pullman home inspector

How Old Is This House Again?

I was having a discussion with Chip Kenny, the inspector at Inland Northwest Home Inspections, about a house he was inspecting. The visuals - type of foundation, etc. - didn’t match the age of the home listed in the public sources.

I have run into this three times in the last year. The easiest one was a house listed as a 1965 building in a neighborhood in Pullman that was newer. The house had engineered trusses in the attic and the concrete foundation appeared to more modernly formed. When I opened the electrical panel, I found an inspection card for 1985. That fit much better, and I adjusted my report accordingly.

This structure was listed as a 1953 home - but the framing says 1900-1920.

This structure was listed as a 1953 home - but the framing says 1900-1920.

The nastiest one had the listing agent blow a gasket and shriek at the buyer’s agent. This particular Clarkston house was listed as a 1974 home but none of the features matched the vintage. The attic was sheathed with dimensional wood, the attic framing was 2x4 rafters, the number of outlets was low, the foundation system was funky. It didn’t feel like 1974.

When the buyer’s rep showed up, I asked her about this. She commented that the seller had put a 1955 date in the disclosures. I ran with that and suggested a video sewer scope of the main drainage line. As it happens, the material was Orangeburg pipe and was in lousy condition. Given the extreme over-reaction of the listing agent, I wonder if she already knew that the line was questionable. Hmmmm?

Anyway, to the point. How does this happen? How does an old house get listed as a newer home?

The answer is not that the real estate agent is deliberately deceptive (usually!) What happens is that the house undergoes a major remodel, so much so that the home is nearly new in a functional sense. The owner applies for, and gets, a new certificate of occupancy from the municipality. The records get updated with the new C.O. When the house gets listed again, anyone (or any computer algorithm) will locate the last certificate of occupancy and that date gets assigned to listing.

This is not a 1974 attic space even though that was the listed age of the home.

This is not a 1974 attic space even though that was the listed age of the home.

The only time we used to see this happen was when a home was moved. With tighter controls coming into play at the municipal level, I expect to see more of this sort of mischaracterization occurring. The home inspector community will need to be aware of the potential for the actual vintage of the building to be different from the documentation. Unfortunately, with so many new inspectors arriving on the scene that lack the thousands of houses of experience to recognize the oddities, this likely will get missed.

Wait - Your Inspector Didn't Say Anything About Anchor Bolts?

First, a little history lesson. We tend to think that modern standards are inherently superior to the ‘good old days’. That may be so, but that does not mean that an older foundation is unsafe or needs a full retrofit. Many of our old foundations (in this region) are doing just fine. Many of those do not have a single anchor bolt, either.

Washington State began requiring anchor bolts on a statewide basis in about 1973 though many of our 1950s and 1960s Pullman and Clarkston homes have them. Prior to that, the state mandated them in the Puget Sound region due to earthquake potential.

Anchor bolting is installed to handle seismic and wind forces that have the potential to knock a home off the foundation. The Northridge quake is a case in point. The manner in which we installed them changed after that quake and the design of the washers was modified to limit damage.

Anchor bolts are not always visible - finished basement will prevent access - but it pays to have your inspector making the effort to identity if they are present or not. I do so in my reports on a separate line. If they are missing, the client gets a nice explanatory paragraph.

It’s a fairly common defect to find that the anchor bolts are present but missing washers and nuts. When this happens, it becomes a repair issue. If they are not spaced correctly, it becomes a judgement call - is it worth the cost to retrofit versus the risk. On this side of the state, our earthquake risk is minimal compared to Seattle. Most people don’t retrofit, but they always appreciate the information.

Ice Damming In Pullman

After skating for most of the season, Old Man Winter showed up with a shovel and has proceeded to bury us. So far, several areas have reported record snow falls including my home town of Asotin. For those of you that scoffed when my sweetie bought me a snow-blower, HAH! The Snow Joe has earned its keep this month.

The view from the roof at an inspection in Pullman.

The view from the roof at an inspection in Pullman.

Also happening this month - business is picking up. This time of year gets pretty treacherous for walking roofs, though sometimes it can be done. It requires a careful consideration of the underlying structure of the snow and of the point of access, but snow by itself is not a primary limiting factor.

What is a primary limiting factor is ice. And, by golly, we are seeing a lot of ice on the edges of roofs lately due to ice damming.

What Is Ice Damming?

In its simplest form, ice damming is a build up of ice on the eave of a roof. The formation is from snow melting at a higher point on the roof, typically over the heated portions of the home, and flowing down the roof slope to the eave. The eave is at nearly the same temperature as the air outside. As the water hits this frigid zone, it re-freezes.

In the process, the dam blocks more water from flowing freely off the roof deck, thus extending the ice dam. Because the velocity of water drainage plays a part in the process of re-freezing, lower slope roofs are more susceptible to ice damming.

On a low enough slope, the ice can build up many feet along the roof deck. That is what I found with the roof in the second picture. My best estimate is that the ice extended 8-10 feet up the roof from the edge.

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Damaged Caused By Ice Damming

The presence of the ice is not the major cause of damage to the home. While the accumulation can cause problems, it is the water behind the dam that causes the most concern. Our roofs are not designed to act as pools and are not water-proof. They are water shedding. That is a huge difference. Obstructed water will not drain down the roof. Water being water, it will try to find a way to flow with gravity. This means flowing under the shingles, finding gaps in the underlayment, and getting into the ceilings and walls of the home.

It is not just a matter of getting a roof stain on your ceiling, though. This moisture in your attic can be a major contributor to the growth of mold and wood destroying fungus.

How To Recognize an Ice Dam

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Ever drive by a house and admire the long glittering icicles hanging from the roof? Well, admire those from a distance. If you see those on your house, you likely have an ice damming issue.

Likewise, if there is a four inch iceberg on the edge of your roof, you’ve got a problem.

Also, a couple people a year get killed by falling ice or icicles from a roof.Do not walk right under the icy spears admiring them. If you are walking around a house with ice on the roof, stay near the wall under the eave or well clear of the fall zone to the perimeter.

Just a heads-up - if there is ice at the edge like this, I’m not getting on the roof.

How To Fix Ice Damming


The first thing to do is figure out where the heat is coming from to allow for the excessive snow melt. Usually, the first and best answer is that you do not have nearly enough insulation in your attic. You don’t even need to go into your attic to figure this out - if your roof is the first in the neighborhood to lose snow cover, you probably need more insulation. (I take perverse pride in having snow on my 1910 built home long after everyone else has exposed their shingles.. It a great sign that I did a solid job of insulating the home. Lower energy bills are nice, too.)

There are other factors that come into play. If you have canned ceiling lights, they can create enough heat to cause problems. Have a contractor insulate the boxes.

Check to make sure that you have enough effective attic ventilation. If you do not, the attic will retain warm air and lead to ice damming. Also, to mold growth.

If you have a furnace in the attic, make sure all the joints in your duct work are tight. Leaky ducts will cost you in more than dollars.

Insulate all your ventilation fan ducts. Bathroom fans and dryers move warm air to the outside. If they pass through the attic on the way, they will transfer much of their heat to the attic space. Insulate them and limit that possibility.

If these steps do not work to control your issue, it is time to call in a quality contractor to perform a thorough analysis of the heat transfer taking place, including thermal transfer through air exfiltration from ceiling penetrations or up the wall cavities.

Good luck! As always, if you have questions, feel free to call. I may have a tidbit of information that can help.

I’ll leave you with one more scary picture . . .

Water is actively leaking and two different fungi are growing.

Water is actively leaking and two different fungi are growing.