House in the Countryside

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Another Case for New Home Inspections

Why should I have a new home inspected?  The answer is simple, a home is a complex structure of multiple integrated systems compiled by dozens of sub contractors and possibly over 100 tradesmen.  Often these tradesmen must alternate work schedules requiring several different sessions often weeks apart.  For example,  The electrician and plumbers must rough in their work and return weeks even months later to do intermediate work and then again for final finish and testing work.  There are many more examples of contractor interaction.  Sometimes even disagreement on who’s responsibility a certain task might be. It is easy for things to get overlook.

One example of a oversight is on the Homefax website home page.  A section of a 25 year old home was found to with no attic insulation.  in addition, I have found dozens of plumbing stacks with the test caps still installed, rendering the plumbing stack useless and creating a potentially hazardous situation as well as a smelly one.  Other common items include, leaks in overflows on tubs and sinks, non-functioning outlets, mis-wired outlets, missing flashing and caulking, exhaust fans venting into the attic, exhaust or intake vents with incorrect style of cover and more.

Bottom line, is your new home worth investing $3-400.00 to get an independent, objective review of your new home.  You decide.

Surprise, disappointment after your inspection?

Top 10 most expensive common home repairs found in buyer home inspections:

  1. Windows

  2. Foundation Repairs

  3. Siding

  4. Shingles

  5. Furnace

  6. Driveway

  7. Air Conditioner

  8. Electrical Panel

  9. Attic Ventilation

  10. Plumbing Items

 

The first seven items are generally able to be given a basic assessment prior to submitting an offer and hiring a home inspector.  This can save you time, frustration and money.  In the following blogs I will be posting a process you can use to do a quick initial assessment of most of these items with little time and effort.  Then if you are satisfied you can move forward with more confidence.

 

Meth Lab? What are the Signs & Hazards

Most of us have heard about Meth labs found in homes.  Have you watch the cable show Breaking Bad?  Meth labs leave behind seriously hazardous chemicals in the flooring, walls, ceilings and heating/cooling duct works.  These chemicals can cause serious health issues if not removed prior to occupation.  These include respiratory issues, kidney problems, headaches and more. Many of these can become chronic conditions.

 

So how do I recognize the signs that a meth lab has existed in a home.  The best way is to simply have it tested.  Also, you can check with the County to see if it has been recorded in the registry listing known meth lab locations.  However, it is possible for a house to not be recognized as a meth house even though one existed there.  I have recently inspected a foreclosed home that revealed multiple clues that brought me to the conclusion that it had very likely been a meth lab at one time.  The property had been cleaned up.  Several rooms had the drywall removed, all the doors were removed, the entire place had been sprayed white, a heavy black residue coated the interior of the furnace blower compartment, large sections of the heating ductwork had been removed, a toilet was missing (easier to dump the waste), all the original hardwire smoke detectors were missing, the bottom and top of the furnace flue had been removed (a good place to run an exhaust pipe) and the concrete floor had reddish brown stains.  Any one of these on its own would not indicate a lab.  However, all of them together indicate that a clean-up crew came in and attempted to remove (or cover-up) the evidence of a meth lab.

 

You may think that the house should be o.k., the place is clean.  However, the property was not listed with the county as a know meth lab.  Therefore, there is no way to know if all the proper procedures were followed to ensure a safe environment.  They clearly did not clean the furnace and duct work properly.  There sellers, (a bank), did not disclose the problem.  Consequently, to ensure that the house is safe a full assessment must be done on the property.  The cost of initial testing would be $500.00 – $1,000.00.  Clean-up could be in the 10’s of thousands.  When looking at foreclosed properties in particular or past foreclosures that have been "flipped", do some research and inspect carefully.

 

You do not have to tolerate those pests

Many, even most of the homes I have inspected recently have pests, generally mice, in the attic and other areas of the home. 

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For those of you who have battled the problem for years with little permanent success, there is hope!  A good trust worthy exterminator can cure the problem.  A good exterminator will start with meticulously filling ALL the possible entry points around the perimeter of the home.  This will generally take several hours and possibly several trips.  If your exterminator spends 30-40 minutes setting out some poison and fills one or two holes around the home, they probably are saving some work and revenue for a few months from now when you call back with the same problem.  A good job takes time and generally a great deal of filler.  Mice can fit through a gap of less than 1/4" or through a hole less than 3/8" diameter.  There are many openings around the exterior of a home that are large enough to let mice and other critters in.

When seeking out an exterminator, find one who will do a thorough job, NOT the cheapest one.  Hiring the cheapest one can cost you the most money and aggravation because you will have to call them back over and over again and never completely solve the problem. 

Ask the exterminator:

  1. To describe the services they provide for the quoted fee.

  2. Ask them how much time they generally spend on a job.

  3. Finally, ask them about their guarantee.  (Anything less than a year is inadequate.)

 

Note: It has been known that some unscrupulous exterminators will fill a few hole but intentionally leave opening to ensure repeat business.

Although this is not mice it is an interesting photo.  A wasp nest that was built above the suspended ceiling in the floor joist of a home.

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Daughters, Daddys and Home Inspections

Posted Sun, Nov 25, 2012 11:47:43 PM by homefax modified by homefax

 

Daddy’s role in the home Inspection Process Some of my favorite inspections are when daddy is present to help his daughter with the transaction. Most often he is daddy the protector. As I walk the daughter through the home she often turns to daddy for a confirming node or with a look that says “you understand this, right dad?”. Usually, at about the half way point the daughter and her agent wander off and dad and I finish the walk though. As a father myself, I think it is great when a daughter trusts her dad so much (at least with this kind of decision, probably would not trust him to approve her next boyfriend :-). Father daughter relationships are extra special and precious.

Daughters, if you can, give your dad a big hug today.

Why inspect common property? That's the associations responsibility!

Some agents and buyers ask me why I am spending so much time on the exterior of a town home when it is the responsibility of the home owner’s association.  The answer is really quite simple.  Defects with the exterior often effect the interior.  And although the association may repair a bad roof, they may not be so interested in replacing the moldy insulation and dry wall in your walls and ceilings.

In addition, I have found that many town home associations tend to use the lowest bidder, not necessarily the best craftsmen. Consequently, the work done can be rather poor quality.  Often times no one goes up and actually checks out the work that has been done.  Most associations do not have staff technically trained in these areas nor do they have someone that is actually willing or able to get on the roof.

Roofs are just one are of the exterior items that require attention.  Issues such as poor grade can cause moisture and mold issues.  Missing or deteriorating caulking can can cause damage to walls and windows.  The damage caused by these defects are seldom covered by the association.

Bottom line, make sure you have your town home inspected and be insistent that your inspector cover the exterior as thoroughly as he/she would a single family detached dwelling.

Infrared thermal imaging will soon be the standard in home inspections.

It is simply that powerful of a tool!

Without damaging the home, thermal imaging can uncover defects that otherwise would go undetected in a standard visual inspection. Here are a few items that can be revealed with thermal imaging that can be impossible to see with the naked eye.

  • Moisture behind walls, ceilings and floors

  • Hidden leaking pipes

  • Over loaded or over heating defective electrical circuits

  • Missing, inadequate or ineffective insulation

  • Energy loss through air leaks, in windows, doors, walls, ceilings etc.

  • Defective, or blocked in-floor heat tubing, and air ducts

  • And More.

 

IR Thermal Imaging cannot see through walls but sometimes it feels that way.  Thermal Imaging is not the magic bullet or cure all for all possible situations.  With proper training, infrared thermal imaging is a powerful tool able to detect a multitude of building deficiencies not possible with the naked eye.  However, a lack of training can simply produce bad or confusing information.  An operator must understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology AND have a thorough understanding of building construction.  Be sure to hire an Infrared Certified Inspector.

Visit www.homefaxinspections.com for more details and a video about the Value of Infrared Thermal Imaging.

House in the Countryside

Show Me the Attic

Although some are not the most pleasant, attics are one of my favorite places to inspect.  Occassionally I can take a peek around and everything is great.  However, most of the time there are items that need to be corrected.  This is especially true when service technicians have been running cables or installing antenna etc.  This generally means insulation has been disturbed causing excessive heat loss in areas.  Picture 1 below reveals a case where an area 2 feet by 12 feet has been totally cleared of insulation.

Also, noticte the verticle section on the right.  This is the skylight passage through the attic.  Again, no insulation.  This creates a large area which is likely to has issues with condensation and frost.  It is not a coincidence that this roof had ice dam issues.

Please, check your attic, especially on new homes, the situation above has likely existed since the day it was built.  When service techs have been in your attic or on your roof, BE SURE TO CHECK OR HAVE SOMEONE CHECK their work.

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House in the Countryside

Radon - Just Another Hurdle

I know getting a real estate transaction completed is often a difficult and complicated event.  So why should Realtors recommend testing for radon, adding another hurdle to clear?  First of all, agents must believe that radon is a threat to the health and safety of their clients.  Believe it.  Radon creates harmful radioactive particles that, when breathed into the lungs, bombard the lung cells causing damage that can lead to cancer.  The greater the exposure the more likely cancer may result.  The only way to determine if a home has harmful levels of Radon is to test for it.  You cannot go by what the house next door tested at or the house down the street.  Levels of radon vary based on many topographical conditions as well as particular home construction methods and styles.   The cost of correcting high levels of radon usually falls between $800.00 -$ 2,400.00.   This generally is not a deal breaker.  Often the seller realize they cannot sell an unsafe home and are willing to negotiate.  Is it worth putting your client’s health at risk?  Recommend testing!  Clients will appreciate that you care, especially if the results are high. If they are low they will have the peace of mind know that it is not an issue.

Crawl Spaces

Crawl spaces in 100 year-old homes are not typically my favorite places to hang out.  However they almost always have a story to tell. Often time significant structural changes have been made that compromise the integrity of the home.  Generally, these are evident from above.  Often times floors are sagging or very sloped.  (Kids love playing marbles on these floors).   Well this week down in the creepy crawl space of this 100 year-old home it was revealed that a substantial section of footings and bearing wall had been removed as well as a couple of floor joists cut clear through to make room for the "Utility Cellar" and new duct work.  This space was used to locate the furnace and hot water heater.  It worked well for that but it will require some creative carpentry to properly shore up the upper structure.

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House in the Countryside

Why Should We Pay for a Home Inspection for New Construction?

I inspected this 25 year old home.  You would think that the obvious significant items overlook by the contractor and city inspector from the original construction would have been discovered by now.  If nothing else, I would have expected items like the one shown below would have been reported during inspections for sale transfers of the past 25 years.  Well here is just one example of why a new home should have an independent professional home inspection at the time of construction.  This home had two separate attic accesses because of the split level design.  The lower level attic was completely void of insulation.  Remember, this home is located in Minnesota.  What a terrible loss of heat and wasted energy for all these years.

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House in the Countryside

Environmental Factors

Although it does not come up often, occasionally I discover environmental concerns while inspecting homes.  The two most come items are:

  1. Abandoned Wells

  2. Abandoned Fuel Oil Tanks (often buried outside the home)

 

Each of these can create significant liability for the buyer.

  1. Abandoned Wells – The state of Minnesota requires that all wells not currently functioning must be either repaired to working order or the equipment, including drop pipe and pump must be pulled and the well casing must be sealed (filled with a concrete product from the bottom to the top by a licensed contractor.  Typical costs range from $500.00 to $1500.00. Obviously it is important that your home inspector know what this equipment looks like and to be particularly alert in areas where this is common.  This would be areas or homes that city water was brought in after the home was built.

  2. Abandoned fuel tanks.  Abandoned fuel tanks must also be removed by a licensed contractor.  However, this process can be complicated be cause the soil around and below the tank must be tested for contamination from leaks or spills.  If leaks or spills are found them a more in-depth and expensive process must be undergone.  Cost could be in the thousands.  Typically the only clue that a buried tank is present is two small pipe protruding from the grounds.  One of the pipes is a filler tube and the other is a vent tube. 

5th Step of maintaining your home (Cont. from 5 Basic Steps)

Step Five is to have your mechanical items service.  For most people on public gas and water this includes:

  1. Furnace and Air conditioner

  2. Water Heater

  3. Other gas Appliances

 

Performing annual service on these items ensures, first and foremost, that they are running safely.  Any gas appliance has the potential to produce deadly carbon monoxide gas. 

SIDEBAR: Every home should have at least one carbon monoxide detector.  Preferably there would be one on each level of the home, maybe more if it is a large home. They should be tested monthly.  Also, carbon monoxide detectors have an expiration date.  You must refer to the manufactures instructions.  (Generally the date on the back of the unit is the date of manufacture.)  If you detector is more than 5 years old it probably should be replaced.  First Alert guarantees there unit for 5 Years.  They recommend replacement after that.

 

In addition to safety, service gas appliances ensures they are operating efficiently.  We all like to save money on our fuel bills.  Finally, annual servicing can catch a problem early, often preventing more serious and expensive damage.  The best example is related to the furnace.  This is a very common event.  The air conditioning coil generally sits on top of the furnace.  There is a drain tube that takes the condensation formed on the coil as warm moist air flow over the cold coils.  This drain tube can easily become blocked causing the water to run into the furnace.  This eventually can corrode the heat exchanger or damage electrical components.

Bottom line is, Take care of your investment and you will get many happy returns.

House in the Countryside

Who Checks Up on Contractors Work That's Out of Sight?

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Yes, this is what it appears.  A rather large hole in the roof along side the electrical mast "support".  Although it is effective as a vent it makes a poor roof covering. Several points can be made from this simple picture.

  1. This has been an active leak for many years.

  2. The original installation of the post or shingles were done incorrectly.  Roofing tar or patching compound should never be the primary means of deflecting water.  Roofing tar should not even be used on a asphalt shingle roof.

  3. Incorrect flashing caused a leak which then was improperly repaired with tar.  Or the original install was tar and it soon began to leak because that's what roofing tar does.

  4. The leak was ignored or undetected and the roof rafters supporting the post began to rot.  The weight of the power lines is pulling the post into the decomposing wood and opening a big hole.

  5. Finally, no one has inspected this roof for several years.  This did not happen over night.

  6. The water from this hole must be draining somewhere, causing decay, corrosion and mold.  As it turned ot the water was leaking through the first floor wall and down the basement wall.

 

This all could have been prevented by a properly installed fifty cent piece of flashing.  It might take 20 minutes to do.  It is extremely important to have an independent inspection done after hiring a contractor for any project.  Don’t expect the city inspector to protect you. 

 

City inspector do not always drive out to check on a re-roof.  They rely on the reputation of the contractor or picture the contractor provides.  If they do drive to the site they almost never go up on the roof.  The example above is not visible from the ground. They have NO liability to you.  Remember, it is not about dishonest contractors.  Sometimes things are missed, forgotten or they simply has a rookie on their crew that someone forgot to watch closely.

 

You generally can get someone to do a single point inspection such as a roof for $100.00 or less.  A very good investment.

House in the Countryside

Reason #5 to Hire a Home Inspector

5) Professional homed inspectors provide written and photographed documentation that can be used for negotiating, a pre-done honey-dew list and a source for future reference.

And finally, inspectors, generally speaking are very friendly individuals who like to provide useful information.  We tend to be happy because we have great jobs.  We get to see new and different things every day and we meet the most wonderful people who are at an exciting time in their life, buying a new home.

I love the home inspection business!

Reason 4 to hire a home inspector


4) Good home inspectors are unbiased.  We are not motivated to convince you to buy a home or not buy a home.  If we are going to protect our reputation we must provide accurate unemotional information.  If we over or under state a condition we only stand to hurt our clients.  I believe it would be a travesty if I were to over state a condition which caused my client to not buy a home when there was no good reason.  Everyone involved will have wasted time, energy and heartbreak.  If I understate something that is serious, the clients could end up in financial ruin.  In either of these cases, the clients and the agents have been seriously hurt.  Also, my reputation, is shot and I am out of business.   Yes I work extremely hard to communicate clearly and un-emotionally.  Clients must understand the full significance of issues with there home.  That is my job.

Reason 3 to Hire a Home Inspector

3) Home inspectors go where most will not.  Afraid of heights?  Most inspector prefer to walk the roof.  Afraid of the dark or creepy crawly thing?  We love to venture into attics.  We also do crawl spaces although a little less excited about those things.  Why are these places so important? These places are seldom traveled and they are places where serious structural issues could present themselves.  Last month I walked a roof of a small rambler, shallow slop and not to high.  Very easy to do.  However there was a hole the size of a softball along side the electrical mast.  The hole was obviously there form several if not many years.  A simple visual check could have caught this years ago.  In fact, an inspection done by someone other than the shoddy roofer would have identified this when the roof was put on. The flashing around the electrical mast had been done improperly.

Who Needs a Home Inspector

If you have had an opportunity to see the home you are about to buy, (believe it or not that is not always the case), you do not need a home inspector to point out the obvious.  Knowing that home inspectors are performing a "Visual" inspection, why should you hire an inspector to simply report on the obvious?

1) Home inspectors are trained to understand what they are looking at.  A lay person or even an experienced Real Estate agent may not always recognize a minor symptom being a signal of a major problem.  For example an 1/8" horizontal crack in a foundation wall has great significance and may be the beginning of serious problems whereas a 1/8" vertical crack is generally the result of normal expansion and contraction.  There are thousands of these types of examples.

2) As a home buyer, you are emotionally wrapped up in the transaction.  Often times "Love is Blind".  Yes this is true for real estate as well.  You have decided to buy this house because it is your dream house.  Wanting it so bad can cause you to overlook or minimized critical issues.

Step #4 - Inspect Ceilings, Walls and Floors (Cont. 5 steps Home Maint.)

This step is one of the easier steps to perform.  So grab a good flashlight and take a stroll.  I am breaking this down into three steps.  It is better if you perform each step independently.  It is easier to stay focused so you do not miss anything.

Ceilings: Most people understand ceilings.  They should be dry, free of cracks and discolorations.  Common problem areas are under bathrooms, kitchens and laundry area.  Of course leaks here would generally indicate a plumbing leak or simply a one-time spill.  Second main area needing specific attention is along exterior walls.  Discoloration in this areas tend to be the result of condensation in the attic as a result of poor ventilation.  Ice dams can also cause this but ice dams are nearly always caused by poor attic ventilation.

Wall: Some of the problems you may have found on the ceilings may extend down the walls.  Damage on the walls near the ceiling on exterior walls again are the result of attic condensation.  The next area of concern while inspecting the walls would be under and around windows. Signs of water such as water stains on the underside of the top trim of the window, check to see if the window is near the roof overhang.  If so, the source of moisture is often the result of attic condensation.  If the window is more the a couple feet below the roof line the leak is likley the result of missing or deteriorated caulking, or missing/incorrect flashing.  In either case investigate further.

While walking around the home in a systematic fashion, inspect under sinks for plumbing leaks.  PLEASE NOTE: Often time leaks in this area are slow and intermittent.  However, that can cause a great deal of damage over time.  Look closely corrosion on the pipes of for stains on the cabinet and back wall.  These types of leaks are generally inexpensive to repair but very costly if ignored.

Floors: Basement floors should be inspected for moisture along the outside walls.  If the area is carpeted try to pull back a small area especially outside corners.  If the carpet tack strip is black or discolored there is a moisture and potential mold issue.  Investigate.  If you have a wood or laminate floor, watch for buckling or cupping.  Either of these are the result of moisture.

Check the floor around the furnace and hot water heater.  Again water in these areas may indicate a failing hot water heater or problems with the condensate drain on the furnace. 

Main and upper level floors should be given special attention under the windows.  Again, if the area is carpeted try to pull back small area to see the carpet tack strip.  Look for discoloration.

Of course, if you find signs of moisture in any of these areas have it investigated further.  If not corrected, it will ALWAYS lead to more costly repairs down the road.

House in the Countryside

Please contact us with any questions.