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Best of 2016 – A collection of Home Inspection Blunders

Home Inspection Highlights 2016

Ah yes, another year has come and gone.  Let’s take a look at my annual top pictures from 2016!  I typically do top a 10, but this year I’m expanding it to 12; there is just too much good stuff not to share it.

12. DIY Plumbing Drains


DIY Plumbing Drain

These flex-drains that you can buy at the big box stores are terrible.  They clog up really easily, and because of the ribs on the walls, they drain slow too.  This homeowner didn’t think his sink was draining slow enough with one, so he added a second one for good measure.  *Note – I say “he,” because clearly no woman would do something so stupid, right ladies? 


11. My Personal Hell – One Nasty Crawlspace


Nasty Crawlspace

I understand that if you have a crawlspace under your house, you’re probably not going to crawl through it. They are dark, dank, have lots of bugs in them, a spider or two, and maybe even a snake hanging out. But this crawlspace was special. I mean, I was pretty sure I was going to find Jimmy Hoffa under there. If you happen to live in a home built on a crawlspace, do yourself a favor and pop that door open every decade or so and make sure your house is not rotting out from under you.


10. Termite Damage in the Attic


Termite Damage in Attic Framing

Here in Louisville (well, all of Kentucky) we have termites.  It’s pretty common for me to come across a house that has a bit of damage along the floor structure. What is not so common is to see damage in the attic.  You see, we have subterranean termites here (they come up from the ground) to munch on your house.  They build these small hollow mud tubes to travel through called shelter tubes (that is what you see circled in red in the picture).  If you see them 20 feet in the air on the attic framing, then it’s a pretty safe bet they have eaten their way through the house and there is damage concealed in the wall as well.


9. Leaking Custom Tile Shower


Leaking Tile Shower

Let me let you in on a little secret.  Tiles, mortar, and grout are not waterproof.  If whomever is building your new custom “dream shower” doesn’t know what they are doing, it will leak.  I see about 100 a year that do.  This poor seller had just paid a small fortune for a bath remodel and there was one of those nifty niches in the shower wall to hold shampoo and soap.  The installer didn’t use a liner insert and instead decided to save the $38 bucks by trying to simply frame it out and tile over it.  The shower leaked in the crawlspace for about a year, and now all the wood is rotten.  That savings of $38 bucks just cost someone $10,000 in repairs.  Oops.


8. New Construction – Missing Flashing on the Roof


Missing Flashing New Roof

“New construction homes don’t need an inspection, they were checked by the city.”  LOL! – If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that line. This house is a perfect example.  The roofer decided not to flash any of the vertical walls.  None of them.  If you are naive enough to believe that many builders and their sub-contractors aren’t cutting every corner they can on your new home, I have some swamp land in Arizona that you may be interested in.


7. Go Home Deck – You’re drunk!


Poorly buit deck

This…thing.  It really sucks the life out of me.  I was scared to walk on it, and was even more uneasy when my client/buyer let her kids play on it.  I’ve seen a bunch of crappy decks before, but this thing takes the prize.  Pro Tip – While shopping for your new house, if you need to tilt your head to make your deck look level, you’re in trouble.


7. Brown Recluse Spiders


Brown-Recluse-Spider

These dudes blend in to their surroundings a bit too much for my liking.  I took this shot inside a sump pump crock I was reaching down into to test the sump pump.  I typically see a couple of houses a year that are infested with Brown Recluse Spiders in Louisville, KY.  You can see why your grandpa called them “fiddlers.”  The marking on their backs is very clear if you know what you are looking for.


6. Electrical Connections in the Gutter


Electrical disconnect in gutters

Some fool thought it was a good idea to leave these 3 A/C disconnects in the gutter on a 3 story home in Old Louisville.  It’s OK though; the rest of the house was just as bad as this.  Everything in life is all about perspective.


5. Mold in the Crawlspace


Mold In Crawlspace

The mold growth was so bad under this house I wrote my initials in the mold on the side of the floor joist.  Looking back on it I should have went all Shawshank on it and wrote ‘Ben Was Here.’  You can also see the water dripping from the ductwork from the humidity under this house.


4. Dirty Undies in the Crawlspace Sump Pump


Sump Pump Install

You know, not much makes me cringe.  But I draw the line at someone’s old soiled dirty tighty whities hanging on a sump pump in an old nasty crawlspace.  Who the heck does this?  And how did they get here? No clue.  Gross.


3. Frosty Nails in the Attic


Frost Covered Nails

Most folks’ first reaction to this issue is that it is the result of a lack of ventilation.  That’s not it.  This is caused by the air inside the living space (conditioned air) that is full of moisture, clashing with the cold roof decking in the attic. It can cause mold to grow and your wood to rot. It’s vital that you keep a super tight air seal around things like recessed lights and ceiling fans so that this doesn’t happen.


2. Garage Door Death Trap


Garage Door Spring

People do stupid things.  That is a fact.  This picture illustrates something that happens to be at the top of the stupid scale. Garage door springs have a crazy amount of tension on them.  So much so, that if the spring were to break and hit you, it could kill you.  This dummy though it would be OK to clip this all together with a cheap key-chain carabiner. Wow…


1. The Best Door Mat Ever



My wife would disagree, but I think most people would side with this door mat.

Once again I wish to say a heartfelt Thank You to all who chose me to have your back during the stress of buying a house. It’s a responsibility and an honor that I do not take lightly, and I can’t thank you enough.  To those of you who didn’t choose me….shame on you.  Really, shame on you.  

Happy New Year! Here’s to making 2017 the best yet!

If you missed my Best of 2015, click the button and check it out now.

ACMV Part 3- Wall Details and Drainage

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.

As I said before, flat walls are as easy as it gets when it comes to installing manufactured stone.  You really have to try to mess up an open wall, but you know what they say: where there is a will there is a way.  The MVMA guide doesn’t say a lot about how to treat large open spans of walls.  My guess is that this is because if you install the two layers of weather barrier, and do good job on your mortar bed, things should stay dry. But once you reach a corner (inside or out), then you have to follow some rules. These rules are simple, yet I still find the work done incorrectly. Sometimes I think these installers are doing it wrong on purpose.

Walls and Corners

If your install of manufactured stone wraps an outside corner, you are to use pre-made corner pieces first, and run those up the outside corners.  You then use the flat pieces to fill in the middle of the wall. This keeps the delicate outside corner covered and sealed, and it just looks better. Here is a picture of what the corner pieces look like before they are installed on the house.Outside Corner of Manufactured Stone

 

MVMA outside corner

The MVMA install guide gives us an overhead view of what the outside corner should look like.

 

As I said before, sometimes it’s as if the contractors do things wrong intentionally; although deep down I know it’s because they either just don’t care or just don’t know. Here is a corner where the installer simply ran flat pieces up to the edge of a corner when they got low enough you couldn’t see it from the ground (these shots were taken on the roof.)  You can clearly see the seam that it leaves exposed. What makes this particular install especially poor is that they did a shoddy job of wrapping the WRB (weather resistant barrier), and you can see the raw OSB plywood behind the stone. It is simply a matter of time before the walls of this house rot away.

Manufactured Stone Corner Detail

Here you can see what happens when the correct corner pieces are not used. It creates a vertical seam in the wall.  This not only looks terrible,  it creates a gap for water to get to the wood structure behind it.

 

Clearances and Drainage

Let us beat the proverbial dead horse, shall we? What you must keep in mind about stone siding:  It is not a question of if water will get in, but a question of how much water will penetrate behind the surface. Water soaks through the stone veneer itself; it wicks in around the cracks, it gets beamed through by Scotty…well maybe not that.  The point is, you can’t stop it. You can only control it. There must be a way for this water to escape in the form of natural drainage. This also means there must be clearances where the stone meets another surface (like front porches, roofs, sidewalks, etc.) to give this water a place to run to, and evaporate.  If we look back to our old friend, the MVMA guide, it tells us we should have several inches of clearance at the base of walls, around porches, and on top of shingles (hard surfaces), and a 4″ gap at dirt/grass/mulch.

Every place that concrete stone veneer touches another surface, there should be a drainage gap.

Now, I get it. The gap doesn’t look great from an aesthetics standpoint. But do you want a small gap in the stone at the base of your wall, or do you want rotting walls behind your stone?  Here is the detail from the MVMA guide on what the base of the walls should look like.  The areas that have been highlighted in red are the pieces that are, in my experience, always left out.

Foundation Wall Stone Veneer Detail

The MVMA guide says to keep a 2″ gap at the base of walls on paved surfaces, and a 4″ gap earth.

 

Now check out what I see in the real world. The manufactured stone is ALWAYS touching the porch and sidewalks. It is always buried in the mulch (or grass). In fact, I have never seen this detail correctly installed around the base of the wall. Here is a collage of images from homes that all have the same problem. No drainage behind the manufactured stone. No place for the water to escape.

Manufactured-Stone-Wall-Examples

The base of a wall should have a gap at the ground where the weep screed is allowed to drain moisture. That detail seems to be missing from every home.

 

Manufactured Stone No Weep Screed

Here is an example of a front porch that has the stone veneer installed on top of the concrete. No drainage. No weep screed.

 

Missing Weep Screed Wood Rot

This image from taken from the basement looking up at the damage caused by a botched installation of manufactured stone.

 

Dormers and Roofs

The roof line is another problematic spot where massive amounts of water are intermittently present. If the rules aren’t followed in this area, the exposure of the manufactured stone to all of that water will most certainly cause issues at some point. Much like their guidelines for stone near the ground, the MVMA recommends leaving several inches of clearance around the roof line. This area can get tricky, because a correct install here requires that both the siding contractor, and the roofer know what they are doing, that they communicate with each other. Most of time these folks are not on the job site at the same time, so how effective do you think they are about relaying information between them?  Here is a colored image from the MVMA guide so you can understand better what things should look like, followed by what I see in the field.

Manufactured-Stone-Sidewall-Roof

This detail from the MVMA is one of the harder ones to wrap your head around.  I’ve color coded the different parts to make it easier for you to see the layers, and what order they should be installed in.

 

Manufactured Stone Dormer Installation

Every important detail was skipped on this dormer and it leaked into the home, badly. This house was only two years old.

 

Manufactured Stone Dormer Installation Water Damage

Here you can see what a few years of water exposure will do to manufactured stone. The entire bottom edge is saturated with moisture.

 

Final Thoughts

Back in the 80’s and 90’s there was an extremely popular siding known as EIFS (Exterior Insulation Finishing System), also known as synthetic stucco. It was primarily installed on higher end homes. The installers back then ignored the rules and didn’t follow the instructions when it came to drainage and details around windows/doors/etc.  It didn’t take long before EIFS problems turned into an epidemic in just about every area of the country.  The water got in, and got trapped. Houses rotted from the inside, lawsuits started flying, and an overall good product like EIFS got a black eye. After all, when installed correctly, EIFS performs great.  The problem was not the product; it was the installers using it who didn’t read the instructions, and everything fell apart just a few short years later.

Fast forward 20 years.  History repeats itself.

Now there is a new synthetic siding on the market.  One that is failing when not installed correctly.  A siding that is trapping water and rotting homes.  A siding in which the details are being ignored by the installers.  The BIG difference between manufactured stone veneer and EIFS as I’m seeing it is that while EIFS was primarily installed on high-end homes, manufactured stone veneer is being installed on starter homes, mansions and everything in between. So when the lawsuits start flying this time, manufactured stone is going to make the EIFS problems look like the common cold compared to the Bubonic Plague.

If you have Manufactured Stone Veneer Siding (ACMV) on your home, I strongly suggest you get it checked out.  Research and locate a highly qualified home inspector or find a moisture intrusion expert contractor.

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.

 

 

Buying an Old House – The Plumbing System

Lots of people love the idea of living in an older house. They love the “character” that only old houses can bring.  I get that.  But I’m seeing a trend of people wanting to go this route with no knowledge of what it really means to own an old house-or the cost of keeping one up and running.  Anyone who has lived in an old home for any real amount of time will tell you its a labor of love.  Old houses need constant upkeep (more so than their younger counterparts), and if you have ever tried to re-hab an old house, you know it can feel like a huge hole in your yard that you dump money into every day.  You know, “the money pit.”

My city, Louisville, KY has an area of town known simply as “Old Louisville,” which is packed full of old Victorian style solid brick houses.  It is the third largest such district in the United States.  Old Louisville also has the largest concentration of homes containing stained glass in the nation.  Pretty cool, eh?  Needless to say I get to inspect lots of big, old houses. That, too, can be a love-hate relationship.

Let’s dive into the plumbing system of an old house.  Old pipes can look fine on the surface, but looks can be deceiving. Over the past 100 years or so, several different types of material have been used for plumbing in homes.  Clay pipes, cast iron, and galvanized steel were the most commonly used forms back in the day.  All of these have been replaced with modern plastics in recent years, but millions of homes still have the old systems; and one day they will have to be replaced due to failure.

For clarity’s sake, the supply line is the pipe that brings water into the home and distributes it throughout. The waste lines are the pipes that take the sewer water away from the house.

Clay Pipes

Clay pipes (or vitrified clay pipes, if you want to be technical about it) are what most sewers were made from in the 1800’s to early 1900’s.  Clay pipes have been around for much longer than that though.  Some of the earliest pipes ever discovered date back to about 4000 BC in Babylonia.  The issue with having a buried clay pipe in your yard is that they are known for cracking or breaking over time because clay is brittle.

A clay waste (or sewer line) is comprised of many short sections of pipe that fit together.  They’re short because the pieces are heavy, but short sections mean lots of joints where bad things can happen.  Cue the tree roots.  When a breech in the wall of the pipe happens, roots, dirt, and everything in between begin to settle inside the pipe.  Over time this will lead to a clogged waste line in the middle of the yard.

At this point there are two options. You can either dig up the yard and replace the pipes, or hire a company that does “lining services.” That is, they claim to use the old pipe as a chase and pull a new liner through the old pipe.  I’ve never seen this done, but in theory it seems possible. 

Clogged Sewer Waste Pipe

Here you can see how tree roots can work their way into clay pipes.

Cast Iron

Cast iron pipes have been around a long time as well.  It’s not uncommon to see cast iron sewer pipes last 80-100 years, sometimes even longer.  However, cast iron pipes have a certain type of failure that is easy to spot…rust.  The thing to remember is that cast iron rusts from the inside out. That means that while it may look fine on the surface, your pipe could be paper thin in reality.  Long horizontal runs of cast iron pipes also crack quite frequently, a result of corrosive sewer gases.  When you are looking at an old house, and you see cast iron pipes, pay attention to the areas of rust around the collars of the connections. That is where I typically find them failing.  Also, if you are seeing pipes that look freshly painted, it could be someone trying to cover up a badly rusted sewer pipe.

Failed Cast Iron Pipe

Here is an old cast iron waste pipe that has had silicone smeared all over it to try and stop a leak.

 

Rusting Holes in Sewer Pipe

Here you can see pin hole leaks that seal themselves shut by rusting over.

 

Split Cast Iron Pipe

A horizontal run of a cast iron sewer pipe that has cracked from years of corrosive sewer gas exposure.

 

The thing to remember is that cast iron rusts from the inside out.  That means while it may look fine on the surface, it could be paper thin in reality.  If the cast iron is around 80-100 yrs old, it’s getting close to the end of its life.

Galvanized Steel Pipes

Galvanized Steel Pipes were used as both supply and sewer pipes up until around the 1950’s in Louisville.  When steel has been galvanized, it has had a zinc coating applied to the steel to help prevent rust.  Once the zinc coating wears off, the rusting begins.  Galvanized steel water pipes are bad news.  They rust and close up like an artery that has seen too many cheeseburgers. You can also get some pretty nasty tasting water from steel supply pipes. Louisville’s water is voted as some of the nation’s very best tasting tap water, and you wouldn’t want to spoil it with crud filled water pipes.  Obviously when this happens it cuts the flow down dramatically as well.  Like I said, bad news all around.

Rusted Galvanized Water Pipe

Here is an old galvanized steel pipe. Notice how it is rusting on the inside.  This will continue until it stops flowing water all together. But more importantly, do you want to drink water from this pipe?

Supply lines are not the only problematic pipe when it comes to galvanized pipe.  Lots of old houses have waste lines made of the same stuff.  They, too, suffer from the same fate of rust and buildup over time.  Most of the time I see this stuff being used as main sewer lines throughout the house, that tie into a cast iron main sewer stack to head out to the sewer at the street.

Old Abandoned Sewer Pipe

Here is an abandoned galvanized waste line in a crawlspace.  Notice how it’s an old piece of galvanized pipe connecting into a cast iron main stack. Those two typically go hand in hand.

 

Clogged Galvanized Sewer Pipe

A close up of a clogged galvanized sewer line. This home was about 75 yrs old. Most of the old plumbing had been upgraded to modern PVC pipe.

 

So, as you shop for your new (old) house, pay attention to what you see in terms of plumbing pipes.  A total plumbing replacement job on a big house is “new car money.”  If you notice little bits of PVC pipe sprinkled in here and there, that is a sign that the owners have had problems in the past, but didn’t want to bite the bullet and spend the big money to have it all replaced.  It’s inevitable. These old pipes will fail.  You just don’t want to be caught off guard when they do.

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?

 

 

Aluminum Wire in Branch Circuits

When I’m performing a home inspection on a house built around 1970, I usually get the question, “Does it have aluminum wire?” Let’s talk about what the issue is, and what your options are if you are looking to buy a house that has aluminum branch wiring in it.

What are branch circuits? 

Branch circuits are circuits that power the “small” stuff like your lights, outlets, and small machines (think dishwasher, disposal, etc.) Aluminum wiring was first used as branch circuits around 1965 during a copper shortage, and was used in homes until the mid 1970’s.  It’s the small 15 and 20 amp breakers in your electrical panel.  The larger wires (usually 240v stuff) and the main power lines coming into the home are typically aluminum but do not have any issues.  

Facts about Aluminum Wiring

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a “Repairing Aluminum Wiring” pamphlet that you can download here.  Don’t be foolish and try to use it as a how-to guide.  It’s meant to explain what can be done by an electrician who knows what he or she is doing.  Here are some interesting facts for you:

  • There are an estimated 2 million homes wired with aluminum wire.
  • The problem is the connection points and splices at junction boxes, outlets, switches, etc.
  • A national survey conducted by Franklin Research Institute for CPSC showed that homes built before 1972, and wired with aluminum, are 55 times more likely to have one or more wire connections at outlets reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than homes wired with copper.
  • On April 28, 1974, two people died in a home in Hampton Bays, N.Y. Fire officials determined that the fire was caused by an overheated aluminum wire connection at a wall receptacle.

When I find aluminum wiring, it seems I always get the question, “Do you think it will be a problem?”  Another popular thing I hear is “If it hasn’t been an issue in 40 years, it probably won’t ever be one.”  Wait….what?  People downplay the issue in their minds because of the scope of the potential problem.  It’s not convenient for them to have to deal with this right now.  But it is real, and it can’t be ignored.

Aluminum and Copper Wire

Here you can see what aluminum wire looks like next to copper wire.

What are the issues anyway?

Aluminum wiring has several unique traits that its copper counterpart does not.  All of these add up to the reason it’s no longer used.

  • Aluminum is Soft – When you tighten the set screw down on an outlet or switch, the aluminum wire will actually continue to flatten out a bit over time – even after you stop torquing the screw.  This will cause a loose connection.  Loose connections cause arcing.  Arcing causes fires.
  • Thermal Movement – Everything moves with temperature.  Aluminum wire is no different.  When the wire has electrical current flowing through it, it heats up. When it heats up it expands.  The issue is that aluminum expands more than copper. Over time this swelling and shrinking can cause a loose connections.  Again, arcing and fire.
  • Oxidation – When aluminum wire is exposed to oxygen it oxidizes. This byproduct is called aluminum oxide.  This stuff can deteriorate the connection.
  • Corrosion –  When moisture is added to the mix of aluminum wire, you get galvanic corrosion at the connections.
    Damaged Outlets

    Fire damaged receptacles from aluminum connections.

    Aluminum Wire Burned Outlet

    Here is an outlet that Home Inspector Charles Buell of Seattle Discovered.

I have aluminum wire. Now what?

The first thing you do is get an electrician experienced with aluminum wiring to come check every connection they can possibly get to in the house.  Will they be able to check them all?  Doubtful.  Most houses have junctions behind drywall or in the attic we can’t see or know they are even there.  According to the rulesthere should never be concealed junctions, but the reality is that people don’t always obey the rules.  Having ol’ sparky come check things out can be pricey, but his house call is much cheaper than a house fire.

What can be done to minimize the risk?

There are several products on the market designed to help minimize the risk when dealing with aluminum wiring.

1.  One of the more popular products I find people know  something about are the specially rated outlets and switches made for aluminum and copper wires. These are marked with a CO/ALR on them.   CO=copper – ALR=Aluminum. Would you know to get these for your house if you had aluminum wire?

Here is a scenario for you: 

Being the hip, young couple that you are, you’re ready to tackle some DIYing this Saturday.  So your normal Friday movie date is replaced with a shopping trip to Lowe’s.  You get your paint, brushes, tape, flooring and so on.  Your better half proclaims those ugly almond outlets have got to go in lieu of some nice new white ones.  No worries, right?

You stroll to the electrical aisle and reach for those shiny white outlets.  You need 5 for the living room.  Better get 6, just in case.  How much?  $.68 cents.  No sweat.

You grab your 6 outlets and start to walk away.  Out of the corner of your eye you see another receptacle that looks identical to the one in your hand, except it’s almost $4 bucks.  What?  $4 for one!  I don’t think so.  Let’s roll babe.

2.  There are special connectors called AlumiConn available.  These are approved  by the CPSC, but at nearly $4 each, they are not a cheap option.  Understand that is $4 per wire; per connection.

AlumiConn Connector

AlumiConn Connectors are an option, but they can get expensive.

3.  Another product is the COPALUM connector.  This system uses a special clamp, crimping tool, and heat-shrink to create a copper pigtail off the aluminum wiring.  You must be certified to use this system.  Some areas don’t have anyone available who is certified in using the COPALUM system.

COPALUM Connections

COPALUM Connections splice onto the old aluminum wire

4.  Total Replacement of the aluminum wire itself.  This is, of course, the safest of all options.  It is also the most expensive.  Cost will vary, as every house is different in the process used to replace the wire.  You’ll need to speak with an electrician to get an idea of what you can expect.  Keep in mind this is typically thousands of dollars.  It’s not a cheap process.

If you have aluminum wiring in your home, you need to get that electrician out there ASAP.  If you are not sure if you have aluminum wiring or not, a reputable home inspector in your area should be able to come out and  take a look for you.  You shouldn’t take the cover off of your electrical panel yourself unless you know what you are doing.  There are things in there that will kill you.

You have options in what can do.  You can repair or replace.  Either is better than nothing at all.  And when it comes to situations like this; it’s never a problem until it becomes one.

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.

Our Newest Inspector…ED-E.

For years, really tall chimneys and hidden valleys on big roofs have been a thorn in my side.  I really do try to get to every square inch of the roof with my own two eyes, but sometimes it’s not feasible.   I am as close to Spiderman on a roof as it comes, but I am no Superman.  On more than one occasion I have climbed to the summit, only then to have to figure out how to get down.  When inspecting a house with a roof like this, I joke to everyone I am no good to them dead.  But there is a bit of truth to that.  If I fall from a three story roof…cancel Christmas. 

Say Hi ED-E

ED-E  is Phantom Vision Drone.  He boast GPS Flight Mode that makes it quite simple to use.  He has hands-free hovering, which means you can let go of the sticks, and he stays put.  This helps the pilot/videographer (that would be me) film what he needs to without concentrating on keeping the robot in the air.  With a maximum range of over 1000 feet and 30 minutes of flight time on a battery, he is more than well-equipped to check out your roof, chimney, or anything else that is just too high for a person to reach safely.  Wifi and Blu-tooth help link his HD camera to my phone, so I can see what the camera is seeing in real time.

A cool shot from high above a clients neighborhood.

A cool shot from high above a clients neighborhood.

On The Job

ED-E has only been on the job for about a month.  While I do not need his help on every home inspection, when he has been called in, he has proven himself invaluable.  Here is a short video shot during a recent inspection where the chimney was too tall to reach with a ladder. It was really windy that day, so please forgive the jerky footage.

I have been asked several times about a cost of using ED-E when looking at houses. I do not charge extra to use any tool I own.  I invest in the tech to the be the best possible inspector I can be.  For me to  look at a client and say for extra money I can use this really great tool and find more problems for you is just not fair.  There is no extra cost for using ED-E, or any other tool I carry.  We all come as a package.

Repairing a Leaking Plumbing Vent

Do you have small water stains appearing on your ceiling?  The problem is likely the flashing around your plumbing vents.

One of the most common, if not the most common problem I find with inspecting roofs, is a leaking flashing boot around the plumbing vent pipe.  When these fail, water gets in to places where it is not supposed to.

There are two varieties of boots available around these parts;  plastic and lead.  The lead ones are the best, because they hold up to the weather much better than the plastic ones.  In fact, unless a critter chews on them, they hardly ever fail before the roof needs to be replaced.  Typically the best roofing contractors will use lead boots.  Do they cost a bit more than the plastic ones?  Yes they do, and  you get what you pay for.

The plastic boots will typically last around 6-8 yrs, depending on their exposure to hot afternoon sun.  They have a rubber collar that grips the side of the pipe as you lower it down.  This creates the seal that keeps the water out.  But after years of baking the sun, the rubber becomes hard and brittle.  It cracks, and gaps form in your now less-than-water-tight seal around the pipe.  You’ve got leaks. No bueno.

I know my flashing boots are leaking, but whatever shall I do?

Damaged Vent Flashing

Here you can see the rubber that seals around the pipe has cracked and failed.

There are two possible solutions.

You can replace the whole flashing boot.  However, to install these correctly, you have to remove the shingles around the vent stack, install the new boot, and install new shingles that will not match.  It creates an unsightly patch around the vent pipe on your roof, and costs a few hundred bucks to get done.

OR, you buy this wonderful little gadget.  I picked mine up on Amazon for about $5.00 bucks.  Here’s a link to the Amazon Page.  Be sure to order the one that fits the diameter of your pipe.  It is NOT a one size fits all piece.  If your house has a PVC vent (like in the picture below), it’s more than likely 3″.

Plumbing Vent Flashing Repair

The new collar simply slips over the lip of the vent pipe. Done.

Installation is easy-peasy.

To install the new collar, simply slip it down over the pipe, and seat it against the old cracked rubber. That’s it.  You’re done.  It took me 5x as long to get my ladder out and climb up to the pipe than it did to install the thing.  Even if you aren’t comfortable walking on the roof, a handyman shouldn’t be much more than an hours labor to do this.

Vent Flashing boot

Here we are all done.

 

The new collar should last a good while.  Long enough that by the time it wears out, you’ll likely be thinking about a new roof.  If not, and you have super shingles that don’t wear out, you can always slip the old collar off and put a new one on.

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.

Energy Saving Program in Kentucky Saves Homeowners Big Bucks.

As a very hot summer comes to a close, heating your home may be the last thing on your mind.  But with winter coming (for my fellow GOT fans) I’ve got some great news for you.  There is a little known program available that can save you a lot of money.  How does a 20% savings on your utility bill sound?  But hurry, the clock is ticking…

From the KHP website: KY Home Performance is a partnership between Kentucky Housing Corporation (KHC), Kentucky Department for Energy Development and Independence (DEDI), and Kentucky Finance Administration Cabinet.  With support from DEDI, the Finance Administration Cabinet, utility and other partners, KHC administers the program.  Together, certified industry professionals will perform a comprehensive energy evaluation, make the necessary improvements you approve, and perform a quality assurance evaluation to verify the quality of the work to help protect your home investment. 

What does all that mean?  It’s simple really.  All KY home owners are eligible for great financing or cash back rebates for energy improvements done to their home.  The program does have a few stipulations that your home must meet before you can take full advantage of it.

  • Air Sealing –  Hot air moves to cold air, that’s just how it works.  So you have to make sure you stop the unwanted air flow between conditioned spaces (that’s a fancy way of saying air that you pay money to heat or cool.)  Keep the hot air inside (winter), keep it out (summer).
  • Duct Sealing – Sealing your ducts to keep the air that you paid good money to heat/cool is a must.  You’ll be shocked to know how much air your house leaks out everyday.  It’s literally sucking money out of your home.
  • Insulation – To take advantage of this remarkable program, you have to have a certain level of insulation in your home.

If your home doesn’t meet the minimum numbers, getting them up to the standard must be part of the scope of work done to your home.  And in all reality, these are the most important things you can do.  They are relatively cheap, and they make the biggest difference.  It’s all about return on investment (ROI).

How does it work? 

Your first step is bring in a BPI-Certified Building Analyst.  There are only a few, like me, that have been selected to be part of the KHP program.  The initial analysis will determine what steps you need to take to save money.  It’s called a Test-In.

With specialized tools like a digital blower door, thermal imaging camera, pressure pan, and combustion analyzer, I’ll put your home through the ringer.  The blower door is the meat and potatoes of the audit.  It’s more or less a big, powerful, digitally controlled box fan that mounts in an exterior door.  It sucks all the air out of the house, creating a negative pressure inside.  Since mother nature doesn’t like this, she will constantly try to equalize this pressure difference.  This will make all the leaks amplified and much easier to find.

The fact is that unless you have a 25 year old furnace and air conditioner, a new HVAC unit is typically not the best place to put your money.  Air sealing and insulation give you the biggest bang for you buck.  Most homeowners see a positive return within just a few short years.  And the best part is that it doesn’t go away.  If you have it done correctly the first time, it will still perform 20 years from now.

Fixing the Problem.

Once the test-in has been completed, you must have a KHP qualified contractor perform the work that has been recommended to be eligible for the awesome incentives.  You have two options; an unbelievable low interest rate loan of 3.9% fixed for 10 years, or a cash back rebate of 20%, up to $2,000.00.  Yeah, you read that correctly, 20% discount for using a KHP contractor.  Incredible right?

Once the work is done, a third-party BPI guy will come out and perform a Test-out.  It’s this guy’s job to make sure the work was done correctly, and the contractor who performed the work is held to the highest standards.  That’s the beauty of the whole program. You as the home owner know that you will be getting top notch work completed, because every contractor is pre-screened, and a pro.

I’m ready to get started.

If you are ready to save money and live more comfortably, your first step is an KHP-BA analyst.  The cost for the initial analysis ranges from $200-$600.  The cost depends on the size of the home.  However, KHP has stepped up again and is offering the first 1,000 homes a cash back rebate of $150.00 toward the cost of the Test-In.  So, you get a huge discount on the audit as well.  There is absolutely no commitment.  You have every right to have the Test-In done, and go no further with the program.  You still get the $150.00.

Give us a call @ 502-938-5190 to get more info on KHP, and how we can help you.  Remember, the clock is ticking.  The free money and financing is going to end in early 2012.  Don’t drag you feet on this one.

 

 

 

Home Inspectors vs Code Inspectors

Let’s talk about something that many, many people get confused about, or just don’t understand.

I get asked on a daily basis if the home I just inspected “passed.”   There is no pass or fail when it comes to a home inspection.  Only code inspectors declare a pass or fail for a dwelling.

What is a code inspector?

Good question.  A code inspector or AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) is a person that checks to ensure a home or dwelling has followed certain laws and safety requirements for their local area.  Every area of the country is different in their rules and laws; rules like footer depth and width requirements, proper construction techniques, etc.  It sounds like code inspectors have an important job.  And they do…but there are problems with the system.

Part of the problem can be assigned to the fact that AHJs are severely overworked.  These guys are busier than a one legged man in an $#@ kicking contest.  They literally do not have the time to spend  more than 20 minutes on any one home.  These conditions leave many mistakes in their wake.  Then there is the darker side of things….

It’s a small world, and that can work against you as a home buyer.  For you see, builders see the same code inspectors on a daily basis. They develop relationships with these people–dare I say….friendships.  It’s at this time, lines begin to get thin and start to blur…and before you know it, approval stickers get handed out of car windows with a hearty pat on the back.  This means the building codes people put so much stock in can be worth less than a million shares of Enron.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there are many, many hard working, honest, GOOD code inspectors.  But I assure you not all of them are.  60% of the things I write up during a home inspection are against code, and should have been caught long before any home inspector ever set foot on the property.  Things such as improperly installed water heaters, stairs that aren’t constructed correctly, attic framing that’s  just flat out wrong.  The list goes on and on.

What does all this mean to me?

Even better question.  It means you should take some things with a grain of salt.  Perhaps your new dream home was checked during the building process by the most scrupulous code inspector on the planet.  Perhaps not…the cold hard truth is that today’s homes are not built to yesterday’s standards.  Materials have gotten cheaper in quality.  Laborers don’t take pride in their work.  It’s  bad recipe.

I hate being all doom and gloom. Perhaps it’s the cynical side of me.  But, when you see fifteen water heaters every month that have been “checked” by a code inspector and they are not even close to being installed correctly, it makes one think.  The system is flawed…

The low down on Mold.

Nasty stuff.  Nasty stuff indeed.  But what classifies a person to be considered a “Mold Professional.”  This is where marketing spins start to twist like a F5 tornado.

I do not advertise mold inspection, I never will.  Why?  Because it would not be honest for me to do so.

The first thing I do when I come across mold in home is advise my clients to check out the EPA’s website about mold.

After they review the stuff on the EPA site, and they think it’s bad enough to need to hire a specialist, I tell them: Don’t hire any home inspector claiming to be a mold specialist. None of us really knows anything about mold, regardless of what we claim our qualifications are, and you’ll just be blowing your money.  If it’s bad, instead of someone with a two-day crash course and a certificate of authenticity (that they picked up in the lobby of a Holiday Inn), you will want to hire a real indoor air quality firm, with a real scientist on staff who actually knows something about mold.  End of story. An Industrial Hygienist is a really good place to start.

I can give you one piece of advice. Bleach is not an acceptable remediation technique.   Now of course, if you have a “little mold” growing on grout in your bathroom, then bleach will certainly help get rid of the discoloration, but the growth will return.