Friday, October 13, 2006



In recent years we have begun to see a house as a series of systems that are all interrelated. Change one system, and it effects all the others. A modern approach to construction and a full course of study called “building science” is now being incorporated into new houses. These methods can also be retrofitted into existing homes to help make them more energy efficient and healthy. The “sick house syndrome” is very real and probably effects more people (especially children) than we are aware of. This alone is reason enough to look into “balancing” our homes systems.
Add to this the rising cost of fuel, and the feeling that with all the money spent on conditioning (heating or cooling) the air, you may still be uncomfortable in certain areas of the house, and it becomes clear that changes need to be made.

We will focus our discussion on the heating season since we spend about five times the energy to heat our homes in the Northeast as we do to cool them in the summer. Although the same principals do apply so these measures will also save on cooling costs.
We’ve all heard that a house has to “breathe”. Unfortunately our houses tend to “wheeze”. We allow our conditioned air to leave the house, replacing it with “outside” air that we now have to recondition. It’s a 24/7 battle that most of us are losing! The good news is that with a little education we can take control and not only save some money, but live in a healthier environment!

I promise we will keep the physics to a minimum, but there are some laws that will greatly enhance your understanding of this thing called a house.
The first one that I missed (slept through) in high school is extremely important. When I read it again recently it opened my eyes to a lot of the problems in the majority of homes that I inspect and in my own house.
HEAT RISES is common knowledge but not totally accurate.
Into the basement, into the crawlspace, into the garage, into the walls, and eventually outside. The biggest heat loss combines these two principals (heat rising around cool air and moving towards cold) and sends a tremendous amount of your heat into the attic! This is called the “stack effect” and is constantly moving air through the house and to the outside.

As the heated air leaves the building, a drop in pressure occurs and outside air is drawn into the house to balance the pressure (more physics, sorry). Where does this “fresh” air come from? The easiest path! The garage (with the car, gas, paints, exhaust fumes, etc.), the damp musty crawlspace, with who knows what critters running through it, and the basement, with that smell that lets you know you’re in a basement (called mold). And worst of all it can be pulled back down your heating systems exhaust pipes when they’re running. That can bring carbon monoxide into the house and can be a major air quality concern!

Not to worry! It can be stopped or at least slowed way down! That’s why we’re here. Controlling the natural airflow through the house is a large part of “building science”. Remember, no matter how much insulation you see on the attic floor or basement ceiling (if any) , unless the air pathways have been sealed first, the heat from the house still escapes. These paths can be as small as a ¼” hole drilled through the floor to run a wire into another room or as large as your chimney that hasn’t been properly sealed where it passes through the floor. If you can control the air flow into the attic, the need for outside makeup air will decrease dramatically. Don’t you feel smart! You should. You now know more than a lot of builders do about air flow and heat loss. Unfortunately this probably includes the one that built your house.

Because every house and it’s occupants are different, each will require it’s own program to effectively deal with these conditions.
My initial evaluation consists of a visual walkthrough to further discuss this program focusing on your particular house and situation.
An infrared scan (heat sensing photography) will be performed to show you some large heat loss paths.
More educational information about the overall “Energy Smart” program (appliances, lighting, etc.) will be discussed.
Guidance can be provided as to “what do I do now?”.

This is an important program that will have many long and short term benefits. LET’S GET STARTED!

Thursday, October 12, 2006



We can break the shell of a house into three basic components called boundarys.
The outermost envelope is the water boundary. The roof, siding, foundation, and slab floor form a complete circle around the house and are designed to keep water out. It’s can be fairly easy to see if it fails as you’ll have a roof leak, water in the basement, etc.

Next is the thermal boundary or envelope. It defines the areas of the house that you are going to condition (heat in winter, cool in summer). It is usually not the same line around the house as the water boundary as it will not include the garage, crawlspaces, attics, and unfinished basements. If the area is not heated it is outside the thermal envelope (just like your back yard). Defining this line around your house and making sure it is continuous is extremely important to keeping your conditioned air in the house. Unless your house is new and built to “Energy Star” specifications, you have many breaks in your thermal barrier. WHY! Because nobody really cared about it or understood how a lot of small holes can equal one very large hole. Thirty to fifty percent of your heat can be going into areas that you don’t live in. That’s a lot of money to keep the mice comfortable!

The last barrier is the one that has changed the way we look at houses in the last few years. It is the air barrier (also called the pressure boundry). It’s the innermost surface of the house. It includes all of the walls, ceilings ,and floors that are within the thermal boundary. It should be in total contact with the thermal boundary (insulation) and free of any holes to the outside. This is the hardest concept to visualize, but once you see it (I’ll show you), you’ll be on your way to making your house a lot more efficient and healthy.

The obvious holes to the outside are doors and windows. You probably like to keep them closed during the heating and cooling seasons. But the amount of small holes underneath your attic insulation can add up to an open window! The insulation does not stop airflow (even if it was installed correctly) so heat is constantly leaving your house via the attic. HOW?
Your attic hatch or pull down stairs are usually made of thin plywood that allows a tremendous amount of heat to leave the house. In the summer when your attic is too hot to go into, that heat follows the same paths into the living space and now you have to cool it. Remember - the attic in most houses is outside the thermal boundary - just like your back yard.
All of your interior partition walls allow heat to enter inside them (they are not insulated) and into the attic either through holes cut for wires or the top of the wallboard itself.
If you remove the insulation you will see holes everywhere. Around pipes, chimneys, heat ducts - the list is long. That’s just the way houses are generally built.

Now to add insult to injury, with all of this air leaving the house, fresh air has to be brought in to replace it. From where? You guessed it - Outside! Through openings in your thermal and air barriers in the lower portions of the house. Not only are you losing heat through the attic but you’re bringing outside air in that you now have to condition. Some ventilation is absolutely necessary and we don’t want our houses to be too tight, but a happy medium can be reached between comfort, economy, and health. That’s what Building Science is about!

Generally if you air seal the attic then insulate, you will significantly slow down the air movement and save on heating costs. With some well placed insulation and air sealing in the lower areas of the house you can keep more of the heat that you’re paying for. But have your house evaluated first. Remember - any changes made to the airflow of the house can cause combustion appliances to back draft and allow exhaust fumes into the house. An energy audit by a certified energy star contractor is a must. It will cover how much leakage you have, where the leakage is, how much will it cost to fix, and what the payback on the investment will be. It will also measure appliance exhaust leakage and other safety issues. There are also government programs in place to help pay for the repairs or lower the interest rate for any loans used to do the repairs.
My role in this is to do a less intensive (and less expensive) evaluation with a focus on helping you understand the workings of your house. I want to make sure that you’re “in the loop”. As of now I can recommend people to do the actual audit, but I haven’t purchased the equipment yet.
I really believe this program will benefit you in many ways! Give me a call and we can discuss it further. Thanks! John Polgreen 845-228-5767
JPG Home Evaluation Services



Simply stated, everything radiates heat. Photographing this heat is thermography. Of particular interest to us is where our houses are radiating heat. You’ll be surprised how much is leaving without warming you up first.

On the side of the house you can see the warm
walls (light color) under the window and below
the electric meter. Both areas had insulation
removed and not replaced after work was done.

This is a tremendous amount of heat leaving
the attic. Unfortunately it’s very typical and
costing you a lot of money!
The reverse happens in the summer
as hot air radiates through an attic hatch
and now you have to cool it.

Thermal images can pinpoint the largest amounts of heat loss
and make repairs quicker and less costly. This improperly
installed insulation was not visible from the attic due to storage
and is allowing a good amount of heat to leave the house.

Thermal imaging is extremely useful to quickly determine areas of large heat loss and gain, but to fully understand how much this is costing you, how much it will cost to repair, and how it effects your indoor air quality, you will need to have a full energy audit performed.

ENERGY AUDITS are a comprehensive evaluation of your home to help determine how much air is moving through the house to the outside (taking conditioned -heated or cooled- air out) and forcing outside unconditioned air into the house to replace it.

This airflow is extremely important as the house does have to ventilate in order to remove indoor pollution (we do have to breath after all) so we don’t want the house too tight. An important part of the audit is to determine where the replacement air is coming from. We need to control the airflow so we don’t bring more polluted air into the house. The garage, unheated basement, crawlspace, and our heating appliance fluepipe can bring air into the house that is deadly. THAT’S A BIG PART OF AN ENERGY AUDIT! It’s great to save money and help save the planet by reducing fuel consumption, but it’s also about the health of you and your family.

Monday, January 16, 2006



Welcome! My name is John Polgreen from JPG Home Evaluation Services.

This has not been designed as a typical website, but as a web log (blog) so that it can serve as an educational tool that can be changed and republished instantly.

The idea is not only to help educate you before you buy a home, but to help answer questions and concerns that develop after you move in.

Conditions in and around your home will constantly change! Quick inspections every year can help prevent system failures and improve exterior conditions that can lead to health concerns such as mold. So when you schedule your yearly physical, set one up for your home as well to keep you both healthy!


Sunday, January 15, 2006


A home inspection is a very important piece of the buying process. The intent is to help determine the overall condition of the house and provide you with a timeline as to the amount and extent of repairs that all houses eventually need. The important aspect will be any major repairs that are needed immediately and may affect your ability or desire to even purchase the house. You have to keep in mind that a home inspection is a non intrusive (we can't move furniture, ceiling tiles, etc.), visual evaluation of the home only at the time of the inspection. You should plan on having other inspections done by specialists if concerns arise about any system.

THE ROOF AND ATTIC STRUCTURE can be a major expense and should be evaluated at length. If possible the roof should be walked on and the attic should be entered (even an attic with no stairs leading into it). Moisture problems can not only cause serious roof damage, but can contribute to mold formations that have become a real health concern.
EXTERIOR GRADING AND WATER DRAINAGE SYSTEMS are again extremely important in keeping water away from the house. Not only does water do damage to the structure itself, but the moist conditions are very inviting to wood destroying insects (termites, carpenter ants, etc.). With mold becoming such an issue these days, a considerable amount of time needs to be spent outside to determine any conditions that may be directing water towards the house. Even if standing water isn't noted in the basement, just moisture and typical building materials can cause a mold condition to develop so should be fully evaluated.
SIDING,DOORS,WINDOWS,WALKS,AND WALLS. If it's visible, it should be checked. Older houses may have layers of lead paint. If a lot of peeling paint is noted you may want to have it tested for lead. A main cause of children ingesting lead appears to be from contaminated soil (where the peeling paint has fallen) that gets tracked into the house.
are a main focus of a home inspection. As we mentioned during the exterior inspection, the problems caused by water are many. Water building up against the foundation (the area below the ground, usually stone or concrete, that carries the weight of the wooden structure above it) can deteriorate and actually move the walls in extreme conditions. Any part of the wooden structure that is in contact with the ground can also be damaged and should be fully evaluated. The moisture can also attract wood destroying insects (termites, carpenter ants, etc.) that can do considerable damage if left untreated. And then there's mold. It's also a wood destroying organism created to break down dead organic matter like trees and leaves. Unfortunately your house is filled with dead organic matter. Let's keep the water away from your house as best as possible and we'll all be better off!
The sizing and placement of structural members should also be evaluated as it may relate to any floor or wall movement noted during the interior room inspection.
HEATING AND AIR CONDITIONING systems will be evaluated depending on the season. The inspector should spend time with you describing how the system works, it's age and condition, and any upgrades that would be beneficial to install. In the overall scope of a home, the heating system is relatively inexpensive. Hidden costs for replacement can arise in older systems if asbestos type insulation was used to cover the unit or the heat pipes. If asbestos appears to be present it may be advisable to have an abatement company supply you with an estimate for removal.
Another hidden and potentially costly item would be a buried oil tank. Even if the current system is not running on oil, a previous one may have. This should be looked into very carefully. The inspector should look for any signs of a tank and consult with the owner if possible. The town should also have records of buried tanks (with any luck) so you should also check with them.
PLUMBING AND WASTE pipes should be evaluated for age and condition wherever they are visible. Older pipes can be costly to replace if they are behind finished walls and floors. The main waste pipe out to the street (or private septic system) can be checked from the inside by a plumber with a camera. The older the house is, the more important this inspection may be.
Private systems (wells and septic) can be tested at the inspection but again may need another company to fully evaluate them because for the most part are not visible.
ELECTRIC systems are again mostly concealed but can be checked with todays testing equipment. The panel box should be opened (this is the only intrusive aspect of an inspection that we deceided was so important that we should make an exception to the rule) and checked for damaged wiring, correct breaker size, and overall condition, material, and ages of the wiring. Many safety products have been developed in recent years that the inspector should also discuss.
BATHROOMS will be inspected for loose tiles,water pressure, leaking fixtures, and proper placement of electrical fixtures and safety outlets (G.F.C.I.'s).
INTERIOR ROOMS will be checked for proper heat, electric, window operation, and any floor settlement or movement. The ceilings should also be fully evaluated for any signs of moisture either from bathrooms ao the roof above.
FIREPLACES will be inspected from above and below if possible but this is another area that would be advisable to have a specialist come in and run a camera inside the flue to really determine it's condition.
THE KITCHEN will have all of the appliances,floors,and cabinets checked along with the electrical safety outlets as in the bathroom.

Don't forget THERE ARE NO STUPID QUESTIONS! We've been doing this for a long time and things that are very obvious to us, may not be to you. MAKE SURE YOUR INSPECTOR WILL TAKE AS MUCH TIME AS IT TAKES TO ANSWER ALL OF YOUR QUESTIONS!

It's also very important to try and schedule your inspector to be at the final walkthrough before closing. It provides the opportunity to check appliances, any electric outlets that were covered by furniture and generally go over the issues brought up at the original inspection.


Your real estate agent has spent time with you to determine where you would like to live, the size of the house you would like to live in, and if you can afford it!
As you begin to visit homes that fit your criterias, you can also do some "home inspecting " yourselves. Again: The more you know, the smoother it goes!
We will start from the top of the house and work down, covering some basic items that can be very costly. When I bought my first house, the cost of the home inspection cut into my down payment money. A new roof would have been out of the question! Even a second inspection would have cut it close.
I'm not trying to make you a home inspector through this site (I still need a job!) but hopefully this can help you ask more and better questions before you need me.
This brings me to a very important question: How do you find a good home inspector? And what makes a good inspection?
Talk to friends and family and find out if they have had a good experience with an inspector.
Take some names from you real estate agent.
Check the state department of licencing for inspectors in your area.
Call them!
My approach has always been to stay at the house until all of your questions are answered. We will look at every visible system and I will explain what I'm looking for and why. Everything that gets printed in the report will be discussed at the inspection (no surprises when the report arrives). And we can also have a good time! You can bring any family member that knows something about houses (or not) because I believe the more eyes the better. If my approach doesn't appeal to you, there are many other inspectors out there and I know one will have a style that suits you.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Of all the surprises at a home inspection, needing a new roof seems to catch the most people off guard. It can be hard to see, and most homeowners don't pay attention to it until it leaks.
The surface that you see from the ground is the roof covering. It comes in many materials with the most common being asphalt shingle. These can last anywhere from 15 to 40 years depending on the type. The most common of these are the standard three tab shingle that lays very flat, and an architectural grade that are layered to give the appearance of slate. The more expensive (and longer lasting) architectural grade are difficult to analyze from the ground but the three tab can show their age as the photo shows. Curling, cracking, and very dark areas (where the surface granules have worn off) will all indicate an older roof.
Slate and wood shingle roofs will need an expert to judge, but they also need periodic maintenance so the homeowner may be able to put you in touch with the person that takes care of the roof.
The costly part of the roof is under the covering, the roof deck. It can be large pieces of plywood (4'X8' sheets), planks, or as in the case of a wood shingle roof, nothing at all. If you are in the attic, look at the roof. If it's very discolored (mildewed), or you can see the backs of the wood shingles, this can indicate a more costly job either now or in the future depending on the condition of the top of the roof material.

Friday, January 13, 2006


As long as water continues to run downhill, exterior grading (the slope of the land and anything next to the house-ie.patios, sidewalks, driveways) will be the most important aspect of keeping your basement dry and usable.
When a house is built, a big hole is dug into the ground, the house is constructed, and the soil is replaced. Because it needs to be higher near the house so that water drains away from the foundation, the builder allows for the extra soil height and all is well. Unfortunately after the builder leaves the soil still settles, and in a few years is actually lower near the house than out in the yard eight feet away. Rain and melting snow are now directed towards the low areas (near the house) and the water may enter the basement. The same can be true for patios, walkways, driveways, anything near the house.
When everyone else is looking at the back yard and envisioning where the swingset will go, look to see if there are any noticible low areas near the house. When you go the basement look in these same areas for a sump pump or water stains. Water marks can also show up as discoloration on the bottoms of doors and interior walls. You don't need to see standing water to have water concerns, especially with todays mold issues.
Water in basements can be remedied but it can be costly.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


O.K. now we're inside. Go directly to the basement. See the kitchen later! You're a home inspector now!
Don't worry about the structure. That's why you'll always need us. Unless you get seasick walking from room to room (uneven floors), anything structural will probably be out of your eyesight.
What you can see is the heating system.
Like looking at a car, corrosion and worn paint can give you an idea of it's age (but not always it's condition). Replacing the furnace (blows hot air) or boiler (circulates hot water or steam) is not a major expense especially considering the money you can save on fuel. The newer units are much more efficient.
Two things that you can look for are asbestos wrapping on the pipes (looks like corregated cardboard as in the photo) and the presence of a buried oil tank. Asbestos should be removed or covered over as it is still a safety concern. It's best to do it when the house is empty so that the cleanup can include the floors where old pieces of insulation may have fallen.

If the house is heated with oil (as opposed to gas) you want to know where the tank is. WHERE'S THE TANK! If a previous sytem was oil fired,WHERE WAS THE TANK! If it was buried outside, WHERE IS IT NOW! Don't be the one caught with an abandoned, leaking oil tank. If there's one in the ground now, have it tested. If there was one in the ground for an older system, make sure there is paperwork that says it was removed or properly abandoned. Very important!!!Ask the owner or listing agent. Even if you see a tank in the basement or the system is gas fired now, there could be an older tank still buried outside. The sooner you know, the better. Of all the things that can slow down a sale, I think an abandoned oil tank may be the worst.