Duct Tape Story

Ask any home inspector and you’ll hear that disconnected crawlspace and attic heating and cooling ducts are a common observation.

Why? Because standard gray duct tape was used.

it says Duct Tape on the label – it must be the right tape for heating ducts – Right?

Wrong! During World War II, before it was called duct tape, the U.S. military bought a cloth-backed, rubber-adhesive tape for making emergency repairs on the battlefield.

Sometime after WWII, heating and cooling contractors begin to use the tape to seal the joints in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) ducts.

This tape was manufactured in the same way, though to match the metal ducts, it was colored grey rather than the green color of the Army version. Because of this use, it became known informally as ‘duct tape’.

The problem is that standard grey duct tape does not adequately seal duct joints and has a short lifespan. Hot air flowing through heating ducts and hot attics can soften the tape adhesive. Eventually, the tape slowly unravels itself… causing heating and cooling duct connections to separate or leak.

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Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

The U-shape pipe under a sink is called a P-trap.

The purpose of a P-trap is to create a water seal that prevents sewer gas from coming into the house and to collect wedding rings, gold coins that might go down the drain before they are swept away.

A properly installed P-trap has a water seal between 2-4 inches (between the two horizontal red lines) and uses smooth wall pipe, not flexible pipe.

The plumbing configuration in the photo will result in poor sink drainage and in time become plugged with hair, soap scum, dirt, and other debris.

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Deck From Hell

When the home inspector walked into the Concord backyard, he couldn’t believe his eyes – the steps leading up to the backyard composite deck were totally disintegrated.

Early composite decking made its debut in the 1990s. The original composite decking was made from a combination of recycled plastic milk jugs and old shipping pallets.

It was an environmental solution to using wood in deck construction, but the sun’s UV rays proved to be a formidable opponent.

A decade later, manufacturers figured out the ‘recipe’ for new composite products that looked like fresh cut Cedar or Brazilian Walnut, but never turned grey… and that’s when composite decking sales took off.

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Silent Killer

You can’t see it, smell it, or taste it… but it can kill you… a gas known as the “silent killer”… carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced by common household appliances such as gas water heaters, gas clothes dryers, gas cooking ranges, ovens or cook tops, wood burning stoves, charcoal grills, propane heaters, gas wall heaters.

Early symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue and are often mistaken for the flu because the deadly gas goes undetected in a home.

Advanced symptoms include confusion, depression, impaired judgment, hallucinations, agitation, vomiting, drowsiness, fainting, memory problems and visual changes.

California’s Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act of 2010 (SB183) requires that all residential property be equipped with a CO detector outside sleeping areas and all levels of a house including basements.

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Glass in the House

When ordinary window plate glass is broken, it breaks into angular shards which are very sharp, and can seriously injury someone – not good.

When tempered safety glass is struck, it breaks into small pebble-like pieces (see photo), without sharp edges – a good thing.

Safety glass is now required in specified locations in houses including all door glass, most large windows which have their bottom edge less than 18 inches above the floor or ground, windows near doors, stairs and floors, and glass in showers and bathtub enclosures.

If you’re buying an older house, The House Whispererinspectors know where safety glass can make a difference in the house.

There is no requirement to retrofit these locations, but a greater margin of safety would be achieved by upgrading and installing safety glazing in these areas.

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Water Heater Pipe

The photo shows a flexible discharge pipe attached to the safety valve which opens when something goes wrong inside the water heater tank.

Plumbing requirements state that the discharge pipe must be the same size as the safety valve opening to ensure water flows unrestricted through the pipe – and the pipe must be rigid pipe to withstand excessive water pressure.

A flexible pipe is thin-wall and corrugated (accordion-like) to make it flexible.

The inside diameter of the flex pipe is smaller than the valve opening – this is called a pipe restriction.

Why does the home inspector report a flexible discharge pipe as a safety concern?

If a temperature/pressure relief safety valve opens because of high water temperature and pressure inside the water heater – there’s a good chance that the flexible pipe will come apart and possibly injure/scald someone.

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Wall Cracks

Home inspectors are asked all the time, “What about that crack in the wall?”

Some home buyers react negatively when they spot a wall or ceiling hairline crack, thinking it compromises the structural integrity of the house.

The fact of the matter is that wall and ceiling hairline cracks are 100% visually cosmetic and they don’t affect the house in any way.

However, cracks are an indicator that something caused them to form in the first place.

The most common causes of wall and ceiling cracks here in the San Francisco Bay Area are:

  • Earthquakes
  • Incorrect drywall installation and taping of joints
  • Too much moisture in wall studs during construction
  • Foundation settlement due to poor drainage around the house

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Closet Trouble

The home inspector opened a bedroom closet door in an older Hayward house and turned on the light switch.

The ceiling light fixture was missing its protective glass globe and two incandescent light bulbs were within inches of the stored clothes – too close for comfort.

The inspector Googled – ‘light bulb temperature’ – and the article said a 60 watt light bulb can have a surface temperature of 260 degrees.

If the closet light was left on all day, it’s possible for a fire to start.

Closet light fixture clearances require that all incandescent light bulbs be fully enclosed (glass globe) and that the incandescent light fixture be installed at least 12″ from stored items.

Seeing exposed light bulbs in bedroom closets or missing glass globes is fairly common in older houses. Today’s building requirements call for recessed lighting in closet ceilings.

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