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What is a plumbing S-Trap and why are they dangerous?

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

A Radon Test report results can often be confusing. Reports from various companies all look different. So let’s see if we can make reading & understanding your report a little easier:

First things first. The number you are looking for on any short-term radon test (any 2-7 day test) is the average pCi/l number. If that number is under 4.0, you are okay and no remediation is necessary. If that number is 4.0 pCi/l or greater, then the EPA recommends remediation.

Radon in 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 more.

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

Below are a couple of radon reports as examples:
(Select the report to open the full PDF with details and explanations)


Sample 1
Radon Text example image with level circled


Sample 2Radon test screen shot with level circled


It is recommended that you have a home inspection every year to ensure that issues in a home are addressed before it is too late. Keep in mind that something as small as a crack in your home could do a lot of damage, like expose you to an infestation, or be the beginning signs of a structural issue so scheduling an inspection is not only smart it’s necessary if you are thinking of buying a home. Now, if you aren’t sure what to expect, that’s okay because the following is meant to help you understand so that you won’t be surprised.

Why is it Important Before Final Purchase?

An offer made to home sellers can be contingent upon the results of a home inspection during the due diligence period. This means you can still make changes to your offer should there be an issue you did not catch before the inspection but still within the due diligence period. If the issues involve major and/or minor repairs you don’t want to deal with, you can ask the seller to correct them or pass on the house.

Guide the Outcomes by Choosing Wisely

Your agent will likely have a list of Home Inspectors that he or she trusts. Make sure you give these individuals an opportunity as long as you pay attention to the following points:

Be sure to ask the person you are considering if you can be present at the end of the inspection for a walk through so you know will have a better understanding of the issues found during the inspection, should you move forward with the purchase the home.

What Might You See?

An inspection is a detailed job, so the inspector will be going through the entire home, like climbing on the roof, moving through crawl spaces and attics, etc.

The Home Inspector will check all the major aspects of the home you are intending on purchasing such as the foundation, the plumbing, electrical wiring, AC systems, ventilation, etc.

When it comes time to prepare for a home inspection with a professional home inspector, there are things that you can do as a seller to make things go more smoothly. Work with your trusted real estate agent on anything that might be an issue, but otherwise, just follow these simple steps to make it easier for the inspector to complete your Sellers Home Inspection.

Original Video can be found at https://www.facebook.com/500023628/videos/10156408870393629/

Step One: Clear a Path

All areas that require inspection should be easy to get to. Homes Inspectors are not required to move boxes, furniture, or other personal items out of the way so if access to these areas is blocked, they will have to come back another day when access is available which will cost more. Make sure to include access to attics, crawlspaces, and utility areas inside and outside of your home.

Step Two: Make a Map

If you have a septic system or another system that is in an unusual spot, make a map for the home inspection that will make it easier for the Home Inspector to find everything that needs to be checked. If you take the time to do this, it will simplify things for the inspector, prospective buyers, and real estate agents throughout the selling process.

Step Three: Be Honest

If something is not working properly, such as a dishwasher or vent fan, leave a note about it for the inspector. If you have plans on fixing it, leave details about how you will go about it so the Home Inspector can note it on the report.

Step Four: Be Clean

Take time to clear out your appliances, including dishwashers, sinks, stoves, ovens, and microwaves. This step will allow the Home Inspector to test these items that same day.

Step Five: Check Lights

The inspector will need to be in all areas of your home, including dark attics and utility spaces. Check all lightbulbs and replace anything that has burned out to make it easier for everything to be seen quickly during the home inspection.

Follow the Steps

In most situations, you will likely have advance notice of the Sellers Home Inspection, so take that time to go through your home and follow these steps to prepare properly for it. While these might seem like small things, the Home Inspector will appreciate your efforts and it will save time and money. By the time you get to this phase of the selling process, you don’t want any obstacles in your home to cause unnecessary delays.

Also called a range safety clip, these devices secure fee-standing ranges to the floor or back wall, preventing them from tipping when the oven door is open and/or an oven rack with weight on it is pulled out. Think of these situations:

You’re in the process of making dinner and have something cooking on the stove. The phone rings, you look away for a moment and start chatting when suddenly, your worst nightmare happens. Your child has wandered into the kitchen, saw that there was something cooking on the stove and decided to try to get a better look. Suddenly the entire stove tips forward from the child’s hanging on the edge and the boiling water on the stove top slides off and…well, you get the picture.

You have a Thanksgiving turkey in the oven. The timer goes off and it’s time to take it out. You grab the oven mitt, pull out the rack that the turkey is on and suddenly, the oven tilts forward and the turkey slides off the rack spilling all that hot meat and juice all over your legs, scalding your skin.

Sadly, these and other scenarios happen every day. Since 1980, over 30 deaths have occurred from these situations, not to mention the host of other injuries that have occurred. As a result, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) created standards  that require all ranges manufactured after 1991 be capable of remaining stable while supporting 250 pounds of weight on their open doors.

Home Inspectors in North Carolina are required to inspect range anti-tilt devices and, although manufacturer’s instructions require the anti-tilt brackets that are now required to be included with the purchase of all ranges be installed, we all too often find them missing.

These anti-tilt devices are such a simple and inexpensive item to install. A small bracket mounts to your choice of floor or wall at the back of the range so that when the range is slid back in place, it interlocks with the back leg of the range.

If your range does not have an anti-tilt device installed, contact a reputable handyman. They’ll be able to pick up the bracket at your local hardware store and install it in under half an hour. It’s a small price to pay for such an important safety feature!

Lead in drinking water continues to be a serious health issue. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was originally passed by Congress in 1974. The law was amended in 1986 and 1996, which then resulted in the banning of lead pipes, solder and brass fittings in plumbing. In 2011, Congress passed the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act (RLDWA) revising the definition of lead-free by lowering the maximum lead content of the wetted surfaces of plumbing products. However, many homes, schools and buildings that stand today were constructed before this ban.

The most common way that lead gets into water is through the corrosion of pipes, according to the Drinking Water Research Foundation (DWRF). Lead can be introduced into water when the water sits too long in leaded pipes, which can then unknowingly be consumed. Since lead in drinking water cannot be detected through scent, sight or taste, the only way to confirm its presence is through proper analysis. We use EMSL Analytical, Inc. a nationally recognized and certified testing laboratory that provides analysis to companies and government agencies.

If you have any concerns, Blue Mountain can test your drinking water for you. We offer fast turnaround times and are capable of providing a range of lead testing services.