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Useful Information

Wells

Wells

Properly constructed private water supply systems require little routine maintenance. These simple steps will help protect your system and investment.

  • Always use licensed or certified water well drillers and pump installers when a well is constructed, a pump is installed or the system is serviced.
  • An annual well maintenance check, including a bacterial test, is recommended. Any source of drinking water should be checked any time there is a change in taste, odor or appearance, or anytime a water supply system is serviced.
  • Keep hazardous chemicals, such as paint, fertilizer, pesticides, and motor oil far away from your well.
  • Periodically check the well cover or well cap on top of the casing (well) to ensure it is in good repair.
  • Always maintain proper separation between your well and buildings, waste systems or chemical storage facilities. Your professional contractor knows the rules.
  • Don't allow back-siphonage. When mixing pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals, don't put the hose inside the tank or container.
  • When landscaping, keep the top of your well at least one foot above the ground. Slope the ground away from your well for proper drainage.
  • Take care in working or mowing around your well. A damaged casing could jeopardize the sanitary protection of your well. Don't pile snow, leaves, or other materials around your well.
  • Keep your well records in a safe place. These include the construction report, as well as annual water well system maintenance and water testing results.
  • Be aware of changes in your well, the area around your well, or the water it provides.
  • When your well has come to the end of its serviceable life (usually more than 20 years),have your qualified water well contractor properly decommission your well after constructing your new system.

Septic Tank

Septic System

Everything that goes down any of the drains in the house (toilets, showers, sinks, laundry machines) travels first to the septic tank. The septic tank is a large-volume, watertight tank which provides initial treatment of the household wastewater by intercepting solids and settleable organic matter before disposal of the wastewater (effluent) to the drain field.

While relatively simple in construction and operation, the septic tank provides a number of important functions through a complex interaction of physical and biological processes. The essential functions of the septic tank are to: receive all wastewater from the house separate solids from the wastewater flow cause reduction and decomposition of accumulated solids provide storage for the separated solids (sludge and scum) pass the clarified wastewater (effluent) out to the drain field for final treatment and disposal.

As stated, the main function of the septic tank is to remove solids from the wastewater and provide a clarified effluent for disposal to the drain field. The septic tank provides a relatively quiescent body of water where the wastewater is retained long enough to let the solids separate by both settling and flotation. This process is often called primary treatment and results in three products: scum, sludge, and effluent.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral fiber foundin rocks, of naturally occurring silicate minerals that can beseparated into fibers. There are several kinds of asbestos fibers, allof which are fire resistant and not easily destroyed or degraded bynatural processes. The fibers are strong, durable, and resistant toheat and fire. They are also long, thin and flexible, so that they caneven be woven into cloth, because of these qualities, asbestos hasbeen used in thousands of consumer, industrial, maritime, automotive,scientific and building products.

During the twentieth century, some 30million tons of asbestos have been used in industrial sites, homes,schools, shipyards and commercial buildings in the United States.There are several types of asbestos fibers, of which three have beenused for commercial applications: (1) Chrysotile, or white asbestos,comes mainly from Canada, and has been very widely used in the US. Itis white-gray in color and found in serpentine rock. (2) Amosite, orbrown asbestos, comes from southern Africa. (3) Crocidolite, or blueasbestos, comes from southern Africa and Australia.

Asbestos has been shown to causecancer of the lung and stomach according to studies of workers andothers exposed to asbestos. There is no level of exposure to asbestosfibers that experts can assure is completely safe. Some asbestosmaterials can break into small fibers which can float in the air andthese fibers can be inhaled. The tiny fibers are so small they can notbe seen with the naked eye. They can pass through the filters ofnormal vacuum cleaners and get back into the air. Once inhaled,asbestos fibers can become lodged in tissue for a long time. Aftermany years cancer or mesothelioma can develop.

What is common to manyasbestos-containing products is that they were (are) used to containheat (i.e. thermal insulation.) This was the main reason for theiruse. It is impossible to list all of the products that have, at onetime or another, contained asbestos. One of the most common productsasbestos is found in, is in the insulation material found on heatingpipes and ducts of homes built before 1960. Some of the other commonasbestos-containing products are insulating cement, insulating block,asbestos cloth, gaskets, packing materials, thermal seals, refractoryand boiler insulation materials, transite board, asbestos cement pipe,fireproofing spray, joint compound, vinyl floor tile, ceiling tile,mastics, adhesives, coatings, acoustical textures, duct & pipeinsulation for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC)systems, roofing products, insulated electrical wire and panels, andbrake and clutch assemblies.

People who have frequently worked withasbestos (such as plumbers, building contractors or heatingcontractors) often are able to make a reasonable judgment aboutwhether or not a material contains asbestos on a visual inspection.Many professional home inspectors also can make a reasonable visualjudgment. To be absolutely certain, an industrial hygienist would haveto make the identification.

When it is necessary to disturbasbestos, you should contact a licensed asbestos contractor. You canalso obtain a copy of Asbestos in the Home published by theU.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (800-638-2772) whichdiscusses the situation and makes recommendations. Remember, do notdust, sweep, or vacuum particles suspected of containing asbestosfibers.

Indoor Air Quality

One sure path to energy efficiency in houses is eliminating air leaks. If you cut down the amount of air that has to be heated and cooled, you cut your utility bill substantially. But plugging up all those air leaks means less fresh air inside and this has brought on other problems.

One of the first to be identified was elevated concentrations of volatile organic compounds in the air. Commonly called VOC's, these compounds are used in the manufacture of the many synthetic building products used in most new houses today, including carpeting, flooring, paint, cabinetry, countertops, and the structural framework itself. Hundreds of off-gassing VOC's have been identified, but the one that has captured the most attention is formaldehyde. It is a potent eye and nose irritant and causes respiratory effects. It is also classified by the US Government Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen.

In response to the concerns raised by health officials and the public over the last fifteen years, manufacturers of some building materials and furnishings have altered their chemical formulations, significantly reducing the amount of VOC's off gassing from their products.

A brand new house will still have a significant amount of VOC's in the air because the rate at which the VOC's off-gas is highest initially. This phenomenon accounts for the "new house smell" that most new house buyers experience. Delaying a move-in and airing out a house by opening all the windows and running all the exhaust fans will benefit the occupants, even if this is done for only two days, advised John Girman, Director of the Center for Analysis and Studies for the Indoor Environmental Division of the US Government Environmental Protection Agency.

Continuing to keep the windows open and ventilating the house for several day to several weeks, if weather permits, can also be beneficial, added Al Hodgson of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, who has been studying indoor air quality for the last 18 years.

After the first month or so, the rate at which the VOC's off gas from building materials may fall off, but Hodgson's research indicates that the off-gassing phenomenon will continue at a slow and steady pace for months or even years. Hodgson measured the indoor air quality in eleven new, but unoccupied houses one to two months after their completion. Some were monitored over a period of about nine months. Overall he found that the concentrations of VOC's in the houses were not "alarming," although the concentrations of some compounds were high enough to produce an odor. The levels of formaldehyde were too low to have a smell, but high enough to cause discomfort in some individuals.

Although the level of VOC's in new houses does fall off over time, buyers can reduce it at the outset by their selection of finishes. Hodgson's research has shown while carpets are generally low emitters of VOC's, a reasonable quality, medium-grade, nylon, certified green label carpet may emit less than the basic grade carpet that most builders offer as standard. Installing the carpet with tack strips instead of an adhesive eliminates a potential VOC source altogether. Synthetic fiber carpet padding emits less than the rebonded padding that most production builders provide.

Hodgson's "certified green label carpet" refers to the green and white Carpet and Rug Institute emission test sticker found on carpeting that meets their emission standard. Their testing program was established after sensational stories about "killer carpets" appeared in newspapers and TV news programs in the early nineties. In a New England lab, mice were exposed to carpet samples and subsequently died. Scientists in other labs including the EPA were never able to replicate these results and the reason for the mice's demise remains unclear.

After the Carpet and Rug Institute started its carpet-testing program, it raised the emission standards, which has further reduced carpet emissions. Even so, carpeting can still have an odor that makes people think that they are being exposed to something awful, Hodgson observed.

Vinyl flooring is a stronger emitter than carpet, but it too should not be a cause for concern, Hodgson said.

The oil-based alkyd and water-based latex paints used in most houses are another source of VOC's. The alkyds, which create a harder, more washable surface, are usually used for bathrooms, kitchens, and the trim around doors, windows and baseboards. They produce a terrible smell and emit hundreds of VOC compounds, but these are almost entirely dissipated after about 48 hours, said John Chang, of the EPA labs in Triangle Park, North Carolina. The latex paints have a different smell and emit only four or five VOC compounds, but these continue to off gas for days and weeks after the paint is dry. "Low VOC" latex paints are now available, but some of these emit formaldehyde and buyers should check the paint emission data, he advised.

Hodgson is currently studying the man-made wood products used in residential construction because most of them contain formaldehyde, and formaldehyde concentrations in the indoor air of new houses have been found to be higher than in other building types. Large quantities of these wood products including cabinet materials, doors, door and window trim and baseboards are found in the finished space of new houses. Man-made wood products are also used extensively in their structural framework. Hodgson is looking at the emissions of formaldehyde and VOC's from each product as well as the amount of exposed surface of each product. He is finding that bare surfaces of wood products can have relatively high emissions, but that surfaces with laminate and vinyl finishes generally have low emissions.

In some cases, products that are considered to be low emitters are turning out to be a significant source of VOC's when viewed in the context of the whole house, Hodgson said. For example, formaldehyde and other VOC's given off by the oriented strand board or plywood used for the subfloor in most new houses today are low when calculated on a square foot or a per piece basis. But Hodgson's research is showing that when the total area of the subflooring in a typical house is taken into account, it can be a significant VOC source and that the overlying carpet and carpet padding are not effective barriers.

Other research in indoor air quality in new houses has focused on the problem of underventilation. Until the last 20 years or so, mechanical engineers could reasonably assume that between air leaks and occupants opening the windows, everyone was getting plenty of fresh air. But as houses have become tighter, less outside air is penetrating through air leaks and with air conditioning; no one opens the windows in the summer anymore.

To rectify this situation, the American Society for Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers, commonly known as ASHRAE, proposes that mechanical ventilation be required in all new houses, as it is in most commercial and office buildings. The engineers have not dictated how this should be accomplished, and the desired ventilation rate varies with the size of the house and the number of bedrooms. For a 2,400 square-foot house with four bedrooms, for example, the proposed rate would be .35 changes per hour. At this rate, all the air in the house would be replenished every threehours.

Some homebuilders have suggested that ASHRAE's ventilation proposal could add $1,500 to $6,000 to the cost of a new house, but ASHRAE's proposal could be easily and inexpensively done. One continuously running 100 cfm bathroom exhaust fan that is exhausted to the outside would do the job for a 2,400 square foot house and this modification would cost only $75 to $100 more than the exhaust fan and venting that the builder would already be installing in the bathroom, said Max Sherman, also of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who has studied indoor air for 20 years. Putting a smaller continuously running fan in each bathroom is a more expensive solution, but it would distribute the fresh air more evenly.

The ASHRAE proposal includes a sound recommendation for the continuously running fan because occupants turn fans off when they're too noisy. The dedicated exhaust fan should have a sound level of one sone or less so that it won't disturb a household at night when the ambient noise level is low.

Relocating the air-handling unit from the garage to some other place in the house would also improve indoor air quality, Sherman said. In some parts of the country such as Florida and California, houses do not have basements and the air handling equipment is often put in the garage. Unfortunately the ducts for the system often leak so that if a car engine is left running for any length of time, homeowners can unwittingly introduce carbon monoxide into their living areas.

Aluminum Wiring

Due to implications in numerous house fires, the once common practice of using aluminum wiring during the 1970's is no longer permitted in new installations in most jurisdictions. If your house has aluminum wiring you do not necessarily need to panic. Aluminum wiring can be just as safe as copper wire as long as it has been installed correctly. The concern with aluminum wiring is that it is very unforgiving if it has been installed incorrectly.

Aluminum wiring expands when it warms up, and contracts then it cools down. Aluminum reacts differently than copper wire after several warm/cooling cycles. After each cycle aluminum tends to lose more of its tightness. This process is often referred to as "cold creep". Combined with aluminum's tendency to oxidize when in contact with certain metals, these factors can lead to dangerous problems. When aluminum oxidizes it heats up more to conduct the same amount of electricity, which then causes more oxidation. Due to this cycle, eventually the wires may start to get very hot, melt the fixture that it attached to, and even possibly cause a fire.

If you are considering purchasing a home with aluminum wiring, or have discovered it later, it would be a good idea to hire a licensed electrician or inspector to check over the wiring for any potential problems.

Polybutylene Piping

Polybutylene is a form of plastic resin that was used extensively in the manufacture of water supply piping from 1978 until 1995. Due to the low cost of the material and ease of installation, polybutylene piping systems were viewed as "the pipe of the future" and were used as a substitute for traditional copper piping. It is most commonly found in the "Sun Belt" where residential construction was heavy through the 1980's and early-to-mid 90's, but it is also very common in the Mid Atlantic and Northwest Pacific states.

The piping systems were used for underground water mains and as interior water distribution piping. Industry experts believe it was installed in at least 6 million homes, and some experts indicate it may have been used in as many as 10 million homes. Most probably, the piping was installed in about one in every four or five homes built during the years in which the pipe was manufactured.

Exterior - Polybutylene underground water mains are usually blue, but may be gray or black (do not confuse black poly with polyethelene pipe). It is usually 1/2" or 1" in diameter, and it may be found entering your home through the basement wall or floor, concrete slab or coming up through your crawlspace; frequently it enters the home near the water heater. Your main shutoff valve is attached to the end of the water main. Also, you should check at the water meter that is located at the street, near the city water main. It is wise to check at both ends of the pipe because we have found cases where copper pipe enters the home, and poly pipe is at the water meter. Obviously, both pipes were used and connected somewhere underground.

Interior - Polybutylene used inside your home can be found near the water heater, running across the ceiling in unfinished basements, and coming out of the walls to feed sinks and toilets. Warning: In some regions of the country plumbers used copper "stub outs" where the pipe exits a wall to feed a fixture, so seeing copper here does not mean that you do not have poly.

While scientific evidence is scarce, it is believed that oxidants in the public water supplies, such as chlorine, react with the polybutylene piping and acetal fittings causing them to scale and flake and become brittle. Micro-fractures result, and the basic structural integrity of the system is reduced. Thus, the system becomes weak and may fail without warning causing damage to the building structure and personal property. It is believed that other factors may also contribute to the failure of polybutylene systems, such as improper installation, but it is virtually impossible to detect installation problems throughout an entire system.

Throughout the 1980's lawsuits were filed complaining of allegedly defective manufacturing and defective installation causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. Although the manufacturers have never admitted that poly is defective, they have agreed to fund the Class Action settlement with an initial and minimum amount of $950 million. You'll have to contact the appropriate settlement claim company to find out if you qualify under this settlement.

Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS)

Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems

Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS) are multi-layered exterior wall systems that are used on both commercial buildings and homes. EIFS were introduced in the U.S. almost 30 years ago and were first used on commercial buildings and then later on homes. EIFS typically consist of an insulation board made of polystyrene foam (which is secured to the exterior wall surface with an adhesive and/or mechanical attachments), a water-resistant base coat applied on top of the insulation and reinforced with fiberglass mesh, and a finish coat typically using acrylic co-polymer technology. This type of system is often referred to as artificial stucco.

The potential problem with EIFS is that moisture can get trapped behind the highly water resistant material with no way out. This can cause the framing to rot and foster the growth of mold between the exterior and interior walls. Damp and rotting wood is also a prime target for subterranean termites. It should be stated that the potential for these conditions exist with any type of exterior siding product be it brick veneer, wood, or vinyl siding. The potential for this condition with EIFS however can be exacerbated by its superior water resistance. Once moisture gets in, regardless of its origin, it usually has no escape.

The main locations where water tends to infiltrate into the framing structure of a building using an EIFS is around doors and windows, where the roof connects to the EIFS (roof flashing), and below extended exterior deck connections. Also, any moisture from within the home trying to find a path out will likely be thwarted by the EIFS.

The EIFS industry has been plagued by class action, and individual lawsuits (particularly in humid climates). The public's confidence in the products have been shaken to say the least. The lawsuits contend that the problem is with the nature of the product and the manufacturers contend that sloppy installation and poor maintenance are the culprits.

Regardless of who is "right", its clear that homes with EIFS require special scrutiny during inspection.

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