A Home-buyer's Guide To Understanding Safety Hazards (2 of 2)
Clearly, the home inspector’s number one concern is safety. It’s not just a liability thing, without exception, every inspector I’ve ever known would be crushed if anyone got injured or worse because he/she overlooked a safety hazard. Inspection reports typically include a summary section where safety hazards are listed separately. Which ones should take seriously? All of them.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are required in most jurisdictions. Some states require the home inspector to test them, but some don’t. Regardless of whether your inspector tested them or not, don’t trust that they are operational. Remember, there is often 3 weeks or more difference between the date of the inspection and the close of escrow. Batteries can easily fail between those two dates. This is why I recommend installing and testing new smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on move-in day. Walmart sells smoke detectors for as little as $8; a small price to pay for the safety of your family.
Improper, loose or missing hand-rails on decks, stairs and balconies is another common safety hazard called out by your home inspector. It may seem a little picayune to call out a safety hazard on a hand-rail that has been there for 20 years, but it’s worth mentioning that building codes are constantly being updated. Building codes are adjusted and updated based on actuary tables and hospital emergency room records. In other words, codes reflect actual deaths and injuries caused by certain conditions. If your home has these outdated railings on stairs, decks, or balconies they should be replaced or altered to meet today’s standards. If you cannot replace these prior to the close of escrow and you have small children you can install safety mesh to protect the kids until you get those railings replaced.
Stiff or inoperable bedroom windows are a safety hazard that doesn’t get called out often enough. Bedroom windows may be the sole method of escape in the case of fire and for that reason they must be operable. Bedroom windows are classified as egress windows. The term egress refers to the most immediate method of escape or rescue in cases of fire. Minimum requirements include specifications for width, height and sill height. Commonly, windows of various types in older homes are replaced with new windows of a different configuration without consideration of egress requirements. Although the old windows may have met such requirements, the new window may not. The overall size might be the same, but the openable area might be reduced due to style and material. All too often, news articles report the deaths of people who perished because they could not escape a house fire rapidly.
The absence of anti-syphon valves is called out in 90 percent of the homes I inspect. Most clients ask ‘What the heck is an anti-syphon valve?’ It’s a doohickey that screws onto the hose bibs on the outside of the house. They are designed to prevent contaminated water from being sucked back into the fresh water supply and being distributed to the home and/or city. It may sound crazy but it’s a real thing. If the water pressure in the home or neighborhood reverses and goes negative which can happen with a water main break or a burst pipe in the home water from a hose or basin could get sucked back into the system. Once clean water exits your faucet or hose bib it can easily be contaminated and rendered unsafe. Imagine a garden hose laying in a puddle of water on a recently fertilized lawn. Anti-syphon valves range from $11 to $25 and are installed easily.
Buying a home is an expensive endeavor. Many home buyers, especially in our little corner of America, are financially stretched well beyond their comfort level just to get in the door. Spending more money after the close of escrow can be a bitter pill, but old floors and gross appliances will not result in the injury or death of your loved ones or neighbors. If you need help calculating the costs of safety repairs and upgrades you can speak to your inspector, agent, a contractor or handyman. Some inspection companies, like mine, offer a Repair Estimate Report that itemize the costs of recommended repairs. Such reports are great tools for yourself and your agent to help prioritize things and effectively negotiate with the seller for repairs and credits.