Homeowner Tips Number 5



Nothing scares me more on a home inspection than the Home Owner greeting me at the door and saying, "I know everything is done right in this house, I did it myself." If he then throws in that he is an engineer, I know I am in for a long inspection. Do it yourself "experts" can get things to work, but nobody else knows how. The single most important prerequisite to home repairs is the home owner having a firm grasp of his limitations.

My seventeen year old daughter decided to paint her room over her holiday break. I admired her initiative, but questioned her taste. But, as I have learned from three decades of parenting, I encouraged her, and got out of the way. My son-in-law helped her with assembling the tools for the project and took her to a local home improvement center. The first day was full of energy, and she joined forces with two of her friends, and the project took off. By the end of the day, the room was uninhabitable, and she chose to stay at a friendís house. The next day her friends had other things to do and she was on her own. The project bogged down on the second coat. The faux finish idea went away, as did the painting of the trim. The next night it was off to another friendís house. The smell was getting to her, and it was clear, she needed help. Her mother, (who else?), came to her rescue. She provided her with more momentum than actual labor, and helped her get back on track and pull the loose ends together. Mom put some finishing touches on it, sans the faux finish, and the whole project came together far nicer than I had envisioned. The moral of the story, every project is far more complicated than it first appears. I believe this is the fifth axiom of Murphyís Law.

In the first few years we lived in our present home, I put in a deck around the pool and rebuilt our screened in room from the ground up. Both projects would be done by Contractors if done today. I was much younger then, and a lot stronger. Today, I know my limitations. When you decide on a project, try to think it all the way through. If you are planning to take out a wall, keep in mind that both rooms will be seriously affected for a while. Does the wall have any electrical work or duct work that must be changed? How will the two floors join once the wall is removed? Sheets of drywall are heavy, and, unless you are a Pro working with them everyday, they will require two people to install. Maybe three if a ceiling is involved.

I have followed a simple pattern when taking on a project. First, I visualize the project, and examine all side of the issue. Consider things like ventilation for fumes, when the outside temperature is twenty degrees. Then I research it. I read up on the products I plan to use, and I read the directions BEFORE I start, not after I hit a problem. My wife may not confirm that. In some cases, I take pictures of the area involved. I then take these pictures to the supply house and show people with more knowledge than I have the conditions I am facing. They will usually see problem areas that I hadnít anticipated. I then do cost projections and add about twenty percent. The government always gets a bad rap about cost overruns but they occur in just about every project. I then determine how long it will take, and add at least another half a day. Next step is the material and tool list. I price them and in some cases, renting a tool that is project specific makes sense. My next big project will be laying a tile floor in the entrance of our vacation home. I took pictures of it last time we were there. I will stop at a chain home center here, before we leave, and discuss with their staff about, tools, materials, and potential obstacles. I will have the entire project visualized before I start it. I installed a slate floor in our present home, but the tile has its own idiosyncrasies.

Now comes the big day. I like to start big projects early in the day. I am fresh and the store is open. I can run out and get the little items that I didnít include in my first shopping list. I also am a firm believer in asking for help. My son-in-law is very handy, and also, thankfully, very willing. My wife is very practical and I tend to be a little more abstract. She tends to find easier ways to do things. So when your next home repair project starts, make sure D.I.Y. doesnít turn into C.R.Y. Hopefully, years from now when it comes time to sell your home, the inspector wonít look at the work, and glance back over his shoulder, and ask you if you did this job yourself.

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"Tis the Season for pipes to freeze," is not exactly how the seasonal jingle was written, but itís true. Pipes freeze in the winter. And when they freeze, they split, causing untold damage. The first obvious problem is to replace the broken pipe. The real problem is the surrounding damage. The water damages walls, ceilings, floors, basements can fill with water, mold can grow, and the damage, particularly in an unoccupied home such as a vacation home, can be catastrophic.

Have you ever pondered exactly what happens when the water freezes and the pipes fail? I have. I guess I need more hobbies. The water gets too cold and freezes. That sounds simple enough, doesnít it? The freezing action, interestingly, doesnít crack the pipes. Itís slightly more complicated than that. The lateral pressure of the water freezing creates enormous pressure against the water. If the pipe cracked in the frozen area, and it was discovered before the thaw, there would be very little leaking. The pipe breaks where the water is still in a liquid state. This releases the pressure of the expanding water. The water starts flowing, and flowing. Another interesting fact is that it can be pretty cold outside, for quite a while before pipes start to freeze and rupture. Pipes in well built homes in Canada did not rupture for 2 weeks of average outside air temperatures of 18 degrees during power failures. The temperature inside the homes did not go below 39 degrees. The water in pipes often doesnít freeze until the water temperature is as low as 25 degrees. Once ice crystals form, the entire pipe then freezes quickly. This exerts thousands of pounds of pressure and the pipe bursts. The force exerted by a pound of water freezing is greater than the force of one pound of dynamite exploding. Ice shatters engine blocks.

Most damage from frozen pipes occurs in warmer climates where the homes are not adequately designed or insulated to handle an occasional prolonged cold period. How can you prevent freezing pipes in your home? First, shut off the water to the outside or garage hose bib. Most garages lack sufficient heat or insulation to protect pipes. Next, remove the garden hose. Now, open the hose bib and drain it, and leave it open till spring. They have "freeze proof" hose bibs that shut the water off inside the wall so all the water exposed to the outside air drains out each time. These too can freeze, given the wrong conditions. The best approach is shutting off the water inside the house.

Letís now look at your plumbing, and itsí location. Any plumbing run up the outside wall of a building is vulnerable to freezing. My friends have a shore home with plumbing to the second floor kitchen on a west facing outside wall, and the pipes froze repeatedly. They finally installed a drain on the lines in the basement. They shut off the lines and drain them so no water remains in the wall. The faucets should be open during drainage to allow the water to run out. Any pipes in the crawl spaces? These pipes should be insulated. You should insulate the ceiling of the crawl space, any duct work in the crawl space, and any plumbing. Leave the vents open in the winter. A well vented crawl space is healthier. Most home owners find it easier to insulate the vents. You can buy foam insulation that snaps onto the pipes. This is a good start. A far better way to insulate them is to take R11 fiberglass batts with a kraft paper backing, and cut it in long strips. Then wrap it around the pipes taping it with aviation grade duct tape. Thatís the real shiny tape. The flat grey colored tape dries out in a year and all your hard work will be wasted. Wear a respirator, gloves, and long sleeves when cutting and working with fiberglass. If you buy the cheap masks for breathing, which I donít recommend, get the kind that has two straps to secure it. If your water main comes up in the crawl space, insulate it.

If you have a vacation home, turn off the water at the main, and have drainage points installed in the system as well as right next to the main. If you have a particular pipe in your home that sometimes freezes, even when it is insulated, let the water trickle in the lines in very cold weather, particularly over night. The pressure doesnít build up if the lines are left open slightly.

Things not to do. Donít use heat tapes. Iím sure there are some out there that are safe, but I personally donít recommend them. Many are not Underwriterís Laboratory approved. Others state on the instructions they should not be in contact with metal. All of them dry out in time and are forgotten. When they are installed, people think of them as a lifetime fix. The insulation on them deteriorates. This is due to the heat they provide. There was a huge fire at the primate house at the Philadelphia Zoo in the early nineties, and the cause of the fire was attributed to heat tapes. A ground fault circuit interrupter or GFCI receptacle will not protect you against a fire caused by failed heat tapes. Donít use a plumberís torch and try and heat the pipes. Unless you are used to working with an open flame in a confined area near flammable materials with limited oxygen, donít use a torch in your crawl space. You can start a fire that smolders and reaches a flash-point hours later. Donít use a portable heat source with a flame, such as a kerosene heater, in a crawl space. Those heaters should be used only in well ventilated areas and kept in sight. Electric resistance heaters should not be left in unattended areas either. The oil filled heaters that look like radiators are fairly safe, but be sure the breaker and receptacle are adequate for the electric draw.

The bottom line is, insulate the pipes and drain any standing water in lines. The best time to take these measures is on a mild winter day, before a hard freeze. Better yet, make winterizing your water system part of your fall routine. After all, going in the crawl space is almost as much fun as raking the leaves.

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Quick test. The number one cause of damage to residential properties is: A) Termites, B) Fires, C) Vandalism, or 4) Poor workmanship by well meaning Home Owners. If you guessed 4, you are correct. There are many home projects that are beyond the scope of the Home Owner, but because of contractorís prices, they decide to do it themselves. One project that many home owners tackle with relatively high success is painting the home. Painting a room is a project that can often be knocked out in a weekend with relatively low risk of injury. Sure thereís the sore neck and shoulders, but thatís a small price to pay for the rewards of doing it yourself. The work in painting is in the preparation. The surface should be cleaned and in some cases sanded prior to the painting. Occasionally there is also some carpentry or drywall work that must be done as part of the preparation. Fall is a great time to paint because you can leave the windows open and the outside temperature are usually pleasant with low humidity. There are a lot of little tricks to painting that will greatly improve your results. Here are a few:

Donít buy cheap paints. After all that work of painting, you want your finished product to look nice for a while. My son in law, who prides himself in his knowledge of home maintenance, swears by Behr Paints. Paint that is 100% acrylic is best. Donít paint when it is above 90 degrees or below 50 degrees. Painting above 90 degrees is not a problem for me. I donít like to get more than about ten feet from our pool when itís that hot. Some oil based paints can be applied at lower temperatures. Check the instructions on the can. Cooler weather makes the paint thicker and it has a harder time grabbing the surface. Donít paint in direct sun at any temperature. The sun causes the paint to dry too fast.

If applying a second coat, let the first coat dry. Latex paint on a very porous surface such as new drywall will dry very quickly and the second coat can often be applied a few hours after the first. However, if using oil based paint on exterior trim for example, allow one to three days for drying. Donít wait more than two weeks to apply the second coat under any conditions. If you wait too long, the second coat has trouble bonding to the first coat.

More is not always better. If you are painting areas protected from the rain, such as the soffits, paint them every other time you paint the house. Donít paint the brush dry. Itís nice to squeeze every last drop of paint off the brush, but this can leave unsightly brush marks. Use the inside of the can to remove excess paint from the brush after you dip it in the can. When you are painting, donít use the whole can as your paint source. Pour some in a smaller container such as a gallon milk jug with part of the top cut off. Slap the brush against the sides to remove the excess paint each time you dip. If you use the can and wipe the excess on the top of the can, you can damage the bristles and it can get messy. Donít use a sprayer system unless you have a professional who has used it before working with you. Airless systems work well, but be sure you have proper protection for your face and breathing. When doing larger areas, a good roller works well.

Donít get cheap brushes or rollers. Nylon bristles are good, and Purdy makes good brushes. Good brushes feel soft. They are also flexible. If you have trouble bending the bristles in the store, you will feel it when you are panting also. If you are using oil paints, get brushes with natural bristles. They will clean up easier. "China bristle brushes" are made from hogs in China and work well with oil, poorly with latex paint. A 3/4" nap on the roller is fine for most textured surfaces. A smaller nap is fine on most other surfaces.

During your prep work, be careful if you use a high pressure spray to clean the wood. If the wood is damaged, you can force water into the wood that may take months to get out. If you paint over the wet surface, the paint may not adhere. You also donít want to force water between cracks between the boards or the gaps around windows. Again, the water may take forever to drain out, or it may not drain out at all, and cause a growth behind the wall. Donít use attachments for your electric drill or a wire brush to remove old paint. They can leave metal fibers in the wood that later will rust through. Use sand paper and good old fashioned "elbow grease." Also, donít use a torch to burn off old paint. The worst that can happen is you burn the house down. This happens more often than you think. If there is lead paint under the layers of paint, the lead vaporizes and you can inhale it causing lead paint poisoning.

If you are not sure about what you are doing, Sears has a toll free hot line, 1-800-9- PAINTS. Also, donít be afraid to ask the clerk in the store. In some cases they can be very helpful. Another advantage of painting in the fall is the lower humidity helps the wood surfaces to dry before you paint. A good professional painting contractor will check the moisture levels in the wood before they paint. Next month we will have a list of things to do when painting, as well as advise on cleaning up. But donít let me hold up your project. If she wants that bedroom painted, my advise it to get right on it.

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When last we spoke, we were talking about the "doníts" of painting your home. The only "donít" I will include in this article is donít put it off any longer. Painting is one of those jobs that if you procrastinate, the wood can be damaged by water entry, making the job more work and more money. Now we can talk about what you should do when painting your home.

Get a small quantity of the paint and do a test area in an inconspicuous spot and see if the color is like the brochure. Thereís a house in every neighborhood that you drive by and say "What were they thinking?" The color is so loud you can almost hear it. A small sample of a color a couple inches wide can look a lot different when you cover several hundred square feet with it. Most paint stores will not let your return custom colors, so if you buy a lot of one color, and after doing a wall, decide this isnít going to work, you may be stuck with it. Bright colors tend to get a lot brighter when they cover a larger area. My wife often sends me back up stairs to get changed when we are going out, so Iím not the best person at matching colors, but if you are doing the home in one color and the trim in another color, making the trim a lighter color seems to work better in most cases. If the windows for example are darker, the house can look like it has black eyes.

Always get a primer and paint made by the same company. Stick with one brand all the way through. If you have a problem with it, and end up calling the manufacturer, they wonít listen to you if you used someone elseís primer and their paint. Also save your receipts and the name of the color used. You would be amazed at how many shades of white there are. You can get bad paint. When you open the can, if it smells like rotten eggs or sulfur, take it back. Also if it is not adhering well to the test area, go back to the retailer and find out why. The test area should be cleaned before painting. Any holes should be filled with exterior grade wood filler such as Sherwin Williams Chekgard. Allow the filler to dry, and then paint the area with your primer and one finished coat. Once the paint has dried, press adhesive tape onto the paint and pull it off quickly like you would pull off a band aid. If the paint comes off you may be doing something wrong. If the primer pulls off, the surface may be dirty or poorly prepared. If the finished coat pulls off the primer, they may not be compatible. Check back with the store to be sure you are matching the right paint and primer.

Once you have started painting, be ready to keep on painting. By that I mean, put on the second coat within a few days of the first coat. Donít wait any longer to paint. The second coat takes much less time and much less paint than the first coat. The second coat is well worth the effort, particularly if itsí an area exposed to the weather. A second coat of paint now takes much less time than starting over and repainting the whole house in a few years. We mentioned filling in any cracks or divots in the wood with filler. Be sure and caulk any openings around the wood trim or windows. Seal these areas with a caulk that is compatible with the paint. A particular concern is any electrical or plumbing openings in the wall. While you are at it, clean out the dryer vent. Did you know that the clothes dryer is the number one cause of residential fires? Keeping the vent and hose clean makes your house a lot safer.

So you want to paint your brick wall? Please donít. Itís just me, but I love a beautiful brick wall. If you must paint it, be sure the surface is clean and free of sand and loose mortar. Paint wonít hold a brick wall together. Then paint it with acrylic latex finished paint. You wonít need a primer for it. If you are painting your vinyl shudders, use Geocel ProFlex Roof Seal. Vinyl moves a great deal. In this climate, a ten foot section of vinyl may expand and contract as much as 1/2" between winter and summer. The paint may not want to move this much so it will loose its grip and peel off. Some people have had success painting vinyl siding. If you do paint it, clean the surface with rubbing alcohol, and paint with acrylic latex paint. Most paint companies will not guarantee paint on vinyl siding.

If you are painting a metal roof, paint it with alight color. This past summer we checked the temperature on a metal roof with a laser thermometer and it was 162 degrees. The heat from the metal roof can radiate back into the house. Hot air rises, but radiant heat can travel back into the attic. The roof surface also moves less if it is not as hot. Every time the roof moves, the fasteners can either pull loose, or the metal around the fastener can tear causing a leak. If the air stayed seventy degrees year round, our houses would require a lot less maintenance.

And of course, dress right for the occasion. Wear eye protection when sanding or using cleaners that can damage the eyes. Also, protect your eyes if you are painting overhead. Use dust masks if you are sanding and creating a lot of dust. If the house is older, pre-1978, there is always the possibility of lead paint being air born during the sanding. Call 1-800-LEAD-FYI for more information about lead.

Painting is work. The preparation is time consuming, but the rewards are great. It is often the least expensive home project you can do and, unless you have rather "unique" tastes in color, it adds to the property value and curb appeal. Donít be afraid to ask questions. Ask the people at the paint store. Often, they can be very helpful. One last tip is to be very careful if you are working on a ladder. Make sure the ladder is stable, on the proper angle off the wall, watch out for electrical wires when you set it up and always keep your belly button between the rails or sides of the ladder. If you keep your center of gravity on the ladder, you are less likely to fall. Be careful, itís a long way down.

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You have made a decision on your next home. You are buying a brand new home. You thought about it and you have fallen in love with the crisp clean carpet, the pristine unblemished walls, and the fact that you can decide where you want your closets or that outside entrance. What do you do next? Many people then run out, trot through samples, get some mud on their shoes, and buy a home based on the sizzle, not on the chef. Actually the last thing you should do is pick the home. Letís back up a few steps.

There are the obvious considerations people make when selecting a neighborhood such as schools, job commutes, and convenience to shopping, etc. These items donít factor into the new home vs. old home decision. You have also taken a look at your budget and determined how much you can spend per month on your new home. Keep in mind that new homes almost always have a higher assessed value than existing homes. This results in a higher tax bill and you may be paying several hundred dollars more each month to the local municipality, and all that money isnít going to get you tile floors in your kitchen. When looking at a new home, there are advantages and disadvantages to being the first one in the new neighborhood. Buying early in a new development can often be a good investment. The prices in most developments tend to rise as construction continues. A year later as more homes are built, the price is often much higher than the price paid for the first home. There are speculators in Florida making a living buying early in developments and then selling six months or a year later and realizing a huge profit, and they never lived a day in the house. The down side of doing this is living with construction noise, dust and workers showing up on your street at 6:30 every morning for as long as the development is being built. There is also the potential concern that if dealing with a small Builder that he might have financial problems and the development not finish. This is less of a concern today with the continued hot Real Estate market. Another Builder will usually buy out the remaining lots and things keep rolling.

If you found a development partially completed and it looks appealing, knock on some doors. The best time to ask the people how they liked dealing with the Builder is on the weekend in warm weather. The new owners are often out working on the grounds. Ask if they had any problems and how the Builder handled them. In any construction job, there are going to be problems such as delays due to cabinets not being ready, weather delays, sub contractors not getting there on time, etc. The key here is how they handled them. A major complaint I hear as an inspector is how the Builder treated them when problems developed. Ask the people if they remember the name of the superintendent that ran their project. I have inspected homes for Home buyers built by most of the major Builders in the area. I have found a huge difference between superintendents working for the same Builder. They all know how to build the homes the right way, but some of them are so far ahead in people skills that even if the problem isnít resolved completely to the Buyerís satisfaction, they end up feeling the Builder did everything they could to resolve it. One major Builder in the area told the people if they didnít like the way he handled them, "donít buy the house, I have list of people waiting to get in here." If there were major problems with the construction, or with the superintendent, most people will tell you. Getting a particular individual to run your project may be difficult with a large Builder, but with a smaller Builder, that can often be arranged. One local family owned Builder is run by three sons of the founder. One of the sonís walks every buyer through the project. This company is known for their quality and customer relations.

Check with the local building inspectors about complaints. They canít tell you who is bad, but any complaints to the municipal building inspector are public record and you have a right to see the Builderís file. One or two complaints every few years for a major Builder are not unusual. You canít please everybody. Ask if you can bring in a private inspector. One major Builder in Montgomery County tells the people he will only allow municipal inspectors on his lots. (I wonder what heís hiding.) I have inspected his homes on Sundays with the buyers, and then they put my findings in their own list. Ask the Builder where he lives? Does he live in one of his developments? Is he comfortable having his customers as his neighbors? How long has the Builder been in business? Look for long term stability in one area. Check with the County records for liens or judgments against him. The Builder may still be putting up homes, but he may have a string of judgments against him that could bring him down in the middle of your project.

Once you have decided on a general location, now you are ready to pick your home. My suggestion is to shop it. Look at a lot of samples. You can look at drawings and see floor plans but it often takes the lay person a while before they can visualize a house from the drawings. Ask about special features. Ask how much more it would be to have the floors screwed down rather than just nailed. Screwing the floors can greatly reduce squeaks in years to come. The operative word is "reduce." Some squeaking is inevitable. Ask about a deeper basement. If they make the ceiling two feet higher it can be a lot nicer if you finish it off later. Finished basements require a secondary means of egress in an emergency. They can build that in on the front end and make it much easier to finish the basement later. If you plan on finishing the basement later, your heater may be undersized for the added space. Discuss this consideration with the Builder. Ask about a rough in for a basement bathroom. Itís a lot easier to build it in now, even though you may not plan to finish the basement for several years. Ask about a passive radon system being installed during construction. This is the cheapest time to add it. If the house tests for a low radon count after you move in, the pipe through the house may come in handy as an electrical chase if you add circuits on the second floor. Upgrade items that will wear out. Heavier carpeting and better grade padding can be a good investment if you have growing family. They have odor resistant carpet options if you have pets. Are they carrying you out of the home? Do you plan on spending the next 20 years or so in this house? If so, upgrade your roofing. A forty year roof should still look brand new at twenty years. A twenty five year roof will look pretty tired in twenty years. The highest quality is often your best investment. Considering tile flooring in the kitchen, but not yet? Builders can overbuild the floor supports to allow for extra dead weight in the building. A heavy tile floor on the wrong supports can end up bowing and all it takes is a little movement and your floor will crack at the joints. Single hung windows or double hung? I have seen very high quality homes built with single hung windows. The problem is you canít clean the top sash without hanging out the window. And donít forget the holiday lighting package. One switch and all the lights go on. It makes decorating in the winter a whole lot easier.

When buying a new home you get one chance to add a lot of quality of life items. Adding many of these items later is always possible. No matter what the question, the answer is money. It just can be a whole lot less money if you plan the details on the front end and work with the Builder. They are in the business of building homes and they may not present some of the options you may want a few years down the road.

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This is a warning! There is an epidemic creeping through your neighborhoods. It is in almost every block, and on every street I check. It is right on top of you and you may not know it. What is it? Iím talking about algae. Thin, long black streaks of algae are infesting just about every neighborhood I visit. It is quietly turning bright crisp white and light colored roofs into stained dull coverings that look aged beyond their years. You mean you donít look up at roofs when you drive down the street? I thought everybody looked at roofs.

In the last 10 years there is a plague that is haunting the asphalt roofing industry. It is these long black shadowy lines that are appearing in relatively new, properly installed, properly vented asphalt roofs. The roofing industry has a unique problem. It is a tedious tightrope walk between function and form. Shingle manufacturers are in the fashion business. The problem is they have to present a product that wears like iron, and looks beautiful at the same time. In the past decades these streaks have crept into the local roofing market. What are these streaks and how can we get rid of them? These are the top questions I hear as I do training seminars for Home Inspectors throughout the country.

The streaks are algae. They grow on the roof as microscopic particles clinging to the granules. The roofing industry is not clear as to the reason these streaks have become such a problem. The most commonly held theory is that shingles are made with limestone fillers today. The fillers once were slate dust. The belief is that the limestone creates a slightly damper environment. This may be a sufficient enough change to allow these particles to grow. We are talking about a tiny ecosystem. There are billions of plants in every square inch. They donít need a lot of water to survive. The granules, despite being nonabsorbent, can also create a damp environment for these tiny organisms to grow. The granules have a very textured surface. This unevenness helps them cling to the asphalt. You want them to have holding power as they reflect the sunís UV rays. The longer the granules stay in place, the longer the shingle lasts. The unfortunate part of it is that all these little pockets hold water. The combination of the dust particles on your roof, and the moisture, gives the algae a nice place to take up residence. The streaks were once far more common in the Southeastern United States, but they now occur in just about all parts of the country.

The position of the roofing industry is that they consider them harmless and they will not damage the shingle. The algae live on the dust particles and will not eat the asphalt, ceramic granules, or the fiberglass mat. Therefore, they will not damage the shingles or reduce their life expectancy. One problem. Most Homeowners bought their roof with appearance in mind. They werenít planning on streaks down the roof when its five years into a twenty-five to thirty year life. They consider it a defect and want them to go away.

So how do you get rid of them? There are shingles that are made to resist them. They are known as fungus buster or algae resistant shingles. They were first marketed in the South. They contain copper and zinc granules that combine with the acidity in the rain to create a fungicide. This washes over the roof and reduces algae. The problem is the industry doesnít seem to have a standard as to how much copper bearing granules constitutes a fungus resistant shingle or for how long the materials will work. They advertise them as "reducing" algae growth but they donít guarantee they will eliminate it. If the algae grows on an algae resistant shingle, the manufacturer will refund you the difference in cost between the regular shingle and the algae resistant shingle. They wonít replace the roof.

What can you do if you have these streaks? The first thing NOT to do is use a high pressure spray on the roof. This will loosen the granules and shorten the life of the roof. You also donít want to use topical treatments that require repeated applications such as washing the roof with a 10% chlorine bleach solution. Most shingle manufacturers argue that chlorine shortens the life of the asphalt but other experts disagree. Chlorine can be damaging to plants. This type of treatment requires repeat applications every couple years and the constant foot traffic and dragging hoses on the roof will dislodge granules and damage the roof. Also, do not try and brush them off for the same reason a pressure spray is not recommended.

There are some after market approaches that have had success. Air Vent makes a ridge event that contains a zinc alloy that combines with the rain and helps kill the algae. That gives you the benefit a ridge venting system that I feel is the best available, and the added plus of an algaecide. The truth is rain combining with most metals will create a run off that reduces the algae. Copper and galvanized metals may leave other forms of discoloration that you may find offensive so you really havenít gained anything. There are also zinc strips that can be installed by a roofer at the ridge area just under the cap shingles. They are manufactured by Savetime Corporation. Their toll free number is 1-800-942-3004, or www.rainhandler.com. Westpac also sells Z-Stop strips. Their number is 1-800-845-5863, or www.z.stop.com.

The reality is they affect the appearance, but not the performance. You can take steps to reduce the discoloration, but you probably wonít eliminate it. It is far less noticeable on darker shingles. It seems to occur on shady roofs more than sunny roofs, but I have seen it on just about every kind of roof. It is not a health concern. In this mold crazed world we have, people may be deathly afraid that this might be another thing to get them ill. It is not some new strain of black mold that will get you while you are sleeping. Itís ugly, but every study I have read, and the industryís position is, it wonít harm you or your roof. You just have to tolerate itsí looks.

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New house, new roof, no problem! Not so fast. Your new house is just starting to feel like home. The paintings are finally in the best locations, and the shrubbery you thought would never take hold is sprouting new buds. Your home grows more comfortable by the day. Iím not trying to rain on your parade, but recently I have been called in by a very prominent Builder to examine roofs where there is suspected shingle failure. I have also found roofs in my inspection practice that have evidence of significant shingle failure in locations from Phoenixville to Yardley. The Builder has sent me to specific areas and developments where complaints have risen, and I have found considerable failure in these locations.

The failures are occurring in roof less than five years old on higher quality homes with middle grade dimensional shingles. Dimensional shingles are made with pieces of shingle adhered to the base material to make it appear to be thicker in spots. They are often offered as an upgrade on a home. The roofs that are having problems are in all colors, not showing a bias towards lighter or darker shingles.

Do you have a problem? There are a few things you can do as a Homeowner to check before you call the Builder. First, letís talk about what you should not do. Do not get a ladder and climb on the roof. Leave that to the professional. The number one source of home accidents is falling. Falling any distance can be fatal.

The area has had very heavy rains this summer. Shingles are manufactured with a considerable overspray of granules to allow for wear during shipping and installation. This excess granulation should wash off in the first year. Check your downspouts. If there is an accumulation of granules at the downspout, this can be the first symptom of a problem. Compare the granules at the various downspouts. Usually one section fails sooner and will shed more than the others. Any granules that shed during the first year should have washed away if the home is several years old. Ongoing granulation loss is a symptom of shingle failure.

Next go to a window that is above the gutters. Look for granules in the gutters. If your home is several years old, they should definitely be free of granules. If you see an accumulation of granules in the gutters, and your home is several years old, the shingles may be failing. The gutters should also be free of debris. People think of getting their gutters cleaned in late fall, but they can clog at other times of year, depending on the trees around your home. As a side note, I am yet to find a gutter protection system that works well. They sure can market that stuff though.

And now, back to the roof. While you are looking out the window, take a close look at the surface of the shingles. If you lean out to check it, keep your feet on the floor and your belt buckle inside the house. Loosing your balance and sliding head first down the roof is a lonely feeling. Do you see either large areas of the shingles where the granules are shedding to expose the black asphalt, or worse, do you see the fiberglass mat of the shingles glistening in the sunlight? If you see these conditions over more than a few shingles, call the Builder. Keep in mind; you will be examining a relatively small area of the roof. If you find these conditions looking out a few windows, it may be more endemic with a larger roof survey. Next, reach out the window and gently grab the lower edge of the shingles. Try and pull it up. Do this in as many areas as possible. If the roof is over one year old, and you can pull the shingle up without it being adhered to the shingle below, the seal tab has not sealed. This can also be a symptom of the shingle not performing as designed and will result in shingle loss and leaking. If this condition is present, call the Builder.

Now go out in the yard with binoculars. Look the roof over. If the seal tabs have not sealed down properly, chances of you missing a shingle or two is very real. Most Home Owners rarely check their roof. Most new Home Owners never check their roof. I have had so many people tell me they didnít get their home inspected because it was a new house. That statement makes no sense. Are they saying that the workers in todayís labor market are perfect? Also, if you see a Municipal Inspector with a ladder checking a roof, call me. I havenít seen it in 30 years of residential construction.

What happens next? If your roof passed the downspout inspection, the surface inspection and binocular inspection, congratulation, you have just done more to protect your home from roofing problems than most Home Owners. If your home is newer, do this every year for the first five years. Then do it again every year, once the roof is about twelve years old. Thatís right. Roofs with twenty five year warranties should be checked every year after about twelve years. If you discover a problem, act fast. Timing is absolutely critical. The financial difference can be huge. Some shingle manufacturers offer 100% labor and material warranties for shingles that have failed in the first five years. Once the roof is in the sixth year, the warranty drops back to a pro-rated material only warranty. The financial responsibility of the Manufacturer drops considerably. If you feel you have a problem, contact the Builder. Some Builders are excellent in standing side by side with their customers on this issue. If you are running into a stone wall, what you need is the name of the manufacturer. Contact them, and notify them "in writing" that you have a problem. They may send you a packet for a claim, or they may come out and examine the roof. What you want to do is establish that date as the date when you feel a problem has surfaced. Photographs of problem areas are also important. Document the conditions. This can freeze your warranty claim date. If the roof then goes through an accelerated failure in say the eighth year, and you have evidence of failure in the fourth year, you can argue for a new roof, labor and material. A claim in the eighth year will get you a pro-rated credit towards new material which is a fraction of the cost of replacement. Roofs take a beating. The rain, wind, sun, and ice are merciless. Their job in the grand scheme of things is to break things down, and recycle them. The roofís job is to hold up against them. In the vast majority of cases they do their job. But in a significant number of cases, I have found newer shingles becoming older shingles far too quickly.

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