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So, How Small Is Too Small?


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Hi all,

We'll soon be developing the SOP for inspectors in our state and I'm sure that the question of what minimum clearances and access to crawlspaces, attics, and under decks is going to come up.

For instance, do we use the established standard for maintenance access under beams (12-inches) and floor joists (18-inches) that's established by codes along with the minimum allowable crawlspace hatch size (18 by 24 floor or 16 by 24 perimeter walls) or should it be the minimum that an inspector can get through and get the job done. For instance, in my avatar photo to the left the interior height and width of that opening was 10-inches by 20 inches and I managed to get through it. Under the house, the beams were mostly at about 9-1/2 inches off the floor but I was still able to get under 100% of it because there was 10 inches or better at a few places under the beams.

Anyway, that's me; I just happen to be good at squeezing into and out of tight places, I know that not everyone can do that and I know that most aren't going to be willing to do that. However, there are lots of folks in this business that we know won't even fit through an access hatch that's mandated by code - even if you were to grease them on both sides and try to push them through with a bulldozer. So, what's reasonable to expect of folks? What standards are the associations and other states using and what do you folks consider "reasonable". My curmudgeon mind wants to know.

Thanks in advance for any responses but please keep them on-topic and not about my, uh, profile.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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I know I can't manage 10". 11" seems to be about my minimum. My sternum gets wedged (not a good feeling) at much less than that. Frankly though, I usually don't bother measuring first and will simply try to wiggle in unless it's obviously a no go.

The last one I couldn't get into at all had galvanized drain piping right acrosss the entrance, which was in a concrete pit in the garage. In this case, there was probably more than 12" of clearance under the pipe, but the angle of entry was extreme. I tried head first, butt first, on my back and front, but all to no avail. I just don't hinge in enough places.

I'm with Kurt and Mike. Wherever I fit. However, I don't actually enjoy the nasty tight ones, and I will say that the most beautiful sight in the world is a ladder when I pop open a floor hatch. There ain't nothing wrong with easy!

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"Dead inspectors write no reports."

- My wife

With the possible exception of a brief obstructions such as a beam, 18" is my limit. Thing is, in these very tight spaces you have zero margin of error to deal with an emergency - to take a simple and all too possible example, what happens when you disturb a wasp's nest and you are 40' from the entry in a 12" high space? Just because some idiot built it that way is *way short* of sufficient reason for me to run unknown but possibly substantial risks to inspect it, and when I encounter such problem areas, I defer them and move on.

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A lot of inspectors even standing still doing nothing but wearing clothes look like PlayDoh being squeezed out of a PlayDoh Factory. The only place they "fit" is out of doors.

There should be a definable standard to which all must comply. Lose weight or change careers.

Our local AHJ is about 400 lbs. Anything goes on the second storey.

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It takes 12 inches for me to get in and other some places and it needs at lest 24 inches wide. This is because of my chest bones not my belly fat.

I agree with Kurt and others. " go anywhere you can fit. Don't go where you are putting yourself in danger"

I will crawl on by belly in a crawlspace but I will not do it in a attic. I will crawl on my hands and knees. If I am fell unconformable about doing something I am not going to do it.

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I agree with everyone. I go in any hole I can fit into. The smaller the hole the more likely it is that not many other people have been in there for repairs or maintainance. I am 5'11'' and 175 pounds. It does help to be fit on this job. When I go to conferences I am always amazed and the condition of many of the inspectors. There is no way these guys are getting into attics, crawl spaces, behind furnaces that face the basement wall, etc.

Back to the original question. What should the written standard be? I think you have to consider safety, the size of different people, and established standards. I would go with the minimums as defined in the IRC..

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Lord and Fabry make a good point. I am constantly disagreed with, but this job requires fitness. The main reason most folks don't go where they should has nothing to do w/access size. It has to do w/large bellies, creaking joints, and palpitating heart valves.

It's one of the reasons I'd like to see youngsters get interested in the gig. Look around the conventions, and it's clear youngsters aren't interested.

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I use to quote the code standard when the space needed digging. I now tell them 14".

I use to be able to fit under 8", now it's 12".

What can you find squashed on your belly? Just about nothing.

I guy needs to be able to roll over and have enough space to use his arms to do any necessary probing or sounding.

For me that's 14".

Chris, Oregon

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Originally posted by kurt

Lord and Fabry make a good point. I am constantly disagreed with, but this job requires fitness. The main reason most folks don't go where they should has nothing to do w/access size. It has to do w/large bellies, creaking joints, and palpitating heart valves.

It's one of the reasons I'd like to see youngsters get interested in the gig. Look around the conventions, and it's clear youngsters aren't interested.

As a large human, even I could (if I wanted to) go through a 24" hole with no real trouble.

However, I have made this observation, with which some may disagree: Generally, the guys who know enough to understand and explain things are too old and fat to maneuver in crawl spaces. The guys who are skinny enough to maneuver in crawl spaces aren't old enough to understand or explain stuff they see in crawl spaces. Of course, there are exceptions.

Also, as a person who knows a little something about size: It ain't about situps, and it ain't about pie. It's about genetics and endocrinology. If diet and exercise could make everybody skinny and fit, there would be no bariatric surgery.

WJ

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True enough. No amount of diet and exercise is going to offset genetic predisposition.

As far as the the old enough to understand, too out of shape to do it versus young enough to do it, but not old enough to understand.....

Isn't that the way it works in everything? If it wasn't, we'd have a bunch of overweight old guy's working as gigolo's......

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Originally posted by kurt

True enough. No amount of diet and exercise is going to offset genetic predisposition.

As far as the the old enough to understand, too out of shape to do it versus young enough to do it, but not old enough to understand.....

Isn't that the way it works in everything? If it wasn't, we'd have a bunch of overweight old guy's working as gigolo's......

Would that it were so. In the meantime, I get two dates a year with the endocrinologist. I'm trying to lose the equivalent of a small Chinese gymnast. Let's see a skinny guy do that...

If it ain't one thing, it's another.

WJid="blue">

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I was a member of a confined space rescue team for 10 years. We practiced going into small spaces. We did not have a minimun size. I guess we figured if the victim could get in there we could also. We also had a variety of tools to make spaces larger.

18" is about as small an opening as you want. Confined space rescue techs are going to test the atmosphere for flamability, O2, etc. Then they will send in 2 rescuers, possibilty with supplied air. Standard supplied air is known as SCBA, Self Contained Breathing Appartus. Basically a scuba tank with a full face breathing mask. Just like bedroom egrees windows need to be 18" x 24" to get the firefighter and air tank in, so does the confined space.

Alternately they will enter with a full face breathing mask attached to rubber hoses up to 300 ft long. More than 300 ft and the amount of pressure to supply air at the rescuer end becomes an issue of hose strength vs flexibility vs size vs weight vs pressure etc. We set the team limit at 200 ft. The set up we used was a full face mask attached to 200 ft of rubber hose attached to several scuba tanks outside the confined space. The hoses were attached to a manifold that allowed us to supply air from one or both air tanks. That way we could shutoff one tank, replace with a full tank, and then turn on both tanks. This allowed us to supply air continously as long as we could refill the scuba tanks. Some fire trucks have the ability to refill scuba tanks. We carried a small tank of air on our belts that was plumbed between the hoses and mask. The tank was about the size of a wine bottle. If the hoses stop suppling air, we turned on the small tank and breathed off it. It only held 15 minutes of air for a calm motionless person. The hope was the hose got turned back on before the tank emptied. It took some practice to become a calm motionless person when you are in a confined space with no light and the possibilty of no breathing air. Victims would suck the bottle try in under 5 minutes.

It takes a while from when you contact 911 to get the rescue team on site. It takes a while for the rescue team to setup their eqiupment and decide a plan of action. Then they have to get to the vicitim. Depending on the problem, they may have to begin medical treatement in place. Extracation adds addtional time. Most fire departements do NOT have a confined space rescue team or the equipment and knowledge to perform a confined rescue. Most areas do NOT have a confined space team, equipment, or training. FEMA has 27 confined space rescue teams with 8 in California. Many states do not have any confined space rescue.

The most sobbering statistic is the 3 rescuers DIE for each victim. Yes 3 rescuers DIE for ever 1 victim. Rescuers are defined as anyone, civilian or trained, that makes an attempt to rescue the victim. It is not uncommon for the vicitms buddies, family, or co-workers to enter the space and then also die. Policeman are often first on scene and make an attempt and die.

Manholes are typically 18" in diameter. We used to have a 16" pipe about 10 feet long. We made every team member try to move through the pipe. You had to extend your arms over your head. You basically pulled with your fingers and pushed with your toes. Very slow and extremely tiring. The jumbo sized team members quickly learned they would be on the exterior of the space manning the air system and other duties. Even the slenderest members quickly learned that they did not want to to that again. I was 6'1" and 225. I made it through but 10 feet was longer than I ever want to do again. That was with no equipment and no air supply. Not possible with any current air supply system.

I would suggest that the standard be smaller than 18"x24" the HI does not have to enter. HI could refuse to enter any space based on percieved danager as long as it is documented in the report for not entering.

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Originally posted by hausdok

Please guys,

Stick to the issue of what you think is a reasonable standard and why.

OT - OF!!!

M.

OK, I'll give it a whirl: The hole needs to be big enough to allow easy passage for the person hired to go through the hole. Same with the overhead and side-to-side areas. Simply put, the hole(s) and the interior spaces need to be big enough to let the guy do his job without running into obstacles, traps, etc.

Unless the world's gone crazy, any hole-goer ought to be able to decide whether or not there's enough room to work with reasonable comfort and safety.

If the hole ain't big enough just say, "I'm not going in there." What are they gonna do to ya? Hire a guy who'll go? Fine. There's always a Larry, Darryl or Darryl available.

Sitting here shaking my head at the notion of home inspectors trying to come up with a hole-going protocol. Sheesh.

WJid="blue">

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Originally posted by hausdok

Please guys,

Stick to the issue of what you think is a reasonable standard and why.

OT - OF!!!

M.

I like the Oregon standard:

The Oregon certified home inspector shall: . . .

(b) Enter underfloor crawl spaces, basements, and

attic spaces except when access is obstructed or

restricted, when entry could damage any property, or

when dangerous or adverse situations are suspected;

Leave it up to the individual inspector. I think it would be a mistake to cite a specific number. In particular, I think it would be a mistake to cite a number that's larger than the minimum clearance required by the IRC (18"/12").

This kind of discussion invariably devolves into testosterone-based chest thumping.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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OK, I'll give it a whirl: The hole needs to be big enough to allow easy passage for the person hired to go through the hole. Same with the overhead and side-to-side areas. Simply put, the hole(s) and the interior spaces need to be big enough to let the guy do his job without running into obstacles, traps, etc.

Unless the world's gone crazy, any hole-goer ought to be able to decide whether or not there's enough room to work with reasonable comfort and safety.

If the hole ain't big enough just say, "I'm not going in there." What are they gonna do to ya? Hire a guy who'll go? Fine. There's always a Larry, Darryl or Darryl available.

Sitting here shaking my head at the notion of home inspectors trying to come up with a hole-going protocol. Sheesh.

WJid="blue">

The problem is if no standard is set, the bucketheads will always say the opening is too small. Some sort of guidelines have to be set; not for the good inspectors, for the 'other' ones.

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Originally posted by Jim Katen

This kind of discussion invariably devolves into testosterone-based chest thumping.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

Well, exogenous testosterone can help with the muscle-to-fat ratio. Of course, the really beefed-up guys -- shotputters and the like -- will get too big to go through the hole.

WJid="blue">

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Originally posted by Darren

. . . The problem is if no standard is set, the bucketheads will always say the opening is too small. Some sort of guidelines have to be set; not for the good inspectors, for the 'other' ones.

You can't use standards to ensure that bad inspectors do good inspections. It won't work. They tried it in Texas.

I believe that the real purpose of a standard isn't to ensure that the practitioners do a good job, and it certainly isn't to ensure that the bad practitioners become better practitioners. It's to define the scope of a job. Such standards should be qualitative, not quantitative. From that perspective, it's enough to say that we should enter crawlspaces unless it's dangerous or unless doing so might damage something.

As soon as you start having to measure things to decide whether or not to inspect them, the job has turned into a snipe hunt.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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