You can almost hear the hum of furnaces in homes throughout North America cranking up for the colder months ahead. It is especially important to have furnaces inspected and properly maintained to ensure that they run efficiently and safely. Here are some pointers to get the most out of a furnace:
SIMPLE WAYS TO IMPROVE EFFICIENCY
Home heating, especially with a gas furnace and your location, can represent half or more of a typical home’s winter utility bill. Efficient operation can mean lower energy bills and a more comfortable home. Programmable thermostats can be used to automatically turn heat up or down at specified times, so that the temperature is lowered overnight or while no one is at home. The newest types of thermostats can be operated via smartphone or tablet and can even “learn” the preferred temperature for different times of day. Now that’s a “Hot Trend”.
Thermostats should be calibrated occasionally to avoid “off-cycle” heat loss. A properly calibrated thermostat will result in more even heating between the on/off cycles, which is more efficient and more comfortable.
SAFETY AND MAINTENANCE
Safety is also an important factor in furnace operation. Gas furnaces can be a source of dangerous carbon monoxide if there are leaks or cracks that go unnoticed or unrepaired. The furnace flame should be steady and burn blue; if not, this should be addressed immediately. A qualified contractor or inspector can detect these types of problems and recommend needed action.
Simple furnace maintenance includes checking and replacing disposable air filters and cleaning permanent-type filters, as well as keeping dust, hair, and lint away from the burner compartment and air intake. No matter what type it is, a well-maintained furnace will not only last longer, but can save energy, money, and help a home’s overall air quality and comfort.
CONSIDERING A NEW FURNACE?
If a new furnace is necessary, it’s worth it to evaluate the various types of furnaces available and how well they might meet a home’s specific situation. Furnaces are defined as conventional efficiency, mid efficiency, and high efficiency. There are advantages and drawbacks to each type, and some are better suited to older homes, for example. Cost may be a factor in considering various types of systems. However, the ability of most new furnaces to reduce off-cycle heat loss, eliminate the need for an always-on pilot light, etc., make replacing a furnace worth considering if the current system is in bad repair or functioning poorly.
September is Realtor Safety Month. The safety of Realtors is paramount to all of us at Pillar To Post Home Inspectors, so this special issue of PostNotes is dedicated to actions and strategies brokers, agents and their teams can use to stay safe in their day-to-day business activities.
Please visit these websites for additional safety information, tools and resources:
Safety during open houses is a concern for all real estate agents and their teams. Use these tips to stay safe:
Always try to have at least one other person working with you at the open house.
Check your cell phone’s signal strength on the premises before the open house. Program emergency numbers on speed dial.
Upon entering a house for the first time, check all rooms and determine several “escape” routes. Make sure all deadbolt locks are unlocked to facilitate a faster escape.
Make sure that if you were to escape by the back door, you could escape from the backyard. Yards with swimming pools or hot tubs often have high fences.
Have all open house visitors sign in with their full name, address, phone number and e-mail.
When showing the house, always walk behind the prospect. Direct them; don’t lead them. Say, for example, “The kitchen is on your left,” and gesture for them to go ahead of you.
Avoid attics, basements, and getting trapped in small rooms.
Notify someone in your office, a friend or a relative that you will be calling in every hour on the hour. And if you don’t call, they are to call you.
Inform a neighbor that you will be showing the house and ask if he or she would keep an eye and ear open for anything out of the ordinary.
Don’t assume that everyone has left at the end of an open house. Check all rooms and the backyard before locking the doors. Be prepared to defend yourself, if necessary.
Sources: Washington Real Estate Safety Council; City of Mesa, Arizona; Nevada County Board of REALTORS®; Georgia Real Estate Commission
Office Safety Action Plan
Personal safety in the office is important to everyone. Here are some elements to include in your office safety action plan.
Initial meeting with clients
Hold the first in-person client meeting in the office rather than at properties, out of doors, or at home. It’s also a good idea to introduce them to a colleague on-site.
All first-time clients must provide a driver’s license, state ID or other official photo ID. The office will retain a copy of the ID for security purposes. You can download a Client Profile Form at www.beverlycarterfoundation.org.
Implement a verbal distress code—a secret word or phrase that can be casually worked into conversation if you feel threatened and the person you are with can overhear your conversation.
If you’re uncomfortable meeting with clients alone or hosting open houses alone request another agent or employee to accompany you.
Keep personal information private. Don’t discuss where you live, after-work or vacation plans in front of prospective clients, new colleagues or anyone with whom you’re not comfortable.
Make sure all doors other than the main entrance are secured, and have a clear exit route from the front desk to the door.
If you encounter a stranger while working late or alone, say something like “My supervisor will be right with you.” to give the impression you’re not there alone.
Be aware of surroundings
Get to recognize the staff of other nearby businesses and be aware of their schedules. This will benefit everyone.
Sources: NAR; Beverly Carter Foundation
Showing Empty Properties
When you are showing an empty property, take these simple steps to protect and empower yourself against attack or theft.
Be sure to use the lockbox property-key procedure that has been established to improve real estate agent safety so that keys don’t fall into the wrong hands.
Show properties before dark. If you must show a property after dark, alert an associate, turn on all lights as you go through, and don’t lower any shades or draw curtains or blinds.
Try and call the office once an hour to let people know where you are.
If you think it may be some time before a property sells (and you may, therefore, be showing it often), get acquainted with a few of the immediate neighbors. You will feel better knowing they know your vehicle, and they will feel better about the stranger (you) who frequently visits their neighborhood.
Prepare a scenario so that you can leave or encourage someone who makes you uncomfortable to leave. Examples: Your cell phone went off and you have to call your office; you left some important information in your car; another agent with buyers is on his way.
When showing a property, always leave the front door unlocked for a quick exit while you and the client are inside. As you enter each room, stand near the door.
Lock your purse in the car trunk before you arrive. Carry only non-valuable business items (except for your cell phone), and do not wear expensive jewelry or watches, or appear to be carrying large sums of money.
Park at the curb in front of the property rather than in the driveway. It is much easier to escape in your vehicle if you don’t have to back out of a driveway. And while parked in a driveway another vehicle could purposefully or accidentally trap you.
Sources: Louisiana REALTORS® Association; Washington Real Estate, Safety Council; City of Albuquerque, NM; Nevada County Association of REALTORS®; City of Mesa, AZ
Top 10 Tips for Personal Safety
Touch base. Always let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll return. Arrange for your office to call you to check in.
Don’t get lost. Always know the exact address of where you’re going. If you use a navigation app, pull over and stop in a safe place if you’ve made a wrong turn.
Sense your surroundings. Is there questionable activity in the area of a property you’re showing? Is anyone loitering? Follow your instincts if you feel you should leave. Leave!
Don’t go it alone. Have an associate or other colleague host open houses with you.
Limit the view. If you’re working late, use window coverings so that you’re not visible to passersby or a potential attacker.
Go on the defense. Learn some self-defense skills. Many health clubs, martial arts studios and community colleges offer basic classes.
Choose flight over fight. Self defense is a good idea, but the primary goal in any threatening situation is to escape from immediate danger and call for help.
Park for protection. Always park in a well-lit, visible location whether you’re parking at your office, an open house, or an empty property.
Make calling for help easy. Program important numbers into your cell phone, including your office, roadside assistance and 911.
Know who you’re dealing with. Ask for ID, take a photo of a client’s license plate. A criminal won’t be comfortable with this and may be thwarted.
Source: NAR Realtor Safety Resource Kit.
Pillar To Post Home Inspectors is pleased to provide this information for the safety and well being of Realtors. We hope you find this Special Issue useful for yourself and your team. Please stay safe.
With autumn just around the corner, now is the perfect time for homeowners to get their property in shape and help avoid problems in the months ahead. Here are six key jobs to tackle before cold weather sets in.
Caulk around exterior door and window frames for a tight seal. Look for gaps where pipes or wiring enter the home and caulk those as well. Not only does heat escape from these openings, but water can enter and damage underlying materials, and even cause structural damage.
Check the roof for missing or damaged shingles. Water, wind, ice and snow can cause serious damage to a vulnerable roof, leading to a greater chance of further damage inside the home. Always have a qualified professional inspect and repair the roof, but binoculars can be used to do a preliminary survey from the ground.
Clear gutters of leaves, sticks, and other debris. If the home gets heavy leaf fall, this may need to be done more than once during the season. If the gutters can accommodate them, leaf guards can be real time-savers and prevent clogging. Check the joints between sections of the gutter, as well as between the gutter and downspouts, and make any necessary adjustments or repairs. Make sure downspouts direct water away from the house.
In cold-weather climates, garden hoses should be drained and stored indoors to protect them from the harsh winter elements. Shut off outdoor faucets and make sure exterior pipes are drained of water. Faucets and pipes can easily freeze and burst, causing leaks and increasing the potential for serious water damage.
Have the furnace inspected to ensure that it’s safe and in good working order. Most utility companies will provide basic, no-cost furnace inspections to their customers, but schedule early as there can often be a long waiting list as the weather cools down. Replace disposable furnace air filters or clean the permanent type according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Using a clean filter not only helps with interior air quality, it will help the furnace run more efficiently, saving money and energy.
A wood-burning fireplace can be a real pleasure on a chilly fall evening. For safety, have the firebox and chimney professionally cleaned before use this season. Creosote, a byproduct of wood burning, can build up to dangerous levels and cause a chimney fire that can spread to the rest of the house.
With these easy steps, your clients will enjoy the comforts of home all season long and know that they’re protecting their investment, too.
Municipal water systems are required to test and monitor drinking water supplies to ensure safe and good-tasting water. But what happens once that water has been piped into towns, neighborhoods, and homes? Older homes may still have service lines made of lead going into the home, which can cause lead to leach into the water. The local water supplier should be able to confirm the presence of lead service lines for homeowners. Older fixtures that contain lead, or lead that was used on pipe joints, can also cause elevated lead levels. Whenever possible, pipes and fixtures containing lead should be replaced with new materials.
Many homes built before the 1960s have galvanized steel pipes. While galvanized pipes do not create chemical contaminants on their own, they are susceptible to severe corrosion which can flake off and clog taps and faucets. In some instances, lead can build up inside galvanized pipes, especially if the service line into the home is or was made of lead. To be on the safe side, it is best to have all galvanized piping replaced.
Another water quality concern is what are known as emerging contaminants, which, if present in a home, usually occur in very low level amounts. These fall into two general categories: health effects and aesthetic effects. Emerging contaminants affecting health include detergents, pesticides, and medications. Other contaminants that don’t affect health may adversely alter water taste, odor, and/or color. Home filtration systems are the most common means of reducing emerging contaminants. Options include faucet or pitcher filters, plumbed, and reverse-osmosis filters that treat the entire home’s water supply. Any filtration system installed should be listed as meeting national standards for reducing multiple contaminants.
Well Water Quality
While most people in North America get their water from municipal water systems, there are also millions who rely on well water at home. Water sourced from a well should be tested on a regular basis for contaminants such as bacteria and metals. If well water coming from the tap tests high for lead, it could be that the water in the well is too acidic, which causes lead to leach from pipes and fixtures. An acid neutralizing system can usually alleviate this problem without the need to replace pipes and fixtures. Other possible well water quality problems can be avoided by making sure wells are located away from septic tanks, livestock, and pooling water runoff. Well maintenance should be on a regular schedule so that any issues can be addressed before they cause health problems for the home’s occupants.
Water quality can easily be tested for metals, bacteria and other contaminants. Contact your local Pillar To Post Home Inspector for more information about this and other added services available.