May - National Building Safety Month
By Sally Chapralis
May is National Building Safety Month and “safety is an important aspect of a home inspection,” explains Bill Loden, ASHI president. “As professional home inspectors, consumers usually call us to help mitigate the financial risk associated with defects in the home they are purchasing. However, an important part of the inspection involves protecting the physical well being of the people who will live there.”
Bill Loden, former System Safety Engineer for NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) protected the lives of astronauts, and “I have a strong passion and interest in safety issues.”
When National Building Safety Month was formally established last year through a Presidential Proclamation, it emphasized the importance of robust codes and standards for our buildings – homes and businesses – and the professionals who know and follow them
Since the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) was established in 1976, our members have been dedicated to these goals. In fact, ASHI is the only home inspector organization that is certified through the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.
In March, ASHI’s Board of Directors and the Standards Committee approved an update of its Standard of Practice for Home Inspections (SoP). It responds to changes in government regulations, home construction technology, and updated home inspection practices so that ASHI’s Standard of Practice remains relevant and responsive to consumer and community goals.
“Our responsibility is to identify current and future safety issues’,” Loden says. For example, a defective electrical wiring system could potentially affect the health and lives of those who live in a home, as well as their neighbors. “A professional home inspector will see problems homeowners do not. When unsafe conditions are identified by a home inspector they will be reported to the client with explanations, recommendations for corrections or referral to the appropriate professional for further evaluation and repair.
Furthermore, consumers may or may not realize the need for professional home inspections when buying a new home or after a reconstruction due to a natural disaster. “I just inspected a newly built home, bought by a family with young children. The anti-tip bracket had not been installed on the electric range creating the potential of a tip-over from a child using the oven door as a step up to the microwave oven above the range. To make matters even worse, a kitchen island with a cantilevered granite counter top was not secured to the floor and would tip over if a 40 pound child decided to try to sit on the edge of the counter top. Experienced, professional home inspectors’ know what to look for and see problems others do not.
What about local codes? Loden notes that code enforcement and requirements vary across the country. “Building codes are often determined by local jurisdictions and in some areas there is no code enforcement. While home inspectors should be aware of local codes, the inspector’s responsibility is to find all defects and report safety issues for older, new and remodeled homes.”
“On average, one deck collapses every week in our country, resulting in injuries and death,” says ASHI member, John Bouldin, Ph.D. “And more go unreported. This is one of the many reasons home inspections are so important.”
After almost two decades as an ASHI Certified home inspector, John Bouldin earned his Ph.D. from Virginia Tech in 2011 working in the Institute’s Department of Sustainable Biomaterials. “The Institute’s research into deck safety led to code changes by the International Code Council for its International Residential Codes.” In anticipation of May also being Deck Inspection Month, John presented “Inspection of Decks” during a session at InspectionWorld Nashville 2014.
“Decks generally fail for one of two reasons,” John explains. “The deck falls off the house, or the guard rails fall off the deck.” When decks fail, observers often report that the deck was overloaded, but this should never be the case because the design specifications for decks are the same as for living room floors. However, most deck failures occur because construction methods did not meet demands required by building code requirements. "The weight of people on the deck should almost never be the cause; it’s all about following codes and proper connections of the deck to the house, and guard posts to the deck."
For example, lack of flashing between the deck and the house often leads to deck failure. Waterproof materials (flashing) prevent water from seeping in behind the ledger board that connects the deck framing to the house. Lack of flashing affects wood materials, metal fasteners, and the critical attachment of the deck ledge board to the house. While caulk can fill small gaps, it doesn’t replace flashing.
Guard railing systems often fail because the construction methods have not evolved based on what we've learned about deck failures. "It's too easy to say 'but we've always built them this way' and not update construction methods. We've learned so much from the experiences of residential housing over the last 50 years or so, and this new knowledge demands that we adapt and improve our approaches to both building and inspection. In terms of personal and financial safety of our clients, home inspecting is one of the most important careers in our country,” John says. “We have a tremendous mission, saving lives and avoiding catastrophic financial losses.”
Consumers who choose ASHI will be working with professional home inspectors who have passed the most rigorous technical examinations in effect today, including inspectors who are required to perform more than 250 professional inspections before they’re even allowed to call themselves ”certified.” Safety is our ongoing priority.
Outdoor Grills and Home Safety
As we head into the BBQ season, here are safety tips for outdoor grilling:
- Clean your grill before first use. Spiders often use the orifices as homes and partially block the gas flow. That may cause a “lazy” yellow flame that can roll out towards the gas control knobs. The orifices can be removed and cleaned with plain water. Then dried and reinstalled.
- Place your grill – charcoal, natural gas, liquid propane, or electric – at least 10 feet away from your home’s vinyl or wood siding. Fired-up grills can melt vinyl siding or lead to wood panels catching fire. Your outdoor grill should also be at least 10 feet away from decks and deck rails, furniture, trees and other structures.
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
- Place your outdoor grill on a rock or cement surface.
- Do not grill in your garage. Grilling or burning can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning or contact with flammable materials.
- Maintain your grills, checking for gas leaks.