Each year, there are over 3,000 fire-related deaths in the United States, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. For those that occurred in residential buildings, 37 percent of those individuals that lost their lives were attempting to escape, and 31 percent were sleeping.
Though these numbers are hard to swallow, what’s more difficult to cope with is the fact these deaths continue to be preventable. The USFA states that, in many cases, residential fires are the cause of “unintentional, careless” actions, where necessary steps were not taken ahead of time.
The team at Certified Home Inspections has a commitment to keeping you safe. Through our professionally-trained team and meticulous inspection procedures, we can help prevent fires from wreaking havoc on your home or threatening your family’s safety.
To give you some insight into what we look for during our inspection, and to help you take your own steps in proper fire safety, we are sharing two of the most important areas we inspect when assessing your home’s potential for fire hazards.
Although this area of the home is theoretically built to safely contain a few crackling logs and ventilate the smoke on a cold winter’s evening, many residents don’t know the importance of keeping tabs on the condition of their fireplace and chimney, especially in older homes.
Here’s what we look for when assessing the safety of your fireplace during an inspection:
- Is a rain cap or spark arrestor properly secured over the top of the chimney? Rain caps serve a variety of necessary functions, including keeping moisture out of the chimney, protecting the roof from burning embers, and preventing animals from entering your home. If you don’t have one, don’t leave your chimney naked. Rain caps are readily available everywhere online, relatively easy to install yourself, and fairly inexpensive.
- Is there creosote build-up in the flue? We’ll tell you right now: if you’ve ever used the fireplace, yes, there’s build-up. Creosote build-up is inevitable, but is also highly flammable, and can pose as a huge potential fire hazard if the chimney isn’t properly cleaned on a regular basis.
- Is the chimney flashing both installed properly and standing the test of time? Though poor chimney flashing isn’t necessarily a fire-hazard, it is an important feature on every chimney, and is a crucial component in keeping rainwater from seeping down the walls of your chimney and into your home’s interior.
- Are there cracks and gaps in the chimney bricks or crown? Ignoring the structural integrity of your chimney can quickly lead to huge (and expensive) problems down the road, even if most of those issues aren’t necessarily fire-hazards. It’s extremely important to keep an eye on even the smallest of fissures, and never hurts to seal the bricks and crown yourself from time to time, instead of dishing out thousands of dollars to hire a team of professionals for a complete overhaul after years of neglect.
- Is the chimney leaning or pulling away from the house? Improper water drainage, poor or loose soil foundation, and inferior structural footings are all common causes of chimney failure. Unfortunately, if your chimney looks to be falling to any one side, it’s too late for a quick DIY fix, and time to call in foundation professionals and specialists – and quick!
The home’s electrical components can often be a DIYer’s playground, which is exactly why we pay such close attention to this area of the house.
- When it comes to utility wires that are rigged from a pole to your house, many homeowner don’t know that their responsibility for maintenance begins as soon as the utility wires meet the face of the home. It’s important to make sure these wires are up-to-date and properly installed. Here are a few areas on our checklist:
- Are the wires a proper height from the ground?
- Are the wires dated?
- Is the overhead mast secured properly to the home?
- Is the conduit in good shape?
- Considering the electrical load that the modern house carries (the average 60amp load in the 1970’s has tripled to upwards of 200amps), it’s essential that any older homes have their electrical panels updated. When inspecting you electric panel, we check for many issues, the most common of which include:
- Unlabeled circuits
- Burnt out or undersized wires and breakers
- Double-tapped breakers
- Branch wiring, which included the wires that connect to outlets, switches, lights, etc., can have a multitude of small issues if not initially wired correctly. Moreover, DIYers (which might not be you, but could be the previous owners) can often overlook code when replacing outlets or rewiring a circuit. All it takes is one small spark to turn a small problem into a disaster. The most dangerous of the issues surrounding branch wiring includes:
- Lack of GFCI outlets in potentially water-exposed areas (kitchen, bathrooms, garage, on exterior).
- Outlets are loose or unattached.
- Romex wires are exposed.
- Extension cords used as permanent wiring.
- The simplest (and perhaps most important) detail of all: is there a smoke detector in each bedroom, and on every floor? If not, go pick one up at the local hardware store – it’s an easy DIY job, and one that might just save your life.
At Certified Home Inspections, we know the potential dangers that come with owning a home, and are committed to the safety and well-being of the homeowners. The rigid attention to detail our experienced professionals carry saves lives, and will help you rest assured that your home and family are in good hands.