Three Deadly Mistakes Every Home Buyer Should Avoid

Deadly Mistake #1: Thinking you can’t afford it.

Many people who thought that buying the home they wanted was simply out of their reach are now enjoying a new lifestyle in their very own homes.

Buying a home is the smartest financial decision you will ever make. In fact, most homeowners would be broke at retirement if it wasn’t for one saving grace — the equity in their homes. Furthermore, tax allowances favor home ownership.

Real estate values have always risen steadily. Of course, there are peaks and valleys, but the long-term trend is a consistent increase. This means that every month when you make a mortgage payment, the amount that you owe on the home goes down and the value typically increases. This “owe less, worth more” situation is called equity build-up and is the reason you can’t afford not to buy.

Even if you have little money for a down payment or credit problems, chances are that you can still buy that new home. It just comes down to knowing the right strategies, and working with the right people. See below.

Deadly Mistake #2: Not hiring a buyer’s agent to represent you.

Buying property is a complex and stressful task. In fact, it is often the biggest, single investment you will make in your lifetime. At the same time, real estate transactions have become increasingly complicated. New technology, laws, procedures, and competition from other buyers require buyer agents to perform at an ever-increasing level of competence and professionalism. In addition, making the wrong decisions can end up costing you thousands of dollars. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Work with a buyer’s agent who has a keen understanding of the real estate business and the local market. A buyer’s agent has a fiduciary duty to you. That means that he or she is loyal only to you and is obligated to look out for your best interests. A buyer’s agent can help you find the best home, the best lender, and the best home inspector in your area. That inspector should be an InterNACHI-certified home inspector because InterNACHI inspectors are the most qualified and best-trained inspectors in the world.

Trying to buy a home without an agent or a qualified inspector is, well… unthinkable.

Deadly Mistake #3: Getting a cheap inspection.

Buying a home is probably the most expensive purchase you will ever make. This is no time to shop for a cheap inspection. The cost of a home inspection is small relative to the value of the home being inspected. The additional cost of hiring a certified inspector is almost insignificant by comparison. As a home buyer, you have recently been crunching the numbers, negotiating offers, adding up closing costs, shopping for mortgages, and trying to get the best deals. Don’t stop now! Don’t let your real estate agent, a “patty-cake” inspector, or anyone else talk you into skimping here.

InterNACHI front-ends its membership requirements. InterNACHI turns down more than half the inspectors who want to join because they can’t fulfill the membership requirements.

InterNACHI-certified inspectors perform the best inspections, by far. InterNACHI-certified inspectors earn their fees many times over. They do more, they deserve more and — yes — they generally charge a little more. Do yourself a favor…and pay a little more for the quality inspection you deserve.

Homebuyer alert:

The WETT inspection may be a disaster in the making for you!

If that home, cottage, or commercial property you are looking to buy has a wood stove or other type of wood burning appliance in it, your insurance company, your realtor and maybe even the home inspector you called all say you should have a WETT inspection. The home inspector you contacted may have even indicated they can perform the WETT inspection at the same time as the home inspection saving you money and making the WETT inspection cheap or even free. Should you? My answer is most emphatically NO! The reasons I give to my home inspection clients I will now share with you as I believe, as do many others, a WETT inspection could be a disaster in the making for any homebuyer.

Wood Energy Technology Transfer Inc. (WETT Inc.) is a non-profit training and educational association. Through professional training and public education, WETT Inc. promotes the safe and efficient use of wood-burning systems in Canada. How could anyone argue that this is the wrong thing for a homebuyer to have . The WETT inspection that insurance companies require, realators recommend, and many home inspectors offer in conjunction to the home inspection service is a level 1 insurance inspection. This is a very basic inspection that any WETT certified member is trained to perform in the course of a four day training program. But, don’t you believe that it offers any peace of mind with regard to your family’s safety.

The level 1 inspection consists of a general overview of the readily accessible parts of a woodburning system to determine if the system meets current regulations. In other words, Does the stove have a data plate? Is it installed to meet the critera on the data plate? Or, if the appliance data plate is hidden, given the installation guidelines in the four day training program, is this woodburning appliance installed correctly as far as you can see. If the answer is yes the inspector gives you a “pass”.

But wait. What haven’t we done during this basic inspection? We have not inspected the fire box or the chimney. These are the parts that contain and guide smoke, flames, and sparks away from the firebox and safety out of the home. Inspection of fireboxes, dampers, the smoke shelf, and the chimney is not required for the insurance required WETT inspection. When home inspectors Firemen and many others who perform WETT inspections , inspect wood burning appliances they normally exclude the chimney and burning area and provide what is deemed a ‘Level 1’ insurance inspection. So they take measurements inside but do not inspect the interior of the firebox for cracks or splits, they do not check chimney or dampers. They do not check automatic thermostat controls on wood/oil furnaces, nor do they check the rain caps and spark arrestor screens on chimneys. Even if a dedicated home inspector did look, the items are normally covered in soot and creasote deposits so what could they see anyway?

Frankly, that type of inspection is a disaster waiting to happen to you the homebuyer! Any masonry chimney can have loose mortar joints or even be missing pieces that cannot be seen until the chimney is cleaned properly. An earlier chimney fire may have gone unnoticed by an owner when it went out through lack of fuel while still overheating the mortar, mine did. If missing mortar leads to a space in the wall cavity, guess where the sparks can get to. I know, and any fireman will tell you it happens all the time. Metal prefab chimneys can and have failed dramatically on the inside but seemed whole and in good condition to all outside appearances. The “Square D chimneys” are a notorious example but there are many examples each year of the inside seams opening up. Seams can open up through overheating from chimney fires, and through the insulation inside getting wet through a poorly sealed joint. The insulation can freeze and pop the seam open. Any place that open seam allows heat to touch the outside skin will get extremely hot, hot enough to start a fire if it is against any combustible like the side of the home.

As both a home inspector and a person who has been through a home fire I always tell my home, cottage, and commercial, inspection clients in Orillia, Gravenhurst and all of Muskoka Ontario: Do not get a WETT inspection alone. You must, for safety sake, have a certified sweep clean and inspect the entire chimney and the firebox prior to using any woodburning appliance. After a proper cleaning and inspection the sweep can issue the WETT certificate the insurance company requires but you will have the added assurance the rest of the system is in good condition and safe to use. Just like Smokey told you when you were a kid ‘Only you can prevent forest fires”, when it comes to fire safety in the home, as a homebuyer Only you can order the proper inspection to prevent home fires, and it is not the standard level 1 WETT inspection.

The WETT article is thanks to Bruce Grant

Done Right Home Inspections Orillia, ON

Making Your Home Energy Efficient

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10 Steps to Save Energy in Your House

Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy efficient—and you can do it yourself.

In this chapter, you will learn how to find and seal hidden attic and basement air leaks; determine if your attic insulation is adequate and learn how to add more; make sure your improvements are done safely; and reduce energy bills and help protect the environment.

You will notice your home’s air leaks in the winter more than any other time of year. Most people call these air leaks “drafts.” You may feel these drafts around windows and doors and think these leaks are your major source of wasted energy. In most homes, however, the most significant air leaks are hidden in the attic and basement. These are the leaks that significantly raise your energy bill and make your house uncomfortable.

In cold weather, warm air rises in your house, just like it does in a chimney. This air, which you have paid to heat, is just wasted as it rises up into your attic and sucks cold air in all around your home—around windows, doors, and through holes into the basement. Locating these leaks can be difficult because they are often hidden under your insulation. This chapter will help you find these leaks and seal them with appropriate materials.

Making Your Home Energy Efficient

STEP #1 Getting started

Sealing attic air leaks will enhance the performance of your insulation and make for a much more comfortable home.

Attic air sealing and adding insulation are do-it-yourself projects if your attic is accessible and not too difficult to move around in. The projects in this chapter can usually be completed in two days and will provide rewards for years to come.

If you find any major problems in the attic space such as roof leaks, mold, unsafe working conditions, inadequate flooring, inadequate ventilation, knob-and-tube wiring, recessed “can” lights, we recommend hiring a contractor to help you and/or correct these problems before proceeding.

Look around your house for any dropped-ceiling areas, dropped soffits over kitchen cabinets, slanted ceilings over stairways, and where walls (interior and exterior) meet the ceiling. These areas may have open spaces that could be huge sources of air leaks.

STEP #2 Working in the Attic

Be sure to use a work light to make sure that your work area is lit adequately.

Use personal protective equipment. To work in an attic, you need kneepads, coveralls, gloves and a hat to keep itchy and irritating insulation off your skin. Use an OSHA-approved particulate respirator or a high-quality dust mask.

Making Your Home Energy Efficient

Be safe. Do not work in the attic area if you feel that it is dangerous in any way. It’s not worth risking life or property. Simply hire a qualified contractor to perform the work you need to get done. If you work in a hot attic, drink plenty of water.

Watch your step. Walk on joists or truss chords. Watch your head – there will be sharp nails and things sticking out above you and all around your head.

STEP #3 What You Will Need

  • Reflective foil insulation or other blocking material such as drywall or pieces of rigid foam insulation to cover soffits, open walls, and larger holes
  • Unfaced fiberglass insulation and large garbage bags
  • Silicone or acrylic latex caulk for sealing small holes (1/4 inch or less)
  • Expanding spray foam insulation for filling larger gaps (1/4 inch to 3 inches)
  • Special high-temperature (heat-resistant) caulk to seal around flues andchimneys
  • Roll of aluminum flashing to keep insulation away from the flue pipe
  • Tape measure
  • Utility knife and sheet metal scissors
  • Staple gun (or hammer and nails) to hold covering materials in place
  • Plastic garbage bagSTEP #4 Plug the Large HolesThe biggest savings will come from sealing the large holes. Locate the areas from the attic where leakage is likely to be greatest: where walls (interior and exterior) meet the attic floor; dropped soffits (dropped-ceiling areas) and; behind or under attic knee walls. Look for dirty insulation. Dirty insulation (black/brown stains on the underside of the insulation) indicates that air is moving through it. Push back the insulation or pull it out of the soffits. You will place this insulation back over the soffit once the stud cavities have been plugged and the soffits covered.Dropped soffit. After removing insulation from a dropped soffit, cut a length of reflective foil or other blocking material (rigid foam board works well). Apply a bead of caulk or adhesive around the opening. Seal the foil to the frame with the caulk/adhesive and staple or nail it in place, if needed.Under a wall. Cut a 24-inch long piece from a batt of fiberglass insulation and place it at the bottom of a 13-gallon plastic garbage bag. Fold the bag over and stuff it into the

Making Your Home Energy Efficient

open joist spaces under the wall (a piece of rigid foam board sealed with spray foam also works well for covering open joist cavities). Cover with insulation when you’re done.

Finished rooms built into attics often have open cavities in the floor framing under the sidewalls or knee walls. Even though insulation may be piled against or stuffed into these spaces, they can still leak air. Again, look for signs of dirty insulation to indicate air is moving through. You need to plug these cavities in order to stop air from traveling under the floor of the finished space.

Flue. The opening around the flue or chimney of a furnace or water heater can be a major source of warm air moving in the attic. Because the pipe gets hot, building codes usually require 1-inch of clearance from metal flues (2 inches from masonry chimneys) to any combustible material, including insulation. This gap can be sealed with lightweight aluminum flashing and special high-temperature (heat-resistant) caulk. Before you push the insulation back into place, build a barrier out of the metal aluminum to keep the insulation away from the pipe.

Making Your Home Energy Efficient

STEP #5 Seal the Small Holes

Look for areas where the insulation is darkened. This is the result of dusty air coming from the house interior, and moving into and being filtered by the insulation. In cold weather, you may also see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. When the foam or caulk is dry, cover the area again with insulation. After sealing the areas, just push the insulation back into place. If you have blown insulation, a small hand tool can be helpful to level it back into place.

STEP #6 Attic Access

Seal up the attic access panel with weather stripping. Cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foam board insulation the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel.

If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner using weather stripping and insulating the back of the door. Treat the attic door like an exterior door to the outside.

Making Your Home Energy Efficient

STEP #7 Ducts

Sealing and insulating your ducts can increase the efficiency of your HVAC system. Leaky ducts waste an incredible amount of energy. Check the duct connections for leaks – seal the joints with mastic or foil tape (household duct tape should not be used). Pay special attention to all the duct penetrations going through the attic floor. Seal these with foam.

HVAC ducts should also be insulated—if your ducts are uninsulated or poorly insulated, seal them first, then add insulation. Use duct insulation material rated at least R-6. Duct sealant, also known as duct mastic, is a paste, which is more durable than foil duct tape. It is available at home improvement centers.

STEP #8 “Can” Lights

Recessed “can” lights (also called high-hats or recessed lights) can make your home less energy-efficient. These recessed lights can create open holes that allow unwanted airflow from conditioned spaces to unconditioned spaces. In cold climates, the heat from the airflow can melt snow on the roof and cause the development of ice dams. Recessed “can” lights in bathrooms also cause problems when warm, moist air leaks into the attic and causes moisture damage.

Warning: You can create a fire hazard if the “can” light is not insulated or sealed properly. It may be best to consult a professional before sealing “can” lights or coming in contact with any electrical components.

Making Your Home Energy Efficient

STEP #9 Stack Effect

Like a chimney. Outside air drawn in through open holes and gaps in the basement is drawn in by a chimney stack effect created by air leaks in the attic. As hot air generated by the furnace rises up through the house and into the attic through open holes, cold outside air gets drawn in through open holes in the basement to replace the displaced air. This makes a home feel drafty and contributes to higher energy bills. After sealing attic air leaks, complete the job by sealing basement leaks, to stop the stack effect.

Basement air leaks. Along the top of the basement wall where floor system meets the top of the foundation wall is a good area to look for open holes and gaps. Since the top of the wall is above ground, outside air can be drawn in through cracks and gaps where the house framing sits on top of the foundation.

Sealant or caulk is best for sealing gaps or cracks that are 1/4 inch or less. Use spray foam to fill gaps from 1/4 inch to about 3 inches. We also recommend you seal penetrations that go through the basement ceiling to the floor above. These are holes for wires, water supply pipes, water drainpipes, the plumbing vent stack, and the furnace flue.

Attic and basement air sealing will go a long way to improve your comfort because your house will no longer act like an open chimney.

Making Your Home Energy Efficient

STEP #10 Attic Insulation Thickness

Look. One quick way to determine if you need more insulation on the floor of your attic is to simply look across the floor of your attic. If the insulation is level with or below your floor joists, more insulation is needed. If the insulation is well above the joists, you may have enough. There should be no low spots.

R-Value. Insulation levels are specified by R-Value. R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat flow. The higher the R-Value, the better the thermal performance of the insulation. The recommended level for most attic floors is R-38 or about 10 to 14 inches (depending on the type of insulation and your climate).

When adding insulation, you do not have to use the same type of insulation that currently exists in your attic. You can add loose fill on top of fiberglass batts or blankets, and vice-versa. If you use fiberglass over loose fill, make sure the fiberglass batt has no paper or foil vapor barrier. The insulation needs to be “unfaced.”

Laying out or spreading fiberglass rolls is easy. If you have any type of insulation between the rafters, install the second layer over and perpendicular to the first. This will help cover the tops of the joists and reduce heat loss or gain through the frame.

NEVER! Never lay insulation over recessed light fixtures or soffit vents. Keep all insulation at least 3 inches away from “can” lights, unless they are rated IC (Insulated Ceiling). If you are using loose fill insulation, use sheet metal to create barriers around the openings. If using fiberglass, wire mesh can be used to create a barrier.

Rafter vent trays. To completely cover your attic floor with insulation out to the eaves you need to install rafter vents or trays (also called insulation baffles). Rafter vents

Making Your Home Energy Efficient

ensure the soffit vents are clear and there is a clear opening for outside air to move into the attic at the soffits and out through the gable or ridge vent for proper ventilation.

Additional Information

For additional information on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) issues related to homes such as combustion safety, indoor air contaminants, and proper ventilation, visit: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/homes/hip-front.html.

ENERGY STAR is a government-backed program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency. To learn more about the wide variety of energy-efficient ENERGY STAR products and processes visit http://www.energystar.gov.