In today’s show, we talk about specialized and expensive home inspection equipment and our preferred brands. Eric Houseman, inspection manager at Structure Tech joins the discussion.
They talk about telescoping ladders, Xtend+Climb ladders, and Little Giants. Eric shares about his preferred brand, the Werner 28-foot fiberglass with the Glidesafe technology. Then they talked about combustible gas detectors or gas sniffers that work like magic. Reuben talks about infrared cameras and the new brands and features in the market like the HIKMICRO Pocket2 and B20.
Reuben and Tessa discuss moisture meters and their mechanism. Other fancy tools that they talked about are combustion analyzers and flashlights. They also talk about the convenience of using suspenders during home inspections.
Eric and Reuben share the tools they carry in their tool pouches during inspections. Then they talked about specific tools such as the outlet tester, voltage sniffer, and thermometers. They also share home inspector must-have tools.
Reuben has written about some of these tools in his blogs, visit https://structuretech.com/home-inspector-tool-list/.
Continue to e-mail your feedback, questions, and suggestions to email@example.com.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. As always, your three-legged stool coming to you from the Northland, talking all things houses, home inspections, and anything else that’s rattling around in our brains. Well, welcome to today’s episode. This episode you’re listening to comes on the heels of home inspection mistakes. So we are in the middle of Christmas shopping season. I think we can say the word Christmas, right? Holiday season. And we thought it would be fun to… A bad word, yeah. We thought it’d be fun to talk a little bit about tools of this trade and new gadgets in case you have a gadget person in your life who might also be an inspector or somebody like that who wants to load up on some equipment. We thought we’d run through kind of the tools of this trade and any new fandangle things that Reuben and the team wanna want to talk about, right?
Reuben Saltzman: Yeah, let’s do it.
BO: All right.
RS: I put together a blog post back in 2017, at some… I don’t know, early ’17, I think, with our list of tools for home inspectors at Structure Tech. And I did it because I had shared it on a number of Facebook groups and forums and things like that over and over again. And it got to a point where I was just like, “I should make this public,” because I think a lot of home inspectors like having this information, what tools do we like to use? What’s the best tool? If you’re gonna get a screwdriver, I mean, some screwdrivers are better than others for doing this in my humble opinion. And we are very opinionated about the tools that we use.
Tessa Murry: Hey, don’t be a tool about it, Reuben. Don’t be a tool.
RS: Hey, oh. You got me.
TM: I have the right tool.
BO: Hey, before we get too far down this road, we have a guest today. Eric Houseman, who is the manager, the inspection manager at Structure Tech, and he also runs Inspection Services, has joined us ’cause Eric likes tools.
RS: I know very few people who are more particular about their tools. So we thought we’d get Eric on here too.
BO: Yeah. And Eric, you also have the greatest last name for anybody in the home inspection industry. So you want to wanna introduce yourself?
Eric Houseman: I remember I was about six months into inspecting when a client finally pointed that out to me, it went right over my head.
EH: And a client pointed it out to me. Yeah. I’ll admit it.
RS: Eric the Houseman.
EH: Yeah. It…
TM: Houseman. [laughter]
BO: Well, it’s clearly you were focused on the job at hand, the task at hand. And you weren’t gonna be interrupted with any kinda creative nonsense about your name, right?
EH: Correct. Yeah. And they prefaced that conversation by asking me if I changed my name when I got into the profession.
TM: Yeah. [laughter]
EH: I said, no, it is family name. So it just comes naturally, I guess. And yes, a hundred percent admitted tool nerd.
BO: See, but the problem with this, not this podcast can be very short because if we talk about the tools of the trade for the home inspection business, it’s really just a flashlight and a flathead screwdriver, right?
RS: No, heresy. [laughter]
BO: Honestly, if you follow the SOP, that’s really what you need to do the job.
RS: I suppose you could get away with a home inspection with those two, but, boy, there’s so much more. If you wanna dig into this and do the best job you possibly can for your clients, there’s a lot of tools that you ought to be carrying around in your truck or car or SUV, whatever.
BO: How about EV? Let’s just like go all in.
RS: Okay. All right.
TM: Reuben, didn’t you know someone who used to do home inspections on a motorcycle?
RS: Yes. Yes. He has since retired from this, but he would show up on his Harley and he wouldn’t even have a ladder. And I’ll leave it at that. Yes.
BO: Well, speaking of tools, if he had a ladder, it would be one of those super ass dangerous telescoping things that look like they’re going to collapse underneath you.
RS: Well, now, Tess is gonna get on you. Let’s go right into ladder. How’s that?
RS: Okay. Let’s start there.
TM: Do we need to revisit? This seems like a sore subject. No. People know how I feel about it, about telescoping ladders. I love them, personally. And they are not all created equal. We’ve talked about different brands, and I have my personal favorite, but I think that they are really… They’re space savers, they’re lightweight, they’re easy to maneuver in and out of people’s houses if you’re carrying them up lots of stairs, it’s nice. So I’m a big fan of a telescoping ladder.
RS: Yeah. We just talked about it last week or the week before when we had my pops on and you like the brand, you like the Xtend+Climb, right?
TM: Yes. Correct.
TM: Yep. Spelled with an X.
RS: Yes, yep. No need for the E…
TM: No. No E.
RS: At the beginning of Xtend.
BO: Eric, do you have one of those?
EH: I do, yes, but it is completely reserved for tight closets in mid-century houses. I don’t trust it.
TM: Do you have an Xtend+Climb? Or is it a different brand?
EH: I do, yes.
EH: And that personally would be the only one that I would trust.
RS: All right.
TM: Okay. I’ve seen a lot of pinched fingers and collapses on other brands. So you do have to be careful and know what you’re doing, like with any ladder setup, you know?
RS: But the kind of the standard that we all use is the little giant 17-foot ladder. That is a great one. It fits in the back of pretty much anything. It’ll get you onto, I’d say 95% of the roofs here in the Twin Cities. I mean, even when you got a two-story house, there’s almost always a section of roof that goes down one story and you can get from there onto the upper story with your little giant and you can bring it inside the house. And people complain about them being heavy. They’re not that heavy. Costco regularly has them on sale for like 140 bucks. They’re fantastic. If you’re gonna get one ladder, I’d say that’s the ladder to get. And then, finally, we got the extension ladders. Now, that’s a choice. Not all home inspectors are gonna wanna do that. I know that when our insurance company found out that we use 28-foot extension ladders to access some roofs, they dropped us. Dropped us like a bad habit.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. We had our first claim and it was a minor thing and had nothing to do with walking a roof, but it was the first claim we had and they went on our website, they looked at all the photos, they did a lot of digging into us and they went, “Oh, wait, they’re using these big extension ladders. You can either quit doing it or we’re dropping you.” And we had to go find a new insurance carrier. So I know that not a lot of home inspectors will do this, but for the ones who do, there’s a bunch of ladders out there. I prefer to use the lightest ladder possible for what I weigh ’cause those things are a bear to lift up and put on your vehicle and carry around the house. Yeah.
RS: That’s where I’m at.
TM: Yeah. Same. Same. The lightest ladder possible.
RS: Eric, you’ve got a preference for which brand, don’t you?
EH: Yeah. I had an aluminum Werner 28 foot with the adjustable feet on it. And I, again, like you just said, I went with like the lightest one possible just for ease of carrying and, man, you get that thing extended all the way out to 28 feet and you make it halfway up and it’s like you’re on a carnival ride.
EH: It just moves back and forth. And I finally said, “You know what? I’m done with this.” I went out and I bought a Werner 28 foot fiberglass with the Glidesafe technology. And I thought it was a little gimmicky at first, and then I used it at the hardware store. It’s like 50-60 percent easier to raise and lower than a standard extension ladder.
TM: Wait, what is Glidesafe?
EH: So it has a mechanism on it where when you… When it’s extended, you put it up over the safety, the D rungs, the safety latch, and there’s a grip on one side of it that you can pinch and you click the safety off and it comes down, and you just kind of feather your finger to allow it to lower slowly.
EH: It’s so easy. Other than the fact that it weighs twice as much as my aluminum ladder and I hate lifting it on my truck. But it doesn’t bounce, and it’s super easy to put up and down. It’s easier to put up and down than my aluminum one was.
RS: All right.
BO: What 28 footer?
BO: Do they come in longer versions if you wanted to really get your insurance company a little more edgy, like 36 feet or something?
EH: The next one is 32 and then 40 if I remember, right.
BO: I think you’d need two people to haul that 40 footer.
TM: You definitely need two people. Yeah.
EH: Oh, yeah.
RS: Yeah. Once you go past 28 feet, OSHA standards say, “You’re supposed to have two people operating that ladder.”
BO: Oh, is that so?
RS: Yep. Yeah.
BO: I should probably read some directions once in a while.
RS: That’s how we arrived at the 28 foot mark.
RS: Tallest one-person ladder that we should be operating.
BO: And that handles two stories no matter what.
RS: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever had a two story I couldn’t get on with that ladder. Yeah. Nope. All right. So…
BO: Okay, but these tools are so basic. Come on. Let’s get some gadgets here. Something that dings and whistles or whirls.
RS: All right. Well, we started with ladders so we continued with it. Let’s go with the specialized expensive home inspection equipment. This is the stuff where at Structure Tech we provide this. Most of the tools we have our home inspectors come to the table with, “You figure out your own ladder, your own screwdriver, your own flashlight, all that, but some of these tools are really specialized and the company owns them.” Let’s start with those. One of them starting off is the combustible gas detector or a gas sniffer. It’s something we use to find gas leaks. We also use it around gas fireplaces and boilers to look for exhaust gas leaks. So that it’s called the combustible gas detector. I’ve only found one that I like. And that’s the TIF. And the TIF has got a couple of different models, but I’m… I’ve been sold on the TIF 8900 for quite a long time. I think that’s all I’ve used for the past seven years, something like that. Eric, you agree?
TM: The TIF is what we used in the weatherization industry too.
TM: I don’t have any experience using anything different. [chuckle]
RS: I’ve tried some other ones, and I have not been happy with them. It’s not to say I’ve tried them all. There could be some better ones out there, but I haven’t found them.
BO: So what is that tool actually doing? You say it’s a gas sniffer. Is that, I mean, like the magic that happens behind the wand, is that really what it’s doing is smelling gas?
RS: Well, it really goes crazy when it finds combustible gases. I mean, things like natural gas or propane, something like that.
TM: Or bad breath.
RS: Methane, bad breath. Yeah.
RS: I mean, when you breathe on it… When you look at the instruction manual, it’ll give you a huge list of different gases it’ll detect. And there really is something in your breath that will set it off. And that’s what I use to make sure I’ve got it calibrated right. I can’t quote you the full list of what everything it’s detecting.
BO: What’s actually happening, I guess is what I’m saying and… Or do you not know? It’s just a magic machine.
RS: Tangent alert, Bill. You’re in the weeds. [laughter]
BO: That’s where my mind goes. All right.
TM: That’s above our pay grade. We…
RS: That’s right.
TM: That is way above our pay grade as home inspectors. It’s magic. That’s all we know. [laughter]
RS: Yeah. I like your answer, Tess.
TM: It’s magic.
BO: Does this thing ever need to be calibrated? Is there out of the box, it works until it doesn’t work?
RS: You calibrate it every time you turn it on. It’s got a little dial that you calibrate. It does have a sensor. The sensors can go bad. They are replaceable. It just pops right off. I found the biggest problem is that you have a weak battery and it’ll still operate, but it won’t work right. And it doesn’t really let you know until you try breathing on it and doesn’t zing when you breathe on it. That’s usually a dead battery.
BO: MSRP unsaid tool.
RS: 150 bucks maybe. Eric, do you know off the top of your head?
EH: It sounds about right. Yeah.
RS: Yeah. 150-200, although you know what? I should double it. Man, I got sticker shock the other day when I was just at the store looking at the prices of water heaters. Everything is more expensive. So it used to be about 150-200 bucks. I don’t know what it is today.
RS: Inflation, like crazy.
BO: So you no longer quote water heaters at $4 or $500 for an atmospherically vented one?
RS: You can pretty much double that today.
RS: I kid you not.
RS: All right. Tangent. Next item, infrared cameras. For the longest time, I always said the FLIR E6 is the infrared camera of choice for home inspections. So many good features about it. And I still love that camera if you’re into the pistol-style camera, but there’s another FLIR that a lot of inspectors on our team like because you can just slip it into your pocket, and it’s the C5. It’s not as good of a picture, but it’s comparable. It’s in the same ballpark. So that’s a nice camera, but there’s a new player on the market. I reviewed two of their comparable cameras. I’ve got reviews that I did within the past couple of months on my blog and it’s HIKMICRO. It’s spelled H-I-K, MICRO. And you’re not gonna do better for your money than the HIKMICRO camera. I mean, the image quality is just as good or better than FLIR’s for a comparable camera, and the price will be about a third. So if you’re gonna spend $2000 on an infrared camera, you’ll get a way superior picture with buying a $2000 HIKMICRO camera. So I hate to say it, but I don’t think we’ll ever be buying FLIR cameras again. I think we’ll be switching everything over to the HIKMICROS.
TM: Whoa. That’s a bold statement. You wrote some really good blogs about IR cameras over the years. Let me just say, Reuben, I was really impressed with your recent one about the HIKMICRO, and I was also just really blown away by the quality of the pictures that it took.
RS: Yeah, yeah.
TM: Do they take pictures of the room too that’s not an infrared image, like just the normal picture too?
RS: Yes, yes, with an asterisk. The first camera I tested was a pistol-style camera. It’s the B20 and when you… Something I didn’t like is you had to double pull the trigger to capture an image. So you double pull the trigger, you get your image, but then if you want a standard picture, and that’s something nice that FLIR does, it captures a standard and the other in one pull. If you wanted that, you had to go in their menu and you had to click the screen like seven times or something to switch it over, and then manually take that photo. And I told them this is garbage and I mentioned it in my review, and then they updated their firmware, and they made it so it will capture an infrared and a traditional photo in one pull or one double pull.
TM: Reuben, you are a god. You are.
RS: You’re hilarious. No, I just pointed out a very obvious oversight in their firmware, and they updated it and they fixed it. So the B20 does it, the handheld camera, they call it their pocket camera, that one does not, and they are working, they are going to get that fixed. I had mentioned this in my blog and they reached out to me and they’re like, “Hey, can you update your blog ’cause we can do that.” I said, “No, you can’t. [laughter] Once you fix it, let me know.” And they said, “All right, we will fix it.” So maybe it’ll be fixed by the time you listen to this podcast, who knows, but it’s coming.
TM: Is there a big price difference between the pocket one and the one you’re talking about?
RS: Great question, Tess. No, there’s not. I think it’s about $100 less for the HIKMICRO than the FLIR C5.
TM: Okay. Good to know.
RS: All right. So that’s infrared cameras. Next, we got pin probe moisture meters, or I should just say moisture meters. Oh, my goodness. We could do an entire podcast episode on moisture meters, right?
BO: No, no, no.
BO: What are you gonna going to talk about?
RS: I’m gonna talk about all the different ones out there and how you can get false positives and what it’s actually reading and how temperature makes a difference. We could get into a lot of stuff with these, but…
BO: No, are you talking about a small handheld sort of thing you would carry around just as you go? Or are you talking for a larger, more specific purpose, like invasive moisture testing or something?
RS: No, I’m just talking about the everyday carry, the EDC. [laughter] The everyday carry.
BO: There’s that many options for the EDC?
RS: There’s a lot.
TM: Yeah. You’ve written a blog on that too, haven’t you? We will…
RS: I have blogged about a number of moisture meters, yeah.
TM: We should link these blogs in our show notes.
RS: We should. We should. We will.
RS: But our favorite is the Protimeter SurveyMaster, and there’s the old style, which was torpedo shaped and it slipped right into your tool belt. And then, when GE bought them out, or I don’t remember exactly what happened. No, when they bought out GE, they changed the shape, and now it’s got this big bulbous head that doesn’t fit in your tool pouch nearly as well, but it works exactly the same way other than that.
TM: Reuben, you should have told them that they had a problem. I thought they would have fixed it by now.
RS: I’ll get on that, Tess. I’ll get right on that. I’ll shoot them an email as soon as we’re done recording here.
BO: Write a blog about it.
BO: Okay. What’s the mechanism of testing the moisture meters again? You told me once and I forgot.
RS: Of testing it?
BO: Well, no. I mean, what is it doing that it can tell you if there’s moisture?
RS: Well, there’s two things it does. You’ll have the pin probe, and it basically measures voltage between the two pins, and the less resistance, the more it might tell you that it has moisture. If you take a piece of wood, you stick it in dry wood, you’re not gonna get much electricity going through that dry wood, but then you stick it in really wet wood and it’ll conduct electricity a lot better and it’ll give you a higher reading. That’s the mechanism.
TM: Yeah. So the more resistance, the less moisture, correct?
RS: Correct. Did I say that backwards?
TM: I think so, but I’m not sure. Anyways, if there’s… If something’s really wet, it’s gonna conduct electricity better.
RS: That’s right.
TM: And… Yes. Okay.
TM: Yeah. That makes sense.
RS: And so it’s got that and then it’s also got the scan where it sends out a radio wave and it looks forward to the radio wave coming back and the denser something is, the more radio wave will come back. So if you’re using it on wood that’s wet, it’ll give you more radio wave coming back at you. If you accidentally scan something that’s metal, you got some drywall corner bead that you run it up against, it’s going to send back 100% and it’s going to peg your meter and you got a false positive. These are the weeds I didn’t want to go into, but here we are.
TM: You can’t help it.
BO: I find myself walking in tall meadows on a regular basis. Sorry.
RS: We like the Protimeter SurveyMaster. It’s not the only one out there. There’s a ton of them out there. And I really haven’t tried any of the other newer ones that have come onto the market probably within the last five years or so. Eric, have you tried anything recently?
EH: Didn’t we have that one that we had kind of passed around between a few inspectors that seemed to work pretty well. We had it at the test house.
RS: Yeah. I don’t remember the name of it.
EH: I don’t either.
RS: All right. This is a horrible pod. That’s okay.
BO: No, it’s not. It’s not. It works so well. You can’t remember what the name of it was.
TM: We’ll have to pay him back.
EH: Or maybe it was the fact that it was comparable and we were like, “It’s not giving us anything better than what we already have.”
RS: That could have been it.
BO: Are you out on the secondary market to get the model that you like now because the new bulbous model doesn’t fit in your pouch?
RS: It just doesn’t fit as well. We compromise. We use them. And we’ve bought a ton of the old ones off of eBay. And we Frankenstein them together. I mean, we’ll buy ones that don’t work. And then Brian is very good at taking apart these units and putting them back together and making them work with the shell that we like, so.
TM: God bless him.
RS: Yeah. God bless him. He does good work. All right. And then the final fancy tool that we provide is the combustion analyzer. And this is for doing kind of more advanced testing on furnaces and boilers and other combustion equipment like gas fireplaces. And it’s got a probe. It goes in the furnace flue and it measures a whole bunch of stuff like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, oxygen, flue gas temperature. It can do other things. It can even measure pressure, which is something that we never do for home inspections. But if we wanted to measure the draft of a water heater without actually turning on the water heater, you can stick it in the flue and you can verify that the flue is pulling air in.
RS: So it’s got all these different things that it can do. And for us, we love the Testo 310. That’s the specific model. We’ve used Bacharach and I think Bacharach makes a very good product, but they’re far more delicate. They would break all the time and we got tired of our equipment not working. And once we started switching over to the Testo, they’re so much more rugged.
TM: Yeah. I appreciate too the fact that with the Testo, you don’t have to plug in the probe every time or unplug it. With the Bacharach, the actual probe would be separate from the analyzer and you’d have to plug it in and there’s like three or four different things you have to plug in. And I’d always wonder if I was doing it correctly or not. And the Testo is just like one tool, you pull it out and you’re ready to go.
RS: Yep. I like those.
TM: Yeah. Agreed.
RS: Eric, any thoughts on those?
EH: I have had zero issues with the one that I’ve had since I started inspecting. I can say that that speaks volumes.
TM: I will say though the one thing you have to watch out for is to make sure that it’s calibrated. And so that’s your responsibility to track that and make sure you’re sending it in when it’s required. What is it every year, two years?
RS: They’re supposed to be calibrated annually. Yep. That’s right. Every year. And we will cross-check ours anytime we got two home inspectors at our property. It’s a good idea for them to stick their probes in the same flue and make sure they’re both getting about the same reading. And if you’re ever using one of those and you’re sticking in a flue and you get zero, and sometimes that will happen with the Testo, it’ll just show zero, alarm bells should start sounding and you should say, “I probably have a problem with my equipment.”
TM: Or the opposite has happened to me where it gives me a really high reading, a false high reading.
BO: Yeah, sure. Eric, I’m sure you’ve been called out to those situations where you get a reading from a unit and then an HVAC contractor comes out and gets a different reading and then they immediately put the inspector in front of the bus and say, “Run this person over.” Only to have us come back out and retest it and lo and behold, it might be that we were right and they were wrong.
RS: Yeah. I know we’ve recorded at least one podcast on just that topic, Bill.
BO: It must have slipped my memory.
RS: Well, we’ve been doing this for quite a few years now.
BO: All right. But let’s not forget the MSRP on both this unit and your moisture meter. What kind of investment is somebody looking at?
RS: Oh, yeah. Moisture meter, somewhere around 500 bucks and for the Testo, I think it’s about the same, isn’t it, Eric? Do you know off the top of your head?
EH: It feels like it, yeah. 2500-750.
TM: It’s interesting. The Bacharach’s are close to 900 now, looks like.
RS: Oh, my. Wow.
TM: So maybe prices have gone up on Testos as well. I’m not sure.
RS: Oh, yeah, they’ve gone up. Okay. The Google machine is telling me Amazon looks like the lowest price I can find for $660 right now.
RS: For Testo 310. Okay, they’ve gone up.
BO: All right. So that’s the basic stuff. Let’s get to the good stuff. The gadgets. What are you using?
RS: Don’t throw the gadgets, Bill. I’ve got nothing good anymore.
BO: Eric, I’m sure you’ve got something that you… You must have some…
TM: Ask him about flashlights. He gets really excited about his flashlights.
BO: Do you have a minimum lumen that you require your light to be? Lumens.
EH: No. I have somewhat the same requirements that Reuben has. It has to be, well, it has to be USB-C rechargeable. That’s a requirement first and foremost, that 18650, is that the number Reuben?
EH: 18650 battery or better. And then the one that I use primarily for inspecting is the LR35R from Fenix, which is their… Well, at the time it was their brightest compact flashlights, about five or six inches in length, 10,000 lumens at its brightest, which is ridiculously…
RS: Which is just ridiculous.
EH: Yeah. Well, it’s the one that you included, that white laser flashlight that you got from Fenix. You were using my LR35 to compare it to in your backyard.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.
TM: So it’s basically a weapon if you need to blind anyone or get away.
RS: Pretty much.
TM: You just pull out that flashlight and…
RS: Pretty much.
TM: Permanently blind someone.
RS: But, I mean, really, if you got a flashlight in the 1,000 lumen plus category, I think that’s probably sufficient. And our preference is definitely Fenix, the Fenix brand. I’ve been a big fan of their flashlights for over a decade now. I’m officially a Fenix ambassador. I don’t get any type of kickback or anything if you buy their products, but I do get some discounts because I buy so much of their stuff and I talk about them. I like their products.
TM: How many Fenix flashlights do you have, Reuben ? Can I ask you that?
RS: I’ve got a gang load, Tess. I have no idea. I’m looking at, I’m pulling out my drawer here. I can show them all to you.
TM: One for every day of the week.
BO: He doesn’t have the flashlights in his drawer. He has a ledger of every flashlight he’s owned and serial number and such.
TM: I will say, though, I usually am not someone who likes to spend a lot of money on these tools, if not necessary, but I went through several cheap flashlights in the very beginning of my home inspection career, and then I finally pulled the trigger and bought a Fenix flashlight, and it was the best investment I made in my tools. It served me all this time. It’s been a great flashlight. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dropped it off a roof, and it’s super bright and small, fit in my tool belt, fits in my hand really easy, and I never regretted purchasing it. I can’t even remember how much I bought it for. It’s a Fenix PD35. I don’t even think they probably make them anymore.
RS: I don’t think they do. They’ve got newer versions, and I’ve got one that I love. It’s really similar to that one. It’s a TK16. It’s a single battery flashlight. The one Eric’s talking about, it’s a double battery flashlight, but this one has the newer version of the 18650. I want to say it’s a 28650, something like that. No, it’s a 21700. It jumps it up to 5000 milliamp hours for a very long runtime, very bright flashlight. I think this one is like 3500 lumens, I believe. It’s the same size as what you’ve got, Tess. It fits in the palm of your hand very easily. And I find myself reaching for this one more than anything else, just ’cause I like the size, and I don’t need 10,000 lumens. I’d go with a smaller flashlight, and I’d compromise a little bit of that brightness.
TM: Eric, can you comment on the heat that a double battery 10,000 lumen flashlight puts off?
EH: It’s very hot. I believe one of the inspectors on our team, Cory, I think she has the same flashlight that I do. And correct me if I’m wrong, but did it not burn a hole through her pouch, her tool pouch?
EH: That’s it. I left mine on ’cause Reuben had asked me to do this. He asked me how hot it got. I left it on at the highest lumen for about 90 seconds, and the head of the flashlight, not the glass, the metal head of the flashlight got up to 164 degrees in 90 seconds.
TM: After 90 seconds?
BO: That doesn’t sound safe.
EH: So if you leave it on in your pocket, you’re going to know.
RS: Yeah, yeah. That’s…
TM: We hope you know.
RS: Yeah, 140 degrees is painful. That’s the pain threshold of how long you can hold onto something for, but that’s ridiculous.
TM: I’m sure there are stories of people burning holes in their pockets, pant pockets.
RS: Possibly. And you know what? I’ll say one other thing. There’s this new class of flashlight, the white laser flashlight. I reviewed Fenix’s white laser flashlight, expensive flashlight. I think it retails for somewhere around 250. It might be like 270 or something. Really expensive. And it is a very concentrated beam of light, and it will shine for almost a mile. And yeah, it’s crazy.
BO: Why? Who cares?
RS: Well, I don’t know ’cause it’s cool, but I’ll say for home inspections, useless. You do not need this as a home inspector.
TM: You know what though? There’s been several times where you’re trying to point something out to a client like at the roof line or the soffit, and you’re pointing it out, and if you had one of those little laser things, it’d be very easy.
BO: A mile away. Come on.
RS: I know. I know.
BO: Let’s see if you guys have found one of these. Everybody’s moving their smartphones to do their inspections on so they can build reports as they go. Is there any sort of housing that you can drop your smartphone in that would integrate a flashlight that would give you the lumens that you want so you can actually light up the picture that you want to take in a deep, dark spot and get a good resolution without having to hold the flashlight and try to click the camera all at the same time?
RS: That’s a great idea, Bill. I’m not aware of any such beast.
BO: It feels like Otter would be on top of that or Fenix or some combination of both.
TM: What kind of case do you use, Eric? Does it charge the phone?
EH: I had one of those, but they’re not very durable. So I just have an OtterBox that I use when I inspect and the ever important pop socket on the back because then less likely to drop it. You hook a couple of fingers on it. You can do everything one handed.
BO: Now, we’re getting to the meat of this. Those are the kinds of tools that you need, not some…
EH: And then if you use the belt clip, you put the belt clip on your tool belt and then you can click it to your tool belt so you have both of your hands free to inspect.
TM: If you’ve got a suspender or something?
EH: Yeah. Which I don’t know why you wouldn’t have suspenders. Suspenders are awesome.
RS: Yeah. I used to laugh at my dad and then my hips just couldn’t take it anymore and I got myself some suspenders and now…
TM: Your hips don’t lie, Reuben. Your hips don’t lie.
RS: They began to lie.
TM: No, same. I did. I had a tool belt that just went around my hips for a long time and it hurt my hips and my back and then I finally gave in, got some padded suspenders and they were the best thing ever.
RS: Yeah, you look like you’re there to do serious work and you are.
TM: And you are. Yep. Take me seriously. I’m wearing suspenders.
RS: That’s right. No, I felt really goofy when I first started doing it, but then at some point I was just like, “I don’t care. This is comfortable.”
TM: Yeah. Yep. Yep.
RS: Oh, and by the way, you talk about that clip that you’d put on your suspender near your chest something all the inspectors on our team started doing after I got out of the field. Everybody started carrying around a little magnet. It’s like this little magnet that you’d attach to one of your suspenders right around chest level and so when they’re taking the screws out of the panel, they just put the screws right on that magnet. I love that.
TM: Who was that? Was that you, Eric, who started doing that? ‘Cause then, yeah, you were in training and you came to an inspection with one of those things and I thought, “Oh, my God, that’s brilliant” ’cause how many times do you drop the screws when you’re trying to balance everything in your hands, the panel, the drill, everything? And I was like, “Wow, that is great.” And then I think you brought me one to another inspection and I just loved it. And then with all of our new people in training, they’ve adopted it too.
EH: It serves a second purpose also.
EH: Aluminum versus galvanized siding.
TM: Oh, yeah. It’s a magnet.
EH: The worst part is when you’re inspecting and you get too close and your tool belt goes bonk and just sticks to the side.
RS: Little help here. All right.
TM: I suppose that too for back drafting water heaters, if you want a picture of a fogged up mirror.
EH: Sure. I like a mirror.
RS: It’s shiny. It’s mirror-ish.
EH: Mine’s all scratched up now from the number of screws that I’ve had on it.
RS: Oh, yeah. But…
TM: And houses you’ve gotten stuck to.
EH: Yes. Many times.
RS: We talked about removing the panel covers and for me, after the first time I got a tiny little quarter inch impact driver, that stayed on my hip. I would not go anywhere without it attached to me. But Eric, you disagree. You quit carrying a drill around.
EH: I did. I stopped carrying one altogether. I still have one in my bag, but I just got tired of walking around with it on my hip all the time.
TM: Me too.
RS: You too, Tess.
TM: Yeah. Yeah. ’cause the only thing I’d need it for would be the… Usually the electrical panel and that’d be in the basement and I would grab my combustion gas analyzer and gas sniffer. I’d keep it in a smaller bag and take that down to the basement with me to do the combustion gas testing. And I just would throw my drill in that bag too and take it down with me. So I wasn’t carrying it on my hips the whole inspection.
RS: Sure. Okay.
EH: I just carry a nut driver and an eight in one screwdriver now in my pouch.
RS: Okay. All right. Got it.
BO: Okay. So how much weight is in this pouch? You keep talking about that hurts your hips.
TM: I can’t believe this. I’ve never weighed myself with my tool belt on. I have no idea.
RS: Yeah. Me neither. I’m guessing somewhere around 10 pounds would be my guess.
TM: I was going to say 10-15 maybe. I don’t know.
BO: Okay. So as fast as you can list all the things that are in that pouch.
EH: Oh, that’s easy.
RS: All right, go Eric.
EH: Might be easier for me because I’m still somewhat actively inspecting. So it’s been a while for Reuben and Tessa, but left side is a pouch. It’s got my nut driver in it as well as a screwdriver. Right next to that is a Leatherman that’s in a pouch that’s on the tool belt in a separate like own Leatherman pouch. That’s the only thing that I carry on the left side except for on my left chest. That’s where my phone goes. Right chest on the suspender is where my magnet is. Then you go to the right side, I’ve got a larger pouch that’s got the infrared camera in it. It’s got my moisture meter in it. It’s got a outlet tester in it. It’s got a voltage sniffer in it, a five or six inch rubber cover for a drain if there isn’t a stopper for a tub or a sink, and then an expandable wooden ruler, which I’m also a big fan of.
TM: Okay. So no tape measure like a 25 foot or anything. It’s just a wooden ruler?
TM: Okay. You like that better for the attic pictures, measurements of insulation?
EH: I do because it stands up on its own. You don’t have to hold it. You just fold it out a couple of lengths and stick it into the insulation and it stands up on its own. You can’t do that with a tape measure.
BO: You’re talking about those old plumber measuring sticks that fold up every six inches or something, right?
EH: Yep, a hundred percent.
TM: Do you carry around a little like a dentist mirror at all in your tool pouch?
EH: Not in my tool pouch, but in my bin, yeah.
TM: Okay. I used to keep one of those in my tool pouch too, just especially with a lot of the new construction houses looking for unpainted cut edges of LP siding or something. It’s pretty helpful.
RS: I’m going to tack on a couple of those that Eric said, stuff that I would always carry around. I had a very small kit with socket ends on them with the most common sizes. It probably had about eight socket ends along with an adapter that would go into my drill, which would be useful for taking some basket covers off sometimes.
RS: And then I’d carry a mini pry bar. Vaughn makes one. It’s just the cutest little thing. It’s smaller than a screwdriver, but that would sit in the bottom of my tool belt. Now, I would use that surprisingly often. Love that tool. And then also a putty knife, a flexible putty knife. Use that for so many different things. Lifting up singles, who knows what else. Digging around in the dirt like if I want to scrape some dirt away from something, it’s my tiny little handheld shovel. That was handy to have.
TM: It would be an extension of your hands if you didn’t want to touch something, at least for me. Popping off floor drain covers or checking for caulking under a toilet.
RS: Yep. Very handy for that too. And then, so let’s get into some specifics of some of those things that Eric mentioned. You talked about an outlet tester. I think everybody’s going to have their own favorite outlet tester. To me, it’s like, “Who cares? Find something that you like” but the one hack that we’ve got, I think everybody at Structure Tech uses this, is the tether on your outlet tester, the retractable tool tether. So it clips onto your tool belt and your electrical tester just dangles from it. You attach it with a zip tie or something. And so every time you want to test an outlet, you zip it out and then you let go and it snaps back. Well, you don’t really let go, you gently put it back. But you never lose your outlet tester. And even when you’re testing in the winter and you’re outside, you don’t need to take your gloves off and fumble around in your tool belt for your tester. It’s just always there. That’s one of my favorite hacks as a home inspector. Is having that retractable thingy for your outlet tester. You guys have any other thoughts on that?
BO: Quality is not an issue with that tool. I mean, whatever you’re putting in the outlet, it’s just a light that illuminates.
RS: Yeah, just some lights that light up. I don’t know. Find one that’s ergonomic, that you like grabbing. That’s my only thought there.
TM: We are complete nerds. We have our outlet testers on tethers.
BO: What’s a voltage sniffer?
RS: A lot of people will say it’s a voltage detector, different names for it. But it’s a little device that runs on batteries. And it detects voltage, is what it’s supposed to do, but it’ll also detect magnetic fields. So I’d say it’s a good tool to verify lack of voltage. I’ll let that sink in. It’ll always tell you whether there’s no voltage. But if you use it on something and it lights up or it beeps and it’s telling you there’s voltage, you may have voltage. That’s what it’s telling you. Because you can have a wire that doesn’t have any current running through it and it can be running next to a hot wire and it’ll set off your voltage sniffer. So I don’t feel like it’s a must-have tool for a home inspector. I think it’s handy to have one. I wouldn’t do a home inspection without it, but I wouldn’t consider it a must-have. I would much prefer to have my traditional outlet tester along with a two-lead tester, a contact tester where I’m actually touching metal and verifying 100% that there’s current here.
TM: Yeah. The two-lead tester is important for houses that are older and they don’t necessarily have a grounded outlet to them. It’s just like a two-prong outlet. You wanna verify that there’s current to it, you can use the two-lead tester. And I think the voltage sniffer, like you said, Ruben, it’s not absolutely necessary, but we have a lot of older houses with knob and tube wiring here in the Twin Cities Metro area. And I think that’s where we use them a lot of the time is to see if that knob and tube is live or not or to check and make sure that older houses have grounded light fixtures in areas that could be wet locations.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. We do use them for that for sure. Good point, Tess. And as long as we’re talking about it, I’ll say there’s one that I am completely sold on, I will never use another one, which is the Fluke VoltAlert 2AC. The Fluke VoltAlert 2AC. What’s beautiful about this is that the range, the sensitivity range is 90 volts plus. It’s not going to pick up any of this low voltage stuff. I’ve never gotten a false positive with this, where a bunch of those voltage sniffers, it’s like they’re going off all the time. You get it too close to something and it’s beeping. The Fluke is much more accurate and it’s always on. You don’t accidentally leave it on. It’s just always on and it lasts… The batteries last forever. So big fan of this one.
TM: Yeah. It’s a good investment. Just looking at it online, it looks like it’s about 40 bucks.
RS: Is that what they’re up to?
TM: I know it’s expensive, but if you are going to buy one, I agree with you, Ruben. Get this because if you get one that’s cheaper, they’re usually way more sensitive and not accurate in my experience.
BO: Just touching back on flashlights, what is a good flashlight cost?
RS: A hundred bucks, maybe 80, somewhere in that range. That’s what you should expect to spend.
BO: This little pouch of tools is starting to add up.
RS: It adds up. It adds up.
BO: Moisture meter, gas sniffer.
RS: There’s a lot of tools. Yeah.
BO: Compulsion meter.
RS: All right. Eric, is there anything else? Any good ones? I mean, we’ve got such a long list. I’m looking over my list of stuff that we carry around with us or in our trucks. And at this rate, we’ve got at least 2-3 more hours to talk, but let’s just… What must-have items do we got to mention? Tess, you want to say something?
TM: I was going to say, we forgot to mention thermometers. I guess we use that when we’re checking temperature rise for forced air, AC, and for heating. I think most inspectors carry that in their tool belt. Maybe you have a different system, Eric, but…
RS: Yeah. What do you do, Eric?
EH: I keep them in my toolbox that goes down to the utility room with me. I don’t carry them on me. I have a smaller one that I keep in my pouch just in case I need it, but primary place that you’re using is for temp rise and temp drop.
TM: Yeah. Yeah. Are we missing anything?
RS: And we’ve got two of them, right?
EH: Yeah, I have two. Some people will choose to take their thermometer out of the supply plenum and put it into the return plenum and take two photos. I invested in, there’s a company called ThermoWorks. Anybody that does barbecuing or smoking knows who ThermoWorks is, but they make the dot thermometers. They’re red or yellow or blue or green, and I bought two of them. The thing that I like about them is, one, they’re magnetic, so you just stick them to the supply plenum, and then they have 4-6 foot leads that you just plug into them and you run them up to the boot or up to one of the cleaning ports that’s been put on the ductwork and just stick it in. And then they just stick on the plenum. And then of course, the Testo has a magnet on the back of it as well, so you just put both of those right next to each other, you get one nice photo of everything that you’re testing on the furnace.
TM: One thing I used to carry around with me too, we didn’t mention real quick, is just pieces of foil tape, UL-listed metal tape as well. If We had to drill through a fluted Testo furnace or a boiler to make sure we sealed it up afterwards, but that’s not really a tool.
RS: Something we keep in our tool pouch though.
TM: It is.
TM: Oh, soap solution for gas leaks. The list goes on and on. You wrote a good blog about that. People should check out if they want to see.
RS: I’ll put the blog in the podcast notes. I will have updated my blog by the time this podcast airs, and we’ll have a huge list. Along with a bunch of links, and I am not an Amazon reseller. I don’t get any money by you clicking on these links. I have no incentive to sell anything for the record. They’re just there to be helpful. That’s it.
TM: Are you saying that for your one hater that’s out there?
RS: I’m just always suspicious when people promote products. I’m like, “Why are you talking about this one brand?” And I’m just being clear, I’m talking about it because we genuinely like it, not ’cause I’m getting paid or have any type of advertising agreement.
TM: Have you been hit up by companies before to… Do they want you to be their rep?
RS: Not really, no. I mean, light versions of it, but not much, no.
TM: Okay. I’m surprised by that.
RS: That’s okay. That’s okay. We know what our main business is. We’re home inspectors. We’re not immediate influencers.
TM: Don’t they know who you are?
BO: Before we put this… Put a wrap on this episode, I do want to ask Eric, how many gadgets do you think you own, specific use tools or something that’s very… Like it’s designed to do a very specific job?
EH: Are we talking just in home inspections or we are talking in general?
BO: No, just in general, just in your repertoire of gadgets. If you had to pick a number.
EH: I’d say probably somewhere in the ballpark of 2-3 dozen that are specific to one job and one job only.
BO: I’m not surprised.
RS: I thought it was going to say 2-300. I don’t know.
TM: Me too. No.
BO: There aren’t that many, but there are dozens, yes. I was going to ask you guys what flashlight you carry when you go out camping or you’re out away from…
RS: When I go out to dinner.
TM: You’ve got your dressy flashlight for date night.
BO: Doesn’t everybody carry a flashlight on them on the daily? I do.
TM: I’m thinking I need to get one of those 10,000 lumen ones and replace my pepper spray.
BO: Just brand somebody with it if they get too close.
RS: Put it on strobe mode.
TM: Yes. If we get too close, burn them.
EH: It’s funny that you bring that up, Tess, because I lent mine to Ruben so he could do that blog post, that cage match against that white laser flashlight. And he called me after I gave it to him and he’s like, “What do you do with this flashlight? The end of it is just beat to heck.”
RS: Yeah. I assumed you was using it as a hammer.
EH: And I said, yeah, I have used it as a hammer. Granted, it’s fallen off a couple of roofs and it’s lived to tell about it, but I told him, I’m like, “You told me not to carry a hammer during a home inspection, so I’ve used it as a hammer when I’ve put nails back into ledger boards that I’ve pulled out that were too short.”
RS: Oh, my gosh.
BO: Well, I think we’ve covered the tool aspect of this. The only other thing would be what kind of fancy bags you throw these things in. And I’m sure there’s everything from bags to bucket buddies to who knows what.
RS: Yeah. I don’t have any preference. I always had a leather tool pouch on one side and my drill holster on the other, but I don’t know. Everybody’s got their own preference there.
BO: So, Ruben, if you were Santa Claus and you could give out the… I guess, most important tool to every home inspector, what tool are you handing out? Don’t say a flashlight.
RS: A really good flashlight.
BO: No, that’s too easy.
RS: Sorry. That’s it.
BO: What tool should all inspectors carry that they don’t and what are you giving them?
RS: A really good moisture meter.
BO: All right.
RS: Tess, Eric, how about you guys?
TM: Yeah. I was thinking like a two-lead tester.
BO: I thought you’d say a blower door so you could… If there is any…
TM: No. No, thanks…
BO: Any attic bypasses to be discovered.
EH: I deal with the complaints, so I’d say a good vacuum. Don’t leave a mess behind.
RS: Yeah. Yeah. That’s good. What vacuum do you use, Eric?
EH: The M12.
RS: Okay. The Milwaukee M12.
EH: Yeah. All of my tools that I use at home are the Milwaukee M12 stuff. The batteries are relatively inexpensive. You can get a bunch of different sizes. They make a huge line of tools in that M12.
TM: Can I change my answer? You know what? I think every inspector needs a drop cloth.
RS: Okay. Yeah. That’s good.
TM: For attics or for yeah, for some place to put your shoes or your tool bag when you come in the door. And they’re cheap. They’re easy to pack.
EH: I would even one up that and I would say I buy the moving blankets at Harbor Freight because they’re super thick, they soak up a ton of water, especially during the winter time. You can go in and out of the house multiple times and no water will hit the floor. And they’re under 10 bucks.
RS: Good tip.
BO: Winter hack. All right. I think we should leave it at that.
BO: Very good. Thank you, Eric. We appreciate your input.
EH: Happy to be here.
BO: Work on that integrated flashlight into the smartphone concept so that every picture is perfectly lit every time and then build a battery into it so your phone never goes dead.
RS: I like it.
EH: Suddenly somebody’s tool belt has gone up 20 pounds.
BO: I digress. All right. Thank you, everybody. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside Tessa Murray, Reuben Saltzman. Thanks for listening. We’ll catch you next time.
BO: Hi, everybody. Bill here again with Structure Talk. We really want to thank you for listening to this podcast. It’s been a ton of fun for us to put this presentation together. And if you could, we would love it if you would go to any of the podcast platforms where you find Structure Talk and leave us a rating and subscribe to the show. You can also subscribe to our blog at structuretech.com. And of course, you can listen to the show on the internet at structuretalk.com. Thanks again for listening. We appreciate the support. If you have any suggestions for show topics, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening.