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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.

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

River City Real Estate Radio Show

River City Radio

Listen to Brady and gang on Talk radio 1080AM every Saturday morning @11.

I was recently invited to be a guest speaker on the River City Real Estate Radio Show.  Try saying that 10 times fast!)  My friend Sam George, a fabulous Realtor in Louisville was with me as well.  We were there to talk about home inspections, and the most common questions people have about what I do, and how the process works.

Of course, the first thing you think of when being on the radio is how you hate the sound of your own voice.  I’m no exception.  Do I really sound like that?  Yeah, I’m afraid so.  Hate aside, it was a fun process.  I would do it again tomorrow.  Brady is doing a great thing  in trying to get good info out to people.  I highly suggest you tune in.  You can hear the show every Saturday morning at 11 on 1080am Talk Radio.  As always, if you have any question about what I do, and how I can help you, feel free to give me a shout 502.938.5190, or email here.  You can listen to whole episode below.

 

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.

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.

How to check a leaking toilet

You hear that?  That half a second woosh sound your toilet makes?  Do you know what that is?  It’s a leak; and that’s cold hard cash you’re flushing down the drain.  Leaking toilets cost you money.  According to the EPA, the average house leaks or waste about 10,000 gallons of water a year.  Based on what I pay for water here in Louisville KY, that’s about $150.00 a year.   Now add a leaking toilet to the mix, and depending on how bad the leak is, you could easily triple that number.  I’ve been told a severely leaking toilet could fill a swimming pool in a year. That’s a lot of dough.

Fix leaking Toilet

Drop your food coloring in the tank and wait. Don’t flush!

 

So you think you may have a leaking toilet?  It’s super simple to check.  All you need is a bit of food coloring and time.  Lift the tank lid off and drop a few drops of your favorite color in the tank.  Now you wait.  Depending on how bad your leak is will depend on how long the next steps take.  At minimum I’d wait a few hours though.  I like to do this as I’m going to bed, or heading out for the day (just in case you have a very slow leak), and you can give the toilet time to send the colored water into the bowl without you having to worry about flushing.

How do I know if it’s leaking?

Leaking Toilet Flapper

The next morning my water was blue without flushing.  Be sure you flush out all the colored water now, it can stain if you leave it too long.

If, after time, colored water has made it into the bowl of your toilet without you flushing it…you have a leak.  A perfectly working toilet should pass zero water from the tank to the bowl without flushing.  If you have colored water in the bowl, you have a leak.

I’ve got a leak, now what?

This really depends on what toilet you have.  Most have a flapper in the center of the tank that loses it’s seal over time.  Some of the newer ones (like the one in the upper picture) use a canister style flush valve. Either way, that rubber seal is typically the culprit.   If you are unsure which you have,  it’s always a great idea to take a quick pic of the parts with your phone before heading out to the hardware store.  It’s also a great idea to know the brand name of your toilet.  Some manufactures use specific parts.  Replacing the parts shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

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.

 

 

 

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…

Is there a bomb ticking under your sink?

Water. The substance of life.  We can’t live without it.  And there’s nothing better than indoor plumbing.  Don’t think so?  Ask your favorite senior sometime about walking through 12 inches of snow in sub-zero temperatures just to use the bathroom.  But with all the greatness that indoor plumbing holds, people have made a few mistakes along the highway of plumbing technology.

Between 1978-1995 plumbers all across the country fell in love with a product known in the industy as simply PB (short for Polybutylene).

This stuff revolutionized the plumbing of a home.  Speed is the name of the game when it comes to construction, and the faster you can get a job done, the faster you can get another job started.  PB was the key to the Promised Land to plumbers.  It cut install time and material cost in half!  Which,  of course, doubled profits.  Win-win right? For awhile, yes.  However, PB pipe had a deep dark secret that was lurking in the shadows…

I was in a home just last week doing a Louisville  home inspection on a pretty nice house.  This was the second home inspection for the same client in two weeks.  The first home was suspect, to say the least.  I thought that she had found a winner this time…then I opened the kitchen cabinet under the sink.  And buried behind all the usual under-the-sink “stuff” sat a bomb.

There, with time ominously ticking away, was PB pipe.

Nothing but fire will destroy a home faster than water.  PB would prove this to be true.  You see, PB water supply lines had one critical fault.  They failed at the crimp joints, flooding homes in the process.  Many, many people have come home from a hard day at work to find water pouring out of their front door.  Nearly everything they own destroyed in a flash.

PB Pipe

Here you can see the grey PB Pipe installed behind the shower.

 

How can you tell if you have PB pipe in your home?

Exterior – Polybutylene underground water mains are usually blue, but could be gray or black. They are normally 1/2″ or 1″ in size, and may be found coming into your home through the basement wall or floor, concrete slab or crawlspace. You should also check at the meter by the street.  Although you may have copper in the home, your main line could be a PB buried in the yard.

Interior – Polybutylene used inside your home can be found near the water heater, running across the ceiling in unfinished basements, and coming out of the walls to feed sinks and toilets. It it normally battleship grey in color and could have a red stripe on it.  You may also find the text PB2110 SRD11. Bear in mind that you may have PB concealed in the walls, and copper “stubs” protruding through the walls for sinks and toilets, giving you the false impression that you do not have PB in your home.

What is the problem with PB pipe?

It is not certain what the exact issue is.  Many professionals suggest that the chemicals added to city water supplies, such as chlorine, cause the plastic resin in PB to break down over time from the inside out.  This means you CANNOT look or touch the PB in a home and tell if it is failing. Blame has also been placed on installation error.  While it is very feasible that problems could arise from a faulty install, it is difficult to find and check EVERY connection in a home.  That could easily amount to the hundreds of connections. The reality is there is no safe or good PB installs.  Many plumbers now state that  it’s not a matter of if but when it will fail.

Leaking PB Pipe

Here you can see leaking PB water pipe at the fitting. This is where the problem usually happen.

What do you do if you find PB in your home?

If, after reading this, you look under your sink and see what appears to be PB, call a plumber.  Tell them you think you have PB in your home and you would like to get it checked out.  Just because you’ve never had a leak, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.  This stuff is calm like bomb.   If you are looking at a home to buy and suspect PB plumbing in the home,  get an estimate on having the home re-plumbed with copper, PVC, or PEX.  It might not be a deal killer if you don’t make it one.

Call your insurance company.  Many won’t cover a home with PB installed in it.  Although the question may never have come up while you were getting the property covered, it may be hard times for you if they deny the flood claim because of some fine print on page 538 of your contract.

Be proactive. It’s always cheaper in the long run.  You may find PB in your home, and think, “It’s fine, this stuff has been here since 1990.”  While this may be the case,  you may come home next week and find you have to replace not only the plumbing, but the drywall, carpet, tile, cabinets, sub floor, baseboard, insulation, doors, cat, dog, etc… You get the idea.  It’s never a problem until it leaks.