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Rock-Solid Stability: Why Your Deck Needs Knee Bracing

Imagine enjoying a summer barbecue on your deck, only to feel it swaying uncomfortably with every step. Yikes! Thankfully, strong knee braces can prevent this nightmare scenario and keep your deck safe and stable for years to come.

collapsed upper deck

Why Bracing Matters:

Elevated decks are susceptible to movement, which can lead to:

Knee Bracing: The Superhero of Stability

Knee braces are diagonal supports installed between the vertical deck support posts that hold up the deck. Knee braces act like triangles, creating a very strong and stable structure.  These diagonal supports act like mini-buttresses, preventing the posts from moving, ensuring a rock-solid structure. By preventing the posts from moving laterally (sideways), knee braces significantly reduce dangerous sway and racking.

knee bracing diagram of beams

Do You Need Knee Bracing?

Local building codes dictate specific requirements, so always check with your local building department first. Here are some general guidelines:

Choosing the Right Braces:

There are two main types of knee braces to consider:

Sizing Up the Situation:

Knee braces should typically extend down at least one-third of the vertical support post’s height. However, consulting a structural engineer for the proper size and placement specific to your deck is always recommended.

Invest in Peace of Mind

Knee braces are an essential safety feature for your deck. They prevent swaying, ensure stability, and give you peace of mind knowing your deck is built to last. If you’re unsure about your deck’s needs, consult a qualified professional like a structural engineer or general contractor.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Always consult with a qualified professional before starting any deck construction or modification project.

woman with handbag caught on end of handrail and causing injury

As a home inspector in the WNC Asheville area, I see a wide variety of properties, and one safety detail that often goes overlooked is the proper installation of handrails. Specifically, whether the handrails “return to the wall” at the top and bottom of the stairs. While it might seem like a minor detail, handrail returns play a crucial role in preventing accidents and ensuring safe navigation for all residents.

The Hazards of Incomplete Handrails:

Imagine this scenario: you’re rushing down the stairs, carrying groceries in one hand and reaching for your phone with the other. Suddenly, your bag catches on the protruding end of the handrail, causing you to stumble and potentially fall. This is a real possibility with handrails that don’t return to the wall or terminate at a newel (a support pillar at the end of a banister.)

These protruding ends create a snag hazard for clothing, bags, canes, and even loose hair. This can be particularly dangerous for children, the elderly, and individuals with mobility limitations who must rely on handrails for stability.

The Benefits of Handrail Returns: 

Beyond preventing snags, handrail returns offer several safety advantages:

Addressing Common Misconceptions:

There’s a misconception that handrail returns are purely aesthetic. While they can contribute to a polished look, their primary function is safety. Additionally, some homeowners might hesitate due to space limitations. However, handrail returns can be designed in various configurations, even in areas with minimal space.

 

A Final Note for Homeowners and Real Estate Professionals:

Whether you’re a homeowner or landlord in Western North Carolina, or a real estate professional in the area, ensuring your properties have properly installed handrails with returns is crucial. It’s a simple measure that significantly enhances safety and could potentially prevent a serious accident.

Taking Action:

If you’re unsure about the existing handrails in your home or are considering renovations, consult with a licensed general contractor or other professional familiar with your local building codes. They can assess your specific situation and recommend the best solution to ensure your stairs are safe and accessible for everyone.

Buying or selling a home is a monumental life event, and a home inspection plays a crucial role in ensuring a smooth and informed process. But let’s face it, amidst the whirlwind of emotions and paperwork, myths and misconceptions can easily swirl around home inspections. This can leave you wondering: “What is my inspector really doing?”

Fear not! Today, we’re busting five common myths about home inspections, explaining why they exist, and setting the record straight. Armed with this knowledge, you can navigate your home inspection with confidence and make informed decisions.

Myth 1: The Inspector Will Tell Me if the Home Is “Up to Code”

Reality: While home inspectors are trained to identify numerous potential code violations, they can’t definitively declare a home “up to code” or “not up to code.” This responsibility lies with building code officials who conduct separate inspections based on specific state, local and regional codes which can vary from one jurisdiction to another. However a home inspector will highlight areas that do not comply with standard building practices, allowing you to investigate further with the appropriate authorities.

Myth 2: The Inspector Will Give Me a Repair Cost Estimate

Reality: Estimating repair costs requires specific expertise and detailed information beyond the scope of a standard home inspection. While your inspector will point out potential issues and concerns, providing cost estimates could lead to inaccurate assessments and misinterpretation. Instead, your home inspector will direct you to the proper professionals to help you understand the extent and scope of each concern, and can also give you specific repair estimates.

Myth 3: The Inspector Will Tell Me If I Should Buy the House

Reality: Your inspector’s job is to provide a detailed report highlighting the home’s condition, potential problems, and areas requiring further investigation. Ultimately, the decision to buy or sell rests with you, based on the inspection report, your budget, and other factors.

Myth 4: The Inspector Can Tell Me if the House Is “Good” or “Bad”

Reality: There’s no such thing as a “perfect” house, and labeling a home as “good” or “bad” can be subjective and misleading. The inspector’s role is to provide factual information about the home’s condition, leaving you to evaluate its suitability based on your needs, priorities, and budget. Remember, “good” and “bad” are relative terms, and what matters most is whether the house aligns with your specific expectations and requirements.

Myth 5: New Homes Don’t Need Inspections

Reality: Even brand new homes often harbor unseen issues, from faulty wiring to improper construction practices. Yes, the home may have passed all the inspections by building code officials as it was being built, but remember, once a code official passes an area such as foundation or framing, they never come back to ensure that other trades such as HVAC or electrical contractors have not disturbed or changed what was already inspected. That’s where the home inspector comes in and takes an overall view of all systems and components that make up a home once they are all in and functional. A home inspection can offer valuable peace of mind, uncovering potential problems early on and allowing you to address them with your builder before they develop into bigger issues down the road after your home warranty runs out. Think of it as an investment in your future, ensuring you start your new homeownership journey with a solid foundation.

Remember: Blue Mountain Home Inspections is your trusted partner throughout the home buying or selling process. Our commitment to same-day reports and our comprehensive range of inspection services, including radon testing, mold testing, termite inspections; drinking water, well, and septic inspections, and more, ensure you have a clear and thorough understanding of your property’s condition. Contact us today to schedule your inspection and experience the Blue Mountain difference!

Bonus Tip: For more in-depth information on specific aspects of home inspections, visit our website at bluemountainhomeinspections.com. We offer a wealth of resources and insights to empower you with knowledge and make informed decisions about your home.

Buying a home is a significant investment, and a home inspection provides invaluable insight into the property’s overall condition. But what about those invisible threats which may be lurking in areas not covered by a stand alone home inspection, hidden issues that could spell trouble down the road?

That’s where additional specialized inspections come in, acting as your unsung heroes in the home-buying process. These additional targeted assessments delve deeper than a stand alone home inspection and can uncover other potential problems that the home inspection doesn’t address, empowering you to make additional informed decisions that can help protect your investment even further.

Delving Deeper: A World of Specialized Inspections

Think beyond the standard home inspection and consider adding these essential specialized tests:

Investing in Peace of Mind

While these specialized inspections may involve additional costs, their value surpasses the price tag. Early detection of hidden issues can save you from costly repairs, health risks, and unexpected surprises down the road. Consider these benefits:

Blue Mountain Home Inspections: Your Partner in Uncovering the Truth

At Blue Mountain Home Inspections, we believe in going beyond the basics. We offer a comprehensive range of specialized inspections, ensuring you have a complete picture of your potential home’s condition. Our commitment to same-day reports and expert guidance empowers you to make informed decisions with confidence.

Explore our website at https://bluemountainhomeinspections.com/what-we-inspect/ or https://bluemountainhomeinspections.com/pricing/ to learn more about our services and how we can help you uncover the hidden truths in your dream home.

Remember, a small investment in specialized inspections today can save you significant time, money, and stress in the future. Invest in your peace of mind and choose Blue Mountain Home Inspections for a truly comprehensive home inspection experience.

A common plumbing defect often found under sinks, in older and remolded homes, is the presence of S-traps. These plumbing traps are shaped like an “S” laying on its side.

S-Trap example

S-traps are often located under plumbing fixtures that aren’t properly vented, or in remodeled homes when the plumbing was a DIY project or a quick fix.

Many of us think that the only reason for a drain trap is for “trapping” items that inadvertently fall down the drain, like a wedding ring, or a small doodad that happens to fall in there. And yes, plumbing traps gives us a chance to retrieve those items before they make it too far down the drain. If there was no trap, and the drain pipe just went straight down, it’s bye-bye to whatever fell in there – forever!

However, retrieving lost items that fall down a sink drain is just a side benefit of plumbing traps. The real reason traps are required at each plumbing fixture (toilets and bathtubs included) is to prevent dangerous sewer gasses from flowing up through those drains into the home.

So how does a plumbing trap keep those nasty sewer gasses out of the home? They do this by their shape. The “U” shape at the bottom of all traps, trap enough water in them to form a water seal. Having enough water in the bottom of the trap prevents sewer gasses from flowing up through the trap and into the home.

If you’ve ever walked through a home that has been vacant for a while, you’ve likely smelled sewer gasses, because the water in the traps have evaporated out over time. (Because of this, when a home is vacant for a while, or you’re on an extended vacation, someone should come by once in a while and run some water at each sink and tub, and flush the toilets in order to re-fill the traps with enough water keep them sealed against sewer gasses.)

So, back to what’s wrong with an “S” shaped trap? It has the “U” shape at the bottom to trap water so what’s the problem? S-Traps were allowed for many years until someone figured out that when someone fills a sink with water that has an S-trap, like when hand washing dishes and then they pull the drain plug, the shape of the S-trap allows the draining water to siphon ALL the water out of the trap and down the drain with it, just like when someone siphons gas out of a car’s gas tank. When that happens, the protective water seal at the bottom of the S-trap is gone and those nasty sewer gasses can come right up into the home again.

J-Trap example

To keep that from happening, the plumbers of the world came up with a new shape of trap commonly called a P-trap or a J-trap (again due to its shape). The shape of this trap prevents the water at the bottom of the trap from siphoning out, the way that S-traps do, by making the drain water move horizontally for a few inches before draining down again, usually behind the wall.

So, what to do if you have any S-traps in your home? Call a licensed plumber right away and get them replaced! If you don’t, you are running the risk of more than just a stinky home, those sewer gasses can make you sick and can be harmful to your health, especially when people are sleeping, and the home is closed up for the night.     

The simple answer to this question is no!

 

As home inspectors, we often run into older homes where the occupants have gotten fed up with having to find that little adapter so they can plug their appliance cord into a two-prong outlet.

Sound familiar? Often, their answer to this problem is to run out to the local hardware store, buy a bunch of cheap three-prong outlets and just change them out. Presto, no more need for that goofy adapter! But there’s a problem. You cannot simply buy new three-prong outlets to replace two-prong outlets and wire them to the same wires. It’s unsafe and could result in electrocution.

 

Okay, now that we know this, let’s start over. There is nothing wrong with a home that has two-prong outlets. They are still allowed and considered safe. Plugging in a power cord with two prongs into a two-prong outlet, such as a lamp cord, is fine. However, if you need to plug in an appliance power cord that has three prongs into a two-prong outlet, there is only one way to do it safely, and that’s by using that adapter—but only by using it correctly. (See How to use an outlet plug adapter safely)

The problem with two-prong outlets is that whatever is plugged into them is not grounded. (We won’t go into the ins and outs of grounding here but just know that three-prong power cords come with appliances that require grounding to be safe.)

But what if you want to avoid using that pesky adaptor and you don’t want the expense of a complete and costly re-wire of your home? There are a couple of relatively low-cost solutions:

One is that you can simply switch out your two-prong outlets with GFCI outlets. You know, those outlets you usually see in kitchens and bathrooms with the little test and reset buttons in the center? However, you cannot do this in areas such as kitchens and bathrooms, where the outlets are within 6 feet of a water source like a sink, shower or toilet. Those outlets need to be fully grounded GFICs to ensure safety. (See What are GFCI outlets and why are they important?)

While GFCI outlets will not protect your electronics from power surges, they will protect you from electrocution and short circuits. But remember, if you do replace your two-prong outlets with GFCIs, you are required to label them as “GFCI Protected Outlet/No Equipment Ground.” (Most GFCI outlets you purchase come with these label stickers in the box.)

The other solution is that you are allowed to replace your two-prong receptacles with normal three-prong ones if, and only if, you add a GFCI circuit breaker to that circuit at the service panel. But again, remember that if you do this, you will be required to label all the outlets on that circuit with a sticker that says “GFCI Protected Outlet/No Equipment Ground.”




Whatever you decide to do, you will be required to have a licensed electrician do the work in order to ensure the safe and proper installation of these upgrades.

Many homes built prior to 1965 have those pesky two-prong outlets throughout the home.

First, let’s be clear. There is nothing wrong with a home that has two-prong outlets. They are still allowed and considered safe. Plugging in a power cord with two prongs into a two-prong outlet, such as a lamp cord, is fine. However, if you need to plug an appliance power cord with three prongs into a two-prong outlet, there is only one way to do it safely, and that’s by using an outlet plug adapter—but only by using it correctly.

broken prong unsafe

Two-prong outlets are not grounded. Appliances with power cords that have three prongs are designed to be grounded in order to be safe.

Three things NOT to do in order to get around the two-prong outlet dilemma: (These solutions are not safe!)

NEVER bend or break off the grounding prong on an appliance power cord in order to use it in a two-prong outlet.

NEVER simply change out a two-prong outlet with a three-prong outlet, using the same wires.

NEVER use the adapter without screwing its little metal plate with a hole in it, into the center screw of the outlet. 

The only way to safely plug a three-prong power cord into a two-prong outlet is to use an approved adapter and screw the little plate with the hole in it, to the center screw hole in the outlet itself. 

Doing so grounds the power cord to the outlet box itself, making it safe.

Does your home have two-prong outlets and you are tired of trying to find that outlet adapter or never having enough of them?

 Here are for two simple, low-cost solutions to never have to worry about it again!

The term “GFCI” stands for ground fault interrupter circuit.

A GFCI outlet is an electrical outlet that looks a little different than most outlets in the home. I’m sure you’ve seen them before. They are those outlets that have little “test” and “reset” buttons in the center and are most often seen in kitchens and bathrooms.

A new GFCI electrical outlet

Electrical outlets with GFCI technology are designed to protect people from electric shock, reduce the risk of house fires caused by electrical problems, and reduce damage to appliances caused by faulty electrical circuits.

GFCI outlets monitor the flow of electricity through the electrical circuit. If a working GFCI outlet senses a problem such as a person touching an energized part of the circuit, or a small appliance falling into a sink or bathtub filled with water, the outlet will trip off, which could save a person’s life.

The design of a GFCI outlet includes two small buttons labeled “test” and “reset.” GFCI outlets should be regularly tested by pushing the test and reset buttons to confirm that they are working properly.

In some cases, one GFCI outlet will be installed at the first outlet location in an electrical circuit and will protect all the other outlets on that same circuit. Those other outlets should have a sticker on them stating “GFCI Protected Outlet.”

Today, GFCI outlets are typically installed in bathrooms, garages, kitchens, crawl spaces, unfinished basements, and all outdoor outlets, but it has not always been that way. Here is a partial list of when and where GFCI outlet installation requirements were established:

(For a full list of when GFCI outlet locations were established, consult a licensed electrician)

Your Air Quality test results are important to understand, so here’s a little help.

First, realize that fungal spores are everywhere, all the time, both inside and outside the home, so don’t freak out if you see some red on the report labeled ELEVATED.   That does not necessarily mean that there’s a problem. It merely means that that particular fungal spore count was at least 10 times higher than in the outdoor sample. Whatever that number is, it still may not be a cause for concern. It depends on the type and total amount of spores.

When we test for air quality, we take three samples of the air in different locations—one sample from outside the home and two samples from inside the home. When the results of the test come in, we compare the two inside samples against the outdoor sample (which is called “background” on the report). If any of the inside samples have significantly more mold spores than the outdoor sample, then we know something is going on in the home.

If your report shows elevated levels in any of the samples, give me a call and we’ll talk about it and determine if you need to take any steps toward mitigation.

Below is a sample report with some notes to help you in understanding the form: (Select the report to open the full PDF with details and explanations)


sample screenshot of mold and fungus report

Radon Test reports can often be confusing. Reports from various companies all look different and many give you an overwhelming amount if information. So let’s see if we can make reading & understanding your report a little easier:

Radon in the air is ubiquitous (existing or being everywhere at the same time). Radon is found in outdoor air and in the indoor air of buildings of all kinds. The EPA recommends homes be remediated (fixed) if the average radon level is 4 pCi/L (picocurries per liter) or higher.

The number you are looking for on any short-term radon test (any 2-7 day test) is the average pCi/l number. Any number under 4.0, is below the EPA’s recommeded remediation level of 4.0 pCi/l. If that number is 4.0 or higher, then the EPA recommends remediation. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that even if the average level is between 2.7 and 4.0 pCi/l, you should consider remediation.

You can learn more from going to the EPAs website, where you’ll find great information and informational links on the subject.

Below is an example of a report like we use here at Blue Mountain Home Inspections (PDF version):


Sample 1

sample radon report