplace dampers;
- weatherstripping around doors;
- window frames; and
- switch plates.
Because hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that save them money on cooling and heating, such as:
- Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas.
- Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry.
- Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foam board insulation the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.
5. Install efficient shower heads and toilets.
The following systems can be installed to conserve water usage in homes:
- low-flow shower heads. They are available in different flow rates, and some have a pause button which shuts off the water while the bather lathers up;
- low-flow toilets. Toilets consume 30% to 40% of the total water used in homes, making them the biggest water users. Replacing an older 3.5-gallon toilet with a modern, low-flow 1.6-gallon toilet can reduce usage an average of two gallons-per-flush (GPF), saving 12,000 gallons of water per year. Low-flow toilets usually have "1.6 GPF" marked on the bowl behind the seat or inside the tank;
- vacuum-assist toilets. These types of toilets have a vacuum chamber which uses a siphon action to suck air from the trap beneath the bowl, allowing it to quickly fill with water to clear waste. Vacuum toilets are relatively quiet; and
- dual-flush toilets. Dual-flush toilets have been used in Europe and Australia for years, and are now gaining in popularity in the U.S. Dual-flush toilets let you choose between a 1-gallon (or less) flush for liquid waste, and a 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste. Dual-flush 1.6-GPF toilets reduce water consumption by an additional 30%.
6. Use appliances and electronics responsibly.
Appliances and electronics account for about 20% of household energy bills in a typical U.S. home. The following are tips that will reduce the required energy of electronics and appliances:
- Refrigerators and freezers should not be located near the stove, dishwasher or heat vents, or exposed to direct sunlight. Exposure to warm areas will force them to use more energy to remain cool.
- Computers should be shut off when not in use. If unattended computers must be left on, their monitors should be shut off. According to some studies, computers account for approximately 3% of all energy consumption in the United States.
- Use efficient “Energy Star”-rated appliances and electronics. These devices, approved by the DOE and the EPA’s Energy Star Program, include TVs, home theater systems, DVD players, CD players, receivers, speakers and more. According to the EPA, if just 10% of homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees.
- Chargers, such as those for laptops and cell phones, consume energy when they are plugged in. When they are not connected to electronics, chargers should be unplugged.
- Laptop computers consume considerably less electricity than desktop computers.
7. Install daylighting as an alternative to electrical lighting.
Daylighting is the practice of using natural light to illuminate the home's interior. It can be achieved using the following approaches:
- skylights. It’s important that they be double-pane or they may not be cost-effective. Flashing skylights correctly is key to avoiding leaks;
- lightshelves. Light shelves are passive devices designed to bounce light deep into a building. They may be interior or exterior. Light shelves can introduce light into a space up to 2½ times the distance from the floor to the top of the window, and advanced light shelves may introduce four times that amount;
- clerestory windows. Clerestory windows are short, wide windows set high on the wall. Protected from the summer sun by the roof overhang, they allow winter sun to shine through for natural lighting and warmth; and
- light tubes. Light tubes use a special lens designed to amplify low-level light and reduce light intensity from the midday sun. Sunlight is channeled through a tube coated with a highly reflective material, then enters the living space through a diffuser designed to distribute light evenly.
8. Insulate windows and doors.
About one-third of the home's total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. The following are ways to reduce energy lost through windows and doors:
- Seal all window edges and cracks with rope caulk. This is the cheapest and simplest option.
- Windows can be weatherstripped with a special lining that is inserted between the window and the frame. For doors, weatherstrip around the whole perimeter to ensure a tight seal when closed. Install quality door sweeps on the bottom of the doors, if they aren't already in place.
- Install storm windows at windows with only single panes. A removable glass frame can be installed over an existing window.
- If existing windows have rotted or damaged wood, cracked glass, missing putty, poorly fitting sashes, or locks that don't work, they should be repaired or replaced.
9. Cook smart.
An enormous amount of energy is wasted while cooking. The following recommendations and statistics illustrate less wasteful ways of cooking:
- Convection ovens are more efficient that conventional ovens. They use fans to force hot air to circulate more evenly, thereby allowing food to be cooked at a lower temperature. Convection ovens use approximately 20% less electricity than conventional ovens.
- Microwave ovens consume approximately 80% less energy than conventional ovens.
- Pans should be placed on the correctly-sized heating element or flame.
- Lids make food heat more quickly than pans that do not have lids.
- Pressure cookers reduce cooking time dramatically.
- When using conventional ovens, food should be placed on the top rack. The top rack is hotter and will cook food faster.
10. Change the way you wash your clothes.
- Do not use the “half load” setting on your washer. Wait until you have a full load of clothes, as the “half load” setting saves less than half of the water and energy.
- Avoid using high-temperature settings when clothes are not that dirty. Water that is 140 degrees uses far more energy than 103 degrees for a "warm" setting, but 140 degrees isn’t that much better for washing purposes.
- Clean the lint trap before you use the dryer, every time. Not only is excess lint a fire hazard, but it will prolong the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
- If possible, air-dry your clothes on lines and racks.
- Spin-dry or wring clothes out before putting them into a dryer.
Homeowners who take the initiative to make these changes usually discover that the energy savings are more than worth the effort. However, you should consider that inspectors can make this process much easier and perform a more comprehensive assessment of energy saving potential than you can. For a qualified inspector, visit www.InspectorSeek.com. Ask the inspector if they are trained in performing energy inspections.
Article by Nick Gromicko, Ben Gromicko, Rob London and Kenton Shepard courtesy of NACHI.org
A building substance that was used throughout the 20th century in thousands of products around the world, asbestos is a fibrous mineral that was the most highly sought out method of insulation in homes. Its flame resistant, inexpensive and highly durable qualities made it an ideal choice for manufacturers. Asbestos normally appeared as insulation for piping, roofing, siding and flooring in homes.
Many properties constructed prior to 1980 have a significant chance of containing asbestos, but even those built in the 1990’s can as well. Vermiculite insulation that was used came from a mine in the U.S. that once heavily produced asbestos. Newly bought homes are often remodeled and repairs are always needed. This is often the case with older homes, which still run with old, corrosive methods that were once used to build structures. If you believe that your home contains asbestos, a home inspection could be extremely important for safety, health and investment reasons.
If asbestos materials are present, most contractors will advise home owners to leave it alone. A home inspector can determine the toxicity levels present. Sometimes the best action is no action at all. Asbestos that is left undisturbed and is not in a deteriorated state will not pose any health risks because its fibers have not been release into the air. Asbestos can appear in roof shingles, attic insulation, pipe coverings, joint compounds, electrical wires, furnace cement, fire brick and gaskets.
Asbestos contains fibers that are extremely thin and strong. When they are disturbed, they can become airborne where nearby individuals can inhale these toxic fibers and can lead to serious health problems. Mesothelioma is a form of asbestos lung cancer that is only cause by exposure to this material. An individual who suffers from this disease has limited treatment options and one’s mesothelioma survival rate can be impacted by a number of factors, such as: age of diagnosis, latency period lasting 20 to 50 years and past record of cigarette smoking.
It is not always an easy process to determine whether or not a particular insulation contains asbestos. Anyone who is unsure about the insulation in their home should have the materials in question inspected and tested. Again, exposure is very preventable by taking the right precautions!
Benefits of Home Inspections and Healthy Tips
Receiving a professional home inspection is something that cannot be understated. Many building substances can become a problem for homeowners due to the negative health effects that can occur if not identified. Advances in technology have made inspections into a valuable process that quickly studies areas of concern in your property.
A home inspection is also extremely important to protect your investment. Professional consultants can provide an evaluation of the home and will identify material defects in structures and components of the home, in adherence to or exceeding national, state, and industry regulations and standards.
If an inspector deems the substance harmful, the removal of asbestos in public facilities, workplaces and homes must be performed by licensed abatement contractors who are trained in handling toxic substances. Depending on the condition of the asbestos, many experts feel it is better to seal it off than remove it. These licensed contractors who remove asbestos, will be familiar with the regulations in protecting you and themselves from exposure to asbestos.
Green alternatives to asbestos include the use of cotton fiber, lcynene foam and cellulose. Cotton fiber is made from recycled batted material and treated to be fireproof. A water based spray polyurethane foam, lcynene features no toxic components. These healthy options have the same beneficial qualities as asbestos, minus the health deteriorating and toxic components.
Identifying Bed Bug Infestations
Much of the time, a bed bug infestation is only suspected when bites appear on a person. Oftentimes, the bites are misidentified, thus allowing infestations to go unnoticed, which gives the bed bugs time to spread to other areas of the house.
When cleaning, changing bedding, or staying away from home, look for:
Dark spots (about this size: •) which are bed bug excrement and may bleed on the fabric like a marker would
Eggs and eggshells, which are tiny (about 1mm) and white skins that nymphs shed as they grow larger
Live bed bugs
Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses caused by bed bugs being crushed
Treating Bed Bug Infestations
Bed Bug Pesticide Alert
- Never use a pesticide indoors that is intended for outdoor use. It is very dangerous and won’t solve your bed bug problem.
- Using the wrong pesticide or using it incorrectly to treat for bed bugs can make you sick, may not solve the problem, and could even make it worse by causing the bed bugs to hide where the pesticide won’t reach them.
- Check if the product is effective against bedbugs -- if a pest isn’t listed on the product label, the pesticide has not been tested on that pest and it may not be effective. Don’t use a product or allow a pest control operator to treat your home unless bed bugs are named on the product label.
- Before using any pesticide product, READ THE LABEL FIRST, then follow the directions for use.
- Keep in mind that any pesticide product without an EPA registration number has not been reviewed by EPA, so we haven’t determined how well the product works.
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods like pesticides, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
IPM methods for bed bugs include:
- Inspecting infested areas, plus surrounding living spaces
- Checking for bed bugs on luggage and clothes when returning home from a trip
- Looking for bed bugs or signs of infestation on secondhand items before bringing the items home
- Correctly identifying the pest
- Keeping records – including dates when and locations where pests are found
- Cleaning all items within a bed bug infested living area
- Reducing clutter where bed bugs can hide
- Eliminating bed bug habitats
- Physically removing bed bugs through cleaning
- Using pesticides carefully according to the label directions
- Following up inspections and possible treatments
- Raising awareness through education on prevention of bed bugs
For more information on IPM visit http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/ipm.htm.
- Wash and dry bedding and clothing at high temperatures to kill bed bugs.
- Heat infested articles and/or areas through to at least 113 ºF (45 ºC) for 1 hour. The higher the temperature, the shorter the time needed to kill bed bugs at all life stages.
- Cold treatments (below 0 ºF (-19 ºC) for at least 4 days) can eliminate some infestations. Again, the cooler the temperature, the less time needed to kill bed bugs.
- Use mattress, box spring, and pillow encasements to trap bed bugs and help detect infestations.
Pesticides are one component of a comprehensive strategy for controlling bed bugs. Currently, there are over 300 products registered by EPA for use against bed bugs – the vast majority of which can be used by consumers. Several classes of chemicals are utilized in these products -- each class share a similar mode of action, or way in which the chemical affects the biological functions of a bed bug.
To help you find a product, EPA has developed a Bed Bug Product Search tool to help you find a product that meets your needs.
If you find that a particular chemical treatment seems to be ineffective, please read When Treatments Don’t Work before reapplying or trying a different product. You may want to consult a pest management professional to inspect your residence and, if needed, apply approved pesticides to treat any infestation. For assistance with choosing a pesticide registered for consumer use, you may also check with the Cooperative Extension Service office in your area.
Preventing Bed Bug Infestations
Bed bugs are very successful hitchhikers, moving from an infested site to furniture, bedding, baggage, boxes, and clothing. Although they typically feed on blood every five to ten days, bed bugs can be quite resilient; they are capable of surviving over a year without feeding.
A few simple precautions can help prevent bed bug infestation in your home:
Information Courtesy US EPA http://www.epa.gov/bedbugs
- Check secondhand furniture, beds, and couches for any signs of bed bug infestation, as described above before bringing them home.
- Use a protective cover that encases mattresses and box springs which eliminates many hiding spots. The light color of the encasement makes bed bugs easier to see. Be sure to purchase a high quality encasement that will resist tearing and check the encasements regularly for holes.
- Reduce clutter in your home to reduce hiding places for bed bugs.
- When traveling:
- In hotel rooms, use luggage racks to hold your luggage when packing or unpacking rather than setting your luggage on the bed or floor.
- Check the mattress and headboard before sleeping.
- Upon returning home, unpack directly into a washing machine and inspect your luggage carefully.