How To Choose And Install A Smoke Alarm

How To Choose And Install A Smoke Alarm

How to choose and install a smoke alarm.

( A smoke alarm and maybe save your life,   Whether you own an older home or a new home I am positive you will enjoy our plain language explanations of many common problems found in the home.  Please feel free to comment on this post and offer suggestions for future posts.

A Smoke alarm could save 3000 lives a year

We all know a smoke detector saves lives. But did you know every year there are approximately 300,000 residential fires in the United States? Roughly 3000 people will die in these residential fires and most deaths will occur while the occupants are sleeping.

The vast majority of these deaths are from smoke inhalation and not the actual heat of the fire. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, “the risk of dying in a home fire can be cut in half in homes with a working  smoke alarm”

Smoke detectors come in three styles. Battery-powered for older homes, wired directly into the house wiring (hard wired) and wireless. Hard wired alarms come with a battery backup and have been required in new homes by most building codes since 1988.

Interconnected detectors have the advantage of sounding all alarms in the home at the same time.  This warns someone sleeping in an upstairs bedroom that an alarm is energized in the basement. Both styles are available as an ionization smoke alarm,  a photoelectric smoke alarm, and a combination of both.

Choose from two types of smoke detectors

Just as there are two types of smoke detectors,  there are two types of fires. The first fire is usually defined as fast-burning with visible flames and a limited amount of smoke but large amounts of particulates.

The second fire is a slow-burning smoldering type that produces lots of smoke but not much fire. Smoldering fires are usually found in mattresses or furniture but may be found anywhere.

Ionization smoke alarm

Ionization smoke detectors will respond faster to the open burning faster-moving fire. Giving more time to escape fast-moving flames. The photoelectric smoke alarm responds faster to the smoldering fire.

Smoldering fires produce lots of smoke and not much flame or heat. The ideal situation then would be to have a combination type detector.

Combination alarm

Combination detectors combine the ionization and photoelectric sensors in one detector. The downside to this is these systems are more expensive than either single sensor smoke alarm. Battery-powered Ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms start around $5.00. Combination units start around $15.00, hard-wired units usually cost a little more.

Hard wired detectors can be identified by the three wires coming out the back of the detector. The advantage of interconnection is now available for older homes. Wireless interconnected detectors are available starting at $25.

For those of us who cannot seem to remember to change our smoke alarm batteries when we change from daylight savings time to standard time there is a solution. Some detectors now come with a 10-year battery. In any case, detectors should be replaced after 10 years of service even if they are still working.

How to decide where to place a smoke alarm

So now you know what kind of smoke alarm you want how many do you need?  Every home is different but there are common rules for all.  A smoke alarm should be placed;

• In each sleeping room
• Outside of and within 15 feet of all sleeping rooms
• On each level of the home

Follow the manufactures instructions for proper location and installation and check your smoke alarm monthly.

Just because you have a smoke alarm, do not be lulled into a false sense of security. Smoke detectors only function when common sense and good maintenance fail. Check your home for fire hazards and have a fire escape plan for your family.

Follow the manufactures instructions for proper location and installation and check your detector monthly.

• Check your home for fire hazards
• Have a fire escape plan for your family.
• Make sure all sleeping rooms have two avenues of escape (current codes require this)

Ninety-three percent of American homes have at least one smoke alarm. Unfortunately, it is estimated that thirty percent of these homes have their detector disabled because of old age, dead batteries or batteries that were removed by the occupants.

Do not be part of the thirty percent.  Get up and check those detectors right now, don’t wait another minute.

Some information in this post came from the following sources.

Smoke alarms – NFPA – National Fire Protection Association
Smoke alarm outreach materials – US Fire Administration
Smoke Alarms – Consumer Product Safety Commission
Smoke detector – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


S-Traps vs P-Traps

S-Traps vs P-Traps

S-traps-vs-P-traps, S-traps are no longer allowed in new construction


S-traps vs p-traps were common Years ago however most plumbing codes have banned S-trap configurations in favor of P-trap style fixtures. S-traps are no longer used in modern plumbing because on rare occasions with just the right conditions the water can be sucked out of the trap allowing sewer gas to enter your home.

The risk from sewer gas can be much worse than just that terrible smell. Sewer gases can be poisonous or even explosive and are not to be treated lightly.

S-trap failure

S-traps vs p-traps are obsolete and may need to be replaced

requires a large amount of water to flow quickly past the trap. This is usually caused by allowing a sink full of water to drain rapidly. The easy fix is to always refill the trap with water after using the sink.

Plumbing codes, however do not allow for common sense fixes, they are designed to makes things work as predictably as possible. Years ago most plumbing codes banned S-trap configurations in favor of P-trap style fixtures. S-trap fixtures are most often found in older homes and homes  remodeled by do-it-yourselfers .

On the other hand if your house does have S-traps it is not a major concern, most people will never experience a sewer gas smell. The perfect solution would be to tear out the wall and install a vent stack that would go through the roof.

Luckily there are three other things you can do:
• It is probably OK to do nothing as long as you do not have a problem
• You can install an Auto Air Vent (AAV)
• You can modify an S-trap to work similar to a P-trap

Here are two possible solutions for s-traps

The AAV is usually frowned on by most plumbing codes but may be the only answer short of tearing out the walls and ceilings to run a vent through the roof.

Many different styles of AAV are available starting at $10 and S-trap to P-trap conversion kits are available from hardware and home improvement stores for $30 TO $40. Please note, proper stack venting is always preferred to alternate methods when possible.

Another solution is to change the s-trap

to a modified p-trap by extending the trap arm to a maximum of 2 1/2 time the diameter of the drain line (3 1/4″  for 1 1/4 and 3 3/4″ for 1 1/2 drain lines).  Neither fix is allowed by most plumbing codes for new construction.  The alternative however is much more palatable than tearing out the wall and busting a hole in the roof for a proper vent.

a modified P-trap is a better solution

Properly maintained s-traps do not necessarily need to be replaced, however there are acceptable solutions should you experience sewer gas odors.

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Plumbing problems found at inspections

Plumbing problems found at inspections

Plumbing  Problems are Often Easy to Repair

( Plumbing repairs called out in a home inspection are usually minor.  However occasionally we find problems that must be repaired.  These are usually do-it-yourself projects gone terribly wrong.

Many plumbing repair problems can easily be addressed by a handy man or a proficient do-it-your-selfer.  Other problems such as a replacing a sewer main should only be addressed by a licensed plumber.

Some of the more common plumbing problems we find are;

  • leaking faucets
  • garbage disposals that leak
  • garbage disposals that are not working
  • leaks in pipes under the sink or vanity
  • low water pressure
  • slow flowing drains
  • outside faucets that leak under pressure
  • clogged drains and traps
  • hot and cold water lines installed backwards
  • tub/shower controls installed backwards

As we move through the inspection process we will note;

  • any improper repairs to water pipes or drain pipes
  • inoperative sump pumps
  • missing or improper extensions of the pressure relief valve on the hot water heater
  • missing expansion tanks on the hot water heater (not enforced in all areas)
  • check for leaks in the water or drain lines
  • slow moving drains
  • any other normal and customary deficiencies

Here are a few of the most common plumbing problems we find:

Duct tape was a wonderful invention but really does not belong in a plumber’s tool box very often.

This is neither proper use of duct tape or proper plumbing practice.

A close second to duct tape abuse is the use of black vinyl electrical tape to “cure” leaking drain pipes.

The proper fix is usually not much harder than the imaginary fix often used by do-it-yourself plumbers.  Some leaks require no more than tightening a loose fixture nut or other simple no tool fixes.

Occasionally we find an outside faucet that has frozen and burst.

Remember if you leave your garden hose connected the water may not drain properly. A good cold snap can spell disaster when you turn your faucet on in the spring.  Even a “freeze proof” hose bib will freeze if a hose is left connected and the water can not drain properly.

Properly installed plumbing is no match for the well intended Saturday afternoon plumber.  Plumbers in our area have to be licensed and complete a four year apprenticeship.   Some projects are best left to the experts with the proper training and tools.

Seemingly harmless openings in the sewer drain may allow harmful sewer gases to enter the home.  All vent and drains should be properly sealed.

Many times we will find plumbing vents that are blocked or do not exit the home.  Occasionally we will find one or more vents that terminate in the attic,  All vents should vent to the outside and clear the roof by a minimum of twelve inches.  Short vents can be added to in order to meet the minimum height.  Although proper this is not considered to be a major deficiency.


Common Electrical Problems found during an inspection

Common Electrical Problems found during an inspection

Electrical problems are always serious

( problems called out in an inspection report should always be repaired.  However, not all electrical items called out in an inspection require a qualified electrician.

Many Electrical problems can easily be addressed by a handyman or a proficient do-it-yourselfer.  Other problems such as a double-tapped main should only be addressed by a well-qualified electrician.

We find most of our infractions in older homes or homes that have had DIY projects completed without a code inspection.  The National Electrical Code (NEC) is updated every three years.  However many municipalities do not implement the new changes for as many as 10 years.   We use nationally accepted standards for our inspections because local enforcement varies so widely.

Some of the more common electrical problems we find are;

  • missing cover plates: exposes you to the risk of contact with energized wires
  • reverse polarity (hot and neutral wires installed backward): actually turns the power off after the appliance  instead of before it
  • open grounds (usually 3 prong receptacles on two-wire circuits): this gives a false sense of security believing the receptacle is grounded when it is not. for more information
  • false grounds or bootleg grounds: are even worse than an open ground because someone has placed a jumper from the ground screw to the neutral screw on the receptacle making it appear the receptacle is grounded but it isn’t, for more information
  • missing or inoperable GFCI receptacles: Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters are there to prevent electrical shock and should always be operational.  for more information
  • electrical splices make outside of junctions boxes: exposes wires and connections to possible damage by unintentional contact
  • openings in breaker boxes: may allow rodents and insects to enter the panel and build nests. In addition, panels are designed to contain electrical sparks or fires, open slots and knockouts defeat this built-in safety
  • double lugged breakers and neutrals (more than one wire): each current-carrying wire should be under its own lug to ensure proper connections. for more information

More serious conditions that may require the use of a licensed electrician include;

 As we move through the inspection process we will note;

  • any of the items listed above
  • lights and receptacles that are not operating properly
  • noisy vent fans and ceiling fans
  • any three-prong receptacles with open grounds or false grounds
  • suggest areas where GFCI receptacles should be installed
  • any other normal and customary deficiencies

Electrical codes are constantly changing as new problems and solutions are identified.  Generally speaking, most changes are not required unless changes are made to the electrical system.   One exception to this general rule is GFCI protection.  GFCI protection is relatively easy and inexpensive to implement.  Therefore most municipalities are requiring this upgrade when properties change hands.

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the Better Business Bureau

The State of Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations


Chinese Drywall how to identify

Chinese Drywall how to identify

Drywall Surprises

( Life is full of surprises some are obvious others are hidden from view. These only show up when it is too late to do anything to prevent the impending danger. Chinese drywall is one of these problems lurking in homes across the Deep South. There have been numerous law suits, congressional investigations and misunderstandings concerning Chinese drywall.

Here is a short history of the product and the problem. Chinese drywall was imported from 2001 to 2009 and is believed to have been distributed in all 50 states. The areas affected most are in the Deep South; specifically the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, southern Texas and Virginia.

The building boom of 2000 to 2006 combined with 9 hurricanes that hit Florida in 2004 and 2005 and Hurricane Katrina that hit the gulf coast in 2005 caused a shortage of domestic drywall. The shortage lasted until 2009 when domestic supplies caught up with demand and problems surfaced with the imported product.

How do I know if I have Chinese drywall?

Unfortunately there is no reliable method for home owners to determine if they have affected drywall in their home. Even if the dry wall is stamped made in China or has Chinese markings it may not be bad. Even worse some homes may contain a mixture of domestic and imported drywall.

Although high humidity and high temperatures are the common link to the drywall failures. Home owners in northern states are not immune from this problem.  All home owners should follow the following suggestions from the Consumer Product Safety Commission to determine if they might have a problem;

Step One: A visual inspection must show:
a. Blackening of copper electrical wiring and/or air conditioning evaporator coils and
b. Drywall installed between 2001 and 2009
If both of these are present, look for corroborating evidence.

Step Two: Corroborating Evidence: (if drywall was installed between 2005 and 2009, must have at least two of the below. For installations between 2001 and 2004, at least four of the following conditions must be met:)
a. Elemental sulfur in the drywall core (requires outside lab testing)
b. Copper sulfide on coupons, grounding wires, and/or air conditioning coils (requires outside lab testing)
c. Chinese markings on drywall (This does not imply that all Chinese drywall or that only Chinese drywall is associated with these problems.  But that among homes with the characteristic corrosion, Chinese drywall is a corroborating marker for the characteristic problems.) Such markings may not be present or easily discerned in all problem drywall homes.
d. Elevated sulfide gas emissions from drywall (requires outside lab testing)
e. Corrosion induced by drywall in test chambers (requires outside lab testing)

Additional indicators would be a black ash type corrosion on copper air conditioner “A” coils and electrical wiring.   Normal copper corrosion will be reddish or greenish in color. If you suspect you may have Chinese drywall you can contact the Consumer Product Safety commission or the Chinese Drywall Complaint Center for more information.

Some of the information for this article came from the following sources;


GFCI – GFI ground fault circuit breakers

GFCI - GFI ground fault circuit breakers

 A $20 Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI – GFI)  could save your life,   Don’t put it off any longer.

( One of the most often listed defects found by home inspectors, building code officers and city occupancy officials is lack of ground fault circuit interrupters or GFCI – GFI outlets and breakers.

Where should you install GFI outlets?  GFCIs are required by the National Electrical Code (NEC) in kitchens, bathrooms. crawl spaces, unfinished basements, garages, hot tubs, swimming pools  out buildings, sump pumps dish washers, within 6 feet of sinks  and outdoor receptacles. These are just a few of the areas requiring GFCI – GFI protection.

Owners of older houses can retrofit $20 GFCI – GFI outlets at those locations or have GFCI – GFI breakers (about $50) mounted in the main breaker panel.  Portable GFI adapters, which plug into regular wall receptacles, are available for $20 to $40.

Installing a GFCI could save your life

GFCI protection could prevent as many as two hundred deaths by electrocution every year as well as countless unnecessary burns and fires.  The GFCI circuit was first invented in 1961 and has been slowly incorporated into the NEC.    GFCI protection for receptacles has been required by the NEC since:

  • 1971 Swimming Pools & Exterior Receptacles
  • 1975 Bathrooms
  • 1978 Garages
  • 1981 Spas & Hot Tubs
  • 1987 Kitchens, Hydro Tubs, Unfinished Basements and Boat Houses
  • 1990 Crawl spaces * (it is advisable to install the GFCI receptacle for crawl spaces at the crawl space entry point when possible)
  • 1993 All Sinks, Tubs and Showers (with-in 6′)
  • 2005 Laundry and utility sinks (with-in 6′)
  • 2014 GFCI & AFCI required in kitchen and laundry areas
  • 2014 Dishwashers *
  • 2017 Garage Door Operators *
  • 2017 Decks, Balconies and Porches

*GFCI must be readily accessible: if you have to move objects or use a ladder to reach the GFCI it not considered readily accessible.)

GFCI – GFI are Required for Wet surfaces

We recommend GFCI – GFI protection in any area that is within six feet of a water source or over wet surfaces.  Metal sinks should be included in this measurement.  Wet surfaces include surfaces that may become wet and provide and open source to ground such as wet garage or basement floors.

Finished basements with carpet are usually exempted.  GFCI- GFI protection for outdoor receptacles is required regardless of the floor type.

Please do not confuse fuses and standard circuit breakers with GFCIs.  Fuses and standard circuit breakers work on the principle of failing when more current flows through a circuit than it was designed to carry.

A typical house circuit is a number 12 wire protected by a 20 amp fuse or breaker. Which will melt (trip for breakers) before the wire overheats and causes a fire hazard.

Unfortunately  a very small amount of current can kill a person who is in contact with a source of grounding.   Such as the kitchen faucet or wet concrete without tripping a breaker or blowing a fuse.

GFCIs trip at a 5 milliamp current leak

A GFCI receptacle or GFCI circuit breaker monitors the flow of electricity between the hot and neutral wires 30 to 40 times per second and will trip  (disconnect) the circuit when a difference of as little as .05 amps is detected.   (that’s not enough to power a flashlight).

Some GFCIs will continue to operate even after the electronic switch that shuts them off has failed.  Therefore GFCI receptacles and breakers should be tested monthly and replaced if defective.

The third wire (ground wire) found on many tools and appliances is only effective for larger current leaks and is not sufficient protection for use in wet areas. Many hand held appliances such as hair dryers and curling irons that are typically used around water sources have GFCI protection built into the power cord.

The third wire on your small appliance or power tool is the ground wire.The ground wire is  there to provide a low impedance path to ground, preventing the equipment user from becoming the ground path.

Thus providing protection to the user from electrical shock. The ground wire is typically connected to the outer case of your tool or appliance so if a current leak occurs it will trip the GFCI.

Older homes should be updated

Circuits installed before the late 60’s probably do not have the protection of a grounding circuit. The NEC allows GFCIs to be used to upgrade older two-prong (non-grounded) outlets to three-prong (grounded) outlets without installing any new wire.

The use of two prong to three prong adapters and replacing two prong with three prong non grounded receptacles is not encouraged without GFCI protection.

When the GFCI is installed in a two wire circuit it must have a label that says “No Equipment Ground” on the GFCI outlet and all downstream outlets. Please note most GFCI testers will not trip the GFCI if a ground wire is not present

You may want to install a grounded circuit for your sensitive electronic products.  Many electronic products such as computers and TVs use the ground wire as a means of dissipating static electricity.

for more information on common home inspection questions please visit our website

Parts of this article came from the following sources;

check us out at:

The State of Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations