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Mold and mildew in older HVAC systems

Air conditioning systems should keep us comfortable and mildew free.

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In South Carolina where the summers are hot and humid, We rely on our air conditioning systems to keep us comfortable and keep the inside of our houses dry and mildew free. A great many homes in this area have what is commonly known as a Gas Pack system with an air conditioning condenser unit on the outside of the house, and a gas furnace and air conditioning evaporator coil in the crawl space under the house. The evaporator coil becomes very cold, and air that passes over it is cooled and looses its moisture in the form of condensation. This process cools and dries the air in your home so that you feel comfortable. In a very humid climate, the amount of condensation can be considerable. This moisture typically drains into a pan under the coil and is then either pumped or drained by gravity out of the crawl space and away from the structure. If the drain line becomes clogged, or the pump fails, or a pipe fitting comes loose, water backs up in the tray and/or drains onto the crawl space floor. Standing water in a dark, hot and humid crawl space is an invitation for mold and mildew to form. Many older HVAC systems are not airtight and allow crawl space air to enter the system, and where the condensation drainage is interrupted, mold and mildew can be pulled into your HVAC system. If, during an inspection, I find a broken, leaking or obstructed drain line, I report it to the home owner with a recommendation to have it repaired. It’s not a bad idea to have an annual heating and air conditioning check up, and to ask the technician to pay careful attention to the drain pan and pipes, and to make sure that the ductwork is in good condition with no splits, holes or gaps. If you suspect mold, contact a certified mold inspector.

Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home-Part 6

This month we will begin with Part A - tips for Spring.

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Welcome back to Rocky’s Corner! Last month we started Part 5 of an 8 part series of Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home.

This month we will begin with Part A - tips for Spring. Every Spring-Part A APPLIANCES: Vacuum coils under or behind refrigerators and freezers.

 AIR CONDITIONING UNITS: Central Air Conditioning Make sure the condensing unit located outside is not covered up with leaves, newspaper, etc. Change or clean the filters regularly. Be sure all access panels are secure, with all the screws in place. Set the thermostat in the cooling mode. Run your air conditioner for a few minutes now, before you need it. Schedule a maintenance call before it gets hot to have a technician check the following items: Check for proper refrigerant (Freon) levels. A low level indicates a leak, to be found and repaired before adding Freon. Check all electrical components and controls. Clean evaporator and condenser coils, as needed. Oil motors as needed. Calibrate thermostat. Check condenser for cracks. Check filters.

AIR CONDITIONING UNITS: Evaporative Air Conditioning Clean unit; check belt tension and adjust if necessary; replace cracked or worn belt. Clean or replace air filter; clean condenser or evaporator coils and condensate drain; remove debris from outdoor portion of unit. AIR

CONDITIONING UNITS: Wall and Window Air Conditioning Have your unit checked out to make sure it is working properly before you need it. Clean dirt, insects and debris from the grills and cooling fins. Replace dirty filters.

ATTIC: Make sure all your gable, soffit, and ridge vents are open to allow proper ventilation. Make sure insulation covers the entire attic floor; look into hiring a professional to add more to meet recently updated building codes and reduce future cooling and heating costs. Check to make sure your attic and/or whole house fans are working properly; consider installing attic or whole house fans.

CARBON MONOXIDE AND SMOKE DETECTORS: Change batteries and check to make sure they are operating properly.

CAULKING AND GROUT: Inspect caulking and grout around tubs, showers and sinks; considering replacing if necessary.

CLEAN CARPETING: Have your carpets cleaned regularly to remove the dirt and grit that can wear them out prematurely.

DOOR SILLS, WINDOW SILLS, AND THRESHOLDS: Fill cracks, caulk edges, repaint; replace if necessary.

DRAIN-WASTE AND VENT SYSTEMS: Flush out system.

HEAT PUMP: Lubricate blower motor. If you didn’t have an annual check-up done last fall, schedule one now to have a certified professional to inspect the wiring, check belts (replace if needed), and oil the moving parts.

HOT WATER HEATING SYSTEM: Lubricate circulating pump and motor.

PEST CONTROL: Termites can cause thousands of dollars worth of property damage before the homeowner even realizes they have an infestation and other pests can threaten your family members and pets with bites and diseases. Contact a pest control specialist for a free inspection and evaluation of your risk; and for hiring a regular service to keep your home free of all pests; including insects and rodents. SCREENS FOR WINDOWS AND DOORS: Clean screening and repair or replace if necessary; tighten or repair any loose or damaged frames and repaint if necessary, replace broken, worn or missing hardware; tighten and lubricate hinges and closers. WATER HEATER: Every six months you should turn off the power source and drain it completely until it is clear of sediment. Also inspect flue assembly (gas heater); check for leaks and corrosion.

ANTENNA: Check antenna and satellite dish supports for possible leak source. BASEMENT AND FOUNDATION: Check grading for proper slope away from foundation wall. Inspect for cracks and moisture and repair if necessary.

DECKS, PORCHES AND EXTERIOR WOOD STRUCTURES: Check all decks, patios, porches, stairs and railing for loose members and deterioration, such as cracks, splintering, decay, and insect damage; treat wood, set nails and repair or replace rotted boards, as needed. If professionally cleaned, sealed and maintained, it should only be necessary to refinish and/or stain your wooden decks every two or three years. It is also necessary that surfaces be thoroughly cleaned and dried before adding another coat of stain or protective finish. Remove mold and mildew, fungus, tree sap, grease and bird droppings with the appropriate commercial deck cleaners (or homemade mixtures) and a stiff brushed broom. Clean mildew and fungus by mixing one cup of chlorine bleach per gallon of water; scrub and rinse well. Sodium bicarbonate works well to remove dirt, mildew and the weathered gray residue from sunlight degradation. Oxalic acid will remove metal stains around nails and dark tannin stains often found on redwood, cedar and oak. Use care and follow manufacturers’ directions when using these products, wear eye protection, long pants, long sleeves and gloves; cover surrounding vegetation with plastic and rinse well.

DRIVEWAY CRACKS: For asphalt, remove dirt and weed debris from cracks, spray with a high-pressure hose sprayer; treat with weed killer and patch with a special patching product. For concrete, the only alternative for cracked driveways and garage floors used to be removal and replacement, but these days there are overlayments that may be professionally applied to cover surface cracks as long as the concrete is still structurally sound. Join me next month for Part 7 of our series on Preventive Maintenance Tips for your Home. Visit us at www.freminshomeimprovement.com

Unmarried Couples Your Property Rights

Moving in Together or Splitting Up

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Unmarried Couples
Your Property Rights: Moving in Together or Splitting Up

Recent nationwide surveys show many couples are deciding to live together before marriage or live together with no intention of marrying at all. For these couples, buying a home is not necessarily more difficult but it does come with additional challenges and items to consider before signing the dotted line.

Unmarried couples will find they have the common options of Tenants in Common or Joint Tenancy contracts when they purchase property. In some states one of these options will be considered automatically for them so they should be aware of what type of contract they are signing in advance.

Tenants in Common:

  • Contract between two or more people to own property together. There is no limit to the number of owners. This type of ownership is common for unmarried couples, groups investing in larger property and those interested in buying property in expensive markets they could not otherwise afford on their own.
  • Tenants in Common can sell their share of the home at any time. If no additional contract is made, they may do this without forewarning other owners.
  • Shares of the Tenants in Common does not need to be equal. Percentages can be assign based off contribution amounts. Sally A. may own 50%, Tony B. 25% and Mary C. 25%.
  • To terminate a Tenants in Common contract one owner may buy out the other(s) or all parties can agree to sell the property and split the profits according to percentage(s) owned.
  • If one owner passes away, then it is whomever they specified in their last will and testament who inherits that share.

Joint Tenancy:

  • Most of the above conditions also apply to joint tenancy. However, a joint tenancy offers a right of survivorship. If one of the owners passes away, the other(s) automatically get ownership without the necessity of a last will and testament.

It is important to realize the above contracts cover the basic property rights for a mortgaged/purchased home or property. The above do not protect individual property (i.e. furniture), discrepancies in contributions to home improvements, or other expenses of owning a home. Therefore, it is imperative that unmarried couples write up a contract that address these issues. Almost like a pre-nuptial agreement (and often perceived as unromantic as one) a contract of terms will protect both parties in case paths do part.

Items to consider in a contractual agreement:

  • If you have a Tenants in Common agreement, make certain all parties do have a last will and testament to clear any possible confusion of ownership in case of death.
  • Include terms for terminating the joint ownership. -Specify if the other party should be given a required number of days notice of the sale and an option to buyout before one of the owners sells their half. -Set limits on the amount of the time allotted for the buyout. A fair time should be offered with a consideration of time constraints created by working through the banking process. -If the property will be sold, make sure to include the percentages of the property owned so each party gets their share.
  • Detail how expenses will be kept on equal terms. Will the mortgage be split? Will one pay the mortgage and the other all the household utilities and joint bills? Again, if the contribution is not equal the difference should be recorded.
  • It may be too cumbersome and unrealistic to include personal property items such as furniture in this contract. Instead you may want to make a separate record. List items that each individual brings into the household. If furniture is later purchased together, many unmarried couples will find it beneficial to keep track of contributions. Because their separation will not be treated as a divorce, disputes over items like these will be harder to resolve without some record.
  • Do not include chore items such as who does the dishes. This can make your contract frivolous and tossed out in a court of law. However, some counselors do suggest making chore lists for all couples (married or not) to help cope with the pressures and expectations of our fast passed lives and homes.

If the unthinkable does happen and you do separate, make sure to give yourself time to cope and process. Even without a marriage it is a major life change. With or without contracts it is important to work together until you can sell or buyout the house if at all possible.

Some coping strategies:

  • Accept and expect mood swings
  • Don't expect to be able to concentrate and work at 100% for a while
  • Don't expect to understand why you separated right away - this takes time and reflection
  • Don't become a hermit - instead use this as a launching pad to rediscover your interests and hobbies
  • Prioritize your needs

One roof or two?

My 1950’s home has recently developed ceiling cracks running lengthwise through all of the rooms.

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Q. My 1950’s home has recently developed ceiling cracks running lengthwise through all of the rooms. Recently, I had a new shingle roof put on, and the roofing contractor told me that I could save a little money by putting the new shingles on top of the old ones. I wonder if this could be contributing to the cracking of my plaster ceilings. A. The new roof over the old is most likely the reason for the ceiling cracks. Some roofing contractors will put new shingles over old ones because it saves them time and money, but this is no benefit to the home owner. Your house was framed to handle the weight of one shingle roof, but not the weight of two. The extra load on the structure is placing stress on the rafters, braces and ceiling joists, and causing stress cracks in your plaster ceilings. At this point, your best option is to just live with the cracks, because if you patch them without relieving the extra load on the roof, the cracks will just come right back. Next time you are ready for a new roof, insist that the roofer remove all of the old shingles, felt, tar paper and any other materials right down to the plywood or boards and start from scratch. This will not only eliminate the extra weight problem, it will give you a better looking, tighter and longer lasting roof.

New Home Warranty

Make sure you fully understand terms and conditions.

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Q. About six months ago we bought a new home and the builder provided a one year home warranty. Recently we discovered a defect, but when we contacted the builder, he said that because we did not discover the defect during the final walk-through that it would not be covered under the warranty. Is this common practice?

A. No, this is definitely not common practice. Most builders will repair defects that are found at any time during the warranty period, provided that they are covered by the terms of the warranty, and are obviously the fault of the builder. Read your warranty contract carefully to see if you are indeed bound by the condition your builder is citing. He may be counting on the fact that you have not thoroughly read the contract. In any event, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney. When inspecting a new home, I always advise my clients to discuss the terms of the home warranty with the builder before closing, and to make sure that they fully understand those terms and conditions.

Water Problems

Garage had suddenly developed a mildew problem which had never occurred in the 100 plus year life of the house.

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Recently I was asked to inspect a vacation home in North Carolina. The owners said that the garage had suddenly developed a mildew problem which had never occurred in the 100 plus year life of the house. What I found was that water was running under the walls of the garage and collecting in the storage closet area. Since the garage had been closed for about four months, the mildew problem was quite severe. The owners said that they had never had this problem before, so I started by asking them what, if anything, they had done to alter the lot drainage. It turns out that they had hired an architect to design a screened porch on the flat roof of the garage, and had hired a local contractor to build it. My first question was; did the original garage have gutters? They said that it had some kind of drain in the flat roof which drained the water off the back corner of the structure. The original garage did indeed have a scupper feeding into a downspout which drained the water downhill from the structure, but this was abandoned when the porch was built. It didn’t take me long to realize that all the water falling on the gabled roof of the new porch was draining along the sides of the garage and running under the old walls. They solved the problem by installing gutters along both sides of the garage with downspouts to channel the water away and downhill from the structure. Gutters can sometimes be difficult to keep clean, but they do a very good job of keeping water away from the house.