ACMV Part 2- Trouble Areas Around Windows & Doors

Start Here to read the first post in this series. This will help you better understand the details for each section of the ACMV series.

If there is one constant when it comes to ACMV (Adhered Concrete Masonry Veneer), it is that you must be sure the moisture can drain from behind the siding. This drainage is achieved by incorporating a drainage plane & weep screed (a place for the water to drain to, and path for it to escape). When you look at all of the detailed diagrams on the subject, you’ll notice that every one of them has a drainage point where the siding meets another horizontal surface. This means that every window, door, trim piece, and the ground must have a drainage point to release the water that will get behind the siding.  If this detail is omitted, and it almost always is, moisture can build up and leak behind the moisture barriers that are in place.  Let’s look at some pictures to see what happens when things go wrong.

Window and Door Heading Detail

Below is a detailed diagram of what you should see when looking at ACMV manufactured stone install.  Notice the weep screed at the top of the window to give the moisture a place to drain, and an expansion gap (with backer rod and sealant to keep wind-driven rain out). When that flashing is missing (and it almost always is), the water that gets behind the stone will collect and build up on top of the window (the head).  I’ve added some rain drops to the image to help you better understand what happens to the moisture, and what path the water takes as the wall takes on wind-driven rain.

ACMV Window-Head-Detail

Here is a colored detail of what the top of a window or door should look like when looking at an ACMV install.

 

Now let’s look at a picture from an inspection of a typical ACMV install I see in Louisville during inspections. You’ll notice that the mortar was installed around the stones and it was also laid directly next to the window frame. The is no form of expansion gap, and the weep screed is missing.  Every important detail was skipped.

ACMV Failed Window Install

Here you can see the stone and mortar butted to the window. This will crack out over time and allow water to seep in around the window.

Window and Door Jam Details

The sides of windows call for the same backer-rod and sealant as the top, to allow for thermal movement. Remember from science class that almost everything expands and contracts when it heats up and cools down. We must allow for this movement, and flexible sealants are the best way to do so. We incorporate bond breakers like backer-rods  to help cut down on the amount of sealant used, and to keep the bond in the joint even.  I drew a couple of diagrams to help you visualize what the backer-rod/sealant joint would look like.

Backer-rod ACMV Control Joint

Here is an example of a properly sealed joint using backer-rod. This will expand and contract with thermal movement and keep things water tight.

 

Let’s look at a detail where the backer-rod is missing from the equation. When you don’t utilize a backer-rod, the sealant will flow and move inside the joint and grab more of one side than the other.  Think of this as a game of tug-of-war. One side has 10 people, one has 3 people. Who’s going to win? When one side is stronger than the other, the joint will fail and pull apart. This is what happens when you see a caulked joint that has cracked and opened up.

Sealant Missing Backer-rod

Here you can see what happens to the sealant when the backer-rod is omitted. The left side is going to win every time.

 

Here is what a typical install of ACMV around windows looks like in my area.  I’ve never seen an installer use backer-rod and sealant. It’s always either mortared straight to the window jam, or “dry stacked.” Both are a recipe for failure.  You know the old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

ACMV Window Jam Failed Install

Here is what the sides of a window install will look like with the backer-rod and sealant missing. The mortar is installed right up to the jam.

 

Window Sills

One of the most important details with a waterproof installation of ACMV on your home should happen long before the stone veneer is ever installed. The opening for the windows must be wrapped in sill flashing.  This is usually done with a peel and stick product such as Grace Vycor Flashing.  If this step is omitted, compounded with the other skipped details, you will be left with water that will seep in around the corners of the window sills, and rot out the wall.  How fast this happens all depends on how much water gets in.

 

ACMV-Window-Sill-Detail

Window sills are treated like the sides of the window. There should be a 3/8″ gap between the faux stone and the window. The gap gets the backer-rod sealant to keep water out.

 

Leaking Window ACMV

This home had failure at the window corner. This picture was taken during the exploratory phase of the repair.

 

ACMV soaking up moisture

This window is missing the sloped sill material. It was also never caulked around the window jam. Notice how the bottom right corner is much darker than the rest of the wall. That is because it’s taking in water here and stays wet.

Identifying A Problem

Even though I have never seen an installation of ACMV that I would consider correct, I have seen several houses that are not showing signs of problems (to the naked eye).  Sometimes it take the Perfect Storm of circumstances before real problems pop up.  Sometimes it takes the right amount of rain exposure.  Sometimes enough time hasn’t elapsed for a water problem to manifest itself on the surface.

When I can’t simply look at the home and know there is an issue, I use technology to help out.

Moisture Meters- I carry several different kinds of moisture meters.  Each tool does one particular job well, and the specific task dictates which one I reach for.   When dealing with ACMV and windows, I use my GE Protimeter with deep wall probes.  Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s a drop in the bucket to what the repair costs on your house will be.

Your wall cavity is about 4″ thick.  Most of the time, the moisture will take years and years to show up on the inside of the home near the drywall.  However, using the wall probes, I’m able to take moisture readings through the 4″ of wall cavity and reach the backside of the substrate (the OSB plywood on the outside).  This surface is what the ACMV is actually mounted to.  If water is leaking in, the meter should find it.

To use the probes, I first drill two small holes in the drywall. Sometimes we get lucky and find an electrical outlet near the bottom of the window. When that happens, we can remove the cover plate and slide the probes between the electrical box and the cutout of the drywall. This keeps me from having to drill holes in the wall.

ACMV Deep Wall Moisture Scan

Once you drill two small holes in the drywall, the probes can be pushed through the wall cavity to take a moisture level reading while doing minimum damage to the wall.

 

As with other claddings used in construction, the details around doors and windows are what must be perfectly executed.  Flat walls are relatively easy; it’s when a change shows up in the  architecture that builders and contractors must follow details, or things go south in a hurry.  If you’ve compared your home to what I have detailed here and you’re concerned, I encourage you to reach out to a moisture intrusion expert to have your home examined.  If you are in my area, Louisville, KY, please feel free to contact me about getting your ACMV Inspection.

PART 3: ACMV- WALL DETAILS AND DRAINAGE

In part three I show you how the details around the walls should be handled, and how to make sure the water doesn’t build up behind the stone veneer.

The ACMV diagrams from this series were all taken from the MVMA guide. I will sometimes remove extra details or color certain sections to make them a bit easier to understand. If you want to look at the originals, download the full MVMA manual.

Should you test for Radon Gas in Louisville?

At least a few times a week I ask a client if they want a Radon test performed on their new house.  Most give a sharp “yes” without hesitation.  Some folks, however, don’t know what to say, or may be confused from the all the different opinions they have gotten from their realtor, dad, cousin, neighbor, etc… Let’s see if we can clear things up a bit.

If you are buying a home in Louisville (all of KY really) you should have it tested for Radon Gas.  Every home should be tested for Radon gas.  No exceptions; especially in homes that already have a Radon mitigation system installed in the home.  We’ll get into the “why?” of that in more detail later.   There are only two types of houses that don’t have some form of Radon Gas around here.  Houseboats and tree houses.  Unless your house falls in one of those categories, you need to get it tested.  Here is an EPA map of Jefferson County KY.  Notice how nearly every part of the county is in the red; Zone-1.

Jefferson Co Radon Map

What is Radon Gas?

Radon is an odorless, colorless, radioactive gas that comes from the earth. It forms naturally from the decay of radioactive elements in the ground, such as uranium.  Some locations have much higher levels of these elements than others.  This is why some areas have high levels of Radon gas, and others only have trace amounts.  We just happen to drawn the short straw here in Louisville and have some of the highest amounts found in the U.S.

Radon is found both indoor and outdoors.  Outdoor levels are typically very low, while the measurements in indoor buildings can range from very low to extremely high.  As the Radon breaks down in the ground, it seeps in through the cracks and holes in the foundation of your home.  If enough Radon gas makes it through, the house will test high for Radon.

How Radon Enters

Radon enters the home through lots of different paths.

How to test for Radon in your home.

There are several different ways to test for Radon, but the easiest way is to have a CRM (continuous radon monitor) placed in the home for several days.  EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) testing protocol says the machine should be left undisturbed in the home for a minimum of 48 hours, up to 7 days.  Placement of the CRM is always on the “lowest potential living space.”  This means if you have an unfinished basement, but may one day finish it out, you run the test from that area.
If the home has a crawlspace or concrete slab (since no one will ever live under the house) the CRM monitor is placed as close to the center of the house as possible on the first floor.  You also want to keep the machine away from exterior doors and windows (that is to simply keep as much fresh air away from it as possible, which can dilute the radon gas and affect the test).  Once the machine is in place and running the test, it will take an air sample once an hour, every hour, until the test has been stopped.  Those numbers are then averaged to give you your test results in picocuries per liter or pCi/L.

Radon Test in Progress

Here is a Radon CRM monitor in place running a test in an unfinished basement.

The house doesn’t have a basement, do I really need a Radon test?

Yes, you do.  A home is not required to have a basement to have high levels of Radon gas.  Somehow, a nasty lie got started years ago that a home that was built on a concrete slab, or a crawlspace “won’t have Radon, only houses with basement do.”  This is 100% completely false.  Some of the highest numbers I’ve ever seen came from homes that were built on slabs and crawlspaces.  I’ve also heard it said that walkout basements don’t have Radon.  Again, this is simply not true.  There is no building style that is Radon proof, or Radon resistant.  All homes have the potential for elevated Radon gas, so all homes need to be tested.

The house already has a mitigation system installed, why waste the money on a test?

I hear this all the time, and the answer is quite simple.  There are lots of systems that don’t work properly.  More than you would think.  Oh, they’re in place, and the fan is running, yet the Radon levels are still elevated when I test the home.  That is because anyone with a truck, a cheap fan, and some PVC pipe can call themselves a Radon mitigation company. There are no laws or rules currently enforced in Kentucky for Radon mitigators; it’s the “Wild West,” and it shows in the quality of work that I see. 

Look at it like this. If a home has a mitigation system, that means the levels were once high enough to warrant the install to begin with. It is in your best interest to double check to see that the system is working properly, and is actually lowering the Radon gas levels. Over the course of the past year, I tracked my data on testing Radon in houses where Mitigation systems were already installed. My results: One in every five systems were not working properly.  In several homes, the mitigation fans didn’t work at all.

Test completed.  Now what? EPA vs WHO

Now that you have your numbers, let us talk about what all this means, and what you need to do next.

There are two sources that folks look to for guidance when it comes to Radon gas and their home.  The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the WHO (World Health Organization).  The EPA says that homes with 4.0pCi/L or more should have a Radon mitigation system installed in the home.  However, in 2009 the WHO released a study that stated they are  lowering their recommended action level to 2.7pCi/L.   Most people in the real estate world won’t tell you about the newer WHO study though.  Sometimes its just plain ignorance (you’d be shocked at the amount of people I run into every week that have never heard of the WHO), but other times it’s just not convenient to the transaction at hand.  You see, lots of homes fall in between the 2.7 and 3.9 levels,  and when home buyers want the sellers to foot the bill for a Radon mitigation system, well, the higher the action level numbers are, the better…. for the transaction.  So who’s right?  Which organization do you listen to; who do you go by?  I don’t know. In fact, I don’t know if there is a right answer.

In my mind, it is simply not worth the risk.  Radon mitigation systems are not extremely difficult, or expensive to install.

Mitigating the problem-

So you’ve had your Radon test completed, and the home came back elevated.  It’s time to get a Radon mitigation system installed. Radon mitigation systems are simple creatures by nature, but not just any jack-leg can install them (although they try).  Just like choosing your home inspector, you need to be picky and smart about who you choose to install your Radon mitigation system.  I’ll get into mitigation systems, and what problems can come up from them in a later post.

Should you attend your home inspection?

Yep, you SHOULD attend your home inspection. 

You’ve called around. You’ve done your due diligence, or maybe you’ve gone with your realtor’s recommendation (see why that can be a bad idea here What you don’t know about hiring a home inspector) and you think you’ve found the home inspector you want to use in the purchase of the single biggest investment of your life.

You ask, “Should I be there for this?” Because, in the back of your mind, you’re thinking…I need to take off work, get a sitter for the kids…reschedule the dentist appointment…

“Nah,” the inspector replies, “Not necessary.  You’ll get a report.”

Lace up those Nikes. Run away from that inspector. Run fast.

Because yes. You SHOULD be at your inspection. Here’s why.

I need to know your specific needs.

Yes, there are a laundry list of things that I look for on every house, and many things that I look at thoroughly, regardless of your specific situation.  Things like the roof, and the condition of those wood windows.

But your life situation may make some things more important to you in this house than others.  Are you planning on remodeling, in which case the fact that the wood windows are rotten is no big deal to you.  But you didn’t plan for a new furnace and a/c unit in the next few years…

Knowing your situation helps me pinpoint my inspection to your specifications. I will still point out all the issues I find, but I’ll pay special attention to those that will highly impact you and your family.  The inspection process is never a one size fits all kind of thing with me.  

I can customize your report

I customize and individualize every report for every house I do. Each report is full of pictures and information detailed for your house. However, if you are there with me as we do the inspection, I can reference our discussion in the report. If we talk about specific things, I can add links for more information to those topics.

I’ll also be able give you suggestions for future actions to take, if we have been in conversation during the inspection.

 I Can Point Out the Big Stuff

When my clients are present at an inspection, we always do a walk-through, where we talk about what I’ve found. They have come back again and again remarking that this experience was invaluable time spent. Yes, they have the report that they can keep forever as a reference, but they also have the experience of walking with me and discussing the issues face to face. This is also helpful because I can let you know that some of those things that might look scary to you (like a crack in the basement wall that is in 99% of homes) is really nothing to worry about. You wouldn’t know that if you weren’t at the inspection with me.

 

The whole process should never feel like a technicality if you choose the right home inspector.  I make it as fun and educational as it can be.  The things you will learn about your new house will serve you for years to come.

Don’t Sweat It!

If you absolutely cannot attend your inspection because you live out of town, don’t panic. A good inspector (like yours truly) will work with you to find ways to make sure you know everything you need to know about your house. Technology is on your side. But be vigilant, and ask questions.  I Skype, G+ Hangout, or have lengthy phone conversations with my out of town folks on a weekly basis. It’s not uncommon for me to be on the phone at 10pm my time, because my buyer is on the West coast, and he just got off work.  Sometimes you do what you’ve got to do.

Attending your home inspection is one of the most important things you can do during the home buying process. At times, it may seem tedious, and people may tell you it’s not necessary, but remember that when it’s all said and done, the person signing those mortgage payments every month? That’s you.

ACMV-Adhered Concrete Masonry Veneer- The Next Big Problem in Construction

It’s all the rage these days; fake stone siding (manufactured stone) as an accent on the front of a house.  You can give your home that mountain cabin look, right here in suburbia.  Manufactured Stone ACMV InstallSiding (or Adhered Concrete Masonry Veneer as it’s technically known) is a thin, man-made siding made to look like natural stones or rocks.  It’s basically molded concrete that looks like real rocks.  It’s normally installed over wood framing, but when installed incorrectly, it will let water in next to your wood framing, trap it, and wreak havoc on the structure of the house.  And so far, I’ve yet to see an install done correctly in Louisville. 

Story Time

A couple of years ago I was called in by a homeowner to look at his 2 year old custom built house.  His wife had tried to hang curtain rods on the front wall and his drywall was too wet and mushy to hold a plastic wall anchor.  They had no clue why things were so wet.  I was able to trace it down to the manufactured stone siding on the front of the house.  The builder had omitted all the important details with the install.  That day was began a fight with his builder that would last 2 years. For that entire period, his dining room was blocked off and unusable. The result: Attorneys were hired and things got ugly. The builder eventually repaired all of the water damage, stripped all the ACMV off, and replaced it with real stone (they did not try to install ACMV again). The final repair cost was close to $80,000.00.

Moisture intrusion experts have made the connection between manufactured stone veneer and traditional stucco (stucco homes in Louisville, KY are very rare to find).  When problems arise from a botched install, a house with manufactured stone veneer shows the same moisture related issues as a house with a botched stucco system.  It leaks behind the cladding and the water gets trapped. Then the house rots.  In fact, one of the brightest minds in the world of building science, Dr. Joseph Lstiburek refers to manufactured stone veneer as “lumpy stucco.”  He has a great article about that here: Stucco Woes.

Most manufacturers of ACMV are members of the Masonry Veneer Manufacturers Association or MVMA, who are now under the NCMA (National Concrete Masonry Association).  I know, enough with the acronyms already.  The MVMA puts out a installation guide (download the guide here) that is considered the “end-all-be-all” of how-to installation guides when it comes to ACMV.  When I am inspecting homes in Louisville KY, I refer to that guide and its details to show my buyers how things should be done.  The problem is I have never seen a home that has manufactured stone installed as the guide says it should be.  Most every detail is usually skipped, and we all know that when it comes to a home…

The Devil is in the Details

When big problems pop up with a house, you can usually trace its origins to a bunch of small things that add up to the train wreck at hand.  That seems to be the reoccurring theme with the ACMV installs I am seeing.  The most frustrating part for me as a home inspector is that by the time I get to see the house, most of the critical steps that must be done are covered up by multiple layers, and I’m left only to guess at what is (or isn’t) underneath the surface. But if the install crew can’t get the small, simple things correct, how could I expect them to actually do the really important stuff under it all.

Anyone who’s ever spent any time on a job site knows the attitude of most construction workers today.  In the many years I worked in the trades, one of the more popular things to hear was  “Looks good from my house,” or “We ain’t building a piano.” That’s a creative way of saying they don’t care.  They do not care if you have problems later on.  If it’s good enough to get things cleared, and them paid, let it roll.

Drainage-Drainage-Drainage

A wise man once told me that water and women can be lumped into the same category: They both always win. Never is that more true than when it comes to the ACMV installation on your home.  Water will find a way in. I repeat, water will find a way.  It will seep in around the cracks, and it will be absorbed into the chunks on concrete.  You didn’t think this stuff was waterproof did you?  It’s colored concrete. It absorbs the rain water, the sprinkler water, melting snow, etc.  What we must do as construction professionals is design and build a wall system that can control the water, and not let it reach the structural framing of the house.  The moisture will get past the concrete veneer; it’s what happens next that is vital to the integrity of your house.  Every type of siding (or cladding, if you will) needs to be able to drain the moisture that gets by it.

Take brick veneer for example.  Building codes have required a 1″ gap (brick manufacturers recommend a 2″ gap, by the way) between the sheathing on a house and the back side of the brick.  When the water gets absorbed by the brick (No, brick veneer is not waterproof either), that gap is there to make sure we don’t soak wood framing, and gives that moisture a path to escape at the base of the wall via weep holes.  Take a look at the detail below of a brick wall and you’ll see the drainage plane present.  The air gap is the glowing red area.  This allows the moisture a path to escape.

Brick Veneer Air Space

Here you can see the air space in a typical brick veneer wall (red space). The moisture is given a place to drain at the base of a wall. When done properly, this keeps things nice and dry.

 

ACMV (manufactured stone veneer) is typically installed on top of the wood sheathing on a house, and doesn’t have an air gap since it’s “stuck/mounted” to the framing, and not resting on the wall foundation in front of it (like brick veneer).  If you want a trouble-free install, you must create a drain path for moisture to drain and a place for it to escape at the base of the wall/window/door/etc.  If you do not have an escape point, the moisture will simply build up and rot out the base of the structure.  I’ve never seen a home with a weep screed (escape point) installed, and I look at new construction houses every week.  The builders around here are simply are not installing them.

ACMV-Wall-Detail

Here is the first image you come across in the MVMA install guide. I’ve highlighted the drain parts in red at the bottom of the wall.

There is a better way to build it

Hindsight is always 20/20, and now that the problems with ACMV are coming to the surface, we’re getting smarter about it from an engineering standpoint (but in the field it’s still screwed up).  If you actually read the whole MVMA install guide (you did read it, right?) you’ll see at the end of the document there are alternative methods to building the ACMV wall system.  These include a drainage mat or furring strips mounted to the sheathing of the wall.  In doing so you’ll essentially create an air gap between the house and the concrete veneer. Sound familiar?  Just like our age old friend, Mr. Brick Veneer, that air gap will allow for moisture control and drainage to occur, without the risk of the moisture soaking into the wood structure of the home.  Is anyone doing this you ask? Not here in Louisville, but I hope they start soon.  It’s likely going to take a couple of really big lawsuits to get this ball rolling.  The process does require more planning, work, and careful execution to pull off and and make work.  ACMV Furring Strip Detail

Here is a detail for the use of a drainage mat used in place of the furring strips.  This too, creates that air gap between the ACMV layer and the structure of the home.  ACMV Drainage Mat Wall

 

What to look for on your house

In future posts, I’ll break down the most commonly found incorrect areas, and give you details on how they should have been installed.  I’ll be sure to update this post as well, as I gather new info and images from the field.  If you have this material on your home and have questions feel free to contact me.  If you are in the Louisville, KY area, more than likely your home’s veneer was poorly installed.  I hate to say it, but I’ve never inspected a house that had a proper install of ACMV.  There are ways we can take minimally invasive moisture readings from the inside of the home to get a better idea of what type of damage may be occurring on your home.  If you’d like more info on this, just give me a call and we can talk about it.

PART 2: ACMV- TROUBLE AREAS AROUND WINDOWS & DOORS

In part two I talk about what should happen when you introduce doors and windows to your faux stone installation.

PART 3: ACMV- WALL DETAILS AND DRAINAGE

In part three I show you how the details around the walls should be handled, and how to make sure the water doesn’t build up behind the stone veneer.

The ACMV diagrams from this series were all taken from the MVMA guide. I will sometimes remove extra details or color certain sections to make them a bit easier to understand. If you want to look at the originals, download the full MVMA manual.

Brown Recluse Spiders and Your Home

They are the things nightmares are made of.  Some folks freeze in fear at the sight of one.  They can make you produce blood curdling screams and throw shoes at a wall.  Spiders.  Eight Legged Freaks.  Demons from Hell.  Call them what you will, but most spiders are harmless to you and your family.  But some are not….

The Brown Recluse, aka “The Fiddler,”which sounds more like a villain from Batman than a spider in your home, is one of the top venomous spiders in the United States.  Loxosceles reclusa (if you want to geek out on the name) is found in the central Midwest.  From Nebraska to Kentucky, from Iowa to Texas, and everywhere in between.

Perhaps I am more aware of these guys than other people, but I find dozens of homes every year with Brown Recluses during home inspections.  A few of these have been serious infestations…I’m talking hundreds of them found by me in one home, and I’m not really looking that hard for spiders.

Map of Brown Recluse Spiders


How to identify a Brown Recluse Spider 

The Brown Recluse is small. It is usually no bigger than a quarter, including the legs.  The legs are long and skinny, and most times I have found them, they are sticking straight out.  But as their nickname implies, the simplest way to identify them is to look for the marking on the cephalothorax (fancy name for their back).  The “fiddle” or “violin” is easy to spot.  There are several other species that get mistaken for the Brown Recluse quite often.  That is why most experts look for this marking.

Brown Recluse Spider

Here you can clearly see the “fiddle” on the back of a Brown Recluse.

Where are they hiding?

As the name implies these guys are usually in dark places. They build irregular webs that frequently include a shelter consisting of random threads. They often build their webs in woodpiles and sheds, closets, garages, attics, basements and crawlspaces. During home inspections,  I see them in the top of closets near the ceiling quite often, in basements around the rim joist, and attics. They are more common than most people think. In fact, one of the largest infestation ever recorded was in Kansas 2001.  Over 2,000 brown recluse spiders were removed from a home where the people lived for years.  Not one bite occurred in that house.

Brown Recluse Spiders hiding in the bathtub

Here are a few that were in a bathtub in a house I was inspecting. This place was loaded with them. I stopped counting around 200 live ones.

 

Brown Recluse Size

Next to a penny for scale.  I’ve seen some larger than a  quarter too.

What to do if you find them?  

Call a pest control company.  This is one of those times you don’t want to get all DIY.  Most pro’s will want to set sticky traps in the areas the spiders are most active. Give it a few days and then check the traps. This can help gauge how bad a problem you have.  Then you can develop a play of attack on the hell spawns.  You can also break out the biological warfare if needed.

Arachnophobia

What’s a post about spiders without a image of from Arachnophobia?

 

 

Best of 2014 Part 2

I’m a bit later than I wanted to be getting this written, but hey, better late than never. If you missed the first part of this post you can see it here: Best of Home Inspections 2014.  So without further ado, the second half of the Best of the Worst pictures of 2014.

 

A waterfall in the crawlspace – This house was about 15 years old.  This was the 3rd person selling it.  What you are looking at is the master shower that was NEVER connected to the home’s plumbing.  It has been dumping shower water under the house since the day it was built.  How many other inspectors missed this little gem because it was in a tight spot that took a bit of extra effort to get to?  And do you know what I had to craw through to see it? Go on…tell me you’ve never peed in the shower.

Leaking Shower in Crawlspace

NEW Insulation in the Attic –  That is what the listing boasted.  In fact, the buyer even commented to me on how this flipper (not the dolphin) did everything just right.  I may be a bit cynical, but I have never seen a flipped house “done right.” When I climbed through the tiny hole in the ceiling to get into the attic I saw this pile of batt insulation (the worst possible choice for attic insulation, mind you).  Well…in the sellers defense, there was new insulation in the attic, it just hasn’t been installed yet.

Attic Insulation

 

 

Leaning Crawlspace Tower of Pisa – Truth be told, I could make one of these post every week with the crap I find in crawlspaces alone.  This beauty was in an old house, circa 1900.  There were probably a dozen or so of these wonderfully crafted modern marvels scattered throughout. What do you say other than “Um…no.”

Crawlspace Pier

 

 

Air filters are important – Who doesn’t like clean, fresh air?  The people who owned this house, that’s who.  This was a 10yr old gas furnace that I don’t think has ever had a filter installed it.  I was getting very little air flow out of it and when I took the unit apart I found this fan so clogged with crud it could barely draw the air through it.

Dirty Furnace Fan

Casting a shadow –  It doesn’t hurt to turn off your ceiling fans every few years and wipe them down.  The dust on the edge of this fan blade was nearly 3/4 inch thick.  So fellas, the next time you start to catch heat about not pulling your weight in the house cleaning department, just show the them this pic and point out how it could always be worse.

Dirty Ceiling Fan

 

My last and final picture is not of a house, but of a fortune cookie message I received a few weeks ago.  It only took 30 years to get one that actually made sense.

 

Fortune Cookie

 

 

I’ve got enough pictures to write a novel of funny, awful, and scary things I’ve found during my home inspections, and I’ve already started compiling my list for next time. I had record numbers in 2014 because of you and the trust you put in me. I love what I do, and I love helping people. Thank you for choosing ABI.

Best Of 2014 Part 1

Another year older, one or two more gray hairs found, and a stack of pictures to choose from.  It’s hard to whittle it down to just a handful, but I selected the top 10 problems found during home inspections this year.

A Cold Fireplace – This is a picture from a one year old home.  The owners paid extra to have a vented gas fireplace insert installed.  What they didn’t realize is they would be paying extra on their heat bill forever because of it.  You can see through the eye of my thermal imaging camera that the lower section of the insert was not insulated or air sealed.  It’s constantly letting cold in air.  The room temp was 68, the outside air was 17.  This is why thermal imaging home inspections are awesome.  It put visual reasoning to a problem you can feel.   This problem is fixable, but it would requiring removing the mantle and fireplace to air seal/insulate the back wall.

No Insulation Around Fireplace

You can clearly see the cold air pouring in around the base of the fireplace.

 

Structural Window – Ok, there is no such thing, but this window in this custom garage is acting as one.  The owners of this two month old custom built garage called me when they started to have trouble with water leaking in.  I came out to find what the water problem was.  I did, and found this beauty as well.  Whenever we have masonry spanning the top of a window or door or opening, there should be a piece of steel installed above the window, called a lintel.  This L shaped support is what holds everything up in the air.  These concrete blocks are resting on the window frame only.  No steel. Only water leakage.

Missing Window Lintel

Windows must have a lintel installed to support the wall.

 

Flooded Crawlspace – There is not much I won’t do for my clients.   I have been bitten and stung. I have crawled through dead animals, piles of poop, puddles of pee, and everything you can imagine to get the low down on a house.  But I drew the line with this crawlspace.  I took one look in there with the exposed and flooded electrical lines and “noped it.”  The buyer just laughed and said “I don’t blame you.”

Flooded Crawlspace

Nothing like a lake under your house.

 

Rotting Creatures – In keeping with the creepy, nasty crawlspace theme; one day I turned the corner and stumbled across this guy.  I think it used to be a possum at one time.  It may not seem too bad now, but imagine yourself in a dark, wet crawlspace.  You’re crawling on your belly, turn the corner and find this dude 6 inches from your face. It’s a bit startling. Oh, and wet, decomposing hair smelled great!

Crawlspace Animal

It fun crawling up on this guy in the dark.

 

See Through Drain –  Ever wondered what your bathroom sink drain looks like?  Yeah, me neither.  But if by some chance you do….wonder no more.  This thing is flat out gross.  It was almost like a lava lamp for hair and dead skin cells.

Clogged Sink Drain

This guy is on to something with a see through drain.

So there is the first five.  It’s tough picking a top ten with thousands of pictures to choose from for sure, but you can see part two here- ABI Home Inspection – Best of 2014 Part 2

Doing my job….and people hate me for it.

I got a phone call this week from a listing agent about a home I inspected a few days prior.  Now, getting phone calls from Realtors  that have questions about a particular item on a home inspection report is nothing out of the ordinary.  But this call was different.  This guy was angry.  He was angry that the buyer had decided to not purchase the house based on my findings during the home inspection. Again, this is nothing out of the norm; it happens. It was the way this particular Realtor came at me that made the conversation memorable.

The Bat-Phone Rings.

Me:  ABI, this is Ben speaking.

Realtor: Yes, this is David (names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent) with [some national company].  You inspected one of my listings a few days ago and I had a few questions.

Me:  Sure David, fire away.

Realtor:  I’m not sure who you thing you are, but you caused this deal to fall through, and this report you gave out is one of the most inflammatory things I have ever seen in 30 years in real estate.

Me:  Um….OK.  How so?

Realtor:  You scared this poor young buyer to death.

Me:  Oh, yeah?  He didn’t seem frightened the last time I spoke with him.  In fact, he seemed to be thankful that he had more info than before.

Realtor:  Three days ago everything was fine, and then you showed up and everything fell apart.  You should be ashamed of yourself.

Me:  Ashamed?  Not in the least.  I did my job to the best of my ability. If in doing so, your deal fell apart; sorry, it happens.

Realtor:  Well I will make sure no one in my office ever recommends you or anyone from your company.

Me:  That’s too bad. It sounds like you guys could use a real home inspector instead of the flunkies you’re currently recommending.

Realtor:  My home inspector doesn’t cause problems like you.  He makes sure things go smoothly.

Me:  Of that I have no doubt.

Realtor:  Goodbye.

This is not the first time I have gotten a call like this.  It typically happens once a year or so.   But it struck a nerve this time around and I felt the need to vent a bit.  Why should I “be ashamed of myself?”

Slammed for doing a good job.

Most of the time my job revolves around the negative side of things.  People pay me to look at a house and tell them what is wrong with it.  I’m pretty good at doing this.  But all negativity does bring you down after awhile.  Take this guy for example.  He thinks I am the scum of the earth.  He thinks I single-handedly caused his sale to fall through.  But why does he believe this? I didn’t build the house.  I didn’t neglect it for years.  I didn’t try and cover up all the damage with a quick once over.   All I did was point out the issues; I didn’t create them.

Yet to him, I am the villain.

And that is OK.

Because I don’t work for him. It’s not my job to make sure he gets his commission. It’s not my job to make sure he meets his quota. It’s my job to make sure that my client is as informed as he can be in order to make the best decision he can for himself and his family.

I have a very thick skin, and I don’t let much of anything get to me.  So I’ll wear this badge with pride.  I’ll continue to fight the good fight.  I will not sell my morals.  I will not turn a blind eye to anything to facilitate the transaction.  I will not go gentle into that good night….too much?  Yeah, too much.

How to Prevent a Leaky Basement

Let me start by saying there is no such thing as a waterproof basement.  When you build part of your house underground, there is always a chance you could get some water leaking in.  Ask anyone who has lived in a home with a basement for a long time.  Most have dealt with water intrusion problems at one time or another.  But just because we can’t guarantee a water-free basement does not mean you can’t finish out and enjoy your subterranean getaway.  There are, however, a few things you can do to stack the odds in your favor of staying dry.

Gutters & Downspouts

Maintaining your gutters and downspouts is the single most important thing you can do to keep your basement dry.  It’s also one of the most overlooked aspects I find during home inspections.  Your house displaces a lot of water when it rains.  If you do not have clean, free flowing gutters and downspouts, that water will end up against the outside basement walls, finding every nook and cranny to seep into.

Your downspouts should be extended away from the house as much as possible; a good rule of thumb being at least 6 feet away from the foundation.  Extension is 99% of the battle.  Most folks who have water problems in their basement have it because of improper roof water management.

Extended Gutter Downspouts

Here is a good example of what your downspouts should resemble. Notice that the water is being diverted past the back-fill zone.

 

Grading Around the House

Not all rain water finds its way to the gutters. A lot of that water lands on your yard, which means that it’s very important for that yard to be sloping away from your house.  This is called the “grading” of the ground, and it can be either positive or negative. Positive slope means the ground is running downhill, away from the house; carrying the water with it.  Negative slope means the ground is running toward the house, thus sending the water against the foundation wall (where you do not want it).  This seems simple, but I inspect a huge number of houses that have improper grading.  The fix is straightforward, but can be difficult in certain circumstances.

If you find that you need to re-grade your yard, do what it takes to get it done right. If the grading is too high to achieve the proper slope, you’ll need to remove the high spot.  The last thing you want to do is bury your siding in the dirt.  That is a great way to cause more problems.  Keep the siding about 6″ from the ground.

Here is a great illustration from guys at Carson Dunlop

Here is a great illustration from the guys at Carson Dunlop showing how proper grading should be done.

 

Sump Pumps

Most homes with basements in this area have sump pumps installed.  Unfortunately, just about everyone ignores their pump until it’s too late.   When was the last time you actually checked yours?  You should do it every month.  I also recommend replacing the pump every 5 years or so.  A good pump is only about $125, and is simple to swap out.  The aftermath of a failed pump during a heavy thunderstorm will cost you much more in dollars and in heartache.  Sump pumps fall into that whole “ounce of prevention, pound of cure” category.   I won’t go into great detail about sump pumps here (that’s for another day).  Just don’t forget to treat the sump pump discharge pipe like your downspouts; get it away from the house.

Sump pumps collect ground water and pump it up and away from the house.

Sump pumps collect ground water and pump it up and away from the house.

Keeping your basement dry is not rocket science.  Just always remember that if there is a way in, water will find it.  Water always wins in the end.  After all, the Grand Canyon was just a ditch at one time…

Stay on top of those gutters and downspouts, get that grading right, and make sure your sump pump is in fine working condition and chances are, you won’t find a river rushing through the grand canyon of your basement.

The 15 Year Curse

I’m seeing a trend lately with home buyers.  Lots and lots of people are looking to buy a house in the 15 year old category.  15, give or take a few years.  But buying a house in that age range can be the kiss of death.   Because almost every big ticket item within a house has a lifespan of…you guessed it…about 15 years.  And that can be a big hit to your pocketbook.

THE ROOF

Most homes in my area are asphalt shingles. One of the biggest misconceptions in the industry is how long shingles really last before they need replacing. Shingles are rated and sold in years: 20, 25, 30, and so on. Very, very few actually last that long. Usually, shingles last 75% of their marketed lifespan. So a 20-year shingle will net you 15 years, or close to it. Most homes have 20-25 year 3-tab shingles. If you follow that 75% rule and are looking to buy a 15-year old home, you’ve got just a few short years before it will need a roof if it doesn’t need one already.  Much of a shingle’s life depends greatly on location and exposure. If the home sit in the sun all day with no shade, the shingles will dry out sooner than a home that is tucked away in the woods.

Old Damaged Roof

Here is a 16yr old roof that will need to be replaced soon.

 

 

AIR CONDITIONING

No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater… than central air.  Remember the movie Dogma?  No?  Never mind.  We are  a culture who base our buildings’ HVAC design on heating.  The A/C is an afterthought. But ask anyone in Louisville, KY in August what’s important.  A/C will be the answer.  A central air conditioner is a piece of equipment that has an average lifespan of 15 years.  Could you get more out of it?  Sure.  But I call those blessing machines.  Every time it comes on is a blessing.   Many folks know the sting of having a unit go out before its time.  My old Goodman  died at only 9 years old in the middle of a sweltering July.  It happens.

 

FURNACE

It’s not uncommon for a gas furnace to last longer than 15 yrs.  I see lots of 15-20 year old furnaces.  However that 15 year number is considered the average lifespan.   If you are lucky enough for your A/C to last 15 years or so, you’ll be faced with the decision of replacing it by itself and leaving an old furnace, or doing a complete upgrade and getting a new furnace as well.  Most HVAC companies offer a discount if you get both new furnace and A/C  at the same time.  In my book, it only makes sense to pull the trigger on both pieces at the same time, especially if you are past that 15 year mark.Old furnace

WATER HEATER

Most water heaters never make it to the 15 year mark, but some do.   Leaving a water heater in place until it fails is never a good idea.  It is the one device that can actually cause damage to your home when it dies.  If you have a water heater older than 10-12 years, take a close look at it.  If it’s starting to rust and corrode, it’s time to replace.  If you wait until it dies or starts to leak before replacing, it could cost you twice as much…because in addition to the cost of the heater, you’ll be repairing water damage as well.

Leaking Water Heater

7yr old water heater has failed and is leaking.

 

It is important to remember that all of these numbers are averages.  I’ve seen 30 year old furnaces still working, and water heaters replaced after 6 years.  But as you search for your new home, pay attention to the age of the mechanics and the roof.   Pay attention to the sellers’ disclosure as well.  The age of all of these items should be stated there.  Sometimes sellers have these marked as “unknown,”  which usually means “It’s old, but I just don’t know how old.” It happens a few times a month during my home inspections in Louisville – potential buyers get that wide eyed look of fear when I tell them they need to plan on replacing many of these components soon.  If all of those purchases hit you at once, you could easily be looking at $20,000.00 in cost.  It’s a scary number for sure, and it’s not something you want to get caught with.

5 Things you don’t know about Hiring a Home Inspector

So your real estate agent just called and said you have an accepted offer on that new house.  Congratulations! And oh, by the way, you have 7 days to get an inspection.  Better get on the horn pronto and find a home inspector.

This is an all too familiar scenario for lots of folks.  But do you just blindly pick a inspector and hire the first guy you can to come out to the house?  Not unless you like burning money.

1.  An inspector is an inspector, right?   Not even close.  The difference in knowledge between home inspectors is staggering.  Don’t even think about hiring someone who hasn’t been inspecting for years.  The schools that “teach” home inspectors are mostly a joke, and they send new guys out with just enough information to be dangerous.   They teach to the test to keep their success rates up.  The real knowledge for home inspectors comes from experiences in construction trades and actually inspecting houses.  An inspector will start to know what he’s doing around the time he hits house #500.  The last thing you want is to be one of the houses he is learning on.

2.  Stay away from the cheap guy.   

At first it will seem like a good idea to call around , find the guy who gives you the cheapest price, and hire that inspector.  That’s not a good idea.  In fact, it’s a really bad one, for a couple of reasons.  1.  Typically, the cheap guy is the new guy (see reason #1 on why you don’t want him)  or 2.  Most cheap inspectors are volume inspectors.  They charge less, but do as many as 3-4-even 5 houses in a day.  How much time and care do you really think they’ll be spending on your new home when the clock is ticking to get to the next job?

3.  Avoid the Minimalist.

Some inspectors like to do just the basics.  They keep to the letter of the law, and do as little as possible for you.  No roof walking, getting in attics, or crawlspace crawling.  These bare minimum guys are the kind of inspectors who really do you no good at all.

4.  Be cautious of who your Realtor recommends. Better yet, find your own inspector.

Most folks are hardworking and honest people (at least I want to believe that).  You hope that your Realtor has your best interests in mind.  But remember that at the end of the day, your home purchase is a huge investment for you…and a payday for your Realtor.

Be cautious about taking a blind recommendation on an inspector from your Realtor. Do your own research.

As an inspector, I am rarely recommended by Realtors.  Why?  I am often told by agents that my reports are too picky, too “lethal”, or that I’m nothing more than a “deal-killer” (yes, that is a real term used throughout the business).  But when that Realtor is buying her own house, or is helping a family member do so, I magically get the call.

The point being that if you were buying a used car, would you take it to the salesman’s mechanic to look it over for you?  Of course not.  There is usually an inherent conflict of interest when it comes to agents who recommend a particular inspector.

5.  You should be asking questions about more than just the cost of the inspection.

There are lots of questions you can ask to weed out the bad eggs when it comes to inspectors.  Ask things such as, “How long will the inspection take?”  “How many houses do you inspect a day?”  “Will you crawl through the attic?”  “How about walking on the roof?”  “Do you actually go into the  crawlspace?”

I get 15 calls a week where the first thing that comes from the caller’s mouth is “How much?”  That is the wrong question to ask. What you really want to know is how knowledgeable and intelligent this person is, not how cheap.  Don’t fall into the price trap.  The truth is, the difference in price between the best and worst inspectors is comparable to the cost of a dinner out.

You are about to purchase a $200,000 house.  Where would you rather spend that $50 bucks?

There is a direct correlation between what an inspector will do and what he charges.  I’ve looked at hundreds of homes that would have cost the buyers tens of thousands of dollars had they not hired me to actually crawl around and get dirty for them.   The big problems are almost always hidden, and your inspector must be willing to go where the others won’t in order to find them.

Deck Damage: Is your back-yard escape ruining your home?

With spring just around the corner, your neighborhood lumber yard will soon be full of people buying stacks of treated lumber, ready to build a brand new deck.  Some are DIY’ers, some are paying a contractor, but from what I can see, they all need a little help.

Remember the viral video of the Indiana deck that collapsed with all those prom kids on it?

Decks collapse and crumble because the people building them think they know what they’re doing.  For the most part they do, and scary scenes like the one in Indiana aren’t too common.  But a collapse is not the only potentially troubling issue you need to be aware of when building—or using—your deck.  An appropriately constructed deck that is not attached to the house properly can cause significant damage—both financially and structurally.  And out of the several hundred decks I inspect every year, I have NEVER seen one attached to a sided (wood or vinyl) home correctly.  Even on brand-new homes.  Never.

Rotten Floor Joist from deck

Here is a rotten rim joist and floor joist of a house. This happens because the flashing on the deck outside this wall was omitted. This home was 4 years old. The deck was installed by the builder.

 

The Problem? The Ledger Board.
When people build decks that attach to the house for structural support, they usually neglect to follow an important step, and end up causing moisture damage to the structure of the house.

The board on your deck that is attached to your home is called the ledger board.  It is this board that, on every deck I have inspected, is improperly installed/flashed.

If your house has siding, that siding must be cut away and the area must be flashed properly before the ledger board is attached to the house.   Neglecting to do this will cause water to migrate into the holes of the bolts that attach the ledger board to the home.  The water can also become trapped in between the ledger board and house sheathing.   With time, this moisture will cause the house’s rim joists, siding, and floor joists to rot out.

How can I tell if my deck is attached wrong?  

Typically, it’s really easy to tell if your ledger board is installed incorrectly.   Look at the point where your deck meets your house.  If it looks like the entire deck has just been mounted on top of the siding, it’s wrong.  This is usually what I see when performing home inspections.

There are other factors that indicate a properly installed deck, but most of them take a trained eye to see.  If you think your deck is wrong, have a professional take a look at it.  It’s a silent problem that, left un-repaired, could cost you thousands.  Below are some examples of what a improperly installed deck looks like.

Deck Ledger Failure

Examples of decks that have been improperly mounted/attached to houses.

 

I can see that it’s wrong, what do I do now?

If you have determined that your deck is not correctly attached, it’s time to get in touch with a real deck contractor to repair the situation.  Before you hire someone, ask them how they install ledger boards on siding.  This is a great way  to see if the contractor really knows his stuff.

When you ask about how he’ll fix it, listen for him to say something like, “We’ll need to cut away the siding where the deck mounts to the house.”  If he doesn’t, keep shopping.

Once you have found your knight in shining tool belt, he should be able to determine if your deck can be salvaged.  Some can be saved, others must come down.  The ledger board is the very first part of the deck that is constructed, and everything else builds from that point.  Chances are there won’t be enough room to work without tearing down at least part of the deck.  

Keep in mind that if you have an older deck, even if you’ve taken great care of it (such as staining), the damage may already be done to your home.  Once the ledger board is taken down and the siding is opened up, you must repair the damage to your home before you rebuild the deck.  Leaving any rotten wood will only get worse—and cause more damage—with time.

Below is what we call in the construction world “a detail.”  It’s a cutaway diagram on how something should be done.  I like to use this image when explaining what this problem is to my clients.  It’s also a great way for you to double check your own deck.  If you have a siding house with a deck attached to it, it should closely resemble this picture.

Deck Ledger Flashing Detail

This is the best detail I have found for deck ledger attachment.

 

 

 

Why You Should Get a Home Inspection

I’m stoked to have my friend Sam George, a pro Realtor here in Louisville  to weigh in on the inspection process, and what buyers should be doing.  She’s dishing up some sage words so get that note pad handy. 

Ahh, the home inspection. It’s a significant part of the home buying process that often isn’t given the emphasis it deserves.

A quality home inspection offers you further knowledge about the property you are buying. Like with anything else, knowledge is power in the real estate world. It gives you the power to make informed decisions whether it be proceeding with the purchase, requesting repairs or even walking away from the deal.

Imagine foregoing a home inspection, or simply choosing the cheapest inspector on the block. You move in your new home, and quickly determine things are not as they seemed. Maybe there are issues in the crawl space or attic, and these areas were not examined thoroughly before your purchase. Where does that leave you when these issues arise? Up a creek without a paddle, that’s where. The upfront cost of a home inspection can help save you tons of time, money, and headaches in the future.

But wait… You don’t just need a home inspection, you need a quality home inspection. Ben offers just that – superb quality. When choosing your home inspector, ask the tough questions. Request a sample report and talk with each inspector in detail about what an inspection entails. Do they physically walk the roof? Crawl in crawl spaces? (see what I did there…clever I tell you) What kind of tools and technology do they use? Cost should not be your determining factor when selecting an inspector, because we all know you get what you pay for.

Be sure to talk with your realtor about your inspection time frame prior to writing your offer. Ideally, you will have 10-15 days to conduct inspections. This amount of time will allow you flexibility for scheduling, but also extra time to dig deeper into any issues that are uncovered. 

Remember, a quality home inspection is for your protection. It shouldn’t be taken lightly.

If you need a great Realtor in Louisville, I highly recommend you give Sam a call.  She is at the tippy-top of the realtor pile.

Sam George
502-758-1786
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