Choose Your Sarasota Home Inspector Carefully

Most people understand how important a home inspection is. After all it is usually a large investment and for that reason it pays to have the home professionally inspected. The cost of a $400 inspection pales in comparison to thousands in unforeseen defects because an individual thought it best to save some money and not inspect the property.  That said it is equally important to select the right person for the job.  The truth is not all home inspection firms are created equal. Be sure to ask about their experience and qualifications. Also be aware that a cheap inspection is exactly that…a cheap inspection.  The saying that, “price is what you pay, and value is what you get” rings true for a home inspection.   At Maggiore Inspections we provide unsurpassed value to our clients.  Contact us today to discuss your specific inspection needs. We always stand ready to inspect your home in Sarasota and protect your interest.

Advantages of Solar Energy

by Nick Gromicko and Rob London 

Solar energy offers considerable advantages over conventional energy systems by nullifying flaws in those systems long considered to be unchangeable. Solar power for home energy production has its flaws, too, which are outlined in another article, but they’re dwarfed by the advantages listed below.
Solar energy is a great choice
The following are advantages of solar energy:
  • Raw materials are renewable and unlimited. The amount of available solar energy is staggering — roughly 10,000 times that currently required by humans — and it’s constantly replaced. A mere 0.02% of incoming sunlight, if captured correctly, would be sufficient to replace every other fuel source currently used.

Granted, the Earth does need much of this solar energy to drive its weather, so let’s look only at the unused portion of sunlight that is reflected back into space, known as the albedo. Earth’s average albedo is around 30%, meaning that roughly 52 petawatts of energy is reflected by the Earth and lost into space every year. Compare this number with global energy-consumption statistics.  Annually, the energy lost to space is the combined equivalent of 400 hurricanes, 1 million Hoover Dams, Great Britain’s energy requirement for 250,000 years, worldwide oil, gas and coal production for 387 years, 75 million cars, and 50 million 747s running perpetually for one year (not to mention 1 million fictional DeLorean time machines!).

  • Solar power is low-emission. Solar panels produce no pollution, although they impose environmental costs through manufacture and construction. These environmental tolls are negligible, however, when compared with the damage inflicted by conventional energy sources:  the burning of fossil fuels releases roughly 21.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.
  • Solar power is suitable for remote areas that are not connected to energy grids. It may come as a surprise to city-dwellers but, according to Home Power Magazine, as of 2006, 180,000 houses in the United States were off-grid, and that figure is likely considerably higher today. California, Colorado, Maine, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have long been refuges for such energy rebels, though people live off the grid in every state. While many of these people shun the grid on principle, owing to politics and environmental concerns, few of the world’s 1.8 billion off-the-gridders have any choice in the matter. Solar energy can drastically improve the quality of life for millions of people who live in the dark, especially in places such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where as many as 90% of the rural population lacks access to electricity. People in these areas must rely on fuel-based lighting, which inflicts significant social and environmental costs, from jeopardized health through Rural, off-grid homes are excellent applications for solar powercontamination of indoor air, to limited overall productivity.
  • Solar power provides green jobs. Production of solar panels for domestic use is becoming a growing source of employment in research, manufacture, sales and installation.
  • Solar panels contain no moving parts and thus produce no noise. Wind turbines, by contrast, require noisy gearboxes and blades.
  • In the long run, solar power is economical. Solar panels and installation involve high initial expenses, but this cost is soon offset by savings on energy bills.  Eventually, they may even produce a profit on their use.
  • Solar power takes advantage of net metering, which is the practice of crediting homeowners for electricity they produce and return to the power grid. As part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, public electric utilities are required to make available, upon request, net metering to their Manhattan, and much of the northeast USA, goes dark in August, 2003customers. This practice offers an advantage for homeowners who use solar panels (or wind turbines or fuel cells) that may, at times, produce more energy than their homes require. If net metering is not an option, excess energy may be stored in batteries.
  • Solar power can mean government tax credits. U.S. federal subsidies credit up to 30% of system costs, and each state offers its own incentives. California, blessed with abundant sunshine and plagued by high electric rates and an over-taxed grid, was the first state to offer generous renewable-energy incentives for homes and businesses.
  • Solar power is reliable. Many homeowners favor solar energy because it is virtually immune to potential failings of utility companies, mainly in the form of political or economic turmoil, terrorism, natural disasters, or brownouts due to overuse. The Northeast Blackout of 2003 unplugged 55 million people across two countries, while rolling blackouts are a part of regular life in some South Asian countries, and occasionally in California and Texas.
  • Solar power conserves foreign energy expenditures. In many countries, a large percentage of earnings is used to pay for imported oil for power generation. The United States alone spends $13 million per hour on oil, much of which comes from Persian Gulf nations. As oil supplies dwindle and prices rise in this politically unstable region, these problems continue to catalyze the expansion of solar power and other alternative-energy systems.
In summary, solar energy offers advantages to conventional fossil fuels and other renewable energy systems.

From Advantages of Solar Energy – InterNACHI http://www.nachi.org/advantages-solar-energy.htm#ixzz1qvxBepd6

Thermostats

Thermostats are devices designed to control the heating and cooling systems in a building so that air temperature remains comfortable. According to InterNACHI’s Standards of Practice, inspectors are not required to verify, inspect or determine thermostat calibration, heat anticipation, automatic setbacks, timers, programs or clocks. It is wise, however, for inspectors to understand thermostat operation and solutions to common defects.Thermostats are used to control heating and cooling cycles

Thermostats can be manually controlled or set to activate automatically based on timers or room temperature readings. Most thermostats contain two meters:  the “set” temperature that the thermostat is asking for, and the actual temperature. On a traditional dial-type thermostat, the user can increase the set temperature by rotating the dial clockwise, and lower it by rotating it counter-clockwise. Newer thermostats usually have digital displays, which can be used to adjust automated  heating and cooling schedules.

Thermostat Location

In order to avoid false or “ghost” readings, which will cause unnecessary furnace or air-conditioner cycling, the thermostat must be installed so that it correctly reads the room temperature. The following locations may cause the thermostat to give false readings:

  • near a heat source, such as a fireplace, hot water pipes, bright lights, direct sunlight, electrical appliances that produce heat;
  • in a drafty hallway, or near a window or exterior door that is opened often; and
  • on an outside wall. Outside walls are too affected by outside temperatures, which may make the thermostat “think” the air in the house is warmer or cooler than it really is.
Common Thermostat Problems and Solutions
  • erratic operation or fluctuating temperature. This is often caused by poor pin connections between the thermostat and the backplate when the backplate is flexed against an uneven wall. To allow the backplate to flatten out, loosen the screws that attach the backplate to the wall, then snap the thermostat back onto the backplate.
  • a thermostat that doesn’t respond to changes in room temperature. This can happen when there is air passing over the temperature sensor from a hole in the wall behind the thermostat, through which wires enter from the air-handling unit. To rectify this, insulate the hole behind the thermostat with insulation, spray foam, or any other insulating material.
  • temperature that is inaccurate. A convenient way to test the temperature sensor is to tape a thermometer to the wall next to the thermostat and wait 15 minutes. A faulty thermometer needs to be recalibrated. Instructions for recalibration vary by manufacturer.
  • loss of power. This may be caused by the following two situations:
    • If the air handler powers the thermostat, check the circuit breaker meant for the air handler and make sure it has not tripped.
    • If batteries power the thermostat, make sure they are lithium, not alkaline. Alkaline batteries will die rapidly or cause erratic thermostat operation.

Maintenance and Other Tips

  • Give the thermostat’s interior a light dusting with a small, soft paintbrush. Canned air can also be used to blow off dust. Twist the screws to remove the cover. Be sure to clean the contacts, which are small metal plates within the unit. The wires coming from the transformer attach to the contacts. Do not touch any of the interior parts with fingers.
  • If the base is loose, re-tighten the screws. Check the wires coming from the transformer. If any corrosion is present, remove the wire from the contact and clean it. Use a wire stripper to remove the surrounding insulation, cut back the wire, and reconnect it.
  • Make sure the terminal screws are tight.
  • For wireless thermostats, make sure the model number of the thermostat matches the model number of the receiver. If the model numbers do not match, the stat and receiver will not be compatible.
  • Make sure that your thermostat has been set to the proper position for the season: cooling or heating. The air conditioner will not run with the switch set to “heating” and, conversely, the heating system won’t run if the thermostat has been set to “cooling.”
  • Thermostats that contain a mercury switch must remain perfectly level or they may not control the temperature setting.

A Few Notes on Energy Savings

  • Many people believe that furnaces work harder than normal to warm an area back up to a comfortable temperature, which will counteract energy savings gained from turning the thermostat down. This belief is a misconception that has been disproved by years of studies and research. Fuel is saved between the time the temperature is stabilized at the lower level and the next time heat is needed, while the fuel required to re-heat the space is roughly equal to the fuel saved while the building drops to a lower temperature.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Energy, consumers can save 10% on their utility bills by setting their thermostat back 10° to 15° for eight hours. This can be accomplished easily with a programmable thermostat.
  • Be careful not to set the thermostat so low in the winter that pipes freeze, or so low during the summer which may allow humidity-spawned mold to grow.
In summary, thermostats are used to ensure the comfort of building occupants through the proper control of the heating and cooling cycles.

Save Energy Sarasota

Most people don’t know how easy it is to make their homes run on less energy, and here at InterNACHI, we want to change that. Drastic reductions in heating, cooling and electricity costs can be accomplished through very simple changes, most of which homeowners can do themselves. Of course, for homeowners who want to take advantage of the most up-to-date knowledge and systems in home energy efficiency, InterNACHI energy auditors can perform in-depth testing to find the best energy solutions for your particular home.

Why make your home more energy efficient? Here are a few good reasons:

  • Federal, state, utility and local jurisdictions’ financial incentives, such as tax breaks, are very advantageous for homeowners in most parts of the U.S.
  • It saves money. It costs less to power a home that has been converted to be more energy-efficient.
  • It increases the comfort level indoors.
  • It reduces our impact on climate change. Many scientists now believe that excessive energy consumption contributes significantly to global warming.
  • It reduces pollution. Conventional power production introduces pollutants that find their way into the air, soil and water supplies.

1. Find better ways to heat and cool your house. 

As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that energy bills can be reduced through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:

  • Install a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can be used in place of air conditioners, which require a large amount of energy.
  • Periodically replace air filters in air conditioners and heaters.
  • Set thermostats to an appropriate temperature. Specifically, they should be turned down at night and when no one is home. In most homes, about 2% of the heating bill will be saved for each degree that the thermostat is lowered for at least eight hours each day. Turning down the thermostat from 75° F to 70° F, for example, saves about 10% on heating costs.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves money by allowing heating and cooling appliances to be automatically turned down during times that no one is home and at night. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and, in some climate zones, can save up to $150 per year in energy costs.
  • Install a wood stove or a pellet stove. These are more efficient sources of heat than furnaces.
  • At night, curtains drawn over windows will better insulate the room.

2. Install a tankless water heater.

Demand-type water heaters (tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don’t produce the standby energy losses associated with traditional storage water heaters, which will save on energy costs. Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. A gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don’t need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.

3. Replace incandescent lights.

The average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights convert approximately only 10% of the energy they consume into light, while the rest becomes heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), can reduce the energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer further energy savings by reducing the amount of time that lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:

  • CFLs use 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • LEDs last even longer than CFLs and consume less energy.
  • LEDs have no moving parts and, unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.

4. Seal and insulate your home.

Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy-efficient, and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home can improve comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills. An InterNACHI energy auditor can assess  leakage in the building envelope and recommend fixes that will dramatically increase comfort and energy savings.

The following are some common places where leakage may occur:

  • electrical receptacles/outlets;
  • mail slots;
  • around pipes and wires;
  • wall- or window-mounted air conditioners;
  • attic hatches;
  • fireplace dampers;
  • inadequate weatherstripping around doors;
  • baseboards;
  • window frames; and
  • switch plates.

Because hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that save them money on cooling and heating, such as:

  • Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas.
  • Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry.
  • Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foamboard insulation in the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.

5. Install efficient showerheads and toilets.

The following systems can be installed to conserve water usage in homes:

  • low-flow showerheads. They are available in different flow rates, and some have a pause button which shuts off the water while the bather lathers up;
  • low-flow toilets. Toilets consume 30% to 40% of the total water used in homes, making them the biggest water users. Replacing an older 3.5-gallon toilet with a modern, low-flow 1.6-gallon toilet can reduce usage an average of 2 gallons-per-flush (GPF), saving 12,000 gallons of water per year. Low-flow toilets usually have “1.6 GPF” marked on the bowl behind the seat or inside the tank;
  • vacuum-assist toilets. This type of toilet has a vacuum chamber that uses a siphon action to suck air from the trap beneath the bowl, allowing it to quickly fill with water to clear waste. Vacuum-assist toilets are relatively quiet; and
  • dual-flush toilets. Dual-flush toilets have been used in Europe and Australia for years and are now gaining in popularity in the U.S. Dual-flush toilets let you choose between a 1-gallon (or less) flush for liquid waste, and a 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste. Dual-flush 1.6-GPF toilets reduce water consumption by an additional 30%.

6. Use appliances and electronics responsibly.

Appliances and electronics account for about 20% of household energy bills in a typical U.S. home. The following are tips that will reduce the required energy of electronics and appliances:

  • Refrigerators and freezers should not be located near the stove, dishwasher or heat vents, or exposed to direct sunlight. Exposure to warm areas will force them to use more energy to remain cool.
  • Computers should be shut off when not in use. If unattended computers must be left on, their monitors should be shut off. According to some studies, computers account for approximately 3% of all energy consumption in the United States.
  • Use efficient ENERGY STAR-rated appliances and electronics. These devices, approved by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Program, include TVs, home theater systems, DVD players, CD players, receivers, speakers, and more. According to the EPA, if just 10% of homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees.
  • Chargers, such as those used for laptops and cell phones, consume energy when they are plugged in. When they are not connected to electronics, chargers should be unplugged.
  • Laptop computers consume considerably less electricity than desktop computers.

7. Install daylighting as an alternative to electrical lighting.

Daylighting is the practice of using natural light to illuminate the home’s interior. It can be achieved using the following approaches:

  • skylights. It’s important that they be double-pane or they may not be cost-effective. Flashing skylights correctly is key to avoiding leaks;
  • light shelves. Light shelves are passive devices designed to bounce light deep into a building. They may be interior or exterior. Light shelves can introduce light into a space up to 2½ times the distance from the floor to the top of the window, and advanced light shelves may introduce four times that amount;
  • clerestory windows.  Clerestory windows are short, wide windows set high on the wall. Protected from the summer sun by the roof overhang, they allow winter sun to shine through for natural lighting and warmth; and
  • light tubes.  Light tubes use a special lens designed to amplify low-level light and reduce light intensity from the midday sun. Sunlight is channeled through a tube coated with a highly reflective material, and then enters the living space through a diffuser designed to distribute light evenly.

8. Insulate windows and doors.

About one-third of the home’s total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. The following are ways to reduce energy lost through windows and doors:

  • Seal all window edges and cracks with rope caulk. This is the cheapest and simplest option.
  • Windows can be weatherstripped with a special lining that is inserted between the window and the frame. For doors, apply weatherstripping around the whole perimeter to ensure a tight seal when they’re closed. Install quality door sweeps on the bottom of the doors, if they aren’t already in place.
  • Install storm windows at windows with only single panes. A removable glass frame can be installed over an existing window.
  • If existing windows have rotted or damaged wood, cracked glass, missing putty, poorly fitting sashes, or locks that don’t work, they should be repaired or replaced.

9. Cook smart.

An enormous amount of energy is wasted while cooking. The following recommendations and statistics illustrate less wasteful ways of cooking:

  • Convection ovens are more efficient that conventional ovens. They use fans to force hot air to circulate more evenly, thereby allowing food to be cooked at a lower temperature. Convection ovens use approximately 20% less electricity than conventional ovens.
  • Microwave ovens consume approximately 80% less energy than conventional ovens.
  • Pans should be placed on the matching size heating element or flame.
  • Using lids on pots and pans will heat food more quickly than cooking in uncovered pots and pans.
  • Pressure cookers reduce cooking time dramatically.
  • When using conventional ovens, food should be placed on the top rack. The top rack is hotter and will cook food faster.

10. Change the way you do laundry.

  • Do not use the medium setting on your washer. Wait until you have a full load of clothes, as the medium setting saves less than half of the water and energy used for a full load.
  • Avoid using high-temperature settings when clothes are not very soiled. Water that is 140° F uses far more energy than 103° F for the warm-water setting, but 140° F isn’t that much more effective for getting clothes clean.
  • Clean the lint trap every time before you use the dryer. Not only is excess lint a fire hazard, but it will prolong the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
  • If possible, air-dry your clothes on lines and racks.
  • Spin-dry or wring clothes out before putting them into a dryer.
Homeowners who take the initiative to make these changes usually discover that the energy savings are more than worth the effort. InterNACHI home inspectors can make this process much easier because they can perform a more comprehensive assessment of energy-savings potential than the average homeowner can.

Tree Swing Inspection

by Nick Gromicko, Rob London and Kate Tarasenko

A tree swing (or a rope swing or tire swing) is composed of a single rope or chain attached to a high tree branch, along with a seat, which is typically a wooden plank or tire. For many homeowners, tree swings represent fond childhood memories, but this type of DIY play equipment is too often poorly constructed by non-professional builders for their children, who can be unaware of the potential dangers.  InterNACHI inspectors who encounter these at property exteriors may wish to alert their clients of some of the hazards they pose.

Consider some recent tragedies.  In 2010, a British girl enjoying her tree swing was killed when she was pinned to the ground by the falling silver birch, which is a tree species considered unsuitable for tree swings. That same year, an unsupervised boy accidentally hanged himself when he became tangled in the tree swing’s rope. Children are also killed or injured when ropes snap or hanger brackets dislodge.  An article in the journal Pediatrics stated that “Recreational, single-rope tree swing injuries among children resulted in significant morbidity, regardless of the height of the fall. This activity carries a substantial risk for serious injury.”

To prevent accidents, inspectors and their clients can learn about what goes into a properly installed tree swing, and how to inspect them for potential hazards.

Tree Inspection

A  sturdy tree is a must for a safe tree swing, but this consideration may be overlooked on properties that lack a variety of healthy trees from which to choose. Also, inspectors should remember that while trees appear stationary, they are actually alive and constantly, albeit slowly, growing and changing shape. As such, branches will “absorb” hanger brackets, and overhead branches will become brittle, gradually transforming what was once a properly installed tree swing into one that is no longer safe to use.

Check for the following indications that the tree will pose dangers to the user:

  • inappropriate tree choice.  According to London Play, an organization that promotes outdoor exercise for children, beech, oak, sycamore and Norway maple are suitable for rope swings, while pine, poplar, spruce, willow and silver birch should be avoided. Cherry, cedar and ash can be used only when their limbs are large and the tree is in good condition;
  • the branch is too thin. The branch’s minimum thickness depends on the tree species, but, in general, it should be at least 8 inches thick;
  • bulges, cracks and unusual swelling.  These tree defects often lead to limb failure. If possible, the candidate limb should be inspected from above as well as from the ground;
  • decay, fungus, or signs of hollowing within the tree. Dead wood is often dry and brittle and cannot bend in the wind under the stresses of the weight of a swinging child. Strike the tree at different points with a hammer to test for the sound of hollowing;
  • poor tree architecture. While a tree that naturally leans may have no structural defects, straight trees that have started to lean recently may be damaged and in danger of collapse;
  • cracks or seams where the branch forks from the larger limb. Weak unions indicate that the limb is at risk of tearing out; and
  • dead or hanging branches above the swing. These should be secured or removed, as they are likely to dislodge from the motion of the moving swing.

Read InterNACHI’s article on Tree Dangers for more tips on how to spot dangerous situations posed by trees. Consult a qualified arborist if you have further concerns.

Ground Cover

Whether on purpose or by accident, sooner or later, children will fall from playground equipment, including rope swings, and the extent of their injuries will be determined, in part, by the condition of the ground beneath the swing.

Inspect for the following hazards that may make injuries more likely:

  • asphalt, concrete or other types of hard surfaces. Grass or bare earth covered with leaves is usually safe, although additional safety can be provided by loose-fill material, such as mulch, wood chips, shredded rubber mulch, or engineered wood fiber. Earth that has been compacted by frequent foot traffic may be too hard;
  • natural objects that may be tripped over or injure a child, such as rocks, exposed roots, stumps or branches from a neighboring tree. These objects should be removed so that only a flat surface remains;
  • downward-sloped terrain.  This will have the effect of accelerating the speed or adding to the distance for the child to dismount the swing, increasing the likelihood that s/he will trip and fall. Such a slope will also encourage the loss of leaves and other natural loose-fill material to wind and rain; and
  • safe ground surface that extends only in a narrow path in front of and behind the swing. Tire swings, which permit a swinging motion in any axis, demand a larger safe-ground surface than other rope swings. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends installing a protective surface outward from the swing equal to the suspension rope plus 6 feet.

Water 

Tree swings are sometimes installed adjacent to ponds or rivers so the user has the option of a water landing. As exciting as this prospect may be, water presents its own set of dangers. A flotation device may be kept next to the tree so that it can be thrown into the water in case of an emergency.

Also, check for the following:

  • water depth. Check to make sure that the water is sufficiently and uniformly deep within the fall range;
  • sharp rocks, branches or other objects that can cause injury; and
  • obvious exit. A steep-walled river can be difficult to escape, as can swift river currents.

Rope

A tree swing is only as strong as its rope or chain, so care should be taken to choose adequate material.

Check for the following rope defects:

  • too thin. Rope that is too thin will either not support the weight of a swinging child or be difficult to adequately grasp;
  • too thick. Ensure that the rope is not so thick that a child cannot easily grasp it.  Rope that is an inch to 1-1/2 inches thick is typically sufficient, depending on the material;
  • inadequate strength. Remember that as the user swings higher and higher, the tension in the rope or chain will equal several times the rider’s weight at the bottom of the arc. Therefore, the rope should be rated to withstand significantly greater weight than that of the intended rider;
  • abrasiveness. Before wrapping the rope around the tree limb, protect the tree from abrasion and subsequent damage and weakening by wrapping a section of rubber around it; and
  • unsafe, makeshift or additional ropes. Ensure that the rope does not create strangulation hazards. Also, check for any stray jump ropes, clotheslines, pet leashes, or anything else unnecessarily attached to the tree swing.

Seat

The seat should be high enough so that the user’s legs do not scrape the ground but not so high that the swing isn’t easily accessible or requires unsafe effort for the user to dismount. Remember that tree limbs can sway under the user’s weight, and weaker limbs might permit the seat to get too close to the ground.  Sufficient clearance is roughly 10 inches between the ground and the user, which may translate into 16 inches for an unoccupied swing.  A seat may be made from a wooden plank, which can be inspected for splinters, or a tire, which is usually suspended in a horizontal orientation using three suspension chains or cables connected to a single swivel mechanism that permits both rotation and a swinging motion in any axis.

The tire may be a discarded vehicle tire or a plastic imitation, but it can present its own set of defects, including:

  • exposed metal wires. Newer radial tires should not be used for a swing.  In fact, the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) explicitly advises against their use because they can become worn, exposing dangerous metal wires. Radial tires should be closely inspected for wear before their use. Older bias tires are usually safer to use for swings;
  • using a heavy truck tire. This type of tire may be too heavy, causing the hanger clamp to dislodge.  According to the ASTM, the entire rope swing assembly should not be greater than 35 pounds;
  • no water drainage holes. Tires will collect rainwater if they lack holes through which water can drain; and
  • beehives or hornets’ nests. Carefully inspect the interior of the tire for dangerous animals and insects and their nests, especially stinging insects, which may require special handling in order to remove safely.

Hanger Clamp

Hanger clamps provide a fixed point for the rope and the tree branch to intersect while keeping them properly separated, reducing friction on the rope than can cause it to gradually wear away. The likelihood of failure at this point is increased due to the additional stress of rotational movement and multiple users.
Check for the following defects:
  • poor clamp location. The hanger should be installed far enough away from the tree trunk that the user cannot inadvertently swing into the tree, especially if the swing permits horizontal motion. Likewise, the hanger should be placed at a point on the branch close enough to the tree trunk that the branch is of desirable strength and thickness;
  • the clamp is not securely installed. If it detaches, the swing and its rider will fall to the ground. The CPSC has ordered a recall of tire swings manufactured by Miracle Recreation Equipment Company (model #714-852, #714-852-X and #278) for this safety defect due to reported injuries; and
  • pinch points. Hanger clamps, especially for multi-axis tire swings, should not have any accessible pinch points.

Additional Inspection Tips

  • Check for signs of vandalism. Even if intended as a harmless prank, disaster can result from a partially cut rope.
  • Supervise children at play. Children may stand on the swing, swing excessively high to outdo a friend, or spin the swing to create dizziness. A little supervision can mean the difference between childhood antics and serious danger.
  • Remove drawstrings from children’s clothing, as they can become attached to the moving swing and create a strangulation hazard.
  • Remove the swing in bad weather if it may become damaged or damage the tree.
  • Clean, sand and repaint rusted areas as needed.
  • Occasionally inspect the condition of the equipment for signs of wear (especially after a season of harsh or inclement weather), such as splintering wooden surfaces, damaged suspension ropes, broken and missing components, and bent pipes or tubing.
  • Ensure that protective caps and plugs which cover bolt and tubing ends are in place and secure.
  • Periodically oil any moving metal parts.
  • Maintain loose-fill surfacing beneath the swing.

Other valuable information can be found in IntertNACHI’s article on Playground Equipment Hazards and Inspection.

In summary, tree swings can be great fun if they’re used with safety in mind first and foremost. Use this guide to inspect for their proper installation and maintenance to prevent avoidable and potentially tragic accidents.

For Sale by Owner: Positives and Difficulties

When interpreting to go about the undertaking of selling their homes, homeowners should carefully consider the pros and cons of hiring a real estate agent. While most seller decide to hire an agent to aid them with the sale, a minority of them choose to sell it themselves.  In 2006, these “for sale by owner” (or FSBO) sellers totaled 12% in 2006, based on to the National Association of Realtors. FSBO sellers stand to protect an enormous amount of money, but to do this well, they must be proficient and shrewd in a territory which they may find strange.

In the U.S., real estate agents typically take 4 – 6% of the selling price of the house, which many homeowners view as unjustifiably large, considering the agent puts none of their own money into the home and comparatively small amount of their time. Yet, sellers must think about that this fee is usually split between the the buyer’s agent and seller’s agent, and the brokerage must be compensated too. After taxes, the average real estate agent makes a humble living. Although, understandably, the seller doesn’t worry about how the commission is split up, as they’d much desire to pocket the whole amount.

There are also psychological reasons why homeowners select to sell their homes themselves. Some people like the feeling of being in control of the agreement and unencumbered by the potential blunders or ulterior motives of professionals. The agent might want to accept a low offer because they’re in a hurry to sell the home, get their payment and move on, even if the seller is in no rush and would like to proceed at their own speed. Moreover, the amount of the commission will be affected little by a change in the final sale value, leaving the agent with little motivation to dicker over a few thousand dollars.

Of course, many sellers will effortlessly pay a real estate agent a large fee, especially in buyers’ markets, when the seller can’t garner sufficient attention to sell the residence on their own. Also, the thought of a property transaction– perhaps the most important financial move of someone’s life – without having a specialist may be unsettling to both the buyer and the seller. Agents realize what agreements need to be signed and which laws must be observed (such as disclosure requirements), reducing a lot of hassle for the buyer and seller, and keeping them both out of the courtroom. A real estate agent will also operate as a shield between the buyer and seller, who could very well feel uneasy dealing with one another directly.

Perhaps the best reason to hire a real estate agent is that they know how to price a house, and, without their assistance, the seller may waste months striving unsuccessfully to sell an overpriced home, or, worse, sell the residence for too little. When selling a home devoid of an agent, homeowners will be in charge not only for paying the fees charged by various professionals, but they will also be in charge for finding these business people in the first place. A knowledgeable real estate agent will know to not skimp on the home assessment, for instance, by exclusively contracting InterNACHI inspectors.

Sellers can save thousands of dollars by avoiding the services of a real estate agent, but to do this effectively, they are going to have to earn that money. The following tips are a good start for FSBO house sellers: Don’t skimp on house preparation. Your particular house will be in competition with houses listed by agents who coach their clients on how to organize their house for showings. Find out about legal requirements for disclosures in your place. If you do not make known certain information to the buyer, they could possibly be able attack you later in court. Familiarize yourself with the papers and contracts required by a real estate transaction. It often pays to employ a lawyer to check the contract. Explore ad and marketing tools available to you on the Internet. There are some sites that will even help you develop a video tour of your home. Hone your negotiating skills and be ready to turn down some offers. Real estate agents are skilled negotiators, and the buyer’s agent could possibly try to take advantage of your lack of expertise.

In summary, it might make sense to use the services of a real estate agent to assist with the sale of a home, but savvy, responsible homeowners can keep a great deal of cash by selling their houses themselves.

What Really Matters In A Sarasota Home Inspection

Buying a home?  The process can be stressful.  A home inspection is supposed to give you peace of mind, but it often has the opposite effect.  You will be asked to absorb a lot of information over a short time.  This often includes a written report, checklist, photographs, environmental reports, and what the inspector himself says during the inspection.  All this combined with the seller’s disclosure and what you notice yourself make the experience even more overwhelming.  What should you do?

Relax. Inspectors are professionals, and if yours is a member of InterNACHI, then you can trust that he/she is among the most highly trained in the industry. Most of your inspection will be related to maintenance recommendations and minor imperfections. These are good to know about.  However, the issues that really matter will fall into four categories:

  1. major defects:  An example of this would be a structural failure;
  2. things that lead to major defects: a small roof-flashing leak, for example;
  3. things that may hinder your ability to finance, legally occupy, or insure the home; and
  4. safety hazards, such as an exposed, live buss bar at the electric panel.

Anything in these categories should be addressed.  Often, a serious problem can be corrected inexpensively to protect both life and property (especially in categories 2 and 4). Most sellers are honest and are often surprised to learn of defects uncovered during an inspection.  Realize that sellers are under no obligation to repair everything mentioned in the report.  No home is perfect.  Keep things in perspective.  Do not kill your deal over things that do not matter.  It is inappropriate to demand that a seller address deferred maintenance, conditions already listed on the seller’s disclosure, or nit-picky items.  Contact our company today to schedule your next home inspection.