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.
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.
Start Here to read the first post in this series. This will help you better understand the details for each section of the ACMV series.
If there is one constant when it comes to ACMV (Adhered Concrete Masonry Veneer), it is that you must be sure the moisture can drain from behind the siding. This drainage is achieved by incorporating a drainage plane & weep screed (a place for the water to drain to, and path for it to escape). When you look at all of the detailed diagrams on the subject, you’ll notice that every one of them has a drainage point where the siding meets another horizontal surface. This means that every window, door, trim piece, and the ground must have a drainage point to release the water that will get behind the siding. If this detail is omitted, and it almost always is, moisture can build up and leak behind the moisture barriers that are in place. Let’s look at some pictures to see what happens when things go wrong.
Window and Door Heading Detail
Below is a detailed diagram of what you should see when looking at ACMV manufactured stone install. Notice the weep screed at the top of the window to give the moisture a place to drain, and an expansion gap (with backer rod and sealant to keep wind-driven rain out). When that flashing is missing (and it almost always is), the water that gets behind the stone will collect and build up on top of the window (the head). I’ve added some rain drops to the image to help you better understand what happens to the moisture, and what path the water takes as the wall takes on wind-driven rain.
Now let’s look at a picture from an inspection of a typical ACMV install I see in Louisville during inspections. You’ll notice that the mortar was installed around the stones and it was also laid directly next to the window frame. The is no form of expansion gap, and the weep screed is missing. Every important detail was skipped.
Window and Door Jam Details
The sides of windows call for the same backer-rod and sealant as the top, to allow for thermal movement. Remember from science class that almost everything expands and contracts when it heats up and cools down. We must allow for this movement, and flexible sealants are the best way to do so. We incorporate bond breakers like backer-rods to help cut down on the amount of sealant used, and to keep the bond in the joint even. I drew a couple of diagrams to help you visualize what the backer-rod/sealant joint would look like.
Let’s look at a detail where the backer-rod is missing from the equation. When you don’t utilize a backer-rod, the sealant will flow and move inside the joint and grab more of one side than the other. Think of this as a game of tug-of-war. One side has 10 people, one has 3 people. Who’s going to win? When one side is stronger than the other, the joint will fail and pull apart. This is what happens when you see a caulked joint that has cracked and opened up.
Here is what a typical install of ACMV around windows looks like in my area. I’ve never seen an installer use backer-rod and sealant. It’s always either mortared straight to the window jam, or “dry stacked.” Both are a recipe for failure. You know the old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
One of the most important details with a waterproof installation of ACMV on your home should happen long before the stone veneer is ever installed. The opening for the windows must be wrapped in sill flashing. This is usually done with a peel and stick product such as Grace Vycor Flashing. If this step is omitted, compounded with the other skipped details, you will be left with water that will seep in around the corners of the window sills, and rot out the wall. How fast this happens all depends on how much water gets in.
Identifying A Problem
Even though I have never seen an installation of ACMV that I would consider correct, I have seen several houses that are not showing signs of problems (to the naked eye). Sometimes it take the Perfect Storm of circumstances before real problems pop up. Sometimes it takes the right amount of rain exposure. Sometimes enough time hasn’t elapsed for a water problem to manifest itself on the surface.
When I can’t simply look at the home and know there is an issue, I use technology to help out.
Moisture Meters- I carry several different kinds of moisture meters. Each tool does one particular job well, and the specific task dictates which one I reach for. When dealing with ACMV and windows, I use my GE Protimeter with deep wall probes. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s a drop in the bucket to what the repair costs on your house will be.
Your wall cavity is about 4″ thick. Most of the time, the moisture will take years and years to show up on the inside of the home near the drywall. However, using the wall probes, I’m able to take moisture readings through the 4″ of wall cavity and reach the backside of the substrate (the OSB plywood on the outside). This surface is what the ACMV is actually mounted to. If water is leaking in, the meter should find it.
To use the probes, I first drill two small holes in the drywall. Sometimes we get lucky and find an electrical outlet near the bottom of the window. When that happens, we can remove the cover plate and slide the probes between the electrical box and the cutout of the drywall. This keeps me from having to drill holes in the wall.
As with other claddings used in construction, the details around doors and windows are what must be perfectly executed. Flat walls are relatively easy; it’s when a change shows up in the architecture that builders and contractors must follow details, or things go south in a hurry. If you’ve compared your home to what I have detailed here and you’re concerned, I encourage you to reach out to a moisture intrusion expert to have your home examined. If you are in my area, Louisville, KY, please feel free to contact me about getting your ACMV Inspection.
PART 3: ACMV- WALL DETAILS AND DRAINAGE
In part three I show you how the details around the walls should be handled, and how to make sure the water doesn’t build up behind the stone veneer.
The ACMV diagrams from this series were all taken from the MVMA guide. I will sometimes remove extra details or color certain sections to make them a bit easier to understand. If you want to look at the originals, download the full MVMA manual.
At least a few times a week I ask a client if they want a Radon test performed on their new house. Most give a sharp “yes” without hesitation. Some folks, however, don’t know what to say, or may be confused from the all the different opinions they have gotten from their realtor, dad, cousin, neighbor, etc… Let’s see if we can clear things up a bit.
If you are buying a home in Louisville (all of KY really) you should have it tested for Radon Gas. Every home should be tested for Radon gas. No exceptions; especially in homes that already have a Radon mitigation system installed in the home. We’ll get into the “why?” of that in more detail later. There are only two types of houses that don’t have some form of Radon Gas around here. Houseboats and tree houses. Unless your house falls in one of those categories, you need to get it tested. Here is an EPA map of Jefferson County KY. Notice how nearly every part of the county is in the red; Zone-1.
What is Radon Gas?
Radon is an odorless, colorless, radioactive gas that comes from the earth. It forms naturally from the decay of radioactive elements in the ground, such as uranium. Some locations have much higher levels of these elements than others. This is why some areas have high levels of Radon gas, and others only have trace amounts. We just happen to drawn the short straw here in Louisville and have some of the highest amounts found in the U.S.
Radon is found both indoor and outdoors. Outdoor levels are typically very low, while the measurements in indoor buildings can range from very low to extremely high. As the Radon breaks down in the ground, it seeps in through the cracks and holes in the foundation of your home. If enough Radon gas makes it through, the house will test high for Radon.
How to test for Radon in your home.
There are several different ways to test for Radon, but the easiest way is to have a CRM (continuous radon monitor) placed in the home for several days. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) testing protocol says the machine should be left undisturbed in the home for a minimum of 48 hours, up to 7 days. Placement of the CRM is always on the “lowest potential living space.” This means if you have an unfinished basement, but may one day finish it out, you run the test from that area.
If the home has a crawlspace or concrete slab (since no one will ever live under the house) the CRM monitor is placed as close to the center of the house as possible on the first floor. You also want to keep the machine away from exterior doors and windows (that is to simply keep as much fresh air away from it as possible, which can dilute the radon gas and affect the test). Once the machine is in place and running the test, it will take an air sample once an hour, every hour, until the test has been stopped. Those numbers are then averaged to give you your test results in picocuries per liter or pCi/L.
The house doesn’t have a basement, do I really need a Radon test?
Yes, you do. A home is not required to have a basement to have high levels of Radon gas. Somehow, a nasty lie got started years ago that a home that was built on a concrete slab, or a crawlspace “won’t have Radon, only houses with basement do.” This is 100% completely false. Some of the highest numbers I’ve ever seen came from homes that were built on slabs and crawlspaces. I’ve also heard it said that walkout basements don’t have Radon. Again, this is simply not true. There is no building style that is Radon proof, or Radon resistant. All homes have the potential for elevated Radon gas, so all homes need to be tested.
The house already has a mitigation system installed, why waste the money on a test?
I hear this all the time, and the answer is quite simple. There are lots of systems that don’t work properly. More than you would think. Oh, they’re in place, and the fan is running, yet the Radon levels are still elevated when I test the home. That is because anyone with a truck, a cheap fan, and some PVC pipe can call themselves a Radon mitigation company. There are no laws or rules currently enforced in Kentucky for Radon mitigators; it’s the “Wild West,” and it shows in the quality of work that I see.
Look at it like this. If a home has a mitigation system, that means the levels were once high enough to warrant the install to begin with. It is in your best interest to double check to see that the system is working properly, and is actually lowering the Radon gas levels. Over the course of the past year, I tracked my data on testing Radon in houses where Mitigation systems were already installed. My results: One in every five systems were not working properly. In several homes, the mitigation fans didn’t work at all.
Test completed. Now what? EPA vs WHO
Now that you have your numbers, let us talk about what all this means, and what you need to do next.
There are two sources that folks look to for guidance when it comes to Radon gas and their home. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the WHO (World Health Organization). The EPA says that homes with 4.0pCi/L or more should have a Radon mitigation system installed in the home. However, in 2009 the WHO released a study that stated they are lowering their recommended action level to 2.7pCi/L. Most people in the real estate world won’t tell you about the newer WHO study though. Sometimes its just plain ignorance (you’d be shocked at the amount of people I run into every week that have never heard of the WHO), but other times it’s just not convenient to the transaction at hand. You see, lots of homes fall in between the 2.7 and 3.9 levels, and when home buyers want the sellers to foot the bill for a Radon mitigation system, well, the higher the action level numbers are, the better…. for the transaction. So who’s right? Which organization do you listen to; who do you go by? I don’t know. In fact, I don’t know if there is a right answer.
In my mind, it is simply not worth the risk. Radon mitigation systems are not extremely difficult, or expensive to install.
Mitigating the problem-
So you’ve had your Radon test completed, and the home came back elevated. It’s time to get a Radon mitigation system installed. Radon mitigation systems are simple creatures by nature, but not just any jack-leg can install them (although they try). Just like choosing your home inspector, you need to be picky and smart about who you choose to install your Radon mitigation system. I’ll get into mitigation systems, and what problems can come up from them in a later post.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.