Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.
Is the Water You Drink Safe?
North America has one of the safest water supplies in the world. However, national statistics don't tell you specifically about the quality and safety of the water coming out of your tap. That's because drinking water quality varies from place to place, depending on the condition of the source water from which it is drawn and the treatment it receives.
What contaminants may be found in drinking water?
There is no such thing as naturally pure water. In nature, all water contains some impurities. As water flows in streams, sits in lakes, and filters through layers of soil and rock in the ground, it dissolves or absorbs the substances that it touches. Some of these substances are harmless. In fact, some people prefer mineral water precisely because minerals give it an appealing taste. However, at certain levels minerals, just like man-made chemicals, are considered contaminants that can make water unpalatable or even unsafe. Some contaminants come from erosion of natural rock formations. Other contaminants are substances discharged from factories, applied to farmlands, or used by consumers in their homes and yards. Sources of contaminants might be in your neighborhood or might be many miles away. Your local water quality report tells which contaminants are in your drinking water, the levels at which they were found, and the actual or likely source of each contaminant. Some ground water systems have established wellhead protection programs to prevent substances from contaminating their wells. Similarly, some surface water systems protect the watershed around their reservoir to prevent contamination.
Where does drinking water come from?
A clean, constant supply of drinking water is essential to every community. People in large cities frequently drink water that comes from surface water sources, such as lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Sometimes these sources are close to the community. Other times, drinking water suppliers get their water from sources many miles away. In either case, when you think about where your drinking water comes from, it's important to consider not just the part of the river or lake that you can see, but the entire watershed. The watershed is the land area over which water flows into the river, lake, or reservoir. In rural areas, people are more likely to drink ground water that was pumped from a well. These wells tap into aquifers--the natural reservoirs under the earth's surface--that may be only a few miles wide, or may span the borders of many regions. As with surface water, it is important to remember that activities many miles away from you may affect the quality of ground water.
How is drinking water treated?
When a water supplier takes untreated water from a river or reservoir, the water often contains dirt and tiny pieces of leaves and other organic matter, as well as trace amounts of certain contaminants. When it gets to the treatment plant, water suppliers often add chemicals called coagulants to the water. These act on the water as it flows very slowly through tanks so that the dirt and other contaminants form clumps that settle to the bottom. Usually, this water then flows through a filter for removal of the smallest contaminants like viruses and Giardia. Ground water is naturally filtered as it passes through layers of the earth into underground reservoirs known as aquifers. Water that suppliers pump from wells generally contains less organic material than surface water and may not need to go through any or all of the treatments described in the previous paragraph. The quality of the water will depend on local conditions. The most common drinking water treatment, considered by many to be one of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century, is disinfection. Most water suppliers add chlorine or another disinfectant to kill bacteria and other germs. Water suppliers use other treatments as needed, according to the quality of their source water. For example, systems whose water is contaminated with organic chemicals can treat their water with activated carbon, which absorbs or attracts the chemicals dissolved in the water.
What are the health effects of contaminants in drinking water?
The contaminants fall into two groups according to the health effects that they cause. Your water supplier will alert you through the media, mail, or other means if there is a potential acute or chronic health effect from compounds in the drinking water. You may want to contact the supplier for additional information specific to your area. Acute effects occur within hours or days of the time that a person consumes a contaminant. People can suffer acute health effects from almost any contaminant if they are exposed to extraordinarily high levels (as in the case of a spill). In drinking water, microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, are the contaminants with the greatest chance of reaching levels high enough to cause acute health effects. Most people's bodies can fight off these microbial contaminants the way they fight off germs, and these acute contaminants typically don't have permanent effects. Nonetheless, when high enough levels occur, they can make people ill, and can be dangerous or deadly for a person whose immune system is already weak due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, steroid use, or another reason. Chronic effects occur after people consume a contaminant at levels over safety standards for many years. The drinking water contaminants that can have chronic effects are chemicals (such as disinfection by-products, solvents, and pesticides), radionuclides (such as radium), and minerals (such as arsenic). Examples of the chronic effects of drinking water contaminants are cancer, liver or kidney problems, or reproductive difficulties.
How can I help protect drinking water?
Using the new information that is now available about drinking water, citizens can both be aware of the challenges of keeping drinking water safe and take an active role in protecting drinking water. There are lots of ways that individuals can get involved. Some people will help clean up the watershed that is the source of their community's water. Other people might get involved in wellhead protection activities to prevent the contamination of the ground water source that provides water to their community. These people will be able to make use of the information that local authorities and water systems are gathering as they assess their sources of water.
Other people will want to attend public meetings to ensure that the community's need for safe drinking water is considered in making decisions about land use. And all consumers can do their part to conserve water and to dispose properly of household chemicals.
11 Things You Need to Know to Pass Your Home Inspection
Homebuyers Want to Know Your Home Inside and Out
While homebuyers are as individual as the homes they plan on purchasing, one thing they share is a desire to ensure that the home they will call their own is as good beneath the surface as it appears to be. Will the roof end up leaking? Is the wiring safe? What about the plumbing? These, and others, are the questions that the buyers looking at your home will seek professional help to answer.
According to industry experts, there are at least 33 physical problems that will come under scrutiny during a home inspection. We've identified the 11 most common of these and, if not identified and dealt with, any of these 11 items could cost you dearly in terms of repair.
In most cases, you can make a reasonable pre-inspection yourself if you know what you're looking for. And knowing what youâre looking for can help you prevent little problems from growing into costly and unmanageable ones.
11 Things You Need to Know to Pass Your Home Inspection
1. Defective Plumbing
Defective plumbing can manifest itself in two different ways: leaking, and clogging. A visual inspection can detect leaking, and an inspector will gauge water pressure by turning on all faucets in the highest bathroom and then flushing the toilet. If you hear the sound of running water, it indicates that the pipes are undersized. If the water appears dirty when first turned on at the faucet, this is a good indication that the pipes are rusting, which can result in severe water quality problems.
2. Damp or Wet Basement
An inspector will check your walls for a powdery white mineral deposit a few inches off the floor, and will look to see if you feel secure enough to store things right on your basement floor. A mildew odor is almost impossible to eliminate, and an inspector will certainly be conscious of it.
It could cost you $200-$1,000 to seal a crack in or around your basement foundation depending on severity and location. Adding a sump pump and pit could run you around $750 - $1,000, and complete waterproofing (of an average 3 bedroom home) could amount to $5,000-$15,000. You will have to weigh these figures into the calculation of what price you want to net on your home.
3. Inadequate Wiring & Electrical
Your home should have a minimum of 100 amps service, and this should be clearly marked. Wire should be copper or aluminum. Home inspectors will look at octopus plugs as indicative of inadequate circuits and a potential fire hazard.
4. Poor Heating & Cooling Systems
Insufficient insulation, and an inadequate or a poorly functioning heating system, are the most common causes of poor heating. While an adequately clean furnace, without rust on the heat exchanger, usually has life left in it, an inspector will be asking and checking to see if your furnace is over its typical life span of 15-25 yrs. For a forced air gas system, a heat exchanger will come under particular scrutiny since one that is cracked can emit deadly carbon monoxide into the home. These heat exchangers must be replaced if damaged -they cannot be repaired.
5. Roofing Problems
Water leakage through the roof can occur for a variety of reasons such as physical deterioration of the asphalt shingles (e.g. curling or splitting), or mechanical damage from a wind storm. When gutters leak and downspouts allow water to run down and through the exterior walls, this external problem becomes a major internal one.
6. Damp Attic Spaces
Aside from basement dampness, problems with ventilation, insulation and vapor barriers can cause water, moisture, mould and mildew to form in the attic. This can lead to premature wear of the roof, structure and building materials. The cost to fix this damage could easily run over $2,500.
7. Rotting Wood
This can occur in many places (door or window frames, trim, siding, decks and fences). The building inspector will sometimes probe the wood to see if this is present - especially when wood has been freshly painted.
8. Masonry Work
Re-bricking can be costly, but, left unattended, these repairs can cause problems with water and moisture penetration into the home which in turn could lead to a chimney being clogged by fallen bricks or even a chimney which falls onto the roof. It can be costly to rebuild a chimney or to have it repainted.
9. Unsafe or Over-fused Electrical Circuit
A fire hazard is created when more amperage is drawn on the circuit than was intended. 15 amp circuits are the most common in a typical home, with larger service for large appliances such as stoves and dryers. It can cost several hundred dollars to replace your fuse panel with a circuit panel.
10. Adequate Security Features
More than a purchased security system, an inspector will look for the basic safety features that will protect your home such as proper locks on windows and patio doors, dead bolts on the doors, smoke and even carbon monoxide detectors in every bedroom and on every level. Even though pricing will vary, these components will add to your costs. Before purchasing or installing, you should check with your local experts.
11. Structural/Foundation Problems
An inspector will certainly investigate the underlying footing and foundation of your home as structural integrity is fundamental to your home.
When you put your home on the market, you don't want any unpleasant surprises that could cost you the sale of your home. By having an understanding of these 11 problem areas as you walk through your home, you'll be arming yourself against future disappointment.
Protecting Your Home from Fire and Carbon Monoxide
Safety & You
Everyone wants to live in a safe and worry free environment with their families, spouse, and children. However, most people are closer to a disaster waiting to happen than they think. Safety may not be an issue that comes to mind as you go about your daily routine. You may feel safe. Yet, lurking in your home are dangers that can take lives and destroy property.
Thousands of people die from fire every year. Most residential fire deaths occur because of inhalation of toxic gas, rather than contact with the flames. The tragedy is that many of these deaths could be prevented by taking a few precautions.
General Fire Prevention Tips
Have an Emergency Escape Plan! Practice it frequently!
Through education and media campaigns, most people now realize the importance of smoke alarms, and most homes in North America have them.
To guard against small fires or to keep a small fire from developing into a big one, every home should be equipped with a fire extinguisher. Because almost all fires are small at first, they might be contained if a fire extinguisher is handy and used properly. You should take care, however, to select the right kind of fire extinguisher, because there are different ones for different kinds of fires. Install fire extinguishers on every level of the home and include the kitchen, basement and garage.
Selecting a Fire Extinguisher
Extinguishers are classified according to the class of fire for which they are suitable. The four classes of fires are A, B, C, D:
A typical home or office fire extinguisher should have an ABC rating.
One of the greatest threats to your safety is the quality of air within your home. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a subtle yet dangerous threat because the gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless.
Each year, hundreds of people die from carbon monoxide poisoning. Thousands of other people suffer the effects of the gas without realizing it. Because CO symptoms mimic the flu and other common illnesses, CO poisoning can be easily missed during a routine medical examination.
CO is produced when any fuel does not burn completely because of insufficient oxygen. Mild exposure to CO gives most people a slight headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue ("flu-like" symptoms) followed by a throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, and fast heart rate. If the entire family becomes ill after a few hours in the home, and feels better when they leave the home, carbon monoxide poisoning should be suspected.
Possible sources of CO include:
Certain clues can indicate a carbon monoxide problem. Check to see if you have any of the following:
CO can be produced and spill into your home without any of the preceding clues present. Heating appliances that appear to be operating correctly can still be sources of CO. Burning charcoal or wood produces CO that can spill into the home. Gasoline engines, when first started, produce large amounts of CO. Autos in attached garages are often sources of CO.
How To Protect Yourself
To avoid CO exposure in the home, it is important to:
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that every residence with fuel burning appliances be equipped with at least one CO alarm. For added protection, place one on every level of the home. Read and follow manufacturers' instructions.
If your alarm indicates high levels of carbon monoxide in your home:
Fires are traumatizing and frightening, as is a carbon monoxide incident. It is essential to fully recognize the hazards of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning and to take preventative action. A regular home inspection, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers and an emergency exit plan will help you and your family live more safely.