HOME INSPECTIONS

ASBESTOS

Geologically, there are six forms of asbestos that is a naturally occurring mineral fiber found in rocks. Only three are used in commerce. Of the three, the one known as "blue asbestos" causes serious lung problems, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. This asbestos material breaks into small fibers that can remain virtually suspended in the air indefinitely. These fibers are so small that they cannot be seen and will pass through the filters of normal vacuum cleaners. Once inhaled, asbestos fibers can become lodged in lung tissue and, after many years, cause cancer. Blue asbestos, however, has never been in general use in the U.S. Its only important application was in shipyards during World War II.

Soft white asbestos, called chrysotile, is by far the most important form of asbestos, since it is used in 95 percent of all asbestos applications. Soft white asbestos is naturally occurring in many localities. Lifetime exposures to chrysotile fibers in Quebec, where soft white asbestos is mined, show no statistically significant increase in lung disease among miners or their families.

The EPA's own data on the asbestos (chrysotile) content of water supplies in the U.S. show that millions of people are exposed to millions of fibers per liter of water. The measurement of asbestos in water from the Klamath River in California and Oregon showed 300 billion fibers per liter. These people drink, cook, garden, wash, and bathe with this water. Imagine the asbestos spread over the ground when the river floods. All this exposure is to the chrysotile type of asbestos. Even lifetime exposures to concentrations as high as two fibers per cubic centimeter of air have failed to show any significant hazard. The Chrysotile or soft white asbestos has fibers that can either dissolve or be removed from the lungs by normal physiological responses.

Even so, the U. S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has deemed that asbestos can be hazardous and has promulgated regulations concerning the control and disposal of materials containing asbestos. These regulations are still in effect. As a general rule, one should avoid disturbing it. The Puget Sound Air Pollution Control Agency has published a detailed how-to booklet for homeowners who wish to remove the textured from ceilings.

Materials that can be suspected of containing asbestos are textured ceilings, furnace duct insulation, hot water pipe wrappings, vinyl floor tiles, and siding shingles.

If there is a suspicion that a material contains asbestos, there are several recommendations. Removal should usually be the last choice among the alternatives. The less you disturb the asbestos product, the better.

Do not dust, sweep, or vacuum particles suspected of containing asbestos. Any dust should be removed by a wet-mopping procedure or by a specially designed vacuum cleaner used by certified asbestos workers.

If a ceiling with asbestos shows sings of fraying, or if one desires to refinish the surface, the ceiling can first be sprayed with a white tinted shellac. This will seal the fibers and prevent them from becoming airborne. The ceiling can then be refinished or painted.

It is always wise to seek additional advice if questions remain. "Environmental Overkill: Whatever Happened to Common Sense?" by Dixy Lee Ray is the source of portions of this article and has a very good bibliography of additional information.

You can also visit The Asbestos Institute for additional information on asbestos.

ZONING

Residential, single family zoning provides an area for single family dwellings and townhouses at urban densities, plus other related uses, which contribute to a complete urban residential environment. These other uses which include churches, schools, libraries and other neighborhood buildings are compatible with single family, residential use.

Building and zoning codes regulate the location, size, and lot coverage of single family homes in the Puget Sound area. The general discussion of lot coverage, height and yard are presented as a general guideline. Rural residential zones can vary widely because of water and sewer restrictions.

Homes and other associated structures may cover 35% of the lot (40% in some areas). When calculating lot coverage you must include balconies, bay windows and architectural projections (such as eaves and gutters over 18 inches wide, even though they do not actually touch the ground.)

Certain structures are not counted in lot coverage. These include: uncovered decks, pools of 18 inches or less in height, access structures for the disabled, pedestrian bridges (5 feet wide or less) needed for access from a street, alley or easement, underground structures and bulkheads and solar collectors that meet certain standards.

In general, your home must not exceed 30 feet in height above existing grade on any portion of your lot. If you are planning to build a home between two single family structures, one or both of which exceeds 30 feet, you may use the average height of the two adjacent structures as the height limit, so long as that does not exceed 40 feet.

If you have a pitched roof, the ridge of the roof may exceed 5 feet above the height limit if the pitch of the roof is at least 3 to 12 feet.

If you wish to build a home on a sloping lot, you may be eligible to have additional wall height along the lowest elevation of the site. Basically, you may be allowed one foot of height in addition to the 30-foot limit for each 6 percent slope of the existent grade of the site.

Land Use Codes require that certain portions of your lot be set aside for front, rear and side yards. In general, no portion of your house may extend into these required yards. You may place accessory structures such as garages, sheds, decks and porches in these yards only if certain criteria are met. Of course, you may provide more than the required minimum yard. The standard yard requirements are:

Front Yard: 20 feet, or the average of the front yards of the single-family residences on either side of your lot, whichever is less.

Rear Yard: 25 feet    Side Yard: 5 feet    The Seattle Department of Construction and Land Development has more through information. Check King County for more detailed information.

Cadet Heaters

Cadet is a major manufacturer of residential electric heaters. They recently had a recall to correct defective limit switches. See the Cadet Manufacturing Web site for more detailed information.

 

CARBON MONOXIDE

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) about 200 Americans die each year from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning associated with home heating equipment. Scores more are injured.

CO is so highly toxic because it chemically binds to hemoglobin and rapidly displaces oxygen in the blood. This causes the body’s brain, heart, and other tissues, muscles and organs to become oxygen starved. The most common symptoms are headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, trouble thinking, poor concentration, vision problems, shortness of breath and heart palpitations. Not surprisingly, it is often misdiagnosed as a cold or the flu.

A forced-air furnace takes heat produced by combustion and transfers it to the air through a piece of metal called a heat exchanger. The warmed air is then circulated into a home through supply ducts. The products of combustion, carbon dioxide, water vapor and carbon monoxide exits through a vent or flue pipe. Forced air gas furnaces pose the greatest risk. If an oil furnace is leaking CO, the foul odor of oil combustion will generally warn people of the danger.

The furnace heat exchanger consists of a highly conductive metal that transfers the heat of combustion to the air circulated throughout the house. If the heat exchanger rusts, corrodes or cracks, CO can be allowed to enter the home.

Equipment defects, improper installation, lack of maintenance or a combination of these factors can all cause a furnace to produce too much CO.

Because of the sophistication of most home heating equipment, a professional technician should routinely inspect and service it.

An inspection for a gas-fired furnace should include the following:

Clean and change filters.

Clean combustion chamber.

Check and adjust burners and burner safety control; check color of the flame. It should be blue, not yellow.

Check ignition system. Measure amount of CO in flue gases.

Clean and lubricate blower and motor.

Clean and check heat exchanger for leaks by injecting chemicals or a "smoke bomb" to see if anything escapes the system.

Inspect chimneys, vents and flues for deterioration, corrosion and blockage as well as secure fittings.

The CPSC also recommends installing two CO detectors - one above the furnace, the other outside the bedrooms.

PESTS

The most common insect pests in Western Washington are subterranean termites, carpenter ants and powder post beetles. 

Unlike other pests of the country, termites do not pose a serious threat. Entry into a home is typically where soil may touch the wood. Maintenance of these areas is often attended to for the prevention of dry rot and thus termite infestation is prevented as a result.

Contrary to popular impression, termites are very slow eaters. A mature, well-established colony of 20,000 workers eats only a fifth of an ounce of wood a day. Carpenter ants pose a problem not because they eat wood, but because they remove quantities of it to expand their nesting facilities. Most carpenter ant species establish their initial nest in decayed wood. The parent colony is often located in a tree, stump or in stacked wood within 100 yards of a home. A number of workers from these parent colonies will frequently move into a dwelling as a satellite colony. During the first warm days of spring (January - June depending on location) these reproductives emerge from their rest period for their mating flights. After mating, the males die. The inseminated queen selects a nest site, usually in a small cavity or in the timbers of houses, and within a few days lays her first eggs.

It is important to determine if an infestation of carpenter ants is actually present, as ants may enter houses while foraging or new queens may enter homes after nuptial flights and may not actually be causing problems. Where carpenter ants are common, the wall voids of a new structure may be dusted with boric acid. This material, if kept dry, will kill the ants if they enter the void. This treatment provides control for up to 20 years.

The presence of powder post beetles is often indicated by a fine almost talc like powder accompanied by small holes the size of pinheads. The infested wood has a dull, soft sound when rapped with a hard object. Extensive damage can occur if an active infestation is allowed to spread. The infected materials should be treated to exterminate any existing pests and sealed to prevent reinfestation.

DRY ROT

Every year a considerable sum of money is spent on repairing the structural damage caused by the fungal infestation commonly known and referred to as dry rot. Most of the damage is caused by a few species, but the dry rot fungus, Merulius Lacryman, is the most prevalent.

Dry rot fungus requires a constant condition of temperature and humidity. It thrives best in humid, unventilated places where the air is still and the wood is damp but not saturated. Dry rot spores will germinate on the surface of wood that has a moisture content slightly above 20% but is not really wet. The majority of fungi grow most rapidly at about 80-90 degrees F. Poor or improper ventilation in areas which can retain built-up heat often provide this ideal environment.

As with any fungus, the spores are ever present in the dormant stage, awaiting proper conditions to flourish. When germination occurs, a fine filament grows out from the spores. It subsequently gives rise to other similar filaments, which develop, into the vegetative portion of the fungus. At the same time, some of the filaments penetrate below the surface, first softening and then destroying the wood.

The appearance of the wood decayed by dry rot fungus depends on the stage of attack and the conditions under which the fungus has been growing. In a damp basement or crawl space, the fungus will produce masses of material resembling white fluffy cotton spread over the surface of the wood. In less humid atmospheres, the fungus forms a felted skin that may be pearly gray in color, with tinges of lilac or yellow.

Wood diseased by dry rot fungus has a scorched appearance, and in the final states, may readily break up into little square fragments or a dry powder. The parts of a house in which dry rot is most likely to be found are basements, crawl spaces, bathrooms, kitchens, and porches. Roof timbers may be attacked if there is persistent leakage.

To eradicate dry rot, the badly decayed wood should be removed and destroyed. Sound timber in the vicinity of the attack and timber used for replacements should always be treated with an efficient preservative. Finally and most important, the source of dampness responsible for the original attack should be eliminated.

EARTHQUAKES

The Puget Sound region is in an area called the "Ring of Fire". This ring circles the Pacific with volcanic and earthquake activity, and roughly defines the boundary of the Pacific plate of the earth's crust. The juncture of the Pacific plate and the North American plate occurs along the western shores of the United States.

The oceanic crust pushing under the continental crust to form mountain ranges and volcanoes characterizes this converging boundary. If the converging plates get stuck and do not slide against each other, pressure mounts until slippage occurs with a jerk that quakes the earth.

Earthquake faults are described as a fracture in the earth's crust along which lateral movement occurs. Probably the most common and famous fault is the San Andreas Fault, located along the West Coast and running through San Francisco.

The most significant difference between the Puget Sound and the California Bay Area is the type of earth movement. In the Puget Sound area, the pacific plate pushes under the continental crust, causing a squeezing pressure which forces the continental crust upward. This effect occurs miles below the surface of the earth.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the plates are not squeezing together, but sliding against one another. The Pacific plate is moving slowly toward the northwest. When the accumulated strain becomes too great, the rock breaks and the earth quakes. Once initiated, the break can propagate along the fault moving at speeds of thousands of miles per hour.

Seismic design is a relatively recent science, and few buildings constructed before the 1920’s or 1930’s were designed to accommodate these loads.

Early designers felt that seismic safety could be provided for in a manner similar to wind safety design. The inertial nature of seismic forces was not generally recognized until the early 1920’s. The 1927 Uniform Building Code included optional seismic design requirements based on building mass and soil type. These requirements were adopted almost unchanged into the California Administrative Code after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. They did not change significantly until 1943 when Los Angeles developed a new formula that considered building height. San Francisco adopted similar requirements in 1947.

Seismic design requirements have continued to become more detailed in response to earthquake experience both in the United States and abroad. The 1964 Alaska earthquake, the 1967 Caracas, Venezuela earthquake and the 1971 San Fernando, California earthquake each resulted in code changes. Keep in mind that the earthquake fault system in the Puget Sound region is significantly different than in California. The Pacific plate is subducting under the North American plate 25 miles below the earth’s surface. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the plates are not squeezing together, but sliding past one another. Earthquake code improvements have been adopted from empirical data obtained from the California earthquakes. Different results could occur in the Puget Sound region.

Retrofitting structures to meet modern seismic safety requirements can be a major undertaking. Even then, there is no solid assurance that earthquakes of greater duration or larger amplitude than designed for cannot or will not occur. Earthquake insurance is often recommended as protection against these unknowns.

Although nothing can be done to prevent earthquakes, a number of practical steps can be taken to minimize damage to existing homes and buildings.

  • Lateral bracing should be installed to prevent porches and decks from swaying and collapsing.

  • Cripple walls (the walls between the basement foundation and the first floor joists) should be bolted to the foundation and braced or designed to withstand the shearing forces of earthquake motion.

  • Gas appliances should be connected with flexible tubing to prevent rupture.

  • Large appliances such as hot water tanks should be bolted to prevent toppling.

  • Gas and water pipes should be rigidly attached to prevent swaying and breaking.

  • Large bookcases and furniture should be fastened to the walls to prevent toppling.

  • Unsupported chimneys should be braced to prevent collapse.

ELECTRICAL

The electrical service entering a house is typically a three wire service with 120/240 volts. Circuit breaker panels with a main disconnect switch are in standard use today.

Current codes require separate circuits for all fixed appliances (range, dryer, hot water heater, furnace) and convenience outlets located along the wall within six feet of any potential need. Older homes often have fuse boxes that have been expanded to accommodate additional loads. In the early and mid-sixties, three-pronged outlets became required by code for new construction. This third wire provides additional protection against electrical shock.

Ground Fault Interrupt Circuits (GFI's) came into use in the early seventies. These circuits are designed to detect any ground current fault and immediately disconnect the circuit. Bathrooms, outdoor fixtures and outlets near water were the first to require these devices. Kitchen outlets have since been included. These circuits are often identified by the test and reset buttons located on the receptacle.

Aluminum branch circuit wiring was briefly used in the sixties and early seventies. Because of potential hazards, the use of aluminum wiring is now severely restricted. The improper installation of switches, receptacles and fixtures can cause overheating and fire hazards.

A thorough survey of the electrical system should always be undertaken when contemplating additions and/or remodeling a house with an older electrical system.

ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION

The strength of magnetic fields is measured in gauss. Those radiating from power lines and appliances are measured in milligauss, or thousandths of a gauss. A nearby power line can radiate fields of 5 to 40 milligauss.

By comparison, at a distance of one foot, home appliance's radiate fields from about 1 to 280 milligauss, the highest figure being for an electric can opener. All magnetic fields drop sharply with distance.

The Earth's magnetic field, to which humans are constantly exposed, is about 500 milligauss. This is often hundreds of times larger than the man-made ones people worry about.

Magnetic fields that have been linked to childhood leukemia in some epidemiological studies are 3 to 4 milligauss, roughly one one-hundredth of the strength of the Earth's magnetic field. The studies that suggest such causation have often been criticized as ambiguous or flawed.

Despite the murkiness, citizen activists and local governments have forced electric utilities to move power lines, to install shielding and to cancel electrical- plant upgrades out of fear that power lines cause cancer. The annual cost of reducing power-line fields in the United States is estimated at $1 billion to $3 billion.

In the debate, those who see a danger tend to say that remedial action is necessary, no matter how small the risk, because it is best to err on the side of caution.

The federal government sets no standards on exposure levels for electromagnetic fields, leaving the issue in legal limbo.

The world's largest group of physicists, the American Physical Society, has declared it can find no evidence that the electromagnetic fields that radiate from power lines cause cancer.

After researching the power-cancer issue since 1989, the society last year embarked on a study meant to serve as the basis for a society position.

The society said groundless public fears about a possible link between power lines and cancer were diverting billions of dollars from "more serious environmental problems."

Many physicists are skeptical of a link between power lines and cancer because the fields are so weak. Both electric and magnetic fields are produced whenever electricity flows through a wire, but fears center on magnetic fields because only they penetrate the human body

HOME INSPECTIONS

ENGINEERING INSPECTION SERVICES, INC.

7749 24th Ave NW

Seattle, WA 98117

Phone 1 888 783 3155 Fax 206 781 0639

e-mail

SERVICES OF ENGINEERING INSPECTION SERVICES, INC.

Each Engineering Inspection Services, Inc. engineer has a college degree in engineering and is a specialists in home and building inspection Our training and experience allow us to spot unusual conditions not covered in brief training programs. Committed to our careers, we bring years of education, training and experience to each inspection. Proud of our ability and engineering training, we will gladly discuss our experience and education with you.

Our inspections include a visual examination of the following:

STRUCTURAL

 Foundation  Columns   Condensation   Walls  Girders  Water seepage   Floors  Joists   Dry rot  Settlement

MECHANICAL

 Plumbing       Hot water heaters       Septic systems   Air conditioning   Flues and chimneys   Hot tubs   Furnaces    Sumps  Swimming pools Heat distribution  Water pumps

ELECTRICAL

Capacity   Distribution    Fire & Safety hazard  Type  Adequacy      

INTERIOR

Walls   Stairways      Drafts   Ceilings   Hardware   Attics  Floors  Fireplaces  Crawl Spaces  Doors   Ventilation    Dry rot    Windows      Insulation       

EXTERIOR

 Siding  Roof  Walkways   Caulking    Gutters   Driveways   Dry rot   Flashing   Stairways   Paint    Chimneys      Patios  Windows      Drainage        Retaining walls   Pools

OTHER

 Insulation  Wood stoves  Boat ramps   Weather-stripping.   Docks  Special features  Energy efficiency

Once we complete our physical inspection and oral report, we promptly put our findings in writing. The written report discusses virtually every aspect of the inspection so you can thoroughly understand the property you are considering. You may refer to the report for years to come when you plan remodeling and decorating. 

Unlike a homeowner's warranty or guarantee, your inspection report will give you guidance in the future.

INSULATION

A number of materials have been used to insulate homes. Many of these materials are still effective and in use and are briefly described below.

FIBERGLASS: Fiberglass is probably the most common and versatile insulation on the market today. It is low cost and has good insulating values. It is available in batts, blankets and loose.

MINERAL WOOL: Most often called rock wool. It looks like dirty wool and is dusty when handled. It was very popular in the 50’s and early 60’s. The insulating qualities are quite good, however the quantity is often inadequate by today’s standards and additional insulation should be installed.

CELLULOSE: This is an inexpensive insulation made of recycled materials most notably newspapers. The process consists of grinding up old newspapers mixed with borax or aluminum sulfide to add fire proofing. It has insulating qualities a little better than fiberglass when first installed. As it settles over time, the insulating qualities diminish to slightly less than fiberglass. A major advantage is that it does not have the irritating features that fiberglass and rock wool have.

MICA: This product is made from the mineral mica and is often called vermiculite or perlite. It is an attractive material when filling voids, however, its insulating qualities are substantially less that other types of insulation. The insulating qualities are only fair and the quantity is often inadequate by today’s standards. The addition of more insulation is often advised.

SILVA WOOL: This is a product manufactured by the lumber industry. It consists of wood slivers treated with a fire retardant. The most common wood appears to be cedar that is resistant to rot and pests. The insulating qualities are quite good, however the quantity is often inadequate by today’s standards and additional insulation should be installed.

Increasing the levels of insulation in your home is often a wise energy investment. If there is room in the attic, insulation should be upgraded at least to the current code level. In Washington State, this code is R 30 or R 38, depending on where one lives.

One of the most difficult problems with adding insulation is providing a vapor barrier. Most vapor that migrates to the cavity probably does so because of the passage of warm house air through holes, cracks, switch plates, sockets and the like. If the air is cooled to the point at which the moisture can no longer exist as a vapor, condensation occurs. At certain outside temperature levels and indoor humidity levels, that point might be in the layer of insulation. This is more of a problem for the porous or fibrous insulation. This problem can be avoided by adding vapor barriers, providing proper ventilation, caulking cracks and holes in the interior surface of the wall, and using gaskets on switch plates and sockets.

Some materials that qualify as vapor barriers are polyethylene and aluminum foil. It is placed on the warm side of the insulation.

Moisture problems will be greatly reduced if the generation of moisture vapor is dealt with at the source. Vent bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms to the outside. Make sure the attic and crawl space are properly vented to rid them of any moisture that might accumulate

LEAD PAINT

Lead exposure is not the major public health problem in Washington State that it is in the Northeastern United States. However, lead is a potential problem here that should not be neglected.

In general, every one has some exposure to lead. Lead from automobile exhaust and industries are major sources for contaminated air, water and soil. People who live in industrialized, urban areas are exposed to more lead in dust and fumes than those who live in rural areas. Lead can enter the body through inhalation and ingestion.

Early symptoms of lead poisoning may include loss of appetite, fatigue, irritability and anemia. Because of the general nature of symptoms at this stage, lead poisoning is often unrecognized. These early symptoms are reversible and complete recovery is possible.

As lead poisoning progresses, symptoms become more severe. Permanent damage may occur.

Children, especially toddlers, are more sensitive to lead toxicity, in part because of their immature nervous system. They are also at greater risk for lead poisoning because of normal hand-to-mouth activity, which can cause increased lead ingestion.

The following is a suggested prevention and clean-up approach after sources of lead exposure are identified:

 Discard paint made prior to 1972.

 Never use industrial paint for home projects.

 Scrape and remove peeling paint indoors and outdoors.

 Cover peeling walls with contact paper.

 Sweep and damp mop floors regularly.

 Give children safe objects to chew.

 Supervise children's activities.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry has additional information of lead paint.
 

Links

Links to sites containing additional information of interest.

You can also visit The Asbestos Institute for additional information on asbestos.

Cadet Manufacturing has more detailed information.

More information on reconstituted wood siding is available from the Defective Hardboard Siding Information Center.

The Seattle Department of Construction and Land Development has more through information.

Check King County Codes for more detailed information.

Check with the Puget Sound Air Pollution Control Agency for more information.

OIL STORAGE TANKS
Underground storage tanks were developed to store dangerous and flammable materials in relative safety. But tank corrosion, poor fittings and overfills can cause toxic chemicals to seep into the surrounding soil and groundwater.

Registered tanks are most common at gas stations, automotive repair shops, oil companies, industrial plants, or sites previously used for these purposes. Unregistered tanks are located underground at homes that use oil heating and frequently are left in place when a gas or electric furnace replaces the oil burner.

Leaking underground tanks are common on commercial property, but residential sites also are at risk. And a leaky tank can prove to be a costly problem for homeowners, because the property owner is responsible for cleanup under Washington's Model Toxins Control Act.

If there is an unused tank on the property, an owner has two options under the Uniform Fire Code: removal or "abandonment" in place. If the property previously had a tank, verify that it was properly closed or removed by a certified contractor under DOE guidelines. Have the surrounding soil checked for contamination.

All nonresidential tanks must be licensed and certified in compliance with DOE guidelines. In 1990, new state laws were enacted to prevent contamination of soil and groundwater from tank leakage, faulty piping and overfills.Washington State established a program under the Heating Oil Pollution Liability Protection Act to provide insurance coverage for active, in-use heating-oil tanks. Coverage does not apply to unused heating-oil tanks.

PLUMBING

Most older homes are equipped with galvanized iron pipes for the hot and cold water and cast iron for the outgoing drain system. These materials have evolved to today's standards of copper piping for the incoming water and PVC plastic piping for the outgoing drainage. Gaskets and washers, which seal the faucets and drains, wear out and drip with the passage of time. Routine replacement is part of proper maintenance.

As the older, galvanized iron piping ages, the interior of the pipes rust and the pressure and volume drop. When this happens, the piping is often replaced either in part or totally with copper piping. (Some plastic supply piping is used but has not, at this time, gained great favor with the majority of plumbers).

A plumbing systems capacity can be examined by administering a functional flow test. This entails observing the flow and capacity of the water with the bathtub and sink fixtures flowing and the toilet tank filling. This is a more practical observation than a pressure test in that it reveals actual performance.

With the widened use of copper piping, the use of lead based solders have produced some potential for lead poisoning. Lead solders have now been banned for use on domestic water supplies.

If there is some concern, the water can be tested by a laboratory. Normal precautions to prevent lead poisoning include letting the water run free for a short period of time to flush the pipes.

Typically, any lead in the solder will leach out after a period of three years. At that time the water is generally considered safe for normal consumption.

POISONS

Is your home poison-proof? Use this itemized checklist to ask yourself questions concerning the safety of your home and how to eliminate potentially harmful products.

Kitchen (furniture polishes, drain cleaners, oven cleaners)

 Are all potentially harmful products in their original containers?

 Are all potentially harmful products stored away from food?

 Are all potentially harmful products out of reach of children?

 Do all harmful products have safety packaging?

Bathroom (medicines, cleaning products)

 Do aspirins and other potentially harmful products have child-resistant closures?

 Have you thrown out all out-of-date prescriptions?

 Do you always give medicine only to the person it was prescribed for?

 Are all medicines in their original containers with original labels?

Garage/ Basement (charcoal lighter, plant food, anti-freeze, pesticides, paint remover, turpentine)

 Do all poisons have child-resistant caps?

 Are all poisons in their original containers?

 Are all original labels on their containers?

 Are all harmful products located up and out of sight and reach of children

POLLUTION

Wood burning stoves and fireplaces are the largest contributors of particulate and toxic air pollution in the State of Washington. This pollution is of special concern because the worst conditions occur in residential areas where people are spending most of their time. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that wood smoke has serious health implications.

In 1987, the Washington State Legislature passed a law that governs the use of wood stoves and fireplaces. The law requires:

 Emissions certification for any new wood stove beginning July 1, 1988;

 Mandatory curtailment of burning during periods of poor air quality

 Restriction of the amount of smoke permitted from a chimney (opacity limitation); and

 Specific prohibition of fuels such as garbage, plastics, rubber products, treated wood, and any materials not properly seasoned for firewood.

Fines up to $1,000 may be levied for violation of these provisions. Local air pollution authorities will carry out most enforcement.

The Department of Ecology urges all Washington State citizens to become better informed on wood burning practices and their impact on air quality. Wood smoke pollution is caused by individual citizens and households and can be minimized in the same personal way.

RADON

Experts still debate about the exact levels of indoor radon that require action.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that has been identified as a lung cancer risk in studies of miners who worked where radon gas concentrations were high. Based on the experience of miners, some experts have estimated that natural radon accumulating in houses could cause about 15,000 lung cancer deaths per year. However, researchers for years have been unable to prove that residential radon actually poses a lung cancer risk.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends 4 pCi/l (4 picocuries per liter) as the threshold at which corrective action should be undertaken. (By comparison, average measurements for Washington State have been less than 1 pCi/l.)

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported in December of 1994 that a study of nonsmokers in Missouri found no link between household radon gas levels and lung cancer.

In the study, researchers compared the radon exposure of 538 nonsmoking Missouri women who have lung cancer with the radon exposure of 1,183 matched subjects who did not have cancer.

"An association between lung cancer and the exposure to domestic levels of radon was not convincingly demonstrated, The magnitude of the lung cancer risk from radon levels commonly found in U.S. dwellings appears low," the researchers concluded.

A Canadian study published in the summer of 1994 also failed to find a connection between radon and lung cancer.

In February 1987, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) monitored some 40,000 Northwest homes for radon. The highest readings in Washington State were grouped in the Spokane area, which sits over glacial gravel that contain moderate amounts of uranium. The average radon readings in the Puget Sound region are well below the action levels recommended by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and BPA.

The Environmental Protection Agency is promoting a national program calling for reduction of residential radon.

The following methods have been used to reduce the radon level in homes:

Increase natural ventilation by opening all doors and windows periodically.

 Open all existing crawlspace vents.

 Add additional crawlspace vents.

 Reduce radon entry by sealing cracks and holes in the foundation.

 Seal basement floor drains.

 Caulk around pipes and ducts where they penetrate the floor and walls.

According to the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS), houses built on foundations with a ventilated crawl space should have fewer problems.

ROOFS

One of the most important aspects of a house is the roof. A variety of roofing materials is used in the Northwest.

Asphalt composition is the most economical roofing material. The roofing materials often carry a manufacturer's warranty of 20 to 30 years. It can be applied over an existing roof provided no more than two roof coverings are already in place. Good service can be expected if proper maintenance and good ventilation are maintained.

Cedar shakes were quite prevalent and readily available in years past. A good shake roof, properly maintained, can last 15 to 25 years. Cedar roofs require periodic cleaning and a treatment with wood preservative. The lack of first growth cedar and the inability to verify the source of most shakes make them a very expensive roof with an often uncertain life expectancy.

Flat roofs and roofs with low pitch were often covered with a buildup of building felt and hot tar. Such roofs are usually covered with gravel or fibrated aluminum coating to minimize deterioration and aging due to heat buildup. These roof coverings are being rapidly replaced with newer materials often referred to as torch down, modified bitumen, or EPDM (ethylere propylene diene monomer). The material is applied using a torch to provide a single roof membrane. Compared to their hot tar predecessor, these roofs provide a long (20+ years) life with only routine maintenance.

Other roof materials include clay and concrete tiles and metal (corrugated and standing seam). These materials can have unlimited life expectancy but require special consideration in terms of installation.
 

SAFETY

The following is a list of home safety tips to help prevent accidents:

Kitchen

 Floors should be checked periodically for worn areas and curled edges.

 Sweep or vacuum regularly. Wipe up spills immediately to prevent slick areas.

 Clean exhaust hood regularly.

 Hang fire extinguisher near stove.

 Store sharp knives in racks made for that purpose.

Bathrooms

 Be sure tub and shower have non-skid mats or "stick-ems".

 Secure grab bar on wall near tub.

 Store medicines in a secure cabinet away from children.

 Clean out medicine cabinet periodically and discard medicine that is outdated or no longer being used.

 Never leave razor blades within reach of small children.

 Keep electrical appliances away from water.

Living Areas/Bedrooms

 Keep traffic areas free of excess furniture.

 Never run extension cords under rugs or across open spaces.

 Place smoke detectors near sleeping areas; test on a regular basis.

Stairways

 Be sure handrail is secured to wall.

 Never place a rug at the top of a staircase.

 Keep household items, toys and furniture off stairs.

 Make sure carpet is not torn or loose.

 Provide adequate lighting for these areas.

Garage/Basement

 Keep floor area free of grease and oil.

 Store flammable and hazardous substances in marked safety cans.

 Avoid collecting "junk", which can cause fires.

 Make sure your family knows where to find and how to turn off main gas/water valves and electrical panel.

 Store extra fuses and a flashlight near the fuse box (or other convenient area.)

 Label fuse box and circuit breakers indicating which areas of the home they serve.


 

SEPTIC SYSTEMS

Septic tanks or on-site sewer systems are utilized in rural areas where municipal sewer treatment plants are not available.

A septic tank consists of a duel-chambered container of approximately 750 to 1,000 gallons capacity. The tank is typically buried in the ground and connected to the house sewer line. In the first chamber of the tank heavy solids settle to the bottom where bacterial action partially converts them to digested sludge. The liquid portion of the sewer flows into the second chamber where further settling and decomposition of suspended solids take place. From here the effluent flows out of the tank via a distribution box into the drainfield lines. The drainfield lines are perforated to allow the effluent to be distributed throughout the drainfield. Once the effluent is in the soil, bacteria and viruses are filtered out of the water and any solid matter continues to be decomposed by bacterial action. The purified water evaporates, is taken up by vegetation, or enters the ground water system.

Proper care of the septic system includes:

 Knowing where your septic tank and drainfields are located.

 Pumping your septic tank every 3-5 years.

 Practicing water conservation.

 Diverting water run off from your drainfield.

 Restricting construction over your drainfield.

 Restricting parking or driving over your drainfield.

 Restricting tree and shrub growth over your septic tank and drainfield.

 Being careful what you flush into your septic tank.

 Inspecting your system every year.

SIDING

A number of siding products have come onto the market in the last decade.  Many of these products are manufactured with reconstituted wood fiber.  Many have failed in various degrees because of moisture penetration

Numerous lawsuits and class actions have resulted in monetary claims and settlements.

Additional information can be found at the Defective Hardboard Siding Information Center.

UREA FORMALDEHYDE

This insulation was frequently used during the energy crisis to retrofit older, uninsulated homes. It was pumped into the exterior walls. However, serious health concerns arose and its use was banned.

Health concerns such as eye and skin irritation, headaches and allergies arose due to the improper installation of the Urea Formaldehyde. Improper installation caused a gradual release of the poisonous formaldehyde vapors.

With the passage of time these gases have dissipated and have, for the most part, been eliminated. If urea formaldehyde is perceived as a problem, it is recommended that any new residence is tested and the results compared to test results of your current residence. Any further concerns should be discussed with your medical advisor.

VENTILATION

Various changes can occur over the years which decrease the circulation of fresh air in the attic space. The addition of more insulation and/or the application of a new roof can adversely affect the ventilation in older attics.

Lack of ventilation causes the buildup of heat and the condensation of moisture. This promotes mold, rot and deterioration of the structure. It also accelerates the aging of the roof that can result in premature failure.

The amount of ventilation required by building codes is one square foot of vent area for each 150 square feet of attic floor area. Keep in mind that this is a minimum requirement. Unique or special circumstances can often dictate the need for additional ventilation. In order to promote the circulation of fresh air in the attic, it is necessary that cool replacement air be allowed to enter the lower portion of the attic near the eaves. The installation of a power vent to increase the ventilation in the attic area is sometimes advantageous.

Problems can arise when installing additional insulation in the attic areas. Care should be taken to prevent blockage of the soffit vents. Additional problems can arise with the installation of blanket insulation that has an attached vapor barrier. If the vapor barrier is reversed or placed on top of existing loose insulation, moisture can condense and be trapped under the vapor barrier. This can often cause mildew, mold, rot and decay. Once mold and mildew begin to spread, they become more difficult to control.

As always, if doubts or additional concerns arise, take the time to consult an authority.

WOOD STOVES

Wood stove combustion is never pure, so smoke going up the chimney always contains some unburned gases and tars. If the chimney's inner surface is cool, the unburned gases and tars will condense out of the smoke onto the chimney's surface. Creosote will eventually build up.

Creosote in a chimney is dangerous because it is the fuel for a chimney fire. Chimney fires produce intense heat and sparks. The intense heat can crack the tile of a tile-lined chimney or speed decay of a prefabricated metal chimney. After holes or cracks have developed, chimney fires can cause the wood framing or roof of the house to catch on fire. To reduce this danger, chimneys should be cleaned and inspected at least once a year, and more often depending on the amount of use and burning practices.

Many people who burn wood try to increase the time between refueling by restricting the wood's air supply and/or by filling the firebox as full as possible. The end results from these practices are a cooler firebox and an increased creosote buildup.

The greatest buildup of creosote is when the fire is starting to develop or is smoldering. A good rule to follow in cutting down the chimney's creosote buildup is to get a hot fire going rapidly.

Reducing the creosote problem requires efficient stove operation along with knowledge of what type of wood to use. An easy test is to look at the smoke leaving the chimney. As the smoke's density increases, so does the creosote buildup. Reducing creosote buildup will help you burn wood more safely.

Good wood-burning practices will decrease the amount of creosote buildup in your chimney, but don't forget about cleaning the chimney. Inspect the chimney regularly, establish a cleaning schedule, and you will decrease the chance of a chimney fire
 

ZONING

Residential, single family zoning provides an area for single family dwellings and townhouses at urban densities, plus other related uses, which contribute to a complete urban residential environment. These other uses which include churches, schools, libraries and other neighborhood buildings are compatible with single family, residential use.

Building and zoning codes regulate the location, size, and lot coverage of single family homes in the Puget Sound area. The general discussion of lot coverage, height and yard are presented as a general guideline. Rural residential zones can vary widely because of water and sewer restrictions.

Homes and other associated structures may cover 35% of the lot (40% in some areas). When calculating lot coverage you must include balconies, bay windows and architectural projections (such as eaves and gutters over 18 inches wide, even though they do not actually touch the ground.)

Certain structures are not counted in lot coverage. These include: uncovered decks, pools of 18 inches or less in height, access structures for the disabled, pedestrian bridges (5 feet wide or less) needed for access from a street, alley or easement, underground structures and bulkheads and solar collectors that meet certain standards.

In general, your home must not exceed 30 feet in height above existing grade on any portion of your lot. If you are planning to build a home between two single family structures, one or both of which exceeds 30 feet, you may use the average height of the two adjacent structures as the height limit, so long as that does not exceed 40 feet.

If you have a pitched roof, the ridge of the roof may exceed 5 feet above the height limit if the pitch of the roof is at least 3 to 12 feet.

If you wish to build a home on a sloping lot, you may be eligible to have additional wall height along the lowest elevation of the site. Basically, you may be allowed one foot of height in addition to the 30-foot limit for each 6 percent slope of the existent grade of the site.

Land Use Codes require that certain portions of your lot be set aside for front, rear and side yards. In general, no portion of your house may extend into these required yards. You may place accessory structures such as garages, sheds, decks and porches in these yards only if certain criteria are met. Of course, you may provide more than the required minimum yard. The standard yard requirements are:

Front Yard: 20 feet, or the average of the front yards of the single-family residences on either side of your lot, whichever is less.

Rear Yard: 25 feet

Side Yard: 5 feet

The Seattle Department of Construction and Land Development has more through information.

Check King County for more detailed information.