Many people are subsidizing their bills with solar panels and other renewable energy solutions, but that’s just the beginning. With the green movement currently in full swing, more and more people are becoming more environmentally conscious. There are a variety of ways we can reduce our carbon footprint, but instituting renewable energy sources into our HVAC systems is one of the ways that make a huge impact.
Solar power is the power that’s received from the rays put out by the sun, and just like you can use it to power lights and generators, you can also use it to power HVAC systems. Most solar-powered HVAC systems use a combination of power from solar panels installed on the home or business and power from the electrical grid. Any power that’s not used from the grid can be used elsewhere, sold back to the electrical company, or used as credits against future energy costs.
Geothermal energy is generated by the heat from the Earth, thus the name, “geothermal.” It’s a clean a sustainable source of energy, and geothermal HVAC systems can greatly reduce the cost and carbon footprint of your home. It doesn’t require you to burn any fuel or pollutants in order to use it. They way geothermal HVAC systems work is by circulating water that collects heat from the ground throughout the home when it needs to be heated. When it needs to be cooled down it removes air from the hot building.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are air conditioning units that are powered by ice. The way that ice-powered batteries work is by making ice during off-season hours, which is later used to cool the building when it gets hot. Basically, ice-powered systems create clean and renewable thermal batteries that can decrease the amount of electricity used during peak cooling periods by 95 percent for up to as many as six hours out of the day.
In today’s environmentally conscious world, reducing the impact that we have on the environment is essential to preserving it. Every reduction in the footprint lends itself to less destruction, and renewable energy solutions help us to be able to still have the luxuries that we’re used to without destroying our environment as much. If you want to figure out how you can improve your HVAC, schedule an inspection with us today!
Inspect the service drop; service entrance conductors, cables and raceways; service equipment and main disconnects; service grounding; interior components of service panels and subpanels; conductors; overcurrent protection devices; a representative number of installed lighting fixtures, switches and receptacles; and ground fault circuit interrupters
The section bolded above means to me that I will remove the dead front of all electrical panels and sub-panels so I can visibly inspect the interior components, conductors, and overcorrect protection devices. When I run into Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) panels I do not remove the dead front of these panels. There are provisions in the Illinois law that allow home inspectors to not comply with the standards if they feel the actions are dangerous. I will say it. I am afraid of these panels. I think they are dangerous. I believe that they should be removed and upgraded to new panels as soon as possible. I believe that if I disturb the panel in any way, I can make something that I already consider bad, worse. I don’t want to damage anyone’s home, or even worse, cause injury or death to someone.
We have all heard stories about breakers falling out and just hanging by the wires when the cover panel is removed. Some inspectors say that this is an old wives tale. Well if it is an old wives tale, then I am the old wife. I am the guy who had these breakers fall out as soon as I took that panel off. My heart stopped, my jaw dropped, and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t just leave the breakers hanging like this. I tried to put the breakers back in their proper position and they just kept falling out because they were loose and hardly made contact with the panel. It got to the point where I got the breakers back into position, held them there with my hand, took the panel cover with my other hand, covered the panel with my hand under the cover and then I did a magician’s trick and slid my hand out from under the cover so I can jamb the panel back on to hold the breakers in place with the cover panel. The layout of this panel did not make it easy to accomplish this in one try. I decided that that was one of the dumbest things that I have ever done in my life, and I will never do it again.
Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) panels were one of the most common, if not the most common electrical panel sold in the United States from the 50’s through the 80’s. They were inexpensive, UL approved, and many electricians installed them in homes across the country. House fires happen. When they do, it is the job of the fire department to determine the cause and origin of the fire. It started becoming a common occurrence that the point of origin was the electric panel and that electric panel was manufactured by FPE. UL and electrical experts found the flaws in the panels (more specifically the breakers) and removed the UL listing. There was no mandated order to remove any existing FPE panel. I still run into these stab-loc panels today. I firmly believe that even though these have been working for at least 40 years without any signs of any damage to the panel or the home, they are still dangerous and should be removed.
A New Jersey Court found that FPE violated the Consumer Fraud Act because FPE knowingly and purposefully distributed circuit breakers which were not tested to meet UL standards. Kudos are given to Dan Friedman, a home inspector in New York, for the amount of research he has done on this subject and many other subjects (To see the Class Action Settlement Notice issued for New Jersey Residents, click here).
So yes I (and everyone from our company) will recommend that these panels be removed and replaced by a professional electrician. There is no need to go into a panel when I already feel the panel is unsafe because this company committed consumer fraud and did not test their breakers to meet the minimum safety standards of Underwriters Laboratories.
The above photos are showing poor insulation in the floor that overhangs the exterior wall. The darker the color = the colder the surface. This is common when batt insulation is just stuffed into an area. Voids are present that allow heat/cold to pass easily. The temperature change is not just a discomfort. It can lead to condensation, mold and wood rot. I am a big fan of foam insulation. It fills most gaps and creates an excellent heat barrier.
High efficiency furnaces can take combustion air from inside the house. Providing the room is large enough and the home is not hermetically sealed (or too tight). New construction home here in the Chicagoland area require blower door tests to ensure the home is air tight, but not too air tight. We have to have fresh air/oxygen so we don’t get sick. The opening on this intake does not have an elbow on it. If you open any furnace installation manual, you will find the acceptable installation method so you can take combustion air from the inside of the home.
The phot below shows the proper installation method. The elbow helps prevent inadvertent blockage such as resting clothes, towels, books, or boxes on the hole. Blocking this opening should stop the furnace from starting but should it start, the oxygen will be limited and high levels of carbon monoxide will be created.
A home inspection in Lake View found a clogged dryer vent. Keeping these clean is important.
A Northbrook Home Inspection (New Construction), we found a missing mortar joint.
It may not seem like much, until the stone comes loose and needs to be repaired.
A Home Inspection in Rogers Park – Chicago found this water heater.
During a home inspection in Lincoln Square -Chicago we opened this humidifier and found the winner. Can anyone top this?
During a Home Inspection in Barrington we found a snake skin.
If a fire starts in a garage, you do not want it to spread to the attached house. Additionally, if you start up your vehicle in the garage, you do not want carbon monoxide entering your home.
Homeowners (me included) have a tendency to store an assortment of flammable materials in garages. Gas, diesel fuel, paint thinners and removers, cleaning solvents, propane cylinders, swimming pool chemicals, and other compressed gasses such as welding gas.
I have also been on many calls as a fireman where the car was started inside the garage so it can warm up. This allows carbon monoxide (CO) and other gas accumulation within the garage.
Fire separations are required between residences and attached garages and their attics. We find, and document, this issue often during our home inspections.
Here is the wording from the IRC 302.5
Openings and penetrations through the walls or ceilings separating the dwelling from the garage shall be in accordance with Sections R302.5.1 through R302.5.3.
R302.5.1 Opening Protection
Openings from a private garage directly into a room used for sleeping purposes shall not be permitted. Other openings between the garage and residence shall be equipped with solid wood doors not less than 13/8 inches (35 mm) in thickness, solid or honeycomb-core steel doors not less than 13/8 inches (35 mm) thick, or 20-minute fire-rated doors, equipped with a self-closing or automatic closing device.
(Many communities have amended the self-closing or automatic closing device to read self-latching hardware). I haven’t memorized every community’s code (also every year of every code) about this reference. I treat the above reference by looking for a self closing device and if it is present, then it should work.
R302.5.2 Duct Penetration
Ducts in the garage and ducts penetrating the walls or ceilings separating the dwelling from the garage shall be constructed of a minimum No. 26 gage (0.48 mm) sheet steel or other approved material and shall not have openings into the garage.
I just recently did a home inspection in Chicago that had the dryer vent running through the garage and exited the structure through the garage wall. This is not acceptable and I consider this a breach in the fire separation.
R302.5.3 Other Penetrations
Penetrations through the separation required in Section R302.6 (see below) shall be protected as required by Section R302.11, Item 4. (At openings around vents, pipes, ducts, cables and wires at ceiling and floor level, with an approved material to resist the free passage of flame and products of combustion. The material filling this annular space shall not be required to meet the ASTM E 136 requirements.) This means that fire rated sealant is not required. Typically drywall mud is installed here and that is acceptable.
R302.6 Dwelling-Garage Fire Separation
The garage shall be separated as required by Table R302.6. Openings in garage walls shall comply with Section R302.5. Attachment of gypsum board shall comply with Table R702.3.5. The wall separation provisions of Table R302.6 shall not apply to garage walls that are perpendicular to the adjacent dwelling unit wall. (This means that if there is not a living space on the opposite side of the garage wall, then the drywall is not required.)
TABLE R302.6 DWELLING-GARAGE SEPARATION
|From the residence and attics||Not less than 1/2-inch gypsum board or equivalent applied to the
|From habitable rooms above the garage||Not less than 5/8-inch Type X gypsum board or equivalent|
|Structure(s) supporting floor/ceiling assemblies used for separation
required by this section
|Not less than 1/2-inch gypsum board or equivalent|
|Garages located less than 3 feet from a dwelling unit on the same lot||Not less than 1/2-inch gypsum board or equivalent applied to the
interior side of exterior walls that are within this area
Attic Pull-Down Stair Units
One obvious example of a ceiling fire separation breach is the near an attic pull-down stair unit. Many of the pull down stairs that I see are not designed for this installation. They do make pull down stairs that are rated for this type of installation, but those commonly are not found at the home repair stores. The photo to the left is a ladder that is designed for garage penetrations. The door of the ladder fully closes and seals when the ladder is in the up position.