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ASK THE INSPECTOR

Type of Examiner Is Key to Determining Who's Liable for Dry-Rot Error

November 05, 2000|BARRY STONE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: After purchasing our home, we discovered that the inspector had missed a bad dry-rot problem in the eaves. Is the inspection company responsible for this oversight? If so, how can I get them to make the necessary repairs?

Answer: When you mention inspector, it is not clear whether you mean the home inspector or the pest inspector. Home inspectors are not licensed to inspect for wood-destroying organisms such as termites or fungus (dry-rot), although they will often point out such problem as moisture damage or possible insect damage when observed.

Pest inspectors, on the other hand, are specifically licensed to evaluate and repair this type of infestation and the resultant damage. Pest inspectors must guarantee their work for one year, and they are strictly regulated.

If wood rot in your eaves was not reported by the pest-inspection company during your escrow, you should contact them immediately and ask them to take a look at the problem. Reputable companies will stand behind their work. Those who do not should be reported to the appropriate regulatory agencies.

Building Codes Vary on Safety Requirements

Q: Inconsistencies in building safety requirements have always puzzled me. For example, gas water heaters in garages need to be on a raised stand for fire safety. But gas clothes dryers are not subject to the same requirement. Why is this?

A: Disparities are not uncommon within the building code, and the matter of gas dryers in garages is a case in point. Water heaters in garages must be elevated so that fumes from spilled gasoline will not be exposed to a source of ignition. The same safety considerations should logically apply to a clothes dryer because the gas burner in a dryer is located at the base of the appliance. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, this has never been addressed in the code.

Other safety-related anomalies in the building code can also be cited. For example, GFI (Ground Fault Interrupter) outlets, designed to eliminate electric shock hazards, are not required on decks that are 6 feet above ground. But consider the logic of this: Suppose someone were to plug an extension cord into a high deck outlet to use a power tool on a wet lawn. For the sake of an illogical exception in the code, that person would be denied the protection of a basic and inexpensive safety device.

Another shortcoming in the code involves propane gas safety in attics. Propane is heavier than air. Therefore, special precautions are required when propane fixtures are installed below a building. But when the same fixtures are installed in an attic, no such precautions are employed.

The bottom line is that the building code, as defined in Chapter 1 of the code, is a minimum standard. It should be regarded as a starting point, not as an end.

Unpredictable Smoke Alarms

Q: We live in a 3-year-old home, with smoke alarms that go off about twice a year for no apparent reason and at unpredictable times of day or night. These alarms are hard-wired, with battery backup, and I change the batteries regularly.

I've complained to the builder, but he says that fumes or dust particles must be causing the problem. It is extremely annoying to be wakened by these alarms. Do you have any advice?

A: Some smoke detectors emit false alarms from time to time, simply because they are more sensitive than others. As with all man-made devices, there are those that fail to function in accordance with their design.

On the other hand, there are indeed instances where dust particles in the air, or even steam from a nearby shower, will activate a smoke detector. But with most smoke alarms, this does not occur.

To determine whether your problem is oversensitive alarms or particles in the air, replacement of the existing alarms is recommended.

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If you have questions or comments, contact Barry Stone through his Web site at http://www.housedetective.com.

Distributed by Access Media Group.

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