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Sports Video

Written by Greg Liebig on Tuesday, 14 December 2010.

 Well for all us sports fans out there… if you haven’t seen this video you should. What’s even more amazing is the sound of the collapse. Thank God no one was hurt. This could have been disastrous if it happened during game day.

Poll-How many homes get a home inspection?

Written by Greg Liebig on Friday, 14 May 2010. Posted in General Interest

How many homes sold get a home inspection?
10 out ot 10
9 out of 10
8 out of 10
7 out of 10
6 or less out of 10

 There are many statistics available, but I have yet to find an opinion on how many homes get inspected before they are sold. Your input is appreciated!

On the way to a home inspection…..

Written by Greg Liebig on Monday, 05 April 2010.

There are many things I look for on the way to an inspection. Other houses in the area, grading and drainage issues. N0w this takes the cake. It’s a portable house with an iced keg I believe on the way to the Brewer’s Home Opener.

Don’t know if there was food anywhere on board but what the heck. 65 degrees at 8:30 in the morning, no clouds in the sky, and the stadium roof is going to be open.

Good luck and I’m glad I’m not following this truck after the game!

Tuckpoint Those Mortar Joints and Save Your Home

on Tuesday, 11 August 2009. Posted in Home Maintenance

Deteriorating mortar is a common problem in decades-old brickwork. Brick and mortar is quite porous and absorbs water like a sponge. When there are loose joints, water gets in. The real damage occurs during the winter months when this water freezes. Just before water turns into a solid, it expands approximately 9% by volume. So a ¼” wide mortar joint that penetrates ½” and is 2 inches long was filled with water, the water would increase the width by about 0.02″. That may not sound like much, but multiply that by 15 joints and this expansion could cause the unrestrained bricks to move by ¼”! This expansion is the cause of failed joints and if not repaired, can eventually lead to a failure of the entire wall.

Don’t only focus on your foundation walls when you walk around your home. You should also take a look at your chimney especially when your home has a high efficiency furnace. High efficiency furnaces no longer use the chimney to vent the exhaust gasses. They use PVC pipes that vent usually outside the home at the top of the basement wall. Traditional masonry chimneys were designed and sized to vent very hot flue gases from old coal, wood burning, or low efficiency gas furnaces. Chimneys are designed to handle the heat and ash from these old heating plants. Once these are removed, your flue may be too large for the orphaned water heater. There are products on the market including flexible stainless steel pipes that can be snaked down your chimney and attached directly to the water heater exhaust. This pipe also has a vent cap to cover the old chimney flue.

In some cases, this can create condensation problems inside masonry chimneys. The water heater does not produce nearly the high temperature exhaust as the old furnace did. If the chimney is too cold, this can condense the water vapor in the exhaust. Sometimes this condensation is acidic and could deteriorate the masonry inside the chimney leading to problems down the road. More importantly, if the air is cold enough, the exhaust from the water heater may not be enough to completely draft out of the house. This could allow some carbon monoxide back into your house which can be dangerous. A chimney that has not been sleeved will eventually fail. A good set of binoculars is all you need to safely inspect your chimney. If you see gaps in the mortar joints or spalling on the bricks, you should have a licensed chimney repair company take a look at it for you and make any necessary repairs.

We suppose you could wire brush the joints to remove the loose mortar and apply a masonry sealer in hopes of stopping the deterioration, but we don’t think this would be a long-term solution. Rather, we suggest that you re-point the joints. This is the standard practice to repair worn out joints and can easily be accomplished by a do-it-yourselfer, even if he or she has limited skills. To re-point the joints it is first necessary to remove the existing loose mortar. We like to use a narrow paint scraper – either a pointed one or one just as wide as the joint – but this is a case of whatever works best for you. Make sure to wear eye protection!

Remove at least 1/2 inch of the mortar from each joint. You may have to dig deeper if the mortar is particularly loose. This is a messy job so use drop cloths to cover the surrounding area. Once the old mortar is removed, mix a small batch of mortar in a 1-or 2-gallon bucket. Make sure you use mortar that is compatible with your existing wall. When in doubt, make sure to speak with your building supply store or contract with a licensed masonry contractor. Mortars around the turn of the 20th century were made up of mostly lime and sand. Portland cement mixes didn’t come into play until the mid 1040′s. Old mortars are significantly softer and if a Portland cement mix is used it could damage the existing bricks. Mix small batches to ensure that the mortar does not dry before you can use it. The mortar should be mixed to the consistency of toothpaste. If it is too thin you won’t be able to pack it into the joints or if it’s too thick it’s hard to work with.

Fill a spray bottle with water and wet the joint prior to applying the new mortar. With a small mason’s trowel, fill the joints with the new mortar. Let it set up a bit, then tool it with a pointing tool. Pointing tools are metal and can either be round or rectangular. They are used to form the finished joints. Mortar, trowels and pointing tools are available at brickyards, home centers and hardware stores.

Clean off any excess mortar you may have gotten on the bricks. We’ve found it best to use water sparingly for this part of the cleanup because using too much water may ruin the new joints you just created. You can use a bristle brush and use strokes that are perpendicular to each mortar joint.

Once the mortar has completely dried – a few hours or the next day is fine – clean off any excess film you may have gotten on the brick with a weak solution of muriatic acid. When doing this, make sure to take all the recommended safety precautions, including wearing rubber gloves and eye protection.

This may sound a bit complicated but it’s really not. Applying the mortar to the joints can be a little frustrating at first, but the learning curve is not very steep and your brick joints will look like new fairly quickly. If this is something you do not want to tackle yourself, then look for a professional. We have contractors on our site that would be happy to provide you a quote for the repairs. You may even be able to work with the mason to do some of the work yourself to prepare the joints and have the mason finish the job for you. This is labor intensive and you may be able to save some money by doing part of the work yourself.

Spring Check-up – Help Prevent those Wet or Damp Basements

Written by Greg Liebig on Thursday, 09 April 2009. Posted in Home Maintenance

Whew, winter is finally relinquishing its grip on us. We all hope is releases soon! There are a few things that you should start thinking about before all of those April Showers start to fall. All of these are things you can do to help prevent wet or damp basements


First of all, take a walk around your home and make sure all of your downspouts and leader extensions are still attached. Many times, these get knocked off with the heavy snow and if they don’t extend at least 5 feet from your foundation you may be susceptible to a leaking basement. Sometimes, the actual downspout clamps can come loose and the connection to the bottom of the gutter may come loose. Make sure to check both ends of the downspout when you are taking a look.

Gutter Cleaning

If you didn’t clean your gutters last year, you still have a chance to take care of this. Just remember, you should check your gutters again after all the blossoms open. Shedding leaves in the fall and opening blossoms in the spring are the two main sources of debris in your gutters. If the gutters are not kept clean, they can over flow and again put excessive water in places you may not want it to collect.


Since many plants are not yet growing, check the grading around your home. Ideally you should have at least a 5% grade starting next to your home and sloping away from your foundation. That equals a 3 inch drop over 5 feet. One of the best ways to see if you may have a problem is to put on a raincoat and take a walk around you home during a heavy rainstorm. If you see water pooling or running toward your home you should think about making some landscaping improvements. There are a few important points to remember.

First, if fill dirt is added, make sure it remains at least 2 to 3 inches below your siding. It is important to maintain this gap from the soil to the siding to prevent excessive moisture from remaining in contact with siding materials. This condition will cause your siding to rot and will provide a great access point for wood destroying organisms to enter your home. If you find yourself in this situation, then you may want to consider removing soil farther away from your foundation to create the proper slope.

Second, if you can maintain the 2-3 in gap from the siding to the ground by adding fill dirt but now the fill comes in contact with your basement window frames you will need to consider installing window wells. This will keep the soil away from your windows for the same reason just mentioned.

Lastly, if your home has brick veneer, there should be small weep holes spaced 1 to 2 feet apart at the bottom course. These weep holes will allow any moisture that gets behind the brick to drain. If these weep holes are plugged, this drainage system will no longer work and this can cause significant damage that won’t be visible until it’s too late.

Sometimes, there may be a more significant issue that may not be visible. In this case, don’t be afraid of contacting a landscaping professional. These contractors are trained and have the experience to evaluate your property and give you some suggestions to reduce or eliminate that nagging water problem.

Window Wells

If you have window wells protecting your basement windows, you should also clean these out. Many times, they are filled with leaves that will prevent proper drainage. I have seen window wells full of water and yes, from the basement the view was what one might have experienced looking through a port hole as the Titanic was sinking. You can also purchase inexpensive window well covers that will allow light in but keep excessive moisture from building up in these areas.

You should also make sure the well is also secured to your home. Occasionally these are not secured or sealed and water and debris will leak around well.

These are just a few simple things you can do to help protect your investment this spring. We hope you have found this information useful. Thank you for reading.

Look Fors … Lead in the Home

Written by Greg Liebig on Wednesday, 11 February 2009. Posted in Look Fors – Helpful Eye Openers

We are all aware that homes built before 1978 have a higher chance for Lead Based Paint to be present. This is a concern especially when there are families with small children particularly when they are 6 years old and younger. What many people don’t realize is that lead paint has an inherent sweet taste. That’s why children are attracted to it. Lead can have some devastating effects including:

  • Brain Damage
  • Height Development
  • Fatigue
  • Symptoms that can contribute to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Severe Poisoning can cause Seizures, Coma and even Death

Lead Poisoning is defined when 10 ?g/dl of lead is found in the blood. That is 10 micro-grams/deciliter. A deciliter is equivalent to about 1/3 cup. The Department of Health and Family Services has the Jurisdiction of all Lead programs in the State of Wisconsin. There are other levels of blood lead levels that are important.

  • 10 mg/dl of lead – Lead Poisoning Level of Concern Doctor Reported Levels in Children
  • 30 mg/dl of lead – Action Level, Medical Surveillance Required
  • 40 mg/dl of lead – Monitoring Required
  • 50 mg/dl of lead – Medical Removal Mandatory

When visiting a home, it is important to know how old the home is. If it was built before 1978, there are some things to look for. First, as you’re walking up to the home, look at the exterior. If there are signs of curling, peeling paint then a problem may exist. If there is a paint chip on the ground, try bending it in half. If it breaks before it bends, then there is a higher probability that the paint is lead based. Latex paint is very flexible. Rubber is based on the natural latex substance. Lead was added to paint to enhance the weather ability of the colored surface. It was also an additive used in varnishes of the past before polyurethane was developed.

If a property has a lead based paint test done, there are some very important numbers to look for. They are called threshold limit values or TLV’s. These values are very unit sensitive. This means to read the report you must pay attention to the units. Units describe the number. An easy way to think about this is if you every watched a space shuttle launch. The speed of the spacecraft reported is usually in the unit feet per second. When we drive our cars, we pay attention to the unit miles per hour. Both numbers describe the speed of the vehicle but the units are significantly different. So for a vehicle driving down the highway at 65 miles per hour (MPH) the equivalent speed is 95.3 feet per second (FPS).

There are standards set for the amount of lead in different areas of the home. Unfortunately, the units are different depending if the sample is taken in the soil or

Below are the Threashold Limit Values that if exceeded could pose health and safety issues for the occupants of the home.

  • 400 mg/g (micro-grams per gram) in areas where children play
  • 1200 mg/g (micro-grams per gram) in other areas of the property
  • 40 mg/ft2 – For Floors
  • 250 mg/ft2 – For Window Sills
  • 400 mg/ft2 – For Window Troughs or Window Wells
  • 15 ppb (Parts per Billion) in Water
  • 0.7 mg/cm2 (milligrams per square centimeter) or 0.06% lead for paint chips in Wisconsin
  • Note: 1 gram of lead spread evenly in 10 rooms of the size 10 x 25 would fail this test.

Whew, enough of the technical stuff. The most important things to look for during your listing visit to the property is the condition of the paint. There are only three things to see. Is the condition of the paint:

Building Component




Exterior components with large surface area 

Entire surface area is intact  Less than or equal to 10 square feet  More than 10 square feet
Interior components with large surface area  Entire surface area is intact  Less than or equal to 2 square feet  More than 2 square feet
Interior and exterior components with small surface areas  Entire surface area is intact  Less than or equal to 10% of the total surface area of component  More than 10% of the total surface area or the component

There are 3 different types of inspections available. The first is a Lead Inspection. It is a surface by surface investigation for the presence of lead. Then there is a Risk Assessment which makes the recommendations to remove the lead. Lastly, there is a Lead Hazard Screen which is a modified Risk Assessment. The screen takes 4 samples of the floors and 4 samples of the window sills. The Threshold limit values are:

  • 25 mg/cm2 (micro-grams per square centimeter) Floor
  • 125 mg/cm2 (micro-grams per square centimeter) Window Sills

There are two ways to remediate problems with a home. And beginning April 2010, all persons that attempt either method must be certified in Safe Lead Work Practices.

Interim Controls (< 20 Years)

Abatement (> 20 Years)
Cleaning  Removal
Painting  Replacement
Reduce Easy Accessibility  Enclose
Exterior Soil Removal  Encapsulate

Typically, in older homes there is a lot of debris that can collect in the window wells also know as window troughs or sills. It’s the area at the bottom of the window. This area should be cleaned using soap and water on a regular basis. The worst thing to use is a standard home vacuum cleaner! These consumer vacuums DO NOT have the appropriate HEPA filter and without this, you can spread small lead particles throughout the home making the situation much worse! Always make sure the areas to be cleaned have been dampened with water. A household spray bottle with water works very well to keep the dust down. NEVER use a dry sander to remove loose paint or varnish. If there is loose paint, wet scraping is the best method to get it off. If there is a lot of deterioration, call a professional who has been trained as a Lead Safe Work practices. There have been many cases reported where well intentioned parents have tried to do the work themselves and have contributed to the lead poisoning of their children.

If you need more information, please contact your local Health Department or 4-Square Home Inspections, LLC.

Look Fors….Electrical Safety — Receptacle and Junction Box Covers

Written by Greg Liebig on Thursday, 29 January 2009. Posted in Look Fors – Helpful Eye Openers

When it comes to home safety, the area that we find the most problems relate to the home electrical systems. I hope you enjoy learning some of the basics to watch for when you visit homes to alert the owner of some simple things that often get overlooked. The pictures come from actual inspections. Take a look at this….

The simplest (and cheapest) to correct and the most discounted item is the missing receptacle (outlet) and junction box covers. “Just don’t stick your finger in there” is the most common comment that everyone laughs about. It doesn’t take much common sense when you have outlet covers missing when there are small children in the home.

It is the safest, non-safe, outlet I’ve ever seen. At least the seller installed those child-proof covers! We all know that children are curious and put things in places where they don’t belong. If you see something like this, it only takes 29 cents to fix and prevent a child from getting hurt.

If you’re in the basement, garage or attic, another item to look for is an open junction box. Again, the typical answer is “Don’t stick your finger in there!” But there is a more serious hazard that exists. Those covers not only prevents someone from getting an electric shock, protect the wiring, but those covers also contain sparks should a connection come loose. A spark is an ignition source that could lead to serious property damage or even loss of life. Again, this isn’t an expensive fix and is often ignored or discounted. This particular picture shows an open junction box that was dusted with cellulose in an attic. Hmmm…fine paper dust next to a spark source.

The most important service good home inspectors can perform is to keep public safety in mind and to educate as to the why’s.

Greg Liebig, 4-Square Home Inspections, LLC

Prevent those Damaging Ice Dams

Written by Greg Liebig on Friday, 26 December 2008. Posted in Home Maintenance

Our Wisconsin Wintery Wonderland
Well, it’s that time of year again in our wonderful northern climate. Snow covered roofs, chestnuts roasting, and frost tickling your nose can make a beautiful White Christmas but the beauty could be short lived if the temperatures start to rise near freezing. Water could soon find its way down your mistletoe through your ceiling! These annoying leaks are most likely caused by an ice dam.

What Causes Ice Dams?
Ice dams form from the snow on your roof melting and freezing over a period of time. This could happen quite quickly if most of the snow on your roof is that really wet, heavy kind. Depending on your home, the temperature outside could be well below freezing when you notice the drip in your ceiling or down your walls. Â Ice dams are caused when the snow on your roof melts and runs down your roof. If the water has no place to go, it will freeze usually at or above your eaves. This frozen mess will block any further melting and water begins to puddle at the dam caused by the ice. When this happens, water will back up under the shingles and find its way into your home. This can cause damage if it is not corrected.

Ice Dam Indicators
You will need to take a trip outside and look at your roof after a snowfall. Bare spots on your roof are indications of “hot spots” usually caused by warm air escaping from your home and heating the underside of the roof. These can be found around skylights, chimneys, plumbing, and other roof vents. There could be other areas but we’ll get to that in a bit. Another good indicator is those icicles hanging from your gutters or soffits.

Check your Gutters!
If you didn’t get around to cleaning your gutters in the fall you may be paying for that now. Blocked or clogged gutters and downspouts can cause water to freeze faster than it would if your gutters were clean. Think about a river that’s moving very slowly. Fast moving water doesn’t freeze as quickly as water that isn’t moving. If you have leaves, sticks, toys, or other things in your gutter water will not move very quickly and freeze. It’s important to check and clean your gutters at least twice per year.

Snow is an Insulator
Snow is a very good insulator. It will reflect the heat from the sun on the top side and will trap any heat escaping from your home on the underside. There are several things you can do to minimize or even eliminate this problem. It may take a couple of tries. Your roof will also heat up from the sun causing the snow to melt. The darker the roof’s color, the hotter it will become. The first thing you should do is to try to get as much snow off the first 4 to 6 feet from your eves as safely as possible using a roof rake. These are long, light-weight rakes that can be extended to reach to your roof from the ground. Do not climb on ladders or attempt to climb onto your roof. Ice is very slippery and whether you walk on it or set your ladder on, the odds are it won’t move, you will!

Safety First!
Now let’s talk a little about using a roof rake. Make sure you wear some protective gear including safety glasses, gloves, a good thick coat and something around your neck. A hard hat isn’t a bad idea either. You can purchase them at any home improvement store. Remember, you will be pulling the snow off the roof and more than likely you will be standing right under it! This snow may contain the ice dam and that can be very dangerous if you get hit by it. Follow all the directions that come with the rake and make sure you have a clear path behind you in case you need to get out of the way in a hurry!

Heated Roof and Gutter Cables
If the ice is too thick and won’t come down, don’t try chipping it off. You will cause more damage to your roof and shingles! There are some alternate ways to get the ice to melt. One method is to install a heated gutter and roof cable to keep the ice from forming as a solid block. This can be installed over an existing roof and gutter system and plugs into your home’s electrical system. Make sure it is plugged into a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)! The cable should extend into your gutters and through your downspouts to keep an open path for the melting snow to travel. You may need to hire an electrician if you do not have exterior receptacles handy. You will want to follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions and using long extension cords are not recommended.

Ice Melt
Another method involves using a nylon stocking and professional ice melt. This type of product uses magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, and/or calcium chloride as the active ingredient. I would not recommend using sodium chloride (rock salt) because it may accelerate the corrosion of your aluminum or galvanized gutters. Fill a long nylon stocking with the ice melting product and tie off the end. The trick is to get it onto your roof perpendicular to your gutter over the ice. This will melt a channel into the ice dam allowing the water above it to flow right on through. You may need to place several of these socks every three to six feet apart if you have a long ice dam on your roof. Make sure your gutters are as clean as possible so the water will have a place to go.

Hot Water or Steam
It is possible to use a hose with hot water to melt the snow and ice off the roof. This should only be done if and ice dam has formed but it isn’t leaking. Adding more water to your leaking roof will only cause more problems! The lower the temperature below freezing, the less time you will have to get this to work. It’s not the best solution when the temperature is below 20 degrees. You will also need to be aware of the ground you are standing on. That water will freeze making your work area quite dangerous!

Trip to the Attic
A good way to prevent ice dams from forming and at the same time save your heating dollars is to take a trip into your attic. You attic space is an important part of your home. Maintaining this area can also save you money. Besides holding up your roof, your attic contains your insulation and ventilation systems that are just as important. If these are lacking, ice dams can be the result.

Vapor Barrier
Under your insulation you should find a vapor barrier. New homes use plastic. Older homes usually had paper that was attached to the first layer of insulation. Some very old homes didn’t have a vapor barrier at all. A vapor barrier helps to keep your warm moist air from leaking into your attic. You should only find one vapor barrier and that should be against the “warm side” of the attic space. This means it should be on top of the ceiling. If there is more than one, or the vapor barrier is facing the wrong direction, problems can occur. Moisture can get trapped between the layers and the insulation can become wet. If this happens, it no longer is insulating your home and can be a spot where mold could start growing. It would be best to correct this problem yourself or hire an insulation expert to give you an estimate for repairs.

Seal Gaps and Cracks
You will want to make sure that all holes to your home are properly sealed. Warm air can escape in many ways and making sure your attic is sealed to any living space definitely helps. You also want to make sure any heating or cooling ducts exposed in your attic are sealed and have a minimum of R-5 insulation wrapping them. Â A good product to use is called “Great Stuff.” It comes in an aerosol can and expands many times to seal gaps around your chimney, wiring, sill plates, etc. A couple of things to remember are, you only want to seal spaces leading to your living areas and you don’t want to seal any recessed lighting fixtures (called cans). In fact, it is important to make sure you don’t have any insulation covering these cans because earlier models aren’t designed to be covered and can overheat if they are covered.

After the vapor barrier has been checked and any holes leading to your living space have been sealed, you should make sure you have enough insulation in your attic. Wisconsin recommends a minimum R-38 or equivalent. That means you should have the following thicknesses depending upon the insulation material used:


R-Value per inch Total Thickness for R-38

Fiberglass Batt 

3.14 12 inches

Fiberglass Blown 

2.2 18 Inches

Rock Wool Blown

3.1 12 Inches

Cellulose Blown 

3.13 12 Inches


2.13 18 Inches

These materials can be used together to get the same insulation value.

  • For example, if you have 3-1/2″ of fiberglass batt already in your attic and want to blow in cellulose insulation here’s how to figure out how thick it needs to be to equal R-38:
  • 3-1/2″x 3.14 = R-11 (This calculates the R-Value of the existing insulation)R-38 ‘R-11 = R-27 (This calculates the additional R-Value you will need to get R-38)
  • R-27 / 3.13 = 8.62″(This calculates the thickness of Blown in Cellulose you will need)

That means to get an R-38 equivalent; you would need to add about 9 inches of blown in cellulose insulation. An important note if you have knob and tube wiring in your attic. It is not recommended to add insulation over this type of wiring because it could cause a fire hazard. Please check with an electrical contractor before adding insulation with this type of wiring!

Attic Ventilation
OK. You’ve checked your vapor barrier, filled any leaking holes, and your insulation is the proper depth. There is one last thing to do. Make sure your attic has the proper ventilation! Now this may appear to be a little goofy, but it is very important! While you are in your attic, have someone turn on your bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans. Nothing should be exhausting directly into your attic! If they are, these exhaust fans will need to be re-routed so they direct the exhaust air directly to the outside of your home. There are many ways to ventilate your attic. The most common methods are:

  • Soffit vents (located in your eves)
  • Gable vents (located on the sides of your home near the peak of the roof)
  • Roof Vents (Square shaped things cut into your roof near the peak)
  • Ridge Vents (A long vent made from various materials that is installed where two roof surfaces meet at the top of the home)

A well designed ventilation system will use a combination of these methods to create the proper draft to circulate the air through your attic. The rule of thumb is one square foot of free vent area for every 300 square feet of attic space. One half of this free ventilation area should be on the high side of the attic and the remainder should be on the low side of the attic. If you need help please contact a reputable roofing contractor.

Snow and Ice Barrier
If you have a new roof installed, make sure your roofing contractor includes the installation of a snow and ice barrier as part of the project. It is an impermeable membrane that is installed from the edge of the roof and extends up three to four feet from your gutters. This will prevent any water that may get under the shingles from penetrating the roof deck.

Thank You
We hope this information has been helpful. Winter can be a challenging time of the year for our homes in our northern climate. Knowing what causes ice dams and recognizing their formation can help you overcome the problems they can cause. There are many factors that need to come together to cause an ice dam and there is no good way to predict them. The moisture content of the snow, weather conditions, the energy efficiency of the home and how each family sets their thermostats all can contribute to this problem. If you need any additional information, please give us a call or drop us an e-mail. We would be happy to help!

Getting your Home ready for Winter

Written by Greg Liebig on Thursday, 16 October 2008. Posted in Home Maintenance

Well, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. That means that cold weather is just around the corner. While there’s still daylight, there are a few things you should do to prepare your home for the upcoming winter months. Snow, ice, and bitter cold weather are on the way and preparing your home will save you money! Air Conditioner

If you have an outdoor condensing unit, now is a good time to rake all the leaves away and put a cover over it. If you don’t have a cover, a good quality tarp and bungee cords will work just fine. This will help keep snow and ice from getting inside the condensing unit. Covering it will also help preserve the finish keeping it looking new.

Bibs — Not the kind your child wears!

If you have outdoor hose bibs, go downstairs and find the shut-off valves for them. They are usually located in the ceiling near the walls where the water line exits the home, but not always. Look for the water line starting at the outside wall and follow it back. You will usually find a valve with a round handle on it. Sometimes, there is even a little cap on the side of the valve. Turn the valve all the way to the right. This will close off the water supply. Go outside and open the valve about 1/4 of the way. Water will drip and then stop. If you have a valve with a cap on it, grab a small bucket and put this under the valve. Take off the cap. Water will drip for a while. By taking off this cap, you’re bleeding the water line that will prevent freezing. Once it stops dripping, put the cap back on.


Inspect your chimney for any blockages like nests, leaves, loose bricks, etc. Â Even though your furnace may not use the chimney anymore, your water heater might. When you close up your home for winter, exhausting those combustion gasses is very important. Carbon Monoxide can build up over time if your chimney is not working properly. If you don’t feel comfortable climbing on your roof, then don’t. There usually, there is a small door in the basement that is the cover for the chimney clean-out. Open it up and expect lots of stuff to fall out. Clean up the mess and then take a small mirror and look up the chimney during the day. You should be able to see daylight at the top. If you don’t, call a qualified chimney sweep to come to your home and do the cleaning for you. They will also inspect the condition of your chimney and let you know if there are problems lurking that you may not be aware of. Check your wood burning fireplace chimney at the same time. Make sure there isn’t any creosote build-up on the inside walls. Have a qualified chimney sweep do a thorough cleaning if you have any build-up. It’s a simple way to prevent chimney fires.


Make sure you have at least one working Carbon Monoxide detector. A preferred detector has Knight Hawk circuitry and a numerical display that communicates how much Carbon Monoxide is in your home in parts per million (ppm). Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are nauseous, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath or headaches. If you feel any of these, get fresh air right away and contact a doctor for proper diagnosis. Also, contact a HVAC technician to determine the source of the problem and have it corrected. Check and install smoke detectors in each bedroom. You should also have at least one smoke detector on each level of your home. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing your smoke detectors. If they are too close to the wall or installed in corners, they may not alarm in time. Change the batteries at least twice per year and check the operation monthly.


Having your heating system tuned up before winter is a necessity. Hire a qualified heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technician to look over your heating system. The will check the heat exchangers, adjust your burners, and make sure everything is operating efficiently. You and your family depend on your furnace keeping your home warm and cozy. A furnace that is not efficient will waste your heating dollars and can even be dangerous. A by-product of burning any fossil fuels is Carbon Monoxide. This is a deadly, odorless, colorless gas that can kill. Your furnace tune-up will help make sure your heating system is operating efficiently and safely. Make sure the area around the furnace is cleared for good circulation. Make sure that all flammable materials like paint thinners, fuels, solvents, clothing, and cardboard that may have been stored around the furnace during the summer are moved far away from the furnace. During the heating season, it is important to change your furnace filters on a regular basis. If you have disposable filters, they should be changed at the beginning of the heating season and then checked monthly. Each filter has an arrow printed on it that must point in the direction of the air flow. The air flow in most cases points towards the furnace.


After the leaves have fallen, you should clean your gutters. Gutters are very important even during the snowy season! They must be kept clean to allow the water to flow. Yes, water does flow even during the winter. Just much slower! As the sun heats the roof of your home, the snow will melt and find its way into your gutters. Debris in your gutters will block this flow and ice will form. In a short period of time, this ice build-up will start creeping up your roof leading to a serious problem called an ice-dam.


If your furnace is equipped with a built-in humidifier, change the water panel. Also, check for any leaks in your humidifier. Unmaintained humidifiers can cause serious damage to the heating system. Water that leaks inside of the furnace will rust it out from the inside. There also is a controller for your humidifier either next to the thermostat or it may be next to the humidifier by the furnace. This dial controls the amount of moisture (relative humidity) that is added to your home. This needs to be changed based on the outdoor temperature. If you don’t, too much moisture could be added to your home that could condense on your windows leading to additional problems.


Check your attic for proper insulation. Wisconsin recommends a minimum of R-38 for attic spaces. The R-value is a measurement of the resistance of a material to allow heat to pass through it. Fiberglass batts have an R-value of 3.14 per inch. So for an R-38 rating you should have at least 12 inches of fiberglass batts. Blown-in fiberglass requires about 18 inches. Blown-in cellulose requires about 12 inches. It is important to use non-faced (no paper or foil backing) if you are planning on adding fiberglass batts over any existing insulation. Make sure you keep all attic vents open. Attic ventilation is very important and it actually helps keep your home warmer in winter and cooler in summer!


Turn on all your outside lights and check for burned out bulbs. Since the days are getting shorter, you will be entering and leaving you home more often in the dark. Making sure your outdoor lighting is working will help keep you safe. There are inexpensive fixtures available at all home improvement stores that have motion sensors built in. They are easy to install and can really help by turning on the lights for you before you get to your door. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instruction carefully.


Prune any branches that overhang your home, especially the dead ones. Heavy snow and ice can coupled with winds can cause dead branches to break. Falling branches can damage your home, car, or people passing by your property. Branches that seem out of the way of your home may not be when they become snow laden. Nothing should be allowed to abrade your home, especially your roof. A Premature failure will be the result.

Railings and Stairs

Make sure your stairs have tight, grippable, handrails. You probably will be walking up and down your stairs with snow and ice on them. Handrails can be a lifesaver if you inadvertently slip. If they are in poor condition, they are of no help. Replace any loose or rusted fasteners. Remember, they have to be able to support your entire weight if you do slip and fall.

Weather Stripping

During the daylight, look at all of your doors. If the door is closed, you should not be able to see any light coming in from the outside around the door. If you do, your weather stripping should be replaced. This will help keep the cold air from coming into your home and reduce the drafts. Poor weather stripping is a big energy waster because your heating system has to heat all that cold air.

I hope these ideas will help you get through winter safely. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment on this discussion! Greg Liebig 4-Square Home Inspections, LLC

What is ERMI(sm)?

Written by Greg Liebig on Wednesday, 06 August 2008. Posted in Mold and Indoor Air Quality

ERMI (sm) is the acronym for Environmental Relative Moldiness Index. ERMI (sm) is a scale created from a National database of approximately 1100 homes sampled by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) during the 2006 American Healthy Home Survey and then analyzed by Qualitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (QPCR).

ERMI (sm) was developed by scientists at the USEPA to provide a straightforward, objective and standardized way to obtain results for mold investigations in homes as well as a tool used to evaluate the potential risk of indoor mold growth and associated health effects. Traditionally, mold analysis is done by either the microscopic observation of air samples and direct samples which is not standardized and can’t identify most species; or plate culturing of mold spores on various media – not all molds grow on the same medium.

The ERMI (sm) method involves the analysis of a single sample of dust from a home. Using Mold Specific Qualitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (MSQPCR), one can determine the presence of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequences that are unique to a particular mold species – DNA-based detection and quantification of molds to the species level.

How was ERMI (sm) Developed?

In initial studies by the EPA, the concentrations of different mold species in “moldy homes” (homes with visible mold growth or a history of water damage) and “reference homes” (homes with no visible mold) were compared. Based on those results, mold species were selected and grouped into those with higher concentrations in moldy homes (group 1) and those with lower concentrations (group 2). For the calculation of the ERMI (sm) all concentrations are log-transformed and the sum of group 2 is subtracted from the sum of group 1.

The Collection Process

The sample could be dust from the carpets in the house (providing historical data) and the primary method used for ERMI (sm). Carpet dust acts as a reservoir for mold spores and is more representative of mold levels over a period of time versus short term air samples. Other applications could be flour from a mill where the level of aflatoxin producing mold is critical. Dust from the window drapes, office furniture and even from the HVAC duct work can be collected (although this process has not been totally formalized as of this writing)

ERMI (sm) Advantages

ERMI (sm) is based on standardized sample and machine based analysis which takes the human element out of the process (as much as possible)Accurate identification down to the speciesSensitive detection at low levels of sporesAbility to detect total cellsProvides simple interpretation of resultsFast – QPCR takes 24 hours turnaround timeWhat ERMI (sm) is NotThe ERMI is a mold index, not a health index. Each person responds differently to mold exposure due to genetics, pre-existing health conditions, age, etc. Medical questions about mold are for the Health Professionals to address



Greg Liebig, CMI, CIAQT
Certified Master Inspector
B.S. Degree in Mechanical Engineering
WI License #1955-106

 Call (920)451-4646
Fax (920) 287-7969

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