SAFETY Safety is a priority focus in every home inspection Sherlock's Home Inspection conducts. Information we provide to you will hopefully better inform you in ways to make your house a safer place to live.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas produced by the incomplete combustion of solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels. Appliances fueled with gas, oil, kerosene, or wood produce CO. If such appliances are improperly installed, maintained, or used, they could produce dangerous levels of CO.

Breathing CO causes symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and weakness in otherwise healthy people. CO also causes sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and disorientation. High levels of exposure result in loss of consciousness or death. Because CO is undetectable, people with carbon monoxide poisoning are commonly diagnosed with common illnesses such as the flu.

Statistics suggest that 5,000 people each year are treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. The number is believed to be an underestimate because so many cases of CO poisoning are improperly diagnosed.

CO can be detected with CO detectors that meet the requirements of Underwriter Laboratory (UL) standard 2034. Detectors that meet this standard measure both high concentrations over short periods of time and low concentrations over long periods of time. Most detectors sound an alarm when safe limits are exceeded and some models quantify the concentration on a digital readout. Units vary in price from $35 and up.

CO detectors should be placed in all homes where combustion appliances are used to enhance the occupant's personal safety. Consult the recommendations of the manufacturer for proper use, placement, and maintenance of CO detectors.

Fire / Smoke Safety
One of the most important steps that a homeowner can take to protect themselves and their loved ones is the installation of smoke detectors. Are you aware that the 2000 International Building Code requires smoke alarms in each sleeping room? Properly installed and maintained smoke detectors greatly increase the chances of surviving a home fire.

Three types of smoke detectors are on the market today. Photoelectric detectors work by measuring the amount of light that can pass across the air inside the detector. Ionization work by measuring the amount of electricity that can be conducted by air. The third combines both ionization and photoelectric in one unit. Photoelectric and ionization detectors work better with different types of fire. Conditions associated with a flash fire commonly found in the kitchen or garage vary from conditions associated with a slow smoldering fire commonly found from a cigarette in the sofa. Some fire departments now suggest that you use a few of each type of detector throughout the house.

Be sure that you carefully read the manufacturer's recommendations for proper installation, placement, and maintenance of smoke detectors. Proper maintenance and testing of smoke detectors is critical to insure that the units work correctly. It is also recommended that you review your local requirements for these devices. Many fire departments welcome calls from area residents about the proper use of smoke detection devices.

Smoke detectors have a wide range of features. A few of these features are:

Temporary shut off with automatic reset.
Models which can be hard-wired or plugged in to eliminate batteries.
Lights which activate to aid in emergency egress, and notify the deaf.
Test buttons.
Low battery warning alarms.

Another important step toward good fire safety is preparation. Make sure that your family is prepared to quickly evacuate in the event of an emergency. Arrange to meet in a safe place away from the house after exiting. Make sure that escape is possible from bedroom windows and through burglar bars without the use of a key or tool.

Electrical Safety
The most common electrical problem in homes today is the lack of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI). GFCI's detect leakage of current flowing to the ground. They are a safety device used to prevent electrocution. When the sensor detects about 4-6 milliamps of leakage, it automatically turns the power off in less than 1/40 second to prevent injury to any adult in good health. GFCI devices protect against electrical shocks from frayed wiring, hazardous tool and appliances, and contact with moisture while using electricity.

In new construction, GFCI's are required at:
1. Garage receptacle locations. (All but one)
2. Exterior receptacle locations including outbuildings.
3. Kitchen counter top receptacle locations.
4. Wet bar receptacle locations.
5. Bathroom receptacle locations.
6. Spa, hot tub, and pool circuits.
Oversized circuit breakers are often present. The size or diameter of the branch circuit wire determines the amount of amperage the wire can safely carry without overheating and becoming a fire hazard. The circuit breaker size should be determined by the wire size.

If a home has had a new AC unit installed, chances are it is more efficient (higher SEER rating) than the unit it replaces. Higher efficiency means less required amperage to run the unit. It is common to find the original circuit breaker servicing a newer AC unit.

Water Heater Safety
A water heater is equipped with a safety device known as a temperature and pressure relief (T&P) valve. This device is installed to prevent the water heater from exploding when the unit overheats. Proper operation and installation of the T&P is critical to the safe operation of the water heater.

On most models, the T&P valve is located at or near the top of the unit. The T&P valve is typically bronze in color and has a small lever on the side. The valve should have a drain line attached to it which meets the following criteria.
1. The drain line is directed downward and never sloped upward.
2. The drain line is not reduced in size.
3. The drain line is an approved type of material.
4. The drain line exits outside, near the ground, and points downward.
With time T&P lines can become "frozen". Most T&P valves have a useful service life of 3 years. Exercise caution when operating the valve. The valves are known for sticking in the open position, and the water is very hot. Consult the manufacturers recommendations for proper installation, and maintenance of the T&P valve.

All water heaters in garages or rooms that are adjacent to a garage, must be raised 18 inches off the floor. If installed in a garage the water heater should be protected from vehicle impact.

Gas Leaks
Homeowners rarely test for gas leaks in houses. Routine checks for gas leaks are highly recommended. Gas leaks can be detected using a soap solution, but preferably using a combustible gas detector. Many gas leaks which are detected using a gas detector are missed when using a soap solution. Common places where gas leaks are found include:
1. Gas fittings and connections.
2. Gas valves (behind the lever).
3. Gas pilot devices.
4. Gas lighters in fireplaces.
5. Gas wall heaters.
6. Gas valves not in use because the appliance now in use is powered by electricity. These should be sealed with a cap or plug.
a. Valve behind washer and dryer.
b. Valve behind or beneath stove or oven.
c. Valve behind water heater.
d. Valve near furnace.

Home buyer's and renters will receive known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards during sales and rental of housing built before 1978. Buyers and renter receive specific information on lead-based paint in the housing as well as a Federal pamphlet with practical, low-cost tips on identifying and controlling lead-based paint hazards. Your Realtor should be able to supply you with this information.

Approximately three-quarters of the nation's housing stock built before 1978 contains some lead-based paint. When properly maintained and managed, this paint poses little risk, however identifying a lead-based paint prior to closing would be prudent. 1.7 million children have blood-lead levels above safe limits, mostly due to lead-based paint hazards. Lead poisoning can cause permanent damage to the brain and many other organs. It can also result in reduced intelligence, behavioral problems, and abnormal pregnancies.

To receive a lead-based paint inspection or consulting services on how to handle lead-based paint contact the Texas Department of Health or your local health department.

Most buyers don't give much thought to pool barriers. To protect your loved ones and yourself every pool should be guarded against unauthorized, unsupervised access. According to the 2000 version of the International Residential Code for One- and Two-Family Dwellings the following requirements pertain to pool barriers.


AG105.2 Outdoor swimming pool. An outdoor swimming pool, including an in-ground, above ground or on-ground pool, hot tub or spa shall be provided with a barrier which shall comply with the following:

The top of the barrier shall be at least 48 inches above grade measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. The maximum vertical clearance between grade and the bottom of the barrier shall be 2 inches measured on the side of the barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. Where the top of the pool structure is above grade, such as an aboveground pool, the barrier may be at ground level, such as the pool structure, or mounted on top of the pool structure. Where the barrier is mounted on top of the pool structure, the maximum vertical clearance between the top of the pool structure and the bottom of the barrier shall be 4 inches.

Openings in the barrier shall not allow passage of a 4-inch-diameter sphere. Solid barriers which do not have openings, such as a masonry or stone wall, shall not contain indentations or protrusions except for normal construction tolerances and tooled masonry joints.

Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members and the distances between the tops of the horizontal members is less than 45 inches, the horizontal members shall be located on the swimming pool side of the fence. Spacing between vertical members shall not exceed 1.75 inches in width. Where there are decorative cutouts within vertical members, spacing within the cutouts shall not exceed 1.75 inches in width.

Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members and the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is 45 inches or more, spacing between vertical members shall not exceed 4 inches. Where there are decorative cutouts within vertical members, spacing within the cutouts shall not exceed 1.75 inches in width.

Maximum mesh size for chain link fences shall be a 1.25-inch square unless the fence is provided with slats fastened at the top or the bottom which reduce the openings to not more than 1.75 inches.

Where the barrier is composed of diagonal members, such as a lattice fence, the maximum opening formed by the diagonal members shall not be more than 1.75 inches.

Access gates shall comply with the requirements of Section AG105.2, Items 1 through 7, and shall be equipped to accommodate a locking device. Pedestrian access gates shall open outward away from the pool and shall be self-closing and have a self-latching device. Gates other than pedestrian access gates shall have a self-latching device. Where the release mechanism of the self-latching device is located less than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate, the release mechanism and openings shall comply with the following:

The release mechanism shall be located on the pool side of the gate at least 3 inches below the top of the gate, and

The gate and barrier shall have no opening greater than 0.5 inch within 18 inches of the release mechanism.

Where a wall of a dwelling serves as part of the barrier one of the following conditions shall be met:
The pool shall be equipped with a powered safety cover in compliance with ASTM F1346; or

All doors with direct access to the pool through that wall shall be equipped with an alarm which produces an audible warning when the door and its screen, if present, are opened. The alarm shall sound continuously for a minimum of 30 seconds immediately after the door is opened and be capable of being heard throughout the house during normal household activities. The alarm shall automatically reset under all conditions. The alarm system shall be equipped with a manual means, such as touchpad or switch, to temporarily deactivate the alarm for a single opening. Such deactivation shall last for not more than 15 seconds. The deactivation switch(es) shall be located at least 54 inches above the threshold of the door; or

Other means of protection, such as self-closing doors with self-latching devices, which are approved by the governing body, shall be acceptable so long as the degree of protection afforded is not less than the protection afforded by Item 9.1 or 9.2 described above.

Where an above ground pool structure is used as a barrier or where the barrier is mounted on top of the pool structure, and the means of access is a ladder or steps, then:
10.1. The ladder or steps shall be capable of being secured, locked or removed to prevent access, or
10.2. The ladder or steps shall be surrounded by a barrier which meets the requirements of Section G105.2,

Items 1 through 9. When the ladder or steps are secured, locked or removed, any opening created shall not allow the passage of a 4-inch-diameter sphere.