Home Inspection

Anti-tip Bracket

I had a new stove delivered to the house. My wife said the installers were wonderful except . . . they didn't install the anti-tip bracket. I'll do  it later, of course, but it's part of the manufacturer's recommendations. Pros should know this and get them in for their customers. Anti-tip bracket One of the many things I look for in an inspection. For those that haven't seen one of these before, the anti-tip bracket is a device that is installed to keep a free-standing appliance from falling over. This can happen in a variety of ways, from innocent babies climbing on the door when it's down, to the elderly grasping the edge to avoid falling to . . . well, failures of human intelligence.

(The only part about the video that surprises me is that it was a young lady - doing as much work as I do around university campuses, this is the sort of thing I expected to see from a frat house.)

There are two ways to secure the stove. It's not very complicated. The one in my picture is a floor mount that has a slot for the rear leg of the stove to slide into. The second method, not used as much any more, is to use a bracket that attached to the wall with a hook on the back of the stove.

Installers don't like to spend the extra time since they always have a 'next' job to get to. Not installing it, though, voids the manufacturer's responsibility if the stove does tip.

On a side note - a daughter of mine didn't understand why I checked for them, until her daughter climbed the stove. Now she gets it. And keeps telling my grand-daughter - who's a peach - to quit it.

Railroad tie retaining walls

Wood (10)In Pullman and Moscow both, a ‘natural-look’ trend using railroad tie retaining walls  took place from the mid-1980’s to about 2000, when masonry block supplanted the trend. The advantage of the railroad ties was the number of them dropped onto the market as local rail lines got torn up and the creosoted wood was nearly given away. As is usually the case, the contractors that first started using the ties had no idea of what a wall constructed of wood should look like. Mostly, they pretended that it was just like a concrete wall. They stacked the ties, drove spikes through them vertically and—viola’—counted it as good.

It wasn’t. The railroad ties are prone to rotating and the spikes aren’t enough to resist the motion. Add to that the ground pressure, especially when the native loess around here gets wet, and the retaining walls tend to pick up a lean pretty quickly.

There’s a way to fix the issue, though. At the time you build the wall, you include tiebacks. Tiebacks can be made with steel rods and use anchor bolts to flat plates at the outside of the wall. A more attractive solution that works equally well is to use the railroad ties themselves as the tiebacks by turning an appropriate number of them perpendicular to the wall, extending into the hillside you are retaining.

If you look at the railroad tie retaining wall in the picture, you can see a tieback in the lower middle part of the picture where the end profile of the tie is visible.

No, I can’t tell you the appropriate number of tiebacks – that is known as engineering and I’m not qualified. As an inspector, I recognize when this has been done (and hasn’t, obviously) and point it out to the client.

Now, for the other problem with using railroad ties in retaining walls, at least in Pullman and Moscow—the ties are a multi-story hotel for carpenter ants.

The creosote coating will keep them from penetrating the surface of the wood but any cut ends or sections that split will provide an entry point. Once inside, the carpenter ants will set up house. Unlike most other wood destroying organisms in the Pacific Northwest, the ants don’t eat the wood. They excavate and create shelters.

While their presence in the wall will weaken it, they’re not yet a threat to your home until they attempt to colonize it in the same manner they took over the railroad ties. As part of a home inspection in Washington State, the inspector is required to inform you of potential conditions conducive to this type of infestation. Note the difference . . . potential. Just because the condition exists, it does not automatically follow that an infestation is imminent.

It would be prudent to have a professional keep an eye on the potential for you and, if it’s a concern, provide treatment options. A pair of companies I like are Sunpest and Hayden Pest Control. {Disclaimer-Sunpest helps me with my dandelion issues.}

Railroad tie retaining walls are an attractive landscaping feature but, when buying a new home, look for the signs (or make sure your inspector looks) of good construction and be mindful of the pest issues. Otherwise, enjoy the natural beauty they bring.

Pregnant? New Home in the Country? Please - test your well for nitrates.

“I have a daughter in her childbearing years,” Brender said. “If she were on a private well, I would tell her to have her well-water tested or drink bottled water.”

There's a powerful emotional reason for her to encourage you to test your well for nitrates. That quote is from an article from NBC News about a rash of birth defects in the Yakima area. The children affected have  anencephaly, a  condition in which they’re born missing parts of the brain or skull.

The CDC hasn't issued a reason for the sudden rash, or cluster as they phrase it, of birth defects, but they also admit that they haven't done the kind of intense in-person and in-place survey likely to find an obscure cause, something that might be as simple as they all purchased produce from the same farmer.

Yakima is a major growing area in Washington State, especially for fruits and vegetables while the regions to the East, the Palouse tend more towards grain and legumes. Still, they share a commonality - fertilizers and pesticides.

Research has shown that there are potential links between anencephaly and exposure to molds and to pesticides, Ashley-Koch said. Central Washington is a prime agricultural area that produces crops from apples and cherries to potatoes and wheat, which may require pesticides that contain nitrates.

So, if you are in a young family, planning on children and buying a home with a private well, please spend the $75 (or thereabouts - I haven't priced it recently) to get the well tested.

You never know - the money you spend to test your well for nitrates may end up being the best investment you've ever made for your children.

So what happens if it DOES snow?

Roberson1 (9)One advantage of living in Asotin is that the whole Lewis-Clark valley is considered to be a 'banana belt'- we're normally 10 degrees warmer than the surrounding prairies. We're also a desert. The average rainfall in Lewiston, Idaho is about 13 inches per year. Pullman get about 20 inches which makes it a semi-arid desert but the great soil in the Palouse hold water well and allows for dry land farming. A lot of their moisture happens this time of year, in the form of snow.

In the valley, we snicker. Most of the time, if we get 'snow', it's a dusting and we broom it off as we get on our way.  Very little fuss.

This leads the builders in the valley to occasionally entertain bad ideas on what constitutes good construction. If you take a quick gander at the picture above, you can see a prime example.

The picture was taken on an inspection of a brand new home. Can you see the problem?

Yep, whoever it was that pointed out the air intake (the curved one) is way too close to the roof deck wins a Tootsie Pop.

The intake should be much high off the roof deck (I recommended 12") so that, in the event of snow, it doesn't get blocked. The ultra-high efficiency furnace that is connected to the intake has a sensor that measures how much combustion air is getting pulled in. If it doesn't sense enough air, the furnace will not start.

Bad.

It's winter and we definitely want the furnace to fire off and keep our tushes warm. We also don't want to make a service call (on overtime rate because it always happens that way - Murphy's Law is immutable and irrepressible) to get a perfectly acceptable system working again. And even if you know what the problem is, do you really want to climb onto a snow covered roof to fix it?

This is an easy fix. Add some height to both the exhaust and air intake. Viola, end of this particular problem.

And yes, it should have been caught by the building official but cut them a little slack. Like the rest of us, they're human and can miss something. Yes, it should have been caught by everybody up and down the construction cycle. That's why you hire an inspector, even for new homes-we're the last link in the chain of people (builder, contractors, code official, agent, inspector) that are trying to make you happy in your new home.

Keep that intake clear and stay warm, folks.

Prep Season

We've cleared the holidays when everyone in real estate takes some time off. No one wants to move at Christmas so many folks don't have their house on the market, waiting instead until after the New Year. In other words, now. I'm starting to see a strong uptick in seller's inspections as folks prep their house for entry into the market. Something to consider is that the first audience for your home is the other real estate agents. Once listed, they'll be touring your home so that they can be ready to refer their clients to appropriate properties.

If you have any little projects (and maybe some big ones) that you want to complete during the late winter/early spring, talk to your agent about waiting until the projects are complete before putting the house up on tour. First impressions can be critical and you don't want to jump the gun.

And, if your agent has suggested some repairs, I strongly recommend that you consider them. They know what is concerning to the buyer - they work with them daily.

For more advice on sellers inspections, check out my posts here.

 

 

Crawl Space Access

Crawl space access is one of those completely unsexy things that inspectors get excited about - and with good reason, since we get paid to go in there. Most homebuyers take one look at the spider webs and confined space and pat me on the back. "Good luck, take pictures." seems to the general idea. They're not coming with me. Accesses get placed in all sorts of interesting spots - outside, in the garage, through a basement wall, closets - you name it, someone has put it there.

Okay, not the attic. We'll save the discussion of attic scuttles for another time. . .

The code for crawl space access is pretty specific.

R408.4 Access Access shall be provided to all under-floor spaces. Access openings through the floor shall be a minimum of 18 inches by 24 inches (457 mm by 610 mm). Openings through a perimeter wall shall be not less than 16 inches by 24 inches (407 mm x 610 mm). When any portion of the through-wall access is below grade, an areaway not less than 16 inches by 24 inches (407 mm x 610 mm) shall be provided. The bottom of the areaway shall be below the threshold of the access opening. Through wall access openings shall not be located under a door to the residence.

Did you read all that? No, don't worry. The inspector will manage it. Heck, we're delighted if we actually get a code-compliant hatch in an older home. Some that I've gone through are a half or less of the size above. It's why you should always hire a skinny inspector.

No, the part that will drive the inspector nuts and possibly cost you money (if you're the buyer) or a sale (if you're the seller) is having a perfectly acceptable hatch that isn't accessible.

Don't Cover or Block the Crawl Space Access

Yesterday was a classic example. We have a home with a sloped floor, a large tree five feet from the foundation wall, and no way to check the crawlspace for structural damage because the hatch was in the laundry room. Under the washer/dryer.

Very few inspectors are going to move installed appliances, risking damage to the appliances and the flooring, to get to a hatch. Instead, most will write it up as a defect, mark the structural components as uninspected and leave the buyer guessing about sloped floors.

The longer they guess, the worse the problem will get in their minds.

If you are the seller, please do yourself a favor. First, know where your access is. If it's under equipment, take the time to move things for the inspector.

If it's in a closet, remove your personal possessions to leave it available. Same thing for exterior hatches - don't stack the firewood on top.

Some older homes will have the hatch nailed down. If this is the case, pry it up before the inspector gets there. The odds are that he or she won't take the chance of damaging flooring.

And if you're using screws to hold the covers in place - frequently done on exterior hatches to keep the board tight to the wall - use a standards screw head - no need to go with fancy star-patterned heads. We might not have that particular pattern or size on board the truck. Use a Phillips or square head screw.

The inspector will thank you, and the buyer will get the information they need without the extra worrying. And you move one step closer to a successful sale.

 

 

EPA Bans Most Wood-Burning Stoves

Well, it's not like we're not used to the EPA overreaching on regulations so a production ban on the types of wood-burning stoves found in about 80 percent of the homes nationwide with stoves shouldn't be a surprise. The core of the issue is a requirement that wood stoves produce less than 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air of airborne fine-particle matter. The old standard was 15 percent.

You can still use your old wood stove - for now, and depending on region - but if you want to get a new stove, the old one will need to be scrapped out. You can't sell it to another party to recoup some of your outlay for the more efficient burner. I also suspect that the new regulations will increase the cost of the new wood-burning stoves as well though the EPA helpfully provides a list of compliant stoves.

Some areas of the country already ban outright the use of a wood stove during certain weather conditions or seasonally. Puget Sound and the Air Resources Board in that region have done that.

If you are buying a home with a wood stove, I would strongly suggest finding out if the stove is compliant. As an inspector, this isn't going to be part of my routine since there is too great a variety in the stoves themselves. Also, I would keep in mind the fact that the stove that you have may be banned from use should the local jurisdictions decide that it is necessary. Such bans almost invariably involve the traditional fireplace as well.

If you are a seller with a new wood-burning stove that is EPA compliant, I would include that information in the listing. Discuss it with your Realtor to see how best to do this.

For more info, here's the article that I found - EPA Bans Most Wood-Burning Stoves

Your Home Inspection Report is Confidential Info

Ssshhh!Your Home Inspection Report is Confidential Info

About twice a year, I end up explaining to a peeved Realtor that I can't send them copies of  inspection reports because the information is confidential and it violates state regulations to release it without the customer's permission.

The last time I pointed this out, the Realtor sent me an email that I took as disagreeing with this. To quote, "Paul  that is  stupid..." I had sent a copy of the report to a partnering agent who apparently did not realize that it landed in his junk folder and she didn't see why I couldn't send it to her since they share an office.

The answer was that I am not permitted to. Here's the relevant Washington Standard:

308-408C-020WAC 308-408C-020 Ethics. Statement of purpose

In order to ensure the integrity and high standard of skill and practice in the home inspection profession, the following rules of conduct and ethics shall be binding upon the inspector.  The home inspector must:

(10) Not disclose information contained in the inspection report without client approval or as required by law.

Seems clear enough. In this particular case, I did the inspection for a person buying the home on a For Sale by Owner basis but was seeking advice from a licensed Realtor. All good, except that at the inspection, he didn't provide me with that information so that I could pre-clear the sending of the report.

By pre-clear, I mean that I have a spot in the Inspection Agreement where the customer can affirmatively check a box that gives me permission to disclose his or her inspection information to his or her agent. It still wouldn't have gotten the report into the hands of the second agent, though.

There is an exception:

However, at their discretion inspectors may disclose when practical observed safety or health hazards to occupants or others that are exposed to such hazards.

If the gas odor clubs me at the door of the house (and it happens more than you think), I can notify the occupants or others that the condition exists. That doesn't mean that I'm calling Avista to have them fix it. That's miles beyond the scope of my authority. But I can act in the interest of public safety and disclose information.

So, the bottom line for the customer. Your home inspection report is confidential information and you don't have to share it. Certainly, your inspector should never share it without your say-so.

Should the Seller Hire an Inspector? Part 3

This is Part 3 of Should the Seller Hire an Inspector? Feel free to offer comments and suggestions.

How to Pick your Inspector

One of the best compliments I ever received came from a client who had used me on a small commercial project.  The project was interesting - a turn-of-the-century storefront. He called me up later to inspect his home before he sold it.  His reasoning?  He wanted to take the best home inspector off the market forcing the buyers to select a lesser inspector.

I am going to presume that you, like most people, do not have a home inspector on speed dial.  If you decide that a pre-listing inspection makes sense for you, let’s look at the factors that you will need to evaluate in order to hire the right inspector.

Experience.  You need to have an inspector that has the professional background - education, time in the field, previous occupations - to be as thorough as possible. You should expect no less than five years of inspector experience in you region.  Previous experience in the building trades or as a code certified inspector is a plus.

Licensed.  Not every state has licensure but if yours does, your inspector must be licensed.  If things get contentious, the more qualified your inspector, the more likely you are to prevail.  Licensing is the entry level requirement.  Look for additional certifications from ASHI (American Society of Home Inspectors) or NAHI (National Association of Home Inspectors).  Ask to see copies of his professional license as well as any applicable business licenses.

Reports.  You need a detailed report preferably in a narrative format that will detail the specific condition that needs correction.  The inspector should be willing to do a follow-up inspection to document that repairs were made.  Expect to pay extra for this service.

Insured.  As I mentioned before, the inspector should be carrying E&O insurance as well as General Liability insurance.  Ask to see copies of his insurance binders.

 

You will note that I did not specify the fee.  While the fee is important to you, we are looking for a level of exceptional service.  A typical home inspection is going to cost somewhere between $300 and $500 depending on your region, the size of your home and the level of services involved.  Each region will have different pricing structures with some adding for building elements such as crawlspaces or charging extra for older homes.  Definitely ask but be aware that the low cost bidder is likely the one that lacks the other primary credentials that you need.

Another element to look for is a guarantee from the inspector.  When I do a pre-listing inspection, I offer the following promise:

I guarantee my inspection like this: if another inspector working for the buyer finds something that I missed that is included in my Standards of Practice, I’ll pay for the repairs up to the cost of your inspection.

Most inspectors are not going to voluntarily offer a guarantee so it’s up to you to ask.  The best inspectors will have some way of backing up their work.  Those are the ones that you want to work with.

Speaking of services, I will be covering environmental issues in Chapter 8 along with some of the specialty inspections that are offered in the marketplace.  I do not necessarily recommend that you do all of them but I want you to be aware of them so that you are not surprised if your buyer decides to access a higher level of information.

For now, you have enough information to have a candid conversation with your real estate agent.  Discuss with them the advantages and disadvantages of performing a pre-listing inspection on your home and make the decision from an informed basis.

This is the final installment of the article, Should the Seller Hire an Inspector? If you found it helpful, drop me a note. If you have suggestions, I would love to hear from you.

Re-Tooling the Inspection Report

Well, it's back to the drawing board for my inspection report. One of the reasons I chose the software I have is to be able to periodically improve my report. That never happens in the summer, of course, because I'm entirely too busy. Now that things are slowing down for the season, I can make all the adjustments on all the stuff that has been annoying me for the last six months, plus add in all the suggestions that clients and agents have made.

As an industry, this is one weakness that I have observed. The inspector gets married to a single method of reporting and simply never changes it. There are inspectors in my area still using the exact same reporting system that they started with years ago. News flash - the standards are constantly evolving and the inspector ought to as well.

By next month, I should have the system rebuilt. One of the goals is to greatly increase the detail of the descriptions. Many agents will consider this to be TMI - Too Much Information - but I see large changes ahead for the inspection industry. I'd rather ride the wave of the change than get drowned in it.

Improving the Inspection Report is just one small part of riding that wave.

Should the Seller Hire an Inspector? Part 2

What’s the Downside to Hiring an Inspector?

This is Part 2 of Should the Seller Hire an Inspector? Feel free to offer comments and suggestions.

I just did a quick search of the internet looking for disadvantages for sellers who have used pre-listing inspections and discovered that, in the virtual world at least, there are no downsides to having a pre-listing inspection. I disagree.  The prevailing thought is that you are laying off the risks to the inspector who is carrying Errors and Omissions insurance as protection against lawsuits and judgments.  There are two problems with this perspective: first, that the assumption that the inspector is insured; and, second, that the aggrieved buyer will only name the inspector in any potential litigation.  The truth is that a third or more of the inspectors do not carry insurance.  It is not required in most states and is expensive to hold so many inspectors skip it.  The other issue, involving litigation, is that lawyers tend to name everyone they can in a suit - the inspector, your agent, you -even your dog if the lawyer thinks they have an monetary value.  So, what are the risks...?

The major risk is that the inspector finds a material defect that you were not previously aware of.   Once you know you have a material defect in the property, you will be required to disclose it.  This can substantially impact your sale price even if you repair the defect.  Obviously, if the buyers discover it, it will have the same negative effect.

There is a second risk as well.  Let’s assume that you hired an inspector, he did his inspection and gave you the report.  You look it over and are relieved - there’s not much to be fixed.  You do the light repairs and, when you get and offer, confidently invite the buyer to get his own inspection.  Then you get the inspection report back and the second inspector has found multiple problems with your “clean” home.  What just happened?

Probably one of two things and, unfortunately, only one you can directly control.  The first possibility, the one not fully under your control, is the inspector for the buyer feels he needs to create issues to justify a fee.  The second is that you hired the wrong inspector.  That you can control.

 

The final installment of this article, Should the Seller Hire an Inspector? will be posted on Monday, September 30, 2013

Should the Seller Hire an Inspector? Part 1

Should  the Seller Hire an Inspector?

That is a good question that unfortunately does not have an easy answer.  If you ask a home inspector, the answer is likely to be an unequivocal “Yes!”  If you ask your Realtor, the answer may be an equally emphatic “No!”

They are both right so let’s look at why.  More importantly, let’s find out which decision is right for you.

Reasons to Get an Inspection

There are three primary reasons that sellers consider getting an inspection.  First, to build a “to-do” list and get the home ready for market.  This type of inspection is usually very effective at identifying issues in the home that you can correct before you list it with an agent.  You won’t normally fix everything on the list but most people anticipate putting at least a modest amount of effort into the repairs.  This allows you to present the home to the buyer in better than average condition plus you have the chance to use the repairs that you have already completed as part of the negotiation process and limit the opportunity for the buyer’s inspector or agent from using over-inflated repair costs to drive the price down.  Also, the repairs that you make will likely make the home show better and encourage more and better offers while

Another advantage - if you hired the right inspector which we’ll discuss shortly - is the opportunity to pick the inspectors’ brain on what is really a necessary repair versus those items that are usually ignored.  Since he is working for you, he is able to provide advice regarding repairs, the costs that might be associated with them and the relative difficulty.   This in turns gives you the chance to prioritize the most important items that must be addressed, the small items that are quick fixes and the ones that you can disclose but not correct.  Remember that no home is perfect, so having some items left on the list is not unusual.

The second reason is to protect yourself legally from disclosure related types of issues.  Every state has its own disclosure forms and requirements that you, as the seller, need to fill out.  Mistakes on these forms can be terribly expensive if a buyer decides to take you to court.  By bringing in the inspector, you have an impartial third party who can provide you with information for your disclosures.  Mind you, not all of it because some of the information is historical - was there ever a flood? may be a question that the inspector can’t answer since the repairs were completed eight years ago and there are no visual clues..  Still, if you release the report as part of your disclosure, you give the appearance of a person who is honest in his presentation of the home and we are trying to build goodwill on the part of the buyer.  They are much more likely to trust a person who is making every effort to be honest.

The disclosure issue can’t be minimized.  It used to be very rare for me to get a call from new homeowners asking about failed inspections and seller disclosures.  The trend is accelerating and I now receive a call every couple of  months from home buyers that want to know if they should sue their inspector, the agent or the sellers.  Some areas of the country are more prone to litigious behavior - California, Florida, Arizona - but even in the deeply rural area that I live in, the change is noticeable.

The third reason that you’ll often hear for doing an inspection prior to listing is to try to discourage the buyer from having a home inspection.  Many inspectors advertise that a pre-listing inspection may encourage the buyer to forgo their own inspection.  While this does happen, I don’t suggest it and, even when I’ve done the inspection for the seller, I always recommend that the buyer have their own inspection done. Why?  Because you never want a perceived conflict of interest on your part or the inspectors.  Remember, we are trying to build trust throughout the process and limiting the choices of the buyer or even trying to influence them to self-limit can work to build doubt.  It is, however, a successful strategy and I estimate that half or more of the homes I pre-inspect do not get inspected by a buyers inspector.

Should the Seller Hire an Inspector, Part 2 will be posted Friday morning, early....

Smart Moves by Sellers, Pt. 2

Smart moves by sellers, part two....

The temperatures have dropped precipitously in the last week or so, down about 25 degrees and, if the trend continues, next week I won't be running air conditioners.

One seller is already in front of the curve. I showed up and the receipts for the air conditioner service and furnace service were sitting on the table. My client joked that the seller had made it easy for me since I didn't have to check them now.

He was wrong about that - I have to check anyway since it is part of the Standards of Practice for Washington State. And, occasionally, I'll find something that the service technician missed. Hard to believe, but they are human and subject to the same foibles as the rest of us.

But the comment struck me as really interesting. The proof of service was very reassuring to the buyer and helped her feel much more comfortable with the mechanical systems. When I tested them and looked for problems, I couldn't find any which just built on the sense of security that she had.

So, we're reaching the time of year where everybody tells you to service the furnace to get ready for winter. I'm going to borrow some smart moves by sellers and suggest that you should service it to help make your potential buyer more comfortable with the home, especially if the furnace is an older one. Proof of your good intentions combined with the assurance that a professional or two have signed off on the equipment can be a powerful inducement to action.

Smart moves by Sellers is an on-going series of articles that will hopefully help you make your home more salable. if you have specific questions you would like me to answer, please email me or leave a comment.

 

Ufer Ground for New Construction

The term ufer ground is the old fashioned way to call out what the code book calls a concrete-encased grounding electrode. You probably don't know it but most new homes in the Pullman and Moscow areas are being built with a Ufer ground. First, let's have a short history lesson. In World War II, the American forces, specifically the U.S. Army, needed a system to ground bomb storage facilities in Arizona and Nevada. One problem with both of those areas is that they are extremely dry and the soil was a very poor conductor. For obvious reasons, the Army did not want excessive charges to build up around the bomb dumps. The existing means - long copper rods - would take a critical war material our of circulation and was very expensive.

Fixing this problem was Herbert G. Ufer. A sharp individual, he discovered that the foundations, made of concrete, were more conductive than many types of soil. He devised a system by which a rod was inserted into the foundation and tied to the electrical panel.

Moving on....

The concrete encased grounding electrode used in our region for residential construction is a 20 foot length of #4 rebar (1/2 inch steel) with a projection from the top of the foundation wall at a easy location to make the connection to the grounding electrode - the actual wire from the panel.

The old means - there were two - of grounding proved to be less effective in Pullman and Moscow due to better knowledge and a change in building material.

The early means of grounding was to attach the grounding electrode to the metal plumbing system where the main entered the home. Now that we use non-metallic materials for our plumbing supplies, this option isn't available.

The other way was to use driven ground rods. Unfortunately, these were less proficient at distributing energy and were often damaged at the clamps that held the wire to the rod.

How to determine if you have a Ufer Ground? Look inside the home under the electrical panel. What you are trying to find is a blank electrical box cover plate. If you have one and can not find a ground rod outside, there is a good chance that you have a ufer ground. The plate is there, by the way, in case you do have a major electrical event and the connection to the rod needs to be checked for damage.

Now a word of warning - nothing ever comes without a downside. Ufer grounds have been known, under certain conditions, to cause damage to the foundation in a lightning strike. If the concrete holds too much moisture, that water will flash off to steam and the expansion of the steam cracks the concrete.

Make sure that you keep your gutters in good shape and, when you water the lawn, make sure you're not watering the house, too. It's not good for the house and it can be a problem - not a high probability one, admittedly, but possible - for your ufer ground system.

 

 

Floor Plans - A New Inspection Service

Within the next couple of weeks, I'll be adding a new service for my clients - floor plans, which I'm reasonably sure is a brand new inspection service since I can't find anybody else offering it. These floor plans will be generally accurate and will include placement of major items like the windows, doors and heat ducts. By generally accurate, I mean that the dimensions of the room will be close, probably within an inch or so but not precise to the degree that would be available from a construction blueprint. If major remodeling is the intent, the floor plans can give the client a staring point but it won't include the structural components or precision that will be necessary to remove walls, lift ceilings, or otherwise radically alter the home.

The idea is to provide clients, especially those from out-of-state, with a way of determining how they plan on living in the home - where the furniture can go, which rooms will be the best for the baby, which one can be an office.

I haven't yet figured out the cost factor for the service (I know, I know, that should be first but....) but, off the top of my head with a time estimate, I think it will be around $75.00.

For Realtors, it provides a means of differentiating your sellers' homes and can be included in the marketing plan.

Once I flesh the idea of floor plans out a bit more, I'll add to the services page.

Water Resistive Barrier

I always joke that having a boring day is good for a home inspector and thought that I had it made on a new home - until I got in an attic and saw that there was no water resistive barrier and new siding. I could literally see the neighbor's house from a crack between siding pieces. Not good. In the bad old days before 2003, the IRC (International Residential Code) did not specify water resistive barriers for homes, leaving the details to the siding manufacturers. Some manufacturers required them while others were willing to certify their exterior wall coverings as primary water barriers. The differing standards led to different installation procedures, mass confusion and a slew of houses vulnerable to water intrusion.

So the codes changed.

Which brings me to a new home and no barrier. It should be there. It's in the code. It's also in the installation manual:

A properly installed breathable water-resistive barrier is required behind the siding.

Seems pretty cut and dried but I know that my clients will end in a battle - because this is not an easy fix. Correction will mean removing the siding (they're supposed to close this week!) The builder will likely make two arguments - the first, that he is adhering to the standards of practice for the region. Therefore, the buyers should not expect any better. This one he might win - others have, claiming essentially the same thing. "Yeah, it's wrong but everybody does it."

The second argument will come from a misinterpretation of the siding installation instructions. The manufacturer allows the siding to be nail directly to wall studs provided they are 24" on center or less - which is the case in this home.. It doesn't mention the water resistive barrier expressly so I expect him to claim it isn't necessary. It's a pretty bogus argument, but the builder is in a bind.

This happened on new home construction but I can see a potential for problems on remodels as well. When upgrading the exterior, you need the water resistive barrier. They work together. Some companies will try to cut costs - and the barrier can be a bit expensive - and, unless conditions are perfect, there is no way for the average home inspector to know. Yesterday I had the conditions and made a good catch that will save my clients a ton of aggravation a few rainy seasons from now.

 

Video Sewer Scope and Old Pipes

If you have an older house, getting the someone to do a video sewer scope inspection can possibly save you thousands. The issue that I run into on a home inspection is that I do a visual non-invasive inspection (mostly) and the sewer line is buried under ground making it outside the scope of what I do.

Based on the age of the home, I can make some educated guesses on what material - ABS, cast iron, concrete, Orangeburg - you may have connecting your home to the city sewer or to the septic tank. What I have no way of telling you is what condition those pipes may be in.

When I have some concerns, I recommend you to a professional who has the equipment - a sewer scope which is  a camera on a long flexible lead that gets pushed down the sewer line, sending back images to a video recording system.

Ideally, this operator will send the probe to the connection with the main sewer line or septic tank and report back what the material is and that it is in good condition. Unfortunately, as plumbing pipes reach the end of life period - and this is occurring more often with the post-WWII homes approaching 70 years old - we're seeing more failures.

The failures tend to aggregate into two categories. The first, material related, is simple degradation of the pipe. Orangeburg pipe - basically a toilet paper roll impregnated with tar - simply falls apart. Cast iron has rust issues.

The second category deals with time and the effects on the conditions around the pipe. One example is a failure of compaction in the soil that causes the pipe to shift or even break. This can be a problem with modern drainage piping - the lines often will develop sags that restrict flow. Another one, a particular problem in older neighborhoods are the wonderful mature trees.

I had a beautiful jacaranda tree in my front yard when I lived in Southern California. One of the reasons it was so spectacular was that it had a steady source of nutrients - my sewer. Trees are opportunistic and this one found all the joints in the clay piping and invaded at the seams where each hub piece was joined.

I bought that house before video sewer scope technology matured so I didn't get the advanced warming - the total tab was nearly $5,000 in repairs. Now that the technology is here, I recommend it to clients with older homes.

The actual wording that I use is " It is not unusual for older homes to begin to have problems with the waste drainage system.  These systems are not readily visible but can be imaged using a video sewer scope system.   Recommend having a video camera line inspection for potential blockages in the main sewer line."

It's up tot he client to make the call obviously - but it awfully cheap peace of mind.

Get Rid of That 'Rotten Egg Smell'

 That rotten egg smell you get every time you turn on the hot water? You can get rid of it.

Both Pullman and Moscow have neighborhoods that have a lot of bacteria in the water supplies. That doesn't mean that it is always a health hazard - often it just really annoying. We have iron and sulfur bacteria in our area, courtesy of the aquifers that we have. Neither type of bacteria is particularly harmful, at least not at the levels usually seen. 

Here are some valuable tips on how to avoid or treat sulfur bacteria infestations.

Sulfur-reducing bacteria live in oxygen-deficient environments. They break down sulfur compounds, producing hydrogen sulfide gas in the process. Hydrogen sulfide gas is what gives the water that rotten egg smell. It's also highly corrosive. The sulfur smell may only be noticeable when the water hasn't been run for several hours which is why is seems to happen in vacant houses more often than occupied listings.

Why is it only in the hot water?

Actually, it isn't - it's in the cold water, too. The water heater  provides a good environment for Sulfur-reducing bacteria because it contains a "sacrificial anode." This anode is a magnesium rod that helps protect the water heater by corroding instead of the tank lining. SRBs are nourished by electrons released from the anode as it corrodes.

Water heaters infested with Sulfur-reducing bacteria can be treated.

The bacteria dies at temperatures of 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above, which is roughly equivalent to the high setting on most home water heaters that are in good working order. Setting the water heater on "high" will raise the water temperature to approximately 160 degrees Fahrenheit and kill any SRBs in the tank.

(This should only be done if the water tank has a pressure relief valve, and everyone in the house should be warned to prevent scaldings.) After about eight hours, the tank can be drained and the temperature setting returned to normal.

Raising the water heater temperature will solve the odor problem, but it may be temporary depending on the condition of the house plumbing supplies.

Removing the sacrificial anode will eliminate the problem, but it can also shorten the water heater lifespan significantly and likely will void the warranty. Replacing the magnesium rod with one made of zinc won't totally eliminate SRBs, but it will greatly reduce their numbers. Consult with a plumber before attempting to modify your water heater.

I'm selling my house - Should I fix this?

If you have your home listed for sale, I can absolutely guarantee you that this will improve the way your home appears to prospective buyers. I've had more clients than I can count wrinkle their noses at the rotten egg smell coming from the kitchen or bathroom when I am testing the functional flows. It doesn't help you sell your house.

Clean air and water evoke powerful, positive feelings. I strongly recommend that you fix that rotten egg smell.

 

Copyright © 2013 Paul Duffau

Traverse the Roof

Asphalt Compostion ShinglesOne part of the Standards of Practice for Washington State that drew a ton of comments - much of it angry - was the requirement to traverse the roof during the inspection. There are excellent reasons to actually get on the roof. The most important is that a large number of issues simply can't be observed from ground level. In the picture to the right, I've lifted a flap on the three-tab asphalt composition roof.

First, I shouldn't be able to lift that tab with fingertips. That I can indicates that the tar strip - the black rubbery stuff you see on the shingle under the flap - deteriorated and isn't performing its function sealing the shingles together. Not unusual on an older roof and typically will generate a warning from me that the roof is aging and plans for future replacement should be considered.

The second item that was noticeable was the use of staples to attach the shingles to the roof. This was permissible for many years but went out of code somewhere around 1998-2000. I was still a foundation guy at that point so I don't know precisely when the change took place. Staples fail more easily than nails do which explains why we changed.

They are also harder to correctly install. If you look to the staple on the right (under my hand), you'll note that the installer put it in on an angle. That's a no-no.

None of this would have been visible from the ground.

Opponents of the requirement to traverse the roof had a good point - it can be very dangerous which is why my clients are not permitted to join me up there. The Home Inspector Licensing Board considered this and reached a sensible compromise. If the inspector feels that the roof is unsafe to traverse, he or she is not required to.

They didn't set specific conditions regarding the pitch of the roof or the weather or the health of the inspector (not joking - if Inspector Bob took an anti-histamine before going to work, he has no business up there.) They left it up to our discretion.

The one problem that presents is when a client becomes adamant that you traverse the roof. I had one who was exactly that determined for me to get on the roof. Pointing out that the wind gusts exceeded 70 mph and that to get on the upper level required balancing my ladder on a slope roof at the veranda only made him more determined. I finally offered his money back when he accused me of failing to deliver the promised services. He was shocked and backed down but it reinforced in my mind the most important part of roof safety.

I'm the one who gets to decide it I can traverse the roof. Not the client and not the agent. And I'll make a good faith effort to do it. But there isn't a roof in the world worth failing off of.

Burned Wires in the Panel

Burned Wiring in Electrical PanelThe burned wires in this electrical panel aren't the result of a defect in the panel, the breakers or even  the wiring.  I damaged the wiring by the simple act of removing a screw (and, no, I'm not responsible - that cover should be safe to remove. The listing agent and I had this discussion and the electrician backed me up.) Sparks flew everywhere as the screw came out and the panel sizzled in front of me. Fortunately, I wasn't hanging onto the panel cover or it would likely have knocked me across the room. Hidden defects exist in nearly every home. While the home inspector tries to find as many of them as possible, the term 'hidden defect' persists for a reason. None of us have x-ray vision so items stashed in the walls stays stashed. Even my infrared camera isn't going to help with many of these issues.

The defect in this case was the original installation of the wiring. By code, those wires should never be placed in a position where this could possibly happen. When I see wiring too close to attachment points, it gets written up for correction.

And, when I'm taking the panel cover off, my clients aren't allowed to help. The flash range on a 200 AMP panel is about three feet (so I've been told - I have no desire to test that particular factoid!) I appreciate the offer but even the slight risk that something like this can happen - this is the first time in  eight years for me - isn't worth it.

I joke when I see burned wires in the panel that someone had a bad day. You pay us to do this as safely as possible and we are, most of us, very careful but the rare nasty surprise can still be waiting. If it has to happen - let it happen to the inspector.