Tools of the Trade


**Tools of the Trade**


Sometimes a keen eye and fine tuned senses are just not enough to get the job done. That's when you need to bring in some old friends to help. Many of these tools are used on a day to day basis but some are very specialized and used for forensic investigations.


Tools you say, we have tools!!

And we know how to use them

Click on the QUESTION MARK for a link to a tool photo.


-Basic hand tools                                     


  • Checking for plumb and level-often fondations, walls, posts are leaning or bowing and we need to determine  the extent of the  problem before making a judgement on the severity. 


  • Removing access panels and covers-many inspectors will not remove covers or panels and say in there report "inaccessible". We don't buy that.  Sure that shortens inspection time but leaves the client hung out to dry.


  • Removing  attic hatches-often these hatches are screwed in place and it is time consuming to remove the cover. We have been covered in cellulose  when the contractor insulated OVER  the hatch from above. NOT GOOD!


  • Checking out of level/bowing floors- stretching a string line across the floor tells the whole story. A rise or fall of a 1/4" - 1/2" can affect tile stability. We have done forensic evaluations on tile failure and that is a leading cause. 


  • Removing electrical panel covers-We are truly shocked that many inspectors DO NOT remove the electrical panel covers.  That is an absolute necessity. We have discovered countless life threatening issues inside the panel boxes that otherwise would go undetected until. . . . . . well, you know the rest of the story



-Smoke and draft tools                                        


  • Draft gauge for use on oil fired appliances-oil fired appliances need a yearly service. Many times homeowners try to stretch that out. An out of tune oil burner can smoke and create carbon balls that could ignite. A simple draft test  at the firebox can signal a serious condition that would otherwise go undetected. 


  • Check draft pressure on gas heating appliances-all natural draft gas fired appliances vent into chimneys and have a very fragile draft pressure.  In some cases, the draft can be overcome by a strong bath fan, the dryer or a whole house fan and spill CO into the home.  A very simple smoke test confirms a proper draft.  


  • Smoke bombs for heat exchangers-rarely do we check furnace heat exchangers as this is a very technical process and well beyond the scope of a standard home inspection.  We have the smoke bombs available if it is absolutely necessary.   

  • Aerosol spray for smoke detectors-there are ocasions where a test button will not alarm a detector. One quick spray will check that function.  Irregardless of the outcome, the detector would need to be replaced BUT at least the family would be protected until that time.  

  • Smoke pencil checks air stream direction-there are many uses for a smoke pencil.  The wick provides a steady stream of smoke to detect air movement.  We have used this on heating equipment draft hoods, hot water tanks, space heaters, fans  and other appliances where the venting of  combustion gases needs to be verified. 


  • Butane igniter to light extinguished pilots-owners will often extinguish pilot lights on unused or seasonal appliances and most vacant properties. Many home inspectors will NOT light them and state in their report "the appliance was not functional". What a waste of clients time.  We ask permission from the broker present or the owner and light any pilots to fire the burners. The client will then have the opportunity to view the appliance in full operation instead of a service tech at a later date. Money saved for the client   


-Illumination and mirrors                        


  • Flashlights to lite the way- there are many inspections where access is limited or visibility is diminished. Having a variety of illumination tools is key to seeing in attics and crawlspaces.


  • Mega lite for those ugly dark holes-the word “crawlspace” is an ugly term and sometimes one can't even crawl. A 1,000,000 candlepower beam lights the way.


  • Mirrors to view those hard to reach areas-many roofs are not accessible by ladder and a view down the chimney flue is impossible. This is where many inspectors will note “inaccessible”. Contact a sweep. If there is a cleanout, then we can use an oversized mirror to look up the flue, saving the client time and money.



-Ladders and extra eyes    


  • A full complement of ladders to walk roofs-***this is a key element to an inspection and many significant defects cannot be determined from the ground.*** If a building has a semi-flat roof, it is impossible to inspect it from the ground. Not every roof can be safely accessed and we make that determination on site. If you are screening service providers, this is one aspect of any service where you should ask and weigh very heavily in favor of providers that “Walk Roofs”.


  • A step ladder to access ceiling hatches- if you don't access hatches, like some inspectors, then  they don't need a step ladder. Not only hatches, but step ladders are essential in viewing above suspended ceilings-a place where alot of sins are hidden. We carry one into every building. 


  • High powered binoculars- those roof areas that are not directly accessible can be viewed with high powered binoculars from the ground. We also can pinpoint the location of decayed trim on dormers and upper stories or view chimney issues close up.



-Electrical tools    


  • Analyze wiring on 2 wire circuits-the invention of circuit analyzers allows testing of circuits without ever touching any live wires. Two wire circuits are common in pre-1960's housing where no grounding exists. This is a major safety hazard and should be reported.


  • Analyze wiring on 3 wire circuits-even though a 3 prong receptacle is installed, that does not mean that circuit is grounded. We find many homes have been converted to 3 prong receptacles but no wiring upgrades were done. A serious electrical hazard.

    A circuit analyzer can determine if the wiring is correct on the receptacle and the presence of a grounding conductor. The device can also put a load on a circuit and check for any voltage drop.


  • Test GFCI circuits-depending on the age of the home, various locations will have GFCI protected receptacles. A GFCI(ground fault circuit interrupter) device has a trip and reset button-these devices are designed to trip if there is a current imbalance in the circuit, eliminating the potential for electrocution. Some of these devises are defective right out of the box.  We  check all devices at the inspection and  instruct the client on the best way to activate these devices so  continue to  provide that life saving feature.


  • Test AFCI circuits-(common on new construction) An AFCI(arc fault circuit interrupter) are specially designed breakers in the panels of new housing. These devices protect the circuits in rooms that otherwise have no GFCI protection. They detect breaks in cords and arcs in equipment plugged into convenience receptacles. Arcs are more dangerous in the creation of home fires.


  • Volt/Amp meter-we find oversized breakers in some electrical panels. An oversized breaker can allow excess current to flow in the circuit wire, heating it up past its allowable limit. When that happens, the insulation can break down creating the potential for an electrical fire. On the suspect circuit, we install a meter on the panel wiring and turn up that appliance. If the limits are exceeded, we note that as a serious electrical defect. Again, if the inspector does not remove the cover from the panel box, this serious safety issue will never be found.



-Heating system gauges and meters    


  • Monoxor II-Electronic gas analyzer- having very good senses in a home is a real benefit. We can sense the potential for CO in the air and, if needed, break out the meter to check the ppm(parts per million) concentrations. Any CO detected is cause for concern and the source MUST be located. Any serious issues will be reported immediately.


  • TIF-tests for gaseous vapor leaks- while LP has a natural odor, natural gas does not and the supplier adds “Mercaptan” to give the raw gas a rotten egg odor. If any odor is detected, we will attempt to located the source and report same to the owner.


  • Having a natural gas certification ensures we stay up on all of the latest codes and issues relating to gas fired appliances.



-Air temperature & humidity      


  • Tests for gas temperature in vents-occasionally, we need to determine the flue gas temperature to verify draft pressure or that the proper vent material was used. A sensor wand is placed in the draft stream to determine the flue gas temperature.


  • Tests for RH(relative humidity)- homes with high relative humidity(RH) are more prone to molds and moisture issues. We see this more in homes with wet basements or basement/crawlspaces with exposed soils. Humidity levels vary with the seasons and so a reading in January will not be the same as one in June.


  • Tests for air temperature- the air temperature has a bearing on the relative humidity so both readings need to be taken. Checking the attic temperature can determine how much heat is lost and how efficient the insulation is working. A warm attic on a cold day in a well ventilated space is “NOT GOOD”.


  • Check the surface temperature of an object-we have sensor probes, that when placed against an object, can determine its surface temperature. This has some specialty applications and is rarely used for home inspections.



-Moisture detection and water temperature    


  • Pin point gauge for measuring moisture-wood can absorb varying amount of water vapor and that liquid water is trapped behind finishes ultimately leading to decay. We often break out the moisture sensor tools and test sidings and trim for evidence of moisture or developing decay behind the paint. The pin prick sensor can also be used to confirm a water stain as “wet” on interior surfaces like drywall.


  • Deep wall probe for invasive decay analysis-on a consultant basis, we can return to any property and use the deep wall probe to access and test wood framing INSIDE the wall for moisture or the presence of decay. This is commonly done where water entry from a roof or plumbing leak may have entered a wall cavity.


  • Surface contact device for measuring water stains- when surface damage is unwanted, a special non-destructive moisture sensor is used. The sensor is placed against a surface to be checked and measures the low voltage electrical current between 2 pads. The higher the current flow, the more moisture is present. This is most useful in detecting whether a water stain is active or old.


  • Tap water temperature gauge- we find in many homes, the hot water tank temperature has been raised beyond recommended limits. This almost always signals an undersized tank. Scalding can occur at temperatures approaching 140 degrees. All new tanks are preset at the factory and cannot be readjusted. We check the tap water temperature on every home and show the client how to readjust the temperature when needed.



-Surface temperatures    


  • Infrared temperature sensing- the introduction of lasers and infrared technology to the tool suppliers of the inspection profession has opened up a host of specialty tools at our disposal. The premier tool is the infrared or IR temperature sensor. Using a laser pointer, the beam will detect surface temperatures from as little as inches away to as far away as the beam will project on a target. There are a host of applications to numerous to mention.



-Pressure and vacuum    


  • Digital manometer-this is a specialty tool not commonly used at inspections. We find its usefulness in our Radon Mitigation business in analyzing static pressure on the piping systems and negative pressure readings under the basement slabs. This is our commitment to using technology to its fullest advantage.



-Airflow measurement    

  • Digital anemometer-this tool is particulary useful in checking duct work airflow.  We have used it to check airflow velocities at furnace supply and return air registers.  Occupants often complain that rooms are to cold or to hot and typically duct design or airflow restrictions are to blame.

-Clothes make the man        

  • Tool vest-we have tried tool belts, porches, belt clips and other assorted ways of carrying tools. We found the vest to be the most durable and offers protection for sensetive tools. 
  • Coveralls- for those ugly crawlspaces, you need a good set of coveralls, a pull over hat and strong flashlight-and you best not be claustrophobic . 


Tools you say, we have tools!!

And now you know that