Home Maintenance Tips HVAC Portland Home Inspection

HVAC Tune-Ups for Comfort and Savings

HVAC Tune-ups for Comfort and Savings

Routine Maintenance

Just like routine car maintenance, routine HVAC system maintenance is a great investment in your personal comfort, peace of mind, and household budget. A clean and smoothly running HVAC system works better and lasts longer. It keeps you more comfortable and saves you money—both in the short term and the long term. It also means fewer inconvenient breakdowns.

How Often

You should change your filters as often as necessary—which means you need to check them multiple times throughout the year. Professional servicing can be done less frequently.

The average life expectancy of an HVAC system is 20-25 years. Just as with cars, each manufacturer recommends a maintenance schedule. In general, a newer system can probably be serviced every other year. Again, just as with cars, the older your system gets, the more it can benefit from routine maintenance.

Change Filters Often

The simplest job you can do yourself to make your HVAC system last longer is to change the filter. Think of it as changing car engine oil. It goes without saying that changing your filter frequently keeps your indoor air cleaner, but there are mechanical reasons as well. When the filter is dirty, the blower works much harder to keep air flowing through it. This puts a strain on the blower and can cause it to wear out more quickly. Also, the particles a dirty filter doesn’t collect can be deposited in ducts, heating elements, and coils, reducing their efficiency. Your system will try to compensate for the efficiency loss by working harder.

Clean Inside and Out

This brings up another important part of HVAC service. The HVAC professional does a lot of routine of system components both inside and outside the house, such as the ones mentioned above, if they have accumulated dust or debris. They will also clean the coils in a heat pump or air conditioning unit outside if there is one. Again, this helps your system run more efficiently, break down less often, and last longer overall.

Prevent Moisture Damage

The condensate line is another important item on the checklist. In the same way that a cold drink “sweats,” i.e. collects condensation, so do the heat exchanger coils on heat pumps and air conditioners. This condensate collects in a pan and drains through a small tube to be deposited in an appropriate location. If this line becomes blocked, the condensate liquid can build up and damage equipment or cause moisture damage to the house itself.

Comfort and Quiet

Finally, maintaining a well-tuned HVAC system keeps you more comfortable. You will breathe cleaner air and not have to listen to your system cycle on and off as frequently.

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HVAC Tune-ups for Comfort and Savings

Check It Out Home Inspection Offers One-Stop Shopping

At Check It Out Home Inspection Services, we offer all the home inspection services you would expect. Electrical, plumbing, roof, structure, interior, exterior, HVAC, garage, and grounds. As a one-stop shop, we also offer sewer scoping, radon testing, and oil tank searches. Click to see our full list of home inspection services.

Check It Out Home Inspection provides service to the Greater Portland and Vancouver areas. You can schedule ALL services, 24/7, with a single click or call.


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Home Maintenance Tips Portland Home Inspection

Get Your Mind Into The Gutter!

That’s a Lot of Water

Portland gets an average rainfall of 36 inches per year. An inch of rain falling on a 1000 square foot roof amounts to over 600 gallons. If that house has two downspouts, then picture 6 full bathtubs emptying on each splash block just 2 feet from your foundation. That’s a lot of water! And it has to go somewhere.

Water undermines foundations

You also need to keep the footprint of your house as dry and stable as possible. We all know that moisture in a crawlspace or basement can lead to mold and rot. But mismanaging rainwater can lead to structural problems as well. Excessively wet soil allows the foundation to sink, causing cracks in interior walls, cracks in foundation walls, sloping floors, and other problems.

While homeowners will usually notice water in the basement, hardly anyone knows what is going on in a crawl space until I go in for an inspection. I always encourage homeowners to monitor their crawl spaces for excessive water or other problems.

Rainwater is the Culprit

If you have water coming into your basement or crawl space, the first thing to check is your rainwater management: gutters, downspouts, and drainage. In heavy rain, clogged gutters and downspouts will overflow. I have noticed that even when homes have clean gutters and are set up to manage water coming through the downspouts, the standard 5-inch gutters may not be able to handle all the water from a heavy downpour.

Consider larger gutters

If you are replacing your gutters, I recommend going with 6-inch gutters and 3’’ x 4” downspouts. Larger gutters can handle more water and also take longer to fill with debris. I also always recommend professionally installed seamless gutters. The DYI gutters I see often leak at the joints (every 10’ or less).

So keep your feet dry AND your house’s feet dry.

See you in the field!


P.S. Don’t forget that you can schedule ALL services, 24/7, with a single call or click.


Home Maintenance Tips Portland Home Inspection

The Green Solution to Mossy Roofs

Not only do I call it out during home inspections, I see everywhere while walking or driving around town–the slow, silent, and steady expansion of moss patches on roofs.

The problem

Moss build up damages asphalt shingles and shortens the life of your roof.

Zinc Strips and Moss Killers

One popular way to prevent moss is to use zinc or copper strips. As the metal slowly leeches from the strips, it forms compounds toxic to the moss. However, as with most compounds that are toxic to one living organism, these compounds also negatively impact other organisms as they make their way through soil and water systems. For example, zinc compounds are known to harm aquatic wildlife. The same goes even more so for commercial compounds such as the ones listed here.

Pressure Washing

Just don’t do it. The granules on the shingles protect the asphalt part of the shingle from UV damage. Pressure washing removes the granules. This can damage your roof, possibly more than the moss!

The Green Solution

You can help prevent moss growth by trimming trees to give your roof as much sun as possible. Take a look some roofs while you drive around town. The effect of shade on moss growth is dramatic. North-facing sections are especially prone to moss. If you can reduce shade, you can expect significantly less moss growth and longer roof life.

The green solution to killing moss and preventing it is common, super inexpensive, and already in your pantry… baking soda! Moss requires a slightly acidic habitat. Baking soda is alkaline, so it kills the moss but is gentle on the environment. You can even apply it as a preventative.

To maximize the effect, apply baking soda in warmer weather with less rainfall. It can take a few weeks for the moss to die completely and turn brown. If the wind and rain do not entirely remove the dead moss, gently help the process along with a very soft broom or brush. Then clean your gutters! Apply more baking soda as a preventative measure.

The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides has loads of great information about alternatives, including moss control:

This flowchart can also help guide you:

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Peace of Mind Inspection

Some people call these maintenance inspections. I like to think of them as peace of mind for my clients. A peace-of-mind home inspection will ease your worries about ongoing or impending house issues that could lead to costly repairs down the road if not handled soon. Or, they can just help you plan ahead by knowing how much useful life your roof, HVAC, or other systems have left. We can’t guarantee when these may or may not fail, but we can let you know what to reasonably expect.

Home Inspection Report Home Inspection Services Portland Home Inspection

Warranty Inspections

Get it Fixed Before Time Runs Out!

Warranty inspections, also known as “11-month inspections,” are a great way for owners of new homes to make sure their house gets the repairs it needs before the 12-month builder’s warranty expires. Having a third party verify defects can help the client feel more assured that the builder will do the repairs.

If you had your new home inspection with Check It Out Home Inspection, your 11-month inspection will be half the cost of your original inspection. I will assess and document any other defects that the owner would like the builder to fix. I will also inspect the attic, the crawlspace, and anything else not accessible to the homeowner.

If this is the first time I am inspecting the home, I will need to do  a complete, full-price, home inspection that meets Oregon State or Washington State Standards of Practice.

Home Inspection Checklist Home Inspection Report Home Inspection Terms Peace of Mind Home Inspection Portland Home Inspection What is Home Inspection

Sample Inspection Report


Home Inspection Terms HVAC Portland Home Inspection

Is it an A/C Unit or a Heat pump?

As a realtor you usually need to say on the MLS if a home has an A/C unit or a heat pump. The following is some information I hope you find useful to correctly identify the unit.

A heat pump is a single unit that works as an air conditioner in the summer and a heater in winter. In hot weather, a heat pump extracts heat energy out of the cold air inside the home and pumps it outside. In cold weather, it acts as an A/C in reverse — it extracts heat energy from the cold air outside and pumps it inside. When it is very cold outside, a heat pump needs help from a backup furnace. Nevertheless, homes with heat pumps generally have lower power bills.

The main part of a heat pump, the compressor, sits outside the house, and looks very similar to a typical A/C unit. Here are some ways to tell them apart. None of them are foolproof, so you may want to use more than one.

  1. Set the thermostat for just a few degrees above the current temperature (in heating mode) and go outside to see if the compressor is running. If you go too many degrees up, the backup furnace will come on, so make just a small adjustment in temperature. The only time this would not work is if it was very cold outside and the heat pump is in a defrost cycle.
  2. Look at the manufacturer plates on the outside compressor unit, or the air handler/furnace unit inside. It may say if it is a heat pump. It’s also a good idea to Google the serial number because sometimes the manufacturer plate says it is an air conditioning unit, but it can still be a heat pump.
  3. On a thermostat for a heat pump you should see a setting called “emergency heat”. This is not foolproof because I have found A/C thermostats used for heat pumps. The emergency, or auxiliary, heat turns on when the heat pump alone cannot warm the house to the desired temperature and a backup furnace will come on to boost the temperature.
  4. Heat pumps will be up on 4 inch plastic legs that allow for water to drain when it is in defrost cycle. A/C units will usually sit directly on a cement or brick pad.

Further reading:

What’s the Difference Between a Heat Pump and an Air Conditioner?

Home Inspection Checklist Portland Home Inspection

Six Guns and a Cat

A story and a list for your clients

The other day, I was doing a home inspection and found five rifles and a pistol in a closet which were blocking access to the crawlspace hatch. Home inspectors are not obligated to move personal property, according to the Standards of Practice, 308-408C-030,16. I especially do not want to have to move firearms–no judgment, guns just are not my thing. Fortunately, the real estate agent was willing to move them out of the closet. And the client, who had seen how the guns were originally in the closet, offered to put them back. I was grateful. I always try to leave no trace.

Then there was the cat. The cat was allowed in and out, so no problem, right? As it turns out, this was a very friendly and social cat, which followed me around during the inspection. This meant he was under my feet as I was working, creating a trip hazard. It also meant that I had to take extra steps to keep him out of the crawlspace while I was in there, so he wouldn’t get trapped. I was also very surprised when the cat climbed up my ladder, and joined the client and me in the attic! Okay, so now it was my responsibility to get the cat out of the attic, so he did not get trapped up there. The cat ended up scratching the client as I handed him down through the attic hatch. My client was a good sport about it, but really? These two events inspired me to make up a checklist you can give to your clients when their home is going to be inspected. You can download a PDF version of the list to give to the homeowner.

Tell the homeowner that on the day of the inspection they should please:

  • Expect to be gone up to 4 hours.
  • Have all animals out of house and yard or contained.
  • Provide clear access to furnace, electrical panel, all doors and windows, and as many outlets as possible—especially GFCI outlets.
  • Remove personal belongings that block clear access to the crawlspace hatch and attic hatch—especially if they are in a closet.
  • Have all sinks clear of personal property so faucets and drains can be tested.
  • Have all firearms and other weapons secured in a location where the home inspector will not be in danger, or be responsible for moving them.
  • Leave all gates unlocked.
  • Make sure all utilities are on and pilot lights are lit.
  • Have all window coverings open so windows are accessible.
  • Know that you may need to reset some clocks, because testing GFCI and AFCI circuits interrupts power.

I want to inspect as much of the house as possible for my client. So I do end up moving personal possessions and doing my best to return them the way that I found them. But it is best for everyone if I do not need to.

In regards to pets, an inspector I know in Olympia has been bitten twice by dogs that the owners said have never bitten before. A home inspector is a stranger in the house, and dogs may already sense big changes happening and be extra nervous. Dogs and cats should be removed or kenneled during a home inspection.

Electrical Systems Portland Home Inspection

DANGER! Zinsco and Federal Stab-Lok Panels

Folks in the real estate business often ask why home inspectors will recommend replacing Zinsco and Federal Stab-Lok brand electrical panels. These panels, manufactured in the 1950s through the 1980s, create a potential safety hazard. Both panels have a history of circuit breakers failing to operate properly. Zinsco panels have other problems as well. Both types of the panel can appear to be working fine for years but can either fail under new household conditions, or have damage that poses a danger, but it is not apparent without taking the panel apart and individually testing each breaker. Neither would receive a UL listing today. I recommend they be replaced.

The longer a panel is in service, the more variable conditions and electrical loads it will experience. For instance, during a cold winter, someone may plug in a space heater that has never been run in that house before. It could directly start a fire at the panel from an overheated breaker. Or it could lead to a damaged breaker that does not trip when a later short circuit happens, such as a frayed lamp cord.

Circuit breakers are a part of the electrical system that home inspectors report on. Breakers prevent fires by shutting off power when too much electricity is going through the wires. When too much electricity goes through a wire, the wire heats up and a fire can result. Breaker problems pose a “latent fire hazard,” meaning that even if the panel does not go up in flames, a fire can result elsewhere in the house wiring. Zinsco breakers have been known to trip, i.e. shut off, but not stop conducting electricity. The Federal Pacific Stab-Lok panels also use breakers that are known to be defective and fail. “There is no inconsistency and no dispute in the fact that they are defective,” says Jesse Aronstein, an engineer, who has spent more than 20 years researching FPE Circuit Breakers. The Security and Exchange Commission found that Federal Pacific used deception to obtain their UL listings on circuit breakers.

The Zinsco panels also have a history of problems with the breaker to bus bar connections, and corrosion at the busbar because certain components of the panel contain aluminum. These defects are often impossible to see until the breakers are removed — something a licensed electrician, and not a home inspector, should do. If a breaker has ever overheated in the past, it can melt to the bus bar. You don’t see the damage, but it can lead to overheating at the busbar, which can cause a fire to start at the panel.

Unfortunately, there are no programs to help homeowners with the expense of replacing these panels.

Minneapolis-St. Paul area home inspector and blogger for the Star Tribune, Reuben Salzman, makes a case for replacement rather than inspection.

Other information:

Home Inspection Process for Checking Electric Systems 

Federal Pacific Circuit Breakers: Investigation Finds Decades of Danger

Electrical Panel Problems

Federal Pacific Electrical Panel Fire Hazards