What I'm Seeing Now

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"Why Is The Upper Level So Hot?" How About Swiss Cheese Insulation?

My inspection the other day produced a very unusual circumstance.  Lighting.

There's nothing wrong with lighting, mind you.  I like it!  This was unusual in the extreme however.

The house was full of lights!  And I mean full!  Somebody had gone hog wild on the small, canister, halogen lights.  They were everywhere!

Every single room.  And not a couple.  Sixteen in the kitchen.  Six in the sun room off the kitchen.  Four in the dining room.  Two in the powder room!  Many, many more in the basement.  I mean every single room!  And in addition to the lights already there!  And on every level!

When we went upstairs it was very hot.  The upper level had its own HVAC unit, so the temperature should have been very controllable.

I looked at the thermostat - it said 83F.  BUT IT WAS SET AT 62F!  The temperature outdoors that day was near 100F.

That's a big problem.  It means that the AC will run and run and run and this system was not able to bring down the temperature.

To me that spells Cha-Ching!  It will also wear the system down and kill it.

I got the inevitable question:  "Why is the upper level so hot?"  A reasonable question to be sure.

My answer:  "I bet it's swiss cheese insulation.  And it has to do with the lights."

I was right!  Halogen lights get real hot.  I measured one for my client -- it came in at 247F!  That's hot!  You must provide a way for the heat generated to escape.  If you don't you risk a fire hazard.  And with so many lights, well...

THIS IS THE VIEW ABOVE ONE OF THE BEDROOMS!  You see what I mean about the lighting in general?  And look at the Swiss Cheese insulation there!  Do you think that will influence an HVAC system's ability to control the temperature?  It does!  Every room looked like this!  And the insulation has been disrupted such that its R-value (which should be 30 in this house, based on its age) is erratic at best. 

I gave the insulation a grade of POOR!

But this is not all!  Problem #2 is how it all was wired!  I knew from the insulation pattern that whoever installed these lights was not a professional.  This is a DIYer!  Or the infamous Uncle Bob, whom I meet so often!

Look at the wiring!  That is improper by any measure.  The cut out is wide open, so sparks can escape.  The insulation is cut too short, so the cables are vulnerable.

AND MANY LIGHTS IN THE ATTIC LOOKED LIKE THIS ONE!

Think carefully - If the wiring is like this on a majority of many of the lights that I can see, what do you think is happening on the sixty or so lights in the rest of the house that I cannot see?

Not only that!  I bet the kitchen lighting was taken off of the kitchen lights; the dining room off of the dining room chandelier; the office the same.  And on and on.

How much do you want to be that those junction boxes are extremely overloaded and/or not covered properly?

What does that mean?

IT MEANS THAT ALL OF THE LIGHTING IN THE HOUSE NEEDS TO BE REMOVED AND EXAMINED INDIVIDUALLY.  BY A PROFESSIONAL.  WHO CAN FIX WHAT HE FINDS TO BE IMPROPER.  PERIOD.

I assure you the seller won't be happy about that!  These lights are perfect! 

Wow, the electric bills in this house must be enormous.

My recommendation:  when you see a lot of anything, especially when it approaches too much, it almost always indicates amateur work.  And that can very often be a problem.  And if you want to find out if it is a problem, or just how much of a problem, hire a home inspector!

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 68 commentsJay Markanich • July 15 2011 05:55AM

Comments

Well when this one is over I'd like to know the outcome keep us informed

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty) about 9 years ago

These are scary pictures. It is always good to get a home inspection for this reason.

Posted by Gita Bantwal, REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel (RE/MAX Centre Realtors) about 9 years ago

These weren't the only problems with this place James.  There was one that might not be overcome.  I don't know if this buyer will continue with this house!

Gita - there is only one way to find this stuff out.  You have to go up there.  If it's possible to see the other wiring somehow, it needs to be examined also by the inspector.  In this case it was not, so an electrician is the only answer.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

I am always amazed when tenants think that turning the thermostat DOWN MORE makes an OVERworked system work BETTER!

Posted by Wallace S. Gibson, CPM, LandlordWhisperer (Gibson Management Group, Ltd.) about 9 years ago

Wallace - turning the system's temp UP might use less electricity if all other things are in their proper place, like insulation, but no matter the temperature, a system that is running all the time is not cheap!  And turning one down is not cheap!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Wow, this was a mess on many levels.  It would be really interesting to see the electric bills before/after they put these lights in - and to know their motivation.  Did the seller really think this looked good?

Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (406-270-3667, kat@thehousekat.com, Broker, Blackstone Realty Group - brokered by eXp Realty) about 9 years ago

I don't understand the numerous lights in any one of the rooms Kathleen.  Especially the kitchen!  One switch turns on 16 lights!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

 

Good morning, Jay. Some folks suffer from Light Affect Syndrome - Hence the lighting. Some unhandymen suffer from non-compos-mentos - hence the installation... 

 

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) about 9 years ago

All true Michael.  And sometimes I see things that I don't understand.  Even if he got all these lights for free, I don't understand.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

That is a lot of overhead ligthing and you are right that they owner is not going to like one bit that there are going to be reoccurring problems with the lights and the insulation, but that doesn't seem like something you should overlook as the new buyer.

Posted by Eileen Hsu, LICENSED REAL ESTATE SALESPERSON (Douglas Elliman Real Estate) about 9 years ago

You are right Eileen.  I think this is a big consideration for the new buyer, even if it was all installed correctly.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Wow, that sounds expensive to fix.  and, it sounds like they've been paying a lot of extra money on their utility bills.  I guess DIY can actually cost you way more money.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) about 9 years ago

It might be that DIY always does Debbie!  But, we shouldn't say "always..." should we?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Can you spell electrical inspection...love cheese...it's what we eat in Wisconsin but try to keep it out of the attic ! Have a great weekend !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Real Estate Agents - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) about 9 years ago

Thanks guys.  You too.  You seem to be paying it forward.  Around here some great cheese is produced by the Amish.  At least it's sold around here.  They are in central VA.  Oh, it would melt in the attic!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Jay - it's amazing how the seemingly smallest things can have the biggest impact on what it costs to maintain your home. Thanks!

Posted by Carol Zingone, Global Realtor in Jax Beach, FL - ABR, CRS, CIPS (Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Network Realty) about 9 years ago

Added up, Carol, this is probably 30 square yards of space without insulation on the upper level.  That might not be a small thing!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Jay, I'm surprised the breaker even holds with sixteen lights in the kitchen on one circuit.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA about 9 years ago

Who knows when they are on a long time Michael.  I did not keep them on during the inspection.  Kind of afraid!  I'll leave that to an electrician.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Wow....love this post! A home may look absolutely perfect until you get the keen trained eye of good home inspector. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Peggy James, Woodbridge Virginia Area Real Estate Specialist (EXIT Realty Associates) about 9 years ago

This is a great title, and I wonder how many homes have this kind of problem. I've seen some homes with no insulation, but nothing like this.

Posted by Larry Brewer - Benchmark Realty llc (Benchmark Realty LLc) about 9 years ago

Jay - What appears as a good idea--lots of lighting--may not be in the end.  Looks like someone didn't think the project through.  And anything that creates that much heat is dangerous, especially for materials subject to long term exposure, such as wiring.  

Posted by John Mulkey, Housing Guru (TheHousingGuru.com) about 9 years ago
Over and over again I see the merit of doing your home inspection first before going on the market.
Posted by Cheryl Ritchie, Southern Maryland 301-980-7566 (RE/MAX Leading Edge www.GoldenResults.com) about 9 years ago

Jay, haven't you heard about the new combo raidiant ceiling light/heat? :)  Those lights would never meet energy code around here.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 9 years ago

Just one more issue to overcome in selling homes in this market.  But if 4 lights is good, 8 is really good, 16 must be really, really good.  If you don't know exactly what you're doing, you're better off hiring a professional.  It will save you money in the long run.

Posted by Steve Roake, Get Moving With Steve (The Freedom Group - Keller Williams Realty Infinity) about 9 years ago

Jay, great analysis and recommendations to your buyer.  Proper insulation of the attic, and I think they are recommending R50 in our area now, is vital, both in summer and in winter.

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) about 9 years ago

Jay I'm glad you said you would leave that to an electrician.

When buying or building make sure you are hiring liscensed profesioals as well as and of coarse an inspector such as yourself.

Enjoy the day

Posted by Don MacLean, Realtor-Homes for Sale- Easton Mass (New England Real Estate Center Inc.) about 9 years ago

Thats gonna cost a pretty penny to fix!  I bet that kills the deal :-(

Posted by Justin Dibbs, REALTOR® - Ashburn Virginia Homes for Sale (Pearson Smith Realty) about 9 years ago

Jim-

I talking about the improper wiring and overloaded circuits.  That won't be cheap to fix.

Posted by Justin Dibbs, REALTOR® - Ashburn Virginia Homes for Sale (Pearson Smith Realty) about 9 years ago

Wow, that's not only an energy vampire but a huge potential for a fire!  I do not understand why owners like to do these DIY projects on one of the largest investments in their lives!

Posted by Jennifer Chiongbian, Real Estate Broker - NYC (Specializing in all types of Manhattan apts & townhouses) about 9 years ago

Jay, in a matter of a few hours Uncle Bob's self accomplished work of art became a work to be completed, and not cheaply.

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) about 9 years ago

Great post!  Another reason why I dislike some of these DIY shows on TV.  Not that Uncle Bob can't do a good job, but leaving it to Uncle can be very dangerous! 

Posted by Billie Hiser, A Different Way to do Mohave County Real Estate (Hiser & Co) about 9 years ago

Thanks Peggy, but it didn't take much to see all that lighting!  And when the kitchen lights were turned on, you could feel the combined heat!

Larry - it was an interesting arrangement!  There were so many holes in the bedroom ceilings it looked like a lunar scape!

John - the job was a disaster, top to bottom.  And that wasn't the only thing with the house!  The deal died, apparently that night.

Cheryl - that is an idea I have proposed around here for years and it has never taken hold.

Charlie - that was the Mother of All Combos!  I don't know what you would mean by energy code - too many lights, too much heat, too much insulation removed?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Steve - I think you hit the nail on the head!  And 60 around the house, well, that's like Fred Astaire dancing and singing, "I'm in heaven!"

Chris - is R-50 enough up there?  Does that leave any attic space?  Then there's no room for plywood and the thousand boxes in the attic shed.  Kidding...

Don - I seldom, if ever, make recommendations on reports as to what should be done.  As you say, it is something left for the professional.

Jim - the main level was a cool 72F, the temp asked for on the thermostat.  On the upper level near the ceiling the air was nearly 95F.  If there was conditioned air in the attic I couldn't tell!  I was up there for 20 minutes (it was 147F) and when I came down my shirt had magically changed colors!

That was only one thing on this house Justin.  The realtor called me today to set up another inspection.  That one apparently died that night.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Jennifer - possibly both!  I don't know if that was a DIY or a "good friend" with some "wonderful" suggestions for the house!  It was a DIY job though!

Ed - there was a lot of frightful stuff there.  I always worry about what I cannot see!

B&G - the Man From Uncle shows up a lot around here!  Probably where you are too!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Jay:

The situation you describes sound very dangerous.  After your inspection, I hope the homeowners contacted and an electrical contractor as soon as possible.  Then there's that insulation.

Posted by Evelyn Kennedy, Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA (Alain Pinel Realtors) about 9 years ago

I don't know Miss K!  I don't usually hear from the sellers unless they want to rip me a new one.  So far I don't have a new one.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Jay, DIYers electrical wiring. Yikes! It's so important for homebuyers to get a home inspection. How would a buyer know if a home has sub-standard or minimal standard insulation? In SoCal it gets hot and running the AC 24/7 is expensive. Good insulation will make all the difference in those SCE bills.

Posted by Pamela Seley, Residential Real Estate Agent serving SW RivCo CA (West Coast Realty Division) about 9 years ago

And insulation standards are changing Pamela.  It is pretty cheap to add insulation to most attics, especially if you do it yourself (DIYer!) but as to when you might break even is hard to know!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Such an educational post.  I think resolving this lighting problem will be very expensive for Mr. Seller...should have done it correctly the first time around!

Posted by Patricia Beck, Colorado Springs Realty (RE/MAX Properties, Inc., GRI, CDPE) about 9 years ago

Hi Jay,

I guess there was a special at Home Depot on Halogen Recessed lights when Mr Seller installed his DIY lighting project.

Good information, catchy title withe great pictures so I understand it fully. Thanks,

Vivian

Posted by Vivian Gilbert, ASP, RESA (Home Staging by Vivian LLC) about 9 years ago

Oh my your blogs are always so informative and scary!  

Posted by Coral Gundlach, Real Lives. Not Just Real Estate. (Compass) about 9 years ago

Hi Jay--I too am curious about the motivation for so many lights.  I love having well lit rooms, but I can't imagine a kitchen with 16--even if it was 1000 sq feet! 

Posted by Tamara Perlman (Referral Network Inc.) about 9 years ago

it's always fun and educational to see things from a professionals prospective. Thank you for a great post!

Posted by Joy Mengeringhausen, Realtor - Cape Coral, Greater Fort Myers (Century 21 Sunbelt) about 9 years ago

Sixteen lights might not be so bad if they were 3w LEDs. More expensive to buy, but much cheaper to operate and they are cooler than Halogens or regular incandescents.

 

Posted by John Mitchener, e-PRO, Ecobroker (Keller Williams Realty) about 9 years ago

Jay, I think you have nailed or should I say cheesed the problem. Fixing the lights and insulation will undoubtedly fix the cooling issue on the second floor.

The thing about the stack effect is it is caused and intensified by temperature differentials between the interior and the exterior and occurs in the winter. As we both know heat goes to cold and since that attic was a bit warm, I think we can say with reasonable certainty that two of the three principles of thermodynamics was in play making for a warm second floor.

I also believe it can be postulated that someone likes halogen can lights...a lot!

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 9 years ago

Wow, Jay, what a dangerous mess! I hope this situation was corrected. 

Posted by Barbara Altieri, REALTOR-Fairfield County CT Homes/Condos For Sale (Kinard Realty Group Fairfield and New Haven County CT Real Estate) about 9 years ago

Perfect example of why you use a pro to do inspections. Love to know how this one turns out as I am sure at some point I will run across the same thing.

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max By The Sea) about 9 years ago

Wow - 16 lights on one switch? That should have been the giveaway right there that the job wasn't done by a professional.

Posted by Patric Santo Pietro (RE/MAX First Realty) about 9 years ago

Wow! Great post, Jay! I hope these sellers were big enough to admit their mistake and remedy the problem in some way. This is just another example of why a professional home inspection is vital in protecting your buyer clients. Thanks for the story.

Posted by Scotti Jowers, Realtor - West Monroe, Louisiana Homes for Sale (CENTURY 21 Shackelford French, Search West Monroe Homes ) about 9 years ago

Another great explanation for the ignorant among us.  You have a very good understanding of this stuff.

Posted by Gene Riemenschneider, Turning Houses into Homes (Home Point Real Estate) about 9 years ago

I thought about putting in ceiling lights and now I'm glad it was only a thought! The idea of wiring in the attic made us change our minds. Sounds like it worked in our favor!

Posted by Gerard Gilbers, Your Marketing Master (Higher Authority Markeing) about 9 years ago

Great post.  It is wild the things we see in homes.  Thanks for point out something else to watch out for.

Posted by Karen Steed, Associate Broker Haralson Realty (Tallapoosa, Bremen, Waco, Buchanan, Temple, Carrollton) about 9 years ago
Sure glad we have inspectors that keep what is happening in the attic from staying in the attic so good buyers and home owners can make good decisions.  To me this type information should automatically be required on the Disclosure form.  A bad inspection not revealed should be a crime.
Posted by Robert Courtney, Century 21 All Islands, RA, CDPE, MCRE, CIAS about 9 years ago

Thanks for shedding some light on this for us.

Posted by Marshall Brown, BSEE, CHI (Mid America Inspection Services, LLC) about 9 years ago

Patricia - there were so many things on this house that the client ran away that night, I am told.  But yes, it will be expensive, if the seller is interested in fixing anything!

Vivian - that or he found a box of them on the highway!

Coral - this one scared me!  And the house was so hot upstairs!  I have to say, the sauna in the attic was special though.

Tamara - I have to say, and would never say this in front of a client, the numerous light fixtures were silly!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

You're welcome Giovina!  And I hope to post many more!

Correct John.  Much cooler!  And 60 of those would have been a pretty penny!

Jim - it wasn't stack.  I tried to respond politely to that one.  The drywall on the upper level was around 100F.  The AC couldn't combat all that radiant heat.  Funny how thermodynamics works! 

Here is another of the many problems with this house, to the right.  Hmmm...  what problems do you think that was causing?

Barbara - I don't think I'll hear.  The realtor called me yesterday to set up another inspection.

Bill - I have to say, I have never before run into so many lights in a single house!  The resolution will be selling to somebody who does not do a home inspection.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Patric - the kitchen switch turned on 12 I think, plus the original kitchen lights.  The switch for the eating area turned on the other four, and the four for the eating area, plus the chandelier for the eating area!  There were lights everywhere!

Scotti - if they end up doing that, it will be one expensive fix!

Gene - this isn't rocket science!  Home inspectors follow logic.  If the thermostat is set at 62 and producing 81 or so, there is a reason!  But, after some time doing this, you kind of know what is following what!

I'm glad to help Gerard!  If you do something like that, it is best to have a lighting consultant over, it really is.

Karen - this one wasn't too hard to spot!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Robert - there is no required disclosure in VA.  And besides, the sellers probably still disagree with me that this is a problem, so what's to disclose?

Marshall - and it was good...

Well, in this case, I guess the new light wasn't so good!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Yep, good ole Uncle Bob at it again & he brought his trusty sidekick Mickey Mouse who did the insulation work.

Posted by Lyn Sims, Schaumburg Real Estate (RE/MAX Suburban) about 9 years ago

Well, Lyn, 'twas a mess all over, 'twas!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

This post reminds me of your "light show" one where the kitchen lights started blinking on and off and the ceiling junction box was drywalled over. Nice!

Posted by Julie Babcock -Nook & Cranny Home Inspections (Nook & Cranny Home Inspections Tonawanda, NY) about 9 years ago

It is better to laugh than to cry.  At least the house didn't burn down yet and any new owners will understand what they have to do!  Jay, you rock!

Posted by Marge Piwowarski, Phoenix AZ Horse Property, LLC (Phoenix AZ Horse Property) about 9 years ago

Julie - I didn't see but imagine what the junction box (apparently still above the original kitchen light) must look like at this point.  Like a firework probably with cables sticking out everywhere.

Marge - my clients will not be the new owners.  They bailed out that same night.  I have another inspection with them this week.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

Or an octopus!

Posted by Julie Babcock -Nook & Cranny Home Inspections (Nook & Cranny Home Inspections Tonawanda, NY) about 9 years ago

Well, wouldn't you expect that, seeing so many lights apparently tied to a single other light?  And all over the house!  What I can't see, Julie, is as bothersome as what I can.  If what I can is bad, well...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

What a mess.  Even if everyting was insulated properly, those halogen lights still put out a ton of heat.  I can't wait until LEDs become affordable.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 9 years ago

That might be a while Reuben.  I hope the stupid incandescent restriction is overturned.  Nonetheless, I have a boat load of them!  The rest of my life is surely covered!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 9 years ago

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