Ed Fryday ACI, CPI – Space City Inspections, LLC TREC # 6932
The following information is for anyone who has suffered damage from a hurricane or tropical storm or flash flood of any nature. There are several things to be done to get the recovery process moving and some things have priority over the others. What I hope to do here is provide you with information and priorities that you can use to help yourself recover as quickly as possible.
1. The first thing on your priority list should be to contact your insurance company. Hopefully you have flood insurance and you need to contact your agent and or claims office ASAP. If you do not have flood insurance you may want to register for assistance with FEMA. Yes, FEMA subsidizes all flood insurance but if you have not paid a flood insurance premium you have no flood insurance through FEMA. FEMA may still be able to help some but don’t expect them to foot the bill to cover all of your damages. FEMA is only interested that you have a place to live that is safe, sanitary and secure. Don’t expect them to replace very expensive furniture. They may help with some minimal cheap furniture but not much more than that.
2. Next comes documentation of damages. I cannot overstate this; document, document, document. Take photos and or videos of every damaged area you can find inside and out. Create a file on your device that will let you access and share these photos and videos as needed. HOWEVER, PLEASE DO NOT ENTER ANY BUILDING THAT MAY HAVE BEEN
It is unlikely that simple rising water has done any structural damage. If however your property was subjected to high winds and or storm surge or currents from flooding streams that is a much greater possibility. If you have any doubt as to the structural integrity of your property, consult with a professional engineer BEFORE entering the property. Only after you are sure the property is safe should you enter and continue the documentation process.
The documentation will be very helpful as you are dealing with insurance companies, especially if you feel you are not being treated fairly. If you ever feel the need to talk to an attorney, the more documentation you have the better off you will be.
Don’t limit your documentation to just photos and videos. Keep a journal. Write down the dates and times of everything you do and who was with you. Note the date and time and names of any communications you have with any insurance company or contractor and be sure to log the name of all of the individuals you deal with. Hopefully you will never need all of this documentation but if you do, it will be invaluable.
Assuming your property is safe to enter and you’ve got your documentation under control, you can now start the process of clean up and repair. Now is a good time to get your emotions under control and begin to segment or compartmentalize the work that needs to be done. What follows here is the order in which I personally dealt with a flooded house along with things I have learned as a home inspector and as a disaster housing inspector working to help with recovery after seven named storms in Florida and Louisiana including Katrina and Rita.
A. If it is wet get it out of the house! Mold grows incredibly fast and the quicker you get your house dry the less mold you will have to deal with. Be sure to wear a mask of some kind while inside a wet home.
B. If your furniture cannot be salvaged get it out and on the roadside to be picked up. Basically if your upholstered furniture got wet and is holding water, get it out – couches, chairs, mattresses, drapes, all of it. Non upholstered furniture may be salvaged if kept dry.
C. Wet floor coverings are next – especially carpets, rugs and pads. Carefully use a razor knife to cut these into manageable size pieces and drag them out to the curb. Most wood floor coverings will begin to warp and buckle if left in a wet environment for long so I suggest getting them out also. Tile floorings are a little different. Water may not actually damage the tile and it may look ok. The problem with tile floorings is water underneath tile. Generally speaking it is best to remove all flooded floor coverings so you can adequately dry the house.
D. Next, remove all baseboards and get them out. Now you have to assess the condition of your interior wall coverings. Whether it is a wood product or drywall it needs to come out to some level. Here is where a reasonable assessment comes in. How high did the water get? This may vary from room to room. Remember that drywall (gypsum board quite commonly called Sheetrock, a U.S. Gypsum trademark) comes in 4 x 8 ft panels. Wood paneling, commonly found in older homes can’t be repaired like drywall and you will need to remove all of it.
So, if the water level was only a foot high you do not have to remove all of the drywall. Using a razor knife (carefully) and a straight edge, cut through the drywall about 2 feet up from its lower edge which is visible because you have already removed the baseboards. Remove this layer of drywall to the outside.
Most outside walls will be insulated and that insulation may be holding water so you need to remove that also if it is wet. If you discover it has wicked water higher than two feet then go ahead and remove the drywall to four feet so you can get to any wet insulation and get it out. (When you get to four feet you will probably discover a seam where the dry wall was joined when originally installed. Make your cut in the seam as it will be much easier to do.)
- Careful with electric receptacles and switches and be aware that there are electric wires behind most walls. Most of them are at and above the level of wall receptacles. For safety it is a good idea to turn the power off to the room you are working in as well as the one on the other side of the wall.
If your flood level went higher you will have to remove more drywall and insulation. Remember to do this in two foot increments to gain maximum use from the minimum amount of drywall. In worst case scenarios you may be removing the ceiling as well. Be aware of insulation that is above most one story house ceilings, as it will fall on you along with any other items that might be stored (or left behind) in attic spaces.
E. Cabinets; most bath and kitchen cabinets and bookshelves are wood products, if they got wet they will most likely need to be removed as well. Upper cabinets may not have actual water damage but it is very unlikely you will ever match them so make sure your insurance company covers their replacement as well.
If you have not already done so, gather up as many fans as possible and get them running on high speed. If for some lucky reason your air conditioning system is operational, turn it on and set it low. A/C systems are great dehumidifiers! If your A/C system was flooded, be sure to have it checked by a licensed A/C professional before turning it on.
By now you are well on the way to recovery but you need to be sure the house is well dried out before starting repairs. Unless your “do it yourself” skill level is adequate you may want to engage a professional contractor at this point.
Watch out for "fly by night" contractors as they come out in droves following a flood. Some construction trades in Texas have to be licensed by the state while others do not. Electricians, plumbers and A/C companies have to be licensed. Do not let a “handyman” or other unlicensed person perform any work in these areas. Roofers, insulators, drywall and siding repairmen do not have to be licensed. Be sure to hire professionals with a good local history and references to work in these areas.
Some items of home repair will need to be permitted by the city you live in or near. Check with your city building official’s office to see if a permit is required for any of the work you plan to do. Typically roofing and work involving licensed trades people may need a building permit.
A word about insurance adjusters: Typically adjusters work for the insurance companies – not you. Most adjusters and reputable insurance companies will treat you fairly and provide you with enough money to cover your repairs including cleanup or “demolition” costs – within the limits of your policy. If you feel like you are not being treated fairly consider engaging the services of a public adjuster.
A public adjuster (PA) is a properly licensed property claims adjuster but they work for you. A PA will assess the damages to your property and the limits of your policy and work for you to gain the maximum possible from your insurance policy. Normally they take a commission or a percentage of whatever you get. If you get nothing they get nothing. This could vary so be sure to understand their payment requirements but they may be a very helpful service provider.
Were you aware of this? Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) created standards in 1991 that require all freestanding ranges manufactured after that year to be able to support 250 pounds of weight on their open oven doors.
Dryer fires are not something most us us ever think about. However, they are much more common than you might think. Over 2500 residential fires per years are caused by dryer lint fires. Here are two links for you to consider. The first is about the stats on these fires. The second is about an interesting gadget that may be worth quite a bit more that it's cost. This is not an endorsement of the device in the second link - just food for thought
Before we can get far into this topic you need to understand the difference between step flashing and continuous flashing. Step flashing is metal flashing, usually galvanized steel but sometimes copper or other metals, and it is normally 10” wide by 7” long. It is bent at a 90 degree angle in the middle of it’s width so that 5” will lay on the roof under the shingles and 5” will turn up the wall to be covered by cap flashing or siding. It is available in larger sizes for specialty shingles. Continuous, “L” , “J “ or “turnback” flashing all look very much like step flashing except they come in 10’ lengths.
Until recently residential building codes have specified the use of step flashing where roof covering meets a vertical sidewall, like at a chimney or dormer. The 2012 International Residential code has now included continuous flashings as acceptable in these areas. The problem is virtually every manufacturer of composition shingles indicates in their installation instructions that step flashing should be used at vertical sidewalls.
The 2012 code is published but it only goes into effect when it is adopted by the code authority having jurisdiction. Most code authorities in the greater Houston area have been allowing (or turning a blind eye) towards continuous flashing for many years even though it has been contrary to code and manufacturer’s instructions.
Here is an excerpt from Sec R905.1 of the 2009 International Residential Code which has been adopted by quite a few jurisdictions. “Roof coverings shall be applied in accordance with the applicable provisions of this section AND the manufacturer’s installation instructions.”
The You Tube video link below demonstrates step flashing installation.
Home buyers and their agents should make an effort to be sure a home is ready to be inspected before the inspector shows up. Many times I have gotten to a job and discovered that for one reason or another some part of the inspection could not be completed because the home was not ready. Sometimes this results in a return trip for a follow up inspection and an additional inspection fee to the buyer.
As you can imagine most buyers are not happy about having to pay for a second inspection. With just a little bit of advance checking with the seller and or the seller’s agent this situation can be avoided completely.
Many people think an inspector can simply go out anytime to inspect a house, but there are some limitations. Good visibility is very important. The Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) will not allow inspections to be done at night so starting and inspection late is not a good idea. It may take 3 to 5 hours for an inspection so an early start is usually a good idea.
Be sure all of utilities are turned on and all pilot lights are lit, if any. If the gas, water, or electricity is not turned on for the inspection, the inspector cannot completely inspect those things that use the utility. Your inspector cannot turn utilities on for the inspection.
If the house is occupied utilities are not a problem but if the occupant will not be there, be sure that all locks are removed or left open. Locked access panels to electric service boxes, attic doors, gates or even on garage doors etc., may prevent a complete inspection.
Furnishings and stored items can prevent an inspector from gaining access to some things that he would normally inspect. Your inspector will not move heavy, expensive or fragile items to complete an inspection. If the current owner is preparing to move and has boxes stacked in front of the water heater, the water heater will not get a complete inspection. If a car parked in the garage prevents access to a pull down attic ladder or electric panel in the garage wall etc., the attic or electric panel would not get inspected. Be sure ready access is available.
Pets can be a problem if they are not properly secured. Even friendly dogs and cats can get in the way and distract an inspector. During the course of an inspection it is necessary for the inspector to go in and out of the house multiple times and may be impossible for him to prevent a pet from running out. It is best to have them secured out of the way and not just lock in a room or back yard. Remember the inspector has to go into every room and in and out of the back yard.
I’ll try to keep this short but it is a concern that comes up from time to time while inspecting houses in South Texas. It is not unusual to see water stains or even black moldy looking areas near or around A/C vents or “registers” as they are called in the trade. I’m often asked what causes that and how can it be fixed. Below is a photo of the problem.
As most inspectors I am not a licensed HVAC professional but I have a working knowledge of this problem. As a general rule the problem is caused by condensation when cold air in the A/C system encounters warm humid air. I know that is an over simplified explanation.
I also know several first class HVAC professionals so I put the question to Derek Stewart owner of Aircon Houston. Derek is very knowledgeable and was very willing to let me share his answer to you. So, I am going to quote from his response.
“Ed, Good to hear from you! You are correct in that mildew on registers is caused by condensation on the grill. The cold air from the AC is mixing with humid air in the room and condensation can happen. Water stains around the register points to two things:
1. The insulation in the register box is old and/or falling off. That insulation can be replaced simply by removing the register, removing the old insulation and installing new insulation.
2. The insulated box is not sealed well to the surrounding sheet rock. This allows attic air to infiltrate down into the living space. The solution is to remove the register, caulk to seal the area and reinstall the register.
Most of the time we see the mildew on grills in a bathroom or a room that the owner has shut off airflow (such as in a bedroom that is not used). The real question to ask is why is that room so humid? It could be a faulty vent fan (as in a bathroom) or it could be a system wide problem with the AC. At times there may be a drain problem that caused undue humid air to be blown into the house. Even after fixing the problem, the mildew will remain on the register. In short, there’s no one answer. But these are the most common.”
Derek Stewart, AirCon Service Co., 281-488-4357, www.airconhouston.com
Everything Derek said regarding this problem makes good sense to me and I want to thank him again for allowing me to share his wisdom. I will add a couple of comments of my own regarding the removal of existing mildew and water stains.
1. A mild solution of bleach water will remove most mildew type stains pretty easily. I would recommend the use of care and rubber gloves whenever using bleach. A very small drop or drip on just about any fabric will change the color and possibly damage the fabric.
2. After you have addressed the cause and cleaned the area you may need to re-paint to cover the remaining stains. Be sure to use a good primer to keep the stains from bleeding through your final paint job.
This is a very simple yet apparently confusing topic. Many home inspectors and quite a few plumbers and HVAC techs use the terms interchangeably and don’t really understand the difference. The general home buyer gives me a blank stare when I mention the need for and lack of a sediment trap. Sediment traps are found in the gas supply line between the gas shut off valve and the controls of gas heaters, water heaters and pool/spa or hot tub heaters. The photo below shows a water heater in use with no sediment trap.
Obviously if you have electric units this does not apply and sediment traps are not required for all gas appliances. Gas stoves or cook tops or fireplaces for instance are not required to have them.
The purpose of a sediment trap is to prevent any sediment that may be in a gas supply line from entering into the controls of a heater or water heater. They are normally built on sight by a plumber or HVAC professional when installing or replacing these units. I’ve never seen a manufactured sediment trap but they may exist.
What do they look like and how to you tell the difference? Normally they are made of ½” black or galvanized pipe and found between the gas shut of valve and where the gas enters the control unit. Let’s “build one” to help you understand.
Start with a short nipple coming out of the control unit and add a "T" and tighten until the "T" is in a vertical position. Insert another nipple of 4" to 6" on the bottom of the "T" and put a cap on that nipple. Now, bring the flexible gas line from the shut off valve and connect it to the top of the"T". You have just built a sediment trap. (There is no length requirement for the nipples. The sizes mentioned work well but they can be different lengths.) Below is a correctly constructed sediment trap.
A sediment trap will catch moisture as well as a drip leg does but a drip leg may not catch small pieces of sediment. Although no one ever does it, it is not a bad idea to occasionally remove the bottom cap from the sediment trap and tap it to knock out the trapped sediment.
So, what does a drip leg look like? It is very similar in appearance to a sediment trap so let’s “build” one of them so you can see the difference. Go back to the gas control unit on your heater or water heater and install the short nipple. This time install the "T" in a horizontal position so that the "T" has one opening facing down and one still horizontal. Install a 4" to 6" nipple with a cap from the bottom of the "T" and attached the flexible gas line to the horizontal end of the "T". The photo below shows a drip leg.
The difference is that the gas is forced to change direction at a sediment trap before it goes into the control unit. Any moisture or sediment in the gas is forced to drop out. A small lightweight piece of sediment may be carried by the gas flow over the drip leg without falling out.
Water heaters are one of those things that are taken for granted because they are generally very reliable. Most residential water heaters in my area (Texas) use either gas or electricity to heat the water which is stored in a tank and reheated as needed. There are also tankless water heaters available which only heat water as it is being used. While most have a warranty period of less than 10 years most last much longer than that. There are some potential problems with water heaters so here are some things to be aware of.
All water heaters have the potential of overheating water which could be disastrous. An old unit could spring a leak which while not disastrous could still cause damage. Gas fired units have an open flame should be kept away from combustible fumes. Dangerous problems with water heaters are rare but do happen so here are some things to be aware of.
A leak from a water heater can be a real pain depending on where in the home the unit is located. According to current building standards if the unit is located where a leak might cause damage to the structure, it should be installed with a drain pan under it. That pan should have a drain line that discharges to the outside. Now if it develops a leak of any kind it will be diverted to the outside and not damage your home. Just be aware of where the drain line ends and pay attention to it as you work around your home. If it is leaking, you have a problem that should not be ignored.
A malfunctioning control unit or thermostat might cause the unit to overheat the water which could turn into steam which would really increase the pressure on the tank and or the hot water system. For this reason the units are all equipped with Temperature and Pressure Relief (T & PR) valves. This is one valve that is spring loaded and is designed to open at about 212 degrees F or 150 PSI of pressure.
The T & PR valve is located at or near the top of the tanks and somewhere on the hot water side of a tankless unit. The valves should also have a drain line attached to divert water to the outside of your home. The T & PR valves are designed to re-seat after the pressure or temperature has been reduced to a safe level.
It is important that this drain not be reduced in diameter and its termination should be within a few inches of the ground and pointing down. Also, the end of the T & PR drain should not be threaded so it can’t be capped or plugged and the T & PR drain line should never run uphill at any point. If it does, and the valve opens it will not drain fully and the water left in the drain may cause corrosion to the T & PR valve which them may not work the next time it is needed.
The T & PR drain line usually terminates very close to the pan drain. Be aware of any sign of dripping water from this drain and call a licensed plumber immediately if you see anything suspicious. A leak in this area could indicate a serious and potentially hazardous condition.
Another concern with water heaters is combustible fumes. Folks often keep gasoline and other things that give off combustible fumes in their garage and it is not fun when those fumes drift into a water heater flame. "BOOM" is not what you want to hear from the water heater. While this is mainly a concern for gas fired units it is possible for a spark from an electric contact opening or closing on an electric unit to have the same effect.
The current standards require that there be no ignition point within 18" of a garage floor. Gasoline fumes are heavier than air and will usually stay under 18" unless there is a very heavy concentration. This is why you often see garage mounted units on stands.
I could go on for pages on this subject but I’ll stop with just one more that I see often. The flue pipe from a gas fired water heater gets HOT and should be kept away from combustible materials. The current standards require a 1” clearance between a heater or water heater flue and any combustible material which includes Gypsum and insulation. There is an exception to this but if your flue pipe is metal, use the 1" rule.
These things may cause a need to water your foundation. If you use a soaker hose, keep it 18” to 24” away from the slab and allow capillary action to wick water back to the slab. A soaker hose placed against the slab can wash away soil needed for support and/or cause small sink holes under the house. An underground lawn sprinkler system is a great way to add water when needed. Just be sure the sprinklers never spray directly onto the building.
Effective the first of January, 2012 the State of Texas has adopted and supposedly will begin enforcing the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). It is hoped that the implementation of this code will "result in the optimal utilization of fossil fuel and nondepletable resources in all communities, large and small". (Quoted from the Preface of the 2009 IECC.)
This photo was taken recently in an area where this new code standard was in effect. What you see is a manufacturer’s label on the inside of a pull down, folding attic access ladder. It is clearly labeled with its R-10 value. This is much, much more than most homes have but nowhere near enough to meet the current standard for new construction.
Some Texas communities actually adopted this code before the state did but it is now in effect statewide regardless of its adoption by local authorities. And yes, it does apply to unincorporated areas but only to new construction. There is no requirement to bring an existing home up to this standard. Depending on how old a home is it may be virtually impossible if not financially impractical to try and do so.
The IECC covers a lot of things which the average home owner probably does not understand and would have no way of addressing even if he does. For instance new homes are required to be sealed much tighter than older homes. The new standard is no more than 7 ACH or "Air Changes per Hour". This means a lot of extra caulking and sealing goes into spaces during construction that will never be seen again after completion. Trying to seal up an older home to this standard would be very difficult indeed.
There are other standards put forth in the IECC that are just as difficult for a new home buyer to understand or verify but a few are more obvious and easier to verify and not impossible to retrofit into an older home. I’m mainly talking about attic insulation. This is pretty easy to see and to know if it is done right if you know what to look for.
The IECC requirements are divided up according to climate zones and what is required in one area can be quite different in another. As I live and work in the Southern coastal area of Texas my comments are directed to homes in that area. This area is classified as “warm and humid” so North and West Texas have different needs.
Getting back to attic insulation, in most of South and East Texas the minimum R-value for attic insulation in a ventilated attic is R-30. R-value varies from one product to another but a useful “Rule of Thumb” for figuring the R-value of your insulation is to measure the depth in inches and multiply by 3. This is not perfect but will get you real close. Most homes that were built in the last decade will have a form stapled up in the attic that was filled out by the insulator at the time of construction that will give you more details. The R-30 minimum has been in effect for several years but there are some changes to the application that you should know.
In the past the area under your attic mounted A/C & heating equipment and water heater were allowed less insulation. Also, the area over the attic access door has largely been un-insulated and ignored. This is no longer true. Per the new IECC standards the area under attic mounted equipment has to have the same R-value as the rest of the attic. This means the equipment has to be mounted on a higher deck so the insulation underneath is not compressed. Compressed insulation loses R-value.
Another tricky area that builders are having difficulty dealing with is how to insulate the attic access to the same level as the surrounding area in the attic. This applies whether the attic access is a pull down folding ladder, a hatch or scuttle in the ceiling or a walk through door in an upstairs area. They also have to do it in a way that does not allow insulation to spill out when you open the access. You should be able to see very easily if your attic access is insulated to the “same level as your attic”. Note that last phrase in quotations. Whatever R-value is installed in the attic floor whether it be the R-30 minimum or more that same R-value is to be applied to the ceiling mounted attic accesses.
Wall mounted accesses (doors) into the attic have a slightly different standard as they have to be insulated to the same level as the surrounding area. In this area, wall R-value minimum is still R-13. That has been true for many years as this is typically the R-value of 4" batt type insulation which is used commonly in between the 2 x 4 studs of most homes. If the R-value in your attic walls is greater than R-13 then the access door to that attic has to be insulated to the same R-value as the surrounding wall.
Just so everyone will know, insulation is required between air conditioned and non air conditioned spaces only. There is no requirement to insulate over a garage for instance. Likewise, there is no need to insulate the interior walls of a home. Now, if the interior wall in one room is taller than in another room and extends up into the attic space, that portion of that wall is to be insulated.
Why should I have a new home inspected? This question is asked often but not often enough. One thing I have learned over the years is there are no perfect houses. No matter who your builder is or how many "City" inspections it has had, some things were missed that will be important to a new home buyer.
Even your own third party inspector is likely to miss something for the same reason there are no perfect houses – They are built (and inspected) by humans. So, the more inspections you have done the less likely you are to discover some problem later.
I recently inspected a new home in Galveston County and found several things of interest to the buyer. My inspection was a "final" inspection which means the house is basically finished, the code authority has issued an occupancy permit and the builder wants the buyer to sign the final papers. In a case like this an inspector cannot see the wall framing, the electrical wiring, plumbing systems, etc., because they are covered by the interior and exterior finishes of the home.
Still, there is a lot that can be seen and always something to report. The house I am referring to had some roof issues. (See photo above.) There were several places visible from the ground where the roof had some deflection and or sagging and many of the shingles were not lying down flat and not adhered to the shingles below.
There are two issues here, a framing issue of some kind causing the visible deflection in the roof decking, and the shingles that were not properly installed. There are several things that could have caused the roof deflection including, rafters installed “crown down” instead of “crown up” or improper spacing of the decking material just to name a couple. These probably would not cause any immediate structural issues.
The greater problem is with the shingles. The framing issues could be contributing to the roof covering problem and could shorten the life span of the shingles. Of more immediate concern are loose shingles which could allow wind uplift to damage the shingles and or cause roof leaks. Remember we are in Galveston County Texas, a coastal county and definitely a high wind area.
How could this happen to a newly constructed home? I’ll try to answer that. In coastal counties of Texas windstorm insurance is only available through an insurance department pool called the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association or TWIA. TWIA requires that all new construction including roof coverings meet certain engineering and code standards to withstand the wind loads expected in these areas. To be sure this is done, TWIA requires that a professional engineer provide certification that everything was done properly. Once that document is issued, that is it for roof inspections. The code authorities in many areas do not look any further.
In the case I am referring to, all of the best efforts of state law, engineers and code officials missed a very obvious deficiency. There were a few other more minor deficiencies but I won’t address them now. The thing to ask yourself is who paid for your inspections. If you did not pay for them, the inspector was not working for you and not looking out for your best interest. Yes, new home inspections are important.
Electric service drops from a power pole to a home should be at least 10 ft. above the ground or 12 ft. above a driveway. The one in this photo is over the ground but just inches away from the driveway. The pole you see propped against the service drop is a 10 ft pole. Obviously this service is way too low.