October, 2008

Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Join CPSC in Delivering a Timely Message


The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urges consumers to install a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm and to have an annual furnace inspection to prevent CO deaths.

According to CPSC, as the weather turns colder, consumers need to be aware of an invisible killer that can seep through the home, causing serious injury or death.

To help prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisonings, the CPSC urges consumers to have a professional inspection of all fuel-burning heating systems, including furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, water heaters, space heaters, chimneys, flues and vents.

“Each year, CO poisoning from heating systems, water heaters, and ranges and ovens kills about 80 people in the United States,” said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton. “Many of these tragedies could be prevented by having a professional check these appliances annually for proper
operation and CO leaks.”

CO is a colorless, odorless gas that can be produced by burning fuels such as natural gas, propane, oil, kerosene, coal or wood. Properly installed and operating fuel-burning appliances pose minimal CO hazards. However, under certain conditions, all appliances that burn fuels can leak deadly levels of CO into the home. The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to flu (but without the fever) and include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. Exposure to high levels of CO can cause death.

CPSC recommends that the yearly professional inspection include checking chimneys, flues and vents for leakage, blockage by debris, and to make sure they are not loose or disconnected. Birds, other animals and insects can build nests in vents over spring and summer, resulting in blockages that cause deadly exhaust to enter the home. The inspector should also check appliance operation to ensure proper fuel input rate, gas pressure and operating temperatures.

In addition, the inspector should check appliances for gas leaks and adequate ventilation. A supply of fresh air is important to help carry pollutants up the chimney, stovepipe or flue, and fresh air is necessary for the complete combustion of any fuel. Never block ventilation air openings and check the appliance filter to ensure it is clean. Make sure the appliance is operating on the fuel that it is designed to use.

Also, CPSC recommends that every home have a CO alarm in the hallway near bedrooms in each sleeping area. The CO alarm should meet one of these standards: Canadian Standards Association 6.19-01, 2001; Underwriters Laboratories Inc. 2034, Second Edition, October 1998; or the International Approval Services 6-96, Second Edition, June 1, 1998.

CPSC staff continues to work with the furnace industry and other interested parties to develop new technologies to address the hazards of CO poisoning and fire. Results include a furnace voluntary standard that includes requirements for blocked-vent shut-off devices to protect against blocked vent pipes and chimneys, and vented heater requirements to guard against a vent pipe becoming separated from the furnace. Both conditions could lead to CO poisonings. Although improvements have been made in modern furnaces, they do not protect against all conditions that can lead to CO exposure. All gas-fired furnaces manufactured since 1987 have flame roll-out protection technology that prevents flames from spilling out of the furnace’s combustion chamber and starting a fire.

Consumers should never use gasoline-powered generators or charcoal grills indoors or in attached garages because of the risk of CO poisoning: Opening doors and windows or operating fans cannot supply adequate ventilation and can be deadly. Use a generator outside in a dry area away from doors, windows and vents that could allow CO to come indoors. Even with a CO alarm, NEVER use a gasoline-powered generator or a charcoal grill inside.

“CO-The Invisible Killer” (CPSC-464) and other carbon monoxide-related brochures for consumers can be ordered from the CPSC. All CPSC publications — including exclusive Web-only content — are available to consumers to print for free from their home, school or office computers through the category links above.

To order hard copies of any of the Neighborhood Safety Library Publications or Technical Reports and Handbooks listed in the general categories on www.cpsc.gov in the Publication section, e-mail to info@cpsc.gov. Be sure to include your mailing address, and specify the document number and name of the publication desired. Please allow 3-4 weeks for delivery.
Report from Las Vegas on regional plumbing failures

 “As justice’s wheels grind, frustration over failure-prone plumbing grows”: that was the headline in the March 23, 2008, issue of the Las Vegas Sun.

According to Brian Eckhouse and Mike Trask, reporters for the Sun, thousands of failures have and are occurring in the region because: “As water goes through the fittings, it corrodes the metal; zinc leaches from the brass and creates a powdery buildup inside the fittings” used with PEX (cross-linked polyethylene, the material used to create the flexible, plastic tubes attached with brass fittings).

ASHI asked ASHI Certified Inspector John Prodromides, All H Pro Inspections, Las Vegas, Nev., for an on-the-ground report.

He said, “Yes, the problem is widespread, resulting in costly water damage, expensive replacement and, in many neighborhoods with HOA, class action litigation.”  
He explained that brass fittings with a zinc content of 19 percent or more are undergoing deterioration because of dezincification.

Specifically, “Some of the fittings have a zinc content in excess of 35 percent, which seems to react much faster with the pH value of our water more than it does in other areas.  Yes, it is a huge problem in the plumbing industry and especially in the inspection field because of the limited access to fittings.  But we have established a couple of ways to help us identify that the home may have such a problem.”

Slow hot water volume at tub faucets is one red flag. It seems hot water causes deterioration of the fittings a bit faster than cold water does, he said. “The corrosion, as I understand it, starts from the inside out and reduces water volume.” 

He also looks for visible corrosion on the metal components around water heaters, faucets and water fixtures. And, he checks the deadfront cover in the main electrical panel, looking for an indication of non-metallic plumbing, hoping the brand and make is on the label.  

According to the ASHI inspector, “Two brands definitely present a problem: Kitec and Rehau. But we are finding faulty fittings in Wirsbo and Vanguard as well. If non-metallic plumbing is discovered, I report some problematic brands and recommend further evaluation by a licensed professional contractor. The problem is that some plumbers are not sure what to look for.”

He said a video on the Web site www.repipenevada.com helps explain the process. The company that created the video has spoken to many of the area inspectors. 

ASHI Technical Committee Chair Bryck Guibor adds that although there is also a Web site about the class action, there are no rulings to report – the courts have done nothing yet. To read about the class action, visit www.plumbingdefect.com.

Attention ASHI members:

If there is an inspection-related problem specific to your region that would be of interest to your fellow inspectors, let us know. Photos and stories are welcome. Contact Sandy Bourseau at sandyb@ashi.org or 847-954-3179.