What’s Wrong With This Picture?

There's a right way to do things, and then there's the wrong way. We've collected a bunch of examples of the wrong way and show some possible solutions.

Dangerous ladder set up
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

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Ladder safety is important

This window washer is making the most of a ladder that’s too short. But if his luck runs out, he’ll pay a hefty price for ignoring basic ladder safety rules. Two rules are being broken here.

The right way

The right way to use a ladder
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

First, work with three points of contact with the ladder at all times: two feet and a hand or two hands and a foot. And second, never work from the top three rungs of an extension ladder. The painter shown below is maintaining three points of contact and is standing on the fourth and fifth rungs down. The wide ladder standoff provides extra stability and the support to safely reach the top of the window.

Poorly planned egress
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

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No egress through this window

The window is the right size for a code-approved egress, but the small window well prevents the window from opening far enough.

The right way:

Well planned egress
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

To allow escape in the event of a fire, and allow firefighters easy access, many basement rooms, including bedrooms, are required by the Inter­national Residential Code (IRC) to have either an egress door or an egress window. Egress windows must meet the building code requirements for size and distance from the floor. In addition, the IRC has requirements for window well size, including that the window must be able to open fully. The building code requires a minimum window opening size of 20 inches wide and 24 inches tall. The net clear opening must be at least 5.7 square feet and the sill height must be no more than 44 inches from the floor.

Dangerous beam
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

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Floating Beam

There’s no sense installing a beam that’s not supported by a post. But that’s what this deck builder did. Maybe the builder assumed that attaching the beam to the end of another beam would do the trick.

The right way:

Floating beam done right
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

Splices in beams should be supported by a post or structural column of some sort. The post or column should rest on a footing that meets local building code requirements. And the beams should be connected to the post with an approved metal connector. Beams should be supported by at least 1 inch of solid wood over posts.

Dead Sparrow
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

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The Case of the Dead Sparrow

How does a sparrow end up dead on the water heater? In this case, it perched on the chimney, enjoying the warm exhaust. When carbon monoxide made it drowsy, it fell down the flue and managed to exit the water heater’s draft hood before expiring.

It all began with a detached flue cap, which created a heated hangout for birds. But bad or missing caps can lead to bigger trouble: Rainwater can damage the flue, furnace or water heater.

The right way:

VentCap
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

It pays to keep an eye on all roof penetrations. Nails can work loose on exposed flashing; rubber around plumbing vents can tear out or rot; and cement caps on masonry chimneys can crack. Those leaks will eventually cause you serious problems.

Really creative grounding
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

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Creative grounding

Even though a ground wire doesn’t usually carry electrical current, ground wire connections still need to follow the same rules as neutral and hot wires. Simply wrapping them around each other certainly doesn’t qualify as code compliant. And never place two wires on one screw terminal. Ground wires protect you from shocks and even electrocution. There is far less protection with poor, haphazard connections like these.

The right way:

Creative Grounding
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

The proper way to connect ground wires (when you have more than one) is to join them all together with a wire connector, including a “pigtail” for connecting them to the grounding screw on the outlet or switch.

Bad pipes
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

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Intro to electrolysis

When you connect galvanized pipe directly to copper, an electrical current develops that eventually creates corrosion and blockage inside the pipes. Often you’ll see some of this “galvanic corrosion” on the outside, too.

The right way:

Intro to electrolysis
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

Joining pipes with a dielectric union will reduce electrolysis because the two pipes are isolated electrically by the plastic components inside the fitting.

Bad gas faucet
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

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Natural gas faucet

Imagine this gas valve (shown at right) getting opened by mistake and filling the entire house with natural gas. Then imagine the house blowing to bits when that gas finds an ignition point like a pilot light or spark.

The right way:

Capped gas faucet
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

When you permanently disconnect a gas pipe, closing the valve isn’t enough. You must also plug or cap the pipe. And if you have an old “grease-pack” valve similar to the one shown at right, it’s best to get rid of it. Those old valves are prone to leaks.

Melted Water Heater Part
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

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Water heater warning sign

This water heater has a melted plastic grommet. The cause was hot exhaust gas ”backdrafting” from the draft hood and into the room rather than exiting the flue. That exhaust contains carbon monoxide, which can be deadly.

The right way:

CO Detector
Courtesy of the American Society of Home Inspectors

Backdrafting is hard to detect; it can be a one-time occurrence or a daily threat. The only safe solution is to install at least one CO detector on every level of a home, including the basement. To avoid false alarms, install them at least 15 feet away from fossil fuel–burning appliances like stoves, furnaces and water heaters.