Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

Minnesota Stucco Repairs: Case Study #2, Moderate Repairs

April 15th, 2014 | No comments

This blog post, written by Reuben, has been posted at our new moisture testing web site.

In my mind, stucco repairs can be categorized as “minimal”, “moderate”, or “full replacement”.  In last weeks blog post, I discussed a retrofit stucco repair performed by Sunset Construction Group (SunsetCG), which I consider “minimal”… not to be confused with “minor”.  This week I’ll be taking a closer look at a stucco home with a combination retrofit / tear off redo performed by SunsetCG.   This type of repair would be what I consider “moderate”.

For the home I’ll be discussing, the area I’ll be focusing on had missing kickout flashing at a roof end, which led to extensive water intrusion and moisture damage at the front wall.  The areas with damage included the sheathing and framing.

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Minnesota Stucco Repairs: Case Study #1, Minimal Repairs

April 8th, 2014 | No comments

This blog post, written by Reuben, has been posted at our new moisture testing web site.

Moisture testing on relatively newer stucco houses (mid 1980s – late 2000s) has become standard practice when buying a home in Minnesota, and a lot of those tests reveal problems with moisture intrusion.  Water intrusion is never good news, but it’s important to know there are options to consider when exploring a repair strategy for a home with water damage.

Remediation protocols range from retrofit, which consists of partial repair and maintenance, to full tear off and replacement. A full tear-off and replace means removing all of the stucco and replacing with an alternate cladding material, such as James Hardie HardiePlank® or LP Smartside®.  Today we’ll be taking a closer look at a retrofit repair by Sunset Construction Group (SunsetCG), a Minnesota company that specializes in repairing stucco houses with moisture intrusion problems.

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The Real Story About Residential Fire Sprinklers in Minnesota

April 2nd, 2014 | No comments

Yesterday’s April Fools Day blog post got a lot of folks whipped up about residential sprinkler systems.  Just in case you missed it, here it is: April Fools Day Blog Post.

It contained several “tells”, such as a quote from local firehouse Captain Charles “Chuck” DeFries saying “I’m lovin’ it”, as well as a section at the end that said we may need to start installing ball bits on the edges of decks over 30″ high for fall protection.  I gotta assume most folks who got upset about this never read the whole thing, because I got a call from someone at the state shortly after 7:30 am, saying they were already receiving phone calls about this issue, so I promptly updated the post saying it was a joke.

Nevertheless, there was a little touch of truth with that post.

Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems Will Likely Be Required in New Minnesota Homes Very Soon.

The truth of the matter is that Minnesota will be adopting the 2012 IRC, which really does have a section that requires sprinkler systems for all new construction homes.  The plan is not to adopt the IRC “as-is”, however.  When Minnesota adopts the IRC, Chapter 1309 of the Minnesota Rules will largely consist of a bunch of amendments to the IRC.  To see a draft of the amendments, click here: .

At the bottom of page 20 of that document, there’s a section on “AUTOMATIC FIRE SPRINKLER SYSTEMS”.  The amendments carry on to the top of page 22.  The short version is that fire sprinkler systems will likely be required for new single family homes that are 4,500 sf and over.  This includes the unfinished areas of the home.

None of this is “new” news; I shared this information on the Structure Tech Facebook page nearly three months ago, and KSTP reported on this over five months ago: .

A web site with a petition to fight the sprinkler mandate was created by several builders associations as well as the Minnesota Association of Realtors® in response: .  Click that link for more information about the upcoming sprinkler mandate.  According to David Siegel, Executive Director of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, we’re actually just weeks away from the sprinkler proposal becoming a reality.

No joke.

Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections


Sprinkler Systems to be Required in All New MN Homes, Existing Homes by 2016

April 1st, 2014 | 7 comments

SprinklerPost update: Happy April Fools Day.  This is a joke.  There are no requirements to install sprinkler systems in existing homes, there never has been, and I’m sure there never will be.  Same goes for ball pits on the sides of stairways in lieu of guardrails.  I thought this was obvious, but the folks at the State started fielding angry calls by 7:30 am today.  I don’t want to make anyone’s life more difficult.

Minnesota will be following the steps of California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and South Carolina this year with our adoption of the 2012 International Residential Code (IRC), which includes a controversial provision for sprinkler systems.  It’s a fairly small paragraph in section R313 of the IRC, but also a very important one.  Here’s the text:

R313.2 One- and two-family dwellings automatic fire systems.
An automatic residential fire sprinkler system shall be installed in one- and two-family dwellings.

According to Fire Sprinkler Initiative, the cost of a sprinkler system will add approximately $1.35 per sprinklered square foot.  For a 2,500 sf home that is fully finished, this would add approximately $3,375 to the cost of the home.  It’s a tough pill to swallow, and home builders have been vehemently opposed to this requirement, but it’s finally going to happen in Minnesota.

Existing Home Requirements

According to Minnesota’s Chief Building Official Ronald McSevergny, there will be a phase-in requirement for sprinkler systems to be added to existing homes.  Beginning in 2015, all existing homes that are sold as part of a real estate transaction will be required to have a sprinkler system installed.  Details of exactly when the system will need to be installed are unclear at this point, but I suspect it will be similar to existing requirements for Truth-in-Sale of Housing Evaluations.

The plan is that by 2016, all existing homes will be required to have sprinkler systems installed.

When learning of the new requirement for residential sprinklers, local firehouse Captain Charles “Chuck” DeFries simply stated “I’m lovin’ it”. “This has always been a safety issue for us and we feel it’s just the next evolutionary step in fire safety”.

Next week I’ll be discussing other portions of the 2012 IRC, which includes a provision for added fall protection ‘safety zones’ for dropoffs greater than 30″ at decks, which includes options for rubber mulch or ball bits.

Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections


Four Important Smoke Alarm Safety Tips

March 25th, 2014 | 2 comments

#1: Get Photoelectric Smoke Alarms

There has already been two deadly fires in Minneapolis this year, both occurring within a month of each other.  One left five children dead on February 14th, and another left two adults dead on March 11th.  In both cases, smoke alarms were present.

The vast majority of residential smoke alarms are ionization alarms, which take a long time to respond to smoldering fires.  In many cases, they respond too late.

There is a different type of smoke alarm, available everywhere that smoke alarms are sold, which does not have this problem.  It’s called a photoelectric smoke alarm.  If you don’t have photoelectric smoke alarms installed in your home, get them.  They’re less prone to nuisance alarms and they respond to smoldering fires an average of 30 minutes faster.

Photoelectric smoke alarms are also not much more expensive than ionization smoke alarms.  The photo below shows a price tag at Costco, selling a two-pack for $15.99.

Photoelectric smoke alarms

I blogged about these smoke alarms last year (Photoelectric Smoke Alarms Are All You Need), where I included a couple of compelling news videos that should be enough to convince anyone who watches them to install photoelectric smoke alarms.  Photoelectric smoke alarms are currently required in Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont.  All new smoke alarms in Iowa must be dual-sensor smoke alarms, which must have a photoelectric sensor.

  • Boston Deputy Fire Chief Jay Fleming is a huge proponent of photoelectric smoke alarms.  When news stories come out about people dying in fires, Jay reaches out to that community urging them to make changes.
  • San Bruno home inspector Skip Walker is leading the charge in the home inspection community.  He spends his days inspecting houses and his evenings campaigning for photoelectric smoke alarms.
  • The World Fire Safety Foundation calls ionization smoke alarms “deadly”.
  • The International Association of Fire Fighters advocates the use of photoelectric smoke alarms.
  • The American Society of Home Inspectors advocates the use of photoelectric smoke alarms.

Again, if you don’t have photoelectric smoke alarms in your home, get them.

#2: Locate Smoke Alarms Properly

At a minimum, smoke alarms should be installed inside of each bedroom, and in at least one common area on every level.

Smoke Alarm Placement Diagram

The manufacturers installation instructions should be followed when installing smoke alarms.  The best place for a smoke alarm is typically on the ceiling, in the middle of the room.  If the smoke alarm is going to be installed on a wall or on the ceiling near a wall, don’t place it too close to the corner.  Most manufacturers recommend locating smoke alarms at least 4″ away from corners.

Smoke Alarm Placement

When installing smoke alarms on a sloped or peaked ceiling, use the diagram below for guidance.

Smoke Alarm Placement with Sloped Ceiling

#3: Replace Old Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms should be replaced every ten years.  Many smoke alarms have the date on the back of the alarm.  For example, the smoke alarm shown below was manufactured in 2001.

Smoke Alarm Date Code

If you can’t find a date on the back, assume it’s over ten years old and replace it.  Because CO alarms are only good for five or seven years, I don’t recommend buying smoke alarm / CO alarm combo units.  Buy individual alarms.

#4: Get Wireless Smoke Alarms For Older Homes

While homes built within the last twenty years have interconnected, hardwired smoke alarms with battery backups, older homes typically just have independent battery operated smoke alarms.  If a smoke alarm sounds in a basement and the occupants are sleeping on the second floor, will it wake them up?  That’s where wireless smoke alarms come in.  These smoke alarms communicate with each other just like interconnected hardwired smoke alarms; if one goes off, they all go off.   Amazon currently sells a two-pack of photoelectric, battery operated, wireless smoke alarms for about $75.  Up to eighteen alarms can be interconnected this way.

Photoelectric Wireless Smoke Alarms

To know if your existing smoke alarms are interconnected, hold down the test button and listen for all of the smoke alarms to sound at the same time.  Sometimes there will be a slight delay between when the first alarm sounds and the rest of the alarms sound, other times they all sound at the same time, like they do in the short video clip below.

I’m assuming everyone already knows to test their smoke alarms and replace the batteries regularly, so I’m not including those in this list.

p.s. – Usually when someone says smoke “detector”, they really mean smoke “alarm”.  They’re not the same thing.

Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections