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        1932 Lexington Houston, TX 77098
           
           
 
REAL ESTATE INSPECTOR
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Useful Information

ABS PIPE
This firm understands that ABS drain/sewer piping was only used in homes for a few years because some of it had problems and would break near the fittings.  Further, this firm understands that foundation and/or framing structure movement can also break ABS pipes and/or fittings...
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Aluminum Wiring
Aluminum wiring has been used in the Houston area since approximately 1965 as an alternative to copper wiring and may currently be installed.  Small gauge aluminum branch circuit wiring has received complaints from homeowners and it seems older technology aluminum wire connections can be a fire hazard... read more

Exterior Insulation Finishing System (EIFS)
In short, synthetic type stucco/Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS) product is an exterior cladding system consisting of a cementitious finish made to look like stucco when installed...
read more

Federal Pacific Electrical Panel Box "stab-lock"
Federal Pacific was a very popular manufacturer of electrical equipment from the mid 1950’s to the early 1980’s.  Federal Pacific Electrical “stab-lock” panels and their breakers are trouble prone and unreliable, even when compared with other equipment of the same vintage... read more

Tankless Water Heater
Energy prices are only going up.  Why would you want to heat water all day long, even when you’re not at home?  You may want to consider a tankless water heater or hot water on demand type system... read more

Polybutylene Piping
Polybutylene pipe generally takes 10-15 years to begin to show signs of severe deterioration; therefore it is important to know what problems can be caused by its presence, and what can be done about it before it does pose a risk... read more

Recommendations for installation of cooling system
The purpose for this information is to provide a better understanding of the HVAC equipment, components, designs, and installations, of HVAC system equipment in the Houston area and to apprise you of conditions that may allow a system to operate more efficiently...read more
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ABS PIPE

This firm understands that ABS drain/sewer piping was only used in homes for a few years because some of it had problems and would break near the fittings.  Further, this firm understands that foundation and/or framing structure movement can also break ABS pipes and/or fittings. 

If you are buying or own a home with ABS drain/sewer piping, it is recommended that you contact a licensed, reputable and qualified plumbing contractor to go over the entire plumbing system and provide recommendations and estimates. 

It is recommended that you obtain information about ABS pipe by going to the Internet, keyword "ABS Pipe".  Also, see http://www.codecheck.com/abs.htm and http://www.abspipes.com/

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Aluminum Wiring

Aluminum wiring has been used in the Houston area since approximately 1965 as an alternative to copper wiring and may currently be installed.  Small gauge aluminum branch circuit wiring has received complaints from homeowners and it seems older technology aluminum wire connections can be a fire hazard.  Home fires have been attributed to faulty aluminum wire connections. 

Signs of trouble with aluminum wire systems include face plates on outlets and switches that are warm to the touch, flickering lights, circuits that do not work, frequently tripped fuses or circuit breakers, or the smell of burning plastic at switches, outlets, fixtures, and/or equipment.  However, not all aluminum wired connections provide such easily detected warning signs; aluminum wired connections have been reported to fail and cause fires without prior indications or problems.  The overheating of aluminum wiring tends to take place at the wire connections on switches, outlets, fixtures, fuses, circuit breakers, appliances, and equipment.  Old style technology used wire and/or connectors which allowed conditions of excessive resistance to occur at these connections.  The increased resistance can cause heat sufficient enough for a fire to occur. 

Both copper and aluminum wiring expands when they warm up, and contract when they cool down.  Aluminum reacts differently than copper wire after a number of heating and cooling cycles.  After each heat and cool cycle the aluminum wire tends to creep out from the fastener, leaving a less than tight connection.  Arcing can/may occur, once there is not a tight connection between the aluminum wire and the fastener.  When aluminum wire oxidizes it heats up more to conduct the same amount of electricity.  Due to the creep and oxidation factors, the aluminum wire may get very hot, melt the fastener, switch, outlet, breaker, or fixture it is attached to and may cause a fire.

Different methods have been utilized to improve aluminum wire connections, short of removing and replacing the aluminum wire with copper.  Some of these methods are:

PIG-TAILING:  Pig-tailing involves attaching a short piece of copper wire/conductor to the aluminum wire/conductor with a twist on the connector.  The copper wire/conductor is then connected to the switch or outlet. This was a commonly found method used to try and correct the problem.  However, pig-tailing is not an officially recognized repair method recommended by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.  The twist-on connectors are not listed by Underwriters Laboratories for aluminum wires/conductors.

CO/ALR:  The outlet and switch devices are rated by Underwriters Laboratories for use with aluminum wires/conductors.  If the home has CO/ALR devices installed in the outlets and switches, then additional methods would be required in the junction box, fixture box, fuse, circuit breaker, and equipment connections.

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Exterior Insulation Finishing System (EIFS)
           

In short, synthetic type stucco/Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS) product is an exterior cladding system consisting of a cementitious finish made to look like stucco when installed. 

The potential problem with synthetic type stucco/Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS) is that water/moisture can get trapped behind the water resistant material and can not get out, which can cause the wood framing to rot/decay and/or allow mildew/mold to grow inside the walls. 

There is more that one type/brand of synthetic type stucco/Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS) product siding and each manufacturer may have their own installation and/or maintenance requirements.

If you are buying a home with synthetic type stucco/Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS) type siding, it would be wise to determine the type/brand of synthetic type stucco/Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS) product siding installed at the structure and have the manufacturer's representative determine if it is properly installed, with out moisture behind it, and that moisture can not get behind it. 

You should be very concerned about proper installation and maintenance of this synthetic type stucco/Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS) product, since this firm's understanding is that, this product is water proof and any moisture that is inside the wall can not get out.  Further, you should be aware that other components of this structure may be/are only "water resistant" not "water proof" and may/can allow moisture to penetrate inside the walls. 

Moisture behind this siding material or inside the wall can/will cause mildew/mold and/or rot/decay to the wall framing. 

You should determine if water/moisture has accumulated or if water damage/decay has occurred behind the synthetic type stucco/Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS) product siding. 

Moisture/water often infiltrates into the framing structure behind the synthetic type stucco/Exterior Insulation Finish System (EIFS) at the windows, doors, roof flashings, electrical outlets, telephone wires, cable television wires, speaker wires, electrical panel boxes, electrical disconnect boxes, electrical junction boxes, light fixtures, duct covers, door bell buttons, undereave siding, trim boards, fascia boards, water supply pipes, gas supply pipes, pvc drain pipes, hvac system lines, gutter down spout fasteners, metal flashings, bottom of door frames and trim boards, metal window frames, and swimming pool control boxes.

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Federal Pacific Electrical Panel Box "stab-lock"

Federal Pacific was a very popular manufacturer of electrical equipment from the mid 1950’s to the early 1980’s.  Federal Pacific Electrical “stab-lock” panels and their breakers are trouble prone and unreliable, even when compared with other equipment of the same vintage.  The breakers may fail to trip during an overload and may not cut power when switched off. 
                       
You should be aware that based on reported incidents involving "stab-lock" panel boxes, the panel is considered a latent fire hazard.  This means that the circuit breakers may not trip in response to an over current and/or short circuit, consequently, a circuit breaker that may not trip does not afford the protection that is intended and required. 

The Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) estimates that, overall, approximately 1% of circuit breakers do not work properly.  In contrast, an investigation for the Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that up to 65% of Federal Pacific Electrical “stab-lock” breakers that were tested didn’t work properly.  Failure of a circuit breaker to trip off can result in a fire, property damage, and/or personal injury.  A circuit breaker that may not trip doesn’t provide the protection that’s intended and required. 

In addition, the Federal Pacific Electrical “stab-lock” panels themselves have problems.  The connections between the bus bars and the breakers sometimes loosen with age and use, leading to arcing.  The arcing occurs on the back of the breakers and can’t be seen without removing the breakers.  For these reasons, in this firm’s opinion, the Federal Pacific Electrical “stab-lock” panels are unreliable and should be replaced with modern, reliable equipment.

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Tankless Water Heater

Energy prices are only going up.  Why would you want to heat water all day long, even when you’re not at home?  You may want to consider a tankless water heater or hot water on demand type system.  Tankless water heater or hot water on demand type systems have had a bad reputation in the USA, in the past; because the only units installed were under sized electric units.  Many plumbers still think and say that you will not be happy with this type of unit because it can not keep up with the amount of hot water you will need, when in fact the reverse is true.  The unit must be sized appropriately, taking into consideration the hot water demand, required by number of plumbing fixtures and occupants.  You can obtain more information about these type units at http://www.houseneeds.com and http://store.yahoo.com/irawoodinc/tatawahe.html  Further, it is recommended that a reputable and qualified tankless water heater contractor be contacted to provide recommendations and estimates.

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Polybutylene Piping

Polybutylene pipe generally takes 10-15 years to begin to show signs of severe deterioration; therefore it is important to know what problems can be caused by its presence, and what can be done about it before it does pose a risk. 

Polybutylene is a form of plastic resin that was used extensively in the manufacture of water supply piping from 1978 to 1995.

The polybutylene was made into pipe, tubing, and fittings. 

The polybutylene piping systems were used for underground water mains and as interior water distribution piping. 

Industry experts believe polybutylene was installed in at least six to ten million homes. 

The polybutylene pipe is blue gray, white or black in color with a dull finish.

Some polybutylene piping problems arise from improper installation, but most complaints are with the integrity of the piping itself. Polybutylene pipe is known to deteriorate due to contact with oxidants normally found in public water supplies. The failure can occur in the plastic fittings or in the pipe itself. A main concern regarding polybutylene pipe is that, since the oxidants are carried in the water, the pipe deteriorates from the inside out. This makes it very difficult to determine if the pipe is truly in good condition. Most home inspectors cannot give a reliable assessment on the condition of polybutylene piping unless there is a visible problem with the exterior of the pipe or its installation. In addition, when a leak occurs, it may be extremely severe because the deterioration occurs from within.
Polybutylene pipe leaks are unpredictable and there are no symptoms to warn of an impending leak. Some of the factors that affect polybutylene piping adversely can include, but are not limited too, poor installation, water quality, pipe age, chlorine levels, and deterioration of the metal and/or plastic fittings.
When polybutylene pipe reacts with the oxidants in water, it becomes brittle, sometimes scaling or flaking. This can/will result in a fracturing of the interior surface of the pipe, which allows for more deterioration. Eventually the pipe will begin to leak, causing damage throughout a home. Polybutylene pipe with plastic fittings or with metal fittings will eventually incur damage; polybutylene piping is not a reliable piping under any circumstances. If a pipe has been leaking for some time without the knowledge of a homeowner, severe structural damage to the home can result, making repairs extremely difficult.
Damage from polybutylene pipe leaks can be expensive, in some cases more than the original cost of the house. Insurance companies sometimes cancel or refuse policies for homes with known polybutylene piping problems, and it is difficult to market a home that has such an unreliable plumbing system.
Polybutylene piping can be used anywhere in the home’s plumbing system.  Most often, its presence can be ascertained by checking the attachments under household sinks, near hot water heaters, or leading into toilets.
The only way to eliminate the possibility of problems that can come from deteriorating polybutylene piping is to replace the pipe itself. This procedure is relatively inexpensive and can usually be performed by a certified plumber or re-pipe specialist.
Polybutylene piping runs behind the walls and under the floors of a home, but while the re-piping of a house will require that holes be cut in the walls and floors, a professional can perform it with a minimum of damage to walls and other structures. If there has already been damage to your home from a polybutylene pipe leak, then the cost of re-piping and repairing your home will be increased considerably.
When a home containing polybutylene piping is placed on the market, buyers will often discount the price (due to the material defect), even if the polybutylene has not yet shown any leaks, because it is known that polybutylene piping will leak eventually. If a seller is aware, it is wise to replace any polybutylene piping before putting a house on the market.
There are currently no laws specifically regarding the disclosure of polybutylene piping on a property, but some property brokers have been sued for not disclosing the presence of polybutylene piping in buildings they sell. Real Estate brokers selling homes containing polybutylene piping should be prepared to be held liable if buyers have a non-disclosure complaint. At the very least, both sellers buyers should be provided with some sort of information regarding polybutylene piping and its dangers, and sellers should be given the opportunity to replace their piping before putting their home on the market.

There has been a $950 million class action suit that may provide financial aid for homeowners who have suffered damage from polybutylene piping installed under certain conditions. The deadline is expected to occur in 2007.

For additional information go to www.polybutylene.com

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Recommendations for installation of cooling system

The purpose for this information is to provide a better understanding of the HVAC equipment, components, designs, and installations, of HVAC system equipment in the Houston area and to apprise you of conditions that may allow a system to operate more efficiently.  This information is not intended to be an exhaustive in-depth design of HVAC systems, nor is it intended to be a total list of equipment, components, designs, or installation procedures.  Since more in-depth information is desired and may be required for the HVAC system, it is recommended that a reputable, qualified, and State of Texas licensed HVAC contractor be contacted.  Opinions related to compliance with specification, legal, and/or code requirements or restrictions of any kind are specifically excluded as being covered in this information.  The opinions and comments stated in this information are based on the knowledge gained through experience and professional studies of Ronald I. Givens as of the date this information was prepared and should not be considered conclusive.  The information listed below is an opinion of Ronald I. Givens who is not licensed by the State of Texas in the field of HVAC equipment installation and may differ from the opinions and conclusions of other professionals.

               If you are in the market for new or replacement heating and cooling equipment, you should examine all of your options carefully.  Don't stop with the purchase or installed cost.  Look at the operating and maintenance costs.  Comparing the value of various systems should be very important to anyone who is about to spend several thousand dollars on a new HVAC system.  There are many factors involved in analyzing a return on your investment.  You should take into account the expected rate increases now being considered by your power company.  The higher the power rates, the more you will save by installing a higher SEER rated system.  If you plan on staying in the house for four, five, or more years, the investment in a higher SEER rated system will be a wise one.  The minimum SEER rated system you should install is a 13.  Most systems run approximately 2500 to 3000 hours per year.  In addition to saving on your power bill, you should consider the fact that the new system will greatly improve the comfort level of your home.

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               A properly installed quality HVAC system will give you the homeowner the most value for your dollar spent.  An energy-efficient system may cost more initially, but payback will occur within a year or two in most cases and over the life of the system, the cost of operation is much lower.

               The humidity is very high most days in the Houston area.  You will feel much more comfortable, no matter what the temperature, if the HVAC system removes the moisture from the air inside your home.  If the HVAC system removes as much moisture as is possible from the air inside the home, you will be able to set your thermostat to a higher setting and have the same comfort level, the system will run less, and your power bill will be less.  Therefore, moisture removal may be more important than heat removal from the conditioned air in an area of high humidity like Houston.

               Correct sizing of your home's HVAC equipment is critical for maximum operating efficiency.  An improperly sized system will result in inefficient operation, reduced comfort and decreased reliability of the system.  In the cooling mode, a system that is oversized will run in short cycles as the thermostat senses the desired temperature has been reached.  This short cycling of the system allows less time for moisture removal, resulting in higher indoor relative humidity which sacrifices comfort.  Conversely, a system sized too small will not be able to properly cool the home adequately during the heat of the day and will run for long periods of time without cycling off.  Your HVAC firm must determine the proper size HVAC system for your needs in your home.  The "rule of thumb" method of tons per square foot is obsolete and should not be used in determining your conditioned air requirements.  Make sure your HVAC contractor uses the most accurate method to determine the size of your system.  The most accurate method is called the Manual J load calculation, developed by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America.  This in-depth analysis measures heat gain and heat loss and takes into consideration the size of your home, insulation level, type of windows and many other factors to find the right HVAC system for your home.  Your HVAC firm should determine the heat load of your home.  Further, you should inform the HVAC firm if someone will be in the home most of the twenty-four hours of a day and if you have lots of dinner parties, since additional equipment may be required.  You should think in terms of ten people sitting requires approximately one ton of cooling to properly condition the air.

               The parameters for good temperature control, comfort, and lower electric bills require quality components and proper installation.

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Thermostat
               The thermostat must be correctly installed or the system will not operate accurately or regularly.  The thermostat must be installed near the return air grill to monitor the return air temperature. 
An accurate thermostat can save you money and reduce your electric bills.  A quality setback thermostat can automatically raise or lower the temperature based on your life style.  The thermostat should be easy to program and easily changed. 
               The reason you change the thermostat setting is to control the enthalpy of the environment.  Enthalpy is the total heat content of the air, which is a combination of temperature and humidity levels.  When the humidity is high in your home in the summer, you lower the thermostat.  This lowers the temperature and removes some of the humidity.  In the winter, you raise the temperature higher to compensate for the low humidity in your home. 
               A thermostat is not an accelerator, it is a brake.  Setting a thermostat too low only changes the braking point.  It does not speed up the process.  The thermostat cannot control a system that is not working properly.  It will shut the system off only when satisfied.

Condensing Unit (outside unit)
               A condenser with easy starting, quiet operation, accessible cleaning, and efficient design should be considered.
              
               1. SEER rating of 13, and consider 14 or higher.
               2. factory installed hard start kit for easy starting.
               3. insulated compressor for quiet operation
               4. two speed compressor if you want more efficiency, since the compressor will run at about half speed at night and when the temperature drops seasonally, when not as much heat must be removed from your home.

Evaporator Coil (inside unit)
               The evaporator coil (cooling coil) should be compatibly sized for use with the condensing unit.  The evaporator coil does not need to be the same brand as the condensing unit.  However, the SEER rating for the condensing unit is based on using the manufacturer's recommended matching evaporator coil. 
               The evaporator coil should never be oversized in a system for a single family home.  However, the evaporator coil can be undersized one half a ton, only if there is proper air flow through the system.  Under sizing the evaporator coil can/may cause it to get colder, removing more moisture from the conditioned air, and thereby lowering the humidity in the home.  However, if the evaporator coil is undersized too much then the coil will restrict the air flow causing the system to operate longer and raising the power bill.

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Refrigerant Lines
               Both of the refrigerant lines must be properly sized and installed to make a high efficiency system work effectively. 

Ridged Metal Ducts
               It is best to use only sheet metal ducts.  The best duct to use is an all hard ridged round pipe, externally insulated to provide the best air flow and a longer life.  Duct work should be designed and engineered to your homes specific requirements.  If your system is in place and you are only getting new equipment, you should have your HVAC contractor inspect the general condition of your home's duct work and check for leaks.  Leaking duct work will reduce your systems capacity and efficiency, and result in reduced comfort. 

Water Drain Lines
               The condensate and safety/drip pan drain lines should be of a heavy duty pipe like 480psi pvc pipe.  The drain pipes should be 3/4 or 1 inch diameter pipes.  A tee fitting should be installed in the condensate drain line near the evaporator coil so that chemicals can be put into the drain line to clean out any build up.  In addition, the drain lines should be properly sloped so that water does not stand in the drain lines causing an algae growth.

Refrigerant Flow Control Devices

               Expansion Valve
               An expansion valve is to modulate the refrigerant into the evaporator coil.  An expansion valve is the best and most efficient way to add refrigerant to the evaporator coil, thereby removing the maximum amount of moisture/humidity from the air inside your home.  An expansion valve adds exactly the right amount of refrigerant to the evaporator coil under all conditions, keeping the evaporator coil full of liquid refrigerant when the system is running and thereby keeps the evaporator coil as cold as possible.  Colder evaporator coil results in maximum moisture/humidity removal, a more comfortable environment, lower operating cost, and longer system life.  The thermostatic expansion valve has a sensing bulb mounted on the refrigerant outlet line of the evaporator.  The bulb temperature controls the opening of the expansion valve's thermostat valve needle.  Expansion valves can and do fail, however, they do not have a high failure rate and should be used in your system.  An expansion valve can be installed on many existing/in place evaporator coils if the manufacturer does not install one. 

               Capillary Tube
               The capillary tube is the most common refrigerant flow control device.  The capillary tube is used to put refrigerant into the evaporator coil (inside unit).
Approximately eighty per cent of the HVAC systems in the Houston area have capillary tubes.  The fundamental function of the capillary tube is based on the pressures in the system and whether the evaporator coil needs it or not, refrigerant flow is based on the pressure differential in the high and low side of the system.  Therefore, only during the heat of the day will the system cool efficiently.  The capillary tube starves the evaporator coil most of the time, resulting in poor humidity removal and a higher operating cost.  An expansion valve is a much better way of putting refrigerant into the evaporator coil in an area that has very high humidity.  The capillary tube is used more often because it is cheaper to manufacture the evaporator coils with them than with expansion valves. Further, the compressor life can be shorter if a capillary tube is used in the system.

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               Sight glass
               A sight glass should be installed in the liquid line so that anyone, even the home owner, can monitor the refrigerant level.  The amount of refrigerant that should be used varies with the type and design of system.  Using the sight glass, the HVAC firm can get an exact refrigerant charge in the system.  The appearance of vapor bubbles in the sight glass will indicate a refrigerant shortage.  The sight glass may show a few bubbles when the system first starts or just as the system stops and these bubbles are normal equalizing actions and do not indicate a shortage of refrigerant.  Many sight glasses have a chemical which will change color when the system has moisture in it.  The chemical is green when dry and pink when wet from moisture.  The system must not have moisture in it.  The sight glass should be installed near the evaporator coil (inside unit) and not at the condensing unit area.

               Return Air Duct
               The return air grill and duct must be properly sized to provide good air flow through the system.  Restricted air flow affects the performance of the system and will cause the system to run longer raising the power bill.  If the master suite door is to be closed for long periods of time, say all night, then another smaller return air duct and grill should be installed in the master suite.  If the door is closed to the master suite with out a return air duct the suite will build up a static pressure and the air cannot properly circulate back to the HVAC equipment causing the suite to be uncomfortable. 

             Fresh Air Intake
             Most hvac systems do not have fresh air intakes.  Every system should have fresh air intake tied into the return air duct before the filter.  The fresh air intake should be open to the outside at all times.  It is recommend that approximately five to ten percent outside air be taken into the return air duct anytime the system is moving air, in both the heat and cooling modes.  The fresh air duct can be a six to eight inch duct run from the outside to the return air duct.  The effect of the fresh air intake is to dilute any pollutants that are in your home and allow pollutants to leak out of your home. 

             Access Door
            
An access door should be on both sides of the evaporator coil (inside unit) in the plenum and transverse/transition piece (between the furnace and evaporator coil), to allow inspection and easy cleaning of the coil.

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