Southport Builder Says, “Keep the Bugs Out of Your Home”

No one wants bugs in their home. So if you are buying or building in the Southeastern coast of North Carolina, taking  measures to prevent insect infestations is critical to protecting your home and providing peace of mind.

The most important thing you can do to protect your home from bugs is to have a pest control treatment service plan if you own a home or are considering building or purchasing a home in the coastal Carolinas. To do this enter into a contract with a pest control service to provide regular (monthly or quarterly) treatments to the home. There are  many companies that offer these services. The service usually includes (depending on your contract) regular visits to your home to apply insecticides that will both kill and prevent insect infestations. Baseboard areas and under sink cabinets are routinely sprayed with insecticides. The perimeter around the home is also sprayed with an insecticide. Outside areas are inspected with spider webs removed, wasp nests destroyed and termite traps monitored. The service also usually includes checking for evidence of termite infestation. Your contract may, but not necessarily, include some form of termite treatment and a guarantee that the service will pay for any repair if termites should be found and damage has occurred. You should ask about this when entering into your contract with your pest control contractor.

When building, W. Epstein Builders of Southport, NC includes in all of his homes the installation of the tubes-in-the-walls system for insect control. After the house is framed and the rough plumbing is in, the Home Team Pest Defense Services comes onto the job site and installs specially designed tubes throughout the house where bugs are most likely to enter the home or congregate (often around all of the plumbing and adjacent walls). The tubes have the tiniest of perforations and they are linked to a valve on the exterior of the home. Once the sheet-rock is installed, you cannot see the tubes because they are behind the walls. With this  system installed in the house the homeowner can contact Home Team Defense Services and contract with them for their pest services. When they come to the home, they will pressurize the system from the exterior valve and then inject the insecticide into the tubes from outside the home. This way no insecticide or odor gets into the living spaces of the home. The service can be completed even if the homeowner is not at home because there is no need to enter the home. This system must be installed during construction because it is a behind the walls system. W. Epstein Builders has found it to be very effective, and he includes it in all of his homes.

Termites are one of the most feared of all insect infestations. They can cause thousands of dollars of damage and potentially destroy a home, not to mention the psychological distress caused by knowing these critters are feeding on your house. The National Pest Management Association estimates that termites have caused $5 billion dollars worth of damage nationwide. And according to the Termite Infestation Probability Map developed by the U.S. Forrest Service North Carolina falls into the Moderate to Heavy zone for termite infestations. This means if you live in North Carolina, there is a good probability of having a termite infestation at some time. Therefore, it is critical to provide protection to minimize the possibility of having termite invade your home.

If you are buying a resale, your pre-purchase termite home inspection should discover if the home has termites. And full disclosure statements should reveal previous termite problems and corrective measures that were taken to resolve the problem and fix any damage.

If you are building a new home in North Carolina, building code requires builders to provide some type of termite protection during construction. The method of protection must be one that is approved by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services-Structural Pest Control Division. The conventional means of termite protection during construction are liquid treatments applied to the soil to form a continuous chemical barrier in the soil around both side of the foundation. For houses with crawlspaces, the soil around the piers that support the floor system is also treated. This barrier should prevent foraging termites from reaching the foundation and piers and, ultimately, the wood in your house. You do not treat the entire soil surface in the crawl space. For slab construction (including foundations, patios and garages), the entire soil surface is treated before the vapor barrier is installed and the slab poured over it. A properly done soil treatment is not a one-time application. It is done in stages from foundation to final grading.

These new home treatments are guaranteed for five years after which additional treatments or preventative actions are needed. Additional liquid termiticide treatments are most often used and are effective, but still require an annual inspection of the home. Another option is the use of termite baits. Termite baits are often used when a home is built on a slab or when extensive drilling would be required to treat areas such as porches, garages, lanais, and patios. The current bait delivery system or bait stations and their contents do NOT attract termites. Termite bait stations contain materials that the manufacturers have determined to be attractive food sources for the termites. Termites find the station during their normal foraging activities. To protect the whole house, stations are installed around the entire perimeter of the home. Baiting is a long-term, reduced-risk strategy to termite control. The currently used baits contain slower acting chemicals that may take several days or weeks to kill individual termites. This is critical to the success of this system because it provides time for the  termites to carry the bait back to the colonies and feed it to other termites within the nest. The baiting program continues year round. But you need to maintain your contract with your pest control company. If you decide to use the baiting system approach, make sure that your contract specifies that the house is inspected annually. No chemical treatment (liquid or bait) is going to be 100% effective every time, so annual inspection of your house is critical.

W. Epstein Builders says, “Keep your house safe from bug infestations by using a reputable pest control management service. You will be glad you did.”

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St. James Builder, Protecting Your Home from Water Damage

(Part two of a three part series, “Wind, Water and Bugs”)

Damage from water can devastate a home, and it does not necessarily take a storm for a home to undergo the effects of water damage. There are three basic ways water damages homes: humidity-related water damage, leaks from inside the home (plumbing & leaky showers) and water infiltration from outside the home (from rain).

Humidity-related damage can be a serious problem in coastal regions such as Southport. The high water content in the air, if allowed to penetrate and linger in the home can cause mold and mildew as well as buckle floors and weaken wood, which can provide a welcome place for termites. (I will write more about termites in the third part of this series, Wind, Water and Bugs). Two of the most effective means of controlling damaging humidity is to build your house either on a “green crawl space,” (see our article on this topic posted June 12, 2012) or on a raised slab (see our article on this topic posted July 31, 2012). And the second way is always keep your house properly conditioned—that means using your HVAC system to keep the humidity in your house at an optimum range, which is generally accepted as being between 40-50 percent. By purchasing an inexpensive hygrometer, you will be able to accurately measure the humidity level inside you home.

St. James custom home builder Bill Epstein explains, “To keep your house healthy and free of mold and mildew caused by humidity, it is critical to use your air conditioning system even when away from the home for an extended period of time.”

Leaks: The majority of leaks from inside the home stem from improperly installed tiled showers and baths or plumbing leaks.

Shower leaks can penetrate the walls and floor of the shower ruining walls, and floors and causing mold and mildew to grow behind the tile. A properly built shower is water proof without the tiles. Shower tile is  simply decorative and not a water proof layer. Walls behind the tile need to be backed with a cement backer board, such as Durock or Wonderboard. And a product such as a Durock membrane should be installed on the shower floor prior to tiling. Durock tile membrane is waterproof and vapor-permeable, which offers fast curing and mold-and-moisture protection.

Plumbing Leaks can also cause great damage to a home. When building a new home ask your builder to be sure to install frost-free hose bibs on outside spigots. Even though coastal North Carolina does not experience extreme cold or severe winters, it can get below freezing some nights. Therefore, it is simply good practice to shut off the outside water during the winter months to protect against frozen water in the pipes. Also make sure you know where your main water shut-off valve is located so you can shut off the water to the house if you will be away from your home for any length of time. It is good practice to occasionally check under your sinks for leaks, and to repair worn o-rings and washers in your plumbing fixtures. If your water heater is leaking, it is a dead water heater and needs to be replaced. Also check your refrigerators ice-maker to ensure water is not leaking behind the refrigerator and onto the floor. This can ruin the floor, which will result in a costly repair. All faucets are mechanical and do not last forever. Leaky faucets can be repaired; but if there is significant corrosion, it is best to simply replace and install a new one.

Water Infiltration from outside the home can be a serious problem especially in a low lying coastal region such as Southport, NC. The most important fact about water is that it always runs down hill and follows the path of least resistance.

If you are building or contemplating building a new home in coastal North Carolina, possible water infiltration is an area of concern to discuss with your builder. Your builder should be able to explain how he will set the house, build the foundation and grade the lot to minimize the possibility of water entering your home during a severe storm or  torrential rain. He should be able to provide information on the pitch of the driveway to avoid water entering the garage. He will want to walk the lot and shoot the grade for slope and low spots. He will most probably recommend a soil test of the area where the house will be placed on the lot. He will then be able to determine if your lot will require any additional excavation or dirt or ensure proper drainage of the water away from the house.

If you are looking to purchase a building lot, try to avoid property that has sitting water, low spots, a mushy feel to the soil when you walk on it or a property that has wetlands associated with it. It is not that a lot with these characteristics will not make a beautiful home site, but it will most certainly add substantially to the cost of building your home.

St. James builder, W. Epstein recommends, “Before building talk with your builder about what he does to protect your home from the possible damage of moisture and water. It may cost a little extra to build to protect you home from water, but it will be a whole lot less than having to pay for fixing water damage.”

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Southport, NC Custom Builder Talks “Wind, Water and Bugs”

(Part One of a Three part series)

What do wind, water and bugs have in common?  All three are forces of nature. And if you are considering building in the coastal southeast, these three forces can wreak havoc on a home. So it is important to understand building a home in the coastal Carolinas and how building codes and techniques are employed to minimize the possibility of these destructive forces.

This article will focus on WIND; the next article on WATER; and the last in this series of three will focus on BUGS.

This is a good time to turn our attention to the possible destructive properties of WIND as hurricane Isaac is in the news. Because the coastal Carolinas are susceptible to hurricanes, there is a danger that the high winds associated with hurricanes can turn roof shingles into flying missiles, blow through windows and tear apart a home and reduce it to a pile of twisted lumber. The good news is that North Carolina has (as have other hurricane-prone regions) recognized the potential for WIND catastrophes and has adopted building codes that are aimed at protecting against the WIND’S destruction.

So if you are considering building in the coastal region of the Carolinas, you should be aware that there are certain building requirements that are designed for your home to weather damaging winds. If you build right along the coast, your home will need to be built to meet 150 MPH wind standards. If you build in a coastal community such as St. James Plantation, Sea River Plantation, Arbor Creek, Winding River or any other community near Southport, your house will be built to codes designed to withstand 130 MPH winds. A storm with 130 mph winds is classified as a category 3 hurricane.

Here is an example of what 130 mph wind means. About 80% of wind damage starts with wind entry through the garage door. A category 3 hurricane exerts pressures equivalent to the weight of an SUV on a two car garage door. And yet most people don’t even know about the need for reinforced garage doors if they build or live in a hurricane-prone area. But thankfully North Carolina building codes require garage doors to be designed to certain specifications to withstand specific wind velocities. In communities near Southport the codes call for garage doors that carry a 130 mph wind load capacity because the communities in that area are in the 130 mph wind zone. The code also calls for doors and windows to be designed to withstand pressure from 130 mph winds. North Carolina building codes specify requirements in wind zones for the construction of footings and walls.  The codes also specifies how the walls are to be anchored to the foundation to withstand wind pressure. Home builders are also required to use roof shingles and siding that carry a 130 mph wind velocity rating.

Because these codes have been changed overtime as building materials have improved and we have learned more about construction in wind-prone areas, older homes in the Southport area may not be as a resistant to the ravages of high winds. This is something to consider if buying a resale. If you plan to renovate an older home, you will be required to follow the current NC codes. But newer homes are built to these codes and do offer a home protection, although not 100% guarantee, against the damage of hurricane wind forces.

Custom home builder, Bill Epstein of W. Epstein Builders, cautions, “Building to code does not guarantee there will be no damage from winds to a home. But it does help to minimize the most destructive power of sustained high winds.”

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St. James Custom Builder Says “Raise Your Slab”

Since St. James Plantation, and similar communities surrounding Southport, NC, draws people from all over the United States, it is important to understand some of the nuances of building in a Southeast coastal community. And since foundations provide fundamental structural support for any house, it is important to understand the types of foundations used in southeast coastal Carolina. There are three primary types of foundations: full basements, crawl spaces and concrete slabs. (Although right along the coast houses may also need to be built on foundational pilings.) Of the three primary foundations, basements are a rarity in coastal regions because of the flat terrain and high water tables. The two most common types of foundations found in southeast coastal communities such as St. James Plantation are a crawl space foundation or a concrete slab foundation. W. Epstein, a St. James builder, says he is often asked which is better, a crawl space foundation or a slab foundation. He says that each of these foundations has its advantages and disadvantages. The June 12, 2012 article, “St. James Plantation Custom Builder Encourages Green Crawl Spaces” discussed the crawl space foundation. Therefore, this article will focus on slab foundations.

A slab foundation is as its name implies—a flat, thick piece of concrete poured on the ground. It has no basement or crawl space. There are several methods of constructing a slab foundation. It is always prudent to ask your builder how he constructs his slab. But typically slab foundations in upscale communities such as St. James Plantation use a poured concrete footing, and a block foundation (3 courses or more) that is filled with dirt and compacted. A 4”-6” slab is then poured over the ground that is covered with a 6 mil polyurethane plastic sheet and reinforced mesh wire.

Five Course of Block used to Elevate Slab

One advantage of a slab foundation is that it generally costs less to construct than a crawl space. Although the actual cost savings may be minimal if the slab needs to be built up for proper water drainage and aesthetic purposes. A slab is most cost effective if the ground is level and the building lot is at or higher than the grade of the road. If the building lot sits down off of the road or the building area is low then additional block and fill dirt will be required to elevate the slab, which offsets some of the cost savings of slab construction. If the slab is not elevated properly, water may not adequately drain from the house or the house may be prone to water infiltration with heavy rains. Raising the slab will not only prevent water issues but it will also help avoid a “squat” appearance of the home, where porches are at grade rather than being elevated above the yard.

Filling Foundation to Form Slab Base

Another advantage of a slab foundation in the coastal southeastern US is that it is a slab and not a crawl space. A crawl space, unless constructed as a “green” crawl space, will, overtime, develop moisture problems which can lead to mold and mildew, buckled floors, musty orders in living spaces and damp wood that termites love to chew. And the floor of a slab built home generally maintains a more constant temperature since there are no air pockets around the floor as there are with a crawl space.

Pouring Slab

The major disadvantage of a slab foundation is that the  plumbing drains and water supply lines are not accessible once the slab is poured. If electrical outlets are desired in the floors those wire conduits also need to be put down before the slab is poured. So careful planning of the plumbing and electrical floor outlets is essential prior to constructing a slab foundation home. Other mechanicals such as the HVAC ducts and the majority of electrical wiring can be run through the attic and walls; and they remain accessible after moving in, although admittedly access is not as convenient as having a crawl space.

Elevated Slab Foundation

Bill Epstein, custom builder in Southport and St. James Plantation, says, “The type of foundation is ultimately the decision of the property owner. What is most important, if the owner decides on a slab foundation, is to talk with the builder about elevating the slab to ensure that water runs away from the house. It is also important to elevate the slab to give the house more curb appeal by avoiding a squat appearance or the ‘built in a hole’ look.”

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Southport NC Custom Builder Answers, “What’s That Black Stuff on My Roof?”

Did you ever drive through a community and take note of the roofs? In the practical sense, roofs protect the home from  nature’s harshest elements. But roofs are also an architectural feature that adds to curb appeal and helps to give a home its character. Roofs can be high pitched or almost flat. Roofs can have lots of peaks, or be a simple straight line. The roof design can be a gable or a hip, and roof shingles add texture and color to a home’s exterior. There can be no denying that the roof is critical to the aesthetics and exterior appeal of a house.

There are a variety of roofing materials such as metal, wood, slate or asphalt.  By far, asphalt shingles are the most commonly used roofing material in the US today, but they are not necessarily trouble free. Have you  ever noticed black stains and streaks cascading down on some roofs? This discoloration is caused by an algae known as Gloeocapsa Magma, and it may compromise the life of the shingles as well as detract from home’s appearance. This algae thrives in warm humid climates, and is particularly found in coastal Southeastern communities such as St. James, Oak Island and Southport, NC.

The algae is transported through the air and collects on the roof structures. It then feeds on the crushed limestone that is used in today’s asphalt shingles, and when it rains, the algae is carried down the roof, which causes the streaking. It usually appears first on the northern side of a sloped roof, where there is generally more shade and where moisture accumulates.

Originally asphalt shingles were manufactured with a felt paper as its foundation. The felt easily absorbed the asphalt material, which gave the shingles their wind-resistant weight and water-proof characteristic. In the late 1970s the roof manufacturing industry shifted from felt to making fiberglass based shingles. But the fiberglass absorbed much less asphalt making the shingle much too light to be effective against damaging winds. To solve this problem, in early 1990s manufacturers added crushed limestone to shingles to provide the needed weight. Unfortunately, the addition of the crushed limestone had the unintended consequence of feeding Gloeocapsa Magma-the nasty algae that causes ugly black streaking. So to solve the algae problem, shingle manufacturers in 1999 began to make an algae resistant (AR) shingle. The AR shingle contains small amounts of copper (or zinc oxide), which kills the algae and retards its growth.

However, the AR shingle also costs more ($4-$5 per square more), so many roofers and builders, in an effort to be competitive and “get the job” by keeping costs down did not use an AR shingle as their standard. Therefore, many homes built in the 1990s and into the early 2000s in the southeastern US exhibit the discoloration and the black streaking caused by the algae.

There is a debate about whether the algae does any actual harm to the integrity of the shingles, but it does seem to shorten the life of the shingles, and it is indisputable that it detracts from the attractiveness of the house. There are roof cleaning businesses  that can clean the algae from existing roofs, or a competent do-it-yourselfer can also remove the algae stains with prepared solutions of bleach. (Do NOT power wash the roof, it will ruin your shingles.) Once cleaned, annual maintenance is needed to continue to keep the roof looking good. Or copper strips can be placed on the roof to eliminate the problem altogether.

W Epstein Builders, Southport, NC custom builder notes, “All large roofing manufacturers make algae resistant asphalt shingles. And all good, reputable builders use AR shingles as their standard; but if you are building a new home and using an asphalt shingle, it never hurts to check with your builder to insure you are getting algae resistant shingles. And if you are in a home where black streaks are appearing on your roof, it is a good idea to get your roof cleaned. If not treated roof algae will reduce the life of your roof and diminish your home’s curb appeal.”

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