Previous month:
January 2008
Next month:
March 2008

February 2008

Haul the Deck?

This is good information for homeowners to be aware of - for your own safety and in preparation for selling your property. Decks are very common areas of concern on the home inspection reports that most buyers obtain as a condition of the purchase contract. These issues, if severe enough, can jeopardize a sale all together or seriously affect your bottom line because these problems are often perceived as huge and costly to the average buyer, prompting demands for large concessions. Addressing the issues prior to listing your home allows you the time to properly plan and evaluate the costs of correction in order to make sound decisions in the negotiation process. Even if you don't actually DO the work ahead of time, having professional advice and estimates are in your best interest. - L

From the Desk of:Deck1
Richard A Hetzel
Architect (NY) & Home Designer (PA)

Well, let’s put it this way…much construction in the Poconos older than a few years is not the best, and decks may top the list of substandard construction.  Those buildings and decks were built when there was no particular building code, and inspection quality varied considerably.  The adoption of the Pennsylvania statewide building code in 2004, and the training of building officials have brought welcome change in quality and enforcement. Let’s look at some of the common problems of older decks.


Starting with the ground, we find many decks which are not built on foundations which extend below the frost line, generally required to be 3 feet 6 inches below the surface.  Such construction risks frost heave, as such decks are commonly built on concrete blocks lying on the surface.

While we’re down there, look at the bottoms of the deck posts.  They should be anchored by galvanized steel or cast aluminum post bases which keep the end of the wood post from contacting the concrete foundation.  The post bases should have an anchor bolt which extends into the concrete.

Moving up a little, the posts themselves are often 4x4 wood, but if the deck is a full story above the ground, 6x6 posts are a better choice.

Then we move up to the girders that support all the deck joists.  There is no way to suggest what these girders should be made up of, because it depends on the exact design loads they are carrying.  The problems in this area arise because many decks were just thrown up by carpenters who simply guessed at the girder requirements.  We frequently see girders with very visible sag or deflection, which may indicate that they are inadequate for the loads.

Deck2 Deck joists may or may not be undersized, and again, we would have to see the specific deck to evaluate them.  Current building codes require that the joists be attached to the girders using “hurricane clips”, inexpensive galvanized steel plates which prevent uplift of the deck in high winds. These were not required on older decks (pre-2004), but are very easy to install on an existing deck.

If your existing deck does not conform to current codes, you cannot be required to update it, unless it was recently built without a permit, when a permit was required.  However, if it has any of the deficiencies described, you may elect to improve it to the extent you feel will be safe and reasonable. Additionally, keep in mind that if you are adding to, or roofing over, or doing any other major changes to your deck, you may be required to bring the entire deck up to current code standards, including footings and foundations.


All the wood used so far in our deck should be pressure treated with preservative, or woods with natural decay resistance such as cedar or redwood.  Older deck lumber was treated primarily with Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), but this chemical has been phased out for residential use in favor of Alkaline Copper Quat (ACQ). Fasteners used with ACQ must be hot dip galvanized or stainless steel to prevent corrosion.

The decking itself (the “floor”) can be any of several products.  Older lower-quality decks have floors of pressure-treated lumber.  Better decks have cedar floors, and exquisitely expensive decks can have floors of teak or other exotic woods.  There are also several synthetic deck floor products on the market, most made of a combination of recycled plastics and wood fibers.

Surrounding the deck is a railing, which, since 2004, is required to have no space greater than 4 inches in width.  Many older decks have simple two-rail railings which would not meet current codes.  You are generally not required to upgrade older decks to new code requirements, but you may consider it, especially if you have very small children.  Railings can be made of pressure-treated wood, or naturally decay-resistant wood, vinyl, or exotic items like glass or plastic-sheathed cable.  Railings should be 36 inches high.

The place where the deck connects to the house is another potential trouble spot.  Usually a board is fastened to the house, and the deck joists connect to the board.  Very old decks might have a small ledger strip, such as a 2x2 nailed to the board on the house, and the joists rest on the ledger strip.  Newer decks connect the joists to the board with galvanized steel joist hangers.  The board itself should be lag-screwed into the house structure, with ½-inch diameter bolts not more than 32 inches on centers.  Existing decks can easily and inexpensively be retrofitted with both lag-screws and joist hangers, if they do not exist.

Finally, there should be metal flashing with extends up behind the siding, and out over the top of the attachment board.  Many older decks do not have this flashing, but it can be added with moderate expense.


There are many stories of deck collapses, some with tragic consequences, and most could have been avoided with careful inspection and upgrading. Older decks should be checked for the presence of the features described, and missing elements added if possible.  It’s easy to add most of the features, and doing so will improve the safety and longevity of your deck, and you won’t have to “haul the deck” to the garbage dump.

Here’s an excellent link to a good compilation of building code requirements for residential decks.  Building codes change every three years, and the current code may differ somewhat from the linked document, but it won’t be by much.

For information on permits and building requirements in your Monroe County home, contact your municipality.



The Importance of Proper Attic & Roof Ventilation

From the Desk of:
Jeff Remas, President
REMAS Inspections, Inc.

Just about everyone has an attic. Whether you use it for storage, finished space or never even look up there, you need to be aware of potential problems that can happen due to poor attic ventilation. Poor ventilation is not just a problem with attics. It affects cathedral ceilings the same way except you have no access into your cathedral ceiling so problems are normally severe by the time there are signs inside.

Why do we need our attic and cathedral ceilings to be well ventilated?

There are actually two main reasons this is important: Temperature & humidity control. Without temperature and humidity control an attic is likely to cause moisture- and heat-related problems.

Temperature & humidity control go together and need to be controlled during warmer months to keep attics cool by using ventilation to prevent hot, moist air from warping the roof sheathing. It also stops shingles from deteriorating prematurely due to excessive heat & moisture build up. Cooler air in the attic makes a home much easier to cool, which can result in lower energy costs.

During the cooler months, temperature & moisture control through ventilation is needed to keep attics dry. It stops water from backing up under shingles, damaging insulation, and rotting the framing. It also helps prevent ice dams from forming. Ice dams pose a special problem because they prevent melted water from running off the roof. Ice dams usually cause leaks inside your home, resultingVentilation_description_2 in framing and drywall damage along with the potential to harbor mold. 

Typical attic airflow----------->

The real cause of ice damming

In our northern climate, especially Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Poconos, the potential for ice damming is great and an all too common occurrence. There is one common misconception about the cause of ice dams. Recently while at a training seminar the subject of ice dams came up and a contractor said the cause was rain gutters. This could not be farther from the truth. The real cause is a combination of poor attic ventilation, and inadequate insulation.

An attic must be very close to the outside temperature to prevent ice dams from forming. Yes, we want a very cold attic in the winter time, the colder the better. This is why a well insulated attic with a good vapor barrier and minimal air leakage is needed. When hot air escapes from inside the home is heats the framing and decking of the attic if there is not adequate ventilation to let the heat escape. This causes the snow to melt on the roof. You will notice this during winter months when you look at older homes and they lose the snow off of their roof sooner than well insulated, new homes. As snow on a roof above the attic melts, it slowly drips down to the lower edge of the roof line. The lower edge of the roof is called the eve or soffit. This area is on the outside of the home and where they hang over there is no heat therefore this portion of the roof is much colder. It is as this point the dripping, melting snow stops because it is now freezing. Any roof whether it has gutters or not has the potential for ice dam growth. If you do not maintain your gutters the ice can build up and create more of a problem for you making the ice dam largRoofice_2er. But again, gutters are not the cause of ice dams, they can, however, make them worse. 

<-----------------How ice dams occur 

Other problems that start in the attic

Ice dams are not the only problem in the winter time. The moist air that escapes gets trapped in an inadequately vented attic and becomes frost on the bottom of the roof decking. This will cause heaving of the roof, cracking of the shingles and as it melts it drips off of the nails creating dark spots on your insulation. The biggest problem is the fact that this moisture penetrates the wood decking causing it to rot, warp and promote wood eating fungus and mold growth. As the winter season gives way to warmer temperatures, the potential for mold growth intensifies. Mold in the attic soon becomes mold inside the home and the walls.

Moisture and humidity

There are a few sources that feed moisture into attics. Those sources are: a wet crawlspace, a wet basement, bathroom vents, vent less gas appliances such as propane logs or wall heaters and finally stove vents that discharge into the attic.

  • Wet basements and crawlspaces generate a lot of moisture vapor that transmits right up into the attic.Bathroomventmold_2
  • All bathroom vents should be through the roof or side wall, never terminate inside a soffit. A soffit acts an in inlet and will bring that moisture right back in, causing mold.---------->
  • Vents for cooking appliances should terminate outside.
  • If you have a recirculation vent that is on an exterior wall, I would recommend that you vent it to the exterior.
  • A good insulation vapor barrier will help ease the amount of water that transmits into the attic. A family of 4 generates an average of 2-4 gallons of water vapor per day!

Achieving adequate ventilation

Optimal attic ventilation is done by having at least 1 square foot of ventilation for every 150 square feet of attic space by using a combination of vented soffit and a ridge vent. The soffit vents need to be kept open by the use of baffles in the attic between rafters that keep the insulation from blocking the opening; this is the number one ventilation problem found in attics.

If you have a hip roof with minimal horizontal ridge then a power vent is the next best option. Many new construction roof lines are complicated creating poor attic ventilation, so discuss your options with your architect and builder.

There are many products out there to ventilate your attic. Always do your homework and research prior to making that decision. As far as ridge vents are concerned, those with an outside baffle that keep rain and wind out are far better than simple, inexpensive rolled ridge vent. I personally recommend ShingleVent®II manufactured by Air Vent. The comparison data on this product appears to be unmatched by any competitor. I recently inspected a house that was nearing one million dollars with granite counter tops and other high end amenities. The roof ventilation was poor and Ridgeventslargephoto_3they used the cheapest rolled ridge vent out there. This was a complete mismatch in my opinion.   

<------------Ridge vent sample


Different methods of terminating bathroom vent------------------------->

The attic & roof need to peacefully coexist

If you are planning on replacing your roof, make sure that the roofing contractor who comes out to gives you and estimate also inspects the attic. This is the mark of a true professional. Ask them if they want to take a look in your attic. If they say “no” then you can eliminate them as a potential contractor.

It is advisable to tear off any existing layers and place down an “ice & water” barrier under the bottom edge of the roof. A second layer of shingles is acceptable in most cases, but not advisable. It can cause weight issues on your roof during snow periods and makes a good installation harder. Three layers are not acceptable and against the building code.

Preventative maintenance pays off

I would recommend that everyone take the time to inspect his/her attic just a little bit closer and if you have any questions, call a professional. Adequate attic insulation and ventilation are a very important part of maintaining your home. It helps with energy efficiency, air quality of the interior, shingle longevity and the structural stability of your roof. A little preventative maintenance can only benefit you and your home in the long term. Don’t wait until it is too late.

Let's Put An Addition On The House Vol. 2 Budgeting

From the Desk of:
Richard A Hetzel
Architect (NY) & Home Designer (PA)

Make a Budget and Stick To It
Having hopefully planned the addition successfully, now it’s time for a word about economy: a house is made up of many small items, and here is a key to staying within a budget, if the budget is realistic to start with.  Take floors for example.  The cheapest floor is perhaps vinyl tile, not very popular or stylish, so let’s say you instruct your designer to go up one step in quality.  What you must realize is that you may be tripling the cost of that item, or more, going from maybe three dollars per square foot, to ten dollars per square foot for, say, hardwood flooring.  As you might imagine, it doesn’t take too many such decisions to blow a construction budget clear out of the water!

Make the Most Of What You Have
Another word about economy:  it is best to make as much use of existing facilities as possible.  It makes no sense to tear down a masonry fireplace and build another masonry fireplace.  That could be a ten or fifteen thousand dollar item.  Same with bathrooms…try not to rip out one and build another.  While general construction might cost, say, $150 per square foot, a bathroom can easily exceed $25005_30 per square foot.  Similarly, it makes little sense to tear out a wall and build a new wall a foot away.  Find a way to work with what assets exist.

(An extensive addition and alteration that started life as a one-story ranch house-->)

Spend Money Where It Counts
A third word about economy: spend your money where it will bring the best return on investment.  Traditionally, ´kitchens and bathrooms lead the list in bringing the best return on investment.  After that come family rooms and additional bedrooms.  Things that bring the least return on investment are finished basements, garages and swimming pools.

Get Credit For What You Spend
On the other hand, situations may arise where it pays to just put your head down and spend the money.  There is another adage which applies, and that is “get credit for what you spend!”  The “wow” factor is important.  You don’t want to invite people to your newly-added-onto house and not have them see what you did.  You only get in budget trouble where you decide to “spend the money” in every possible place.

Put It All Together
Solidifying your plan with good economic decisions is not difficult but takes real discipline on the part of both owner and architect.  Follow these steps to make sure that your good planning will come to fruition without headaches and disasters:
   1. Make sound budget decisions

   2. Make use of existing assets

   3. Get credit for what you spend
Let’s put an addition on the house, now that you know better how to go about it.  It should be exciting and fun, not a headache.  Follow these steps, and those in Vol. 1, and it will be.

An example of an architect’s statement of probable cost for an extensive addition and alteration: 


General Requirements……………………………………….....23,900
Site Work…………………………………………………...….....1,000
Windows & Doors……………………………………………..14,220
Electrical………………………………………………………. ....9,600

Location Factor +13%.................................................................27,010


General Contractor Overhead & Profit………….......………...35,220


Contingency  10%........................................................................27,000

TOTAL PROBABLE COST……………………………….......297,000

SAY:                                                                                                 $295,000 -300,000


Addition                                  572 SF          150.00       85,800

Second Floor Addition       1260 SF          110.00     138,600

Alterations                             784 SF             75.00       58,800

Kitchen                                  allow                                 30,000

Three Baths                          allow                                 15,000


SAY:                                                                                                $325,000 – 330,000



Let's Put An Addition On The House Vol. 1 Planning

From the Desk of:
Richard A Hetzel
Architect (NY) & Home Designer (PA)

All right, let’s do it! Problem is, what’s our next step? The answer depends on what you want to do. Additions can be as simple as adding a few feet to the side of the house, or as complicated as completely reorganizing all the spaces in the house.

If I may insert a shameless bit of self-promotion, it’s always best to retain an architect to help with the design, because he or she will know where to start and in what order to proceed, and will be staunchly on your side when it comes to construction. Also, when bids are based upon detailed architectural drawings, they tend to be better, because you can be certain they are all based on exactly the same scope of work.

An architect can also help to avoid undesirable outcomes frequently seen here in the Poconos, such as powder rooms entered from a dining room, or electric panels in a living room wall, or inadequate or poorly thought out laundry facilities.

Step One: Examine Local Zoning

First step is always to examine local zoning, and determine what zoning requirements will affect the project. This cannot be done without having a survey map of the property which shows exactly where the house is located. There is no point putting a line on paper until the zoning is checked.

Step Two: Find The Problem

When planning an addition, the problem is to find the problem. Sometimes a client will know exactly what they want and where they want it, and those are often the simple ones to do. Other clients will say “we want to add on, but we don’t know whether to add to the side, add to the back, or add a second story”, and of course, that’s a little more complicated.

For the simple ones, the planning usually consists of a preliminary drawing, a conference where details are ironed out and comments taken, and then final drawings. This works, for example, for a simple ranch house where a new master suite is desired, and all that need be done is add on to the side, keeping all details the same as the existing house.

An example of a successful addition and alteration, and a stunning style change:

Before (above)
After (below)

Step Three: Choose the Correct Approach

The more complex additions involve an extra step in planning, called Schematic Design, where very sketchy floor plans examining each of the feasible options are prepared and presented. Each plan will typically have advantages and disadvantages, and often the client will say “I like Plan B best, but I don’t like this part of it, and I do like this feature from Plan C, but I don’t like Plan A at all” The designer’s job is now to incorporate the client’s wishes into a more detailed plan, have another conference to get comments about that, and then proceed to final drawings.

Sometimes a complete reorganization of spaces is called for. Suppose a client wishes to enlarge and modernize their kitchen and add a master suite, but can only add to one side of the house because of zoning or other restrictions. If we were to simply stick those rooms on to the house, we might end up with a house in which the “three zones” are indistinct and scattered.

Step Four: Make the Zones Separate And Distinct

The “three zones” in a house are public, semi-public, and private. The public zone doesn’t go much beyond the living room and dining room; it includes the spaces into which an insurance salesman, for example, might be invited. The semi-public zone includes spaces such as the kitchen and family room, into which acquaintances and friends might be invited. The private zone includes the bedrooms, where only the closest of friends and relatives would be welcome. The clearer and more distinct these zones are, the better the house will work.

Now back to our example. If we add a kitchen and master bedroom to one side of the house, when all the other bedrooms are on the other side, our private zone becomes scattered and mixed in with public and semi-public zones. But what if we make the former living room the master bedroom, and build a new living room instead? Now the zones are compact and clear, and the house will work well. That is an example of reorganizing the spaces when adding to the house.

Step Five: Put It All Together

Planning an addition requires some creativity, but it isn’t rocket science. If you (and your architect, of course) follow these steps, you won’t go very far wrong:

1. Check local zoning
2. Establish a reasonable budget
3. Find the problem
4. Keep you zones compact and distinct


Preparing for the Annual Invasion

No, this article is not about tourists =)

Many of us Pocono residents live in the woods, so bugs and critters are a way of life.  Below find some common-sense advice from one of my favorite home inspectors, Jeff Remas, who happens to be quite the expert on the subject of the creepy-crawlies. As you might expect, Jeff tells us that when it comes to Carpenter Ants prevention is the best medicine. Read on....

From the Desk of:
Jeffrey A. Remas, President
REMAS Inspections, Inc.

Carpenter Ants are native to Pennsylvania, are here to stay, and can be a problem for your home. It would be a good idea to know a few basic facts about this voracious insect and what you can do to control them. 

For those who like to know the class, order and family (science geeks like me) they are: Insecta – Hymenoptera - Formicidae. You may need to brush to dust off your old text books. The Carpenter Ant gets its name from hollowing out galleries in pieces of wood for nesting purposes. They excavate the wood, they do not eat it. If you look closely at the scientific name “Camponotus pennsylvanicus” you can see we are in the trenches of the carpenter ant war.

Carpenter Ants are relatively easy to identify. They are polymorphic which in aBcarpant basic sense means that they are of different sizes. We typically see the large black ant and assume they are the Carpenter Ant and 99.9% of the time you are probably right. The queens are about 1/2 – 5/8+” long and the workers are approximately 1/8 – 1/2” in length. The Carpenter Ant has three sections that make up its body. They are the head, thorax & abdomen from front to back. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Carpenter Ant is a single node that sticks up between the thorax and abdomen. You will probably need a magnifying glass to see it. Although most Carpenter Ants are black in color, you will also find some with black & red or completely red or brown.

Has your home been invaded? 

The only external indication of infestation other than actually seeing the ants or swarmers is the appearance of small openings on the surface of the wood. Through these openings the workers expel debris with consists of sawdust like shavings and/or fragments of insulation or insect body parts including parts of Carpenter Ants. Did I mention they are cannibals? The accumulation of such debris is an indication of infestation. Unlike termites and powder post beetles whose galleries are filled with frass and excrement, the galleries of the Carpenter Ant are smooth and clean. They prefer to attack wood softened by moisture and fungus so let’s all keep our basements and crawlspaces drier. Soft, moisture-laden, unprotected wood is a prime target for the Carpenter Ant. If you find Carpenter Ants with wings inside your home, especially during the spring and early summer you can be pretty sure that they have set up a colony inside your home. This is not a good situation by any stretch of the imagination. 

What is their plan of attack in our area of the Poconos?

 Carpenter Ants set up camp or “colonies” in trees and stumps. In the early spring they are waking from a long winter’s nap and are in search of carbohydrates to get some quick energy and begin their plight to drive all Pocono residents crazy. A dry, clean home that is well maintained will not be a target for the ants. They may forage for food and when they can’t find any food or shelter to set up a “satellite colony” they will leave. In the summer they are building their colony, feeding, breeding and creating trails from the main colony to the food source. At the end of summer they are in search of protein to help them through their long winter hibernation period.

Defending your position.

There are several things you can to to protect your home and control an infestation. The first thing to do would be to reduce the moisture and humidity in the crawlspace or basement.

Next, make sure that all exterior openings and cracks are repaired and caulked, and keep a good finish on the exterior walls (ie keep up with the painting/staining) will help to keep the ants out. 

One of the biggest causes of infestation is lack of landscaping maintenance. Keep all trees and plants trimmed away from the home. This will help promote air flow, too, keeping the house drier.

And of course, keep all food and condiments in airtight containers.

All of this will reduce the chance of infestation. This is not an all-inclusive list but you will be well on your way to safeguarding your position.

Regaining the upper hand.

If your home already has signs of Carpenter Ants the best solution is a professional pest service. The market is flooded with home solutions. Just go to Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, etc. and you will see plenty of products for you to use. If these products are not applied correctly you can make the situation worse. One of the common mistakes is for homeowners to apply a repellent to the exterior of the home as a barrier. Good idea, right? Not if you are trapping the interior infestation inside of the home.

Proper pest control of the Carpenter Ant includes the application of several different products (each for their own reason) and the identification of the colony and/or trail that they take. Professional pest control services have access to newer, safer, ecologically friendly chemicals with a long residual. Some chemicals are repellents, some are not and they all have their place. Some are rated for interior use and some for exterior only.

Remember, Carpenter Ant prevention or treatment is not a one time occurrence; it is a constant battle.